Archives For February 2012

THE GOOD
I ate some ice cream tonight, and that was as good as it got for me watching this game. The Lakers came out lethargic for the most part, Mike Brown had some awkward rotations, and the Lakers couldn’t defend a thesis proving that 1+1 is 2. However, the Lakers starting bigs were efficient. Pau recorded a 17 and 12 line on six-for-11 shooting while Bynum chipped in 16 and 10 on seven-for-12 shooting. Pau and Bynum combined for 56 percent shooting while the rest of the roster shot 40 percent from the field. Pau and Bynum took advantage of the touches they were given and we even saw some nice interior passing between the two on a nice Pau over the shoulder pass to a cutting Bynum for an easy layup. Other then those two, it was awfully hard to find any good from tonight’s performance. Kobe was instrumental in keeping the game closer than what it should have been. Bryant scored a game high 32 points to go along with seven rebounds and five assists.

THE BAD
The Lakers role players and reserves weren’t much help tonight, and haven’t been much help at all on the road this season. The Kobe/Pau/Bynum triumvirate accounted for 65 of the Lakers 90 points, more than half of the Lakers rebounds and more than half of the Lakers assists. Although the Lakers’ big three were tops for the team, they were far from perfect as Kobe, Pau and ‘Drew accounted for 15 of the team’s 18 turnovers (Kobe had 10 of his own — double-double!). And for the second straight game, the Lakers had trouble dealing with Marcin Gortat. In Friday’s game, Gortat got off to a great start in the first half, but they largely went away from him in the second half. Tonight, they continued to give Gortat in the third and no one had an answer for the Polish Hammer. Gortat scored 21 and 15 and looked like the best big man on the floor for the night. Also, a few bad rotations and poor effort on closing out on shooters — mainly Jared Dudley and Channing Frye — led to a combined 38 points and nine rebounds. Steve Nash was the driving force behind the Suns’ offense as usual, especially early. Nash got things going with seven of his 14 assists in the first quarter, helping the Suns get out to a huge early lead that the Lakers just weren’t able to overcome.

THE UGLY
The Lakers were able to kind of make a game out of what looked as if it would be a blow out. This falls in the ugly category because it led to Kobe playing 40 minutes and Pau playing 36. The Lakers were able to bring the lead down from 25 to 10 more than once in the fourth quarter, and with the score just a few possessions away from the lead, Mike Brown continued to go with Kobe and Pau down the stretch in a game that was a lost cause from the beginning. Tomorrow, the Lakers will be playing their third game in four nights, and their second of a back-to-back against a very good Portland Trailblazers team, despite what their record says. Even though the game was closer than what it should have been, we never got the feeling that the Lakers might come back and win this thing as they never brought the lead below 10 points. It’s nights like this that Mike Brown is going to have to learn to rest his guys and hope things go better the next night — especially this season with the condensed schedule. This is an old Lakers team, and having your main guys playing 40 minutes on the first of a back-to-back in a game that was never really in reach just isn’t a smart way to handle the minutes and a basketball team. It’s not a foregone conclusion that Kobe and Pau will have tough nights, but Kobe has historically struggled against Gerald Wallace and Portland has a few formidable front line defenders to give Gasol some problems when he’s doing anything other than shooting that 15-footer. I’m just not a fan of the way Brown handled tonight’s minutes (not to mention the rotations earlier in the game). I’ll be interested in seeing how Brown manages Kobe’s and Gasol’s minutes tomorrow night.

Records: Lakers 18-12 (5th in West), Suns 12-19 (13th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 103.0 (15th in NBA), Suns 101.7 (21st in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 100.4 (8th in NBA), Suns 105.5 (22nd in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Suns: Steve Nash, Jared Dudley, Grant Hill, Channing Frye, Marcin Gortat
Injuries: Lakers: none; Suns: none

It’s been two days since these teams squared off last and that game looked very much like the one a little over a month ago when the Lakers ran away from the Suns. Some of the details varied but the overall theme was the same: Kobe was nearly unstoppable, the Lakers bigs did a good job of manning the middle on D while contributing enough on O, and the Suns simply couldn’t keep pace.

Today’s game may end up the same way and if it did I don’t think anyone would be surprised. What the Lakers have proven is that they match up well with the Suns, able to take advantage of their perimeter defense by attacking off the bounce and then finishing inside due to the lack of rim protectors. On defense, the Lakers have seen Nash and this system for many years and even if there are still wrinkles that are difficult to stop, the knowledge on how to slow it enough is there.

All that being said, today’s game is not yet in the books and the Lakers playing on the road is always an adventure. So while there are things we know, the outcome of today’s game is not one of them. With that in mind, a few things to look for tonight:

  • How will the Lakers defend the P&R? Last game the Lakers seemed extra focused on the shooters parked on the weak side of the floor and it affected their rotations to the paint to cover the screen man rolling to the hoop. This resulted in Marcin Gortat getting several point blank looks at the hoop that he easily converted. Tonight, will the Lakers rotate sooner to cut off Gortat’s path to the rim or will they once again stick to shooters in the opposite corner for that extra beat to dissuade Nash from passing to that man? There’s not really a good answer to this question as the Suns smartly play capable shooters in that spot and tell their screen man (especially when it’s their Center setting the pick) to crash the paint and make the defense rotate. If the rotation is late, Nash hits the dive man for a shot at the rim. If the rotation is early, Nash picks out a shooter on the weak side to get up an open jumper. For years this was the foundation of their Nash/Amar’e teams and now that Gortat is in Phoenix the same is true. The Lakers, though, will need to be better at defending this action than they were on Friday. My suspicion is that we’ll see crisper rotations to slow the roll man with the hope that a close out can disrupt the outside shooter.
  • Will the Suns double team Kobe? In two games against the Suns, Kobe has totaled 84 points. He’s attacked off the dribble relentlessly to get into an early rhythm and then let his jumper fly to bury the defense. The Suns, meanwhile, mostly single cover him with Hill and Dudley and dare Kobe to keep making shots. So far he’s done it and at some point you have to wonder if that strategy will change. The law of averages says that Kobe will miss some of these shots, but when he’s getting lay-ins and runners in the restricted area I don’t know if relying on misses is that practical.
  • Will the bench’s solid play carry over to the road? Friday the bench poured in 34 points and were key in extending the lead in the 2nd quarter – a stretch that proved to be one of the main factors in the win. The reserves hit shots, played good defense, and played with great confidence. Role players usually have trouble playing on the road, though, and that’s one reason why the Lakers have struggled as the visiting team this season. The Lakers’ bench will need to show that same spark tonight, hit some shots, and play up to the level of their counterparts – you have to figure the Suns’ role players, now at home, will play better than they did on Friday – to help pull out this win. Far too often this season the Lakers’ big three has had to carry the load on the road but with a steadied rotation, here’s hoping the bench has found some semblance of stability that carries over to their production.

Where you can watch: 5:00 start time on KCAL. Also listen live on ESPN Radio 710AM.

In every game preview we write here at FB&G, we try to break down the tendencies of the Lakers opponents, talk about what their strengths are, and discuss how the Lakers can go about attacking their opponent. In a way, this is a mini-scouting report for that game.

What we do here though, is nowhere near what actual scouting departments and coaches do to prepare their team for a specific opponent. NBA teams have advanced scouts at games taking notes on sets and play calls and coaches watching boatloads of tape. They study tendencies of the team and of individual players and produce scouting reports that prepare their guys for the next game.

Over at Land O’ Lakers, Dave McMenamin has gotten his hands on the 52 page Suns scouting report for the Lakers and shares some of the details of it. Here’s a taste, starting with a couple of notes on Kobe:

IN HIS 54 CAREER GAMES AGAINST US, BRYANT IS AVERAGING 26.4 POINTS PER GAME.”

“BRYANT IS FACILITATING FOR THE FIRST THREE QUARTERS, THEN WILL LOOK TO TAKE OVER ON OFFENSE IN THE 4TH QUARTER.”

“HE HAS A LOT OF FREEDOM IN THE OFFENSE, MAKING READS AND WILL BREAK OFF AND GO ON HIS OWN WAY.”

WE CANNOT GO FOR BRYANT’S PUMP FAKES, WHERE HE WILL GET THE DEFENDER IN THE AIR, THEN DRAWS A FOUL.”

And, here’s more on the Lakers’ offense vs. a zone D:

 “OUR ’23’ ZONE CAN BE AN OPTION AGAINST THIS TEAM, AS WE HAD SUCCESS AGAINST THE LAKERS IN THE PLAYOFFS WITH IT.”

“HOUSTON HAD SUCCESS ZONING THE LAKERS EARLIER THIS SEASON.”

TORONTO’S ZONE DEFENSE WAS EFFECTIVE AGAINST THE LAKERS IN THEIR LAST GAME, AND KEPT THE RAPTORS HANGING AROUND UNTILL (sic) THE VERY END.”

There are lots more goodies in McMenamin’s report (including specific notes on other players and the Lakers’ approach on offense) so I suggest going and reading the entire thing. Since the Lakers play the second game of a home and home series with the Suns tonight, it’s interesting to see what their scouts and coaches think of the Lakers.

 

Box Score: Lakers 111, Suns 99
Offensive Efficiency: Lakers 106.7, Suns 95.2
True Shooting %: Lakers 62.9%, Suns 53.3%

It is always fun to watch Steve Nash play. Too bad, the Suns haven’t been as talented as in years past. But, of course, that’s also good news for Laker fans for that it’s an “easier” game for L.A.

THE GOOD
Kobe Bean Bryant. 36 points (18 in the 3rd!), 9 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 steals. 14/25 shooting. Efficient!

Kobe took what the Suns defense gave him and capitalized. The Suns couldn’t stop him. Grant Hill? Jared Dudley? Shannon Brown? No problem. Kobe brought it all out. Left-handed hook shots. Midrange jumpers. Three-pointer on the break. Reverse lay-ups. And the great thing about this? It was all within the flow of the offense.

The ball movement was crisp (26 assists) in today’s game (yes, I get that Phoenix is not a defensive juggernaut), even if it got a little sloppy at times. But, at least, the idea was there to keep the ball moving (I saw cutting! Amazing!). The Lakers were decidedly more patient today and got away with good shots more often than not. As a result of all of this, the Lakers finished with 111 points in tonight’s game, a season high. It is their fourth time hitting 100 (in 30 games) but we hope to see more of this kind of offense from the Lakers. Like I said, it may have been against the Suns… but practice makes perfect and, hopefully, they can do this against tougher defensive squads.

Yes, the big guys (Bynum with 17 and 14) got theirs but it was SO nice to see the Laker bench do something good for a change. Matt Barnes scored a season-high 17 points and snatched 7 caroms. The Laker bench scored 34 points overall and they looked very confident in the second quarter when they sparked an 11-0 run.

The Lakers easily killed the Suns on the boards, 52-36. And the Lakers were better in their shot selection. They only put up 11 three-pointers but they made 5 of them.

This is easily the best I’ve seen the Lakers offense this season (even if they did have a bit of a lull in the fourth quarter). Every player on the court usually touched the basketball in possessions. They attacked the inside with much gusto tonight (whether it’s the bigs bullying or Kobe making his way through… season-high 54 points in the paint!).

The Suns had a hard time scoring in the 3rd, even though they scored 25 points. They missed eight straight shots (mostly jumpshots) as the Lakers packed it in the paint in a key 14-0 3rd quarter run (Suns didn’t score for nearly five minutes). Good to see them give Phoenix a hard time on the defensive end (they also subdued Steve Nash’s scoring: 11 points… even though he did get 17 assists). Most importantly, fans in Staples Center got tacos and Internet L.A. got virtual tacos!

THE BAD
Pau Gasol looked like a sad panda out there. Gasol couldn’t get anything going in the offense and was even missing bunnies out there. He still got his eighth consecutive double double but he got his last few points (he finished with 10 points and 13 boards) when the game was pretty much decided. Gasol looked weary for the most part and I wonder if the trade rumors are starting to take a toll on him.

I would definitely like to see better pick-and-roll play. Our fearless leader, Darius, brought up the fact that the guards are giving up their dribble too early on the pick-and-roll. It pretty much stops the offense and it gives the defense a chance to swarm on the guards.

We saw some of that in the fourth quarter and the Lakers, notorious for blowing leads, gave up a 20-point lead that they built in the 3rd quarter. The Suns managed to cut it down to 5 (with a spectacular Shannon Brown putback slam… hey, remember him?!) before the starters came back to put away the mess. As much as the bench played well, they can’t give up big leads like this. They looked more hesitant in the fourth quarter, quite the opposite from what we saw in the second quarter. Put it away next time, bench, since the starters need as much as rest as they can in this compressed season.

Before the Suns hit that wall in the 3rd quarter, the Lakers couldn’t stop Marcin Gortat. Gortat eventually ended up with 21 points and 16 rebounds but he was less effective in the second half (he had 14 by halftime).

Also, Shannon Brown exploded for 15 points in limited time. I’m sure the Lakers miss his production. Even if he took questionable shots. Right? No? Let’s move on.

THE UGLY
Lakers had 19 turnovers (Suns had 17). Most of this sloppiness occurred in the first half. Steve Blake threw some careless passes. Andrew Bynum still doesn’t seem to know what to do when he draws a two-team. At least, it was against the Suns… and a helter-skelter Suns team at that. Can’t do that against a disciplined team like the Spurs or the Bulls.

Also, I happen to like Metta World Peace personally but that fastbreak where he missed two lay-ups (including a… no-look shot)? Yeah. Ugly. But it made me laugh. Never change, World Peace.

THE PLAY OF THE GAME
It was very early in the first quarter where everybody (well, at least, four players) touched the ball that ended with an Andrew Bynum alley-oop lay-up from a nice pass by Pau Gasol. That was such beautiful basketball that I KNOW we’re capable of seeing from the Lakers. Ball movement is good! Keep it up!

The Lakers and Suns have a rematch on Sunday but this time around, they’ll be in enemy territory. The Lakers have now won three straight and I’m a little bit encouraged, guys! Hopefully, they can keep it rolling as they have a pretty tough schedule before All-Star Weekend.

Why can’t the Lakers play Phoenix every game for the rest of the season? Or ’til the world ends (I ALMOST inserted Britney Spears lyrics here; good thing that I didn’t)?

Records: Lakers 17-12 (5th in West), Suns 12-18 (13th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 102.9 (16th in NBA), Suns 101.9 (20th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 100.6 (10th in NBA), Suns 105.5 (23rd in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Suns: Steve Nash, Jared Dudley, Grant Hill, Channing Frye, Marcin Gortat
Injuries: Lakers: Derek Fisher (probable); Suns: none

The Lakers Coming in: While I take my role in looking at the Lakers objectively very seriously, writing about where they are from game to game is becoming more and more difficult. The reasons for this vary, but mostly it’s because this team doesn’t give you a good read from game to game on where they actually are. They’re simply too inconsistent.

I could tell you this team is finding its stride, having won 3 of their last 4 games and beating a decent Hawks team in the type of game that typically gives any team trouble (the first game back from a long road trip). I could point out the “gut it out” win in Boston, the rocking 1st half against the Raptors (and the fortitude to pull out that win even though they stumbled horribly for most of the final three quarters), and say that this team is starting to find its stride.

I could tell you that despite his struggles all yea,r Ron Artest (yeah, I’m calling him that right now) has started to play better on offense, and his defense is picking up as well. I could point out that Mike Brown is finally settling on his lineups, promoting Steve Blake to de facto lead PG (despite Fisher starting) and giving Goudelock steadier minutes, and that Brown has also settled on a big man rotation, with an assertive Pau and a beasting Bynum appearing more often than not over the past several games.

All in all, I could be happier about in-game things – the play to play effort and execution, the reliance on Kobe in crunch time, etc – but I’ve been mostly happy with the overall effort even though I can nitpick faults. Things have been relatively steady of late. And that’s good. I could also point out that I’ve no idea if any of this will last. Such is the way of these Lakers this year and to bring it back full circle, getting a beat on this team is hard.

The Suns Coming in: If you go on twitter during a Suns game and follow any general group of basketball writers or fans, you’re likely to see the hashtag #freestevenash on your screen multiple times. That’s because, for all intents and purposes, fans want better for one of the more enjoyable players of his era than the team he plays for right now. This isn’t to knock Nash’s teammates, really. But, the Suns are 6 games under .500 and simply aren’t a good team anymore. Their statistical profile shows a team in the bottom third of the league in both offensive and defensive rating and a roster that has some solid players, but not enough quality depth or top-end talent to be a contender. There was a time when the Suns were nearly guaranteed to be a playoff team, and when there, to be a tough out. Those days are long gone.

Meanwhile, Nash is an all-star again this season. He’s posting his highest PER since his MVP seasons, has a true shooting percentage of 64.5%, and an assist percentage (an estimate of the field goals assisted while on the floor) of nearly 59% (that last number is mind boggling, by the way). Simply put, Nash has been an offensive monster this season and he’s doing it all at 37 years of age. Despite it all, though, the Suns can’t win. Maybe that’s an indictment of Nash but I don’t really see it that way. What I see is a team that’s desperate for another playmaker but doesn’t have one. A team that needs a ton of pieces to be competitive each night, but hasn’t got the resources to get them. In a way, it’s sad. Then again, I remember that the Suns kicked the Lakers’ tail when they were in a similar situation (with Kobe at his apex), and my heart grows cold. I find myself not feeling any sympathy for this team. I wish nothing but the best for Nash and with this being his walk year, he can choose a new team to play for next year.

Suns Blogs: Two very good sites to check out: Valley of the Suns and Bright Side of the Sun. Both offer up strong coverage of this team.

Keys to game: In the one game these two teams played this year (a Lakers win), the formula was quite simple: give the ball to Kobe and let him work. Kobe was in the midst of a hot shooting streak and his 48 points against the Suns triggered a four-pack of consecutive 40 point contests. The output was classic Bean and if you read the quotes before the game, you could see it coming (Kobe talked about how he’s not forgotten the playoff losses the Suns put on him during the Smush/Kwame days).

Today, however, the formula will likely need to be different. Not because Kobe isn’t capable of putting up another such game, but because the style in which the Lakers have been playing lately says more balance is in order. Pau and Drew have been coming on of late and are flashing the ability to not only get their own, but to work off each other to make their lives easier. Against the Suns, the Lakers will be best served allowing that to continue by getting Pau the ball at the elbow and the left low block to attack Channing Frye, while getting Drew the ball early in possessions to force the Suns to either double quickly or let Gortat try to play him one on one. Both matchups present an advantage for the Lakers, and both should be exploited early or at least tested out to see if they can be.

Kobe, though, should still play a prominent role in the offense. Lately Kobe’s jumper has been off, but he’s still been key in facilitating the show because the Lakers have been able to get him into more actions that force the defense to make hard choices. Mike Brown is putting Kobe into more P&R actions with Gasol and camping Bynum on the weakside. This action allows Kobe to string out his dribble and either force a hard double team or stretch out the defense to force rotations that are difficult to execute. This has left Pau wide open for mid-range jumpers or has set up Bynum for quick duck ins that result in lobs or easy putbacks if the shot goes up and misses. Tonight, Kobe can do the same thing against a Suns team that will have trouble covering the entire court, making it easier for Kobe to either come off the screens looking for his own shot or to pick out Pau for the easy passes that make the Lakers’ offense hum.

Defensively, the Lakers will see a steady diet of Nash in the P&R and they’ll need to find a way to cover the  big man who pops out after he sets the screen. In the last game, Channing Frye shot 7-9 from the field (including 3-5 from three point range) and kept the Suns in the game before Kobe went nova. The Lakers’ secondary rotations will need to be tighter tonight or they’ll cede the same open jumpers that the Suns thrive on to generate efficient offense. As usual, I hope to see the Lakers force Nash into a scoring mode rather than a distributing one because even though he’ll hurt you scoring, his ability to get his mates involved is what makes this team dangerous. Nash will always be able to hurt you by scoring himself; he’s one of the great shooters in the league and can turn it on in an instant. But allowing him to get his mates going AND get himself going is how this team beats you.

Lastly, I’m looking for good bench play tonight. The Lakers have been an elite home team and one of the reasons  is that their role players step up at home and provide that needed spark at Staples. If they can continue that trend tonight, the Laker starters could get some rest in the 4th quarter and even though it’s been a slow week for games, some extra time on the bench for Kobe and company is never a bad thing.

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

Friday Forum

Dave Murphy —  February 17, 2012

The Lakers have played a lot of games in a short period of time this season. This week brought a brief but welcome respite – they play the Phoenix Suns at Staples tonight, and will travel to play them again on Sunday. It’s an opportunity to further tighten what is already a bunched-up field in the west. And frankly, an opportunity to assuage some feelings of unease amongst the fan base. This has not been your usual season, by a long shot. Here’s a few articles to get you through the lunch hour, and perhaps beyond:

Andy Kamenetzky, Land O’Lakers: The organization just announced Devin Ebanks will be sent down to the L.A. Defenders, the Lakers D-League affiliate. Having not played since January 31, nor logged double digit minutes since January 13, this move hardly qualifies as a surprise. First and second year players are eligible for a stint in the “minors,” so to speak, and franchises typically like taking advantage of this opportunity with youngsters buried on the bench. (And for those wondering, Ebanks in the D-League DOES NOT open up a roster spot, so don’t treat this as a sign of a move in the works.) As a card carrying member of the “I don’t get why Ebanks can’t crack the rotation” club, I get whatever disappointment may be felt by those hoping he’d get a shot at improving a wildly inconsistent small forward tandem. Personally, I think Devin’s skill sets and athleticism provides a unique utility for the Lakers, and he started out the season looking pretty good before abruptly being removed from the rotation altogether. Plus, as one of the few young players on the roster — and at a position of weakness to boot — I think it would behoove the Lakers to figure out what they have in him moving forward.

Janis Carr, the OC Register: Lakers coach Mike Brown doesn’t believe the team needs an overhaul. Where others see 12 losses, the ever-optimistic coach sees 17 victories. Where some might see a lack of offensive production (the Lakers rank 24th in scoring despite having the league’s top scorer in Kobe Bryant), he sees defensive excellence (limiting teams to a third-best 45.3 shooting from the field.) While still others might hear grumblings, Brown resonates a calm. He and Metta World Peace settled their differences earlier this week after World Peace complained about the inconsistency in his playing time and the coach even complimented the forward after Thursday’s practice, saying his hard work is “starting to show.” But is Brown simply looking at the Lakers situation in purple-and-yellow hued glasses, or are they starting to show signs of improvement? Brown said the team has come a long way in short amount of time, given the fact the players had to learn a whole new system from a new coaching staff. “We have a better feel for where we are,” Brown said, adding that it understandably was going to take time to come together as a unit. “People don’t understand that. We don’t have the same team as we did last year,” he said “We’re going to struggle a little bit,” Brown said. “We’re going to get hit in the chin a little bit and we are going to have to withstand that. And if we can withstand that, we got plenty of good times in front of us.”

Matt Becker, Phoenix Suns, NBA.com: While the Lakers and Suns were known for their high-scoring ways over the past few seasons, neither has been prolific in 2011-12. Los Aneles is putting more of an emphasis on defense under new coach Mike Brown, allowing an average of 90.4 points – 5.0 fewer than last season. The Lakers held the Hawks to 34.4 percent shooting and improved to 13-1 when limiting opponents to 91 or fewer points. “On the defense end of the floor I thought that our guys were very active,” Brown said. “On the days when we don’t shoot well, that’s what’s going to help us win ball games, especially come playoff time in a seven-game series.” The Lakers completely frustrated Grant Hill in the first meeting, limiting him to five points and 1-of-12 shooting. He posted his lowedt field-goal percentage when attempting at least seven shots in his 17-year career. Controlling the boards has also been a big key for the Lakers, who are averaging 45.3 rebounds per game. Pau Gasol has 20 points and 13 rebounds against Atlanta, while Andrew Bynum had 15 points and 16 boards as Los Angeles finished with 52 rebounds. The Lakers dominated the glass in the first meeting of the season with the Suns, outrebounding them 49-35 with five players grabbing at least seven boards.

Actuarially Sound, Silver Screen and Roll: When Mike Brown took the position as the new head coach of the Los Angles Lakers, he knew full well what this team possessed in both strengths and weaknesses. His three stars in Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Abndrew Bynum, have enough size and talent to contend with any other team’s best roster. But talent doesn’t always guarantee wins. If it did then LeBron James wouldn’t have the same number of championship rings as yours truly. Oftentimes match-ups can mean just as much, if not more, than pure ability on paper. The ten players on the court don’t operate in a vacuum but instead have interactions that bring out the best and worst in each other. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban uses statistical analysis to determine which combinations of players have the biggest positive and negative impacts on his team’s performance, and it helped the Mavs win a title when no one else gave them a chance. Coach Brown is a stats guy too, at least according to Metta World Peace. He has spent the beginning of this shortened season trying every combination of players to identify what works and what doesn’t. How many combinations has he tried? Only 163 different line-ups have been on the court for the Lakers this season. There are many different combinations of pieces that Brown can put on the floor, and as the minutes begin to accumulate, we are starting to put a few of the pieces together.

(make sure to click on the above link for the rest of the article – the side-by-side comparisons are well worth checking out – D.M.)

***

The nature of today’s media is that of the beast – the 24-hour news cycle feeds evermore on transience and instability. It is hungry and does not pause in its consumption – only when the table is laden with something especially timely does it linger, and sometimes in positive ways. The media’s obsession with Jeremy Lin comes from varied places, but there’s an inherent goodness to the story that jaded hunters can’t help but embrace – the underdog makes good. If you’re looking for any new Lakers trade-centric pieces, I didn’t spot anything substantive this morning, or at least that wasn’t day-old. That could certainly change.

Wednesday Storylines

Dave Murphy —  February 15, 2012

With the Grammy road trip over, the Lakers were back in action last night against the Atlanta Hawks. They managed a win but there was some unpurty ball being played in the midsection. The Lakers are 12-2 at home this year, while not particularly looking like a team that should be 12-2 anywhere. Much of the talk over the past few days has centered on the Gilbert Arenas situation, Coach Brown’s rotations, and Metta World Peace’s winter of discontent with said head coach (although the latest reports bespeak a detente).

The Peace accord as relayed by Dave McMenamin at ESNP, is more about consistency than frustration.

Over at Fox Sports West, Joe McDonnell has a bit of a different take on the situation.

Brian Kameneyzky at the Land O’Lakers looks at last night’s game, observing the excellence and rarity of a MWP double-dunk game.

A terrific article by Bruce Arthur at the National Post, about Kobe Bryant and his relentless drive.

Interesting take by Ben R, over at Silver Screen and Roll, in which he puts Murphy into the beast slot, with Kobe and Andrew as burdens. I will duck out of the way.

C.A. Clark, also at Silver Screen and Roll, offers up a somewhat more charitable Laker analysis, likening last night’s game to the best worst offense ever.

A look at team play as an inspiration point, by Kevin Ding at the OC Register.

Here’s a lively 5-on-5 at ESPN with Danny Chau, Dan Feldman, Zach Harper, John Krolik and Chris Palmer.

And last but certainly not least, with the recent attention being on Hibachi, here comes a J.R. Smith conversation with Mike Brown, as reported by Mike Bresnahan at the L.A. Times.

***

Last night’s win may have quieted the drumbeats, but probably not for long. Pick whatever analogy you want, this team cannot seem to stay on the same page. The Suns come to town for a Friday game, with a Sunday rematch back in Phoenix.  By all rights, two games in five days, against a team with a .414 record, should be an opportunity for a little rest, a practice or two, and a couple solid wins. Right?

– Dave Murphy

Box Score: Lakers 86, Hawks 78
Offensive Efficiency: Lakers 97.7, Hawks 88.6
True Shooting %: Lakers 50.0%, Hawks 41.9%

Honestly… going into this game, I knew watching the game was going to be a chore. I always have a hard time watching the Atlanta Hawks play. Add to the fact that the Lakers haven’t been all that fun to watch, either, and I thought to myself that this game had a potential for a stinker.

THE GOOD
But let’s start out with the good first. The good? The Lakers won. Hurray.

And for the most part, the Lakers had nice ball movement (20 assists) and went to their bigs quite often (which is, you know, common sense) until the Lakers distanced themselves from the Hawks. Pau Gasol had a nice 20-point, 13-rebound, 4-block outing. He even made a corner 3! Andrew Bynum got off to a fast start and, while he wasn’t much of a factor in the second half, he ended up with 15 points and 15 boards. The bigs definitely helped in edging out the Hawks in the rebounding battle, 52-47.

I wanna give Metta World Peace some credit here. He scored 10 points and it was his first time in double digits since January 22nd. And it’s the second game in a row where he made two three-pointers (yes, including that hilarious 3-pointer before the half ended where he held on the ball for what seemed like a minute). He even had a delightful jam near the end of the game. Nice to see him have a good game. Would like to see him put it together in a string of games.

The bench played pretty well today. Andrew Goudelock (NO MORE MINI-MAMBAS, BILL MacDONALD!!!) led the subs with 10 points. Steve Blake dished out 6 assists. Troy Murphy made a couple of linedrive threes. And Matt Barnes hustled his way to 6 points and 5 boards (that block on Kirk Hinrich’s 3-pointer at the end of the 3rd was great).

The three-pointers were going in. 8 for 17 against the Hawks. Not bad for the team who continues to be last in three-point field goal percentage.

Also, while the Hawks were held to 34.4 percent shooting, the defense should get some of the credit but not all of it. It was unbelievable that the Hawks were missing lay-ups all game and the game may have been closer had they made those. The Hawks scored 10 points in the 3rd (the Lakers weren’t much better at 17).

Of course, the game would’ve been done earlier if the Lakers actually took care of business at the other end. Lakers ended up at 44 percent shooting but they were under 40 for a lot of the game.

THE BAD
The Lakers had 17 turnovers and they started out the third quarter with three passes thrown away.

Kobe Bryant wasn’t Kobe today as he shot 5/18 (10 points!). In fact, the offense went to a halt when he tried to get his points at the end of the second, which prompted the Hawks to go on an 11-0 run.

Derek Fisher, in the meantime, has to cut off his toes. He keeps shooting the worst 2-pt shot in the game (THE FOOT ON THE LINE!!!). But, at least, Jeff Teague, the opposing point guard, was only “held” to 18 points (we all know what Jeremy Lin and Jose Calderon did previously).

Not a lot of bad happened in this game but…

THE UGLY
This game was ugly. Period. Very hard game to watch. The fourth quarter was a complete offensive explosion compared to the third for sure but check out these droughts. The Lakers didn’t score for more than six minutes in the second quarter because they stalled and went away from what got them the lead in the first palce. The Hawks didn’t make a field goal for a full nine minutes (last 8:33 of the 3rd) as they hurried jumpers and missed shots your grandmothers can probably make.

The Hawks play a lot of isolation ball (Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Jeff Teague among others) and it’s just not very fun to watch. The Lakers seem to play their best when they go inside to their bigs, which is, admittedly, not very fun to watch, either. And Kobe didn’t go off like he usually does… so what we’re left here is a slow, grinding, diffic… zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

If you had other plans for Valentine’s Day, I applaud you. I love the win and, yes, I mentioned a lot of good for the Lakers here but that doesn’t mean it was aesthetically pleasing. This game would be the equivalent to an ugly girl with a great personality… and, in the end, you’ll slowly fall for her because of it. You’ll just have to embrace its faults.

THE PLAY OF THE GAME
Ron’s dunk was great and all but I’m going to go to the reverse lay-up by Kobe Bryant in the third quarter. It was vintage Kobe where he went under, from right to left, and finished with a twisting right-handed reverse lay-up. ‘Twas beautiful and one of the few bright spots for Kobe.

The Lakers have a home-and-home series against Phoenix next. The first battle starts at Staples Center on Friday. I expect Steve Nash to go for 2,000 points and 895 assists here but the Lakers SHOULD win this and make themselves a little more comfortable in the standings.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everybody.