Archives For February 2011

Defending point guards has long been an issue for the Lakers. Derek Fisher is a good defender is several ways – he’s a bulldog fighting through screens, he’s still a master at drawing offensive fouls, and there are few players I’d trust more as the last man back in a 2 on 1 or 3 on 1 situation for the opposition – but man on man/on an island defense against the PG’s of the NBA is an area where Fisher struggles.

And there’s no shame in that. This is a golden era for point guard with names like Paul, Williams, Rose, Westbrook, Rondo, Nash, and Parker on the docket on any given night. You throw in less established/young players like Curry, Lawson, Brooks, Jennings Evans, and Wall or veteran leaders like Kidd, Billups, Harris, Nelson, Baron, Miller, and Calderon and there’s really not a night off for guys what have to defend this position.

The fact is, though, that the Lakers must do better when defending these players. PER isn’t a perfect stat, but it is a very good all encompassing one for measuring a player’s efficiency (mostly on offense). The league average PER for PG’s is 13.74 (per HoopData). Derek Fisher allows PG’s to sport a PER of 19.7 every night. Steve Blake allows a PER of 17.9. For comparisons sake, Paul Pierce has a PER of 19.5 and Danny Granger has a PER of 17.9. Both of those players are recent all-stars at their respective positions and the Lakers allow PG’s to perform at that level of efficiency nearly every night.

The question then is what do the Lakers do about it?

In certain instances, the Lakers have found a solution. They use Kobe Bryant to defend PG’s. Just yesterday Kobe marked Russell Westbrook whenever they shared the court. Since the 2008 Finals he’s been deployed the same way against Rajon Rondo. Throughout his career he’s been used to guard Jason Kidd, Deron Williams and Tony Parker in stretches and if the Lakers need a stop or want to switch up their scheme, I wouldn’t doubt if we see this tactic resurface. So, should the Lakers go to this more often?

Answering that question isn’t as easy as you might think. First, the cons:

  • Kobe is older now and can’t be expected to chase around the waterbug PG’s of the league. Having to do this will force him to expend energy that is better directed towards offense.
  • Kobe’s never been the best player in fighting over screens and the P&R is the predominant set that PG’s use in order to initiate offense when they’re the best player/playmaker for their team.
  • Kobe is known to wander on defense and some of these PG’s represent the better shooters in the league.

Now, some pro’s:

  • Kobe, when engaged, is still one of the better perimeter defenders in the league. He’d need to be engaged if guarding the opposing PG and thus we’d see higher quality D.
  • Kobe’s a master of using angles in basketball and his ability to funnel ball handlers is a given direction is an underrated part of his individual defense.
  • Kobe has very good size and thus can lay off PG’s while still being a defensive presence in contesting shots and passes.
  • By putting Kobe on the opposing PG’s the opposition must account for Kobe on defense in a different way than their normal game plan would dictate.

That last point, to me, is a major plus in the argument for this to happen. One of the smarter writers out there is Zach Lowe at SI’s the Point Forward. Here’s a note he made about Russell Westbrook and the Thunder offense from yesterday’s game in his Monday Musing’s column:

The Thunder were clearly confident that Westbrook could attack Kobe Bryant on pick-and-rolls, and they ran that play to death in the first half. And you could see Durant becoming frustrated; at one point during a Westbrook-dominant stretch, Durant came open at the top of the arc as Westbrook dribbled on the wing, and he began hopping and waving his arms to get the ball.  Westbrook didn’t pass, and Durant stopped hopping, deflated. Having two great players is fantastic, obviously, but the Thunder are still figuring out how to find the tricky balance between a scoring point guard and a scoring wing player.

And this is from a column Zach wrote following the last Lakers/Celtics game:

And if you look at every Boston possession over the last five minutes of the game, you’ll see that the Celtics had essentially given up trying to run their normal offense against this strategy. The Celtics took the ball out of Rondo’s hands and had their veteran players initiate the offense down the stretch. The Lakers, in other words, turned the point guard into a finisher rather than a creator, and Boston’s offense is built around Rondo serving as the creator.

You see, when the Lakers put Kobe on the opposing PG, an adjustment occurs. The Thunder tried to attack him more often and thus went away from their scoring champion SF (who, if fully disclosing, was being handcuffed by Ron Artest) in order to try and get baskets. Meanwhile, the C’s inverted their entire offense by having Pierce initiate and Rondo become the spot up shooter. Ultimately, neither of these approaches worked and the Lakers – who have been using this tactic against these teams for the past year (or more) – won both games and have also defeated both teams in last year’s playoffs.

So, it’s obvious that this is a technique that works. Should the Lakers go to it more? Do the pros outweigh the cons? I don’t have a definitive answer here and there are other considerations not mentioned (is there a non offensive threat for Fisher/Blake to guard?) but this may be an issue that needs further exploring. I know that Phil is big on roles and that disrupting the defensive identity of the team may not be needed at this point in the season, but if the Lakers end up facing elite PG’s in the playoffs (which is almost a given) don’t be surprised if we see this switch occur. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time.

Around the World (Wide Web)

Phillip Barnett —  February 28, 2011

From Andy Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: It was a terrific all around game for El Spaniard, who was key in helping the Lakers remain in the game after the Thunder got off to a hot start. 13 points and six rebounds, with baskets coming from inside, outside and all points in between. He finished the game with 18 points and 11 boards, five of which came on the offensive glass. His impact was also felt on the defensive end. Shots were contested all night, and he drew a massively important charge against Russell Westbrook under the rim with 17 seconds left in regulation.

From Andy Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: When Kobe Bryant passed Hakeem Olajuwon last January on the all-time scoring list, it wasn’t just a climb up the ladder. It marked the start of quest to slay giants. With the exception of a certain two-guard compared to Bryant roughly every six seconds, the remaining targets are all big men. Kareem. Malone (Karl). Wilt. Shaq. Malone (Moses). And now Elvin Hayes, brushed aside by a floater banked off glass at Nick Collison’s expense. Two all-time greats, with commonalities beyond their ability to fill up a bucket. Like Bryant, Hayes was no stranger to controversy over the course of his career, and according to his bio, several issues ran parallel with problems plaguing Kobe at some point.

From Royce Young, Daily Thunder: It felt like last April all over again. The Lakers were in town, the arena was beyond loud and there was just another level of intensity on the floor. The officials swallowed their whistles for most the game, it was extremely physical and just in a general sense, it felt like a playoff game. Even down to the halftime show, things felt the same as Peter Rabbit returned (he performed twice at halftime during the playoffs). But just like last year, the Thunder came up juuuuuuuust a little short. Down three with 10 seconds left, Oklahoma City had two shots to tie, with both 3s — one from Kevin Durant and one from James Harden — rimming out. Hey, at least it wasn’t a Pau Gasol tip this time, right? Right?

From Sebastian Pruiti, NBA Playbook: With 9.8 seconds left, the Oklahoma City Thunder trailed the Los Angeles Lakers by three points with the ball on the side.  The Thunder ran a decent play, but a heads up play by Pau Gasol allowed him to challenge the shot, preventing Kevin Durant from hitting the three. The play starts with a staggered screen for James Harden.  Gasol is positioned way off of his man, Nick Collison.  This is a very smart decision.  With the Thunder needing a three pointer, Collison isn’t a threat, so Gasol playing off of him doesn’t hurt the Lakers.  Also, it prevents the area where the staggered screen is being set from getting too crowded.

From Dexter Fishmore, Silver Screen and Roll: Wow, it’s kind of bright in here all of a sudden. Everything was dim and shadowy just a few minutes ago, but now there’s illumination to spare. It’s like someone has caused energy to flow through the metal filament in a small glass bulb hanging from the ceiling. Maybe – I mean, hypothetically – they did so by toggling a small, plastic, wall-mounted component available in fine hardware stores everywhere. It’s almost like someone…. flipped a switch? Perhaps that’s taking it a smidge too far. It’s still too early to say the Lakers have overcome their pre-All Star difficulties. But the break appears to have done them a world of good. They’ve roared into the regular-season homestretch with four straight impressive wins, the latest a closely fought 90 to 87 road victory in Oklahoma City.

From Jeff Laztke, OC Register: The Lakers aren’t sure what to expect when they see the Oklahoma City Thunder with playoff nemesis Kendrick Perkins in the lineup next time. Until then, they’re doing their best to build up a cushion in the Western Conference standings. Pau Gasol had 18 points and 11 rebounds, Kobe Bryant scored 17 points and the Lakers firmed up their grasp on third place in the West by beating the Thunder, 90-87, Sunday. “They’re a dangerous team now, they’re a very good team now and probably Perkins is going to help them, especially in the playoffs,” Gasol said. “But we’ll see. That has to be seen and proven.”

From Mark Medina, LA Times: The Lakers made late-game plays in their 90-87 victory Sunday over Oklahoma City. That sentiment may not have lasted had the Thunder converted on their last possession. After Lamar Odom missed two free throws with 10 seconds remaining, the Thunder immediately called timeout when Kevin Durant grabbed the rebound with nine seconds remaining. On the next play, Durant caught a pass curling off a screen, but Ron Artest and Pau Gasol closely contested his three-point attempt. Thunder center Nick Collison tipped the missed shot to the top of the key to James Harden, whose trey hit off the back iron. But credit the Lakers’ defensive effort in forcing OKC into making tough shots at the end and many possessions before that.

From Royce Young, Eye On Basketball: For the first time since Pau Gasol broke Thunder fans’ hearts, the Lakers returned to the scene of the crime. They returned to the daunting arena that claimed them twice in the playoffs last April and a place where they escaped from by the skins of their teeth in a classic opening round Game 6. And just like the last time these two teams hooked up in Oklahoma City Arena, it came down to the final buzzer. The Thunder missed two game-tying 3-point attempts with 10 seconds left as the Lakers slid past OKC 90-87 in a playoff-like atmosphere. Kevin Durant got a pretty clean look after curling off a Nick Collison screen, but his attempt rimmed in-and-out. Collison tipped the ball back out again with it ending up in James Harden’s hands. But Harden’s 3 went begging just long.


This is a trait that every championship team needs and the Lakers seem to have found their storage supply since coming back from the all-star break. After coming back from a big deficit in Portland earlier in the week, the Lakers again tapped into their reserves and held on against the Thunder and win 90-87 to claim their 2nd straight tough road win and their 4th straight overall.

Really, this was an uphill climb all the way. The Lakers found themselves down 6-0 early and never seemed to feel comfortable against the Thunder. Whether it was Thabo Sefolosha making open jumpers (he made his first 2 threes and had eight early points for OKC) or Russ Westbrook nailing his mid-range J (as Kobe gave him the Rondo treatment), OKC seemed to be on their game and it ensured that the Lakers would have to battle the entire game if they hoped to win this game.

And battle they did.

As the game went on, Kobe couldn’t seem to buy a jumpshot but his mates were picking him up along the way. In the first period it was Gasol raining jumpers, continuing his great rhythm from Friday’s game vs. the Clippers. A tough fading J from the left wing was followed by another from the right side. After that he got a lay up and then knocked down two more jumpers before the 1st quarter buzzer sounded. Those 10 points and some solid work by Bynum to earn trips to the foul line and get inside buckets off good positioning and offensive rebounds also helped the Lakers keep pace with OKC in the first frame where LA would trail by 6.

In the 2nd quarter, it was the bench’s turn to show their worth and as usual it was a combination of Odom and Brown that spearheaded the Lakers’ attack. As I mentioned in the game preview, Lamar would have a distinct advantage against the Thunder’s reserve bigs now that Serge Ibaka has become a starter. And LO sure did take advantage of his time being guarded by Nick Collison. Surely concerned that LO would use his quickness to get to the rim, Collison sagged off LO and allowed him the space he wanted to shoot his jumper. These uncontested shots keyed the Lakers’ quest for points as Odom’s back to back jumpers (the first a two pointer from the right wing and his second a three from straight away) had the dual effect of stopping a run that OKC was on and settling the Lakers down. After Odom’s mini 5 point run, Shannon performed the same feat getting a lay in and a three pointer of his own to fall. After Odom followed that up with a another lay in, the Lakers had successfully weathered another storm and found themselves within striking distance. At the half they’d only trail by 5 even though OKC had played well enough to be up double that amount.

What was a first half of jockeying for points and ensuring that the Thunder didn’t get too far ahead developed into a defensive slugfest in the 2nd half. And here is where the Lakers really started to impose their will on the game. Ron Artest continued to put the clamps on Kevin Durant and barely allowed him any space to breathe on that side of the ball. Ron fought diligently through every screen and contested each and every shot as best he could. By the end of the game Durant had a line of 21 points on 8-20 shooting and only attempted 6 FT’s When you add in 5 turnovers, it’s easy to understand the importance that Ron had in this game as KD never truly found a groove.

Besides making things hard for Durant, the Lakers also tightened up the defense on Westbrook. After hurting the Lakers by getting to his spots and knocking down his mid-range jumper in the first half, LA made it a point of emphasis to deny Russ his angles and contest his shots whenever possible. And while Kobe did a good job of funneling Russ to specific spots on the floor and not giving up easy looks, holding Westbrook down really was a team effort. Every time he drove the Lakers bigs were there to contest his shot and either alter it to force a miss or foul him to make him earn the points at the line. When Russ tried to use the P&R to get free, the Lakers flattened out their angles so he couldn’t split the hedge man (as he did in the 1st half) and kept him in front of them on nearly every possession he went to that action. The Lakers were so successful with these tactics that Russ didn’t score the entire third period which allowed the Lakers to hold OKC to a 13 point quarter. Meanwhile the Lakers kept their offense going well enough to put up 21 points in the 3rd and were able to turn a 5 point halftime deficit into a 3 point lead going into the final frame. (This is where I must also give Bynum credit as he was a key player in ensuring that OKC’s sets weren’t successful. Big Drew showed well on screens but still protected the paint and recovered to rebound. Whether on the P&R or hedging out to help on Durant coming off pin downs, Drew showed great instincts on when to show out and when to lay back. Without his presence I think the Thunder’s offense doesn’t struggle nearly as much and they likely build some momentum going into the 4th. Instead, they trailed and had to play uphill the rest of the game.)

In the 4th quarter, the Lakers offered more of the same on the defensive end and made every OKC offensive possession a tough one. Rarely did a Thunder shot get put up without a Laker close enough to make a presence felt and most times the Lakers secured the miss with a defensive rebound. With OKC struggling to score the Lakers were able to grind out offensive possessions and get enough baskets to build up a small cushion that the Thunder just couldn’t come back from. Sure Westbrook hit a big three to cut the Lakers’ lead to a single point but on the next possession Kobe hit a baseline jumper over the outstretched arm of Sefolosha to put LA back up by three. And while the Thunder had two good looks from 25 feet out to tie the game, neither fell and the Lakers escaped with a hard fought win.

In the end, a win in this game is all I could really ask for but the fact that the Lakers did so by clamping down on D (allowing only 31 second half points) and again showing some of that championship mettle only has me more encouraged moving forward. Sure the offense bogged down in the 4th quarter with non-movement of the ball and the players led to Kobe isolations on too many possessions. But to me, the bigger point wasn’t that the Lakers struggled to score but that they responded on the other end by getting the stops. Too many times this year offensive struggles have led to inconsistent effort on D and what were close games that could have been won turned out to be losses. This game, however, was the exact opposite. In the final 5 minutes of this game the Lakers got several key stops and forced 3 turnovers (2 steals and one drawn charge) to ultimately seal the game. A game like this reminds me so much of last season and considering how that year ended, that’s a pretty great feeling.

Records: Lakers 41-19 (3rd in West), Thunder 36-21 (4th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.9 (2nd in NBA), Thunder 110.5 (10th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.1 (11th in NBA), Thunder 108.3 (16th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Thunder: Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison
Injuries: Lakers: Matt Barnes & Theo Ratliff (out); Thunder: Kendrick Perkins (out)

The Lakers Coming in: The Lakers have won three straight and all of them impressive in their own way. The offense is rolling and the defense is getting stingier. And even though there are still some defensive rebounding issues (they surrendered 13 to the Clippers on Friday) a lot of those issues are related to the sheer volume of misses the D is forcing rather than the Lakers simply not doing their jobs. So, all in all, I’m pretty happy with where this team is coming out of the all-star break and only hope that the strong play continues.

Matt Barnes update: Barnes is so close to returning that he’s traveling with the team on this two game road trip. And while he’s not likely to play today against the Thunder, it’s still a possibility that he’ll suit up against the T-Wolves on Tuesday or against the Bobcats on Friday when the team returns to Los Angeles. Obviously, this is a great sign for the Lakers in these last 20 some-odd games. Not only because Barnes is a good player whose skill set is an added element to an already good team but because it allows the Lakers’ rotation on the wing to settle into what it was early in the year. Phil hasn’t shown a whole lot of trust in Luke Walton and has not gone to him consistently while Barnes is out. This has meant more Kobe at SF and more Shannon at SG. And while more Kobe and Shannon isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it has meant a heavier load on those guys and has somewhat exposed some of the inconsistencies in Shannon’s game as the year’s progressed. I’d much rather Barnes as an option rather than having to turn to Brown if he’s not playing as well as he can on any given night. The Clips game was a perfect example of this as Brown played a lot of minutes and had a good plus/minus number, but ultimately shot 4-14 and made some questionable decisions both in the open court and in the half court that were somewhat overshadowed by his spectacular finishes in the paint. Ultimately, I like Brown but still want every option available to Phil as we close down the regular season.

The Thunder Coming in: The Thunder are 1 up and 2 down since coming out of the all-star break, with the two losses coming to the contending Spurs and Magic. But the big news coming from this team isn’t how they’re playing or what they’ve done on the court, but rather what they did off it at the NBA’s trade deadline this past Thursday.

OKC traded starters Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic to the Celtics for Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson. They also traded reserve wings James White and Morris Peterson to Charlotte for Nazir Mohammed. In these two deals the Thunder have added heaps of size and toughness to their roster while giving them an explosive bench scorer to shore up a 2nd unit that offers little punch besides James Harden. Overall, I’d have to say that the Thunder did quite well for themselves as they’ve traded the potential and upside of Green for the steadiness of Perkins.

And make no mistake, Perkins is a key player for them moving forward. Obviously, people will talk about Perkins’ post defense and his ability to physically control the paint on that side of the ball. But, I think he’s also got the potential to really help the Thunder offense. Not as a scorer, but as a screener. As it’s been for the entirety of Scott Brooks’ tenure as head man, the Thunder have run some of the more simplistic offensive sets in the league. The run simple P&R’s for Westbrook and a ton of pin down and cross screen actions for Kevin Durant in order to free him up to get off his jumper. Well, before Perkins those screens were being set by Kristc, Collison, and Ibaka – all three capable bigs, but none a bruiser that physical defenders couldn’t muscle through. Now, those screens will be set by Perkins. If Westbrook and Durant get just a second more of freedom coming off screens, OKC’s offense is going to improve a great deal, even with the drop off in true offensive skill when swapping Nenad for Kendrick.

There are drawbacks to this trade though. For one, Perkins is likely to be out at least 2 more weeks with his sprained MCL. So, there will be precious little time to integrate him with practice and game reps for the post-season push. Also, while the Thunder have been wanting to find more minutes at PF for Ibaka, he commits nearly 5 fouls per 36 minutes and suffered though 18 foul plagued minutes on Friday against the Magic. Plus, by trading away Green, the Thunder have essentially surrendered their depth at PF. Ibaka is now the only natural PF worth playing on that roster and OKC will now have to go “small” with KD at PF for stretches or go big with Collison/Nazr playing PF if Ibaka is out with foul issues or resting. Not the biggest problem to be sure, but something that will need to be addressed long term.

In the end though, the Thunder have set themselves up to be a better team this year and moving forward. Whether or not that carries them any further than what they would have originally gone this year remains to be seen but, if anything, they’ve injected even more life into a franchise on the rise. Which is saying something considering Durant and Westbrook are on this roster.

Thunder Blogs: Royce Young does a fantastic job covering this team over at Daily Thunder. You’d be doing yourself a favor by giving his site a visit.

Keys to game: The Lakers are quite familiar with how to beat the Thunder as they did so in 6 games last playoffs and have won the only regular season match up to this point. There will be no bigger factor to this game than pace and tempo with whichever team finding a way to play at the speed they prefer likely winning the game.

This means that the Lakers must play smart offensively in order to avoid promoting Thunder leak outs and open court chances. Going into the post will be a key today with Gasol and Bynum getting their chances to go at Ibaka and Collison respectively. The Bynum/Collison match up is one I’ll especially be watching because Nick is an underrated post defender that does well in battling for position while also expertly working half and full fronts on his man. He’s given Pau fits in the past with his ability to deny post entries and today it will be Bynum that has to deal. However, where Drew has the advantage over Pau is in his wider base that will allow him to more easily seal Collison and then make himself available for lobs over the top. Today may be the day that we see Drew get 10 points just off catches over the top that lead to easy baskets and FT’s after getting fouled.

As for Gasol, he’s got a different type of match up in Ibaka than he normally has in Green. Ibaka is a sturdy and athletic big man that is a capable shot blocker both on and off the ball. Pau will need to be patient today and flash all aspects of his offensive repertoire in order to keep Ibaka off balance. I hope to see Pau make his catches at the elbow and down within 15 feet of the hoop in order to set up his jumper (which he’s had going lately) or his quick drives to the hoop. If Pau can set up shop on that left mid-block most of the game, I see him being successful even if he is facing a better defender than the one that OKC has normally thrown his way at the beginning of the game.

Even though the big men should be featured, the Lakers can’t win this game by simply dumping the ball into the post. Because while that would likely keep the Thunder out of their running game, it won’t produce enough points to win. That means Kobe and the other Lakers wings will need to make shots. The key is what type of shots they get. All the Lakers wings must avoid long jumpers – especially those early in the clock. When the Lakers have had their most success against this team it’s been because Kobe hasn’t settled for his jumper and instead has drove the ball relentlessly into the paint for short jumpers and finishes right at the basket. He’ll need to have that same strategy today. As for Ron, Fisher, et al, they’ll not be able to avoid taking long jumpers but I’d hope that they come from the angle and top of the key rather than the corner (especially for Artest). This will promote better floor balance and allow the Lakers to better go after offensive rebounds while also transitioning back to the defensive end.

And believe me, defensive transition will be key. Even though I expect to see Kobe on Westbrook for most of this game, it doesn’t mean that OKC will abandon trying to push the ball up the Lakers backs to get early baskets in transition. Russ, KD, Harden, and Ibaka are all plus athletes that will run the floor and look to finish around, over, and through opponents. So, the first defensive key for the Lakers is to hustle back, build a wall and then recover back to their man.

In the half court, the Lakers need to be aware of the screen actions that the Thunder use and Artest will need to be on his game today in chasing KD off screens and then contesting his shots without fouling. Durant has traditionally struggled with Ron’s brand of physical, relentless D so Ron’s “A” game on that side of the ball would be a welcomed sight today. Where the Lakers can really help Ron is in helping off those screen actions and forcing other players not named Westbrook/Durant make shots. OKC does not have a good outside shooting team so LA can help off more than usual today and see if those other guys are up to the challenge.

Lastly (as if this preview wasn’t long enough), I’m looking for Odom to have a good game today. Normally he’s matched up with Ibaka on the 2nd unit but now that Serge is a starter LO will not have to deal with the length and springy legs that gave him so many problems last spring. This game could easily turn on an active Odom and I hope it does.

This game is important for a lot of reasons but none more than the fact that LA is trying to hold off OKC in the playoff seedings chase and because the Lakers want to continue their strong play. OKC will be loud today and the players and crowd will be hell bent on revenge. If the Lakers can pull out a win it’s just one more step in the right direction. Here’s hoping they get it.

Where you can watch: 11:30am start time on ABC. Also listen live at ESPN Radio 710am.

Lakers At The Movies

Darius Soriano —  February 26, 2011

Mike Crowder returns for another piece here at FB&G. With the Oscars coming up tomorrow and the Lakers considered (to a certain extent) “Hollywood”, Mike takes a look at the Lakers at the movies. Enjoy.

As fans, we seek to understand our athletes. We want to know why they do what they do. We want to know the motivation of previous actions to help us predict what they will do in the future.

One way we do this is by making analogies. Kobe is like Jordan. Pau is the new McHale. Derrick Character’s upside is Antoine Carr. These analogies give us context, and the search for context makes us the kind of fans that read a site like FB & G. Obviously comparing players with their predecessors is helpful in a very tangible way. We understand that Kobe’s statistics should approach Jordan’s, his leadership will be dynamic, and he is likely to amaze us. We can also predict his unpredictability, his dynamism.

Sometimes the payer to player analogies can be limiting. There is more information to be had, other ways to think about the players. In terms of basketball, Ziller and Shoals at Free Darko have used charts to show how limiting trying to define players by traditional positional stereotypes can be.  When it comes to personalities, Bill Simmons uses pop-culture to help understand players. I’m waiting for him to compare Kobe and Pau’s dynamic to Ronnie and Sammie Sweetheart.  I don’t want to try to get inside Simmons’ head, but I wonder if he hates the fact he spends so much time thinking about the Lakers and The Jersey Shore.

A couple of weeks ago Kobe made one of these analogies himself. Kobe, in reference to Pau’s aggressiveness, said that Pau needed to be more “black swan.” Kobe’s use of the reference of the Darren Aronofsky film of that title, certainly one of tongue-and-cheek and very funny, illuminated not only that Kobe was a fan of art house films (we always knew Kobe has a streak of intellectualism), but another way Kobe perceives his and Pau’s relationship.

The film is about the transition that a dancer, Nina Sayers played by Natalie Portman, has to make to take on the Swan Queen. The Swan Queen is a dual role of both good and evil. White and black. Nina, a technically proficient dancer who exudes proficiency and a wholesomeness, is told by Thomas Leroy, the ballet company’s director played in a clichéd but convincingly by Vincent Cassell, that if she the role of the Swan Queen, she must embody the purity of the White Swan and the provocative nature of the Black Swan.

Kobe sees himself as Thomas (pronounced to-Mas not Tom-as, a distinction only made to exemplify of the type of film Black Swan is): in search of perfection (a descriptor of Kobe lifted from Free Darko’s first book), in control, and empowered to lead as a definer of other’s roles. Kobe also sees Pau as Nina: technical, pure, full of potential, but lacking the edge necessary to be complete.

It’s a really interesting and apt analogy. I’m not sure I heard anyone in the media respond to it who couldn’t see its validity. Kobe’s analogy only articulated, in a new way, how a lot of us felt about Pau. “He is great now, but he would be really something if had a darker aggressive edge.”

Since it is Oscar Season, and the Lakers are the Lakers, I thought looking at some of the other players Oscar Film counterparts, would be a nice diversion from this Laker team’s annual swoon (save the nice wins against Portland and Atlanta) .

Pau= Nina, Black Swan:

Kobe and said it and we all agreed: Pau needs to be more Black Swan. We get it. Pau is an interesting case; the perpetual sidekick. Eduardo Saverin as the Mark Zuckerberg’s disposed partner from The Social Network is interesting (Pau/Kobe=Saverin/Zuckerberg) works in a way.  Saverin is necessary to Facebook’s existence as Pau is to this Lakers. But, I think LaBoeuf from True Grit is even better. LaBoeuf is much maligned in the film, and appropriately so as he is a buffoon. He can be ancillary, conceited, and inept, but does come up clutch as hell.

Kobe= Mark Zuckerberg, The Social Network:

Genius. Driven. Immature. Ruthless. Great. Antisocial. Genius. Geek. Millionaire. Innovative. Punk. Selfish. Talented. Savant. Prodigious. Accomplished. Genius.

Phil= Rooster Cogburn, True Grit:

In the opening courtroom scene of True Grit, Rooster Cogburn is giving testimony about a shooting he was involved in. The prosecutor asks him in which direction he was moving as he backed up, Cogburn replies, “backward I suspect.” Phil, right? Also, you always got a feeling that Cockburn was tracking one last criminal in True Grit. It was his “Last Stand.” And I would consider sleeping in the back of a Chinese Herbalist’s store a lot like losing to the Cavs.

Lamar= The Winklevoss Twins, The Social Network:

Lamar’s mercurial nature forces him to be looked in the context of duality. The Winklevoss twins are played by one person, Armie Hammer. I know it’s a stretch but I just like saying the Winklevoss twins and Armie Hammer. They have awesome names.

Ron= Dicky Eklund The Fighter:

The best character in any off the films of 2010 has to be Dicky Eklund played by Christian Bale. Dicky could be called “essentially a crack head.” And while he is a crack head, that does not define him. A not so nuanced take on Ron-Ron would be to call him a crazy person, as Ron is self-professed as being crazy. Ron essentiality comes from his toughness and loyalty. His heart and his ambition define him. Sometimes his self-awareness can be questioned. A scene that encapsulates Dicky is when he is in a crack den being filmed by what he thinks is an HBO documentary on his comeback to boxing, and his crack head girlfriend asks what the camera are there for again, the director responds “to show people what its really like to be on crack.”  Dicky doesn’t it get it. But when it matters the most and his brother, Micky Ward, really needs him. He is there. Like a clutch three in game seven of the NBA Finals.

Derek Fisher= Arthur, Inception:

The venerable teammate. There when matters. Unflashy and consistent. Some might say with major deficiencies.

Andrew Bynum=any character from The Kings Speech

Supposed to be amazing, but I haven’t seen it and I might never.

Shannon Brown =Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), True Grit:

Small role, not sure if is incredibly stupid or incredibly intelligent.

Steve Blake= Sean Parker, The Social Network:

Blond with a debatable impact. If not debatable, at least the impact isn’t obvious.

To fans like us, the gold trophies those stars get on Sunday don’t matter; the real important trophy gets hoisted in June, and it doesn’t get awarded, the real stars take that one.

-Michael Crowder
(follow Mike on twitter at @mikecrowder_BK)

Long story short, the Lakers beat the Clippers 108-95 to earn their third consecutive win and continue their post all-star break turnaround that has them on the right track in their push for the post-season.

And while Kobe was brilliant in the third quarter outscoring the Clippers 18-17 all on his own – making a variety of jumpers on classic displays of fundamental footwork and triple threat mastery – and the Lakers defense held the Clips to 38% shooting, to me this game came down to the simple match up of all-star power forwards.

Coming into the game, my focus was on Gasol vs. Griffin and, clearly, this round went to the big Spaniard.

Gasol was simply brilliant, making 8 of his 9 shots and all 6 of his FT’s to end the night with 22 points. And while his rebounding numbers were less than stellar (only grabbing 5 on the night), he did chip in 4 assists and 2 blocks, ending the night +16 (trailing only Kobe’s +20). Relying mostly on his jumper and allowing the game to come to him by having his teammates set him up and moving into position to make clean catches, Pau was decisive with his shot and quickly decided to either fire a rhythm jumper or move the ball on to a teammate. He showed a great feel for how he would get his baskets and never once did I get the sense he had any doubts or tentativeness about letting his shot fly. Considering that hasn’t always been true this season, it was great to see Pau commit to getting up his shot when the ball came his way and he had space. Sure, he wasn’t bruising and didn’t go to the post as often as he normally does, but his aggressiveness in looking for his shot screamed black swan.

But it wasn’t just Pau’s offense that was a difference maker, his defense against the explosive Griffin was also top notch. Using his length as his key asset against Blake, Gasol backed off the Clips’ prize rookie tempting him to shoot his jumper with Blake obliging more often than not. And considering that the Lakers would love to have the dunk contest winner shoot from 20 feet away more often than not, I’d say that Pau executed the Lakers’ defensive scheme to perfection. But you’re not going to keep Blake away from the paint on every possession. When Griffin did earn good position and go into the post, Gasol expertly forced him into poor positions on the floor and then contested well so that Blake would have to finish over the top of extended arms. Multiple times Gasol altered Griffin’s short shots and on one specific possession even blocked his lefty lay up attempt after closing out correctly to his shooting hand and then forcing him to drive to his weaker, left side.  So even though Griffin finished with 22 points, he needed 18 shots to get there and rarely looked in his element in the Clips half court sets.

So while there were many other elements to this game that contributed to the result we saw at the end of the night (including Bynum’s 16 and 11, the bench’s solid play, and the aforementioned Kobe explosion), none to me was bigger than the stark difference in efficiency displayed by each team’s prize big man. Gasol showed how deft touch from 15-18 feet and controlled post ups could pace his team while Griffin’s lack of a jumper and inability to get to the rim and crack the code of Gasol’s (and the other Lakers’ bigs) defense stalled the Clips attack too frequently. And in the end, considering how much the Clips depend on Blake to generate offense and momentum for them it was the difference in this game. No shame in being out dueled by one of the best bigs in the world, but on this night that’s exactly what happened to Griffin. And the result was a Laker W. Just the way the coaches hoped and drew it up, I’m sure.

Records: Lakers 40-19 (3rd in West), Clippers 21-37 (13th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.8 (2nd in NBA), Clippers 105.9 (20th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.0 (10th in NBA), Clippers 109.6 (23rd in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Clippers: Eric Bledsoe, Randy Foye, Ryan Gomes, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan
Injuries: Lakers: Matt Barnes & Theo Ratliff (out); Clippers: Eric Gordon (out), Mo Williams (questionable)

The Lakers Coming in: Coming out of the trade deadline there’s no new Laker to welcome or any old Lakers to say goodbye to. Personally, I’m happy for that. I’ve not felt the Lakers needed to make a move to reach their ultimate goal this year, only that they need to get healthy, play to their potential, and reach their peak level come the post-season. With Matt Barnes now practicing, the team is finally getting closer to the healthy part of that equation and all I’m looking for now is good play.

And in the past two contests, that’s exactly what we’ve seen. Two straight wins, including the come from behind effort in overtim against Portland has this team moving in the right direction. There’s still things to improve upon, but it’s clear that the team (at least currently) has the right mindset going into the final stretch of the season. They’ll need that to continue too as they currently sit 3 games back in the loss column to the 2nd place Mavs, a position the Lakers would like to get to if they want to ensure home court advantage should they advance to the 2nd round of the playoffs. The time really is now to make a push and the Lakers look poised to do so.

The Clippers Coming in: There’s a lot going on in Clipper land right now. Blake Griffin was crowned dunk king of 2011, which will only serve as another feather in the cap of what will likely be a rookie of the year campaign for him. But the man that passed him the ball on his trophy clinching dunk is now a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Yes, Baron Davis has been shipped out to Siberia with Mo Williams and Jamario Moon taking his place in LA. Personally, I’m not a fan of this move by the Clips but I do see why they’d do it. Financially this deal saves them a bunch of money and Mo Williams is a guy that can effectively play off the ball and potentially better compliment Eric Gordon and Blake Griffin in the future. That said, I’ve never thought highly of Williams as a post-season performer and question whether or not he’ll be productive in the most meaningful games. And while there won’t be many of those this season, the Clips hope for those down the line. Only time will tell, though.

As for the Clippers play of late, it’s been pretty bad. They’ve lost 9 of 11 contests including back to back losses to the Thunder and Hornets coming out of the all-star break. Their lone wins in that stretch are against the T-Wolves and Knicks both coming on the Clippers’ Grammy road trip. From what I’ve seen of the team, most of the losses are due to their opponents clogging the paint against Griffin and making the Clips jump shooters – a skill they’re not as good at with Eric Gordon still on the mend. Overall, this is a transition season for the Clips with both Gordon and Griffin showing what they’re capable of but if this team is going to be a long term threat in the West, they’ve still got a lot of strides to make.

Clippers Blogs: ClipperBlog is a must read if you’re looking for all the ins and outs of the other LA franchise.

Keys to game: With Gordon still out and Mo Williams questionable (and likely rusty/learning his new team if he does play) the Clips will need to win the interior if they’ve got any chance of winning.

This means that the Lakers must first and foremost protect the paint on defense and make guys like Foye, Gomes, and Aminu make shots from the outside. If the Lakers surrender dunks and offensive rebounds to Griffin and Jordan, this game will be a lot closer than it need be.

The Lakers must also protect against the Clippers’ guards wanting to push the pace. Rookie Eric Bledsoe has the ability to turn on the jets and has no qualms with rushing the ball up court and looking to finish in the paint against a retreating defense. Since Jordan and Griffin are good defensive rebounders, the Lakers will have to pick their spots on when they attack the offensive glass hard and also ensure that they have good floor balance in order to get back and wall off the paint. If the Lakers control the paint in the half and open court, they’ll be just fine defensively.

Offensively, this is a night where Kobe should be able to go to work. Gordon is a guy that’s consistently given Kobe issues but with him on the sideline, one of Gomes or Foye will be tasked with slowing #24 and that’s something neither are well equipped to do. Either one will be succeptible to post ups (even the bigger Gomes) and neither has the defensive instincts to keep Kobe in front of them on drives to the rim. So, I expect to see Kobe attack a fair amount tonight even if it doesn’t lead to shots for himself.

That last point is key because both Griffin and (especially) Jordan are good help defenders and will leave their men in order to contest/block shots. Kobe would be wise to recognize this and look for dump offs to Bynum and Gasol when they open up on penetration. Gasol can also get going offensively with straight post entries vs. Griffin – a player that has all the physical tools but has not yet learned to consistently apply them to man to man defense. Pau should get plenty of touches on the left block where he can use his hard right hand dribble to set up his rolling hook or then counter off that with step throughs and drop steps to his left hand. If Griffin sags off Pau, the 15 foot jumper will also be readily available to take in rhythm.

This is a game where the Lakers would do well to remember how closely the Clips have played them this year and go for the jugular early. The Clips are a down team right now and just lost Davis via trade. They’re a young team that hasn’t had to deal with the “business” side of this league too often and the Lakers would be smart to take advantage of any distractions that may have seeped into the heads of their opponent. Plus, the Lakers are finding their groove right now and a loss to the Clips would serve a set back that ins’t needed. Get this win and go into a big game on Sunday with some momentum is all the Lakers should be thinking.

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

From Mark Medina, LA Times: Throughout his rehabilitation process, Lakers forward Matt Barnes has understood the fine line between pushing up the intensity toward healing his surgically repaired right knee and putting himself at further risk. But his might be one of those times when his desire to come back quickly has gotten the best of him. “No,” Coach Phil Jackson said Thursday when asked if the team’s medical staff supports Barnes’ timetable. “I appreciate his intensity and his wanting to come back, but I’ll talk to Matt tomorrow about it. I haven’t really talked to him about it yet. I’d hate to say anything, but we’re still saying, ‘Let’s be patient.’ We’re not in dire need now.”

From Andy Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: Man alive! Has this been a crazy 24-48 hours or what? Kobe Bryant said during Thursday’s practice it’s the most active trade deadline day he can recall, and it’s hard to argue. Some pretty big names have swapped unis, and the NBA looks awfully different now. Well, except for the Lakers, who stood pat. Whether because of confidence, a lack of options or both, save perhaps a free-agent big man to play the “Theo Ratliff” role, the team that beat Portland Wednesday is the team that will defend its title. How does today’s zaniness affect that quest, or simply reshape the Western Conference? Let’s take a look at some of the major deals.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: Even through all the injury uncertainty, the Lakers have maintained a long and steadfast view that they shouldn’t trade center Andrew Bynum for one reason. Size. It’s an advantage few teams have in the NBA and it’s a huge reason why the Lakers have been through three consecutive Finals appearances. Heck, even when Bynum played a limited role during the Finals against Boston last season because of torn cartilage in his right knee, he altered and blocked shots, intimidated players from driving into the lane, provided close shots and rebounds, and gave an occasional breather to Pau Gasol.

From Royce Young, The Daily Thunder: Oklahoma City, who by all appearances was set to have another quiet deadline, just jumped up and made some noise. Not a little noise. Some serious noise. As in the Thunder just went from mild contender and likely second-round exit to a team people are legitimately afraid of. It took making a tough decision in sending out well-loved Jeff Green and center Nenad Krstic to Boston for Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson. Upon first hearing about it, I had no idea what to think. Picturing this Thunder team without Uncle Jeff just didn’t seem possible. But once my attachment to him subsided, I was excited. OKC is now a contender. Like a for real contender. Like a team that could potentially win now. No more of this wait until next year stuff. Wait until now. Because the Thunder is scary good.

From Breen Murphy, Clippers Blog: When Baron Davis arrived in Los Angeles almost three years ago, he was supposed to be the harbinger of a new era for the Clippers. He had just taken the almost equally pathetic Golden State Warriors to consecutive winning seasons and with a real big man in Elton Brand, he would be the bearded and smiling face of that change. People would be able to look back in the annals of Clipper history and pinpoint exactly when it was that the Clippers turned it around. Baron still may be able to be that marker, that Black Swan event that everyone rationalizes post-facto, but it won’t be in the way that he initially hoped.

From Rahat Huq, Red94: A lot of thoughts right now.  First off, today has been one of the worst days in the history of Red94.  The trade deadline–the biggest day of the NBA season–and the server decides to go out.  I’m working to get this situation fixed so I apologize for all of the problems this week.  This was downright embarrassing. Onto the trades: I wrote earlier this morning of my thoughts on what was then just a rumor in the Battier-Thabeet swap.  I like it.  Shane was a guy who was out the door this summer, most likely, so it’s a plus to get anything out of him.  Yes, we’re out of the playoff race, and yes, this wasn’t the mega-blockbuster that had Shane and 3/4 of our roster going to NOLA for CP3, but scenarios like that were wholly unrealistic to begin with