Archives For March 2012

Boxscore: Lakers 93, Thunder 102
Offensive Efficiency: Lakers 108.1, Thunder 118.6
True Shooting %: Lakers 52.2%, Thunder 53.8%

The Good:
After wondering how Bynum would play after having a string of performances that were newsworthy for the wrong reasons, he came out ready to play against the Thunder. He had 25 points (on only 15 shots), grabbed 13 rebounds (7 offensive), and blocked 4 shots in 41 minutes of action (more on the minutes later). He was a presence on both ends of the floor in the paint, establishing the post on one end and protecting the rim against penetration on the other. Per NBA.com the Thunder only shot 48.8% in the restricted area on the night and a lot of that had to do with Bynum’s long arms and intent to defend the paint with authority.

On offense he flashed the moves that made him an all-star this season. He powered into hooks to the middle of the floor and displayed solid footwork when working the baseline. He made himself available for post catches by doing his work early and kept his hands ready when working off the ball, finishing multiple plays by keeping the ball high in traffic when he made difficult catches. All in all, Bynum was excellent on offense and disruptive on defense. It would have been nice if he could have grabbed more than 6 defensive rebounds (more on this later as well) but considering how often he was forced to help on dribble penetration and in showing help on the cuts and curls that help fuel OKC’s halfcourt sets, he deserves some reprieve in this area.

Also very good was the Lakers performance in the 1st period. The ball moved on offense, players were quick to make smart decisions, and it all led to good shots that were converted at a high rate. The defense was also very good as the Lakers kept the Thunder mostly on the perimeter and contested nearly every shot that went up. The Lakers played a controlled, disciplined style that proved they’re capable of hanging (and beating, if only for 12 minutes) one of the best teams in the league. If they could have bottled that effort for the rest of the game, things may have been different. However….

The Bad:
Let’s make a list, shall we?

  • The Thunder grabbed 19 offensive rebounds on the night and scored 23 second chance points.
  • The Lakers showed a complete inability to slow Russell Westbrook in the open court as he pushed the ball down their throats on multiple occasions. Westbrook ended up with 36 points on the night, including 27 in the 2nd half.
  • Kobe shot 7-25 on the night, missing some makable shots in the process but also relying on too many jumpers against tight defense in trying to get his baskets.
  • Kobe and Bynum played 41 minutes a piece in a game that was a late game (and mostly meaningless) run from being a double digit loss.
  • The Lakers gave up an offensive efficiency of 118 on the night, a mark that is 8 points (per 100 possessions) higher than the Thunder’s league leading mark on the season.
  • Gasol played 32 minutes. If you wonder why that’s bad, it’s because he was needed for more minutes but couldn’t play them because he picked up 3 fouls in the first 2 minutes of the 3rd quarter and had to go to the bench with 4. He sat the rest of that frame and by the time he got back into the game the game was already heavily tilted in the Thunder’s favor with momentum fully swung in their direction.
  • To rub salt in the wounds of this night, Fisher played well for his new team in hitting 3 of his 5 shots and ended up stopping the bleeding for the Thunder with 3 straight makes when their offense was flailing. The rest of his game was mostly forgettable but those shots, in the moment, were huge for the Thunder.

Ultimately, it was the Lakers’ defense that did them in tonight, though. As mentioned OKC’s offensive efficiency was off the charts good. The Lakers lack of floor balance made OKC’s transition offense even better than normal and the inability to close possessions with defensive rebounds was nightmarish most of the night.

The Ugly:
On a more general note, this game proved that the Lakers are a class below the Thunder right now. OKC couldn’t have played much worse in the first half (Durant was 5-16 for only 10 points, they were sloppy on O and D, etc, etc) but only trailed by 5 after 24 minutes. When Westbrook went nova in the 2nd half, the Lakers had little ability to keep pace and the game got out of hand to the point that the home crowd booed the team. Worse yet, the Lakers looked like a defeated team with no answers on how to solve the Thunder once the game started to turn. OKC’s D tightened and the Lakers couldn’t find a way to attack them with any success, ultimately relying on fading and leaning jumpers.

Said another way, OKC showed that they’re much better than the Lakers and considering it was a home game for the Lakers and that the season only has 15 games left that’s a bad sign. I mentioned before the game that this was a measuring stick game and the Lakers showed that they don’t measure up in falling way short of competing over the final two and a half quarters. Time is running short for this team to get it together and while Mike Brown searches for rotations that work, his big three are playing heavy minutes and wearing down. The formula is a bad one right now and the Lakers must find a way to get it together. And soon.

Records: Lakers 31-19 (3rd in West), Thunder 38-12 (1st in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 105.0 (15th in NBA), Thunder 110.4 (1st in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 102.2 (10th in NBA), Thunder 103.4 (12th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Ramon Sessions, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Thunder: Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins
Injuries: Lakers: Jordan Hill (doubtful); Thunder: Daequan Cook (out), Eric Maynor (out)

The Lakers Coming in: The news cycle is still stuck on Andrew Bynum’s three pointer and subsequent benching, but there are actually bigger, team-wide issues to delve into with the Lakers. For instance, their decline in defense since the trade deadline. Per ESPN Stats and Information, since the trade deadline the Lakers have been the 20th best team in terms of defensive efficiency. They’ve given up about 6 points more per 100 possessions after the trade deadline than before it and this fact needs to be rectified sooner rather than later. Recently they’ve given up too many open jumpers and their inability to slow dribble penetration has been a primary reason. Guards and wings are getting into the lane too easily and it’s forcing big men to help and the defense to collapse, with rotations back to shooters not happening quickly enough. And when the bigs don’t help in time, the Lakers are giving up too many layups and even too many put-back attempts – which is counterintuitive since the bigs who aren’t helping should be in position to secure defensive rebounds.

The news isn’t all bad since the trade deadline, however. Over at NBA.com, John Schuhmann has crunched some numbers on the Lakers since acquiring Sessions and there are a lot of positives. You should read the entire thing, but this note on how big an impact he’s had while on the floor is quite telling:

The Lakers have outscored their opponents by 12.0 points per 100 possessions and by 56 points total with Sessions on the floor over the last seven games. With him on the bench, they’ve been outscored by 11.6 points per 100 possessions and by 38 points total. That discrepancy is about equal to the difference between the Bulls (+9.5) and the Bobcats (-14.3). So while his team hasn’t shot up the standings upon his arrival, Sessions has clearly been doing his part.

Again, go read the entire thing but numbers like these should be encouraging – especially if the Lakers can regain some of their focus on defense.

The Thunder Coming in: OKC has won four in a row (including a drubbing of the Heat on national TV this past Sunday) and seven of their last ten. They’re playing like a well-oiled machine, stopping teams defensively and putting the gears to them on offense with a multi-pronged attack that’s extremely difficult to slow down, much less stop. Against the Heat, they went away from some of their isolation sets and preyed on Miami’s over-aggressive defense by busting out a nice action built off on-ball screens that left their big men uncovered for easy finishes. Needless to say, it’s plays like that one and their growing maturity and confidence that make them one of the league’s best teams and true contender to win the championship.

Of course, this team also made a move recently by acquiring Derek Fisher after he was bought out by the Rockets. I’ve said a lot about Derek since he was traded at the deadline to the Rockets, but with him coming back to Staples as a visitor tonight, allow me a few more words….

Tonight will be strange for fans and Lakers players alike. Fisher’s play had diminished in the past few seasons but his leadership and presence had immense value to the Lakers. Having him return as a foe – and a member of a top flight team – is…strange. I would have preferred Fisher retire a Laker, but for all intents and purposes, he’ll be a Laker for life for many of us. When he comes into the game tonight, I’ll be clapping for him from my living room just as fans will be cheering for him from the stands. That said, once the ball goes live he’s a member of the other team. As Kobe said last week, it’d be disrespectful of Fisher – as a competitor – to take it easy on him and not try to “destroy” him. So while Fish will always have a place in my heart for all he’s done as a player that’s given me such joy, tonight I want him to leave a loser at the hands of the Lakers.

Thunder Blogs: Daily Thunder is a great site that does an excellent job covering that team. Check out their work.

Keys to game: Because there’s so much ground to cover in this section, I’m going to bullet points for this section:

  • Durant vs. Ron will play a major role in how this game’s determined. In the last match up between these teams, Durant went off for 33 points. He made 12 of his 22 FGs, but an even crazier 10 of his 14 two-point shots. He was able to create off the dribble and get into the paint to finish, or use the threat of his quickness to get up jumpers just out of reach of a good challenge from his man. In the past, Ron’s physical defense and ball denials bothered KD, but in the last game he shrugged off those tactics and still got his points fairly easily. If the Lakers are to win tonight, Ron will need to be better as will Barnes. The Laker bigs will also need to be more aware in how they help on KD off the ball, as they must help Ron and Matt navigate screens and serve as deterrents to the easy passes that KD can catch on the move to set up easy (for him) looks. Of course they can’t over-help as they may fall victim to the play OKC put on Miami, but they’ll need to be smart and disciplined when defending off the ball.
  • Who will guard Westbrook? In the past, Kobe’s guarded Russ and given him a modified version of the Rondo treatment by laying off him and inviting the jumpshot. However, a lot of that match up was dictated off the Lakers not having a PG with enough quickness to stay with Russ in either the open or half court. With Sessions on board, it will be interesting to see who this match up falls to, because if Kobe is on Russ he’ll be expending a lot of energy chasing one of best athletes and offensive weapons in the entire league at any position. I’d much rather prefer to see if Sessions is up to the task and turn to Kobe in crucial possessions if needed, rather than have Kobe chase him around whenever they share the court.
  • The Laker bigs must play big tonight. Ibaka and Perkins are known for their defense, but both Pau and Bynum can have success against them with disciplined offensive attacks. Ibaka is a great shot blocker, but he can be susceptible to shot fakes and quick, assertive moves. Pau can take what the D gives him (which will be his jumper) but he will need to also go to the post for optimal success, and that means dealing with Ibaka’s shot blocking prowess. Quick hooks and power drives when turning and facing will serve Pau well tonight. As for Bynum, he has an advantage over Perkins and has had one nearly every time they’ve faced off when both were completely healthy. He can use his power game and counters to get good shots in close whenever he’s isolated on the block. However, he must also do his work early in possessions by fighting for position before he has the ball. The defense will likely dig down on him to make him a passer, but he should use those opportunities to make a quick pass back to the perimeter and then re-post quickly to get even better position. I know that Bynum’s been the subject of criticism lately, but his play tonight can be a major factor in making that all yesterday’s news. He must simply embrace it and go hard.
  • Kobe will face off against an old foe in Thabo tonight. They’ve gone head to head many times over the years (dating back to when Sefolosha was in Chicago), and in the past year or so I’ve noticed that Kobe’s gotten a much better feel for how he likes to attack the rangy defense offered. In the last game, Thabo didn’t play and Kobe had to deal a lot more with Durant and the underrated Harden on D. With Thabo back in the fold, expect Kobe to have a better plan of attack than he showed the last game. He’ll need it too, because without an efficient night from Bean the Lakers will be hard pressed to win this game.
  • Speaking of Harden, the Lakers must slow him down tonight. He got going in the last game and blew the game open with his shot making and creativity off the bounce. The Lakers didn’t have anyone to really guard him, but I’m hoping with Brown tweaking his substitutions we’ll get to see Barnes on the Beard more often tonight, with Ron still in the game to guard Durant. Harden’s a crafty penetrator and is an excellent P&R ball handler who’s proven to have great chemistry with Nick Collison when both are in the game. Whoever is on him will need to make him shoot jumpers off the dribble, with the back line of the defense ready to step up early and contest shots without fouling. Harden is a master of drawing contact so that last point is very important. Sending him to the FT line for easy points can really get him going and must be avoided.
  • Lastly, I’d like to see Sessions more involved on offense tonight than he was on Tuesday against the Warriors. In that game he was a bit tentative and the Lakers seemed to purposefully go to more big man and wing screen actions to get Kobe, Pau, and Andrew going. Tonight, though, Sessions’ speed and ability to get into the lane and finish or draw fouls once there will be a needed ingredient to a win. Despite his reputation as a strong defensive guard, Westbrook can be taken advantage of on that side of the ball and it will be up to Sessions to do so. Smart drives and cuts, change of pace plays, and open court chances will all be available tonight should he look for them. Here’s hoping he does.

If there were ever a measuring stick game, this is it. The Thunder lead the West and are the favorites to represent the conference in the Finals come June. The Lakers used to be the team that was thought of that way, but last year’s sweep and up and down play this year makes that no longer be the case. The other day, Kobe said that he doesn’t understand why people don’t consider the Lakers a title contender and that people seem to discount them too often. That can start to change with a win tonight.

Where you can watch: 7:30PM start time on TNT. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.

Wednesday Storylines

Dave Murphy —  March 28, 2012

The Lakers needed a win last night to get rid of the taste of Sunday night’s debacle against Memphis. Needed, in the sense of moving past Coach Brown’s fourth quarter benching of his reigning superstar, Kobe Bryant. They got the win, but haven’t moved past a coach’s corrective actions. This time, Brown sat the team’s emerging superstar, Andrew Bynum – this after the low-post resident chucked up an ill-advised three-point attempt in the third quarter.

The win didn’t come easily. Credit the undersized Warriors for their effort – a team that’s not remotely superstar found a way back in after being down by double digits. On the Lakers side, Matt Barnes and World Peace played hard, Pau Gasol had 17 rebounds, and Kobe made a couple of clutch baskets at the end to seal the deal.

One of the key differences in the benching of Kobe on Sunday, and Andrew last night, is in their own reactions. Kobe accepted what happened and refused to fuel it as a story. Andrew’s not there yet. His truculent statement to reporters that he’s gonna keep taking threes, was no way to put out a fire. The links are largely Bynum-centric, because there is simply no way around it

Brian Kamenetzky from the Land O’Lakers has a rapid reaction to the games ups and downs.

Marc Spears at Yahoo Sports looks at Andrew Bynum’s immaturity, on a night when Kobe Bryant reached an important milestone.

Dave McMenamin from EPSN provides another look at the benching of Bynum, and his reaction to it.

Kevin Ding at the OC Register has news on Jordan Hill’s knee.

Tim Harvey for Lakers Nation has a nice piece about Kobe and Ramon, 24/7.

Andrew Lynch at Hardwood Paroxysm writes about basketball’s home stretch, 17 games in 31 days.

Dexter Fishmore at Silver Screen and Roll steers the conversation back to Bynum, on a night when Matt Barnes logged the best game of his season, against the team he once played for.

If anyone needs a feel-good post today, news of the Dodgers purchase by the Magic-led group came down last night. Dexter writes about this as well – it’s a terrific development for Dodgers fans, and for baseball in general.

***

Coaching the Los Angeles Lakers is no easy task. Mike Brown came into his job in a lockout year. He’s trying to instill a new system, meld new players together on the fly, and learn how to handle his big three. He’s trying, and was probably right in sitting Andrew down. On whole however, his leadership skills in Los Angeles have been middling. Bringing the boom down on both Kobe and Andrew, in a 48 hour span, heading into the crucial stretch drive, is at the least, curious. Next up, tomorrow night’s game against the best of the west, the Oklahoma City Thunder. And, the return of Derek Fisher –our former peacemaker.

– Dave Murphy

 

On a night that turned exciting for several right and wrong reasons, the Lakers defeated the Warriors 104-101 to move their record to 31-19 on the year. It wasn’t the best played contest from the Lakers and the Warriors – as they’re known to do at home against their divisional rival – rode their fan’s energy to keep it close but in the end they didn’t have enough. A few scattered thoughts on the game:

*Pau Gasol came to play. The big Spaniard finished with 19 points, 17 rebounds (4 offensive), 3 assists, 1 steal and 1 block on the night. He worked his post game with deft footwork and great awareness of positioning and hit his jumper as well. On one particular play he got the ball on the right block, went hard to the baseline, but after getting cut off pivoted back to the middle and extended his long left arm and dropped in a nifty lefty hook over his man. Defensively he was also very good, contesting shots without fouling and then cleaning up the boards when the shots he challenged fell off the rim. All in all it was a great night from Gasol, especially after having a poor shooting night against the Grizz on Sunday.

*The Laker small forwards were simply tremendous. Matt Barnes provided his typical energy off the bench, hustling for rebounds and slashing his way to the rim for baskets in the paint. Several times he finished in traffic after a nice dive cut when the defense had their heads turned. When he wasn’t doing work in the paint though, he was hitting his outside jumper. Barnes nailed 3 of his 5 attempts from behind the arc, one of which was a run stopper that pushed the Lakers lead back to 5 after the Dubs had whittled the lead down to only a single basket. Matt’s 17 points (on only 10 shots), 10 rebounds, 3 assists, and two blocks were as stellar as his high revving motor. Ron was also great, though. His boxscore of 11 points on 13 shots with 5 rebounds and 3 assists really don’t do his night justice. He was a menace around the rim on defense by challenging shots without fouling and his typical bully on offense by banging guys in the paint, clearing space for himself and his teammates. His efficiency wasn’t there tonight, but he was plenty effective in ways that affected the game in a positive way.

*The Warriors really did shoot the lights out in the 2nd half. In the final 24 minutes they hit 21 of their 43 field goals (including 4 of their 9 three point attempts) and all 7 of their free throws. Brandon Rush was especially potent, knocking down 9 of his 13 shots in the final two frames and pacing his team with 21 points over those 24 minutes.

*A key to the Warriors great second half was an unconventional lineup they threw at the Lakers. Mark Jackson went with a group of Klay Thompson, Rush, Richard Jefferson, Dominic McGuire, and David Lee to great effectiveness. This lineup’s size and versatility forced the Laker PG (first Blake and later Sessions) to guard a bigger, stronger player and ultimately put the Lakers in help situations that led to open jumpers. Often it was Klay Thompson posting up either Blake or Sessions on the right wing and then using his size advantage to either shoot over the top or read the D to make an easy pass that got the Lakers into a scramble mode. Credit Jackson for finding a grouping that worked.

*Kobe also deserves some kind words after his night. He wasn’t that efficient with his shot (9-24 on the night) but he earned 12 trips to the foul line (making 11) and hit two huge jumpers on back to back possessions that tied the game and then gave them the lead. Both shots were contested baseline jumpers from the left wing but he rattled both home with 1:04 and :32 remaining in the game, ultimately turning the contest in the Lakers’ favor. Add in his 5 rebounds and 5 assists to his 30 points and his final line was a very good one.

*Looking at the offense from a big picture perspective, it looked like the Lakers went away from a lot of their P&R actions and instead focused more on their weak side screen sets and some cross-screen actions to free their big men. It wasn’t that they didn’t run any P&R’s, but when they did they were more subdued with the actions rarely producing anything other than a swing pass around the perimeter. A lot of this was due to Sessions being a bit more tentative off the dribble tonight than he’s been in past games, but it also looked like a concerted effort to try and work the ball to Kobe and big men in the sets they’ve ran for most of the year.

*Lastly, if you’ve made it this far you’ve noticed that one player I haven’t brought up is Andrew Bynum. That’s because his game (and comments afterwards) were just as crazy as the contest between the two teams. First of all, coming off the Grizzlies game – where he totaled only 4 rebounds and played defense only half heartedly – you’d have thought Bynum would come out assertive on the glass and on D. However, that was not the case. Big Drew totaled only 3 rebounds at halftime and his D was only slightly better. Yes he challenged shots but he was also caught – on more than one occasion – leaking out for a rim run before the ball was secured. So, when the third quarter rolled around, I think the general thought was that Bynum would go a bit harder, brining focus and energy to the game. Yeah, not so much. After about 2 and a half minutes of action in the 3rd period, Bynum decided that he was going to fire up a contested three pointer with 16 seconds left on the shot clock. When his shot predictably missed, he loafed back on defense and while the Warriors didn’t score on  that possession, that really wasn’t the point and at the next time out he was pulled from the game. For the rest of that quarter he didn’t leave the bench and, according to tweets from reporters on site, that included when the team huddled up during timeouts. Bynum did see more game action to start the 4th quarter but after not showing much besides some anger in attacking the basket on post moves (on shots he missed, by the way) Mike Brown pulled him again after 2 minutes and 50 seconds and sat him on the bench. After the game Bynum commented that he’d like to expand his game to include three pointers and that he didn’t think the shot was worthy of a benching. And when asked about why he didn’t leave the bench to join the huddles he said that he just stayed where the coach put him.

Now, I think it’d be a bit small picture to really harp on Bynum for this one shot. People take bad shots all the time and while an all star big man who’s a beast on the block shooting a three pointer (when he’s only taken 8 in his career) seems out of line, lets act like it’s not for a moment. I’m not even that upset about his comments after the game. In fact, to me at least, they’re kind of amusing. In fact, on twitter, I was making jokes about them because I was in that kind of mood.

That said, what does concern me is Bynum’s casual relationship with defense, rebounding, and (essentially) trying on the defensive side of the floor in a couple of recent games. I mean it’s one thing to not be effective or to make some questionable plays. It’s another to barely try. Bynum is still good enough that he can impact the game with barely trying – he contested and altered a shot in his short 4th quarter stint without even leaving his feet while barely showing any effort to even slide his feet – but lets not make this a habit, you know? And in the past couple of games, it has been a habit. Again, I can live with some bad shots or poor decisions. I’ve watched Kobe Bryant his entire career, there’ve been plenty of bad shots and poor decisions. Lack of effort is different though. You can call it a lack of maturity or a young, talented player pushing the envelope but ultimately it will need to stop at some point. It just will.

In the end though, this was a win and I’m happy with that. The fact that after the game Kobe said that he thought Bynum was “testing the limits of his game” and that Ron said he didn’t think Bynum’s shot was a bad one only adds to the drama (while also adding to my own personal laughs) that came after the contest when it was all said and done, but I’m still happy about the win. Several players stepped up and big plays were made down the stretch to secure a win that was very much in doubt. This wasn’t the best game and there’s still plenty to work on but I’ll happily have that be the case after a win rather than have the same be true while lamenting over a loss.

Records: Lakers 30-19 (3rd in West), Warriors 20-27 (13th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 104.8 (15th in NBA), Warriors 105.4 (11th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 102.1 (11th in NBA), Warriors 107.5 (26th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Ramon Sessions, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Warriors: Charles Jenkins, Clay Thompson, Dorell Wright, David Lee, Jeremy Tyler
Injuries: Lakers: none; Warriors: Steph Curry (out), Andrew Bogut (out), Andris Biedrins (questionable), Nate Robinson (questionable)

The Lakers Coming in: The Lakers are 3-3 in their last 6 games and after their last performance against the Grizzlies there’s an air of frustration pegged against a backdrop of optimism. The frustration stems from this team being unable to channel solid play for more than a couple of game stretch with levels of execution and effort wavering like a captive criminal under interrogation. Sometimes they’re defiantly good, showing everyone that counting them out is risk best not taken while on other nights their weaknesses are on full display. The fact of the matter is that this team is both a contender and a team with flaws. When at their best they can play with any team and with Sessions now in the fold they’re more dangerous than ever. When at their worst they’re too top heavy and overly dependent on their top players to produce at or above their all-star levels nightly with little room for error. If the effort wanes or the execution breaks down they become vulnerable against any team. The goal, of course, is to tighten things up en route to the playoffs and in that respect I think they’re doing okay. Only time will tell, however.

The Warriors Coming in: Over at Warriors World, friend and contributor to FB&G J.M. Poulard explained where the Warriors are, right now, in this tidy summary:

With the Golden State Warriors stuck in the land of mediocrity, they decided to make a trade that would help them in the future but also set them back for the present in the standings. For lack of a better term, the Dubs are tanking. The objective in this case is to get the players to play hard, give the young guys some playing time in order to find out what they are capable of but also give them a chance to gain some confidence in their abilities. Stephen Curry has missed time due to injury but will undoubtedly help the team whenever he does get back on the court and be the face of the franchise. Warriors fans are slowly coming to grips with the rebuilding project but they aren’t the only fan base that had to change their expectations during the course of the season.

The trade J.M. referenced was the acquisition of Andrew Bogut and Stephen Jackson (who has since been dealt to the Spurs for Richard Jefferson) while shipping out fan favorite Monta Ellis, former lottery pick (and plus/minus god) Epke Udoh, and Kwame Brown. This trade has opened up playing time for rookie Clay Thompson and given the team the center it’s craved for so long.

That said, it’s also made them into a worse team as Bogut is out with a fractured ankle (and unlikely to play the rest of this season) and Steph Curry is out with the ankle/foot issues that have plagued him for most of this season. So, it’s no wonder that the Dubs lost 5 of 7 since the trade and that the fans – who were sold on the idea of this team making the playoffs this season by ownership and head coach Mark Jackson – are upset. I mean, real upset.

Warriors Blogs: Warriors World is a very good resource for all your news and analysis on the Dubs.

Keys to the game: Tonight’s contest offers an interesting crossroads. Most observers of the Warriors claim the team is tanking. Their draft pick in the upcoming draft is only top 7 protected so if they win too many games and finish with too good a record, the Jazz will be celebrating like college kids who just found out they’re going to the NCAA tourney on selection Sunday. So, losing some games really is in their best interests. However, whenever the Lakers come to Oakland the competitive juices start to flow, the crowd becomes electric and competing hard is rarely an option.

And while the talent on display will be heavily tilted in the Lakers’ favor, effort (and some good old fashioned momentum) can be the great equalizer. The question is, will the Warriors compete hard and try to take out their divisional foe or will they roll over and play down to the level that their talent should dictate? The answer will influence this game and its results.

From a strategy standpoint, the Lakers advantage is inside and they must use it. Bynum’s coming off a 30 point game and if Biedrins doesn’t play will be matched up with a rookie taken in the 2nd round who’s been shuttled between the Dubs and the D-League all season. Gasol will likely be matched up with David Lee who, as a defender, doesn’t possess the instincts to slow the Spaniard with any consistency. Punishing this team inside is the recipe to winning and, as it should be most nights, is the tactic I hope to see most.

This game should also be a good night to run a lot of P&R’s. As mentioned, the Dubs big men aren’t strong defenders and putting them in this action will force them to make multiple reads on both the ball and in recovering to the paint. Sessions should be able to either turn the corner or make quick passes either to the roll man, the wing (whose man will need to help on penetration), or to the weak side big man ducking in. The Lakers have not yet fully explored all their options on the P&R but against a weak defensive team like the Warriors, tonight would be a good time to do just that.

Defensively the Warriors, even without some of their best players, offer an intriguing match up. They will try to push the pace and will run a lot of P&R actions in early offense where the big man will pop for a jumper after setting the screen (especially David Lee). The Lakers must get back on D (something they struggled with against the Grizzlies) and must be ready to defend once fully retreated to their defensive end. The Warriors want to run teams down and create open jumpers early in the clock for their myriad of shooters. Thompson, Wright, Brandon Rush, Lee, Jefferson, and even Dominic McGuire can all hit the open shot and it’s their preference to create those opportunities against a defense that’s not yet set.

In the half court, they’ll run a lot of P&R’s, weak side screen actions to free up Thompson (and the rest of their shooters), and isolations on the shallow wing and mid/low post for Lee to try and create offense. The Lakers defense will need to be active and show good communication to help on the screen actions and be ready to rotate to shooters should they shake free. One match up I’ll be watching intently is Klay Thompson and whoever guards him. If it’s Ron, it will be interesting to see if the rookie can shake free from the physical D he’ll be exposed to. Ron will body him over screens and Thompson will need to show strength in holding him off to create the angles needed for the screens to be effective. If Kobe’s on him, I want to see how much respect Kobe shows him; or said another way, I want to see if Kobe plays him tight or roams off him. Kobe’s always had a certain affinity for going at certain young players (Curry and Mayo immediately come to mind) and it will be interesting to see if he treats Thompson the same way, especially since he has some Lakers’ connections (his dad is Mychal Thompson, if you didn’t know).

In the end, this is a game the Lakers not only should win but need to win. The urgency must be there and after a poor effort on Sunday, I hope it will be.

Where you can watch: 7:30PM start time on KCAL and NBA TV. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.