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h/t @cjzero for the screenshot

The Golden State Warriors are taking their hatred for the Los Angeles Lakers a little too seriously. The Lakers have always been one of those teams in sports that only has one true rival, but is the rival to everyone else. Other teams, especially in the division, get up to play the Lakers in a way that they don’t for other teams in the the league, and seems to still be the case even in what is arguably the least successful season in the Lakers franchise history.

With a chance to clinch a playoff berth against the Denver Nuggets on Thursday Night, the Warriors elected to lay the conjectural egg and allowed Timofey Mozgof to go off for a ridiculous 93 (!) points on only 15 (!) shots with 29 (!) rebounds. Mozgof’s night was easily the most efficient of any player who has scored more than 70 points, mainly because the Warriors let him run rampant on the offensive end.

The reason: The Warriors wanted to clinch a playoff spot on the Lakers home court. “Teams tank all the time,” began head coach Mark Jackson after the game. “The Lakers are a team that this organization doesn’t like and they don’t like us. If we have an opportunity to clinch on their floor, in front of their fans — we’re going to take it.”

Woof.

A clinch for the Warriors in Los Angeles isn’t a guarantee, however. They’re heading into a second of a back-to-back and the Lakers are coming off their highest scoring total of the season. The offense was firing on all cylinders as they dropped 130 points on the Houston Rockets. Although they’re only at 25-53, the offense may have finally found a rhythm that can carry them for the remainder of the season, even without Kobe Bryant or Pau Gasol or Chris Kaman or Steve Nash or Jordan Farmar or Xavier Henry or Kent Bazemore. **

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Kendall Marshall is going to have to control the tempo and keep his counterpart Stephen Curry in check. If the Warriors are able to get out and run, things can get a little dicey for the Lakers as they just don’t have the depth to continue to rotate players to play 48 minutes of high tempo basketball. Curry is his best in the open court when he’s able to improvise and pick his spots. Klay Thompson is one of the beneficiaries of Curry in the open court as he’s often left open as defenses key in on trying to keep Curry under control.

One of the more interesting things about the Warriors in recent weeks is Jackson’s sudden willingness to play an Andrew Bogut/Draymond Green front court. With Iguodala on the court with those two, the Warriors have one of the best defensive front courts in the NBA. Their ability to get stops and force live ball turnovers has turned into some on-court success in the absence of David Lee.

For the Lakers, they’ll have to counter with the likes of Jordan Hill and Wes Johnson as the starting front court. Injuries were the problem at the beginning of the year and have continued throughout their 2013-14 campaign. The issues started with the backcourt, but with both Gasol and Kaman out, the front court is not the most depleted part of the Lakers roster and it could be very evident on a night that features one of the more unique front courts in the NBA.

A win for the Lakers isn’t necessarily out of the realm of possibilities as this has been a team that has fought extremely hard even in their worst of losses this season. However, what is there to be gained in another win as the season comes to a merciful close? It’s hard to condone even the idea of not playing to win, but any win at this point will be recorded in vain. There is the idea that the Lakers can keep the Warriors from clinching on their home floor, which is a mini-feel good story in an otherwise horrible season.

Where To Watch: 7:30pm start time on TWC SportsNet and NBATV. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.

** Words above the break are likely made up and should not be taken seriously. 

The Lakers are in the third game of a weird scheduling four-game sequence in which the Lakers play home and home series against the Thunder and the Spurs. The Lakers (remarkably) went .500 in the first half of the four games with a completely unexpected win over the Thunder in last Sunday, and will seek to do the same (or better) as they kick off a home and home against the Spurs tonight. Not only are the Lakers in the midst of a four-game stretch against the two teams a top the Western Conference, but they’re playing the second of a back-to-back in San Antonio. Most cities get up for the Lakers when they come to town, but San Antonio is usually one of the more hostile environments that the Lakers visit in any given season.

For tonight’s contest, the Lakers are going to need to match the defensive energy they had in their first game against the Thunder, someone is going to have to explode on the offensive end a la Jodie Meeks, and the Spurs might have to treat tonight’s game like an exhibition contest. You can’t really put a zero percent chance on the Lakers winning tonight’s game, but considering circumstance and the talent gap, a lot is going to have to go their way.

There really isn’t much you can say about this year’s rendition of the Spurs that you couldn’t have said about the team in the past 3-4 years outside of the every present continued growth of swingman Kawhi Leonard and his importance to the Spurs. Leonard is a difference maker on both ends of the floor, and when healthy, makes a good Spurs team dangerous. Leonard has dealt with some injury issues that caused him to miss 15 games this season, but the Spurs have not lost since his return. From Matthew Tynan over at 48 Minutes of Hell:

The Spurs have been 16.2 points per 100 possessions better than their opponents when Leonard has been on the floor over the last six games as opposed to just six points better when he’s been on the bench, and the defense is boasting a 95.3 defensive-efficiency rating when he plays. Furthermore, his impact on the defense-to-offense transition game has been a godsend for the slow-legged Spurs.

The numbers show the impact Leonard has had on the Spurs, and the impact has turned into wins. However, nothing is guaranteed, and the Lakers can find a way to leave San Antonio with a win tonight, and it’s going to have to start with the guys on the perimeter.

On the offensive end, the Lakers are going to have to take great care of the ball. The Spurs aren’t one of the fastest teams in the league, but they will make you pay for your mistakes. The possessions that don’t end in turnovers have to end with quality shots. Sharp ball movement and movement off the ball have led to the Lakers best possessions, but over dribbling from the guards have cut down on the number of times that the Lakers have been able to effectively execute sets this season. Kendall Marshall will have to be confident in his jump shot, Xavier Henry and Kent Bazemore are going to have to be smart about when to attack the basket and when to keep the ball moving and Pau Gasol is going to have to get touches in the paint. Playing through the post, especially if Pau can get any kind of early rhythm, will open up the perimeter for shooters like Meeks, Jordan Farmar and Ryan Kelly.

On the other end, keeping Tony Parker out of the lane is, and will always be, the top priority against the Spurs. This is a team that executes as well as anyone in the league, so staying home on assignments and helping the helper will be crucial. Parker can kill the Lakers by living in the paint, but Manu Ginobili can do so as well. Tim Duncan is going to be Tim Duncan. Boris Diaw can hurt the Lakers from multiple spots on the floor with his play making ability while Leonard can stretch the floor or attack the rim with his athleticism.

The Lakers should run when they have their opportunities, but shouldn’t make tonight a track race as the Spurs with more possessions will only have more opportunities to impose their will over the Lakers. The Lakers can be successful in stretches, but it seems unlikely that they’ll be able to keep the Spurs off balanced enough for 48 minutes to leave Texas with a win.

Where You Can Watch: 5:30 start time on NBATV or TWC SportsNet. You can also listen on ESPN Radio 710.

1. With both Steve Nash and Steve Blake back, how do you think the Lakers should approach the rotation for these two guys specifically?

Darius: D’Antoni has already said that Nash will play the first 6-8 minutes of each half and that’s it. I think this is the smart move as it should help him remain loose after warm-ups and not have to go into the game cold after going to the bench for any extended amount of time. As for Blake, I’d like to see him ease his way back into the lineup and play 20-25 minutes. That said, I’d prefer Blake play more point guard than shooting guard if playing against any other lineup than the Rubio/Barea combination the ‘Wolves can throw out there. As we saw earlier this year, Blake performed much better when he was at the point and in trying to put him in the best position to succeed, I’d like to see his minutes come at that spot. Considering Nash’s court time should be around 15 minutes, Blake and Marshall should both be able to see extensive time at the point without it being an issue.

Phillip: It’s been reported that Nash likely won’t play more than 10-16 minutes tonight, and only the first few minutes of each half. With that said, I think the most ideal situation would be for D’Antoni to split the rest of the time at point guard between Steve Blake and Kendall Marshall. It wouldn’t make sense to play Blake a huge number of minutes in his first game back in about two months. Staggering the minutes Nash isn’t on the floor between Blake and Marshall should make things a seamless transition for all point guards involved.

2. Considering both Nash and Blake were immediately thrown into the starting role, what are you expecting from Kendall Marshall off the bench? Does his new role affect his mindset in tonight’s game?

Darius: I hope Marshall’s mindset doesn’t change at all. He is at his best setting up others, but he needs to continue to balance that with looking for his own offense when an opening is there. Considering he’s likely to see a dip in minutes, I would also like to see him extend a bit more effort on the defensive side of the ball. Marshall will never be a strong defender — his athletic limitations make it so he’ll struggle defending in space and against quick attacking players — but he can do a bit more to hustle back on D, look to make the extra rotation more often, and generally try to do more of the dirty work that is required of the guards when the big men are forced to help outside the paint. These have not been areas where Marshall has done well at this season, but with less responsibility to guide the offense for most of the game, maybe that can change.

Phillip: I’m obviously reaching here, but one of the benefits of having such a limited roster since Marshall joined the team is that there isn’t much of a disparity in talent from his court mates when he was starting to who he’ll be asked to lead when he enters the game as a reserve. From that standpoint, his mindset should remain consistent with what he’s had in the last month and do the things that have found him the most success. Keep his teammates involved, continue to initiate the offense and look for his shots when the opportunities present themselves. He’s been doing better with the latter in the last couple of weeks, but that’s going to continue to be his weakness on the offensive end because of the nature of his game.

3. What is the single most important factor in the Lakers recording a win tonight?

Darius: Can we make sure Kevin Love’s car doesn’t have snow tires? Because if he doesn’t show up tonight, the Lakers’ chances of winning go up dramatically. In all seriousness, getting Love to play a below average game is the team’s best chance to win. Ryan Kelly will need to do his best to stick with Love on the perimeter and the entire team will need to battle on the glass to make sure that he doesn’t have one of those 20 rebound nights with 8-10 on the offensive side. A 20 and 10 night from Love can be countered with production from enough Lakers to keep the game close. A 35 and 18 night and the Lakers are likely sunk.

Phillip: Keep the game close. One of the strangest narratives to follow this season has been the ‘Wolve’s inability to close out close games. This isn’t to say that the Lakers have been excellent down the stretch, but the Timberwolves propensity to lose those games has become a story this year. They’re currently 4-15 in games decided two possessions with seven of those losses being one-possession games and three of them losses by a single point. Neither of the previous games have been close (blowouts going both ways), but a close game could prove to be interesting and contribute to a story that’s been developing all season.

Where you can watch: 5 p.m. on TWC SportsNet or you can listen on ESPN 710.

While the results of the previous two games weren’t ideal, the Lakers have been playing better basketball in recent weeks and will look to continue their collective improvement in Orlando against a struggling Magic team.

Coming in, the Magic have been one of the few teams struggling more than the Lakers on the year. Since the turn of the new year, the Magic have won one of 11 games and have been worse on the defensive end than the Lakers — which only took a step in the wrong direction when center Nikola Vucevic went down with a concussion on Jan. 6 against the Clippers. Since then, the Magic have given up at least 100 points to their opposition in every game save for a 93-91 win over the Celtics.

One of the reasons the Magic haven’t been able to find much success is their putrid bench unit. Jameer Nelson and rookie of the year candidate Victor Oladipo have been having a decent season while swing man Arron Afflalo is a fringe all-star candidate. Up front, Glen Davis and Tobias Harris have been serviceable, but that’s about where Orlando’s talent ends. On the bench, Orlando has a collection of marginal talent that makes it a little easier to look at the Lakers roster. The Lakers will face the likes of Jason Maxiell, Maurice Harkless, E’Twaun Moore, and Doron Lamb off the bench.

For the Lakers, there has been a huge improvement in the play of Pau Gasol, and for the first time since late November/early December, the team has the feel that any guy on the roster could have a decent game and cary the team. Against Miami, it was Jodie Meeks and Gasol who had decent nights. In the two games against Chicago and Toronto, Nick Young averaged 30 points while Ryan Kelly averaged 15 points in the same two games in his new role as a starter in D’Antoni’s system.

Tonight, the Lakers should look to give the Magic a healthy dose of Pau early and often. The Magic starting front court will be 6-9 Glen Davis and a much thinner 6-9 Tobias Harris. We should expect to see Gasol double teamed with either guy attempting to defend Gasol, who will have a huge height advantage over both, a speed advantage over Davis and a strength advantage over Harris. With the double teams, shooters should be freed for open looks on the perimeter.

Like every night, the Lakers cannot allow misses on long shot turn into transition opportunities nor can they afford to turn the ball over at a high rate. Giving teams extra possessions has been the team’s issue all season, but can’t allow a team like the Magic to lead in either category. While it’s debatable, tonight is going to be one of the few nights where the Lakers will have a talent advantage, but turnovers and the allowance of offensive rebounds can level the playing field and make this game a lot tougher on them as possible.

If the Lakers can commit to playing inside out against a team that doesn’t have much size to offer, the Lakers can pull to .500 on the Grammy trip with an opportunity to finish it with a winning record in New York on Sunday.

Where to watch
TV: Time Warner Cable SportsNet at 4 p.m. PST
Radio: ESPN Radio 710AM

There wasn’t much positive to take from the game. Nick Young has now scored 20+ points in eight of the Lakers last 11 games and hasn’t failed to reach double figures since the Lakers win over the Kings on November 25. Kendall Marshall continues to be a playmaker for these Lakers as he recorded 17 assists with a few absolutely gorgeous dimes to cutters and a couple of notable skip passes to shooters in the corners. Pau Gasol recorded a double-double with 25 points and 10 rebounds while recording five assists. Jodie Meeks also had an efficient night with 23 points on 15 shots, with the majority of his buckets coming near the rim.

The Lakers went into the half with a one-point lead, but weren’t able to to keep pace with the Nuggets in the second half. “We don’t have the backbone yet as a team,” said Mike D’Antoni to reporters after the game on TWC SportsNet “We don’t have the grit that we need sometimes on hard times. They had it kind of before we came back here — but in the second half it’s just like the air went out of our team [...].” A disgusting second half it was. The Lakers seemingly didn’t get a stop in the second half as the Nuggets followed a 33 point third quarter with a 44 point fourth. The Lakers were cold from long range and couldn’t keep the Nuggets off the board. The result was one of the uglies losses of the year. Below are a few notable numbers from tonight’s debacle.

  • 77: The Lakers gave up 74 points in the second half of tonight’s game after leading 61-60 going into the half. The team came out lethargic in the third quarter, turning the ball over and giving up easy looks at the rim. Ty Lawson and Wilson Chandler combined for 17 points in the quarter with Lawson adding five assists. The Lakers missing from three coupled with their four turnovers turned into 12 fastbreak points for the Nuggets in the 3rd. In the fourth, the Lakers lacked the sense of urgency that kept them in the game in the first half. They played sloppy and unmotivated. They seemed to have come to grips with the fact that tonight wasn’t a winnable game and promptly gave up 44 points in the final period.
  • 21: The number of three-point attempts that the Lakers had tonight. For a team that relies to much on the three ball, hitting three-of-21 from the field just isn’t going to get it done. The starting unit was 1-for-11 from three with the second unit slightly better at 2-for-10 from behind the arc. On the flip side, the Nuggets were 12-for-29 from long range, making them +27 from three, a definite losing differential the way this rendition of the Lakers plays basketball.
  • 52: The Nuggets recorded 52 points on 32 extra possessions. The Nuggets recorded 17 offensive rebounds and turned the Lakers over 15 times and turned that into 31 points off turnovers and 21 second chance points. Considering the fact that the Nuggets shot 53 percent from the field, giving up offensive rebounds on 37 percent those misses is down right unacceptable. The Nuggets deserve all the credit in the world for working hard to create those extra possessions, and even more for turning those extra possessions into a seizable number of points, but the Lakers lack of effort in those areas definitely contributed to the Nuggets success.
  • 137: This is the highest total that the Lakers have given up in a game since 2011 when they gave up 137 to the Suns in triple over time (a win, by the way). The Lakers hadn’t given up more than 130 in a non-over time game since 1993 when they allowed the Charlotte Hornets drop 141 on them in regulation, just over a decade ago.

Despite the rough loss, the Lakers will need to put the game behind them as they have a rough three game stretch where they travel to Dallas and Houston which will be followed with a “road” game against the Clippers. They’ve now lost seven of the last nine with trade rumors hovering over the team like Nate Robinson on a tip dunk. Even with the distractions, the Lakers are going to have to focus on the road to be able to come home with a few more tally marks in the win column.