Archives For

Game 82.

Normally at this time of year, I’m wondering about the playoffs. I am looking at match ups, dissecting X’s and O’s, and reviewing tape of the opponent. I am looking at X-factors, wondering about strategy, and imagining how a series might unfold based off the relative strengths and weaknesses of the Lakers and their opponent.

This year, none of that is happening. The Lakers season ends after this game, in the middle of April. The draft lottery is a month away. The draft, two months. Free agency another 10 weeks. In other words, get ready for a loooong off-season my friends.

To be completely honest, I have shifting thoughts about this season.

On the one hand, it’s been horrible. The losing has been insufferable. The injuries and the resulting lineup changes, the double digit defeats and awful defense, the 3rd quarter collapses and crunch time lack of execution. It all runs on loop in my mind more often than I’d like to admit. There are times I catch myself zoning out and thinking about a missed rotation and see the players just staring at each other with a look of “who was supposed to be there?”. It really is sad.

On the other hand, there have been some fun moments that have sustained me more than I’d have thought they could. Opening night against the Clippers. Blake’s dagger over Dwight. Pau and Nick Young, soul-mates in swag. Meeks’ 42 against the Thunder. That 3rd quarter against the Knicks. Those 19 three pointers against the Kings. Finishing with 5 eligible players against the Cavs and still winning the game. Not to mention all the other little moments in games that got me out of my seat (like this, for example). These have been the bursts of light in a mostly dark year. For these times I am thankful even if they represent only a drop of water in the drought.

This season hasn’t been what I’d hoped it would be, but that hasn’t always been a bad thing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been mostly bad. Just not all the way.

It ends in San Antonio, though. The Lakers will play out the string against the Spurs, looking to end the season on a two game winning streak and somewhat of a hight note. This season has been about the little victories and while a win in this game wouldn’t amount to much in the standings — in either direction too, since it wouldn’t affect the lottery — it would give the players a little reward for continuing to go hard even when, beyond personal pride, there wasn’t a lot of reason to do so.

For what it’s worth, after Mike D’Antoni feigned ignorance to the Lakers’ lottery odds after a win over the Jazz, he said his team would win this game. We’ll see if he’s correct, but I like his chutzpah. The embattled coach has had a rough go of it in his near two years coaching the Lakers, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have at least a slight appreciation for his honesty and his want to keep doing things his way — even if that stubbornness could be frustrating.

His fate may yet to be decided, but this year he went about his business the way that he saw fit, even if it wasn’t always popular, even it it wasn’t always what looked to be the best move to outside observers. Whether that works out in his favor when the emperor decides if it is a thumbs up or a thumbs down is unknown, but I imagine the ol’ ball coach will rest easy either way.

As for this game, forget strategy (as if you were even considering the opposite), and just enjoy this game. It’s the last one, after all. This year hasn’t been what many of us wanted when it started last October, but I think we can all pretty much agree now that we’re glad it’s over. Even if we will, though probably reluctantly, miss it when it is gone.

Regardless of whether you support the idea of losing games as a mechanism for long term improvement or not, you have to acknowledge that tonight’s game is relatively important when it comes to the potential slotting of the draft lottery.

Entering tonight’s game, the Lakers have one more win and one less loss than the Jazz. If the Lakers lose against Utah tonight, they become tied. This would leave open the opportunity for the Lakers to end with a worse record than their Western Conference rivals and, thus, leapfrog them into a better position (in terms of odds) for the draft lottery scheduled to happen next month. And while that’s getting ahead of ourselves a little bit – there would still be one game left to play, after all – this game will go a long way towards clarifying the end of the year standings.

For that reason, tonight’s game has a certain value. Not aesthetic value or actual competitive value – at least not in the traditional sense – but value all the same. Tonight’s loser will be in a better position to land a top 5 pick than they were yesterday. For those of you who root for such things, this game is your super bowl. For those of you who just want this season to be over, well, you’ll just have to suffer through another game. Sorry. What’s one more tacked on to the previous 20?

I really don’t have much to say about this contest outside of the two paragraphs above. We’ve seen enough of the Jazz this season to know their strengths and weaknesses and who the key players are. I could sit here and write paragraphs on Gordon Hayward, Trey Burke, or Derrick Favors, but click here or here if you really want that stuff. I could write about the importance of rebounding or how Jordan Hill and Ryan Kelly or Nick Young need to play to help the team win, but honestly those things are sort of secondary to what I’ll be watching tonight.

In all honesty, the thing I’ll be looking out for most is what strategy is employed by both sides in how it relates to losing the game. That sounds harsh, and I won’t be actively rooting for the Lakers to lose, but if you were really looking for a game where either team might “tank” this is the one. There are real stakes at play and the winner of this game is putting themselves in a position where the difference between a top 5 pick and one that is a spot or two below is very real.

Does this mean the coaches or the players will change their approach? I don’t think so – Nick Young said it well when he stated guys won’t try to lose games when all it does is help the team draft their replacement. I think the same is true for coaches who are wired to try and win games and understand that they are judged on results above all else. But, at the same time, just as there is a positive momentum that comes from winning there is a negative one that comes from losing. The Lakers have been riding that downward wave for the better part of a few months now. An occasional win here or there doesn’t obscure the fact that in most games the Lakers can only muster a half of strong play before fading to a double digit loss.

Will the same happen tonight? On the second night of a back to back against a team that, for all of their own warts, has already beaten the Lakers by 20 points this year? We will soon find out.

Where you can watch: 6:00pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.

On Saturday night the Hawks beat the Heat, a win that knocked the Knicks out of the playoffs. That set up a crazy stat: for the first time in league history the Lakers, Celtics, and Knicks all missed the playoffs. That stat doesn’t have much to do with anything, but it really does show how successful the Lakers have been over that time, since that stat really is on the strength of their playoff berths over the years — especially when you consider some of the down stretches the Knicks and Celtics have had.

The Lakers, of course, have known for some time that they wouldn’t be in the playoffs. They’ve become the team that has been trying to play spoiler for almost a month, attempting to drop teams down in the standings or knock them out of the race entirely. With the season almost over, their last chance to really do that is in tonight’s game when they face off with the Grizzlies.

As the Knicks were being eliminated, the Mavs were clinching their spot in the playoffs, leaving the Grizz and the Suns fighting for the final spot in the West field. Those two teams play each other on Monday, but the Lakers can do the Suns a big favor by knocking off the Grizz (or at least wearing them down on the first night of a back to back). As it stands right now, the Grizz have a half game lead on Phoenix, up a single game in the loss column. A Lakers’ win would even that up and give the Suns a chance to write their ticket into the playoffs with that win over the Grizz.

Of course, Memphis also understands this and should come out ready to play for their playoff lives in this game. They’ve won three of their last four games, including a big win over the Heat that has kept them in the race. A loss to the Lakers wouldn’t end their season, but it would put them in a bad spot with the Suns and the Mavs on the docket to close the year. The Grizz know that winning out gets them into the playoffs and gets them to the 7th seed. A let down against the Lakers — their easiest game left on the schedule — is something they cannot afford.

On the other end of the spectrum, and as it’s been lately, the Lakers are in a different kind of standings battle. A loss to the Grizzlies would tie the Lakers with the Celtics for the 5th worst record in the league and only a game behind the Jazz for the 4th worst record. The Celtics close against the 76ers and the Wizards while the Jazz close agains the Lakers and the Timberwolves. While the Lakers can’t control what the Celtics do, if the C’s get one more win while the Lakers lose out, there is a chance that the Lakers not only seal the 5th worst record but get all the way to the 4th spot in the lottery. We’re getting ahead of ourselves, but it will be interesting to see how these final games go and how all three of these teams approach these final games that will determine the lottery odds.

In a way, it’s funny that this is what the season has come down to. Watching the scoreboard and wondering what other teams are doing, not because of how it affects the race for the playoffs or seeding, but how it affects the lottery. A year ago at this time the Lakers were closing the season on a nice run and played a meaningful game on the last night of the year that got them to the 7th seed in the playoffs. This year, on the 2nd to last game of the season we will see them play the Jazz in a game where the winner may negatively impact their draft position. Funny how much can change in 365 days.

As for the game against the Grizzlies, I will be watching two match ups. The first is when Jordan Farmar plays against Mike Conley. Conley is one of the more underrated point guards in the league and has been playing well to close the year as the Grizz have made their push to get into the playoffs. Farmar, when healthy, has actually had a very good year, shooting the ball well and showing he could be a decent creator in the P&R. Watching how he deals with Conley’s quickness offensively and his ability to be a pest defensively will be one of the better games within the game.

The 2nd match up will be watching how Jordan Hill matches up with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol in the middle. I still really enjoy Hill’s game and think he can be a solid contributor on a good team. But what has become more clear as he’s had to man the middle with Pau and Kaman out is that he has a hard time matching up with good, starting big men who aren’t easily out hustled or out muscled by him on the glass. Hill is a very good 3rd big man who can beat up on opposing second units and have some quality good minutes against some starters. But as a full time starter matching up with opposing starters for 30 minutes, he’s not going to be as productive. Against the Grizz he’ll face one of the better big man duos in the league and I will be watching closely to see if he can still make an impact with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph on the other end of the floor.

Where you can watch: 6:00pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.

Wednesday Storylines

Darius Soriano —  April 9, 2014 — 68 Comments

It is almost over now. This season of injuries, losses, records of the wrong kind being broken, and, mostly, failure. That can sound harsh, but it isn’t meant to be.

This season started under the guise of hopes just to make the playoffs. Internally and in issuing sound bites, key figures spoke in the same grand terms they typically have — “contention” and “championship” were words tossed out as the goal, but we all really did know better. This team was built with cast-offs and rentals and asked to be a team. And for the first part of the season, they were that. But then it started to fall apart similar to the bodies of the players. Nerve roots and knee caps, hamstrings and groins, strains and fractures.

And through all that there was a coach searching for…something. A lineup that worked. A power forward to stretch the floor. A big man who played well on both sides of the ball. Rotations changed. One day you were in, the next you were out, and a week later you were back in.

It’s been 78 games of this, but it is almost over now.

Where the team goes is the question on everyone’s mind. Kobe has his contract extension, but has no team to surround him at this point. The Lakers will have some dough to spend, but last I checked cap space has never grabbed a rebound or hit the open man in stride for an easy bucket. That money must be used wisely and, probably not all on one player. After all, the Lakers aren’t one guy away. After all, even a prime Kobe and Shaq needed other dudes to help them get those rings.

Speaking of building a team, Mitch Kupchak is pretty good at that. In fact, he’s been so good and is so trusted the Lakers extended his contract. Next season was to Mitch’s last under his current deal, but the Lakers rectified that last night.

Last night Mitch, maybe after signing that deal, sat down with USA Today’s Sam Amick and spoke openly and honestly about the path ahead. He didn’t “give away his plan” but acknowledged the team has a lot of work to do and said he is not sure if it will be one, two, or even three years to get to where they want to be. He also said many other insightful things, so click away on the link.

One of the questions he answered was about Mike D’Antoni’s status for next season. Kupchak stated that no decision has been made to this point. However, Dave McMenamin is reporting that the Lakers are “leaning” towards not retaining their embattled head coach. This only a week after Kevin Ding said the opposite. If all of this makes your head spin, well, welcome to the club.

If the Lakers do make a change at coach, one writer thinks they should target UCONN head coach Kevin Ollie — and he thought that even before the Final Four.

Is Pau Gasol done for the year? It sounds like it. Is Steve Nash? It sounds like it too.

Another player who is out for the year is Kent Bazemore. The 2nd year pro tore a tendon in his foot and will soon have surgery. This, though, is just one more obstacle for him to overcome in what has been quite the journey to get to the NBA.

Much like Bazemore’s journey, the Lakers have an arduous path ahead. Building a winner takes time, it takes talent, and it takes a fair amount of luck. It takes a coach and a front office all on the same page. And even when all those things happen, a team still might not win it all. For all that the Thunder have done to build their contender, they still have yet to actually win it all. Their accomplishments have been many and should not be diminished in any way. But this is your gentle reminder that winning is hard and even the most prepared team with a boatload of talent may not break through.

The Lakers, actually, know this better than most. Because while fans love to talk about the 16 banners and the hall of famers, there are also the 15 defeats in the Finals. They have been oh-so-close more times than most teams could ever dream of and have felt the heartbreak that comes with it too. In a way, then, it’s good to remember the feeling you have now watching this team lose 50+ games. Because just as the team has broken through before, when you have been down in the dumps feeling awful, the turnaround is that much sweeter. Even if it does take years.

Fast Break Thoughts

Darius Soriano —  April 7, 2014 — 32 Comments

Some random thoughts on the goings on around the league, including our beloved Lakers…

  • All year Mike D’Antoni has said that the team’s most consistent performer is Jodie Meeks. Hard to argue there as the man has had his best year as a pro and made some big strides in several areas of his game from last year to this year. One stat that stood out to me most about Meeks’ season is that this year he is shooting 63.3% in the restricted area this year. Last year, Meeks only shot 51.3% in the restricted area.
  • Commenter Mid-Wilshire has noticed that Jordan Hill is having a pretty nice close to the season:

In the last nine games, these have been Hill’s numbers (pts., rebounds, and blocks):

Clippers — 22 pts., 9 rebounds, 0 blocks
Dallas — 14 pts., 10 rebounds, 2 blocks
Sacramento — 18 pts., 15 rebounds, 4 blocks
Phoenix — 6 pts., 3 rebounds, 1 block
Minnesota — 10 pts., 7 rebounds, 0 blocks
Milwaukee — 28 pts., 16 rebounds, 0 blocks
New York — 9 pts., 5 rebounds, 4 blocks
Orlando — 28 pts., 13 rebounds, 1 block
Washington — 9 pts., 14 rebounds, 4 blocks

According to my calculations, that results in averages of 16.8 pts., 10.2 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per game.

  • Hill hasn’t been the most consistent player over that stretch and the Bucks and Magic games stand out both because of the level of production as well as the quality of opponent. That said, it’s good to see Hill is healthy (he had that knee issue that kept him out a couple of games before this stretch) and that he’s getting the minutes to perform on the court. I don’t know if Hill will be a Laker next year, but I still believe he can be a quality role player on a very good team.
  • One player I have liked much more than I thought I would this season: Nick Young. The guy can still be a gunner and take shots that would make a heat-checking Kobe Bryant blush, but Young has played hard and has done so with a smile on his face. In a season that has been mostly down in the dumps from a win/loss perspective, Young has brought some fun to the year.
  • Should Ryan Kelly make the All-Rookie team? On the surface, this may seem like a crazy question. But when you dig into the stats you’ll find that Kelly is 8th in PER for rookies, 5th in True Shooting %, joins Giannis Antetokounmpo as the only non-guard in the top 12 of assist ratio (while ranking 4th in turnover percentage), and has gotten better as the year has progressed. I don’t know if he’ll make it or not (I lean towards no — his games and minutes played aren’t comparable to some of the lottery picks), but to say Kelly has been anything but a very fine pick at #48 would be underselling him this year. Even with the holes in his game.
  • One more Kelly stat, per nba.com/stats: the Lakers are 6.5 points per 100 possessions better on offense when Kelly is on the floor versus when he sits. Of the players who are part of the rotation (sorry MarShon Brooks, you don’t count) that is the best number on the team (second is Nick Young at 5.5 points better per 100 possessions).
  • On a non-Lakers’ note, what is going on with the Pacers? I mean, look at this from Ed Kupfer:
  • At one point, Indy looked like a real threat to challenge the Heat and reach the Finals. Right now there’s a real question if they’ll make it out of the 2nd round.
  • No NBA games tonight, but there is this thing called the NCAA Title Game that some folks may want to watch. I’m horribly out of touch when it comes to the college game this year, so you can take my Kentucky pick with a whole pile of salt. What can I say, I like Julius Randle’s shoes.