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[Note: Tonight’s post was written by Daniel Buerge, the Editor in Chief of LakersNation.com. Make sure you check him out over there and give him a follow on twitter at @DanielBuerge_LA]

Oh, the offseason. It’s a strange time for everyone. Whether it’s absurd speculation or random video clips of your favorite player talking about Desperate Housewives (is that still a thing?) on Chris Ferguson’s couch, the basketball withdrawals are frequent and take many different forms. While the season is still technically going, for Laker fans it’s long over. In fact, most people have been looking toward next season since about the third month of the last one, and now everybody else is finally catching up to them.

This offseason, however, is a little different for the Lakers. Although free agency hasn’t started yet, it seems that fans are already bracing themselves for the worst. As if prepping for a hurricane, Laker fans have boarded the doors and windows, refusing to let reality breach their consciousness. In fact, it’s worse than that now. We’ve reached the denial stage for many of Los Angeles’ most loyal followers. Somehow, in the midst of all the disappointment over the last 12 months, we’ve seen the evolution from disheartened to downright denial. Fans have begun to convince themselves that Dwight Howard isn’t the right choice for the Lakers. And that’s simply not correct.

Now, Howard didn’t have his best season in 2012-13. In fact, it could be argued that it was his worst. But that is nowhere near indicative of the kind of player Howard is. And, more importantly, how big of a drop off there is between Howard and whoever the Lakers think they’re going to replace him with.

Let’s play a little game. When the Lakers traded Shaq in 2004, they took a calculated risk. O’Neal was getting older and less productive, and they thought they might be able to match 60-70 percent of his production by using a filler player. Someone like, you know, Chris Mihm. We all remember how well that worked. See, now that’s the problem with the idea that letting Howard go isn’t going to cost the Lakers that much. Even if you believe Howard will never get back to the level he was at when he was going through Defensive Player of the Year awards like they were Pez, he’s so much better than any sort of alternative option out there that it’s foolish to believe the team will be able to plug in replacement parts and hope they can replace Howard’s production.

So, in his worst season, Dwight averaged 17.2 points, 12.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game.

How did the best big men in the league stack up to those numbers? Let’s look.

Brook Lopez: 19.4 PPG, 6.4 RPB, 2.1 BPG
Roy Hibbert: 11.9 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 2.6 APG
Al Jefferson: 17.9 PPG, 9.3 RPB, 1.3 BPG
Al Horford: 17.4 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 1.0 BPG
DeMarcus Cousins: 17.2 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 0.7 BPG
Chris Bosh: 16.6 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 1.4 BPG

Interesting. Suddenly Dwight isn’t looking like such a dismal prospect, is he? And, you also need to remember, these are the league’s ELITE centers. The best in the business. These are guys the Lakers aren’t going to come anywhere near acquiring if they lose out on Dwight. They’ll be more likely to land an average-type center. You know, a Chris Mihm-type. So how about those numbers? What does the statistical breakdown of the median of the center world look like in the NBA in 2013?

League Center Average: 7.1 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 0.9 RPG

I’ll save you the trouble of getting a calculator and let you know that that’s 10.1 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.6 blocks fewer than Howard.

Basically, if you subtract Roy Hibbert from Dwight Howard you have the league average center. That’s how good Dwight’s numbers still were, in a season where he had three coaches, two injuries, and one ball-dominant shooting guard in his way. Yet, in the face of all this evidence, fans seem convinced that moving away from Howard is the way to go. Some say he doesn’t have the mental tenacity to handle life as a Laker. He doesn’t embrace the legacy.

Who cares?

As fans we’re far more romantic about all that stuff than the players. We like to idealize these situations, because to us it would be tremendous if our favorite players were as passionate about our teams as we are. But that’s not the case. In reality, players want financial security, a chance to win and a fun place to live. And, a lot of the time the first two will supersede the third (not that the Lakers have ever had to worry about that since they hit the geographic lottery).

In the end it comes down to an uncertainty about the future that is the root of all these problems. Fans are afraid. The end of the Kobe era is closer than many want to openly admit, and the guy who has to follow a legend is always seen through lenses thick with skepticism until they’re able to prove themselves. Nobody thought anybody would be able to follow Joe Montana. Then Steve Young came along. Nobody thought anybody would be able to follow Joe DiMaggio. Then some guy named Mickey Mantle showed up. Nobody thinks anyone will be able to live up to Kobe Bryant. But Dwight Howard has as good a chance as any.

And let’s not forget, nobody thought the Lakers would be able to survive after losing Baylor, West, Wilt, Kareem, Magic or Shaq either. I’m sure we all remember how that went.


*Statistics provided by HoopData.com

I received my copy of Phil Jackson’s Eleven Rings  on Friday and immediately delved into the 334 page journey through Phil Jackson’s 11 (well actually, 13) championships (two as a player). The book begins, however, with Jackson describing the Lakers’ 2009 championship parade.

“Here I was sitting in a limo at the ramp leading into the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, waiting for my team to arrive, while an ecstatic crowd of ninety-five thousand plus fans, dressed in every possible combination of Lakers purple and gold, marched into the stadium. Women in tutus, men in Star Wars storm-trooper costumes, toddlers waving “Kobe Diem” signs. Yet despite all the zaniness, there was something inspiring about this acnient ritual with a decidedly L.A. twist. As Jeff Weiss, a writer for LA Weekly, put it: iIt was the closest any of us will ever know what it was like to watch the Roman Legions returning home after a tour of Gaul.'”

That was the second paragraph on the first page of Eleven Rings, and after reading that PJax “never loved being the center of attention” I couldn’t really put the book down this past weekend.

Eleven Rings is more than just a relentless foray in to the countless bumps in the road, the countless numbers of characters and egos he had to balance, and foreign techniques used to band groups of men together to win championships, it’s also a tremendous walk down memory lane, whether you’re a Knicks, Bulls or Lakers fan, through some great times.

While Jackson spends a large chunk of the book discussing his years and New York and Chicago, the efforts of this post will be focused on his time in Los Angeles.

Continue Reading…

Imagine this: Vegas had a prop bet on the Lakers facing a first round sweep after squeaking into the post season. The Lakers would be playing without 55 percent of their scoring on the season, the starting power forward would be playing with a torn ligament and the starting off guard would be the D-League MVP. This team, which would have a starting five that has played a grand total of two minutes together all season, would have to try to slow down the San Antonio Spurs with a three-man core that has been playing together for almost a decade. How much would you have put down on the odds of this scenario happening?

As I write these words, the Boston Celtics are holding a 12-point lead, and seem to be holding off a 1st round season sweep of their own against the New York Knicks. After three games, it didn’t seem like the Celtics had a glimmer of hope of winning a game this series, yet J.R. Smith was suspended for a game and Carmelo Anthony just hasn’t been able to find a rhythm. I’m sitting here trying to convince myself that this Lakers team — as depleted as they are — can find a way to be competitive in this Game 4 at Staples Center in front of their fans. Unfortunately, that seems as unlikely as the scenario mentioned above.

There were such high hopes and expectations coming into this season. Mitch Kupchak put together one of the most incredible rosters we had ever seen on paper. He did the impossible by bringing in Steve Nash. Then did the even more impossible by trading away a center who would not log a single minute in 2013 for this generations best. Even the minor move for Jodie Meeks was a great signing… on paper.

Problems would ensue, however.

The Lakers failed to win a preseason game. Red flags were ignored. Steve Nash broke his leg. Mike Brown was fired. Phil Jackson was (allegedly) snubbed from the coaching position. Mike D’Antoni was hired. The Lakers lost a whole lot more games than they won, and in the midst of losing (and the probably cause for a lot of those losses) more core guys missed time due to injuries. Pau had knee problems. Jordan Hill had back spasms, Chris Duhon did as well. After the spasms, Hill tore his labrum. Pau had a concussion. Dwight had a partially torn labrum. Steve Blake had a stomach thing. Pau then had Plantar fascists. Kobe sprained his ankle. Ron tore his meniscus. Nash pulled his hammy. Kobe ruptured his Achilles and then the season was over.

There were 14 injuries during the regular season with a total of 175 games missed from everyone who went down. As bewildering as the regular season was, the Lakers bad luck continued into the post season with Meeks, Blake, Nash, and Artest all down with an injury going into Game 4 — and Gasol will be playing with a torn ligament in one of his fingers.

How do you preview a game that is notionally a foregone conclusion?

The Lakers will start Darius Morris, Andrew Goudelock, Earl Clark, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard in what is likely the last game of the season for a Lakers team that suffered through setback after setback. The Morris-Goudelock backcourt wasn’t as bad as many would have expected in their first stint together as back court mates, but there was a lot left to be desired as the Lakers suffered their largest home playoff defeat in Game 3 after a 31-point loss. While the two combined for 44 points, neither could keep Tony Parker out of the paint, where has lived for the whole series.

Tim Duncan has had a great series, the interior defense of both Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard have been questioned, but they’ve largely been left out to dry by the poor perimeter defenders allowing penetration, freeing up Duncan and other bigs after rotations. The case was most evident in Game 3, once again, with Morris and Goudelock struggling to stay in front of Parker and Co. The Spurs had 30 team assists, and will be looking to move the ball in similar fashion tonight to close out the series.

For the Lakers, a steady diet of Gasol and Howard aren’t going to win it. The Spurs had packed the paint with more fervor as the series has progressed and the consistency of perimeter shooting has decreased. The Lakers have shot just over 25 percent from three in this series (15-for-57) and will need to see the three-ball fall and a much higher rate should the Lakers make this one competitive. There really hasn’t been an opportunity for either Howard or Gasol to get into a real groove with the Spurs having four guys at any given time with one foot in the paint.

On the defensive end, it’s all about keeping Tony Parker on the perimeter and out of the lane where he has been dangerous, creating scoring opportunities for himself and others. The Lakers defenders have worked hard in this series, but the hard work hasn’t exactly been within the realm of the Lakers scheme, which is understandable considering the fact that at least three rotation players have been out in each game this series, and five will be out in the finale.

We can’t go into this one expecting a Lakers win, but we can go into this one expecting this team to work hard on each end of the floor and to go down fighting for one more game. No Lakers team has ever been swept in the first round of the playoffs, and if you’re suiting up tonight, you don’t want to be a part of the cast that is the first to end the season in that fashion. While I would love to see the Lakers come away with a victory in this one (I’ll actually be in attendance tonight), just seeing them going down fighting until the very last possession will be good enough for me.

D’Antoni can only ask these guys to play tough, play smart and to play hard. This season has been a disaster, but what is potentially the last game of the season doesn’t have to be.

Records: Lakers 41-37 Blazers 33-44
Offensive ratings: Lakers 107.6 Blazers 106.1
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.6 Blazers 108.9
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Steve Blake, Jodie Meeks, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard
Blazers: Damian Lillard, Sasha Pavlovic, Victor Claver, LaMarcus Aldridge, Meyers Leonard
Injuries: Lakers: Steve Nash, Jordan Hill
Blazers: Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews, J.J. Hickson, Elliot Williams

Blazers Blogs: Make sure you check out Portland Roundball Society for all of your Blazers news and analysis.

Keys to game: The Blazers are coming into tonight’s game with a wealth of injuries to some of their key players. Wesley Matthews has had some big games against the Lakers, Nicolas Batum has done a pretty job of defending Kobe over the years when he drew that assignment and J.J. Hickson’s motor could be a problem on the boards on any given night. While it’s never a good thing for an opponent to have injured players, the Lakers have caught the Blazers at the most opportune time considering the battle for 8th place they’re in with the Jazz and the fact that the Rose Garden has always been one of the most difficult places for the Lakers to travel to and get wins.

With all of that being said, this game is still no gimmie and they’ll have to execute on both ends of the floor. Defensively, keeping Damien Lillard out of the paint and close out on shooters. Portland hasn’t been shooting the ball particularly well from deep recently as they’re only at a .264 clip over their last five. Just to make it a point to show how bad they’ve been from 3-point range, that five game stretch includes a 13-23 performance against Utah — and they’re still shooting over 25 percent. But considering that they’re capable of an outlying performance like that, the Lakers cannot allow them to take open shots from deep to ensure that they’re not the next team to get burned by a bad shooting team. Outside of Lillard and shooters, the focal point of the defense should be on LaMarcus Aldridge. The Lakers have done fairly well on Aldridge in the previous three meetings, holding him to 20 points on 18 shots and only 4 rebounds per game. Both Pau and Dwight will have to be willing to close out on his mid range jumper and continue to keep him off the glass.

On the offensive end, the Lakers are going to have to play inside-out. With Hickson out, Meyers Leonard will get the start and won’t be able to hang with Dwight in one-on-one situations. Should Aldridge or Claver help off of their respective man, that will open things up for both Pau and Kobe. Speaking of Pau, it would be wise to continue to feed him in the post as it seems as if his confidence has been rising lately — and should the Lakers get into the post season, having a confident Pau will be awfully beneficial for this team. On the perimeter, Kobe is likely going to be guarded by the likes of Sasha Pavlovic or Victor Claver, and he should be able to exploit those match ups and find the open man should the Blazers double off of him. I’d like to see lots of off-ball movement from the other wing guys and make this banged up Blazers team work as hard as possible on the defensive end.

I do expect the Lakers to win tonight, which would be the first sweep of a back-to-back on the season. It would be nice if they can put Portland away early and give some of the key guys a break, but a win regardless of how it happens is essential if they want to make the playoffs.

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

Records: Lakers 39-36 Grizzlies 51-24
Offensive ratings: Lakers 107.7 Grizzlies 105.2
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.6 Grizzlies 100.8
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Steve Blake, Jodie Meeks, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard
Grizzlies: Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Tayshaun Prince, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol
Injuries: Lakers: Steve Nash, Metta World Peace, Jordan Hill
Grizzlies: Tony Wroten

The Lakers Coming in: The Lakers are coming off one of their best and complete wins of the season over the Dallas Mavericks. The Shot distribution between their three main guys — Kobe, Dwight and Pau — was about where you’d like it to be. Kobe had 18, Dwight 13 and Pau 12, and they recorded 23, 24 and 14 points respectively. Instead of increasing his shot volume, Kobe did other things, and he did them very well. Kobe finished with 11 assists and 11 rebounds. Furthermore, other guys stepped up huge on a night where they were down to pretty much a seven-man rotation. Steve Blake had a solid night hitting his spot up jump shots as they became available and Earl Clark had a great night off the bench with 17 points and 12 rebounds. He was much more aggressive than he had been in recent weeks, and after seeing a few shots fall, seemed more confident in the game against the Mavericks than he had looked in the whole month of March.

The Grizzlies Coming in: The Grizzlies come in playing some good, but not their best basketball of the season. They’re coming into tonight’s game in Los Angeles with a four game winning streak with some decent wins. Their last game was in the Rose Garden where they won by 18 over the Trailblazers. Before that, they defeated the Spurs (minus Ginobili) at home, the Timberwolves on the road and the Rockets at home. In those four games, the Grizzlies were awfully stingy on the defensive end of the floor, only allowing 86.5 points per game during their four-game winning streak. On the offensive end of the floor, they’ve been playing a very calculated game and doing a great job of taking care of the ball, turning the ball over fewer than 12 times per game.

Grizzlies Blogs: Make sure you check out 3 Shades of Blue for all of your Grizzlies news and analysis. They do a great job over there.

Keys to game: For tonight’s game, the Lakers are really going to have to focus on rebounding the ball. The Lakers are third in the league in rebounds per game at 44.8 per game as a team, but the Grizzlies rebound much better at a much higher rate. The Grizzlies have the second highest rebound percentage (percentage of all rebounds grabbed per game) and have the league’s second highest rebound differential. So the Lakers may grab more per game, but there are more opportunities to grab rebounds in games that Lakers play in. In the two previous games that the Lakers and Grizzlies faced off in, the Grizzlies won the rebound battle by an average margin of 10 boards a contest — so crashing the boards against the likes of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol is going to be crucial.

Offensively, ball movement and player movement is going to be crucial as the Lakers don’t have a legitimate advantage in any one-on-one situation. Marc and Randolph match up with the Lakers front court of Pau and Howard as any team in the league, as they’re big, physical guys who aren’t afraid of contact and are disciplined within the scheme of the team defensive principles. On the perimeter, the Grizzlies now have two guys who they can rotate on Kobe — and they have to be two of the guys who have been the most successful on Bean over the years. The Grizzlies got rid of Rudy Gay and brought in Prince, whose length has bothered Kobe’s ability to get off his jumper for years. Tony Allen is one of the league’s best on ball defenders, mainly due to his physical nature, strength and lateral quickness. With every great defender, Kobe has had some great games against both of these guys, but the Lakers can’t game plan hoping that Kobe goes off. Guys like Antawn Jamison and Earl Clark are going to have to have big games by their standards for the Lakers to be successful as they’re the two best moving off the ball.

Defensively, keeping Mike Conley out of the paint is going to be crucial. Without Nash starting, the Lakers might be able to do a better job tonight as Blake is a slightly better on ball defender — and definitely more tenacious than Nash ever has been. And if they can’t keep Conley out of the paint, Kobe (and the rest of the perimeter defenders) is going to have to have another good night staying disciplined off the ball. Darius wrote about Kobe’s off the ball defense in Dallas, and the Lakers are going to need a repeat performance from Bean — who has been a good defender when he’s wanted to be. Outside of Conley and staying home on shooters, both Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph can hurt the Lakers anywhere from the rim to 15 feet out, so both Pau and Dwight will have to work hard and will have their hands full all night.

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