Archives For January 2012

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.

Box Score: Lakers 96, Clippers 91
Offensive Efficiency: Lakers 114.3, Clippers 108.3
True Shooting %: Lakers 65.7%, Clippers 50.5%

The Good:
The good? A win, of course! They snap a three-game losing skid and beat a very good team.

Let’s give Pau Gasol a lot of props. He wanted the ball more and he got it. Pau finished with 23 points and 10 boards. What’s more? He was inside quite a bit in this game. It opened up a whole mess of options in the halfcourt set.

Metta World Peace was VINTAGE Ron Artest tonight. Yeah, you can look at the box score and say, “Well, he only scored three points.” But he did all the little things and was seemingly the main playmaker in this squad today. If you look across the rest of his stat sheet, he stuffed it with 5 boards, 7 assists, 2 steals, and a crushing block on Chris Paul. His timely plays in the fourth quarter (frustrating Blake Griffin in the process) put away the pesky Clippers late (which we’ll talk about later on in this recap). He also played a season-high 38 minutes as he gave hellish D to the Clippers.

The ball movement was much more crisp tonight. What’s more? The Lakers were making three-pointers! They made 8 out of 16, which is pretty phenomenal for the guys who are last in the league behind the arc.

Andrew Goudelock, who seemed pretty forgotten in this team, played the 1 tonight… but who are we kidding? He was in there to fire away and fire away he did. Goudelock poured in 14 points, easily a career-high. Without Goudelock and World Peace, the bench would’ve been completely shut out so it was really awesome to see them contribute.

It was also nice to see the Lakers pack it inside the paint on defense. The Clippers were struggling to get into the paint more and more as the game wore on (in contrast, the Lakers kept attacking… which gave them 32 freethrow attempts compared to the Clips’ 14). The Lakers answered the challenge after a fast 19-9 start by the Clippers. After tying it up at the end of the first quarter, the Lakers kept it close enough throughout the entire game and were able to wrest the game away from the Clips late.

I can’t forget Kobe Bryant. He had an all-around very good performance with 24 points, 7 boards, and 6 dimes. He made sure to get everybody involved in the first three quarters before firing it up in the last stanza. That’s the Kobe that I like. Also, Andrew Bynum (19 points, 4 blocks) had some huge clutch plays on both ends. Was nice to see him come through in the waning moments. Another note: Chris Paul (who went buckwild in their first meeting with 33 points) was held down to 4 points (his hamstring probably still bothered him).

Another good thing about this game? This game was really fun to watch for a change! I’m serious!

The Bad:
The Lakers had 16 turnovers and Kobe Bryant got careless with the ball (7 turnovers by #24), particularly with those zip passes, which were intercepted twice.

It would’ve been nice if the Lakers kept their composure a little bit more. Yes, the refs had a quick trigger today… but the Lakers had 4 technical fouls (2 by Josh McRoberts, who got ejected in the 4th). They gotta settle down a bit. I must say that these battles between the Clips and the Lakers have gotten chippier.

Also, the perimeter wasn’t really guarded well early in the game. The Clippers made six three-pointers in the first half and it was looking like that was going to be the difference in the game again. But the Lakers went ahead and locked that down, while they started making 3-pointers of their own. It was a pleasant surprise but, hey, we’ll take those, right?

And, yes, the Lakers got outrebounded once again, 42-36, by the Clippers (offensive boards in favor of the Clippers, 17-10). We gotta continue to monitor this trend.

The Ugly:
It’s hard to find anything ugly in this game as this was really a well-played game by both teams. If I had to pick something, it’s the continuous referee stoppages to call quick-trigger technicals as I mentioned earlier. It’s an emotional game, refs. Let them play. They’re not robots. You want robots, refs? Go watch some anime.

The Plays Of The Game:
We gotta go back to Metta World Peace’s two gems. A straightaway three that he made was crucial as that put the Lakers up, 87-82, with 3:30 left. I’m sure every Laker fan was screaming, “NO… NO… NO… YES!!!” A minute later, World Peace got an offensive carom off a Fisher missed 3 and assisted Bynum with a dunk that fired up the Staples Center crowd. It was so good to see Metta World Peace fired up and having fun playing basketball again. Maybe he’ll tweet about ostriches mating with pandas later since he had such a good game.

That day of practice really did the Lakers good. And they have another two days off before they face the Bucks at Milwaukee on Saturday. With a bit of momentum going into their mini-road trip, this was the game the Lakers needed. Hopefully, they can keep this rolling.

Records: Lakers 10-8 (10th in West), Clippers 9-5 (3rd in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 101.8 (17th in NBA), Clippers 106.2 (7th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 99.7 (9th in NBA), Clippers 104.8 (23rd in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Matt Barnes, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Clippers: Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups, Caron Butler, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan
Injuries: Lakers: Steve Blake (out), Derrick Caracter (out); Clippers: Chris Paul (questionable), Eric Bledsoe (out)

The Lakers Coming in: Three losses in a row, players (or at least one player in particular) talking about his role, poor production from guards not named Kobe….anything else? Oh yeah, an offense that’s more miss than hit and a defense that’s regressed some since the start of the year. That about does it right?

The good thing in all of this is that the Lakers have finally been able to breathe from a schedule perspective. They had two days off (without travel) for this first time this season in between Sunday’s Pacers game and tonight’s match up. That’s allowed them to have their first(!) practice with contact since the pre-season. Meaning, they’ve been able to actually scrimmage, test out schematic changes in a full speed environment, and basically been able to try and diagnose issues in ways other than watching film or by walking through the motions. I don’t necessarily expect this to produce instant results but I do think it will help. Remember, during pre-season all the talk from Laker camp was about the “spirited” practices and the attention to detail on the defensive side of the ball and out of the gate, that showed. It showed in how hard the team was playing and in how much fight they had. Those are two things that have been somewhat absent lately. If the Lakers are going to get anywhere this year, those are things that need to come back.

The Clippers Coming in: The Clippers have one five of their last seven games, though only two of their last four. Most of their recent struggles (if you even want to call it that) has had to do with Chris Paul missing the past 5 contests with a strained hamstring he sustained the last time these two teams met.

With Paul out, leading the offense has fallen into the hands of Chaunce Billups who’s been a bit up and down. He’s hit some big shots – in the Minnesota game he hit what would have been a shot that sent the game to overtime had Kevin Love not hit his own buzzer beater – but overall his shooting has been below average and his decision making has been questionable in terms of his own shot selection. It’s difficult to question Chauncey’s leadership as he’s been a steadying presence for them, but his play has been erratic.

Mitigating that somewhat has been Mo Williams’ hot streak (he’s scored at leat 25 point in his last 3 games). Mo’s been hitting his jumper, penetrating to create shots for himself and his teammates, and basically, playing top flight basketball. If he can keep playing up this level (even without scoring as much) he’ll insert his name into the 6th man of the year race. Really, he’s been that good.

Clippers Blogs: Clipper Blog is, and has long been, one of the best team sites out there. Give them a read.

Keys to game: Forget for a second that the Lakers are playing the Clippers. Forget for a moment too, that the Clippers are having a resurgent year and that this game has importance both in terms an inter-city battle and in regards to division and conference placement. Forget too how the Chris Paul trade/veto impacted both teams and the fallout that’s ensued.

Even when you forget those things, this is a big game for the Lakers.

As mentioned they’ve lost three in a row and losing another, though not huge in the large scheme, has practical implications and psychological ones. The Lakers aren’t a team that lacks confidence per se, but they do look like a team that’s a bit unsure of itself. They look like they know where they want to go but aren’t quite sure how to get there. A win tonight can steady that ship some. And then when you remember the things I told you to forget a paragraph ago, the added meaning is there too.

Getting the W, though, requires a clean, sharp game from the Lakers. The Clippers are one of the best teams at limiting turnovers and using those extra possessions to score efficiently so the Lakers can’t give them extra possessions via their own miscues. So, the Lakers must not give the ball away via turnovers and must also protect their defensive glass for the same reasons. In the last match up the Lakers surrendered 17 offensive rebounds, many because the guards didn’t close down the FT line or because the bigs were reacting with flat feet. That must improve tonight.

Also key will be defending the P&R and subsequently the three point line. I expect Chris Paul to play tonight and I expect him to be up to his usual standard. That means a ton of pick and roll actions and him working the seams of the Laker D to create shots for himself, but especially his teammates behind the arc.

As mentioned earlier, Billups has not been shooting that well lately but when taken off the ball and allowed to be a spot up shooter he can be deadly. The Lakers must execute their P&R defense crisply and also mix up their coverages to give Paul different looks. I’m hopeful that the Lakers choose, at times, to go under screens to disrupt this action. Paul loves it when a big man hedges because that allows him to string out his dribble and make the big man switch onto him and then he can go to work off the bounce and create any type of shot he wants for himself while also compromising the defense and setting up his mates. The Lakers must not allow Paul to run wild against their big men and going under screens to make him either shoot long jumpers himself is a strategy that could work.

Besides keeping Paul out of the paint, the Lakers must do the same to Blake Griffin. The Lakers have done a good job of making Griffin a jumpshooter in recent games, but Blake is also doing a lot more work off the dribble to try to get to the rim so his defender (mostly Gasol) will need to make sure he keeps Griffin in front of him while still sagging off enough to temp the jumpshot.

Offensively, the Lakers have actually been moving the ball well and hitting the open man in recent games but just haven’t gotten shots to fall. I could go on and on about things I’d like to see improve on this side of the ball (Pau getting more post up chances, Kobe going to the basket more instead of settling for jumpers, Bynum finishing the bunnies he has close to the rim) but in the end, the Lakers role players simply need to make more shots. Fisher, Barnes, Murphy, Kapono, MWP, everyone. Because I don’t care what type of schemes are drawn up, if the only people able to hit a jumper are Pau and Kobe, we’ll continue to see the same offensive issues pop up.

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

Wednesday Storylines

Dave Murphy —  January 25, 2012

With a recent three-game skid, questions about the Lakers’ direction and purpose have been stacking up from fans, writers, and even El Spaniard, normally a model of diplomacy. Personally, when Pau complains that he’s not spending enough time in the paint, I tend to listen. It would have been easy to fill a page with Gasol-gate links but that wouldn’t ensure a proper variety in our diets. Today’s buffet offers a range of tasty choices, from the lack of touches to tonight’s game against our hallway rivals.

Ben Bolch at the L.A. Times, quotes our man Gasol, who was disappointed with his marching orders in the second half of Sunday night’s loss against the Pacers. “…in the second half, I didn’t have one chance to attack from the post.”

Mark Medina at the L.A. Times Lakers blog tracks the same storyline, which as he points out, isn’t gaining clarity.

Even Basketbawful gets into the act, with a Pau-centric entry in Sunday’s “Worst of the Night” column. Make sure to watch the video titled “Boomer Breaks the Blackboard”. There’s no relation to the Lakers/Pacer’s section of text but that’s where it’s embedded, and it is must-see.

Brian Kamenetzky at the Land O’Lakers, takes a hard look at Mike Brown’s search for answers, particularly when it comes to Darius Morris and the lack of options at the point.

Andy Kamenetzky at the LOL, points out that there are real stakes riding on tonight’s game, and tells us what to look for.

While it’s not about the Lakers, Kurt Helin at ProBasketballTalk tells Knicks fans why Phil Jackson’s not coming to save them. I’m a sucker for anything about Phil.

Kurt also lets us know that Bill Walton’s predicting a Heat/Lakers match-up in the finals. Yes, Bill!

Yesterday, after reading a damning string of comments on FB&G, I paid a visit to TrueHoop, where Henry Abbott had written glowingly about the Lakers’ beautiful offense. This is called stepping through the looking glass.

Ben Rosales at Silver Screen and Roll, takes a beast or burden look at the Lakers, trying to find some positives.

Steve Perrin at Clips Nation, figures the key to beating the Lakers is to double and triple-team Kobe – he’ll take the shots anyway.


This time last week, things were downright peaceful in Lakerland – we’d won five in a row and were sitting in 2nd place in the west. What a difference a few games makes – we’re now languishing in 10th. With a slew of roadies looming, the conversation’s sure to get choppier. If it’s any solace, the difference between 2nd and 10th right now, is only two games.

– Dave Murphy

Discussing Clippers-Lakers

J.M. Poulard —  January 25, 2012

It’s Battle of Los Angeles: Part deux. With the Clippers now trying to claim the city as theirs at the expense of the Lakers, Forum Blue & Gold reached out to Breene Murphy of Clipperblog to discuss the game.

J.M. Poulard, Forum Blue & Gold: With three losses in a row, the Los Angeles Lakers (10-8) do not at this point in time look like a championship caliber team. The defense has looked good for the most part but the offense has left much to be desired.

Kobe Bryant is playing extremely well for the Lakers but not all of his teammates have been able to follow suit as evidenced by losses in Miami and Orlando. In addition, the home loss at the hands of the Pacers last Sunday have people wondering how the Lakers can improve their play late in ball games when teams force the ball out of the hands of Kobe. Indeed, against the Dallas Mavericks, Bryant was able to find Fisher for an open 3-pointer, but for the most part the late game execution has been subpar at best for the Lakers.

This is relevant when discussing the Clippers because the last time they played the Lakers, they were all witnesses to the Kobe Bryant show, as the star guard lit up the Clips defense for 21 points in the third quarter and also made numerous big shots in the fourth. Once Vinny Del Negro ordered the double team off of Darius Morris, the Lakers star became a little hesitant with the ball and had trouble trusting his open teammates (*cough* Daris Morris *cough*). Ever since that game, it seems teams have been far more willing to throw extra attention on Kobe coming off screens, especially late in games.

What’s the temperature check for the Clippers going into this matchup?

Breene Murphy, Clipperblog: If we’re talking temperature check, the first name we have to mention for the Clippers is Mo Williams. After sitting out three games, Mo has averaged 25.3 points in his last three games, shooting an absurd 64 percent from the field. He’s been en fuego for sure, and it’s buoyed a Clippers team that shouldn’t be as desperate for guard play with Chauncey Billups also there to help the Paul-less Clips.

However, Paul is allegedly scheduled to play against the Lakers, so the big question will be how Mo reacts to the return of Paul, and if that will lead to the same success the Clippers have seen against the Lakers this year.

Based on Paul’s play against the Lakers this year and last year in the playoffs, how’re you feeling about him with a better cast than in the past?

J.M. Poulard: On Christmas day, I predicted that the Clippers would finish with one of the four best records in the Western Conference and that’s a testament to Paul’s talent. CP3 is an exquisite ball handler, good finisher and highlight reel waiting to happen with his passing; but his true value comes in his leadership and late game execution.

When players start jogging up and down the court on defense, Paul is usually the first one out there yelling at them to get back on defense, and his mastery of the offense is a thing of beauty, especially for a team that has had more than their fair share of issues closing out games. Paul brings terrific decision-making as well as a levelheaded player to stir the ship when all of the crewmembers are ready to dive into the water. I’m pretty sure I just said that the former Demon Deacon is the second coming of captain Jack Sparrow.

After seeing Kobe Bryant take on the Clippers, what’s your take on his play this season?

Breene Murphy: I really hope that CP3’s leadership turns the Clippers lackluster defense around, because so far, they’ve been a real disappointment on that end. And what’s somewhat disconcerting is that I don’t think that they have the personnel to be above average even with CP3 barking at them, or VDN finally connecting with them. The biggest struggle seems to be at the wing, where Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler don’t have the necessary athletic gifts at this point in the career to be good defenders.

So, Kobe, yeah, he’ll be tough for the Clippers to guard, especially considering his resurgence. Count me in the group that thinks Kobe needs to spread the ball around (36.0 usage rate?), especially with the quality of bigs on the team. Pau and Bynum? That’s formidable.

Speaking of Pau, he was so productive for so long, it’s hard to imagine that he’s just fell off so quickly. Last year, I’d say that he was the most effective defensive force on Blake Griffin this side of Tyson Chandler, making him a fulcrum player against the Clips.  Was it related to the failed trade? The playoff performance? How do you feel about the PF matchup this year?

J.M. Poulard: Honestly, with the way Pau has played this year, one would be inclined to believe that Blake would win the PF matchup; but through two preseason games and one regular season meeting; Griffin has been pretty average by his standards when playing against the Spaniard. Blake has looked to show off his handles against the Lakers as opposed to rolling hard to the basket and posting up with some aggression.

Consequently, the Clippers should have the advantage at the four spot, but in truth it seems to be just about even given Blake’s struggles against the Lakers.

Breene, normally I’d ask you to pick a winner here; but we’ll do this a bit differently. If the Lakers lose this game, do you think the roster remains intact going into this weekend?

Breene Murphy: Maybe I’m wrong, but Kupchak hasn’t struck me as a reactionary GM, barring the Lamar Odom trade (which wouldn’t have happened had it not been for Stern’s rejection of the CP3 trade). So I’ll say no. I believe that Kupchak’s forever working on the best possible trade, while remaining smart enough to know that teams simply go through slumps. 4-game losing streaks give a perception of panic. A team that panics is a team with less leverage, and trading with less leverage typically doesn’t work out well.

J.M. Poulard: At this point in the season, the Lakers face more serious questions about their roster than the Clippers and that makes the Battle of Los Angeles all that more intriguing. Mind you the Lakers’ core has sipped championship champagne while the Clippers’ has yet to make the playoffs.

None of that will matter tonight when both teams take the court at Staples and try to earn themselves a victory in what promises to be a playoff-like atmosphere. I’ll take the home team tonight.

Breene, thanks again.

At this point in the season, calling the Lakers offense mediocre might be a compliment. In terms of offensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions) the Lakers are 19th in NBA with a mark of 101.8. Their 51.6 true shooting percentage (which takes into account free throws and 3 pointers) is 18th in the NBA, which is greatly influenced by their worst in the league 3 point field goal percentage of 25.7%. Considering the Lakers were 6th in offensive efficiency last season (111.0) their nearly 10 point drop in efficiency this year – even when accounting for offenses being down across the league – is staggering.

Watching this de-evolution on offense has led me to watching this side of the ball closely for the past several games. I’ve wanted to get a better idea as to what is going on with this team and why they’re struggling to score points. I’ve seen some good and plenty of bad and below are my notes on what can only be called a floundering Laker offense: Continue Reading…

(Oof, of course the duty of recapping this game would fall to me)

Box Score: Lakers 96, Pacers 98.

The Good
I really wish I could skip this section, but if I had to choose bright spots from this gloomy game, I would have to choose:

Pau Gasol’s passing
Pau made some truly beautiful passes in this game, including an over the head pass that Bynum really should have converted into a dunk, but instead got 2 free throws after a foul. At times too unselfish, Pau deferred to his teammates throughout the game, setting up Barnes for a highlight dunk, and even setting up a lob to Andrew. Throughout the game, the offense ran much more smoothly (note: this is a relative term) when Pau was at the high post, directing traffic, and hitting cutters with pin-point passes. This led to a season-high 10 assists for Pau, and he probably should have had more had his teammates converted some of the bunnies they missed.

Metta World Peace’s Return from the Dead
While MWP was effectively corpse-like against Miami and Orlando, he had a strong game, tallying up 11 points on 5-9 shooting (and even a made three!). While he still made a ton of questionable decisions (those off-balance fade aways are not pretty, nor effective), it was good to see him contribute at least something to the game.

First Quarter Energy
The Lakers did come out firing in the first quarter, taking a 13 point lead, 27-14 going into the 2nd period. Matt Barnes led the way with 6 quick points, leaking out on multiple occasions for some easy points. Pau Gasol and Josh McRoberts also played with great energy, each getting a couple blocks, further fueling the Lakers excellent defensive play (in the 1st quarter).

The Bad
After that first quarter, everything went downhill. While holding the Pacers to 28% shooting in the 1st, the Lakers gave up 65% shooting in the second, with the Pacers shooting lights out from three. This included a David West buzzer-beater, cutting the lead to 3 going in to the half. The Pacers finished 10-18 from three, while the Lakers were an anemic 2-9 from three, which has become a regular thing for this Laker team. Even though the Lakers had a huge free throw advantage (22-33 to 16-19, with four Pacer free throws at the end of the game), they weren’t able to overcome the extra 24 points that the Pacers got from beyond the arc.

Roy Hibbert also had a monstrous game, going 9-13 for 18 points, finishing +18 in 27 minutes. He repeatedly pushed his defender (Bynum, Gasol, Murphy, McRoberts, it didn’t matter) deep into the lane, then finishing solidly with what appears to be his favorite move, a left handed hook shot. Indiana’s trio of young guards, Darren Collison, Paul George, and George Hill, all played solidly, shooting 13-22 combined, and 6-10 from three. The Lakers repeatedly clamped down on penetration on defense, giving up open three after open three, and the Pacers made them pay.

The Ugly
I wish I could put more under this section, but Andrew Bynum deserves special mention. While he didn’t play all that poorly (6-12 shooting for 16 points, 8 boards), he struggled mightily against the double team, making several bad passes and committing turnovers. He also did not contain Hibbert in the slightest, with the Pacers going to Hibbert twice in the last three minutes, each time with Hibbert either getting a shot for himself or a shot for a teammate. For someone vying to be one of the best centers in the league, Andrew needs to be able to contain Hibbert one-on-one, and he just wasn’t able to do that tonight.

Also deserving special mention is how horrible the Lakers last two offensive possessions went. First was a horrible play leading to a terrible Fish shot/pass to Gasol that went out of bounds, then the last was a horrible Kobe three that was contested 30 feet from the basket. Needless to say, the Lakers being down three with only one shot attempt left is a recipe for disaster, because unless Fish is open, Kobe is taking that shot, and he just doesn’t get the separation on the perimeter that he needs to get off a clean shot. A lot of blame should go to Mike Brown for designing an offense with a ton of off-ball movement but very little actual ball movement, but it’s clear that the Lakers have no go-to play down the stretch, not like they used to with the Kobe-Gasol pick and roll.

The Play of the Game
If I had to pick a play, it would have to be Gasol’s high post pass to a cutting Matt Barnes, who dove straight down the lane for a crushing dunk. Sadly, the Lakers went away from Gasol after this play. It is a wonder to watch him pass on the perimeter, and he made a lot of good decisions this game. Hopefully the Lakers will continue this trend, and continue to play their offense through Gasol.