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After winning a couple of games in a row, the Lakers got back to their recent losing ways last night when they were defeated 108-105 on the road against the Milwaukee Bucks. Despite the fact that the Lakers were short-handed on players, they never found a way to get stops against one of the worst teams in basketball.

If the Lakers are aspiring to not have the worst record in the franchise’s history (30-52, set by the 1974-75 team), they have to get wins against teams like the Bucks. Despite the fact that playoff hopes are gone, this team must continue to find ways to play inspired basketball as a unit. However that might be tough as this point in the season, as the majority of this roster isn’t guaranteed a contract going into next year. Guys are playing for their well-being, and it shows on the court.

Tonight the Lakers will play against the Minnesota Timberwolves. This will be the start of a stretch in which the Lakers finish the season facing nine teams with a record of .500 or better (*the pro-tanking group applauds*). The Timberwolves are trying to sneak into the playoffs as the 8-seed, so they will come out firing and ready against the Lakers. Pau Gasol will be out again, so it’s going to be key that the Lakers big men be ready against NBA All-Star Kevin Love.

Keys to Lakers Victory:
Show No Love: Nobody on the Lakers can defend Kevin Love one-on-one. Because of that, they should force someone else on the Timberwolves roster to beat them. Send him different looks on the defensive end, use double teams, whatever it takes. The Lakers can’t afford for him to dominate the interior as a rebounder and a scorer. He’s a supreme talent, and we know that he is going to be looking to feast on a depleted Lakers frontcourt.

Defense: We saw what good can happen if the Lakers simply commit to playing with some type of effort or intensity of the defensive end against the Magic and Knicks. Tonight they must continue playing with that same fire. The Timberwolves are coming in as one of the leagues most effecient teams on the offensive end, and they will not be taking the Lakers lightly, as they are fighting for their playoff lives. Therefore it’s key that the Lakers prioritize getting stops. They’ll need to prevent penetration, cover the three-point line, and rebound on the defensive end.

Win The Three-Point Line: The three-point line is going to be pretty important in a game like this. Both the Lakers and Timberwolves prefer to push the pace and convert from behind the arc as many times as possible. As has been the narrative for the Lakers all season, if they have some decent success shooting the ball, they tend to give themselves a chance at winning. Tonight will have to be one of those nights that they make a lot of threes, as we should expect this game to be a high scoring affair.

Where you can watch: 5:00 pm start time out west on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.

 

The Lakers have lost three games in a row, and seven of their last 10. It’s been pretty tough to say the least, and with guys on the roster unhealthy for extended periods of time, games have been difficult to win. For some players, frustrations are at an all-time high.

Earlier this week, Pau Gasol wasn’t bashful in voicing his critics of head coach Mike D’Antoni, as he has become displeased with the consistent losing and lack of chemistry that this team has on the court.

Tonight, the Lakers are looking to get back on the winning track, as the face the Sacramento Kings. Both teams are in the heart of the “tank” sweepstakes, respectively holding the worst records in the western conference. The Kings will be without their leader, and captain, Demarcus Cousins, as he has been suspended for getting into an altercation with Patrick Beverley in a game against the Houston Rockets.

One bright spot for the Lakers has been the late the play of new addition Kent Bazemore. In his four games with the Lakers he’s averaged 17.3 points, three assists, and two steals, on 45 percent shooting from the field and 35 percent shooting from behind the arc.

More than anything, Bazemore’s effort has been a pleasant sight for fans to see amidst this tough and grueling season, and we should expect him to continue playing with passion and energy tonight.

Keys To Lakers Victory:
Limit Turnovers: The Lakers are going to need to make a consistent effort to take care of the ball. Trading Steve Blake to the Warriors has placed this team in an unfortunate position, as they now only have two active point guards.

We should expect the Kings to try to pressure the Lakers ball handlers. Doing this will allow them to get out in transition and run.

Offensive Efficiency: The Kings allow their opponents to shoot 37.5% from behind the arc and the Lakers will have to capitalize on this if they want to win tonight. The Lakers have shot consistently from the three-point line this season, and this is simply a result of the small-ball system that Mike D’Antoni runs.

The Kings are far from a good defensive team, so it’s important that the Lakers exploit this. Attack them inside, whether it be via penetration or isolating the big men on the block. On a night like this it’s also key that guys like Jordan Hill and Chris Kaman get minutes. With no Demarcus Cousins, the Lakers will have a decided advantage in the front court, and should give the bigs consistent touches.

Defense: The Lakers will have their hands full tonight despite the fact that Demarcus Cousins will not be suiting up. Even without the skilled big, the Kings still boast one of the more athletic and talented young rosters in the NBA.

It will be a tough night defending the point guard and small forward position, as both Isaiah Thomas and Rudy Gay have proven to be very efficient scorers this season. In all likelihood, Kent Bazemore will be matched up against Gay. He’ll have to make it his duty to force Gay to take tough shots. If he can’t, it’ll be a long night for the Lakers defense.

This is the game that the Lakers can use to get on the winning track. With players and fans frustrated, this team is dire need of a win, and they should have a good chance getting it tonight.

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

From Ryan Ward, Lakers Nation: The Los Angeles Lakers may finally be starting to get players back healthy with Xavier Henry potentially being the first of six injured players to return to the floor. Henry went down with bone bruise in his knee back on Dec. 29 against the Philadelphia 76ers and now appears to be nearing a return. Although Henry seems to be on pace to get back on the floor sooner rather than later, the Lakers newcomer will miss the next two games according to Dave McMenamin of ESPN. Along with Henry nearing a return, Kobe Bryant will be re-evaluated sooner than expected. Bryant was supposed to be re-evaluated at some point in February, but now will be checked after the current road trip comes to an end. Jordan Farmar is another Laker that might be back in the lineup in the coming weeks. Farmar will re-evaluated in mid-February for a hamstring injury.

From Dave McMenamin, ESPN LA: When the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat take the floor Thursday, four of the last five NBA championship-winning teams will be represented. But with the Heat coming off three straight Finals appearances and two straight titles, the Lakers’ back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010 seem like a distant memory. So much has changed within the Lakers organization since 2010 — Phil Jackson’s retirement, Mike Brown’s dismissal, Mike D’Antoni’s hiring, Dr. Jerry Buss’ death, Dwight Howard’s departure, Kobe Bryant’s torn Achilles, etc. — but perhaps the most dramatic is that a team that once defined itself by the precepts of Jackson’s triangle offense now finds itself playing so-called “small ball.”

From Dan Feldman, Pro Basketball Talk:  Strangely, Kobe Bryant was recently held up as an example for why Jabari Parker should return to Duke for a second season. Kobe, of course, went to the NBA directly from high school and has had an extremely fruitful career, both financially and in terms of on-court success. But I guess he was only a low-rotation backup as a rookie, or something. Only the most twisted reading of Kobe’s career would indicate his bypassing of college wasn’t a roaring success. Just take it from Kobe himself.

From Eric Pincus, LA Times: Former Lakers coach Phil Jackson said he expects Kobe Bryant to make a strong return before the end of the season. “I think that he’s going to be able to perform at a high level. People are going to be surprised,” Jackson said in an interview Wednesday on Fox Sports Live. Jackson noted that Bryant’s game will need to evolve as he works his way back post-injury. “I think post-up game and screen roll is going to have to become … a major part of his game. I don’t think he’s going to be able to just break [players] down [off the dribble],” Jackson said. “Defense becomes the biggest problem …. as you get old.” With the Lakers (16-26) struggling, Jackson said Bryant should sit out the rest of the rest of the season if he’s not healthy by April.

 

From Ramona Shelburne, ESPN LA: Don’t get too used to Kobe Bryant as the Lakers’ point guard. Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said Monday that Jordan Farmar would “probably” start at point guard when he is able to return to the court. Farmar has missed five games after suffering a torn left hamstring in a December 1 loss to Portland, but has already resumed shooting and basketball-related activities. He will be re-evaluated after the Lakers return from their four-game road trip on Wednesday.

From Drew Garrison, SB Nation: Pau Gasol had a down year in his first season under head coach Mike D’Antoni. Some players enjoy bounce-back years after spending a summer rehabbing and preparing for a fresh start. Gasol has not. Instead, he’s shooting a career-low 42.8 percent from the field on a career-high 16.8 attempts per 36 minutes. Pau’s nosedive last season has only become steeper, and the tension between D’Antoni and Gasol is firing back up one cryptic quote at a time.

From Corey Hansford, Lakers Nation: Anytime Kobe Bryant goes to the ground, the entire Lakers fan base collectively holds their breath. Bryant went down holding his knee in the third quarter after appearing to hyperextend it while attempting to drive around Memphis Grizzlies guard Tony Allen. While Bryant did eventually return to the game, he could be seen grimacing and flexing his knee throughout the remainder of the night. After the game Bryant, spoke with reporters and explained what happened, via Time Warner Cable Sportsnet:

From Mike Bresnahan, LA Times: If this were college football, it would’ve been the Injury Bowl. The Memphis Grizzlies played without Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, a big problem it turned out, while the Lakers continued to play NBA games without any healthy point guards. When it was over, the Lakers would have been the ones joyfully hoisting a brass trophy of a guy on crutches. Or parading around with a priceless crystal sculpture of a swollen ankle. They outlasted the Grizzlies, 96-92, Tuesday night, adding just enough feel-good indicators to finish their trip with a 2-2 record. Tempering potential enthusiasm, the Lakers played against only one of Memphis’ three solid players, and Zach Randolph had an awful shooting night (seven for 22) at FedEx Forum. But Kobe Bryant had his best game since coming back from a torn Achilles’ tendon and Pau Gasol stepped into the past with a memorable night in the post.

From Dan Feldman, Pro Basketball Talk: Chris Kaman, after doing it with the Mavericks last season, knows playing on a one-year contract comes with all kinds of complications. Before the season, he said: “There’s just so many things that can happen, and the biggest one is that you’re on a one-year deal and you’re worried about it the whole time and it stresses you out.“But you’ve got to just play basketball. That’s what I’ve been doing for 10 years and that’s what I’m trying to focus on doing now.” Easier said than done.

 

From Ryan Cole, Lakers Nation: Charles Barkley is widely known amongst Lakers fans for having a strong disdain for the the franchise and the team. He’s never been shy to mention how he feels about this team. In the summer he said that Dwight Howard did the right thing leaving Los Angeles because he felt that the Lakers are in no position to win now or in the immediate future. And on the eve before the start of the NBA regular season, he publicly blasted the Lakers on Monday Night Football by saying they wouldn’t come close to making the playoffs. Well Chuck was back at it again tonight when he joined Ric Bucher and Chris Townsend on 95.7 The GAME. He was asked about how he thinks the Lakers will fare with Kobe Bryant coming back. This is what he said: “The Lakers gonna stink with him, or without him,” Barkley said. “They’re not a good team, and they won’t be a good team.”

From David Murphy, Bleacher Report: For the first 19 games of the season, the Los Angeles Lakers’ Mike D’Antoni was having a field day with a team that might be described as a bunch of perfectly agreeable misfits—and then the Black Mamba returned. What will the relationship between D’Antoni and Kobe Bryant resemble for the rest of the season, partnership or power struggle? The eternal optimist would say the former—if these guys survived last year’s train wreck together, then this season should be a piece of cake. Bryant’s finally back on the court after a long layoff from a devastating injury, and now it’s time to rock! Or is it? A small difference of opinion recently materialized concerning the team’s record before Bryant’s return to action. It was enough to get people talking.

From Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: There are the assumptions and the speculation, that the Kobe Bryant extension increases the possibility Bryant favorite Pau Gasol will get an offer to remain a Laker and that obviously he will jump at the chance because Gasol as a free agent, hat in hand, will be a sad sight. And then there is the reality: Gasol, he made clear to NBA.com, could be the one to decide to break up. While he is definitely interested in staying and his affection for the organization is obvious, the 33-year-old power forward about 6 1/2 months away from free agency said his hopes to win another championship will weigh heavily on what he does in July and possibly greater than the opportunity to stay in a familiar setting or even money. Especially since there may be another familiar setting out there.

From Dave McMenamin, ESPN LA: Nobody on the Los Angeles Lakers was kidding themselves by thinking Kobe Bryant’s return would suddenly vault them from a team flirting with .500 to a squad shooting straight for the top of the Western Conference standings. “Of course we want to win, but we definitely know it’s going to be different,” said Xavier Henryafter L.A.’s 114-108 loss to the Phoenix Suns Tuesday night at Staples Center, their second straight defeat since Bryant’s comeback. “Everybody in the world knows it’s going to be different.”