Archives For February 2011

From Dexter Fishmore, Silver Screen and Roll: In theory, there are ways this could’ve been more embarrassing. The Lakers could’ve lost this badly, say, in Cleveland instead of Charlotte. Kwame Brown could’ve celebrated the Bobcats’ 20-point win by throwing a birthday cake in Luke Walton’s grill. Or the Lakers could’ve all forgotten to wear shorts and been forced to stand at center court while the Bobcats’ cheerleaders pointed and laughed. Barring these scenarios, though, tonight really could not have unfolded any more disastrously for the Lakers, who got their skulls caved in by Charlotte, 89 to 109. Just like that, we have a promising new candidate for Worst Loss of the Season.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: In the words of The Simpsons’ Comic Book Guy, this was the “worst Lakers loss…..ever.” Or at least for the season. I’ll get into the nuts and bolts in latter categories on why the Lakers’ eighth loss in the last 10 games against Charlotte fits that description. But let’s first establish a few things on what this game actually means. It’s not healthy to view this through a sky-is-falling prism, pointing out that the Lakers need to trade their lineup or that the defending champions’ chances to three-peat are already doomed. The Lakers had just gone through a 4-0 start to their seven-game trip and are less than a week removed from defeating the Boston Celtics in what served as their most impressive win of the season. But that’s exactly the same reason why the Lakers and their fans shouldn’t be as equally dismissive either, citing the Lakers’ boredom and fatigue, Kobe Bryant’s illness or other factors to shrug off this loss. What’s more egregious isn’t necessarily that the Lakers didn’t bring a full effort, it’s that this game perfectly captures how the Lakers address their preparation, effort and games in a situational manner.

From Mike Cranston, Gerald Wallace had 20 points and 11 rebounds and the Charlotte Bobcats routed the Los Angeles Lakers 109-89 on Monday night to extend one of the more bizarre one-sided matchups in the NBA. Gerald Henderson added 18 points for the Bobcats, who have won eight of the past 10 meetings with the defending NBA champions. The Lakers have a winning record against every team except the Boston Celtics – and the Bobcats. And this time it wasn’t even close. While Kobe Bryant scored 20 points, he missed 11 of his first 16 shots as he played despite an illness that kept him from shootaround. Angry Lakers coach Phil Jackson used all but one full timeout before the fourth quarter, but couldn’t prevent the Lakers from their most lopsided loss of the season.

From Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: 19 points at home to Milwaukee. 16 points at home to Miami. 15 points on the road to San Antonio. By 19 at home to Memphis, five at home to Sacramento (when it’s the Kings, the loss need not be by double digits), and 13 at home to Boston. Sunday, it was 14 in Orlando. To the list, Monday’s 20 point loss to the Bobcats can now be added. Phil Jackson, speaking to the media after the game, was brief on a level Calvin Coolidge would have appreciated. “I just have this to say; I’m very disappointed in our performance tonight. I’m embarrassed about what we did. That’s it.”

From Arash Markazi, ESPNLA: Paul Westhead is admittedly an unorthodox coach. The former Shakespeare professor shaped his high-speed coaching philosophy on the smoldering courts of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Nothing was ever too far outside the box for Westhead, not even starting his rookie point guard at center in Game 6 of the NBA Finals in Philadelphia with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar sidelined by a sprained ankle. Johnson played all five positions in what was the most impressive game of his Hall of Fame career. He finished with 42 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists, three steals and a block. The image of Johnson walking to center court for the jump ball against Caldwell Jones before the game is still one of the most indelible in Lakers history. Johnson became the first (and still only) rookie to win NBA Finals MVP en route to winning his first of five championships as a Lakers player.

From Arash Markazi, ESPNLA: It’s hard to pinpoint one moment or one call that defined the career of Chick Hearn, who called 3,338 games in a row and was the play-by-play man for nine championship Lakers teams. Perhaps it was a moment when Hearn wasn’t even there. On Nov. 20, 1965, the Lakers beat the Golden State Warriors 133-117 in Las Vegas while Hearn was in Fayetteville, Ark., stranded in an airport due to inclement weather after calling a college football game. He didn’t miss another game for the next 36 years. Hearn coined the phrases “slam dunk” and “air ball” and provided an exclamation point to wins most fans and players can still recite: “You can put this one in the refrigerator. The door’s closed, the light’s are out, the eggs are cooling, the butter’s getting hard and the Jell-O is jiggling.” Hearn’s streak came to an end Dec. 16, 2001, when he had to have an operation for a blocked aortic valve. He returned April 9, 2002, and called every Lakers playoff game en route to the team’s third consecutive title, an amazing accomplishment considering he fell and broke his hip while recovering from surgery. Two months after the Finals, Hearn fell and struck his head at home. He died on Aug. 5.

Records: Lakers 38-17 (3rd in West), Bobcats 23-31 (9th in East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.9 (2nd in NBA), Bobcats 103.0 (26th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 104.8 (10th in NVA), Bobcats 106.4 (14th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers:Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Bobcats: Shaun Livingston D.J. Augustin, Stephen Jackson, Gerald Wallace, Edjuardo Najera, Kwame Brown
Injuries: Lakers: Matt Barnes & Theo Ratliff (out); Bobcats: DeSagana Diop & Tyrus Thomas (out), D.J. Augustin (doubtful/game time decision)

UPDATE: Per the twitter feed of Mike Cranston (AP Writer for the ‘Cats), D.J. Augustin will play and will start. Obviously that means that the Lakers are back to dealing with a quick-ish guard that has shooting range. It remains to be seen how effective he is with his bum wrist, but this does give the Bobcats one more threat on offense.

UPDATE #2: It’s looking more and more likely that Kobe will also play through his flu like symptoms. Mike Trudell reported that he was going through is regular pregame routine. I still look for Kobe to play more of  distributor role and, as is usual when he plays through an illness, I expect a controlled game from #24 where he really looks to play as efficiently as possible and not expend energy when it’s not needed. Hence, I think we may see more of the facilitator Kobe tonight.


The Lakers Coming in: As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. After winning 4 straight games to start their Grammy trip, the Lakers fell to Orlando. The defense is still playing well and while the offense could use some long range makes from its “shooters”, it’s tough to argue with the approach the team is taking on that side of the ball. The Magic represented a team that was desperate for a win and the Lakers, a little weary, weren’t up to the challenge. Now they get to attempt to start a new winning streak tonight.

The Bobcats Coming in: Getting a handle on the ‘Cats is a bit difficult. Coming off a playoff berth last season, things were looking up. Larry Brown had them defending and “playing the right way”. But with that success, somewhat hidden was the fact that this was a capped out team that had seemingly peaked with an 8th seed in a top heavy East.

This year, though, things have completely stagnated, if being kind, or completely fallen off, if judging with a more harsh eye. The Cat’s lost Raymond Felton to free agency, traded Tyson Chandler to the Mavs in exchange for Erick Dampier (who they then waived to save money), and didn’t add any other significant pieces to build on last year. Then, as is prone to happen, Larry Brown soured on his roster, jerked guys’ minutes around and ended up resigning with his team floundering. Paul Silas is now in as head man and this team is playing better, but still too up and down to really be counted on to make a playoff push.

Recently, they’ve shown flashes of strong play defeating the Hawks and Celtics in their last 4 games.  They’re getting improved play out of Kwame Brown (who cites new assistant coach Charles Oakley with aiding his better performance) while Steven Jackson and Gerald Wallace always give this team a fighting chance on the wing. D.J. Augustin has improved with more consistent minutes and Shaun Livingston has also been playing well of late. Where this team struggles in their lack of depth, depending on journeymen like Eddy Najera and Nazr Mohammed with Ty Thomas out with an injury. They also struggle to put up enough points to keep pace with teams when their defense can’t generate the needed stops. Of course, that tends to happen when your best players are jump shooting wings. All in all, this team will play hard but with the talent available, grabbing the last spot in the playoffs is really all they could hope for.

Bobcats Blogs: Check out Queen City Hoops and Rufus on Fire for all the ‘Cats news you can handle. Both sites do fine work.

Keys to game: How much love do the Lakers get on Valentines Day? They get to play their 4th game in 5 nights, that’s how much. Not that I’m complaining – sometimes this is how the schedule breaks and teams just have to adjust. But, the point remains: the Lakers are surely starting to feel the wear and tear of this road trip as the combination of multiple games in a short span and the travel from city to city is taxing.

That said, no one is going to cry for the defending champs and they’re sure to get the Bobcats’ best effort tonight. And that could be a problem considering how well this team has fared against the Lakers in season’s past. Thanks to commenter BlizzardOfOz, we know that the Lakers have only beaten the ‘Cats 3 times in the last 10 match ups, a streak that covers several coaches and different rosters of players. This team just always seems to have the Lakers number, so getting a win isn’t just a given considering the talent disparity.

In order to get the win, then, the Lakers must continue the execution they’ve shown on their current road trip. Attacking inside should be priority number one considering the Bynum/Gasol duo will likely be guarded by Kwame, Najera, Mohammed, and Diaw all night. And while Kwame is a good one on one post defender, Bynum should still be able to establish good post position and work his jump hook from low blocks. As for Gasol, he needs to continue his aggressive play and take the undersized defenders he’ll see down into the post. Neither Najera or Diaw has a realistic chance of slowing a tuned in Gasol, so an attack mindset is needed from the big Spaniard tonight.

This is also a game where I hope for Kobe to lay in the weeds a bit more and play off the ball in order to be most effective. Both Jackson and Wallace offer good size and length and they’re two players that have traditionally given Kobe more issues than other defenders. When Kobe has the ball in his hands above the three point line I’d like to see him pass rather than try to initiate off the dribble, with him then cutting to his favored spots on the floor to either catch the ball on the move or establish position at the elbow  or mid post to do his damage. Considering that this is the 4th game in 5 nights and the defenders he’ll be facing, I’d prefer to see less of a perimeter oriented #24.

Defensively, the Lakers are likely to catch a break with D.J. Augustin doubtful for this game. Augustin is the type of quick, good outside shooting, P&R heavy guard that can give the Lakers fits. Instead, they’ll see a heavier dose of Shaun Livingston, who has been playing better, but offers a different type of match up that the Lakers are better equipped to deal with. Livingston will also run the P&R but he’s less a threat as a shooter so the Lakers should be able to go under screens and then bottle off his penetration. Livingston will also try to go to the post more often but Fisher should be able to body him enough that he doesn’t get as comfortable – even though he’s giving up several inches to Shaun.

The other key to slowing the ‘Cats is by pressuring their wings and not giving up open jumpers. Both Wallace and Jackson are true threats and both can find ways to hurt the defense when left open. Jackson has range beyond the three point line and while Wallace has relied more on his jumper this year than in season’s past, he’ll still attack the rim if given the lane. The Lakers must contest jumpers and the bigs must be ready to help if the Lakers successfully run their wings off the three point line.

 Ultimately, this is a game that can go either way. The Lakers aren’t rested and the ‘Cats always give them fits. That said, Charlotte shouldn’t push the pace too much and the Lakers advantages inside should give them enough to outlast the home team. Two straight losses really would put a damper on an otherwise stellar road trip, so here’s hoping that LA musters the energy and focus that will be needed.

Where you can watch: 4:00pm start time out West on KCAL. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710am.

The Lakers came into the game against Orlando winners of four straight on their current Grammy Road Trip, playing as well as we’ve seen them on the defensive end, and moving the ball better than we had seen all season. The team was clicking, beating good teams and all of it was on the road. In Game 5 of the road trip, the Lakers didn’t change anything about their game. They played well defensively (for the most part), they moved the ball well, they fed the bigs, and they worked for open shots — it was just one of those nights where shots didn’t fall.

Naturally, this game was more than just missed and made shots, and we’ll get into those other aspects, but the Lakers did a lot things right against Orlando. Take a look at the shot distribution. Five guys had more than 10 shot attempts, and the combination of Bynum, Gasol and Odom took 38 of the Lakers 84 field goal attempts, shooting a shade under 50 percent together. On most nights, getting that many attempts out of the Lakers bigs would result in a win. Kobe only took 18 shots, with not many of them outside of the flow of the offense and the Lakers assisted on 19 of their 33 makes. However, the Lakers couldn’t buy a jump shot. Derek Fisher was 2-7; Ron Artest was 2-6; Steve Blake was 0-2; and Shannon Brown was 3-11.

As a team, the Lakers shot just under 40 percent from the field, 12.5 from the three-point line and 46.7 percent from the free-throw line. However, they only had eight turnovers, turned over Orlando 16 times and got to the free-throw line at a higher rate. They took more shots, closed out on Orlando’s their shooters, and had more offensive rebounds. The Lakers biggest issue tonight was putting the ball through the rim — that and Dwight Howard.

Howard finished the first half with nine points, six rebounds and three fouls. He finished the game with 31 points and 13 rebounds. Stan Van Gundy went to Howard on the first play out of the half, he got an easy layup, and his rhythm was established then. After a couple of outside shots made by Hedo Turkoglu and Ryan Anderson, it became increasingly more difficult to defend Howard as the game progressed. He was knocking down jump hooks, layups, catching alley-oops, hit a 13-foot bank shot on the right side, making free-throws, and had a couple of dunks off of missed Magic shots, both of which were back breaking.

With just over a minute left in the third quarter, Kobe hit a jumper to cut the Magic lead down to five points. It looked as if the Lakers would go into the fourth down by that deficit, but Gilbert Arenas heaved an off balanced three pointer toward the rim as time expired, Howard caught the air-ball and promptly dunked it in right before the buzzer sounded. Then, with 5:37 left to play, Jason Richardson missed a long two with the Lakers down 12. A rebound gives them the stop they need with an opportunity to cut into the lead. Pau Gasol had position on Howard, but Howard was able to leap over Gasol for the tip dunk because Gasol failed to put a body on him. Gasol is called for a foul, Howard hits the freebie, and the lead is extended to 15 points.

So yes, the Lakers couldn’t hit a shot, but Howard’s second half performance made things easier on the Magic, who didn’t have their best offensive performance of the year, either. The other thing that hurt the Lakers was rebounding, which, of course, Howard had a lot to do with. But the Lakers missed 51 shots, but only had 11 offensive rebounds. Their inability to hit shots, or grab rebounds from their myriad missed shots may have had something to do with this being their third road game in four nights, but you have to give credit to the Orlando defense for closing out defensive possessions with defensive rebounds. After Howard, Brandon Bass (8), Jason Richardson (6), and Ryan Anderson (5) all did a great job on the boards, helping to limit the amount of Laker possessions.

The Lakers play again tomorrow night against the Charlotte Bobcats, a team they’ve struggled in the past two years. The game tips off at 4 p.m. Pacific Time.

Records: Lakers 38-16 (2nd in West), Magic 34-21 (5th in East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.4 (2nd in NBA), Magic 108.0 (11th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 104.8 (10th in NBA), Magic 102.3 (3rd in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Magic: Jameer Nelson, Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu, Brandon Bass, Dwight Howard
Injuries: Lakers: Matt Barnes & Theo Ratliff (out); Magic: Brandon Bass (questionable – UPDATE: Bass expected to make surprise return today)

The Lakers Coming in: Every year when the NBA releases the schedule for the upcoming season, one of the first things I look to is the annual Grammy trip — so often a tipping point over the past decade. The hope is that the extended time away from STAPLES will unify the team and redirect their focus for the stretch run, which is exactly what has happened through the first four games of the seven-game trip. Kobe looks as spry as ever as evidenced by back-to-back strong performances against Boston and New York on Friday. Add a resurgent effort on the defensive end and the Lakers are finally starting to resemble the team that has won back-to-back titles.

The Magic Coming in: Orlando entered the season with high hopes of not only retaining, but topping its status as one of the league’s elite teams. At 34-21, it’s safe to say that they aren’t there yet and may never be even after changing the dynamic of their roster with a December blockbuster that essentially shipped out an unproductive Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis for Gilbert Arenas, Hedo Turoglu and Jason Richardson. Aside from an early 9-0 winning streak with the new pieces, the Magic have been mired in an extended 9-9 (0-8 against teams with winning records) funk that’s left them 18-11 overall since the trade and potentially looking forward to starting the postseason on the road. Still, they remain a threat, if not somewhat of an enigma simply because of the sheer talent (see: Dwight Howard) and versatility they can throw on the floor at any given time.

Magic Blogs: Check out Magic Basketball for the latest info on Superman and Co. Orlando Pinstriped Post also does great work.

Keys to game: If the past four games are any indication, the Lakers are in full attack mode right now. Orlando is always a tough place to play and that was before they moved into their shiny new arena this season. I fully expect the Magic to come out aggressive, looking for a signature victory — their third in a row at home against L.A. — in an otherwise disappointing season.

Although the Magic have shuffled some pieces around, the basic ebb and flow of their offense remains the same — Superman down low, surrounded by a surplus of shooters on the perimeter. It’s a recipe that’s worked for the Magic for most of the past three seasons, but also one that the Lakers have pretty much solved by now. The reason why is simple: against most teams, Howard is used to having free rein around the hoop, but that’s not so when playing against L.A.’s vaunted front line. With Bynum, Gasol and Odom, the Lakers have the personnel to make Dwight work on both ends of the court. If you remove him from the equation — whether systematically or via foul trouble — the Magic are woefully small inside and still lack a reliable, go-to second scoring option. If the Lakers stick to their game plan and run an inside-out offense through their bigs, Orlando simply won’t be able to catch up. As they’ve seen in past losses to them, though, they’ll try their best to turn today’s game into a shooting match for which L.A. is ill-equipped.

Speaking of big men, my eyes will be on Bynum today, who always seems to get up for games against his young center counterpart in Orlando. Andrew didn’t play particularly well against the Magic last season, though, as L.A. and Orlando each defended their home court. Howard didn’t exactly go off either, averaging 20 points and 14 rebounds in two games against the Lakers. Even if Dwight is able to mitigate Bynum’s contributions, they have absolutely no answer for Pau, so the Lakers would be wise to hit up the Spaniard early and often. The same goes for Kobe against the Magic’s more offensive minded guards in Richardson, Redick and whomever else Orlando tries to throw at him. The key for #24 is to resist the urge to chuck up volume shots against the Magic, which is something he’s fallen prey to in past matchups against Orlando.

Jameer Nelson has been a thorn in the Lakers’ sides for several years now thanks to his ability to beat Derek Fisher and the like off the dribble and penetrate deep into the lane for one of his signature floaters or dishes to Dwight. The Magic offense undoubtedly got more athletic with the additions of J-Rich and Arenas, but their core philosophy is still predicated on their ability to feed their shooters. As the key cog in that cycle, I expect limiting Nelson to be at or near the top of the Lakers’ priority list in today’s game. Turkoglu’s name should also make that list as his passing ability has caused all kinds of matchup problems for the Lakers over the years even as the name on the front of his jersey has changed. J.J. Redick’s emergence this season as a consistent bona fide threat from beyond the arc has also added to the Magic’s dangerous shooting arsenal.

I’m no doubt guilty of looking ahead here, but if the Lakers can top the Magic today, they appear well-positioned for an improbable 7-0 road trip so long as they can knock off an always troublesome Bobcats squad and a reeling Cavs team who just celebrated the end of their 26-game losing streak. First thing’s first, though — continuing to play with improved offensive execution and continuity on defense.

Where you can watch: 12:30 p.m. PST start time on ABC. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710 AM.

From Andy Kamentzky, Land O’ Lakers: It’s hardly a secret The Mamba has a certain flair for lighting up the Garden. (He entered the building averaging a honkin’ 30 points per game on his career in New York, and an honkin’-er 42 points in his last four appearances.) That’s a high mark established for showmanship, but the All-Star didn’t fail to live up to his own legend. The performance started out a little rocky with consecutive turnovers, but from there, YOWZA! After the Lakers fell behind early, a 3-pointer was drilled to get back within five and kick-start some momentum. From there, eight consecutive points were racked up to push the Lakers ahead 20-18, all part of a flat-out clinic. A trio of triples were drained. Rookie Landry Fields was duped by his self-described “idol’s” patented sweep through move. A one-handed floater was casually dropped from between the circles. The quarter ended with 19 points, despite an opening four minutes without a shot attempt. KCAL color commentator Stu Lantz had a great description of the MSG sound as the 12 minutes concluded and Kobe was the presumed talk of the building: “A nest of bees.”

From Jimmy C, Knickerblogger: But while Phil Jackson certainly brought a more tested and talented squad to the World’s Most Famous, the Garden’s Charmin-soft rims didn’t seem to know the difference: the Lakers shot a very loud 54%, including a solid 6 for 15 from distance. In fact, of the players who took more than one shot, only Ron Artest (2-9) and Steve Blake (2-5) managed to shoot below 50% from the field. It was the 5th time in 6 games the Knicks have surrendered over 50 for FG%, with the lone exception being a 100-98 loss at Philly a week ago. Meanwhile, the Knick’ shooting woes continued, as they once again mirrored their opponents’ proficiency with a head-scratching under-50% outing for the 4th time in 5 games. Overall the Knicks shot 41% from the floor, including 5-20 from downtown. The lone bright spot – at least statistically – was Raymond Felton, who banked 20 with a gaudy TS% of 75%. Stat, meanwhile, again had trouble getting to the rim against the Lakers staunch interior, netting 24 on 20 shots. Ironically however, and despite playing in the veritable Laker forest of bigs, Stoudemire managed to grab 10 boards for the first time since pulling down 12 against the Thunder on January 22nd – a string of 8 games that has coincided with an equally confounding overall rebounding famine for the Knicks.

From C.A. Clark, Silver Screen & Roll: Consider the scene; Kobe loves playing in New York.  He has a higher scoring average in Madison Square Garden than in any other arena in the league, over 30 points per game.  He already has 22 points in the 2nd quarter, and a player from the opposing team does something to piss Kobe off.  Was there any doubt in your mind as to what was going to happen next?  Were you pondering whether Kobe would hit for 40 points in this game, or 50?  60 even?  Sure enough, the very next Lakers possession, Kobe gets the ball, attacks the basket hard and … dumps it off to Andrew Bynum, who misses a chippy.  Next time down, another aggressive drive and … another dump off, this time to Pau Gasol for a dunk.  Throughout the remaining four minutes of game action, Kobe Bryant attempted zero shots, and had zero trips to the free throw line.  Make no mistake, Kobe was on fire in this game.  He was feeling it, in a city he very much loves to feel it in, and the other team gave him motivation he didn’t even need to go for the jugular.  And he responded by backing off of his own personal gas pedal, and going into distributor mode.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  I’ll tell you what, that Kobe Bryant, he’s like an onion.  He’s got layers.

ESPN Stats & Information, TrueHoop: Kobe Bryant scored 33 points in a 113-96 win for the Los Angeles Lakers over the Knicks, and was at his most dominant in the first quarter, when he hit six of seven shots from 15 feet and beyond. That’s the most shots he’s made from 15 feet and beyond in any quarter this season. His 19 points in the first quarter were his second-highest total in the opening period this season. He had 21 first-quarter points on Jan. 28 against the Kings. Bryant was 4-for-4 on isolation plays when guarded by Danilo Gallinari, and went 7-for-9 from the field on those plays for the game. The Lakers continued their recent defensive success in half-court situations, holding the Knicks to 39.3 percent shooting in those instances, according to video review. In their past four games, Lakers opponents have shot just 41 percent when working out of a half-court offense.

From Mike Bresnahan, LA Times: Road, sweet road. The Lakers have definitely found a comfort zone away from Staples Center, leaving behind their uninspired play last week with yet another road victory. The opponent wasn’t as stacked as the Boston Celtics, the venue not nearly as charged as TD Garden 24 hours earlier, but the Lakers did just fine in putting away the clearly inferior New York Knicks, 113-96, Friday at Madison Square Garden.

From Mark Medina, LA Times Lakers BlogIf anything, the Lakers’ effort against New York continued a pattern on this latest trip where a balanced offense proves the necessary ingredient to ensure success. But that doesn’t always show up in the statistics, such as field-goal attempts, number of assists or touches. It points to the moments when Bryant’s teammates appear just as engaged offensively during his scoring spree as they would if he facilitated. It points to the moments when the Lakers continued to secure the lead when Bryant sat out through quick ball movement, timely cutting and sharp passing. And it points to Lakers’ ability to adapt to both scenarios interchangeably. The formula has proven effective so far on this trip. There’s no reason why it can’t stay that way.

And to polish this off, a few other items to check out before you finish your day:

And because I can’t get enough of it, here’s Shannon’s alley-oop from last night. Still don’t understand how he reaches back and then still throws it down.

Lakers/Knicks: WHOMP

Zephid —  February 11, 2011

I thought “WHOMP” was the best way I could describe this game in one-word. (For those not in the know, Whomps are the big stone blocky thingies from the Mario series that slam down and crush Mario into a pancake if he sits under them for too long.) With a final score of 113-96, the Lakers won convincingly in MSG, pounding the Knicks in the paint and playing solid defense while Kobe Bryant put on a show.

Both teams played fairly sloppily in the 1st quarter, the Lakers having 4 early turnovers to the Knicks 3. Raymond Felton got off to a hot start, going 4-4 for 11 points in the 1st quarter with 3 assists and 2 steals. While this was great for my fantasy team, it didn’t allow the Knicks to get any separation from the Lakers, because Kobe Bryant was on-fire, NBA Jam style. Kobe scored 19 1st quarter points, while going 3-3 on threes, some of them from way beyond the arc. The hot starts from Felton and Kobe seemed to offset one another, and the game was close going into the 2nd quarter, 30-28 Lakers.

The 2nd quarter was where the Lakers really began asserting their dominance over the Knicks. They began pounding the ball inside to Pau Gasol, who shot 9-16 on the night for 20 points to go with 6 boards. When Kobe returned with 5:48 left in the quarter, the Lakers had opened up a 10 point lead, mostly thanks to Pau’s dominance and the shooting of Shannon Brown. Meanwhile, the Knicks really struggled to score, netting only 20 points for the quarter, going into halftime down 48-62. It would have been even worse if Landry Fields hadn’t tipped in a missed free throw by Amar’e Stoudemire with 0.8 seconds left in the half, which led Kobe to unleash an F-bomb which was seen (not heard) on the national TV broadcast.

To be honest, I started watching StarCraft II livestreams after the first half, because it really felt like the game was over. The Knicks weren’t playing well, and they really didn’t look like they had a lot of fight in them. As I peaked at my stream In the 2nd half, I saw the Knicks make small runs, cutting the Laker lead to 11 or 9, only to have the Lakers come back, score a couple times and get a couple stops, pushing the lead back up to 15 or 16. The threesome of Kobe, Pau, and Bynum were pretty unstoppable against the undersized and undermanned Knick defense, Kobe going 12-17 for 33 points and 10 boards, while Bynum finished 5-8 shooting for 12 points and 9 boards.

I think the real difference between this game being a 17 point win versus a 7-8 point win was the play of the bench. It’s been a while since the Laker bench put together a fairly complete game, but this one was pretty close. Lamar, the “Mr. Consistency” of this season, shot 5-10 for 14 points with 3 boards and 3 assists, while Steve Blake had 8 points and 7 assists, and Shannon Brown had 6-10 for 12 points (to go along with two monstrous dunks, one in transition, another on a horrendous lob from Blake that Shannon somehow managed to convert). Even Luke Walton shot 4-6 for 8 points with 4 assists and 3 boards, which will probably be his best game of the season. And as a sign of how one-sided the game was in the end, Joe Smith played 3 minutes. Seriously, the correlation between Joe Smith playing and the Lakers blowing an opponent out is like 90%, with the other 10% being the Lakers getting blown out themselves.

Overall, the Lakers played pretty well, and the Knicks played pretty badly. Combine those two, and you get a 17 point Whomping. The Lakers now move to 4-0 on this current Grammy’s road trip, with a showdown in Orlando coming on Sunday.

Records: Lakers37-16 (2nd in West), Knicks 26-25 (6th in East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers112.3 (2nd in NBA), Knicks 110.2 (7th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers105.0 (10th in NBA), Knicks 109.8 (23rd in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers:Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Knicks: Raymond Felton, Landry Fields, Danilo Gallinari, Amar’e Stoudemire, Timofey Mozgov
Injuries: Lakers: Matt Barnes & Theo Ratliff (out); Knicks Kelenna Azubuike & Eddy Curry (out), Ronny Turiaf (questionable)

The Lakers Coming in: The Lakers have won 3 games in a row – all on the road – and just vanquished the Celtics. Needless to say, things are going well right now. And while it’s easy to look at the fact that the Lakers have been playing better on offense (keyed by a resurgent Gasol and the continued brilliance of Kobe) the key to the recent strong play has been the Lakers defense. We saw it last night when the team held the C’s to only 33 second half points and we saw it in Memphis when the Grizz only tallied 84 points when they fell to LA. In fact, in the Lakers’ last 4 games only one team has cracked 90 points and that was the hot shooting Hornets, but even that game ended with a fizzle as New Orleans only scored 13 points in the final period.  If the Lakers can continue to put the clamps on opponents, I’m pretty sure we’re going to keep seeing victories.

The Knicks Coming in: At this point, I think it’s safe to say that the Knicks have issues. They’ve lost 3 of their last 4 games and since losing to the Lakers back on January 9th, they’ve lost 10 of 15. They now sit only one game over .500 and seem to be scrambling to find their lost mojo.

One theory that I have in regards to the Knicks struggles is the fact that they’re now the team engulfed in Carmelo Anthony trade rumors. If you think back to when the Nets pulled their name from the list of teams actively pursuing ‘Melo, one of the reasons their owner cited was that the players were distracted by having their futures with the team always being put front and center. We all think of trade rumors as part of the business of the NBA, but when the media and fans are speculating about you suddenly no longer being on the team, that can have an adverse affect on a player’s performance. Right now, that’s the reality for the Knicks. Fans at MSG are chanting “we want ‘Melo”, and the discussions about Knick ‘X’ moving on to Denver or Minnesota in a trade to acquire Anthony are always present. None of this can be good for the mental health of a ball club and I think we’re seeing the repercussions of this with the Knicks’ recent slide.

Knicks Blogs: Check out Knickerblogger for all their great insight, then visit their stats page for more good information on the teams around the league. And if you want even more of me, you can see the Q & A I did with them in the lead up to tonight’s game.

Keys to game: Can the Lakers keep their high going? Big wins can often be followed by big let downs if you’re not careful. The Knicks are more than capable of playing well and you know they’ll have a great crowd for the Lakers’ only visit of the year, so the Lakers must not suffer from any lack of focus tonight. MSG will be rocking and the Lakers better be prepared for the atmosphere that they’re walking into.

Offensively, the Lakers must attack inside. Gasol and Bynum have major advantages against Amar’e in the paint and while Mozgov is a hustling big man that is active on D, he’s not Mutombo in the middle. Much like last night, I’d love to see the Lakers work the ball to their big men early and allow Kobe to hang back and pick his spots.

That said, Kobe also should not go into a shell on offense. Fields is a good defender but he’s still a rookie and hasn’t yet seen Kobe’s full bag of tricks. I’d love to see Kobe continue to attack the paint, force help from STAT and Mozgov and then hit his bigs for easy buckets. I also think he’ll be able to go into the post at the weak side elbow and force the Knicks to either double team or be beaten by turnaround jumpers from Kobe’s sweet spot. This action will be more available when Odom replaces Pau or Bynum and Kobe can move out of the two guard front of the Triangle and onto the wing/post, so look for that change when Phil calls to the bench.

Defensively, we’ll see what type of approach the Knicks take tonight. The last time these teams played I thought the Knicks did themselves a major disservice by going away from the P&R in favor of Amar’e isolations at the elbow. The Knicks did try to get creative by running hand off sequences with Amar’e initiating offense but by going away from their bread and butter of the Felton/STAT P&R, they limited their options on O and forced Amar’e to continuously drive into two 7 footers looking to block and alter his shot.

Tonight, I expect the Knicks to go back to the P&R as they’ve now got their spacers back. With Gallo and Fields camping in the corners, the Knicks will likely look to try and space out the Lakers’ D so that Amar’e has a free path on dives to the rim. In order to counter this action the Lakers will need to have good backline rotations by their big men and wing defenders will have to help off shooters while still showing the ability to recover back to contest shots if the ball gets kicked out. The Knicks aren’t quite at the Suns’ level in running this play but we know that D’Antoni is still trying to duplicate that success.

The other key areas to watch tonight are rebounds and transition baskets. The Knicks rank as one of the weaker rebounding teams on both backboards so the Lakers should be able to take advantage of this fact by hitting their O glass hard. NY relies heavily on guards to get dirty and hit the defensive glass so the Lakers bigs should recognize that they have an advantage inside by moving aggressively to the boards and getting extra possessions.

And by making the Knicks stay home to protect their defensive glass, here’s hoping the Lakers can control the pace of the game. The Knicks play at the 3rd fastest pace in the league (with D’Antoni at the healm this shouldn’t be a surprise) and will try to run at every opportunity. Unlike his old Suns teams, though, the Knicks don’t always just run to the three point line. Chandler, Fields, and Felton will all happily attack the basket in the open court so the Lakers must actively build a wall against those players and block off the paint. Galinari however will almost always run to the three point line so he must be marked in the open court as he drifts to the extended wing and corner to get off open threes.

In the end, this game is one that should be won by the Lakers. The Knicks a game opponent, but they’re a wounded team that does not have the highest confidence. I know the Lakers will be a bit spent after playing an emotional game and when combined with the Knicks want to push the ball they may be more tired than normal tonight. That said, the Lakers strengths directly challenge the Knicks’ weaknesses and plan of attack needs to reflect that. Let’s keep this streak going with another win.

Where you can watch: 5:00pm start time out West on KCAL. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710am.

From Kevin Ding, OC Register: Not quite as soon as Jerry Sloan is back on his Illinois farm, but someday soon Phil Jackson will be at his house on the lake in Montana … the NBA going on without the greatest coach in its history. Maybe at post-retirement age Jackson will find a knit sweater warms him just fine and he won’t miss having the living room of his home always a roaring furnace of competitive fire. But behind the banging and beating scenes on the basketball court in Jackson’s job are subtle beauties: people connecting and lives touched. Any coach at any level gets that, even amid the awfully serious business of the Lakers and Celtics and championships. Jackson’s Lakers team won Thursday night – and man, did Jackson want to win – but the winning came the right way: The result flowed out of good and right things that happened for people about whom Jackson truly wants good and right things.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: The lasting image of the Lakers’ 92-86 victory Thursday over the Boston Celtics that signifies the team’s jump back to dominance might be this: Kobe Bryant puckered his lips after draining a fade away jumper over Ray Allen that gave the Lakers an eight-point lead with 48 seconds remaining. The lasting image of the Lakers’ aggressiveness might feature this: Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom accidentally knocking heads, an episode that happened after Odom tipped in Gasol’s missed shot, required a bandage on his forehead and necessitated stitches afterward. And the lasting image of the Lakers’ sense of relief might be this: the team exchanging handshakes and pats on the back after a well-fought victory. The obvious ramifications behind this win: The Lakers improved to 3-0 on their seven-game trip, winning four of their last five games, increased their mark against teams with better records than them to 2-6 and, of course, softened concern over the Lakers’ play and whether they need to make a trade, mostly notably Andrew Bynum, who posted an impressive 16 points and nine rebounds. But what makes the Lakers’ victory against the Celtics more more meaningful goes beyond the fact they evened the season-series against their archrivals.

From Sekou Smith, Hangtime Blog: He’s not the Los Angeles Lakers’ biggest personality and far from its biggest star, but no player on the Lakers’ roster is on display more these days than their biggest player (height-wise). It’s Andrew Bynum Day every day until the Feb. 24 trade deadline passes. Bynum’s spent the past week in the trade rumor crosshairs — having your name linked to Carmelo Anthony‘s these days can change everything — and will stay there until the trade deadline passes and he’s still wearing purple and gold. Last night’s effort against the Celtics showed once again why the Lakers value Bynum’s talent, length and youth. Even with all of his injury problems, Bynum’s presence in the paint is as obvious to the eye as it is crucial to the Lakers’ threepeat hopes. It remains to be seen whether or not that is enough to keep him in a Lakers uniform for the next five years or so.

From David Friedman, 20 Second Timeout: Ray Allen scored 12 first quarter points–including two three pointers to move past Reggie Miller into sole possession of first place on the career list for three pointers made–as the Boston Celtics cruised to a 27-20 first quarter lead over the L.A. Lakers. The Celtics eventually pushed that margin to 15 points but then Kobe Bryant erupted for 20 second half points and the Lakers emerged with a 92-86 win, their first victory of the season against a legitimate championship contender. “Statement game” is a somewhat overused phrase but, whatever you call it, at some point before the playoffs began the Lakers needed to prove that they could summon up the necessary concentration and effort to beat a top level squad. Bryant finished with a game-high 23 points on 9-17 field goal shooting, plus five rebounds and four assists; he played 38 minutes, which is roughly four more than his season average and an indication of just how important this game was to Lakers Coach Phil Jackson, because there have been times this season when Jackson has left Bryant fiddling on the bench even as the Laker reserves were burning down Rome on the court.

From Dexter Fishmore, Silver Screen and Roll: I hope the Celtics fans at TD Garden this evening got their kicks watching Ray Allen become the NBA’s new all-time leader in career threes. Judging from their expectant proto-cheers whenever Ray went into his shooting motion from behind the arc – and their beautiful, bored silence the rest of the night – seeing number 20 surpass Reggie Miller was apparently the only reason they bothered to show up. Which is just as well, as their team gave them nothing else to celebrate. The Celts rode the emotional wave of Ray’s record-setting to a 15-point lead midway through the second period, but no one bothered to remind them that a regulation NBA contest lasts 48 minutes. Methodically, calmly, professionally, the visiting Lakers put on a second-half defensive clinic and won going away, 92 to 86, avenging a loss to their ancient rivals at Staples Center earlier this month. At long last, about two thirds of the way through the regular season, the Lakers have a no-joke, signature win to call their own. They’re now 3-0 on their Grammys trip, and although they have no time to luxuriate in the victory – with games in New York, Orlando and Charlotte on the docket over the next four days – tonight’s win reflects a possible turning point in their regular season. So many concerns that have hovered around this team were, for one night at least, laid to rest.

From C. A. Clark, Silver Screen and Roll: A week ago, my esteemed SB Nation colleague Tom Ziller created a Black Hole Index. If you haven’t already seen it, you should check it out, if for no other reason than to appreciate an aesthetically awesome chart.  The chart plots the NBA’s top guards on two axes, one representing their usage rate, and the other representing their assists per shot attempt (including free throws). Not surprisingly, the chart shows Kobe Bryant as one of the biggest black holes in the league.  Considering Kobe’s high usage rate, and relatively low assist numbers, this is in no way a surprise.  Nor, as Tom points out, is it particularly an insult.  For the rare player of Kobe’s talent and ability, being a “black hole” is only an indictment in the court of public opinion. It passes no judgment on a player’s value, no direct equivalency to his ability to help his team win games. And yet, despite the author’s plea for it to be seen simply as an observation, not a judgment, we Laker fans can’t help but rise to the defense of our superstar.  The comments are filled with the familiar refrains that are seen whenever Kobe’s reputation is slandered with words like “selfish” and “ball hog”.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: There had always been a time when Phil Jackson expected Jerry Sloan would finally pick up the Larry O’Brien trophy, wear a championship ring and win the league’s coach-of-the-year award. That thought originated when Jackson saw first-hand how tough of a challenge his Chicago Bulls team went through in securing the 1997 and 1998 NBA championships in two grueling six-game series against the Utah Jazz. Once the Bulls’ dynasty was disbanded the following season, Jackson figured the mantle would go to the Jazz. That moment never came. Three days after signing a one-year contract extension, Sloan ended his 23-year tenure as the head coach of the Jazz on Thursday, marking the longest-serving coach in the four major U.S. professional leagues.

From Fran Blinebury, Jerry Sloan grew up on a farm in McLeansboro, Ill. So he always knew there was a time to take the crops in.That it came this week instead of last week, today rather than tomorrow, is irrelevant. “You do it ’til they don’t want you anymore,” Sloan once said. “Or it stops being fun.” In this case, probably more than a little bit of both. Maybe it was halftime of Wednesday night’s home loss to the Bulls, following a locker room clash with star guard Deron Williams, when Sloan stopped hearing the calliope music inside his head and decided to resign as coach of the Jazz. Or perhaps it was when he agreed to a one-year contract extension through next season, but cautioned that it didn’t necessarily mean he’d be around next season. After 23 seasons standing, stomping and screaming in front of the Jazz bench, the 68-year-old Sloan was aware of the nearing expiration date stamped on his carton, but it never changed his demeanor or affected his style.