Archives For April 2012

Records: Lakers 40-23 (3rd in the West), Spurs 43-16 (1st in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 106.1 (11th in the NBA), Spurs 110.1 (1st in the NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 103.9 (13th in the NBA), Spurs 103.3 (11th in the NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Ramon Sessions, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Spurs: Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan, DeJuan Blair
Injuries: Lakers: none; Spurs: none

In the last week and a half, the Lakers played one of their best games of the season (one the road) and one of their worst (at home) — both coming against the San Antonio Spurs. The weirdest quirk in this year’s NBA schedule was having the Lakers and Spurs not play each other until April and have them match up three times in the last couple weeks of the season. The first two games have been just as quirky as the strange scheduling as we watched a couple of outlier performances turn into a couple of blow out games, which is something Darius touched on in the recap of the Lakers loss at home earlier this week.

In the first game we saw the Lakers dominate on the boards, with Andrew Bynum grabbing 30+ by himself and the Spurs only grabbing a single offensive rebound. Ron shot incredibly well from the field, including five-for-eight from three to the tune of 26 points, his highest to date as a member of the Lakers. The Lakers moved the ball well, had fairly good shot distribution and worked about as hard on the defensive end as we’ve seen all season. We also saw what might have been Tony Parker’s worst game of the season (two-for-12 shooting, four points, eight assists) while Manu Ginobili also struggled to make anything happened. Couple the above with the fact that the Lakers huge rebound advantage controlled the pace, you end with a pretty solid performance from the Lakers on the road.

However, just a week later the tables were turned and Tony. Parker. Went. Off. 29 points and 13 assists are both as wild to expect from the Frenchman as two points on .167 shooting. The Spurs also shifted the rebounding advantage in their favor — both teams recorded 37 rebounds, but this is one of those situations where “even is not even” (anyone who has played DB for a football team has heard that phrase). One of the Lakers biggest advantages over the Spurs is their ability to create second opportunities for themselves and prevent the same from happening for San Antonio, when those numbers are even, advantage Spurs. San Antonio shot 60 percent as a team from the field and were able to play at a pace they were more comfortable with. They got out and ran the Lakers off the floor, including an 18-0 run in the second quarter which saw the Lakers turn the ball over on five straight possessions. What made this game even weirder was the fact that the Lakers weren’t exactly horrible on the offensive end of the floor. The starters shot exactly .500 from the floor, the shot distribution was balanced almost exactly how you’d like a Kobe-less team to be and assisted on 28 of 39 made field goals. The Lakers just couldn’t get a stop.

Tonight, an element foreign to the first two games will finally show his face: Kobe Bryant. In his absence, the Lakers played fairly well — most notably the Bynum-Gasol-Artest troika. Artest scored 16+ points per game and shot 50 percent from the field. Bynum averaged 23 and 14 (18 and 12 on the season) and got to the line seven times per game. While Artest and Bynum have gotten much of the attention in Kobe’s absence, Pau has been just as good. He’s played more minutes than anyone in the last seven game (267), and while he’s been on the court, the Lakers offensive and defensive efficiency were 111.8 and 104.1, respectively. That +7.7 differential was the best on the team. While he was off the court, the OEff and DEff were 87.3 and 119.4 — a -32.1 differential. Suffice to say, Pau was pretty important during that seven game stretch without Kobe.

Tonight, those guys are going to lose some touches, but it’s going to be key for them to stay within the flow of the game and stay active with or without the ball in their hand. We can only hope that Mike Brown gets Kobe back into the flow of the game giving him his touches through a series of cross screens, curls toward the basket and spot up opportunities. For tonight, having Kobe handle the ball as little as possible would make for the most seamless integration of the team’s good play in his absence and the addition of the individual talent that Bean brings to the table.

Also, controlling the rebounds will control the pace. And controlling the pace seems to be the best way to beat this Spurs team. They’re not as good defensively as they used to be, and having them defend in the half court as much as possible keeps them from lighting up the box score. Andrew Bynum doesn’t have to grab 30 rebound, but the Lakers have to crash the boards as a collective unit. The same efforts need to be applied on the defensive end as well. In the last game, perimeter defenders failed to fight through screens and guards made them pay for going under screens by knocking down a barrage of jump shots. When bigs lazily hedged in P&R situations, Parker and Ginobili took it to the basket and consistently finished around the rim. Guys have to rotate to shooters, secondary help has to be on time and Bynum has to play with the intensity he had in their first meeting.

We shouldn’t expect a blowout win from either side. However, if the Lakers are disciplined on both sides of the ball, they keep Tony Parker out of the paint and crash the boards hard, they have the personnel and the game style to beat this Spurs team.

Where you can watch: 6:30 p.m. start on KCAL and nationally on ESPN. You can listen to the game on ESPN Radio 710 AM.

Friday Forum

Dave Murphy —  April 20, 2012

 

And so here we are. The tail end of the regular season, the last of the three game series against the Spurs, and the return of Kobe Bryant after seven games off. The team has played well in his absence, and is certainly an emerging contender for another title run.

Andy Kamenetzky at the Land O’Lakers, has five questions about the return of Kobe.

Brian Kamenetzky at the LOL reports on Portland, possibly making a run at Mitch Kupchak.

Wondahbap at Silver Screen and Roll writes that the Lakers seemed primed for a serious playoff run

Dexter Fishmore at SSR wonders if the MWP rebirth can survive Kobe’s return.

Theshmoes at SSR writes about the western conference seedings.

Kevin Ding at the OC Register says it’s mostly fascination by association, but offers a peek inside a sportswriter’s life.

Interesting piece from Mark Heisler at Sheridan Hoops, about Kobe’s long and winding road.

Mike Bresnahan at the L.A. Times writes about the need for balance, with Kobe’s return.

Jabari Davis at Lakers Nation, on MWP and Matt Barnes as the Lakers’ renaissance men.

A game preview from Quincy Scott at the excellent Spurs blog, Pounding the Rock.

Adrian Wojinarowski at Yahoo Sports writes about the union leadership battle between Billy Hunter and Derek Fisher.

***

Tonight’s game is an impossible one to predict – there are simply too many variables. The Spurs are bound to be more prepared at home than they were for the last Lakers visit. And the Lakers need to have more resolve and desire than they did at home on Tuesday. And of course, everybody’s asking the Kobe question. My own sense is that he’ll go with the flow, find his spots, and be an assassin. Beware of Mamba.

Coming into this season, many openly wondered if the Los Angeles Lakers would even manage to qualify for the seventh spot in the Western Conference. The argument was that given their lack of athleticism, the loss of Lamar Odom as well as the departure of Phil Jackson that the team would take a huge step back.

What had been a cohesive unit for three straight Finals appearances, would suddenly forget how to play together without the triangle offense as their foundation. In addition, judging from his days with the Cleveland Cavaliers where he essentially allowed LeBron James to monopolize the offense, Mike Brown was far from an offensive genius.

With that said, his defenses always looked above average, and there was no reason to expect any different in Los Angeles, especially with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol there to anchor the paint. Mind you, the defense would take time to bring up to speed given the condensed schedule.

And if that wasn’t enough, if Mike Brown was powerless in front of LeBron, there was no way he would be able to hold Kobe Bryant accountable.

Those were some of the concerns coming into the season for Lakers fans; and detractors took it a step further and stated that the team would fall off a cliff given these “facts”.

These issues were obviously warranted but they were a little overblown. Let’s be honest here, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum helped the Lakers win three Western Conference crowns and two NBA titles. These guys weren’t scrubs.

And yet, the popular opinion was that the 2012 Los Angeles Lakers could not compete for a title.

Oh and this just in: the Los Angeles Lakers lead the Pacific division and own the third best record in the conference.

They defeated the San Antonio Spurs, Denver Nuggets and Dallas Mavericks without their superstar guard and in the process saw Andrew Bynum not only dominate for stretches, but play the part of a franchise player.

Indeed, the big man has used the additional touches to put up more points and has also displayed great effort and energy on the boards.

The end result?

The Lakers are a far more dangerous team these days with Kobe Bryant on the sidelines. It’s not so much that the team is better off without him, but rather that Bean has had the chance to watch the big man tag team work together and see just how productive and effective they can be when given a more than adequate amount of touches; especially Bynum.

This may come as a shocker, but this installment of the Lakers may be a remix of the 2001 squad.

Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant spent the bulk of the 2000-01 season wrestling over control of the team and then Kobe went down with an injury towards the end of the regular season and had a chance to watch the team gel and display good team chemistry. By the time he finally reinserted the lineup, he played perfectly in concert with Shaq and the rest of his teammates, picking his spots and understanding when to assert himself offensively.

The circumstances and the roster may be different, but the situation is relatively similar. Bryant has spent the season leading the league in scoring, usage rate — the percentage of possessions of the team that a player uses — and field goal attempts despite having two stud big men as teammates.

Granted, it’s nearly impossible to predict whether the Lakers all time leading scorer will curtail his game even a little to feed the interior more; but given what he has seen from his teammates as of late, he may in fact choose to go that route and ride them as much as possible and then assert himself when the offense demands for him to breath some life into it.

The book on Bryant is that he has always wanted to win on his own terms, but chasing that sixth championship might just prove to be enough motivation to take a step back and then only take a few steps forward when the situation calls for it.

Fans of opposing teams have been terrified of Kobe and his scoring explosions, but the scariest thing for them is the Bean that can go back and forth between playmaker and cold-blooded assassin.

One can only wait with great anticipation for the guard to return to the team and to see how he incorporates himself back into the fold. The same Bryant may help the team get to the second round or possibly the conference finals, but a slightly different Kobe may help the Lakers win the whole thing.

The emergence of Bynum this season has made the Lakers a serious contender, but let’s not forget that it all starts and ends with the purple and gold’s leading scorer.

To KoBe or not to KoBe, that is the question at hand…

Box Score: Lakers 99, Warriors 87

Offensive Efficiency: Lakers 120.7, Warriors 106.1

True Shooting %: Lakers 58.1%, Warriors 47.2%

The Los Angeles Lakers played their seventh straight game without Kobe Bryant but quite frankly didn’t need him. The Purple and Gold came out looking to dominate the interior and showed a great level of energy on the road despite playing last night against the San Antonio Spurs.

So takeaways from the game?

The Good

Andrew Bynum was a beast early in the game, bulldozing through defenders and also spinning away from them early in the game to put up 17 points in the first quarter. Pau Gasol complemented his center with his scoring, rebounding and exquisite passing on his way to an impressive triple double.

The tag team combined for 53 points, 20 rebounds and 12 assists on 19-for-30 shooting and helped the Lakers score a staggering 62 points in the paint.

As impressive as the tandem was against the Warriors, they managed to– brace yourself for a Phil Jacksonism — share the spotlight with their teammates. Indeed, the interior passing allowed players such as MWP and Devin Ebanks to get some great looks at the rim and it also created good ball movement which resulted in multiple high percentage shots and 34 assists on the night.

Even more impressive, the Lakers didn’t panic when they saw the Warriors’ zone, and instead kept the focus on getting the ball inside to Bynum, Gasol and World Peace to do damage in the paint instead of camping out and firing away from deep. The Lakers only attempted a mere 14 shots from 3-point range, many of which came towards the end of contest when Brown emptied the bench.

The Bad

Typically this would be where we discuss where one or two things that went wrong in the night’s performance, but after watching the Lakers blow out the Warriors, we’ll go in another direction: Metta World Peace.

It’s not that he played badly, but rather that he was a ­bad man tonight, making things difficult and unpleasant for his opponents. He chased Klay Thompson around and made life tough for him when matched up with him, but he was also a bull on the block given his size and strength.

World Peace was able to seal his defender on a few occasions down low — by the way, MWP occasionally went down there with both Bynum and Gasol on the court — and muscle him around for easy scores; but instead of simply looking to score, he also did a great job of distributing the ball to open players as evidenced by his nine assists.

He was plus-21 tonight and that certainly jives with what was observed on the court. His intensity on both ends of the floor was certainly important and it went a long way towards determining who would hit first, and that was the Lakers.

The Ugly

The Lakers did a good job of defending in the half court and forcing Golden State to shoot contested midrange jumpers off the dribble, which are difficult to convert. However, Mike Brown’s group did a poor job in the first half of getting back in transition after misses and turnovers. The Warriors used that to their advantage by getting out in the open court and creating some terrific looks at the rim.

Even if the fast break in itself was done, Golden State’s ability to run out and get into early offense meant that they could find driving lanes with the big men slowly retreating back into the paint.

This issue was corrected in the second half but is nonetheless troubling given that the Dubs didn’t have a top-notch point guard speeding up the tempo and flying down the court.

It’s also worth mentioning that the Lakers defense was less than stellar when the second unit made its way onto the court. Golden State’s bench was able to produce 29 points on 13-for-28 (46.4 percent), with 22 of those coming in the first half alone.

The Warriors’ activity level was superior to the Lakers in the second quarter, but the road team came out of halftime seemingly reenergized and intent on dominating the paint on both sides of the ball, which eventually led to a blowout.

With games against elite teams on the horizon (@San Antonio on April 20th and versus OKC on April 22nd), these lapses may prove costly if they do not get addressed.

With that said, a double-digit victory on the road with your best player sitting out isn’t exactly the worst thing in the world now is it?

Records: Lakers 39-23 (3rd the West), Warriors 22-38 (13th in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 106.1 (12th in the NBA), Warriors 105.9 (13th in the NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 104.1 (13th in the NBA), Warriors 109.5 (28th in the NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Ramon Sessions, Devin Ebanks, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Warriors: Charles Jenkins, Klay Thompson, Dorell Wright, Mickell Gladness, Jeremy Tyler
Injuries: Lakers: Kobe Bryant (out); Warriors: Andris Biedrins (questionable), Andrew Bogut (out), Steph Curry (out), Richard Jefferson (out), David Lee (out)

The Lakers Coming in: Kobe Bryant will sit for his 7th straight game tonight, but is reportedly close to a return. Friday’s rubber match versus the Spurs may mark the return of the Mamba but for now he remains out. Kobe can’t get back fast enough, though. Counting tonight’s game, there are only 4 games left in the season and that means Kobe’s chance to mesh with his team in real game action is slowly slipping away. And while there will be ample practice time (especially in the 3 days off before the season finale against the Kings), it’s important to take what’s worked on in that setting to game situations to feel things out. When Kobe does return there will be an adjustment period and I’d much rather have that occur before we get into “best of 7″ territory.

One more note on last night: in the moment, you likely wouldn’t have found a more frustrated viewer than me. The 2nd quarter was a comedy of errors major and minor and to watch the team literally give the game away with a single, uninterrupted stretch of poor play had me fuming. However, when reflecting on the action (and, as a masochist of sorts, in review of the tape) the errors that the Lakers made are entirely fixable. The way they played screens, the carelessness with the ball, the lack of attention to detail…they’re all things that can be looked at on film, adjusted with practice time, and improved upon. For all the hits Mike Brown has taken, I don’t think it can be argued he’s not a good teacher of the game and that he’s enforced good habits with this team. Moving into the playoffs, I do trust he’ll have this team ready. How far they go will be dependent on a lot of factors both in and outside of his control but I’m not distraught after last night, that’s for sure.

The Warriors Coming in: What do you call a team stripped of nearly all its top end talent and replaced it with young players who are both less talented but hungry and hard working guys looking to earn a position in this league?

If you said the Warriors, you win a prize.

So, what you see with this particular group of players is hustle and effort on nearly every play, but with results that aren’t in line with how hard the team is playing. The lack of talent hurts this team in the moment, but if it helps them retain their top 7 protected draft pick this June, maybe it will all be worth it.

What will also be worth it is the information gathering that’s surely going on right now. It’s now been proven that Klay Thompson can play. Will Jeremy Tyler join him as a player that shows promise? Will Nate Robinson be a guy that sticks beyond this year? What about Dominic McGuire? These are the questions that need answering and while the manner in which the answers are being forced upon the Warriors fans can be frustrating (they really do deserve better), the data mined from this final stretch will inform future decisions. It doesn’t make it any easier, however.

Warriors Blogs: Check out Warriors World for good analysis and insight on the team from the East Bay.

Keys to game: I’d make jokes about the keys to this game being “showing up”, “tying one’s shoes properly”, and “avoiding undercooked poultry” but these are the Lakers I’m talking about – you know the team that can win or lose against anyone. So, while the Warriors won’t offer a lot of talent to match an even Kobe-less Laker team, this game still must be taken seriously from the visitors.

This means sticking to the game plan and punishing the Warriors inside. David Lee has recently been sidelined with a strained groin and that means even less depth for a Dubs team that already has a depleted front court. Even if Andris Biedrins does play, the Lakers must still attack through the post and pound this team inside via entries to the low block and on the offensive glass. If Bynum and Gasol both don’t go for double-doubles it better be because they don’t play enough minutes, not because they aren’t featured on offense.

Defensively, the Lakers’ game plan will really only come down to two factors. First, the Lakers must control the tempo of the game. Last night they got sucked into playing at the Spurs pace and as the game went on that proved to be a bad error in collective judgment. Tonight, the Warriors will try to duplicate what the Spurs did by pushing the ball after misses and makes and try to ensure that they don’t have to set up in the half court against a defense featuring two 7 footers. The Lakers must keep the floor balanced in order to transition back, build a wall against Charles Jenkins and Nate Robinson and then run to shooters that will camp behind the three point line.

Second, in the half court, the Lakers must defend screen actions better. The Warriors will run pin downs for Klay Thompson to free him for his jumper and then work weak side actions to spot up Dorell Wright. If the Lakers get caught on screens, these plays will produce open jumpers – especially from behind the arc – and if those shots start to fall the game will remain close. In recent games the Lakers have navigated screens poorly and it’s led to the types of shots capable shooters will make all night. So, they must be better against a Warriors team that will run these same actions.

Tonight is a game the Lakers must win. They should be ready to bounce back from last night, they have a much more talented team, and they have playoff positioning at stake. Said another way, there’s motivation aplenty for this team and they must channel that and deliver the W. The Dubs will fight, but the Lakers must match that energy and effort tonight. Simple as that.

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