Archives For January 2012

Records: Lakers 10-5 (5th in West), Heat 9-4 (5th in East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 101.9 (18th in NBA), Heat 107.7 (4th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 97.6 (5th in NBA), Heat 99.6 (7th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Matt Barnes, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Heat: Mario Chalmers, James Jones, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Joel Anthony
Injuries: Lakers: Steve Blake & Derrick Caracter (both out); Heat: Dwyane Wade (questionable), LeBron James (game time decision)

The Lakers Coming in: How much good will rest some rest do? We should find out tonight as the Lakers got their first consecutive days off of the season on Tuesday and Wednesday. And while some of that time was used for travel, the team could practice, get in some uninterrupted treatment on nagging bumps and bruises (like Pau’s shoulder or Kobe’s wrist – which is more than a bump or bruise), and generally rest some weary legs. No one had played more games than the Lakers to this point in the season and for a team that’s relied pretty heavily on veteran players (especially Kobe and Pau who are logging heavy minutes), getting some time to recuperate can only help. If they spent some of that time off getting more familiar with how to attack on offense, even bettter.

The Heat Coming in: The Heat have lost 3 of 4 with their latest game (a home win over the Spurs) breaking their 3 game skid of road losses. They’re a bit banged up as Wade is unlikely to play due to an ankle/foot problem but his absence hasn’t really been felt as the team has found plenty of wing production from their crop of reserves. This team is still a work in progress however, as they adjust to new parts and an old face that is working his way back into the lineup.

Shane Battier was added during the off-season for his veteran savvy, defense, and outside shooting. Rookie Norris Cole (a player I had interest in this past draft as a potential Laker) has stepped into Miami’s lineup as their back up point guard, bringing speed and confidence where last year’s 2nd PG (Mike Bibby) had little of either. And then there’s Mike Miller who returned to the lineup in the aforementioned win over the Spurs by hitting all six of his three pointers to the tune of 18 points. Integrating these three players into the lineup (while also dealing with injuries) has meant that the Heat haven’t quite hit their stride as a team (9-4 is nothing to scoff at, but that’s still only good for 5th in the East as of today) but they’re showing their potential in nearly every game.

In the end, they have the talent on both sides of the ball to rightfully retain their status as a title favorite. And should they put it together, they may just get there this year. 

Heat Blogs: The Heat Index does a tremendous job covering this team. You should be reading their work.

Keys to game: Kobe vs. LeBron! Mike Brown vs. LeBron! Pau vs Bosh! Bynum vs Eddy Curry! Okay that last one was a bit of a joke but you get my point. Tonight there’s a lot of individual match ups to look at.

Missing Wade is actually quite a big deal tonight because he offers that second perimeter threat that forces Kobe to expend a lot of energy on defense. And while James Jones (and Mike Miller) offer outside shooting (and in Miller’s case the ability to create off the dribble) they’re not the force that Wade is. So, tonight, Kobe can focus more on offense and as long as he’s active in closing out on his man, his defensive responsibility is diminished.

Offensively, though, Kobe will have a great deal of responsibility as he’ll again drive the car and be the key perimeter decision maker for the Lakers. It of course starts with his scoring and his ability to get open for good looks when moving off the ball. I expect that Kobe will see a variety of defenders tonight (Jones, Battier, LeBron, Miller) but the plan should mostly be the same vs. all of them. Kobe needs to work 18 feet and in as much as possible and preferably below the foul line when he’s looking to score. These are his money spots and even elite defenders (like LeBron) will struggle with his full arsenal when positioned in these areas. Beyond the scoring, Kobe will also need to show the commitment to setting up his big man that he did vs. Dallas because this is where the Lakers have an advantage.

Bosh is no slouch, of course, but Pau can do damage against the lanky left hander. Running some P&R where Pau can either roll into the paint or pop for his mid-range jumper will get him some good looks at the basket but also don’t discount Pau going into the post a bit more. Bosh is built very similar to Pau but Pau offers a bit more weight and more length. Having Bosh defend the post can have the duel affect of getting Pau going on offense but also putting some burden on Bosh’s legs by having to bang in the post (something that could affect his jumper on the other end).

Bynum too will need his touches on the block and the plan to get Pau going should be duplicated with Bynum. Joel Anthony is a good defensive center, but he’s undersized and should have problems with Bynum’s strength. If Bynum commits to running the floor, he should be able to establish deep post position to get easy baskets. Drew should also be able to take advantage of Anthony’s desire to help at the rim by attacking the offensive glass and hurting the Heat by securing extra possessions or scoring easily on put backs.

Going inside to Bynum and Gasol in a deliberate manner serves another purpose outside of getting the big guys into a groove, though. Being deliberate in this manner also slows the pace of the game and limits Miami’s chances to run out in transition where they thrive. The Heat play at the 2nd fastest pace in the league and love to get out in the open court for easy baskets. Earlier I mentioned Norris Cole’s proclivity for pushing the pace, but LeBron is the player that really brings the wow factor in the open court, hammering his way to the basket and finishing with controlled power. If the Lakers can successfully make the Heat play in the half court, they’ve already done a great deal of work towards limiting the Heat’s offensive effectiveness.

Once in the half court, however, the job doesn’t end as this is where the individual match ups become more important. LeBron has been a terror in half court sets, attackng more from the post while still using his elite athleticism to attack off the dribble in isolation and in the P&R. Matt Barnes will have his hands full banging with James in the post but also shading him towards his help and battling the screens the Heat use to free him up. Tonight’s a night where an engaged and productive MWP would be of great benefit to the Lakers as he has the strength and instincts to slow James and give reprieve to Barnes who will surely expend a lot of energy on D.

(As an aside, the approach the Lakers take to defending LeBron is something I’ll be watching closely. There’s not a coach in the league – save for Erik Spoelstra – that has as good a feel for what LeBron’s strengths and weaknesses are on offense and what his tendencies may be when he’s operating on O. Will the Lakers double team? Will they show the 2nd defender early or late? Will they play any zone? Will they deny him the ball? Whatever tactical answers Brown provides could give us insight into whether Brown thinks LeBron’s strengths are primarily passing, his ability to score, or how well he works off the ball. Should be an interesting night in that regard.)

The other key player is, of course, Chris Bosh. Over the years Bosh’s outside-in game has befuddled the Lakers, hitting countless jumpers and then using the threat of that shot to attack the paint off the dribble. The masterful defense Gasol employed against Dirk on Tuesday will be needed again tonight as they offer similar games (though Bosh is much more conventional in his attack). If Pau can effective contest Bosh’s jumper and stay down on his fakes, bottling him up becomes more likely and thus eliminates a big portion of Miami’s half court offense. However, if Bosh starts to rain jumpers and then drive the ball to get inside to finish, it will be a long, long night for L.A.’s defense.

Lastly, the Lakers need to close down penetration lanes and rotate well to all of Miami’s three point shooters. I mentioned Miller’s perfect night against the Spurs, but beyond him, Jones, Chalmers, Battier, and LeBron can all hit the deep jumper. That said, knowing personnel is also key when rotating and closing out as certain players you want shooting the deep ball (LeBron, Cole) and others you want to force to put the ball on the ground and create off the bounce (Jones, Battier, and to a lesser extent Miller).

While tonight has little impact on the standings and won’t mean much towards any end the year seedings, this is a big game. Anytime these two teams meet, with these star players going head to head, it matters. That said, don’t be surprised if it’s a role player that makes the difference. In the games these teams played last, it was Fisher and Miller’s contributions that swung the game in their team’s direction. Tonight, can Barnes be that guy? MWP? Does Fisher have another heroic effort in him? Or will it be Miller again? Maybe Battier or Cole breaks out? The answers to these questions could end up determining who leaves the arena with the W.

Where you can watch: 5pm tip time on TNT. Also listen live at ESPN Radio 710AM.

Wednesday Storylines

Dave Murphy —  January 18, 2012

Things seem a little quiet on the Western front. The Lakers actually have a second day off in a row. Lamar came to town the other day, still seeking answers. Trade rumors continue, although more tilted toward the Clippers/Howard variety. And then there’s Kobe, playing 38 minutes-per-game with a bad wrist and a platelet-enriched knee. This is Mike Brown’s first dance with the team. It’s tough to sit a star like Kobe Bryant, unparalleled with his desire to win, and with little depth behind him.

As related by Mark Medina at the L.A. Times Lakers blog, Mike Brown talked to Kobe about increasing minutes in the short run, in hopes of building a cushion in the west. (Question: you’ve got 10 teams within a 5-point spread – how do you propose building a cushion?)

With trade rumors continuing to float around lazily, Andy Kamenetzky at ESPN, looks at Bynum versus Howard, through the eyes of the LA. big man, “I don’t make any comparisons,” insisted Bynum, “…I always look up to him and want to be able to get the ball and do the things he does with it.”

Also by Andy, in the K-bros, Land O’Lakers blog, a look at the upcoming roadie which has the Lakers facing the Heat and the Magic on Thursday and Friday back-to-backs.

Speaking of trade rumors, Mike Miller at Yahoo Sports takes a swipe at the above-mentioned Clippers/Dwight Howard variety.

Eric Pincus at Hoopsworld, writes about second-round rookie Darius Morris, getting his moment, far ahead of schedule.

Eric Freeman at Ball Don’t Lie, opines about Michael Jordan’s statement that Kobe Bryant’s the only player who merits comparison.

And last but certainly not least, Jan Hubbard at Sheridan Hoops doesn’t hedge any bets, laying out her view of Kobe’s place on the world stage of basketball – still number one.

***

That’s about all I’ve got folks. not a lot of breaking news. Thanks to Darius for catching the excellent Pincus article. The thread’s open and please, feel free to post links, start a topic or pick one from above.

– Dave Murphy

 

Hardhats In Hollywood

Darius Soriano —  January 17, 2012

There are several storied franchises in the NBA; orgnanizations whose history runs deep with success and the type of glory that others envy. The Lakers are one. So are the Celtics. Even the Knicks carry a cache from their 70’s triumphs and their status as contenders in the mid-80’s and into the 90’s.

But there’s really only one glamour franchise: the Lakers (sorry New York).

It’s a combination of that history of elite success, geography, and star status that make this so. Jack sits courtside while Kobe scores in bunches. Before that the Diesel stalked the court and demolished foes with brute force while charming the masses with catchy one liners and a fun loving personality. Go back further and it was Showtime, the Logo, Elgin, and the Big Dipper. The Lakers have been a franchise that not only won, but did so with style and charisma all while celebrities sat court side. This has been the Laker way.

Fast forward to this season and that’s changed. Not the celebrities part, but the style and charisma part. Oh, Kobe is still scoring in bunches and with Gasol and Bynum flanking him, the team also possess some players with style and substance in their games. But gone is the glitz.

In it’s place is grit. The Lakers no longer play that entertaining style that has fans jumping out of their seats as waves of fast breaks capsize their opponents. They no longer put up boatloads of points with fans cheering for that rub-it-in-basket that the teams of only 2-3 years ago would bury. The team has moved away from an offensive dominant team to a defensive one. They win ugly.

More specifically, they win with defense. Some defensive numbers for you to chew on:

  • The Lakers rank 5th in the NBA in defensive efficiency with a mark of 97.6.
  • They’re also 5th in points per game allowed.
  • They’re 3rd in defensive field goal percentage allowed and 5th in three point field goal percentage allowed.
  • According to Hoopdata, the Lakers allow the 3rd fewest shot attempts at the rim and are 11th in the number of 3 point field goals allowed (the two most efficient shot types in the league). Meanwhile they force the 7th most long two’s (shots from 16-23 feet) in the league.
  • And when shots are put up, they clean their defensive backboards by sporting the 5th best defensive rebound rate in the league.

Ultimately, this team is starting to suffocate teams on defense and it’s leading to the wins we all enjoy. And while it’s not a style that’s particularly pleasant to watch, the results are what matter right?

And this is where Mike Brown deserves credit. He’s refocused this team on getting stops on every possession. He has plus defenders at several positions (Bynum, Gasol, Kobe, Barnes, and Artest) but he’s not just relying on those guys to carry the load. He’s making sure all players rotate to shooters in order to contest shots. He’s holding players accountable by calling timeouts after defensive breakdowns and pulling guys that make multiple mistakes on that side of the floor. He may not have the best athletes doing the chasing, but he’s getting them to bust their humps to force shooters to put the ball on the ground and then getting the rest of the team to rotate behind them to get their backs.

Sometimes the physical limitations of his guys means it doesn’t work. Murphy may not be able to get across the lane quick enough to contest the shot at the rim after a weak side wing gets beat off the dribble. Fisher can’t always effectively challenge the jumpshooter after digging down in the paint to help the post. Gasol or Bynum can’t always get to that big man stretching the floor in the weak side corner. But, even if they don’t get there, you see them trying. The hustle is there even if the results always aren’t.

Early in camp the quotes coming from practices were that the scrimmages were “spirited” and that there was an emphasis on being a body on body defensive team. That’s carried over to the season and so far results speak for themselves. Yes, the offense needs to improve and I’m hopeful they’ll find a formula that works on that side of the ball before this season is up but, for now, Mike Brown has brought a hardhat mentality to Hollywood and it’s paying dividends.

Around these parts we’ve always said that the Lakers will go as far as their defense will take them. That saying was a reflection of the belief that while the Lakers would always have a good enough offense, simply trying to outscore your opponents isn’t a philosophy that’s produced a lot of success. In order to win at the highest level, the Lakers would need to get stops. This year, the Lakers are proving capable of getting those stops (and they’ve needed them considering their offense is only middle of the pack). If they can keep it up throughout the year, they may end up being good enough to get where they want to get. Even if it’s not the path they’d normally take to get there.

Boxscore: Lakers 73, Mavericks 70
Offensive Efficiency: Lakers 83.0, Mavericks 79.5
True Shooting %: Lakers 45.5%, Mavericks 41.9%

The Good:
Derek. Fisher.

The much maligned starting point guard for the Lakers gave us all a bit of crow to eat this night. Many have been wondering how to reduce his role gracefully. After all, the player that’s done so much for this franchise as a clutch shot maker and leader for multiple championship teams deserves respect, but also has deserved less playing time for his play this year. But with Steve Blake on the shelf for a month, any such plan would have to wait and fans, as they’re known to do would complain. And suffer. And complain some more.

Not tonight, though.

Fisher pulled a classic D-Fish performance from his fanny pack and showed everyone that he still has the ability to turn a game in the Lakers’ favor; that he could still impact a game the way that only players comfortable in “the moment” typically do. You see, Fisher didn’t only knock down the game winner on an open three pointer. He got steals and finished in transition too. He dug down on a double team to tip the ball away from Dirk. He hit a PUJIT to push the Lakers’ lead to 7 with only a shade over 4 minutes to go. He didn’t quite take over like it was game 3 of the 2010 Finals, but he put his imprint on the game and led his team to a win. I’m not sure how many more of these Fish has in him, but here’s hoping this isn’t the last time we see this. Because tonight was like turning on the tube and seeing one of your favorite reruns of your favorite shows with about 5 minutes left and knowing that the ending was your favorite part anyway. We all love that feeling and would hate to not have it again.

(Honorable mention #1 goes to the Laker defense and, specifically, the late game D of Pau Gasol on Dirk. Much was made of how Dirk ate Pau’s lunch last spring and those critiques are fair. Dirk was a monster in that series and Pau had front row seats. Tonight though, in the closing minutes, it was different. Pau knew all of Dirk’s pet moves and made his life tremendously difficult. Pau sat on his right shoulder and forced him to his left. Whenever Dirk would step back Pau would read it perfectly and step into his shooting pocket, arms extended, and give the big German no room to get off that deadly jumper. When you look at Dirk’s final line (8-17, 21 points) you’d probably think that the D was only average. You’d be wrong, though. Pau gave an inspired effort down the stretch and deserves his kudos. Without that D, the Lakers may end up losing this game as Dirk definitely had his jumper going after not being able to buy a bucket early.

Honorable mention #2 goes to Andrew Bynum. It’s sort of strange that big Drew can put up a line of 17 points (on 8-13 shooting) with 15 boards and a team high +6 on the night and it kind of be overlooked but that’s where we are with him. He’s not played his best ball lately but tonight his quiet efficiency and strong work on the glass were needed for the Lakers to bring home this win. Late in the game Mike Brown went brought Drew back in for McRoberts and he instantly got a post touch against Lamar Odom (a guy that Drew often sat for in the closing minutes of games in seasons past). Drew went right to work against LO by backing him down on the left block and shooting a little banker right over his extended arms. That bucket was the difference maker in the game, but it did give the Lakers a cushion they’d need considering Fisher’s 3 broke a tie in the closing seconds.)

The Bad:
Sadly, the Lakers’ bench (save for Josh McRoberts) earns this dubious honor. I leave out McRoberts because he played his typical hard nosed, high energy game by giving hard fouls on D and finishing in the paint on O. His 7 points on 3-5 shooting were a nice spark and he played quite well.

The rest of the bench was dreadful, though. MWP went 1-7 and didn’t do much in other aspects of the game to make an impact. Kapono only made 1 of his 3 shots, grabbed only one rebound, and dished a single assist. Meanwhile, Darius Morris didn’t make a shot in his 15 minutes, didn’t hand out a single assist, but committed 3 turnovers. He also over-dribbled a fair amount and insisted on trying to create off the dribble rather than taking the open jumper the defense gave him or simply moving the ball on on quickly and decisively. The young PG has shown in other games that he can be a player in this league but tonight was a contest I’m sure he’d like to forget. And ultimately, the entire bench should join him in simply trying to get this one out of their collective minds as quickly as possible.

The Ugly:
The entire game was ugly. The Lakers may have “won” but their offense didn’t click all night and their defense, while scrappy and effective, left a lot to be desired over long stretches in the first half (a period where I thought the Mavs did well to get good looks that they simply didn’t knock down). In a way, it’s a skill to be able to win games in this manner; to come out on top when Kobe can’t knock down a jumper and Pau misses a bunch of bunnies that are in his wheelhouse. There’s a certain amount of pride a team can take in being able to win a gritty game where so much goes wrong and there’s literally no flow and little momentum to be had. So, in that way, I applaud the Lakers. However, as a fan and a member of the viewing public, this game was mostly horrid save for some big stops and even bigger shots down the stretch.

The Play of the Game:
What else could it be? Derek Fisher does it again and I get goosebumps.

Records: Lakers 9-5 (5th in West), Mavericks 8-5 (7th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 103.2 (12th in NBA), Mavericks 101.8 (18th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 98.9 (6th in NBA), Mavericks 96.8 (3rd in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Matt Barnes, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Mavericks: Jason Kidd, Delonte West, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki, Brendan Hawyood
Injuries: Lakers: Steve Blake and Derrick Caracter (both out); Mavericks: none

The Lakers Coming in: I’ve said this before but it bears repeating: the Lakers are the type of team where depending on whether or not the team wins is what drives the narrative. After every W, the Lakers look like a team that can put it together with a formula of Kobe scoring, their bigs controlling the paint, and one or more role players stepping up to be a difference maker. After every loss, the conversation shifts to Kobe’s shot selection and volume, how that impacts the play of his teammates (especially Pau and Andrew), and whether or not the coach has a handle on his team.

Both story-lines have truth in them but neither is as clear cut as it seems and we’ve seen the epitome of that in the past week where the Lakers went 4 and 1. In the wins, the Lakers played mostly team ball but rode a hot Kobe (and strong defense) to wins. The bigs carried their end and some strong play from Barnes and Blake helped produce the W. In the loss, Kobe again went off but his mates looked disinterested at times and that leads to comments about whether or not the coach has a grip on his superstar or if that superstar can seen the forest through the trees (while the team’s defense and lack of rebounding were largely ignored to instead focus on those sexier story-lines).

In the end, I prefer to think that, like tonight’s opponent, the Lakers are a work in progress that needs more of the season to truly find their identity as a team. They’re even more top heavy than in season’s past and that means an off game by one or more of the big three makes a W more unlikely. The bench, meanwhile, has some talent but the roles aren’t yet fully defined and injuries to key contributors to that group haven’t allowed a real chemistry to develop at this early stage. Add it all up and the margin of error on any given night is as thin as it’s been in any competitive season since 2003 which leaves nearly everyone a bit on edge. I think it will get better but time will reveal if that’s accurate.

The Mavericks Coming in: The Mavs are a definite work in progress but have rebounded from a slow start to get (somewhat) back on track. After losing their first three games of the season, they’ve won eight of ten by feasting on teams that championship teams are supposed to. This has led to a bump in their statistical profile as they’ve racked up big wins against the Kings (99-60) and the Bucks (102-76), while also putting up double digit wins against the Hornets and Pistons. Again, this is not a murderer’s row of opponents but the schedule is what it is and I can guarantee if they’d lost to these teams the questions about whether or not this team is any good at all would be tossed around.

But while these wins have quieted some of the critics, real questions do remain. The Mavs lost Tyson Chandler and JJ Barrea – both, vital contributors to their championship – to free agency and and also lost Caron Butler (a key to their early season success last year). They’ve replaced these players with names we all recognize – Lamar Odom, Vince Carter, and Delonte West – but it remains to be seen if those three can reproduce the magic and chemistry that their predecessors produced in last year’s run to the title.

Speaking of Odom, I’d be remiss if I at least didn’t touch on the former Laker that is so missed by so many. His campaign has been mostly miserable so far, though he’s had some better games in the past couple weeks. After first joining the Mavs he was distant and out of place as criticism about his conditioning and mental preparedness were leveled by his coach. It’s since come out that he went so far as considering taking a year off after another trying summer where tragedy and then attempted trades left him feeling neither relaxed nor wanted. It’s hard to know how long his funk will last or if he’ll ever truly find his game in Dallas but I have my doubts on both counts. Not because Odom is suddenly some broken player or that his regression is a falling back to earth of numbers that were career bests last year but because I wonder if Odom really fits into what Dallas does on both sides of the ball. Odom’s best working as a leader and grew into that role in LA after many up and down years where it was only he and Kobe and Phil that were the constants. After the the emergence of Bynum and then that same season the Gasol trade, Odom found his niche as the player that could do it all while filling in all the gaps on a roster that offered him that flexibility. Meanwhile, with this Dallas group, the leadership is covered with Kidd, Dirk, and Terry and the jack of all trades style he’s played while working off of other star players is less available due to the presence of a similar player (Marion) and the more rigid confines of a roster that’s much more specialized. Does this mean that Odom can’t find a role? Of course not – he’s much too talented to write off. That said, in a shortened season with little security beyond this year, the man that wears his emotions on his sleeve and has the game that thrives off his connection to his mates may not get to that point with this team.

Mavericks Blogs: I love the work that Rob Mahoney and crew do at The Two Man Game. That site is well worth your time.

Keys to game: I could go on and on about X’s and O’s here (as I love to do) but the biggest factor in this game will be revenge. The Lakers want it and the Mavs want to bury it like they did all those jumpers last May.

This is the first meeting since the Lakers were dispatched like an injured thoroughbred at the hands of the Mavericks last spring. The fact that the Mavs went on to claim the championship only enhances those bitter feelings (Some would argue losing to the eventual champ provides some solace, but do you think Kobe feels that way? Fisher? Gasol? Bynum? Me neither.) So the Lakers will be looking to right the wrongs of last season even though tonight’s result won’t erase those losses.

With that in mind, so much of tonight will come down to energy and focus. It will come down to keeping a level head while giving everything you have inside to win. Often times is easy to lose the needed steadiness it takes to compete at this level when emotions run high and this is what the Lakers will be up against tonight. They badly want to beat the Mavs; they probably want to humiliate them. Staying calm in the face of that desire will be key. Having Odom in the enemy garb only complicates this.

Of course, doing actual basketball things well will matter too. Gasol will get a steady diet of Dirk tonight and the Spaniard will need to have his legs under him to chase around screens and contest jumpers. Dirk’s unconventional game doesn’t lead to having a plan on any given possession, so Gasol will simply need to play him straight up but with a step into him to better contest the J and encourage the drive a bit more. On the other end, Pau can’t let Dirk off easy by settling for the jumper every time down. Gasol’s been much more perimeter oriented of late and that’s mostly by design in order to free up Kobe’s work in the mid post and Bynum’s at the deep block. However, moving Pau to his preferred left block to make Dirk defend can also be designed and I hope to see some of that tonight. Pau can still work over his Euro counterpart in that area of the floor and the Lakers would be wise to let him give it a go.

Kobe’s role in this is also key, of course. He’s been feeling his offense lately and that will of course lead to him attacking. But the bigger question is who will Kobe be going after. The Mavs are likely to start Delonte West at SG but he’s too small to guard Kobe so that leaves Kidd or Marion. Either offer an interesting match up as Kidd will be better chasing Kobe off picks while Marion offers the size to disrupt Kobe’s post ups and wing isolations. In any event, the Mavs are likely to cross match on D and that could give the Lakers a chance to do some damage in early offense should they actually push the ball and try to initiate their sets early in the clock. Because while the Mavs retreat and seek out their man, the Lakers can run the ball, have their bigs go to the front of the rim and set up shop to get the types of easy baskets that can make half court match ups a moot point.

The Last key I’ll be looking at is how much zone the Mavs play. The Lakers haven’t seen much of this D this season but in year’s past it befuddled them. I’d bet that the Mavs want to see if the Lakers can hit enough jumpers to make them stop sitting in Kobe, Bynum, and Pau’s laps in the low and shallow post by throwing the zone at them early in the game. This could be a contest where Kapono and Murphy end up needing to be the role players that make a difference.

Where you can watch: (A hopeful) 7:30 start time on TNT. Also listen live on ESPN Radio 710AM.

Kobe’s Week To Remember

Darius Soriano —  January 15, 2012

With last night’s loss to the Clippers, the conversation has once again shifted from Kobe’s scoring brilliance to his shot volume and how it affects the rest of his team. That’s a topic for another day, though. Today, instead, I simply want to appreciate what he’s been able to do on the court as a reminder of how great a scorer he can be. Despite the ailments, Kobe’s attacking the rim, sinking his jumper, and moving off the ball in a way that reminds of the player from several seasons ago. As a Mavs fan tweeted me last night, Kobe’s made the Lakers appointment viewing this week and coming from a fan of a rival, I think that’s really saying something. So, sit back and enjoy Kobe’s week that was: starting on Tuesday, 4 straight 40 point efforts in a 5 night span that I’ll remember for some time.

Box Score: Lakers 94, Clippers 102
Offensive Efficiency: Lakers 109.3, Clippers 118.6
True Shooting %: Lakers 57.0%, Clippers 55.7%

The Good:
I suppose people will point to Kobe Bryant dropping another 40+ game. After all, he pretty much kept the Lakers within striking distance in a game that was basically controlled by the Clippers for the most part. He finished with 42 points and shot 14 for 28 so it was still efficient despite the crazy perimeter shots he took. Kobe had a monster 3rd quarter where he scored 21 points and helped cut the lead down to 74-72 near the end of the stanza.

I’m going to point out Andrew Bynum’s disappearing act on the offensive end later but it was nice to see him continue being aggressive on the boards. He ended up with 16 so, at least, Drew is doing other things that don’t involve scoring.

Despite the sloppiness seen throughout the game, the Lakers only turned the ball over nine times (a nice drop from 17 against Cleveland). And they did show some energy in the 3rd quarter when the game got chippy. It was good to see the Lakers show that kind of moxie (even if it is for one quarter) even though they were playing their fourth game in five nights.

I’ll commend the Lakers for keeping the Clippers’ shooting percentage at 41.2 percent (they were mostly held under 40 percent throughout the game) but maybe it’s a product of the Clippers not really playing as smart and the Clippers missing shots that they should be making.

And, hey, the Lakers bench outscored the Clippers bench, 13-11! That’s good, right? Hello?

I suppose it’s fatigue but while we know that the Lakers are going to have trouble going against athletic squads like the Clippers, you wonder what would happen if they had enough energy the entire game. Nevertheless, they weren’t good enough to keep that winning streak going. Their run stops at 5 games.

The Bad:
On the surface, it looked like Pau Gasol (14 points and 10 boards) and Bynum (12 points and 16 boards) had good games. But they seemed so invisible in the second half (with Bynum last scoring with 6:20 left in the third and Pau last scoring with 10:44 left in the game). It really goes both ways. Yes, we know Kobe goes into this mode where he’s unconscious and just wants to score. But, hey, the bigs gotta demand the ball, too. I’m not saying give them more shots but give them more touches in the post (not shoot jumpers, Pau) to set up better shots for any Laker. Go inside-out. I mentioned yesterday that basketball can be a very simple game to play but sometimes, I wonder why they want to make it as hard as brain surgery.

How about the boardwork? The Lakers were crushed in the rebound department early on. They were able to whittle it down to a final of 50-42 boards in favor of the Clippers but the Clippers are the worst rebounding team in the league (with the Lakers being second best). Besides the fatigue, that seems inexplicable to me. Our favorite ball-grabber from the Clippers, Reggie Evans, had eight off the bench (six on the offensive end). For a guy that played only 17 minutes, he seemed to make more of an impact than Gasol and Bynum.

I’d like to see more inside-out play from the Lakers. I did notice Bynum’s face; he seemed a little upset about not getting touches. Maybe he should be more vocal about it. More communication, please.

Overall, the Lakers looked very lethargic on both sides out there. Sure, blame it on the fatigue and their heavy schedule and all teams are going to have a dud or two or twenty per season. The day off will do them well before they have to go against Dallas on Martin Luther King day.

As far as time off goes, it may get easier for the Lakers. They have played 14 games so far (tied with the Bulls for most games played in the league).

The Ugly:
It’s ugly on the Lakers side as Chris Paul dissected the Lakers all game long with 33 points and 6 assists. Whoever guarded Paul never stood a chance and while I applaud Darius Morris for his efforts, efforts just aren’t good enough, sometimes.

The game, overall, was hard to watch despite the fanfare. Both teams shot less than 40 percent for the most part and even though they only had 9 turnovers each, it seemed like the Lakers had trouble passing it to the post, there were a lot of botched plays, and, all the while, the referees mostly let them play this ugly brand of basketball. It was Slop City at its finest (yeah, I couldn’t help but make a Lob City reference… kill me).

The Play Of The Game:
On a Laker fastbreak in the third quarter, Kobe passed it to Andrew Bynum down the lane where Bynum made a nice spin move into a dunk as Chauncey Billups held him. It was nice footwork and a pretty play by Bynum and I thought this was going to be something of a surge by Bynum.

It wasn’t. That was the last time he scored in the game.

Lakers play the Mavericks on Monday where I figure an irritated Bynum is going to take his frustrations out on Roddy Beaubois. Maybe. That or we can see Kobe try to gun for 40 for the fifth straight game. That would be kinda fun.

Records: Lakers 9-4 (2nd in West), Clippers 5-3 (6th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 100.3 (14th in NBA), Clippers 104.2 (6th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 94.8 (4th in NBA), Clippers 102.1 (22nd 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), Jason Kapono (day-to-day), Derrick Caracter (out); Clippers: none.

The Lakers Coming in: The Lakers have won five games in a row with the most recent victory coming at home against the Cleveland Cavaliers. During the winning streak, the Lakers have held opponents to 86.8 points per game on 41.6 percent field goal shooting.

The defense is one of the stingiest in the league and has kind of gotten lost in the shuffle of Kobe’s spectacular three-game scoring stretch.

In addition, Matt Barnes seems to have a stranglehold on the starting small forward position. The UCLA product has been solid on defense and has also contributed on offense within the flow of the game. During the Lakers win streak, Barnes has been averaging 12.2 points and 6.8 rebounds on 61.5 percent shooting from the field and 37.5 shooting from 3-point range.

His easy transition opportunities as well as his long range shooting have given the purple and gold new options on offense that the team did not have early on in the season.

The Clippers Coming in: The Clippers are coming off a thrilling home overtime victory against the Miami Heat. Chris Paul was at his absolute best, scoring late in the shot clock and setting up the likes of Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Caron Butler for open shots.

As good as Paul is, the Clippers rely too much on him; especially in late game situations. Far too often, the Clips fail to show any variety in their play-calling, preferring instead to simply run a pick-and-roll and go with whatever options they get from the set. The end result is that Paul ends up always having the ball at the top of the key with a bigger defender (a lot of teams like to switch in pick-and-roll defense late in games to avoid giving up uncontested shots) guarding him as he explores his options. Usually he can blow by the defender but finishing is typically an issue because of the bigger player that’s there to contest this shot.

These situations presented themselves against the Trail Blazers and the Bulls; and until a more fluid offense is used late in fourth quarters, it is quite possible that the Clippers will have issues scoring the ball in late game situations.

Clippers Blogs: Make sure to have a look at Clipperblog for some solid Clippers coverage; but one can also direct their attention at The No Look Pass.

Keys to game: The Clippers present an interesting matchup for the Lakers because they have the speed, quickness and ball-handling skills at the point guard position to get by the Lakers perimeter defenders and score in the lane or dish off to their big men that can finish at the basket. Also, if Paul or Mo Williams are able to get inside the lane and take high percentage shots, the Clippers big men are smart enough to get into position for offensive rebounds and they also have the athletic ability to finish over the Lakers’ frontline.

In addition, the Clippers are one of the few teams capable of giving both Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum fits. Indeed, DeAndre Jordan’s length will make it tough for Bynum to finish at the rim and although Griffin is not exactly a great defender, what he brings to the table on offense may progressively wear down Pau Gasol.

With that said, in the two preseason games in December, the Clippers were victorious against the Lakers because they did three things extremely well:

1. Turnovers: they forced the Lakers to commit a boatload of turnovers and then ran back the other way and got some easy transition opportunities.

2. Rebounding: The Clippers lost the rebounding battles in both games but managed to stay close in terms of offensive rebounds. Second chance opportunities should be a huge factor in this contest.

3. 3-point shooting: The Lakers have given up a lot of open 3-point attempts so far this season, and the Clips happily took advantage of the Lakers inability to close out on shooters by shooting a combined 21-for-48 from deep.

If the Lakers can do a better job in these areas against the Clippers, they should have the chance to win the game late. It’s worth noting that the Clippers do not have a player on the roster capable of making Kobe truly work for his points.

Where you can watch:  7:30pm start time on FSN Prime Ticket but the game will also be on national television courtesy of NBA TV. Also liven live on ESPN Radio 710AM.