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Week At A Glance

Andre Khatchaturian —  January 4, 2014

The Lakers wasted a tremendous opportunity this week to get back on track. They had two games against Utah and one each against Philadelphia and Milwaukee but they were only able to muster one win.

The loss against the Bucks essentially showed the country why pundits and Vegas had predicted the Lakers to have a win total in the low 30s this year. I don’t care how many injuries a team has – going down 14-0 in the first six minutes against the league’s worst team at home is inexcusable.

And the loss against the Sixers? That was a team who had just one road win all season and was suffering a 13-game road losing streak. Instead, the Lakers made Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young look like All-Stars in the loss.

The Lakers could have won 45 games this year and made the playoffs, but let’s be honest – these injuries haven’t helped at all. The Lakers used their sixth starting point guard in Friday’s win against the Jazz. The effort has been there, too. Guys like Ryan Kelly, Robert Sacre, Kendall Marshall, Jordan Hill, and Xavier Henry have been doing their best all season long.

But that effort went away momentarily in the losses against the Jazz, Sixers, and Bucks. Those are games that can be won with effort alone. If the Lakers put the same energy they did in the Heat loss on Christmas, they would’ve been able to win.

In the Sixers loss, the Lakers outrebounded Philadelphia and held the Sixers to just 41 percent shooting. However, the Purple and Gold shot just 36 percent. They took 37 threes and made only 12 of them. They didn’t work hard to get good quality shots. They just bombed threes and missed them.

Then on New Years’ Eve, the Lakers were outrebounded by the Bucks, 51-39, and once again shot just 36 percent. Mike D’Antoni’s seeming disdain for Jordan Hill continued in that game as he only played him 11 minutes. That might explain why they were outrebounded by the fifth worst rebounding team in the league.

The Lakers finally woke up against the Jazz last night, though. Pau Gasol had a monstrous performance amidst the trade rumors of him going to Cleveland and Kendall Marshall became the newest point guard to elevate his stats under Mike D’Antoni. And let’s not act like he’s the next Magic Johnson – the Lakers were playing the Jazz. Nonetheless, it was an admirable performance by a guy who went from starting in the D-League to starting for the Lakers in less than a month.

The Lakers may have snapped their six-game losing streak this week, but now stand at 14-19 with a brutal schedule ahead. Kobe isn’t coming back anytime soon and Gasol’s days may be numbered. They need those two to make any type of run.

The rest of the Lakers season essentially becomes Survivor: Lakers Edition. Those who play hard, have a shot of staying with the team next year. Right now, guys like Hill, Farmar, and Henry have to like their chances of being wanted to stay in LA – that is unless of course they get contracts from elsewhere.

The biggest audition is Mr. D’Antoni’s. The proponents of #TankCity fail to understand that D’Antoni can’t afford to tank a whole season in favor of a draft pick. If the Lakers are bottom feeders and he loses his job, what good does a top five pick do him? He might as well have a gun to his head right now and the clock is ticking. D’Antoni needs to prove that he could at least coach this team to a .500 record. The more he wins with this roster, the more leverage he gains and the higher the chances are of him coaching the Lakers next year.

Maybe that’s why he played Marshall over 40 minutes in the win against the Jazz. His biggest strength is elevating point guards. Now that he saw what Marshall can do in a small sample, he’s hoping he can ride him to victory and a chance to coach next year.

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This is a list of point guards that played under D’Antoni before he joined the Lakers. All of them had better numbers with Mike at the helm. A few of them (Lin, Nash, i.e) had their best years with D’Antoni. So last night’s performance was no surprise. It would’ve been a surprise if we saw the Lakers allow fewer than 80 points a game for a five game stretch with D’Antoni as coach. But point guards elevating their game? Been there, done that.

The Lakers won’t be playing against cupcakes much longer. After a home affair against the Nuggets, they play three “road” games in four nights. Tuesday and Wednesday features a Texas two-step at the Mavs and Rockets. Then, the team returns to Staples Center to play a road game against the Clippers on Friday.

Week At A Glance

Andre Khatchaturian —  December 28, 2013

Let’s not make any excuses for the Lakers.

We can. After all, they are missing three future Hall of Famers from their lineup. That said, they could have won two games this week and they blew it against Miami and Utah in the late stages of both games.

It’s easy to blame the fact that the Lakers are playing with numerous injuries. However, there are some coaching decisions that need to be brought to the forefront.

It shouldn’t take a Pau Gasol upper respiratory infection for Mike D’Antoni to finally give Chris Kaman some playing time. In a starter’s role against Utah, Kaman was phenomenal and arguably the best player on the floor for the Lakers.

In 30 minutes, Kaman scored 19 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, and blocked three shots. It’s also important to note that with Kaman on the floor, the Lakers are a far better defensive team than without him.

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Knowing this and the fact that Kaman was playing the best game of his season, it was stunning to see D’Antoni take out Kaman with just over a minute left in the loss against the Jazz in favor of Ryan Kelly and then later, Robert Sacre. Neither player had played much in the game, but for whatever reason, D’Antoni thought it would be wiser to have Sacre on the floor for the last possession.

Gordon Hayward of the Jazz easily drove past Sacre and set up a put back dunk for Derrick Favors in the dying seconds which gave Utah the win. It’s impossible to say whether anything would have been different with Kaman on the floor, but letting the man finish the game, especially when he’s been playing well, wouldn’t be such a bad idea.

At least we even saw Kaman in the Utah game. D’Antoni didn’t play him at all against an undersized Miami team. Game management toward the end of that game was questionable, too. With the Lakers down by five midway through the fourth, D’Antoni benched his two best players – statistically, at least – Jordan Hill and Jordan Farmar and the game slipped away from there.

Finally, in the Phoenix game on Monday, the Lakers were outrebounded 62-39. Of course, Hill only played 14 minutes that game. Another head scratching decision by the Lakers bench boss.

Speaking of Hill, he’s still only averaging just over 20 minutes per game. Why is this? Is he not conditioned? Does he get tired? Hogwash.

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As seen in the table above, Hill is just as effective when he gets minutes. He doesn’t get tired. He still scores, he still rebounds, and he’s still effective. In fact, in a win against the Pistons earlier this year, Hill played 36 minutes and scored 24 points and grabbed 17 rebounds. Hill should be starting and getting big minutes. There is no excuse as to why he shouldn’t be.

There were several positives from this week aside from Hill’s strong play. Farmar got minutes and after a rusty performance in his first game back from injury on Christmas, he produced in a big way in the loss against Utah, scoring 16 points, dishing out seven assists and getting three steals. Farmar has been showing potency on both sides of the ball this season. The Lakers have a 97.9 defensive rating when Farmar’s on the court.

Finally, Nick Young showed spurts of solid offensive play this week. He hasn’t been overly consistent. One day he’ll shoot 28 percent, the next night he’ll shoot 59 percent. That said, the ON/OFF numbers for Young are incredible. With him on the court, the Lakers have an offensive rating of 103.6. Without him, they’re just producing at an offensive rating of 96.5. At least, he’s getting minutes.

In short, the Lakers need to give Young, Kaman, Hill, and Farmar the minutes they deserve. There is no such thing as an easy win for the Lakers anymore, but they have a favorable home schedule this week as they play the Sixers, Bucks, and Jazz. Gasol should return this week and if D’Antoni keeps playing Kaman, Hill, and Farmar, the Lakers should be able to turn their fortunes around and inch closer to .500.

 

Week At A Glance

Andre Khatchaturian —  December 22, 2013

Kobe Bryant is out again and the Lakers will be missing him for the next six weeks. With him in the lineup, the Lakers were just 2-4. Without him, they’re 11-10. Because of this, the following question has emerged: Are the Lakers better without Kobe?

The answer to this is no. Let’s not overreact. The Lakers struggled with Kobe mostly because there was no chemistry and he was rusty. In his last game, he played a pivotal role in the Lakers road win over Memphis. He took a season high 18 shots and scored 21 points. He also had a season low four turnovers. The rust was coming off and he was taking more control of the offense, but then he got injured once more.

The Lakers went on to dominate the Timberwolves on Friday night at home mostly because of Nick Young’s three-point barrage and a vintage performance by Pau Gasol who scored 21 and grabbed 13 rebounds. They played energized without Kobe and it had many feeling that the team just flowed better without the Mamba.

However, in less than 24 hours reality hit the Lakers as they got blown out of the water by the Warriors. They shot 14 percent in the 3rd quarter. Granted, they were missing Pau, who was out with an upper respiratory infection, but having Kobe could’ve helped.

The fact of the matter is, although the Lakers have gelled to a certain extent without Kobe, they’re nothing more than a .500 team without him in the lineup. They did a great job in the first 19 games of the season keeping their heads above water and they’ll need to do it again for the next six weeks – a stretch that includes a grueling seven-game road trip in the east coast.

It will be possible. The people who say that the Lakers are better off without Kobe have all the statistics in the world to back up their claim.

The Lakers had a better Offensive Rating without Kobe in their first 19 games of the season (101.9) than with him in the lineup (100.1). Their Defensive Rating was also remarkably better without Kobe (102.8 vs. 108.6 with him). Finally, his On/Off numbers were atrocious in his brief comeback, too.

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There’s no doubt about it that the Lakers can win without Kobe. It also helps that 12 of their next 20 games are against Eastern Conference opponents. The Lakers are 5-3 against the East this season and their paltry 13-14 record would give them the top spot in the Atlantic Division and the fourth seed in the weak conference.

The Lakers could win games if they continue to receive consistently efficient output from Pau and Nick Young.

In his three games this week, Gasol shot 72 percent from the field, and averaged 19.3 points and 10.7 rebounds. Those are vintage Pau numbers. He’s shown moments of productivity throughout the season but he needs to be more consistent. The same goes for Young. He has emerged as the team’s leading scorer and he’s shooting over 40 percent from three point land in December.

It would be nice to see Jordan Hill get more playing time, too. He’s averaging under 20 minutes per game in December but he’s shooting 69 percent from the field and averaging 6.6 rebounds. He could get more playing time in favor of Wesley Johnson, who is averaging over 30 minutes per game in December, but has the lowest field goal percentage among Laker regulars this month (38.2 percent). His three-point percentage is even more atrocious at 25 percent.

Finally, let’s give a warm welcome back to the rotation to Chris Kaman. With Gasol out last game, he grabbed 17 rebounds. He also had a defensive rating of 86.9 in the blowout loss. He didn’t shoot well (5-of-17) but nobody did last night. Kaman has been healthy for awhile now and there’s no reason why he should be getting a “DNP – Coach’s Decision” next to his name every game. He deserves a chance to show the coaching staff what he could do.

The Lakers have a tough week ahead of them on Christmas week. They play the surprising Suns on the road tomorrow before the much anticipated home tilt against LeBron and the Heat on Christmas Day. Then, on Friday they’ll play the Jazz in Salt Lake, a place where the Lakers are 19-34 since 1986-87.

 

The Atlanta Hawks dropped 67 points in the second half and held Kobe Bryant to just eight points in 32 minutes to overcome a seven-point halftime deficit and beat the Los Angeles Lakers, 114-100, on Monday night.

Al Horford led the Hawks in scoring with 19 points, but the team also received balanced scoring throughout the lineup as five other players hit double figures. One of those players was Kyle Korver, who hit three timely threes in a third quarter where the Hawks outscored the Lakers, 35-19.

The Hawks outrebounded the Lakers 16-8 in the third quarter. The turning point of the game came when the Lakers were up 60-55 and the Hawks grabbed three consecutive offensive rebounds in one possession. They ended their possession with a three for Korver, who extended his streak of three pointers in consecutive games to 94 and at the same time gave the Hawks plenty of momentum. Atlanta would eventually take the lead a few minutes later and never look back.

But the story was Kobe’s ineffectiveness once again. For the third time since his comeback, Kobe scored fewer than 10 points. He failed to make a three pointer today and is now shooting 2-for-15 from downtown. Once again, his turnover numbers were sky high as he coughed up the ball five times. Lastly, he only shot one free throw and it was on a technical. Kobe is known for earning calls and getting to the line. However, we have yet to see him get to the line more than 10 times in a game – something he did 28 times last year.

The Lakers did receive solid production from Jordan Hill, Xavier Henry, and Nick Young – at least offensively.

Hill didn’t miss a shot – going 8-for-8 and scoring 21 points. Young was money from long distance – draining five three pointers. However, he was the only player on the team to hit a three as the Lakers went 5-for-21 from long distance. Henry, meanwhile, scored 18 off the bench. That said, the trio combined for a minus-20 and struggled defensively – especially in the second half.

For the Hawks, Jeff Teague and Paul Millsap were key contributors. Teague dished out 10 assists and scored 17 points and Millsap added 18 in the win along with four steals.

The Lakers have a quick turnaround as they head to Memphis for a huge Western Conference showdown against the Grizzlies.

 

 

Week At A Glance

Andre Khatchaturian —  December 15, 2013

For over a month, the Lakers built an identity without Kobe. They finally had it figured out it seemed like, as they were 10-9 and had momentum.

The identity of the Lakers was forced to change once Kobe came back this week, though. The Lakers struggled – losing their first three games with Kobe in the lineup before finally winning last night in Charlotte.

It’s important to note that Kobe has not played with many of the new guys on the Lakers squad like Nick Young, Shawne Williams, Wesley Johnson, and Xavier Henry. Kobe didn’t have training camp with these guys and as a result, there may be a little bit of rust.

Kobe is averaging 65 touches per game. The league leader, John Wall, is averaging just over 100. One would think Kobe would be closer to that based on his history of taking control of a game. However, we haven’t seen that Kobe yet.

We’ve seen a combination of facilitator Kobe (13 assists in loss to Thunder), rusty Kobe (6.3 turnovers per game), and clutch Kobe (huge shot and free throws in fourth quarter in win at Charlotte).

But we haven’t seen dominant Kobe. It’s as if the Lakers have been trying to maintain their identity as a balanced scoring team with Kobe in the mix. This is a very new concept for Kobe and as a result, the chemistry just hasn’t been there yet and it will take time to develop.

For the next 20 games, expect the Lakers to be just as up and down as they were in the first 20. They’re going to be searching for an identity yet again and I have a hunch that we’re going to be seeing a more Kobe centric offense as the season progresses. The Lakers simply can’t win with Kobe getting only 65 touches per game. Kobe won’t allow it either. He’s an alpha male and he hates losing.

Finally, now is the time to rant on D’Antoni’s obsession with recency bias. His coaching decisions have been incredibly interesting this past season. One player has a great quarter? Oh, let’s start him. One player has a lousy stretch of six minutes of play? DNP. Coach’s decision.

Take Robert Sacre for instance. After a few solid efforts off the bench, all of a sudden he was in the starting lineup. However, after a poor nine minute effort in Sunday’s game. He was benched at home against the Suns.

I understand that the team is trying to develop an identity by trying out different lineup combinations. But how is a team supposed to develop continuity when there is constant change in the lineup.

We’ve seen the same thing happen with Jordan Hill and Jordan Farmar (when he was healthy). Their playing time would get significantly cut when they had a bad game and vice versa when they had a great game. These are two players that should be starting every game. The numbers show they have been two of the most effective Lakers this season. They should not having their playing time fluctuate so drastically.

We even saw it last year with the benching of Pau Gasol.

With Kobe back in the lineup, at least we’ll have one constant – Kobe will get his playing time and his touches.

The Lakers have another tough week ahead of them. Their road swing continues as they play Atlanta and Memphis back to back. Then they return home for a tilt against Minnesota before heading to the Bay to play Golden State.

It’ll be interesting to see if we see more of “Dominant Kobe” this week especially after his great play in the fourth quarter at Charlotte. We may have to if the Lakers are going to go above .500 again.