Archives For January 2012

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

Box Score: Lakers 96, Pacers 98.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.