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A few days ago, we unveiled our new project at FB&G, where we ranked the 11 best title teams in franchise history since the team relocated to Los Angeles. After looking at the 11th best team, we resume the countdown by presenting to you the team that clocked in at the 10th spot…

The 2008-09 Lakers

During the spring of 2007, Kobe Bryant famously went on the air with Stephen A. Smith and proclaimed his distaste for the Lakers organization and made the statement that he wished to be traded. The team tried to accommodate his request but given his immense talent as well as his salary, any team trading for the services of Kobe Bean would have to essentially gut their roster to acquire him.

Thus, the superstar guard started the season with the Lakers and performed to his usual standards as the team played well under the tutelage of Phil Jackson.

And then the things became interesting.

The Los Angeles Lakers acquired Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies in a move that completely shifted the balance of power in the Western Conference. No longer were the Lakers a team contending for the playoffs; instead they had now become a legit championship contender.

The purple and gold finished the season with a 57-25 record and Kobe Bryant earned the 2007-08 MVP award.

Many fans hoped that the league’s most ancient rivalry would be revived with the Lakers and Celtics facing off in the Finals and they got their wish.

The Los Angeles Lakers entered the 2008 NBA Finals as favorites to win the crown despite ceding home court advantage to the Boston Celtics. Indeed, the Lakers’ execution of the triangle offense coupled with the crisp interior passing of Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol as well as the mere presence of Kobe Bryant was enough for most to think Los Angeles would prevail.

Instead, the team was defeated in six games as fans wondered aloud whether a healthy Andrew Bynum — he sat out the postseason due to injury – would helped have change the outcome. Boston was physical and played tougher than their opponents and thus one of the biggest takeaways from the 2008 championship series was that Pau Gasol and both Lamar Odom had been punked.

Gasol got the lion’s share of the blame and still to this day gets labeled as soft because of those six games against the Celtics.

As bad as the defeat was, former Lakers superstar Shaquille O’Neal made things worse by freestyling a week later at a club about Kobe’s inability to get things done without him.

It was said, the Lakers could not recapture the title without Shaq…

Instead of retooling the roster, Los Angeles stood pat and welcomed back Trevor Ariza and Andrew Bynum who had both missed the 2008 playoffs due to injury. Ariza gave the team athleticism and solid perimeter defense while Bynum gave the Lakers rebounding, shot blocking and scoring at the rim.

With Phil Jackson still leading the way, the Lakers essentially owned the 2008-09 regular season, going 65-17. The team’s record was impressive, but so was their performance at both ends of the court. Indeed, the 2008-09 Lakers finished the regular season third in offensive efficiency and sixth in defensive efficiency.

A return trip to the NBA Finals seemed almost like a formality.

As the 2009 playoffs started, the Lakers easily dispatched the Utah Jazz in five games and set up a second round matchup against a gritty Houston Rockets team that was playing without an injured Tracy McGrady; who was still a good player at the time.

The teams split the first two games in Los Angeles, and then the Lakers regained home court advantage with a Game 3 victory; and benefitted from a fortuitous turn of events: Yao Ming broke his left foot.

With the Houston Rockets competing without their star center and their third leading scorer (McGrady), many assumed the Lakers would have a cakewalk to the Western Conference Finals; but that was not to be. Instead, the Rockets managed to win two more games and forced a Game 7 back at the Staples Center where the purple and gold prevailed.

The Lakers then dispatched Carmelo Anthony’s Denver Nuggets in six games in the Western Conference Finals despite the Nuggets’ rugged and bruising defenders that essentially pounded on both Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.

One year after faltering in the NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics, the Los Angeles Lakers made it back to the championship round and found the Orlando Magic waiting for them.

Kobe Bryant was his spectacular self in the 2009 NBA Finals and played brilliantly. But one player truly in need of redemption was Pau Gasol, given the events that transpired in the previous spring.

Those that questioned the Spaniard’s toughness at the time were forced to eat up their words as the big man played like a stud against the Magic. Indeed, Gasol controlled the paint defensively, guarded Dwight Howard and scored on the block when called upon. By the time the series was over, Pau had averaged 18.6 points per game, 9.2 rebounds per game and 1.8 blocks per game on 60 percent field goal shooting in the title round and even unleashed a lethal scowl on Mickael Pietrus for fouling him excessively hard from behind on a dunk.

Between Gasol’s play, Kobe’s scoring, Bynum’s defense, Odom’s passing and the timely shooting of Derek Fisher and Trevor Ariza; the Orlando Magic never really stood a chance, falling in five games to the Los Angeles Lakers.

This Lakers team proved to be a great champion during their postseason run, sporting a 16-7 record and a plus-7.2 average scoring margin.

In addition, this team will be remembered as perhaps the most important one to Kobe Bryant’s legacy given his ability to finally get over the hump and lead the franchise back to the mountaintop without the help of a certain Hall of Fame center that left Hollywood five years prior.

Mind you, as great as this team was, it gets lost a little in the rich history of the franchise because of their opponents. Through no fault of their own, the Lakers dispatched a host of teams that no one will truly remember and struggled to take out a Houston Rockets team that was missing its two best players for most of the series.

Oddly enough, when looking at health, talent and production from key positions, this might just be the best Lakers team of the Gasol era, but ultimately this team feels like it should have been a little more dominant than it actually was.

Throughout the rich history of the NBA, there have been some great teams, and then there have been some legendary ones. The league saw its first dynasty emerge during the 1950s as the Minneapolis Lakers won four titles in the decade with George Mikan leading the way.

The team then moved to Los Angeles prior to the 1960-61 season and thus began the apparent NBA Finals curse. Indeed, the Lakers were defeated a whopping six times during the 1960s in the Finals, with each defeat reinforcing the idea that the Boston Celtics perpetually owned the Lakers.  Indeed, the Celtics won nine championships during the decade and defeated the Lakers in six of those nine championship appearances.

But the team’s fortunes changed in the 1970s as the team finally managed to capture a title after moving to Los Angeles. Since the relocation, the purple and gold has won 11 NBA titles; with many of those title teams holding a great historical significance to the league.

It begs the question: which Lakers team since the move is the best of all?

Glad you asked. The FB&G staff looked at the 11 titles teams and voted in order to rank these squads. Whether it’s their historical significance, their trampling of opponents or simply erasing the curse by finally conquering the Boston Celtics in the Finals, we managed to put these Lakers teams from worst to first.

And without further ado, the team that clocked in at #11…

The 2001-02 Los Angeles Lakers

In the Shaq and Kobe era, many view this team as the weakest of all the title teams and the voting of the FB&G staff reflected that as well. After winning 67 and 56 games respectively in the previous two seasons and also winning back-to-back titles, it was widely assumed that this team should get back to the Finals and complete the three-peat.

The 2001-02 Lakers boasted the second best offensive efficiency and sixth best defensive efficiency in the league, mind you they flew a little under the radar as the Sacramento Kings (61-21) finished with the best record in the league and the San Antonio Spurs (58-24) finished second in the Western Conference standings.

With that said, the purple and gold still had Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.

Both players were in phases in their careers where they could assert themselves offensively seemingly on command without necessarily stepping on the toes of each other. In addition, the roles players on the roster had grown comfortable in their tasks and understood the pecking order on the team; but they never shied away from big moments.

Robert Horry provided clutch daggers against the likes of the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round of the 2002 playoffs, Derek Fisher helped space the floor against the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Semifinals and Rick Fox gave his teammates some scoring, rebounding, passing and strong defense in the Western Conference Finals against the Sacramento Kings.

This Lakers team was an impressive 15-4 during their postseason run on their way to the title, but many will recall them as somewhat of an underachieving bunch because of their 15-1 playoff record during the 2001 playoffs. In addition, unlike the season prior, the 2002 Lakers were tested and faced elimination.

Phil Jackson’s unit lost Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals in Sacramento and had to win Game 6 back in Los Angeles — which they did — to force an epic Game 7 showdown for the ages back in Sacramento.

The Lakers ended up winning Game 7 on the road in overtime against the Sacramento Kings — three of their four wins in that series were by six points or less — and then went on to sweep the New Jersey Nets in the NBA Finals as Shaquille O’Neal earned his third straight NBA Finals MVP trophy.

Although the Lakers easily dispatched the Nets in the title round, the accomplishments from previous seasons created expectations that would have been difficult for this team to match despite finishing the season with a title. Indeed, statistically, the 2001-02 Los Angeles Lakers are one of the best championship teams of all time, boasting a regular season scoring margin of plus-7.1 and a playoff scoring margin of plus-3.8 with Shaquille O’Neal leading the way during the playoffs with averages of 28.5 points per game, 12.6 rebounds per game and 2.8 assists per game on 52.9 percent field goal shooting; but in terms of the rich history of the franchise post-relocation, they are the least impressive title team.

The Shaq and Kobe pair will always be one of the greatest dynamic duos the league has ever seen, and the 2001-02 season will be remembered as the final chapter of their championship days together.

The 2002 Lakers might be the “worst” Los Angeles Lakers championship team, but in the grand scheme of things, they still managed a title and completed the ever elusive three-peat.

Lakers fans will tell you, that’s a great way to finish last…

With Steve Nash set to become a member of the Los Angeles Lakers officially on July 11th, let’s ask Prince to bless us with some of his lyrics:

“[…] but tonight we’re going to party like it’s 2003!!”

Avid Prince fans would point out that the year mentioned in the actual song is 1999 and not 2003; but in this case the year 2003 has some historical significance for the Los Angeles Lakers. Indeed, in the summer of ’03, the purple and gold pulled off the seemingly unthinkable when they brought in Karl Malone and Gary Payton via free agency to play with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal.

Needless to say, that was a blockbuster summer for the Lakers given that they had added two players destined for the Hall of Fame to a team that already featured arguably two of the five best players in the NBA.

The Hall of Fame foursome may have actually prepared us for the 2010-11 and 2011-12 Miami Heat given the incredible amount of attention that it garnered, especially after losses. In addition, the team was under the microscope for most of the season and also faced a lot of media backlash given that Kobe Bryant had been accused of sexual assault and had to occasionally miss team functions or even show up late for games due to mandatory court appearances.

But when that team got on the court, they were a joy to watch.

It took some time for them to get accustomed to playing with each other within the triple-post offense; but once they started to figure things out, they often looked unbeatable.

Their ball movement as well as their interior passing made them tough to defend and put defenses in huge bind given the plethora of options available to the Lakers.

Fast-forward to the present, and it’s almost as if history is repeating itself, with Kobe Bryant finding himself at the center of it all.

The 2012-13 Lakers will probably face the pressure to win it all, much like the previous installment from the 2003-04 season, but bringing Nash on board may actually change the sentiment towards the Lakers in some respects. The franchise has often been viewed as having an unfair advantage because of their ability to pick up star players and thus fans have often wanted to see them fail; but things may be subject to change now that the player that every one apparently wants to see get a ring has joined the purple and gold.

Public sentiment may be fun to sway, but the real kicker will actually come on the hardwood.

In Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, the Lakers will have four potential All-Stars — all four have played in at least one All-Star game — sharing the court together. Not one, not two, not three; four!

More importantly, the collective basketball IQ of three of those four athletes — sorry Drew — is high enough that the expectation will be that not only will they figure things out quickly, but they will play basketball with great synergy.

The identity of the team in years past has been to allow Kobe Bryant to figure out when and where to switch from facilitator to scorer, and although his role should be about the same, he will probably be asked to be more of a scorer with Nash on the roster.

Nash will obviously have to adapt to dumping the ball inside the post and then drifting to open areas of the court, but the Lakers will also adjust and probably play a little more pick-and-roll basketball with Nash and Gasol; with Kobe Bryant waiting on the weak side of the court for either an open jump shot, or a pump fake and drive.

Consider that little tidbit, how often do defenses actually rotate off the Black Mamba? And yet, this may in fact become a reality for this new Lakers team.

Notwithstanding injuries, the purple and gold will probably always have two All-Stars that complement each other on the court at the same time, which is probably terrifying news for the rest of the league.

With that said, there are still some minor concerns about this team.

Although yours truly has already previously made the bold statement that Steve Nash is probably the best shooter in the league’s history, the Lakers struggled to connect from 3-point range at key times last season and thus could use a wing player capable of converting shots from deep. It’s still worth noting that Metta World Peace was a decent option towards the end of the season from long-range, but it’s tough to predict whether that will translate into 82 games in 2012-13 as well as possibly another 20 or so playoff games.

In addition, many will state that the Lakers need an influx of athleticism, which wouldn’t hurt but isn’t an absolute necessity. Instead, Mike Brown’s unit might want to take a look at a destructive perimeter defender — Tony Allen anyone — to help the defend the likes of Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker as well as wing players.

While many still believe that Oklahoma City is still the team to beat in the West, the Los Angeles Lakers just narrowed the margin. Obviously, there are other moves to be made by the rest of the Western Conference but if the players come together and play well in concert, they may end up celebrating like it’s ­not 2004.

Remember, that team lost in the Finals…

With the Lakers season now over and the wounds from the elimination at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder slowly healing, we look back on the season that was and look forward to what will be for the present day Los Angeles Lakers by going 3-on-3 with the Forum Blue & Gold staff.

1. What was your favorite Andrew Bynum moment of the 2011-12 season and/or your thoughts about his season overall?

David Murphy: The 30 rebounds against the Spurs was an astonishing number, but the fact that Kobe wasn’t suited up, and that it was San Antonio, added to the stakes. I was watching Drew snag balls and kept thinking about the difference between him and somebody truly dedicated to boards. Rodman had that innate sense, he instantly saw and tracked trajectories, he was able to fly horizontally to the floor. Bynum’s not like that, he’s just more of a really big guy who has a decent sense of where the ball will be, and is able to get position. The larger point is the question of consistency. It’s like anything in the game, you have to want it. Does he have it in him to will that body and size and the bulkiest knee device in the league, to do these things game in, game out?

J.M. Poulard: With 23 seconds left in the game and the Los Angeles Lakers clinging to a one-point lead against the hated Boston Celtics at home, everyone assumed the ball would go to Kobe and that he would seal the game with a jumper at the right elbow. Well instead, Mike Brown put the ball in the hands of Andrew Bynum on the left block against Kevin Garnett and he delivered with a beautiful right-handed hook shot that essentially sealed the game. This is when many truly started to have visions of greatness for ‘Drew.

Emile Avanessian: In more ways than one, Andrew Bynum ranks among the most frightening players in basketball. At seven feet and 300 pounds with a skill set nurtured by the greatest center ever to play the game, he is a must on any list of the NBA’s toughest covers. A graceful giant, on any given night Bynum is capable of hanging a demoralizing 35 on an opponent or wiping the boards clean, as he did on April 11 in San Antonio, when he grabbed an incredible 30 rebounds. On most teams in the league he’d be a focal point, almost certainly boasting averages in the 25-14 neighbourhood.

Unfortunately, my greatest fear concerning Andrew Bynum is that he’ll be cast as the Lakers’ leading man for the coming decade. Only physically does Bynum cut the figure of a championship catalyst. Set aside the injury concerns (which, thus far in his career, have been significant) and you are left with a physically gifted big man whose penchant for losing interest in the task at hand knows neither rhyme nor reason. Say what you will about the consistency of Shaq’s effort while in L.A. – and I’ve said plenty – he’d sooner dedicate the entirety of a summer to two-a-day workouts than sleepwalk through playoff games and close out a season with a whimpering 10 and 4.

2.What was your favorite Pau Gasol moment of the 2011-12 season and/or your thoughts about his season overall?

David Murphy: To Pau or not to Pau? The question of his future has to be the most obvious one on the table. I’m a huge, huge fan. The games in which he wasn’t a factor were shocking because we expect consistency from him. He actually plays quite well with Bynum and I think left to their natural devices, just going out there and winging it together, they’d be unstoppable. Regardless of what Pau has meant to this team, or his best moments, he’s the most obvious trade chip on the table and I have to think he’s played his last in a Lakers uniform. The fact that he was in play all year means something. Jim Buss is a draft junkie and I’d bet that he’s looking at ways to jump up and get a meaningful pick.

J.M. Poulard: Picking one singular Pau moment from this past season proved difficult for me, but highlighting one of his skills came almost naturally given his talent. The best moment of this past season involving Pau Gasol was every pick-and-roll he ran with Kobe Bryant that resulted in him diving hard towards the basket, catching the ball and then lobbing it softly over the top of would be defenders to Andrew Bynum for a thunderous dunk that always brought the house down when the games were played at Staples. If Pau has indeed played his last game in purple and gold, this will be my lasting memory of him for the 2011-12 season.

Emile Avanessian: It’s not always easy to conjure sympathy for an intelligent 31 year-old making $19 million per year, that’s still got his health and designs on a life in medical once this chapter of his career draws to a close.

Perhaps Pau Gasol’s days as the Lakers’ clear-cut #2 option are behind him. Who knows, maybe his best days as an NBAer are behind him. Maybe neither. Perhaps a breakneck regular season – before which he was actually traded away – during which he was asked to adapt to a new role, despite a paucity of practice time is not exactly a scenario in which one thrives. Whatever the explanation, the Lakers have arrived at a crossroads with their gifted big man.

For reason extending beyond a lackluster (by his own standards) 2011-12 – advanced age relative to Bynum, a contract that pays him $38 million over the next two seasons, the Lakers’ lack of salary cap flexibility, possibly his own desire to move to a more nurturing environment – it would appear that Gasol’s Laker days are drawing to a close. I find this to be profoundly saddening, for unless the magic beans for whom Pau is traded play the point while rocking a weird, sprayed-on hairdo, the Lakers will replace neither Pau’s skills, nor his (all too rare on this team) selflessness, nor his unwavering professionalism.

3.What was your favorite Kobe Bryant moment of the 2011-12 season and/or thoughts about the season overall?

David Murphy: Kobe. This is the most complex topic, no? For me, it was those moments within games, rather than games in their entirety. The difference in his knee this season was remarkable. I haven’t seen him sky like that in a while. And, the time he stuck up for Pau, when he spoke to the press about the trade rumors, and what Pau meant to the team. It wasn’t in-game but it felt like a breakthrough leadership moment, the place where he filled Derek’s gap. It didn’t last though, because it’s just not in his nature to accept what’s less than what’s needed. By the end of it all, you only had to see the expression on his face, the withering stares. And know that change is going to come.

J.M. Poulard: With five seconds left on the game clock and the Detroit Pistons leading by two at the Palace of Auburn Hills, Kobe took the inbounds pass in the middle of the floor, sized up Tayshaun Prince, got himself to the right elbow and fired a beautiful jumper — this should make every Kobe Bryant highlight reel — over the outstretched arms of Prince that went in and sent the game to overtime as the red lights came on to signal that time had expired. The beauty of this shot was that Kobe not only knew it was good once it left his hands, but he seemed completely unimpressed with his achievement as he walked back to the bench as if he had done this for oh maybe 16 years and counting.

Many will debate in the next few weeks whether Bryant has lost the title of best closer in the league at the expense of Kevin Durant and Chris Paul, considering his age and the erosion of some of skills; but when push comes to shove and he is faced with single-coverage with the game on the line, you would be hard pressed to come up with a player better equipped to handle the moment than Kobe Bean Bryant. The game in Detroit served as a reminder of that.

Emile Avanessian: This year more than ever it became apparent that, while Kobe retains his ability to dial up the dominance, his ability to do so on demand is no longer what it once was. Given this, and taking into account the Lakers’ uncertainly up front, tenuous salary cap situation and limited talent pool, any blockbuster move made this summer, while strengthening one area of the roster or another, will carry a hefty price tag elsewhere. Except for one.

By stealing a page from the book of another Laker legend and taking to the post, Kobe Bryant could breathe new life in the dynasty he’s killing himself to keep alive. We saw it intermittently during the regular season as well as during the playoffs. Kobe Bryant – like Magic two decades ago – has both the intellect, size and skill set to transform a game once predicated on speed on the perimeter into one powered by elite footwork, resourceful shot-making and catching-and-kicking. It’s unlikely that Kobe will ever willingly cede top dog status to an up-and-coming superstar. It’s equally unlikely that we, in our heart of hearts, would ever truly want him to. In one fell swoop, however, Kobe could ensure his ongoing status as the focal point of the Laker offense while reducing the wear on the oldest soon-to-be 34 year-old body in NBA history.

Bonus:  If you could choose one Laker FA to keep next year (Sessions, Hill, Ebanks, Barnes) who would you choose & why?

David Murphy: When it comes to our free agents, the one that jumps out is Jordan Hill. By a mile. I was one of the naysayers when he arrived. It was really more about the way that Derek was traded – I was so disappointed in how that went down that Hill was a convenient target. And then came the OKC game at the tail end of the regular season, the fourth quarter and overtime and it was a revelation – this guy means something to the team in very tangible ways. He’s young, has a great attitude, has natural talents and instincts and I suspect, is very coachable. We have to bring him back. 

J.M. Poulard: Given that it seems all but certain that one of the starting big men will be gone by the time the training camp rolls around, it will be important for the Lakers to have a productive big man they can count on; and that has to be Jordan Hill. Between his rebounding, effort, energy and willingness to play his part, it seems like a no-brainer that the Lakers will do everything possible to retain his services and it’s the right move.

Emile Avanessian: At his best, Ramon Sessions is the point guard the Lakers desperately need. Unfortunately, his best vacated the premises some time ago, replaced by something between “middling” and “subpar.” Were Ramon to have years left on his current contract, the prospect of bringing him back would be welcome, but what he’s delivered at the price he’ll likely command on the open market (I’m guessing $6M per?) do not represent outstanding value.

Jordan Hill, on the other hand, is still growing into NBA adulthood, and he too delivers so much of what this team lacks. Hardworking, unselfish, aware of his limitations. These traits are often in short supply in Lakerland. To secure these – and some much needed depth and, if necessary, roster flexibility – in the form of a young, strong frontcourt banger that’s unlikely to command more than $3-$4M on the open market? From where I sit, that’s too good to pass up.

The Westbrook Dilemma

J.M. Poulard —  May 16, 2012

With barely any time to enjoy the Game 7 victory over the Denver Nuggets last Saturday, the Los Angeles Lakers had to quickly turnaround and make it to the Chesapeake Factory to take on the Oklahoma City Thunder Monday night in Game 1 of the Western Conference semi-finals.

The Lakers may have been suffering from tired legs as well as an overall lack of energy in route to a 29-point shellacking at the hands of the Thunder, but there are still some adjustments that will need to be made in order for the purple and gold to have any type of success against their current opponent.

In Game 1, OKC shot 53 percent from the field, 41.2 percent from 3-point range and attempted 29 free throws. Also, the Thunder outscored the Lakers in paint scoring (48-44) and also managed to score more second chance points (21-11) despite the fact that L.A. had 13 offensive rebounds to their 10.

Combine that with OKC only coughing up the ball four times, and the conclusion is rather simple: the Lakers were outplayed and their defense got exposed as they surrendered a staggering 119 points.

The purple and gold’s defense was in trouble in large part because they were simply not able to contain Russell Westbrook.

The UCLA product submitted one of the best all around performances of this postseason so far as he went off for 27 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists and 2 steals on 10-for-15 field goal shooting. In addition, the Thunder point guard only turned the ball over once.

After seeing Ty Lawson and Andre Miller manhandle Ramon Sessions in the first round, Mike Brown made the business decision of sticking a stronger and taller Kobe Bryant on Westbrook. The idea was simple: the Thunder point guard would have to shoot over Kobe’s outstretched arms, have trouble blowing past him off the dribble and wouldn’t be able to take him down in the block given Bryant’s superior strength.

In theory, the idea was brilliant.

In practice? Not quite.

Scott Brooks put Russell Westbrook in multiple pick-and-roll situations involving Andrew Bynum given his unwillingness/inability to come out on the perimeter and hedge hard to disrupt the timing of the action. Consequently, Westbrook exploded off the screens for jump shots at the top of the key with Bynum retreating to the paint.

Although the strategy was unsuccessful in Game 1, it does not mean that such will be the case for the remainder of the series. Indeed, there is still the possibility of Westbrook missing his jumpers and then becoming a little too aggressive; which is where he usually ends up making mistakes and coughing up the ball.

Nonetheless, Brown’s current strategy might prove to hurt his offense.

With Bryant forced to shadow Westbrook, it means that he will have to often match him stride for stride in transition and also run through multiple ball screens. This may cause the Lakers superstar to progressively wear down as the series unfolds.

Also, it’s worth noting that given all of the pick-and-rolls that OKC ran, Westbrook was able to routinely get inside the paint and create high percentage shots for himself and his teammates. Further exacerbating issues, during a stretch in the third quarter, Blake got stuck guarding the former Bruin and he took him to the post and proceeded to score on him seemingly at will. MySynergySports tells us that in post up situations this season, RW converted 36.3 percent of his attempts; but there he was making buckets over the outmatched Steve Blake Monday night.

With that said, the Lakers might still have a trick up their sleeve: Metta World Peace.

World Peace is physical and strong enough to fight through ball screens from Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins and recover to muscle Russell Westbrook and frustrate him when he has the ball in his hands. Also, he has the length to contest his shot as well as the quick hands to help knock the ball loose should RW try to split the trap in the pick-and-roll.

Mind you, putting World Peace on Westbrook might force Mike Brown to alter his lineups unless he is fine with Kobe chasing Durant around screens and defending him down the block.

So the option here may in fact be to have MWP, Kobe and Matt Barnes play together at times when James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are on the court together. Barnes could match up with Durant while Bryant would defend Harden.

This would be a pretty big unit for the Lakers and could be a plus on the boards. Offensively though, Bryant would essentially assume ball handling responsibilities and would have to relinquish some of his scoring responsibilities in favor of setting up his teammates.

It gets tricky though when we look at the regular season numbers.

Turns out that the Lakers only used that trio when they went small (as opposed to big, which is what I originally thought), essentially making MWP their power forward. Have a look at the minutes they piled up during the course of the season as well as which players they accumulated them with and their net plus-minus rating projected over 48 minutes according to’s advanced stats tool:




Sessions, Bryant, Barnes, World Peace, Gasol



Fisher, Bryant, Barnes, World Peace, Gasol



Blake, Bryant, Barnes, World Peace, Gasol



Blake, Bryant, Barnes, World Peace, Bynum



Bryant, Barnes, World Peace, McRoberts, Bynum



The samples are obviously quite small and thus it’s tough to truly draw conclusions from them, but the five-man unit of Sessions, Bryant, Barnes, World Peace and Gasol could potentially be an interesting offensive and defensive unit. Brown could potentially unleash it to match up with OKC whenever they decide to play small ball.

In that scenario, Sessions would end up defending Daequan Cook or Derek Fisher.

Offensively, the Lakers would have some semblance of perimeter shooting to complement Gasol’s interior game and with Sessions on the floor, Kobe wouldn’t need to be the primary ball handler, which means he could assume his regular scoring duties.

The other units struggled — and it explains why they played so little — with rebounding the ball, protecting the rock and personal fouls.

And really, these are the options that Westbrook — and to some degree Durant — will force Mike Brown to consider. His speed, athleticism and strength will make him a tough cover for just about every perimeter player on the Lakers, but the opportunity to put World Peace on him might prove to be a great wrinkle to throw off the OKC Thunder.

Let’s just remember that such a move doesn’t happen without consequences in all the other matchups.

Does coach Brown drop that first domino in Game 2?

Statistical support provided by

The Los Angeles Lakers will play Game 7 on Saturday night at Staples Center against the Denver Nuggets, in a series that many thought the purple and gold would be able to close out in five or six games.

George Karl has managed to get the best out of his players, getting them to play their game and at the pace that he wishes while it’s tough to say that Mike Brown has gotten his team to consistently execute their game plan.

Throughout the season, the word around the league has been that Kobe Bryant had no business leading the league in shot attempts when he had the two most skilled big men in the NBA playing on his team. Surely, a player of Bryant’s stature would understand that feeding his twin towers would go a long way towards determining the fate of his team and quite possibly his legacy; or so it was said.

This series against the Nuggets has shown something different to many of Kobe’s detractors.

Bryant is averaging an impressive 31.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game on 44.9 percent field goal shooting in six games against Denver. The Lakers superstar is also averaging 26 field goal attempts per game, which many would argue is too much.

Indeed, Andrew Bynum has voiced his displeasure about a lack of touches during the postseason and with good reason. A big man that is that dominant on the block needs to get a lot of looks at the basket especially when he gets deep post position. Mind you, the Lakers’ starting center has struggled in this series when faced with hard double teams. Instead of allowing the big man to dictate which post move he can use to score on the block, Denver has simply forced Bynum to think with the ball in his hands, and well so far that has proved to be beneficial to the Nuggets.

Pau Gasol on the other hand has struggled. His willingness to assert himself offensively comes and goes, and even at times when he has had the mindset to be an aggressive player, he has failed to produce with his scoring opportunities.

Which obviously brings everything back to Kobe.

If we take a quick look at his plus-minus ratings for the series when on the court and off the court, here’s what we will find:

On the court +/- rating: -3.2

Off the court +/- rating: +3.8

Clearly the problem is Bryant, and they should just bench him the rest of the way right? Not quite.

The Denver Nuggets have actually outscored the Los Angeles Lakers in this series, which means that a player averaging a heavy dose of minutes for the Lakers would surely see his plus-minus rating have negative figure — L.A. is minus-3.1 with Bynum on the court — and that’s the case for Kobe. The Black Mamba has played in 237 out of a possible 288 minutes. That means that Bryant is spending 8.5 minutes per game on the bench.

Hence, it’s not surprising that his plus-minus rating is “bad” per se.

Know what is surprising though? The Lakers may need Kobe to go iron man in Game 7.

The Los Angeles Lakers have been shaky at best when Bryant has gone to the bench in this series against Denver. According to’s advanced stats tool, in six games, the Lakers have converted 38.3 percent of their field goals and 20 percent of their 3-pointers when Bryant has been on the bench. To put that into perspective, the Charlotte Bobcats converted 41.4 percent of their field goals this season and 29.5 percent of their 3-point attempts. You know, the same Bobcats team that now holds the worst winning percentage in NBA history.

And it doesn’t stop there.

The Lakers commit more turnovers and generate less assists while Bryant rides the pine. tells us that if we project the Lakers’ numbers over 48 minutes without Kobe, the Lakers would be averaging 87.2 points per game in this series.

Indeed, with Gasol struggling from the field — he is only converting 41.4 percent of his shots — and Bynum’s production being limited with double teams, it sure seems as though the Lakers’ best option at this point is Kobe Bryant.

His playmaking and scoring is a great recipe for success; and given the adjustments made by the Nuggets, the onus may fall on his shoulders to bail the team out.

The wildcard in all this of course is Metta World Peace.

His defense, shooting and scoring on the block will give the Lakers a wrinkle they haven’t had throughout the course of the series, but then again how many possessions can one hope to run through World Peace?

For all the talk about Kobe relinquishing some of the scoring burden, isn’t it fascinating that Game 7 might come down to him having to score more than most anticipated?

Statistical support provided by

Coming into this season, many openly wondered if the Los Angeles Lakers would even manage to qualify for the seventh spot in the Western Conference. The argument was that given their lack of athleticism, the loss of Lamar Odom as well as the departure of Phil Jackson that the team would take a huge step back.

What had been a cohesive unit for three straight Finals appearances, would suddenly forget how to play together without the triangle offense as their foundation. In addition, judging from his days with the Cleveland Cavaliers where he essentially allowed LeBron James to monopolize the offense, Mike Brown was far from an offensive genius.

With that said, his defenses always looked above average, and there was no reason to expect any different in Los Angeles, especially with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol there to anchor the paint. Mind you, the defense would take time to bring up to speed given the condensed schedule.

And if that wasn’t enough, if Mike Brown was powerless in front of LeBron, there was no way he would be able to hold Kobe Bryant accountable.

Those were some of the concerns coming into the season for Lakers fans; and detractors took it a step further and stated that the team would fall off a cliff given these “facts”.

These issues were obviously warranted but they were a little overblown. Let’s be honest here, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum helped the Lakers win three Western Conference crowns and two NBA titles. These guys weren’t scrubs.

And yet, the popular opinion was that the 2012 Los Angeles Lakers could not compete for a title.

Oh and this just in: the Los Angeles Lakers lead the Pacific division and own the third best record in the conference.

They defeated the San Antonio Spurs, Denver Nuggets and Dallas Mavericks without their superstar guard and in the process saw Andrew Bynum not only dominate for stretches, but play the part of a franchise player.

Indeed, the big man has used the additional touches to put up more points and has also displayed great effort and energy on the boards.

The end result?

The Lakers are a far more dangerous team these days with Kobe Bryant on the sidelines. It’s not so much that the team is better off without him, but rather that Bean has had the chance to watch the big man tag team work together and see just how productive and effective they can be when given a more than adequate amount of touches; especially Bynum.

This may come as a shocker, but this installment of the Lakers may be a remix of the 2001 squad.

Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant spent the bulk of the 2000-01 season wrestling over control of the team and then Kobe went down with an injury towards the end of the regular season and had a chance to watch the team gel and display good team chemistry. By the time he finally reinserted the lineup, he played perfectly in concert with Shaq and the rest of his teammates, picking his spots and understanding when to assert himself offensively.

The circumstances and the roster may be different, but the situation is relatively similar. Bryant has spent the season leading the league in scoring, usage rate — the percentage of possessions of the team that a player uses — and field goal attempts despite having two stud big men as teammates.

Granted, it’s nearly impossible to predict whether the Lakers all time leading scorer will curtail his game even a little to feed the interior more; but given what he has seen from his teammates as of late, he may in fact choose to go that route and ride them as much as possible and then assert himself when the offense demands for him to breath some life into it.

The book on Bryant is that he has always wanted to win on his own terms, but chasing that sixth championship might just prove to be enough motivation to take a step back and then only take a few steps forward when the situation calls for it.

Fans of opposing teams have been terrified of Kobe and his scoring explosions, but the scariest thing for them is the Bean that can go back and forth between playmaker and cold-blooded assassin.

One can only wait with great anticipation for the guard to return to the team and to see how he incorporates himself back into the fold. The same Bryant may help the team get to the second round or possibly the conference finals, but a slightly different Kobe may help the Lakers win the whole thing.

The emergence of Bynum this season has made the Lakers a serious contender, but let’s not forget that it all starts and ends with the purple and gold’s leading scorer.

To KoBe or not to KoBe, that is the question at hand…

Box Score: Lakers 99, Warriors 87

Offensive Efficiency: Lakers 120.7, Warriors 106.1

True Shooting %: Lakers 58.1%, Warriors 47.2%

The Los Angeles Lakers played their seventh straight game without Kobe Bryant but quite frankly didn’t need him. The Purple and Gold came out looking to dominate the interior and showed a great level of energy on the road despite playing last night against the San Antonio Spurs.

So takeaways from the game?

The Good

Andrew Bynum was a beast early in the game, bulldozing through defenders and also spinning away from them early in the game to put up 17 points in the first quarter. Pau Gasol complemented his center with his scoring, rebounding and exquisite passing on his way to an impressive triple double.

The tag team combined for 53 points, 20 rebounds and 12 assists on 19-for-30 shooting and helped the Lakers score a staggering 62 points in the paint.

As impressive as the tandem was against the Warriors, they managed to– brace yourself for a Phil Jacksonism — share the spotlight with their teammates. Indeed, the interior passing allowed players such as MWP and Devin Ebanks to get some great looks at the rim and it also created good ball movement which resulted in multiple high percentage shots and 34 assists on the night.

Even more impressive, the Lakers didn’t panic when they saw the Warriors’ zone, and instead kept the focus on getting the ball inside to Bynum, Gasol and World Peace to do damage in the paint instead of camping out and firing away from deep. The Lakers only attempted a mere 14 shots from 3-point range, many of which came towards the end of contest when Brown emptied the bench.

The Bad

Typically this would be where we discuss where one or two things that went wrong in the night’s performance, but after watching the Lakers blow out the Warriors, we’ll go in another direction: Metta World Peace.

It’s not that he played badly, but rather that he was a ­bad man tonight, making things difficult and unpleasant for his opponents. He chased Klay Thompson around and made life tough for him when matched up with him, but he was also a bull on the block given his size and strength.

World Peace was able to seal his defender on a few occasions down low — by the way, MWP occasionally went down there with both Bynum and Gasol on the court — and muscle him around for easy scores; but instead of simply looking to score, he also did a great job of distributing the ball to open players as evidenced by his nine assists.

He was plus-21 tonight and that certainly jives with what was observed on the court. His intensity on both ends of the floor was certainly important and it went a long way towards determining who would hit first, and that was the Lakers.

The Ugly

The Lakers did a good job of defending in the half court and forcing Golden State to shoot contested midrange jumpers off the dribble, which are difficult to convert. However, Mike Brown’s group did a poor job in the first half of getting back in transition after misses and turnovers. The Warriors used that to their advantage by getting out in the open court and creating some terrific looks at the rim.

Even if the fast break in itself was done, Golden State’s ability to run out and get into early offense meant that they could find driving lanes with the big men slowly retreating back into the paint.

This issue was corrected in the second half but is nonetheless troubling given that the Dubs didn’t have a top-notch point guard speeding up the tempo and flying down the court.

It’s also worth mentioning that the Lakers defense was less than stellar when the second unit made its way onto the court. Golden State’s bench was able to produce 29 points on 13-for-28 (46.4 percent), with 22 of those coming in the first half alone.

The Warriors’ activity level was superior to the Lakers in the second quarter, but the road team came out of halftime seemingly reenergized and intent on dominating the paint on both sides of the ball, which eventually led to a blowout.

With games against elite teams on the horizon (@San Antonio on April 20th and versus OKC on April 22nd), these lapses may prove costly if they do not get addressed.

With that said, a double-digit victory on the road with your best player sitting out isn’t exactly the worst thing in the world now is it?