Archives For Game Preview

I typically believe that the simplest explanation is usually the best one. While conspiracy theories and grand schemes are fun to contemplate, the truth is often less sexy and probably pretty boring.

This brings me to Mike D’Antoni and, at least in the view of many observers, his puzzling rotation decisions from game to game. For some context, here is Eric Pincus of the LA Times on Jordan Hill’s lack of time in Tuesday’s game against the Blazers:

On March 27, the Lakers’ Jordan Hill scored 28 points with 16 rebounds against the Bucks in Milwaukee. Five days later, he couldn’t get off the bench, outside of Coach Mike D’Antoni’s rotation. “Yeah, man. I don’t know. I’m all out of words. I don’t know what’s going on,” Hill said after the Lakers’ 124-112 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. “It’s getting old now. Can’t be frustrated.  Can’t be mad. I just need to stay humble. “Hill, who will be a free agent this summer, said he is open to returning to the Lakers but not for more of the same. “Of course not,” Hill said when asked the question. “Who would?”

Forget for a moment the implication Hill makes about not wanting to return next season (should things stay this way) and instead focus on the fact that within a 5 day span Hill went from key player (and starter) to a DNP-CD. Hill’s situation is not unique, of course, as the player who replaced him in the lineup can surely attest. Chris Kaman went from a string of games planted firmly on the bench to suddenly getting a boatload of minutes and even starting against the Blazers next to Pau Gasol.

After the game, D’Antoni’s explanation was pretty simple:

“There’s not enough minutes,” D’Antoni after the loss. “You just can’t play 12 guys just in and out, in and out, in and out. … It just doesn’t work…You’ve got to make choices and you don’t know before you make the choice that it’s the right choice,” D’Antoni said. “You probably know afterwards. You just go on your gut, you go on what you see from previous games.  You go on the opponent and then just try to make the best choice you can.”

I, for one, tend to believe what D’Antoni is saying. In a different quote he explained that, in looking to the future, part of the plan is to play Ryan Kelly and Robert Sacre. With Pau a lineup mainstay, that doesn’t leave many minutes for the rest of the front court players. Likely one, or both, of Hill and Kaman will suffer by being left out of the rotation. This is just how things go.

I don’t have to agree with D’Antoni, but it is easy to draw a straight line to get to his conclusions. I have long discussed how this roster is out of balance and when that occurs someone is bound to get squeezed. It just so happens that the players feeling that pinch are guys who, on the surface, are the better players. They are the established veterans and, in most situations where trying to put the best talent on the floor is the goal, they would see time over their teammates who are younger and less effective (at least over the long haul) than them.

This is where things get less simple, however, and start to veer off track from the first sentence of this post. At this point in the season, the Lakers aren’t necessarily about winning each game — at least not entirely. Mike D’Antoni is trying to put his best players on the floor, but is also trying to play his young(ish) players minutes. He is trying to stick to his system, but is also trying to see what can work on the edges of that system by pairing multiple bigs in the same lineup.

This leads to the type of inconsistencies that have served as the backdrop of the team’s rotations for nearly the entire season. It doesn’t help that the coach can be fickle, trying to ride a hot hand only to bury the player when that hand turns cold. Jordan Hill’s game against the Blazers is a prime example of that — in the game immediately following his big game, he shot 5-12, didn’t go to the FT line, and saw his rebounding rate fall off. After that game his minutes got reduced and then last night he didn’t play at all. So, there is an argument to be made that inconsistent performance can lead directly to inconsistent minute allocation as the coach seeks workable solutions.

The flip side to this argument is how much this lack of lineup consistency (and some would argue trust in the player) contributes to the dips in production. I don’t know of any study to confirm this, but I would imagine no one plays as well when uncertainty of role and playing time exists; when minutes can be so unpredictable that a guy can go from having a key role one night to a nonexistent one the next. No one likes looking over their shoulder every night; everyone would prefer to have the peace of mind that their role is somewhat stable.

What does this have to do with the Kings game tonight? Nothing. At least not really. When it comes to tonight I think the coach will play who he thinks will help him win, while still trying to ensure that certain needs are addressed regarding the playing time of young players (like Kelly and Sacre, and to a lesser extent Kent Bazemore). This may make for wonky rotations or things that on the surface don’t necessarily make sense. And it will certainly lead to things that people do not agree with. That doesn’t mean an explanation is missing, however. There certainly is that.

Where you can watch: 7:00pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.

Don’t look now, but the there are only 15 days left in the regular season. In that span the Lakers will close with 9 games, starting tonight with the Portland Trailblazers. Beyond them, the Lakers will also have tilts against the Clippers, Rockets, Warriors, Spurs, Grizzlies, and Mavericks — making it seven of their final nine games coming against teams either in or actively trying to make the playoffs.

In other words, the Lakers are in a prime position to play spoiler. The West is so compacted that teams seven through nine are in a virtual tie while seeds four through six are only separated by 4.5 games. A lot can happen with margins this small, and while I don’t envision a team jumping from 6th to 4th, a shuffling around of those teams by a spot or getting into/falling out of the race is totally possible. And with the Lakers having every single team in the West race besides the Thunder on the docket, they have a chance to be the guys that do the damage. Just ask the Suns who, after losing to the Lakers, now sit in 9th place and on the outside looking in to the playoff picture.

The flip-side is that they also have a chance to get blown out of the water by teams playing for real stakes while the Lakers are trying to play spoiler. Because as dangerous as the Lakers can be (again, ask Phoenix) they also have the ability to be awful. If the threes aren’t falling and their defensive intensity is what it’s been since the all-star break, any game can get away from them quickly.

This is especially true against this Portland team. For the season the Blazers are 6th in offensive efficiency, scoring 108.2 points per 100 possessions. They have shooters at every position and do  wonderful job of working through and off LaMarcus Aldridge to generate offense. They are wonderful at moving the ball and taking advantage of defenses that don’t rotate consistently or who over-pursue the ball in the hopes of making the hero defensive play. In other words, the things they do well on O are the things the Lakers struggle to contain. Again, this has the chance to get out of hand quickly.

Of course, the Lakers always have a chance. If they get hot from deep or if the Blazers lay an egg, this game can be close throughout. If the Lakers show some discipline and hunt good shots more than just let it fly, they can test a Blazers’ D that isn’t nearly as impressive as their offense. If they can get Lopez or Aldridge in foul trouble early they can work against big men who do not pose the same deterrent defensively and will have a chance to put up points. We have seen the Lakers do this to the Blazers before so any outcome would not surprise me.

That said, don’t get your hopes up. When it comes to this time of the year, I think the motivation to stay in or better your playoff odds always trumps playing for the chance to knock a team out. And when measuring the talent levels of both teams, things definitely favor the Blazers.

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

The Lakers are back from their two game mini road trip with two losses in hand, each game building on the frustration felt all season. It’s like losing to the lowly Bucks wasn’t enough so the team went into Minnesota the next night and lost by 36, giving up 143 points (in regulation!) in the process. I’d say this little stretch would be considered rock bottom, but who am I kidding the Lakers have had too many moments that qualify for any single one to stand out.

There are only 10 games left in the season, however, so the suffering is almost over. Soon there won’t  be any more bad losses to stew over (or, if you’re that guy, to root for). And while I fully anticipate there being a few more good moments to cheer for over the this final 20 days of the campaign, I must admit I am relishing this year coming to a close like no other I can really remember. As a Lakers’ fan, normally the end of the year is either an extreme celebration or major disappointment. The stakes the team typically plays at demands the emotional investment that creates this environment. This season, however, there is none of that.

I suppose it will all be over soon enough.

Tonight, though, the team is back in LA and facing off against a team who still does have something to play for. The Suns are in a battle for their playoff lives, fighting for that one of those final slots in the second season with the Mavs and the Grizzlies. They currently sit as the 7th seed, but are only a half game up from dropping to 9th in the conference. For them, then, this game against the Lakers is a must win and they will come into Staples looking to get one step closer to making the playoffs (and obliterating their preseason expectations in the process). This is what they have to play for.

The Lakers? They want to play spoiler to teams just like the Suns. As Nick Young said earlier this week, if all they have left to play for is ruining other team’s hopes, they’ll take it.

That will be extra difficult tonight, though, now that Eric Bledsoe is back in the lineup for Phoenix. The dynamic combo guard has returned from his torn meniscus and picked up right where he left off, stuffing the stat-sheet and giving the Suns that second perimeter threat to play next to and off of Goran Dragic. With Bledsoe back in the fold, the Suns are more dynamic on both sides of the ball and are even more of a nightmare in transition.

If you’re looking for strategy, it’s that last point that should worry the Lakers most. Phoenix is one of the best fast breaking teams in the league, able to put up points in bunches with Dragic and Bledsoe able to get all the way to the rim once they get a head of steam and multiple other finishers flanking them who are equally comfortable scoring in the paint or running to the three point line to take advantage of a sagging defense. Considering the Lakers are one of the worst transition teams in the league, if they hope to even keep this game close their play in this specific area will need to be at its best.

The other way to keep the game close is to hope the three ball is falling for them in bunches. If there is one place the Lakers can theoretically match the Suns it is in the area of outside shooting with several wing players able to match or outdo their Phoenix counterpart. Jodie Meeks and Nick Young are especially important in this area, but so are Kent Bazemore and Xavier Henry (should he suit up). If Steve Nash is also able to go, he too can generate a boost as a shooter and a playmaker who occupies defenders and gets teammates open looks.

This is the ideal scenario, however, and as we are well aware the Lakers have rarely dealt in the ideal this season. As mentioned, the Suns have something tangible to play for while the Lakers are at the point where they need to invent motivation. In a contest of equal talent, I will always take the former over the latter. In a game where the talent is already tilted, it becomes an even more lopsided equation. That doesn’t mean the Lakers don’t have a chance — this team has beaten some of the top teams in the league this year by sticking to their game plan and getting hot from distance. But as the year has shown, that style mixed with this talent base isn’t nearly consistent enough to be reliable.

In that way, I expect the Lakers to go down tonight, even if they are able to stick close and surprise. Only 10 games left, folks.

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

After winning a couple of games in a row, the Lakers got back to their recent losing ways last night when they were defeated 108-105 on the road against the Milwaukee Bucks. Despite the fact that the Lakers were short-handed on players, they never found a way to get stops against one of the worst teams in basketball.

If the Lakers are aspiring to not have the worst record in the franchise’s history (30-52, set by the 1974-75 team), they have to get wins against teams like the Bucks. Despite the fact that playoff hopes are gone, this team must continue to find ways to play inspired basketball as a unit. However that might be tough as this point in the season, as the majority of this roster isn’t guaranteed a contract going into next year. Guys are playing for their well-being, and it shows on the court.

Tonight the Lakers will play against the Minnesota Timberwolves. This will be the start of a stretch in which the Lakers finish the season facing nine teams with a record of .500 or better (*the pro-tanking group applauds*). The Timberwolves are trying to sneak into the playoffs as the 8-seed, so they will come out firing and ready against the Lakers. Pau Gasol will be out again, so it’s going to be key that the Lakers big men be ready against NBA All-Star Kevin Love.

Keys to Lakers Victory:
Show No Love: Nobody on the Lakers can defend Kevin Love one-on-one. Because of that, they should force someone else on the Timberwolves roster to beat them. Send him different looks on the defensive end, use double teams, whatever it takes. The Lakers can’t afford for him to dominate the interior as a rebounder and a scorer. He’s a supreme talent, and we know that he is going to be looking to feast on a depleted Lakers frontcourt.

Defense: We saw what good can happen if the Lakers simply commit to playing with some type of effort or intensity of the defensive end against the Magic and Knicks. Tonight they must continue playing with that same fire. The Timberwolves are coming in as one of the leagues most effecient teams on the offensive end, and they will not be taking the Lakers lightly, as they are fighting for their playoff lives. Therefore it’s key that the Lakers prioritize getting stops. They’ll need to prevent penetration, cover the three-point line, and rebound on the defensive end.

Win The Three-Point Line: The three-point line is going to be pretty important in a game like this. Both the Lakers and Timberwolves prefer to push the pace and convert from behind the arc as many times as possible. As has been the narrative for the Lakers all season, if they have some decent success shooting the ball, they tend to give themselves a chance at winning. Tonight will have to be one of those nights that they make a lot of threes, as we should expect this game to be a high scoring affair.

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

 

Maybe I should just cut and paste my preview from this past Sunday’s game against the Magic game here, huh?

After all, the Lakers head into Milwaukee to face the team with the worst record in the Eastern Conference. Considering the 76ers have lost 25 games in a row, the fact that the Bucks are still below them in the standings is quite the accomplishment. But there the Bucks are, the winners of 13 games this year (woof) and playing on the heels of the announcement that Ersan Ilyasova will miss the remainder of the season. The poor get poorer, it seems.

Don’t look for the Lakers to throw a pity party for the Bucks, however. They have too many of their own injury issues to deal with for any such sympathy. Even though Steve Nash traveled with the team, he has ruled himself out for this game and the next one, looking instead to next week for a possible return. That mirrors Pau’s timeline for a possible return with the big Spaniard still dealing with symptoms of vertigo. And then, of course, there’s this news:

The hope is that Kaman arrives in Milwaukee in time for the game, but as Dave McMenamin noted, odds are that Hill starts in Kaman’s spot — a development that intrigues me.

I am quite interested in seeing how Hill can play in what is essentially a small-ball lineup where he operates as the lone big man. I have long said that for D’Antoni’s purposes, Hill is essentially a Center and now he gets to play in that exact role. Do not be surprised to see Hill get plenty of chances at the front of the rim as a roll man in the P&R and for him to benefit from the extra spacing he’s bound to have playing with the starting group without Pau or Kaman flanking him up front.

Beyond Hill’s freedom (and likely minutes boost), though, there is little for me to be genuinely excited about when it comes to this game. While the Bucks being bad is part of it, the fact is there really isn’t much to learn about the Lakers at this point in the season either. If I were making a list, the things that truly deserve an extended look are whether Bazemore can continue to flash some playmaking skills as a ball handling wing and…actually that’s about it. As much as the other young players deserve a look from a keen scouting eye, the real question about most of them is what they do in the off-season to develop further, not what they do on the floor over these last 10+ games. For most of these guys we understand their strengths and weaknesses; we understand what holes exist in their games and what they can do to try and close them up. The question is whether they go about doing those things.

Those answers will come over a long summer and into next season, not in the next month. That takes an edge off these games that, at least for me, was present just a month ago. But in learning more about these guys — especially since they have actually had an opportunity to play — the urgency to see more isn’t there anymore. That doesn’t make these games meaningless (the lottery still matters, right?), but from an evaluation standpoint there isn’t too much more to learn.

With that being the case, my advice is to simply enjoy what is left of this season the best you know how (whether that’s rooting for wins or losses). Because very soon, there will not be any Lakers’ basketball to watch.

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