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For the 2nd time in 6 days the Lakers face the Jazz, this time in Utah. The last matchup was a low scoring affair plagued by some horrid Lakers’ shooting (29-89 from the field) and played at the Jazz’s pace. Further, that game saw both Kobe and D’Angelo Russell sit out, so the Lakers were also shorthanded with Anthony Brown and Marcelo Huertas filling in as best they could, but without a lot of results to show for it (save for some solid defense from Brown).

Tonight, the Lakers will be more healthy than they were last week, but will now be without Brandon Bass who is still nursing a sore foot. Tarik Black will hopefully step in for Bass as the backup C and will look to build on his solid performance against the Warriors on Thursday. Considering I’d like to see more of Black, I’m interested in seeing how he performs, though I’d prefer it weren’t because of Bass being injured.

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Heading into the season, there was a hope that Roy Hibbert would be a viable — even if only short term — solution to the Lakers’ problems at the Center position. After losing Ed Davis to FA and allowing the Jordan Hill era to expire, the Lakers’ hole in the pivot needed filling. After an unsuccessful run at LaMarcus Aldridge and Greg Monroe, the Lakers pulled what looked to be a rabbit out of their hat with the trade for former all-star and defensive anchor from the Pacers.

I won’t rehash every detail of what I wrote when the Lakers acquired Hibbert, but suffice to say I liked the move. His history told the story of a big man with real and measurable defensive impact who also had positive qualities the team could use offensively (as well as familiarity with the Princeton Offense). He wasn’t the perfect player, but that’s why he was available for a future protected 2nd round pick.

Now, let’s go on a bit of a tangent. Below are statistical profiles of the four Lakers who have spent time manning the middle – note all counting statics are per/36 minutes:

  • Player A:  8.4 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, 8.1 PER
  • Player B: 12.5 points, 14.1 rebounds, .9 blocks, 12.5 PER
  • Player C: 12.5 points, 8.4 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, 18.3 PER
  • Player D: 9.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.3 blocks, 11.8 PER

None of these players are world beaters, though the PER of player C implies efficient play. All three are low usage guys so that is not a consideration here. Note I did not include any on/off stats since the minutes distribution is highly skewed towards two of the four players, making the sample too small to really come to conclusions about how much impact — positive or negative — those other guys might have if the sample grew.

With that out of the way, can you guess who’s who? Here they are:

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The Lakers play the Warriors tonight in Oakland. This is, normally, bad news. And while it still is — we will get to that in a moment — let’s start with the good news first so we can all have a nice feeling wash over us before feeling the crushing weight of reality bathe over us like getting the first 2 numbers of the Powerball last night only to see the rest of the numbers be wrong…

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After a pretty unpleasant — at least aesthetically — game against the Jazz on Sunday, the Lakers play the Pelicans at Staples Center Tuesday night. Though they have had a home heavy schedule of late, the Lakers bring with them a 4 game losing streak and have lost 8 of 11 overall. They have been playing better, but there are still holes too large to cover up with their current roster construction and schematic approach.

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After a hard fought — and closer than expected — game against the Thunder on Friday, the Lakers are back in action tonight against the Jazz at Staples. The team will be shorthanded, however, with multiple key players out of the lineup:

 

Kobe is a late scratch, but Bass was already doubtful and Russell was ruled out after he was unable to finish the game after trying to play against OKC with the roughed up ankle from the sprain he suffered against the Kings.

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When Larry Nance Jr. first became part of the Lakers’ rotation, we looked at what he was doing to earn minutes and why we thought he would stick around for the remainder of the season. Most of that analysis wasn’t based on his calling card of defense, but instead looked at what he was doing offensively as a capable mid-range jumpshooter and roll man in the pick and roll.

A sampling of what we wrote back in early November:

Instead, then, let’s just focus on the fact that he has shown the ability to hit shots from the spots on the floor a power forward in today’s NBA will need to if he wants to be a viable offensive player — especially if he’s not a shot creator.

Against the Nets Nance hit two baseline jumpers, both from around 18 feet. This is the spot on the floor where, when your team is running a pick and roll, the weak side big will almost always camp out (if he’s not a three point shooter) to act as a release valve when his man helps in the paint. And then there is the top of the key and elbow area, which are the key spots on the floor where big men float to in pick and pop actions after setting a screen.

Even more important, though, is that corner three pointer he hit against the Magic.

Since that time Nance has earned a more prominent role as the starting PF, displacing last year’s lottery pick Julius Randle in the process. And while Nance hasn’t shot any threes since becoming a starter, his offense is still a key aspect of why he’s getting burn. Here is Nance’s shot chart from his last 18 games, when he was first inserted into the first five:

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Again? AGAIN? Look, I’m tired of the Lakers facing by the Thunder. This will be the 3rd time the Lakers have played OKC in the past 20 days. The two previous times the Lakers lost by 40 and 35 points. So, yeah. Instead of a game preview, I should include a map to the nearest underground shelter so fans can take cover.

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The Kobe farewell tour resumes tonight, in Sacramento, when the Lakers play the Kings. The game will be nationally televised (hello TNT), will be the last time Kobe plays in the state capital, and will be his return to action after missing the last three games with a sore shoulder.

All of this makes for an interesting backstory, but it’s the time off and the fact that it’s his shoulder on his shooting arm which offers the most pressing questions. What kind rhythm Kobe can find, how well his shot falls, and how all of that impacts his approach to the game are what’s most worth watching tonight. I’ve no clue what to expect, honestly. I could see him coming back rested and ready to play well just as I could see him come back rusty and somewhat out of sorts. Neither would surprise.

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