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Coming off Sunday’s loss to the Kings, Kobe Bryant has become the key focus of most pundits’ thoughts on the Lakers. The typically great Zach Lowe summed it up thusly in his latest column:

The league’s vaudeville freak show rolls on, with Kobe Bryant upchucking one of the very worst games you’ll ever see from a high-volume scorer Sunday against the Kings — an 8-of-30 festival of contested 22-footers, with nine Kobe turnovers tossed in as a free sideshow.

Opponents have outscored the Lakers by 13.3 points per 100 possessions with Bryant on the floor, per NBA.com. The Lakers have flipped that figure almost on its head when Kobe sits, destroying teams by about 11 points per 100 possessions. The sample size is small, and Bryant is going up against top opposing units as a starter for a terrible team; Jordan Hill and Wesley Johnson, the Lakers’ other full-time starters, also have ugly splits by this metric.

But they’re not as ugly as Kobe’s, and the Lakers’ positive scoring margin without him is massive — about equivalent to Golden State’s league-best mark. Bryant leads the league in shot attempts and usage rate. He is shooting 37 percent. No one in NBA history has faced so little accountability. It is absurd on its face. Bryant has hijacked the entire organization.

Some Lakers’ fans might take umbrage with the tone of Lowe’s writing, but the key is the information provided. Kobe had one of the worst games I’ve seen him play…well, ever. The lack of crispness to his game and the lack of adjustments made throughout was a sight to see, especially from a player who has typically found ways to impact the game positively even if he is not at his best. And, sadly, this has been a too frequent occurrence this season (as his on/off court numbers speak to).

For me, however, my frustrations with this situation not only lie with Kobe, but with those empowering and enabling him to work in the manner he is. Kobe is still a player and part of a team and an organization. While Lowe says that Kobe has “highjacked” the organization, I am more of the mind that some of the blame must lie at the feet of his coach and the front office for not sitting the player down and re-engaging him in discussions on expectations and what needs to be happening on the floor.

As much influence as Kobe has, he is part of the group and has a coach who he is very close to. He also has a front office that has been a part of his life, in some capacity, since he joined the organization. For me, where are they now, when they need to b to reduce his minutes, talk to him about playing style and how he can best help the team, and to have an impact on these last seasons of his career? Where are they to have the difficult conversations with him the way that a “family” is supposed to? None of this is easy and with someone as headstrong and strong willed as Kobe, it will be even harder. But isn’t this why you hired this coach? And when, if not at the time when the player is not playing anywhere near the standard anyone (including him) would want, will a change in approach occur to have these conversations and try to move in a direction where more positive play can be produced?

Now is the time to stop enabling a player to fail and start putting him in better positions to succeed. This doesn’t have to be done callously or publicly. But it needs to happen. Not only for the player’s sake, but for the rest of the team’s, the coaches, the organization at large, and the fans. No one wants to see this continue like this.

As for tonight’s game, the Lakers play the Warriors. We’ve been through this enough times — this is what, the 100th time these two teams have played since the preseason? — to know what to expect. The Warriors are, currently, the class of the league. Even without Andrew Bogut anchoring the paint on both sides of the floor, the Warriors are a defensive powerhouse and an offensive juggernaut. It takes an extraordinary effort to beat them when you’re a good team. And we know, of course, that the Lakers are not that.

So rather than get into the X’s and O’s of it all, I prefer to shift the focus to hoping for a spirited game with both teams competing hard. I would love to see Kobe take a step back from trying to do as much as he’s been doing while seeing some of the other players raise up their games in an effort to show Kobe (and everyone else) that they are, in fact, capable. Add in some adjustments by the coaches and this group can start to have some small successes even if they do not lead to victories. And in a season like this one, that’s probably all you can hope for.

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

Before we get into Lakers/Kings, remember that our t-shirt giveaway contest will run through the end of the game. So, if you haven’t already, please tweet me using the hashtag #capgoggles or leave a comment in the contest thread with why you deserve to win.

With that bit of business out of the way, the Lakers tip off against the Kings this afternoon (a 3pm tip, so be aware) after taking a tough loss on Friday against the Thunder. The Lakers were competitive throughout, but Kobe couldn’t turn his poor shooting night around and missed a potential game winning pull up jumper as the clock expired. In terms of looks, it was a quality one by Bean, but like most of his attempts that evening it clanked harmlessly off the rim and the Lakers were losers in the end.

Throughout that game Kobe looked fatigued which, considering the team hadn’t played since Monday, should cause a bit of worry. After the game Byron Scott commented that he planned to take Kobe’s minutes allocation “day by day” even after Kobe said that he just didn’t have his legs under him. I went on a bit of a mini-rant (check out my tweets after the game) after both Scott and Kobe had their words with the press because it seems to me that neither — especially Scott — seem inclined to publicly acknowledge what seems so obvious to everyone.

Kobe needs to be playing fewer minutes and Scott needs to be the one to sit the player down to discuss and then enforce this. As I have written before, part of the reason Scott was hired was because his relationship with Kobe was supposed to lend him an ability to work and communicate well with him. Well, now is one of those times where Scott needs to cash in some of that goodwill and make some adjustments for the betterment of his team and his star player. Kobe having dead legs (supposedly after pushing hard in Wednesday’s practice) and still playing 35 minutes a night is not setting him or this team up for success. Scott’s chief objective should be finding ways to maximize his players and this team’s results. Maybe we will start to see some of that today against the Kings.

Speaking of the coaching and the Kings, they made some waves of their own this week when they fired Michael Malone and inserted lead assistant Ty Corbin into the head coaching spot. This move baffled many analysts, as Malone had done well leading this team to a solid record before DeMarcus Cousins had to miss extended time with a bout of viral meningitis. Ownership and the front office have said that they want the Kings to play a different style — more uptempo, more free flowing — though it’s a real question whether they have the personnel to really execute that style. I haven’t seen a ton of Kings basketball this year, but I thought working Cousins on the block and having slashers and shooters try to work off him was a sound approach. Seems the owners thought different.

This game, then, might represent one of those games where the players will need to overcome some of their coaching issues to play well enough to win. We’ll see how it goes.

Where you can watch: 3:00pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM Los Angeles.

‘Tis the season of giving and FB&G has your back. Or, at least, something to cover it with. We are teaming up with the fine folks at Million Dollar Ballers for a holiday t-shirt giveaway contest.

We’re not just giving away any shirt, though. We’re giving away this fantastic, “Cap Goggles” shirt.

All you have to do is follow these simple steps:

1). Tell me why you deserve to win the shirt.

Yep. That’s it. Hop in the comments and tell me, tweet at me using the #capgoggles hashtag, or just text me. Actually, don’t text me. That CAP GOGGLESinstantly disqualifies you.

If you decide to tweet me, make sure you’re following me so I can message you should you be one of the two lucky winners. Oh, did I not mention that earlier? That’s right, two of you will be in possession of this shirt*.

If you aren’t one of the lucky two, you can still get a fresh shirt at MDB by ponying up a few bucks. Like this one or this one. If you buy this one though, you’ll probably have to start flopping so, maybe get this one instead. And while you’re perusing fantastic basketball shirts, be sure to click the follow button on @mdballers. Great guy, great product, and super generous to offer you guys a chance to win this tee.

Get on it now, as the contest is will only run through the end of the Lakers-Kings game on Sunday. Good luck and do Cap proud!

*Winners will be able to choose a shirt sized S-XL. 

The Lakers have been off since Monday, a bad loss at the hands of the Pacers to close their three game road trip. The Lakers were looking to win their 4th game in a row, but got smacked around early and never really recovered against the team from the Hoosier state. Tonight, then, the team will look to get back on track, but against a much more challenging foe and one of the hotter teams in the league.

The Thunder come in to this game winners of seven of their last eight contests. The lone loss was against the Warriors last night, a game that saw the Thunder dominate early, but succumb to a hot shooting Dubs team in the 2nd half. Of course it helped that Kevin Durant didn’t play in that half, sitting after spraining his right ankle. To that point Durant had scored 30 points in only 18(!) of action, torching every defender the Warriors threw his way. After Durant went down, Russell Westbrook took up the slack, but it was not enough against a Warriors team with a ton of firepower and a defense that knows how to turn up the heat and stifle opponents.

Durant will sit out tonight’s game as well and that is a major break for the Lakers, though it remains to be seen how much. Durant’s insane scoring ability and versatility from the wing will, of course, be missed. But the fact is the Thunder have enough talent left in their lineup to give the Lakers fits on both sides of the ball and really force them into difficult positions.

It begins with Westbrook who is, essentially, playing like one of the best players in the league. His per-36 numbers are off the charts as he’s scoring, assisting, and rebounding like a madman. His intensity remains one of his best assets, but he is channeling it even better than he has in past years, finally seeming to reach the point where aggression and thinking out the game and ability intersect. Yes, he’ll still have some of those head scratching possessions where he dribbles the air out of the ball looking for a sliver of space to attack, but more often than not he is making excellent reads that, when combined with his superior athleticism, make him nearly impossible to stop.

Beyond Russ is a slew of quality players — especially Serge Ibaka, a player who has evolved into a threat from behind the arc while still blocking shots with tremendous effectiveness — who all seem to fit in properly to make this team competitive. Reggie Jackson is a starting quality guard coming off the bench who can also play next to Russ to form an explosive backcourt. Steven Adams can bang bodies with most big men in the league and has just enough ability as a scorer to make defenses pay when the try to treat him as a non-threat. Add in Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones III, Andre Roberson, Nick Collison, and Anthony Morrow and this team really is stacked.

For the Lakers to compete, then, they will need to get extraordinary performances from multiple players, including Kobe Bryant. Kobe is likely to run into real issues with Roberson, a long and athletic defender who can play with him on the wing and in the post. Kobe will need to find ways to hit contested jumpers and then use the threat of that shot to get into the teeth of the defense where he can draw extra attention to create shots for others. Nick Young will also need to come ready to score and hit shots, as will Jeremy Lin. If these two can create buckets, it will open the floor for Jordan Hill and Carlos Boozer to score against rotating defenders.

Even if all this goes their way, the Lakers are still very much an underdog. The Thunder, even without Durant, are just a better team. They are, though, on the 2nd night of a back to back and playing on the road. Maybe this will be enough for the Lakers to steal a game.

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

Five games ago Byron Scott made a change to his starting lineup, moving Jeremy Lin and Carlos Boozer to the bench in favor of Ronnie Price and Ed Davis. At the time, the move did not sit well with me as the changes did not seem to be based off any real statistical evidence and I said so going into their first game together. So far, my mind hasn’t really changed about this specific starting lineup being any better suited to compete against other team’s starters.

Per NBA.com/stats, the new starting group of Price, Kobe, Wes Johnson, Davis, and Jordan Hill are still posting a negative net efficiency with an offensive efficiency of 99.2 and a defensive efficiency of 109.0 since that game against the Pelicans. This isn’t quite the minus-15.0 efficiency rating the original starting group posted before the change and nowhere near the minus-23.5 efficiency rating this group was posting together before they became the starters, but it is still bad. They are struggling offensively and still not doing a very good job of stopping teams from scoring efficiently, consistently forcing the other units to make up the gap they create.

Fortunately for the Lakers, the shift in starters has created a bench unit that has shown it is able to make up the difference against other team’s reserve units. With Lin and Boozer anchoring the bench, a new unit of those two flanked by Wayne Ellington, Nick Young, and Robert Sacre has been playing extremely well since the change. That five has posted a net efficiency rating of plus-21.0, boasting a fantastic offensive efficiency of 110.9 with a very stingy defensive efficiency of 89.9.

While sample size and “noise” in the numbers are a real caveat — that defensive efficiency number, for example, will not hold — I am encouraged by what I have seen from this group. They offer a balanced attack offensively and have enough athleticism and size to deal with most opposing units on both ends of the floor.

Jeremy Lin has been especially important to this group ability to get into the paint and be a shot creator for himself and teammates. Beyond Lin, the scoring and shooting ability of Young and Ellington on each wing are stretching defenses out to the three point line and giving Boozer and Sacre more room in the mid and low-post to score. Further, with both Boozer and Sacre showing an ability to hit the mid-range jumper with some consistency, the driving lanes for Lin are more open which only reinforces the strengths of the other players.

The key to this unit, however, may simply be that they are mostly playing against other team’s benches. Lin and Young are typically the first subs into the game, replacing Price and Wes about halfway through the quarter. Boozer will replace Hill or Davis a bit later and then Sacre will replace the other big when Ellington replaces Kobe near the end of the first period. By the time the 2nd quarter starts, this group has had a couple of minutes together to find their stride and then are put up against mostly bench players from the other team. Against these units, the Lakers’ group typically has more talent and it is showing in their production.

It is hard to know if this was what Scott had in mind when he made a change to the starting group. When the change was made he only spoke about it in terms of that group needing what Price and Davis provide (defense) and not some bigger reorganization of his lineups in an attempt to maximize his bench. So far, however, the latter is what is occurring and it is helping the Lakers stay in games for longer and win a few additional contests (they are 3-2 since the change).

So while this change didn’t really fix the starting group, a true bench unit has been established and is flourishing early on. Hopefully it sticks. If it does, Scott’s change may indeed end up paying some dividends.