Archives For Game Preview

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.

First things first, neither Pau (vertigo) nor Steve Nash (hamstring/nerve root issue) are expected to play against the Knicks on Tuesday night. And while Xavier Henry will give it a go, he will surely be in pain after his MRI revealed a torn ligament in his wrist. In other words, same (expletive) different day for a Lakers’ team who has not been healthy all year.

They face a Knicks team who is healthy, but is trying to overcome what has been a terribly disappointing (and underachieving) season to date by making a final push to get into the post-season. They currently sit 2.5 games back of the Hawks for the 8th seed and would very much like to make it to the second season where they can test a suddenly shaky Pacers’ group or see if the Heat really are cut out to make another run to the Finals.

Who are we kidding, though? Tonight’s game won’t be about the Knicks’ playoff chase or the Lakers playing shorthanded while keeping an eye on their lottery odds. No, tonight’s game is about Phil Jackson! The Zen Master, in all his glory, is now a New York Knicks’ employee and will probably be in the building (or at least he was already) tonight. And considering this is a nationally televised game, if Phil actually does find his way into the building there will only be, oh, a hundred or so camera shots of him with plenty of back and forth from the announcers and chants from the crowd and…you get the point. There will be a game going on, but at the same time there won’t be.

In a way, that’s all okay. After all, the Lakers aren’t playing for much besides personal pride and draft positioning. And while the Knicks are trying to push for the playoffs, the odds of them pulling an upset are small and the odds we see this version of the Knicks again next year with Phil in charge are even smaller. So, take this game for what it is — a late season distraction from real life for two and a half hours with snarky comments about Jim Buss mixed in. Or, in the eyes of many Lakers’ fans, Tuesday.

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