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The Lakers begin a three game road trip today, heading to the Motor City to face the Pistons in the first night a back to back. This after a four game home-stand that saw the team go 1-3. That lone win, however, was a game to remember with Kobe posting a triple-double while also becoming the first player in NBA history to tally over 30 thousand points while also dishing out 6 thousand assists. The Lakers, and Kobe, will look to build on that performance tonight against a Pistons team that, for all intents and purposes, is just as bad as they are.

The fact that Detroit is this bad is, for me at least, a bit of a surprise. While former Laker Jodie Meeks took the injury bug with him to his new team — Meeks has missed the entire season so far with a back issue — the rest of the roster has been able to play, only to not show any real advancement from last season. With the hiring of Stan Van Gundy, I expected this team to take a step forward in their development and compete for bottom playoff seed at least. That has been far from the case, however.

The key issue for this team seems to be roster construction and a lack of shooting (which makes Meeks’ absence so damaging). SVG has tried to play the Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe, and Josh Smith trio together, but Smith’s inability to stretch the floor while Drummond and Monroe both do their best work 12 feet and in has made this nearly impossible to do while bringing in good results. This has left the head coach looking for alternatives in Kyle Singler, Caron Butler, and Jonas Jerebko but they too have their limitations and can’t necessarily be the floor spacers that this team needs. Combine this with Brandon Jennings still doing more shooting than assisting and the solutions seem to be with a change in personnel rather than trying to shoehorn players into roles they cannot fill well enough.

In saying all this, however, the Lakers still come into this game as the underdog. The Pistons, for all their mismatched-ness, still possess real talent in their front court and have the ability to overwhelm teams with their athleticism and size. For the Lakers to get the win they will need to manage these big men on both ends of the floor and not become speed bumps to a trio who can all do work when getting into the paint.

This starts with Drummond so Hill and, later, Davis will have their hands full. Drummond has explosiveness rarely seen in players his size and his ability to bully his way into the paint to finish with power will be a problem should the Lakers allow him to get to his spots. Hill and Davis will need to do their work early and try to battle him for position, pushing him further out on the floor to make him create off the dribble to get to the paint. Strategically timed double teams can then be used to disrupt these moves, hopefully creating turnovers in the process.

Beyond Drummond, slowing Monroe should be the next priority. HIs ability to turn and face from 15 feet or work from the post will give Boozer some real issues to start out. Like with Drummond, doing work early in the possession to keep Monroe off his preferred spots while also showing the needed help will be key. Monroe has enough talent to score over 20 points and carry their offense for stretches, he mustn’t be allowed to do so if the Lakers want to win.

As for the rest of the guys, Jennings and Smith are the next big names and both have traditionally fared well against the Lakers. It will be interesting to see if Byron Scott cross matches and puts Kobe on Smith so that Wes Johnson can be freed up to defend Kentavious Caldwell-Pope or Jennings for stretches. Smith is the kind of guy Kobe typically likes to guard as he can be enticed to take jumpers by sagging off him. If this does happen, however, Kobe will need to be diligent in his rebounding as Smith’s size can be an issue there.

As for the Lakers’ attack, it would be nice to see if Kobe can continue the model he’s shown the last couple of games by starting off as a distributor and then using the threat of the pass to set up his own shooting. This worked well against the Wolves and the Raptors, allowing the rest of the team to find their rhythm while forcing the defense to treat every player on the floor as a potential threat. The ball moves well under this approach and since Kobe can find ways to get his shots up regardless, taking this route would be a sound strategy.

I am also looking for Lin to bounce back against Jennings. Lin’s aggressiveness has been good lately, but his shooting and turnovers have been up and down. Jennings can be a gambler defensively so Lin will need to be careful with the ball, but that gambling can also lead to bad positioning that Lin will need to take advantage of. If Lin can get his jumper going, it will open up his drives to the rim where he can draw multiple defenders (especially Drummond) to create shots for his teammates. Hopefully we can see Lin and Davis start to rekindle some of their early season chemistry where the big man benefits from Lin’s playmaking.

Where you can watch: 4:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.

Toronto Raptors 122 Final
Recap | Box Score
129 Los Angeles Lakers
Carlos Boozer, PF 30 MIN | 9-15 FG | 0-0 FT | 9 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 18 PTS | +11Boozer had another efficient offensive night, hitting his jumper with good consistency and sneaking into the paint when his man played him too tight to defend against that shot. Add in his solid defensive rebounding and this was a very nice outing.

Wesley Johnson, SF 27 MIN | 5-11 FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 13 PTS | +9Wes’ stat line doesn’t stand out as super impressive and his three pointers were not falling, but overall he had a solid game. He hit four of his six 2-point shots and had what was a game sealing dunk in the closing minute as the Raptors were making one last push by hitting a couple of threes. He did not have a big impact defensively, but he also wasn’t a minus on that end even though he had to chase around Kyle Lowry for stretches.

Jordan Hill, C 34 MIN | 6-11 FG | 4-5 FT | 12 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 3 BLK | 0 TO | 16 PTS | 0After struggling the last couple of games, Hill had a nice bounce back effort against Toronto. His 16 points and 12 rebounds were strong, but more impressive was his late game rim protection. He had two of his three blocks in the 4th quarter and overtime, both of which were big plays at the time.

Jeremy Lin, PG 35 MIN | 3-11 FG | 4-4 FT | 3 REB | 3 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 11 PTS | 0Lin’s numbers look dreadful, but I liked the way he was in attack mode all night. He aggressively used his dribble to drive by closing out defenders and was good at creating shots in the paint when he got a step on his man. Those shots didn’t fall with any consistency, but getting those shots up kept the defense honest which allowed for his big men to get offensive rebounding chances.

Kobe Bryant, SG 42 MIN | 11-24 FG | 9-13 FT | 11 REB | 12 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 31 PTS | +2Kobe was the man of the match. While his shooting numbers were again under the 50% mark, he hit big shots down the stretch to put the Lakers in a position to win. Bigger than those buckets, though, was the way he whipped the ball around the court for assists. Early in the game he set up his teammates wonderfully and then late in OT he had another big assist to Young for a three pointer. His triple double tells the story of his night — a night that also saw him become the lone member of the 30K career points and 6K career assists club.

Ed Davis, PF 18 MIN | 0-0 FG | 1-2 FT | 6 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 1 PTS | -9Davis’ 6 rebounds and single foul in 18 minutes were nice, but he was a non-factor offensively by only making a single FT on the night. I would have liked to have seen more cutting and activity on that end rather than looking so out of sorts. Davis also wasn’t his typically disruptive self defensively, especially when compared to Hill and Sacre. The fact that he was the lone Laker with a negative plus/minus (-9) on the night really tells the story for what his night was like.

Nick Young, SF 31 MIN | 6-11 FG | 3-5 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 20 PTS | +3Young was efficient with his shooting and, as mentioned above, had a huge three to give the Lakers some breathing room in overtime. Also big was his ability to prop up the offense when Kobe took his first breather by hitting shots and working well off the ball to draw defenders’ attention.

Robert Sacre, C 19 MIN | 2-4 FG | 2-3 FT | 6 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 1 TO | 6 PTS | +7Sacre doesn’t get a lot of love from Lakers’ fans, but he was more than solid in his nearly 20 minutes in this game. He played strong position defense and took advantage of his offensive chances. He will never wow you with his rebounding and his usage can be a bit high for his skill level, but his maximum effort and high motor are traits this team could use more of.

Three Things We Saw

  1. Though Terrance Ross and others did a nice job of stepping up, it was clear that Raptors missed DeMar DeRozan. Lowry was the lone offensive creator down the stretch and I’m sure the Raps would have loved to have been able to go to DeRozan in isolation or in the post to get a bucket or draw a foul in what was a really close game.
  2. The Lakers’ offense really had some nice movement in the first half. One of the reasons Kobe was able to get his triple-double was because when he had the ball at the top of the key or was looking to create off the bounce, there were cutters and players shifting around the perimeter to create passing angles. It also helped that Kobe was actively looking to pass, but the guys made his life easier by sliding into the open spaces and creases.
  3. I’m still not sure what the Lakers’ issues are in the 3rd quarter, but they need to try and figure it out. After leading by nine at the half, the Lakers were promptly outscored by eight in the 3rd period, giving up separate runs of 8-0 and 13-0 during those 12 minutes.

After losing to the shorthanded Timberwolves, the Lakers are at the low-point of their early season. As I mentioned in the game preview, that was a game that the Lakers needed to win simply from the standpoint of them seeing themselves are better than their record. By losing, however, it is much easier to say that the Lakers are what their record says they are: one of the worst teams in the league. Their star shooting guard may not like that and their head coach might not either but, again, you are what your record says you are.

Speaking of the head coach, after the game several reporters on site tweeted that Byron Scott was as upset as he’s been all season. He spoke of “boneheaded mistakes” and “players not ready to play” while using an expletive (or two) to emphasize his point. On the one hand, I can understand Scott’s frustration. His team just lost to one of the lesser teams  in the league — a team missing three key rotation players — and did so by giving up an astonishing number of points considering the circumstances. If I were him, I’d be mad too.

On the other hand, this is at least the third time that Scott has used these adjectives to describe his team and one has to wonder when he will acknowledge his role in getting them ready to play or making some adjustments to get players on the floor who won’t be “boneheaded” and that are, actually, “ready to play”. After all, as the head coach one of his job descriptions is to get them “ready to play” and to manage players’ minutes in a manner that promotes what he wants to see from his team on the floor. In other words, maybe Scott should start to look in the mirror after some of these losses rather than consistently calling out his players. Because a team doesn’t get to 3-13 with only the players doing poorly.

As for tonight, the Lakers host an excellent Raptors team who boasts the eastern conference’s best record. Their 13 wins to only three losses is the inverse of the Lakers’ horrid beginning to the campaign and they really have been the class of the conference. And while they will be without (and miss) starting shooting guard (and L.A. native) DeMar DeRozan, they still have plenty of good players to give the Lakers fits. It starts, of course, with point guard Kyle Lowry. The bulldog of a lead guard has finally found a home in “The 6″ and his game is flourishing. Not only is he still able to score and set up his teammates while defending his position well, but his game has found that maturity that allows him to recognize when it is time for him to put his foot on the pedal and take over.

Beyond Lowry, and with DeRozan sidelined, the Raptors will turn to several of their role players and look for them to step up. Prime candidates are Lou Williams and Terrance Ross. Both are capable of picking up some of the scoring load and both can give the Lakers’ fits with their ability to hit shots from deep and then use the threat of that shot to get into the paint where they can score or draw fouls. Beyond that backcourt duo, the Lakers must also look out for big men Amir Johnson (another Los Angeles product) and Jonas Valanciunas. Johnson’s ability to play 18 feet and in while running the floor for easy baskets is a skill set the Lakers have had trouble with all year. And Jonas is just a massive man who can be a real threat in the P&R and can do good work in the paint as a finisher both as a roll man or in straight post ups. His size will also need to be managed on the offensive glass so Hill and Ed Davis will have their hands full.

The Raptors go even deeper than these players, however, and on any given night any of the above can be outshined by Grevis Vasquez or Patrick Patterson or even James Johnson should they have a good night. This is why this team has only lost three games all year and why the Lakers will be lucky to be in this game by halftime. Their depth can devastate good teams whose benches can’t keep up and against a Lakers’ team who consistently has trouble keeping defenses honest when Lin and Kobe go to the bench, tonight will be extra difficult when substitutes from both sides are on the floor.

From the Lakers’ end, then, the best they can hope for is that their offense finds enough of a groove to keep the game close and that their defense can put the Raptors into end of clock situations where they have to over-rely on Lowry to create a shot against a defense that is gearing up to stop him. This, of course, is a bit of a long shot. But in a season where the Lakers aren’t very good, long shots is all they have against top notch opponents.

Where you can watch: 6:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.

I’m still recovering from my Thanksgiving dinner, so I’m going to keep this short and sweet. The Lakers are back in action tonight after losing to the Grizzlies on Wednesday, looking to get back in the win column against a team that just might be as bad as they are. The Timberwolves come into this game with the same amount of wins as the Lakers (3), but with two less losses (10). They also come in minus Ricky Rubio and Kevin Martin, both out with injury. This has put the Lakers in the “favorite” position for the first time all season with the Wolves visiting Staples tonight.

In all honesty, if the Lakers cannot find a way to win this game, they might truly be the second worst team in the league behind the 76ers. Kobe can talk all he wants about the team being better than their record, but as Bill Parcells often said, you are what your record says you are. And if that includes losses to other similarly bad teams when playing at home, you might actually be worse than your record says you are. If the Lakers want to actually, you know, start to turn some things around tonight would be a prime opportunity to do so.

To get it done, the Lakers must find a way to play fast but not allow themselves to get sloppy where the athletes on the Wolves have a chance to get out in the open floor and get easy baskets. The Wolves already like to play fast (6th fastest pace in the league), but if they are allowed to get out in the open floor via turnovers and off long rebounds, Andrew Wiggins, Thad Young, Gorgui Dieng, Anthony Bennett, and Mo Williams can get the types of easy baskets that can boost what is, from an efficiency standpoint, a poor attack. In other words, Kobe and Jeremy Lin need to cut out the unnecessary risks via forced pocket passes and leaving their feet without a plan and play a more controlled game.

Defensively, the Lakers’ focus needs to be on slowing Mo Williams at the point of attack and collapsing the paint on Wiggins when he attacks the rim and tries to post up. Williams has long been a player who seems to play his best ball against the Lakers, so it should not be a surprise if he opens up looking to be aggressive and trying to get his own. As for Wiggins, with Rubio, Martin, and Pekovic all out recently the #1 overall pick has been looking for his own shot more and more and flashing some of the skill that had scouts drooling over him. The athleticism is a given, but as he starts to channel that into productive basketball plays defenses will need to account for him. The Lakers would be wise to not allow him the types of easy looks that get any player going.

All in all, this is a game the Lakers really should not lose. The Wolves are just as (if not more) banged up as the Lakers and are just off a day of travel to begin a road trip. They are not particularly good on either end of the ball and, while they do have some nice pieces, simply aren’t a very good team right now. Of course, the same is true about the Lakers, but they are the team at home and not coming off any travel and only playing a couple of games over the last week. It really is time to get it done.

Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.

To be honest, the Lakers aren’t giving fans a lot to be thankful for. They are in the midst of a second straight awful season. So far this campaign, they are suffering (roughly) four losses for every win and dealing with a myriad of injuries to players who would not only help their win total but provide entertainment during games. If what has transpired to this point holds for the rest of the season, this group of players will have provided what would clearly be the worst year in the history of the franchise.

In saying all that, though, I remain thankful. This sounds strange, I know.

The Lakers have, for better or worse (but mostly better), been an institution in my life for most of the years I have been alive. Some of my earliest memories are of watching games with my dad, listening to Chick Hearn describe the action of some of history’s greatest players. Over time I have seen way more winning than losing, seen every down period turn into a period of sustained excellence.

In a strange way, then, a truly low period like the one the team is going through now makes me thankful because it serves a reminder of all those good times. All of these losses and the commentary and shot taking by pundits they inspire only reinforce the fact that it all only matters because it is so damn rare. And maybe that is grasping at straws and maybe fans of other teams will scoff at the fact that losing could make you feel like anything but, well, a loser. The idea of Lakers’ exceptionalism will get thrown back as some sort of fake superiority complex that makes us the worst.

And maybe there’s some truth in all that.

But, on a day where we are supposed to give thanks, I really am thankful today. Not for the losses or the poor decision making by the players, front office, and coaches that lead to them. All of that sucks. But all of it does serve as a reminder to me that things weren’t always so bad and that, if history holds, they won’t always be either.

So, Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours from FB&G.