Archives For February 2012

Records: Lakers 18-13 (5th in West), Trailblazers 17-15 (8th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 102.7 (16th in NBA), Trailblazers 104.4 (11th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 100.6 (10th in NBA), Trailblazers 99.2 (5th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Trailblazers: Raymond Felton, Wesley Matthews, Gerald Wallace, LaMarcus Aldridge, Marcus Camby
Injuries: Lakers: none; Trailblazers: Greg Oden (out indefinitely)

The Lakers Coming in: The Lakers lost on the road again last night but that’s not close to being the story of the day in Laker-land. After the loss, Kobe held court with the media, and spoke his mind about the trade rumors circling around the Lakers and specifically Pau Gasol. The money quotes have been out there since Kobe uttered them last night, but here’s the gist of them from ESPN LA’s report:

“Basketball is such an emotional game, you got to be able to have all of yourself in the game and invested in the game. We didn’t have that,” Bryant said after Gasol had 17 points and 12 rebounds against the Suns. “Pau, it’s hard for Pau because of all this trade talk and all this other stuff, it’s hard for him to kind of invest himself completely or immerse himself completely into games when he’s hearing trade talk every other day. I wish management would come out and either trade him or not trade him.” Bryant made it clear that he prefers that the Lakers choose to not trade Gasol, the four-time All-Star who Bryant paired with to win consecutive championships in 2009 and 2010. “I talked to (Gasol) a little bit about it,” Bryant said. “It’s just tough for a player to give his all when you don’t know if you’re going to be here tomorrow. I’d rather them not trade him at all. If they’re going to do something, I wish they would just (expletive) do it. If they’re not going to do it, come out and say you’re not going to do it. This way he can be comfortable, he can go out, he can play and he can invest all of himself into the game.”

My thoughts on Kobe’s comments are two-fold. First is that I’m glad that Kobe spoke his mind here. Normally it’s the team’s best player that’s in the center of these types of trade rumors (see Melo, now Dwight Howard) and can’t really speak up about how trade speculation can affect a player or the team. In this case, Kobe is the team’s best player and its leader, and is in a position to positively affect his teammates by speaking up about how this situation may be affecting a key contributor. This plays well in the locker room with his mates and shows that he has their backs (especially Pau’s). Second, I don’t think this changes the front office’s approach nor does it affect Pau’s trade value. Mitch has openly said that he’ll make a deal only if it improves the team, and I don’t expect that to change now that Kobe has spoken up. Kupchak has made it clear that he doesn’t have to trade Pau, and if these comments inspire a bunch of low-ball offers for the Spaniard, I expect those will be rebuffed (as they have been up to this point).

Do Kobe’s comments bring Gasol’s mental state more to the forefront than they already were? Yes, they do. However, I’d argue that after every loss or poor performance by Gasol the questions about where Pau’s head’s at were there already. I don’t think that was going to change until after the trade deadline for this season and/or until the Lakers make another big move that does or doesn’t involve him down the road. This would be an ongoing story with Kobe talking or without him talking, so I don’t see much of a difference.

Lastly, some of what makes a team successful is a bunker mentality where the players can rally together and find a common enemy (of sorts) that serves as extra motivation. Phil Jackson was a master of this during his time with the Bulls and the Lakers, and I’ve got a sneaky feeling that Kobe learned a thing or two about this tactic during his time under Jackson. Right now, this Laker team needs all the extra kick in the pants it can get. If this helps in that area, I’m all for it.

The Trailblazers Coming in: At the start of this season, the Blazers were the surprise team of the Western Conference (along with the Nuggets), looking like a real contender that could make a deep playoff run. They started their year 7-3 and boasted wins over the 76ers, Lakers, Nuggets, and Thunder. Since that point, though, they’re only won 10 of their 22 games and are now 8th in the West. Of course, as the Lakers know, the Western standings are a slippery slope where a team can have home court one week and struggle to hold onto a playoff spot the next. That said, the Blazers are a team that’s seemingly lost its way and there seem to be several reasons for it.

Inconsistent guard play has really hurt them. Raymond Felton has played very poorly this season and has become the whipping boy for many Blazer fans (as well as Coach Nate McMillan). Jamal Crawford has come in and seemingly thrown Wesley Matthews for a loop, stunting what looked to be a development path that was on a strong upward trajectory. When you combine these factors with Nic Batum not getting a contract extension before he’s set to reach restricted free agency and some strong questioning about Nate McMillan’s coaching style, you have a team that’s just not where it could be. Whether they turn it around or not remains to be seen, but they have the talent base to do so.

Trailblazer Blogs: Check out Portland Roundball Society and Blazers Edge for all your PDX news and analysis.

Keys to game: From Phillip’s recap last night:

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. (Monday), 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.

So while the Lakers return home – a place where they play like one of the best teams in the league – fatigue may be an issue. The Lakers must be ready to compete from the opening tip against a Blazer team that always wants to bring its best effort when they face off against the Lakers. This match up is a blood feud of sorts, so if nothing else goes right, the willingness to go hard all game must be there. Of course, the game will come down to more than just effort. As John Wooden said, we shouldn’t mistake activity for achievement. If the Lakers are going to win this game, they’ll actually need to do some things well.

Defensively, this starts with containing all-star forward LaMarcus Aldridge. LMA’s game is based on strong post play and a feathery jumper, so Pau Gasol will have his hands full. Pau will need to make sure he’s changing ends well, because Aldridge runs like a gazelle and likes to establish position early in the clock to make defenders honor the space he eats up on the block. If Pau can push him farther from the hoop and make him dribble to get into his post moves, that’s already a minor win on any given possession. Pau, though, can’t simply bang on LMA to try to get him off his spot. This is because one of Aldridge’s pet moves is spinning off his man and catching lobs for easy finishes at the hoop.

As hinted at above, pace will also be a factor. In the last matchup between these teams, the Lakers were careless with the ball against pressure Blazer D and that led to fast break chances. This was especially true for Gerald Wallace, who dominated the game with his activity level and his ability to race the floor to get easy baskets. If the Lakers are to slow Wallace, they’ll need to make him a half court scorer by racing back on D and being more careful with the ball when trying to initiate their own sets. By taking care of the ball, the Lakers won’t allow Felton, Batum, or Wallace to play full court basketball, while also limiting the trailing options of Crawford and Matthews to shoot uncontested jumpers against a collapsed defense.

This translates to a careful, deliberate attack on offense by the Lakers. Meaning post touches for Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. In the last match up, Bynum used brute force to overpower the slender Blazer bigs and scored at will early on. This led to double teams that Bynum struggled to navigate (which led to the aforementioned turnovers that helped the Blazers’ offense). At this later stage of the season however, Bynum has made some strides in dealing with the double teams he’s seen, often making his moves before the double can be fully established, making good passes to strong-side wings, or hitting a sliding over wing at the top of the key. Of course there’s still room for improvement in this area, but if the Blazers attack Bynum in this manner tonight, he should be better equipped to make them pay.

Of course, the Laker shooters must also make the Blazers pay for double teaming Bynum (or Pau or Kobe). Murphy, Fisher, Goudelock, and Blake will all see minutes tonight and all must hit some shots to keep the defense loose. Matt Barnes and Ron can also help out by slashing off the ball into the open spaces when defenders turn their heads to watch the ball. If LA’s small forwards can move well off the ball, they can get buckets in the paint and draw fouls on the Blazer big men, which will also further aid Bynum and Gasol. It’s a circle of effectiveness but all sides must play their parts.

Ultimately, tonight would be a good game to win. Not only because of the standings but because of all the peripheral drama I mentioned earlier. Nothing soothes things like a quality win and tonight would represent exactly that. Here’s to the Lakers getting it.

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

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)?