Archives For January 2011

Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

Records: Lakers 30-11 (2nd in West), Clippers 13-25 (13th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.2 (1st in NBA), Clippers 105.4 (20th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 103.9 (9th in NBA), Clippers 108.5 (20th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Clippers: Baron Davis, Eric Gordon, Ryan Gomes, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan
Injuries: Lakers: Matt Barnes and Theo Ratliff (out); Clippers: Chris Kaman, Craig Smith and Brian Cook (all out)

The Lakers Coming in: Right now, there’s not a hotter team than the Lakers. They hold the league’s longest winning streak at 7 games and have moved up in the Western and league wide standings.  They now sit in 2nd place in the West behind the Spurs and only trail the Celtics and Spurs for the best record in the league.  After with half the season left to play, I’d prefer the Lakers were on top of the standings but I’m very pleased with where they stand now.  Understand the Lakers still play the C’s twice and the Spurs three more times, so there is time to make up ground in the standings.

But that’s really talk for another day.  As it stands now, my only concern is that the Lakers continue to play good basketball and improve as a team.  And trust me, there is still plenty of room to improve. Not all the players are firing on all cylinders and a couple of the guys could use a positive turn in their games, not only for their individual benefit but to also help the team.  This describes no one more than Steve Blake.  I won’t get too much into it here, but you should check out C.A. Clark’s post on Blake detailing how the team could really use a bit more production from the reserve point guard.  Personally, I think some aggression in Blake’s game would do everyone some good, but I also understand it’s tough to be aggressive when your shots aren’t falling all while you’re teamed with a bunch of all-star caliber players.  Anyways, long story short, it’d really be nice if Blake started to find his groove again.  That guy that hit those clutch shots on opening night against Houston would be a welcomed sight.

The Clippers Coming in:  A funny thing has happened on the Clippers next trip to the lottery. They became must see TV.  And it’s all because of Blake Griffin. He’s simply amazing. Not to overhype the kid but, you know, he deserves it. As Kelly Dwyer recently wrote:

There really hasn’t been anything like it, since LeBron James'(notes) first year in the NBA back in 2003, or Tim Duncan’s(notes) initial trot through the league way back in 1997-98. And even those weren’t met with the sort of breathless reactions that just 2 1/2 months worth of Griff have given us.

Better than the highlights, though, is the fact that he’s got the Clippers winning games.  Victors in 8 of their last 12 contests – including wins over the Bulls, Nuggets, and Heat – the Clips are now a competitive team that is playing excellent basketball nearly every night.  And it’s not just the Griffin show either.  Eric Gordon continues to impress as one of the better young guards in the league and even Baron Davis is starting to provide returns on the hefty investment this team put in him.  When you add those three to DeAndre Jordan, Eric Bledsoe, and Al-Farouq Aminu the Clips have a nice mix of young athletes and difference makers that give the opposition headaches.  It’s easy to see that if the Clips hadn’t dug themselves such a hole early in the season, they’d easily be in contention for a playoff spot in the stacked West. This team is no longer a pushover.

Clippers Blogs: For news on the other LA team, go read the excellent work at ClipperBlog.

Keys to game:  Based off everything I just wrote about the Clips, you know this will not be an easy game for the Lakers to win.  The Clips have size, athleticism, and quickness to counter all of the Lakers strengths while also being able to take advantage of their weaknesses.

So, if the Lakers are to prevail discipline will be the key.  The Lakers surely want to attack inside but they must do so with smarts and with patience. Simple dump downs to Pau and Bynum will yield solid results, but what will work much better is running the offense to better openings for the bigs.  By setting screens and using the various actions of the Triangle, the Lakers should be able to get both Drew and Pau better looks at the basket by having them catch the ball on the move and dashing into space.

However, if the Lakers are going to go for straight post ups, I’d prefer that they attack Griffin rather than the ever improving DeAndre Jordan. If there is a hole in Griffin’s game it’s in his individual defense as he often relies on his athletic ability to make up for getting beat to a spot or briefly getting lost on that end. But, if Griffin gets beat to a spot by Pau, the big Spaniard can make him pay by executing one of his many post moves or counters to get easy baskets around the rim. Plus, if Griffin gets beat too many times he may be forced to foul which could end up being an even better result for the Lakers as the prized rookie may just end up on the bench rather than attacking the rim on other end as payback.

Obviously Kobe is also a major key to the Lakers offensive game plan but today he’ll face a defender that has historically given him some issues.  Eric Gordon has the quickness to stay with Kobe off the bounce and strength and leaping ability to challenge him in the post and on his turnaround jumper.  This has often meant that Kobe works hard to get the buckets he does get against Gordon and usually while walking the line between operating within the offense and not.  Today, I’d love to see Kobe take a step back from being a creator on offense and instead work more off the ball to get his shots.  As I mentioned with the big men, this is a game where offensive discipline will be key and Kobe should not be an exception when it comes to this attack.

Defensively, the Lakers will have their hands full with Griffin, Gordon and the suddenly-cares-again Baron Davis. The Clips will take every opportunity to try and get these guys going in both transition and in the half court and the Lakers must be ready for what they have in store.  When operating against the Clips set O, the Lakers must be prepared for the stagger screen sets they run for Gordon to get him open to shoot his wonderful jumper. The Lakers bigs need to be prepared to step out to deny passes to Gordon as Kobe (or Artest) chase around screens to get themselves in position to defend Gordon on the catch.  If they can briefly disrupt this set it will allow the D to recover and hopefully put everyone in position to deal with Gordon’s underrated first step.

As for Davis and Griffin, they love to run the P&R similar to what we’ve typically seen from Nash and Amar’e.  Davis loves to come off the screen looking for a diving Griffin, but has no qualms attacking off the dribble to look for his own shot. Davis will settle for the jumper if you go under screens but the Lakers must be careful that he doesn’t get hot from the outside as he can easily get going and get buckets in bunches if his jumper is falling.  That said, I’d much rather see Baron hoisting jumpers from deep than penetrating the Lakers interior and finding open mates or getting the Lakers’ bigs in foul trouble.  When dealing with Griffin, the Lakers will need sharp rotations from the weak side to deal with his dives to the basket with a 2nd (or even 3rd) layer of defense there to contest his shots at the rim. I understand that no one wants to be in the latest poster shot, but the rotations must come fast and the challenge must be there to ensure that he doesn’t get the easy basket.  If the Lakers can do all this without fouling, that’d be best as Griffin has been feasting at the foul line this year averaging 8.4 FTA’s per game (good for 6th most in the league).

As I mentioned earlier, this game is by no means an easy win. The last time these two teams met the Lakers barely escaped with the win, needing a buzzer beating D-Fish lay-in to claim the W. Needless to say, if the team is depending on that type of finish again they’ll likely be disappointed at the end of the contest. The Lakers will need to play smart and use their offense to their advantage while getting back in transition and controlling the paint on defense. The Lakers definitely have the ingredients and the smarts to execute this plan to perfection but after struggling to fully follow through against the Nets and the Warriors, there is a doubt that it will get done. The win streak being extended to 8 depends on it though, so here’s hoping it happens.

Where you can watch:  12:30pm start time on KCAL. Also listen live on ESPN Radio 710am.

Some games, regardless of the outcome aren’t that much fun to watch.  Whether the Lakers win or lose matters, of course, but there are games where how they get there doesn’t really excite or get the blood flowing.  Friday’s game against the Nets just happened to be one such game for me.  A combination of the slow pace (87 possessions are 5 fewer than the Lakers normally play) and the fact that neither team seemed to be able to make shots consistently just left me drowsy watching both last night (admittedly, in a flu-enduced haze) and this morning (when I’m feeling much better, thank you very much).  But, a win is a win and I’ll suffer through a 100-88 game that bores anytime if it means that a W is at the end of it all.

The game began like so many others of late, with Ron Artest making a jumper.  This hasn’t been discussed much, but Ron-Ron has really started to find a good rhythm on offense and against the Nets, the trend continued.  Looking confident and comfortable with his shot all night, Ron moved into open space and fired away with little hesitation and it led to 14 points on only 7 shots.  He made 2 of his 3 attempts from long range while also making his only 2 FT attempts.  Just another very good effort from Artest on offense.  And when you combine his shot making with his activity on defense (2 steals, tireless hounding of ball handlers) it’s fair to say that he’s really starting to play better basketball and is becoming a much more consistent contributor to Laker wins.

But Ron wasn’t alone in doing damage from the wing.  Kobe continued his strong play from the Warriors game right into Friday’s effort against the Nets.  Flashing his textbook footwork from both triple threat and post up positions, Kobe had defenders guessing all night.  Whether showing off his jumper or attacking the basket, Kobe was finishing at an expert level and had a couple of plays (including a fantastic reverse lay in) that will surely live on beyond last night in highlight reels and top play countdowns. Without Kobe’s and Ron’s efforts, it’s not a stretch to say that the Lakers would have had a difficult time keeping pace with New Jersey in the first half.

Mostly because when it came to interior play, the roles were reversed as the Nets controlled the offensive paint and the Lakers mostly struggled in the first half.  The Lakers trio of big men just couldn’t get their act together as they stumbled into halftime with a combined 8 points on 2-15 shooting.  Whether it was Bynum picking up fouls trying to guard Brook Lopez (limiting him to 11 first half minutes) or Gasol and Odom missing shots that they normally knock down, the Laker bigs had a forgettable half.

Meanwhile, Brook Lopez was determined to show that he could compete with some of the  best bigs the league has to offer.  Lopez showed off a variety of post moves, a solid mid-range jumper, and even some explosive finishing all night.  He ended the game with 35 points on only 19 shots and was the Nets main offensive threat, keeping them in the game the entire night.  Every time the Nets needed a basket, it seemed like Lopez was able to provide it either by getting a shot for himself or being enough of an interior presence to occupy defenders and help create openings for his mates.

But despite Lopez’s great offensive output, the game would slowly start to tilt in the Lakers’ favor.  In the 2nd half, the Laker bigs started to come alive as both Gasol and Odom were able to finally knock down the looks that they’d missed earlier in the game.  Both players worked the interior with solid post ups (Gasol) and slashing/finishing (Odom) and the mid-range area by knocking down rhythm jumpers.  And with their improved offense, their D also picked up.  And while neither was really able to slow down Lopez, they did do a very good job against every other Net that came into the paint and that effort certainly contributed to the Nets’ struggles to score.

And in the end, it was enough to get the win.  For most of the night it was ugly and there were plenty of stretches where it looked like the Lakers weren’t as hustling as much as they could have been, but I’ll forgive the team since it resulted in a W.  With Jersey playing hard, the Farmar/Sasha factor (both played well, by the way), and Lopez having one of his best games all year, I’ll cut the team some slack and just be happy with the fact that victory #7 in a row was claimed.

Records: Lakers 29-11 (2nd in West), Nets 10-28 (14th in East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.2 (1st in NBA), Nets 101.0 (28th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 104.0 (10th in NBA), Nets 108.3 (19th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Nets: Devin Harris, Travis Outlaw, Stephen Graham, Derrick Favors, Brook Lopez
Injuries: Lakers: Matt Barnes & Theo Ratliff (out); Nets: Anthony Morrow & Damion James (out)

The Lakers Coming in:  Now winners of 6 in a row, the Lakers are full on rolling again.  The game against the Warriors, I think, was one that can really turn a short winning streak into a long one.  They faced a team that played extremely well, was at home, and led nearly the entire game.  However, the Lakers were able to win anyway by staying poised and executing down the stretch (with some Kobe heroics thrown in for good measure).  Considering how the Lakers were performing early in the year in close games, I think winning that game will give this team their full swagger back (if they didn’t have it already).  It’s just a feeling, but I expect the Lakers to continue to play strong basketball even in the tough stint that is coming up.

The Nets Coming in:  The Nets are in a tough spot as a team and a franchise.  First of all, they’re not a good team.  They’re only above the Cavs in the standings and have lost 8 of their last 10 games.  Secondly, they have trade rumors swirling around their team constantly as they are the major player in the Carmelo Anthony sweepstakes. The chance to acquire a name player like Anthony may be a great thing for ownership or the marketing folks, but for the players that have seen their names involved in these talks for an extended period I’m sure it gets old. And with all the losing and all the trade rumors, the team is also starting to show their frustration. In Wednesday’s game against the Suns, Avery Johnson benched Brook Lopez with the game still close and the Center was none too pleased about it.  This on the heals of all the talk that Lopez is a poor rebounder.  When your best player and head coach aren’t getting along, uh, that’s a problem.

Not all is bad for the Nets though. Lakers fans would be happy to know that Sasha Vujacic is having himself quite  the good time with his new team.  He’s finally getting the minutes that allow him to play a bit more relaxed (relatively speaking, of course) and it’s showing in his production.  In the month of January, Sasha is averaging 13.6 points, 3 rebounds, and 2.2 assists off the Jersey bench.  With Anthony Morrow out due to injury, Sasha has been relied on as a bench scorer and he’s really starting to hit his stride again (even hitting a game winner against the Bulls earlier this month).

Nets Blogs:  Nets Are Scorching is a great source of thoughtful analysis on the team from the swamp.

Keys to game: The Lakers may be playing the lowly Nets, but tonight’s game will have some emotion attached to it.  Jordan Farmar is making his return to Staples for the first time since leaving the Lakers this past summer.  Before the game he’ll receive his championship ring and I’m sure it will be an emotional night for the young man that’s called LA his home all his life until this season.  Plus, you know that the Machine will want to have a good showing in his return to Staples and in the first game facing the team that just traded him.

All that said, the points of emphasis for this game will be no different than many others.  The Nets actually have a lineup with good size, but the ball should still go inside – especially to Gasol.  Because he’ll likely be guarded by Favors, I’d like to see them attack the rookie consistently with Pau and let him go to work..  Favors is a great athlete but he’s also young, inexperienced, and foul prone.  So I’d love to see Pau Gasol get going early by using his smarts and savvy to get some easy baskets and earn some trips to the foul line.  This isn’t to say that Bynum shouldn’t get his opportunities to take it Lopez, but I think Bynum can do a lot of damage just by going hard to the offensive glass or getting involved in early offense P&R’s where he catches the ball on dives as the defense pays too much attention to Kobe trying to create off the dribble.

Speaking of Kobe, the Nets start two natural SF’s with good size so it will not be as easy for Kobe to shoot over the top of his defender (like against Monta Ellis).  I hope for Kobe to understand this and settle less for his outside jumper and attack more off the dribble to try and get into the lane to finish.  I also hope that Kobe will use the motions of the offense to get more of his shots.  When being guarded by bigger players, Kobe’s natural advantage is his shiftiness and ability to move off the ball to lose his defender.  Plus, larger defenders are easier to screen so Kobe should have little problem running Outlaw or Graham off screens to give himself the space he needs to get his shot off.

Defensively, the Lakers are well suited to defend a poor Nets offense.  This is a team that likes to run a lot of post ups for their big men and wing isolations.  They also like to attack with the P&R, but without the shooters in their line up (save for Sasha) they often can’t create the spacing that enables driving angles to open up enough for the play to be effective consistently.  That means this team is left relying on the one on one ability of Lopez, Harris, and Outlaw which isn’t the best formula to produce good offensive basketball.  So while Artest and Bynum will be asked to defend a lot in isolation and Fisher will once again be asked to defend a fair amount of P&R, if the Lakers are disciplined in how they help while also closing down the paint to penetration they’ll be just fine tonight.

Tonight should be a game where the Lakers win pretty easily to push their streak to 7.  That said, they just can’t come out and hope that the Nets will roll over.  As I mentioned earlier, this game is going to mean something to Farmar and Sasha with their team surely looking to back them up and get a win.  The Lakers will need to understand that there may be some extra emotion in the air at the start of the contest and when Sasha makes his first appearance so they’ll need to respond accordingly by continuing to play hard to ensure that the Nets can’t gain any momentum that keeps them in the game longer than they should be.

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

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

From Land O’ Lakers: [Lamar Odom] continues to demand a spot on the Western Conference All-Star team. Despite moving to the bench nine games ago with the return of Andrew Bynum to the starting lineup, Odom continues to play at an extremely high level. His numbers, substantial as a starter, have barely moved as a reserve. Over the first 31 games, Odom averaged 15.6 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 3.2 assists while shooting over 57 percent from the floor in just under 36 minutes a night. Off the bench- 15.6 points, 9.2 boards, 2.7 dimes, on over 55 percent from the floor, all in a hair over 28. Remember that slot on your elementary school report card, “Uses time wisely?” High marks for that. And everything else.

From Andy Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: Friday’s contest against the New Jersey Nets features the return of two former Lakers, Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic, a wrinkle that could add some emotion to an otherwise (theoretically) lopsided contest. Farmar already competed against the Lakers in Newark, but this will be his first time doing battle in Staples Center, and he’ll receive a ring to boot. (Another pregame presentation, like when D.J. Mbenga got his ring before the game against the Hornets.) Throw in Farmar’s “hometown” factor and the atmosphere could be pretty charged for the point guard. If Jordan’s emotions are at a “nine” on a scale of 1-10, Sasha could very well clock in around “274.” This will be his first time playing against the only other team’s he’s known since entering the league in 2004. Sasha truly loved being a Laker and even though his dwindling PT made his trade to Jersey a welcome event, that doesn’t change the feelings he’ll likely always have towards this franchise. Plus, as I always note, players often want to blow up their old squads. And at the risk of stating the absurdly obvious, Sasha has a tendency to be tightly wound.

From Dexter Fishmore, Silver Screen and Roll: Over at Hoops World, Alex Kennedy has an article today about the Lakers’ succession planning in the event that Phil Jackson decides to retire after this season. Obvs, we’re a long way from having to worry about this, but Kennedy is a respected NBA reporter who unlike me doesn’t shamelessly troll for page views, so his report on this topic is worth reading. Although much of the ground he covers won’t surprise anyone who followed Phil’s decision-making process last summer, there are some interesting morsels to chew on.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: Lakers forward Matt Barnes entered his first surgery free of anxiety and filled with desire to finish the operation as soon as possible. He centered his talk on his expected eight-week rehabilitation surrounding the lateral meniscus on his right knee with little reflection and more with an eye on the future. And he’s making up for his physical limitation by devoting more time to studying the triangle offense. Barnes displayed the same determined characteristics after practice Thursday that’s made him so valuable to the Lakers, averaging 7.4 points and 4.8 rebounds in 20.8 minutes off the bench through aggressive and efficient play. So it’s no doubt the Lakers will miss his presence after he landed off-balance while pursuing a rebound in the Lakers’ 101-97 victory last week against New Orleans, a game Barnes argued proved the team “turned a corner” during their current six-game winning streak entering Friday’s game against the New Jersey Nets. But the same reason the Lakers miss him is the same reason why rehabilitation should prove successful. He’s simply making the best of circumstances.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: Lakers backup center Theo Ratliff participated in conditioning drills Thursday with the rest of the team’s reserves, and is expected to return to full practice  after the Lakers’ two-game trip against Dallas (Jan. 19) and Denver (Jan 21). The Lakers are expected to have a day off from practice when they return Jan. 22 to Los Angeles, so Ratliff’s first full practice since having arthroscopic surgery on his left knee Nov. 17 could be as early as Jan. 23. “It’s good to be able to get out on the floor, run and sprint again,” said Ratliff, who described Thursday’s session as the most intense since spending the past three weeks working on individual strength training, conditioning and on-court exercises. “It’s always a blessing anytime I’m able to step out there.”

From Alex Kennedy, Hoops World: With eleven championships, the best playoff winning percentage of all-time and the most wins in franchise history, Phil Jackson’s shoes will be very tough to fill following this season. But with that said, there are few jobs in professional sports more attractive than head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, especially with the current state of the team. With Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom, Ron Artest, and Steve Blake each locked up for at least two more seasons after this year, the team’s veteran core will be intact and likely contending for yet another championship despite being under new management. Inheriting a roster this talented is every coach’s dream, and there will be many candidates interested in the position once it becomes available this summer. While the Lakers are focused on this season, the team has started planning for life after Jackson so that they’re prepared come this offseason.

Fast Break Thoughts

Darius Soriano —  January 13, 2011

With an off day for the Lakers, it’s time for a look around the league with some Lakers thoughts mixed in…

*The latest count of All-Star votes has been released and Kobe is still the high vote getter across both conferences with roughly 1.7 million votes.  If voting ended today, his teammates on the West team would be Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, and Yao Ming.  They’d face off against an East team with Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, Lebron James, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Dwight Howard (the leading vote getter in the East).  You’ll notice that Rondo and KG are no longer in the starting 5 for the East.  What a shame.

*Speaking of All-Star teams, John Schulman of tweeted this past Monday how a roster is filled out when a player can’t participate due to injury.  Essentially, the roster spot would be filled by the commisioner with the coach of team deciding who stepped into the starting lineup from the selected All-Stars.  That means no automatic bid for Andrew Bynum in the West even though he’s in 2nd place in the voting for West Centers, with Yao unlikely to play due to injury.

*One last note on All-Stars: If I could pick the reserves for the West, they’d look like this: Gasol, Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook, Dirk, Ginobili, Blake Griffin, and Tim Duncan.  As you see, absent from that list are a bunch of deserving players including Steve Nash, Kevin Love, and Lamar Odom.  However, if Yao can’t play and ‘Melo gets traded before the ASG, that opens up two spots for the West.  In those spots I’d choose Love and Odom.  Call me a homer all you want, but I just think Odom deserves it.  I also think Love deserves some recognition for how fantastic he’s played this year even though his team isn’t very good.  In the end, though, that means I’m very sorry Steve Nash (with Paul, Williams, and Westbrook there were just too many PG’s).

*I have Carmelo Anthony trade rumor fatigue.  Just tell me when it happens and until then don’t mention it, please.

*Go read this piece by Kelly Dwyer on Lebron James.

*After you read that, go check out this Shannon Brown commercial over at TrueHoop.

*Last night, I attended the Lakers game at Oracle Arena in Oakland.  I’ve been to countless Warriors games (I was there for the Dallas upset in the playoffs a few years ago) and the crowd there is as good as advertised.  Last night, I’d say it was a 60-40 (or maybe closer to 70-30) split amongst the fans of both teams and it created a tremendous atmosphere with the game action making it even more of a great night.  After the game, Kobe was asked if the game felt like a home game with all the Lakers fans in attendance cheering for the road team.  He replied “When we’re up yeah. When we’re up we give our fans a chance to cheer.”   This is one of the fun places to see an NBA game, so the LA fans were cheering in many more cases than when the Lakers were up.  I’m not sure there was a bigger roar from Lakers’ supporters than when Kobe drove the lane, took the contact from Biedrins, and still finished the play with a lay in (about the 3 minute mark of this clip).  After the whistle, while Kobe sat on the ground giving a finger wag to the crowd, the Laker faithful tried to start an MVP chant that almost gained steam until the hometown fans drowned them out with boos and hisses.  You have to love a great crowd.

*That Kobe shot was part of a 46 point quarter by the Lakers where Mr. Bean dropped 17 and Odom had 16.  Realize that in only 12 minutes the Lakers scored only 11 points fewer than the Cavs did in 48 minutes the night before.  Also realize that Kobe and LO’s point totals just for that period last night were equal to (Odom’s) and one point more than (Kobe’s) the Cavs scored in any quarter all of Tuesday evening.

AP Photo/Ben Margot)

(AP Photo/Ben Margot)

From Kevin Ding, OC Register: One night after winning with defense, the Lakers won with Kobe. The Lakers earned their sixth consecutive victory Wednesday night, riding Kobe Bryant’s second-half surge for a 113-108 victory over the Golden State Warriors. The Lakers on Tuesday night held the Cleveland Cavaliers to 57 points, fewest in Lakers history in a single game, but struggled to keep up with Golden State’s Monta Ellis, who came in as the NBA’s fourth-leading scorer at 25.2 points per game and poured in 38 points on 15-of-26 field-goal shooting. Ellis played all 48 minutes to do it. Bryant played 37 minutes and one-upped Ellis with 39 points on 13-of-21 shooting. Bryant came in as the NBA’s fifth-leading scorer at 24.9 points per game, and he turned it up after a nine-point, five-turnover first half left the Lakers down, 53-45. The dagger through the Warriors’ heart was a 27-foot 30-point shot over Ellis with 43.9 seconds left for a 105-99 Lakers lead.

From Broderick Turner, LA Times: It took a big effort from Kobe Bryant and Lamar Odom in the fourth quarter for the Lakers to defeat the Golden State Warriors and win their sixth straight game. Bryant scored 30 of his 39 points in the second half. He had 17 points in the decisive fourth quarter. Odom had 16 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter, when the Lakers scored 46 points. Monta Ellis tried to carry the Warriors, scoring 38 points on 15-for-26 shooting. Ellis played all 48 minutes for Golden State. Pau Gasol had 24 points and 11 rebounds for the Lakers.

From Dave McMenamin, Land O’ Lakers: Kobe Bryant displayed his full repertoire of celebratory actions in the fourth quarter. There was the Dikembe Mutombo finger wave with 3:10 remaining when he drove into the lane, absorbed the contact from Andris Biedrins and still made the layup, sending him to the line for an and-one and Biedrins out of the game with six fouls. There was the lower jaw jut, dubbed simply “The Kobe Face” that he displayed several times after canning a couple jumpers with the defender glued to him. And there was the arms spread out in full Michael Jordan “Wings” fashion after he hit his dagger of a pull-up 3-pointer with 43.9 seconds left that doubled the Lakers late lead from three to six. (Usually when Bryant spreads his arms out like that he’ll go into airplane mode, but Wednesday he just settled for taxiing.)

From Dexter Fishmore, Silver Screen and Roll: Let’s take a moment to give thanks to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Last night, they surrendered all pretense of being professional basketball players and lost by a still-hard-to-believe 55 points, as a result of which Phil Jackson was free to rest his starters for a healthy chunk of the contest. Without that luxury, it’s altogether possible the Lakers wouldn’t have had the aerobic endurance called for by tonight’s 48-minute wind sprint up in Oakland. The Golden State Warriors, led by nettlesome ferret Monta Ellis, ran circles around the Lake Show for three quarters and threatened to dash the good spirits that have lately gathered around the defending champs, but in the fourth the Lakers hit the Dubs with a steady, pounding assault that their smaller, younger Pacific Division cohorts couldn’t withstand. The result was an exhausting 115 to 110 victory fueled by heroics from the one they call “Kobe.”

From Billy Witz, Fox Sports: Karma, as we are learning, can be a b****. So, too, can Kobe Bryant, who may not take over games as frequently as he once did, but on Wednesday night took control of a game that the Lakers — who were coming off a 55-point win against Cleveland — looked very much in danger of losing. In the end, they did not, beating Golden State 115-110 thanks to Bryant’s 39 points, 30 of which came in the second half and 17 of which came in the final six minutes. They also got a considerable boost from Lamar Odom, who scored 16 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter, when the Lakers rallied from a five-point deficit.

From Chris Shellcroft, Lake Show Life: Everything that last night’s crushing of the Cavs wasn’t tonight’s win over the Warriors was. This one had it all as the Lake Show outlasted Golden State in a thriller. Early on it was the Warriors and Monta Ellis that took it to the Lakers. Ellis was unstoppable. His cheetah quicks and ridiculous elevation on those rainbow jumpers were just indefensible. Come to think of it, pretty much everything Golden State did in the first half proved a problem for the Lakers. After GSW opened up a 14 point, second quarter lead, Phil Jackson got his squad to regroup and reassert themselves. A game that began as a sprint slowed to a marathon as Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom began to control the boards. Most important of all was that the defense was dialed up as the Warriors managed just 22 points in the third. With the tempo slowly shifting in favor of Los Angeles it came time for Kobe Bryant to go to work.

A Mark Medina Q&A with Frank Hamblen, LA Times: What’s the story behind you getting a coaching job after pursuing a career in television? I came out here [after graduating from Syracuse in 1969], had $200 in my pocket and drove across country. I had some Syracuse alumni who were in the TV/movie industry. They were producers and directors. I was doing an interview with them to get into that business. The L.A. Lakers shootout was going on way back then and the Pistons came to town. They were in one of the teams in the shootout. Dave Bing, who was a senior at Syracuse when I was a freshman, was playing, so we went out after the game. They were playing the San Diego Rockets the next night, and I said I had never been to San Diego. I’ll come down. There was another Syracuse guy with us and he said, “Look up Max Shapiro.” He scouts for them and I just happened to run into Max Shapiro at the game. We started talking. He said he was going to resign his position in two days and wanted to go in a different direction in life. Would I be interested in the job? I go, “Yeah. I don’t have a job.” I stayed over and interviewed with Pete Newell, the general manager, and they wound up hiring me. Well, Pete knew I played and all that, college ball. He knew my coach so he called my coach, and my coach gave me a good recommendation and they hired me. We had a good draft so here I am 42 years later.

(Well, I was attempting to get commenters to write this recap for me in an attempt to galvanize the site’s fanbase, but as it turns out, people were far more interested in giving LeBron James a solid s***-talking. Thus, you get a 1:30am game recap from me, Zephid)

Wow, first and foremost, I want to say, that was a frickin doozy. Even though the Lakers historically have dominated this matchup against the Warriors, tonight’s game was easily one of the most exciting of the season. From the shot-making to the crazy good defense leading to a crazy difficult shot that actually went in on numerous occasions, this game really had a little bit of everything.

The game started out fairly pedestrian, the Lakers jumped out to a slight early lead, played some pretty solid D, sent the ball in to the post, ran the triangle, and really did the things they were supposed to do (I love run-on sentences; every time I write one is like a massive middle-finger to my 9th grade English teacher). Then, the Warriors offense really started clicking. Cross court passes have killed this Laker team in recent years, and the Warriors employed them to perfection, leading to roughly a bajillion threes from Stephen Curry, Monta Ellis, and Dorell Wright. The Lakers got into big trouble on some pretty simple screen-roll action, repeatedly being late to help on the cross court pass.

However, it didn’t really help that Monta Ellis went into frickin video game God Mode. If you read the play-by-play on most websites, they read, “Monta Ellis makes driving lay-up” or “Monta Ellis makes 18 foot-jumper” about 4-5 times in a row. The Lakers literally could not stop Ellis; didn’t matter if it was Fisher, Blake, Brown, Kobe, Artest, or anyone guarding him, he just got to his spots and sank his shots (I’m a poet and I didn’t know it!).

Defense, however, was the key for the Lakers to get back in the game. Down 35-23 with 9:22 to go in the 2nd quarter, the Lakers shut down the Warriors offense, tying the game at 40 at the 4:33 mark on a Gasol hook (Maybe it’s because Phil finally realized that playing Luke Walton leads to bad defense?). The Warriors, however, refused to fold, giving the Lakers the ka-pow to end the quarter and went into halftime with an 8 point lead.

As you can see, I’ve recapped an entire half and not mentioned a very conspicuous Laker even once. Probably realizing that this might happen, Mr. Bryant himself almost certainly decided out-loud in a commanding voice before the start of the third quarter, “I’m gonna frickin win this game.” The possessions read in some order: Kobe miss, Kobe free throws, Kobe jumper, Kobe jumper, Kobe bad pass, Kobe jumper, Kobe bad pass, Kobe jumper, Kobe miss, Kobe miss. Frankly, I could’ve sworn that there were more “Kobe bad pass’s” than were stated in the play-by-play, because Kobe did his patented jump-in-to-the-air-then-figure-out-what-the-f***-I’m-gonna-do move on at least 4 occasions, all leading to less than desirable results (read: turnovers). Honestly, Kobe kept the Lakers in the game in the 3rd, but he also kept the Lakers out of the game in the 3rd. Kobe, the one-man double-edged sword.

So, the Lakers go into the 4th down 6, and they see two things: 1.) Andrew Bynum is being guarded by David frickin Lee (all 6’9, 250 lbs of him), and 2.) Lamar Odom is being guarded by Vladimir Radmanovic. First two possessions went something like: pass into Drew in the post; dribble, pound, dribble, pound, free throws / layup. At that point, Keith Smart was probably like “well, this kinda sux, I’d better save David Lee from his own defenselessness,” and proceeded to sub in Andris Biedrins. Then noticing #2 of my points above, Lamar Odom probably saw he was being guarded by Radman and must have imagined the Space Cadet’s face morphing into a gigantic peachy ring, because he proceeded to dominate the crap out of him. Odom Layup, Odom jumper, Odom jumper, Odom free throws, and suddenly the Lakers are up 1.

Now, having been sitting out for the beginning of the 4th quarter (and probably realizing that the whole past paragraph did not include a single mention of himself), Kobe Bryant checked in right in between Lamar’s free throws and probably decided to himself “f*** Lamar, I told everyone that I’m gonna frickin win this game.” The next few possessions go something like: Kobe three, Kobe free throws, Kobe and1, Kobe jumper, Kobe assist, ending with a Kobe dagger three to put the Lakers up 6 with 43 seconds to play. The game gets just a little bit tense later (due to 2 VladRad 3’s, a Dorell Wright 3, and a Wright dunk), but the game was pretty much won at that point.

All of this happened, and I didn’t even mention that Gasol had another monster game against the Warriors, going for 24 and 11 on 8-14 shooting, while Stephen Curry was pretty quiet with 15 and 10 assists on 5-12 shooting. Kobe had an uber-efficient 39 points, 6 boards, 4 assists, 3 steals, and 6 turnovers (ok maybe turnovers aren’t very efficient), while Monta kept pace with 38 points on 15-26 shooting with 3 assists and 2 steals. And for the Warriors, when your starting center gets only 3 rebounds, you know something bad has happened, namely you got outrebouded 18-7 on the offensive glass and 47-27 overall.

This game really came down to three things: 1.) Monta Ellis is frickin unstoppable in the early parts of games, but burns out in the 2nd half because Keith Smart plays him a bajillion minutes a night; 2.) The Lakers length not only gives them a huge rebounding advantage, but it also gives them a huge defensive advantage with Bynum in the middle; 3.) When Kobe Bryant wants to take over a game, he takes over a game, for better or worse. The Lakers came out of it with a solid win against a decent team, coming from behind and not losing control once they got over the hump. The Lakers are continuing to build on their recent solid play, and that’s really all you can ask for in the middle of January.


Records: Lakers 28-11 (3rd in West), Warriors 15-22 (12th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.8 (1st in NBA), Warriors 106.5 (16th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 103.5 (9th in NBA), Warriors 110.9 (26th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers:Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Warriors: Stephen Curry, Monta Ellis, Dorell Wright, David Lee, Andris Biedrins
Injuries: Lakers: Matt Barnes & Theo Ratliff (out), Warriors: Brandan Wright (out)

One Last Note On Last Night:   The Cavs game was memorable for a variety of reasons and I know that I’ll look back on that game for a while as one that was glorious (watching the Lakersdominate) while also being a bit of a downer (watching a team get so thoroughly undressed is kindof sad).  However, the one thing I was interested in seeing in the aftermath of the game was how the Lakers efficiency statistics would be affected by such a dominant performance.  Well, after checking Basketball-Reference this morning I got my answer.  The Lakers offensive efficiency improved by .4 points and moved them from 2nd to 1st in the league in points per 100 possessions (passing the Spurs).  On defense, though, the improvement was much bigger as the Lakers shaved an entire point off their efficiency mark and moved up from 11th to 9th in the NBA.  I’m no expert, but that seems like a huge jump based off one game’s work.  I guess holding the opposition to an offensive rating of 64(!) will do that for a team.

And while it may be too early to say that the Lakers’ new plan on defense (where they’re putting a greater emphasis on chasing shooters off the 3 point line and into the help of Bynum and Gasol) is a smashing success, I think it’s fair to say that it’s worked the last two games against the Knicks and the Cavs.  On that note, commenter The Dude Abides (who’s been especially on point in the comments of late) made a great observation about the Lakers new defense:

I think this Laker team is energized by the new defense installed by Chuck Person and Phil. It gives them something to work on and prevents boredom.

I agree wholeheartedly with this as the implementation of this “new” scheme has seemed to brought back a focus and energy on defense that had been lacking this year.  Let’s hope that it continues because we all know that this team’s ability to defend will greatly contribute to their success.

The Warriors Coming in:  The Dubs have only won 2 of their last 5 games, but when you look at their schedule that’s an understandable number of victories.  In that span they’ve faced off against the Clippers, Cavs, Hornets, Heat, and Magic (beating the Hornets and Cavs).  Facing off against the Lakers tonight means that this may be one of the more difficult 6 game stretches any team will face in their schedule (even with the Cavs thrown in).

It’s tough to put a real handle on this Warriors team.  During the off-season they gave up some of their depth to acquire David Lee, fired Don Nelson, and were supposed to commit themselves to more discipline on both sides of the ball under new coach Keith Smart.  The results have been the same old Warriors only without the high-powered offense and the postgame beers with the head coach.  The team still relies heavily on its dynamic guard combo of Ellis and Curry to create offense (they combine for nearly 44 points and 11 assists a game) but that’s at least somewhat necessitated by the fact that David Lee’s numbers are down across the board from his last season in New York (15 and 10 this year compared to 20 and 12 last year).  Dorell Wright has been a pleasant surprise as a playmaker and all-around talent on the wing, but overall this team still doesn’t do the little things well enough to win at a rate that equates with playoff-level basketball.  Ultimately, the high that was experienced after the new owners took over is now supplemented by the hard reality that what they have isn’t good enough to compete. Tweaking and some rebuilding is needed in the coming seasons.

Warriors BlogsWarriors World always does a very good job of breaking down the team from Oakland.  Golden State of Mind also keeps you looked in with all things Warriors related.

Keys to game: Tell me if you’ve heard this before: the Lakers have an advantage inside and should take advantage of it.  The Warriors start the defensively challenged Lee at PF and Biedrins (who lacks the ballast to anchor in the post) at C.  The offense should revolve around getting Gasol and Bynum post touches against these two to not only get baskets for themselves but to open things up for their teammates.  If there’s been one offensive trend over the past few games it’s been the stellar play of LA’s big men, as they’ve tag teamed opponents with their array of post moves and passing ability (both to each other and to their perimeter mates).

Kobe can also get involved in the post-up action as either Ellis or Curry will be tasked with slowing him down.  Expect to see Kobe go into back-down mode when he brings the ball up in semi-transition with him looking to shoot over the top of these smaller defenders.  Also on the wing, I hope to see Ron Artest continue his subtle (yet noticeable) improvement on offense.  Last night Ron made 6 of his 11 FGs (including 3 of 5 from deep) for 15 points.  I’d love to see him continue to build on that success with the solid decision making and lack of hesitation that he’s shown in the past couple of weeks.

Defensively, the Warriors want to push the tempo (they play at the 4th fastest pace in the league) to try and counter their lack of size.  Look for them to run on every offensive possession to either beat the Lakers down the floor completely or get them in semi-transition, where quick hitting P&R’s can be run against a defense that isn’t completely set.  The Lakers will need to understand the Warriors strategy and do what’s needed to counter it.  Look for the Lakers to try and crash the offensive boards hard (keeping more Warriors occupied instead of leaking out) and also show good floor spacing and balance to enable good transition defense.  But besides these techniques, the Lakers will just need to run back hard and track the Warriors shooters that like to run to the three point line, while also defending the paint and building a wall against Ellis as he tends to attack the rim in these situations.

In the half court, the Lakers must be truly focused in their P&R defense.  Both Ellis and Curry are terrors in this set, with their ability to shoot the ball when defenders go under screens, and attack the rim when they trail it.  Monta Ellis is especially dangerous because his quickness off the dribble is nearly unmatched in the entire league.  Plus his ability to finish in the paint and/or draw fouls means that over-aggressive attempts to block his shot will put him at the line and the big man attempting it on the bench.  Seriously, there are few guards as dynamic as Ellis and when he has it going he can pour in 40+ points while barely breaking a sweat.  Kobe, Artest, and Brown will have their hands full in dealing with him.

This game is no gimme and the Lakers will be physically tested on the second night of a back to back.  Luckily, last night allowed for a lot of rest for the Lakers’ key rotation players, but even that rest won’t be the only ingredient to sticking with the Warriors tonight.  The Lakers will need to impose their style of play on the Dubs to turn the game into more of a half court affair where the size of Bynum, Gasol, and Odom can make its biggest impact.  If LA is able to slow the pace enough, the Warriors won’t be able to take the pounding, and like a power running game in the NFL, you’ll see defenders start to voluntarily cede the territory in the paint to the stronger team.  A win tonight means 6 in a row so let’s hope the Lakers continue with their improved focus to get to that mark.

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