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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.

Tonight, the Lakers continue their current home-stand with one of their toughest matchups of this young season. The Memphis Grizzlies come in playing some of the best (probably the best) basketball in the NBA and the Lakers are coming off consecutive losses to the Mavericks the Nuggets.

The Nuggets loss was on Sunday, and with four full days off, the conversation during the week was largely about Kobe Bryant, his legs and the minutes he’s been playing. Byron Scott, when asked about reducing his minutes, responded with an alternative route to keeping Bryant fresh (via Mark Medina):

“Still kind of keep [his minutes] where it is,” Scott said. “It prompts me to give him more days off, if anything, so I can keep it in the 30-40 range.”

Scott would later say that if this new plan doesn’t work — and he’s willing to give this about two or three games — he’ll cut down Bryant’s minutes.

Scott seems to be missing the larger issue here, and it was one of the issues down the stretch of the Lakers loss to the Grizzlies in the first time these two teams met. This is a Lakers basketball team that is far from clicking on either end of the floor, but especially on the offensive end. Bryant is shooting shots at a ridiculous nightly clip, and a lot of his chucking is a direct result of a combination of a lack of talent and a lack of continuity on offense.

While practice during the off days isn’t going to help with the former, it’s only practice during the off days that will work for the latter of these issues. While there is some credit that should be issued to Scott for looking for new ways to help both Bryant and the team, him focusing just on Kobe’s individual struggles is akin to taking a glance at Picasso’s Guernica and focusing just on the horse and bull, completely ignoring the struggle painted across the full canvas. Kobe’s legs is one of the central themes for this season, but it’s only one of the problems causing the Lakers inability to add tally marks in the win column.

On the other end of the floor, the Grizzlies boast the best record in basketball (12-2) and have not lost a game against the tough Western Conference (8-0 heading into tonight’s game against the Lakers). They’ve maintained the same suffocating defense from seasons past, but are now one of the NBA’s best offensive teams. Memphis has a Top 10 offensive rating while still playing at one of the league’s slowest paces.

One of the reasons for the Grizzlies improved offensive efficiency: Courtney Lee. The Grizzlies, with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, have forced teams to clog the paint over the years to try to counter their luxury of having to bruising bigs who can play with their back to the basket. This has opened up wide open shots from the perimeter, that the team wasn’t able to fully take advantage of in seasons past. This season, Lee is shooting at an absurd .611 clip from 3-point range. While it’s risible to assume that he’ll continue to shoot the ball this well for the remainder of the season, he’s essentially closed the Grizzlies offensive circle: Great point guard who can get into the paint at will, a deft passing center who can play anywhere from 17-feet to the basket, a physical power forward who is nearly unguardable when defended by one man — and now they have a shooter to spread the floor.

Further more, they’re getting scoring from more guys, the bench is deeper. During the last calendar week (Sunday-Saturday), the Grizzlies saw 10 guys reach double figures in scoring, seven of them did it multiple times. They’ve become multi-faceted and less reliant on guys they know they can rely on.

For tonight, the Lakers are going to struggle defending the Randolph/Gasol duo, this is a given. They don’t have the size or the ability to guard two of the better big men in the NBA. What they can do is keep Conley out of the paint, close down passing lanes and run Lee off the three-point line. Although they’ve proven that they have multiple guys who can beat you, it’s going to have to be one of those other guys tonight if the Lakers want to win this game. If Conley, Gasol and/or Randolph gets it going, it’s going to be awfully tough to keep pace offensively against a Top 5 defense.

On the other end, Kobe is going to have to trust his guys. Carlos Boozer (shudders) had a fantastic game against the Grizzlies in the first meeting. Jeremy Lin was effective, but not great, and Wesley Johnson had what was probably his best game of the season. No one is going to beat this team playing Kobe ball. He’s been his most efficient this year when playing off the ball, letting someone else run the offense and getting his shots off curls and down screens. It’s going to take much more than just getting Bryant touches in sets where he’s not creating, but that’s definitely the starting point.

At the end of the day, it’s about getting stops for these Lakers, which they weren’t able to do in their losses to Dallas and Denver. This Grizzlies team is very good and have few flaws that can clearly be exploited. The Lakers are coming off four days rest, so there’s hope that the fresh legs can help them compete in the fashion that they did in the first meeting. A win is unlikely, but so were the other three.

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

After winning two consecutive games, the Lakers were rudely brought back to reality by the Mavericks on Friday night. As we noted in our game preview, the Lakers could keep it close by playing well offensively, but at some point the odds were that tired legs and a juggernaut of a Mavericks’ offense would prevail. And, well, that’s exactly what happened. After the game Kobe spoke of not having his legs under him all night which was evident not only in his final shot numbers, but in the shots he decided to take. On one occasion, Kobe actually fired up a 35 footer with 6 seconds left on the shot clock, seemingly just because he did not want to work to try to get a better look against a defense geared up to slow him down. This shot attempt prompted one of the better photoshops I’ve ever seen (and a candidate for tweet of the year) from friend of the site J.D. Hastings:

Hey, if you can’t have a few laughs in a season like this one, I’ve no clue how you ever plan to make it through. I mean, we’re only 13 games in and the Lakers are showing to be one of the worst teams in the league. There will be some wins to pick you up, but I can’t recommend whiskey every time something goes wrong.

In any event, the Lakers are back in action tonight against a Nuggets team that is suddenly playing much better. After starting the season winning one of their first seven games, Denver has sunk four of their last five opponents. This includes a 20 point manhandling of the Pelicans on Friday night — the same Pelicans that the Lakers lost to last week. So, while a couple of weeks ago tonight’s game looked like it could be winnable, it is now much more in question. Even with the Lakers returning home after spending the last week on the road.

Key to this contest, though, is for the Lakers to find ways to get Kobe better looks — especially on cuts and off screen actions. It’s obvious to say, but the Lakers are a much more competitive team when Kobe is an efficient scorer rather than the under 40% version he’s been in almost all the games this year. And the way to boost his efficiency is get him more looks in single coverage and with a step on his man rather than asking him to create from the top of the key or the win against defenses who can show him a second and third defender quickly and easily. Run a few more curl actions and tighter pin downs (with better screens set and better angles) and let him catch the ball on the move rather than at a stop or when moving away from the hoop.

Also key is for Jeremy Lin to continue his aggressiveness from Friday. In that game Lin started out looking for his own shot, making quick and smart decisions in how he would attack. He got into the paint, created space on his mid-range jumper, and was very good in catch and shoot chances. He’ll need to do more of that tonight against Ty Lawson, making his smaller counterpart defend and, in the process, expend some energy to make him less effective offensively.

As for the other side of the ball, the Nuggets aren’t especially strong in any one area but are good enough in several places to give the Lakers real issues. They have firepower on the perimeter in Lawson, Aron Aflalo, Randy Foye, and Wilson Chandler who can all shoot the long ball effectively. Add to them Kenneth Faried’s work on the glass and activity both in transition and when diving hard out of the P&R and the Lakers will have to defend the entire floor. Doing so effectively has been a problem all year, especially since they have had so many issues defending the three point line while also taking away shots inside. The perimeter defenders will need to dig inside and then recover to the three point line well or they will get burned.

Overall, the Lakers should have a nice boost from playing at home. Getting Wayne Ellington back should also help their perimeter offense and allow them to play Kobe more at the 3 while reducing his minutes. This latter point is important as it should allow him to be fresher for longer and, hopefully, lead to better lift on his jumper with better results. But, unless this team starts to get some stops, none of it will matter. We’ll see if tonight is the night the Lakers can play a bit above their heads and allow their offense to put them over the top.

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

Break up the Lakers! Well, not really. But after two straight wins — on the road, no less — the Lakers are playing their best basketball of the season. You can qualify the wins as them coming against the Hawks and their bottom third defense and a Rockets’ team missing Dwight Howard, and you’d be well within your rights. These are real variables that matter and should be taken into account. On the other hand, the Lakers have been one of the worst teams in the league this year. Any win they get is one that, at the end of the year, opponents will probably want back.

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The Lakers won only their 2nd game of the season (in 11 tries) last night, taking out the Hawks in Atlanta. The game itself offered a glimpse at what anyone who was (even somewhat) optimistic about the Lakers being better than advertised envisioned they could be. Kobe was the focal point of the team’s attack and handled himself efficiently in the process, but in support of his effort came strong play from multiple other players on the roster. Carlos Boozer was efficient offensively and contributed a very good scoring output. Jeremy Lin was both a solid scorer and a good set-up man for his teammates. Ed Davis and Jordan Hill provided very good interior play, working the glass well and scoring enough to keep defenses honest. And Nick Young came off the bench to provide an offensive spark, but also an injection of fun and enthusiasm that helped propel the team. All in all it was a real team effort and the best the Lakers have looked all season.

Normally, this would be the part of the story where I would typically point to all the factors that make this not sustainable and why you shouldn’t get your hopes up. I mean, good for the Lakers and all that, but the Hawks aren’t exactly one of the league’s better outfits and why fool ourselves. Not today, though. Today, I tell you simply enjoy the win. The Lakers are still a bad team. They still project to win 20 some odd games and while there will be other nights like the one against the Hawks throughout the year, they won’t be here often. And while all that makes for a depressing turn, this is why you should enjoy games like the one against that one even more. The Lakers won’t always look this good and they certainly won’t win a lot of road games against projected playoff teams (not even eastern conference ones). So why not live it up and enjoy yourself some? That’s what I’m doing.

One last note on last night’s game. Kobe Bryant became only the 4th player in NBA history to reach 32,000 points in his career with a turnaround jumper last night. He joins Kareem, Karl Malone, and Jordan on this list. Kobe’s  taken a lot of heat this year for how he’s played, mostly from analysts who are doing their best to use statistics and analytics to portray Kobe’s play as a blight the Lakers are suffering from. Some of this is rooted in truth, some of it overblown, but most of it is a simplification of one player’s role within the very complex nature of a group of players operating within a team sport against other professionals.

I say all this not to discredit anyone’s thoughts on Kobe — we’re all entitled to our opinions and to use whatever “facts” we feel are on our side to spread our own gospel — but to instead bring the focus back to the fact that Kobe, for all intents and purposes probably shouldn’t even be playing basketball. After rupturing his achilles tendon, many thought his career could be over. When he returned only to break a bone in his knee after playing six games last season, many probably thought his career should be over. But, here Kobe is, achieving milestones. He’s not the most efficient player and some of the tendencies he displays on the court will continue to rub some the wrong way. But, through it all, one of the greatest players ever is still out here making amazing shots and hearing fans chant his name in the opposition’s arena. If only all of us could be that washed up.

As for tonight’s game against the Rockets, the Lakers will be hard pressed to replicate the performance they had last night. For one, playing a second game in as many days is hard. Further, the Rockets are a much better team than the Hawks, boast the league’s stingiest defense, still have a couple of all-NBA level players on their side, and are playing at home. These are ingredients that make for a difficult night for any opponent, but for the 2-9 Lakers this is especially so.

If there are three keys to the Lakers remaining competitive in this game, however, they are simple and straight forward:

  • Get Dwight in foul trouble. Regardless of your view of Dwight (and I know some of you Lakers’ fans view him rather unflatteringly), he is still the Rockets’ best big man and a premier two way player in this league. Less of him on the floor is a good thing for the Lakers chances. It will be on Jordan Hill and Ed Davis to make him work defensively and to be crafty and smart enough to put him in positions where he commits silly fouls.
  • Keep James Harden off the FT line. Harden (37.2%) shoots a lower percentage from the field than Kobe (38.9%), but makes up for those misses by going to the line a ton. Harden has shot 110 free throws through 11 games, or a tidy 10 per contest. Harden’s ability to bait defenders into reaching in and then getting the line (where he hits 90% of his shots) props up his efficiency. Make him shoot contested jumpers and keep him from making up the difference at the line and the Lakers will be in business.
  • Make shots from behind the arc. On opening night the Lakers were outscored from behind the arc by 27 points in a game they lost by 18. I’m no mathematician, but I think that latter number was influenced by the former. The Lakers have upped their three point FGA’s as the season has progressed and Nick Young’s return will help even more. But the Rockets will bomb away tonight and the Lakers will have a better shot of keeping the game close if they can keep up somewhat. I’m not saying the Lakers need to shoot 25 threes, but shooting 18 or 20 would be nice. Making eight or more would be really nice.

Again, I don’t see the Lakers pulling this game out. But, unless you’re Philly, you can’t lose all your games.

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