Archives For April 2011

Yesterday, Darius kicked off our two-part first round playoff preview: When the Lakers Have the Ball. Today, we’ll be taking a look at what the Lakers can do on the other side of the floor.

In the first three meetings between the Lakers and the Hornets, we pretty much knew what we were going to see in their offensive sets — a lot of 1-4 pick and rolls between Chris Paul and David West. There hasn’t been a point in Chris Paul’s career when he wasn’t one of the league’s elite point guards when healthy. He’s been very effective in both scoring in pick and roll situations and finding open men as they became available. West, on the other hand, was one of the league’s best in terms of the pick and pop. Before West was injured, he was shooting right around 45 percent on mid-range jumpers. Now, the Hornets are without West, but still run the pick and roll rather effectively.

Since David West went down, Carl Landry has come in and played well, but he doesn’t have the same strengths as West had. In this video, we’ll see the Hornets run the same exact set that they would have normally run with West in the game. We see a 2-4 P&R between Marco Belinelli and Landry. Landry scores on this one, but it’s a shot that the Lakers will be more than happy to give up. Notice, first, how Ron Artest fights through the screen, going over it instead of underneath. This tactic is much more important when Paul is handling the ball (more on that later), but it takes away a directional choice from the ball handler and reduces the chances of a re-screen. Secondly, you’ll notice Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant sliding over keeping the ball handler out of the paint, with Pau close enough to contest any jumper taken right off of the screen, but far enough to give Ron Artest enough room to slide back between Belinelli and the hoop and enough time to recover back to his man.

Again, Landry makes this one, but the shot location stats over at HoopData suggest that the Lakers will allow Landry to continue to take that jump shot. On jumpers between 3-9 feet, West shot 45 percent while Landry shoots 44.6 percent. Between 10-15 feet West shot 44 percent, 38.1 for Landry. On long twos, West shot 47.3 percent, whereas Landry only shoots 35.3 percent.

On this next clip, we see the kind of damage that Chris Paul can do to the Lakers if they don’t pay attention to detail. The Lakers do almost everything wrong in defending this one, and it leads to an easy layup. First, Pau makes his decision on what side to hedge on before Chris Paul does. Second, Derek Fisher lets Chris Paul reverse and penetrate to his right. Third, Kobe has a chance to step in and stop the penetration at the free throw line, but slides out of the way. Fourth, Lamar Odom is late to slide over and contest the shot. Darius has more on this:

A key to slowing Paul in the P&R is to keep him away from the middle of the floor and preferably to his left hand. Before his knee injury, Paul would get into the lane and score going both left and right. However, this year he seems much more active getting to the rim when driving middle to his right hand and relying much more on his step back jumper when going to his left. If the Lakers can effectively limit Paul’s ability to drive right, it should also go a long way in reducing his scoring punch.

On this last video, we see the Lakers doing a better job in defending the screen and roll. Again, we see Derek Fisher going over the screen, forcing Paul to go to his left. Pau shows enough to contest the jumper and Kobe leaves Trevor Ariza open on the perimeter and slides down on the cutter to prevent a wide open look down low. More Darius:

You see that on only one of the sets did a player get all the way to the basket and that was when Paul went away from the screen and beat Fisher back to the middle of the floor. And to me, that’s the key with slowing down this action from the Hornets. If the Lakers can successfully keep Paul out of the paint and make the him a jump shooter coming off the P&R, that’s half the battle. Even though Paul shoots a very good 45% from 16-23 feet, by making him pull up for that jumper with a big man contesting, the Lakers will drastically reduce his effectiveness as a scorer. Understand that Paul will try to draw contact by rubbing tight off the screen and then working back towards the hedging big man in order to draw a foul, but if the Lakers are smart in laying back so that they can effectively keep Paul in front of them while still staying in position to challenge his jumper, I think they’ll be in good shape.

Zephid had a few more words on Chris Paul in the P&R:

From the 2nd and 3rd sets, you can see that Paul is probably more dangerous going away from the pick, since going over the pick will usually lead to a contested jumper over the long arms of Bynum, Gasol, or Odom.  When Paul went away from the pick, he easily beat Derek Fisher and got into the lane for an easy score.  Lamar probably should’ve helped more, but giving up a bucket would’ve been better than giving up a cheap And1.

Finally, statistics from Synergy tell us 20 percent of the Hornets offense ends with a spot up jump shot, with a large percentage of them likely coming out of the screen and roll. This is a part of the Lakers game that should get secondary attention from the Lakers as they aren’t a very good jump shooting team. As Darius mentioned, Chris Paul shoots a nice 45 percent on mid-range jump shots. Darius mentioned to me in an e-mail that the Hornets only make 5.4 threes per game (22nd in the NBA), which seems to suggest that if the Lakers continue to help off of shooters in pick and roll situations, they won’t have to pay a heavy price to deadly three-point shooting. Kurt also added this:

The Lakers, as I imagine they do to a lot of teams, force the Hornets to shoot more threes than they normally do, but the Hornets only hit 32.7 percent of them in the four games. The Hornets really struggled out on the arc and were more average on the corner three.

Overall, the Lakers did a great job defensively in the four games against the Hornets this season, they only shot 40 percent in those games. It’s not a secret, the Hornets offense goes as Chris Paul does. Instead of forcing him to the middle like the Lakers do for most opponents, they’re going to want to force him to his left and force him to take mid range jumpers. The Lakers also need to be concerned with Landry and his ability to finish around the rim, where he finishes the play about 75 percent of the time. I do not expect this to be a long series, but doing the little things, paying attention to detail and closing defensive possessions by keeping the Hornets off of the offensive glass can ensure that this series doesn’t stretch out longer than it needs to be.

With the Lakers set to start the defense of their championship on Sunday, we start our playoff preview of the Lakers/Hornets series. Today we focus on the Lakers’ offense vs. the Hornets’ defense.

Even though both the Lakers’ O and the Hornets’ D showed some signs of slippage as the season came to a close, the match up on this side of the court really is strength on strength. The Hornets feature a top 10 defensive unit (measured by points allowed per 100 possessions) and the Lakers feature a top 10 offense. Two of the reasons the Hornets were such a good defensive team is the fact that they have an excellent on ball defender in Chris Paul and the fact that they consistently slowed the tempo of the game down to make teams play in the half court. Once the game settled into a slow down affair, the Hornets used crisp rotations on the wing to contest jumpers and limit prenetration when the ball swung around, limited shots at the rim, and then played defense without fouling. For the year, their activity and ability to limit shots at the rim and in the paint was their most successful tactic, but their lack of size is a glaring concern in their match up with the Lakers.

So with that being said, in order for the Lakers to be successful on this side of the ball, they’ll need to consistently play to their strengths and attack the weaknesses of the Hornets to make them pay in the half court. That starts with going inside to both Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. Even before David West hurt his knee, the Hornets lacked capable size to defend the Lakers interior players. After West went down, the Lakers’ advantage in the paint only became more pronounced. Okafor and Landry will work hard, but just don’t have the requisite height to defend their counterparts. And while back up big men DJ Mbenga, Aaron Gray, and Jason Smith do possess better size, they’re lower level players whose only redeeming qualities are their bulk.

Based off all this, it’s no wonder that the Lakers have had so much success by attacking the interior of the Hornets’ defense and why it needs to continue in this series. Understand that in four games against the Hornest this year, Gasol averaged over 22 points, shooting 70% from the field on 11 FGA’s while knocking down 82% of his free throws on 8 attempts per game. Gasol will mostly be matched up with Carl Landry where his height and length advantage is enormous; he’ll need to be fed the ball consistently to exploit Landry down low and on the short wing. Against Landry, I’d love to see Gasol do most of his work in the hub of the Triangle to put his ability score and pass to teammates to best use. Operating out of the hub means that there will both strong and weak side actions where teammates cut and screen off the ball, giving Pau a multitude of options on any given play. This isn’t to say that Pau should only work on the strong side. Isolating Pau at the weak side elbow will put Landry on and island, enabling Pau to shoot his jumper in space or attack of the dribble to get off his jump hook going to either hand.

Getting Bynum consistent touches should also be a priority. Obviously, how Bynum responds to his latest setback with his knee will determine how much of an offensive force he can be, but testing this out early needs to be a part of the game plan. Like Gasol, Bynum has put up some excellent numbers agasint the Hornets (15 ppg on 64% shooting, 71% from the FT line on 5 attempts) and as we documented in his first start of the season, his size and strength advantage over Okafor down low can lead to very good results on offense. Where I’d like to see Bynum do a lot of his damage is on weak side duck ins where he’s able to seal his man on the backside of the Triangle and get to the front of the rim when the ball reverses to the top. By stepping into the paint on the weak side, Bynum is using the defenses’ want to help against them by removing the gap that exists between him and his defender utilizing his strength against smaller men. Phillip also explains another tactic the Lakers used to get Bynum going:

What really stood out to me was after the initial entry and clear out — much like they do when anyone gets the ball in the post — a guard, Fisher in this video, would slide over to the wing on the side Bynum had the ball. Bynum was kicking the ball back out to that guard and re-posting up using a wide base and his strength to get better positioning underneath the basket. When Bynum was able to get as deep as he does in this particular video, his size made it nearly impossible for Okafor, or whoever was guarding him, to stop ‘Drew from scoring.

By getting Bynum and Gasol touches in the post against undersized defenders they’ll not only create efficient looks for themselves, but also for their teammates. Attacking the Hornets inside should be the number one priority in this series.

This size advantage should also give the Lakers the advantage on the offensive glass. Against the Hornets, the Bynum grabbed nearly 2 offensive boards a game and Gasol grabbed nearly 4. I’ll let Phillip take it from here:

Pau was huge on the offensive glass in all four games against NOH this season. He averaged 3.75 ORB for two reasons: his length and the Hornets’ propensity to allow the Lakers to sneak in for cheap rebounds due to their zone. On that note, the next few clips, all with the Hornets in the zone, will illustrate a few things that were great or need to change. First, here’s Pau grabbing two early offensive rebounds and getting layups out of them. Notice the Hornets zone and how no one is really even in a position to put a body on Pau. If the Hornets employ this zone, it’s going to be up to Pau to go after those offensive boards aggressively.

The Lakers other obvious advantage is on the wing. Trevor Ariza is their best wing defender but he has some issues on defense against both Kobe and Artest. As Zephid explains:

This will be a very interesting series for Artest.  There’s no one on the Hornets that require his defensive abilities, so his offense will be key.  Ever since he came to the Lakers last year, he’s been super aggressive against Trevor Ariza, the fan favorite who he replaced.  We’ve seen his bull rushes into the lane, and as hilarious as they look, they have been very effective against the much lighter Ariza.  Artest should also have a very strong offensive rebounding game, as the Hornets don’t have anyone who can box him out. 

In the last game, the Hornets actually put Ariza on Kobe – likely because they saw that Ariza wasn’t having much success on Ron, plus Marco Belinelli’s ability to guard Kobe is what you’d expect from Marco Belinelli. However, the results in that game weren’t much better for the Hornets. Kobe scored 30 points on 25 shots (a number drastically skewed by his 1-6 on three pointers), mostly having his way with Trevor for the entire contest. Kobe worked mostly out of the triple threat, jab stepping to create space for his jumper and then driving around Ariza when played too closely. In this series, I expect Kobe to continue to be aggressive but I’d also like for him to reduce his shot volume in favor of utilizing his big men. As Phil Jackson stressed in his pre-playoff press conference, the Lakers need to get back to playing to their strengths and while Kobe is a strength, the Lakers big men are too. I do think Kobe (and the other wings) recognize this, but being reminded on the eve of the playoffs isn’t the worst thing. If needed, I have full confidence in Kobe’s ability to work in both isolations and within the structure of the Triangle to get his shots from the mid post, at the elbow, and coming off screens. I do hope his work in 1-4 sets is limited however, as there are better ways to attack this team.

Considering that the Lakers have so many inherent personnel advantages, it would not be a surprise to the see the Hornets play a fair amount of zone defense. I mean, the Hornets’ best defender will be mostly guarding the Lakers’ last option on offense (Fisher) and the overall strength of the Laker team is attacking inside. With the Lakers not being a strong perimeter shooting team, this tactic makes complete sense and the Lakers need to be prepared for it. As Phillip shows in the clips below, the Lakers have know what they need to do to break the zone but don’t always do it. First up is an example of what not to do:

More Phillip:

This last clip shows the Lakers attacking the zone more effectively. Both of them start with an entry pass to Pau at the pinch post, where he reverses the ball over to Kobe. Kobe, then, does Kobe-esque in route to the basket and finishes around the rim instead of a three point shot being taken. What both of these plays illustrate are pretty much the three main principles of attacking zone defenses: Ball reversals, gap penetration and entry passes.

In the end, the Lakers have too many advantages on offense to really struggle scoring agaisnt this team. The Hornets invite a slow down pace and this only further plays into what the Lakers want to do on this side of the ball. As always, however, the Lakers’ success will come down to playing with intelligence and patience in a way that capitalizes on their strengths. The Hornets will not just roll over and allow the Lakers to make these entry passes and will likely try to bait Kobe, Fisher, and Artest into taking long jumpers rather than looking to the post. The Lakers need to avoid falling for the trap and work their game plan consistently. If they do, I don’t see there being a problem scoring the ball.

[If this video doesn’t get you ready for the playoffs to start, I don’t think anything will. All praises for this one go to Rob Mahoney and the good folks over at Hardwood Paroxysm.]

From Sebastian Pruiti, NBA Playbook: So what the Lakers are doing here is keeping Bynum in the paint when a pick and roll takes place, funneling the action to him and stopping penetration.  This is the Lakers’ new pick and roll defense, and it what has them at the top of the PPP leaderboard for pick and roll defense.  When it comes to defending the ball handler, the Lakers have the 6th best pick and roll defense, allowing just .775 points per possession.  They are even better when it comes to containing the roll man, as they are 5th in terms of PPP. With this defensive strategy, the Lakers find themselves susceptible to midrange jumpers.  However, as Person mentioned in Ding’s article, they are willing to live with it, because they are confident in their belief that there are only a few guys who can knock down those shots consistently:

From Sebastian Pruiti, NBA Playbook: We all know how much Kobe Bryant likes to get isolated in the Lakers offense, and while many may argue (effectively in my opinion) that there is too much of this late, you can’t question how successful Kobe is in the isolation.  When Kobe Bryant looks to score in isolation, he posts a PPP of 1.00 (this is good for 24th among players with at least 20 isolation possessions).  This success scoring out of isolation sets allows for Bryant to have success when passing out of his one-on-one situations.  Bryant’s overall isolation offense (including his passes out of isolation situations) has a PPP of 1.049.  When Bryant does make the pass (20% of his total number of isolation possessions) he is able to get his teammates wide open looks:

From Kurt Helin, Pro Basketball Talk: With all due respect to how well Landry has played, the Hornets really need David West here. The offensive problems that West created would have challenged Pau Gasol more and maybe tiered the Spaniard out some. Look for the Hornets to try to pick-and-roll the Lakers to death, the Lakers strategy has been to lay back on that and dare you to beat them with the jump shot. Paul is going to have to both knock down shots and find ways to get some easy buckets inside for his teammates. They need to get Andrew Bynum and his balky knee on the move, the problem is the Hornets are not really a running team. Emeka Okafor also is going to have to have a monster series on the glass for the Hornets to have a chance. PREDICTION Without West the Hornets do not have the firepower. They didn’t really with him, but without him the Hornets (like most teams) just cannot match up with the length and skill of the Lakers front line. Lakers in 5.

From C.A. Clark, Silver Screen and Roll: Phew! Wow, what a game.  Everyone was thinking the Kings were going to go out nice and quiet when they were down 18 to start the 4th Quarter.  Lakers just can’t make things easy, can they? A quick Kings run ignited the crowd, sloppy Lakers Offense contributed to the cause, and brick after brick were handed out by the Lakers to make the impossible, reality.  You could feel the energy and excitement in the building, there was a definite buzz in the air and the fans stood on their feet as the Kings clawed back within 6..4..1..then took the lead.  It was bananas. But before that amazing (and hopefully not the last) run by the Kings, let me take you back to the beginning.  I’ve been to 3 games at ARCO Power Balance Pavilion before, so I know the routine.  Doors open one hour before tip-off, so that meant I had to be there around 6p.m. to get a sweet spot in line.  I walked up and was warmly met by the great PBP.

From Dexter Fishmore, Silver Screen and Roll: Mucho thanks to all who voted in our first ever SS&R power poll. By the magic of Microsoft Excel, I’ve compiled the results, which you can see after the jump. Despite remaining the Vegas favorites to win the NBA title, the Lakers begin the playoffs at second in our collective power rankings. Their first-round opponents, the New Orleans Hornets, check in at 15th, ahead of only the 37-win Pacers. The teams that inspired the most disagreement were the Celtics and Nuggets. The least controversial were the top-ranked Bulls and the bottom-feeders from Indiana. We’ll do this again after the first round is complete. I wish I could hand out “I VOTED” stickers to all who submitted a ballot. Unfortunately that wasn’t in the budget for this project, so instead everyone just take a Sharpie and write “I VOTED” on whatever you’re wearing.

From Zach Lowe, The Point Forward: Switch-flipping is a dicey thing, historically, but the Lakers and Celtics have the pedigree that suggests they can do it. Boston finished last season 27-27 before shocking even their own fans by plowing through the East and coming within a few minutes of the franchise’s 18th title. The Celtics went only 10-11 in their last 21 games this season, and though the decision to trade Kendrick Perkins to the Thunder is the easy target here, the real culprit is the team’s offense, which finished just 19th in points per possessions. Rajon Rondo is barely shooting 40 percent since the start of March, Glen Davis’ jumper has deserted him and the Celtics generally looked helpless against elite Miami and Chicago defenses in games this month. This hasn’t been a good offensive team in two years, but it will have to be better for Boston to seriously contend.

From Nadya Avakian, Lakers Nation: There’s a reason why the pick-and-roll is the go-to offense in the NBA. It’s a sequence that always subscribes to the same basic action—a player sets the pick, while the other rolls to the basket, finds an open teammate, shoots the ball himself or lays it up at the rim. It can be pure or varied because its rhythm’s and placements all serve to alternate its composition. Because the offense can be modified in a variety of different ways, each pick-and-roll sequence can still manufacture some type of advantage in the half-court, even against the more advanced defenses in the league. Professional basketball currently relies much more on the guy running the point than it has in years past. With a class of ball-handlers including the likes of Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Steve Nash and the like, the pick-and-roll when mastered and executed to perfection, becomes that much more devastating to teams that don’t have a disciplined defense.

From Kevin Ding, OC Register: Phil Jackson sat down in front of reporters Thursday to preview his final postseason before retiring as a coach, but before he did, he sighed, smiled and said he hoped the material could stick to basketball issues. Jackson was fined Thursday $75,000 by the NBA — with an additional $75,000 fine for the Lakers organization — for his comment made in Portland on April 7. “Who knows what the NBA is going to look like after this year?” Jackson said. “I think there’s some people pretty convinced there’s not going to be a year next year.” Jackson was speaking in the context of his planned coaching retirement, but the NBA prohibits team officials from speaking publicly about collective bargaining issues. Considering his fine, it’s worth noting that this is what Jackson said Wednesday night in Sacramento when asked about Kobe Bryant’s $100,000 fine from the NBA for an anti-gay remark on the bench: “They just do it according to what a person makes.”

From Mark Medina, LA Times: When he wasn’t celebrating the 2010 NBA championship, Artest spent plenty of time this off-season slimming down to 250 pounds and limiting his alcohol consumption in the hopes he could keep up with speedy players such as Kevin Durant. That effort has proven to be a mixed bag, but the way he defends the opposing team’s best player will likely prove to be the X factor in a series. It’s crucial that Artest play the game the right way. When he doesn’t have a superstar player to defend, Artest sometimes appears bored on team defense. When he is defending a top scorer, sometimes the matchup distracts him from basic duties, such as help defense. Then there’s of course the offense, where running a fast break and any shot attempt immediately prompts Staples Center to let out a collective gasp.

After 82 games, the playoffs are finally here. The grind of the regular season will soon be replaced with heightened intensity and focus of the post season (an environment the Lakers have done quite well in over the past few seasons). As we’ve done in past years we’ll have in depth previews on the Lakers’ series with the Hornets breaking down offensive and defensive tendencies while trying to get to the root of what needs to be done on both sides of the ball for the Lakers to advance. But that will wait until tomorrow.

Today, I look at the playoffs in general and what I’d like to see. Not only from the Lakers, but around the league as well. This is, by far, my favorite part of the season as there’s no longer room for lacksadaisical play with the promise of more time to figure it out. The playoffs are unforgiving and with a Laker team that’s trying for a 3rd straight title, I’d have it no other way. So take this as my pulling out a shiny Susan B. Anthony and flipping it into the wishing well…these are things I hope to see starting this weekend:

*Andrew Bynum as close to 100% as possible. Ditto for Matt Barnes. And while I’m at it, a speedy recovery for Steve Blake.

*Kobe Bryant refreshed mentally and physically, ready to push for championship #6.

*Chris Paul in all his brilliance…struggling to do damage in his bread and butter Pick & Roll.

*Top shelf defense from the Lakers. Big men contesting shots and finishing plays with defensive rebounds. Guards keeping ball handlers to one side of the floor. Expert level stuff, essentially.

*A 7 game slugfest between the Knicks and Celtics. Those are two franchises with a history (as Phil Jackson will tell you). I want to see a battle between those guys.

*Derrick Rose dunks. Lots of them. You know, like this. Or this. Even this will do.

*A long series between Dallas and Portland.

*Pau Gasol: BlackSwan.

*Health for all players on all teams. I hate it when injuries affect the playoffs.

*At least one bicep kiss from Ron Artest. If it comes after a converted one-handed lay up, even better.

*Clean, crisp, Triangle execution.

*Lamar Odom going coast to coast and finishing with one of his classic swooping left hand bankers.

*Trey Johnson surprising us the way that Shannon Brown did in 2009.

*Charles Barkley being heckled by EJ and Kenny as he clings to the idea that Kobe has slowed down considerably.

*Derek Fisher coming up big again with a dagger three pointer down the stretch of a meaningful game.

*A Bulls/Celtics Eastern Conference Finals. Doc Rivers must see that defense and think he’s looking at his own team.

*A Lakers/Spurs Western Conference Finals. There’s no team I’d rather have to go through to reach the championship round.

*An NBA Finals with the Lakers in them.

*Phil Jackson getting that 4th three-peat in his last stand with a parade down Figueroa as the crown jewel of his illustrious career.

From Andy Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: Before this game, I decided I’d provide a formal breakdown only in the event of a loss. I mean, let’s be honest. At the end of the day, is the nitty gritty of how the Lakers managed to beat the lowly Kings really all that compelling? But on the flip side, if the Lakers actually dropped a contest to the Pacific Division bottom-feeders, which by extension means dropping the second seed in the West, fans would likely and rightly be curious to know what the (N.S.F.W.) happened. Thankfully, if you missed tonight’s game, you won’t learn a thing about what happened in this space. Well, except one small, trivial detail. The Lakers blew a 20-point fourth-quarter lead and required overtime to secure a victory.

From C.A. Clark, Silver Screen and Roll: What a day.  What a surreal, strange, muddled, confusing day. It started with bated breath, as all of Lakers Nation awaited the news of Andrew Bynum’s MRI.  But as we waited, a funny thing happened.  Like a single snowflake rolling down a mountain, turning into a gigantic ball of snow, the news of Kobe Bryant’s casual use of a gay slur towards a referee in last night’s contest began to move to the forefront of any and all Lakers conversation.  Kobe came out with a statement that showed all the remorse of an Enron executive, the league “looked into” the incident and decided to lay the financial hammer down, and the news that Bynum was given more or less a clean bill of health was quickly pushed to the back page. And then there was a little thing called the last game of the regular season … against the Sacramento Kings in Sacramento … quite possibly the last game ever in Sacramento.  The Lakers had a lot riding on tonight’s contest.  Technically, the Kings had nothing riding on it.  But we knew better.

From Daniel Buerge, Lakers Nation: With just one game remaining in the regular season everything was on the line tonight for the Lakers. With a win the team would clinch the second seed in the Western Conference and assure home court advantage for at least the first two rounds of the playoffs. A loss would drop Los Angeles to the third seed, and would give them an unfavorable match-up with a very tough Portland Trail Blazers squad in the first round. The arena tonight was more energetic than usual, as the fans in Sacramento knew that this very well could be the Kings last home game in the city of Sacramento. In an arena that is known for its raucous crowd, the Lakers knew they would have to play with enough energy to take the crowd out of the game early.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: Once the shot went through the basket, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant let out his signature laser-beam glare and swung out his arms. The 23-foot jumper extended the Lakers’ lead to five points against Sacramento with 1:53 remaining in overtime Wednesday night. It also appeared to be a dagger that Bryant pierced into a standing-room-only crowd in Power Balance Pavilion that clanged their cowbells and yelled as loudly as if it were Game 7 of the 2002 Western Conference finals. The image provided a perfect symbolic ending to the Lakers’ 116-108 victory over the Kings in presumably their last game in Sacramento. “It’s fitting the game would end like this at Sacramento,” Bryant told Lakers broadcaster John Ireland after scoring 36 points on 13-for-24 shooting, referring to the Lakers’ contentious history with the Kings in the 2000, 2001 and 2002 playoffs. “I guess the ghosts of the past have still been haunting us.”

From Mark Medina, LA Times: They’re a decade removed from it all, but assistant Lakers coach Brian Shaw and former Kings star Chris Webber still debate. They bring up the contentious history between the Lakers and the Sacramento Kings — meeting in the first round of the 2000 playoffs, 2001 West semifinals and 2002 West Conference Finals. They relive the subplots surrounding the series.  And Shaw makes sure to boast how the Lakers proved to be the better team, winning all playoff series en route to an NBA title. “When we bring it up and we talk about it, I say, ‘You guys looked at it as a rivalry,’ ”  Shaw said. “But you never beat us. How could it be a rivalry?” Much has happened since those matchups. The Lakers’ franchise fragmented after the 2003-04 season, when the team traded Shaq, fired Jackson, Derek Fisher left via free agency and Kobe Bryant was left  to lead a less talented team. The woes stacked up with a missed playoff appearance in 2005, early first-round exits in 2006 and 2007 and an offseason in which Bryant demanded to be traded. But the Lakers have since appeared in three consecutive NBA Finals and won two NBA championships after acquiring Pau Gasol and Fisher in 2008.

If one game could sum up a season, this was it. The Lakers found their footing early, extended the lead going into the home stretch, gave up that entire big lead through sloppy play and poor execution, had Kobe bail them out, and then out talented their opponent at the end with excellent big man play and some Kobe mixed in. The result was a 116-108 victory over the Kings that clinches the 2nd seed in the West and a 1st round date with the Hornets. What an amazing, frustrating, thrilling, breathe a sigh of relief at the end ride. This sounds just like the Lakers’ season, no?

So much happened in this game that bullet points will have to do…

*Offensively the Lakers looked like they’d been drilled on doing the little things before this game. The spacing was better, the passes were crisper, and the team got into their sets much quicker. Everything the Lakers did on offense just had a better, more even pace to it. As a team, I thought their focus on executing (at least for the first 3 quarters) was as good as it’s been in weeks.

*The Lakers big men, though running on fumes at the end, came up big tonight. Gasol tallied 18 points on 50% shooting and had 13 rebounds. He worked well both from the mid range and off the dribble while also doing a good job of drawing fouls on DeMarcus Cousins early on. He could have been a bit more effective in the post with his jump hook, but I’m in no way complaining about that. He showed fight and was aggressive when he caught the ball, two traits that always enhance his game. Meanwhile, Lamar Odom again showed his value as a player that can move seamlessly between the bench and the starting lineup. Taking his place with the first five, Odom scored 22 points, grabbed 8 rebounds, and dished out 7 assists in a fantastic effort that showed his all court game and versatility as a player. I know I’ve typed those same words about LO about 40 different times this year, but it’s amazing how good he’s been and how vital his contributions have been to the Lakers’ success. Tonight was no different as he made several plays down the stretch, including an “and 1” finish on a fast break where he received an excellent drop pass that converted into a lay in as he got hit by 2 Kings defenders.

*The Lakers’ reserves also played well. For all the grief I’ve given Shannon Brown lately, he put in some very good minutes in the first half by playing under control and making quick decisions with the ball. He had several good post entries and took his jumper in rhythm rather than relying on the dribble to set up his shot. I was also quite impressed with Trey Johnson in his 13 minutes of burn. He showed poise and versatility during his run, playing both PG and SG while never trying to do too much with the ball. He cut well, made good post entries, ran the floor hard, and even hit a couple of jumpers coming off P&R’s and hand off sequences at the elbow. All and all a very nice showing in his first minutes with the varsity team.

*The star of the Lakers was none other than Kobe Bryant, though. Mr. Bean worked all aspects of his offensive arsenal tonight, making several turn around jumpers and driving to the lane where he finished inside and drew fouls. Kobe finished the night with 36 points on 24 shots, grabbed 9 rebounds, and handed out 6 dimes in one of his more complete performances of late. In the fourth quarter, he did force some shots with the game tightening up (two separate baseline jumpers stand out as especially difficult looks where passing was certainly a better option) but he did hit the game that sent this contest to overtime so in the end it’s difficult to be down on him (especially when you re-examine his line and realize how good he was for first 3 periods and the overtime).

Kobe’s D also deserves mention as he had a big block at the end of regulation to ensure the extra 5 minute frame and then continued his good effort in overtime by doing a good job of denying Marcus Thornton touches and limiting the Kings best offensive option of the night.

*Where the Lakers weren’t that great was in defending Marcus Thornton for most of the game (this was mostly Fisher’s responsibility) and in securing defensive rebounds as the game wore on. Thornton scored well (33 points on 26 shots) and did a lot of damage not only with his jumper but in bulling his way to the hoop for finishes at the rim. As for the rebounding, the Lakers surrendered 16 offensive rebounds including many down the stretch of the 4th quarter that helped fuel the Kings’ furious come back that had every Laker fan asking “are you kidding me?”. The fact that Sacramento was able to turn an 18 point deficit going into the 4th quarter into a 3 point lead with only 10 seconds left proved how much they wanted this game and how they never did quit on the night. Which leads me too…

*The end of this game, even though it was a win, was quite sad for any fan of the NBA. The Kings players, their fans, and everyone watching at home could sense the emotion in the building as the final buzzer sounded with the Kings losing this game. All you really have to do is watch this clip and you’ll know exactly what I mean.

In the end though, I’ll gladly take this win. With the clinching of the #2 seed and news that both Bynum and Barnes should be ready for game 1 on Sunday, this is day that wasn’t so bad after all. After last night’s game I said that I just hoped we’d be feeling good tonight in celebrating a win and we are. So enjoy this one Laker fans, as the 2nd season is upon us and the race for the trophy begins.

Records: Lakers 56-25 (2nd in West), Kings 24-57 (14th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.0 (6th in NBA), Kings 103.5 (25th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 104.3 (6th in NBA), Kings 109.0 (19th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Kings: Tyrek Evans, Marcus Thornton, Francisco Garcia, DeMarcus Cousins, Samuel Dalembert
Injuries: Lakers: Andrew Bynum, Matt Barnes, Devin Ebanks (all out); Kings: Tyreke Evans (questionable), Hassan Whiteside & Marquis Daniels (out)

The Lakers coming in: The word is in. Andrew Bynum’s MRI revealed a bone bruise and he’s expected to be ready for the Lakers first playoff game this weekend. So, Laker fans, we can all breathe a sigh of relief and collect our plaques from Guiness for breaking the record for “longest group to every collectively hold their breath”. We made it just over 17 hours by my watch. The linked report also informs us that Matt Barnes’ MRI doesn’t show any new damage to his surgically repaired knee and he too is expected to play this weekend. Good news all around and I’m glad that’s finally settled.

Because, you know, the race for the #2 seed is still up in the air. That said, it’s pretty straight forward stuff. A Laker win or a Mavs loss nets the Lakers the #2 seed. Where things start to get more complex is in the rest of the West’s standings who will lock up the other seeds by the end of night. TrueHoop has a great summary posted and I suggest reviewing it so you know what to watch for in the rest of tonight’s games. The seeding will come down the final contests tonight, so buckle up and enjoy the ride. By the time the night is over all this will be settled. 

The Kings Coming in: Normally, I’d fill this section with notes about the Kings recent games and who’s been playing well for them. However, today I offer something different than that. Because while it’s useful to know that the Kings are 3-3 in their last 6 games or that Marcus Thornton has found his explosive scoring ability again after being dealt from the Hornets to the Kings, I’d rather use this brief moment to offer up a couple of thoughts on the Kings pending departure from Sacramento.

To be honest, I’ve never been a fan of the Kings. Being a Laker fan, I suppose that’s natural since they’re a division opponent and all. My dislike turned into a form of sports hate about 10 years ago when they were a blood rival of the Lakers, testing them in multiple playoff series before ultimately falling short. They were the “Queens” in a “Cowtown” that brought cowbells to the games to bang behind the Lakers’ bench.

There are so many memories from that time. Robert Horry’s three pointer. Kobe’s brilliant 2001 series. Christie vs. Fox. Vlade’s “flopping”. I could go on and on.

But beyond that, I still remember – with fondness, truthfully – other things about those teams from before the rivalry. A rejuvinated Chris Webber. The flashy rookie Jason Williams. A young sharp shooting Peja and a lanky forward named Tukoglu that showed some promise. They were fun and entertaining before they were a threat and they played a brand of basketball that was a joy to watch even before the SSOL Suns became the poster team for that style of play.

And now, they may be leaving to Orange County to become the Anaheim Royals. I’ll never know the pain to lose my team the way that Sonics and now (potentially) Kings fans do. On a lot of levels, I can only imagine what it feels like to have a team that you’ve invested so much into up and leave for another market, taking with them memories and history and fandom. So, while my dislike for the Kings has endured, today that gets put to the side and replaced with empathy. No matter how often we’ve been at odds, I can’t help but feel for their fans.

Kings Blogs: There are two excellent sites to get Kings news. Visit both Cowbell Kingdom and Sactown Royalty for all the notes and analysis you’d ever want.

Keys to game: Let’s not pretend this is some normal game. The Lakers are walking into the most amped up environment imagineable. It will literally be a lions den. These fans understand that this may be the last time they see their beloved Kings and they’ll bring a passion and intensity that will rival any playoff game that we’ve witnessed. The Lakers are already the public enemy #1 of NBA opponents in our state’s capital and the circumstances surrounding this game will only amplify the atmoshpere further. They’ll want nothing more than to send off their team as winners against the hated Lakers.

So forget the X’s and O’s or who’s missing from the line up, the key to this game will be matching the intesity and living up to the moment that presents itself. The Kings will bring an energy greater than they have all year and the Lakers will have to rise to it or fall victim to it. With playoff seeding on the line, the Lakers too have motivation and tonight’s battle should bring out their best effort too. There’s too much on the line not too.

And while execution on both sides of the ball will be important to the outcome, tonight’s game is simply about going hard. The Lakers need to go after every rebound and defend with purpose. They need to chase the 50/50 balls and try to win every battle on the floor. The playoffs start in a few days and the the Lakers are going to get a sneak preivew of them tonight. Here’s hoping that at the end of the night they have another W and that #2 seed locked up.

Where you can watch: 7:30 start time on KCAL. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710am.

From Brian Kamenetky, Land O’ Lakers: Those hoping Tuesday’s game would serve as some sort of preview for the Western Conference finals were likely disappointed from the jump, since Gregg Popovich kept Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker in street clothes. Combined with a thinned-out Lakers squad missing both Steve Blake (chicken pox) and Matt Barnes (knee), as a forecasting tool the evening was predestined to be completely worthless. Of course, all of that became basically irrelevant at the 8:11 mark of the second quarter, when Andrew Bynum left the game because of a hyperextended right knee — the same one he had repaired last offseason. Bynum suffered the injury after stepping on DeJuan Blair’s foot at the right elbow, extending his leg awkwardly before falling to the floor under the Lakers’ basket. He stayed down for about 30 seconds or so but was able to walk off the floor under his own power. He’s scheduled for an MRI exam at 11 a.m. Wednesday.

From Timothy Varner, 48MOH: The Spurs started George Hill, Gary Neal, Richard Jefferson, Tiago Splitter and DeJuan Blair. The Lakers ran with 0.4, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. The Spurs’ starters logged a total 130  minutes; the Lakers starters tallied 157 minutes.  The Spurs lost by 9. Those are your facts. Andrew Bynum also hurt his knee, and that’s the tempest in the teapot that will emerge from this game. It already has. MRI this morning. Media frenzy to follow. The immediate impact of last night’s game had more to do with the Spurs bench getting a good workout against a great team. Players like James Anderson, who figures to play next year, got a foretaste of what it’s like trying to slow Kobe Bryant. Tiago Splitter was reminded that Pau Gasol is very good.   These things pay themselves back in time.

From Dexter Fishmore, Silver Screen and Roll: Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls: welcome to Bynum Watch 2011. This has become a beloved rite of spring here in Lakerdom. You can mark its annual beginning by the appearance in the same sentence of such words as “knee buckled awkwardly,” “possible hyperextension,” “went to the locker room with trainer Gary Vitti” and “MRI pending.” Oh, you didn’t think we’d make it all the way to the playoffs without a Bynum injury scare, did you? That’s just not how things are done around here. In case you missed it and are wondering what the wave of concern sweeping through Laker fans is all about: in the second quarter of tonight’s depressing home win over the San Antonio Spurs’ practice squad, Drew’s right foot landed on the foot of DeJuan Blair, causing his knee to lock up and hyperextend a bit. After spending a few moments on the ground, Drew went to the locker room under his own power but did not return. Video of the injury is after the jump.

From Kevin Ding, OC Register: The largest Laker sat there, scared and trying to make himself as small as possible in the very paint where he has been such a tower the past two months. As he did, the Lakers’ bold confidence about the next two months was suddenly muted. The ghost of Andrew Bynum’s past was haunting them with a resonating message far more frightening than their first five-game losing streak with Pau Gasol. This was a reality check – not just about their blossoming young center’s frailties, but of how fleeting these championship opportunities can be. It is no coincidence that Kobe Bryant said softly after the game: “The three-peat is upon us.” Yes, a dynasty can die just like that, with one misstep, and you can be certain that 30-something Lakers Bryant, Gasol, Lamar Odom, Ron Artest and Derek Fisher all got the message about their basketball mortality. The five of those Lakers veterans will earn the NBA’s ultimate blue-collar salute Wednesday night – all 82 games played – except they will do so not assuming anything after watching that 7-foot kid folded up again on their home floor.

From Kevin Ding, OC Register: Andrew Bynum’s troublesome right knee will be an issue again entering the Lakers’ postseason after he hyperextended it early in the second quarter Tuesday night against San Antonio. He is scheduled for an MRI today at 11 a.m. and will not play in the regular-season finale at Sacramento tonight. The knee is the same one Bynum had surgery on in the offseason to have cartilage reattached. He has continued to have some pain — taking anti-inflammatory medication to combat it — but has played well since the All-Star break in anchoring the Lakers’ defense and dominating the boards. Bynum stepped on the foot of San Antonio’s DeJuan Blair while running back on defense, overstretching his right leg to the point it buckled and he went down. The NBA playoffs start Saturday.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: Folding his arms across his knees and burying his head down, Lakers center Andrew Bynum sat on the court. He had just lost his balance while trying to track down San Antonio Spurs forward DeJuan Blair, a sequence that caused his left knee to slip underneath him. Bynum then grabbed his right knee, a discomforting visual for any Lakers fan, considering Bynum’s well-documented injury history. But Bynum stood up and walked off the court as Lakers forward Pau Gasol patted him on the head. Soon enough, Bynum walked toward the locker room with trainer Gary Vitti following. The Lakers’ 102-93 victory Tuesday over the Spurs at Staples Center gives them a clearer look at the playoff picture, considering that L.A. can secure the No. 2 seed with a victory Wednesday at Sacramento and/or a Dallas Mavericks loss Wednesday against the New Orleans Hornets. But here’s something that even has bigger implications: An unhealthy Bynum will severely dampen the Lakers’ hopes to three-peat. Of course, the Lakers will have a better idea about the severity of Bynum’s injury once he receives an MRI Wednesday, skipping the team’s flight to Sacramento. But given Bynum’s injury history, it’s more realistic to expect a prolonged absence than a short one, even if he insists otherwise.