Archives For March 2011

From Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: Defense. Take away the first half problems securing the glass, and the Lakers did a nice job against the Blazers. Portland was limited to 38.6 percent shooting on the night, in three of the four quarters failed to score more than 20 points, and only notched only 32 in the second half. Once Nicolas Batum, who went off for 19 points on eight-for-10 shooting in the first half, cooled off, Portland didn’t have any viable options. LaMarcus Aldridge, playing as well as any big in the league over the last few months, had 18 points on 17 shots, as the Lakers limited him to only three trips to the line. Andre Miller, Brandon Roy, and Rudy Fernandez were a combined nine-for-36.

From Dexter Fishmore, Silver Screen and Roll: There’s no question but that Andrew Bynum has been the prime mover behind the Lakers’ defensive surge since the All-Star break. Earlier today, however, league schoolmarms advised him that, as sanction for his Friday night war-crimes against Michael Beasley, his services would be neither required nor permitted in the Lakers’ next two games. This left Drew’s teammates to face the Portland Trail Blazers tonight with a Bynum-sized hole in their defense and left us to wonder whether this was the moment the Lakers’ month-long roll would get knocked off course. Happily, it was not that moment. A second-half defensive clampdown catalyzed a late comeback that ended with an 84 to 80 Laker victory, their 12th in 13 dates since All-Star Weekend.

From Kevin Ding, OC Register: It is customary for Phil Jackson to give his players time to themselves on the bench while he stands out on the court alone with his clipboard early in timeouts. He’ll then approach the bench before play resumes and face his players, showing them what he has doodled on a board under the names of who will be staying in or entering the game. This time, Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher were on their feet while their Lakers teammates remained clustered by the bench. It was early in a timeout, but it was an important timeout in an important game that the Lakers had done a lot to lose and now needed to do a little to win.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: Tugging at his jersey, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant yelled out to no one in particular. He high-fived courtside fans. He pumped his fist in delight. And he stared out to the 18,997 at Staples Center with the signature glare that defines his intensity and competitiveness. But Bryant appeared angry, even more so than usual, after drilling what he called “my shot” — a baseline jumper over Portland’s Brandon Roy that gave the Lakers a five-point lead with 32.9 seconds remaining. Afterward, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson remained coy concerning Bryant’s emotions, saying, “It was just normal. You mean pulling his jersey over his head and running up and down the court was animated?” It became apparent, however, Bryant needed to let out all the frustration about the elements surrounding the Lakers’ 84-80 victory Sunday against the Portland Trail Blazers.

From Mike Bresnahan, LA Times: It sure seemed as if the game took place in Portland, with the dour weather lingering glumly outdoors and the Trail Blazers sticking it to the Lakers indoors. But Kobe Bryant had seen enough, his sprained ankle, sore shoulder and stiff neck all to be mentally discarded in the fourth quarter. He shrugged off an off-target night, a string of poor shooting games and a salivating Trail Blazers team in an 84-80 Lakers victory Sunday at Staples Center. It’s hardly surprising that Bryant’s involved in a gritty victory, but this time he added a rare touch, high-fiving a courtside fan and releasing some steam as he yanked hard on his jersey after a 14-foot fade-away meant a five-point lead with 32.9 seconds left.

This wasn’t a pretty game. Far from it, actually. But the Lakers battled, kept the game close, and made the plays down the stretch to beat the Blazers 84-80. The win clinched the Pacific Division and served as a reminder that the guys with the old legs still have some left in the tank.

And really, that was the big take away from this game – the Lakers, for all their poor shooting and all the possessions that they came up empty, just kept fighting. They played through contact, kept their composure (for the most part), and found a way to keep the game close so their veteran players could make the plays – plays that they’ve made so many times before – on this night too.

Yes, they missed Andrew Bynum. On too many possessions the Lakers bigs ended up having to scramble to help on both drives and in showing strong side zone looks to deter post entries. This tactic left Blazer shooters open on the weak side and when circling to the top of the key on ball rotations. Nic Batum made this defense pay to the tune of 25 points on 10 of 16 shooting, including 4-9 from three point range. And when Batum wasn’t doing his damage from the outside, LaMarcus Aldridge was shooting that feathery jumper of his before the D could get to him to get his Blazers the points they needed to keep the Lakers at arm’s length.

But the Lakers just kept grinding.

Lamar Odom was great in Bynum’s stead, making 8 of his 11 shots and grabbing 11 rebounds. Better yet, though, was his work as a facilitator in the offense where he tallied 6 assists by moving the ball on to an open teammate both in open court situations (a soccer style outlet pass to Shannon Brown was as pretty a deep pass I’ve seen) and in the half court. Odom brought the ball up and was great in helping to organize the Lakers’ sets so that when they needed a good look they could at least put forth a decent effort to get one.

Pau joined LO in playing a solid game, if not his most efficient one. Gasol needed 15 shots to score his 14 points, but did add 13 rebounds (including 5 offensive) with 3 assists and 2 blocks to provide a strong anchor in the post without Bynum as a partner in the paint. Most important though, was the fact that Gasol only picked up 2 fouls the entire night and that meant that he could essentially match up with Aldridge all night and make his life a bit more difficult than it was the last time that these teams matched up. Aldridge did get some good shots to fall, but Pau did a good job of sitting on his right hand (only a few times allowing LMA to get to the middle from the left block) and making him shoot contested jumpers. It’s a testament to LaMarcus that he was able to hit as many as he did considering Pau’s length and the timing he showed in contesting those looks.

But really, this game was about the closing minutes and how the Lakers’ two longtime clutch performers came up big again. In the final 4:18 of the game, Fisher and Kobe combined for 12 points (and Kobe assisted on the Lakers only other basket in this stretch) to carry the team home. If we hadn’t seen this so many times before, I’d say that I was surprised but really it was just a reminder of what they’re capable of.

A Kobe jumper was followed by his bullet assist to Pau for an easy basket at the rim. On the next Blazer possession, Kobe knocked the ball away from Andre Miller, Fish picked up the loose ball and threw ahead to a streaking #24 for the dunk that tied the game. After a Portland timeout, Derek Fisher got a steal of his own took the ball coast to coast and after taking a big stride scooped up a lay in that gave the Lakers the lead that they’d not give up. Their last two buckets sealed the game as Kobe shot a fading baseline jumper after beating his man off the dribble to his right hand (only a shot that we’ve seen hundreds of times before) and Fish capped it all off with a step in twenty footer at the top of the key after the play broke down. Vintage stuff from both.

In the end, I can’t say I enjoyed this game from an aesthetic stand point but I definitely reveled in the grit, determination, and poise that the Lakers showed to come up with the win. With Bynum out and the game not really going their way for most of the contest, this team could have chalked up a loss to poor circumstances and moved on to the awaiting Suns on Tuesday. Instead they fought hard and made the big plays that championship teams make when their backs are against the wall. They turned a 4 point deficit with 4 minutes left into a 4 point win by riding 5 straight makes from Kobe/Fisher while forcing the Blazers’ into missed shots and turnovers to take seize the contest. Again, it wasn’t pretty but damn was it a sight to see. After Kobe hit his baseline jumper, high fived a fan, and screamed at the top of his lungs as he ran back up the court you could see how much this game meant to him and the rest of the guys. This team is rounding into playoff form. And that, even more than the win, is what I’m excited about.

Records: Lakers 49-20 (2nd in West), Trailblazers 40-29 (6th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.7 (2nd in NBA), Trailblazers 108.6 (11th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 104.5 (7th in NBA), Trailblazers 107.0 (14th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Trailblazers: Andre Miller, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, Gerald Wallace, LaMarcus Aldridge
Injuries: Lakers: Theo Ratliff & Devin Ebanks (out); Trailblazers: Greg Oden & Elliot Williams (out)

The Lakers Coming in: The wins have been piling up, but that’s not really today’s news. This morning we learned that Andrew Bynum will be suspended two games for his flagrant foul on Michael Beasley, meaning he’ll be out for tonight’s game vs. Portland and Tuesday’s contest vs. the Suns. And while the two games is a bit excessive (I think the league’s ruling is indicative of Beasley’s hard fall and not necessarily the foul itself), this is what can happen when you shoulder shiver a player in mid-air and it results in him taking a horrendous fall where he can’t return to the game. I’ve said it already: Bynum’s aggression is a good thing, him not making a play on the ball and committing a reckless, dangerous foul is not. He deserved to be suspended and now he and his team suffer for him making said play.

All that said, I hope Bynum learns from this. I hope he learns that he must play big, but must also play smart. That he can give a hard foul, but must do so within the context of playing the game not with a frustrated shove that’s a danger to other players and to his own team. Because with Bynum’s embracing of his new role as a defensive anchor comes a greater responsibility to actually be there for his team. He’s no longer an extra piece to the puzzle but a main part in which his absence can make all the difference. So as he sits and watches his team in these next two games, I hope he examines all of this and comes back as focused and ready to play as ever. Odds are, he’ll see how much his team needs him.

The Trailblazers Coming in: There may not be a team playing better that is so under the radar right now. Portland is 7-3 in their last 10 games but have wins over some really strong opponents. Miami, Dallas, Orlando, and a Philly team that’s been playing great ball have all fallen to Portland this month. They’re slowly getting healthy with the return of Marcus Camby and Brando Roy and seem to be adjusting quite nicely to the acquisition of Gerald Wallace they made at the trade deadline. With Wallace now a fixture in the starting lineup and Aldridge moving over to center (along with Roy and Camby providing good support off the bench), the Blazers now have a lot more talent at their disposal and it’s showing each night. They’re able to throw diverse lineups at teams where they begin games relatively small with their starting group, but can then go big (Miller, Roy, Wallace, Aldridge, Camby) or a mixture of both styles (with Rudy Fernandez and Patty Mills thrown into either back court positions) and match up with nearly any lineup their opposition throws at them. This is now a team that will be an extremely tough out in the playoffs – regardless of seeding – and teams would be wise to try and avoid them in the first round this year.

Trailblazers Blogs: Portland Roundball Society does a very good job covering the Blazers. You can also check out the always excellent Blazers Edge for great insight on this team.

Keys to game: As noted above, Portland will go small tonight and with the absence of Bynum they may just get away with it. Mike Trudell has tweeted that the Lakers will start out cross matching with Artest guarding Gerald Wallace and Odom’s assignment a bit less clear. If this does indeed happen, I could imagine Odom guarding Andre Miller in order to neutralize the PG’s excellent post game while Kobe guards Batum and Fisher chases Wesley Matthews around screens and around the perimeter. The Odom/Miller match up is one that LA went to last year when Kobe missed a game in Portland (a game LA won) and LO did a very good job laying off Miller on the perimeter and then bothering him any time he went into the paint. I hope to see some of this same tactic tonight.

As for the rest of the defense, the major key is slowing LaMarcus Aldridge. Pau will certain have his hands full tonight as LMA tries to get position on the left block to go to work with his soft turn around jumper or attempt to drive hard to the middle with his strong hand. Pau likely won’t get much help on D tonight as Portland boasts enough shooters and slashers to make helping defenses pay, so he’ll need to be strong in keeping Aldridge off his spots and smart in how he guides him around the court so he can effectively challenge his shot. Remember too that Pau will be playing without a safety net tonight since Bynum won’t dress, so that means foul trouble will need to be avoided and his rebounding work will need to be at peak level. Portland is too good an offensive rebounding team for Pau to be in single digits tonight. Obviously, Odom too will need to be at his best on the glass and if he’s on a Miller (as I hope/expect) he should be able to effectively leave his man when the shot goes up and go after every loose ball that comes off the rim.

Offensively the Lakers will need top shelf performances from all their main threats. The last time these two teams met, Kobe had a great game in going for 37 points and Gasol black swan’d his way to 18 points, with several coming on strong fourth quarter/overtime finishes against Aldridge. Artest also had a very good shooting game when he poured in 24 on only 13 shots, making countless big jumpers throughout the entire contest to keep the game close when his mates were struggling. With Bynum out, these guys will need to again show up tonight and be effective on O to make up for the fact that Big Drew won’t be around to clean up on the offensive glass and earn extra possessions when shots don’t fall.

I’d love to see Pau get going early and take Aldridge to the mid post where he can go back to work with his mid-range jumper or attack off the dribble. Aldridge has improved as a defender but Pau has more than enough skill to go at him and get buckets at the rim and on the wing when given space. As for Kobe, after the T’Wolves game he vowed to be “more than ready” for this contest so we’ll see if he’s able to deliver. He’ll likely be matched up with Matthews, a player that Kobe’s been able to score on in the past by using his height advantage in the post. This is where Bynum being out can actually aid the Lakers as now Kobe will move out of the two guard front and into the post more where he can isolate at the elbow on the weak side and in the hub of the Triangle after players clear through the lane when executing their ball side cuts. If Kobe can make some short jumpers early, he’ll influence the D and potentially force help that will only open up the offense of Odom, Artest, and Fisher when they spot up and slash on the weak side of the formation.

One last  thing to watch for is the pace of the game. Portland likes to play at a slow pace but in the last match up they tried to push the ball only to run out of steam late. The Lakers were able to manage their quick start effectively enough but ultimately wore them down late with strong post play and by using their size advantage. Tonight, the tables may turn as the Lakers are the team that has the horses to run the floor more tonight. With LO a starter and Barnes back (or at least close) to full strength, the Lakers could do themselves a favor by getting into the open court more and looking to get baskets in early offense. Pau can run with Aldridge and Odom should be able to clear the glass and push the ball too. If Kobe’s ankle looks as good as it did in the 2nd half of the ‘Wolves game, he too should be able to do a bit more work in early offensive sets, especially in early post actions where the back line D isn’t quite set.

In the end, this game is very much important for both teams. Portland has slew of tough games ahead of them and tonight gives them a chance to face off against a Bynum-less Laker group and earn a win that can give them even more confidence for this final stretch before the playoffs. Meanwhile the Lakers need to continue to build on their post all-star run and stay ahead of Dallas in the loss column for the #2 seed. Neither team wants to take a step back tonight and that means we should have a good one on our hands.

Where you can watch: 6:30pm start on Fox Sports West. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710am.

Sunday Morning Reading

Darius Soriano —  March 20, 2011

While we all wait for the Portland game this evening and whether or not Andrew Bynum will be available to play or if he’ll be suspended by the league for his foul on Michael Beasley, below are a few links to help you pass the time. Enjoy.

*Mitch Kupchak is nothing but a straight shooter and he lives up to that rep in this very insightful sit down with Mike Trudell from Lakers.com. He talks all things Lakers including how he and Phil communicate during a season, his evaluation of Blake and Barnes in their first season with the team, and how he wouldn’t trade Andrew Bynum for anybody. Definitely worth your time.

*In this look at 6th Man of the Year candidates, John Schuhmann goes beyond scoring numbers to make his case for who should win. It should be no surprise that Lamar Odom does well when examining the players in this way.

*A quick look at some of the top teams’ records since the all-star break. No wonder the Lakers are gaining ground on some teams.

*Learn a thing or two about the Lakers weak side “solo” series and how they get good shots out of it.

*Lastly, no reading here, and we instead take you back to one of my favorite shots by a Laker ever. Just so happens it was against the Blazers. Watching this shot never gets old.

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.