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My goodness.  It’s as if the Lakers take some sort of sadistic joy from building up our hopes, then proceeding to crush them viciously.  I thought I was ready; I thought I was prepared.  I tweeted before and during the game things like,


I thought that maybe the Lakers might, at best, keep it close for about 6-10 minutes, then get blown out in the 2nd and 3rd quarters and get a nice 20+ point thrashing on national television.  Since the team’s perimeter defense had been terrible for weeks, and the interior defense would be non-existent without Dwight, Pau, and Jordan Hill, I figured the Lakers would give up somewhere around 125 points and score nowhere near enough to keep up.

Instead, the Lakers gave us a genuinely good performance in a 105-108 loss, and almost as good as you could expect from a team so short-handed.  They still loss, and a loss is a loss at this point in the season, but this Laker season has gone so horribly awry that I feel like we have to take the moral victories where we can.  The Lakers had plenty of chances to win this game, but just could not close the deal late in the game, even considering it was a game that never should have been that close.

Tonight was a night where Live by Kobe; Die by Kobe was very much on display.  Early on, Kobe could not hit anything from mid-range, beginning the game shooting 2-9 and missing a lot of jumpers that he normally makes.  Plus, his defense was AWFUL, giving up three backdoor cuts for dunks/layups before the half.  Then half way through the fourth, Kobe started bombing threes 3-4 feet behind the line, or as I like to call it, Chris Duhon Territory.  Between his shot-making and several assists, Kobe helped bring us back into the game, but just couldn’t close the deal on a heavily contested three point shot to tie.

Metta World Peace had a tremendous game, going off for 23 points, 8 boards, and 7(!!!) steals.  Several of his steals were in the backcourt as well, fighting for extra possessions and earning easy buckets that the Lakers so desperately needed.  Highlight of the game was probably as Darius described it…

Nash was his regular self, racking up 9 assists and 3 turnovers, making several risky passes.  However he shot only 6-12, and several of his misses were head-scratching, like a reverse layup that he has made probably hundreds of times, and a jumper in the lane that barely grazed the rim.

The star of this game for the Lakers, however, was Earl Clark.  Clark, who had been getting only spot minutes for the entire season, came out and played with an energy and level of activity that had become uncommon in this Laker season.  Most of his games in Summer League and pre-season were of the “activity without achievement” variety, but he took the opportunity afforded to him by the injuries and played the game of his career, finishing with 22 points on 9-12 shooting, 13 rebounds, and some excellent defense.

The Lakers as a whole decided to turn on the D in the 4th quarter, holding the Spurs to 23 points while scoring 30, including holding the Spurs scoreless for six straight possessions in the 4th.  They were undermined several times by some questionable calls by the officials, but showed some fight and emotion that they hadn’t showed for the previous three quarters and basically the entire season.  But give credit to the Spurs, who as usual ran a fairly potent offense, led by Tony Parker with 24 points and 6 assists.  The Spurs unselfishness with the ball also murdered the poor Laker perimeter defense, shooting 12-25 from three, including four from Stephen Jackson (before he got tossed by picking up two technicals in about 1 minute).

Kobe said before the game that each game represents an opportunity to grow and to learn, and despite the loss, the Lakers hopefully have found some things that they can focus on and get better:

  • Earl Clark!  My goodness, maybe it’s lightning in a bottle, but anyone who can give you 9-12 shooting and 13 rebounds in 28 minutes needs minutes.  I know ESPN has him listed as a small forward, but his defense and rebounding at power forward and center helped keep the game within arm’s reach when Kobe wasn’t hitting.  If he actually can play small forward, he may be the wing defender that the Lakers could use to back up MWP.  His outside shooting seems to come and go, but his activity and defense are sorely needed.
  • Jodie Meeks got BURIED this game.  His recent shooting slump is probably to blame, but he’s bringing little positive to court on defense as well, and D’Antoni only saw fit to play him six minutes.  Even if his shooting is not on, he needs to bring the energy on defense every night, same as Darius Morris.
  • Antawn Jamison had a decent night if you ignore the fact that he missed all five three pointers he took and played god awful defense 50% of the time he was on the floor.  Jamison missed every single three and made every single two point attempt, while adding 8 rebounds, a block, and a steal.  I’ve said it time and time again: Jamison is not a spot up three point shooter.  He never has been; he never will be.  Using him as such is a travesty and giving away possessions to the other team.  If D’Antoni can find a way to get Jamison the ball on the move, cutting toward the basket, he is the best at making those unorthodox scoop shots.
  • The Lakers need to look themselves in the mirror and ask why they can’t play the type of D they played late in the fourth quarter every minute of every game.  Is it effort?  Is it intensity?  Is it focus?  Clearly, this is a problem with both players and coaching staff, because we see time and time again guys blowing their assignments, or sometimes being confused as to who to cover on a PNR.  Good defensive teams react almost automatically as a group, whereas it appears the Lakers have to think about every single defensive decision they make.  Who is to blame?  I cannot say, but the Lakers are not going to do anything this season if they don’t clean up their defense.


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Records: Lakers 15-16 (11th in the West), Clippers 25-8 (2nd in the West)
Offensive Ratings: Lakers 106.4 (6th in the NBA), Clippers 106.9 (5th in the NBA)
Defensive Ratings: Lakers 102.7 (18th in the NBA), Clippers 97.8 (3rd in the NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups:
Lakers: Steve Nash, Darius Morris, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard
Clippers: Chris Paul, Willie Green, Caron Butler, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan
Lakers: Steve Blake (out), Chris Duhon (game-time decision)
Clippers: Grant Hill (out), Chauncey Billups (out)

The Lakers Coming in: The Lakers are now 3-2 since the return of Steve Nash, with three quality wins against Golden State (comeback), New York (top 10 team), and Portland (blowout), an understandable loss on the 2nd night of a back-to-back on the road in Denver (classically one of the hardest back-to-backs to make), and a head-scratching loss to a 76ers team still without the former Laker, Andrew Bynum, as their anchor.  There’s a lot of talk about the Lakers being old, lacking energy, and needing to play through it, but when your team shoots 3-22 from the three point line and misses 11 free throws in a four point game, it’s tough to blame anything except a lack of shot-making.  Still, despite some minor setbacks, the Lakers have looked like a much improved team with Steve Nash and Pau Gasol back in the fold.  Howard is clearly still not 100%, but then again, he wasn’t supposed to play until now when we first traded for him in the summer.

Against the Clippers, the Lakers will need everyone to have a good game.  Pau and Dwight cannot shoot a combined 3-19 if the Lakers want even a chance to win this game, and the defense cannot give up the type of easy scores that plagued them against the 76ers and numerous other opponents.  The Clippers are a young, athletic team, and like most teams these days, will try to beat the Lakers in transition, even after a made basket.  It will be paramount that the Lakers maintain defensive balance, and that the bigs hustle back to defend the paint.

The Clippers Coming in: The Clippers, recent owners of a 17 game win-streak, have now lost their last two games by a combined 35 points.  However, over that stretch they only faced one team that was more than 2 games over .500, and that was the Chicago Bulls.  All the while, it’s still impressive that they managed 17 straight wins over NBA-level competition, and the Lakers would be more than happy to go on a streak half that length right now.

Despite the fact that the Clippers are generally known for their flashy, highlight-reel offense run by Chris Paul, it is really their defense that is propelling them to success.  They are currently 3rd in defensive efficiency, no doubt bolstered by the heavy on-ball pressure of Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe.  Both are in the top 20 in the league in steals per game, with Paul leading the league with a crazy 2.67 steals per game. While Griffin and Jordan are not the best defensive bigs in the league (understatement), their speed and athleticism allows them to hedge hard and recover quickly, pairing well with a ball-hawking perimeter defense.

The true strength of the Clippers, in my mind, is truly their depth.  According to, the 2nd most played Clipper 5-man unit is a lineup of Bledsoe-Crawford-Barnes-Odom-Turiaf, a 5-man bench unit which is a killer defensive squad.  From this excellent article by Kevin Arnovitz talking Clippers defense, the second unit is one of the big reasons why the Clippers have improved so much on defense.  On offense, leading that unit with 16.5 ppg is Jamal Crawford, arguably the leading candidate for Sixth Man of the Year.  Shutting down Crawford is the key to stopping the Clippers bench attack.  If Crawford is allowed to break his man down 1 on 1, it will lead to open shots for Barnes (which he is hitting this year), as well as interior passing lanes for Bledsoe, Odom, and Turiaf.

Keys to the game: The Clippers are a fairly average rebounding team, so the Lakers may be able to take advantage of that on the offensive and defensive boards.  However, offensive rebounding opportunities need to be done so with floor balance, because the Clippers will be looking to get out and beat the Lakers down court for an easy score.  Like I said, a lot of things needs to break their way for the Lakers to win this game.  Kobe claims that the Clippers are championship contenders, and they very much look the part.  However, if the Lakers hit their shots and play defense at their maximum capacity, they can hang with anyone.

Where you can watch: 7:30pm PST start on TWC Sportsnet and nationally on ESPN.

Update: As is being reported by multiple sources, MWP will start at SF tonight.  This should shift the Lakers back to their ideal starting 5 of Nash, Bryant, MWP, Gasol, and Howard.


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Lakers/Warriors: A Turning Point (?)

Zephid —  December 22, 2012

My goodness.

In what is clearly the game of the season so far for the Lakers (and maybe the league), the guys in forum blue and gold managed to pull off a gutsy comeback over a hot Warriors team, earning a hard-fought 118-115 OT win.  While this certainly wasn’t the prettiest of games, the entire 4th quarter and OT was a slugfest, featuring amazing shot-making (and -missing) from both teams, with 7 lead changes in the last 4 minutes of the 4th.

This was a game where the Lakers could easily have crumbled.  With Dwight in foul trouble all game long and Kobe throwing up more shots than most guys put up in a couple of weeks, facing a good, young Warriors team on the road seemed like a recipe for disaster.  Indeed, it looked like the Lakers were headed to another blowout loss, going down 14 in the 3rd quarter and taking a 13 point deficit into the 4th.  The defense looked as lackluster as ever, and the offense wasn’t working to perfection with Steve Nash in only his first game back.  Still, the Laker reserves brought the game back within arm’s reach, and then the starters closed out the game in OT.

Clearly the story going in to the game was the return of Steve Nash.  How would he impact the game, and how much could he give?  Well, he played a very D’Antoni-esque 41 minutes in his first game back, and he didn’t look like he was laboring, so his conditioning seems adequate.  Nash also controlled the offense almost from the outset.  Basically every minute he was on the floor before the 4th quarter, Nash completely controlled the offense, using pick-and-rolls from the point.  Time after time, he would weave his way into the lane, some times to success, some times to failure.  Some were the fault of Lakers bigs not finishing easy baskets, while others were simply Nash getting trapped and having no outlet.  Nash finished with an impressive 12 points and nine assists, including a huge three in the 4th and his patented, one-legged, mid-range jump shot in the lane to seal the game in OT.  His impact was immediate, and the validity of all the “wait for Nash” arguments seem supported now.

The Lakers had many reasons to lose this game, and two of them happened to be the two stars of the team: Kobe and Dwight.  Dwight was in foul trouble from the get-go, picking up two fouls in the first five minutes, being forced to head to the bench.  In the 2nd quarter, Dwight picked up another quick foul, sending him away for the half.  In the 3rd, he picked up another quick foul, putting him to bed until the 4th.  And then he picked up another quick foul, his fifth.  At that point, Dwight had played a grand total of 12 minutes, so D’Antoni wisely decided to leave Dwight in and let him decide his own fate.  Dwight responded by playing solidly and not fouling out until the last moments of OT, helping spearhead the comeback.  Even though he only finished with 11 points and six rebounds, Dwight still made his presence felt on defense, and also was an excellent facilitator on offense when the Warriors doubled.

With Dwight out for such an extended period, Kobe seemed to take it upon himself to pick up the slack (and the shots).  Shooting a RIDICULOUS 41 shots, Kobe missed 25 of them, going 16-41 from the field to finish with 34 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists.  Several of his misses were of the forced, KobeISO-variety, but some were mid-range shots that he normally makes with ease.  While I can live with the Kobe Assist shots, it is painful to watch Kobe pound the ball for 15 seconds, only to watch him chuck up a shot with no Lakers near the rim for offensive rebound opportunities.  However, Kobe made several crucial shots in the 4th Quarter and OT (and missed some crucial shots, too), and he showed himself well-adjusted to operating off the ball, being the recipient of many a Nash and Dwight pass.

However the biggest reason why the Lakers won the game was due to the bench, two guys in particular:

1. Metta. World. Peace:  I honestly can’t say enough about this guy, willing to come off the bench for the benefit of the team, and still bringing 100% effort on every possession.  MWP was everywhere, whether it was sinking 3-6 threes, two straight in the 1st quarter, or working on the block to finish shooting 7-13 for 20 points, including two amazing spin moves past Klay Thompson early in the 4th to start the Laker comeback.  Throw in a block, a steal, three assists and five boards, including two offensive, and the statbox clearly shows that Metta was EVERYWHERE.

2. Jordan Hill:  This dude needs playing time.  There’s no question about that.  Even if his minutes mostly came due to Dwight’s foul trouble, Hill showed D’Antoni and all of us that he deserves minutes, regardless of Dwight’s time on the floor.  His shooting stroke finally came together, hitting 6-9 shots from the field, including three 20 footers coming in rhythm.  Hill’s beastly rebounding was also on display, with eight rebounds in the game, including six(!) offensive.  His work on defense was also impressive, showing that he is a solid hedge and recover big man.

The bench led the comeback in the 4th, taking a 13 point deficit down to a 4 point deficit in under 6 minutes, clearing the way for the starters to return and seal the deal.

Let’s not discount the Warriors performance, with guys like David Lee going for 20 and 11, and Jarrett Jack, a perennial Laker-killer, regardless of his team, going insane for 29 points on 13-19 shooting and 11 assists.  Jack eviscerated Nash, taking him to school 1-1 repeatedly, then proceeded to kill any Laker who tried to guard him by smartly using picks and finding open guys.  If not for Klay Thompson and Steph Curry going for a Kobe-esque 14-39 combined, the Warriors would have almost certainly won this game.

Special mention is deserved for the Lakers end-game execution.  While at times it was GODDAWFUL (KobeISO to end the 4th, I’m looking at you), it was beautiful at times.  The Lakers repeatedly ran a set with Pau and Dwight at the elbows, with Pau receiving an entry pass from Nash.  Surveying the field, once Pau found Meeks for a cut and score, then Dwight for an alley-oop, then Meeks again for a three.  While this set seemed like a lot of Pau holding the ball, it was clear that the Lakers excellent off-ball movement was freeing up guys for decent shots, and who better to find them than the best passing big man in the league (Nash also set several crushing, Stockton-like back screens to free up guys for easy scores).  Pau for once looked comfortable in the offense, with kudos to D’Antoni for coming up with a scheme to highlight the immense skills of all of our players.

The Nash-Dwight PNR was also heavily featured, with Nash making only passes he can make to Dwight in traffic, with Dwight either controlling them for an easy score, or more often, kicking out to shooters.  And when it is Kobe Bryant who is wide open on the weak-side, the opposition feels so defenseless.

With this game, the Lakers showed that they can clamp down on defense (allowing only 21 points in the 4th) and execute their game in crunch time (34 points in the 4th) with efficiency.  They could have folded; they could have given up and just moved on the Christmas.  But they didn’t.  And for them, this could be the turning point in the season.  With the return of Nash, their offense will almost certainly only get better, and if they can play with the defensive effort they gave in the 4th and OT with any consistency, they can become the juggernaut we all expected they would be at the season’s outset.


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Let’s look at some of the facts:

  1. The Lakers were coming in a sub-.500 team at 9-10
  2. The Thunder were on a 6 game winning-streak, by an average of 18+ points.
  3. The game was in Oklahoma City.
  4. The Lakers were missing 2 of their top 4 players.

Needless to say, winning this game would’ve been highly unexpected.  As was said in the preview, the Lakers were going to need a near perfect game from almost everyone in order to keep the game close, let alone win.  Such was not the case, and the result was a much closer than it should have been, 114-108 loss.

The Lakers two remaining stars, Kobe and Dwight, needed to have monster games for the Lakers to have a chance.  Both played pretty well, Dwight shooting 9-17 (including 5-7 from the free throw line) for 23 points and 18 rebounds, including 6 offensive.  However, Dwight had 10 rebounds after the 1st Quarter, so finishing with only 18 seems like a disappointing follow-through to a terrific first quarter effort that saw the Lakers holding a slim, 27-26 lead.  Kobe tried to keep the Lakers in the game, shooting 11-24 for 35 points and 7 assists, running the offense almost completely as he had for the past few games.  However, he often got himself into trouble in the lane, having to put up a number of difficult shots and giving up the ball for 5 turnovers.

The real story of the game, however, was the Thunder stars.  Kevin Durant was solid and efficient as he has been this entire season, going for 36 points on 10-19 shooting, including 14-16 from the line and 2-4 from three.  Russell Westbrook also went supernova in the 1st half, making his first 4 threes, with 27 points on 10-16 in the 1st half alone.  The Thunder role players were also efficient in their contributions, with Nick Collison, Serge Ibaka, and Kevin Martin shooting 5-7, 7-14, and 4-8 respectively. While the Lakers did manage to make it close in the end, this game was lost in the 2nd quarter when the Lakers had absolutely no answer for Westbrook, pulling up and making threes off the dribble.  And really, no one does.

The Lakers also needed at least one or two more players to have good nights to have a chance.  While Jodie Meeks finished with 17 points on 4-8 shooting, most of it came too late when the came was already mostly decided.  The Thunder did let what was once a 19 point lead down to a 4 point lead late in the 4th, but they had basically checked out of the game by the 6 minute mark.  But Jamison and MWP, the other two guys the Lakers needed to have decent nights, were fairly poor, only making 1 out of 9 threes, a combined 6-17 for 17 points.  On a night when the Lakers needed to be perfect, these two were very much below average.

Overall, there weren’t too many positives or negatives to take away from this game.  The Thunder showed that as of now, with all the circumstances surrounding the Lakers roster and health, that they were simply a much, much better team.  The Lakers defense was still porous, allowing the Thunder to shoot almost 49% from the field and almost 53% from 3, which made it even more of a miracle that the Lakers were anywhere close in the end.  Yes, the Lakers looked like they were outclassed by a superior team, but that’s just the truth at this moment.  Whether it will be in the future is a different story, but this game unfolded exactly in the way many expected it would.  The Lakers fought to the very end, closing to within 4 with seconds left in the game, showing some heart and fight that we hadn’t seen in previous games.  But in the end, the Lakers are now 9-11, and are still looking for answers to several questions:

  1. Even when Steve Nash returns, how are they going to improve on defense?  Smite-a-Dwight will always remain a threat, and so long as the Laker defense remains horrible in the clutch, they will always be vulnerable.
  2. What sort of defensive system can be put in place?  The Lakers are getting destroyed by simply PNR and curl actions into the lane, and their help rotations have been terrible in covering Dwight’s man when Dwight leaves to help.  The Lakers seem to be genuinely trying on defense, they’re just out of position a lot of the time.  This speaks to a lack of system.
  3. The Lakers are extremely vulnerable in transition, so should they sacrifice offensive rebound opportunities to get back on defense?
  4. Will the bench ever be a consistent force?  Jamison and Meeks are keys, but until we get consistent production from one or both of them, the Lakers will be a team haunted by depth issues.

Many of these questions probably won’t be answered for at least another month.  In the mean time, the Lakers are only slipping further down the slope.


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Crowded Up Front

Zephid —  November 29, 2012

Over the past few games, the Lakers play has been extraordinarily up and down.  Seemingly shifting overnight from blowouts to getting blown out, the Lakers play has been nothing if not inconsistent.  Part of this surely has to be blamed on the firing of Mike Brown after 5 games, the hiring of Mike D’Antoni, and thus the introduction of a completely new offensive system.  This change has come with the re-surfacing of many old questions, many specifically centered around whether the Lakers have the personnel to maximize this system, particularly the Lakers can find a way to make their frontcourt rotation work.

The following is an exercise to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each of our four front court bigs: Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Jordan Hill, and Antawn Jamison (talk of playing Jamison at the 3 is strictly forbidden).  In order to truly maximize this team’s potential, finding a balanced way to utilize each of these players properly will be key.

Pau has certainly had a very inconsistent season.  Basically becoming this year’s Lamar Odom, Pau is now regularly derided for his poor performances (by me included), and has had many of his good performances swept away as things that “should” happen. He is currently sporting career lows in points, field goal percentage, and PER, even lower than his rookie year.  Having to share the front court and thus low post time with Dwight Howard certainly hasn’t helped, but Gasol has been able to work with guys like Odom and Bynum in the past to great, championship-level success.  However, both Mike Brown and Mike D’Antoni have yet to figure out a way get that same production out of Pau.  Maybe he’s over the hill; maybe his bout with tendinitis is truly what’s hurting his game.  Either way, things are not going well for Gasol.

Gasol is clearly weakened on defense by his knees; he doesn’t have the lateral movement he used to, so recovering on pick and rolls and recovering on guys who face up, make a move, and pull-up for jumpers has been hard on him.  Playing at the 4 alongside Howard has forced Gasol to guard smaller, quicker guys like Zach Randolph and David West, against whom he has had little success.

On offense, Gasol has mostly been relegated to a mid-range jumper shooter, because teams are sagging into Dwight’s lap and following Kobe off picks, leaving Gasol wide open at 18-20 feet.  When Gasol has hit from that range, the team has been unstoppable.  The problem is Gasol has not been hitting from that range, to the tune of 40% from 16-23 feet.  He has struggled basically from all ranges except at the rim, where he is shooting nearly a career high.

Gasol must play closer to the rim: His lateral movement isn’t quick enough to guard quick 4’s, and his outside shot isn’t falling, so he needs to start creating from the post.

Jordan Hill was one of the league leaders in offensive rebound percentage and had the 3rd highest PER on the team up until a couple of games ago, when Mike D’Antoni took over and Jordan Hill basically entered the dog house.  Hill’s skill set is one predicated on effort and energy, and in a system where spacing and putting the ball in the basket is at a premium, Hill’s talents have gone under-utilized.  What Hill lacks is an ability to create his own shot, and he feeds off other players bringing unbalance to the court to take advantage of offensive rebound opportunities.  Bringing him out on pick and rolls hasn’t helped, as his love of 20 footers is clearly unrequited, and his abilities as a roll-man are not as developed as a guy like Dwight’s.

Hill must play closer to the rim with a shot creator whom he can play off of: Pulling Hill away from rim has hurt his value, which is crashing the boards, and he can’t be expected to create his own shot with the 2nd unit.

Antawn Jamison has also had a tumultuous season, going from barely an NBA player to a Sixth Man of the Year candidate seemingly over night (a poor performance against Indiana, notwithstanding).  While his offense has not been up to par, his defense has been a pleasant surprise.  Once touted as the worst defensive player in the league, he has stood his ground against guys like Zach Randolph and David West, which is no small feat.  Jamison sports some of the weirdest post moves in the league, but they are amazingly effective.  He is also one of the few Lakers who can create his own shot consistently, while also being a great off-ball cutter to create easy baskets.  To take advantage of these, however, he needs to play at the 4 and not be forced to stay on the perimeter.  He has been at his best when he has attacked the basket instead of settling for threes.

Jamison must be played at the 4, and be utilized as a shot creator and facilitator of the offense.

And of course, there’s Dwight Howard; the superman, the superstar, the future of our team.  His physical skills are dominating; his presence, undeniable.  His recovery from back surgery, however, has led many of us to speculate that we’ve only seen 80% of Dwight, even though that 80% has been quite good.  Dwight, however, has disappeared in too many games, too often being ignored on the post in favor of Kobe-Pau PNRs. For one of the most devastating pick-and-roll roll men in the league, it is a travesty that Howard has not been used to set the picks in these sets.  He is also effective in the post, but he needs space to use his physical gifts to get past his man in order to score on his own.

Dwight must be used in pick and rolls as the pick-setter, and he needs to be surrounded by shooters when the primary option on offense.

Following these four themes, a few things seems clear.

1.) Pau and Dwight should be switching roles on offense.  Pau has been the pick-setter, Dwight has been the post guy in 90% of the PNRs the Lakers have run this season.  Pau has been terrible from mid-range, and not using Dwight in the pick and roll has neutered so much of his effectiveness that he has disappeared for long stretches in games on offense.  So, why not switch the two?  Why not bring Dwight out to set the pick, and allow Pau to operate closer to the basket?  If the ball doesn’t go to Dwight, it can swing around to the weak side for a Pau post-up, allowing one of the best post operators in the league to facilitate from a position closer to the basket.

2.) Jamison and Hill need each other.  Jamison has been horrible from three point land this season.  He is currently shooting 26% from three, and being relegated to the perimeter has destroyed his effectiveness.  When Jamison has attacked from the 4 position, he has been able to consistently beat his man and get into the paint for easy scores on his crazy scoop shots, or kicked out to shooters. Hill, on the other hand, needs someone with him who can create shots for offensive rebound opportunities.  While he will hopefully see better results when Nash returns, putting Hill in with Jamison can allow Jamison to be the shot creator, and Hill can be there to follow the shot.  Jamison has shown himself to be an adequate defender at the 4, and Hill’s defensive energy and recovery in the PNR is the 2nd best on the team to Dwight.

3.) Jamison should never ever ever ever ever ever ever play at the 3.  If Jamison is at the 3, that means that 2 of Pau, Dwight, and Hill are in the game.  Each of these players need to play close to the rim and needs spacing to operate most effectively.  Jamison, sadly, does not provide spacing, at all.  Plus, having two other bigs in the game cuts off all of Jamison’s ability to attack the basket from the perimeter by clogging the lane, removing the strongest part of his game.  On the flip side, if 2 of Pau, Dwight, and Hill are in the game, they need to be surround by 3 excellent shooters to space the floor properly, and right now that isn’t happening with Jamison at the 3.

4.) Dwight should be the guy who plays with the bench, not Pau.  The 4th quarter unit of Dwight, Jamison, MWP, Meeks, and Duhon crushed it in both Dallas and served to make the game competitive against Memphis.  With Dwight attacking in the post, MWP, Meeks, and Duhon were able to get several wide open threes, bringing it within 4 against Memphis.  Meanwhile, Pau’s tendinitis gives good reason to play Pau less minutes.

5.) Steve Nash really will make everything better.  What are the problems? Pau isn’t getting touches close to the basket.  Dwight isn’t being used as a roll man in PNR.  Jordan Hill needs someone to set him up on offense.  Jamison needs to be getting the ball in a position to attack.  All of them need spacing on the perimeter to operate most effectively.  Steve Nash does all of these things, and well.  While it seems like every time he seems near to returning, it gets pushed back, if having a weaker November means having a stronger May, I think the Lakers will take it.

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Lakers/Grizzlies: Bizarro Game

Zephid —  November 23, 2012

This game was just bizarre.  In the midst of 4 games in 5 nights, it would be tough to expect the Lakers to beat one of the league’s hottest teams, while lacking one of their 4 best players, and having a new coach.  The Lakers managed to make it respectable in the end, a 106-98 loss to the Grizzlies in Memphis, but there were times when this game was ugly.

In the 1st quarter, the Lakers came out with some energy, garnering 3 early stops on a Dwight block, a Dwight strip, and a Darius Morris steal, twice leading to transition buckets for Morris.  But when the game bogged down, the Lakers began running a very stagnant offense, while the Grizzlies offense kicked into high gear.  Led by Rudy Gay, the Grizzlies jumped out to a 34-18 lead, with Gay going 3-4 from three point range.  With the Lakers giving up 6 turnovers and 4 offensive rebounds, the Grizzlies were able to pounce on them in transition.  Meanwhile, the Laker offense stalled, particularly with Gasol missing a number of jumpers and close shots, starting the game 1-6.

I’m one of Gasol’s staunchest supporters, but this was one of the worst games I’ve seen from him since he put on the Lakers uniform.  He got worked by Zach Randolph on the boards, to the tune of 12 boards, 5 offensive, while getting out-hustled for loose balls, beaten off the dribble, and killed by back door cuts.  His 27 minutes were well below his average this year, and he managed to be -23 in plus/minus in that short amount of time.

Pau’s minutes were low not only because of his poor play, but also because of the excellent play of Antawn Jamison.  Jamison has been a non-factor (to put it kindly) for the Lakers so far this year, and this was by far his best game of this young season.  Jamison came out and attacked the basket (as I’ve been calling for him to do on Twitter @ZephidFB_G pretty much all year).  After two quick buckets and a 3 early in the 2nd quarter, Jamison finished with 16 points on 7-11 shooting with 7 boards.  He also played more than serviceable defense on Zach Randolph down the stretch, far above expectations considering Randolph’s immense skill set down low.

With Pau having his worse game of the season, Jamison having his best, and the Lakers starters getting killed by their counterparts, this game really headed into Bizarro World when the Laker bench came in in the 2nd quarter.  Facing a 16 point deficit, a lineup of Chris Duhon, Jodie Meeks, Metta World Peace, Jamison, and Howard managed to cut the deficit to 3 in under 4 minutes, with Jamison and MWP aggressively attacking the basket.  Then the starters came back in, and the lead again ballooned to 14.  Down 12 going into the 4th, it took another great effort from the bench to cut the lead to 6 in 4 minutes, only to see the starters come in again and lose most of the momentum.

The reserves ran simple sets, posting up Howard, waiting for the double, and making open threes.  While Howard’s stat line is unimpressive (2-7, 7 points, 4 boards, 4 blocks, 3 assists), the doubles he drew on offense in the 4th led to 4 consecutive 3’s, 2 by Meeks, and one each for Jamison and Duhon.  While it’s still no excuse for the Lakers ignoring Dwight for the first 3 quarters, the reserves finally found an identity, one which should continue in the future.  However, the Lakers still refused to involve Dwight in any pick and rolls, an egregious offense considering he was the league’s best PNR big man last year.

In the end, the Grizzlies starters were just too good.  Marc Gasol continually punished the Lakers for overhelping with his passing, while Mike Conley made several crucial shots down the stretch to seal the game.  Tony Allen also did his part by bothering Bryant into 7-23 shooting, even though Kobe missed a number of shots he normally makes.

While the Lakers aren’t quite at the level we would like them to be at, there are signs of progress (things that didn’t happen under Mike Brown).  Darius Morris had a strong game, going 4-6 from the field while playing decent defense.  MWP again had a very good game, with 16 points on 5-9 shooting.  Jamison, Duhon, and Meeks all played well in reserve roles, and the bench finally may have some semblance of coherence on offense with Dwight as their focal point.  If Dwight and Pau play average, the Lakers probably win this game.  But when your two star bigs score 13 points combined on 5-15 shooting, while your star 2-guard shoots 7-23, it’ll be difficult to win any game, and you get outrebounded 39-28, it would be difficult to win any game.

Mo Money, Mo Problems

Zephid —  September 3, 2012

(Is it blasphemous to cite a Biggie song in an LA blog?)

While the Lakers have traditionally been one of the big spending teams in the league, the new CBA comes with new terms that will almost certainly curb the Lakers spending in more ways than one.  As of now, the Lakers have a whopping $99,981,237 in total salary (Thanks to Eric Pincus at Hoopsworld for his excellent work), and with the luxury tax coming in at $70.307 million, that means that the Lakers will have a total salary commitments of approximately $130M this upcoming season, which will easily be the most luxury tax the Lakers have ever paid (Don’t worry, the Knicks have the highest luxury tax payment ever with $45M in 06-07).  While that’s no small amount to scoff at, us Lakers fans have gotten used to Dr. Buss whipping out his checkbook and paying top dollar for the best chance to win a championship.  Bringing in Steve Nash and Dwight Howard over the summer certainly gives the Lakers that best chance, and the attention alone will make it money well spent.

Next season, however, is when things start to get hairy.  That’s when the new tiered luxury tax system begins, where teams pay extra amounts for every $5M they go above the cap (for a detailed breakdown, see Larry Coon’s CBA FAQ).  Currently, the Lakers will have somewhere between $68M-$80M, depending on which options are picked up, assuming they don’t sign any new players that are not under contract for that season.  In order to analyze further, we can make some base assumptions:

1.) MWP will NOT exercise his Early-Termination Option (which he would be pretty dumb to do, but he’s done crazier things).

2.) Chris Duhon will be kept this season and waived next season (his deal is only partially guaranteed next year).

3.) The Lakers pick up Jodie Meeks’ Team Option.

4.) The Lakers fill out the roster with minimum guys (or bring back some of Jamison, Clark, Ebanks, Morris, or Goudelock).

One thing we don’t have to assume is the amount of money Dwight Howard will get.  Since Howard’s contract is already over the maximum salary, the maximum salary for his new contract will be 105% of his old contract ($19.5M), so his new contract will be just about $20M.  This is the absolute maximum Howard can get from ANY team next season.  However, the Lakers owning Howard’s Bird Rights give them two advantages over other teams:

1.) They can sign Howard for a maximum of 5 years, as opposed to a maximum of 4 years for other teams

2.) They can offer raises of 7.5% each year, while other teams can only offer raises of 4.5%.

These two differences mean that Howard will be choosing between $85M for 4 years from any other team, and $116M for 5 years from the Lakers (He’s gonna have to really hate LA to leave $31M on the table).

Now, if we assume all the things I’ve listed, and given that Howard will sign a max contract, LA’s total salary will stand at approximately $97M in salary obligations next season.  Filling out the roster with minimum guys, this will put the Lakers right around $100M.

This doesn’t seem so bad at first glance, considering it’s only a little more than this season’s roster obligations.  The new CBA, however, takes this somewhat tame monster and turns it into a beast:

1.) For the first $5M over the tax level, teams will pay $1.50 for every dollar, giving a total of $7.5M.

2.) For the next $5M, teams will pay $1.75 for every dollar, a total of $8.75M

3.) Next $5M, $2.50 per dollar, $12.5M

4.) Next $5M, $3.25 per dollar, $16.25M

5.) For every $5M after that, add another $0.50 to the per dollar amount, so $3.75 per dollar for $20-$25M over the tax level, $4.25 per dollar for $25-$30M over the tax level.

If the Lakers have salary commitments of $100M, and assuming the luxury tax stays almost level at $70M, they will be $30M over the tax level.  Adding those numbers up, the team would pay a whopping $85M in luxury tax payments, for total salary commitments of $185M.  Note that this is almost twice the highest luxury tax payment ever.

This level of luxury tax hell will almost certainly last only one season.  Assuming Howard re-signs, the only players under contract the following season would be Howard and Steve Nash, leaving the Lakers plenty of room to sign new, smaller contracts once Kobe and Pau’s huge contracts are up.  Relief would come just at the right moment as well, since 2014-15 will be the first year of the repeater tax, in which each of the per dollar amounts given above would be increased by $1.  This basically means that LA would be paying the new tax and the old tax, so if they were to say, have $100M in payroll with a $70M luxury tax level, they would pay a total of $215M in total salary commitments, more than double their original payroll.

Some could make the case that the Lakers don’t need to go into cost-saving mode, simply because they have a local tv deal that will net them 5 freaking billion dollars over the next 25 years.  The reasons for not wanting to stay over the luxury tax, however, may be related to roster flexibility as opposed to fiscal responsibility.  The new CBA places a number of restrictions on team that are over the “apron,” or $4M above the luxury tax level (found here), which include things like losing the Bi-Annual Exception, having a smaller Mid-Level Exception, being able to only take back %125 of outgoing salary in trades (as opposed to 150% for nontaxpaying teams), and loss of the Gilbert Arenas Provision (recently used to sign Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik).

Perhaps the greatest loss, however, will be the inability to perform sign-and-trades, a rule which comes into effect in 2013-2014.  This means that trades like the recent Steve Nash trade will be impossible for teams over the apron like LA.  If they wish to re-load around Dwight Howard, they’ll either have to maintain their current amount of salary and trade for stars using their existing assets (a very, very expensive option), or they’ll have to get as far below the cap as possible to make a max offer (while almost certainly gutting the team around Howard).  So while the Lakers may have all the money in the world to pay all the luxury tax they could ever spend, it may be that the type of talent that the Lakers wish to acquire simply won’t be available to them.

With the NBA recently releasing the schedule for the 2012-13 regular season, it’s that time of the year again where I try to predict the Lakers record for the upcoming year.  First, let’s get some basics out of the way:

The Lakers have a total of 16 back-to-backs.  With reports out there that some teams have as many as 22 B2B’s and as few as 13, the Lakers are definitely on the low side, as has been the case for many previous years.  Also, the 4 West teams that the Lakers play only 3 times this year are San Antonio, Utah, Minnesota, and Memphis.  Since there will only be three games in the season series, all the games against both San Antonio and Memphis could have huge implications for playoff seeding, since season series is the first tie-breaker if two teams finish with the same record.  Lastly, the Lakers only have 1 stretch of having 4 games in 5 nights, so their schedule is pretty well spread out.

Quick Start: Oct 30 – Nov 18 (DAL, @POR, LAC, DET, @UTA, GS, SAC, SA, PHO, HOU).

The Lakers start off the season with a gamut of Western conference teams, notably hosting Dallas on opening night then flying to Portland the next night.  While playing at home against the likes of Detroit, Golden State, Sacramento, Phoenix, and Houston shouldn’t present any problems, the Lakers have always had trouble going up to Portland and to Salt Lake City. However, with only 4 games against opponents that made the playoffs the previous year, the Lakers have a fairly cushy start to their season.

Prediction: 8-2

Three Road Trips: Nov 20 – Dec 16 (BKN, @SAC, @MEM, @DAL, IND, DEN, ORL, @HOU, @NOH, @OKC, UTA, @CLE, @NYK, @WAS, @PHI).

The Lakers then embark on three separate road trips.  The first starts with a B2B with the new-look Brooklyn Nets at home then at Sacramento, followed by trips to Memphis and Dallas.  Then after a match-up with Orlando at home (perhaps with or without Dwight Howard?), the Lakers go to Houston, New Orleans, and then Oklahoma City.  After going home to play Utah, the Lakers head east, traveling to Cleveland, New York, Washington, and Philadelphia.  This is definitely one of the toughest stretches the Lakers have this season, with 3 B2B’s with both games on the road.  The Lakers have always struggled on the road (at least compared to at home), so I have no doubt that this is when the trepidation will start seeping into the minds of Laker fans.

Prediction: 10-5  ;  Record: 18-7

Holidays: Dec 18 – Jan 1 (CHA, @GS, NYK, @DEN, POR, PHI)

For the holidays, the Lakers get a relative reprieve from previous years.  Having played Chicago, Miami, Cleveland, and Boston the past 4 years on Christmas Day (with only 1 win against the hated Celtics), the Lakers should be relieved to not be facing the top team in the Eastern Conference for a 5th consecutive year.  Instead, they face the Knicks (and if the Knicks are #1 in the East, something went terribly wrong in Miami, Chicago, and Boston).  However, the Lakers also have a game the following night, crossing time zones to Denver.  Heading east on a back-to-back is always dreadful, but doing so on Christmas Night will probably be worse, so even a strong showing on Christmas Day may be negated by a poor outing the next day.

Prediction: 5-1  ;  Record: 23-8

Make or Break: Jan 4 – Jan 29 (@LAC, DEN, @HOU, @SA, OKC, CLE, MIL, MIA, @TOR, @CHI, @MEM, UTA, OKC, NOH)

After the holidays, however, the Lakers have arguably their toughest stretch of the season.  They start off facing the Clippers in a de facto home game, but then have to make trips to San Antonio, Chicago, and Memphis, while hosting Miami and Oklahoma City twice.  If the Lakers are really a championship contending team this year, this will be the stretch that they either put fan’s minds at ease, or put them on edge.  While the Lakers get nights off before both OKC games and against Miami, the games in San Antonio and in Chicago will be on the 2nd night of back-to-backs.

Prediction: 10-4  ;  Record: 33-12

Grammy Trip: Jan 30 – Feb 10 (@PHO, @MIN, @DET, @BKN, @BOS, @CHA, @MIA)

The Lakers annual Grammy road trip features two back-to-backs, with seemingly annual visits to Boston and Miami.  Steve Nash will also be making his return to Phoenix on the front end of a B2B with the Lakers traveling to Minnesota the next day.  The game in Boston is on the front end of one of the B2B’s, but the back end is a dreaded visit to Charlotte, the game that perennially makes the Lakers look like a D-League team.

Prediction: 5-2  ;  Record: 38-14

The Most Important Game of the Season (Maybe): Feb 12 – Mar 10 (PHO, LAC, BOS, POR, @DAL, @DEN, MIN, ATL, @OKC, @NOH, TOR, CHI)

In this stretch of the season, there are some fairly difficult games, but only one really comes to my attention.  If the Lakers are competing for a top seed in the West, they will almost certainly be jockeying with Oklahoma City.  The last game of their season series takes place on March 5th in OKC, and may well be the difference between winning, tying, or losing the season series (I can’t imagine either team being up 3-0 at this point).  This may be the most important game of the season, as it may be the difference between having home court or not having home court against OKC in the playoffs.  The Lakers also have a tough back-to-back against Dallas and Denver, while also having to face a young New Orleans team in New Orleans the night after playing OKC. And while it may not be the most important game, the Lakers will face Boston in LA right after the All-Star break; Two well-rested teams that loath one another could make for an instant classic.

Prediction: 8-4  ;  Record: 46-18

Road Warriors: Mar 12 – Mar 30 (@ORL, @ATL, @IND, SAC, @PHO, WAS, @GS, @MIN, @MIL, @SAC)

In March, the Lakers play a total of 10 out of 15 games on the road, but it will mostly be against lower tier teams.  While Indiana may continue their success from the previous season, teams like Orlando, Atlanta, and Phoenix are in the process (or will be in the process) of rebuilding, while Golden State, Minnesota, Milwaukee, and Sacramento are in that awkward phase between being terrible and being average.  There may be a few scares and sketchy defeats in here, but I expect the Lakers to mostly take care of business while prepping for the stretch run to the playoffs.

Prediction: 8-2  ;  Record: 54-20

Closeout: Apr 2 – Apr 17 (DAL, MEM, @LAC, NOH, @POR, GS, SA, HOU)

The Lakers end the regular season with 9 straight games against Western Conference opponents.  After season series record, the tie-breaker is record against Western Conference opponents (unless the two teams share a division, which makes record against Pacific Division opponents the 2nd tie-breaker), so this stretch of the season could heavily influence playoff seeding.  With match-ups against Dallas, Memphis, the Clippers, and San Antonio, the Lakers playoff seed could go anywhere from 1st to 5th or 6th, with tie-breakers settling many of the seeds.  The past 3 years, the Lakers have performed very poorly during this portion of the season.  This is partially because they’ve rested some of their stars, and with the team adding old vets like Nash and Jamison, with Bryant and Gasol getting a year older, I expect no different from this years team.

Prediction: 4-4  ;  Record: 58-24


To be honest, these predictions have been much harder to make than the previous two I’ve done (08-09 and 09-10).  With Steve Nash and Antawn Jamison coming on board, it’s not clear if they help or hinder the Lakers greatest weakness in the regular season: letting mediocre teams back into games.  Nash and Jamison certainly provide offensive firepower, but it is generally solid defense that will hold down the less-talented teams, especially on the road.  If the Lakers use their training camp to develop solid defensive schemes, the Lakers should cruise to a record like the one I’ve predicted.  But if the Lakers D is lackluster and sporadic, they may struggle to put away weaker teams and force their starters to play longer minutes.