Archives For Game Preview

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.

There is really no way to spruce up a game like the one that will occur tonight. When the Orlando Magic come into Staples Center tonight to face the Lakers, two of the worst teams in the league will be facing off.

The Lakers now boast the 4th worst record in the entire league. Read that sentence again. If they hope to avoid the worst season in franchise history they need to win nine of their last 14 games. Considering they are 3-7 in their last 10 games, I am not optimistic this will occur. And while the team continues to play hard, they do not play smart or together defensively. I don’t want to undersell the former point, but if you are looking for why this team continues to lose it are those latter points that mean more. As the great John Wooden said, do not mistake activity for achievement.

The Magic, meanwhile, boast the league’s third worst record and are one of only three teams to not yet even win 20 games this year. They are a roster of mostly young players and are still trying to recover from the departure of Dwight Howard and Stan Van Gundy two seasons ago. They have some nice pieces, but do not know how to channel that talent, often experimenting with lineups and trying sort out what positions maximize their players’ production.

In a way, Orlando represents an interesting look at what the Lakers hope to try to emulate while not replicating the results. With prospects like Victor Oladipo, Nikola Vucevic, Tobias Harris, and Mo Harkless the Magic possess a core of young players who, if they reach their respective ceilings, can be a nice core of contributors for a competitive team. That said, it takes time for young players to maximize their potential and without high performing veterans to serve as mentors and provide a baseline of production for a successful record the team as a whole flounders. In the coming seasons, then, the Lakers will try to acquire young assets like the Magic possess but try pair that talent with the types of high quality veterans that can keep the team among the ranks of the competitive.

That’s down the line, however. Tonight, this game is probably most important because of how it affects lottery positioning. As mentioned, the Lakers have the 4th worst record, but a win would put them back into 7th place by percentage points. I don’t root for losses, but it is wise to understand how each game affects the outlook of the draft through the lottery process.

If you do root for losses, though, one thing that will be in your favor is that the Lakers will again be a bit short handed tonight. Xavier Henry had an MRI on the wrist he injured on Friday and it revealed a torn ligament. He has been ruled out of this game and will be reevaluated on Tuesday. And, after having a nice return to action against the Wizards, Steve Nash is a game time decision after tweaking his hamstring (which is a symptom of the nerve root irritation he’s dealing with). At this point, I think it is doubtful Nash gives it a go all things considered.

The flip-side of this, however, is that the Magic also have plenty of variables against them tonight. Jameer Nelson is doubtful to play. The Magic are also on the 2nd night of a back to back, playing last night in Utah (a game they lost). This game also marks the final contest in a 4 game west coast road trip, which should only contribute further to whatever dragging feeling the team may have already.

In summary, rather than thinking about why either team would win this game it is much easier to give reasons why they will lose. Thank goodness there are only 14 games left in this season.