Archives For January 2012

Records: Lakers 10-7 (6th in West), Pacers 10-4 (5th in East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 101.4 (18th in NBA), Pacers 101.3 (19th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 99.1 (6th in NBA), Pacers 97.4 (4th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Matt Barnes, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Pacers: Darren Collison, Paul George, Danny Granger, David West, Roy Hibbert
Injuries: Lakers: Steve Blake (out), Derrick Caracter (out); Pacers: Jeff Foster (out), Jeff Pendergraph (out)

The Lakers Coming in: Losers of two straight – in blowout fashion to pour salt in the wounds – the Lakers look disorganized and a bit beat down. This team clearly hasn’t discovered what they’ll be on offense from night to night and that lack of identity has seemingly carried over to the defensive side of the ball where their principles aren’t being executed and their rebounding has not been up to par.

Their legs also look worn down. A lot of that can be attributed to the suspect depth on the roster but plenty of blame must also go to Mike Brown’s insistence on playing his main players heavy minutes in games that aren’t truly in reach or competitive. We saw it at the end of the Miami game and again versus Orlando. In neither game did the Lakers ever truly threaten in the final 6 minutes but in both games the starters saw the final buzzer from the court rather than the bench. Even when considering the lack of a viable backup shooting guard on the roster, there was no reason for Kobe to play 95 minutes in games the Lakers lost by double figures, especially when earlier this week Mike Brown spoke of needing to cut Kobe’s minutes in the wake of him now playing 38 of them a night. How that heavy load, not just for Kobe but for Pau (and, to a lesser extent, Bynum) carries over into tonight remains to be seen.

The Pacers Coming in: In J.M.’s conversation with Jared Wade, we learned a fair amount about this team. I suggest you give that a read to get an insider’s perspective into this team.

As for my thoughts, the Pacers offer an intriguing mix of young players coming into their own and veteran players that have been around the block a few times and know what it takes to win in this league. Collison, George, Hill, Hibbert, and Hansbrough give this team a nice core of up and coming players that can be the future of this franchise. When you combine them with Granger (who’s been a bit up and down but seems to be settling in) and David West (who was a great pick up), you have a couple of veterans that can be a strong presence in the locker room to help guide this team. With Frank Vogel getting this team to play hard on defense while utilizing a solid bench that can hold its own against most 2nd units around the league, this team is dangerous on any given night and a threat to make the 2nd round of the playoffs should the match ups break their way.

Moving away from the personnel for a moment, one storyline that interests me is the return of Brian Shaw who caught on as an assistant coach with the Pacers this summer. Shaw was a player favorite and, at least for me, the ideal candidate to take over as head coach when Phil Jackson retired. I won’t cry over spilled milk that the team went in another direction but with the Lakers floundering on offense, Shaw’s return on the opposite bench is somewhat of a bitter-bitter moment for many fans (and potentially some players too).

Pacers Blogs: The analysis at 8 Points 9 Seconds is top shelf and you should check them out for all your Pacers’ news.

Keys to game: The Lakers face what is essentially a carbon copy of themselves when looking at their statistical profiles. Both teams pair a tough defense with a middling offense with each team’s front court being a key strength to the roster. The difference, however, is that the Lakers primary wing player – Kobe Bryant – is having another very strong year while Danny Granger hasn’t yet produced at the level he, and his team, is accustomed to.

And that difference may prove to be the key to this game. Kobe played a brilliant game against the Magic by scoring efficiently and at a high clip while also playing the distributor role nearly perfectly by reading the double teams being sent at him and picking out his mates with precise passes. Tonight, though, he may need to step up his scoring even more in order to give a booster shot to a Laker offense that is struggling to put points on the board. Getting Kobe into the mid post, the elbow, and running him off screens to free him coming into the paint can help get him going on offense and I hope to see more of that early to set the tone on O. He’ll have the long and aggressive Paul George checking him but Kobe can use some of that aggression against the 2nd year wing to shake loose, draw some fouls, and open up the rest of his offense.

But Kobe can’t go it alone. He’ll need his bigs to step up and this is a game where both Pau and Bynum can get it going on offense by being decisive with the ball and attacking quickly. Bynum’s facing a long and tall Hibbert but that size doesn’t come with much girth. If Bynum can get into the post early and work for deep position, Hibbert won’t be able to do much but foul or give up short hooks. That said, Bynum must do a better job of converting when he gets the ball deep – something he’s struggled with the last few games. Maybe the quick doubles he’s seeing from guards digging down is affecting his concentration on these shots but he must do better about getting his shot off quickly without rushing his shooting motion. As for Gasol, David West is not much of a defender and Pau must attack him both off the dribble and by racing up court and trying to get to the post as well. Gasol is an able jump shooter, but his strength is still working his face up game 12 feet and in or working the post from the left block where can go to the middle with his turnaround jumper and running hook or drop step to the baseline side and shoot his lefty hook. Both are good options against a player he has a height and length advantage over and I’m hopeful that even with a more aggressive Kobe, Pau looks for his own shot when he gets his touches.

As for the Lakers defense, the Pacers don’t do a lot of things well on offense but this doesn’t mean they don’t have any threats to be accounted for. Collison, though not shooting a high percentage himself, is still a threat to turn the corner in the P&R and get into the lane to do damage. Collison must also be run off the 3 point line as often as possible and forced to either shoot the long two or move the ball on to a teammate. Further more, when he works the P&R with West, the Lakers must be ready for West to pop to the elbow area and look for his mid-range jumper. The other threats are Granger on the wing and Hibbert in the post. Both players require a lot of attention but the Lakers mustn’t over commit to either players by sending double teams or over reacting by over helping. Granger has been playing well lately but the combination of Barnes and MWP should be enough to limit him as long as they play smart and make him take contested jumpers off the dribble. Hibbert, meanwhile, shows good polish in the post and can hit hooks from the block and stretch his face up jumper out to 16 feet if given the space. Of course he’s best working 10 feet and in, but the point is that he is a threat with the ball in his hands both as a scorer and a passer so both Bynum and Pau will need to be ready when they match up with him.

The other key will be bench play. The Lakers’ reserves have been playing poorly of late while the Pacers offer a group that includes George Hill (who’s a familiar face from his Spurs days) and Tyler Hansbrough. Both players work hard and will hustle for loose balls, attack the rim, and give their bench a boost. The Lakers will need to match these guys’ energy while also hitting some of the shots that they’ve not been knocking down (especially recently). Hopefully being at home (where role players typically play better) and – at least for McRoberts and Murphy – playing against their former team can inspire some solid play. The Lakers will certainly need it tonight.

Where you can watch: 6:30 start time on Fox Sports. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.

Discussing Pacers-Lakers

J.M. Poulard —  January 22, 2012

With the Los Angeles Lakers hosting the Indiana Pacers tonight, Forum Blue & Gold reached out to Jared Wade of 8 points 9 seconds to discuss the game.

J.M. Poulard, Forum Blue & Gold: Although most would not necessarily call them the frontline of the future, I am a big fan of the Pacers starting frontcourt. The combination of Roy Hibbert and David West may be a little slow in their rotations, but they get there just in time to bother their opponents’ shot attempts at the rim which translates into a 58 percent field goal shooting allowed right at the basket according to Hoopdata (fourth best mark in the league).

Thus I’m anxious to see how both Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum play against these big men; and if they are able to convert at the rim against them.

With that said, my biggest question is reserved for the offense: with a frontcourt that features Danny Granger, David West and Roy Hibbert; how come the Indiana Pacers can’t score??

Jared Wade, 8 points 9 seconds: That’s the $64,000 question. A lot of it is about stagnation. These guys need good ball movement and cutting to score and there is too often little of either. With the addition of George Hill and David West, who is just now really getting back into game shape after offseason knee surgery, and the introduction of Paul George as a bigger part of Frank Vogel’s revamped system, there is also still a feeling-things-out process going on. Guys, particularly the reserves, are trying to learn their roles and figure out how they can mesh together.

And then there’s just the fact that everybody aside from Hill — and especially Granger and West — is missing makable shots. All are way below their career norm shooting percentages around the rim. You have to think this will improve as the sample size does. This offense looks really good at times, and the starters are actually producing as a 5-man unit. It’s just when they incorporate the bench guys and start mixing and matching lineups that everything goes downhill.

J.M. Poulard: I’m glad you touched on it because so far this season Danny Granger’s shooting has baffled me. Initially I figured that he was settling for tough shots, but after watching the Pacers a few times, I liked what I saw from their offense.

Oddly enough, the Lakers run some of the same misdirection plays for Kobe Bryant that the Pacers run for Danny Granger. The idea is often to get the defense to think that the ball is going to one of the big men inside as Kobe sets a cross screen for his center, and then he gets screened by his power forward and pops out at the top of the key for either a jump shot or an isolation.

The Lakers so far have found ways to execute but have had trouble converting their shots. The Pacers seem to have the same issue but they offer enough variety for things to progressively get better during the rest of the season.

In the matchup tonight, I think the big men cancel each other out (starters and bench) and thus the wing scorers will play a huge part in this one. Darren Collison should be able to turn the corner against Fisher and get into the lane for some opportunities in the paint.

The great equalizer may be Matt Barnes getting out in transition for some easy scoring chances as well as his ability to play off Kobe to get open 3-pointers.

Ultimately though, I think the contest comes down to whether Kobe (versus George) or Granger performs better (versus Barnes and MWP).

Who do you think performs better and leads his team to victory?

Jared Wade: There are two things I was thinking about perhaps happening when I was looking at the Lakers schedule. One the one hand, I could see the Lakers really coming out aggressively and dominating Indy after back-to-back losses down in Florida. On the other hand, I could see them sort of taking the night off mentally as they are now back home after a road trip and have a rare (in this season) one game in four nights stretch here before playing another Battle of Los Angeles game on Wednesday.

In the former, seemingly more probable scenario, I can see Kobe really going nuts. Paul George has shown his defensive prowess against Derrick Rose in the playoffs and Dwayne Wade last February, but checking Mamba right now may be an even more daunting challenge. I could easily see Kobe, with his array of jab steps, shot fakes, spin moves and up-and-unders, getting George into early foul trouble and grinning at the lanky Fresno product as he walks to the bench three minutes in like “Nice try, kid.” And while George Hill is certainly familiar with #24, his size probably won’t cut it against the 2012 Kobe incarnation who backs guards down into the torture chamber. So, yeah, I’m not betting against Kobe right now.

As for Danny, Granger has now played three good games (including his two best of the year) in his last five outings. He dropped 26 on 16 shots in just 32 minutes Friday in Oakland, including 6 points in the final 4 minutes. He wasn’t missing bad shots per se earlier in the year but he was pressing and struggling to take on-balance looks in the lane. And he has just been missing a lot of open jumpers he would normally make, shooting a disastrous 26% on long twos. The Lakers wings are certainly not the easiest to exploit, but if Granger can keep trending more towards the positive and not fall back into his early-season bad habits, there’s no reason he can’t light up LA for 20-plus.

J.M. Poulard: After playing 44 minutes on the back end of a back-to-back on Friday night in Orlando, one has to think that Kobe Bryant will once again play heavy minutes tonight since the Lakers only play again on Wednesday.

This means that Pacers will see plenty of the Black Mamba tonight, and he should have a very good scoring night. Mind you, if Indiana decides to double-team Bryant and trap him coming off screens, much like the Magic and Heat did, Kobe will probably score in the early 30s but will be awfully dependent of the shot making ability of his teammates.

Nonetheless, as you mentioned, Bryant will probably put defenders in his dungeon and torture them with his array of moves. He should get several free throw attempts and will his team to victory as the Pacers fall to 1-2 on the Cali road trip.

One small note though: Indiana has brought the energy and relentlessly pounded their opponents on the glass so far this season, which may not bode well for a Lakers team that has consistently been outrebounded as of late.

When FB&G needed to talk Lakers-Pacers…

We…went…to…Jared.

Thanks again.

A Race Against The Clock

Darius Soriano —  January 21, 2012

For the past couple of weeks, I must have used the phrase “work in progress” to describe this Laker team at least a dozen times. With an entirely new coaching staff, new schemes on both sides of the ball, a training camp and pre-season that offered little time to prep with a full team (remember, the Lakers were adding players that are now in their rotating a week into camp), and little (if any) practice time in between games, the team is obviously learning on the fly. In the best of circumstances – a full camp and normal game schedule with regular practice schedules – the change in staff and schemes alone would have me tempering my early season expectations. When all the factors listed above are combined, it’s hard to make any qualitative analysis about this team beyond going back to that phrase.

The Lakers are a work in progress.

However, in their fruitless trip to Florida where the offense was absent and their defense didn’t live up to the standard that’s been set early in the year, it seems that this team is more “work” than “progress” at this point. In fact, these two games showed a regression more than anything else. The offense – which hadn’t been that great but was still average – fell off a cliff. They flirted with franchise lows for points scored in a quarter and a half. Defensively, they looked even slower than normal and struggled to execute the principles of contesting shots, running people off the three point line, and controlling the defensive glass.

And in a shortened season where Sunday’s game vs the Pacers will represent one-fourth of the full 66 game campaign this is problematic. In a normal season the Lakers would have reached the 25% mark of their year (let’s use game 20 as that benchmark) in early December (last year they played their 20th game on December 3rd). Considering the regular season ends in April, that type of timeline would give the Lakers a full 5 months to find their stride and work out any kinks. This season they don’t have that luxury. Five months from today will be May 21st. For comparison’s sake, the Lakers’ season ended on May 8th last year.

Time is short, but there’s still much work to do. Especially in the area of determining what the finished product really is. Of course, this is complicated by the variables raised above but also by roster changes that may or may not come and how, if at all, that’s affecting the players on the team.

Will this really be the team that finishes the year? Will the Lakers make a big trade to shake up the core of the team? Will they work around the edges to add a point or combo guard that can add the playmaking and/or scoring that this team is currently lacking? We have no answers here and the team must work as if this group is it, but if that’s actually the case the flaws on this team are real and that must be taken into account when evaluating what this group’s ceiling is.

Meanwhile, the clock keeps ticking. Soon it will be the all-star game where two Lakers will likely be in the starting line up for the West, then the trade deadline in March, then the push for the playoffs, and ultimately, the second season. It seems so far away but it will all be here before we know it. As someone that’s preached patience – and still does, by the way – that reality is both exciting and scary. The Lakers have so far to go and little time to do it but possess the work ethic and talent at the top of their roster that make it hard for me to count them out.

This season is shaping up to be one of the strangest I’ve seen in some time and the race against the clock has a lot to do with it.

Box Score: Lakers 80, Magic 92
Offensive Efficiency: Lakers 94.1, Magic 108.2
True Shooting %: Lakers 49.5%, Magic 55.6%

The Good:
Kobe Bryant had an efficient 30 points and 8 assists.

They showed some fight on some parts of the game. It was nice to see them play through Pau Gasol at the start of the third quarter (before going away from it again). The Lakers did turn up the defense better in the second half and I actually thought the Lakers had a chance to steal the game after they cut the lead down to eight. A quick-trigger technical foul on Kobe killed all that momentum.

The ball movement seemed a little better in this game than the contest against Miami. It’s just that the Lakers can’t throw a dime into the ocean and they end up building houses (BRICKING) inside Amway Center. They should go hide in those newly-built houses after the game. This performance was, overall, shameful.

The Bad:
I don’t even know where to start. I’m surprised that the Magic didn’t lead by 30 at one point.

Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol didn’t make any field goals in the first half. And while we touted the Bynum/Howard match-up, Dwight Howard thoroughly outplayed the Lakers center tonight (Howard had 21 points and 23 boards while Drew ended with a deceiving 10 points and 12 rebounds). It didn’t help that Bynum was in foul trouble the whole game. As for Gasol, he settled for too many jumpers once again. This has become a disturbing trend as we know how wonderful Pau is on the post. Like most of the Lakers, he looks completely lost in this new system. As for the rest of the Lakers, the bench continues its bad production. They only scored 12 points (and they are dead last at 19.9 points per game coming into Orlando). And I know I’m not the only one clamoring for this but it’d be very nice to get Steve Blake back soon. Also, the Lakers are missing Lamar Odom more and more everyday. But let’s deal with the cards the Lakers currently have.

Coming into the game, the Lakers were third in rebounding (45.1) while the Magic were 13th (42.7). Howard led the charge with 23 rebounds and helped outrebound the Lakers to the tune of 51-42. Once again, the Lakers got killed on the offensive glass (15-8).

It also looked like that the Lakers were tired after they got smashed by the Heat the night before. Mike Brown chose to play the starters through the end of that Miami game even though the result was already academic. Yes, we all know that Phil Jackson used to do that at times… but this one basically came back to bite the Lakers the following night.

Can’t forget that the Magic made 12 treys. The Lakers are the worst 3-point shooting team in the league and while they made six, they still got outscored by 18 behind the arc.

The Ugly:
We’d better get used to this. The Laker offense is terrible (only scored 100 or over once this season). Today was no exception… and the first quarter was ESPECIALLY ugly. They shot 4 for 21 (19 percent) in the opening quarter and only scored 10 points. The Lakers also went 7 minutes and 36 seconds of game time without a field goal before a Troy Murphy 3 stopped the bleeding. The Lakers would finish the first half at 11/38 (29 percent) and would end the game at a “somewhat respectable” 38 percent.

And good grief, I expected SOME jumpers to fall in for the Lakers but it seemed like they couldn’t make anything. I swore that every time the Lakers clanked an outside J, a brick would smash through my window every time.

I feel like at some point, Kobe is going to yell about shipping his teammates out. This is not getting any easier for him and the Lakers.

The Play Of The Game:
I have to pick one?

How about that difficult driving banker by Kobe early in the second quarter. It’s quite amazing he made that over three Magic defenders. But Laker fans would be hard-pressed to cheer for SOMETHING in this Laker game. Hopefully, it’s something completely different at Staples Center when they face the Pacers on Sunday night. At least, the Lakers are a tidy 9-1 at Staples.

Records: Lakers 10-6 (6th in West), Magic 10-4 (5th in East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 101.8 (19th in NBA), Magic 107.5 (6th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 98.5 (6th in NBA), Magic 102.0 (15th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Matt Barnes, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Magic: Jameer Nelson, JJ Redick, Quentin Richardson, Ryan Anderson, Dwight Howard
Injuries: Lakers: Steve Blake and Derrick Caracter (both out); Magic: Hedo Turkoglu (doubtful), Jason Richardson (questionable), Daniel Orton (questionable)

I’m not going to give our normal preview today as I think J.M. and Eddy Rivera (of the great site Magic Basketball) covered a lot of ground this morning. So, instead, I offer a few bullet points of some of the things I’ll be watching closely in a game I think is quite important to the Lakers.

  • The Howard/Bynum match up is the one in lights and I’ll be watching that one closely. Both guys have been great this year and Howard has again shown that he’s the elite big man in the league with his ability to control the glass, navigate the double teams that he sees, and be the leader for his team. Bynum meanwhile has done everything the coaches have asked of him by doing his own yeoman’s work on the backboards, deterring shots in the paint, and scoring in double figures. Both will be all-stars this year and deservedly so. However, the match up I’m really watching is of the other two big men in this game – Pau Gasol and Ryan Anderson. Anderson is having a fantastic year shooting the ball and leads the league in made three pointers. His ability to stretch the floor on offense and make defenses pay for collapsing on Howard has been a major driver for Orlando’s success on that side of the ball. His PER is actually better than Howard’s and that speaks to how well he’s been playing and how much he’s grown in Orlando’s system. Pau will need to shadow Anderson closely on defense and not get sucked into the paint when Howard is going to work on Drew. If Pau’s able to maintain discipline, contest shots and make Anderson try to create off the dribble, it will go a long way towards disrupting the Magic’s O. On the other end of the floor, Pau needs to carry over last night’s performance to tonight. He must be aggressive and decisive with the ball and attack Anderson every chance he gets. Anderson is a steady defender but does nothing spectacular on that end of the floor and Pau should be able to make him work on D if he plays an attacking style.
  • The other individual match up I’ll be watching closely is Kobe on Redick. The former Dukie has expanded his game beyond being just a sniper and now is a heady ball handler that can create off the dribble and in the P&R. With Hedo likely out tonight, Kobe will likely have to defend the P&R and he too will need to be disciplined both in that action and when playing off the ball as Redick will find the gaps on the perimeter to get off his jumper. If Kobe loses contact, it can mean made three pointers and that’s the last thing the Lakers need. Kobe, meanwhile, must attack his defender tonight and not lay back so much simply taking the first available jumper that presents itself. He openly stated last night that the team has been experimenting on offense and while I encourage the diversity, he must also find a way to get his rhythm early in the game. His scoring is too important to this team’s offensive success to take a different approach. Of course he must balance his game and create for others as well, but that’s always been the case. I expect that with a weaker defender than he saw last night in front of him this evening, he’ll be better in this regard.
  • As a team the Lakers must cover the three point line. Orlando’s offense is as good as it is because they thrive on the most efficient shots in basketball – the ones taken by Howard at the rim and the ones by their shooters behind the arc. Last night the Lakers let the Heat get off from behind the line and they didn’t have the fire power to keep pace running their deliberate half court sets. Tonight, the same thing can happen if the Lakers don’t get out to shooters.
  • The Lakers must control the glass. They’ve been out-rebounded far too often in recent games and with Howard gobbling up boards, the Lakers can’t afford to let him go wild. Control the backboards to limit them to one shot and use their size advantage at other positions to create extra shots of their own.
Tonight is an important game and the Lakers need to try and salvage a split before going back to Los Angeles. The Magic will be shorthanded and even on the 2nd night of a back to back, the Lakers must bring the effort needed to get this win.

Where you can watch: 5pm start time on ESPN and KCAL. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.

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.

Friday Forum

Dave Murphy —  January 20, 2012

A game with a little good and a lot of ugly last night – this time it was in Miami, and this time we didn’t win. I’m not at all surprised about losing to the Heat. We may not like it, but it’s hardly unexpected. The larger question mark, is the road itself. What little the Lakers have seen so far, hasn’t been encouraging – one win, five losses. They’re about to see a whole lot more. Out of the next 12 games, nine are away. It’ll be a tough, revealing three weeks. There’s a lot of food for thought today, from Coach Brown leaving his starters in to the bitter end against Miami, to the game ahead against the Magic.

Brian Kamenetzy, at ESPN’s Land O’Lakers: I realize the Lakers get virtually no practice time, so Mike Brown has to use games as his laboratory … but if ever there was a game to go full Popovitch and sit the starters down, this was it. There was absolutely no way the Lakers were going to make up the gap, and I don’t think full speed practice against an amped Miami team was going to help iron out the offensive kinks. Meanwhile, there’s another game tomorrow, and another following Sunday, both against playoff-caliber teams. Sit. Them. Down. What was gained in the fourth, other than a slightly tighter score?

Dexter Fishmore at Silver Screen and Roll: This was the game, I suspect, that could make Laker fans start to turn on Mike Brown. It’s not his fault that his team can’t shoot threes, but there are large problems with this Laker offense. For three quarters it lurched along well below a point per possession. The passing was slop, there was very little creative ball movement, and nobody on the Lakers seems to know what they’re supposed to do when a double-team arrives. The Heat didn’t even double that often, but it seemed like whenever they did the doubled-up Laker attempted a crap pass that got picked off. Even after the Lakers put up 31 points in the garbage-time fourth they just barely finished above a point per possession for the game. I get that the systems are new and practice time scarce, but 16 games into the season no team with the Lakers’ talent should be this bad at scoring

Eddy Rivera at Magic Basketball, did a three-on-three for tonight’s game against the Magic, with the Land O’Lakers’ Andy Kamenetzky, and our our own Darius and Phillip. Sample question, “why is Kobe Bryant using up so many possessions on offense?

Barnett: A lot of it has to do with his new found freedom without the constraints of the triangle. He’s handling the ball more because of the lack of point guard reliability, and Pau Gasol still hasn’t found his way in Mike Brown’s system. His ridiculous usage rate will be problematic in the offense’s development as the season progresses.

Kamenetzky: The pragmatist in me blames an early schedule allowing virtually no practices to learn a new system. Thus, as Mike Brown has noted, Kobe’s been summoned to keep a somewhat offensively-limited team afloat. The pessimist in me says Brown’s catering too much to 24, who’s already motivated to show up Father Time and any doubters. In reality, it’s probably a little of both.

Soriano: The answer to this is actually complex but in simplistic terms, he’s the only perimeter playmaker the Lakers have and remains their main scoring weapon. When a team is as reliant on one player to both score and set up his teammates as the Lakers are with Kobe, a high usage rate results.

Adrian Wojnarrowski at Yahoo Sports: When this 98-87 beating by the Heat was over on Thursday, Bryant had settled into something rarely seen in these circumstances. Something between resignation and exasperation. The offense feels like a mess because it is. These Lakers are fumbling for an identity with Mike Brown that isn’t there, waiting on their new coach to come to conclusions and push past the experimentation of too many games, too little practice time. This is a grind of a season for everyone. The sport is suffering with disjointed, choppy games hard on the eyes and soul. Everything feels like a fire drill. Bryant didn’t go back into American Airlines Arena and take more shots like a year ago. He wrapped his right hand in that big protective mitt for his wrist, and marched out of a loss that will linger with these Lakers.

Mark Medina at the L.A. Times, Lakers Now blog: Brown has clearly outlined that the Lakers’ offense rests on Bryant finding shots on the elbows and baseline, while Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum work the post. But his conflicting messages on Bryant’s shooting volume and the balance he wants on offense adds little clarity to an offense already without structure. Some might argue that the Lakers’ quest to continually tweak and fix things eventually will work out. The grinding mentality may at least ensure some wins no matter how ugly. And the Lakers’ hope to land Dwight Howard or Deron Williams before the trade deadline could make these concerns mute. But it’s also easy to see how this could mark the beginning of the Lakers’ flimsy foundation falling apart. In most cases, the Lakers at least embrace the intent behind the long practices. They remain patient with the shuffling lineups. And they’re eager to learn all the new information thrown their way. It won’t take long, however, for that enthusiasm to wane. Performances such as the Lakers’ loss to Miami will only accelerate that frustration even more.

Mark Travis at the Chase Down Block:  It has been abundantly clear what Kapono’s role has been for Mike Brown: spread the floor. When the Lakers get into slumps offensively, specifically from the outside, Brown normally goes to Kapono to force the defense to play at least one of the Lakers perimeter players honestly. In theory, the career 44% three-point shooter should be able to keep defenders from collapsing on Los Angeles’ big men, but so far it has been the 2010-11 version of Kapono showing up for the Lakers. The one that played in just 24 games last season for the 76ers. The reason is quite simple: Kapono is a spot-up shooter at this stage in his career, but Lakers don’t give defenses any reasons to cheat off of Kapono. He is rarely in the game with both Bynum and Gasol, so on post-ups, defenses aren’t doubling with his man, they’re doubling with Troy Murphy or Josh McRobert’s defender. And when he’s in the game with Metta World Peace, defenses leave him on purpose to double team the Laker big men. Kapono can still knock down the spot up jumper – he’s shooting 44% on 18 spot-up chances this season – but 18 looks in 10 games is a very small number.

Mike Bresnahan, the L.A. Times: The Lakers’ locker room was quiet after the game, but there were fireworks at halftime, Coach Mike Brown loudly telling players to trust their defense.The problem, however, is the offense.”It’s under construction,” Bryant said dryly. “We’re still working on the blueprints, actually.” And that feels …? “Strange,” he said after so many seasons of the triangle offense. Remember Pau Gasol? He actually played well, following up his invisible eight-point game against Dallas with 26 against Miami. Andrew Bynum had 15 points but made only six of 13 shots. “When I get it, I’ve got to do something with it,” he said. “If I’m not doing anything, then they’re going to have to skip over [me].” Bynum played all 12 minutes of the fourth quarter. The Lakers play in Orlando on Friday. “I wanted to see our guys fight,” Brown said. “I didn’t care what the score was at that point. They did [fight], so it’s a confidence-builder for me and hopefully it’s a confidence-builder for them too.” The Lakers shot 31% in the first half and trailed at the break, 52-37. “We normally play hard, but tonight just wasn’t one of those nights,” Bryant said. Or, as Bynum said, “It stinks, man. It stinks.”

***

The Lakers have not played an elite style of basketball this season. They have however, shown character. They’ve become a team that punches in the clinches, they play like journeymen on their own home court. Now, we get to find out if the road is the great equalizer, whether adversity will bring them closer together or as some seem to feel, if the foundation will start to crumble.  As the saying goes, fasten your seat belts – we’re in for a bumpy ride.

– Dave Murphy

 

 

Box score: Lakers 87, Heat 98
Offensive Efficiency: Lakers 97.7, Heat 110.2
True Shooting %: Lakers 49.4%, Heat 52.7%

The Good:
Pau Gasol was excellent in this game. He was aggressive early, scoring eight points (on 3-of-4 from the field) in the game’s opening five minutes, crashed the offensive glass (two early, four for the game) and for the second straight game recapped by yours truly, nailed a 3-points from the corner. In all, Pau logged 37 minutes, hitting on 11 of 19 shots (one miss was a desperation heave from 35 feet out) – eight of those from inside 10 feet – for his 26 points, grabbing eight boards (including the aforementioned four offensive rebounds) and turning the ball over just once. It’s tough to see in the moments immediately following such a fiery wreck, but Pau Gasol’s performance on Thursday night was legitimately a thing of beauty.

Let’s see, what else have we got to cling to in the aftermath of a loss that would have felt artificially close at double the 11-point margin? Well, Metta World Peace connected on a pair of jumpers from beyond the arc, doubling his season total for made 3-pointers and nearly doubling his hit rate from long range- to 12.9%. So, uh, yeah… there’s that.

Best of all though? I had “Bad” and “Ugly” pretty well sorted out by halftime. So… thanks, guys!

The Bad:
Where to begin…

In the Lakers’ defense (words that will not be bandied about frequently in the aftermath of this showing) a significant chunk of Miami’s 15-point half time lead was courtesy of an awesome 3-point barrage, in which the Heat drained an 61.5% of their 13 attempts from beyond the arc. Beyond that, however, the story on Thursday night was one of effort and execution, and at every turn the Lakers were found wanting.

The game was tight early, with the Lakers poised to exploit their superiority on the front line. With Pau Gasol storming out of the gate (see above) and Andrew Bynum aggressively hitting the glass in the opening minutes, it looked as though the NBA’s best big man tandem would set the tone. Sadly, however, just over six minutes into the first quarter, Chris Bosh disposed of Gasol with a pump fake and attacked the chest of Andrew Bynum, drawing the Laker big man’s first foul of the night while draining a twisting jumper from the middle of the key. Just 23 seconds later, with the Heat leading 12-10 in a nip-tuck start, Bynum was whistled for a second on his opposite number, Joel Anthony. This sent ‘Drew – and his three early rebounds and incredible wingspan around the rim – to the Lakers’ bench, prematurely. Given Miami’s hot shooting, the Lakers’ depressing lack of effort on defense (even Kobe, which is unconscionable) and abysmal execution on offense, it’s debatable whether an uninterrupted (he did end up playing a “full” game, 37 minutes) game for Bynum – who did manage 15 points and 12 rebounds (though only one on the offensive glass) – would have dramatically altered the outcome.

It’s tough to argue that Bynum’s presence wouldn’t have at least presented a flu-ridden LeBron James with a higher degree of difficulty as he dissected the Laker defense, but there was no stopping LeBron on Thursday. In the first half he made half of his eight shots (for 13 points), and added six rebounds and six assists – five of which were on 3-pointers. He was every bit as dominant after the break – though now more aggressive about looking for his own shot and helping tighten the defensive screws as Miami opened up a well-deserved 23-point lead. He finished the game having played 37 minutes, during which he made 12 of 27 field goals attempts, a shockingly pedestrian line in a virtuoso 31-8-8 (plus four steals and three blocks!) performance.

The Lakers, meanwhile, failed (miserably) to execute on offense, with horrible spacing in the half court, no fast break to speak of and Miami’s aggressive D not only neutralizing Kobe Bryant on the pick and roll, but relegating the Mamba to an evening of contested, long two-pointers (more on this in a sec). That this team lacks the depth and offensive firepower we’ve come to expect from the Lakers is a) hardly news and b) not insurmountable against most NBA squads. What is disconcerting, however, is the ease with which the Heat were able to totally discombobulate the Lakers, sapping their attack of any rhythm and cohesiveness.

Now, it is important to remember that this is merely one game out of a slate of 66 – just 1.5% of the regular season – and that the team administering the beating is arguably the best in NBA. HOWEVER, it is also worth noting that this opponent, administerer of said beatdown and arguably the NBA’s best… managed the feat with one of the best two-guards of all time in a suit.

The Ugly:
Engage any knowledgeable observer of basketball in a conversation about offensive efficiency and it’s unlikely that you’ll have to wait very long to have pointed out to you that offensively efficient teams a) take advantage of their opportunities in the paint and b) do not settle for long 2-point jump shots.

I submit, for your disapproval and dismay, the Lakers’ shot chart from January 19, 2012 in Miami:

 

Play of the Game:
The Lakers’ execution on offense on Thursday was appalling. Early foul trouble prevented their anchor in the middle from ever really finding his groove. And the best basketball player on Planet Earth laid waste to their defense. These things happen. Sometimes a better team just kicks your ass.

However, cliché though it may be, hustle should never slump. For every facet of the game in which the Heat bested the Lakers, the most maddening was in the area of effort. According to Kobe Bryant, the Heat simply “played harder” than the Lakers did on Thursday night. When asked if the Lakers fought back against their opponents, Andrew Bynum replied “not really.”

I get it. Long regular season. Off night. Condensed schedule. LeBron is really good. The emotional return of Eddy Curry. I get it. Ya can’t win ‘em all. But can we please, please covert our breakaway layups when spotted 30 feet and a head of steam?