Archives For Game Preview

The Lakers are in Phoenix tonight, playing the second of four consecutive games on the road. The first game was a loss at Utah, a game that saw the team struggle mightily to contain Gordan Hayward while also allowing the Derrick Favors and Trey Burke to have good nights (though Burke did so rather inefficiently). Of course Kobe did not play in that game and, though he has not played since Thursday, he will not suit up tonight either. Ronnie Price will also sit out, so expect Jeremy Lin and Wayne Ellington to be the starters against the Suns just like they were against the Jazz.

Speaking of the Suns, commenter Calvin Chang had a nice summary of what the Suns will try to do offensively:

We all know what’s going to happen. In a half-court set, Suns like to run the high pick and roll with PG (Bledsoe, Dragic or Thomas) and big (Alex Len or Miles) and have space-out shooters in the Morris bros and Gerald Green. Our PG will get stuck in the pick. Their PG will make the read on how our defense reacts to the high pick and roll, then either shoot a 3, or penetrate and get a layup, or kick out to a 3pt shooter. We’ve seen it in the past 2 losses to the Suns. Can Byron come up with a strategy to counter this?

Indeed, it will be interesting to see how the Lakers handle the Suns’ three point guards and whether or not they can close down the lane while still recovering back to the three point line to contest jumpers. In the previous matchups , the Lakers have not done a good job of this, either ceding too many open threes or allowing the Bledsoe, Dragic, Thomas trio to get deep into the lane and either score or collapse the defense enough to generate a good look for a big man camping or a shooter spotting up. One way to try and slow this action down is to go under screens — especially on Bledsoe — to see if they can make the defense pay with long jumpers. Another tactic is for the big man to play well below the screen and hope that he can cut off the driving angle long enough for the ball handler’s man to recover after the screen. These aren’t perfect solutions — there aren’t any with this Lakers’ defense — but they could offer varied looks to keep the Suns guessing.

Offensively, if the Lakers are going to keep this game close, they will need some better play from Jeremy Lin. Against the Jazz, Lin scored only six points on 10 shot attempts and did not go to the foul line. He also only had three assists. Without Kobe, Lin needs to find ways to score and be a good enough set up man to keep the defense honest. He needs to get into the paint and, even if he’s not hitting his shots, draw extra defenders to allow his bigs lanes to the offensive glass. If he’s not doing these things, his utility falls off a great deal since he’s not the best defensive player.

Another key to the offense will be the Lakers’ bigs finding ways to remain active on the offensive glass and get some easy baskets on put backs. The Suns do not play “big” very often and typically have a stretch-y PF on the floor to aid in their spacing. Hill, Boozer, and Black need to take advantage of this by not only crashing the boards, but coming up with enough of them to get some points. This will not only help on the scoreboard, but will force the Suns to gang rebound more which, in turn, should slow down their transition offense where they typically kill the Lakers.

While shorthanded, the Lakers should be well rested and have enough legs — especially with Clarkson taking some of Kobe’s minutes — to get up and down the court and run with the Suns for stretches. Whether this is enough to keep the game close remains to be seen, but if this game is a loss it should not be for effort, simply due to talent.

Where you can watch: 7:00pm start time on TNT. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM Los Angeles.

If nothing else, the Lakers loss to the Cavs on Thursday night provided what too few games this year have: fun. Kobe’s wonderful stat-line of 19 points and (career high!) 17 assists wasn’t just a joy to watch, he was a full of joy while displaying the skill and basketball acumen needed to compile such numbers. The entire night he mostly smiled and had playful interactions with teammates and LeBron James, with the two once in a generation players sharing an embrace and some quick conversation when the final horn blew. After the game Kobe commented that part of his demeanor was due to the stage of his career and the state of his team, noting that if they were competing fro a championship, his mood likely would have been different. But, of course, that isn’t the case.

The game also served as a reminder that nothing lasts forever. After leading his team to a win down the stretch, LeBron spoke of Kobe joking that like himself, the King was now “old”. LeBron would add that a player like Kobe who has smarts and skill can remain effective for a long time, foreshadowing his own career in some respects. Everything must end and we’re reminded of that even more today as Kobe rests in Los Angeles as his team is in Utah to play the second half of a back to back.

This Jazz game is probably most important to fans of Lakers’ losses. The team currently has the fourth worst record in the league, a game “up” in the loss column over, you guessed it, the Jazz. If the Lakers find a way to leave Salt Lake with an “L” they’ll tighten their grasp on that 4th worst record and, with that, further aid in keeping their pick at the end of the year. There’s a lot of basketball to be played, but much like jostling for a playoff seed the same will be done for draft positioning. At least that’s one way to look at it.

The game itself will hinge on which team’s big men have the better night and whether the Lakers, with Kobe out, have anyone on the perimeter who can match what Gordan Hayward will likely provide. Starting with the former, the Jazz offer a trio of nice young bigs, with Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, and Rudy Gobert providing solid two way play and some rim protection (at least Favors and Gobert) too. They will make life hard on Ed Davis, Jordan Hill, Carlos Boozer, and Tarik Black all night, especially when it comes to battling on the glass and scoring in the paint. If the Lakers’ bigs can’t hang with their counterparts, this game likely won’t even be close. And that’s before we get to Hayward.

The Jazz SF has really come into his own this year, making good on his big contract and his summer of training with Team USA. The Butler product always had the all-court game, but his production would rise and fall and it was a real question on if there was another big step forward in his game. This year has answered, at least partially, that question as he boasts averages of 19 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists with his typical heady play on both sides of the ball. He takes on the opponent’s best perimeter player and hands out his share of punishment, too.

This is what the Lakers are up against. The Jazz aren’t a particularly good team record wise, but their trajectory is pointing upwards. This is more than can be said of the Lakers currently. On the 2nd night of a back to back and on the road, we’ll see how much the Lakers can conjure in the form of competitiveness. It’d be nice, though, if they brought of some of last night’s fun too. Even without Kobe.

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

After facing LeBron’s old team on Tuesday, the Lakers face his new (and, I guess, old too) team tonight when the Cavaliers visit Staples Center. And while I can go into the struggles of both teams — the Cavs have lost nine of 10 games (including their last six) and the Lakers are, well, you know — all that I’m really thinking about is this:

No one knows what the future holds, but this will be one of the last times that Kobe and LeBron face off. Kobe’s contract is up after next season, leaving, at most, three more match ups between him and LeBron after tonight’s game. But with the way these guys have missed games this year and next year potentially offering only more questions, there really aren’t any guarantees.

So, wouldn’t it be nice to get one more classic tilt between these two teams? One more game where both give a classic performance that comes down to the closing minutes? Wouldn’t that not only give fans a nice (potentially) parting gift, but give these teams some sense of life after both have struggled mightily lately? I don’t know about you, but this is what I’d like to see tonight.

And it’s certainly what I’d rather discuss rather than what has devolved into constant questions about the directions of both organizations — especially, at least nationally, the Cavs. As noted above, they are struggling severely and actually have less wins (2) than the Lakers (3) since Christmas. Every interaction between head coach David Blatt and LeBron is critiqued and the use (or, really, misuse) of Kevin Love has been so thoroughly discussed that it’s not even a front page item anymore.

So, for one night at least, just give me some good basketball with an old-fashioned battle between a couple of stars. I understand it might be too much to ask for, but I’m doing it anyway. C’mon basketball gods, give us what we want this one time.

Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on TNT. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM Los Angeles.

Since the moment the Lakers traded Shaq to the Heat following the 2004 season, whenever you saw Miami vs. Los Angeles on the schedule it was appointment viewing. Even in those early days where the Lakers were bad and the Heat were one of the best in the league, I wanted to see prime Kobe battle against Shaq and Wade. When the tables turned and the Lakers became the elite team and the Heat faltered, I still wanted to see Kobe and Pau and Odom take on Wade’s crew. And then, of course, when the Heat were able to sign LeBron and Bosh, any Lakers/Heat game that wasn’t on national television was probably a scheduling error.

While some of the names remain — Kobe, Wade, Bosh — and new ones have joined, those days where this game would be featured on the marquee are long gone. The Lakers are, as you well know, one of the worst teams in the league, currently boasting a bottom four record in the association. The Heat, meanwhile, are now without LeBron and have fallen to the 7th seed in the East with a 16-21 record. They are only two games up from the 9th seeded Pacers and really have been inconsistent as they adjust to life without the “king”.

What this leaves us with, really, is just another game on a Tuesday. Yes, Kobe may play after participating in practice yesterday. And, yes, the Heat will bring Wade and Bosh (and Luol Deng) on their end. But, ultimately, this isn’t really a game to get excited about anymore and, really, is more interesting for how it affects the standings (in terms of the Lakers keeping their pick and the Heat trying to make the playoffs) than anything else — even at this early-ish stage of the season.

In saying all that, however, both teams will come out and compete tonight and will, tactically, try to play to their strengths to win the game. For the Heat, this will mean working the ball through Wade and Bosh while looking for Deng and some of the other role players to get their respective games going. One player to watch is big man Hassan Whiteside, Miami’s reserve center. The big man has been playing well lately, include a fantastic performance against the Clippers’ renowned frontcourt of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Whiteside put up 23 points with 16 rebounds and 2 blocks in only 29 minutes in helping the Heat beat the Clippers on Sunday.

The Lakers’ bigs, then, have a fair amount of responsibility this game. Not just because of a reserve Center who played well two days ago, but because the Heat, though now without LeBron, will still try to stretch the Lakers out by moving Bosh all over the court and then attacking the vacated lane via penetration and quick cuts. This will put pressure on Hill, Davis, Boozer, and Tarik Black to have good awareness and position themselves accordingly in order to not give up easy looks every time down the floor.

Offensively, the Lakers must find ways to threaten and control the paint. Whether this is via penetration from the guards, pick and rolls with the big men diving, or working the offensive glass hard the team must find ways to get baskets inside and then work to the perimeter after. Relying on Jordan Hill or Kobe (should he play) long two point jumpers will let the Heat off the hook and allow them to pressure the perimeter and put a stranglehold on the offense. No, the Lakers must fight the urge to settle and instead work the ball, deliberately, into the paint to either score or collapse the defense enough to open up the perimeter to make those shots less stressful.

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

After finding out on game day that they’d be without Kobe Bryant, the Lakers promptly went out and dismantled the Orlando Magic on Friday night. Of course, the Magic aren’t a much better, if at all, team than the Lakers but the team put on a strong performance down their centerpiece player and a further diminished wing rotation with Wes Johnson also sitting out.

Tonight, it’s not yet clear if Kobe will be back in the lineup — he’s listed as questionable — though Wes will reportedly return after missing several games with a bad hip. Wes’ return will help with depth and will likely bring some normalcy back to Byron Scott’s rotations as he will likely return to his normal spot in the starting lineup.

In saying that, though, I’d be lying if I said that I believe that is all for the best. The Lakers are not good enough to make the playoffs and hunting wins on a nightly basis may not even be the best strategy considering the draft pick implications. And while that doesn’t change the fact that the team is clearly trying to win games, they’ve not been very good at that, besting only the Wolves in the Western Conference and sitting a tidy 13 games under .500 with a 12-25 record.

At this point, then, why not try to find more minutes for the less established players on the roster and see if they are pieces who can improve this year while also getting a better look at them as potential long term fits. On the wing, this means finding additional minutes for Jordan Clarkson and Ryan Kelly while down low it means finding some additional minutes for Tarik Black. Byron took a nice step towards that on Friday when Kelly played a team high 35 minutes and Black displaced Sacre in the lineup in the 3rd quarter and ate into Davis and Hill’s minutes in the 4th. If he could do the same for Clarkson (maybe sitting Price or even giving him some of Ellington’s minutes), it would not be the worst thing in the world. After all, what does the team have to lose? More games? They’re doing that already with the strategy they currently have in place.

As for tonight’s game, the Blazers are again on the docket for the second time in four games. The last time these teams played Kobe sat out, the Lakers were on the 2nd night of a back to back, but played them surprisingly tough up in Portland. In that game the Blazers missed a lot of shots they normally make and the Lakers did a good job of sharing the ball offensively, keeping the game close in the process. The Blazers, however, showed their class late, with Damian Lilliard dominating the fourth quarter and pulling out a win.

Tonight, honestly, I expect to see much of the same. Portland is the better team and that is true whether Kobe plays or not. If the Lakers want to remain competitive, they’ll need much of the same things that worked for them in the last game to be there again, but to be completely honest I do not expect the Blazers to shoot as poorly nor for the Lakers to be able to generate the really good looks they did the last time they faced off. All I am hoping for, then, is what I mentioned above — for the younger players to get a bit more burn and for them to show some strides and ability in those extra minutes.

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