Talking Lakers and Magic

J.M. Poulard —  January 20, 2012

The Los Angeles Lakers are currently in the midst of their eastern road trip and will take on the Orlando Magic tonight in what promises to be an entertaining game. It only made sense to reach out to Eddy Rivera of the ESPN TrueHoop Affiliate blog Magic Basketball to discuss the game.

J.M. Poulard, Forum Blue & Gold: Eddy, your Orlando Magic seem to be on a tear right now and yet your superstar has made it clear that he has no interest in remaining with the franchise. This is somewhat reminiscent of Kobe Bryant’s stance with the Lakers during the summer of 2007; mind you Mitch Kupchak was able to appease his star player by bringing in Pau Gasol. As it stands, I’m not sure there is a move that can be made that’s significant enough to keep Dwight in Florida, however there is the possibility of Otis Smith pulling the trigger on a Andrew Bynum for Dwight Howard deal.

Would you be in favor of such a deal or do you think there is better out there?

And while we’re at it, I hate to open up old wounds, but Kobe will be returning to Orlando, the site where he captured his fourth NBA title in June 2009. In the Gasol era, Bryant is averaging 32 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game on 42.9 percent field goal shooting in Orlando…

Eddy Rivera, Magic Basketball: Given that Dwight Howard has stated that he’s interested in the Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks, and New Jersey Nets, with the Lakers having the most to offer (Andrew Bynum being the major piece) and ownership for the Orlando Magic making it clear that they want veterans back in any deal, I can see a Bynum-for-Howard swap with ancillary pieces attached. I know that the Magic are high on Bynum but will a trade happen? I don’t know the answer to that.

Would I be in favor of such a deal? Yes and no. Yes, because Bynum is the best asset out there the Magic can get back in any deal considering the circumstances. No, because assuming Orlando gets other veteran players alongside Bynum, there’s a legitimate fear among Magic fans that the franchise will put itself in NBA purgatory. If it was me, I’d acquire Bynum along with as many young players and draft picks as possible, tank, and rebuild organically.

For the record, the Magic want veterans back because owner Rich DeVos, at 85 years old, wants to win a title now. Can I blame him? No. Is that a realistic goal? No. C’est la vie.

I think that’s enough talk about Orlando. What’s going on with the Lakers? I’ve been impressed with head coach Mike Brown’s impact on the defensive side of the ball, but is Kobe Bryant being relied upon too much right now offensively?

J.M. Poulard: Ah yes, the 24th elephant in the room.

Last Saturday, when the Lakers played the Clippers, Mike Smith (Clippers broadcaster) made what seemed like a ludicrous statement when he said that he didn’t see why the Lakers would refuse to trade Bynum and Gasol given the fact that the team wasn’t using them properly. Those who know how to read between the lines understood this to mean that perhaps Kobe Bean is being featured a little too much on offense.

With that said, I picked the Lakers to come out of the West this season, but it’s becoming a little hard to maintain the same opinion given the way the shots are distributed on the team. It’s one thing to win a few regular season games here and there with Bryant monopolizing the offense on occasion, but this recipe has failed with Kobe in the postseason. Granted, some will argue that Bryant has historically played differently during the playoffs, sharing the ball more with his teammates and they would be right; however the only battle-tested Lakers are Bynum, Gasol, Fisher and Bryant.

I bring this up because the other players on the roster have not played with Kobe in a tough playoff game and thus might not know what to expect from him in such an environment. Also, it’s difficult to ask your big men to crash the offensive glass for Kobe misses for most of the season and then turnaround and ask them to carry the offense for stretches against defenses that game plan to stop them. So yes, the Lakers are relying far too much on the talents of the superstar guard.

Back to your Magic though, is Ryan Anderson trying to convince us that he is the long lost doppelganger of Dirk Nowitzki? Because let me tell you, in the Lakers’ lone playoff battle against Dirk, it didn’t turn out too well.

Eddy Rivera: Let me get out of this way first. You’re picking Los Angeles over the Oklahoma City Thunder to win the Western Conference? That’s an interesting choice. Not saying it can’t happen, just interesting.

I think saying that Ryan Anderson is the next Dirk Nowitzki is a little much. Nowitzki can create his own shot much more than Anderson (look at %Ast). Are they both prolific shooters? Yes, but that’s where the comparison ends in my opinion. Again, the key difference is that Anderson is not much of a shot creator, though he is a better rebounder, but Nowitzki is a better defender. Likewise, Nowitzki does much of his damage offensively from 10-23 feet, while Anderson has the most three-point field goal attempts in the NBA. That being said, it’s not a ridiculous comparison — Kevin Pelton of ESPN Insider suggested there are similarities between the two players.

However, Neil Paine of Basketball Prospectus threw out another name. Peja Stojakovic. That makes a lot more sense, in my opinion, because both players are primarily spot-up shooters that have a lot of their FGs assisted on and their shot distribution on offense align with each other.

Their numbers are eerily similar, too.

I have to go back to your comment about the Lakers winning the West. What’s your rationale behind that pick?

J.M. Poulard: I’ll admit that comparing him to Dirk was a bit over the top but it was still intriguing nonetheless. But the Peja comparison makes absolute sense.

My Lakers pick was a combination of a few things: the apparent decline of the Dallas Mavericks coupled with the lack of a truly dominant team out West. I’m well aware that the Thunder have been on a tear so far and most are picking them to make it to the Finals but at the time I could see the Lakers actually defeating them in a seven-game series.

To be fair, this could only happen if the Purple and Gold turn to their big men and give them multiple touches on offense to keep them involved and even allow them to carry the offense. Otherwise, if all of the offense revolves around Kobe, it would be awfully tough for the Lakers to be successful against a young and hungry Thunder team.

With that said, my reasons initially for favoring Mike Brown’s team over Scott Brooks’ was the Lakers’ emerging defense as well as their rebounding ability. When the game slows down in the postseason and teams have trouble scoring, gaining extra possessions is a huge factor in determining one’s success and the Lakers are more than capable of winning the rebounding battle.

But the biggest reason I thought Los Angeles’ premier team could defeat Oklahoma City: Metta World Peace. Try to contain your laughter for a moment.

Since MWP came to town, Kevin Durant has averaged a solid 25.6 points and 2.9 assists per game on 46.1 percent field goal shooting against the Lakers. However, he is only converting 17.6 percent of his 3-point attempts and turning the ball over 4.4 times on average.

But more importantly, MWP’s defense has stifled the gifted scorer in the fourth quarters as Durant has been unable to shake free against the former Defensive Player of the Year. Metta World Peace has simply figured out how to bump, clutch and grab the Thunder’s small forward late in games to prevent him from delivering in the clutch.

Kobe Bryant on the other hand does not have that problem, and even when he misses shots late in games, Gasol and Bynum have proven to be exceptional in getting clutch second chance baskets. But as previously mentioned, all of this hinges on whether the Lakers figure out how to play inside and out. And also, there’s this tiny issue of KD showing an improved handle this year; which means he may in fact be able to make MWP dance the Macarena for all we know. To be continued….

I’m excited to see how Bynum performs against Dwight tonight given the fact that there have been rumblings about which big man is in fact the best in the league. It’s obvious at least to me that D12 wins the battle hands down, and I want to see if he shows off his arsenal of running hook shots as well as his ability to use his footwork, quickness and strength to bully ‘Drew on the block.

So Eddy, pick a winner…

Eddy Rivera: I like Los Angeles in this one.

Even though the Lakers will be playing on a back-to-back and the Magic will be rested, it just seems like Kobe Bryant’s advantage at the shooting guard position will tip the scales. It’s uncertain if Jason Richardson (bone bruise on left knee) will play, though it’s likely that he will. Whether Richardson suits up or not, Bryant should best him. Though he’s a smart defender, same goes for J.J. Redick when he’s in the game. And if Von Wafer sees minutes, Bryant should have his way with him too. On the flipside, Bryant should slow each of them down defensively.

Howard did whatever he wanted against Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol last season, so I don’t see anything changing there. Ryan Anderson’s matchup with Gasol will be fascinating to watch. I don’t think Anderson will have too much trouble spreading the floor and scoring, but I’m more curious to see how he defends Gasol. That is, if Gasol gets enough touches. Hedo Turkoglu shouldn’t have too much trouble against Matt Barnes but it could be a different story when Metta World Peace (!) is in the game, so that’s something to keep an eye on too.

Normally I’d mention Jameer Nelson, given that he’s had plenty of success against Derek Fisher in the past, but he’s been playing so poorly this season, it’d behoove for me to say he’ll make a difference. Nelson might, but the odds are low in my opinion.

I think it’ll be a close game with the Lakers coming out on top. Though it should be noted for Orlando that if Howard goes off and/or Turkoglu steps up against World Peace and/or Nelson rises from the dead, they can win.

Eh tu?

J.M. Poulard: Go figure, we’re both picking opposites; I have Orlando in this contest.

There is a theory being floated around that Kobe’s huge scoring nights affects the activity level of his big men. Most would agree with this sentiment although it is somewhat tough to prove.

In Bryant’s most recent stretch of 40-point games, the Lakers (who happen to lead the league in rebounding) were either tied or outrebounded by every opponent except for the Phoenix Suns.

It’s a small sample size, thus it’s tough to establish a correlation between his scoring and the Lakers’ effort on the boards, but it’s still interesting enough to put out there. In addition, the Los Angeles Lakers have lost three of the past eight regular season matchups against the Orlando Magic since the 2007-08 season, and have only been victorious in Orlando once during that same stretch. The one stat that consistently determined the winner of each contest? Rebounding.

Given that we both expect Kobe Bryant to have a huge scoring night, and that his teammates seem to fail to hit the boards when the star guard has huge scoring explosions, I’d have to venture and say that Stan Van Gundy’s squad will win the rebounding battle, and consequently the game itself.

Eddy, thanks again.

J.M. Poulard