Archives For January 2011

While the Lakers have typically been seen as a team that relies on its offense (that Triangle thing they run has led to quite a few championships over the years), we’ve long said that the Lakers will go as far as their defense takes them. With a top 10 defense this year (based off defensive efficiency – points allowed per possession), the Lakers are a strong (though not elite) defensive outfit that has proven that they can get the key stop if not the ones that aren’t that crucial. This fact has led many to wonder if the Lakers really have what it takes to defend (sorry for the pun) their championship in what they hope will be a run to a third straight Larry O’Brien trophy.

One person that’s questioning the Lakers ability to play the level of defense needed is Laker legend Jerry West. The Logo mentioned that age may finally be catching up to the Lakers and added that “The reason you can’t play defense is because you can’t”.

As we linked to this morning, Land O’ Lakers caught up with Phil and asked him to repsond to to West’s comments:

“He’s right,” Jackson said. He was kidding, of course, but Jackson did elaborate. “We have to do a lot of things right to be able to play defense the way we want to, and most of it is about controlling the tempo of a game,” he said. “There’s something about just speed. Outright speed. We’re not the fastest team on the boards here in the NBA, but we can do it if we control things in the right way.”

These comments had me again thinking about the correlation between effective offensive execution and how that translates to defense.

But before I could get too far down that path in my mind, I came across a tremendous article at SB Nation by At The Hive head man Rohan Cruyff that introduced the concept of a “speed index” as a supplement to the traditional ways that we think about pace and how possessions are played out in NBA games. In the article, Rohan discusses concepts of both offensive and defensive pace, explaining that the pace of a game can not only be explained by how fast one team plays (for example, how the Suns consistently rush the ball up court and take quick shots) but also how the opposition decides to attack that same team when they then have to defend. He uses data from to examine at what point in the shot clock an offensive team shoots against the defesne they’re facing and found some great data that he charts out and explains very well. It’s really a tremendous and insightful read and you should go check it out (like, right now).

Relating this back to the Lakers, Rohan found that the team we root for is one that teams try to attack early in the shot clock by shooting quickly. In fact, the Lakers rank third in the league in terms of how quickly shots are attempted against their defense.

When thinking back to Phil Jackson’s comments, this makes tremendous sense. The Lakers are a big team and is only one of a handful of squads that possess two legitimate 7 footers in their lineup (as well as a third big man at 6’10”). This makes attacking them in the half court very difficult because as Kurt Helin said:

Since the return of Andrew Bynum to the starting lineup, the Lakers defense is better when it gets set. They have made a point of keeping Bynum home to protect the paint. The wing defenders have done a better job of funneling players looking to drive toward the baseline and toward the long arms of Bynum (and Pau Gasol).

So, by attacking the Lakers early in the shot clock teams are hoping that they can get a quality look before those trees plant themselves in the paint to contest interior shots and the Lakers aggressive wing defenders have a chance to get offensive players in their crosshairs and force them into their awaiting bigs.  This style of defense plays to the Lakers strengths because what they lack in footspeed they counter with sheer size and strength in the both the defensive post and on the wing.

Plus, the fact is that the Lakers, better than anyone else, know what their weakness is. Every game, we discuss the need to get back in transition and build a wall against whatever quick ball handler the opposition possesses. When Deron Williams and the Jazz visit Staples Center tommorow, you can bet this will come up in the same way it does when the team plays the Thunder (Westbrook), Rockets (Brooks), the Suns (Nash), etc, etc.

Getting back to Phil’s comments and what we’ve discussed here many times before, as much as the Lakers must rely on their defense as they advance through the season, remember how this ties back into their offense. Because the fact of the matter is, if the Lakers can control the tempo of their offense by not forcing up quick shots, keeping a balanced floor, and keeping the requisite number of players transitioning back on defense teams will find fewer and fewer chances to exploit this team in the open court. And if the Lakers are able to accomplish that, their defensive efficiency will only get better and they’ll be right on track in where they want to go this season.

From Dexter Fishmore: SBNation: Lamar Odom strains the vocabulary of hoops criticism. To understand how, begin with the question of positional taxonomy. Every Lakers box score, depth chart and official game program will tell you that Lamar is a power forward, and indeed he is. He plays on the front line alongside either Andrew Bynum or Pau Gasol, and on defense he guards opposing fours. But he doesn’t fit neatly into any of the power-forward substrata recognized by the analytical vernacular. Although he can shoot three-pointers with some competence, he’s not a classic “stretch four” in the mold of Dirk Nowitzki. And although he has a potent scoring touch around the rim, he doesn’t have the back-to-the-basket post game of a Carlos Boozer or Zach Randolph. He’s probably closest to the “point forward” archetype that we associate with Scottie Pippen, but even that label seems a bit misapplied, as Lamar doesn’t handle the ball or initiate his team’s offense quite as often as Pippen did his. Lamar spends time in each of these categories but never lingers long in any of them.

From Dexter Fishmore, Silver Screen and Roll: Listen up, nerds: I’ve got a pop quiz for you. Without looking it up, and not counting the preseason, can you tell me the last time the Lakers played an overtime game? I’ll give you a few moments to ponder. You can’t come up with it, can you? That’s understandable, because it’s been a long, long time since a Lakers game was tied at the end of regulation. It hasn’t happened since March 4th of 2010 in Miami. The Heat’s starting lineup that night included Quentin Richardson, Michael Beasley and Jermaine O’Neal. Since then, the Lakers have played 88 regular-season and playoff games, and not one of them has gone to OT. That’s a little strange, yes?

From Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: From an efficiency standpoint, the Lakers are allowing relatively close to the same number of points per 100 possessions this year (101.7) as they did a season ago (101.1). Unfortunately, a figure good enough to tie for fifth last year, only .9 behind the league leader leaves them ninth this season, almost five points worse than the league’s top squad. Good enough for then hasn’t been good enough for now. The relative lack of performance, along with providing a squad struggling with some of the fairly natural issues of focus popping up after three straight Finals runs and consecutive titles, prompted the coaching staff to make some adjustments on the defensive side of the ball a few weeks ago.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: Philosophically, Jerry West and Phil Jackson rarely agree on much. The former Lakers star and general manager has long maintained that talent determines championship success. The current Lakers coach believes it’s the system — the triangle, teamwork, managing egos to achieve a final goal — that’s pointed to his 11 championship rings. But there’s at least one point on which the two men reach consensus — the Lakers’ defense needs work. “If there’s a loose ball now, how often do they get it?” West asked as the keynote speaker Thursday during the annual Orange County Automobile Dealers Assn. luncheon. “The reason you ‘can’t play defense’ is because you can’t!”

From Kelly Dwyer, Ball Don’t Lie: More revisionist history. In lieu of actual trades or real transaction fodder, it seems like this is the only thing NBA types have to rely upon for talking points at times. This time around, it’s Kobe Bryant talking, and making no sense. Smug beyond belief as a cadre of Denver-area reporters approached him on Thursday to talk all things Carmelo-ish, Bryant brought up his own self-styled soap opera from 2007, one that saw him demand a trade during the spring of that year, a move that nearly resulted in a deal with the Chicago Bulls that fall.

From Brian Kamenetzky, ESPNLA: The front end of the Lakers’ center rotation has been intact since Andrew Bynum returned to the lineup last month. Sunday during practice, they took a step towards getting the back end whole as well. Veteran center Theo Ratliff, who on Nov. 17 underwent successful arthroscopic surgery to perform a partial meniscectomy on his left knee, returned to the practice floor. The 37-year-old Ratliff, a 15-year NBA veteran, hasn’t played since Nov. 9. In eight games, he’s averaging 0.3 points, 1.6 rebounds, and 0.6 blocks a game.

From Michael C. Lewis, Salt Lake Tribune: Ron Artest was only about half-listening, fiddling with his iPhone at his locker stall after a recent Los Angeles Lakers victory at Staples Center until part of a question about the Jazz grabbed his attention. “They haven’t won here,” the veteran forward said, looking up with his eyes widening, “in how long?” Yeah, he heard right. The Jazz haven’t beaten the Lakers on the road in 16 consecutive attempts — including eight in a row in the NBA playoffs — dating back more than five years to Jan. 1, 2006, when superstar Kobe Bryant was suspended and only three of his current teammates were on the team.

Five years ago today, the Lakers were in a much different place than they are now. Rather than competing for championships, they were competing just to make the playoffs. They were only one dreadful season removed from trading Shaq, a year that saw them miss the playoffs for the first time in Kobe’s career (a trip to the lottery that netted Andrew Bynum, by the way), and were dealing with the fact that they may have actually been the 2nd best team in LA. A pretty far cry from the back to back defending NBA championship team we see today.

On that faithful Sunday, the Lakers entered the game 2 games over .500, had lost two games in a row and were facing the Raptors. And on that day, Kobe did what was before thought to be impossible. He scored 81 points in a single game in leading the Lakers to a victory in which they trailed for most of the game. Simply amazing. On the 5th anniversary of that game, we take you around the internet with some good stories remembering that day. Enjoy.

From Andy Kamentzky, Land O Lakers: By the time he took a final seat to a thunderous ovation, Bryant had scored 81 points, the second highest single-game total in NBA history. Since that iconic moment, so much has changed regarding Kobe. He’s grown as a player, with a desire to improve that is unmatched by any elite player in the league. He’s grown as a leader, having developed the ability to communicate high standards for teammates without alienating them in the process. He’s grown as a basketball mind, typically a step or two ahead of the competition mentally. And he’s grown as an NBA face, now as popular as he was before scandal derailed his image.

From Dave McMenamin, ESPN Los Angeles: “I just remember we were down 16 points to a bad Raptors team and we had just lost I think to Houston the game before and it was just kind of doom and gloom. We needed to win and I just got hot,” Bryant said Friday after shootaround in preparation for the Lakers’ game against the Denver Nuggets. The Lakers ending up winning the game 122-104 against a Toronto team that had a record of just 14-26. Los Angeles actually trailed the Raptors by 18 points early on in the third quarter before Bryant really went off, scoring 51 of his 55 second-half points from that point on. Bryant scored 14 points in the first quarter, 12 in the second, 27 in the third and 28 in the fourth.

From Mike Ganter, Toronto Sun: It is five years ago today that Kobe Bryant made headlines at the expense of the Toronto Raptors. Jay Triano was an assistant and Jose Calderon was a rookie when Bryant got locked in like no one before or since other than that Wilt Chamberlain fellow who had 100 way back in 1962. Bryant’s 81 points that night are the stuff legends are made of. What people looking back on that night though forget, and something Triano pointed out, is the Raptors had a 16-point lead as late as the second half in that game. And what Joe Public doesn’t realize is that night the Raptors went into the game intent on giving Bryant single coverage and making sure no one else around him got on any kind of roll. Even if Kobe had gone off for 40, the thinking was, they limit the surrounding cast to very little and they still have a good shot to win the game.

From Kurt Helin, Pro Basketball Talk: Five years ago Saturday, Kobe Bryant took over a game like nobody ever quite had before. Sure, Wilt got triple digits one time, but that had an element of sham to it (his teammates were fouling to stop the clock and get the ball back so they could feed him and get him over the mark). Kobe Bryant didn’t drop 81 on the Toronto Raptors because he could, he did it because he needed to. Well, a little of both, really. But he did it in the flow of the game. The Lakers trailed early to the Raptors and L.A. was playing in one of its lazy funks that it still suffers from at times. And, as he does now, Kobe decided to put the team on his back and carry them to a win.

UPDATE: From Mark Medina, LA Times Laker Blog: Finally, there came a point when Coach Phil Jackson felt comfortable enough the Lakers would secure a victory that Kobe Bryant no longer needed to be on the court. “Maybe I should take him out because the game is in the bag,” Jackson recalled saying to Lakers assistant coach Frank Hamblen, as detailed in the updated edition of his book, “Sacred Hoops.” According to Jackson, Hamblen responded this way: “There would be a riot.” That’s because at that point very little of the 18,887 at Staples Center cheered because the Lakers would prevail in a 112-104 victory over Toronto after overcoming a 14-point halftime deficit exactly five years ago. No, the fans chanted “M-V-P” throughout the game and stood up for the entire fourth quarter as they witnessed Bryant scoring 81 points, marking the second-highest scoring total in NBA history behind Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point performance with Philadelphia against the New York Knicks on March 2, 1962. It’s a good thing Jackson heeded Hamblen’s advice because he initially considered yanking Bryant when he had 77 points, one point behind Chamberlain’s then-No.-2-all-time mark when Philadelphia visited the Lakers in a 151-147 triple-overtime loss on Dec. 8, 1961.

UPDATE #2: From Michael Goldsholl, Lakers Nation: Jan. 22, 2006; 7:25 p.m. pacific standard time. Five minutes until the tipoff of the Lakers and Raptors game at Staples Center in Los Angeles. The Lakers are barely floating above .500 at 21-19 and the Raptors are sitting at a lowly 14-26. There is not much for fans to expect of the game; the Lakers will probably win by a just-better-than-slim margin and it’s pretty much a given Kobe’s going to score at least 35 points. After the final buzzer, the season will move on, and the game will ultimately be forgotten. Oh, how the basketball world was so terribly mistaken.

Finally, take a look at the box score from that game. Yeah, the Lakers had Lamar Odom at that time, but look at the other names. Kwame, Smush, Cook, George. How did that team even make the post-season? And here is the video of his historical scoring outburst. Even 5 years later, all I can say is WOW.

When previewing this game, I mentioned that a major key to this match up would be for the Lakers to play a controlled game where they kept an even keel and didn’t let the emotion of the game get away from them. Well, they were able to do just that as they defeated the Nuggets 107-97. The Lakers played with precision and focus, ultimately showing that in a game that could have gone either way (especially at half time) that they could still seize control of a game and take down an opponent with a deliberate attack.

At the start of the game, the Lakers showed their hand early by trying to establish the interior with post ups. Bynum are Pau were both featured from the get go and while both big men missed some bunnies inside, the plan was clear. The Lakers were going to go inside and attack Nene and Kenyon Martin and make them defend the rim.

But while the Lakers probed the interior trying to find their rhythm, Ron Artest started the contest with his game in a groove. He too went to work inside, getting his first three baskets on lay-ins after attacking Carmelo on quick moves to the rim and strong post ups. He then complemented his inside scores with a corner three pointer that pushed his first quarter point total to 9. Ron’s early offense kept the Lakers in the game and his work on that side of the ball seemed to only fuel his defensive effort against Carmelo Anthony. Ultimately, Ron scored 19 points on 8 of 12 shooting while helping to hold a frustrated Carmelo Antony to only 23 points on 24 shots from the field.

In the 2nd quarter it wasn’t the starters that made the difference, though, it was the bench unit. With about 2 minutes remaining in the first frame, Phil went to the group consisting of Blake, Brown, Walton, Odom, and Gasol to settle the team down and see if they could finally put together some consistent offense and defense. This group rewarded Phil’s faith by executing well on both sides of the  ball and getting the team into a rhythm that would last the rest of the game. Mind you, they didn’t cut into the 3 point deficit that began the first quarter (the Lakers trailed by that same three points at the half) but what they did do was slow the game down and start to convert on the types of plays that the Lakers wanted to emphasize. Using an inside-out attack and good ball movement, the Lakers got good looks at the hoop for Odom and Gasol (and later Bynum) and then swung the ball back outside for shots by Shannon and Blake. When shots missed the Lakers used their excellent floor balance and spacing to hit the offensive glass and get second shots at the hoop. By the time halftime came, the Lakers had grabbed 8 offensive rebounds which helped them stay close as the Nuggets continued to score the ball well by knocking down threes (5 of 11 in the first half) and get into the open court.

Where the game turned, though, was in the 3rd quarter. Right when the period started, it was obvious that Kobe was going become a more active participant in the Lakers’ sets and not just rely on simple post ups to the bigs to get the Lakers going on offense. After playing set up man and facilitator in the first half (taking only 4 shots), Kobe came out shooting in the third period making 6 of his 10 shots from the floor and completely taking over the game on offense. Mind you, he didn’t dominate simply by making shots. Instead Kobe mixed in pin-point passes with his fantastic baseline jumpers and post ups from both low blocks to completely dissect the Nuggets defense. When Denver double teamed him, he ably kicked out to shooters both with simple strong side kickouts and precise skip passes to the weak side to set up shooters. Every time Kobe touched the ball he seemed to make the correct read and by the time the quarter was over he had poured in 14 points and 4 assists in the frame playing a major role in turning the Lakers 3 point halftime deficit into a 10 point lead going into the 4th. You really can’t say enough about the offensive clinic he put on as Denver literally had no clue how to go about slowing him, and subsequently, the team down in that period.

The final 12 minutes was much of the same from the Lakers as they combined their 2nd and 3rd quarter showings to create a solid 4th quarter that would see Denver gain no ground. In the last period the bench came in and played well like they had earlier and then the starters came in after their normal rest to clean up the rest of the game. When the final buzzer sounded, the Lakers had proven that, on this night at least, their focus and determination could not be disrupted by Denver. Every small push by the Nuggets was countered and whether it was a set play to get Pau a lob or just a power post up by Bynum, the Lakers continued with their game plan of attacking the paint to keep Denver at bay.

A couple of other key stats/notes from this game:

*I mentioned that the Lakers had 8 first half offensive rebounds, but they kept that pace up for the rest of the game finishing with 15. Gasol had 6 on the night to go along with 7 defensive boards and 19 points – included in both his o-rebound and point total was a snare of a Shannon Brown miss at the end of the third quarter that Gasol put-back to before the horn sounded to push the Lakers lead to 10. On twitter I called that board a “man’s rebound” as Pau muscled his way inside and grabbed the ball between two Nuggets.  On the night the Lakers out rebounded the Nuggs by 20, 47-27.

*Kobe played a great game on offense, but so did his counterpart. Arron Afflalo had 22 points on only 11 shots and made 5 of his 7 three point attempts. Whenever Kobe (or another defender) left him, Afflalo made the Lakers pay with another made jumper. After he made a few in a row you would have thought that the Lakers would have paid a bit more attention to him but with the defense clearly geared on slowing Anthony, Billups, and to a lesser extent Nene, Afflalo just continued to be the open man. Luckily tonight his ability to knock down shots didn’t turn the game but you could see that he was ready and able to take advantage of the space given to him.

*I mentioned Pau’s 19 points, but LO and Bynum also had very good games (again). Even though Drew suffered through some foul issues in the 2nd half, he was still able to play 27 minutes scoring 17 points, grabbing 7 rebounds and blocking 2 shots. LO, meanwhile, had 18 and 10 with 2 assists off the bench. Combined that’s 55 points, 30 rebounds, and 6 assists for the Lakers’ trio of bigs and as James said in the comments: “This is one of those games where I’m reminded how unfair it is to have Pau, Drew and Lamar on the same team.”

Records: Lakers 31-13 (2nd in West), Nuggets 24-17 (7th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.1 (1st in NBA), Nuggets 111.7 (2nd in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 104.5 (9th in NBA), Nuggets 108.5 (19th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers:Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Nuggets: Chauncey Billups, Arron Afflalo, Carmelo Anthony, Kenyon Martin, Nene Hilario
Injuries: Lakers: Matt Barnes & Theo Ratliff (both out), Andrew Bynum (questionable); Nuggets: Chris Andersen

The Lakers Coming in: There are two ways to look at the Lakers right now – either they’re winners of 8 of their last 10 games or they’re coming off a tough loss against the Mavs that has them trending downward again. I think a lot of folks would say the latter is more true and I can’t blame them. However, as I mentioned yesterday, the Lakers are also not the types to win more than 6-7 games in a row and then they lose a game or two only to start another run. Based off that math, the Lakers should be turning it around right about now, ready to start another push by rattling off 3-4  (or more) consecutive games.

What stands in the way of that logic is the fact that the Lakers may be in the midst of the toughest part of their season schedule. Starting with the OKC game on Monday, the Lakers opponents have been/will be Dallas, Denver, Utah, Sacramento, Boston, Houston, then San Antonio.  After that brutal stretch, the Lakers embark on their “Grammy” road trip where they play 7 games away from Staples in 11 days and face a slate that includes New York, Boston (again), and Orlando (with Memphis, New Orleans, and Charlotte – always a tough foe for the Lakers – thrown in). Even the most optimistic fan would say that’s a slew of tough games over the next month with the potential to rack up losses a real possibility. This stretch will help define this team…we’ll see if it’s for the better or not.

The Nuggets Coming in: There really hasn’t been much going on with this team lately. I’m not sure if there’s even anything worthwhile to discuss.

If only those two sentences were close to being true…

Trade rumors have been swirling around this team all season as the Melo-drama has been going full boar for over a month. Frankly, it’s been exhausting following this as a fan, so I can only assume the behind the scenes strain this has put on the players and coaches. As New Jersey and New York (and Houston and others) all threw their hats into the ring to acquire Anthony, the Nuggets have still had games on their schedule and have been trying to block out the distractions to stay competitive in the deep-as-ever West.  And it’s not just Melo that’s had to deal with trade rumors. Billups has also been rumored to be part of the Nets/Nuggets trade talks and for a man that’s from Colorado and sees the Nuggets as his hometown team that’s a tough thing to deal with. 

Through it all, though, they currently sit 7th in the conference and with the distractions starting to die down (some) this may be the best time for them to make a real push back up the standings. They’re coming off a very good win over the Thunder on Wednesday and in their past 5 games they’ve won 4 – including a drubbing of the Heat.  After the Lakers they face the Pacers, Wizards, Pistons, Cavs, 76ers, and Nets so I’m sure they’d just love to have back to back wins over the Thunder and Lakers and carry some momentum into a pretty soft stretch of their schedule. Right now, this team is dangerous and I have a strong feeling we’ll see a strong effort from them tonight.

Nuggets Blogs: Jeremy does an excellent job covering the Nuggets at Roundball Mining Company. He’s been all over this ‘Melo stuff since the get go and spearheads consistently smart analysis at that site. Go give ‘em a read.

Keys to game:Normally X’s and O’s litter this part of the preview and while we’ll get to that stuff in a second, I can say that there may be no bigger key to this game than controlling the emotion and feelof this game. Denver is always a tough road game and the fans there love to see the Lakers come to town one day and leave the next after watching the Nuggets hang an L on their heads. This makes for a rowdy arena with hometown supporters ready to burst at any big shot or play from the Nuggs. Tonight, emotions will be even higher than normal due to the drama surrounding Anthony. In the Thunder game, he got booed but that only seemed to rally him (he had 35 points) and the team to the point that they pulled out an impressive win. So, the Lakers will need to find a way to keep an even keel during a game that will be emotionally charged. They’ll need focus and calm in the face of a team that’s looking to circle the wagons and use the moment as a rallying point.

From a tactical standpoint, this game will hinge like most Lakers/Nuggets games do which is on the ability of the Lakers to exploit their size advantage inside on offense while limiting Anthony and Billups on the other end. That means that Gasol will need to have more than a solid game against Kenyon Martin – a player that loves to try and bully Pau into mistakes – and Bynum will have to use his length and power to get deep position against Nene and establish the low post. If both those things happen on offense, the Lakers should be able to establish a tempo that works in their favor.

Defensively, there will be no better test to Ron’s even-more-stingy-of-late defense than sticking with Carmelo. Many tout Anthony as the purest scoring wing in the league and I’d have a hard time arguing with that. Forget that the advanced stats say that he’s not that efficient for a moment and just concentrate on the fact that he’s a major threat from any position on the floor – three point line to the low block. His footwork is excellent and his triple-threat work rivals Kobe’s as the best in the league. Plus, he’s strong as hell so knocking him off his spot or keeping him off the offensive glass is a problem when he’s determined to get there. All that said, slowing him down is possible. Ron needs to fight him for space and consistently push him to the baseline regardless of what side of the floor he sets up on. When he drives hard, the goal is to stay on his hip in order to contest his step back jumper and rely on big man help rotating to contest shots at the rim. When he goes to his left hand, he’s prone to spin back to his right to shoot his jumper, so be aware that any drive left is likely a move to set up a counter. After that, all a defender can do is get a hand up and contest the shot. If he makes it, tip your cap and go back the other way.

As for Billups, he’s still the same guy that loves to shoot PUJIT’s from deep or feint his jumper and drive to the rim to draw contact and earn foul shots. I’d love to see Kobe take some minutes on him but with Afflalo having an excellent year shooting the ball (not to mention his excellent size for a SG) it’s doubtful that Phil can afford to slide Fisher up on defense. So, the Lakers will have to play solid team D on Chauncey by getting back on D to contest his transition shots and then building a wall higher up in the lane to discourage his drives both in the open court and in the P&R.

The other key to the game is slowing the Nuggets’ bench. JR Smith, Ty Lawson, and Al Harrington represent an explosive trio on offense that feasts in the open court. They’re all dual threats from behind the arc and attacking the rim so there’s no set way to play them besides hustling back, finding them early in transition, and then playing them straight up. They all require attention, but Smith and Lawson are much more explosive and tend to turn their games up when the Lakers are the opponent.

In the end, this is a tough game and it can go either way. However, the Lakers know what it takes to beat this team. If LA can limit Denver’s runs and keep the pace of the game slow-ish there’s a good chance that LA leaves the victor. But the work must get done to make it happen. Good close outs, strong rebounding, and determination in getting back on D will win the day. Let’s get this win.

Where you can watch: 7:30 start out west on KCAL and ESPN. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710am.