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Box Score: Pistons 88, Lakers 85

Offensive Efficiency: Pistons 107.3, Lakers 103.7

True Shooting %: Pistons 46.0%, Lakers 50.2%

Coming off a big victory at home against the Miami Heat on Sunday afternoon, the Lakers had a chance to build on their three-game winning streak by taking on the Detroit Pistons on the road. If only…

The Good

The Lakers twin towers looked dominant on this night as they ran amok on the Pistons frontline. Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum combined to produce 50 points and 24 rebounds on 21-for-32 field goal shooting.

On several occasions, the Lakers dumped the ball into their big men and watched them operate on the block and eat up their defenders; but Mike Brown also exploited the Pistons rotating defense in the pick-and-roll to get the ball to the big men.

Indeed, the Lakers continuously kept running screen-and-roll action from both the middle of the floor and the sidelines with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, which resulted in Detroit sending their second big man towards the Spaniard to help out but also often left either Ben Gordon or Rodney Stuckey stuck rotating to Bynum underneath the basket where he kept outmuscling them for easy scores.

The Lakers did a good job of beating traps as well as double teams to set up high percentage shots for the perimeter players as well as the interior scorers, which obviously benefited Gasol and Bynum.

On the other side of the ball, with Rodney Stuckey doing most of the damage for the Pistons, the Lakers did a relatively decent job of trapping him to get the ball out of his hands late in the shot clock and then not allowing him to run back to the ball to create good scoring opportunities.

The Lakers defense forced the Pistons into some tough shots and limited them to 39.8 percent field goal shooting thanks to their eight blocks and their activity around the rim.

The Bad

The Lakers defense was exceptional in the first and third quarters, holding the Pistons to a combined 26 points. However, when Detroit went to their second unit early in the second and fourth quarters, the Pistons then played terrific defense and forced the Lakers to shoot perimeter jumpers and then got out in transition for some easy scores.

In a game where the victorious team scored 88 points, Detroit’s 19 fast break points loomed rather large in the contest. Stuckey and Gordon were able to get out in the open court and score right at the rim as a result of pushing the ball down the court while the Lakers big men were often caught retreating.

This explains how a Pistons team that struggled to score at the rim against a set defense still managed to produce 46 points in the paint on the night.

The Ugly

As terrific as the Lakers were on the interior, they were just as terrible from the perimeter. On the night, Los Angeles converted (and I use the term loosely) 3-of-22 shots from 3-point range, which obviously failed to complement the Lakers interior scoring.

Also, Kobe struggled from the field in Detroit, making 8-of-26 shots from the floor, primarily matched up against Tayshaun Prince and Damien Wilkins.

Going forward, it will be important for some of the perimeter players to step up and make a few shots to loosen up defenses that will otherwise pack the paint. On this night, the poor shooting not only cost the Lakers points, but it also allowed the Pistons to get back into the game thanks to their transition game.

The Play of the Game

Although the Lakers were defeated on the road tonight, Kobe Bryant still had the best play of the game late in the fourth quarter.

With the Lakers down two points and the clock ticking down, the Mamba squared up in the middle of the court, jab stepped, drove to his right and stopped at the right elbow and elevated for a beautiful jump shot over the outstretched arms of Tayshaun Prince that he seemed to know was good once it left his hands.

The ball went through the hoop and barely touched the rim as time expired and the red lights on the backboard lit up, signaling that he had just sent the game into overtime.

Kobe may have made the shot, but his reaction afterwards could have fooled many as he seemed all business-like and less than impressed with the events that had just transpired.

The execution was flawless and was a carbon copy of all his typical late game heroics; but it is always a thing of beauty to watch him operate in these situations, especially against single-coverage.

So far this season, the Los Angeles Lakers have struggled with their late game execution. And that would be putting it lightly. Opponents have given the Lakers a multitude of different looks with the intent being on forcing the purple and gold to think about when and how to best attack them. The end result has been that Kobe Bryant has often been placed in situations where teams have essentially sat on his every move and at times completely ignored his teammates.

For instance, against the Philadelphia 76ers, Kobe was in terrific rhythm in the first half, scoring 24 points. Mind you, come the second half, they put Andre Iguodala on him and then looked to trap him every time he caught the ball.

When Bryant finally became comfortable and understood the 76ers rotations, they switched things up on him and defended him with Iguodala only. Mind you, once Kobe put the ball on the floor, they sent additional help his way to force the ball out of his hands. On a few very rare occasions after halftime, the Lakers superstar had the opportunity to go one-on-one.

And late in the ball game, this proved to be somewhat problematic for Bryant.

It’s not so much that defenses have confused Kobe in late game situations, far from it actually; but the issue is that the Lakers all time leading scorer is now pressing. With defenses converging on him much faster this season in comparison to previous ones, Bryant’s best opportunities in late game situations typically come once he catches the ball. If he waits any longer, teams are able to load up on the strong side of the court against him to cut off his angles and they can also send either a soft or hard double team at him to get another player to beat them from the field.

The end result has been that Kobe has gotten himself somewhere near the elbows or on the wings from midrange and taken a bevy of contested shots. Normally this would be a win for the Lakers (Kobe often looks like the best pure shooter in the game whether his jumpers are contested or not), but with the added defensive attention and players rushing to contest his shots, Kobe hasn’t been a good marksman from the field.

According to Stats Cube, Bean is converting a mere 28 percent of his field goal attempts in clutch situations (clutch situations are viewed as the last five minutes of the game with the scoring margin within five points). If we dig a little deeper, Kobe Bryant has shot 8-for-32 from the field on midrange jumpers in the clutch so far this season.

And yet, the Los Angeles Lakers are 8-3 in games decided by five points or less so far this season. So what gives?

Often we associate clutch situations with scoring and remain blind to other facets of the game. Thus, Kobe may not necessarily convert his shots at a high rate late in ball games, but he does several other things quite well in the last five minutes of ball games. Indeed, Bryant sports a +12.4 rating because his assists and rebounds increase in these situations. When we project clutch situations to a full game, Kobe averages 8.6 rebounds and 6.4 assists per game, all the while getting to the stripe 9.1 times. In addition, his offensive rating in late game situations (103.9) is superior than his regular averages so far this season (102.2) and his defensive rating of 92.2 in the clutch is vastly better than the 98.6 he has sported for the season.

The contest against the Boston Celtics Thursday night proved to be a good indicator to the Lakers scoring issues late in ball games. Matched up against Ray Allen for most of the final minutes of the fourth quarter and overtime, Bryant was able to get to spots on the floor that he wanted for midrange jump shots, but he missed most of them. Indeed, Kobe only converted 2-of-8 shots in the clutch against the Celtics, with his two makes being arguably the two toughest shots he took in the game. Despite his inability to convert from the field, his team was victorious.

His defense on Rondo proved to be one of the biggest reasons for the win, but the Lakers still needed to score on a few trips to put the game away.

How do the Lakers manage to close out ball games then? Two words: twin towers.

Andrew Bynum is shooting 81 percent from the field in clutch situations so far this season. 81 percent! Logic would dictate that the Lakers should just feed the big man the ball and ask him to operate on the low block and ride him to victory; but that wouldn’t necessarily produce great results.

Bynum has been terrific from the field in late game situations because teams have had trouble keeping off the offensive glass and also because he is usually the benefactor of lob passes from his teammates when opponents choose to double team Bryant. This explains why the Lakers starting center has converted 12-of-13 shots at the rim in clutch situations.

Hence, fans can rightfully complain about Kobe’s shooting percentage with the game on the line, but the truth is that his misses have helped his teammates who now anticipate going after the ball whenever Kobe puts it up. And in a nutshell, this explains why teams have problems figuring out how to defend the Lakers late in ball games even when they are missing shots. Throwing a double team at Kobe essentially allows for a player to get an uncontested shot and it gives the purple and gold the chance to crash the boards; but when Kobe faces single coverage, he has the talent to make just about any shot possible on the court, but should he miss, Bynum and Gasol have proven more than capable to bail him out by crashing the glass (Pau is shooting 4-for-7 right at the rim in clutch situations, but is 0-for-3 from inside the paint but outside of the restricted area).

The Lakers could perhaps execute better in fourth quarters when defenses place an added emphasis on stopping Kobe Bryant, but the truth is that so far the team has gotten by with their current strategy of asking their closer to shut door on opponents. Perhaps he does not always come through, but the team sure seems to do so.

Can this strategy continue to hold up? Tough to tell. But so far it has served the Lakers well if we judge them on the end result; and that’s what makes any change in the philosophy rather hard to commit to. It’s often hard to argue with the methods provided that the end result is a positive one.

And what more positive end result can one ask for than wins?

Best Player in the West…

J.M. Poulard —  February 2, 2012

Last summer, ESPN solicited the opinions of FB&G’s own, Darius Soriano, Phillip Barnett and I on a host of Lakers offseason questions. One of the questions that led to a flood of my inbox was whether Kobe Bryant was still in fact the best player in the Western Conference. For some, the Dallas Mavericks’ championship was a testament to Dirk Nowitzki eclipsing the Mamba as perhaps the best out in the West; but I on the other hand felt as though Chris Paul was the best player in the conference, which led to me voting for Paul as being somewhere in the top five players in the league as reflected by his #NBARank.

Granted, I looked at Kobe’s play during the 2010-11 regular season as well as the 2011 playoffs, but also projected the inevitable decline in his game going into his 16th season given his age and the erosion of his skills.

But then something funny happened when the NBA finally resumed on Christmas day.

Through 22 games, Kobe Bryant has lost a step, but only in terms of his athleticism. His overall game remains just as impressive and effective as ever on offense while his best days on defense are now clearly a thing of the past. So far this season, Bean is averaging 30 points, 6.1 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 1.2 steals on 44.5 percent field goal shooting; which translates into a PER figure of 26.4.

In case we are keeping count, should Bryant maintain this pace until the end of the season, this would be his second best statistical season, coming up a bit short to his fire-throwing 2005-06 campaign.

And with that, one must once again ask the question: is Kobe Bryant the ruler of everything in the Western Conference?

Compelling arguments could be made for the likes Blake Griffin, Kevin Love and Kevin Durant, while Dirk Nowitzki has to take a backseat for the time being given his slow start to the season; but one still has to come back to Chris Paul.

Although Lakers fans probably hate the idea of revisiting the idea that had Paul joined the purple and gold, Mike Brown’s team would have had the best backcourt in the NBA.

Despite missing some time due to a hamstring injury, CP3 has led the Los Angeles Clippers to 13 wins in their first 19 games (good for the second best record in the conference) and has been the perfect case study for late game execution despite the fact that the Clippers do not seem to have any type of sets or offense outside of the pick-and-roll.

Indeed, when points are at a premium late in ball games, Chris Paul just seems to be at his best as he consistently drills jumpers from the right elbow or simply blows by his defender after a switch for a lay up. Let’s be clear though, as great as the former Demon Deacon has been in the clutch in the Clippers uniform, his value throughout the course of the game cannot be overstated.

Heading into Thursday night’s contest against the Denver Nuggets, Paul is averaging 19.2 points, 9.1 assists and 2.5 steals per game on 52.2 percent field goal shooting and 44.4 percent 3-point field goal shooting, which translates into a PER figure of 27.2.

Chris Paul does an amazing job of running the Clippers offense without necessarily monopolizing it. For instance, he will run a pick-and-roll with Blake Griffin or DeAndre Jordan and then depending on the defense’s strategy, he will figure out his game plan. If Caron Butler is open as a result of the screen action, Paul will feed him for the open jumper, or simply allow him to isolate his defender and take him of the dribble. If another more favorable option presents itself, like Blake Griffin on the low block, CP will go to his big man and let him operate.

The end result is that yes the Wake Forest product is vital to Lob City’s success because he can orchestrate these mismatches, but the players still have the understanding that they will be allowed to create their own shots as where available.

The Clippers playmaker is a savant with the ball in his hands as he perfectly understands the delicate balance between feeding his teammates and asserting himself offensively. Also, unlike other superstars in the league, it’s almost impossible to double team Chris Paul late in the ball games, because he is a willing passer and will also figure out how to get high percentage shots out of the trapping defense.

Earlier in the season, I had stated that Kobe Bryant would be my choice if late game heroics were needed because of his ability to manufacture good looks at the basket regardless of how teams chose to defend him; but after seeing Paul slowly but surely figure out how to close out games for the Clips, he is at this moment in time the player that I would feel safest steering my team to victory in a close game.

It’s a testament to Kobe Bryant’s greatness that now in his 16th season, he currently easily occupies a spot on the All-NBA 1st team and makes everyone who thought he would fall off look foolish.

As the Lakers primary option, the Lakers are a mere 13-9 (eighth best conference record) but would probably be looking at sub .500 record had he missed any significant time due to injury. The Black Mamba is playing 38.6 minutes per game simply because Mike Brown cannot afford to keep his star on the bench for too long. On the season, the Lakers are a minus-8.5 points per game when Kobe heads to the bench, and a plus-3.9 points per game better when he is on the court. No matter how the math is done, Kobe has to play in order for the Lakers to be successful.

His ability to create for teammates, score and also the added attention he draws simply by being on the court allows him to facilitate the offense and helps his teammates play within their skill set without having to do too much. For all intents and purposes, Kobe makes his teammates better.

But at this point in the season right now, Chris Paul just does that job better. His defense, playmaking and scoring are all just a little bit better than Kobe Bryant’s; but it’s still amazing to think that both are the best at their respective positions.

Ah yes.

If only that trade hadn’t been vetoed.

Discussing Clippers-Lakers

J.M. Poulard —  January 25, 2012

It’s Battle of Los Angeles: Part deux. With the Clippers now trying to claim the city as theirs at the expense of the Lakers, Forum Blue & Gold reached out to Breene Murphy of Clipperblog to discuss the game.

J.M. Poulard, Forum Blue & Gold: With three losses in a row, the Los Angeles Lakers (10-8) do not at this point in time look like a championship caliber team. The defense has looked good for the most part but the offense has left much to be desired.

Kobe Bryant is playing extremely well for the Lakers but not all of his teammates have been able to follow suit as evidenced by losses in Miami and Orlando. In addition, the home loss at the hands of the Pacers last Sunday have people wondering how the Lakers can improve their play late in ball games when teams force the ball out of the hands of Kobe. Indeed, against the Dallas Mavericks, Bryant was able to find Fisher for an open 3-pointer, but for the most part the late game execution has been subpar at best for the Lakers.

This is relevant when discussing the Clippers because the last time they played the Lakers, they were all witnesses to the Kobe Bryant show, as the star guard lit up the Clips defense for 21 points in the third quarter and also made numerous big shots in the fourth. Once Vinny Del Negro ordered the double team off of Darius Morris, the Lakers star became a little hesitant with the ball and had trouble trusting his open teammates (*cough* Daris Morris *cough*). Ever since that game, it seems teams have been far more willing to throw extra attention on Kobe coming off screens, especially late in games.

What’s the temperature check for the Clippers going into this matchup?

Breene Murphy, Clipperblog: If we’re talking temperature check, the first name we have to mention for the Clippers is Mo Williams. After sitting out three games, Mo has averaged 25.3 points in his last three games, shooting an absurd 64 percent from the field. He’s been en fuego for sure, and it’s buoyed a Clippers team that shouldn’t be as desperate for guard play with Chauncey Billups also there to help the Paul-less Clips.

However, Paul is allegedly scheduled to play against the Lakers, so the big question will be how Mo reacts to the return of Paul, and if that will lead to the same success the Clippers have seen against the Lakers this year.

Based on Paul’s play against the Lakers this year and last year in the playoffs, how’re you feeling about him with a better cast than in the past?

J.M. Poulard: On Christmas day, I predicted that the Clippers would finish with one of the four best records in the Western Conference and that’s a testament to Paul’s talent. CP3 is an exquisite ball handler, good finisher and highlight reel waiting to happen with his passing; but his true value comes in his leadership and late game execution.

When players start jogging up and down the court on defense, Paul is usually the first one out there yelling at them to get back on defense, and his mastery of the offense is a thing of beauty, especially for a team that has had more than their fair share of issues closing out games. Paul brings terrific decision-making as well as a levelheaded player to stir the ship when all of the crewmembers are ready to dive into the water. I’m pretty sure I just said that the former Demon Deacon is the second coming of captain Jack Sparrow.

After seeing Kobe Bryant take on the Clippers, what’s your take on his play this season?

Breene Murphy: I really hope that CP3’s leadership turns the Clippers lackluster defense around, because so far, they’ve been a real disappointment on that end. And what’s somewhat disconcerting is that I don’t think that they have the personnel to be above average even with CP3 barking at them, or VDN finally connecting with them. The biggest struggle seems to be at the wing, where Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler don’t have the necessary athletic gifts at this point in the career to be good defenders.

So, Kobe, yeah, he’ll be tough for the Clippers to guard, especially considering his resurgence. Count me in the group that thinks Kobe needs to spread the ball around (36.0 usage rate?), especially with the quality of bigs on the team. Pau and Bynum? That’s formidable.

Speaking of Pau, he was so productive for so long, it’s hard to imagine that he’s just fell off so quickly. Last year, I’d say that he was the most effective defensive force on Blake Griffin this side of Tyson Chandler, making him a fulcrum player against the Clips.  Was it related to the failed trade? The playoff performance? How do you feel about the PF matchup this year?

J.M. Poulard: Honestly, with the way Pau has played this year, one would be inclined to believe that Blake would win the PF matchup; but through two preseason games and one regular season meeting; Griffin has been pretty average by his standards when playing against the Spaniard. Blake has looked to show off his handles against the Lakers as opposed to rolling hard to the basket and posting up with some aggression.

Consequently, the Clippers should have the advantage at the four spot, but in truth it seems to be just about even given Blake’s struggles against the Lakers.

Breene, normally I’d ask you to pick a winner here; but we’ll do this a bit differently. If the Lakers lose this game, do you think the roster remains intact going into this weekend?

Breene Murphy: Maybe I’m wrong, but Kupchak hasn’t struck me as a reactionary GM, barring the Lamar Odom trade (which wouldn’t have happened had it not been for Stern’s rejection of the CP3 trade). So I’ll say no. I believe that Kupchak’s forever working on the best possible trade, while remaining smart enough to know that teams simply go through slumps. 4-game losing streaks give a perception of panic. A team that panics is a team with less leverage, and trading with less leverage typically doesn’t work out well.

J.M. Poulard: At this point in the season, the Lakers face more serious questions about their roster than the Clippers and that makes the Battle of Los Angeles all that more intriguing. Mind you the Lakers’ core has sipped championship champagne while the Clippers’ has yet to make the playoffs.

None of that will matter tonight when both teams take the court at Staples and try to earn themselves a victory in what promises to be a playoff-like atmosphere. I’ll take the home team tonight.

Breene, thanks again.

Discussing Pacers-Lakers

J.M. Poulard —  January 22, 2012

With the Los Angeles Lakers hosting the Indiana Pacers tonight, Forum Blue & Gold reached out to Jared Wade of 8 points 9 seconds to discuss the game.

J.M. Poulard, Forum Blue & Gold: Although most would not necessarily call them the frontline of the future, I am a big fan of the Pacers starting frontcourt. The combination of Roy Hibbert and David West may be a little slow in their rotations, but they get there just in time to bother their opponents’ shot attempts at the rim which translates into a 58 percent field goal shooting allowed right at the basket according to Hoopdata (fourth best mark in the league).

Thus I’m anxious to see how both Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum play against these big men; and if they are able to convert at the rim against them.

With that said, my biggest question is reserved for the offense: with a frontcourt that features Danny Granger, David West and Roy Hibbert; how come the Indiana Pacers can’t score??

Jared Wade, 8 points 9 seconds: That’s the $64,000 question. A lot of it is about stagnation. These guys need good ball movement and cutting to score and there is too often little of either. With the addition of George Hill and David West, who is just now really getting back into game shape after offseason knee surgery, and the introduction of Paul George as a bigger part of Frank Vogel’s revamped system, there is also still a feeling-things-out process going on. Guys, particularly the reserves, are trying to learn their roles and figure out how they can mesh together.

And then there’s just the fact that everybody aside from Hill — and especially Granger and West — is missing makable shots. All are way below their career norm shooting percentages around the rim. You have to think this will improve as the sample size does. This offense looks really good at times, and the starters are actually producing as a 5-man unit. It’s just when they incorporate the bench guys and start mixing and matching lineups that everything goes downhill.

J.M. Poulard: I’m glad you touched on it because so far this season Danny Granger’s shooting has baffled me. Initially I figured that he was settling for tough shots, but after watching the Pacers a few times, I liked what I saw from their offense.

Oddly enough, the Lakers run some of the same misdirection plays for Kobe Bryant that the Pacers run for Danny Granger. The idea is often to get the defense to think that the ball is going to one of the big men inside as Kobe sets a cross screen for his center, and then he gets screened by his power forward and pops out at the top of the key for either a jump shot or an isolation.

The Lakers so far have found ways to execute but have had trouble converting their shots. The Pacers seem to have the same issue but they offer enough variety for things to progressively get better during the rest of the season.

In the matchup tonight, I think the big men cancel each other out (starters and bench) and thus the wing scorers will play a huge part in this one. Darren Collison should be able to turn the corner against Fisher and get into the lane for some opportunities in the paint.

The great equalizer may be Matt Barnes getting out in transition for some easy scoring chances as well as his ability to play off Kobe to get open 3-pointers.

Ultimately though, I think the contest comes down to whether Kobe (versus George) or Granger performs better (versus Barnes and MWP).

Who do you think performs better and leads his team to victory?

Jared Wade: There are two things I was thinking about perhaps happening when I was looking at the Lakers schedule. One the one hand, I could see the Lakers really coming out aggressively and dominating Indy after back-to-back losses down in Florida. On the other hand, I could see them sort of taking the night off mentally as they are now back home after a road trip and have a rare (in this season) one game in four nights stretch here before playing another Battle of Los Angeles game on Wednesday.

In the former, seemingly more probable scenario, I can see Kobe really going nuts. Paul George has shown his defensive prowess against Derrick Rose in the playoffs and Dwayne Wade last February, but checking Mamba right now may be an even more daunting challenge. I could easily see Kobe, with his array of jab steps, shot fakes, spin moves and up-and-unders, getting George into early foul trouble and grinning at the lanky Fresno product as he walks to the bench three minutes in like “Nice try, kid.” And while George Hill is certainly familiar with #24, his size probably won’t cut it against the 2012 Kobe incarnation who backs guards down into the torture chamber. So, yeah, I’m not betting against Kobe right now.

As for Danny, Granger has now played three good games (including his two best of the year) in his last five outings. He dropped 26 on 16 shots in just 32 minutes Friday in Oakland, including 6 points in the final 4 minutes. He wasn’t missing bad shots per se earlier in the year but he was pressing and struggling to take on-balance looks in the lane. And he has just been missing a lot of open jumpers he would normally make, shooting a disastrous 26% on long twos. The Lakers wings are certainly not the easiest to exploit, but if Granger can keep trending more towards the positive and not fall back into his early-season bad habits, there’s no reason he can’t light up LA for 20-plus.

J.M. Poulard: After playing 44 minutes on the back end of a back-to-back on Friday night in Orlando, one has to think that Kobe Bryant will once again play heavy minutes tonight since the Lakers only play again on Wednesday.

This means that Pacers will see plenty of the Black Mamba tonight, and he should have a very good scoring night. Mind you, if Indiana decides to double-team Bryant and trap him coming off screens, much like the Magic and Heat did, Kobe will probably score in the early 30s but will be awfully dependent of the shot making ability of his teammates.

Nonetheless, as you mentioned, Bryant will probably put defenders in his dungeon and torture them with his array of moves. He should get several free throw attempts and will his team to victory as the Pacers fall to 1-2 on the Cali road trip.

One small note though: Indiana has brought the energy and relentlessly pounded their opponents on the glass so far this season, which may not bode well for a Lakers team that has consistently been outrebounded as of late.

When FB&G needed to talk Lakers-Pacers…

We…went…to…Jared.

Thanks again.

Talking Lakers and Magic

J.M. Poulard —  January 20, 2012

The Los Angeles Lakers are currently in the midst of their eastern road trip and will take on the Orlando Magic tonight in what promises to be an entertaining game. It only made sense to reach out to Eddy Rivera of the ESPN TrueHoop Affiliate blog Magic Basketball to discuss the game.

J.M. Poulard, Forum Blue & Gold: Eddy, your Orlando Magic seem to be on a tear right now and yet your superstar has made it clear that he has no interest in remaining with the franchise. This is somewhat reminiscent of Kobe Bryant’s stance with the Lakers during the summer of 2007; mind you Mitch Kupchak was able to appease his star player by bringing in Pau Gasol. As it stands, I’m not sure there is a move that can be made that’s significant enough to keep Dwight in Florida, however there is the possibility of Otis Smith pulling the trigger on a Andrew Bynum for Dwight Howard deal.

Would you be in favor of such a deal or do you think there is better out there?

And while we’re at it, I hate to open up old wounds, but Kobe will be returning to Orlando, the site where he captured his fourth NBA title in June 2009. In the Gasol era, Bryant is averaging 32 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game on 42.9 percent field goal shooting in Orlando…

Eddy Rivera, Magic Basketball: Given that Dwight Howard has stated that he’s interested in the Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks, and New Jersey Nets, with the Lakers having the most to offer (Andrew Bynum being the major piece) and ownership for the Orlando Magic making it clear that they want veterans back in any deal, I can see a Bynum-for-Howard swap with ancillary pieces attached. I know that the Magic are high on Bynum but will a trade happen? I don’t know the answer to that.

Would I be in favor of such a deal? Yes and no. Yes, because Bynum is the best asset out there the Magic can get back in any deal considering the circumstances. No, because assuming Orlando gets other veteran players alongside Bynum, there’s a legitimate fear among Magic fans that the franchise will put itself in NBA purgatory. If it was me, I’d acquire Bynum along with as many young players and draft picks as possible, tank, and rebuild organically.

For the record, the Magic want veterans back because owner Rich DeVos, at 85 years old, wants to win a title now. Can I blame him? No. Is that a realistic goal? No. C’est la vie.

I think that’s enough talk about Orlando. What’s going on with the Lakers? I’ve been impressed with head coach Mike Brown’s impact on the defensive side of the ball, but is Kobe Bryant being relied upon too much right now offensively?

J.M. Poulard: Ah yes, the 24th elephant in the room.

Last Saturday, when the Lakers played the Clippers, Mike Smith (Clippers broadcaster) made what seemed like a ludicrous statement when he said that he didn’t see why the Lakers would refuse to trade Bynum and Gasol given the fact that the team wasn’t using them properly. Those who know how to read between the lines understood this to mean that perhaps Kobe Bean is being featured a little too much on offense.

With that said, I picked the Lakers to come out of the West this season, but it’s becoming a little hard to maintain the same opinion given the way the shots are distributed on the team. It’s one thing to win a few regular season games here and there with Bryant monopolizing the offense on occasion, but this recipe has failed with Kobe in the postseason. Granted, some will argue that Bryant has historically played differently during the playoffs, sharing the ball more with his teammates and they would be right; however the only battle-tested Lakers are Bynum, Gasol, Fisher and Bryant.

I bring this up because the other players on the roster have not played with Kobe in a tough playoff game and thus might not know what to expect from him in such an environment. Also, it’s difficult to ask your big men to crash the offensive glass for Kobe misses for most of the season and then turnaround and ask them to carry the offense for stretches against defenses that game plan to stop them. So yes, the Lakers are relying far too much on the talents of the superstar guard.

Back to your Magic though, is Ryan Anderson trying to convince us that he is the long lost doppelganger of Dirk Nowitzki? Because let me tell you, in the Lakers’ lone playoff battle against Dirk, it didn’t turn out too well.

Eddy Rivera: Let me get out of this way first. You’re picking Los Angeles over the Oklahoma City Thunder to win the Western Conference? That’s an interesting choice. Not saying it can’t happen, just interesting.

I think saying that Ryan Anderson is the next Dirk Nowitzki is a little much. Nowitzki can create his own shot much more than Anderson (look at %Ast). Are they both prolific shooters? Yes, but that’s where the comparison ends in my opinion. Again, the key difference is that Anderson is not much of a shot creator, though he is a better rebounder, but Nowitzki is a better defender. Likewise, Nowitzki does much of his damage offensively from 10-23 feet, while Anderson has the most three-point field goal attempts in the NBA. That being said, it’s not a ridiculous comparison — Kevin Pelton of ESPN Insider suggested there are similarities between the two players.

However, Neil Paine of Basketball Prospectus threw out another name. Peja Stojakovic. That makes a lot more sense, in my opinion, because both players are primarily spot-up shooters that have a lot of their FGs assisted on and their shot distribution on offense align with each other.

Their numbers are eerily similar, too.

I have to go back to your comment about the Lakers winning the West. What’s your rationale behind that pick?

J.M. Poulard: I’ll admit that comparing him to Dirk was a bit over the top but it was still intriguing nonetheless. But the Peja comparison makes absolute sense.

My Lakers pick was a combination of a few things: the apparent decline of the Dallas Mavericks coupled with the lack of a truly dominant team out West. I’m well aware that the Thunder have been on a tear so far and most are picking them to make it to the Finals but at the time I could see the Lakers actually defeating them in a seven-game series.

To be fair, this could only happen if the Purple and Gold turn to their big men and give them multiple touches on offense to keep them involved and even allow them to carry the offense. Otherwise, if all of the offense revolves around Kobe, it would be awfully tough for the Lakers to be successful against a young and hungry Thunder team.

With that said, my reasons initially for favoring Mike Brown’s team over Scott Brooks’ was the Lakers’ emerging defense as well as their rebounding ability. When the game slows down in the postseason and teams have trouble scoring, gaining extra possessions is a huge factor in determining one’s success and the Lakers are more than capable of winning the rebounding battle.

But the biggest reason I thought Los Angeles’ premier team could defeat Oklahoma City: Metta World Peace. Try to contain your laughter for a moment.

Since MWP came to town, Kevin Durant has averaged a solid 25.6 points and 2.9 assists per game on 46.1 percent field goal shooting against the Lakers. However, he is only converting 17.6 percent of his 3-point attempts and turning the ball over 4.4 times on average.

But more importantly, MWP’s defense has stifled the gifted scorer in the fourth quarters as Durant has been unable to shake free against the former Defensive Player of the Year. Metta World Peace has simply figured out how to bump, clutch and grab the Thunder’s small forward late in games to prevent him from delivering in the clutch.

Kobe Bryant on the other hand does not have that problem, and even when he misses shots late in games, Gasol and Bynum have proven to be exceptional in getting clutch second chance baskets. But as previously mentioned, all of this hinges on whether the Lakers figure out how to play inside and out. And also, there’s this tiny issue of KD showing an improved handle this year; which means he may in fact be able to make MWP dance the Macarena for all we know. To be continued….

I’m excited to see how Bynum performs against Dwight tonight given the fact that there have been rumblings about which big man is in fact the best in the league. It’s obvious at least to me that D12 wins the battle hands down, and I want to see if he shows off his arsenal of running hook shots as well as his ability to use his footwork, quickness and strength to bully ‘Drew on the block.

So Eddy, pick a winner…

Eddy Rivera: I like Los Angeles in this one.

Even though the Lakers will be playing on a back-to-back and the Magic will be rested, it just seems like Kobe Bryant’s advantage at the shooting guard position will tip the scales. It’s uncertain if Jason Richardson (bone bruise on left knee) will play, though it’s likely that he will. Whether Richardson suits up or not, Bryant should best him. Though he’s a smart defender, same goes for J.J. Redick when he’s in the game. And if Von Wafer sees minutes, Bryant should have his way with him too. On the flipside, Bryant should slow each of them down defensively.

Howard did whatever he wanted against Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol last season, so I don’t see anything changing there. Ryan Anderson’s matchup with Gasol will be fascinating to watch. I don’t think Anderson will have too much trouble spreading the floor and scoring, but I’m more curious to see how he defends Gasol. That is, if Gasol gets enough touches. Hedo Turkoglu shouldn’t have too much trouble against Matt Barnes but it could be a different story when Metta World Peace (!) is in the game, so that’s something to keep an eye on too.

Normally I’d mention Jameer Nelson, given that he’s had plenty of success against Derek Fisher in the past, but he’s been playing so poorly this season, it’d behoove for me to say he’ll make a difference. Nelson might, but the odds are low in my opinion.

I think it’ll be a close game with the Lakers coming out on top. Though it should be noted for Orlando that if Howard goes off and/or Turkoglu steps up against World Peace and/or Nelson rises from the dead, they can win.

Eh tu?

J.M. Poulard: Go figure, we’re both picking opposites; I have Orlando in this contest.

There is a theory being floated around that Kobe’s huge scoring nights affects the activity level of his big men. Most would agree with this sentiment although it is somewhat tough to prove.

In Bryant’s most recent stretch of 40-point games, the Lakers (who happen to lead the league in rebounding) were either tied or outrebounded by every opponent except for the Phoenix Suns.

It’s a small sample size, thus it’s tough to establish a correlation between his scoring and the Lakers’ effort on the boards, but it’s still interesting enough to put out there. In addition, the Los Angeles Lakers have lost three of the past eight regular season matchups against the Orlando Magic since the 2007-08 season, and have only been victorious in Orlando once during that same stretch. The one stat that consistently determined the winner of each contest? Rebounding.

Given that we both expect Kobe Bryant to have a huge scoring night, and that his teammates seem to fail to hit the boards when the star guard has huge scoring explosions, I’d have to venture and say that Stan Van Gundy’s squad will win the rebounding battle, and consequently the game itself.

Eddy, thanks again.

Records: Lakers 9-4 (2nd in West), Clippers 5-3 (6th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 100.3 (14th in NBA), Clippers 104.2 (6th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 94.8 (4th in NBA), Clippers 102.1 (22nd in NBA
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Matt Barnes, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Clippers: Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups, Caron Butler, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan.
Injuries: Lakers: Steve Blake (out), Jason Kapono (day-to-day), Derrick Caracter (out); Clippers: none.

The Lakers Coming in: The Lakers have won five games in a row with the most recent victory coming at home against the Cleveland Cavaliers. During the winning streak, the Lakers have held opponents to 86.8 points per game on 41.6 percent field goal shooting.

The defense is one of the stingiest in the league and has kind of gotten lost in the shuffle of Kobe’s spectacular three-game scoring stretch.

In addition, Matt Barnes seems to have a stranglehold on the starting small forward position. The UCLA product has been solid on defense and has also contributed on offense within the flow of the game. During the Lakers win streak, Barnes has been averaging 12.2 points and 6.8 rebounds on 61.5 percent shooting from the field and 37.5 shooting from 3-point range.

His easy transition opportunities as well as his long range shooting have given the purple and gold new options on offense that the team did not have early on in the season.

The Clippers Coming in: The Clippers are coming off a thrilling home overtime victory against the Miami Heat. Chris Paul was at his absolute best, scoring late in the shot clock and setting up the likes of Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Caron Butler for open shots.

As good as Paul is, the Clippers rely too much on him; especially in late game situations. Far too often, the Clips fail to show any variety in their play-calling, preferring instead to simply run a pick-and-roll and go with whatever options they get from the set. The end result is that Paul ends up always having the ball at the top of the key with a bigger defender (a lot of teams like to switch in pick-and-roll defense late in games to avoid giving up uncontested shots) guarding him as he explores his options. Usually he can blow by the defender but finishing is typically an issue because of the bigger player that’s there to contest this shot.

These situations presented themselves against the Trail Blazers and the Bulls; and until a more fluid offense is used late in fourth quarters, it is quite possible that the Clippers will have issues scoring the ball in late game situations.

Clippers Blogs: Make sure to have a look at Clipperblog for some solid Clippers coverage; but one can also direct their attention at The No Look Pass.

Keys to game: The Clippers present an interesting matchup for the Lakers because they have the speed, quickness and ball-handling skills at the point guard position to get by the Lakers perimeter defenders and score in the lane or dish off to their big men that can finish at the basket. Also, if Paul or Mo Williams are able to get inside the lane and take high percentage shots, the Clippers big men are smart enough to get into position for offensive rebounds and they also have the athletic ability to finish over the Lakers’ frontline.

In addition, the Clippers are one of the few teams capable of giving both Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum fits. Indeed, DeAndre Jordan’s length will make it tough for Bynum to finish at the rim and although Griffin is not exactly a great defender, what he brings to the table on offense may progressively wear down Pau Gasol.

With that said, in the two preseason games in December, the Clippers were victorious against the Lakers because they did three things extremely well:

1. Turnovers: they forced the Lakers to commit a boatload of turnovers and then ran back the other way and got some easy transition opportunities.

2. Rebounding: The Clippers lost the rebounding battles in both games but managed to stay close in terms of offensive rebounds. Second chance opportunities should be a huge factor in this contest.

3. 3-point shooting: The Lakers have given up a lot of open 3-point attempts so far this season, and the Clips happily took advantage of the Lakers inability to close out on shooters by shooting a combined 21-for-48 from deep.

If the Lakers can do a better job in these areas against the Clippers, they should have the chance to win the game late. It’s worth noting that the Clippers do not have a player on the roster capable of making Kobe truly work for his points.

Where you can watch:  7:30pm start time on FSN Prime Ticket but the game will also be on national television courtesy of NBA TV. Also liven live on ESPN Radio 710AM.

With the Lakers scheduled to play the Lob City Clippers tonight, it would have been a travesty for Forum Blue and Gold not to reach out to Clipperblog for some good pregame ribbing. It’s the battle of Los Angeles featuring J.M. Poulard and D.J. Foster.

J.M. Poulard, Forum Blue & Gold: D.J., I’d like to thank you for joining the big leagues. Well kind of. The Clippers have faced multiple seasons of mediocrity and thus are viewed as Khloe, while the Lakers maintain Kim Kardashian status in L.A. But now all of a sudden, it seems as though the Clippers have gained some popularity and could even potentially start a rivalry with the Lakers.

We are well aware over here that Lob City took two games from the Purple and Gold in the preseason and that some Lakers players were not all that happy with some of the reactions of Clippers players after a few highlights. So I ask, whom does this game mean more to?

D.J. Foster, Clipperblog: Dude, Clippers fans would have killed for multiple seasons of mediocrity. That’s part of what makes this narrative so entertaining. I think Kobe said it best (gasp!) referencing the rivalry —  it’s about damn time. It’s about time the Clippers are challenging the Lakers, and now that the Clips are playing less like energetic kids and more like responsible adults, it makes things even more interesting. Look, in the past, these matchups meant the world to the Clippers and their seven fans. These matchups were their playoff games. I don’t need to tell you guys this, but it never even registers on the radar for the Lakers.

But the times, they are a changin’. Little brother is all grown up and is sick of getting pounded on, and now he’s standing nose-to-nose with big brother and just daring him to swing first. For the first time in a long time — maybe ever — this game probably means more to the Lakers (specifically Kobe) than it does to the Clippers. It’s easy to walk on someone’s lawn. It’s a little more difficult to tell them to get off it.

Congratulations for somehow managing to be both Kim Kardashian and Clint Eastwood, you silly Lakers. Let me throw this back to you, J.M. The game’s on the line. You have one possession. Who would you rather have with the ball? Kobe Bryant or Chris Paul?

J.M. Poulard: Funny you brought this up without me having to say it. Had you asked me last season, I would have picked Chris Paul. But at this moment in time in the NBA season, I’d go with Kobe Bryant.

Vinny Del Negro’s offense has been extremely predictable and honestly heavily dependent on the talents of Paul. Consequently, late in ball games, all we have seen is CP3 endlessly dribbling the ball and going pick-and-roll with Blake Griffin hoping to create a good shot.

The strategy failed against the Bulls and was semi-successful against the Trail Blazers at home. The game against Miami offered a different wrinkle because Caron Butler was shooting lights out, and consequently Paul was able to find him a few times for some open jumpers. But truth be told, for all of CP3’s skills, he is for the time being the unknown variable if you will; whereas Kobe is a certified assassin.

And here’s a news flash for you: if Kobe decides to go into hero mode, Andrew Bynum has proven to be a reliable put back option in the clutch.

Also, the Lakers’ big men have proven to be a little more effective at the free throw line, which promises to be an issue when the teams square off.

Lil Wayne once uttered the words “Go D.J.” and I have to now use his line in asking you this: is Pau Gasol the Blake Griffin stopper aka the Lob City killer?

D.J. Foster: Let me answer that in the most roundabout way ever: You’re cruising down the freeway late at night in the fast lane. Your stupid car flags are whipping in the wind because you’re going so fast. You catch up to the car in front of you, and for some reason he’s crawling. You’re confused, because this car in front of you is ridiculously nice. It’s got the body type and all the horsepower in the world — I mean, this car can really fly. And yet, here it is, going 55 in the fast lane and making you wonder why someone would use all that speed and power like that.

That’s Blake Griffin’s season so far. He’s a terror in the paint, but he’s drifting further and further away from the basket with more regularity, settling for 20-foot jumpers and centering his game around (yawn) jump shooting. It’s frustrating, but can you really complain? He’s putting up almost the exact same numbers as he did last year. He’s still getting you from A to B.

I love Pau Gasol. Think he’s the most skilled power forward in the game. But is he the Blake Griffin stopper? No. Blake Griffin is the Blake Griffin stopper. Pau would be wise not to flash his lights at Blake so to speak — let him shoot those long jumpers all he wants.

Now it’s time for you to give the people what they want, J.M. Let’s hear your bold predictions. Does Kobe go for 40 again? Will Lakers fans be yelling at me to “count the ringzzzz!” or will the order of the universe be restored with a victory for the Purple and Gold? Will Matt Barnes (this is the same guy who slapped his coach, no?) be left complaining about poor court conduct? The world needs answers.

*tips hat*

It’s been real — good luck tonight.

J.M. Poulard: Chauncey Billups, Caron Butler, Randy Foye and Ryan Gomes are the players that are the likeliest to be matched up with Kobe. Need I say more on the prospects of Kobe hitting the Clips for 40?

And that’s before you factor in that Kobe may still be unhappy about the fact that once the Chris Paul trade was vetoed, it cost the Lakers Lamar Odom. And now Kobe gets the chance to extract his revenge on the Staples Center rivals. But you want bold predictions right? Let’s go…

  • The Lakers will win by 5.
  • Blake Griffin won’t try to show off his impressive new handles against Gasol and will finally have a breakout game; we’re talking 30-20 here.
  • Chris Paul will have north of 15 assists.
  • Mo Williams will still look like John Legend by game’s end.
  • Matt Barnes will get called for a flagrant foul just for looking at a Blake dunk with disgust.
  • And of course, maybe Kobe can or cannot do the Dougie, but he still knows how to count as evidenced by this (not really a bold prediction, just a reminder).

With that said, the Clippers’ athleticism is scary and if they force the Lakers into a few miscues, Chris Paul could turn this one into a track meet and the Lakers are not equipped to handle that. There’s also the tiny little issue of CP3 spending the night in the painted area converting floaters and throwing up lobs to his big men that will be problematic for the Purple and Gold.

D.J., thanks for going back-and-forth with FB&G. Enjoy the game.