Archives For February 2012

Records: Lakers 16-12 (5th in West), Hawks 18-10 (4th in East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 103.1 (15th in NBA), Hawks 104.0 (12th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 101.0 (11th in NBA), Hawks 99.8 (7th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Hawks: Jeff Teague, Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, Josh Smith, Zaza Pachulia
Injuries: Lakers: none; Hawks: Al Horford (out for the season), Jason Collins (out)

The Lakers Coming in: First, the okay part: the Lakers are back home after a grueling 6 game road trip that saw them play .500 ball. Many expected them to play to that level and considering they could have won two of the three games they lost and lost two of the games they won, that record seems about right. It’s also fitting because at this point, this team is pretty much a .500 team that has the talent base (in its big three) to play a step above that. Hence, their current 16-12 record.

Now, the not so okay part: the Lakers seem to be grasping at straws while players are being a bit more vocal about either their individual roles or the prospects of adding (or subtracting) from the current roster, and thus implying the state of the team isn’t that strong. MWP has spoken out about his role and his playing time, and it doesn’t paint a pretty picture or inspire thoughts of a harmonious relationship between himself and the head coach. Meanwhile, Kobe Bryant has stated that bringing in Gilbert Arenas “can’t hurt” after the Lakers worked out the former all-star guard over the weekend. Neither of these stories are particularly damning, but both bring into question how this team is progressing and whether or not the belief still exists that the current group of players can compete at the level they’d all like. And while I understand fans have felt this way for sometime, it’s quite another thing for players to feel this way or for the front office to grab at players that no one else seemingly wants. (As an aside, I have more thoughts on Arenas that I’ll share another time).

All in all, the Lakers are in a tricky position now. The expectations coming into the season were to compete for a championship, but the moves made – the hiring of Brown, the conservative approach to free agency, the Odom trade – all speak to a more long-term approach. Time will tell if there are bigger moves made or if this group can find its stride, but right now there seems to be a lot of uncertainty amongst the people who need to be single-minded in their belief regarding this team. Ultimately, that’s not a positive.

The Hawks Coming in: While the 76ers are one of the surprise teams of the league, the Hawks don’t trail them too far for exceeding expecations. Coming into the season this team was considered a group that would likely slip in the standings, becoming a lower playoff seed that couldn’t do much damage. Instead, they’ve won 18 of their 28 games and have found a way to compete even after they lost their best player (Al Horford) to a torn pectoral muscle that will sideline him for the season. If you had the Hawks still being a top 4 seed in the East after Horford went down you can raise your hand, but understand no one believes you because no one thought this was possible.

The Hawks, though, are still playing well and it’s mostly on the backs of Joe Johnson (who made his 6th all-star game roster last week) and Josh Smith (who was again snubbed from the ASG). Johnson, though not living up to his contract, is still providing his steady production by creating shots for himself and his teammates and giving the Hawks a late game option to get a bucket in close games. Smith, meanwhile, has stepped up his game with Horford out by hitting the glass harder and stepping up his paint defense. He still confounds fans with his penchant for taking long two-point jumpers, but his work around the paint is still exceptional and his ability to finish at the rim in transition and the half court is of great value to his team.

When you add those two players to a solid Marvin Williams and an improving Jeff Teague, you have the makings of a solid team that competes every night by playing tough defense, taking care of the ball, and playing a team-centric game on offense. Their talent level may not make this a championship level team, but their style of play is a winning one.

Hawks Blogs: Check out Hoopinion, they do very good work covering this team.

Keys to game: The Hawks offer an intriguing match up because they have the types of parts that typically give the Lakers fits. Teague is a speedster PG that can push the pace and create off the dribble. Josh Smith is a rangy PF that will start possessions deep on the floor but use his athleticism to create shots at the rim (while also taking some deep jumpers). Joe Johnson is the type of power SG that can create shots all over the floor and must be paid attention to at all times. Defensively, they’ll bang you inside with Pachulia, with Smith coming over to clean up and block shots from the weak side. They also have no qualms about packing the lane and daring you to shoot from the outside, because their wings have good size and can cover enough ground to chase shooters, but can also rebound or cover the paint if need be.

This means the Lakers are up for a real challenge even if they have advantages in certain match ups when utilized correctly. On the surface, tonight should be about Pau Gasol going to work on Josh Smith in the post. Smith is a fantastic helper but his man-on-man D can leave something to be desired, especially when defending the post. I’d love to see Pau get some touches on the left block and for Kobe to run some P&Rs with Pau to get him the ball in space, where he can attack off the bounce or shoot his short jumper (or set up Bynum with the lob when the defense rotates).

I’d also like to see Bynum get going early, especially against a rugged defender in Pachulia. At the start of the game is when Bynum will have the most energy and should be able to beat Zaza up the floor to get early position on the block. If Bynum can force Pachulia to foul him, the only backup with real size is the newly signed Erick Dampier, and while he offers strength, he lacks quickness and athleticism at this advanced stage of his career.

Defensively, the Lakers will need to finish possessions with rebounds because the Hawks aren’t going to do them any favors by playing sloppy basketball. As has been their style for years, the Hawks are very good at taking care of the ball and running their sets to get decent looks. I’m assuming that MWP will start on Joe Johnson and we’ll see if he has the footspeed to match Joe on the perimeter when he works off the dribble. MWP has not been as steady on that side of the floor this year, but he typically gets up for the bigger match ups and tonight offers one of those in Johnson. As for Smith, Gasol will have his hands full but he should be able to keep him under wraps if he sags off and invites the long jumper. Even if Smith doesn’t take the bait by settling for the long two, Pau will at least have an angle on his drives to cut off penetration and contest shots when he does attack the paint.

The bigger issue will be containing Teague. As mentioned earlier he will attack the rim, and he’s good at changing ends quickly and taking advantage of poor transition defense. Toward the end of the Lakers road trip, they were quite poor in this area, and will need to be better tonight or Teague will race by them to create good shots for himself or teammates. Teague’s also a threat to turn the corner in the P&R so the Lakers bigs will need to hedge well to deny his driving lane and then recover to the paint to shut down passing angles.

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

From ESPN Films, the trailer for Magic Johnson: The Announcement. Tune in (or set your DVR’s) on Sunday, March 11th at 9PM EST. I know I’ll be watching.

(H/T to TrueHoop for the video clip)

When I turned 7 years old, I went to Chuck E Cheese to celebrate my birthday. As one of my fondest childhood memories, I’ll never forget that birthday party. All my friends came, we pigged out on all the pizza we could eat, I got an awesome cake and tons of gifts, and I got to play all the games I wanted. That last point is key here: I loved playing arcade and parlor games as a kid. And that day, there was literally a beer pitcher filled with those copper looking tokens for me to run wild with. So, I filled my pocket with them and played every game I could to get a bunch of tickets that I’d later use to scoop up a bunch of goodies from their toy counter. Those crazy super balls that bounced a hundred feet in the air, a nerf hoop, a frisbee, all that stuff. I’ll never forget it.

One of my favorite games to play was whack-a-mole. You know the game, right? There’s that giant padded mallet and you smash down on these little toy moles that peak their heads out from the holes in the top of the machine. I loved smacking those moles in the head and watching the tickets stream out of the machine as a tally of my success. It was so much fun.

Yesterday, after the Toronto game, I got to thinking about that game I loved so much as a kid. And I realized that the Lakers season has become a big game of whack-a-mole. Only now that I’m an adult, that game’s not so much fun anymore.

You see, this Lakers team has issues. Their point guards aren’t productive, their small forwards can’t space the floor, their bench can’t score consistently, and their back up big men either don’t play very good defense (Murphy) or are too limited offensively to get any playing time (McRoberts). When you add in a big three that can’t play perfect every night, this team just can’t get out of its own way to win consistently.

And while the coaches are trying to address any one issue to the point that you hope it’s solved, another issue just seems to pop up. The return of Steve Blake is a perfect example. When Blake came back, the Lakers got another solid, ball handling guard to soak up minutes and help steady this team. Against Boston he played crunch time minutes in the 4th quarter and overtime and helped organize the Lakers offense while playing solid defense. By no means did Blake’s presence mean the Lakers PG issues were solved but he was part of the solution.

But, when Blake came back it meant that Andrew Goudelock moved back to shooting guard rather than getting his minutes at back up point guard. You see, while Blake was out, Goudelock thrived as a ball handling guard that could attack at any given moment because he had the ball in his hands at the beginning of every possession. His scoring provided needed bench production and his ability to create off the dribble in the P&R compromised the opposing defense and helped create open shots and offensive rebounding chances for his teammates. But now that Blake is back, Goudelock’s production has once again dipped and more resembles what he was giving the Lakers early in the year; production that found him on the bench and out of the rotation before Blake got hurt. And now that Goudelock’s play has suffered, the Lakers’ bench production has suffered too.

This is just one example of what’s been going on with the Lakers this season, but there are several more. The Murphy/McRoberts combination is another – during Bynum’s suspension, both back up big men were producing at a level that had Mike Brown on board with a 4 man rotation at PF/C once Bynum returned. However, now that Bynum’s back (and beasting on most nights), Brown has had issues sticking to that plan and is only playing one big man a night – Murphy. This wouldn’t be so much of an issue if the things that McRoberts is good at – providing energy, finishing at the rim in the half and open court, providing physical defense – weren’t Murphy’s weaknesses or if Murphy’s strengths – spacing the floor, defensive rebounding – weren’t things that McRoberts doesn’t do as well. But since that’s the case, whenever Brown plays one, a new deficiency pops up and must be dealt with.

I could go on with examples of Ebanks’ youth and inexperience, Barnes’ mostly good but sometimes spotty defense, and MWP’s offensive game but I think you get the point. The Lakers have several holes and on any given night one problem might seem solved only for another to pop up and put the game in jeopardy.

And so the season goes on, one big game of whack-a-mole. Except today, when the Lakers actually do play a complete game, we only feel relief and don’t get a shiny new nerf hoop to take home. Sometimes I wish I was 7 again.

Box Score: Lakers 94 – Raptors 92

The Good

In the 1st, it looked like the Lakers were going to run away with this one, rushing out to a 7-0 lead to start the game. With a combination of solid defense and shot-making, the Lakers raced out to an early 18 point advantage, leading 29-11 after Pau Gasol put-back with 2 minutes to go in the 1st. For the Raptors, Demar DeRozan was clearly off his game, missing his first four shots, while Jose Calderon kept them afloat, hitting 5-6 shots in the quarter on a series of long jumpers. With the exception of Calderon, the Lakers managed to hold the Raptors to mostly contested shot, and gobbled up all the defensive boards from the resulting misses.

The Laker offense looked to be running smoothly, with Gasol hitting two elbow jumpers, Bynum making a few good post moves, with Murphy, Goudelock, Barnes, and even Metta World Peace knocking in three pointers. However, with 8:55 to go in the 2nd quarter, the entire game changed…

The Bad

…when Jamaal Magloire entered the game.

I’ll say that again: the entire game changed when Jamaal Magloire entered the game.

Forgetting for a moment that it isn’t 2004 and Jamaal Magloire isn’t on the All-Star team, Magloire brought energy and defensive intensity to the Raptors. Over the span of the next quarter and a half, Magloire managed to hold Bynum in check, outscoring him 4-2 (WHAT?!). The Raptors picked up their defense, and began generating turnovers. These turnovers led to fast break opportunities, which the much younger and faster Raptors used to slowly cut into the Laker lead. Outscored by 7 in the 2nd quarter, the Lakers took an 8 point lead into the half after James Johnson drove coast-to-coast for a driving dunk to end the quarter.

Hope for the Lakers to come out strong in the 2nd half and re-assert themselves died when they came out and missed their first 6 shots, allowing the Raptors to cut the lead to 3 with 7:35 to go in the 3rd. A couple long jumpers by Steve Blake helped keep the Raptors at bay, with the Lakers nursing a tenuous 6 point lead going into the 4th.

Still holding a lead, the Lakers went into the 4th hoping to keep the Raptors at arms length, until…

The Ugly

… the Raptors went zone. Now the Raptors had been using zone intermittently throughout the game, but the Lakers had managed to break it with some halfway decent shooting from their supporting cast (Murphy, 2-4, Goudelock 3-7, Blake 2-6, MWP 3-4), and some decent high-low action from Pau and Bynum. Gasol, who started out 3-4 in the 1st, went cold (especially from the base line), finishing 6-15, while Bynum, who started out 4-5, began putting up sissy-ninny shots inside, finishing 7-13.

And then of course, there’s Kobe. When Kobe came in and saw zone, he immediately tried to go to work, isolated on the wings (I’m assuming this is his logic, since I’m pretty sure everyone knows that’s not how you break a zone). Kobe missed 5 shots in a row at one point, as the Laker lead evaporated and turned into a 4 point deficit. It looked like all hope was lost, as the Raptors had all the momentum and had just taken the lead for the first time in the game with just under 3 minutes to go, until…

The Play of the Game

…Kobe made three straight magnificent plays. First, with the Lakers down 4 with 1 minute to go, Kobe made one of his classic, cold-blooded threes to cut the deficit to just a single point. On the ensuing defensive possession, Kobe hounded Linas Kleiza, forcing a steal which led to a run-out, Kobe dishing off to Metta World Peace for a lay-up, giving the Lakers a 1 point lead. After Jose Calderon hit an tough shot over Blake to give the Raptors the lead again, the Lakers advanced the ball on a timeout.

Using a shake-and-fake maneuver reminiscent of Reggie Miller, Kobe got just enough space to launch one of his fading, twisting baseline jumpers, drilling the shot and giving the Lakers the lead. After an extremely unfortunate (and controversial) 5-second call on the ensuing inbounds by the Raptors, the Lakers held on with a Kobe free throw and some excellent on ball D from MWP.


This was a game where the support cast out side our big three came through about as much as could be expected from them. With each player contributing at least 4 points, the Lakers supporting cast contributed 37 points. Fisher’s defense was bad, but it didn’t help that Calderon was sinking shots regardless of how well they were contested.

The Lakers never should have been in a position to lose this game after being up 18 so early, but this team has shown that it has a gear that is good enough to be a contending team. Whether they actually use that gear is another story.


Records: Lakers 15-12 (7th in West), Raptors 9-19 (11th in East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 103.0 (14th in NBA), Raptors 97.3 (28th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 101.0 (11th in NBA), Raptors 103.6 (18th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Raptors: Jose Calderon, DeMar DeRozan, James Johnson, Amir Johnson, Aaron Gray
Injuries: Lakers: none; Raptors: Andrea Bargnani (out), Jerryd Bayless (doubtful)

The Lakers Coming in: The long journey that started over a week ago comes to an end today. And, it’s just in time. The Lakers are coming off a tough loss to the Knicks where offensive struggles and defensive lapses weren’t helped by fatigued legs stemming from the previous night’s overtime win against the Celtics. The loss moved them to two and three on their grammy road trip and was indicative of their one step forward, one step backward approach to this season. The Lakers simply can’t find any traction in this campaign.

The Raptors Coming in: The Raptors have lost three of their last five but are coming off a win over the Celtics on Friday. That win, though, has been a rare occurrence this season – especially in games that franchise cornerstone Andrea Bargnani has missed. The former number one overall pick has only played in 13 games this year and in the games he’s missed the Raptors are 3-12. This isn’t a coincidence either. In previous seasons Bargnani has been much maligned for being a one dimensional player that couldn’t even really carry his team with that one dimension (his ability to score the ball). This season, though, was different. Bargs’ rebounding numbers still weren’t that great, but he’d become a more efficient scorer and was definitely playing like “the man” on that side of the ball. His defense had also improved and he was looking very much like a player that could lead a quality team, turning into the player that the Raptors thought he could be when he was drafted. The fact that he’s been out has really hurt this team.

This isn’t to say the Raptors aren’t still fighting hard each night, though. New coach Dwayne Casey (poached from the Mavericks’ coaching staff) has instilled a new mindset with this group, focusing on defense and bringing more structure to the offensive side of the ball. Some may look at the Raptors 18th ranked defense (in terms of points allowed per 100 possessions) but that’s a big step up from a defense that ranked dead last a season ago with essentially the same group of players. Getting this team completely turned around isn’t an easy task and Casey still has a long way to go but he’s well on his way in his first season. With some deft personnel moves and some improvement from players that they like (especially DeRozan – who has taken a step back this year) this team can take another step forward in the coming seasons and compete for a playoff spot within a season or two.

Raptors Blogs: Check out Raptors Republic for all your news and notes.

Keys to game: If there were ever a game where the Lakers simply need to come out and play hard, this is it. The last game of the road trip (and the first game back from a road trip) is often a difficult one because the team is sick and tired of all the travel and a sense of just wanting to go home can set in. The fact that this game is on at 10am west coast time only makes matters worse as the Lakers simply aren’t used to suiting up and playing competitive basketball at this hour. I mean, the Lakers are used to going through their shoot around at this time, not going full speed.

So, effort is key. So is offensive execution. Against the Knicks, the Lakers big men did little to earn the type of position that would have aided their cause in getting easier shots (especially Andrew Bynum). Today, the Lakers’ bigs must run hard, do their work before they catch the ball, and get deep into the post against a Raptors front line that isn’t that great defensively. The bigs also need to set better screens for the perimeter players to free up their mates and help set up the offense better. Too often this season the big men aren’t getting good picks on or off the ball and it’s led to passes being denied which then gums up the offense. The bigs need to better free Kobe off the ball and free up Blake and Goudelock in the P&R to get those guys into open space which will then force help and subsequently help them get open as well.

Defensively, the Lakers have fewer players to worry about with Bargnani out, but that doesn’t mean the Raps don’t have any threats. Jose Calderon is a good floor general and is the league leader in assist to turnover ratio. He’s precise in the half court, setting up his guys for good looks and running the P&R well as a dual threat that can either get off his own shot or collapse the defense and kick out to shooters. So, the Lakers must be prepared to deal with Calderon and try to force him into spots on the floor (to the wing, rather than the top of the key) where he can’t make effective passes to either side of the floor without having to skip the ball over the Lakers length. The Lakers must also play him to take the jumper so going under screens is a no-no and instead must chase him over the top of picks to make sure he can’t come off clean and shoot his mid-range jumper. By forcing him to drive into Pau and Bynum, they can limit his effecitveness.

The Raptors also have the ability to change the pace and push the ball so the Lakers must be aware in transition. Barbosa, DeRozan, and even Kleiza can all get out in the open court and can finish in a variety of ways. We’re all familiar with Barbosa’s game from his Suns days and while he may not have his top gear anymore (at one time he was probably the fastest player in the league going coast to coast) he can still push the ball and get into the paint to score when given the lane. The Lakers must build a wall against him and force him to shoot outside jumpers. The same is true of DeRozan, a player that’s tried to expand his game by shooting more jumpers but still hasn’t improved enough to be an all court threat. The Lakers need to try and keep him out of the paint and mark him in the open court to not give up easy baskets at the rim. Kleiza is a streak shooter that can get hot from behind the arc quickly (I still have visions of him nailing jumper after jumper from those Nuggets playoff series a few years ago) and he must be found in transition running to the three point line.

Ultimately, though, this is a game where the Lakers simply need to come out ready to play and match the effort of the home team. If they do so, their talent should win out. If they don’t, a loss may be on the horizon. Traditionally the Lakers have come out slow in this same early game scenario (this early game has become a tradition over the years) but today the Lakers can’t afford that. Their margin for error is slimmer than in season’s past and any hole dug is harder to get out of. Here’s hoping they’re ready.

Where you can watch: 10:00am start time on KCAL. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.

So far this season, the Los Angeles Lakers have struggled with their late game execution. And that would be putting it lightly. Opponents have given the Lakers a multitude of different looks with the intent being on forcing the purple and gold to think about when and how to best attack them. The end result has been that Kobe Bryant has often been placed in situations where teams have essentially sat on his every move and at times completely ignored his teammates.

For instance, against the Philadelphia 76ers, Kobe was in terrific rhythm in the first half, scoring 24 points. Mind you, come the second half, they put Andre Iguodala on him and then looked to trap him every time he caught the ball.

When Bryant finally became comfortable and understood the 76ers rotations, they switched things up on him and defended him with Iguodala only. Mind you, once Kobe put the ball on the floor, they sent additional help his way to force the ball out of his hands. On a few very rare occasions after halftime, the Lakers superstar had the opportunity to go one-on-one.

And late in the ball game, this proved to be somewhat problematic for Bryant.

It’s not so much that defenses have confused Kobe in late game situations, far from it actually; but the issue is that the Lakers all time leading scorer is now pressing. With defenses converging on him much faster this season in comparison to previous ones, Bryant’s best opportunities in late game situations typically come once he catches the ball. If he waits any longer, teams are able to load up on the strong side of the court against him to cut off his angles and they can also send either a soft or hard double team at him to get another player to beat them from the field.

The end result has been that Kobe has gotten himself somewhere near the elbows or on the wings from midrange and taken a bevy of contested shots. Normally this would be a win for the Lakers (Kobe often looks like the best pure shooter in the game whether his jumpers are contested or not), but with the added defensive attention and players rushing to contest his shots, Kobe hasn’t been a good marksman from the field.

According to Stats Cube, Bean is converting a mere 28 percent of his field goal attempts in clutch situations (clutch situations are viewed as the last five minutes of the game with the scoring margin within five points). If we dig a little deeper, Kobe Bryant has shot 8-for-32 from the field on midrange jumpers in the clutch so far this season.

And yet, the Los Angeles Lakers are 8-3 in games decided by five points or less so far this season. So what gives?

Often we associate clutch situations with scoring and remain blind to other facets of the game. Thus, Kobe may not necessarily convert his shots at a high rate late in ball games, but he does several other things quite well in the last five minutes of ball games. Indeed, Bryant sports a +12.4 rating because his assists and rebounds increase in these situations. When we project clutch situations to a full game, Kobe averages 8.6 rebounds and 6.4 assists per game, all the while getting to the stripe 9.1 times. In addition, his offensive rating in late game situations (103.9) is superior than his regular averages so far this season (102.2) and his defensive rating of 92.2 in the clutch is vastly better than the 98.6 he has sported for the season.

The contest against the Boston Celtics Thursday night proved to be a good indicator to the Lakers scoring issues late in ball games. Matched up against Ray Allen for most of the final minutes of the fourth quarter and overtime, Bryant was able to get to spots on the floor that he wanted for midrange jump shots, but he missed most of them. Indeed, Kobe only converted 2-of-8 shots in the clutch against the Celtics, with his two makes being arguably the two toughest shots he took in the game. Despite his inability to convert from the field, his team was victorious.

His defense on Rondo proved to be one of the biggest reasons for the win, but the Lakers still needed to score on a few trips to put the game away.

How do the Lakers manage to close out ball games then? Two words: twin towers.

Andrew Bynum is shooting 81 percent from the field in clutch situations so far this season. 81 percent! Logic would dictate that the Lakers should just feed the big man the ball and ask him to operate on the low block and ride him to victory; but that wouldn’t necessarily produce great results.

Bynum has been terrific from the field in late game situations because teams have had trouble keeping off the offensive glass and also because he is usually the benefactor of lob passes from his teammates when opponents choose to double team Bryant. This explains why the Lakers starting center has converted 12-of-13 shots at the rim in clutch situations.

Hence, fans can rightfully complain about Kobe’s shooting percentage with the game on the line, but the truth is that his misses have helped his teammates who now anticipate going after the ball whenever Kobe puts it up. And in a nutshell, this explains why teams have problems figuring out how to defend the Lakers late in ball games even when they are missing shots. Throwing a double team at Kobe essentially allows for a player to get an uncontested shot and it gives the purple and gold the chance to crash the boards; but when Kobe faces single coverage, he has the talent to make just about any shot possible on the court, but should he miss, Bynum and Gasol have proven more than capable to bail him out by crashing the glass (Pau is shooting 4-for-7 right at the rim in clutch situations, but is 0-for-3 from inside the paint but outside of the restricted area).

The Lakers could perhaps execute better in fourth quarters when defenses place an added emphasis on stopping Kobe Bryant, but the truth is that so far the team has gotten by with their current strategy of asking their closer to shut door on opponents. Perhaps he does not always come through, but the team sure seems to do so.

Can this strategy continue to hold up? Tough to tell. But so far it has served the Lakers well if we judge them on the end result; and that’s what makes any change in the philosophy rather hard to commit to. It’s often hard to argue with the methods provided that the end result is a positive one.

And what more positive end result can one ask for than wins?

Box Score: Lakers 85, Knicks 92
Offensive Efficiency: Lakers 90.4, Knicks 97.9
True Shooting %: Lakers 50.0%, Knicks 54.5%

The Good:
I’m trying here, guys.

There were just a few stretches where you could say, “Okay, maybe the Lakers are going to be okay.” Pau Gasol (16 points) had a nice second quarter with 8 points but he got in foul trouble early in the 3rd. In desperation, Kobe Bryant (34 points) is second to none in terms of trying to rally his team back one-on-five.

Off the bench, Matt Barnes played a quiet good game with 11 points (5 for 6 shooting) and 6 boards.

I’m just grasping on straws here, aren’t I?

The Bad:
The Lakers looked like a tired team that just played an overtime game the night before (wait a minute). The porous shooting continues. 37.5 percent for the game.

At one point in the 3rd quarter, the Knicks were playing sloppily and the Lakers didn’t take advantage. Derek Fisher kept shooting the worst shots (foot on the line). Andrew Bynum looked tired/lazy out there (maybe it was because of the Knicks defense… but he only ended up with 3 points). Kobe Bryant started out 1 for 11 (before finishing with 11 for 29). Metta World Peace was definitely not living up to his name as he lost his composure. The bench (other than Barnes) once again failed to give them that lift. Steve Blake did a decent job defending that Knick guard that I will talk about in a bit but he shot 2 for 11 (1 for 8 behind the arc).

The Lakers left the Knicks open behind the arc but they were lucky that the Knicks only shot 5 for 21.

The Lakers turned the ball over often early. They ended up with 17 giveaways in the game.

Okay. Maybe he was underestimated but no one thought (well, maybe his parents did) that Jeremy Lin would explode for 38 points. They did the right thing initially by letting him shoot jumpers and getting physical with him. But they never did try to get the ball out of his hands. The Knick offense looked a bit more discombobulated with Lin not on the floor. Maybe it was magic or maybe he really is that friggin’ good of a basketball player… but Jeremy Lin was spectacular against the Lakers (NOBODY could stop him!). It’s a wonderful story and, even though I root for the Lakers, it is so nice to see someone like Jeremy Lin beat the odds and play out of his mind after he got a chance. I just hated that he did it against the Lakers.

The Ugly:
The Lakers fouled 29 times in the game. That’s almost like a dead giveaway of tired legs or lazy defense. But they sure couldn’t stop Jeremy Lin from getting into the paint. That gave the Knicks 11 more freethrows than L.A. and the margin of victory would’ve been larger had the Knicks made their freethrows (21 for 34).

The Play Of The Game:
I seriously had to think about this one. Remember that the Lakers never led in the game.

I’m going to have to go with Kobe’s difficult turnaround against Landry Fields with 5:26 left in the third. That was his second field goal of the game and he would go on to make four of his next five shots that put the Lakers within reach.

Unfortunately, Kobe had little help once again and the Lakers fell short as they continue to Jekyll and Hyde through the season.

It really is hard to find a balance for this Laker team. It’s a catch-22. Sometimes, they need Kobe to score 45 in a game. But yet people will clamor for Kobe to pass the ball inside. Sometimes, they need the bigs to have the ball. But yet people will clamor for Kobe to shoot more. It’s a no-win situation unless they win the game.

The Lakers face the Raptors on Sunday afternoon. You know how well they do on Sunday afternoon games. For all I know, the Lakers will go .500 the rest of the way as they beat powerhouse teams like Oklahoma City and lose to weak teams like New Orleans.

In short, this season has been frustrating for the Lakers. But, of course, you already knew that.

Records: Lakers 15-11 (5th in West), Knicks 11-15 (9th in East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 103.5 (14th in NBA), Knicks 101.2 (22nd in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 101.1 (11th in NBA), Knicks 100.6 (9th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Knick:s Jeremy Lin, Landry Fields, Bill Walker, Jared Jeffries, Tyson Chadler
Injuries: Lakers: None (!!); Knicks: Carmelo Anthony (out), Amar’e Stoudemire (out), Josh Harrellson (out), Baron Davis (out)

The Lakers coming in: Two-thirds of the Grammy Trip is in the books, and thanks to last night’s nip-tuck overtime victory over the Celtics – just the Lakers’ fourth in 13 road games and their first in five tries away from Staples against an Eastern foe – the Lakers still have a shot (with a tonight at MSG and on Sunday in Toronto) at returning to Los Angeles from the six-game journey with a winning record.

From a Lakers perspective, the big story coming out of Boston is Pau Gasol. In just under 41 minutes of action, Gasol scored 25 (on 12-20 FG), grabbed 14 rebounds and made a variety of brilliant plays at both ends of the floor that helped to both force overtime and secure the win.

And now, having already bested the Knicks in Los Angeles, the Lakers take Manhattan, victorious in their last four visits to Madison Square Garden. With the Knicks short-handed on the front due to injury (Carmelo Anthony) and tragedy (Amar’e Stoudemire) and the Lakers at full strength for one of the first times all season, look for them to emerge victorious from Gotham for the fifth straight year.

The Knicks coming in: Linsanity. Lincredible. Lingenius. Linovative. Lincandescent. The Linferno.


In case you’ve not yet heard, the Knicks are back, and a Harvard man – one sporting Adidas rather than Hermes – is the toast of the town. As recently as a week ago, the Knicks (mainly Carmelo Anthony) had alienated a chunk of the fan base by not only losing (they dropped 11 of 13 between January 12 and February 3), sapping the fun out of the game in the process (Meloball). Both the team, seemingly in disarray and in danger of being engulfed by toxicity, and the fans, increasingly fearful of an unexpected Isiah-esque debacle, were in desperate need of fresh air.

Enter the ShaoLin. (Last one. I promise.)

The Jeremy Lin phenomenon has gained support more quickly and comprehensively than any that’s swept through Manhattan in the last seven years. Between the novelty of his background (an undrafted Chinese Ivy Leaguer), his circuitous route to the Big Apple (waived after ~17 months with the Golden State Warriors and 12 days with the Houston Rockets) and (my favorite, by far) his current living arrangement (he’s been crashing with either his brother or Landry Fields, though it’s rumored that he will be living in David Lee’s old apartment), Lin has brought a likeability and relatability to the Knicks that’s been sorely lacking.

The fact is, however, in addition to emerging as the season’s feel-good story, this guy can really play. An emotional catalyst to be sure, Lin has provided the Knicks with much more over the past week, averaging 25.3 points (on 58% FG), 8.3 assists and 1.7 steals and leading the Knicks to three straight wins. Beyond the numbers, Lin has an NBA build (6’3”-200), is seldom (if ever) out of control, and is an extremely intelligent player, particularly when using a screen to set up a defender. Far be it for me to predict that Jeremy Lin will sustain his All-Star-caliber play in the long run, but he is more than a mere novelty.

Knicks blogs: There are a number of excellent Knicks blogs on the web. The head of this class includes Posting and Toasting (where Seth Rosenthal does some fantastic work), Knickerblogger and The LoHud Knicks Blog. Additionally, if you are on Twitter and will be in arms reach of a computer while taking this one in, give Twitter superstar @netw3rk and Charlie Zegers (of and and a follow.

Keys to the game: Let’s quickly get a Lin-related prediction out of the way. On the defensive end, look for Mike Brown to task Kobe Bryant with slowing down Lin, as a) it’ll probably work (I’d expect an inefficient ~15-6) and b) doing so will take much of the life out of the MSG crowd and consequently deflate the Knicks, regardless of whatever havoc Landry Fields wreaks against Derek Fisher.

As we exchanged emails earlier in the afternoon, Darius touched on another (and perhaps the most important) effect that Lin has had on the floor – the elevation of Tyson Chandler’s offensive game, primarily in the pick-and-roll. As I previously mentioned, Lin is an intelligent playmaker, and in the pick-and-roll has shown an ability to both get to the rim and score and connect with Chandler (who’s done a great job slipping the screens) on the lob. The Lakers’ weak side big (I’m guessing Gasol) must be aware of this and provide help in order to slow Chandler’s roll to the hoop. As Darius suggested (and I agree), it would not be surprising to see the Lakers play Lin similarly to the way they play Rondo – going under some screens and cutting off his angles, both on the drive or when looking to hit a cutter.

As one of the league’s better defensive squads – and one looking to close out this road trip on a positive note and build momentum as the season’s halfway point approaches – it will be interesting to see if the Lakers make the adjustments necessary to slow down the Knicks’ primary offensive set, while exploiting an obvious advantage in the paint when on offense.

The bottom line is this: in the season’s opening week, the Bynum-less Lakers blew out a Knicks team that boasted its full complement of talent. Lin or no Lin, should anything different go down with the Lakers’ massive (and massively talented) front line intact and healthy and the Knicks without Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire and Josh Harrellson, with only Jared Jeffries to offer support to Tyson Chandler against Gasol and Bynum, it will be a huge surprise.

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