Archives For Game Preview

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.

This could be said on many nights this season, but tonight’s match up is quite the role reversal for a late March game between these two teams. The Wizards enter tonight two games over .500 and the 6th seed in the East. The Lakers enter tonight’s game 23 games under .500 (seriously, that’s not a misprint) and are dead last in the West. I don’t need the Elias Sports Bureau to tell me that this type of discrepancy between these two teams has rarely (if ever) happened this late in the season. But here we are.

The good news for the Lakers (at least if you like watching more talent) is that they get some reinforcements back tonight. Jordan Hill and Nick Young are slated to return to the lineup after dealing with their respective ailments. Steve Nash will also be available to play tonight, likely playing anywhere from 5-7 minutes a half according to Mike D’Antoni. Adding those three to the lineup, even if they are diminished (especially Nash), improves this team a fair amount. Hill’s work on the glass and general hustle, Young’s scoring punch and ability to absorb possessions while creating shots offensively, and Steve Nash’s all-around game on O greatly improve what this team wants to do schematically.

And call me a sap, but I’m happy that Nash will be able to give it a go tonight. I know there are no guarantees he even makes it through the game (even if only playing short stints), I’ve always liked watching him out there on the floor. If he’s able to make a few “Nash” plays when out there, I’ll be satisfied. I also hope the fans give him a nice ovation when he makes his first appearance. For all we know, this may be the last time we ever see him play.

This is normally the part where I’d talk some strategy or discuss the Lakers’ chances of winning this game. Not today, however. It’s not that there aren’t X’s and O’s that intrigue me this game. It’s quite the opposite, actually. The Wizards young backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal are difference makers and offer ever improving games that should give the Lakers fits. And with Nene out and Marcin Gortat missing their last game, that duo will have to do even more of the heavy lifting than normal. We also can’t forget the return of Drew Gooden and his all court goodness! (On a serious note, Gooden has been making some plays lately and the Wiz recently signed him for the rest of the season after initially inking him to a 10 day contract.)

I am not going to get into many details, however, because I’m not sure it matters all that much at this point. I mean, I care how the team plays and there are several things that still intrigue me about what this group does when on the floor. But in reality, this part of the season is less about the schemes the team is using or what they can do to win, and more about what the guys are offering as individuals and whether those traits can be incorporated into a team, down the line, that wins games. There is individual growth to be made as well and getting extended looks at several players (especially Sacre, Bazemore, and Henry) can help continue the evaluation process. I want to see how those players operate within the scheme more than what the scheme is itself, if that makes sense.

At this point, though, these are the things that matter most to me. Whether this is true for you or not, let me know in the comments. My guess is that many still care about the wins and losses (especially related to the lottery), but as a guy who is also thinking roster construction and the need to fill some gaps with cheap talent, these last games will hopefully continue to inform those decisions as well.

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

If it seems like the Lakers haven’t played a lot lately it is because they haven’t. This will only be their fourth game in the last 10 days and their first since Friday. If you were hoping that all that time off would help with the injury bug you’d be right and wrong all at the same time.

Nick Young and Jordan Hill are close to returning and if they are not active tonight, they should both be soon. However, while those guys are on the mend, Jordan Farmar is on the shelf again, this time with a strained groin suffered in practice earlier this week. Farmar will be out at least two weeks and with only a month left in the season, who knows if we will actually see him again this year.

With Farmar out tonight the Lakers will again be down to a single point guard who is available to play. Kendall Marshall won’t be able to play the entire game, but he will likely see heavy minutes with Xavier Henry returning to his role as de facto backup PG as well as playing his natural role on the wing. The rest of the lineup will remain the same with Kelly, Pau, Meeks, and Wes Johnson likely the other starters.

That group will have their hands full against a Spurs team that has once again surged their way to the top of the Western Conference. At 50-16, San Antonio has the best record in the league and, as the Lakers know from the drubbing they took from them on Friday, are playing some really good ball right now.

What is most impressive about the Spurs is that they are winning while not having very much lineup consistency this season. A little while ago I wrote about how the Lakers have not had very good luck in putting the same groups of players on the floor together this season. That type of lineup disruption — and the “why” it has occurred — has been a major reason the Lakers have been so bad this year.

The Spurs, however, actually haven’t had any high minute groups this year either. On the season, their lineup with the most minutes played is their starting group of Parker, Green, Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter, and Duncan. However, due to injuries (mostly to Green and Kawhi) and the regular regimen of rest that Pop employs for Duncan and Parker, that group has only been on the floor for 210 minutes this year. Yet, here the Spurs are with the best record in the league.

A lot of credit must go to Gregg Popovich for this. He has established a system and has complete buy in from all his players to operate within it. Further, he’s done an excellent job of playing to his guys’ strengths and ensuring that he puts them in positions to succeed every night. What also helps is that the Spurs have had relatively no roster turnover over the last few years. This has given those players a chance to not only learn what Pop wants from them, but to master their roles within the team’s scheme and then perform when they do get their chance to play.

In any event, the Spurs are, again, one of the best teams in the league. Meanwhile, the Lakers are one of the worst. We are a long way from when this game was one the entire league had circled on their calendar as a must watch. No, this season, and especially after last Friday’s game, this may be a game that people want to turn off before halftime. I, however, will be watching the entire thing regardless of the outcome. Join me, won’t you?

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

The Lakers are in the third game of a weird scheduling four-game sequence in which the Lakers play home and home series against the Thunder and the Spurs. The Lakers (remarkably) went .500 in the first half of the four games with a completely unexpected win over the Thunder in last Sunday, and will seek to do the same (or better) as they kick off a home and home against the Spurs tonight. Not only are the Lakers in the midst of a four-game stretch against the two teams a top the Western Conference, but they’re playing the second of a back-to-back in San Antonio. Most cities get up for the Lakers when they come to town, but San Antonio is usually one of the more hostile environments that the Lakers visit in any given season.

For tonight’s contest, the Lakers are going to need to match the defensive energy they had in their first game against the Thunder, someone is going to have to explode on the offensive end a la Jodie Meeks, and the Spurs might have to treat tonight’s game like an exhibition contest. You can’t really put a zero percent chance on the Lakers winning tonight’s game, but considering circumstance and the talent gap, a lot is going to have to go their way.

There really isn’t much you can say about this year’s rendition of the Spurs that you couldn’t have said about the team in the past 3-4 years outside of the every present continued growth of swingman Kawhi Leonard and his importance to the Spurs. Leonard is a difference maker on both ends of the floor, and when healthy, makes a good Spurs team dangerous. Leonard has dealt with some injury issues that caused him to miss 15 games this season, but the Spurs have not lost since his return. From Matthew Tynan over at 48 Minutes of Hell:

The Spurs have been 16.2 points per 100 possessions better than their opponents when Leonard has been on the floor over the last six games as opposed to just six points better when he’s been on the bench, and the defense is boasting a 95.3 defensive-efficiency rating when he plays. Furthermore, his impact on the defense-to-offense transition game has been a godsend for the slow-legged Spurs.

The numbers show the impact Leonard has had on the Spurs, and the impact has turned into wins. However, nothing is guaranteed, and the Lakers can find a way to leave San Antonio with a win tonight, and it’s going to have to start with the guys on the perimeter.

On the offensive end, the Lakers are going to have to take great care of the ball. The Spurs aren’t one of the fastest teams in the league, but they will make you pay for your mistakes. The possessions that don’t end in turnovers have to end with quality shots. Sharp ball movement and movement off the ball have led to the Lakers best possessions, but over dribbling from the guards have cut down on the number of times that the Lakers have been able to effectively execute sets this season. Kendall Marshall will have to be confident in his jump shot, Xavier Henry and Kent Bazemore are going to have to be smart about when to attack the basket and when to keep the ball moving and Pau Gasol is going to have to get touches in the paint. Playing through the post, especially if Pau can get any kind of early rhythm, will open up the perimeter for shooters like Meeks, Jordan Farmar and Ryan Kelly.

On the other end, keeping Tony Parker out of the lane is, and will always be, the top priority against the Spurs. This is a team that executes as well as anyone in the league, so staying home on assignments and helping the helper will be crucial. Parker can kill the Lakers by living in the paint, but Manu Ginobili can do so as well. Tim Duncan is going to be Tim Duncan. Boris Diaw can hurt the Lakers from multiple spots on the floor with his play making ability while Leonard can stretch the floor or attack the rim with his athleticism.

The Lakers should run when they have their opportunities, but shouldn’t make tonight a track race as the Spurs with more possessions will only have more opportunities to impose their will over the Lakers. The Lakers can be successful in stretches, but it seems unlikely that they’ll be able to keep the Spurs off balanced enough for 48 minutes to leave Texas with a win.

Where You Can Watch: 5:30 start time on NBATV or TWC SportsNet. You can also listen on ESPN Radio 710.