Archives For Dwight Howard

Building a team is as much about the assets you have as the ones you hope to obtain. You want more shooters? How about a lock down wing defender? What about a hustling big man who does all the dirty work or a shot creator from the back court who can generate offense when the shot clock is winding down?

Join the club, everyone wants more of those things. And with a high demand for players with those skill sets, getting them is easier than simply asking.

In order to get those types of players you need assets to obtain them. Be it trade pieces or the salary cap space (or exceptions as an over the cap team), you need to give something to get something. The Lakers, meanwhile, don’t have a lot of assets to work with to get the skill sets they’d like to add to the roster. That means the ones they do have need to be used carefully and maximized if the team hopes to take a step forward rather than simply treading water (or even taking another step back).

In an attempt to gauge how the Lakers will move forward this off-season, it’s best to look at some of their most valuable assets (while speculating how they might be deployed) and how they can contribute to building a viable contender next season. Let’s get to it…

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Sunday night marked the arrival of a new, long-term houseguest in Lakerland – the ghost of roster future.

In the absence of Kobe Bryant – a scenario initially not expected to come to fruition for handful of years – all eyes will be on Dwight Howard to recapture his MVP form of years past and anchor the team at the both ends of the floor. In short, after having the luxury to allow Howard to acclimate to his new surroundings and battle back from injuries at his own pace, the Lakers now need their franchise center to act the part. Sunday night marked Howard’s first game as the team’s long-term anchor, and Dwight delivered, devastating the Spurs to the tune of 26 points, 17 rebounds (6 offensive) and three blocks (plus a dubious goaltending call on a Tim Duncan hook I the lane), flashing his once-unrivaled speed and power in the post, and truly dominating on the glass. The result from a team perspective was no less encouraging, as the Lakers, in the maiden voyage without their superstar and leader, took a major step in sealing the postseason berth has at times seemed so elusive, with a 91-86 victory over the San Antonio Spurs.

However, Dwight was not alone in elevating his game in Kobe’s absence. Steve Blake turned in crowning performance as a Laker, connecting on four of eight 3-point attempts en route to 23 points, to which he added five rebounds, four assists and a pair of steals. Providing a much-needed spark off of the bench was Antawn Jamison, who kicked in 15 points, burying three of five 3-pointers himself, and grabbed six rebounds in 20 minutes of burn. Lending additional support were Jodie Meeks, who despite hitting just three of 11 shots, hit a massive pair of 4th quarter 3-pointers, as well as Pau Gasol, who simply could not get a thing to drop. However, despite a putrid 3-for-17 showing from the field, Pau left a positive mark on the game with 16 rebounds (5 offensive) and three blocked shots of his own.

It must be said that the Spurs were far from their best on Sunday night, with just two (Tim Duncan and Matt Bonner) of 10 players that took the floor making at least half of their shots. Duncan, though outquicked by Dwight in the early going and unable to keep him off of the glass, played a fantastic game, scoring 23 points on 11-of-22 shooting (including a pair of thunderous throwdowns in the second half), grabbing 10 rebounds, handing out four assists and swatting three shots. Of historical significance, with his final bucket of the night, the greatest power forward the league has ever seen ran his career tally to 23,759, good for 22nd on the NBA’s all-time list, two points ahead of the previous holder of that distinction, Charles Barkley. Unfortunately for Duncan, who, like pre-injury Kobe, is more than a decade and half in and still playing some of the best ball of his career (24.4 PER, 21.2 points and 11.8 rebounds per 36 minutes and career-best defensive rebound and block rates), he received little support from his normally reliable running mates.

Chief among the struggling Spurs were Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard, who shot a combined 2-for-15 from the floor (1-for-10 for Parker, 1-for-5 for Leonard) and combined for just 12 points, though it worth noting that the duo combined for 11 rebounds and 12 assists. Also, despite managing a double-double of his own (11 and 10), Tiago Splitter missed eight of the 13 shots he attempted, more than a couple of which were seemingly easy layups. Danny Green managed an identical 5-for-13 from the field, hitting just two of seven 3-point attempts, while Nando de Colo, Cory Joseph and DeJuan Blair managed just four points on 2-for-11 shooting. Now, it’s clearly unreasonable to expect two of the Spurs’ top three starters to shoot worse than 15% from the field while one of their starting bigs blows numerous chances at the rim, but a fair amount of credit is owed to the Lakers’ perimeter defenders, who challenged the Spurs’ on their 3-point attempts, forced an inordinate number of long 2-point jump shots and, in perhaps the greatest testament to their performance, held the Spurs to a single unsuccessful corner 3-point attempt.

That the sustainability of some of the offensive efforts can be called into question, and the Spurs did little to help themselves in a game that was certainly winnable are true, but tonight, wholly irrelevant. With the playoffs in the balance, in the absence of their emotional talisman and offensive catalyst, the Lakers put forth excellent effort at both ends, and ultimately had enough to gut out a massive victory against an elite Spurs team playing for its own playoff positioning, setting the stage for a win-and-you’re-in showdown with the Houston Rockets Wednesday night at Staples.

 

And just think about execution, what are we going to do? You’ve got to look at what teams are doing against us in terms of spreading us out and rolling a big and now we collapse and now we’re late to the shooters. This is about the third game in a row where that’s happened to us. So we have to figure out defensively what we’re going to do.

That quote is from Kobe Bryant after last night’s loss to the Warriors. Kobe seems to be describing how teams are attacking the Lakers with dribble penetration and when Dwight steps up the guards are collapsing the paint to help on the diving big man only to then struggle to recover back out to the perimeter to cover shooters.

Kobe, of course, is correct in his assessment that the team has been struggling to recover to shooters once the ball is penetrated. This is fundamental basketball at its finest. Teams want to attack the paint, draw help, and then pass to the open man for an easy basket. And for the past several games, Lakers’ opponents have been doing just that to great success. Whether it was Curry and Jarrett Jack last night, John Wall in the Wizards’ game, Goran Dragic in the Suns’ game, or Isaiah Thomas in the Kings game, the Lakers have been facing guards who have been breaking them down off the dribble and causing a ton of problems.

The epitome of what Kobe described above is illustrated in this play (though, the pass isn’t made to a three point shooter):

The play starts with Blake isolated on Steph Curry. Jodie Meeks is guarding Carl Landry (a discussion for another day) and it looks like Landry is positioning himself to set a screen to Curry’s right with Meeks sliding with him to get into a hedge position. Curry, recognizing he can get a step on Blake, blows right by him to his left and away from any potential pick from Landry. Nash is the closest player who can step up to deter the drive, but feints help in order to recover back to his man who is in the strong side corner. Defensive principles dictate that you don’t leave that man, but in this case a strong argument could be made to ignore that principle based off the speed at which Blake has been beaten and the configuration of the defense behind him.

Nash, though, lets Curry go and that leaves Dwight Howard as the last line of defense against an advancing Curry and his own man (David Lee) lurking baseline. Dwight half steps up to deter Curry and forces a pass, but with no one there to pick up Lee, he gets an easy score with Dwight compounding things by fouling him. After the play, Dwight dejectedly turns away as this was simply another example of the team’s defense being so bad that he was put in an untenable position. (As an aside, I love the Warriors announcer talking about Howard being half asleep when it was Blake’s defense that was the root cause. If anyone looked asleep, it was Blake who got beat by a straight line drive right into the heart of the defense.)

Even though there are ways to diagram a defense to help stop a play like this one even after Blake is beat — Nash takes Curry, Dwight rotates to Jack in the corner, Kobe slides into the paint to pick up Lee and Meeks covers the back side all by himself — the fact is this play is indicative of what the Lakers’ issues have been on defense for most of the season. Ball handler gets beat, Dwight steps up, no one helps the helper, and the opponent gets an easy shot. And, if it’s not that exact formula, it’s a variation of it where after someone is beat off the dribble the defensive wings get so caught up in helping that they leave shooters open around the perimeter in favor of trying to do battle on the boards or take away the type of pass that Lee got from Curry.

So, if you’re looking for why the Lakers are a mediocre (at best) defensive team, look no further than what we saw last night. Yes it hurt that Ron didn’t play in the 2nd half. It’s also true that Dwight wasn’t as disruptive last night as he’s been in recent games. There’s also a point to be made about indifference to making the harder play and instead settling too often for the easy one. But the facts are the facts: the Lakers, as a team, have trouble guarding on the perimeter and it leaves them vulnerable in the paint where their big men are forced to help far too often without an adequate support system behind them to deny shots at the rim while still being able to contest perimeter jumpers.

Until that is sorted out, whether through scheme, better commitment from the players, or a combination of both, the Lakers will fail on defense over the long haul. That may not be what you want to hear, but it’s certainly the truth.

I’ve long struggled with the idea of “crunch time”. At times I’ve felt the definition used to describe this part of the game — the last 5 minutes of a game with a margin of 5 points or fewer — is a bit arbitrary. This feeling is compounded by the fact that I’m a firm believer that all parts of the game are important. A contest can be lost in the first quarter by surrendering a big lead through sloppy defense and turnover prone offense as much as it can be lost at the end of the game through the same type of poor play.

That said, it can not be ignored that the end of a close game feels different and, thus, creates a different environment in which the players compete. Defense tightens up and offensive players have a more difficult time scoring in general. The seconds seem to tick down slower and every possession takes on a greater importance. This often leads to the types of pressure packed plays that either build or destroy legends. Bring up the words “clutch” “Michael Jordan” and “Nick Anderson” in the same sentence and someone will surely say the word “choke” within a fraction of a second.

As fans we too take this part of the game more seriously and tend to heap praises on the heroes who can summon the skill needed to thrive at this time of the game. Forget analysis in the closing seconds, we love a guy hitting the big shot and then screaming at the top of our lungs in celebration. These are the most memorable moments.

The problem is, though, is that it’s never smart to forget the analysis. It’s better to know what actually happened and how a team got to the point where it made (or missed) those final shots that we think decided the game. It’s better to know what trends to expect from a team or player at any part of the game, but especially one that’s close late. This makes us better fans, even if in the moment most of us — or at least those of us with rooting interests — only really care if the shot falls or not.

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Wednesday Storylines

Dave Murphy —  March 13, 2013

Dwight Howard stepped to the free throw line and took a deep breath. Dwight stepped to the free throw line. The free throw line. The line. Again and again, 39 times, matching his total number of points. It’s a lot of times at the line. It’s a lot of points. It was his first trip back to a city where he had been much loved, a city that he jilted badly, awkwardly and way too many times before it was finally over – a long messy divorce in that messy way that divorces can be. There can be a fine line between being fouled for basketball reasons and being fouled for other reasons altogether. Sometimes the line isn’t there at all.

There’s guys that always have to clown around. Dwight’s one of them. He’s the kid in school that wants to make you laugh, the actor at the party who won’t stop after he manages to tell a good one. Dueling Shakespeare lines anyone? It’s just who he is and the fact that he came wrapped in an outsized package with outsized expectations further complicated things. Playing hurt and making excuses and telling jokes when it just wasn’t that cool anymore. Until he started playing according to the expectations of a major media market and the team started winning. We love our zany guy because he’s our zany guy. Winning cures all.

Adrian Wojnarowski for Yahoo Sports, on heckles, boos and broken hearts.

Dave McMenamin for ESPN considers a season full of Minesweeper distractions, now moving forward. Dave also reports on Pau Gasol’s rehab progress.

Lately, it has seemed as though Earl Clark is starting to hit the proverbial NBA wall. Ramona Shelburne from ESPN Los Angeles has the story.

Kevin Ding from the OCRegister on last night’s hostile environment and Dwight killing them with kindness.

Andy Kamenetzky from the Land O’Lakers likens the improved team chemistry to improv and theater situations.

Mike Bresnahan from the LATimes recaps Orlando – buried at the line.

Eric Pincus for the LATimes, previews tonight’s game against Atlanta.

Ben Rosales for Silver Screen and Roll and the flipping of the switch, a beast or burden story.

Aaron McGuire for Gothic Ginobili offers a stretch run primer including the idea of the Lakers targeting the sixth seed in the western conference.

Kirk Goldsberry for Grantland charts Kobe’s season as the structure of his game changes.

Elizabeth Benson for Lakers Nation on the big drama and the new normal.

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Tonight’s the second night of a back-to-back, step right up folks, we got your tickets here. The Lakers are always a draw when the big top comes to town but there’s a new storyline now. The giant is awake and the national swivel-heads are starting to rethink this thing. The Atlanta Hawks are also on a back-to-back and a bit of a skid. Currently in seventh place in the east, they lost to Miami last night. Their starting point guard Jeff Teague rolled an ankle late in the third quarter and is listed as questionable. The Lakers arrive at an opportune time, looking to extend their win streak to five.

The Lakers comeback parade hasn’t turned into a bandwagon yet but it could. At the moment, it’s a fine line. The team has only just reached the lunatic fringes of a playoff bracket they were supposed to own. Seventeen games to go and we’re drawing beads on ducks in a gallery and hitting more than not. The lights in the cabin were turned low but a big man with a broad smile wasn’t done telling jokes and doing impressions. His teammates looked up occasionally and smiled with earbuds in. We love you man. Just don’t leave us until we’re ready for you to leave us. And keep winning. The night went dark and turned to day and night once again. And the banks of white light clicked on and bodies crashed and whistles blew. Dwight Howard stepped to the free throw line and took a deep breath.