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The Lakers enter all-star weekend with only 13 wins to 40(!) losses. I remember back when Phil Jackson was the coach and the Lakers were competing for a top seed in the conference, his philosophy was to always try to get to 40 wins before getting to 20 losses. The thought was, if you could get to that number, you could spend the last 25 games (or so) getting into playoff form and preparing for what would be, hopefully, a long run deep into May or June. Clearly, the Lakers are a long, long way off from those days.

What they are also a long way off from is having any sort of place in this “mid-season” showcase of the league’s best. Yes, Kobe was voted into Sunday’s game, but after having surgery to repair a torn labrum that will cost him the season he will not even make an appearance in New York. Similarly, Julius Randle’s broken leg kept him out of Friday’s rookie/sophomore game where he could have helped the “USA” team in the new format where American born players faced off against players born from the rest of the world. And with no Lakers competing in any of the other events, this weekend will be a far cry from what we’ve been used to in year’s past.

Maybe that’s for the best. I’m sure many Lakers fans are actually happy for the escape from watching their guys and are ready to invest some time in the talents the rest of the league has to show. Speaking of which…

*Friday’s “Rising Stars” game showed some nice players from both teams, but I was particularly impressed with Andrew Wiggins of the T’Wolves and Rudy Gobert from the Jazz. Both showed off superior athleticism and nice instincts on both sides of the floor. Gobert is clearly still a bit raw, but the tools are there and with his size, length, and athleticism he can turn into a force if he keeps his current development trajectory. On twitter I said that Gobert is like JaVale McGee if JaVale wasn’t so…JaVale. Just a great canvas to develop into a top big man.

*I’ll put it on the record now. My winners for tonight’s contests are: Team Curry in the Shooting Stars Event, Isaiah Thomas in the Skills Challenge, Kyle Korver in the 3 point shootout, and Zach LaVine in the Dunk Contest. Yes, that’s a lot of “chalk” in my group of winners, but this seems like a weekend where guys who do what they do best are actually in the contests they should be in and they’re going to remind everyone of why they were chosen.

*I know that everyone is looking forward to the three point shootout; that group of participants is as deep and talented a shooting class as has ever competed. But, honestly, I’m still most looking forward to the dunkers and, specifically, LaVine. It’s been 15 years since Vince Carter wowed the crowd in Oakland with a performance that redefined the event. And while I don’t think LaVine can match that effort, but I do believe the hype around his above the rim ability is warranted.

*Speaking of Vince’s night back in 2000, you should read this long-form piece by CBS’ Zach Harper on the Night Vinsanity was born. Just a great piece.

*Another great read comes from friend of the site Andy Kamenetzky who writes on Magic Johnson’s latest comments about Jim Buss. I could not agree more with what AK wrote if I’d typed the words myself.

*Lastly, the actual date was a couple of weeks ago, but it was 5 years ago that I took over Forum Blue & Gold from Kurt Helin who departed to run Pro Basketball Talk. With that, I just want to say thank you to everyone who has continued to support me and site over the years. That includes all the contributors who have provided such excellent content on the main page, those who visit the site to read that content, and the commenters who make up one of the best communities in the NBA blogosphere. Without all of you, this site wouldn’t be what it is today.

Los Angeles Lakers vs Portland Trail Blazers

Wed Feb 11, 10:00 PM EST – TWSN, KGW

Line: POR -13.5, O/U: 196.0

Moda Center at the Rose Quarter – Portland, OR

Recent Matchups

Ranks

  • 103.9 ORTG (22)
  • 111.2 DRTG (29)
  • 94.3 Pace (10)
  • 75.2 DRB% (11)
  • 0.513 TS% (27)

Latest Results

Leaders

  • Kobe Bryant 22.3 ppg
  • Jordan Hill 8 rpg
  • Kobe Bryant 5.6 apg
  • Ed Davis 1.2 bpg
  • Ronnie Price 1.5 spg

Ranks

  • 107.5 ORTG (11)
  • 102.1 DRTG (3)
  • 94.3 Pace (12)
  • 75.4 DRB% (9)
  • 0.54 TS% (13)

Latest Results

Leaders

  • LaMarcus Aldridge 23.7 ppg
  • LaMarcus Aldridge 10.3 rpg
  • Damian Lillard 6.3 apg
  • Robin Lopez 1.5 bpg
  • Damian Lillard 1.5 spg

In a way, you have to hand it to the Lakers as they keep finding creative ways to lose. After losing late leads to the Bucks and Magic and then losing in overtime, the Lakers decided to forgo OT altogether against the Nuggets and lose the game by simply surrendering a game they pretty much controlled the entire time in regulation. The Nuggets scored the last nine points of the game and to win by 10 going away.

The star of that game was Ty Lawson (32 points and 16 assists), who the Lakers simply could not contain off the dribble in isolation or out of the pick and roll. This, of course, does not bode well in tonight’s game with Damian Lillard lurking. Lillard has absolutely tormented the Lakers, averaging 36.5 points (on 56.8% shooting, 50% from behind the arc) and six assists in the two previous meetings between these teams. And it’s not like Lillard was gunning for the entire game to get those numbers, either. Most of his damage was actually done on the 4th quarter of both games where he simply blitzed the Lakers, scoring 37 points in only 18 minutes of action over both wins.

So, yes, the Lakers are in trouble tonight. And I’d say that even if Lillard wasn’t going all Beatrix Kiddo on the Crazy 88’s whenever the Lakers are the opponent. Though they went through a rough patch (but still playing over .500 ball) with Robin Lopez out, the Blazers are still one of the best teams in the west and offer a deep, versatile lineup that is simply more talented than the Lakers. If lining up both rosters tonight side by side for a draft, you would likely select six or seven Blazers before even considering taking a Laker.

The fact that the Lakers are playing on the 2nd night of a back to back make things even more challenging. But, if they are to compete tonight, a few things need to happen:

  1. The Lakers’ bigs must control the backboards and limit LaMarcus Aldridge’s effectiveness. LMA can be a deadly jumpshooter and has enough of a post game to be a matchup nightmare. But, if he can be guarded closely and forced into misses, the Lakers have a better shot to win. I expect Robert Sacre to get the first minutes against LMA and hopefully his strength can keep the Blazer off his spots and limit his shot making.
  2. The wings must make shots. The Blazers are a proficient three point shooting team and if the Lakers are going to keep pace they too will need to make some jumpers. The charge will need to be led by Wayne Ellington and a slumping Nick Young, who are both capable of getting hot. Jordan Clarkson will also need to hit a few jumpers — something that will also help his ability to get into the paint.
  3. Carlos Boozer will have to hit his shots. Boozer has been a very nice offensive player since moving to the bench and that will need to continue tonight. If he is hitting his 15 foot jumper, it can help buoy the second unit’s offense.

Of course, even if all these things happen the Lakers are likely to lose. But, those things working out in their favor give them the best chance.

Where you can watch: 7:00pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM Los Angeles.

Denver Nuggets vs Los Angeles Lakers

Tue Feb 10, 10:30 PM EST – TNT

Line: LAL -1.0, O/U: 201.5

Staples Center – Los Angeles, CA

Recent Matchups

Ranks

  • 104.1 ORTG (21)
  • 107.9 DRTG (23)
  • 95.9 Pace (3)
  • 75.5 DRB% (8)
  • 0.516 TS% (23)

Latest Results

Leaders

  • Ty Lawson 16.6 ppg
  • Kenneth Faried 8.8 rpg
  • Ty Lawson 9.9 apg
  • Jusuf Nurkic 1.3 bpg
  • Ty Lawson 1.3 spg

Ranks

  • 103.9 ORTG (22)
  • 111.1 DRTG (29)
  • 94.3 Pace (10)
  • 75 DRB% (14)
  • 0.514 TS% (27)

Latest Results

Leaders

  • Kobe Bryant 22.3 ppg
  • Jordan Hill 8 rpg
  • Kobe Bryant 5.6 apg
  • Ed Davis 1.2 bpg
  • Ronnie Price 1.5 spg

As was mentioned in the comments the other day, Lakers vs. Nuggets might be the worst match up of two teams on a Tuesday night TNT game ever. Expect to hear Charles Barkley complain yet again about having to sit through another Lakers game while all the “Inside the NBA” guys try to talk him off the ledge and find ways to make this game seem appealing. Honestly, I don’t know what can really be said about this specific match up to get you excited.

The Nuggets have lost six games in a row and 13 of their last 14. The Lakers, meanwhile, have lost four games in a row and…13 of their last 14 games. It will be hard to find two teams playing worse combined basketball than these guys and they will show off their respective games to a national TV audience in the late game. Welp.

In saying all that, I would not be surprised if the badness of both these teams cancels each other out and produces some good basketball moments. After all, both teams have some intriguing players that, when they get going, can captivate. Denver’s Ty Lawson is in the top half of the league’s point guards and forwards Kenneth Faried, Wilson Chandler (long a Laker killer), Danilo Gallinari, and Arron Afflalo can all impact a game. On the Lakers’ side, Jordan Clarkson (who has been playing well), Wayne Ellington, and Nick Young along with big men Ed Davis, Ryan Kelly, and Carlos Boozer all have the ability to do damage in their own ways. These guys from both sides will get many chances tonight to put their stamp on the game and lead their team to a win.

However, if you read that paragraph again, it’s still all a bit sad. Six years ago these teams were battling in the playoffs in the Western Conference Finals.  Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony headlined a match up of two teams who looked like they could contend for the next half decade easily. And now Kobe is on the sideline with his 3rd straight season ending injury and Carmelo is talking about shutting it down after the All-Star game for a Knicks’ team worse than both the Lakers and the Nuggets. How quickly things can change.

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

Los Angeles Lakers vs Cleveland Cavaliers

Sun Feb 8, 3:30 PM EST – ABC

Line: CLE -13.0, O/U: 196.0

Quicken Loans Arena – Cleveland, OH

Recent Matchups

Ranks

  • 103.8 ORTG (22)
  • 110.8 DRTG (29)
  • 94.3 Pace (12)
  • 74.9 DRB% (15)
  • 0.514 TS% (26)

Latest Results

Leaders

  • Kobe Bryant 22.3 ppg
  • Jordan Hill 8 rpg
  • Kobe Bryant 5.6 apg
  • Ed Davis 1.2 bpg
  • Ronnie Price 1.5 spg

Ranks

  • 110.3 ORTG (5)
  • 107.4 DRTG (20)
  • 92 Pace (24)
  • 74.2 DRB% (18)
  • 0.547 TS% (7)

Latest Results

Leaders

  • LeBron James 26.1 ppg
  • Kevin Love 10.5 rpg
  • LeBron James 7.4 apg
  • Timofey Mozgov 1.4 bpg
  • J.R. Smith 1.6 spg

After winning a single game to snap a season long nine losing streak three games ago (hi, Bulls), the Lakers have dropped three in a row including their last two in overtime to the Bucks and the Magic. Both those games saw the Lakers lose double digit leads in the 2nd half with late game collapses leading to the other team being able to force the extra period. These are the pitfalls of a bad (and injury filled) roster, a coach who is not above making suspect decisions, and an allowance of young players who have not played meaningful minutes in this league to play through some of their mistakes.

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit this was hard. On Friday night while the Lakers were finding a way to lose to the Magic, the Warriors and Hawks (sporting the two best records in the league) were playing a great game which also coincided with the Thunder and Pelicans playing a down to wire contest where Anthony Davis’ game winner on a double clutch three pointer was a fitting end to an amazing battle. The Lakers, in their current state, may have an exciting game now and then but no longer participate in meaningful games beyond ones that determine draft positioning.

Said another way, fans are more interested in whether the Lakers lose than any of the other things that should matter in a season like this one. Yes, player development is nice, but don’t let a guy play too well lest it lead to wins that threaten the Lakers’ ability to keep their pick. Byron Scott is messing up? That’s great, we need the losses! Who cares if bad habits or a losing culture are being formed with players who the team may actually like and want to be part of the team when they are theoretically turned around. This is what the team’s current status breeds in fans. Again, this sucks something terrible.

Which leads me to the Cavs game. There are few teams hotter than Cleveland right now. Before losing their last game to the Pacers, the Cavs had won 12 in a row with LeBron James re-establishing himself as the player everyone thought he’d be when he returned “home” to Cleveland. Since taking his two-week sabbatical to do…whatever it was he was doing, he is averaging 29 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists and leading the Cavs in every way imaginable. With Kyrie Irving also playing phenomenally and Kevin Love chipping in with some very good games in that stretch too, the team is resembling the one who most pundits thought could contend for a championship.

The contrast between the Lakers and the Cavs is as stark as you could imagine. Heading into next weekend’s all-star game, one team will continue to ramp up their efforts to climb the standings to best position themselves for a deep playoff run. The other team will likely continue to lose, explore trades that give them even more flexibility to chase players next summer (and get worse this season in the process), and pretty much be frustrating as hell to watch. Again, I’d be lying if I said this was anything but difficult.

And yes, the Cavs offer some semblance of hope for this Lakers’ team. After LeBron left for Miami, our very own Byron Scott stewarded the Cavs to multiple terrible seasons that ended with the draft picks and talent base that helped lure LeBron back to Miami and swing a trade for Kevin Love. If you’d have told Cavs fans at the time that all their suffering would be rewarded with the team they have now they’d do it again 100 times out of 100. Just don’t let them tell you they enjoyed the process. That would be a lie.

The Lakers and their fans are hoping the same can happen to them. Just don’t tell me to like it while being put through the wringer.

Where you can watch: 12:30pm start time on ABC. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM Los Angeles.

Los Angeles Lakers vs Orlando Magic

Fri Feb 6, 7:00 PM EST – TWSN, FSFL

Line: ORL -4.5, O/U: 201.0

Amway Center – Orlando, FL

Recent Matchups

Ranks

  • 103.9 ORTG (21)
  • 110.9 DRTG (29)
  • 94.4 Pace (9)
  • 74.9 DRB% (14)
  • 0.515 TS% (25)

Latest Results

Leaders

  • Kobe Bryant 22.3 ppg
  • Jordan Hill 8 rpg
  • Kobe Bryant 5.6 apg
  • Ed Davis 1.1 bpg
  • Ronnie Price 1.5 spg

Ranks

  • 101.6 ORTG (28)
  • 108.3 DRTG (25)
  • 94.3 Pace (13)
  • 76.8 DRB% (5)
  • 0.53 TS% (19)

Latest Results

Leaders

  • Nikola Vucevic 19.6 ppg
  • Nikola Vucevic 11.3 rpg
  • Elfrid Payton 5.8 apg
  • Kyle O’Quinn 1 bpg
  • Victor Oladipo 1.6 spg

Those who follow me on this site or on other platforms know that I have had my fair share of critiques of Byron Scott (maybe more than my fair share). They started when his name was thrown into the ring as a candidate, continued when it was becoming clear he was likely to be the choice, and flowed right into the season with some of his comments on strategy and the tactics he’s displayed on the court.

Wednesday’s Buck’s game was another example as the Lakers lost the game in overtime after giving up a game tying three in the closing seconds of regulation. Forward thinking strategy says that in those situations — up three in the closing seconds while on defense — a team should foul to put the offense at the foul line where they cannot do better than get two points. This approach reduces the probability of a game tying shot and puts the team that is ahead in a better position to win. What, then, was Byron thinking heading into the final possession?

Again, this may seem like piling on. But when the coach comments that he’d prefer not to foul in the closing seconds while up three, even when there was clear opportunity to do so (the Bucks’ play involved a dribble hand-off where the player who gave Mayo the ball had his back to the basket in no position to shoot while getting fouled) he’s exhibiting a poor “philosophy”.

Let’s disregard these things for a moment, however. Late game mistakes are made and, as noted in the quote he gave, Byron isn’t above trying to sort through his current process and adjust. That last point is important because as the season has progressed, Scott deserves credit for how he’s attempted to adapt to the changing nature of his team (due to injuries and what projects to be another losing campaign). The question, however, is whether he has adjusted enough.

When it was announced that Byron would become the coach, part of what I wrote was the need for him to strike the proper balance between today’s and tomorrow’s goals:

What Byron will control, though, are the lineups, offensive and defensive schemes, minute allocations, and the functioning of the locker room. It will be on him to decide how much or little Kobe Bryant plays, how much veterans should get time over younger players, and how to best develop the talent he has at his disposal. It will be on him to navigate expectations and balance short term success with long term goals and the overall health of the franchise moving forward. He will be that steward who has been given the keys at a time that, for all intents and purposes, may be one of the more important in recent franchise history.

This Lakers’ team is squarely at the stage where they are clearly not a contender for a championship but still trying to win games and do so while looking for cornerstone young players who can carry the torch after Kobe Bryant retires. That is one of the finest lines to walk as an organization and, more often than not, ends up being impossible. Whether he is up to the task of being the guy who steers the ship during this time remains to be seen, but I think it’s more than fair to question if he is.

Scott has taken solid steps towards the future by inserting Jordan Clarkson into the starting lineup, doing the same for Ryan Kelly, and inserting Tarik Black into the rotation. Even in doing that, though, Scott remains parked on the fence rather than moving completely to the side of trying to develop his young players.

While Clarkson starts, he has not always been finishing games and only averages 5 minutes in the 4th quarter this year. Ryan Kelly is getting burn, but almost all of it comes at small forward, rather than at his more natural position of power forward. Kelly’s stretch ability is being limited in this role as SF’s are quicker to close out on him and are limiting his ability to get his shot off in space. Meanwhile Boozer is still a key part of the rotation — and he is playing quite well, too — which puts a crunch on the available minutes at PF and C, limiting how much court time players like Kelly, Black, Davis, and even Sacre can see in any given game.

Coaches — at least those not in Philly or Boston — are pretty much all judged on their win/loss record. And maybe Scott feels that pressure to win games too and is trying to walk that line between getting his young players minutes while still leaning on his veterans in key moments. But one has to wonder if he should swing in the other direction, go to his young players even more and put them in better positions to succeed by slotting them into roles that best fit their current skill sets. This may limit the potential for wins, but as we’ve seen — and was clear in the Bucks’ game — the team is finding ways to lose games anyway.

What does this have to do with the game against the Magic tonight? Nothing, really. But as Scott peers across the sideline to his counterpart, he’ll see that the fellow who was supposed to be standing there — Jacque Vaughn — is gone now. Yesterday the former point guard was handed his walking papers as the Magic flounder through another season, running unimaginative offensive sets with inconsistent lineups that didn’t always try to maximize the growth of the young players. Funny, some of that sounds familiar. Scott, might take note of that and realize that he has a couple more years on his contract and with this season pretty much lost, it might be time to start shifting things up to accomplish some of the other organizational goals that don’t involve winning. Especially if he wants to build a foundation where winning can actually happen with some of these younger players he’ll need in a couple of years. That is if he’s still here.

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