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Tonight, Kobe scored 28 points on 19 shots with nine assists and six rebounds — and he was only the third best basketball player on the court tonight. When your best player has a fantastic game, and two guys from the other team have better nights, it just isn’t in the cards for you to win that basketball game. Dwyane Wade scored 15 of his 30 points in the all-telling fourth quarter. His 30 points came on 12-for-18 shooting with five assists and two rebounds. And then there was LeBron James, who, according to Alias Sports Bureau, James has joined Moses Malone and Adrian Dantley as the only three guys to have five straight games with at least 30 points and shoot at least 60 percent from the field. During Bron’s current five-game stretch, he’s shooting over 70% from the field.

There were lots of good things we saw in today’s game outside of Kobe’s brilliance. We can begin with Earl Clark, who was great scoring the ball, passing the ball, and hitting the glass. His box score numbers were outstanding (18 points, nine rebounds, one assist), but his propensity to do things that benefit the team that are outside of the box score are what continue to impress. What he’s been doing on the offensive end throughout this past month and a half haven’t gone without notice, but his range as a defender is what has really stood out to me on this trip. Tonight he saw time guarding Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Joel Anthony. He’s been asked to defend multiple positions with all of the injury issues — and while the results haven’t always been great (both Bron and Wade made light work of him), his willingness to be versatile on that end has been an asset for this team, and was for them again tonight for much of the first three quarters.

Both Steve Nash and Dwight Howard had good shooting performances (3-5 for Nash, 6-9 for Howard) and both recorded 15 points. When he got the ball, Howard was really good a moving fronting defenders up the line and creating space for entry passes. He was a little off to start the game, but got in a groove in the middle quarters finishing around the rim and hitting his free throws. The team collectively shot well from the field. 50 percent overall, 58 percent from three. They were clean with their ball security, at least through three quarters. Heading into the fourth, the Heat only had seven takeaways. However, the Lakers ended with 14 turnovers on the night — and the last seven took scoring opportunities away from a team that desperately needed them. I’ve detailed the Lakers turnovers in the fourth and took a look at what resulted from them below.

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10:18 – Steve Blake and Dwight Howard run a 1-5 P&R. After slipping the screen, Howard receives a pass from Blake and is immediately double teamed. Instead of kicking out and reposting, Howard drives baseline, and spins back toward to middle. As Howard completes his spin, LeBron James reaches in and rips the ball out of Howards hands, begins to fly down the court and is fouled by Steve Blake. Dwyane Wade would hit a jump shot on the ensuing possession. 82-78, Heat.

9:52 – On the Lakers next possession, the set gets disrupted at the top of the key with Norris Cole harassing Steve Blake. Blake eventually gets the ball into Howard on the right block who tries to throw a pass along the baseline. It goes out of bounds. Heat ball. They don’t score, but it’s the 2nd Howard turnover in back-to-back possessions. 82-78, Heat.

7:58 – The Lakers go to their Horns set with Earl Clark and Dwight Howard at the elbows. Steve Blake brings the ball up and receives a screen from Howard. After setting the screen, Howard rolls while Blake swings the ball to Clark who has popped to the top of the perimeter. Howard initially has great position on Chris Bosh, who had been fronting Howard all game. Recognizing where the ball was going, Dwyane Wade comes over from the back side and disrupts the entry pass and recovers the loose ball. Wade misses a jump shot on the other end, but more importantly, the Lakers miss another opportunity to score.

6:15 – Kobe gets the ball on the left wing, isolated against Ray Allen. Kobe faces up, swings through and drives baseline. Chris Bosh helps off of Howard and keeps Kobe from getting a shot up. Kobe tries to feed Howard, but Dwyane Wade steps in, knocks the ball away and saves it before going out of bounds to Norris Cole. Cole pushes the ball up the floor with LeBron James trailing and only Steve Nash back (which has been a trend on this Grammy trip). Cole lobs the ball up for Bron who catches it and obliterates the rim. 91-84, Heat. Their largest lead of the game up until that point.

5:49 – Kobe is in a similar situation in which he’s isolated on the left wing with Ray Allen defending him. He spins and drives baseline and has to pass the ball when Norris Cole slides over to help. Kobe gets in the air to make the pass, which is knocked down by LeBron James. Ray Allen would miss a three-pointer on the ensuing possession, but it’s two turnovers by Kobe on consecutive possessions instead of shot attempts — which is devastating when you’re down by seven against a better team.

3:36 – Steve Nash misguided entry pass is picked off by LeBron James who takes it the length of the court and obliterates the rim. 97-88, Heat.

2:34 – Steve Nash brings the ball up, and hits Kobe on the left wing after Howard sets a pin down screen for him. Howard rolls immediately after the screen and is wide open. However, Kobe isn’t able to make the pass over the top with a hard double from both Wade (defending Kobe) and Bosh (defending Howard). Instead, Kobe tries to get the ball to him with a behind-the-back pass which was picked off by a lurking Shane Battier. Both Kobe and Nash had been forced into making behind-the-back passes out of double teams early in the 1st quarter. I tweeted that it would be something that could potentially come back to haunt them, it did. Battier would go on to miss a 3-point attempt on the other end, but again, it was more about the lost possession rather than the result of it.

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Overall, it was one of the Lakers better played basketball games of the season. Heading into that fourth quarter, the Lakers had been going blow-for-blow with the defending champions. Unfortunately, to beat a team like the Miami Heat, you can’t just engage in a slugfest, you need a more calculated approach. The better team usually prevails in closely contested battles, and that’s what ended up happening today. The Lakers could have been better on the boards, they could have gotten to a few more loose balls, they could have rotated a bit better on the defensive end — but there was no underling flaw that the Lakers had last night outside not being as good as the Heat. The Grammy trip is over and will head back to Los Angeles for some home cooking and a home game against the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night.

With six minutes left in the 3rd quarter, the Bobcats held a 73-51 lead. The Lakers had been playing awfully throughout the game up until that point — and the bad stretches included no new problems: the defense was shoddy, guards were able to get into the lane at will, the rotations were slow, there were a plethora of turnovers and there was very little movement on the offensive end. Even when guys found themselves open, shots weren’t falling and the long rebounds led to fast break opportunities. From the beginning of the Celtics loss to the end of the first half of tonight’s game, the Lakers were minus 33, with no signs that things would change.

To start the third, the Bobcats pushed their lead to 16 points, the Lakers took a timeout, and then watched as the lead balloon to 22 points with six minutes left in the third. With 18 minutes left to play in the game, the score was 73-51 and I was (admittedly) ready to walk a plank — and things began to turn. Jodie Meeks and Antawn Jamison really closed out the quarter well. From the six minute mark in the third until the end of the game, Meeks and Jamison combined for 14 points and seven rebounds on five-for-eight shooting and three-for-four from deep. They were the spark for the comeback, but it was Kobe and Earl Clark who really drove the stake into the collective hearts of the Bobcats.

During those last 18 minutes, Kobe scored 16 of his 20 points and four of his eight assists. He got a lot of touches from 15-feet and in from both sides of the floor and just picked his spots. Much like the first half, when Kobe touched the ball, there was very little movement off the ball despite Charlotte throwing double-teams at him on every touch. Unlike the first half, Kobe became more aggressive looking for his own shot. He was forced into quite a bit of contested, turn-around or fall-away jumpers, which weren’t exactly ideal, but largely needed with the offense being as stagnant as it was in the first half.

Kobe ended up turning the corner on the baseline a couple of times to get to the rim with the double coming from the middle of the paint. He hit a shot over Byron Mullens outstretched arms after a 2-4 P&R with Earl Clark. The jumper was sandwiched between the two baseline layups, which ultimately cut the Bobcats lead to one. With about 2:20 left to play, Bean hit a tough jumper off the glass over Gerald Henderson to give the Lakers a 94-91 lead, and a transition layup with about 0:45 left to play pretty much iced the game for the Lakers. Kobe shot 5-10 during that stretch, and the misses were largely shots taken with no one else moving off the ball.

The team was also to come up with some huge stops during the last six or so minutes of the game. Howard was able to alter some shots at the rim. They forced the Bobcats into some contested jumpers that weren’t taken on their end of the floor all game and forced a couple of 24 second violations.

This wasn’t the prettiest win of the season for the Lakers. In fact, this is the second time this season that the Lakers were down huge to the Bobcats and came back to win. During their first meeting, they  fell down by 18 and had to claw their way back to a win. Now, they’ve secured a winning record for this Grammy trip as they look ahead to their match up against Miami (who is currently up by 25 points against the Clippers, Lebron looks so good). A 4-3 trip isn’t bad, but a 5-2 trip would be much better. The game against Miami is on Sunday, hopefully a miracle is in the works.

This season, the Lakers are paying $100,087,153 to the various players on their roster and the Boston Celtics pretty much took all of that money, set it on fire and let everyone in the TD Garden know that “everything burns.” The Lakers walked out of the Garden with a 21-point loss, but the game wasn’t really that close — which is a testament to how awful the Lakers played on the night.

There really isn’t much to say in a huge loss to what is the organizations biggest rival. Their collective energy level was low, they were poor rotating defensively, they had trouble initiating sets offensively, and were garbage on the boards.

Defensively, the Lakers couldn’t stay in front of a painting. Paul Pierce was getting to his spots at will, Avery Bradley and Courtney Lee were able to repeatedly get to the rim, and Kevin Garnett was able to hit his turn around fade away over defenders who failed to get their hands up. Foul trouble for Dwight compounded these problems, especially considering he didn’t have the best night of his career on either end of the floor. There was a period where the Lakers had a line up of Steve Blake, Chris Duhon, Kobe, Ron, and Earl Clark. Ron was guarding Garnett and just wasn’t able to do anything with his jump shot. Darius left a few words about the defense in a comment on the last thread:

Mostly, this game was about defensive failures. The big men (mostly Dwight) were awful in helping on screens and Pierce got free for his mid-range jumper early and found his rhythm by knocking down some easy (for him) shots. The Lakers wings also were not prepared to guard the quick ball movement the C’s brought to the game. With the ball moving, the C’s generated good looks and the Lakers got down on themselves and it snowballed from there.

On the offensive end of the floor, both Kobe and Nash actively looked for teammates despite their assist numbers, but there was very little movement off the ball. Darius also mentioned that Nash struggled a bit with Avery Bradley’s on ball defense. I also noticed this, and it seemed to take away from the Lakers ability to run actual sets. There was a lot of dribbling going on from a lot of guys, and very little actions leading to opportunities for high percentage shots. You can give a lot of credit to the Celtics perimeter defenders for disrupting the initiation of the Lakers offense, but a lot of the blame also falls on the other four guys without the ball for pretty much watching the ball handler.

This also led to Kobe taking (and making) a lot of shots in the third quarter. He found a rhythm in the third, and was aggressively looking to score, but he was still a willing passer. Bean finished with no assists, but he hit a lot of wide open guys who just simply couldn’t knock down shots. The combination of guys not moving and not hitting open shots led to the Lakers only recording nine assists as a team after three quarters. They finished with 16 for the game, but a lot of those came in garbage time in the last seven or so minutes when the intensity of the game completely died.

Lastly, Howard just didn’t look himself at all. They went to him early, and he was able to draw a few fouls on the Celtics defenders, but he was never ever able to find any rhythm as the game progressed and ultimately hurt the team on the floor more than he helped. He fouled out in the fourth, albeit during a time when the game was already decided. He also led the team in turnovers, shot one-for-six from the free throw line and didn’t recored double-digets in either points or assists. His struggles were expected as it’s been over a week since he’s seen the floor and he’s still recovering from his shoulder injury.

Tonight was just a bad loss that they’re just going to have to forget even happened as they head to Charlotte tomorrow for what is a very winnable game, even on the road on a second of a back-to-back.

With about 6:38 left in the game, Kevin Durant found himself wide open and knocked down a three-pointer that gave the Oklahoma City Thunder a one-point lead. In recent games, recent months and even recent seasons, a back breaking dagger after a missed defensive assignment would have meant the end of Lakers chances moving forward. Especially in games against the Thunder. Down the stretch, Oklahoma City has simply been better than the Lakers. Russ had previously been able to knock down his 15-footer, Durant was able to get anything he wanted and the defense was able to create the turnovers down the stretch that led to easy baskets which put the Lakers in compromising situations.

Instead, the Lakers kept at the calculated approach they had in the previous three and a half quarters. There would be no desperation threes, there would be no forced Kobe jump shots, there would be no more easy layups for the Thunder. The Lakers continued to run one of three sets down the stretch: 1) A Kobe iso from the right wing which allowed him to read what the defense was giving him and make decisions based upon what his options were. This directly led to three of Kobe’s last four assists — and he had 14 on the game for the second straight night. 2) They ran horns on considerable amount of their possessions. Pau’s assist numbers weren’t astronomical, but he did pass the ball well out of horns and was able to knock the 15-footer from the elbow when Thunder left him open. 3) They didn’t run it as often, but the Nas did run the 1-4 and 1-5 pick and roll a few times that either led to a Nash layup or a Gasol/Howard field goal attempt around the rim.

After the Durant three, the next two Lakers offensive possessions were a ridiculous Artest 15-footer that he drilled and Kobe driving baseline and hitting a cutting Earl Clark for a dunk out of a Kobe wing iso. From that point, the Lakers never gave back the lead. As the rest of the game unfolded, everyone on the floor contributed. Howard would go to the bench with his fifth foul with about 6 minutes left to play and Earl Clark came in and did a great job defensively on Kevin Durant. He forced him into some tough jumpers and worked hard to try to keep the ball out of his hands. Steve Nash took a Kobe pass and used a nice hesitation dribble to get all the way to the rim. A couple of plays later, Nash hit a cool running floater from 18-feet out.

Pau also did a great job defensively with Howard off the floor. There was one possession in particular where Westbrook had gotten a gain of steam heading toward the basket, Gasol slid over, got his hands up and changed the shot. On the other side of the floor, he had another solid game off the bench. He recorded 16 points, four rebounds and four assists — which should have been a bit higher accounting for a couple of missed shots and shots that led to free throws.

They benefited from a few missed calls from the refs (both Durant and Westbrook got clobbered on the head on field goal attempts), they shot an abysmal 55 percent from the free throw line and lucked out with Durant and Westbrook missing a lot of shots that they normally knocked down, but even with all of that, it was still a huge win and a well played game from the Lakers. The Lakers now have one more home game before they hit the road for their Grammy trip. New Orleans is up next with their first three road games coming against Phoenix, Minnesota and Detroit. This is definitely a win they can build on, and in a perfect world, they will.

1. Kevin Durant had one of the most effortless 40-point games we’ve ever seen in his last trip to the Staples Center. What can the Lakers change to slow him down today?

Dave MurphyEffortless is right. He’s got the slinkiest game in the NBA. My initial and most ridiculous thought is to live with the easy outside shots but he’ll just rise up and rain down 3’s. The only prayer is to try and deny him the ball and that’s nothing new. Metta’s had some luck in the past – body him, crowd him, show him your hands. You obviously need help off his post-ups and spin-moves. Duhon’s actually pretty good at rotating over when a teammate gets beat off the dribble and smaller guards can sometimes get up under him. Also, Dwight was out of action the last time around so that should help at the basket.

Emile AvanessianCeltic Pride West? Seriously, no clue.

I love the use of “effortless” in the question, because no term better describes that which makes KD so devastating. However it happens, getting slapped with 40 is disheartening. Feeling like the dude that torched you barely broke a sweat doing it? That’s backbreaking.

My inclination here is to suggest that the Lakers look to one end or the other of the strategic spectrum. Either hyper-aggressive overplaying – I’m talking doubles, triples, traps, tasers, whatever – in the hope that Durant’s resulting loss of rhythm (and, hopefully, production) takes the rest of the team out of its comfort zone. This is something of a tightrope walk, as, unfortunately, Russell Westbrook remains in the Thunder’s employ, but, hey, it’s worth a shot. Right?

On the other hand, the Lakers might look to make an all-out, almost comedic commitment to neutralizing the rest of the OKC attack and casting Durant as ’06 Kobe.  Problems arise here as, for any difference in wiring between Kobe and KD, give either 50, and he’s a good bet to take 65. And, again, Russ is liable to serve up 25 of his own.

If pressed, I’d pick the former option and hope it lures out the Lakers’ greatest ally in their quest to slow down Durant – Bad Russ.

Phillip Barnett: I, unfortunately, got to witness Durant’s 40 points live. Effortless may be an understatement as it only felt like he had 20-something by the time I got a text asking what it was like watching Durant score 40 through three quarters. Ron did pretty much everything within his power to keep Durant at bay, but it simply wasn’t enough. Forcing him to work harder off the ball could help. Have guys bump him off of screens and having Ron over play passes on the perimeter and deny passes everywhere else should help. Also, there was no Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard or Jordan Hill in the previous match up. While there will still be no Hill today, forcing Durant to shoot over our length should help in keeping his numbers ungodly.

2. Both Kobe Bryant and Russell Westbrook had season highs in assist in their last game (14 each), which team would be better off with their man playing the facilitator role?

Dave: Off the Utah game I’d say Kobe. It wasn’t simply a matter of the number of assists, although that was outrageous. But, team chemistry has been a problem and we all know it. Kobe completely invigorated the guys at a time when they needed it most and it’s still the case a couple days later. The win was nice but this is a team that has a ton of uncertainties hanging over them and that kind of commitment would be huge. It also causes some coaching confusion for Brooks – you’ve got to deny Bryant the assists?
Emile: The Lakers. I will never not expect 25+ a night from Kobe, but the dire situation in which the Lakers find themselves is largely a function of subpar effort. By ensuring that his teammates are appropriately engaged offensively, Kobe increases the odds of getting their best on the defensive end. Plus, in addition to savant-like floor generalship, Steve Nash brings to the Lakers’ table perimeter prowess on par with anyone that’s ever played the game. Any opportunity to alleviate the considerable pressure Nash faces in trying to orchestrate this offense, while affording him the opportunity to play to another Hall-worthy strength is decidedly a good thing.Plus, at the end of it all, it just means less constrictive defenses against which “scorer Kobe” gets to work.

Phillip: It’s hard to expect Kobe to record a near triple double every night, especially not that many assists. In a perfect world, Kobe would have somewhere between five and eight assists on any given night with Nash taking the brunt of the load facilitating the ball — but Kobe being able to make plays against Utah really opened things up for Nash to get his points. For the Lakers, a happy medium of Kobe facilitating and Kobe shooting would be the best. For Oklahoma City, at least against the Lakers, they may be better served with Westbrook looking for his shoot. With Durant scoring 40 through three quarters the last time they met at Staples, the Lakers defense is likely going to be keying in on KD (not like they weren’t before) and could mean some easier scoring opportunities for Russ — and you don’t want a guy turning away easy looks just to be able to get the ball to his teammates.

3. If the Lakers are going to win, who is going to have to be the x-factor, and in what way?

Dave: I never thought I’d refer to Pau Gasol as an X-factor but if he’s coming off the bench than it is what it is. Like Dwight, he was out of action last time against the Thunder and he’s going to be needed. Pau had a strong game offensively on Friday – seven out of eight in 25 minutes. I’m not sure when or if D’Antoni is actually going to embrace the strengths of this team, rather than simply tolerating them in short-minute situations. Gasol has faced OKC as much as anyone in the league – sometimes successfully, sometimes not. But he’s got the experience and if that somehow makes him an X-factor against this team, so be it.

Emile: Nash. A lot is made (rightfully) of his inability to defending opposing lead guards. Russell Westbrook has that effect on pretty much every defender, everywhere, so suffice it to say the situation here is somewhat exacerbated.

Let’s not kid ourselves, the idea that Steve Nash’s defense will effectively slow Russ – Good or Bad – is more hallucinogenic than it is quaint. There is, however, a way in which the Lakers’ #PointGod can slow his opposite number. Literally.

For all the talk of whether or not Westbrook is a “true” point guard and the constant, ongoing judgment of his floor generalship, Russ never seems to have an issue controlling the tempo of a game. If the Lakers are going to stay competitive and have a legitimate chance of stealing this game, Nash must dictate the tempo at which it’s played.

Phillip: For me, I think the X-Factor has to be Earl Clark. The Last time these two teams met, Clark was one of the bright spots, recording his second double-double of the season (10 points, 10 assists) during that stretch with the Lakers top three bigs all out with injuries. If Clark can come off the bench with similar production with both Howard and Gasol in the lineup tonight, that can go a long way in terms of the Lakers keeping this close and ultimately winning. At this point, a Lakers win is a long shot, but if Clark can come off the bench and be an energy guy who cleans up the glass with the second unit, the Lakers could find themselves in a position to win this game late in the fourth.

All preseason Mike D’Antoni had been telling media that for the Lakers to play their best, Kobe Bryant would have to sacrifice some shots and look for his teammates early and look for his own shot within the flow of the offense — and that’s exactly what he did on the Lakers season opening win over the Utah Jazz. Bryant would finish the game with 14 points, eight rebounds and 14 assists on seven-for-10 shooting in what would be a very balanced scoring night for the Lakers, who are starting the season for the fourth time this year.

The beneficiaries of Bryant’s willingness to give were the whole team as he was the fifth leading scorer with four guys scoring at least 15 points. One of those guys were Dwight Howard, who got rolling early. Within the first four minutes of the game Dwight had already recorded eight points and six assist, with six of those points coming from dunks, two off them alley-oops. Howard would finish with 17 points and 13 rebounds on eight-for-12 shooting and only one turnover. Howard looked a bit more spry on the evening than he had in recent games moving great laterally on defensive rotations and jumping through the roof to contend shots at the rim.

Pau Gasol also had a decent game off the bench with 15 points on seven-of-eight shooting. Gasol also added seven rebounds and three assists, with a couple of them coming on 4-5 pick and rolls with Howard. The offense seemed improved on the night with both Gasol and Howard on the floor together as there were multiple buckets with the Lakers going to their Horns sets and getting the ball in Pau’s hands and allowing him to make decisions — which resulted in Gasol playing one of his most decisive games of the season. We saw him take the ball to the rack a few times, hit Howard on the roll or the oop, and hit the jumper with a decent regularity.

Gasol’s improved game opened things up for both Ron Artest (17 points) and Steve Nash (15 points). Nash didn’t record an assist in the first half of the game, but he was aggressive looking for his shot early, filling the void Bryant left on the perimeter while Artest was great from behind the perimeter, shooting five-for-11 from the three-point line.

Most importantly, however, the defense was fantastic for the whole night. Perimeter defenders fought hard to fight through screens, but when they were beat back side defenders rotated well and contested shots around the rim. The only gave up 37 points at the half and were able to keep both Al Jefferson and Paul Milsap — both guys who have had huge games against the Lakers — at bay for much of the night. A lot of the production from both Jefferson and Millsap came from backside rebounds and put backs after either Pau or Howard slid over to help out on penetrating guards.

Perimeter defenders did a great job hedging down onto the Jazz’s post players and getting back out to run shooters off the three point line after kick-outs. Utah only shot three-for-14 from the three point line — making two fewer than what Artest made all game.

While it feels great to get a win, the celebration cannot continue past tonight as they’ll still have a lot of work to do with Oklahoma City coming to town and the Grammy Trip looming. Regardless, it’s great to see the Lakers get their season started off on the right foot. Not too many complaints from this one, hopefully the trend can continue.

The Lakers shot better from the floor, made more three pointers, and took and made more free throws, and they still lost. Kobe had 29 points, seven assists and five rebounds while Dwight recorded a career high in rebounds with 26 to go along with his 14 points and they still lost. Steve Nash had a double-double, Ron looked a bit better offensively and Jordan Hill came off the bench with 13 points and they still lost. There were positives, but in the end, the Lakers still lost for the fourth time in their last five contests after reeling off five straight wins.

Despite the big games from Kobe and Howard coupled with the team shooting better overall than the Nuggets, the Lakers still found a way to end up in the loss column once again, and a quick look at the box score will tell you all you need to know — 18 Lakers turnovers and 17 Nuggets offensive rebounds gave the team 35 extra possessions that the Nuggets turned into points. The Nuggets had 14 points off turnovers, 25 second fast break points (some of the points off turnovers are included here) and 13 second chance points. The Lakers essentially gave the game away by giving the Nuggets extra possessions, which resulted in Denver taking 19 more shots than the Lakers on the night. So even though the Lakers shot better from the field, the Nuggets were still able to outscore the Lakers by the sheer volume of shots they were able to take.

And on those possessions that weren’t given to the Nuggets, the Lakers continued to struggle to defend. Ty Lawson was able to get into the paint at will, shooters took uncontested jump shots and JaVale McGee and Kennith Faried were able to get uncontested looks at the rim through P&R sets. The Lakers continue to fail to communicate on the defensive end of the floor with guys leaving ball handlers and missing rotations. It was very disorienting watching Lawson get free for a layup late in the fourth due to no effort on his own part. Both Kobe and Nash decided to leave Lawson for a cutting Corey Brewer instead of staying with the guy who was the biggest threat to score.

None of these problems are new, however. The Lakers have struggled on the defensive end for much of the season and still aren’t showing many signs of improvement. If you take a look at the beginning of Darius’ preview, everything he said in his third paragraph rang true tonight sans Dwight looking bad.

There are reasons the team hasn’t looked its best. These reasons are valid. Dwight Howard doesn’t look like himself physically on most nights. Pau Gasol is either in full decline (which, coming off his Summer in London seems far fetched, but is possible) or is a combination of dinged up physically and being misused offensively. Kobe and Nash are playing well offensively but must be compensated for defensively in ways that compromise the integrity of their defensive schemes. The rest of the roster is unbalanced and inconsistent in their performance from night to night. Add in an early season coaching change and what an upheaval like that means and this is the result.

At the end of the night, it’s another Lakers loss, and such is life these days. They’ll have to try and regroup tomorrow as they’ll play the Houston Rockets on Tuesday, another game that’s as must win as any game in January can be as Houston is another team that the Lakers are going to have to catch to make the playoffs. Hopefully the frustration settles, the defense tightens up, and the turnovers are cut down so the Lakers can get back to winning ways.

Since the return of Steve Nash, we’ve seen some immediate improvements to the Lakers’ offense. The ball is moving a lot more, there has been a considerable improvement in off ball movement and things just feel different when he’s on the floor. The Lakers are 2-1 in Nash’s return, and in those games he’s recorded a .773 true shooting percentage and a .714 effective field goal percentage. On top of that he’s averaging 9.3 dimes in those three games. What has stood out to me most in Nash’s return is how varied the Lakers offensive sets have become.

The number of 1-5 pick and rolls between him and Howard have been countless. He’s also run the P&R with Pau a considerable amount of times and with Kobe a few times. We’ve also seen Nash and Kobe run a two man game a few times with Nash on the wing and Kobe in the post. Horns has returned at a higher rate, and they’ve seen a lot of success through these sets — and a lot of that success has nothing to do with Steve Nash handling or passing the ball. Mike D’Antoni has utilized Nash setting screens off the ball to free wings for easy buckets. Let’s take a look at how the Lakers have found success with Nash screening off the ball.

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In this first frame, the Lakers have set up in their Horns set. Nash has already dumped the ball into Pau in the pinch and UCLA cuts off of him to go find Kobe. As Nash starts to cut through, Kobe is pushing his man (Jason Kidd) up the sideline allowing Nash to come in right behind him to set a back screen. It’s important that we keep an eye on the spacing here.

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As Nash sets the screen, Kobe cuts back door and Pau throws a perfect pass on Kobe’s release. With Kobe pushing Kidd up the line, Raymond Felton doesn’t jump between Nash and the basket hoping to deny a pass to a Kobe who he thinks is going to pop out. Kurt Thomas is the first help defender on the weak side, but given the Howard assignment, he doesn’t want to give him any space to prevent any subsequent lobs. And on the far side, Melo is playing a good eight-to-10 feet off Darius Morris, but either didn’t have the foot speed or the effort to get between Kobe and the basket as the pass came. The result is Kobe being freed for one of the easiest baskets he’s going to see in any given game. Let’s check the play out in real time.

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Here we have another horns set with Ron on the floor instead of Morris, otherwise, everything else is the same. Nash brings the ball up the floor and enters to Pau in the pinch. On this set, however, Nash cuts off of Pau’s inside shoulder through the paint to go find Ron’s man (Kidd again).

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After Nash sets his screen, Ron heads toward Dwight, who sets a second screen on Kidd. This time around, the spacing is a bit different, but it’s the same concept. Nash stays near the block with Felton fighting to stay between him and the basket. Tyson Chandler is between Dwight and the basket. Instead of trying to keep defenders along the perimeter to clear space for Kobe, the Lakers have gotten all of the defenders on the strong side away from the 3-point line.

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The result is a wide open 3-pointer for Ron, which he knocks down. The Lakers actually ran this exact same set for Ron just a couple of possessions earlier and the outcome was the same (Ron wasn’t missing much in the 2nd quarter of the Knicks game). They have also run a similar set for Jodie Meeks which cleared him up for a wide open three-pointer. Check the play in real time.

I find it fascinating that one of the best point guards in the league has been able to get his teammates wide open shots by not passing the ball. We still haven’t seen the full value of Nash’s impact on this Lakers team, but what we do know is that Nash gives this offense a lot more to work with. D’Antoni has been able to run so many different kinds of sets throughout the game just because of the ability of Nash to create when, seemingly, nothing is there. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what else D’Antoni has in store with Nash running things.