From Kevin Ding, OC Register: This is what Howard is allowing to happen: As more substandard games go by without noticeable rust dropping off, the image repair that was supposed to happen this season is twisting into reputation tarnishing. If Howard is banking on disproving all that was said about him during his Orlando exit debacle by showing he is a winner as a Laker, he’d better be saving something super special for late in the season. Howard’s decisions to ramp up slowly and carefully this season, leaning on excuses from back surgery eight months ago and failing to get his conditioning back in gear, have brought him to this point – where those who really know the NBA know that he is not being great. And if that’s not condemnation enough, here’s one that will surely sting him: Dwight never wanted to follow in Shaq’s footsteps, but he’s already following in some of his missteps.
From Dave McMenamin, ESPN Los Angeles: Howard was so ineffective that when D’Antoni was asked what the center’s ejection meant to the Lakers’ chances of winning, he replied bluntly: “Not a whole lot.” The team’s frustration in its defense was manifested in the first quarter when Howard and Steve Nash openly stared at each other with their palms up and argued over who missed an assignment that led to an uncontested dunk for JaVale McGee. It was reminiscent of Howard and Kobe Bryant going at it a few weeks back in New Orleans. “I think every single guard and big goes through a pick-and-roll could squabble over it every time the other team scores,” Nash said, diplomatically. “I think that’s more just frustration because neither of us wanted him to score. That kind of stuff should happen. You should be pissed when the other team scores. That’s healthy.” That may be the case, but was it healthy when Howard placed the blame on Nash after the game when he was asked about the dispute?
From Drew Garrison, Silver Screen & Roll: With the failure to communicate and grow defensively the frustration certainly began to boil for the Lakers. So far, in fact, that Howard and Nash quarreled after the two failed to properly rotate in the pick and roll. After the game Nash called it a “good thing” and claimed guys should be frustrated when they’re getting scored on at will, but frustration without proper funneling and follow-up is certainly not a good thing. All the frustration in the world doesn’t make W’s appear in that column that is now outweighed by the L’s once again. It wasn’t just Nash and Howard causing frustration defensively, as just about every Laker had a handful of “are you serious” moments. Kobe Bryant, for as efficient his game was offensively, still doesn’t exert that kind of energy on the defensive side of the ball. No matter who the point guard was, or big rotating was, the Nuggets roasted the Lakers in the pick and roll. The Nuggets pushed the temp in transition, moved the ball, and took clear advantage of the extra possessions they were given by L.A. This was a frustrating game if only because each and every time the Lakers looked to make a move to take the game over they were swiftly kicked back down to the ground because of a defensive failure.
From Beckley Mason, TrueHoop: The Lakers haven’t yet had opportunity to explore this look fully, but the Nash-Bryant two-man game has the potential to be absolutely devastating. Defenses will often switch when these two run pick-and-rolls, leaving the point guard on Bryant, who excels at punishing smaller players from the post. In response, the defense will usually send a double-team. If the double comes from Nash’s man, Bryant can kick it out and let a great decision-maker attack a 4-on-3. If the double comes from the weak side, Bryant will have two massive targets in Gasol and Howard cutting toward the basket. Nash is also great at feathering in a post entry pass, and can hit Bryant without forcing him to relinquish his position to catch the ball.
From Mike Bresnahan, LA Times: Hey, if you can’t beat the system, join it. Pau Gasol hasn’t exactly been the perfect fit for Mike D’Antoni’s push-the-pace offense, continually finding himself away from the basket. So he’s shooting more often from three-point range, and succeeding. He made two three-point shots in the first half of the Lakers’ 126-114 loss Wednesday to the Denver Nuggets. He missed one in the third quarter. Before Wednesday, he had taken 11 three-point shots this season and only 49 total since the Lakers acquired him in February 2008. “It’s a shot that I can take a couple times a game,” Gasol said. “Some nights, some are going to go in. It’s a lower-percentage shot, but tonight a couple went in. That was good.” Buyer beware: Gasol was a 23.6% three-point shooter before Wednesday’s game.
From Kurt Helin, Pro Basketball Talk: Steve Nash is back with the Lakers and all is right with the world… well, except for the loss in Denver where the Lakers looked wooden and old, or the heavy minutes Nash and Kobe Bryant are racking up, or the fact the Lakers are below .500 and have a lot of work to do to just make the playoffs still. But things are certainly better with Nash back, and now the Lakers may soon get Nash’s back-up to return to the lineup. Steve Blake, who has been out with an abdomen injury, should return to the team in two to three weeks, reports the Los Angeles Times. That fits pretty well with the mid-January timeline that had been discussed before when he went out. Blake is no world-beater, but he can knock down threes to space the floor and makes better decisions than Chris Duhon and Darius Morris.