Archives For January 2012

Boxscore: Lakers 106, Bobcats 73
Offensive Efficiency: Lakers 120.5, Bobcats 83.0
True Shooting %: Lakers 67.6%, Bobcats 39.7%

The Good:
The Lakers made three pointers. Lots of them. Of their 26 attempts, 12 of them found the bottom of the net. That 46.2% from deep is the best the Lakers shot from deep all season and if you remove Kobes 2-11(!), the rest of the team made 10 of 15(!!) from behind the arc. Simply a tremendous output for a team that’s struggled to make the long ball all season. When this team can consistently make their outside shots, the offense goes from “meh” to “downright dangerous” in an instant. The Lakers big three are going to continue to draw hard double teams or, at the very least, have secondary defenders lurking and ready to pounce on them when they make a move. By hitting these shots and making the defense pay, opponents will end up having to make the hard choice of single covering guys that do damage against single coverage or allowing shooters to take wide open shots. The Bobcats chose the latter tonight and the Lakers made the shots that were the difference in the game.

Beyond the hot shooting though, the best numbers for me were Kobe and Pau playing 27 and 28 minutes respectively. Kobe got to be a spectator the entire 4th quarter and Pau only played 2 minutes and 30 seconds in the final frame. Considering the heavy workload these two have been putting in recently, those minutes played numbers might actually be the best stat of the night.

(On a side note, honorable mention goes out to the Lakers reserves – especially the 5 man unit of Bynum, Murphy, Barnes, Kapono, and Goudelock. Outside of Bynum’s stellar +18 on the night, the other four players were all at least +22 and combined for 40 points. They ran the offense well, moving the ball onto the open player consistently and not hesitating when the shot was there to be taken. As the game wore on their comfort level with each other was obvious as they were moving well off the ball, helping each other get open and then doing their best to hit the man that broke free. Obviously their hot shooting won’t be there every night (and Bynum won’t always be able to provide that dominant inside presence that gives them all that space on the wing to operate), but tonight it all came together for this group and it was great to watch.)

The Bad:
Another lethargic 3rd quarter from this group. After taking a 22 point lead into half time, the Lakers came out flat after the break and let the ‘Cats shave 9 points off the lead heading into the 4th quarter. The Lakers played sloppily (7 turnovers), settled for jumpers too often, and relaxed on defense – often times barely bothering to rotate to shooters much less contest shots. The Lakers were lucky that their lead was big enough to be able to survive such a bad effort and that the Bobcats didn’t have enough offensive firepower to make them pay even more than they did. Considering the Lakers scored 30 or more points in the 1st, 2nd, and 4th quarters, their 13 point output in the not only sticks out like a sore thumb but tidily tells the story of how hard the Lakers tried that period. Against better teams the Lakers won’t be able to pull that off and they need to be better coming out of the half.

The Ugly:
I hate to bury the Bobcats here because as I wrote in the game preview, they’re simply not a good basketball team and are missing two of their better players. But tonight, they simply didn’t do much well and were too quick to settle for the first open shot rather than trying to work for a good open shot. Some of their players showed flashes (Kemba Walker had his moments when attacking off the dribble and Gerald Henderson showed good fight on defense and that burgeoning offensive game) but for the most part they looked slow and disinterested on defense and disorganized on offense. I don’t really blame Paul Silas here (he really is working with a talent deficient group) but outside of their push in the 3rd period this team just didn’t look like a team.

The Play of the Game:
If I could string together all of the Lakers 3 point makes in a single clip, that would go here but instead I offer up a Kobe to Bynum connection. Towards the end of the first half – and after Kobe had torched their defense for 24 points – the Bobcats started to send a second defender in Kobe’s direction to dissuade him from getting to his spots. On this particular play, the Bobcats’ big man came across the lane to show Kobe a strong side zone look but instead of Kobe pulling up for a jumper, he rose up and fired a pin point pass to Bynum for a dunk.

Records: Lakers 12-9 (7th in West), Bobcats 3-18 (Last in East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 103.1 (15th in NBA), Bobcats 95.8 (29th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 101.4 (12th in NBA), Bobcats 108.4 (27th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Bobcats: Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson, Tyrus Thomas, Boris Diaw, DeSagana Diop
Injuries: Lakers: Steve Blake (out), Derrick Caracter (out); Bobcats: D.J. Augustin (out), Corey Maggette (out)

The Lakers Coming in: The trade rumors are starting to swirl again, this time linking the Lakers to Ramon Sessions from the Cavs. My two cents on Sessions as a player: he’s young, operates well in the P&R, is a pass first player, but isn’t averse to looking for his own shot should it be one that he has confidence in. His jumper is streaky at best and downright bad at its worst, creating a ceiling for how effective he could be running certain types of offenses (like the Triangle, for example).  In a way, he reminds me of an undersized Andre Miller and that’s not such a bad prototype to follow. Where Miller has an advantage is in his size and how that translates into shots for himself and others from the post, a strength he uses even as he’s closer to the end of his career than the beginning. Sessions doesn’t have that luxury, but his youth and athleticism serve him well in place of that size. All that said, Sessions be the best PG on the Lakers if he were acquired today, tomorrow, next week, etc, etc. If the Lakers can actually acquire him, he’d be good get simply because the things he does well are things this team needs and the things he doesn’t this team already lacks, so no additional harm done. Do I think a deal happens? No, I don’t. At least not yet; not until the Lakers figure out if they can get their hands on an impact player. Because until that’s clarified, I think all the Lakers’ assets remain on lock down.

The Bobcats Coming in: The ‘Cats have lost 8 in a row and 9 of 10. But those are the types of streaks that happen when a team’s only won 3 games all year. To really explain how good a team this is right now all you need to know is that the Wizards are routinely thought of as the worst team in the league due to disfunction and ill-fitting parts…but that Wiz team just knocked off the Bobcats twice in the past week.

Some of the Cats’ struggles are based off injuries. Starting PG, D.J. Augustin is hurt and he’s their best player. Corey Maggette is hurt and he (along with Augustin) is their most natural scorer. Having both these guys out goes a long way in explaining why this team has only cracked 80 points once in their past 4 games. But the main issue is that the Bobcats simply lack talent. Kemba Walker is promising rookie, but he’s a rookie. Their other lottery pick, Bismack Biyombo, is a project big man that flashes elite defensive ability but substandard offensive skills when attempting moves that don’t involve dunking while wide open. Gerald Henderson is a nice defensive player with an improving offensive game but he’d likely be a 6th – 8th man on a good team. The rest of their roster is a hodge podge of former lottery picks that haven’t panned out and fringe role players that would be the 10-12 men on most rosters.

Coach Paul Silas gets these guys to play hard, but the talent deficiency and injury issues are simply too much.

Bobcats Blogs: Queen City Hoops does a great job of giving you all the info you’d need on the ‘Cats. That said, also check out Rufus on Fire for more excellent coverage. Both are really good sites.

Keys to game: Despite the damning critique I wrote above, this game offers an interesting test case of sorts. Since the Bobcats came into the league 7 years ago as an expansion team, they’ve actually beat the Lakers 8 out of the 14 times they’ve played. That winning record represents the only series advantage this franchise has over any other team in the league. Whatever you want to credit (or blame) this record on doesn’t matter, the fact is the Lakers have struggled with this them over the years.

So, while I think this should be a win, that doesn’t really matter as history has proven the Lakers should win most of these match ups and haven’t done it.

This game, then, will go beyond the X’s and O’s. It will come down to smarts and effort. The Lakers must stick to their strengths by pounding the ball inside, attacking at every opportunity, and not settling for outside jumpers. They’re facing the 27th best D in the league and their attack should reflect that by moving the ball quickly and to their best players to take advantage this group. This will take commitment, though, and that goes back to playing smart, focused basketball. This Laker team can’t afford to be complacent because that attitude will get them beat, even by a team that no one thinks should beat them.

That focus will need to be extended to their defensive effort as well. As we’ve discussed the Lakers’ D has fallen off lately, struggling to execute their principles of contesting every shot and controlling their defensive backboards. Tonight, the Cats’ may not have a lot of talent, but they will bring a couple of sets that have burned the Lakers’ defense lately and players that fit a prototype to do damage. Kemba Walker is a speedy, attacking PG that will look for his own shot all over the floor. He will run the P&R and look to turn the corner to get into the paint and hit floaters or pull up for his jumper should his man get caught on his back. 

When Walker’s not looking for his own shot in the P&R, he can run a pick and pop with Boris Diaw who is more than comfortable stepping out beyond the three point line and hurting a defense. All season the Lakers have struggled with their rotations to a big man that can stretch the floor (think Al Harrington or Ryan Anderson) and tonight they’ll need to be better to contain this action. Diaw will shoot the long ball and if guys rotate to him out of control, he’ll put the ball on the floor and look to create for his teammates. There’s a savviness to his game that must be respected and the Lakers would be smart to do so.

The other key to the game will be controlling the backboards. The ‘Cats will start a fairly big front line with both Tyrus Thomas and Diaw joining Diop in the frontcourt. Thomas is athletic and will need to be marked consistently because he will attack the glass (think of the way that Beasley and Randolph hurt the Lakers in the T’Wolves game). Diaw will also use his wide base to create space and disrupt the Lakers’ defensive rebounding. The key for the Lakers will be to attack the ball and secure it before trying to get up court.

If the Lakers stick to their game plan and give energy, they should win this game. Lets hope they do so as a loss to this team would be a pretty big step backwards.

Where you can watch: 7:30 start time on Fox Sports. Also listen live on ESPN Radio 710AM.

The Lakers are coming off a nice win over a young, hungry team. The game was hard fought as the Wolves made a furious comeback but the Lakers were able to hold on down the stretch and pull out the win. Considering the Lakers need every win they can get, in a conference where a couple of consecutive losses result in going from home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs to out of the second season entirely, I was happy with the result. Even it provided a few too many teaching moments.

The theme from last night was the Lakers’ big three having a big game, but for the second consecutive night another theme is a bit obscured: in getting the W, the Lakers’ trio of Kobe, Pau, and Bynum played 42, 42, and 36 minutes respectively. This allotment came on the heels of Kobe (42), Pau (39), and Bynum (36) playing heavy minutes just a night earlier. By any standard, this is too many minutes for Kobe and Pau, and even for Bynum it’s a stretch to put in that heavy a load on back to back nights.

And it’s not like Mike Brown doesn’t know it, either. Earlier this month, he spoke openly about the need to reduce Kobe’s minutes. From ESPN Los Angeles’ story on 1/18:

“I hope so,” said Brown on Tuesday at practice when asked about the possibility (of reducing Kobe’s minutes). “I was shooting for 35 minutes (against the Dallas Mavericks on Monday), but there are gonna be times, especially in games like that, that I think we’ll have a chance to win, where that 35 may go to 36, 37 and hopefully no more than that. I wanted to keep it at 35, but I didn’t do a good job with it. “But I do want to get it down, because he’s played a ton of minutes too early.”

After that story was published two weeks ago, the Lakers have played six games. Kobe’s minutes in those contests have been: 41, 44, 36, 39, 42, and 42. Funny, but those totals show movement in the opposite direction than I thought was wanted. It’s to the point that Kobe’s now 2nd in the league in minutes per game right behind Kevin Love and right ahead of Monta Ellis, Luol Deng, Marc Gasol, and LeBron James. As they say on Sesame Street, one of those things is not like the other with the 33 year old, forty thousand career minutes played player sticking out like a sore thumb.

This isn’t an issue that applies only to Kobe, though. Above I mentioned the top 6 players in minutes per game but the guy who’s sitting at 7th is none other than Pau Gasol. His last 6 games show a similar trend in minutes played: 37, 41, 36, 41, 39, and 42. Again, not the ideal trend for a guy who obviously wore down last season and has played a ton of basketball in the past 4 years. (Remember, even though the Lakers got an early vacation last season, Pau still wore his national colors in EuroBasket in leading Spain to a gold medal in that tourney. So even when he got extended rest, he still put in high level, on court work this summer.)

At some point, Mike Brown is going to have to figure out a way to reduce these players minutes. I know the Lakers are fighting for every win and the way the roster is constructed doesn’t provide easy answers in the form of capable alternatives. That said, what needs to be done, needs to be done.

Over at TrueHoop there’s a story about the Spurs falling to the Mavs last night in an overtime game in which neither Tony Parker nor Tim Duncan played in the last 20 minutes of the game. A key passage on Coach Popovich’s approach:

In a schedule-condensed season when fatigue built up over weeks is playing havoc with players all over the league (did you see how tired Blake Griffin got at the end of the Clippers’ win over the Nuggets?) Popovich didn’t play any starter more than 28 minutes. DeJuan Blair, Tony Parker, Tim Duncan … most of the Spurs’ regulars have long-term health concerns. This is one more night none of them got injured. It’s also a little like, say, being a diligent saver. Every time you put money in the bank, you seem like a bit of a spoilsport. People fixate on what you didn’t get to do with that money. But when that rainy day comes, and you’re sitting on all that cash, then you’re the most fun guy in town. The rainy day, for the Spurs, is the playoffs. 

The Lakers’ big guns are not a cell phone plan with with unlimited or roll-over minutes not used last year being applied to this one. Mike Brown needs to find a way to cut back. Because even if the Lakers get the playoff seed they seek, will it matter if they don’t have the legs to play those extra 20 games they’d need to in order to get where they actually want to go? This is the question Mike Brown needs to ask and answer for himself.

Boxscore: Lakers 106, Timberwolves 101
Offensive Efficiency: Lakers 117.8, Timberwolves 112.2
True Shooting %: Lakers 63.1%, Timberwolves 46.3%

The Good:
Where to start?

Kobe Bryant having another tremendous game in what is turning into a throwback, vintage season? Check.

Pau Gasol starting out aggressive and sinking shots from everywhere on the floor? Check, again.

Andrew Bynum providing steady scoring throughout the course of the game and scoring late buckets to help thwart a late Minnesota comeback effort? Check this off as well.

When the Lakers’ big three plays this well, they’re not impossible to beat but it’s extremely difficult and the Wolves found this out first hand. It started with Gasol, seemingly upset about his off night against the Bucks the night before and ready to take it out on the T’Wolves. In the first period, Pau scored 14 of the Lakers 22 points hitting shots inside and out, and thoroughly controlling the Lakers offensive sets. He was not content to simply examine the floor and look for his teammates, but rather decided he’d hunt his own shots the way that Kobe and Bynum often do. The result was the above output, but also a tone being set for his game and how he’d not let bad games linger but would rather attack and get back on track quickly. Many criticisms are flung Gasol’s way for not being too cerebral a player, but tonight, in his own efficient and smooth onslaught, Pau turned primal and took the game into his hands to the tune of 28 points while only missing 4 of his 15 shots from the floor and sinking all 6 of his FT’s. It was a beautiful sight to see and I, for one, hope we get more of it.

His partner in the pivot would not be left out of the fun, though. Bynum too worked the paint, moving into the creases of the Wolves D to receive passes that he could finish with ease or setting up at the low block and using his massive frame to earn position to set up his own increasing arsenal of post moves. He showed off his righty hook from the baseline, solid drop steps that earned him trips to the foul line (where he was 5-7, looking more calm in the process), and was even able to show off a few moves from the elbow where he hit a jumper and executed a nice drive and spin move that resulted in an “and 1″ finish. Towards the end of the game, Bynum also got a couple of inside finishes off feeds from Pau that finally busted the Wolves zone D (more on this in a second) and allowed the Lakers to regain their hold on the game. It wasn’t Bynum’s best game (he looked lethargic in spots and his work on the boards – along with Pau’s – left a lot to be desired) but his offense was needed tonight and he delivered with 21 big points.

And then, of course, there was Kobe. He grabbed 14 rebounds (one more than Bynum and Pau combined). He hit 5 of his 9 (which, to be fair are too many attempts) three pointers which provided critical spacing for his big men and crucial points that his team would need. He blocked two shots (both jumpers by the man he was guarding) and played good overall D the entire night. His overall line of 35 and 14 with 2 assists and the 2 aforementioned blocks was one that gave the team everything they needed to win the game. Oh, and on the way he passed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the all-time leader in made field goals for the Lakers. Pretty good night for #24.

The Bad:
For several years the Lakers have struggled to play against a zone defense. When the Lakers ran the Triangle, they’d often let the ball stall in the hands of one player, get away from the principles of ball and player movement, and too often simply settle for outside jumpers against the shot clock.

Tonight, under Mike Brown, the Lakers didn’t look much better against the Wolves zone and it nearly cost them the game. Trailing by 18 in the third quarter, the Wolves decided to change up their defensive scheme (it obviously wasn’t working up to that point) and go to a zone. How did the Lakers respond, you ask? About as poorly as possible. Instead of going right to zone busting actions of flashing a big man to the middle of the floor and then attacking the zone from the inside out, the simply decided they only needed the “out” part of that equation by firing up long jumpers. And not only did they shoot long J’s, they did so early in the shot clock and rarely after making more than a single pass. Sometimes they didn’t pass at all!

To make matters worse, those long jumpers led to long rebounds which then led to Wolves run outs and fast break chances that they converted with ease because the Lakers decided after missing long jumpers early in the shot clock that they’d not run back hard in transition. That’s like, what, a triple whammy? The change in tempo to the game clearly played into the Wolves’ hands and by the time the third quarter was over the Lakers lead had been trimmed to 5 and with Minnesota carrying over that momentum into the 4th quarter to actually take the lead. Ultimately the Lakers broke the Wolves’ zone with the Pau/Bynum high-low action I mentioned earlier, but it took entirely too long for the Lakers to figure this out and it nearly lost them the game.

The Ugly:
Whenever you play against a team with Kevin Love on it, rebounding can be an issue. He’s simply too good on the offensive glass to ever completely keep him away from the ball and doing some damage. So, in some ways, I can forgive a few of Love’s 7 offensive rebounds. Again, his nose for the ball is too good. What I can’t forgive, though is Nikola Pekovic matching Love’s 7 offensive rebounds. Or Michael Beasley and Anthony Randolph combining for 6. Or 8 of the 11 T’Wolves that played grabbing at least one offensive rebound. On the night Minny grabbed 24 O-rebounds in all and 32 second chance points. In a game that was ultimately decided by only 5 points, the Wolves work on the offensive glass and the Lakers allowing them to do so was the difference between this game being comfortable and a nail biter down the stretch.

The Play of the Game:
It happened on a play we’ve seen thousands of times before. Kobe working on the right wing, in a triple threat position, jab stepping his man until he felt he had an advantage. Then, with his back leg he steps forward while simultaneously putting the ball on the ground (to avoid a travel) to get by his man. His reverse lay-in used to be a thunderous dunk (and sometimes still will be) but the two points that result count the same. This time it was a bit more special, though. This time, the bucket moved Kobe into the #1 spot in Lakers’ franchise history in made FG’s. Quite a feat by quite the player.

Records: Lakers 11-9 (9th in West); T’Wolves 9-10 (11th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 102.3 (16th in NBA); T’Wolves 102.7 (15th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 100.8 (11th in NBA); T’Wolves 101.0 (13th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Matt Barnes Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
T’Wolves: Luke Ridnour, Ricky Rubio, Wesley Johnson, Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic
Injuries: Lakers: Steve Blake (out), Derrick Caracter (out); T’Wolves: J.J. Barrea (out), Malcom Lee (out), Darko Milicic (questionable), Anthony Tolliver (questionable)

The Lakers Coming in: The Lakers continued their road woes with a loss to the Bucks and with that defeat a couple of disturbing trends continued. First, they simply perform much worse on the road than at home. And while some of this has to do with opponent (Miami, Portland, Denver, Orlando, and the Clippers are some of the better teams in the league) a lot is really about player performance. Kobe, Gasol, Fisher and MWP all play at or above their home standards when away from Staples. However, Bynum and Barnes and several other bench players all see a dip on production. Yes, it’s harder to rely on role players on the road but while Barnes fits into the category, Bynum does not. Plus, both are starters and need to provide consistent production regardless of where the game is played.

Second, as mentioned in the Bucks recap, the Lakers’ defense is slipping quickly. Since the Pacers game on 1/22 the Lakers have fell from 6th to 11th in defensive efficiency. They’re allowing over a point and a half more per 100 possessions which is a pretty steep fall in only a week. They’re not rotating well to shooters, are allowing penetration much too easily, and aren’t hustling back in transition and it’s not only showing in games but statistically as well. It’s no wonder this team can’t put together wins – their offense isn’t showing enough improvement and their defense is slipping quickly. Can’t be a successful team when those two things are true.

The T’Wolves Coming in: The Wolves have won 5 of their last 7 while toppling some pretty good teams. On their hit list are the Clippers, Mavericks, and Spurs while also taking out the Pistons and Hornets (who, admittedly, aren’t anywhere near “good”). And while they’re not yet a consistent team, they are dangerous when they’re able to play their style of ball and find their rhythm.

They’re led by two of the better young players in the league in Kevin Love and rookie sensation Ricky Rubio. Love came into this season in the best shape of his life and pretty much began this year where last season left off. He’s scoring well, still grabbing rebounds at an elite level, and even added a bit of a post game to compliment his long range shooting. People are now calling him the best PF in the league – something that I’m not quite on board with due to his average defense – and with the production he’s offering it’s not that far fetched.

Rubio, meanwhile, is showing what all the hype was about when he was drafted. He’s already a floor general and makes at least one (and usually more) wow play a night either hitting a teammate with a ridiculous pass or misleading the opposition with a deceptive play that frees himself up for a shot at the rim. He’s also proven to be an above average defender, able to pressure the ball full court and disrupt half court sets by instinctively getting into passing lanes or knowing when to dig down on post players to pick up steals. Right now his stats compare favorably to a young Jason Kidd and if you’ve seen him play, it’s actually an apt comparison. He simply shows off tremendous basketball instincts and knows how to manipulate the flow of the game like only some of the best can. Obviously he has a long way to go before he’s a complete player, but he’s making an impact on the Wolves.

Also deserving credit for the success of this team is Rick Adelman. Many will remember him as the coach they wanted the Lakers to hire before Mike Brown was inked last Spring. Well, Adelman has shown why he was a coveted hire by getting this team to defend better while instilling structure on offense that was sorely lacking last season under our old pal Kurt Rambis. Adelman’s done what is seemingly impossible, he’s set them free to play an open game while also reining in a lot of their bad habits and reinforced that a team game is what’s needed to win games. So far, he’s got them lapping it up like a hungry kitten at the milk bowl and the results speak for themselves. Sure, they’re not yet a playoff team, but this franchise has been a perennial sub 20 game winner. To have already put up 9 victories in their first 19 games speaks volumes about the job Adelman is doing. (I’ll now give all of you that wanted Rick to coach the Lakers a second compose yourself so you can finish the preview.)

T’Wolves Blogs: Go read A Wolf Among Wolves for great insight and analysis, as well as some great writing. It’s an excellent site.

Keys to game: I expect the Wolves to have watched last night’s Lakers/Bucks tape and come to some simple conclusions. First is that the Lakers struggled with ball pressure so he’ll enlist his guards and big men to pressure the ball anytime the Lakers hold it in order to set up an offensive action. Second, the Lakers looked old and tired last night and considering Kobe played 42 minutes, Pau played 39, and Bynum played 36, attacking them in transition and running them ragged with P&R’s and quick passes should be their strategy on defense.

Should both these things prove to be the case, the Lakers will need to be better than they were last night in recognizing the ball pressure and attacking quicker rather than clutching the ball waiting for an action to develop. Too many times last night Pau (or Murphy or McRoberts) got caught holding the ball up high looking for a cutter to break free curling around a screen all while a Buck harassed them and made the eventual pass too difficult. However, when Pau simply put his head down and attacked the rim off the dribble without waiting for a play to develop, good things happened. The Lakers need more of that and less waiting.

And this goes for all the Lakers, not just Pau or the big at the high post. Kobe needs to start attacking faster as well. All too often he too will stand at the elbow, jab stepping away and burning precious seconds off the shot clock. And while his triple threat is a dangerous part of his arsenal, he needs to make his moves faster so he’s not taking contested jumpers with under 5 seconds on the shot clock so frequently. As for the other Lakers, they need to make quicker decisions on where they’re going with the ball and then move after they pass. Right now guys are just standing around, literally in the same place for 10 seconds on a possession. Getting a bit more movement, even if it’s just sliding up and down the sideline into open space would do a lot for a team that is just too stagnant lately.

Defensively, the Lakers will get no reprieve from seeing a steady diet of P&R’s. Both Rubio and Ridnour run this action well and both will attack relentlessly when handling the ball, though in different ways. Ridnour will turn the corner and either shoot the open jumper or get into the lane where he’ll either finish or look to a shooter spacing in the corner or kick the ball out to the popping big man (usually Love) after the screen was set. So, the Lakers must treat Ridnour like a scorer and aggressively hedge on him to make him pull his dribble back and either give up the ball or reset the offense. Rubio, though, will attack via the pass using his size and instincts to throw skip passes over the top of rotating defenders and hitting his shooters in either corner. After making that pass, he’ll fake that pass and hit the roll man for an easy lay in. After that, he’ll act like he’s passing and then turn the corner and get a lay in for himself. Again, he’s savvy beyond his years and the Lakers will need to adjust. My suggestion would be giving Rubio the Rondo treatment by going under screens and making him either shoot his own jumper or make passes into crowded spaces because the defense isn’t forced to rotate. This approach makes even more sense if Kobe is guarding him.

Let’s forget strategy for a second, though. Against the Clippers I asked that the team simply play harder and ultimately that happened with a win ensuing. I asked for the same thing against the Bucks, it did not happen and a loss resulted. Tonight, I ask for the same and we’ll see what happens but what’s become clear is that the Lakers need to be an effort team if they’re to win games. They can no longer out-talent the opposition, coasting for long stretches and still expect to win. Those days are over. If they come out and play hard, they can win this game. Even if they don’t execute great, make mistakes, or have their sets fall apart. If they don’t play hard, though, they have no chance. The choice is theirs.

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