Archives For Game Preview

On Saturday night the Hawks beat the Heat, a win that knocked the Knicks out of the playoffs. That set up a crazy stat: for the first time in league history the Lakers, Celtics, and Knicks all missed the playoffs. That stat doesn’t have much to do with anything, but it really does show how successful the Lakers have been over that time, since that stat really is on the strength of their playoff berths over the years — especially when you consider some of the down stretches the Knicks and Celtics have had.

The Lakers, of course, have known for some time that they wouldn’t be in the playoffs. They’ve become the team that has been trying to play spoiler for almost a month, attempting to drop teams down in the standings or knock them out of the race entirely. With the season almost over, their last chance to really do that is in tonight’s game when they face off with the Grizzlies.

As the Knicks were being eliminated, the Mavs were clinching their spot in the playoffs, leaving the Grizz and the Suns fighting for the final spot in the West field. Those two teams play each other on Monday, but the Lakers can do the Suns a big favor by knocking off the Grizz (or at least wearing them down on the first night of a back to back). As it stands right now, the Grizz have a half game lead on Phoenix, up a single game in the loss column. A Lakers’ win would even that up and give the Suns a chance to write their ticket into the playoffs with that win over the Grizz.

Of course, Memphis also understands this and should come out ready to play for their playoff lives in this game. They’ve won three of their last four games, including a big win over the Heat that has kept them in the race. A loss to the Lakers wouldn’t end their season, but it would put them in a bad spot with the Suns and the Mavs on the docket to close the year. The Grizz know that winning out gets them into the playoffs and gets them to the 7th seed. A let down against the Lakers — their easiest game left on the schedule — is something they cannot afford.

On the other end of the spectrum, and as it’s been lately, the Lakers are in a different kind of standings battle. A loss to the Grizzlies would tie the Lakers with the Celtics for the 5th worst record in the league and only a game behind the Jazz for the 4th worst record. The Celtics close against the 76ers and the Wizards while the Jazz close agains the Lakers and the Timberwolves. While the Lakers can’t control what the Celtics do, if the C’s get one more win while the Lakers lose out, there is a chance that the Lakers not only seal the 5th worst record but get all the way to the 4th spot in the lottery. We’re getting ahead of ourselves, but it will be interesting to see how these final games go and how all three of these teams approach these final games that will determine the lottery odds.

In a way, it’s funny that this is what the season has come down to. Watching the scoreboard and wondering what other teams are doing, not because of how it affects the race for the playoffs or seeding, but how it affects the lottery. A year ago at this time the Lakers were closing the season on a nice run and played a meaningful game on the last night of the year that got them to the 7th seed in the playoffs. This year, on the 2nd to last game of the season we will see them play the Jazz in a game where the winner may negatively impact their draft position. Funny how much can change in 365 days.

As for the game against the Grizzlies, I will be watching two match ups. The first is when Jordan Farmar plays against Mike Conley. Conley is one of the more underrated point guards in the league and has been playing well to close the year as the Grizz have made their push to get into the playoffs. Farmar, when healthy, has actually had a very good year, shooting the ball well and showing he could be a decent creator in the P&R. Watching how he deals with Conley’s quickness offensively and his ability to be a pest defensively will be one of the better games within the game.

The 2nd match up will be watching how Jordan Hill matches up with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol in the middle. I still really enjoy Hill’s game and think he can be a solid contributor on a good team. But what has become more clear as he’s had to man the middle with Pau and Kaman out is that he has a hard time matching up with good, starting big men who aren’t easily out hustled or out muscled by him on the glass. Hill is a very good 3rd big man who can beat up on opposing second units and have some quality good minutes against some starters. But as a full time starter matching up with opposing starters for 30 minutes, he’s not going to be as productive. Against the Grizz he’ll face one of the better big man duos in the league and I will be watching closely to see if he can still make an impact with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph on the other end of the floor.

Where you can watch: 6:00pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.

h/t @cjzero for the screenshot

The Golden State Warriors are taking their hatred for the Los Angeles Lakers a little too seriously. The Lakers have always been one of those teams in sports that only has one true rival, but is the rival to everyone else. Other teams, especially in the division, get up to play the Lakers in a way that they don’t for other teams in the the league, and seems to still be the case even in what is arguably the least successful season in the Lakers franchise history.

With a chance to clinch a playoff berth against the Denver Nuggets on Thursday Night, the Warriors elected to lay the conjectural egg and allowed Timofey Mozgof to go off for a ridiculous 93 (!) points on only 15 (!) shots with 29 (!) rebounds. Mozgof’s night was easily the most efficient of any player who has scored more than 70 points, mainly because the Warriors let him run rampant on the offensive end.

The reason: The Warriors wanted to clinch a playoff spot on the Lakers home court. “Teams tank all the time,” began head coach Mark Jackson after the game. “The Lakers are a team that this organization doesn’t like and they don’t like us. If we have an opportunity to clinch on their floor, in front of their fans — we’re going to take it.”

Woof.

A clinch for the Warriors in Los Angeles isn’t a guarantee, however. They’re heading into a second of a back-to-back and the Lakers are coming off their highest scoring total of the season. The offense was firing on all cylinders as they dropped 130 points on the Houston Rockets. Although they’re only at 25-53, the offense may have finally found a rhythm that can carry them for the remainder of the season, even without Kobe Bryant or Pau Gasol or Chris Kaman or Steve Nash or Jordan Farmar or Xavier Henry or Kent Bazemore. **

———-

Kendall Marshall is going to have to control the tempo and keep his counterpart Stephen Curry in check. If the Warriors are able to get out and run, things can get a little dicey for the Lakers as they just don’t have the depth to continue to rotate players to play 48 minutes of high tempo basketball. Curry is his best in the open court when he’s able to improvise and pick his spots. Klay Thompson is one of the beneficiaries of Curry in the open court as he’s often left open as defenses key in on trying to keep Curry under control.

One of the more interesting things about the Warriors in recent weeks is Jackson’s sudden willingness to play an Andrew Bogut/Draymond Green front court. With Iguodala on the court with those two, the Warriors have one of the best defensive front courts in the NBA. Their ability to get stops and force live ball turnovers has turned into some on-court success in the absence of David Lee.

For the Lakers, they’ll have to counter with the likes of Jordan Hill and Wes Johnson as the starting front court. Injuries were the problem at the beginning of the year and have continued throughout their 2013-14 campaign. The issues started with the backcourt, but with both Gasol and Kaman out, the front court is not the most depleted part of the Lakers roster and it could be very evident on a night that features one of the more unique front courts in the NBA.

A win for the Lakers isn’t necessarily out of the realm of possibilities as this has been a team that has fought extremely hard even in their worst of losses this season. However, what is there to be gained in another win as the season comes to a merciful close? It’s hard to condone even the idea of not playing to win, but any win at this point will be recorded in vain. There is the idea that the Lakers can keep the Warriors from clinching on their home floor, which is a mini-feel good story in an otherwise horrible season.

Where To Watch: 7:30pm start time on TWC SportsNet and NBATV. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.

** Words above the break are likely made up and should not be taken seriously. 

The Lakers will look to player hate tonight when the Houston Rockets visit Staples Center at 7 p.m.

Houston comes into tonight’s game playing solidly despite missing two of five starters in Patrick Beverly, who’s recovering from a torn meniscus, and He Who Must Not Be Named (hint: #12), who has missed the past five games with a nagging ankle injury. They’ve won seven of 10 and are averaging an impressive 113.8 points during that span. Things seem to be clicking for the Rockets, who should be a legitimate contender to come out of the West if Dwight’s ankle injury doesn’t continue to be an issue, like he promises. Houston owns a two-game lead over the Blazers for the 4th position and are two games behind with Clippers with only 6 games remaining, so it appears likely that they’ll enter the playoffs as the 4th seed.

LAL, on the other hand, has lost 10 of 13 and is coming into the game fresh off a 120-97 beating by their crosstown rivals. They’ll be without Kent Bazemore, who joined the comically long list of Lakers who were hurt playing point guard this season. He’ll be out the remainder of the year with a torn peroneus longus tendon in his right foot, which requires surgery. Also missing in action tonight will be Pau, who’s still dealing with a gnarly case of vertigo, and Chris Kaman (calf). Steve Nash is questionable, as per usual, and Farmar told Mike Trudell that he’s likely to suit up and play tonight.

In short, this is a poor matchup for the Lakers. The Rockets are the second-highest scoring team in the league, while the Lakers give up the second-most points in the league and have given up the most points since the all-star break by a wide margin. If they want to have any chance to stay in the game tonight, they’ll need to keep Houston’s up-tempo offense in check. The Lakers are 2-34 when they give up more than their season average of 109 points. That number really speaks volumes; this team simply does not win shootouts.

The Lakers also must keep James Harden in check if they want to keep the game close tonight. The all-star has absolutely torched the Lakers this season, averaging 34 points in the previous two games, which were split. Remember when Steve Blake hit that game winning three right in Dwight’s face? It’s my personal favorite moment from this season in which their really hasn’t been many, but my goodness does it feel like ages ago.

A loss tonight would set the type of record no one wants. No Los Angeles Laker team has ever lost 53 games, and only one team in franchise history has matched that loss total (1957-58 Minneapolis Lakers). A few short weeks ago, Nick Young told the media that this team would fight tooth and nail to avoid that distinction. But when you’re dealing with as many injuries as the Lakers have, which is truly an unfathomable amount over the course of the season, pride really doesn’t matter. You can try all you want, but right now the Lakers have what I like to call a LOFT problem- a lack of f***ing talent. Their main scoring option tonight will be…who knows? With Pau out (and obviously Kobe), this team really has no first option, no one to look for to create his own shot when the shot-clock is winding down. Xavier Henry had shown some promise in this regard and then BOOM: he gets season ending surgery. Such has been our luck this year.

It just hasn’t been an enjoyable season. I’m looking forward to it ending.

Where you can watch: TWC SportsNet, 7:30 p.m. PST tip off

 

The season has pretty much come full circle as the Lakers play the Clippers for the last time this season. On opening night — that seems like so, so long ago doesn’t it? — the Lakers upset the Clips in one of high points of the year. What followed was about 20 games of relatively inspired play by an upstart Lakers’ group.

Ultimately, though, those moments didn’t last and what has transpired is one of the worst seasons in franchise history. Meanwhile, the Clippers have had one of their best seasons in franchise history, charging hard for and reaching the 3rd seed in an ultra-competitive West. They will look to make a lot of noise in the playoffs and try to do what another Doc Rivers coached team did by grinding its way through the post-season in search of the ultimate prize.

Things couldn’t be more different between these two teams and, not just because of the time that’s passed, today’s game couldn’t feel any further removed from that upset in late October.

Today’s game matters mostly because of how it can impact the standings. As noted above, the Clippers are currently sitting in the 3rd seed, 3 games up on the Rockets. It is unlikely Houston — who has been playing without Dwight Howard lately — catches the Clippers, so falling down the standings doesn’t seem likely. However, the Clippers are only 2 games behind the Thunder for the 2nd seed in the conference and with a nice push to close the season and any sort of stumble from the Thunder, the Clips could find themselves moving up. To close the season, then, the Clippers will play as hard as they can to maximize their seeding and to try to fine tune their game heading into the playoffs.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Lakers are also looking at the standings and are seeing how their current string of losses (3 straight) have kept them in the 6th spot. Right above them are the Jazz who they face in the 2nd to last game of the season. If the Lakers lose out — which is quite possible considering their strength of opponents (minus the Jazz) — they may be able to get all the way to the 4th worst record in the league and hurdle both the Jazz and the Celtics in the process. That’s looking way ahead, of course, but down the stretch there really isn’t much to look forward too save for a nice performance from one of the individual players.

With the implications of this game set, I think it is safe to say that the outcome may be as well.

The Lakers will play without Pau, Xavier Henry (who has been ruled out for the year), and Steve Nash. Chris Kaman is questionable with his calf strain and Jordan Hill came out of Friday’s game gimpy with a sore ankle (as did Nick Young). In other words, the same old story for a team who just needs the season to end. The Clippers, on the other hand, are starting to get their players back even if they are still a bit banged up too. Jamal Crawford and Danny Granger are likely out of this game, but J.J. Redick is back in the lineup as a needed shooter to space the floor. Blake Griffin is also likely to play even though he’s been suffering from back spasms and turned an ankle in their loss to the Mavs on Thursday.

Forget the injuries, though, the Clippers are simply the better team. They have more talent and are coached in a manner that seeks to optimize that talent on both sides of the ball.

As the Lakers’ season mercifully comes to a close in a week, the Clippers’ will just be beginning. As noted at the top, things really have come full circle.

Where you can watch: 12:30pm start time on ABC. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.

With the Lakers’ loss to the Kings on Wednesday night, they fell to 2nd to last in the West and boast the 6th worst record in the league. With only seven games left to play, the Lakers place in the standings is pretty much the only compelling storyline left.

Will they stay in 6th? Will they “climb” the standings and get to 5th or even 4th? A few games to watch as the season comes to a close are the Lakers game against the Jazz in the 2nd to last game of the year and the two games the Celtics play against the 76ers. Those three games may mean the difference between staying in 6th or moving up in the lottery. This is what the Lakers are fighting for now.

On the other end of the spectrum is Friday’s opponent, the Mavs. On Thursday night they held on to get a much needed win over the Clippers, advancing their cause to make the playoffs in the process. The Mavs’ magic number is now 6 and they control their own destiny to make the tournament.

Of course, playing a hard fought game against the Clippers isn’t exactly the best set of circumstances to be in when coming into Staples to play the Lakers. The Mavs have the Lakers outgunned from a talent perspective, but fatigue can be a great equalizer. Add in the fact that the Lakers can get hot from behind the arc and have been carrying the mantra of “player haters” who want to try and spoil playoff teams’ hopes and this creates an interesting scenario that bears watching.

All things being equal, the Mavs should win this game simply because they are the better team. Add in the fact that the Lakers remain banged up and shorthanded (my guess is that Pau and Nash both sit out again and that Xavier Henry may join them) and a full strength Mavs team looks even better on paper than they already did.

But the games aren’t played on paper (something people who watched last season’s Lakers know all too well) and if the Mavs come in tired, unfocused, or a combination of both and the Lakers have a chance to steal a game. (As an aside, I don’t know which fan base would be more upset if this actually occurred considering how much wins and losses mean to both franchises right now.)

As for the X’s and O’s of this game, there are a few match ups that I am interested in seeing. First, is the battle of the point guards where Jose Calderon and Kendall Marshall will face off. On most nights Marshall is outmatched physically and is relegated to either chasing a quicker player around or forced to play an opposing shooting guard or small forward (whichever is the lesser offensive player) in order to be hidden defensively. Calderon is neither a speedster nor an overwhelming physical talent, so Marshall will likely match up with him all night. What Calderon is, however, is crafty with his dribble and a strong pick and roll practitioner. Marshall will have his hands full trying to navigate screens and will have to choose wisely when deciding whether to go under picks and give up jumpers or chase over the top and allow Calderon an angle to penetrate.

The equation gets trickier when Dirk is setting the screen as the big German will either flare to the arc to spot up for a three pointer or dive to the FT line area where he can get into the middle of the defense and either shoot his jumper or try to work a mid-range post up that draws help defenders and opens up teammates. It will be interesting to see how Ryan Kelly (and Jordan Hill) do when defending the big German and whether they can effectively move him off his preferred spots to make him more of a passer than the efficient scorer he’s been all season (and all his career).

The other match up I am interested in seeing is Kent Bazemore getting some minutes on Monta Ellis. While I envision Meeks starting on Monta, I can also see Bazemore getting some chances on Ellis when Marion slides up to PF or when cross-matches occur. In recent games Bazemore has been more active in using his length to try and disrupt ball-handlers and has been pretty good about getting on ball steals. Monta has always been an attack player, but has really cut down on shooting threes this season in favor of trying to get into the teeth of the defense more. I am interested in seeing if Bazemore can keep Monta out of the paint and use his length to contest his jumper as well as force him into turnovers when he tries to create off the bounce.

Offensively, I am interested in seeing how much the Lakers can use tempo to their advantage to try and wear the Mavs down. As mentioned, Dallas should be a bit tired and the Lakers would love nothing more than try and increase the pace and make Dallas get into a chaotic game, increasing the chances for mistakes to be made. At the end of the Clippers game the Mavs showed cracks in how they handle defensive pressure and did a poor job of keeping their poise and playing smart. If the Lakers can recreate that environment in this game, Dallas will have issues.

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