Archives For March 2011

Yes, the Lakers beat the Timberwolves. They outlasted visiting ‘Wolves 106-98 to up their post all-star record to 11-1. And when you combine the Lakers’ win with losses by the Mavs, Celtics, and Bulls the Lakers were able to gain ground in the playoff standings taking a full one game lead for sole possession of 2nd place in the West while also picking up a game on teams in the East that were ahead of them in the standings. Looking at the game from this perspective, this was a good game that has yielded some positive results for the Lakers.

That said, this wasn’t that pleasant a game to watch. A brief rundown of the negatives before we get back to the good stuff:

*Kobe shot only 6-17 and was almost completely ineffective in the first half. If not for two late three pointers in the closing minutes of the 2nd quarter and some solid passing early in the game, Kobe was completely shut down by the long and athletic Wesley Johnson. Kobe relied to heavily on wing isolations early on but struggled to get clean looks against the strong contests of the Wolves’ rookie. And while Kobe recovered in the 2nd half to knock down shots, get to the FT line, and ultimately have a positive impact on the game he didn’t come out of the game unscathed, hurting his neck in a collision with Martell Webster and seething in the locker room after the game.

*Besides Kobe’s general struggles, the rest of the team also had a general sloppiness to it. The team committed 16 turnovers on the night which directly led to 18 Minnesota points. The Lakers also surrendered 17 offensive boards and lost the overall rebounding battle. And considering that going into this game the two aspects of the contest that the Lakers needed to control were the pace of the game and their defensive glass, I’d say playing poorly in these specific areas really helped the ‘Wolves hang around.

*For all the praise he’s gotten lately, Andrew Bynum now deserves some scorn. After being frustrated by the lack of a whistle on a couple of his offensive moves and dealing with some general fatigue after playing the first 16 minutes of the 2nd half, Bynum committed a flagrant 2 foul and got ejected from this game. The foul occurred when Michael Beasley drove baseline, elevated to attack the rim, and Andrew Bynum jumped into him shoulder first and simply laid him out. While I appreciate Bynum’s aggression in wanting to challenge the shot, he made no visible play on the ball and the foul was simply reckless. To the credit of Rambis and Beasley, they both shook off the play after the game and commented that it was just a hard foul and left it at that. But watching from home I was able to view the play multiple times over and I thought the play was overly aggressive and in many ways needlessly dangerous. Beyond the danger though, situationally the play was truly bad. At the time of the foul the game was tied and Bynum was having a major impact on the contest. To that point he had 10 points and 14 rebounds and was controlling the paint. To commit a foul and risk being ejected (which he was) put his team in real jeopardy to lose the game.

For all the above hand wringing however, the Lakers didn’t play all that poorly and there were several good aspects to this game that deserve recognition.

*The bench really did play well. Led by Steve Blake, the 2nd unit really helped settle the game down and got the Lakers back on track to win this game. Early on the Lakers found themselves down by 11 but Blake came in, ran the Lakers sets, hit a three, and at the end of the 1st quarter they would only trail by 6. Over the course of the rest of the game, Blake would hit a couple of other shots ending the night with 9 points on 3-4 shooting including making both of his three point attempts. Plus, as has been the case lately, Blake also played very good D, hustling around the court and doing a very good job of limiting his man’s penetration. Besides Blake, though, Barnes, Odom, and Shannon also did well in this game too. Barnes was especially active and probably had his best game since returning from his knee surgery. He chipped in 9 points, grabbed a couple of rebounds, and also added two steals. He ran the floor well and provided his usual heady play by slashing when needed and spacing the floor for the bigs when the got the ball in the post. As for Brown, he had some of his typical defensive lapses (he gambled for steals too often and shot the gaps on passes that he had no business going for) but did shoot the ball well scoring 13 points on only 8 shots. Plus, when Kobe was delayed coming out of the locker room to start the 2nd half, Shannon started the 3rd quarter with 2 made three pointers that truly helped LA start to find a needed groove on offense.

*Pau Gasol was a monster on offense. He made 12 of his 17 shots and scored a team high 25 points. As has been the case for what seems like months, his jumper was silky and he did damage against every defender that the ‘Wolves through at him. Realistically, Pau should have gotten the ball more and easily could have gone for over 30 points had the Lakers simply looked for him more in the 2nd half and used him as a closer. I’d have liked for Pau to be a little less loose with the ball (5 TO’s on the night) and for his rebounding numbers to be better (another contest with only 5 boards) but overall he played well. His defense was solid (4 blocks) and he held his own on the perimeter as the Lakers often found themselves needing to switch screens on the wing with Pau finding himself on an island against Ridnour or Beasley or Webster.

*The Lakers outside shooting was also good tonight. They made 8 of their 19 attempts from deep and all them were timely. I mentioned Kobe and Shannon’s two, but Blake also hit two (one a bailout three after Kobe gave him the ball with 3 seconds left on the shot clock), and Odom hit a big three down the stretch that pushed the Lakers lead up to 6 with only 2:32 left in the game. I’ve often said that when the Lakers make their threes they’re a very difficult team to beat and tonight that was again true as without some of those timely deep shots, this game could easily have gone in the other direction.

In the end, a win is a win and I’ll not turn it down. These last couple weeks of the season mean too much to be overly concerned with how the wins are earned, just that they’re earned at all. But the grind it out nature of the contest, Bynum’s foul (and potential suspension – the league will surely review it), Kobe’s struggles, and overall play of the team certainly left me wanting. Against many other teams this game may have ended the other way, so I’m just going to be happy for the outcome and look forward to Sunday where I hope to see a better performance that still yields the same result.

Records: Lakers 48-20 (tied for 2nd in West), Timberwolves 17-52 (14th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.6 (2nd in NBA), Timberwolves 104.7 (23rd in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 104.5 (7th in NBA), Timberwolves 110.2 (26th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Timberwolves: Luke Ridnour, Wesley Johnson, Michael Beasley, Kevin Love, Darko Milicic
Injuries: Lakers: Theo Ratliff and Devin Ebanks (out); Timberwolves: none

The Lakers Coming in: Considering the Lakers haven’t played since Monday, it’s almost easy to forget that they’re one of the hottest teams in the league. Winning 10 of 11, the only team that can match what the Lakers have done of late are the streaking Bulls that have also won 10 of 11 including 8 in a row.

When things are going this well, the only concerns are health and if the Lakers can continue their strong play for the next 14 games and through the playoffs. On the first note, Kobe’s ankle is still swollen but he’s likely to play tonight after receiving non-stop treatment since Monday. He’s been taking off practices in order to reduce any potential strain on his bum wheel and I can only hope that over the next couple of weeks he can return to (relative) full health (after all, no one is fully healthy this time of year). Besides Kobe, Andrew Bynum continues to tell the press that he’s not yet fully healthy either. He states that he still has some fluid build up in his knee and that he’s on anti-inflammatory medication to help with the swelling that still occurs. I know that this sounds worrisome, but I take it as par for the course with Big ‘Drew. He’s always been 100% forthcoming with the media in how he’s doing physically and for a man that size, it may just be unavoidable that he has some of these lingering affects in his joints. Maybe this is why he says that he’d like to lose a bit of weight heading into the playoffs as a lighter frame may help with the force he puts on his knees.

As for the team being able to keep up their strong play, I don’t see why it can’t happen. Obviously health will play a factor in that, but right now this team looks focused and determined to play their best ball and when that’s the case they’re normally able to pull it off. There’s a reason that the Lakers have never been counted out as a true contender despite their up and down ways. They always seem to be able to conjure good play when it matters.

The Timberwolves Coming in: What can you say about a team that’s lost 50 games for the 5th straight year? They don’t defend consistently, don’t put together coherent offensive possesions over the course of the game, and the players don’t seem to be responding to their coach. This all has led to rumors of Kurt Rambis being out at the end of the year, but GM David Kahn refutes those reports.  Either way, the Wolves need to reshape their team in some way to get their franchise back on track but it doesn’t seem like there’s an immediate plan that can actually make it happen. I mean, Ricky Rubio still speaks as if he’s at least a year away from coming to the NBA, Kevin Love – despite accumulating double doubles like Moses Malone – can’t win games on his own, and that GM that’s saying his coach is safe isn’t really acquiring the types of players that will make anyone’s life easier. So, this team continues to lose. And their fans deserve better. Remember, this was a team that faced off with the Lakers in the West Finals less than 10 years ago and had one of the best players in his generation as the core of a winning roster. And now they’re back to where they were as an expansion team. It’s actually all kind of sad.

Timberwolves Blogs: Check out A Wolf Among Wolves for consistently great content. Also give a click to Canis Hoopus for more good coverage of this team.

Keys to game: Despite the Wolves being a bad team, they offer an interesting match up for the Lakers and often play them tough. And despite the gulf in talent that exists, this actually shouldn’t be a surprise. Just consider that the Wolves run the same offensive system as the Lakers, start a big line up that can better defend the Lakers’ strengths (especially on the wing in defending Kobe), play at a very fast pace, have a stretch PF that can hit open shots, and they attack the offensive boards to gain extra possessions. These traits all appear on the list of traits that would trouble the Lakers.

All that said, I expect the Lakers to win tonight. LA has more talent and is playing at a level that the Wolves just can’t match right now. In order to actually get it done, though, the Lakers will have to more than just go through the motions.

Offensively they’ll need to move the ball inside out and from strong to weak side to get the D moving. This will enable every player to get involved and find their rhythm early. I’d love to see a balanced attack tonight with all the starters getting to double figures with rarely balanced FGA’s across the entire team. I understand that individually each Laker has some sort of an advantage, but by playing team ball the Lakers should be able to break this game open early and make the Wolves play from behind.

Defensively the Lakers need to work on keeping the Wolves out of transition to force them to run their sets in the half court. When the Wolves have to play against a set O, their execution suffers and they become overly reliant on Beasley being able to create his own looks or they default into their base Triangle where they just don’t have the individual talent to generate the mismatches that force help and thus open up the cutters and weak side actions that really make the offense hum. If LA can build a wall against Ridnour in the open court and turn this into a game where Beasley, Darko, and Wes Johnson have to create looks for themselves, the Lakers will be just fine.

The other key to the game is rebounding. Any time you face a team with Kevin Love this becomes a priority and the Lakers must have their wits about them and go to the glass as hard as he will in order to avoid giving up too many extra possessions. I’m actually quite interested to see if Bynum continues his stellar rebounding ways when facing off against a team with the league’s leading rebounder. ‘Big Drew more than held his own against Howard, but Love is a different type of animal as he uses positioning, timing, and excellent feel for where the ball is going rather than classic athleticism to get the job done. This isn’t to say that Bynum won’t be able to just use his length and increased effort to go get the ball (after all, that’s been working quite well lately) but he’ll have a different type of challenger going after those same caroms tonight. Should be an interesting watch.

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

From Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: It’s a testament to the relative health this season of the Lakers- and certainly Kobe Bryant- that 24’s ailing left ankle gets it’s own “watch,” despite playing Monday night against Orlando. As it was Wednesday, Bryant neither practiced nor spoke to the media Thursday afternoon, but another happy report on his condition was delivered by Phil Jackson. Certainly there’s no reason to believe Bryant won’t be ready Friday night against the Timberwolves. “I think there’s progress, but we didn’t have him on the court today. He stayed off it,” Jackson said of Kobe. “We’ll just see. We’ll see how it is tomorrow, and go from there. He says it’s got strength. He’s got good strength in his ankle. It’s still swollen quite a bit, but he has the strength in it that he feels he can play.”

From Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: If you missed it, GQ Magazine named Lakers fans the 15th worst in American sports. Because their little blurb on the purple and gold faithful contains a word best not associated with a family website, you’ll have to find the link yourself. Suffice to say, the logic of the writer’s argument is based more on stereotypes than actual knowledge of Lakers loyalists- my inbox, along with a zillion straight sellouts, ubiquitous car flags, etc. attests to their collective passion- and aspects of the Staples Center experience, admittedly less raucous on a typical Tuesday night than some buildings around the NBA. (Though, it should be noted, much more raucous- and more importantly, much more filled- than others.) Still, insofar as the celebrity culture is concerned, Lakers fans have a well-earned high brow rep, one Ron Artest wasn’t afraid to tease a little this afternoon in El Segundo.

From Wandahbap, Silver Screen and Roll: 1.  The Thunder are the scariest team in the West. The Lakers’ recent victories over the Spurs and Mavericks just reinforced what we’ve already known. Both teams just simply aren’t big enough, or good enough to compete with the Lakers at maximum capacity. Are the Spurs and Mavs better than last year? Sure, but neither team can bother the Lakers upfront like the Thunder can with Serge Ibaka’s athleticism added to Perkins’ defensive prowess. The Thunder have the most potential of the three teams, and it will be their defense that sets them apart from the other two. 2.  Having said that… With Andrew Bynum playing as well as he is, the Lakers (in my opinion) have the best defense in the NBA by far. Neither Ibaka, Perkins, Collison nor Mohammed can deal with Bynum. He’s that much of a difference maker. It was defense that enabled them to win the past two championships, and it’s Bynum’s game-changing dominance that has made the Lakers 10-1 since the All-Star break, and gives the potential to be better than the previous two years.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: It won’t be long before everyone knows whether Lakers guard Kobe Bryant will suit up Friday against the Minnesota Timberwolves while nursing a sprained left ankle. It’s debatable whether that issue is even an uncertainty considering Bryant’s tendency to play through injuries and the Lakers’ three-day lapse since their 97-84 victory Monday over the Orlando Magic gave him more time than usual to get the necessary medical treatment. Still, it’s an issue that will likely extend beyond the Lakers’ game against Minnesota with only 14 regular season games remaining. So when you vote in the latest poll, it’s necessary to consider a few factors. Should Bryant rest in games because health for this team remains the No. 1 priority? Should he rest against teams considered highly mediocre opponents? Or would it be bad to risk anything since the Lakers are competing with the Mavericks for second place in the Western Conference?

From Mark Medina, LA Times: If there was any such exercise that’s the equivalent of throwing red meat to the masses to devour, this would be the perfect item. Sure, there are plenty of Laker stories that cause division and uprising. There’s an Andrew Bynum injury, questioning of Kobe Bryant’s shot selection, debating the Lakers’ all-time greatest players, Luke Walton’s contract and any praise for the Boston Celtics or Miami Heat. But this one surpasses them all — questioning the Lakers’ fanhood. The latest issue of GQ Magazine ranks the top 15 worst sports fans in the country and to no one’s surprise, Lakers fans are on that list. Below is the excerpt:

From Billy Witz, Fox Sports: As the Lakers have gotten their game together since the All-Star break, it is no coincidence that most players have settled into a comfort zone. Most noticeably, Andrew Bynum has become a terror defending his basket and attacking rebounds. But Pau Gasol has regained his early season legs – as much as can be expected anyway – along with his shooting touch. Ron Artest is concerned only with defending the other team’s best perimeter player. Kobe Bryant, with the exception of late in the Miami loss, has taken his shots within the offense and has even shown fits of disruptive defense. And Lamar Odom, as usual, is doing whatever is necessary. Even the bench no longer looks like an albatross. It is starting to contribute enough energy, defense and points – particularly in Monday’s win over Orlando – that it no longer looks as if the starters will have to survive 40 minutes a night in the playoffs.

Bigger Is Better

Darius Soriano —  March 17, 2011

In the past, I’ve consistently argued that the Lakers biggest strength isn’t just that they have Kobe Bryant, it’s that they have Kobe and a group of excellent big men. Big men that allow the team to play a variety of styles to match up with any other team’s bigs and still outplay them. The Lakers can go with a jumbo line up of Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, a quick and long line up of Gasol and Lamar Odom, or a combo of those two with Bynum and Odom.

The varied strengths that these units offer mean that other teams are consistently put at a disadvantage because their big men simply don’t offer the versatility that the Lakers’ big men do. Matt Moore (Eye On Basketball, Hardwood Paroxysm) summed this up after the Lakers beat the Mavericks when he tweeted:

Basically, the lesson from this game is: You can add all the size depth you want but it doesn’t matter if none of it is as good as LA’s.

In a 140 characters, that about sums it up doesn’t it? The Lakers offer a trio of big men that all have a high skill level, all can impact a game, and all bring a variety to the floor that make matching up with them a nightmare. If it wasn’t obvious from the Dallas game, the Magic game offered another example when Dwight Howard had to deal with Andrew Bynum for most of his minutes and as a reprieve, he got to tango with Pau Gasol. Meanwhile when both Bynum and Pau shared the court, Dwight was consistently providing help to Ryan Anderson who the Lakers attacked mercilessly all while Odom licked his chops coming off the bench to face a combo of a worn out Anderson or Brandon Bass.

But, beyond the Lakers’ bigs’ skill what we’re seeing this year is near unprecedented marks of efficiency from this group.

PER may not be the end all stat that it’s sometimes touted as, but it is an extremely effective measurement of a player’s tangible efficiency on the court. There’s a reason that players like LeBron, Wade, Kobe, Dirk, Durant, and Chris Paul rank near the top of  PER leaders every year. They’re not only the game’s best players, they’re also the ones that night in and night out perform with the highest level of effiency. Again, it’s not a full proof stat but it’s quite insightful in a variety of ways. I certainly value it and use it as one of the many tools that are available to evaluate a player.

So, when using PER as a evaluation tool on the Lakers’ trio of big men we find something quite interesting. Historic, even. 

First, below are the PER’s of the Lakers trio of bigs:

  • Pau Gasol: 23.5
  • Andrew Bynum: 21.6
  • Lamar Odom: 19.8

With the help of Neil Paine from Basketball-Reference (help that I’m quite thankful for), I was able to get data on all players that were “big men”. For the purpose of his search, Neil used any player that had Foward or Center as a player description. With this data I was then able to see if any team had 3 big men with PER’s as high as the Lakers did. I then took that data and removed any player that had Guard listed position descriptor. (This removed players like Jerry West, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and other fantastic guards that only sporadically played Forward and were mostly wing players.)

What I found was pretty amazing. When looking at the post merger NBA, the 2011 Lakers are the only team to have three “Big” men with PER’s this high.  Bird, McHale, and Parish came close but Larry Legend didn’t quite make the cut coming in slightly below Odom’s current PER of 19.8.

Essentially, the Lakers’ possess a trio of bigs that are currently doing something that no other group has ever done.

And while this statistical achievement is fantastic and deserves some recognition (hence, this post), what it really does is bring me back to my original point: the Lakers ability to put high quality bigs on the floor – bigs that can do what the opponents bigs do, but better – is such an advantage. Their efficiency and ability to combine their strengths to play any style consistently gives them a leg up in any contest. Sure, I know we’d all like if they were taken advantage of more (this post only solidifies that more, really) but I think we can all agree that we’re extemely lucky to have such excellent bigs. And when the season ends, especially if the Lakers are in the position that we all hope they are, I think we’ll be able to point at one (or three) of the main reason’s why.

From Andy Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: This development isn’t simply a matter of Bynum hitting a defensive groove. He’s acknowledging a specific role and embracing it wholeheartedly. More importantly, he’s truly grasping the importance of a defensive impact. Drew has always understood the crucial nature of clogging the middle and hitting the glass, but that’s not the same thing as truly understanding. After all, this isn’t the first time Drew’s been asked to prioritize defense. But as Bynum explained after Monday’s win over Orlando, there’s now a tangible connection felt. “I just think it’s because I’ve realized it’s a way to get into the game without having to dominate the ball on offense. We have scorers on this team. It’s just a way to keep your energy level high. … I just did it a couple of times and was like, ‘Wow, it works.'”

From Andy Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: For a recent ESPN The Magazine feature called “Compatibility Test: Is he your Ideal (Team)mate?,” our buddy Sam Alipour tested the simpatico nature of new teammates Kevin Durant and Kendrick Perkins. Among the questions asked were “Lakers: Team to beat or old news?” As you can see, the two aren’t yin and yang simply because of body type. Durant: “They’re the reigning champions and still playing like it.” Perkins: “Yesterday’s news. I don’t like Pau Gasol or Phil Jackson. Phil is arrogant. Pau is soft. Kobe tries to bring out his toughness, but he’s still soft.” On like Donkey Kong, right? Actually, I doubt it.

From Dave McMenamin, ESPNLA: Pau Gasol called Wednesday’s Los Angeles Lakers practice “a hard one,” as the team got things going after an off day Tuesday. Turns out Kobe Bryant got a hard day’s work off. Bryant, who came in to the Lakers’ practice facility on the off day to receive treatment on the left ankle he sprained two games ago against Dallas, opted to sit out Wednesday. The Lakers’ next game is not until Friday at home against the Minnesota Timberwolves. “It’s still an ankle that was badly sprained,” said Lakers head coach Phil Jackson. “He’s got to be doing therapy a lot. Today, he stayed off it. Tomorrow he may come out on the court.”

From Broderick Turner, LA Times: Two days after his 18-rebound, four-blocked-shot performance against Orlando’s Dwight Howard, considered by many the best center in the NBA, the Lakers’ Andrew Bynum was still all the rage. He has been a towering presence since the All-Star break, a force that has helped the Lakers produce the best record in the NBA at 10-1 since Feb. 22. Bynum has dominated the backboards and been an intimidator on defense with his 7-foot, 285-pound frame. “That’s where he can really impact the game a lot on this team,” Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. “Obviously, some nights he’s got to score if he’s got the hand. But every night he can change it with rebounding and defense.”

From Mark Medina, LA Times: Usually the olive branch behind Phil Jackson’s voice of reason, calmness and perspective, Lakers guard Derek Fisher found himself questioning his coaching tactics during Wednesday’s practice. “He annoyed us and got on our nerves a lot,” he said at the team’s facility in El Segundo. The reason? It appears Jackson put heavy emphasis on conditioning and running drills, something that did not go over well with the 15-year veteran. “I’d say I’m not a marathon runner,” Fisher said. “I’m a basketball player. I think he got the two in reverse today.”

From SoCalGal, Silver Screen and Roll: At Lower Merion High School, Kobe played on the varsity squad as a freshman, a year when the team didn’t do much; from his sophomore through senior years, Kobe led the team to a 77-13 record and played all five positions (remind you of anyone?); the team won its first state championship in 53 years, with Kobe averaging 30.8 PPG, 12 RPG, 6.5 APG, 4 SPG and 3.8 BPG; the Lower Merion Aces went 31-3 in his senior year; he ended his career as Southeastern Pennsylvania’s all-time leading scorer with 2,883 points (surpassing Wilt Chamberlain and Lionel Simmons); he played at Adidas’ ABCD camp with Lamar Odom (Kobe was named MVP), and worked out with the 76ers, going one-on-one with Jerry Stackhouse. As a senior, Kobe received several awards, including being named Naismith High School Player of the Year, Gatorade Men’s National Basketball Player of the Year, a McDonald’s All-American, and a USA Today All-USA First Team player

Turning Points

Darius Soriano —  March 16, 2011

When I was younger I was a big fan of those “Choose Your Adventure” books. If you’re not familiar, these were books in which the reader would choose the path of the lead character in order to advance the plot. As a kid, I just loved the fact that I was deciding for the character. It just made the stories more fun for me, skipping ahead to some page further in the book with the outcome completely in doubt. I mean, the concept of of there being multiple paths for a character always intrigued me and the fact that I had a part in deciding it all was great.

Today, when looking at sports, this concept is alive and well. Except us fans aren’t making the choices, it’s the players and coaches that are doing so. How often have you heard an analyst talk about a team being at a cross-roads? Or how many times have you read an article about a team reaching a turning point and turning it around? These talking points represent those parts in games and seasons that mirror those children stories. The parts where the participants in these events have a choice to make; a choice that will influence how the plot of their game or season develops.

When looking at this Lakers’ season, there seem to be plenty of moments that qualify.

After losing three in a row going into the all-star break, the Lakers seemed to have a serious choice to make about how they’d respond to their lowest point in the season. I think it’s safe to say that we all had our doubts about this team’s prospects (even for those of us that had an underlying confidence if them). Then, when I covered all-star weekend and heard Kobe talk in all the interviews he gave, I got the sense that he had supreme confidence in the Lakers and that he and the team would respond well. He consistently spoke of knowing what the Lakers’ problems were and how they could (and would) be fixed. That Sunday night he earned MVP – an action that simultaneously reminded people of how good he could be and offered up some momentum for him coming out of the break – and since that point the Lakers have reeled off 10 wins in 11 games by playing some of their best basketball of the year.

A key to this recent run of success, though, has been Andrew Bynum. He’s gotten plenty of praise around these parts, serving as a prominent figure in our recaps of the games and in our analysis of what’s made this streak of strong play possible. But it’s not just that he’s playing so well, it’s that his impact on the game has gone from a side dish to a main ingredient and it’s happened in a way that seemingly came from nowhere. And in sticking with our theme, it’s pretty clear that the light bulb has come on for him. Some are pointing to the all-star break as the key moment for ‘Drew as well but as noted by Eric Pincus in quote from Phil Jackson, Bynum’s turning point may have actually been a bit sooner. As in the Boston the game on February 10th. As Pincus points out, since that game Bynum has put up 12 points, 12 rebounds, and 2 blocks a game while serving as the defensive anchor for a team that’s suffocating opponents on that side of the ball.

But Bynum isn’t the only Laker big man that’s had come to a cross-road this season and taken the path that’s led to stronger play. After a rough two month period in December and January where he saw his average points dip nearly 4 (20.3 to 16.6) and his rebounds by nearly 3 (12.3 to 9.5) from his November numbers, there were many doubts surrounding Pau Gasol. He was playing heavy minutes in Bynum’s absence and his performances were extremely inconsistent, culminating with his dreadful performance against the Celtics on January 30th where he scored only 12 points on 13 shots and added only 7 rebounds. After that game it was reported that Kobe had a discussion with Pau about being more like the Black Swan and ever since Gasol has been putting up numbers that mirror his early season prodcution.

It remains to be seen if any of these moments will be looked at as fondly as when Derek Fisher returned from foot surgery in 2001 and helped boost that team to a 15-1 playoff run and win that year’s championship. Or, more recently, when Fisher crashed through a Luis Scola screen in the 2009 playoffs, sparking that group and helping to propel them to a title. After all, those moments served as turning points for teams that reached the ultimate goal at the end of year. But regardless of the outcome of this season, these moments will stick with me beyond the end of this campaign. They’ve helped shape this season for what it’s been – an up and down ride but one that has shown once again that this team does have some resolve, coming out of those dark moments to advance their narrative positively. And if they happen to lead to another banner being hung in the rafters at Staples, all the better. After all, if I really could choose my adventure that’d surely be how it ends.

From Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: Following Monday’s win over Orlando, Kobe Bryant was asked if he’s paid attention to the teams the Lakers are chasing in the standings. “Not really. We’re just playing,” he said. “Just playing and doing what we need to do. We just want to go into the playoffs, play good basketball, execute, try to minimize mistakes.” So far, so good. Stay focused on what you’re doing, right? Control that which can be controlled. He continued. “Home court advantage to me is overrated.” Hmmm…. While I have no idea if Kobe has had problems with his TPS reports of late, I’m going to have to go ahead and sort of disagree with him, there. History does, too. Statistically speaking, the home team has a major advantage in the NBA playoffs. Via ESPN Stats and Information: SERIES WON BY TEAM WITH HOME-COURT ADVANTAGE, since 1983-84 (when the NBA went to a 16-team format):
First Round: 166-50 (.769)
Conference Semifinals: 85-23 (.787)
Conference Finals: 37-17 (.685)
NBA Finals: 21-6 (.778)

From Kevin Ding, OC Register: Phil Jackson began the Lakers’ four-game trip through San Antonio, Atlanta, Miami and Dallas by telling his team that it could “easily” be 0-4 when it was over. Instead, Kobe Bryant was boasting by the end: “It was a statement for us.” The Lakers went 3-1, unable to hold their lead in Miami to make it perfect against four of the league’s best teams, but they weren’t complaining. Bryant was so determined to avoid it being a 2-2 trip that he implored his teammates before the last game in Dallas on Saturday to realize the Mavericks are a “serious contender.” “This is a team that could beat us in the postseason,” Bryant told his Lakers teammates, who came through with a victory even though Bryant sprained his left ankle.

From Gil Merkin, Silver Screen and Roll: With all this talk of “advanced statistics” lately with the MIT Sloan Analytics conference, and the rising use of individual basketball statistics in everyday basketball arguments, I feel I must re-emphasize my position. The way individual basketball statistics are kept do not make sense. What is a made basket in basketball? It can be a highly individual campaign, fully crafted by one player. Or it can be a “made” by two players, half made by the assisting player, and the other half crediting to the scorer for making the shot. So far so good. Solo points made get credited to the scorer, and an assist given to the passer. Great. But, what if there were three players involved in making that basket happen? If you know how basketball works, you know this happens pretty frequently. What if there are four players that contributed? You can have up to ten players (rarely), including the defenders, involved the making of a basket. And the same goes for a missed shot! Yet when a player makes a basket, he gets all the credit, and every one else on the court gets zero, except maybe for the passer, who gets an assist. And the allocation can change for every basket depending on how it was created. This is an allocation problem, and it’s a huge problem in individual basketball statistics. The same thing goes for rebounds and steals!

From C.A. Clark, Silver Screen and Roll: We’ve been doing a whole lot of praise singing for Andrew Bynum over the last couple of weeks.  He’s been the primary subject of a vast majority of our game recaps, editorials, Player of the Week awards, and comments.  There’s no doubt Drew has earned some time in the spotlight because his play since the All Star Break has been inspired, but one can’t help but wonder if we, as a blog and as a fanbase, are going a bit overboard.  I mean, sure we can see how Drew is changing games with his defense and rebounding.  We know his stat line of 12 points, 13 boards and 2.6 blocks per game is pretty much exactly what the Lakers dream of getting from Bynum on a team that is not short on offensive talent.  We can be proud of the fact that AB is finally reveling in his role as anchor of the defense.  But just how much effect, actual measureable effect, is Bynum really having on his team’s play?  Sure, all the blocks and rebounds he is accumulating are highly visible, and we know that the Lakers defense has been much improved since the All-Star break, but how much of that is actually due to Bynum’s presence on the floor?  Does his newfound dominance in our hearts match any kind of newfound dominance on the stat sheet, outside of his increased individual numbers?

From Lisa Dillman, LA Times: There was no self-promoting going on seven years ago, not a single news release when four NBA players got together to help pay for a life-saving operation for their mentor and coach. “They were not seeking attention,” Kim Hughes said Tuesday. “Clearly they did it for the right reasons. When I first had the surgery, I didn’t know what they had done until my wife, Christy, told me. I was totally shocked.” Hughes, the former Clippers assistant coach, was talking about current Clippers center Chris Kaman and his then-teammates Elton Brand, Corey Maggette and Marko Jaric. The players helped cover an out-of-network procedure after Hughes was diagnosed with prostate cancer. The news only just came to light a day ago in the Racine Journal Times in a feature about Maggette, who is now with the Milwaukee Bucks, and the newspaper quoted Hughes as saying the operation cost $70,000.

Fast Break Thoughts

Darius Soriano —  March 15, 2011

*In this current 10-1 stretch for the Lakers, they’ve seen their statistical profile as a team take a boost, especially related to their defensive efficiency numbers. They’re now 7th in defensive efficiency after another excellent game on D where they held the Magic to 98.7 points per 100 possessions. The team they just recently passed in def. efficiency is the Spurs who haven’t been fairing well on that side of the ball lately.

*Last night’s game also offered an update on the health of the Lakers. Both Kobe and Matt Barnes played while nicked up and both performed reasonably well. But, the guy I was watching was Andrew Bynum. As it’s been mentioned (by none other than Phil Jackson), Bynum is now “full strength” and it’s showing. One play in particular really stood out to me as the one that exemplified that Bynum is, indeed, 100% now. I’ll let Dan take it away from the comments of the game recap:

I thought one of the best plays of the game, that really showed just how far ‘Drew has come over the past few weeks, was the play in the 2nd half (4th Q?) off of a Laker missed jump shot, ‘Drew was on one side of the paint and tipped the ball up off the glass, beat Howard to the opposite side of the paint (!) and grabbed the O-board for the putback and one. Just a great show of his length and quickness.

*Another key play – at least in relation to a player’s health – was one where Kobe beat Jason Richardson off the dribble, got all the way to the rim, came to a jump stop and put up a floater over Howard. Even though Kobe had already knocked down two 3rd quarter shots priort to that one, the play showed that Kobe was willing to attack off the dribble and it ultimately opened up the rest of his offensive game. After that shot, Richardson could no longer crowd Kobe on his jumper and it led to 6 more points in that frame for #24.

*One guy that had an underrated game last night was Lamar Odom. He quietly poured in 16 points on 7-12 shooting and grabbed 7 rebounds too. With the recent rise of Bynum as a force, the contributions of Odom have gained a bit less recognition of late, but he’s truly having a superb season and his production remains so consistent it’s now almost taken for granted. Over at SB Nation Los Angeles, Dexter Fishmore makes his case for LO as 6th man of the year.

*Speaking of Lamar, one of the areas he’s really improved at over the years is as a finisher. He’s so crafty around the hoop now and he usually makes at least one play a game where I say “wow, that was a tough finish”. Over at The Point Forward, Zach Lowe had this to say about the great little bank shot that Odom has developed:

Tim Duncan gets all the love as the league’s preeminent bank-shot artist. But that may be a disservice to Odom, whose bankers come less predictably and from closer range — and thus might not draw the attention of Duncan’s patented angled jumper. Odom’s one-handed bankers have a craftiness and level of difficulty that Duncan can’t touch. There are so many times when Odom will appear trapped under the rim or blanketed by a long-armed defender at the end of one of his drives to the hoop. And then his left arm will rise into the picture, from under the backboard, beneath his defender’s armpit or between his defender’s arms, and Odom will flick up a banker from a weird angle and with a funky trajectory. And it will go in. He’s an underrated shot-maker.

*We covered this some when we revisited his signing, but I really like that Steve Blake commits 100% to running the Lakers’ sets on both sides of the ball. Last night he scored 0 points when he missed his only FG attempt and his only statistical contributions were his two assists. But, on the night he was a +8 and most of that was because of his dilligence in getting the team set up on O and methodically running the Triangle and his tireless work on defense when he picked up his man full court and zipped around the court rotating to open shooters on the wing. Goes to show that contributions really can be measured in more than the numbers.

*The Lakers don’t play until Friday but tonight there is a big game as Dallas visits Portland. If the Mavs lose, the Lakers will close the night as the #2 seed out West.

*Lastly, it’s NCAA Tournament time. You know what that means, it’s time to fill out your bracket. As we’ve done in years past, FB&G is hosting a bracket and all of you are more than welcome to join. Just click this link, hit “join a group” and use the group ID: 167853 and the password: CakewithKwame. Not sure what we’ll give away to the winner this year but we’ll think of something. Good luck beating me though. My bracket (Brackin’ II Electic Boogaloo) is going to be golden.