Archives For April 2012

Wednesday Storylines

Dave Murphy —  April 11, 2012

The Lakers arrive in San Antonio for the first of their three match-ups against the Spurs, luxuriously spread out over the final eight games. I have no idea if this was a logistic practicality from the league’s schedule makers, or if David Stern is enjoying some twisted joke. The comparisons between the teams are fascinating – a long history, with a few commonalities remaining. Kobe and Duncan are the lone remaining roster members from their earliest playoff battles. It looks like Kobe won’t be playing tonight.

Andy Kamenetsky at the Land O’Lakers, talks with Andrew McNeill from the excellent Spurs blog, 48 Minutes of Hell, about tonight’s game.

Andrew McNeill from 48 Minutes from Hell talks with our stalwart leader Darius – a fantastic 4-Down podcast.

Ed from Pounding the Rock, has the Spurs/Lakers preview up. This is another of my favorite blogs. Dig around, you never know what you might find.

Actuarially Sound at Silver Screen and Roll, examines a new identity, in his Lakers trend series.

Theshmoes at SS&R, has their ever excellent Credits linkage up.

Jonathan Garza at Lakers Nation looks at the Lakers match-up against the western conference leaders.

Mike Bresnahan at the L.A. Times writes about former coach Jackson’s lack of concern for his former center’s recent impetuousness.

Jared Dublin at Hardwood Paroxysm, broke down a great Metta World Pass against the Hornets in Monday night’s game.

The OC Register is carrying a very good AP piece, on Lamar Odom, and his parting of ways with Dallas.

Kevin Ding at the OC Register, writes about Kobe’s third game in a row, in a suit.


I’m okay with Kobe sitting, now. I wish he had been given a little more rest earlier in the season. He played through his torn-up wrist, he played through a broken nose, concussion, and soft tissue damage to the neck. He played brutal minutes, all season long. Coach Brown said he’d like to rest him, but didn’t have the luxury. Sometimes we overspend in life, and then don’t have what we need, when we truly need it.

Coach Popovich has an entirely different philosophy – he famously sits his starters, including late last year when the Spurs visited the Lakers, and just this past Monday, when Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili didn’t even make the trip to Utah. I have the feeling they won’t sit tonight, in front of their hometown crowd. Personally, I’d love it if Brown were to park Pau and Andrew tonight, alongside Kobe. Can you imagine the sour look on David Stern’s face? Then again, my logic can be elusive.

– Dave Murphy

For the first time all season, the Lakers are – statistically speaking – a better offensive team than a defensive one. All year, the Lakers have hovered at or below 10th in Defensive efficiency while sitting at 15th or lower in offensive efficiency. Today, though, the Lakers are up to 11th on offense but have slipped to 13th on defense. As someone that’s prescribed to the mindset that the Lakers will go as far as their defense takes them, the decline on D is worrisome.

After watching tape from recent games, I’ve noticed some trends in how the Lakers are playing defense and why their effectiveness has plummeted. Below are some of the things I’m seeing:

The pick and roll coverage is inconsistent
All season long, the Lakers have run a hedge and recover scheme when covering the pick and roll. This involves the guard who’s covering the ball handler fighting over picks while the man that’s guarding the screener hedges out to block the path of the ball handler who’s going around the pick. This hedge is supposed to allow the defensive guard time to recover to his man which then allows the big man time to recover to either his own man or to the paint where he rotates to a designated man as part of the scheme. This is a standard way of covering the P&R and is executed best by Boston and Chicago.

Lately, though, the Lakers have not be executing this well. First off the guard getting screened isn’t doing a very good job of getting around picks in a timely manner. Both Sessions and Blake are having trouble fighting over picks and that extra beat it takes for them to recover is compromising their big man hedging out. Too many times we see the big man hedging and then being forced to either switch onto the ball handler because the guard hasn’t recovered back or end up having to retreat and rotate before the guard is set and ready to defend his man. This was best exemplified by how Chris Paul was able to force switches down the stretch of the Clippers game, often getting an isolation against Bynum or Gasol and then using his quickness to create good shots for himself or a teammate.

Second, different Lakers big men are playing the P&R differently. Gasol, McRoberts, and Murphy all hedge hard and try to recover. Bynum, though, does a mix of these things and isn’t always hedging hard – if he hedges at all. Often times Bynum will hang back below the screen and invite the dribble penetration towards him where he can keep the ball handler in front of him and be a deterrent to the guard turning the corner. Bynum does a pretty good job of contesting shots that are taken going the basket but because he’s naturally on his heels when the guard is turning the corner off the pick, he’s been having some trouble contesting the mid-range jumper. If you recall the explosive 3rd quarter that Russell Westbrook had in the Thunder game, this was a trend during that stretch. As Bynum hung back, Westbrook was lining up 15-18 foot jumpers and knocking them down.

And while this is a shot you want to cede as a defense, the differences in which the big men are playing the P&R is leading to confusion on rotations on the back end. Have you seen players on the back side pointing a lot lately? Have you seen big men go uncovered as they roll to the hoop and either get a pass or park themselves under the rim for an offensive rebound chance? A lot of this is the result of uncertainty of whose responsibility a rotation is and the timing in which they should be executed.

The ultimate result is that the Lakers are once again getting picked apart by guards that keep their dribble alive in the P&R and are able to be versatile threats in this action. Dragic, Nash, Westbrook, Paul, and Williams have all been able to create good looks for themselves and their teammates by running the P&R and sticking with it throughout the game. If the Lakers are going to become a better defensive team, they must handle this action better. And that responsibility falls on the guards being better at fighting through picks and the big men playing the screen consistently and in the same way.

Closeouts are yielding too many driving lanes
One of Mike Brown’s mantras is that every shot should be contested. He wants rotations to be on time and for players closing out on shooters to contest shots that go up. Lately though, the Lakers’ rotations are late and it’s leading to sloppy closeouts that ball handlers are using to attack the paint.

How many times have you seen a Laker sprinting to the three point line only to have his man drive right by him? How many times have you seen that sprinting Laker not break down in a defensive stance soon enough and then end up fouling the ball handler as he puts the ball on the floor. Then after getting beat off the dribble multiple times, how many times have you seen a Laker break down in his stance too early and then give up a wide open jumper? If you said “I saw that multiple times just in the Hornets game” you get a prize.

Simply put, the Lakers must read offensive plays faster, put themselves in position to rotate sooner, and then close out under control. This will allow them to closeout to contest a shot and breakdown in a defensive stance and play their man off the dribble. Too often lately it’s been one or the other and that will not get it done.

Big man rotations are late if they happen at all
One of the things the Lakers are really good at on defense is protecting the rim without fouling. They rank 3rd in the league in fouls committed and rank 4th in the number of shots given up at the rim. So, all is good in this area, right?

Wrong. At least lately.

Lately, the big men seem more concerned about the “not fouling” part than any other part of their defensive responsibilities. This has led to big men half heartedly challenging shots at the rim and not stepping up quickly enough to be a true deterrent when the opponent is attacking the paint. Neither Gasol nor Bynum consistently rotate to ball handlers or dive men who are a threat to score and it’s led to too many easy shots at the rim in recent games. Too often, those shots go uncontested because the big man is a step slow to the ball and they don’t want to foul or they’re not in the picture at all and give a puzzled look wondering who should have stepped up when the answer is the guy they see in the mirror.

Just as the wings have to read plays sooner to be in better position to rotate to shooters, the big men must do the same to contest shots at the rim. If the Lakers bigs are in position a second sooner, they not only deter shots from being taken but they challenge and block more shots. Plus, if they’re in position early, they can do so by going straight up and avoid having fouls called on them. The Lakers have 14 feet of big men patrolling the paint but unless they decide that they don’t want uncontested shots being taken at the rim, the easy looks will continue to happen.


The Lakers must start to take defense seriously again. Now that they can score more easily, their effort on defense has relaxed with the mindset seemingly being that they’ll just go get a basket on the other end to match. This isn’t a new mindset for the Lakers as it was one that was present 2008 (ultimately finding out they couldn’t score easily against a ramped up Boston D) and then again in 2010 (until they turned up their intensity during the playoffs with their game 7 effort clinching them the title).

Going down the home stretch and into the playoffs, this team must rediscover the intensity on D that they started the season with. When the year started, Mike Brown said that “We’re not going to be a finesse team. We’ve got players that are capable of doing that stuff, but we’re going to be a physical, defensive team, and we’re going to be a presence on that end of the floor without fouling.” After the Suns game, Brown said that he was “tired of the same old, same old on defense” and that “what we have to do is be more physical.” Down the stretch of the Hornets game, the Lakers did just that. Their rotations were crisp, they challenged shots in the paint, and finished defensive possessions with rebounds. After the game, Brown praised his guys for how they played down the stretch.

He knows what the team needs to do. Here’s hoping it happens.

Box Score: Lakers 93, Hornets 91
Offensive Efficiency: Lakers 113.4, Hornets 111.0
True Shooting %: Lakers 59.1%, Hornets 55.4%

The Lakers have lost two straight coming into this game against New Orleans. At this point, there are no sure wins for the Lakers, even if it’s against the team with the worst record in the Western Conference. Sure, Eric Gordon, Jarrett Jack, and Emeka Okafor were all out. But Phoenix killed the Lakers with Michael Redd, Shannon Brown, and Sebastian Telfair. To make things a little dicier, Kobe Bryant was out for the second straight game with that teno-shin thing. Well…

The Good:
If I had one game ball to give to, it would be to Ramon Sessions. Sessions finished with 17 points, 6 boards, and 6 assists. But y’all know he hit the 3-pointer that gave the Lakers enough cushion to win the game with 26 seconds left (which punctuated a 10-0 run late in the game). It was the same Pau Gasol back screen that got Kobe free against New Jersey last week.

You gotta give Pau Gasol some credit for carrying the offense. He scored 25 points from 10/21 shooting. Those jumpers looked so pretty today and worked the post like only he could. They don’t win this game without Pau (of course, it’d be nice if he can make some freethrows; 5/9 tonight for Pau).

Bynum was pretty frustrating to watch in the first half but he started passing out better on the double-teams in the second half. He ended the night with another double double with 18 points and 11 rebounds. He really has to get used to seeing that many double-teams in a game.

Steve Blake has been much-maligned for a while now and I don’t even blame the Laker fans for getting even more frustrated with him due to so many missed defensive rotations and assignments. But he continued to play scrappy, drew a couple of charges, and even made a couple of bank shots up close. Blake finished with 8 points and 4 assists. While it’s far from excellent, it’s his best game in a while and those are some encouraging signs.

Again, Metta World Peace has a flair for the dramatic. I can’t say enough on how many big plays he has made in the clutch this season. His 3-pointer with 1:31 left in the game took the lead for good for the Lakers. Of course, we’ll talk about his… um… questionable play later.

Matt Barnes did his usual dirty work with 9 points and 8 boards. And Devin Ebanks had some nice hustle plays. He scored 6.

Good job by the Lakers with the boards, too. 46-35 edge (12-8 on the offensive end). Pretty good considering the Hornets themselves have some big guys.

The Lakers will take the win. But my goodness, this is the Hornets we’re talking about here.

The Bad:
Most of these were open looks but the Hornets made an incredible 9 for 15 3-pointers. So many bad defensive rotations that had been typical as of late for the Lakers. Marco Belinelli scored 20 (4/7 3-pointers). Greivis Vasquez had 18 points and 11 assists. Vasquez, a 32 percent 3-point shooter, made 5 out of 6 behind the arc. How does this always happen… never mind.

Either the Lakers should go after Carl Landry this offseason or kidnap him and leave him in a dark cave. He scored 20 points, grabbed 11 boards, and dished out 5 assists against them. They couldn’t stop him in the second quarter, where he scored 12 straight points for N’awlins.

The Lakers were also very careless with the ball early on (Al-Farouq Aminu had 3 steals in the first quarter). Good thing they took care of the ball later on but things looked very grim from the start because of it. They eventually settled down to have only 12 turnovers. Of course, the Laker defense, being as threatening as a poodle these days, only forced 7 turnovers.

For much of the first half, the Laker offense looked discombobulated. I felt drunks could execute an offense better (while the outstanding Mark Medina from the L.A. Times tweeted and asked how did I know if they were sober). But it was hard to watch for a while. So much sloppiness and settling.

By the way, MWP. Maybe you shouldn’t roll an inbounds pass to the Hornets frontcourt up 2 with 1.2 seconds remaining. That might be a good idea.

And, no, Jason Smith didn’t tackle anybody.

Give the Hornets credit, though. They played very, very hard.

The Ugly:
You know what’s good torture? Try tying up someone to a chair and make him watch the first half of this game while Justin Bieber’s music is playing in the background the entire time. He would probably die before he could sing, “Baby, baby, baby, ohhhhhh!”

The Play Of The Game:
The Ramon Sessions 3 with 26 seconds left to pretty much put the game out of reach. As mentioned, it was basically the same play that got Kobe Bryant free for a 30-footer against New Jersey that put THAT game away. Great stuff.

It’s the first of three games between Lakers and the Spurs on Wednesday. Not sure if Kobe will play but I wouldn’t mind another holdout just so he can rest more of his tired legs. As of this writing, the Spurs are playing the Jazz without Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, and Manu Ginobili so we don’t know if the Spurs will still have their winning streak intact.

I know us Laker fans will say that the Lakers should’ve beaten the Hornets by a thousand (including me, yes). But it’s just been such a hard season for them that the Lakers and the fans should just take every victory at this point in the game. I just want some momentum for the Lakers going into the postseason. Hopefully, they do well against them old rivals, the San Antonio Spurs, in the next two weeks or so.

Now comment away. Talk about how better of a coach you’ll be than Mike Brown. Talk about how Kobe Bryant looks extremely dapper in his suit. And talk about how Gustavo Ayon from the Hornets looks like a Create-A-Player from NBA2K12. I’m going to get dinner and watch Monday Night Raw. Ciao!

Records: Lakers 35-22 (3rd in the West), Hornets 15-41 (15th in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 105.8 (11th in the NBA), Hornets 100.6 (29th in the NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 103.7 (13th in the NBA), Hornets 105.9 (20th in the NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Ramon Sessions, Devin Ebanks, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Hornets: Greivis Vasquez, Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza, Jason Smith, Chris Kaman
Injuries: Lakers: Kobe Bryant (out); Hornets: Jarrett Jack (out), Chris Johnson (doubtful), Emeka Okafor (out)

The Lakers come into this game losers of two straight, even with the Clippers in the loss column, and banged up with Kobe set to miss his second straight game and Ramon Sessions favoring his sprained left shoulder. Said another way, the outlook isn’t too positive. And while games like the one tonight serve as an opportunity – for Gasol to continue his strong play, for Bynum to get on track, for Ebanks to show he might be worthy of a rotation spot – the Lakers must seize the chances in front of them rather than allow them to linger out of their grasp.

Tonight’s foe, meanwhile, is wrapping up a season that has been in dire straits from the get go. A trade of a franchise player and countless injuries that have shuffled the lineup on a nearly nightly basis has made this year one to forget for the league owned Hornets. And the news just got worse for them today as Jarrett Jack was diagnosed with a stress fracture that will keep him sidelined the remainder of the year. Par for the course, for the Hornets it seems.

The good news for New Orleans is that Eric Gordon should be available to play tonight. And with his inclusion in the lineup, the Hornets have a ballast for their perimeter offense that can make up for Jack being out. As we remember from his days with the Clippers, Gordon is a well rounded offensive threat that can do everything well on offense and be threat from nearly everywhere on the court and in almost every circumstance. He can hit spot up jumpers, can attack the basket, handle in the P&R, create shots off the dribble, and be a playmaker for his teammates. While I expect some rust on his game, he’s a talent that must be taken seriously on O. Back when Gordon was with the Clips, Ron would guard him most of the time with Kobe sliding over to Ariza. I expect this trend to continue tonight, with Ebanks sliding over to guard his doppleganger. Ron will need to body Gordon off the ball and funnel him to his help on the ball to limit him.

The rest of the Hornets offense will be dictated by Vasquez running P&R’s and Kaman operating in the post. Vasquez is limited athletically but offers good size and a ton of craftiness. He’ll change speeds, go opposite the screen if he sees an opening, and use his body to create space so he can get all the way to the rim or hit his teammates for an open look. His ability to do a bit of everything on O means he must be respected so Sessions will need to be alert and active on D. As for Kaman, he’s been playing well in the latter part of the season, showing why a lot of contenders were hopeful he’d be bought out and become a free agent. He’ll look to isolate in the post and is comfortable turning and facing to shoot his jumper or backing his man down into a range where he can shoot his jump hook over either shoulder. Bynum should be able to keep Kaman off the spots where he’s most comfortable, but work will need to be done early in possessions by big Drew. This means changing ends from O to D with purpose and not getting caught up arguing calls or trailing behind the play on D.

Offensively, with Kobe out, the Lakers must work inside out even more frequently. Both Bynum and Pau have distinct advantages over their men, especially in the areas of quickness and length. If both can get up court quickly, both should be able to get into spots on the floor where they can get good shots before the defense is fully set up. This is especially true for Bynum against Kaman. Drew can exploit Kaman by getting to the box early and then using his superior size to establish the post and get easy shots.

As for Pau, is he’s a trailer, it sets him up perfectly to shoot his mid range jumper against a sagging defense and then use the threat of that shot to keep running hard and get all the way to the block as the defense concentrates on Bynum. Pau trailing also sets up great opportunities to run early offense P&R’s where Sessions can get going. Neither Smith nor Kaman have great foot speed and both can be beaten off the dribble by Sessions when he looks to turn the corner. If Pau can get a good angle on his picks, Sessions should be able to get into threatening spots on the floor where he can make shot/pass decisions much more easily.

The last thing I’ll be looking for on offense is how Ron plays against Trevor. These guys often go at each other whenever they’re matched up, as the bad blood from free agency still exists. With Ron playing well lately, I hope he’ll look for his offense on weak side duck ins and power post ups off cuts (like he’s been doing for several games now). His strength advantage is large against most SF’s but especially against Ariza and with Kobe out, his offense will be needed tonight.

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

From Francios Battiste’s comically squeaky Bryant Gumbel (seriously, that’s either an inside joke or BG really ticked someone off) to Tug Coker’s almost cartoonishly awkward Larry Bird to a whirlwind of scenes that at times feels rushed, the six-person production of “Magic/Bird” is certainly not without flaw. With that said, however, the play does well to highlight the major milestones (accompanied beautifully by a backdrop of video screens for game footage) in the NBA’s most fascinating rivalry-turned-friendship-turned-brotherhood. In doing so, the production simultaneously informs from a high level those unfamiliar with the tale while engaging the hardcore fan through personal encounters (lunch at Ms. Bird’s house during the Converse shoot is awesome) that exist only in secondhand accounts and the memories of the legendary participants.

On Thursday night, ahead of the show’s official April 11 launch, I had the privilege of attending a preview performance of “Magic/Bird,” the stage adapted retrospective chronicling the evolution of the relationship between the most inextricably linked NBA superstars of the past 40 years. Written (Eric Simonson), produced (Tony Ponturo and Fran Kirmser) and directed (Thomas Kail) by the team responsible for delivering the story of legendary Packers coach Vince Lombardi to Broadway, “Magic/Bird” admirably attempts to encapsulate in 90 minutes a tale of for which ten times the allotment would likely have proven insufficient.

The greatest challenge the play faces is one of balance, as it strives to delve deep enough into the minutiae of the NBA and the subjects’ lives to appease the longtime hoops fan while remaining relatable to the casual fan (or non-NBA fan theater-goer). In striving to serves these two masters, the play tends to skew toward the mainstream attendee more so than toward the NBA junkie – understandably, since the production is ultimately a for-profit commercial venture – but is reluctant to fully commit to a side of the fence.

The issues of race, HIV and the increased influence of national television interests on the NBA are touched upon but never fully explored. Whether due to time constraints (again, comprehensively telling this story in 90 minutes is one ambitious undertaking) or a desire to stick to the middle of the road in the interest of not alienating potential customers, “Magic/Bird” passes on the opportunity to genuinely dive into the hearts and minds of Magic and Bird – both of whom, along with the NBA, were involved in the production of the play – and the word they inhabited.

I should mention, in the interest of full disclosure, that I was accompanied Thursday night by considerable baggage. If this were jury duty, I’d have been among the first eliminated from the pool. There are few topics on which I am better versed, more invested, and less capable of emotionally disentangling myself. Thus, I entered the Longacre Theater (click here for tickets) with immense expectations that realistically would only have been met by an actual 1980s NBA game breaking out onstage.

“Magic/Bird” does, however showcase a number of performances, devices and moments that make the production, on balance, very honest and a lot of fun. For starters, we have Magic Johnson and Larry Bird themselves – Kevin Daniels and Tug Coker, respectively. Contradictory though this may seem, at no point does either actor’s performance grip the viewer in such a way that the line between actor and character is blurred – however, Daniels and Coker do successfully embody the overall persona of the men they portray. Nowhere is this more evident than in their appearances on stage together. This interplay is fascinating, ironically not because of any dialogue or delivery, but rather in its absence. I have seen countless interviews, not to mention HBO’s spectacular “Courtship of Rivals” documentary (against which, fairly or not, this play will ultimately be measured) in which Magic and Bird attempt to describe the experience of living their rivalry, of being them for that period of time. The more I hear these greats discuss the years and head-to-head clashes that define their legacies and permanently fused them in NBA lore, the more convinced I am of one takeaway – unless you know, you really don’t know.  As an onstage team Daniels and Coker do an excellent job of conveying this element of the relationship – the incredible familiarity, knowing looks and silences that speak volumes.

Individually, Daniels puts forth a strong effort in his portrayal of Magic. He is engaging, enthusiastic and likeable, flashing the trademark grin and addressing “the media” with familiarity and playfulness. When necessary, he is genuine and succeeds in hitting the appropriate emotional chords. In contemplating the biggest shortcoming in Daniels’ performance, I ultimately concluded the worst that can be held against him is that while he convincingly portrays a Los Angeles Laker whose experiences mirror those of Magic Johnson, he simply is not Magic. Given the paucity of Magic-level charisma not only in sports, but all walks of life, it would be unfair to penalize an otherwise solid performance for the inability to command a room like few in history ever have.

As mentioned previously, Tug Coker’s Larry Bird left something to be desired. He goes too far in attempting to capture the introverted demeanor and deliberate speaking cadence with which Bird is synonymous. These elements of Bird’s personality are presumably overdone by design, in order to quickly and decisively establish the character for the uninitiated. Though strategically understandable, the end result misses the mark, with Bird – one of NBA history’s most intelligent, compelling and tortured characters – coming off painfully slow and awkward, almost a cartoonish dullard.

The shortcomings of Bird’s character in the play are not solely attributed to Coker, but in part to the script with which he had to work. As part of an extended scene that takes place at the home of Bird’s mother, in which Bird and Magic (now famously) share a home-cooked meal and the seeds of future friendship take root, the men take a moment to discuss their respective upbringings. A significant chunk of this conversation is spent reflecting upon the relationship each shared with their fathers. For one reason or another – perhaps at the request of Larry Bird (if so, I totally understand), or in a misguided attempt to anesthetize the story, not a mention is made of Bird’s father’s suicide in 1975, which, needless to say, was a monumental defining moment in his life.

Speaking of lunch at Ms. Bird’s (my personal highlight), Deirdre O’Connell (who also portrays reporter Patricia Moore and generic 1980s Boston barkeep “Shelly” – both extremely well) is outstanding (and very funny) as Dinah Bird. She does an excellent job of toeing the line between zealous NBA fan and “friend’s mom” in her conversations with Magic, and speaking to Larry (the awkwardness here was spot on) like an unapologetic mother that doesn’t give a damn how many MVPs you’ve got.

Other highlights include not-Tom-Hanks-the-other-Bosom-Buddy Peter Scolari, who portrays Red Auerbach, Pat Riley (great physical resemblance, very minor role) and Jerry Buss (cartoonish, in a car salesman sort of way). Though a bit spry and muscled (seriously, we’d all do well to look like that at almost 57) to cut the figure of an aging Auerbach, Scolari’s combination of mannerisms and accent are a lot of fun and sell the character well. Finally, a shout out to Robert Manning, Jr., who portrayed among others (Cornbread Maxwell, Norm Nixon) Lakers’ defensive ace, and one of Magic’s close friends of the Showtime era, Michael Cooper. Between the voice (really close to genuine article), the familiar warmup-jacket-and-shorts in the layup line and a really cool restaurant scene with Magic that I like to imagine actually went down in late-80s L.A., Coop heads the list of secondary characters.

In adapting an incredibly rich and complex story to pique the interest of both non- and hardcore fan, “Magic/Bird’s” 90-minute run time makes for something of a snug fit. As a result, the play fails to capitalize on opportunities to engage in some truly meaningful dialogue. However, in recognizing the immense challenge of attempting to engage such disparate audiences, a number of well-executed scenes and performances, combined with the headline duo’s chemistry in their onstage interactions, “Magic/Bird” succeeds in educating the uninitiated while striking a chord with those that lived and died with the NBA of the 1980s.

Whether you are looking to teach a young child about the most vital period in the history of the game or simply looking to take short stroll through history, “Magic/Bird” will deliver the goods. At the end of the day, I guess that can’t be too far off the mark.

Box Score: Lakers 105, Suns 125
Offensive Efficiency: Lakers 110.5, Suns 131.6
True Shooting %: Lakers 52.0%, Suns 63.4%

The outlook went from bad to worse with Kobe becoming a late scratch in this game due to… uh… tenosynovitis. In other words, his shin is bothering him. Meanwhile, the Suns are fighting for a playoff spot. And the last time the Lakers were in Phoenix? The Suns absolutely plastered them. And no Kobe? Definitely an opportunity for the Suns.

In the meantime, it was up to Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol to hold down the fort. Meanwhile, Mike Brown surprised everybody by starting Devin Ebanks. Remember him? The guy hasn’t had meaningful minutes in months. What about Andrew Goudelock? Hello? Anybody there?

This may seem all over the place. I apologize in advance for this.

The Good
I had some fantastic fried chicken.

The Bad
The Suns scored 125 points. It may very well have been 125,000.

Phoenix did everything to them. The Lakers got beat by penetration. The Lakers couldn’t defend the pick-and-roll. They didn’t close on the shooters. The Suns killed them in transition. And to show how inept the defense was, the Suns only turned the ball over three times. THREE TIMES. In this frenetic pace. Unbelievable. The Lakers tonight were like a bunch of drunk girls in a bar. It was a score every time for Phoenix.

Andrew Bynum didn’t have the legs tonight. Most of his shots were short. He got blocked multiple times early. I thought he seriously was going to shoot 50 times after a 4/14 first quarter (he ended at 10 for 27 with 23 points). He did have 18 boards, at least, but it was really noticeable that he looked out of it.

Pau Gasol had 30 and 13. He knocked down pretty much every jumper in the 4th in a late run. He did what he could on the offensive end. But just like every other Laker, he had trouble rotating and contesting shots.

Ramon Sessions has to be bothered by that shoulder injury. He played only 29 minutes, when he had been getting 35+ as of late. I did notice that he had trouble going left again, which is supposed to be a strength of his. He did have 11 and 9 but he got beat on D, too (which is not his strength).

I mentioned closing out on shooters. The Suns were 14 for 29 from deep. The Lakers only made 1 out of 9. That’s a 39-point difference from behind the arc.

Shannon Brown (20 out of his 24 points in the 3rd) and Michael Redd (23 points) went crazy from the perimeter. I suppose there wasn’t much you can do about that. But I would still like to see more effort on the defensive end.

If there’s any silver lining to this, those names are Devin Ebanks and Metta World Peace. Devin Ebanks did well in his starting role as he hustled for offensive boards and cut to the basket hard. He had 12 points. MWP could’ve been more of a factor if he didn’t get into foul trouble. He was killing in the post. Peace had 19 points from 8/10 shooting.

But once again, this was just a classic SSOL show by the Suns. Hell, if Bassy Telfair is scoring 13 points, you definitely deserve to lose. And I didn’t even mention Steve Nash yet (13 points and 11 assists)!

The Ugly
BENCH POINTS. Suns 58, Lakers 10. Suns had 40 bench points by halftime.

I’m not even going to bother with the play of the game because this was just a horrid, horrid loss. It started out sloppy to begin with to the point you thought you were watching a glorified pick-up game. And you know that this helter-skelter kind of play favors the Suns. When it eventually, uh, settled down, the Suns played that chaotic ball like only they can. Yes, the Lakers were leading at the end of 1, 32-24. But that tempo favored the Suns right from the get-go.

I’ve defended Coach Brown all year and most people have clamored for Andrew Goudelock. I am not the Laker coach and I don’t know the method to his madness (his rotations seem more random/worse than the “auto” substitution mode in NBA2K12). He may have to go to Goudelock at some point but I’m not sure if that necessarily “changes” the game. But what I do hope is that he drills into the heads of his players that they have to play defense. It just keeps getting worse and worse. Kobe or no Kobe, they can make up the lack of offense (which didn’t seem to trouble them tonight) by playing good, hard-nosed defense. And they haven’t either given as much effort as they should have or they’re not making smart plays on the defensive end.

At least, Andrew Bynum didn’t get thrown out of the game?

Well, guys and gals, it’s Saturday night. Move along, knock back a few, and hope they get it together on Monday.

Records: Lakers 35-21 (3rd in the West), Suns 28-27 (10th in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 105.7 (11th in the NBA), Suns 105.3 (14th in the NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 103.2 (11th in the NBA), Suns 105.8 (19th in the NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Ramon Sessions, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Suns: Steve Nash, Shannon Brown, Jared Dudley, Channing Frye, Marcin Gortat
Injuries: Lakers: Kobe Bryant (probable), Ramon Sessions (probable); Suns: Grant Hill (out)

Much like yesterday’s contest, the Lakers are facing a team that’s looking to make the post season and is playing as hard as it can to make that happen. The Suns may have lost last night’s game in Denver, but they’d won 3 in a row before that game and have been making a push towards their goal of avoiding the lottery since the all-star break (going 14-7 in that stretch).

So, the Lakers will need to bounce back from a tough loss last night to the Rockets. But in order to get the win, a few things must work in their favor. A few keys as I see them:

  • The Suns have found their groove on offense with Nash orchestrating the P&R, Gortat providing an excellent roll man and post option, and their shooters knocking down shots. The Lakers will need to contain this action the best way they can, mostly by forcing Nash’s hand as much as they can and attempting to dictate to him what to do with the ball. In recent match ups, Nash has had his way directing the P&R, often finding Gortat for easy baskets on dives to the rim or kicking out to the shooter of his choice against a Lakers’ D that had trouble rotating effectively. I hope to see the Lakers swarm Nash and make his passing angles difficult and try to make him be a scorer rather than a distributor that gets his guys going. With this being a home game for the Suns, their role players will feel more comfortable and can turn a game in their favor by riding the wave that comes from familiar surroundings. Slow down guys like Frye, Dudley, and Brown and the game becomes easier for the Lakers.
  • With Grant Hill out, the question I have is who guards Kobe. Hill has done an admirable job of guarding Kobe in the past, forcing difficult shots that Kobe has hit more than he likely should. With Hill not there to play his physical brand of D against Bean, it will be up to Shannon Brown and Jared Dudley to bring that caliber of defense. Whether they’re up to the challenge or not will be a major factor in who wins this game. As an aside, Brown has the athleticism but lacks the size to challenge Kobe in the post. Brown (as Lakers fans know) also has trouble navigating screens off the ball. These factors should lead to Kobe working more off the ball and using his superior strength to run Shannon off screens and/or work himself into the post where he can use his assortment of fakes to get up good shots.
  • Tempo will be key tonight and though both teams played last night, this will be the Lakers 5th game in 7 nights. The Lakers can’t get into a track meet with the Suns tonight and must control the tempo of the game on both sides of the floor. Last night the Lakers legs were clearly heavy as they were beat to multiple 50/50 balls and were trying to grab rebounds flat footed too often. That mustn’t be the case tonight.
  • To control the tempo, the Lakers must utilize the post in their half court offense. I’ve already mentioned how Kobe can work the low block but he must be joined in working for good post position by Bynum and, especially, Gasol. Pau has a favorable match up against Frye and should be able to get into the post on the his favored left side and go to work. If Pau is able to establish the post, it can serve the dual purpose of getting him going on O and sapping Frye’s legs on D. Since Frye is a jumpshooter that the Suns rely on to space the floor on the P&R, anything that makes him less effective in that role is a bonus.

Lastly, a word on Bynum. Last night was a reminder that Bynum still has a ways to go in maturing on the court and like everyone, I’m frustrated with how this part of his development has stagnated. It’s particularly stressful as a Lakers fan watching him go from being a dominant force on the court to putting himself in positions to not be able to display that dominance due to him lashing out at his opponent. However, like his teammates, I’m trying to keep perspective and be patient with him. As Kobe said, Bynum must find a balance between playing with the emotion that can elevate him to elite status while not letting that emotion boil over in a manner that negatively affects the team. Kobe, of course, knows what it’s like to be a prominent player on a title contender at such a young age. Though, Kobe was also someone that consistently found his way back to the pack and into the role that would help his team achieve at the level they hoped too. Bynum will need to do the same if this team is go as far as they hope to; as far as they, themselves, expect to.

These are hard lessons Bynum is trying to learn and as much as we’d like him to learn them at a pace we’re comfortable with (or not have to learn them at all), this is the process he’s going through and, thus, the one this team is going through. And, for better or for worse, we must travel this path with him as we cheer the whole team on. Hopefully, it’s not much longer before the light turns on for him in this area.

Suns Blogs: Check out Valley of the Suns for your news and notes on this team. They run a very good site and have you covered.

Where you can watch: 7:00PM start on KCAL. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.

Box Score: Lakers 107, Rockets 112
Offensive Efficiency: Lakers 108.1, Rockets 113.1
True Shooting %: Lakers 58.2%, Rockets 60.3%

Lakers had a four-game winning streak coming into this while the Rockets are fighting for their playoff lives. Also of note? The Rockets won their last meeting against the Lakers. L.A. hoped for a different result but it was more of the same, if anything.

The Good:
This was Metta World Peace’s best offensive game this season. He had 23 points and seemed like one of the few Lakers that had energy the entire game. He was killing the Rockets in the post, had about three nifty left-handed lay-ups, and was even a playmaker at times. Too bad, the effort was wasted.

Matt Barnes didn’t have a great shooting game (1/9 with 3 points) but he did all the other things (13 boards and 4 assists). Keep hustling, Barnes.

I liked that Kobe Bryant didn’t try to have too much of a duel with Chandler Parsons, although I’m sure Parsons irritated him. He scored 28 points and made all 11 of his foul shots. Didn’t do much else but he got his points.

And I did like that the Lakers attacked inside tonight. They had a 36-22 advantage in freethrows and, overall, they scored 56 points in the paint. It probably would’ve been more if a certain center didn’t get ejected earlier tonight. Again.

The Bad:
Another double-digit lead lost. Ho hum.

Maybe it shows in their heavy schedule but most of the Lakers didn’t have the energy tonight, particularly in the first and the third quarters. And it’s only going to get worse because they have another game tomorrow night. But I digress.

Maybe it was also the injuries. Kobe had a bad shin. Ramon Sessions had a bad left shoulder (he clearly had trouble going left tonight). But the defense was non-existent once again… and the Rockets baited them into playing fast at times. It’s fun to see the Lakers convert on some fastbreaks but transition D is not a strength the Lakers have. The Rockets definitely took advantage of that.

Luis Scola went wild with 25 points against the Lakers tonight. He was money no matter who took on him earlier (whether it’s Gasol or Ron… and I’d like to apologize for calling Gasol a non-factor against the Clippers the other night; I was wrong). Goran Dragic went wherever he pleased on the court; he ended up with 26 points and 11 assists.

So what about Andrew Bynum?

I find Bynum’s personality amusing. This is not one of those times. Not getting the calls he wanted and getting shoved by Samuel Dalembert? Yes. Irritating. I don’t blame him for being angry. But at the same time, he’s gotta keep his composure. His second technical where he got called for taunting wasn’t even directed at Dalembert; it was directed at the bench. In a close game where Bynum was needed, he does this once again (against the Rockets once again, yes). He didn’t have the greatest of games, either; he had turned the ball over 5 times. But he was certainly on his way in terms of making a difference. He had 19 points at that point in the game. Keep your composure. Listen to Ace Of Base or whatever you listen to on Club 17 during timeouts. Calm down.

That may have very well cost them the game. But they still had a chance to win. Of course, if they bothered to guard jumpshooters all game long, they wouldn’t have been in this position. Give the Rockets credit for outhustling the Lakers (even if they were outboarded, 48-35).

Yes, the defense once again. 112 points by the Rockets. The Rockets probably likened this game to a 7-11. They were open all day. And probably got extra smoothies on top of it, too.

And Chandler Parsons (13 points, including a big 3 near the end of the game, and a superb job guarding Kobe)? For a rookie, he’s got grapefruits. Props to him.

The Ugly:
Lakers had 13 bench points. Expected. But I didn’t know what else to put under here.

The Play Of The Game:
I don’t have much to choose from, especially after a Laker loss. But you can take your pick between one of the two Josh McRoberts alley-oop dunks. Those did get the crowd going, at least.

Remember the days when the Staples Center was a security blanket for the Lakers? Me, neither. They’ve lost 4 games at home since the trading deadline after only losing 2 before that.

It doesn’t stop for the Lakers. They have Phoenix tomorrow night on the road, where they got plastered earlier in the season. At the end of the road trip, they play the Spurs for the first time this year (a three-game series with the Spurs in 10 days, really). That’s going to be a real test for the Lakers.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. They may not even win against Phoenix AND New Orleans. Maybe Andrew Bynum may actually not get ejected in those games. That’s a step towards maturity.