Archives For January 2011

The Lakers Nation’s LD2K got his hands on this video of Kobe Bryant’s state title run with Lower Merion High School and sent me the link last night. Check out the seven minute clip for some Kobe high school highlights, including a few fantastic passes from the young KB.

From Bret LaGree, Hoop Speak: Michael Schumacher’s 2007 biography of George Mikan, Mr. Basketball: George Mikan, the Minneapolis Lakers, and the Birth of the NBA, attempts both to represent Mikan as the league’s proto-superstar and to imply the degree to which the league has transformed from an unstable, regional, American league into a financially robust, worldwide phenomenon. It’s easy to forget both how new the NBA is and how different the second half of its existence has been from its first. Easier, perhaps, when one’s conscious memory encompasses only that second half of the league’s existence. Befitting the NBA’s origin as a less popular alternative to college basketball, my earliest conscious memory of watching live basketball dates to Patrick Ewing repeatedly goaltending early in the 1982 NCAA Championship Game.

From Kevin Ding, OC Register: Kobe Bryant sat in Carmelo Anthony’s home arena on a day when Bryant’s career inched further toward immortality with the news he’ll become the first athlete to have his hands and feet imprinted at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood. It’ll happen next month, the day before the All-Star Game. For that, Bryant is set to beat out LeBron James in fan votes for the first time since 2006, when Bryant’s ballot box got stuffed by 81 points on a certain January night. Speaking of points, Bryant is now 51 points shy of Hakeem Olajuwon and eighth place on the all-time NBA scoring list. Bryant’s legacy is by now secure.

From Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: I think it was three seasons ago I stood in a nearly empty Lakers locker room, chatting with Kobe Bryant.* Tired of talking basketball, his mind soon wandered to Hollywood. “You know, Brian,” he said, “this hoops thing has worked out pretty well, I’d say, but at the same time I’ve always been a little jealous of people like Harrison Ford, Al Pacino, Michael Douglas, George Lucas, Doris Day, Natalie Wood, Yul Brenner, Ava Gardner, Cary Grant, Douglas Fairbanks, and Joan Crawford. People who have had their hands and feet immortalized outside the Chinese Theater in Hollywood.” “That, Brian, would be really cool.”

From C. A. Clark, Silver Screen and Roll: In the midst of watching the Los Angeles Lakers get carpet bombed on their way to another loss, this time at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks, I was troubled by a single recurring thought … How in the hell are the Los Angeles Lakers good at 3 point defense?  All too often, they play like they did last night … late close outs, poor rotations, needless doubling of non-threatening post players; these are staples of the Laker defense on any given night.  And yet, year after championship winning year, the Lakers are amongst the leaders in opposing 3 point field goal percentage.  They were third two seasons ago, first last season and currently rank fifth this season, despite last night’s air raid.

This may seem random, but I love visiting Basketball-Reference.  I go there multiple times a day just to search through their vast database of stats, games, teams, and players looking for nuggets of information that better help me understand the game. (I also use their stats for our game previews for info on offensive and defensive efficiency, pace, and other useful info to help look at that day’s match up.)

Today, when visiting the site, I found an interesting stat that I wanted to share. Did you know that since the 2007-08 season (the one in which the Lakers acquired Pau Gasol) that the Lakers’ longest winning streak (in a single season) has only been 11 games? They’ve reached that mark a single time. Their second longest streak has been 10 games (twice) and besides that their longest streak has been all of 8 games.  This year, the Lakers longest streak has been 7 games, you’ll surely remember it since it just ended against the Clippers this past Sunday. (On a side note, there have been 12 streaks longer than the Lakers’ 11 game tear during this same time frame. They’ve been accomplished by 8 different teams with multiple streaks by the Celtics, Cavs, and Mavs in that time.)

I bring this all up because I think we can all agree that one of the more frustrating aspects of following the Lakers this season has been the lack of ability to build momentum. Early in the year, the Lakers seemed to have everything going well but soon after starting out so hot the team fell into a roller coaster of a season where a handful of wins was followed by a few losses. And on like that we’ve gone. The team takes a couple of steps forward, a couple backward and we all sit back and talk about what’s wrong with the team and wonder if any of the recurring issues we see will be the fatal flaw that ends the team’s reign over the league. 

I think most fans would agree that all they want is consistent play and the chance to win each game; for the team to play hard and smart and to their potential. If that happens, most think, the wins will follow and ultimately we’re all happy.

But if pressed harder, I think what fans really want is another championship and for this team to play its best basketball in May and June. For a parade at the end of the year and for Kobe and Fisher to hold up 6 fingers as they grasp on to another trophy.  And therein lies the rub because what fans really want (a win each night AND a championship at the end of the year) don’t always mean that the team is going to play the way we want on any given night.

In the comments, there was a brief debate about statement games. I think if – taking from my earlier example – fans can’t get a win each night, they at least want wins against the best teams. A team like the Spurs (2 weeks ago) or the Mavs (last night). Commenter Joe summed up this side of the argument well when he said:

(Dallas) is a game that has more meaning than against a non playoff contending team. If I were the Lakers, I wouldn’t want to let these good teams to keep on beating us and give them more confidence against us going into the playoffs. I mean if the Lakers believe they are still far and away the best team and can just flip the switch like they did last year come playoff time, they will lose, they need to let go of the arrogance.

However, to counter that another commenter (Dirty Sanchez) stated that:

A statement game during the regular season for a two time defending champion is an oxymoron. LA knows what type of effort it takes to win in the playoffs. You cant judge whats happening now will be what the future holds. Don’t get me wrong the team is frustrating to watch, but at the same time things can change at anytime.

And this is what it’s like to follow this team. Frustration. Confidence. This is the roller coaster we all ride on the journey towards the end of the season. I wish I knew which side was right but I don’t. None of us do and we won’t until the end of the line. Such is this Lakers’ season. I have a feeling this won’t be the last time we’re all wondering what’s wrong while also feeling perfectly confident that it will all be better in the next game.

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

From Kevin Ding, OC Register: The Lakers’ fans might be blaming reserves Shannon Brown and Luke Walton, who shot 1 for 9 and were on the court while an even second-half game exploded into a double-digit lead for the Dallas Mavericks. Lakers coach Phil Jackson acknowledged the team started “messing around” on offense instead of getting the ball inside properly to Pau Gasol. ut the consensus inside the Lakers locker room after their 109-100 loss Wednesday night was that lackadaisical defense did in the Lakers … again. “We were just being lazy,” center Andrew Bynum said. “I’m quite sure if you look at the tape, everybody is kind of stagnant and just staying still. And we didn’t cut off the baseline.

From Mark Medina, Los Angeles Times: In almost a single-file motion, Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, Steve Blake, Pau Gasol and Shannon Brown trudged their way toward the locker room in American Airlines Arena with different expressions on their faces. The Lakers were just minutes removed from a 109-100 loss Wednesday to the Dallas Mavericks and the varying movements, ranging from Bryant, Blake and Brown staring straight ahead, Odom wiping his face with his jersey and Gasol looking at the ground revealed the unanimous frustration the Lakers currently face. That’s expected after a loss, but the reasons why the team’s frustration level remain high point to their seemingly inability to capitalize off any momentum they build during stretches of the season. Instead, any morsels of progress come crashing down into a head-scratching loss that makes the Lakers feel they lost the little ounce of momentum they once had.

From Dexter Fishmore, Silver Screen and Roll: If you’ve been burning precious leisure time watching the 2010-11 Los Angeles Lakers, you know there’s been something awry about their perimeter defense all season long. Guards double pointlessly on post threats who aren’t all that threatening. Guys get rubbed out on high screens way too easily. Opposing shooters get open in transition because there’s a Laker or two still at the other end complaining about a no-call. The disease has many symptoms, but the end result is that opponents are getting open outside the arc with undue frequency. It hasn’t always come back to haunt the Lakers – coming into tonight’s game against Dallas, the champs actually ranked fifth in opponents’ three point percentage – but it’s a systemic weakness that’s contributed to some ugly defensive efforts. Tonight’s loss, a 109 to 100 pasting at the hands of the Mavericks, was among the ugliest.

From Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: Call it a Tale of Two Halves. In the first half, the Lakers played fairly solid ball, save a couple of minutes in the second quarter. But in the second half, the third quarter in particular, the wheels came off the wagon. Turnovers, poor decisions on offense, breakdowns on D, and some white-hot shooting from Jason Kidd and Jason Terry did them in. Dallas owned the last seven minutes of the third quarter, and continued its domination into the fourth. The Lakers tried to make a late push, but the hole was too deep. The Mavs picked up a win they were desperate to get, while the Lakers missed a chance to keep a Western Conference rival, slumping but healthier now with the return of Dirk Nowitzki, on the mat for another night. Perhaps most disappointing was the lack of pushback from the visitors. They had no answer for what became an extended run for the Mavs.

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Quick Update: Sebastian Pruiti of NBA Playbook has a post on how the Lakers’ triangle offense beat the Dallas Mavericks zone. Make sure you go check that out here.

There will be games when scoring will be enough. Tonight, against the Mavs, was not one of those games. What the Lakers needed was defensive effort and the stops that follow but instead they tried to rely on their offense to carry the way and they fell way short by the score 109-100.

Early on, it didn’t look like the Lakers would be forced to pay for their poor defensive effort. Actually, scratch that. Early on, I thought the Lakers approach of leaving certain players open on defense wasn’t going to hurt them. Intent to ensure that Dirk didn’t find his offensive rhythm, the Lakers forced Jason Kidd, DeShawn Stevenson, and Sasha Pavlovic to shoot open jumpers and early on only Pavlovic made them pay. Neither Kidd or Stevenson could make open shots and the Lakers happily took the ball the other way to execute their offense quite well.  The ball went inside to Gasol and Bynum, Fisher and Kobe were making excellent choices with the ball and the team was scoring pretty easily. By the time the first quarter ended, the Lakers were up 31-23 and it looked they were well on their way to a win.

Then, the rest of the game happened and Dallas turned the game around by attacking the Lakers’ weaknesses. Once Dallas went to their bench they increased the pace of the game and they started to find the range on their jumpers. Led by notorious Laker Killer Jason Terry, the Mavs got into the open court and created open looks for their shooters by running the Lakers defense into the paint and then passing back out to shooters at the three point line.

But, it wasn’t just in the open court that the Mavs were doing damage. In the 3rd quarter, the Mavs pick and roll heavy attack started to further break down the Lakers defense. With Jason Kidd quarterbacking the Mavs’ attack, they got one good look after another and turned the game from a back and forth contest where the Lakers were completely in the game to a one sided affair that put the Lakers in a deep hole.

Whether the ageless point guard was deciding to shoot or create for one of his teammates, Kidd completely controlled the game action. He sank jumper after jumper of his own (making 8 of his 12 shots including 5 of his 8 three pointers for 21 points) and then used the Lakers closeouts (when they did close out) against them to set up his mates. The main beneficiary of Kidd’s passes was Shawn Marion who, like his former Suns teammate, had a throwback game showing off a variety floaters, half hooks, and set jumpers.  Marion finished the night with a 22 point effort of his own (on only 13 shots) and hit several shots to curb a potential Lakers’ run.

The Lakers did do a variety of things right tonight, but when a team’s success is limited to only one side of the ball it’s often not going to be enough to win. The Lakers found that out first hand tonight as they only had a couple of bad stretches on offense but found nearly a full game of poor defense too much to compensate for.  Furthermore, even when the Lakers did start to tighten up their defense, it was too late as the Mavs had already found their rhythm and just hit the contested shots too. Kidd, Terry, and Marion were all perfect examples of this as they buried some tough shots down the stretch that ultimately did the Lakers in.

Looking at this game from a glass half full approach, the Lakers can use this game as a teaching tool. By reviewing the film to this game they can see where their defensive rotations were bad and hopefully get to the root cause of some of their miscommunication on that side of the ball. Offensively, they can also take some positives away as the Mavs’ zone did little to disrupt the Lakers O and both Kobe and Gasol were able to have good games by getting good shots in the teeth of the defense. So, despite the loss there are things to build on. Too bad one of those growth points isn’t a victory.

Records: Lakers 31-12 (2nd in West), Mavericks 26-14 (5th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.0 (1st in NBA), Mavericks 107.1 (15th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 104.0 (9th in NBA), Mavericks 104.7 (10th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers:Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Mavericks: Jason Kidd, Deshawn Stevenson, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki, Tyson Chandler
Injuries: Lakers: Matt Barnes & Theo Ratliff (both out); Mavericks:Rodrique Beaubois& Caron Butler (both out), Tyson Chandler (questionable)

The Lakers Coming in: Whether or not you consider the Lakers’ win vs. the Thunder their best of the season, it was definitely good to see a W against a very good opponent. The Lakers played a very good 1st half and a tremendous 2nd half to close out the type of young, talented, and athletic team that has given them fits all year. So, coming off a win like that the Lakers are now in a position to springboard into a very difficult part of their schedule. Tonight the Mavs await andwhile they’re not playing their best (more on that in a second) they surely represent another quality team that is expected to perform well come playoff time.

In order to rack up the wins against quality teams, though, the Lakers must start to improve in some of the areas that have been hampering them lately. First off all, that means getting more minutes out of Bynum. Big ‘Drew has been plagued with fouls in the past couple of games and it’s really killed his rhythm on offense while also removing the Lakers interior defensive anchor on defense. They also need more performances like the OKC game from their point guards. Fisher had a very good shooting game andBlake (though only making one shot) looked more aggressive by at least acting like he wanted to shoot more (but not being able to because defenders were in good position to contest his would be shots).  With Kobe playing well of late, LO still locked in, Ron finding his stride, and Pau now seemingly playing better too the Lakers are poised to start to make a push but they’ll need the other key pieces to come along for the ride. Here’s hoping that starts now.

The Mavericks Coming in:  Injuries have simply killed this team lately. Once the 2nd seed and one of the hotter teams in the league, the Mavs have lost 6 games in a row and9 of 11. After Caron Butler went down for the season with an injured knee and Dirk missed games due to the slight spain of his own, the Mavs simply couldn’t keep up offensively and started their tumble down the standings. They now sit in 5th place in the conference but are only 3 games ahead in the loss column over the 7th place team (Denver).

However, things may begin to fall back into place for the Mavs. First off all, Dirk is back from injury, and while he didn’t perform well in his first game back (7 points in only 14 minutes, plus he got ejected for arguing), in Monday’s game against the Pistons he put up 32 points on only 17 shots (though, in defeat). Now that their offensive anchor is back, the Mavs shouldn’t have the same issues scoring the ball andjust have to get back to playing quality defense. The return of Tyson Chandler (he missed the last couple games withthe flu, but is hopeful to play tonight) should help with that. In the end, I think everyone in Big D is hopeful that a loss to the lowly Pistons was rock bottom and they can get back to playing the type of ball that had them pegged as one of the best teams in the league through the first 30 games of the season. And they’ll look to get on track tonight vs. the visiting defending champs.

Mavericks Blogs: Rob Mahoney does an excellent job over at The Two Man Game (amongst other places). Go there and learn some things on the Mavs.

Keys to game:The Mavshave been trying for years to match up with the Lakers and Spurs and this year they’ve put together the roster that actually comes closest for them to do so. So, tonight will depend a lot on whether or not the Mavs actually have the ingredients to contend with the Lakers’ strengths or if they’re still a ways behind.

Defensively, the Lakers are going to have to deal with a team that plays at a slower pace but will selectively push the ball when it’s to their advantage. Jason Kidd, despite his age, is still one of the better floor generals in the league in that he’s excellent at recognizing the weakness of other team and then working to exploit it. Tonight he’ll be very aware that the Lakers struggle when the ball is pushed back at them and I’m sure he’ll try to run up the Lakers backs in order to get Shawn Marion shots going to the basket and his shooters (Dirk, Barrea, Terry) open shots at the three point line against a collapsing defense.  So, the Lakers must run back hard and be aware of who is on the floor in order to match up in transition and not give up the looks that the Mavs want to get.

In the half court, the Mavsdo the same things they’ve been doing for a while – run P&R with Kidd probing the D and run isolations at the elbow for Dirk to go one on one against defenders that aren’t used to guarding 7’0” bigs that can create their own shots out to the 3 point line. Stopping Dirk will be the #1 priority, though, so that means plenty of extra attention directed towards him. Luckily in Gasol and Odom, the Lakers have good individual defenders to put on Dirk but I’d love to see LA mix up their coverages on him by doubling when he puts the ball on the ground or feinting the double and then recovering when he looks to pass. Dirk is not a turnover prone player, but if the Lakers can get him out of his rhythm and make him see things that aren’t really developing that way they may bait him into some bad possessions.

On the other side of the ball, the Mavs defense may present one of the biggest challenges the Lakers’ offense see all year. The reason is that the Mavs play one of the best zone defenses in the entire league and the Lakersdon’t really deal with the zone that well. In order to crack the Mavs’ zone D, the Lakers will need to use crisp ball andplayer movement while also acting decisively. I’d love to see quick ball reversals with Kobe at the top of the zone, Gasol or Odom flashing to the middle, and the other big sitting in the short corner ready to duck in for high-low actions. If the Lakers can get Kobe at the top of the key isolated against Kidd, Terry, or Barrea he can easily get to the elbow area to elevate and shoot his jumper. If Gasol and/or Odom can get into the creases of the D either at the FT line or along the baseline, they too should be able to get easy shots in the teeth of the defense. This will take discipline on offense, though, and that’s something that hasn’t always been there for the Lakers this season (despite their efficiency).

Lastly, the battle of the benches will be key tonight. In Barrea, Terry, Cardinal, and Haywood the Mavs have 4 rotation players that they inherently trust to play well. Terry is, again, one of the leading candidates for 6th man of the year while Cardinal stepped in admirably for Dirk when he was out injured. While the Mavs trust Barrea so much they’ll often go to three guard line ups where he’s flanked by Kidd and Terry to close out games. So, the Lakers bench of LO, Shannon, Blake, and Walton will need to have good games tonight in order to match the production of the Mavs’ reserves (while also holding them below their normal levels).  If one bench drastically outplays the other, that team will probably win this game.

The Mavs face an uphill climb tonight. Per the Elias Sports Bureau this is the longest losing streak by the Mavs since the 2000 season andthey’re trying to snap it against the back to back champs. However, you know what they say about about a person with their back against the wall so the Lakers will need to be prepared for the Mavs’ best effort tonight. This win could catapult them back into their winning ways. Meanwhile, the Lakers need to win these games not so much as a confidence boost but because they’re finally starting to play well and beating another top team will only continue the momentum along that was slightly interrupted by the Clippers game. Here’s hoping that the road team is the one that uses this game as their springboard.

Where you can watch: 6:00pm start out west on KCAL and nationally on ESPN. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710am.