Archives For Dwight Howard

Records: Lakers 23-27 (10th in the West), Bobcats 11-37 (15th in the East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 105.1 (8th in the NBA), Bobcats 98.7 (29th in the NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 103.2 (t-17th in the NBA), Bobcats 108.7 (30th in the NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Earl Clark, Dwight Howard
Bobcats: Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Hakim Warrick, Bismack Biyombo
Injuries: Lakers: Pau Gasol (out), Jordan Hill (out for the season); Bobcats:


Bag it, Dwight.


I say this, in all sincerity, not as an indictment of Dwight Howard, his toughness or his dedication to the Lakers’ collective (take that descriptor to heart at your own risk) quest for… I don’t know what. As the hits pile up faster than frozen slush on the Northeastern streets, it time – well, the latest time – for the Lakers to assess coldly the predicament in which they find themselves and pragmatically define the best case scenario for what remains of this wretched campaign.

Even before Pau Gasol felt a pop in his right plantar fascia, long gone was the notion that these Lakers will contend for a title. What now? Do we cling dogmatically to the misguided belief that this crew will unearth the grit, determination and shared strategic philosophy necessary to leapfrog at least two team at whom they’re looking up in the Western Conference standings, earning the always fun “team no one wants to see in the first round” title in the process? This would appear to be the least toxic of the Lakers’ venomous options, as (as has been discussed ad nauseum, here and elsewhere) the absence of a first round draft choice through which the team could retool inexpensively precludes the team from mailing in the remainder of this snakebitten season and returning next fall, younger and healthier. Missing playoffs strengthens the division rival Suns with a lottery pick, while a token postseason appearance sends a lesser selection to the Cleveland Cavaliers. That’s a lot of work for not a lot of anything.

If you take nothing else from the mildly coherent rant above, understand this: despite the temporary respite afforded by six victories in seven games (including the last three, with Pau, sans Dwight), the 2012-13 Lakers season is an unmitigated disaster. With nearly two thirds of the season gone, this team, anchored by “four future Hall of Famers” (I’m ready to not see that that again for a while), this team that will shell out for its players’ services nine figures this fiscal year, sports an abysmal 23-27 mark and has only just embarked on minimum six-week journey without one of its two remaining serviceable big men.

After some pointed comments by Kobe Bryant that may or may not have been as pointed as presented, Dwight Howard, aggravated labrum packed in Kevlar (or something), suited up for the first time in four games Thursday night in Boston. Despite conspicuously lacking both the aggressiveness and explosion that hallmark his characteristic dominance, Dwight had the Celtics in the penalty a scant 142 seconds into the game and racked up seven first quarter fouls on three of his frontcourt counterparts.


In total, he saw the floor for just 28 minutes – a fourth of them coming during an inexplicable stint in an inconsequential fourth quarter – accumulating nine points, nine rebounds, four turnovers, no blocked shots and six fouls, while connecting on one of six attempts from the free throw line, and was regularly beaten to rebounds and loose balls by the likes of Jason Collins and Chris freaking Wilcox.

Do off nights happen? Sure. This, however, felt like more than a 2008 Game 6 doppelganger. A pair of fading contenders, each without a front line performer, locked horns with pride and the playoffs at stake, and the more desperate, less shorthanded of the two was found wanting. The 116-95 margin by which the Celtics ran the Lakers out of Boston flattered the visitors, who missed 10 of 18 free throws and 10 of 12 3-pointers en route to a 14-point halftime deficit and, despite Kobe going Mamba after the break, were torched to the tune of 37 points in the third quarter and faced a 26-point gap that relegated the starting backcourt to the pine for the entirety of the final 12.

Kneejerk alarmism and defeatism have never figured into my Laker fandom. However, to extricate from the bind in which they find themselves, these Lakers must not only sustain a run of play that has heretofore eluded them, they’ll have to do so without Pau Gasol, while potentially running into the ground the big man to whom they plan to tether their future. All for a first round date with the San Antonio Spurs or the Oklahoma City Thunder. What’s that thing they say about risk and reward?

Tonight, as the town in which they were last buried is itself blanket with snow, the Lakers roll into Charlotte, the order of the evening their fourth victory in six games on the second night of a back-to-back. Once again, Dwight Howard will accompany his teammates onto a floor on which the Lakers have lost five of seven games all time, as the boys in Forum Blue embark on their latest trek toward .500, against the NBA’s clear-cut bottom dweller. After an encouraging start to the season, the Bobcats have dropped thirty-two of their last thirty-six, including a 101-100 defeat at Staples Center in which they held a double-digit lead.

If the Lakers are unable to take care of business against a squad that ranks in the league’s bottom two at both ends of the floor, they’ll depart Miami Sunday evening have put to rest more than their annual Grammy trip.

Friday Forum

Dave Murphy —  February 8, 2013

It was early in the 4th quarter and Steve Kerr asked an obvious question, “Why do you think Dwight Howard’s on the floor?” The Lakers were down by 32 points and the beleaguered center had been tossed back into the chum for some reason or another. It was his first game back after a week off due to a torn labrum. He was playing hurt and playing poorly and the team would be facing the Bobcats in less than 24 hours. A couple minutes later Dwight picked up his sixth foul, thereby solving his awkward dilemma. He trudged back to the bench and sat down slowly and stiffly. And the game burned out.

It has been a trainwreck of a season for the Los Angeles Lakers, sprinkled with hopeful resets and black holes. Jordan Hill’s out for the season. Pau Gasol’s out for at least six weeks. And Howard has been a curious and inconsistent presence – perfect fodder for a media market that licks its chops at the prospect of a newly-arrived superstar who’s not only injured but can’t or won’t keep his mouth shut. Earlier this week, Dwight said that his legs go numb after sitting for a couple minutes. It’s not a reassuring message to be sending out, especially when your team has just promised not to trade you.

It’s been that kind of season. Inexplicable. Contradictory. And willingly spoon-fed into the gaping yaw of the media blitz.


So long to the Superman pseudonym writes Dave McMenamin for ESPN GO.

J.A. Adande for True Hoops says Dwight is right, but wrong for the Lakers.

Kevin Ding for the OC Register writes about Dwight and a case of rust.

Jeff Miller at the OC Register looks at Dwight’s headlines and headaches.

Paul Flannery for SB Nation examines a tough first night back, in Boston.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports tells of a reluctant partnership that’s not improving.

As Mike Bresnahan for the L.A. Times reports, there won’t be much of the season left when Pau Gasol finally returns.

Drew Garrison for Silver Screen and Roll dissects Pau’s nightmare season.

Clint Peterson for Hardwood Paroxysm profiles Kobe Bryant,

Mark Medina for Inside the Lakers brings Kobe’s assertion that his comments were overblown.

Jabari Davis at Lakers Nation writes about the need to come together before tonight’s game.


If Dwight Howard is drawn to the media flame like a moth, Kobe Bryant toys with it. He measures it, F-bombs it, uses and abuses it. He learned to compartmentalize long ago, can pick and choose his targets. It’s not unlike his approach to injuries or his approach to the game itself. If he mangles a couple fingers or tears the ligaments from his wrist, he’ll adjust. This season he has played the scoring leader, the defender, the set-up man and now, is trying to form a hybrid package while teammates fall in disarray. The hopelessness around you. He may be the most polarizing basketball player in modern history. His detractors have a bottomless supply of whys and why-nots. Bryant laughs it off like a guy who’s scored 30,000 points and won five rings.

The All-Star break hasn’t yet arrived. And yet the season feels old. The Lakers are three and two so far on their Grammy road trip and that normally wouldn’t be cause for alarm except they’re still in 10th place in the west and running out of track. This past week, Bryant wondered aloud about the team’s agenda with Pau Gasol. He spoke about Dwight’s lack of experience with injuries. And as he has increasingly done lately, he mused about the possibility of retiring after next season and the importance of championships. If the rest of the season looks dark and rocky, the summer has the potential to go nuclear.

Records: Lakers 13-14 (11th in the West). Knicks 20-7 (2nd in the East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 106.3 (6th in NBA), Knicks 109.8 (2nd in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 102.2 (15th in NBA), Knicks 102.4 (16th in NBA)
Projected starting lineups: Lakers: Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Devin Ebanks, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard
Knicks: Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler, Ronnie Brewer, Jason Kidd, Raymond Felton
Injuries: Lakers: Steve Blake (out); Knicks: Amar’e Stoudemire, Iman Shumpert, Rasheed Wallace (all out)

Who knew having Steve Nash at the point is beneficial to winnings basketball games?

Through 36 minutes on Saturday night, however, the Lakers, who fell behind by as many 14 points in the second half and trailed the Warriors by 13 heading into the fourth quarter, tried valiantly to sully Nash’s return by adding yet another brick to the cathedral of disappointment that is the early days of the 2012-13 season. Dwight Howard was whistled for a pair of fouls in the game’s opening five minutes and had seen the floor for all of 12 minutes before picking up his fifth 12 seconds into the fourth quarter.

Called upon by Necessity (the dude manning the PA system in his head – little known fact), Kobe Bryant fired up the chuck wagon, delivering a staggering 41 attempts (and a lone, unsuccessful free throw) in 44 minutes in the vicinity of the bucket. Of the smorgasbord of heaves, 16 found paydirt, and Kobe wound up with 34 points (plus 10 rebounds, five assists and a steal).

Before we move on, a morsel of perspective: on January 22, 2006, Kobe took the floor for 42 minutes and attempted 46 shots. That night, he scored 81 points.

Another perhaps? Prior to Saturday night, in the 16+ seasons since Bean entered the NBA, 14 times (eight of them his own) had an NBAer attempted at least 40 shots in a game. On none of these occasions did said player fail to score at least 40, with just three efforts falling short of 45. So, yeah…


Despite it all, the largely-undeserved-until-it-was-in-their-grasp OT triumph over the Dubs is perhaps the ideal opening verse for this (at full strength) Laker squad. In addition to pulling the team to within a single victory of the comically elusive .500 mark, the Lakers’ most recent most significant victory of the season was accompanied by certain takeaways that augur well for the full-strength version of this team:

For a guy who has not played competitive ball since Halloween, Steve Nash was spectacular. Conditioning and reacclimation to the speed of the game are the primary focuses of many players’ returns to action following serious lower body injuries. Nash hit the hardwood running… and driving, probing and backpicking. 41 minutes, 12 points on eight shots, nine dimes, a pair of steals, a huge crunch time triple in the fourth quarter and a picture-perfect runner to ice the game in overtime.

And Kobe let him!

It’s been my contention since this team was assembled that from both a talent and personality perspective, Nash resides in the exclusive neighborhood of players in possession of Kobe’s unconditional respect. It was glorious to actually watch it unfold.

Metta. We joke about his idiosyncrasies – and he is certainly not without his flaws – MWP’s willingness to sacrifice for the good of the team with nary gripe nor lapse in effort is remarkable. And he’s only just begun to feel the Nash Effect. A monster inside and out on Saturday and the spark for the Lakers’ fourth quarter comeback, provided not only the effort that so personifies his game, but efficient productivity the Lakers have too often lacked. Whether the three threes and uber-efficient 20 make a cameo on Christmas Day remains to be seen, but his work rate and tenacity perfectly complement the style of the maestro now at the reins.

Speaking of which, let’s talk some Jesus’ birthday, huh?

At noon local time at Staples, in their latest attempt to claw back to break-even, the Lakers square off against the Eastern Conference powerhouse that has exceeded not only its own preseason expectations, but the Lakers’ lofty set as well. A third of their schedule in the books – and 12 days removed from a comfortable victory over a Nash-/Pau-less Laker team – the New York Knicks head west on a 60-win pace. Though their perimeter assault has been relegated to the slums of “top third in the league,” Carmelo and Company remain one of the revelations of this NBA season, with an Effective Field Goal Percentage ranking fifth in the league (51.8%; the Lakers rank sixth, at 50.9%) and an offense trailing only the Oklahoma City Thunder in terms of efficiency.

None of this, of course, is news to the Lakers, who on December 13 at MSG saw up close the swift and blinding manner in which the Knicks – namely, the aforementioned Mr. Anthony – are able to deploy their attack. That night, Carmelo buried a trio of triples inside of 150 seconds, and racked up 22 of the Knicks’ 41 first quarter points. The Knicks ultimately opened up a 26-point cushion and appeared to be cruising to a laugher until a left ankle injury brought Carmelo’s evening to untimely end, just five minutes into the second half, and opened the door for a Lakers comeback that trimmed the margin to just six points, though a combined 67 from Tyson Chandler, J.R. Smith, Ray Felton and Steve Novak was enough to preserve a Knick victory.

For all of the frustration that has permeated this campaign for the Lakers, this was the outing in which rock bottom was achieved. I used “achieved” because at that point in time everyone associated with the Lakers – players, management, coaches, fans – needed to stare into the abyss of abject mediocrity (at the time, a generous assessment) before refusing to go quietly into that Manhattan night and ultimately looking to a brighter day ahead. The Lakers are unbeaten in four games since, with road wins against the Wizards and 76ers, a comeback victory at home over the Bobcats and the aforementioned W over the Dubs.

This afternoon, the Lakers look to truly right the ship. Their full complement of talent (ex-Steve Blake) finally in tow, some momentum built and an opportunity to even their record against a premier foe on their home floor, the opportunity lies before them to notch their greatest signature victory of the season. For the first time in a long time, they enter the game favored at both backcourt spots. What will prove vital is the ability of the wing defenders (primarily Metta and Devin Ebanks) to sap the efficiency from Carmelo Anthony’s offensive game, while making the Knicks’ talisman expend some energy defensively, and hopefully offsetting some of his inevitably significant production.

Finally, we arrive at the middle, where Tyson Chandler is in the midst of one of his most prolific seasons. Averaging 12.8 and nearly 10 rebounds per game and shooting a goofy 70% from the field (13.6, 11.4 and 66.7 over his last five), more than anyone not named Carmelo, Chandler will set the tone for the Knicks. The Lakers can simply ill-afford a repeat of Saturday night from Dwight Howard, and, in addition, will need quality minutes – not only as a defensive rebounder and high post passer, but as a rim protector – from Pau Gasol, with Jordan Hill, seemingly no longer “out of the rotation” adding to the Lakers’ dilemma in the middle.

Knicks blogs: Both Knickerblogger and Posting and Toasting do a fantastic job of covering the Knicks. Give both a read. Additionally, P&T’s Seth Rosenthal and I got together on the I Go Hard Now podcast last week, where we talked all things Laker and Knick.

Where you can watch: This is a noon Pacific tip. Watch the national telecast on ABC. You can also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.


In closing, huge thanks to the gang here at FB&G for continuing to bang out some of the best Lakers coverage – and letting me do whatever it is that I do. Also, thanks to everyone swinging by to check out our analytical styling’s. Want to wish you all and your families a happy and healthy holiday. Everyone enjoy the game!

Records: Lakers 8-9 (9th in the West), Rockets 8-8 (7th in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 105.1 (5th in the NBA), Rockets 104.1 (t-7th in the NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 99.4 (8th in the NBA), Rockets 103.4 (21st in the NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Chris Duhon, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Antawn Jamison, Dwight Howard
Rockets: Jeremy Lin, James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Patrick Patterson, Omer Asik
Injuries: Lakers: Pau Gasol (out), Steve Nash (out), Steve Blake (out); Rockets: Cole Aldrich (questionable)

In fairness to these Lakers, the 2012-13 season has presented a stream of tumult maddening not only in its persistence but also its diversity.

Spend the summer building a quad-HoF juggernaut around an (exhaustingly discussed) offense that risks marginalizing your new all-universe playmaker, watch it do so for precisely one full game before losing said playmaker to a broken leg (and his primary backup to an abdominal injury), while the squad actually thrives offensively but can’t keep the opponent off the scoreboard (or the win column) to the extent that your defensive guru coach is shown the door. Dogmatically pursue the coach with whom you dominated the previous decade before employing one of the great play-fakes in modern HR history and opting for the himself hobbled professional soul mate of your banged up point guard, and win four of five to return to break-even while awaiting his arrival.

The summer’s top get, the generational big man expected to author a new chapter in the franchise’s already glorious tome, months after undergoing major (I don’t believe there’s any other kind) back surgery, has, in mere weeks, allayed any lingering concerns about his ability to regain his characteristic dominance. The bench has (as it is wont to do) frustrated, though recent flashes of competence (no longer, mind you, from last spring’s surprise find, the backup center who’s now been buried on an NBA bench twice by the same coach) are certainly fodder for optimism.

The team’s since found firm-enough footing to rank in the league’s top third in efficiency at both ends of the floor, with Kobe Bean not only continuing to dominate on a nightly basis, but doing so in as efficient and mature a manner as we’ve ever seen.

And yet, the Lakers continue to drop more games than they win.

Now? Big boy pants.

Seriously, it’s never nothing with this crew.

To paraphrase ex-NFL coach/exec Bill Parcells, at some point, you simply are what your record says you are. Set aside payroll, prestige, raw talent and past achievement. 8-9 is 8-9. Yes, there have been injuries and upheaval, and yes, continuity cannot be achieved overnight, but – if I may once again channel my inner Tuna – don’t tell about the labor pains, show me the baby. The Lakers have certainly encountered some bumps in the road, and there can be little doubt that this team’s best is yet to come. It’s worth noting, however, that no team featuring peak-Kobe and well-on-his-way Dwight Howard – two players whose mere presence all but ensures 50 wins and the playoffs – never mind one that’s played 12 of the its first 17 games at home (not counting a “road” game against the Clippers), ought to be struggling (and, at present, failing) to keep its head above water more than 20% of the way through a season.

This is certainly not meant to suggest that the Lakers will be spectators come playoff time, but to continue to shoehorn this team – this turnover-plagued atrocity at the free throw line, yet again (for now) lacking at the point – into the ranks of the NBA’s contender is to invite more disappointment into a season that’s been defined by just that.

Tonight, in the absence of Pau Gasol (knee tendinitis), the Lakers travel to Houston, to square off against the team to which they last December actually traded their embattled scapegoat extraordinaire.

I have never shared the unflattering view of Gasol that – almost from the moment he was acquired, and in spite of his vital role in three conference titles and two banners – permeates Laker Nation. The unshakable “soft” label that has adhered itself to him (even after 19 and 18 in Game 7 of the NBA Finals against the team that had tormented him two years earlier) is nothing short of absurd. That he, one of the most gifted big men in NBA history, has maintained his grace and professionalism despite constantly demeaned as such by his own fans (never mind violently threatened on a regular basis by a disgusting but high-decibel minority), incessantly involved in trade speculation and actually traded a year ago is as impressive as anything he’s managed on the floor.

That said, at this moment, Pau is frankly not a good NBA player. That he’s struggling to define a niche for himself in a new system is well documented, as is the discomfort in his knees that will keep out of action tonight. What’s bothersome, however (as we discussed on the Silver Screen and Roll podcast, recorded prior to Sunday night’s game), is the extremity of his passiveness and failure to execute certain basic, system-neutral basketball plays (like wide open 18-foot jump shots and basic pick-and-roll defense) that have twice led to his watching the final moments of a Laker defeat from the bench.

That said, however, in this, the first of seven road contests in their next eight outings, Gasol’s absence will be absolutely glaring. Much of the attention focused on these Rockets tends to be directed at the high-profile backcourt of Jeremy Lin (11.6 points on 51% FG, 4.2 rebounds, 6.4 assists and 2 steals per game in his last five) and noted Laker antagonist James Harden (24, 6.8 assists, 2.4 steals and 46.4% from 3-point range during the same span), but the front court is where the Rockets have done the bulk of their damage en route victories in four of their last five. The onus tonight will fall squarely on the shoulders of Metta World Peace and Antawn Jamison, as their counterparts, Chandler Parsons (21.5 points, 7 rebounds and 57.9% from 3 in Houston’s last four wins) and Patrick Patterson (20 and 6 over his last five, 20+ points four times and 54% from the field) will command their full attention, as offseason steal Omer Asik (15.5 and 14 in his last five, and 25-of-38 from the field) will likely keep Howard occupied and unable to offer as much help as the Lakers might prefer.

Tuesday night’s outing in Houston offers up comprehensive challenge for the Lakers: win a road game (they’ve lost four of five this season), even more short-handed (say what you will about Pau…), despite starting one of the NBA’s most defensively challenged forwards against a hot-handed frontcourt. Because these Lakers are these Lakers, it wouldn’t be at all shocking to see them return to .500 tonight. To do so, however, it will take a massive effort from the front line (both defensively and on the boards), Kobe doin’ more work and, in all likelihood, a trip out of Mike D’Antoni’s doghouse for Jordan Hill.

Rockets Blogs: Check out The Dream Shake and Red94 for some excellent coverage of these Rockets.

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

Records: Lakers 6-5 (6th in the West), Kings 2-8 (15th in the West)
Offensive ratings*: Lakers 105.9 (5th in the NBA), Kings 94.5 (27th in the NBA)
Defensive ratings*: Lakers 98.4 (8th in the NBA), Kings 102.1 (18th in the NBA)
Probable Starting Lineups: Lakers: Darius Morris, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard
Kings: Aaron Brooks, Tyreke Evans, John Salmons, Jason Thompson, DeMarcus Cousins
Injuries: Lakers: Steve Nash, Steve Blake; Kings: none

The Lakers Coming In: …over .500, baby! WOOOOO!!!!!

Whaddya want? For a ragtag group of upstarts, it’s all about baby steps.

In all seriousness, the Lakers arrive will celebrate Thanksgiving not in the state we’d expected prior to the season, but as close to it as we’ve seen thus far. After scuffling (mild understatement) to a 1-4 start (and the end of the Mike Brown regime), the Lakers have crept into the NBA’s top third at the defensive end, while their offense – never the issue to begin to begin with – continues to rank among the league’s best. Winners of five of six since Mike Brown’s dismissal and six of eight overall, the Lakers have (for the moment) overhauled the narrative that perpetually surrounds this team, moving the pessimism and nitpicking of a week ago to the back burner, in favor of the optimism that accompanies the gradual cohesion of a new cast

Last night marked the young season’s high water mark, as the artists formerly (and probably again in the future) known as Team Turmoil not only gutted out a solid victory over a talented Brooklyn Nets squad in Mike D’Antoni debut on the bench, but did so with a strong defensive effort, holding four of five Nets starters under 40% from the field, while Dwight Howard turned in his best performance as a Laker (23 points, on 8-of-11 shooting, 15 rebounds and four blocks) and Kobe Bryant – despite a late game dalliance with “hero ball” that so perturbs some observers – continued to exhibit efficiency seldom seen from the Mamba, pouring in 25 on just 15 shots, and adding four boards and five dimes.

Unfortunately, in order to pull out the win, the Lakers were forced (as they often will be against quality opposition) to run four of their five starters (all except Darius Morris) at least 39 minutes. Not exactly an ideal start to a four-games-in-five-days stretch (that includes roadies in Memphis and Dallas) for a veteran squad whose top two point guards are on the shelf.

Enter the Sacramento Kings…

The Kings Coming In: According to the standings, the Kings have managed a pair of victories in 10 outings to start the 2012-13 season. Their statistical profile, however, suggests otherwise. Seriously, this team is downright AWFUL.

Only three teams are managing fewer points per 100 possessions than the Kings’ 94.5. Only the Pacers and Wizards boast a lower eFG% than Sacto’s 44.9%. The Kings are connecting at a below-average rate from all area of the floor (in fairness, they are average from 10-15’), have the third-worst Assist Rate in the league and have had one in every 11 shots blocked. (You hear that, Dwight?)

Defensively, there’s not much to write home about either. Though they rank in the league’s middle third in points allowed per 100 possessions, only two teams (Charlotte and Detroit) are allowing offensive rebounds OR free throws at a great clip, and only the Cavs and the Knicks are allowing a higher field goal percentage at the rim than Sacramento’s 68.7%. (Hi Dwight!)

On the bright side, DeMarcus Cousins is back from the absurd suspension that kept him out of the Kings November 11 loss to the Lakers. Incredibly gifted as he is, however, Cousins’ tendency to get caught flat-footed defensively (and the resulting propensity for foul trouble) will likely limit his impact against whichever of the Lakers’ bigs he’s matched up against.

Kings blogs: For the view from the other side, check out the fantastic work turned in by Sactown Royalty and Cowbell Kingdom.

Keys to the Game: Expect Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol to own the offensive glass – and, consequently, to own DMC and Jason Thompson as well – with Kobe continuing to play some of the most efficient ball we’ve seen in years, against a perimeter defense that is simply incapable of preventing him from having his way.

I’ve done this before, with checkered results is memory serves, but if the Lakers are mentally present at Sleep Train Arena (this name makes me so sad), a comfortable victory – and perhaps a quarter of rest for the first stringers – ought to be in the cards.

Where you can watch: 7:00pm start on TWC Sports Net. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.

In Mike D’Atnoni’s introductory press conference he wowed media and fans alike with his calm confidence, humor, and bold proclamations about what the Lakers can be on the offensive side of the ball. He expressed a willingness, no a desire, to let his players be the decision makers on the floor and allow their talent to shine through.

More important than what D’Atnoni said about the Lakers’ offense was his take on their defense. He noted that he has the type of defensive talent for the Lakers to a be “a bear” on that side of the ball and mentioned several times that in the period his players get up to speed on what they like to do on offense, the team will need to win games with energy and defense.

D’Antoni then laid on effusive praise for Dwight Howard and for good reason. While acknowledging that Howard is still not 100%, he expressed the need for Howard to carry the team on the defensive side of the ball in the short and the long term. This  isn’t a foreign concept as it’s what we’ve all believed to be true as well. Howard’s pedigree on that side of the ball is well known and it’s impact there that had fans most excited about him becoming a Laker.

Through the first 8 games to the season, the Lakers haven’t gotten that guy. At least not consistently. He’s had his moments to be sure, but his timing and freakish athleticism haven’t come all the way back on an every play basis just yet. But, we may just be seeing a breakthrough. In the San Antonio game, Howard made one play that stood out to me as maybe his best defensive sequence of the season:

On this play, Howard did everything you’d want a big man to do. He hedged on the pick and roll to prevent dribble penetration. He then recovered to his man to contest what would have been a 15 foot jumper. After his man faked the shot and put the ball on the ground, Howard slid with him and then challenged the shot to force a miss. Then, as the ball caromed off the rim, he quickly leapt again to secure the rebound.

Dwight may not be all the way back but it’s plays like this that show me he’s getting closer. The angles, recovery, the challenge, and the second jump were all there.

Moving forward if Dwight can make these plays consistently, he’s going to make his coach look like a very smart man.

The version of the Princeton offense the Lakers will use this season has the chance to be an evolving oasis of offensive possibility. The sheer talent and versatility of their core four players can translate to a multitude of actions — some obvious, some not so much — that can hurt a defense in a variety of ways.

When the Princeton was first talked about as a system the Lakers would employ, one of the first things that came to mind was Pau Gasol operating at the high post. Using Pau at that spot on the floor, with Howard occupying the low block, would take advantage of his elite passing while also utilizing his ability to space the floor as one of the better mid-range shooting big men.

This, of course, has become a staple of what the Lakers do run on offense. Every game we’ve been treated to at least one Gasol dime to Howard where he makes a catch at the elbow and plays high-low basketball with his frontcourt partner. As the season advances and these two develop even more chemistry, we should see even more of this action and little wrinkles added to it to force defenses into making the types of lose/lose choices that often result in made baskets.

However, one of the not so obvious ways the Lakers have started to take advantage of their talent has been the inverting of their big men. Against the Pistons, the Lakers ran several actions that put Pau at the low block and left Howard at the high post. This is the opening play of the game:

This play starts as many Lakers’ sets have lately, with the point guard (Steve Blake in this instance) bringing the ball up the left side of the floor with Kobe on the wing and Dwight in the ball side post. Blake enters to Kobe who looks to Dwight for a quick post up. Instead of entering the ball, Kobe passes the ball back to Blake who then enters a quick pass into Dwight as he slides up the lane line to the elbow. Blake then screens away for Pau who pops open at the top of the key where he gets the ball from Howard. This is where the heart of this action comes to life.

After Pau gets the ball at the top of the key he swings the ball back to Kobe and then rubs off a high pick from Dwight to dive to the low post. Kobe hits Pau with an entry pass while Howard hovers around the free throw line. It’s important here to note how closely Howard’s man is playing him and how much room Pau has to work on the post:

Pau post up

With all this room, Pau backs his man down and shoots a half hook that misses. But since he’s maneuvered his way around his man, he follows his shot, gets the offensive rebound and scores easily on a put back. It bears repeating, in this next still Howard isn’t even in the picture and Maxiell still hasn’t left the FT line area to help on the glass and is watching as Pau scores an easy two points:

Pau put back

One of the key reasons this set works is that the Lakers have put Pau in the post and spaced the floor in a way where if the double team comes Gasol can use his tremendous passing ability to hit the open man.

Furthermore, with Dwight at the elbow, the defense has a unique problem. If Dwight’s man leaves to double team he’s allowing Howard to dive from the FT line with the best passing big man in the league ready to drop him off a pass that will surely end with either a basket, a foul, or both. Not to mention that if Dwight’s man leaves him but the pass doesn’t go to him, he still has a wide open lane to crash the glass and be an offensive rebounder.

What the Lakers have figured out — and based off how many times they ran a variation of this set, they have figured something out — is that the defense must respect Dwight if he’s anywhere near the paint. His ability to cut to the ball and score off passes or simply get to the front of the rim for rebounding chances means that his man has to keep within arm’s distance of him at nearly all times or risk being exposed.

This doesn’t have to be a full time set for the Lakers. Dwight is still best served operating from the low post and trying to score on his man via touches in the paint. Many of those touches will come from the splendid passing ability of Pau. But there will be times where the Lakers can invert their bigs and use Pau’s strength as a post scorer to their advantage and not hesitate. Even though Dwight doesn’t have range on his jumper and isn’t known as a great high-low passer, it doesn’t matter. He’s too dangerous to leave.

Offensive spacing can come from many places. In this case it comes from Dwight Howard standing at the foul line. Not sure many people saw that coming.

Welcome to the Strategy Session. In this space we’ll explore different aspects of the game from a strategy standpoint. It may mean looking at a coaching decision — like determining a rotation. Or a specific offensive play that we think will work. Or it could be an examination of a defensive scheme. Sometimes we’ll use video others we’ll just blab away for a while on the topic of the day. Hope you enjoy it.

With a lot of negatives to focus on after the Lakers’ first two games, I thought I’d instead look at something that has worked in the past and should be able to work again in the future.

Contrary to popular sentiment, the Lakers’ offense really isn’t the chief problem with this team right now. Of course there are issues — most notably Steve Nash still finding his balance between on/off ball effectiveness and a feel of clunkiness that persists to sets the team is still picking up on — but the team is shooting the ball pretty well and has shown glimpses of what they can be once they settle in and find their stride.

One such action that can aid them in moving forward in a positive direction (it proved to work in the preseason) and should continue to be a useful play for the Lakers is a strong side hand-off sequence. This action utilizes Nash, Kobe, and Dwight on the same side of the floor and puts the defense in a position to make tough choices. All three players are threats on the play and when run crisply it creates good looks.

This first example leads to the type of shot the Lakers want Kobe taking:

The play starts with Nash bringing the ball up the right sideline while Dwight waits at the elbow and Kobe sits on the wing. Nash enters the Howard and proceeds to set a screen for Kobe who curls off the pick towards Dwight. Kobe continues his cut, takes the hand-off from Dwight and then elevates for his jumper over DeMarcus Cousins who helped a split second too late. Kobe knocks down the 16 footer, a high percentage shot for him.

This play worked so well, the Lakers decided they were going to run the exact same action on their next possession. The only difference is that they run it on the other side of the floor:

Here, again, you see Nash bringing the ball up the floor (this time on the left side) with Kobe (on the wing) and Dwight (at the elbow) in the exact same positions. Nash makes his entry to Dwight, proceeds to set his screen for Kobe who then curls to take the hand off from Howard. Here’s where you see the difference, however. When Kobe gets the ball he again looks to elevate for his shot but he’s drawing more defensive attention with a quicker reaction as well. Kobe recognizes the defense is out of position and when Howard rolls to the hoop he leads him to the rim with a lob pass that is dunked home.

One play, two actions, same result.

There are even more actions that can be run off this single look. In both of the above plays, Steve Nash’s man sinks to the lane line to try and help on Howard’s dive to the rim. If Kobe is looking that way, he can hit him for an open jumper. On the play where Kobe threw the lob, you’ll notice that Ron’s man came over to help and left him open on the wing for a wide open jumper. Other options include Nash, instead of flaring to the wing, cutting back door after setting the screen or Kobe, rather than accepting Nash’s screen, cutting back door when Nash comes over to try and free him.

One of the key principles to the Princeton offense is setting up plays to look the same but then countering what the defense does through reading how they react to the action in front of them. The Lakers are trying to get to the point where all of these options are utilized; where the players working together can recognize what the defense is doing and then respond accordingly.

In some cases — like the plays above — they’ve made headway. In many others they’re not yet close. The result is flashes of brilliance mixed with bouts of frustration. The hope is that we see more progress soon. But the good thing is, that hope can be rooted in knowing that this stuff actually does work.