April 6 State of the Lakers

J.M. Poulard —  April 6, 2013

With the victory over the Memphis Grizzlies (51-25) last night, the Los Angeles Lakers (40-36) are undefeated in the last seven days. They’ve won three games in a row during the stretch and it’s helped solidify their grip on the final Western Conference playoff spot for the moment.

The string of victories started on March  30 against the Sacramento Kings (27-49) and continued on April 2 in a rout of the Dallas Mavericks (37-39).

The Lake Show then took out the Grizzlies on April 5 thanks to a solid defensive effort.

The Hollinger Playoff Odds give the Lakers a 60.5 percent chance of making the postseason. Those are the best chances for any team seeded lower than seventh in the west.

Here’s a quick look at the Lakers’ remaining April schedule courtesy of NBA.com:

Lakers Schedule

Now here’s a breakdown of the remaining games:

  • Games left: 6
  • Home games: 4
  • Road games: 2 (one of them versus Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center)
  • Games versus opponents with .500 record or better: 4
  • Games versus opponents with sub-.500 record: 2

The schedule is relatively tough, but the majority of the contests will be held at Staples Center and one has to like the Lakers’ chances in their home venue.

Given that Mike D’Antoni and company are embroiled in a heated battle with the Utah Jazz (40-37) for the last spot in the Western Conference playoffs, let’s see how their schedule shakes out:

  • Games left: 5
  • Home games: 2
  • Road games: 3
  • Games versus opponents with .500 record or better: 3
  • Games versus opponents with sub-.500 record: 2

The Jazz’s final game of the regular season is against the Memphis Grizzlies. In the event the Grizz are locked into their playoff spot at that point, they might opt to rest their core players. It’s a hypothetical obviously, but an important one.

The Purple and Gold has won six of their past 10 games and might be headed in the right direction currently. The best thing the Lakers can do at this point is simply win out.

That would assure them of a postseason berth and a date in the first round of the playoffs with the San Antonio Spurs (56-20) or Oklahoma City Thunder (56-20).

Laker of the Week

Expecting a 17-year veteran to play like your best guy every single night seems like an utterly ridiculous proposition. But Kobe Bryant as well as his teammates probably disagree given Vino’s productivity this season.

More importantly, with the Western Conference’s final playoff spot well within reach in the past week or so, the Lakers needed not only guidance but also assertiveness from their leader.

With Steve Nash and Metta World Peace both injured, it forced Bryant to step his game up all the while dealing with his own nicks and bruises that prevent him from resting for long stretches during games.

Kobe looked exhausted late in the Memphis game last night and even conducted part of the post-game interview with both hands clenching his shorts as he bent over from fatigue.

Make no mistake, the playoffs have already begun in Lakerland and Bryant’s play in this past week is proof. In the last seven days, the Lakers’ all-time leading scorer has averaged 45.7 minutes (!), 22 points, 11.3 assists, 8.3 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game on 39 percent field goal shooting.

He might not be shooting the ball well currently, but he’s definitely been the catalyst for the improved play of the team with his offensive contributions and defensive focus.

Black Mamba sir, you are the Laker of the week.

Layups and swats

Earlier in the week, the Los Angeles Clippers hosted the Phoenix Suns in a game that turned into a blowout. During the contest, Clippers play-by-play man Ralph Lawler commented on Shaquille O’Neal’s jersey retirement ceremony and pointed to the amount of retired Laker jerseys hanging in the rafters of Staples Center.

In a brief moment of sheer brilliance and on-air comedy, Lawler acknowledged that Staples Center offered a whole lot of vacant air space in the rafters for Clippers jerseys. Then he gave the viewing audience comedy gold by affirming the stadium only needed room for three additional retired jerseys: Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and LeBron James after he joins the team in 2014.

If that doesn’t speak to the difference between Lakers and Clippers, well nothing does.

J.M. Poulard

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23 responses to April 6 State of the Lakers

  1. The only “easy” game the Lakers have left is the Hornets. @ Portland is always tough, especially for the Lakers. Clippers have had Lakers number this year, and San Antonio, Golden State, and Houston are all angling for playoff positioning.

    In comparison, Utah plays Golden State, OKC, Minnesota, Minnesota, and Memphis. 3 of those games are tough and 2 are easy (though Minnesota is playing better, they have every incentive to tank at this point).

    Considering the likelihood Utah Sweeps those two games with Minnesota, best case scenario is that Utah ends at 42-37. Since Utah has the tie-breaker, that means the Lakers must get to 43 wins at a minimum.

    That means if the Lakers play even .500 ball they are in dangerous territory (which would get them to 43 wins), because all Utah would need is one more win.

    Scary.

  2. First off – great win – desperately needed and we did it. Great effort and many contributed.

    rr: You can pick on me all you want : ) The reason is because you do it in a reasonable way. Of course you must expect the same in return : ) So – OK – you responded to one of my questions, which was “who is MD helping”. And I will agree with your answer (Blake and Earl are playing better). However my obvious response is: So he did not help any of our top 7 players going into the year? : ) Please start throwing over hand : )

    Harvey: Your sarcastic comments are funny. I hope you notice that I do not generally even participate in the game thread (sans the Kobe alert), and I never say things like MD _______ (fill in derogatory adjectives). I actually agree that the criticisms of MD are overblown. And I have not made any direct commentary about what I think he is doing right or wrong. I will wait until the season is over. That said, I am not interested in a coach who isn’t “that bad” or a coach where “it is not all his fault”, or a coach who needs a lot of time, when we were on a two year plan. We are the Lakers, and I want a Riley or a Jackson. It is a tough job, and anyone who takes the job knows that coming in. D’Antoni is not the worst coach in the league as some have said, but I am looking for the best. Our franchise deserves nothing less. Del Harris was not the worst coach in the league either. He was well respected in the coaching community, and had many redeeming qualities. However we waited too long to get rid of him. Clearly. I do not want that repeated.

    Darius: Yes – full credit for being an awesome Laker fan. Who schedules a party during a game anyway? Who does that?

    Ken: You also get full credit for being an awesome fan – as I have said before, I often read your comments when I get really upset, because it is therapeutic to know that someone is more upset than I am : )

  3. Robert,

    I have another MDA post, responding to Harvey again, stuck in mod in the other thread.

    Playoffs:

    I am pretty sure that the Lakers will lose to the Clippers, beat New Orleans, and lose to Portland, which will put them at 41-38. That leaves home games with GS, SA and HOU to close out. As JM notes in his post, being at home will help, but I also think a lot will depend on where those teams are, and who their coaches play and how hard they go, and that calculus works against the Lakers right now. SA is tied at 56-20 with OKC, and GS is only one game ahead of HOU. So, these teams will likely have something to play for. The GS/HOU thing is big since being 7th means drawing either OKC or SA, as opposed to DEN (now without Gallinari and for the time being, Lawson), MEM, or LAC, so my guess is that those teams want 6th.

  4. Here is who Utah plays:

    at GS
    OKC
    MIN
    at MIN
    at MEM

    In sum, I think 60.5 is too high. A week ago, I said less than 50/50. I think the Memphis game put it more or less at 50/50.

  5. So he did not help any of our top 7 players going into the year? : )

    Here are the ages of 5 of those players:

    Kobe/34
    Metta/33
    Pau/32
    Nash/39
    Jamison/36

    Looking at the other two, Hill and Howard, one is out for the season and the other is coming off major back surgery and is just starting to do better now.

    Kobe as noted in many places is having his most efficient season on O in three years. Jamison is doing as well as can be expected. So did Metta. You could, as you have, fault MDA for not playing Hill early, but Hill was doing fine.

    So, how much do you want to put Nash, Pau, and Howard on D’Antoni? Nash is 39 and has multiple health issues. Pau is 32, slow as molasses on pancakes, and has the mileage of a 35-36 year old. Howard is coming off back surgery. I think some of their issues are on MDA, but a lot obviously aren’t.

    I would encourage you to look at the team less in linear terms, and more in geometric and exponential ones. I am not big on chemistry narratives, but I am big on players needing complimentary skills to make a team successful. The Lakers, again, have too many slow guys, too many old guys, and too many guys who are weak on D to be a really good defensive team, and that effect multiplies itself geometrically. Howard, as he has recovered, has been able to clean up more defensive breakdowns, but he can’t clean up all of them. One analytical weakness on this board is that since we all love the Lakers, people here tend to ignore the opponent. Memphis is good, but they are nothing special on O, and they lack a quick 4 in the lineup who can expose Pau. That helped last night. I want to see the team play D against the Clippers again before I start to see the Lakers differently.

    To bring it back to your favorite subject, I have not seen much or any evidence that MDA is a creative or intense defensive coach, and that IMO is part of the geometric effect, and I have said many times that if they bring him back, I think he should be told to hire a defensive coordinator/quality control guy. But the Lakers’ main issue is D, and a whole lot of that is roster construction.

  6. Thanks Robert. Your posts are always even-handed and consistent. Long time Laker fans often are tougher than younger fans. I am overly tough on this team as it’s tough to watch Kobe killing himself in his final years with questionable coaching and not enough help.

    All excuses aside there is not a man, women, child or talking parrot who predicted these team might not make the playoffs. Guessing the odds on that in Vegas would have been 5000 to 1 or off the board.

    Like it or not this team could end up being the most disappointing team in Laker history. If so the coaches, FO and many players should be held responsible as in any business.

  7. Ugh, I actually felt nervous towards the end of the Memphis game. When Dwight missed that first freethrow I almost turned off the game, lol. Of course the Lakers could not afford to lose that one. We just have to keep pace (or better) with Utah!

    Oh, and I started a NBA sim league (think franchise mode in 2k13… trades, draft, signing free agents, ect… only you play against other human GMs.) It’s free, if anyone wants to sign up, here is the link —> http://nbasl.weebly.com/ (lakers are still available)

  8. Posts full of smiley faces that are basically veiled shots at D’Antoni in every other post are tired. If you want to stop reading them, stop responding to them is pretty much my advice.

  9. Through all the missed games this year it’s been ample opportunity to develop a player and Earl would be the only guy. Nash, Blake, Pau and Hill have missed extended periods of time but only one guy off the bench who isn’t a vet can come in an play more than 10 minutes without looking lost. Earl hit a wall for a second but even when he plays other than the energy it’s not much he provides. I’m not sure any of us know the result when he puts the ball on the floor or shoots but because of the offenses freelance style and his athletic ability he can make some plays. But it could come a time when one of the younger guys are needed due to foul trouble or fatigue. And due to no confidence or no playing time from D’Antoni they won’t be prepared. More could’ve been done to see if Morris, Ebanks or Sacre could contribute in some way. I haven’t seen one but I’d be interested to know if there is other teams that play only 7 guys.

  10. rr

    To me you forever be known as AE after those mathematical equations and large words.

    Nice job Mr Einstein?

  11. Rusty Shackleford April 6, 2013 at 7:38 pm

    How long does anyone think it is before the Lakers make the announcement that Nash is done for the season and day-to-day going into the playoffs?

  12. I haven’t seen anyone mention this as yet, but one of the difficulties (among many) we face over the next few weeks is that the same calculus that likely insures our entrance into the playoffs (beating SA, OKC beating UTA) also makes it more likely the Thunder will end up with the #1. I’m not a fan of Hollinger’s numbers (raise your hand if you would bet on OKC to win the championship over the field of: SA, CLIPS, MEM, LAKERS, HOU, GS, DAL, NY, ATL, BOS, and MIL), but I’d like to see his correlation for which team is the #1 seed in scenarios in which the Lakers finish with the 8. In an ideal world, we’d win every game but SA, and UTA would lose every game but OKC. Despite all the hand-wringing here that we have the ‘worst players/bench/center/guards/coach/FO, etc in the world’, it’s pretty obvious that the Lakers can play half-court ball against pretty much anyone, but can’t stay in the gym against more athletic teams as every turnover is a guaranteed dunk. To that end, the teams I fear, in decreasing order: OKC, DEN (with Danielo and Lawson healthy, otherwise not), MIA, CLIPS. I really think, if Nash and MWP are available, we’ve got a fighter’s chance against the rest of the field, even the Spurs if we can find a way to contain Parker (Pau plays Duncan really well, and they have no Tony Allen kind of defender for Kobe).

  13. Reading all these articles on don’t know how you can even handicap the Lakers. They have been in a state of flux all year.

    This team is evolving. The silver lining to Pau’s injury was he got to rest his knees. He look much more mobile, especially on defense.

    And Dwight is looking more like himself more often. I don’t know he we can get very far without Metta harassing Durant though. Even when Durant scores a lot against us Metta makes him work for it.

    If we do make the playoffs I think we will be a tough out for whoever we play.

  14. Robert, thanks for the compliment.

    And fair enough, you want the best, and I get that…and while I have a sympathetic connection to Dantoni from the Dantoni/Nash years, I am not blind to his faults. I just can’t stand the derision as he has really taken a lot of abuse in his years, heading all the way back to his Phoenix years, which then increased further in NY. I have some theories about why that is, but man is that guy hated despite having had a huge part in transforming the NBA, starting with the principles laid out in his Phoenix years. And I hate rote analysis, scapegoating and lack of creativity more than anything, so it is painful to hear the same stuff over and over again from year to year. I do point out that PJax would have cost around 15 mil more per year and faced the same roster problems but with even a smaller budget (i.e. after paying his salary), a budget that has not yielded one single roster addition this year despite the injuries, the fact that there were some obvious holes and despite the fact that the roster did not match Dantoni’s preffered style. just saying. But along the lines of Darius’s comments, I will stop discussing Dantoni, now.

    Michael H. I have said it before and I will say it again, you are right on the mark…This team has gone through so many rotation moves, given the injuries, that it is really hard to say what it is. I can think of at least 7 or 8 different phases of the year, where we were a particular type of team depending on who was available and who was functioning at what level.

    I think the biggest thing is the recovery in the health (or attitude?) of Dwight, so its hard to even know what to do with the data, before the All star break. SInce then the team has looked consistently good, except when they were on back to backs with huge shortages of players, and except for the small but key blip, when Kobe and Pau came back and were very rusty.

    I would say tomorrow is a pretty good referendum on where the team is at, but again its a game without Nash and the key defensive ability of MWP. So i am not sure tomorrow even gives us anything definitive.

    RR, your analysis is excellent and well spoken but too pessimistic… I hate jinxing, so lets reconvene after the week. And Hollnger’s system have the lakers at 66% (not 60%) and Utah at 33%.

  15. sure it could all go bad, or it could all go good.
    we’ll see what happens.

    one thing’s for sure, the playoffs won’t be any easier.

    they just have to win. it doesn’t matter if the other team is better.

  16. Being a tough out is not the goal. The goal is not to get out.

    … well, maybe not this year, but yes, I like our chances.

    But I also think there is a good chance that our team will frustrate us with idiotic plays too.

  17. Kevin_
    With the exception of Ebanks – and insiders have been saying his attitude sucks and he seems satisfied to play out his NBA career on the bench – MDA has played the other people on our bench. He is a coach who prefers a shorter bench and the people who populate that bench create serious negative mismatches when they are on the floor. Sacre is a big, slow rookie with a coach who wants athleticism.

    Given all that, exactly how would any coach develop these people? Keep in mind that Phil was notorious for not developing players – fitting people into slots that played to their strengths was his specialty – and he required certain types of players. MDA has actually been more flexible than Phil was – perhaps because he had no choice – and the roster certainly didn’t have any of the type of player he prefers, with the possible exception of Earl Clark at the very end of the bench (I am including a 39yr old Steve Nash in this statement).

    Phil ain’t coming back – quite possibly wouldn’t have accepted the job when it was offered to MDA, but we will now never know the answer to that – and MDA was probably the best coach available when the decision was made to fire MB. The only real criticism you can make of management was not hiring Rick Adelman in place of MB.

    It is great to be a loyal Laker fan, but insisting on hiring a 2000 Phil Jackson when only a 2012 Phil Jackson was available doesn’t seem to be very realistic. It is not only players who have shelf life. Coaches are just more unpredictable.

  18. Lil Pau….

    San Antonio has Kawhi Leonard who is every bit the defender that Tony Allen is and a much better offensive player to boot. Plus he’s bigger.

  19. This is coming from a long time, die hard Lakers fan. I don’t think this is the Lakers’ year. Too many injuries and not enough time to gel. Kobe being driven to the point of sheer exhaustion AND playing out of position. I can’t see this as a championship squad this year, much as my heart would like it to be otherwise.

  20. Harvey M: the team has played as well or better on offense and defense without Nash. The numbers aren’t drastically better either way but point guards aren’t having field days against the Lakers the last 3 games. Maybe it’s because of Kobe’s improved weak side defense, as Darius noted, or some new scheme the team seems to have figured out could be a combination of a few things. But I believe this team is better without Nash as crazy as that sounds.

    Craig W: Phil got a lot out of Farmar, Sasha, Powell and Brown in championship years. Cook, Mihm were defined a role even though the team sucked the coach played them to their strengths. All those players left the Lakers and flopped or aren’t in the league. Phil was notorious for playing guys in their hometowns or cities close to the college they went too. D’Antoni doesn’t do any of that. Morris is as good a defender as Meeks and could help in certain lineups. Sacre should’ve got some playing time when there was no center but Clark played center. If Ebanks is such a head case I can see why he doesn’t play. But looking around the league they’re are plenty one dimensional guys who help their teams. Hinrich, Hansborough, Evans, Neal, etc. Some Lakers players have some specific qualities that could help but instead of building them up D’Antoni buries them on the bench. Players don’t get better sitting on the bench.

  21. Kenny T,

    I like Leonard’s game a lot, but you really put him in that top-end elite defensive category? Maybe I haven’t watched him play enough, but I think he’s a decent but not spectacular defender, certainly not a dedicated kobe-stopper like a bruce bowen used to be or a tony allen is today… guys like ibaka make other players lives miserable…. again, i like leonard, but don’t see him at that level…

  22. lil pau – excellent point re: #8 & OKC.

  23. Lil Pau …

    I’ll stick by what I said. Leonard gives Durant fits. He’s the real deal on both sides if the ball. Future All-Star, IMO.