Archives For January 2012

Boxscore: Lakers 89, Bucks 100
Offensive Efficiency: Lakers 103.5, Bucks 116.3
True Shooting %: Lakers 51.9, Bucks 59.9

The Good:
There’s only so many times Kobe can appear in this space it be a good thing for the team. Sure, it’s great to have Kobe playing at a level that rivals his peak in his 16th season and after accumulating so many career minutes. But the fact that he continues to be the Lakers’ best player night after night is a bit of a concern considering the balance that’s needed for this team to be the best it can be.

But Mr. Bean certainly deserves the recognition as he was mostly splendid again, pouring in 27 points on 10-21 shooting while grabbing 8 rebounds and dishing out 9 assists. His 4 turnovers and 1-5 shooting from behind the arc were black spots on his night, but they were relatively minor transgressions on a night where he was clearly the Lakers’ best player while doing everything he could to carry his team to a win.

Kobe wasn’t alone in playing well, though. Andrew Goudelock put together his second straight solid game shooting 5-10 for 13 points. The rook was aggressive in looking for his shot, never lost confidence even though he missed his first couple of outside shots, and worked hard on defense (though he could still make some better decisions on that side of the floor). Derek Fisher also gave a solid performance, knocking down 3 of his 5 shots from the floor and mostly playing under control – a couple of bad decisions to attack the rim and a bad post entry pass that stood out not withstanding.

The Bad
A while back, I wrote that the Lakers had seemingly made defense a major part of their team identity. I wrote a glowing piece about them bringing their hardhats to work each night and building their success around getting stops. Where that mindset has gone is anyone’s guess but it’s certainly not been true lately and certainly wasn’t tonight.

The Lakers’ D allowed the Bucks to shoot 50% from the floor and gave up countless good looks to every member of the Bucks. The Lakers allowed dribble penetration too easily, didn’t hustle back in transition, and didn’t bother rotating to shooters with any consistency. The result was too many Bucks getting the shots they wanted on any given possession with the resulting good looks leading to made baskets, increased confidence, and then even more made shots.

All you need to do is explore the boxscore for countless examples. Drew Gooden outplayed both Pau and Bynum by scoring 23 points on 15 shots both from the post and from the perimeter when the Bucks went to their pick and pop sets. Mike Dunleavy hit 6 of his 8 shots for 15 points, making the Lakers wing defense look silly on several occasions. Ersan Ilyasova also scored 15 points by hitting 7 of his 9 shots with smart cuts off the ball and slipping into gaps in the Lakers perimeter defense to get wide open jumpers. I could go on but you probably get the point by now. The Lakers defense (especially Bynum and Pau) just didn’t do their job and allowed a Bucks team that normally struggles to score to find their stride.

Of course, you don’t lose simply because you play poorly on D. The Lakers offense was also quite poor on the evening especially when dealing with ball pressure. After the Lakers had success early in the game going into post, the Bucks picked up their defensive intensity, started to pressure the ball, and blew up the Lakers offense with a combination of active hands and quick feet. They rotated to shooters, cut off passing angles, and made the Lakers work for every shot. The result was Pau going 6-18 from the floor as he worked mostly from the elbow (though, even from the post his shot was off and bothered too easily as he hunted foul calls more than he did good shots).

The Ugly:
I could have included these two in the section above but thought Barnes and MWP’s lack of production deserve special recognition. The Lakers’ small forward duo combined to go 3-13 from the floor and couldn’t hit a jumper to save their lives. Their poor play on offense – even with Pau struggling – was a major factor tonight because it was often their man that roamed on D and doubled the ball when it went into the post.

Sadly, though, their play only highlights (again) the roster issues this team possesses. In season’s past, if the Lakers were having issues at SF, they’d slide Kobe up to forward and let the back up SG play next to him to form the Lakers wing attack. However, this year, the Lakers don’t have a viable back up SG and thus on nights where the SF isn’t producing, Kobe plays heavy minutes anyway but doesn’t get any support from a wing partner. The result tonight was Kobe playing 42 minutes, the Lakers still losing by 11 as MWP, Barnes, Ebanks, and Kapono played a total of 54 minutes but only contributing 8 points. On many nights this is the complaint of L.A.’s point guards, but it’s an issue with the small forwards lately too.

The Play of the Game:
In an effort to wipe this game from my memory, I have nothing to share here. Adding video, even of a Bucks play, would only allow this stinking to live with me for longer than I’d like.

Records: Lakers 11-8 (8th in West), Bucks 7-11 (9th in East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 102.3 (16th in NBA), Bucks 100.6 (21st in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 100.1 (10th in NBA), Bucks 102.9 (17th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Matt Barnes, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Bucks: Brandon Jennings, Shaun Livingston, Carlos Delfino, Luc Mbah a Moute, Drew Gooden
Injuries: Lakers: Steve Blake (out), Derrick Caracter (out); Bucks: Andrew Bogut (out)

The Lakers Coming in: The Lakers may be coming off a big win but the question is if they know how to keep that momentum going. The key to the last game was a balanced Laker attack in which Pau Gasol’s aggressive play was the fulcrum. When Pau attacks off the dribble, finds a way to the post, and doesn’t settle for his jumper on two out of every three possessions, the Lakers are a better team. The rest of the team can play off of him because he’s still their best non-Kobe facilitator of offense which also means that Kobe can work off Gasol to get easier shots for himself.

Also key, though, is playing with energy. The Lakers had two days off before that Clipper game and have had another two days off before tonight’s contest (though they did travel yesterday). That rest (and subsequent practice time) led to fresher legs and more consistent, determined effort. It showed on defense and it showed in how they moved around the court on offense. It also seemed to help their outside shooting (especially Fisher’s) as they had more lift on their J’s which led to a better success rate. Throw in a little bench help and voila, a formula for winning games is spawned. Here’s hoping they can keep it going tonight.

The Bucks Coming in: The Bucks have won three of their last five games and sit right outside the playoffs in the East. After their run two years ago where “Fear the Deer” was a common phrase all over the internet but a disappointing follow up last season, this team was hoping to get back to their winning ways this campaign.

But so far, they’ve been very up and down. A shake up to their roster – they traded Corey Maggette for Stephen Jackson and John Salmons for Beno Udrih – has taken time to come together as Jackson (a noted malcontent when things don’t line up for him the way he’d like) at first complained about his contract and then a move to the bench. Injuries have also greatly affected the Bucks, first to their combo forward and defensive stopper Mbah a Moute and more recently – and more importantly – to Andrew Bogut.

The injury to Bogut is huge and for obvious reasons. First because he’s a fantastic defensive big man that plays the pick and roll well, protects the paint, and can control the defensive glass. And while his offense has been wanting since his horrid elbow injury two years ago, he’d been making strides this year, showing a willingness to attack more using that bad arm. Now though, with a fractured ankle and questionable return this season, the Bucks miss all that he brings to the table while also pushing players up their depth chart that are ill-fit to replace what Bogut provides.

Not all is awful for this team, though. Brandon Jennings has taken a big step forward from his first two seasons, improving his efficiency on offense by finishing better at the rim and consistently hitting his mid range jumper. Jackson, after the aforementioned issues, has found that a reserve role isn’t so bad – especially when he’s closing games out as a compliment to Jennings on the wing. Shaun Livingston has also, finally, found a role with a team as a secondary ball handler and playmaker that allows Jennings to work off the ball in some of their half court sets.

How this will all come together with Bogut out remains to be seen. They’re a fringe playoff team at best but do have a scrappy coach that will surely find ways to compensate on the defensive side of the ball. Whether they can score enough points – long a problem for this team – will likely decide if they see the second season or not.

Bucks Blogs: Buckstetball provides very good insight and analysis on this team. Check them out.

Keys to game: With Bogut out, the game plan couldn’t be simpler on offense – attack the interior. Drew Gooden (who did come into the season in very good shape) will likely get the nod in the pivot and will have to contend with Andrew Bynum. Gasol, meanwhile, will likely see a heavy dose of the Bucks’ best defender (Mbah a Moute) but the Spaniard still has an advantage with his height and length. L.A.’s bigs should get a heavy dose of the ball throughout the game to make the Bucks either double team or give up shots in the paint. If they do see the 2nd defender, the Lakers must take advantage by hitting some shots but they must also look to move the ball quickly and change sides of the floor so they can get the ball back into the paint via penetration or another post up on the weak side so they’re not so reliant on hitting jumpers to make the Bucks pay. To accomplish this though, the Lakers must get into their offensive sets quickly so that they have time to move the ball in and out of the post. It’s hard to work the ball around if a set isn’t initiated until there’s under 15 seconds on the shot clock.

Defensively, the Lakers must make their size advantage a strength and not a liability. The Bucks will run a variety of small ball lineups out on the floor and the Lakers must make that group attack the teeth of the defense and finish over their size. The outstretched arms of Pau and Bynum can make the Buck’s lives hard, but the Lakers’ perimeter D must force them into spots on the floor where the bigs can affect those shots. If the Lakers’ rotations are late or they don’t contest outside jumpers with the tenacity that’s needed, open jumpers will result and Jackson, Jennings, Ilyasova, Delfino, Dunleavy, and rookie Jon Leuer can hit those shots. So, the Lakers must close out hard, make these guys put the ball on the floor and funnel them to their help where shots can be better contested and altered. If the Lakers can then close down the lane on the weak side and rebound, they’ll be able to control this game on that side of the floor.

The individual match up that will need the most attention is Jennings against the Lakers’ PG’s. As mentioned earlier, the Compton native is having his best season as a pro by breaking his man down off the dribble and using the P&R to get into the lane to finish. He’s doing a lot of damage 15 feet and in so the Lakers must be quick to react to him and close down his space once he’s below the foul line. If the Lakers can keep him to his right hand and make him take long two pointers off the dribble, that’s their best bet for success but that will take a team effort and for Fisher/Goudelock/Morris to play smart and show discipline when Jennings gets into attack mode.

Ultimately, this is a game the Lakers should win. The Bucks are missing their best big man and also played last night in Chicago. Meanwhile the Lakers have been in Milwaukee since yesterday afternoon and haven’t played since Wednesday. L.A. should be rested and be looking to carry their momentum from the Clipper game over to this contest. That said, the Lakers have been horrid on the road and will need some role players to play well which is always a dicey proposition on the road. The Bucks have given the Lakers problems for the past several seasons and if the Lakers think that this will be a walk, they’ll be wrong. They must keep their energy high and play smart basketball. In a season like this, there are no nights off. Here’s hoping the Lakers understand that tonight.

Where you can watch: 5:30 start time on KCAL. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710am.

Friday Forum

Dave Murphy —  January 27, 2012

 The warm afterglow of Wednesday’s Lakers win over the Clippers, is still lingering. There’s no game tonight, with a back-to-back away trip tomorrow and Sunday, against Milwaukee and Minnesota respectively. The Lakers moved from 10th to 7th with one win, and are only 4.5 games out of first in the west. That’s how tight it is, and that’s how it’ll probably continue – a choppy checkerboard course of games, with teams flying back and forth across the country in byzantine fashion. Many thanks to the league  for creating a compressed schedule ripe for havoc and injury. As follows, some writings from Peace to Pau:

Dave McMenamin, ESPN: World Peace wants people to know the definition of who he is doesn’t include any malicious intent. “On the court, I’m definitely not a mean person. I’m still the same person. I play extremely hard,” he told 710 ESPN. “You won’t be seeing that much. I can play basketball with just as much energy without talking smack and still being energized and having fun with the fans.” Gasol put it thusly: “He’s World Peace now. He can’t be too aggressive or too violent out there. He’s preaching peace.” Still, whatever player wore No. 15 for the Lakers last night– the docile Metta World Peace, the rambunctious Ron Artest, or some combination of the two — was sprung to life by the Clippers. And Clippers-Lakers games are sure to be just as lively for every player involved moving forward.

Adrian Wojnarowski, Yahoo Sports: These Lakers needed a night where they were no longer fighting Mike Brown’s offense, fighting the rim for shots to fall into the basket. They found some trust, found contributions everywhere, and the Big Three of Bryant, Gasol and Bynum played like champions. All hell was breaking loose in the Staples Center, and finally there was someone called Metta World Peace flexing at midcourt, letting the love wash down over him, and it sure looked like the old Ron Artest. These Clippers are coming for the Lakers, but whatever innocence Pau Gasol claimed, it was no accident when he patted Chris Paul on the head, suggesting the Clips and their point guard run along for now. These are still Kobe Bryan’s Lakers, and they still have a championship DNA. All hell broke loose at Staples, and the Lakers had come out tougher, together. There’s still some guys you don’t mess with in the NBA and they still play for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Mike Bresnahan, L.A. Times: When Andrew Goudelock’s name was called 46th overall on draft day last June, there was a series of shrugs. He was one of four Lakers second-round selections, an undersized shooter generously listed at 6 feet 3. When he arrived at the Lakers’ facility, he found out quickly that every number he wanted, was either being used of retired. So he picked No. 0. He had his reasons. “I was recruited by maybe two schools,” he said. “I don’t get many chances in this life, so for me, zero just represents everything I’ve been through. I’ve had to make my own chances every step and I’m just trying to do it here.” The Lakers will take it, especially with Steve Blake sidelined at least another week because of a rib injury. Goudelock scored only 10 points in 10 games, before Wednesday’s breakthrough.

Kevin Ding, the OC Register:  In a candid interview Thursday with Canal+ Espana, forward Pau Gasol said that other players – not just Kobe Bryant — need to be involved in the offense for the Lakers to work. Bryant is the team’s leading scorer and shot-taker, attempting 463 shots in the first 19 games, nearly twice as many as Gasol (245) and more than double Andrew Bynum (182). Gasol said the fact that the Lakers star takes the majority of the shots is “reality” – “It’s not a plan or improv, it is what it is and will continue to happen,” Gasol said to the Spanish language website. “The system has to help us all so we can contribute so he doesn’t have to carry the load. So at the end, it’s not just only his decision or the decision of any other player on the court, but more about the plays we run and the system.” Gasol re-iterated that he prefers playing closer to the basket than sitting in the high post, as he did in Wednesday’s victory against the Clippers. Gasol scored 23 points on 9-of-13 shooting and 10 rebounds.

Connor Hutchton at Hardwood Paroxysm Every week, Hardwood Paroxysm hosts a guest column from Tim Rethers, who is not a real person or a basketball fan. He gives us his unique perspective and insight, generally based on things hes heard or accidentally learned. I “watched” one game this week, when I was changing the channel from Court TV. I only watched for a few minutes, but it seemed like Kobe Bryant was making more shots than the other team. My favorite part is when he makes those weird facial expressions and stares down the big guy with the beard. Heard some interesting things around the water cooler the day after the game. Bill from IT was going on and on about that big bearded guy, so I butted in and mentioned how many shots Kobe’s been making. “Sure, but I think hes maybe been shooting too much.” I snorted and walked away. Bill doesn’t know the first thing about basketball, I bet. He also won’t fix my computer. Think he might have something against me. Whatever. Sometimes people forget to invite a co-worker to Golden Corral. It happens. Bill needs to learn to live with it.

***

That be it, sports fans. The torches have been put on hold and threads seem to be in a fairly benevolent mood. I myself, am feeling somewhat recalcitrant, for matters not related to peace or roundball. Pick a topic or pick something else and discuss amongst yourselves.

Keeping the Peace in L.A.

Jeff Skibiski —  January 26, 2012

Photo credit: AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

With 7:31 left in the third quarter, the artist formerly known as Ron Artest decided to momentarily ditch World Peace and ignite a battle that lasted the remainder of last night’s game against the Clippers, and also the foreseeable future. The Lakers had been flailing for the better part of two and a half quarters, down 60-56, seemingly incapable of getting over the hump against their more entertaining and athletic counterparts.

In a matter of seconds, the entire tone of an already competitive game shifted, as #15 wrestled the increasingly combative Blake Griffin to the floor, refusing to cede control of the ball. This game was about pride, about protecting the Lakers home court, about reminding this city that the Lakers’ stars can still shine when it matters most, with or without Chris Paul. World Peace understands what it’s like to be disrespected as well as anyone on either bench, which is why he aggressively battled Griffin, resulting in a jump ball and brief brouhaha between the teams. From that point forward, it was game on. Pushing, shoving, technicals doled out in bulk, and some good ol’ fashioned trash-talking—all the makings of a playoff atmosphere in late January.

You don’t think this game carried a little extra meaning for the players and fans? I was inside STAPLES Center, along with a surprising 90% of the arena’s patrons who were actually in their seats at tip-off—especially impressive on a night of unusually bad traffic in Los Angeles. Lakers vs. Clippers games have always had a fun, amusing and mostly non-threatening vibe to them. “Oh, that’s cute—L.A. has two basketball teams!” The first NBA game I ever saw in-person was actually a 1998 Clippers game in Anaheim, where Pooh Richardson and Co. used to play eight games per season in an effort to broaden their Orange County fan base. Like most fans, I attended more to see opposing road players in their prime at a reduced price, with little more than a passing interest in the “home” team.

14 years later and Lakers vs. Clippers has turned into a marquee matchup. The type of game you and your buddies circle on your calendars and make sure to watch together in front of a flat screen, beer in-hand. Fans from both teams were ready for this one, trading barbs throughout the week, even as the perpetually mouthy Chauncey Billups declared this just another game. “Clippers Darrell” also showed up for the game, his vocal chords piping out his usual “Here we go Clippers, here we go!” chant. Only this time, he wasn’t alone as he was briefly joined in the second quarter by more fans in red jerseys than I’ve ever seen at a Lakers home game. During an early timeout, the jumbotron flashed to a fan wearing a shirt that quite literally represented a city divided—one half yellow, the other red. Lakers fans booed loudly, dismissing the fan’s indecision and fast-pass ticket aboard the Clippers’ bandwagon.

You can’t have it both ways these days—something CP3, returning from injury, knows all too well. Paul, too, had his moment on the Lakers’ big screen early on in the game, and was promptly booed. I actually turned to my friend who was sitting next to me and told him I didn’t understand why people were booing Paul, who in my book was largely an innocent bystander in the mess that nearly put him in a Lakers uniform. The fans’ response wasn’t bred from animosity, he exlained, but instead, envy and wishful thinking.

As a Southern California native, observing the Clippers rapid evolution has been exciting, but also jarring. I’ve watched first-hand as the Angels and Dodgers’ battle for the region’s attention has steadily intensified over the past decade. Whereas the Angels’ recent acquisition of Albert Pujols added to their allure, the domino effect from the Clippers’ acquisition of Paul has done much more than turn “Lob City” into L.A.’s shiny new toy; it has also dented the Lakers’ psyche 19 games into this truncated season. The ripple effect has the city buzzing about the talented men wearing red, white and blue for the first time ever, while simultaneously declaring a full-fledged state of emergency for the underachieving oldies in forum blue and gold.

If the aging Lakers are like the fathers who have guided L.A.’s basketball hopes and dreams for more than five decades, the Clippers are their red-headed step children—hungry for attention, plotting their path to relevance. I remember playing basketball in my driveway against my Dad, for years with the handicap of an eight-foot hoop. At a certain point, I finally advanced to the big leagues, raising the hoop to regulation height, and eventually discovering that I was quicker, craftier, and actually capable of beating him. Just as I was peaking in confidence, if not premature cockiness, I’d drive to the hoop for an easy layup, only to have the ball emphatically swatted away by my Dad’s outstretched arms—an important reminder that old-age or not, he built this house.

Those old war horses, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Derek Fisher and the ghost of Ron Artest, clearly decided last night that they had had enough with the Clippers. Together—along with an unexpected 14-point dart of adrenaline from Andrew Goudelock—they clamped down on defense in the second half, took advantage of their interior scoring and stood up to a rusty Chris Paul and his pugnacious teammates.

It was a refreshing, gritty team win where just about everyone who stepped foot on the floor had their moment under the sun. Bryant’s go-ahead jumper with 5:01 remaining; Gasol’s offensive resurgence; Fisher’s three makes from beyond the arc; Bynum’s game-clinching layup and block; World Peace’s defense and three-pointer with 3:30 to go that brought back memories of his hesitation shot from around the same area two seasons ago that all but clinched the Lakers’ 16th championship.

For as pronounced as the Lakers’ wrinkles have been early on the season, there is still a great deal of pride in L.A.’s locker room. It goes without saying that this team needs upgrades at point guard, its bench and probably an athletic wing, too. Last night, more than anything, though, this team needed a win. For the first time, the fact that it came against the contending Clippers was more than an added bonus.

“Most important win of the season and it comes against the Clips. Was that as weird for you to read as it was for me to type?” I asked on Twitter, once the final buzzer had sounded. Such is the newfound reality in L.A.’s basketball landscape, where the [rival?] Clippers finally share more than just an arena with the Lakers. No one said the teams have to coincide peacefully, though. In fact, it’s probably more fun if they don’t.

The Lakers won last night and now everything is a bit more tolerable this morning. Complaints about what went wrong can be replaced with chatter about Pau’s aggressiveness, Bynum’s late game buckets and block, or Kobe’s continued all-around brilliance. But what can’t be lost in all that talk is the play of the bench and how much it impacted last night’s game – specifically a rookie whose success so far this season has been very much limited (and that’s being kind).

Andrew Goudelock got burn at point guard and gave the Lakers an offensive spark to a group of reserves that sorely needs that punch. Mike Brown put the ball in the rookie’s hands and set him loose to play a game that looked very similar to the one he played in college. He attacked off the bounce, got into the lane to shoot his floater, and bombed away from distance when he had the space to do so. Playing this style obviously gave the rook a comfort level and it showed in his production and in his body language. He looked like he knew what he wanted to do and, more importantly, how he would do it.

It helped that Goudelock got to do this against defenders his size and from spots on the floor that suit him best. It also helped that he was paired more with Kobe rather than backing him up. Playing with Bean meant that rather than working from the wing, Goudelock got to do a lot of work from the top of the key where he could use his handle to go in either direction and attack the paint. And playing PG meant that he was often guarded by defenders that better matched his physical profile rather than the longer, more athletic shooting guards that could more easily contest his jumper or sag off him to deny his driving lanes.

Interestingly enough, the role that Goudelock played last night very much reminded me of the role that Mike Brown gave Daniel Gibson in Cleveland. Gibson was (and still is) limited as a PG, but his skill set – a dead eye shooter – fit in well with the LeBron-centric offensive attack that Brown wanted to run with the Cavs. The ball would get to LeBron early and often and Gibson would spot up around the arc or move into open spaces around the perimeter while James went to work breaking down the D from top of the key and the wing. Gibson would serve as an outlet for LeBron’s playmaking, hitting the open jumpers provided by a collapsing defense. Gibson proved to be an able contributor by his second season putting up 10 points a game in a year that Cleveland made a conference finals run.

Goudelock is a different player than Gibson however, and last night (at least) was asked to do more. Because Kobe is still working off the ball a lot, Goudelock had to initiate the offense more. He had to try and organize the Lakers sets while also doing more to create shots than Gibson ever had to when paired with James. He had his ups and downs as an organizer – on a couple of possessions he looked unsure of where the ball should go first or what play he wanted to run – but he proved (mostly) capable. We’ll see if it continues.

Ultimately, I find it hard to believe that Brown will rely on a rookie for any significant contributions, but he did seem to find a role that Goudelock can perform or at least be comfortable in. In College, Goudelock was a Jimmer-lite type of player that carried a tremendous amount of responsibility on offense as a shot taker and creator. In the pros that load will be lessened but it looks like he has the chops to do it, if he’s paired with the right personnel and put in a position to succeed.

That likely means playing PG and being paired with Kobe rather than backing him up. It also means playing with at least one of the Lakers’ starting big men to take even more scoring burden off of him while still allowing him to do the things he does best. Mike Brown has been searching for a rotation for nearly 20 games this season and it’s obvious he’s still tinkering (see last night’s SF minute distribution for an example). But, at least while Blake is out, it looks like Brown may have found a back up PG that can do more things offensively than Darius Morris. And for a team that desperately needs some scoring off its bench, it could prove to be fruitful discovery. This doesn’t solve the back up SG issues or cut Kobe’s minutes, but those are ongoing issues that Goudelock wasn’t solving anyway.

And while my expectations are tempered, it was definitely nice to see the rook have some success in a role that seemed to fit him.