Archives For January 2011

Coming into this contest I thought there was a great chance that this could be a trap game. With the Celtics coming into to town on Sunday, I thought it’d be very easy for the Lakers to only go through the motions versus the Kings, simply relying on talent in the hope that outclassing the woeful division opponent would be fairly routine. Well, let’s just say that I’m very disappointed to have been right as the Lakers fell 100-95, surrendering their momentum from strong wins in the past week and spoiling a night where Kobe passed Hakeem Olajuwon to become the 8th leading scorer in league history.

This game was lost on two levels.

First was on the defensive end. Rather than put the clamps on the Kings in the manner that they did the Thunder and Nuggets in their two previous wins, the Lakers decided to only play on one side of the ball. They continuously gave up open shots to the Kings and paid for it with made shot after made shot by the visiting team.

DeMarcus Cousins led the way, showing off his tremendous range as he consistently hit his 18-20 foot jumper as the Lakers tempted him to take that shot. After finding his rhythm from distance, he then took the ball inside and used a combination of power and touch to get off decent looks that even when decently defended (which was sporadic at best) he was able to knock down. The promising young big man finished the night with 27 points on 19 shots and collected 10 rebounds against the Lakers big men as no one seemed to have an answer for his versatile offensive attack.

But the poor defense wasn’t limited to the big men. The Lakers’ wing defenders didn’t do that great a job either as they consistently gave up dribble penetration, got beat on cuts when caught ball watching, and also gave up too many uncontested jumpers when they were forced to help in the paint due to their other mishaps. Quite the trifecta.

Really, the Lakers just weren’t hustling on that side of the ball. It showed in their rotations, it showed in their reactions to passes, and it showed on their defensive glass where they gave up 15 offensive rebounds.

The second area where the Lakers lost this game was in the performance of their big men. Typically a strength for the Lakers, tonight the combo of Pau, Bynum, and Odom couldn’t seem to gain any traction. Bynum had a solid game with 12 points (on 4 of 8 shooting), but only grabbed 4 rebounds in 27 minutes and was bodied all night by Cousins whenever he tried to exert himself in the offensive paint. As for Pau and Odom, they shot 4-11 (9 points) and 0-7 (4 points) respectively. And while they combined for 19 rebounds, they weren’t a presence in the paint on either side of the ball and played with little force against the Kings front line. Watching Gasol get outdone by Samuel Dalembert (18 points, 5 rebounds) was especially frustrating considering how much time they spent guarding each other in the 2nd and 3rd quarters (where Pau allowed Sammy to get to his spots so easily that it inspired a confidence that led to him taking fadeaway 15 footers and me calling him Hakeem Dalembert on twitter).

As for the other Lakers, Kobe had a good statistical game (38 points on 27 shots, 7 assists, 4 rebounds, 3 steals) and did his best to try and keep the Lakers afloat. He really did play a complete game and was playing so well (and was the only consistent spark for the team) that Phil played him the entire 2nd half in the hope that he could carry the team home. Shannon Brown also played well as he poured in 17 points on 11 shots and hit a number of big jumpers in the 2nd half in helping the Lakers cut the large deficits they faced in the final 24 minutes. But, just like Kobe, Shannon didn’t have enough down the stretch and the team ultimately fell short.

In the end, this game was just extremely disappointing. The Lakers, knowing what needed to be done to win the game, barely tried early and dug themselves too big a hole to climb out of late. I’m not sure if they’ll ever learn the lesson of playing harder for long enough for them to seize games against lesser teams but watching them go through the motions tonight was especially frustrating. Credit the Kings for making shots, stepping up, and seizing the game in the 2nd half, but I can’t help but point out that so much of tonight’s result was based off the Lakers playing a sloppy complacent game for most of the contest. When the Lakers finally decided to turn up the defensive pressure in the final frame, they outscored the Kings 24-15. It’s not a stretch to think that 4th quarter could have been reproduced in earlier portions of the game with the ultimate result being different. Instead the Lakers coasted and they got burned for it. Hopefully, Sunday will bring a different temperament and a victory.

Records: Lakers 33-13 (2nd in West), Kings 10-33 (14th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.7 (1st in NBA), Kings 102.5 (26th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 104.5 (8th in NBA), Kings 108.0 (16th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Kings: Tyreke Evans, Beno Udrih, Omri Casspi, Jason Thompson, DeMarcus Cousins
Injuries: Lakers: Matt Barnes (out); Kings: Francisco Garcia (out)

The internet is on FIRE: Look around the web today at all your favorite basketball sites. TrueHoop started it all with the post we linked to this morning. Since that time, Zach Lowe at the Point Forward has weighed in. So has Kelly Dwyer. So has Kurt over at Pro Basketball Talk. So, is he or isn’t he (the king of clutch, that is)?

For me, there’s just all sorts of gray here and muddling through it all is more than I’m going to put down on this page right now. The short version is that Kobe has made too many great shots for me to ever discount his ability to perform with the game on the line. Those makes, to a certain extent, have shaped my perception of what he’s capable of doing and have me believe in him. The fact that he’s missed a lot of shots concerns me too, of course. I’m especially not fond of forced shots taken in situations where it’s seemed that a better look could have been obtained. So, it’s a balancing act with Kobe and in the end so much of how any one person feels will fall to perspective and what you value and what your rooting interests are.

And, in the end, my rooting interests lie with the Lakers. I want them to win. and that brings me to my final point: As a Lakers fan I take the good along with the bad when it comes to rooting for this team and for Kobe. I do it happily. Team results matter the most to me and look where this organization is right now and what it’s achieved over the span of his career. Five total championships, defending back to back champions and a contender for more. Sure, there have been bad moments. Plenty of times that I’ve questioned the shot that was taken and the situation it was taken in. There’ve also been plenty of times that I’ve literally jumped out of my chair cheering at the result a game, a shot, an assist, a rebound. I don’t expect this to sway anyone in any direction and it isn’t even an argument to propel or dispel the myths of how Kobe performs in the clutch. It’s only to say that he’s a guy that’s been able to get it done enough times that I trust him and I feel incredibly lucky that he wears the jersey of the team that I root for. (Now back to the game preview since, you know, there’s actually a game tonight.)

The  Kings Coming in: The Capital Kids have lost 5 of 6 and 8 of their last 10. In what was supposed to be a building block year, the Kings have at best been stagnant and at worst taken a few steps backwards. The young talent is in place, but continued strife between coaches and players and the lack of trust in the systems run mean that this team isn’t on the same page. Earlier in the year it was issues with DeMarcus Cousins and head coach Paul Westphal and now it’s Carl Landry that is speaking out in a way that doesn’t paint the head coach in a flattering light. And while those comments by Landry have since been explained in more detail, the question still remains if this team is on the right trajectory considering the young talent on the roster. At 10-33 on the year, I’m not sure you’ll find many that would think that’s the case.

Kings Blogs: As you can see from the links above, both Cowbell Kingdom and Sactown Royalty are tremendous sites that give fantastic insight and perspective on the Kings. You should visit both to learn up on this team.

Keys to game: Beyond all the X’s and O’s, the biggest ingredient to a Laker victory will  be focusing on the task at hand and on the team that’s actually on the floor. As we all know, the Celtics visit Staples on Sunday and it will be quite easy to look ahead to that game rather than completely hunkering down for the Kings. If the Lakers do that, though, they’ll be in for a dog fight.

So, the Lakers must look at their game plan and execute it fully in order to pull out the win.

Offensively that means going inside to Bynum and Gasol in order to make the Kings big men defend. Assuming the Kings starters are what I’ve listed above, Gasol will have a major size advantage over Jason Thompson and he should get plenty of touches to exploit it. As for Bynum vs. Cousins I’m very excited to see how this match up plays out considering the choice words that Cousins had about Bynum’s contributions to the Lakers most recent title run. Granted, those comments were made some time ago but this is the first time that the two will have faced off in game action.

Besides going inside to the bigs, though, the Lakers will also have an interior advantage with Kobe and Ron. In the past, the Kings have preferred to let Casspi (whose length and quickness can disrupt Kobe’s perimeter game) guard Kobe with a lesser defender taking on Artest. However, with Ron’s improved offensive play of late, we’ll see if that’s still the case. Either way, both Kobe and Ron should be able to earn post up position against any defender they match up against and we’ll likely see a variety of duck ins and curls from both players to get them shots in the paint.

Defensively the Kings end up running a lot of isolation even though their sets are predicated off ball and player movement. Evans and Cousins are often the guys with the ball in their hands in these iso sets so the Lakers must be aware of what both players want to do. Do not be surprised to see Ron guard Evans for long stretches and use his size and length to bother his handle and disrupt his driving angles. The Lakers want to keep ‘Reke out of the paint so expect to see some shading by Ron where he invites the jumper while forcing all drives to the baseline into helping bigs.

As for Cousins, he’s a gifted offensive player and the range on his jumper may invite coverage from Gasol rather than Bynum. In the last match up between these two teams, Pau did a pretty good job of limiting Cousins’ effectiveness (he shot 3-9 for 9 points) by contesting his jumper and then using his length to bother his shots in traditional post up situations. And while I’m sure that ‘Drew will get his chance to guard Cousins as well, it may make more sense to cross match here and allow Bynum to patrol the paint by laying off Thompson.

The other key to slowing the Kings D will be containing the P&R. Beno Udrih has long been a player that performs well against the Lakers and his ability to get into the paint on P&R’s has consistently been an issue when these teams play. However with the Kings struggling to connect on their outside shots and Bynum now protecting the paint as well as I’ve ever seen, here’s hoping that those driving lanes get cut off as help arrives quickly.

In the end, this is a game the Lakers should win. They’re far superior in all phases of the game. However, as mentioned earlier, this contest screams trap game and the Lakers would do well to concentrate on the Kings and not look forward to the team in green that visits on Sunday. If the Lakers’ priorities are in check, we’ll be looking at wing #3 in a row heading into the weekend. Here’s to them getting it.

Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on Fox Sports West. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710am.

(Below, Henry Abbott takes a look at the reality of Kobe’s clutch time greatness, or lack thereof.)

From Henry Abbott, TrueHoop: Ask pundits. Ask general managers. Ask players. Ask almost anybody. Who would like to have take the last shot with the game on the line? Kobe Bryant wins by a country mile. Every time. (In a general manager poll this season, he earned 79% of the vote, his ninth consecutive blowout.) There is not really any other serious candidate. Ask me, though, (as Ryen Russillo did last week and Mike Trudell the other day) and I’ll tell you I don’t know who’s the best, but with all due respect to Bryant’s amazing abilities scoring the ball, there’s zero chance he’s the king of crunch time.

From J.A. Adande, TrueHoop: It’s hard to upstage Phil Jackson when it comes to talking. Jackson’s whimsical ruminations have a way of turning into national news. I’ve seen him top a 10-minute Gary Payton rant with a mere two words. That’s why it’s unusual that the takeaway from an evening with Jackson and current and former Laker players at Staples Center Thursday was the emcee’s repeated references to Brian Shaw as Jackson’s eventual replacement. Bill Macdonald, the pre- and postgame host for Laker broadcasts on FSN West, introduced Shaw as “the next coach of the Lakers” and made a point of asking Jackson and players Derek Fisher and Luke Walton about Shaw’s ability to take over for the most successful coach in NBA history.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: Having gone this route several times in his coaching career, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson understands the skepticism. He had mulled leaving the game multiple times during his storied coaching career, only to return rejuvenated and in most cases with another championship ring. An ugly divorce between Bulls management and Jackson led to his departure in 1998 after six championships. It was presumed the same fate would rest with the Lakers after his hasty departure following the 2004 season, capped most notably with his book, “The Last Season,” which exposed many inner conflicts within the organization. And Jackson appeared on the verge of leaving again after the 2010 title run, only to need a week’s  rest in Montana to find the lure of a fourth three-peat too tempting to pass up.

From Elliot Teaford, LA Daily News: At some point tonight, Kobe Bryant probably will swish a jump shot that will account for his 11th and 12th points against the Sacramento Kings, enabling him to tie Hakeem Olajuwon for eighth place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. It’s anyone’s guess how many points Bryant might score tonight against the lowly Kings. It might not be all that many because the Lakers might be way ahead and he might not play in the fourth quarter. But it’s a good bet Bryant will score at least 12 points and catch Olajuwon, who scored 26,946 during his Hall of Fame career. It’s also likely that Bryant will continue his climb, with an eye toward becoming the highest-scoring guard in league history. Michael Jordan is the only guard ahead of him, sitting in third with 32,292.

From Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: Thursday night, the NBA announced the starting lineups for February’s All-Star Game at Staples. Kobe Bryant was among those named. In other news, the sun rose in the east this morning, and taxes are due April 15th. Bryant led the balloting with 2,380,016 votes- his first win of the big popularity contest since 2006- almost 300K more than Orlando’s Dwight Howard. It’s the 13th straight season in which Kobe has been selected for the team. Only three players- Jerry West, Shaquille O’Neal, and Karl Malone- have played in 14 consecutive. Nobody has ever earned 15 in a row, but it’s pretty difficult to picture a scenario in which Kobe doesn’t get there. Even if he was hurt in the preseason and didn’t play a game, he’d likely be one of the two leading vote-getters among Western Conference guards. Not that I’m advocating he test the theory, but at this stage of his career voting for Bryant has become reflexive for much of the basketball public, particularly among international fans, and deservedly so.

From Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: Before the season, Sacramento was widely considered an up-and-coming team. Not one that would challenge for a playoff spot this season, but an intriguing group with young talent and a very good chance to improve on their 25-win 2009-10 campaign. Or, maybe they’d totally disintegrate as a team in the midst of serious questions about the future of basketball in our state capital. There’s always that option. And it’s the direction things have gone for Paul Westphal and Co. this year. They arrive for tonight’s game at Staples with only 10 wins in 43 games, tied with Minnesota for the second lowest total in the league and only two ahead of a Cleveland that has lost, at last count, 298 games in a row. To get a better feel for how and why things have gone so wrong for the Kings this season, we reached out to Zach Harper, host of Cowbell Kingdom (and ESPN’s raucous Daily Dime Live chats). He was willing to answer our questions regarding a team with few answers these days:

From Sekou Smith, Hang Time Blog: This is a direct message to the anti-Kobe Bryant crowd out there. Give it up! Give up the fight. And give it up for Kobe Bean Bryant. Seriously, stop hating on the man and surrender. There’s a good chance KB Bryant is going to leave this game with his face on the NBA’s version of Mt. Rushmore, alongside those idols from his childhood, specifically Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson. You can’t win this argument. Despite all of your theories to the contrary and reasons for why he should not, could not and will not go down as one of the game’s top five all-time greats, it’s going to happen. There’s no stopping him now. He’s already got the championship rings (five of them, to be exact) and career longevity that has eluded so many other seekers of basketball’s holy grail (fame, fortune, rings and legendary status).

UPDATE: Lastly, LD2K gets us ready for the next round in the Lakers/Celtics rivalry coming up this Sunday. Enjoy.

For most of the year, a topic of (at least some) concern has been the play of Ron Artest. In early December we covered the topic and ultimately came to the conclusion that Ron wasn’t playing as poorly as some of his numbers looked and that a lot of what we were judging Ron’s performances on were based on comparisons to the strong play of Barnes and the fact that the Lakers were missing Bynum.

Well, since both of those factors have changed in recent weeks (Barnes has been out injured and Bynum has since returned) I thought now would be a good time to take another look at Artest and see if his performance has changed with different circumstances.

Low and behold, his performance has indeed changed. And it’s done so for the better. Below are some of Artest’s offensive numbers for the season and then for the past 8 games (when Barnes has been out with his knee injury):

Season: 28 mpg, 8.3 points, 41.2% FG, 39.3% 3point FG, 50.2% True Shooting
Last 8 games: 35mpg, 11 points, 49.2% FG, 43.8% 3point FG, 63% True Shooting

Granted, the increase in points per game can easily be attributed to his jump in minutes. But what about the increased efficiency? Artest has been shooting the ball much better from both two and three point distance and it’s reflected in his 13% jump in true shooting (a measure of shooting efficiency that takes into account 3 pointers and FT’s). And when watching him, it’s obvious that he’s so much more comfortable on offense than he’s been all season. Gone (for the most part) is the indecisiveness when he has the ball in his hands and he is working within the offense better than he has all season. Several times a game now he’s making excellent reads on when to dive into the post and his teammates are noticing by delivering the ball to him in prime position to score. When on the perimeter, he’s no longer second guessing on when to shoot but rather firing away when the shot presents himself – though still showing good patience and recognition on what’s a good shot and what’s not.  While it’d be a stretch to say he’s a completely different player, he’s worlds ahead of where he was 6 weeks ago.

And it’s not just on offense that I’ve seen an improvement in Ron’s game. In the linked post on him from earlier this year, we mentioned that his focus on D wasn’t quite the same as it was last season. Well, that’s no longer the case. In this recent stretch (and before it too, actually) Ron’s defense has again been completely smothering. He’s pressuring ball handlers, getting deflections, and working as hard as ever off the ball by bodying his man and making him uncomfortable. Against the Jazz the Lakers announcers mentioned several times how “you can’t play around with the ball with Artest on you” in reacting to how much trouble C.J. Miles was having whenever he tried to use his dribble to attack Ron. I really can’t say enough about how disruptive he’s been in swiping at the ball when players are tying to make a move and forcing miss dribbles that ultimately lead to turnovers.

And while there are likely several reasons for Ron’s improved play, I don’t think you can discount the fact that without Barnes to soak up minutes at SF, Ron no longer has anyone over his shoulder looking to take substantial minutes from him. This allows him to play much more like last season where he often had to work through mistakes or stretches of below average play, giving him the chance to find any lost rhythm more quickly. This can often lead to a calmer, more focused player and the results that come with that.

Whatever the reasons though, it’s just great to see Ron playing better and contributing to the team’s success. In his first season and a half with the team I think we can all agree that few players care about winning or compete as hard as Ron. Personally, I love to see players rewarded for that type of determination and lately that’s exactly what we’ve been seeing. Hopefully, when Barnes returns, we see this same level of play as that would go a long way towards helping the Lakers reach their ultimate goal.

(Land O’ Lakers had this clip of Phil Jackson talking about a potential retirement after this season on their site yesterday. This interview was conducted in December, so some of you may have already seen this, but for those of you who haven’t, enjoy!)

Yesterday, Forbes released their NBA franchise values yesterday and the New York Knicks surpassed the Lakers in overall value. You can check the Forbes report here.

From Dan Feldman, Piston Powered: Forbes released its projections for NBA franchise values today, and the Pistons slipped to 13th at $360 million. The declines hardly comes as a surprise, but it’s still not encouraging to see. I worry about the timing of this report, because based only on blind odds, the projection is more likely to hinder negotiations between Karen Davidson and Tom Gores than help the process. One side could easily use Forbes’ $360 million projection to strengthen its bargaining power, and I doubt the other side would be thrilled with that. Still, there’s a chance both sides were already hovering around a $360 million price tag, and Forbes’ report just confirmed to Davidson and Gores the deal was fair. I’m hoping for that.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: Sitting at his locker, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant held court with a handful of reporters in a joyful mood that captured the Lakers’ 120-91 victory Tuesday over the Utah Jazz. Informed that he has shot at least 50% in the past seven games, Bryant deadpanned, “I’m good.” Amid the Lakers’ balance that featured a team-high 36 assists and a continuously strong defensive performance that held the Jazz to 41.9% shooting, Bryant offered a quick reminder that the team shouldn’t rest on his laurels. “Just because it’s my 15th year,” Bryant said, “doesn’t mean I can’t get better.” And at one point, Bryant went into a profanity-laced tirade, joking he wasn’t going to keep answering the “million questions” reporters had for him.

From Broderick Turner, LA Times: Andrew Bynum had more rebounds than shot attempts against the Utah Jazz on Tuesday and had more blocked shots than personal fouls.?? That was a sign of how far the Lakers’ center has come since being inserted into the starting lineup. ??His focus, however, is not on offense, but on defense, rebounding and being a deterrent.?? “We have a lot of scorers on this team, so offensively, if you get a play run for you, you better be successful with it because we’ve got a lot of guys who are able to score,” Bynum said after the 29-point win over the Jazz. “But defensively, I think I can be active and challenge a lot of shots, change a lot of shots.”?? And that’s what he did against the Jazz, blocking three shots, altering several others, while picking up just two fouls.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: That’s partially why the Lakers have yet to see the full benefits Bynum has brought, though there have been a few steps he’s taken. He fought through a torn meniscus in his right knee during the 2010 NBA Finals. He’s also bolstered the team’s record since returning this season to the starting lineup in the past 15 games to 12-3, its defensive identity to the third-best in opponent’s field-goal percentage, and with an average of 13.3 points on 59.3% shooting, 8.7 rebounds and 2.3 blocked shots in 27.2 minutes. Bynum’s injuries are also partially why he’s yet to achieve what he deems to be a significant goal in making the NBA All-Star team, though going through a 23-game stretch last season without a double-double didn’t help his cause, either. With the league set to announce Thursday the All-Star starters for the game that takes place Feb. 20 at Staples Center, it’s conceivable Bynum will have to wait another season to fulfill that position.