Archives For February 2011

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

Here we stand only a few hours from the trade deadline. However, the Lakers are not very likely to make any sort of deal. After all, they’ve won two consecutive games against quality teams with last night Kobe Bryant coming up big in the closing moments to the surprise of no one that was actually tasked with stopping him. So even with Magic Johnson tweeting the Lakers need to make a deal and the GM openly stating a couple of weeks ago that he’s exploring his options for improving the roster, the Lakers are likely to stand pat and watch other teams make the moves.

And boy have there been some moves. The Melo deal finally got done and he’s in a NY state of mind. Deron Williams is now a member of the Nets. Baron Davis is going to Cleveland in exchange for Mo Williams. And notorious Laker killer Carl Landry is moving from the Kings to the Hornets. Plus, there are still rumors that Gerald Wallace may be a Blazer by the end of the day, that Jonny Flynn is on the block (potentially going to the Rockets), Battier may be swapped for Hasheem Thabeet, and that TJ Ford will be bought out of his contract.

Lots of action to discuss even though little of it affects the Lakers. But that doesn’t mean we can’t discuss it. So, go wild everyone. And update eachother in the comments about the movings and shakings around the league.

Around the World (Wide Web)

Phillip Barnett —  February 24, 2011

From Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: Ron Artest. Flat. Out. Huge. He’s had big games over the course of his relatively short Lakers career (you might remember a certain shot in a certain Finals game last season), but this very well could have been the best. Certainly it’s his best of this season. 24 points on eight-of-13 from the floor, plus five-of-six from beyond the arc. Artest was strong early, canning a triple for L.A.’s first points of the game, and critical late, drilling another triple late in regulation. In the five free minutes, Artest hit another three putting the Lakers up 95-92, and hauled down a critical offensive rebound leading to the Kobe Bryant jumper effectively giving the L.A. the game.

From Kevin Ding, OC Register: Kobe Bryant says former Denver Nugget and now New York Knick Carmelo Anthony is “a bad boy” in the best sense. Takes one to know one. The Lakers were hauled into overtime Wednesday night on Bryant’s back — or rather his back-to-back jumpers to finish the regulation scoring, the last shot a 15-footer that had just enough on it to crawl over the rim. Then in overtime Bryant got the gritty, aggressive effort on offense he has been prodding co-star Pau Gasol to bring. With that, the Lakers scored a 106-101 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: It’s safe to presume the Lakers were in a much better mood following their double-digit victory Tuesday over Atlanta after the All-Star break than when they were riddled with a three-game losing streak, including a loss to the listless Cleveland Cavaliers. But overtime victories in well-fought games against a quality opponent proves something that’s more valuable in the long run. It tested the Lakers’ willingness to grind it out and maintain their patience when things weren’t working out, such as when the Lakers shot only 41.5% in the first half, were outrebounded 21-16 and allowed a 10-2 start to slip away to a 29-23 first-quarter deficit. Lakers Hall of Famer Magic Johnson appropriately tweeted that “I won’t get too excited until they win 7 or 8 in a row!” But a victory against Portland surely has to be a momentum boost toward that effort considering the win snapped the Trail Blazers’ six-game winning streak and marked the Lakers’ second consecutive victory at the Rose Garden after losing nine in a row.

From Dexter Fishmore, Silver Screen and Roll: This isn’t the Lakers’ best road win of the season – the victory in Boston still tops the list – but it’s pretty damn good nonetheless. The Lakers, after all, played in Los Angeles just yesterday. Late last night they had to travel over 800 miles to some barely civilized hinterland. The last 150 miles of the trip were on horseback, as the Oregon Territory has neither an airport nor paved roads. In fact, Oregon doesn’t actually appear on most maps. There’s just an unbordered space marked with the warning “HERE THERE BE MONSTERS” and a drawing of an otter.

From Anne M. Peterson, NBA.com: Kobe Bryant had 37 points and the Los Angeles Lakers overcame a 10-point deficit late in the fourth quarter to beat Portland 106-101 in overtime Wednesday night, snapping the Trail Blazers’ season-best, six-game winning streak. LaMarcus Aldridge had 29 points and 14 rebounds for the Blazers, but didn’t hit a shot in the fourth quarter and missed two key free throws in the extra period. Lamar Odom and Ron Artest each hit a 3-pointer to help Los Angeles to a 95-92 lead in overtime. Rudy Fernandez responded with a tying 3 and Andre Miller’s jumper gave the Blazers the lead, but Pau Gasol hit a turnaround hook shot and added a free throw before Bryant’s jumper with 27.9 seconds left gave Los Angeles a 100-97 advantage. Gasol fouled Aldridge, who missed both free throws to all but seal it for the Lakers.