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After the Lakers were handed a bad loss at the hands of the Celtics on Friday night, Byron Scott said there would be lineup changes in tonight’s game versus the Pelicans. True to his word, Scott has swapped out two members of his starting group:

Reasonable minds can disagree about this move, but Scott is clearly trying to inject some defense into his starting group by removing Boozer and Lin in favor of Davis and Price. As we have discussed all season, the Lakers’ defense is horrid ranking last in points allowed per 100 possessions and doing so by a fair margin. Without getting into all of the details, the Lakers don’t do anything particularly well on that side of the ball and injecting two of the players the coaches feel are better on that end is deemed as the logical move.

That said, the numbers don’t really support this particular change. Let’s dive in:

  • The lineup of Lin, Kobe, Johnson, Boozer, and Hill has posted an offensive efficiency of 102.7 and a defensive efficiency of 117.7 for an efficiency differential of minus-15.0.
  • The lineup of Price, Kobe, Johnson, Davis, and Hill has posted an offensive efficiency of 96.0 and a defensive efficiency of 119.5 for an efficiency differential of minus-23.5.
  • In terms of the big men pairing, when the Boozer/Hill tandem have shared the floor, the Lakers’ defensive efficiency has been 117.0.
  • When the Hill/Davis tandem have shared the floor, the Lakers’ defensive efficiency has been 119.3.
  • When Jeremy Lin shares the floor with Kobe Byrant, he is shooting 46.5% from the floor and has 94 assists to 42 turnovers.
  • When Jeremy Lin has not shared the floor with Kobe, he is shooting 33% and has 4 assists to 11 turnovers.

There are some caveats in these numbers — the Price, Kobe, Johnson, Davis, Hill lineup have only played 20 minutes together over the course of five games. The Hill/Davis numbers offer a larger sample — 134 minutes — but still not as large as the Boozer/Hill duo (394 minutes). As for the Lin numbers, they too offer a small sample as Scott has preferred to play Lin almost exclusively with Kobe to try and optimize his two best guards by playing them together. So, these numbers should be taken with a grain of salt as there are simply not big enough samples to say any of these trends are irreversible.

That said, these numbers are what they are and do make me raise an eyebrow. The Lakers are making changes that, per the numbers, make them worse on the floor than better. When the samples get larger maybe these trends will reverse. But, my guess is that even if they do improve, they won’t do so at a rate that makes any sort of dent in how well the team plays as a whole. At least not without other shifts in how the lineups are deployed and how many minutes specific groups play together. We’ll see if Scott makes any such changes or if he simply swaps Lin and Boozer’s roles with Price and Davis’. If that happens, I expect things to look just as bad as they have to this point.

In any event, there is a game to play tonight and these changes will be put into play with a chance to make some waves. The Pelicans aren’t a great team by any means, but they have one of the league’s best players in Anthony Davis and other useful players who can make an impact against the Lakers. Chief amongst them are Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, and Ryan Anderson. Evans may be of particular issue since his ability to create off the dribble is a trait that the Lakers have struggled to contain all year. Maybe having Wes Johnson on him will slow him some, but unless Hill and Davis are there to help while still managing the stay with Anthony Davis on the glass and when slashing into open creases, it will all be for naught.

Further, when Anderson comes into the game the Lakers will need to find a way to defend the arc with a big man. With Boozer now coming off the bench, one has to wonder if defending Anderson will fall on his shoulders. If it does, watch out. Boozer is hesitant to defend out the three point line and that is exactly where Anderson will set up. If Boozer cannot get to the arc, Anderson will bomb away with quick releasing threes and hit more than his fair share if he’s open.

Offensively, we’ll see if the changes the Lakers make can at least spark their second unit. In theory, a unit of Lin, Ellington, Young, Boozer, and Sacre will be able to score some points and get up and down the court in the process. Lin, Ellington, and Young can all stretch the floor as well, so the space that they create should open up some post opportunities for Boozer and driving lanes for the guards should their men get too aggressive with closeouts. Hopefully, the bench can take advantage, especially against a Pelican’s bench that isn’t very strong in their own right.

Where you can watch: 6:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.

The Lakers continue their three game road trip tonight in Washington, just a night after beating the Pistons in Detroit. That game saw a tired and flu-ridden Kobe rely heavily on his teammates and a nice third quarter burst of his own to win the game and bring the Lakers record to 5 and 14 on the season. Of those 5 wins, 4 are against the Eastern Conference and 3 of them are on the road.

Which means, tonight, against the Wizards in Washington the Lakers are sure to win. Yeah, not so much.

I know I’ve said this a lot this season, but the Lakers are pretty outclassed in this match up. The Wizards are one of the more balanced teams in the league, showing out well on both sides of the ball with deep roster. They currently boast the the 2nd best record in the conference and have enough talent on their team to make it so they will be in the mix at the top of the conference until the end of the season — health permitting.

In other words, the Lakers are in for a severe challenge and any expectation about this game remaining close is likely just wishful thinking. In their core four players of John Wall, Bradley Beal, Nene, and Marcin Gortat the Wizards have advantages at nearly every position save in Kobe’s match up with Beal. When you add to this that Paul Pierce is their 5th starter, the Lakers are going to struggle to keep pace with this team and will likely find themselves in disadvantageous positions all over the floor trying to defend this group.

I could go on and on with this, but in it’s most simply explained by the fact that the Lakers really don’t have anyone who can stay with John Wall for an entire game. And if Wall is able to break loose, it’s only a matter of time before the rest of the team follows. Mind you, the rest of the team is good enough to get their own without Wall drawing extra defensive attention and getting his own offense going, but with Wall attacking Lin and Price for most of the night, those other guys are very likely to feast on a lot of open looks.

This is where I’d normally say that the Lakers’ offense would need to step up. And while that’s true, I have my doubts about it actually happening in this game. As noted at the top, this is the Lakers 2nd game in as many nights and a road game. Plus, with Kobe not 100% physically, their will be an over reliance on other players to step up and play well. That worked last night against the Pistons…but that was the Pistons. They’re awful. The Wizards are decidedly not and have good defensive players all over the floor to give the Lakers’ issues. Of course the Lakers can still get theirs and hitting some contested shots will go a long way in closing the talent gap (ask the Raptors), but it is certainly a lot to ask for.

So, sorry to be a downer folks. I know the Lakers are feeling good coming off two straight wins. But I’ve a feeling tonight, all factors considered, ends up being too tough a match up for the Lakers to overcome.

Where you can watch: 4pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.

The Lakers begin a three game road trip today, heading to the Motor City to face the Pistons in the first night a back to back. This after a four game home-stand that saw the team go 1-3. That lone win, however, was a game to remember with Kobe posting a triple-double while also becoming the first player in NBA history to tally over 30 thousand points while also dishing out 6 thousand assists. The Lakers, and Kobe, will look to build on that performance tonight against a Pistons team that, for all intents and purposes, is just as bad as they are.

The fact that Detroit is this bad is, for me at least, a bit of a surprise. While former Laker Jodie Meeks took the injury bug with him to his new team — Meeks has missed the entire season so far with a back issue — the rest of the roster has been able to play, only to not show any real advancement from last season. With the hiring of Stan Van Gundy, I expected this team to take a step forward in their development and compete for bottom playoff seed at least. That has been far from the case, however.

The key issue for this team seems to be roster construction and a lack of shooting (which makes Meeks’ absence so damaging). SVG has tried to play the Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe, and Josh Smith trio together, but Smith’s inability to stretch the floor while Drummond and Monroe both do their best work 12 feet and in has made this nearly impossible to do while bringing in good results. This has left the head coach looking for alternatives in Kyle Singler, Caron Butler, and Jonas Jerebko but they too have their limitations and can’t necessarily be the floor spacers that this team needs. Combine this with Brandon Jennings still doing more shooting than assisting and the solutions seem to be with a change in personnel rather than trying to shoehorn players into roles they cannot fill well enough.

In saying all this, however, the Lakers still come into this game as the underdog. The Pistons, for all their mismatched-ness, still possess real talent in their front court and have the ability to overwhelm teams with their athleticism and size. For the Lakers to get the win they will need to manage these big men on both ends of the floor and not become speed bumps to a trio who can all do work when getting into the paint.

This starts with Drummond so Hill and, later, Davis will have their hands full. Drummond has explosiveness rarely seen in players his size and his ability to bully his way into the paint to finish with power will be a problem should the Lakers allow him to get to his spots. Hill and Davis will need to do their work early and try to battle him for position, pushing him further out on the floor to make him create off the dribble to get to the paint. Strategically timed double teams can then be used to disrupt these moves, hopefully creating turnovers in the process.

Beyond Drummond, slowing Monroe should be the next priority. HIs ability to turn and face from 15 feet or work from the post will give Boozer some real issues to start out. Like with Drummond, doing work early in the possession to keep Monroe off his preferred spots while also showing the needed help will be key. Monroe has enough talent to score over 20 points and carry their offense for stretches, he mustn’t be allowed to do so if the Lakers want to win.

As for the rest of the guys, Jennings and Smith are the next big names and both have traditionally fared well against the Lakers. It will be interesting to see if Byron Scott cross matches and puts Kobe on Smith so that Wes Johnson can be freed up to defend Kentavious Caldwell-Pope or Jennings for stretches. Smith is the kind of guy Kobe typically likes to guard as he can be enticed to take jumpers by sagging off him. If this does happen, however, Kobe will need to be diligent in his rebounding as Smith’s size can be an issue there.

As for the Lakers’ attack, it would be nice to see if Kobe can continue the model he’s shown the last couple of games by starting off as a distributor and then using the threat of the pass to set up his own shooting. This worked well against the Wolves and the Raptors, allowing the rest of the team to find their rhythm while forcing the defense to treat every player on the floor as a potential threat. The ball moves well under this approach and since Kobe can find ways to get his shots up regardless, taking this route would be a sound strategy.

I am also looking for Lin to bounce back against Jennings. Lin’s aggressiveness has been good lately, but his shooting and turnovers have been up and down. Jennings can be a gambler defensively so Lin will need to be careful with the ball, but that gambling can also lead to bad positioning that Lin will need to take advantage of. If Lin can get his jumper going, it will open up his drives to the rim where he can draw multiple defenders (especially Drummond) to create shots for his teammates. Hopefully we can see Lin and Davis start to rekindle some of their early season chemistry where the big man benefits from Lin’s playmaking.

Where you can watch: 4:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.

After losing to the shorthanded Timberwolves, the Lakers are at the low-point of their early season. As I mentioned in the game preview, that was a game that the Lakers needed to win simply from the standpoint of them seeing themselves are better than their record. By losing, however, it is much easier to say that the Lakers are what their record says they are: one of the worst teams in the league. Their star shooting guard may not like that and their head coach might not either but, again, you are what your record says you are.

Speaking of the head coach, after the game several reporters on site tweeted that Byron Scott was as upset as he’s been all season. He spoke of “boneheaded mistakes” and “players not ready to play” while using an expletive (or two) to emphasize his point. On the one hand, I can understand Scott’s frustration. His team just lost to one of the lesser teams  in the league — a team missing three key rotation players — and did so by giving up an astonishing number of points considering the circumstances. If I were him, I’d be mad too.

On the other hand, this is at least the third time that Scott has used these adjectives to describe his team and one has to wonder when he will acknowledge his role in getting them ready to play or making some adjustments to get players on the floor who won’t be “boneheaded” and that are, actually, “ready to play”. After all, as the head coach one of his job descriptions is to get them “ready to play” and to manage players’ minutes in a manner that promotes what he wants to see from his team on the floor. In other words, maybe Scott should start to look in the mirror after some of these losses rather than consistently calling out his players. Because a team doesn’t get to 3-13 with only the players doing poorly.

As for tonight, the Lakers host an excellent Raptors team who boasts the eastern conference’s best record. Their 13 wins to only three losses is the inverse of the Lakers’ horrid beginning to the campaign and they really have been the class of the conference. And while they will be without (and miss) starting shooting guard (and L.A. native) DeMar DeRozan, they still have plenty of good players to give the Lakers fits. It starts, of course, with point guard Kyle Lowry. The bulldog of a lead guard has finally found a home in “The 6″ and his game is flourishing. Not only is he still able to score and set up his teammates while defending his position well, but his game has found that maturity that allows him to recognize when it is time for him to put his foot on the pedal and take over.

Beyond Lowry, and with DeRozan sidelined, the Raptors will turn to several of their role players and look for them to step up. Prime candidates are Lou Williams and Terrance Ross. Both are capable of picking up some of the scoring load and both can give the Lakers’ fits with their ability to hit shots from deep and then use the threat of that shot to get into the paint where they can score or draw fouls. Beyond that backcourt duo, the Lakers must also look out for big men Amir Johnson (another Los Angeles product) and Jonas Valanciunas. Johnson’s ability to play 18 feet and in while running the floor for easy baskets is a skill set the Lakers have had trouble with all year. And Jonas is just a massive man who can be a real threat in the P&R and can do good work in the paint as a finisher both as a roll man or in straight post ups. His size will also need to be managed on the offensive glass so Hill and Ed Davis will have their hands full.

The Raptors go even deeper than these players, however, and on any given night any of the above can be outshined by Grevis Vasquez or Patrick Patterson or even James Johnson should they have a good night. This is why this team has only lost three games all year and why the Lakers will be lucky to be in this game by halftime. Their depth can devastate good teams whose benches can’t keep up and against a Lakers’ team who consistently has trouble keeping defenses honest when Lin and Kobe go to the bench, tonight will be extra difficult when substitutes from both sides are on the floor.

From the Lakers’ end, then, the best they can hope for is that their offense finds enough of a groove to keep the game close and that their defense can put the Raptors into end of clock situations where they have to over-rely on Lowry to create a shot against a defense that is gearing up to stop him. This, of course, is a bit of a long shot. But in a season where the Lakers aren’t very good, long shots is all they have against top notch opponents.

Where you can watch: 6:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.

I’m still recovering from my Thanksgiving dinner, so I’m going to keep this short and sweet. The Lakers are back in action tonight after losing to the Grizzlies on Wednesday, looking to get back in the win column against a team that just might be as bad as they are. The Timberwolves come into this game with the same amount of wins as the Lakers (3), but with two less losses (10). They also come in minus Ricky Rubio and Kevin Martin, both out with injury. This has put the Lakers in the “favorite” position for the first time all season with the Wolves visiting Staples tonight.

In all honesty, if the Lakers cannot find a way to win this game, they might truly be the second worst team in the league behind the 76ers. Kobe can talk all he wants about the team being better than their record, but as Bill Parcells often said, you are what your record says you are. And if that includes losses to other similarly bad teams when playing at home, you might actually be worse than your record says you are. If the Lakers want to actually, you know, start to turn some things around tonight would be a prime opportunity to do so.

To get it done, the Lakers must find a way to play fast but not allow themselves to get sloppy where the athletes on the Wolves have a chance to get out in the open floor and get easy baskets. The Wolves already like to play fast (6th fastest pace in the league), but if they are allowed to get out in the open floor via turnovers and off long rebounds, Andrew Wiggins, Thad Young, Gorgui Dieng, Anthony Bennett, and Mo Williams can get the types of easy baskets that can boost what is, from an efficiency standpoint, a poor attack. In other words, Kobe and Jeremy Lin need to cut out the unnecessary risks via forced pocket passes and leaving their feet without a plan and play a more controlled game.

Defensively, the Lakers’ focus needs to be on slowing Mo Williams at the point of attack and collapsing the paint on Wiggins when he attacks the rim and tries to post up. Williams has long been a player who seems to play his best ball against the Lakers, so it should not be a surprise if he opens up looking to be aggressive and trying to get his own. As for Wiggins, with Rubio, Martin, and Pekovic all out recently the #1 overall pick has been looking for his own shot more and more and flashing some of the skill that had scouts drooling over him. The athleticism is a given, but as he starts to channel that into productive basketball plays defenses will need to account for him. The Lakers would be wise to not allow him the types of easy looks that get any player going.

All in all, this is a game the Lakers really should not lose. The Wolves are just as (if not more) banged up as the Lakers and are just off a day of travel to begin a road trip. They are not particularly good on either end of the ball and, while they do have some nice pieces, simply aren’t a very good team right now. Of course, the same is true about the Lakers, but they are the team at home and not coming off any travel and only playing a couple of games over the last week. It really is time to get it done.

Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.