Archives For Game Preview

For the third time this season the Lakers square off against their Staples Center co-tenant. The teams split the first two outings — the Lakers wining going away in the opening night upset and the Clippers exacting revenge with a 36 point thrashing that included a 43 point first quarter from the Clips and a third quarter that saw the Lakers score an abysmal 8 points.

Since that last meeting, the Lakers have only won 7 times while the Clippers have only lost 7 times. If you want a microcosm of what these teams’ seasons have been like in a single stat, I think that is your best bet. While the Clippers have dealt with a fair amount of injuries this year — Chris Paul missed extended time with a bum shoulder, JJ Redick has been out with multiple issues — they have trucked on, mostly on the strength of Blake Griffin’s continued growth and good enough depth around the edges of their roster to compensate for those missing players. The Lakers, meanwhile…well…we know all about their struggles.

This match up, then, should be similar to what other recent Lakers’ games have offered: one team is very good and the other team is the Lakers. The Clippers will be heavily favored to win and, I think, they will. While a single game is a small sample and anything can happen, most times the superior talent of the better team will win out. I expect that to be the case tonight, even if Jamal Crawford and Jared Dudley don’t play (in addition to Redick being out).

Among those Clippers with superior talent is the aforementioned Griffin. Whatever you think of the Lakers’ small-ball approach, Griffin is one of the league’s better players and gives most defenders problems. This should especially be the case against Wes Johnson, though. Wes has quickness and athleticism that should aid in being able to stay in front of Griffin when Blake puts the ball on the floor looking to create off the dribble. But, what he doesn’t have enough of is the bulk and strength to contain those drives once contact is initiated or when Griffin simply decides to go into the post. I expect the Lakers will have to double team and that creates a domino effect of problems, putting the Lakers into scramble positions that often lead to dribble penetration.

Penetration that can be exploited by any one of several Clippers’ players but especially Chris Paul. Paul already has the ability to get into the teeth of a defense running standard P&R’s or working in isolation, but give him the added advantage of facing defenders who are in the middle of defensive rotations or scrambling to close out to contest a would be jumper and his job gets even easier. And once in the paint Paul can either finish or set up his teammates for easy baskets. Look for lobs to DeAndre Jordan to be frequent, but also kick out passes to Matt Barnes, Darren Collison, Danny Granger, and Hedo Turkoglu. If those threes fall, the Lakers will be in trouble.

For the Lakers to counter this and put up enough points to actually be competitive tonight, they need two things to go their way. First, they need to take and make a high volume of threes. This isn’t a stretch as the team did this just a few nights ago against the Blazers. Second, the Lakers will need to create a frenetic pace that gets the Clippers playing raggedly, leading to turnovers and, in general, sloppy enough play that the advantages the Clippers’ O has are somewhat neutralized while also allowing the Lakers to get some easy points in transition.

Beyond all this, though, what the Lakers really need is for the Clippers to relax mentally and think they have this game won simply by stepping on the floor. If that happens, the Lakers can scrap enough to be in this game to the end.

Again, I don’t expect these things to happen. They could and, if they do, we’ll see something resembling the opening night game where the Lakers pull an upset. More than likely, though, the Clips understand that they are in a battle for playoff seeding and bring the focus and energy that has led to them winning their last 5 games. We’ll have a better idea around 8pm tonight.

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

More than any other game this year, I think, the win over Portland has fans experiencing a wide range of emotions.

Those who still try to find joy in watching the Lakers play well and actually win games found themselves beaming after the game. A win in Portland is always hard to come by, but a win by this version of the Lakers in Portland seemed impossible 24 hours ago. But there the team was, throwing hay-makers in the form of three pointers and digging in defensively (as best they could) to try and slow down a Blazer attack that features some of the best spacing and outside shooting around. When the game got close at the end, I think everyone was resigned to this being another loss, but a fantastic out of bounds play produced a game winner:

On a side note, that really was a great play design by Mike D’Antoni. He played up the idea that he would run a play for one of his guards, but then had Farmar set a pick (and an excellent pick was set) for Wes Johnson which freed him up for the lob. What also can’t be overlooked is Kent Bazemore’s pass. It takes a fair amount of skill and touch to get that pass there, on the money, to a slashing Johnson. He has to compensate for Aldridge’s length and the defender waving madly in front of him.

In any event, if you like watching this team play well, you were thrilled.

But if you are someone rooting for losses, odds are you were left disappointed after a win this team had no business getting when looking at the schedule. Each loss is a coveted asset for some fans as they represent a closer step to the promised land of a high draft pick. You want Joel Embiid? Andrew Wiggins? Jabari Parker? Then you probably want losses. And the more of them the better. Last night’s win vaulted the Lakers into a tie for the 7th worst record this year. At that spot, the odds of securing one of the super blue-chip players from this heralded draft class diminishes greatly. In other words, nice win team who can’t even tank right.

And then, of course, there’s the group of fans who liked the win but were mad about how it was delivered. An exploration of the boxscore shoes both Jordan Hill and Chris Kaman were DNP-CD’s. That duo getting zero minutes in a game where LaMarcus Aldridge is a featured player for the other team and had Robin Lopez getting a lot of garbage man points in the paint after the Lakers’ D was left scrambling to help was a point of frustration for many. D’Antoni’s insistence on going small and playing Johnson at the “4” and Kelly instead of his more heralded teammates is too much, was a common refrain during the game. And so there these fans are, struggling with the idea that the coach won a game and did it using his style with the players he wants to play in an environment he had no business doing it in.

I bring this all up because expect these to be the major themes over the last 22 games. There is no one right way to view these things. I know because I struggle with the conflicting nature of all these points of view myself. I hate losing. I want to see the team do well and, in the process, the players to get some joy out of what they do while improving upon their craft. I also want the best player possible from the upcoming draft and while there is no guarantee that a higher pick produces that player, what a higher pick does guarantee is the Lakers’ brass the option to make the choice they want rather than leaving the Lakers with whatever leftovers exist at pick 7 or 8 or 11. Further, I like Jordan Hill. I like Chris Kaman. I enjoy watching these guys do the dirty work and don’t like it when other teams’ big men do that work against the Lakers. I think there’s value in playing a style less reliant on high variance shot selection and a fast pace.

And I don’t think I am the only one thinking these things. Nor do I think I’m the only one thinking all of them in the course of a single game. Where that leaves us is in this strange middle ground of fandom that I don’t think can truly be balanced.

Tonight, though, the team is back at it. They face a Pelicans team who, like the Lakers, isn’t doing well and will be among the teams vying for one of the top 10 picks in the upcoming draft. They, like the Lakers, would like nothing more than to add to their core and improve their long-term fortunes with another high quality player. Can you imagine Wiggins playing with Anthony Davis? What about Parker? Or maybe Dante Exum in the back court with Jrue Holiday flanked by Davis in the front court? These are the ideas that a lot of fanbases are dreaming about right now.

What happens on the floor tonight, then, will be played against this backdrop. Enjoy the game however you see fit, folks. There’s only 20 some odd games left before everyone will argue about who to draft.

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

The Lakers are back in action after a weekend off, their last game being Friday where they had a great 2nd half (at least offensively) and were able to pull out a win behind the hot shooting of Jordan Farmar, Jodie Meeks, and MarShon Brooks. That perimeter trio combined with a very good game from Pau Gasol to take down a Kings team who was missing DeMarcus Cousins.

I throw in that last point because it’s best to remember who this Lakers’ team is and what level they are actually playing at right now. The Kings are one of the lesser teams in the league (they have some very good individual performers whose production is not leading to wins) and were missing their best player, yet the Lakers needed an outstanding shooting effort from multiple players — and, historically, one of the better three point shooting nights ever — to beat them. This isn’t an attempt to drag this team down or to dampen the spirits of anyone rooting them on (I enjoyed that game a great deal and loved seeing the guys go nova from behind the arc). But it is important to remind ourselves that this team remains one of the lesser outfits in the entire league even though I know no one has really forgotten *sad face emoticon here*.

In any event, if you want to make yourself feel better the Lakers head up to Portland tonight to play in the friendly confines of the arena formerly called the Rose Garden. Oh, that doesn’t make you feel better? What? The Lakers usually get handed their hats to them in that arena? The Blazers are also one of the best teams in the league and got back LaMarcus Aldridge a game ago after he’d missed 5 straight? Oh. Well then…

No, the Lakers aren’t walking into a very good situation tonight. Though well rested and finally getting Xavier Henry back from injury (Henry played two games with the D-Fenders in a rehab stint), the Blazers represent a challenge that will be difficult for the Lakers to meet under the best of circumstances. And, despite some solid play from the newcomers and Gasol looking like his pre-groin strain self lately, these circumstances are not good.

In reality, though, the situation the Lakers are in isn’t about wins and losses at this point (well, maybe it is about losses) but more about trying to get a better handle on who these players are through as thorough an evaluation process as allowed in the remaining games. After tonight’s game, the Lakers will only have 22 games left in this season. Of the players who are actually able to suit up, the Lakers have a team option on Kendall Marshall, can make a qualifying offer to Kent Bazemore, and have Robert Sacre signed for one more season. Everyone else’s contract expires this summer and the Lakers need to continue to try and get as much good information as possible and determine who they should try and retain for next season.

These are the things that matter now. Roster construction for next year should be a major priority and one of the best ways to get relevant information on how to go about that is to use these last 20+ games to get the best read possible on the players who are left to evaluate. That’s not sexy nor is it something that will lead to many, if any, wins. There will surely be some fun moments mixed in as we get to see these guys’ talents shine through. But if you’re looking for X’s and O’s detail and refined strategy that is meant to help the team secure the extra W, you’re likely watching the wrong team now.

That’s the harsh reality of what this year has become. It’s not about rooting for losses — I still cannot bring myself to do that — but it is about rooting for information over anything else. That’s not something I, or any Lakers’ fans really, are used to doing at this point in the year.

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

The Lakers have lost three games in a row, and seven of their last 10. It’s been pretty tough to say the least, and with guys on the roster unhealthy for extended periods of time, games have been difficult to win. For some players, frustrations are at an all-time high.

Earlier this week, Pau Gasol wasn’t bashful in voicing his critics of head coach Mike D’Antoni, as he has become displeased with the consistent losing and lack of chemistry that this team has on the court.

Tonight, the Lakers are looking to get back on the winning track, as the face the Sacramento Kings. Both teams are in the heart of the “tank” sweepstakes, respectively holding the worst records in the western conference. The Kings will be without their leader, and captain, Demarcus Cousins, as he has been suspended for getting into an altercation with Patrick Beverley in a game against the Houston Rockets.

One bright spot for the Lakers has been the late the play of new addition Kent Bazemore. In his four games with the Lakers he’s averaged 17.3 points, three assists, and two steals, on 45 percent shooting from the field and 35 percent shooting from behind the arc.

More than anything, Bazemore’s effort has been a pleasant sight for fans to see amidst this tough and grueling season, and we should expect him to continue playing with passion and energy tonight.

Keys To Lakers Victory:
Limit Turnovers: The Lakers are going to need to make a consistent effort to take care of the ball. Trading Steve Blake to the Warriors has placed this team in an unfortunate position, as they now only have two active point guards.

We should expect the Kings to try to pressure the Lakers ball handlers. Doing this will allow them to get out in transition and run.

Offensive Efficiency: The Kings allow their opponents to shoot 37.5% from behind the arc and the Lakers will have to capitalize on this if they want to win tonight. The Lakers have shot consistently from the three-point line this season, and this is simply a result of the small-ball system that Mike D’Antoni runs.

The Kings are far from a good defensive team, so it’s important that the Lakers exploit this. Attack them inside, whether it be via penetration or isolating the big men on the block. On a night like this it’s also key that guys like Jordan Hill and Chris Kaman get minutes. With no Demarcus Cousins, the Lakers will have a decided advantage in the front court, and should give the bigs consistent touches.

Defense: The Lakers will have their hands full tonight despite the fact that Demarcus Cousins will not be suiting up. Even without the skilled big, the Kings still boast one of the more athletic and talented young rosters in the NBA.

It will be a tough night defending the point guard and small forward position, as both Isaiah Thomas and Rudy Gay have proven to be very efficient scorers this season. In all likelihood, Kent Bazemore will be matched up against Gay. He’ll have to make it his duty to force Gay to take tough shots. If he can’t, it’ll be a long night for the Lakers defense.

This is the game that the Lakers can use to get on the winning track. With players and fans frustrated, this team is dire need of a win, and they should have a good chance getting it tonight.

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

Just as I said there was no reprieve for the downtrodden in my preview for Tuesday’s match up with the Pacers, there is no rest for the weary as the Lakers head into Memphis today to face the Grizzlies on the second night of a back to back. The Lakers took another loss on the chin in Indiana, with the trend of a relatively close first half turning into a blowout loss continuing for the umpteenth time this year.

After that game the Lakers’ two veterans with championship experience spoke their minds about their team and, not so subtly, took shots at their head coach in the process:

As I mentioned after the game, comments like these are rarely the response to the game that was just played — especially when said game was against one of the league’s best teams. No, these are more likely issues that have been brewing for some time and, with another 20 point loss, came to a head last night.

As mentioned, Pau and Jordan are the only two Lakers who have championship experience on this roster. They, more than their teammates, have an intimate knowledge of competing at the highest levels with the stakes are highest. For that reason, I tend to give their comments a bit more weight — though, if these words came from any other Laker I would still see them as valuable and informative.

It should also be noted, however, that Pau and Jordan are players who likely have the most individual reasons to speak out at this point in the year. It’s no secret that Pau hasn’t looked to fondly at his role within D’Antoni’s offense or how the big men have been used in general. He’s recently commented about a preference to play bigger lineups (again mentioning that playing small hurts the team last night) and has talked about running the offense more through the post since this coach’s arrival last year. Farmar, meanwhile, is in a real timeshare at point guard with Kendall Marshall, playing only 24.5 minutes a night his last 5 games and only 24 minutes a night in his last 10. Add to this that he’ll no longer likely see any minutes in a small backcourt next to Marshall with the arrival of Brooks and Bazemore (as well as Meeks’ return from injury), and a thirst for heavy minutes (30+ a night) will not be quenched the remainder of this year as long as relative good health endures for the rest of the perimeter players.

I’m not saying these issues should make statements made by these guys less true or that they should hold less weight, but it’d be disingenuous to not mention these things. Especially with both players entering free agency this summer.

In any event, it will be interesting to see how D’Antoni navigates these waters over the last part of the season. One of the main strengths of this team this year has been their willingness to play as a unit and not speak too much in terms of their individual goals. Credit should be given to the coach for this (as well as the players), but as the losses mount and other pieces who have not been part of the team’s fabric of unselfishness are incorporated into the group, this situation can get more difficult to manage quickly. If the Lakers are evaluating D’Antoni using other variables besides wins and losses, managing the players’ egos and keeping a healthy locker room is likely one of the key areas and he will need to show he’s able to perform in this area (and better than he did last year, I’d imagine).

As for tonight’s game against the Grizz, one of the key things to watch is the coach’s lineup construction and how he matches up with the size his group will face.

Starting Wes Johnson at PF seems like a real possibility and he will be tasked with guarding Zach Randolph. Z-Bo is that rare mix of a finesse finisher who gets position on the block like a bull, so Wes will have his hands full in trying to keep Zach off his spots. Doing so without fouling will be even more difficult. My hunch is that we’ll see a fair amount of Kaman and Hill tonight (and probably even Sacre) to try and battle Randolph down low, but Wes will get his shot too and how he performs will, at least in part, reflect on the coach who put him in this position.

Another defensive question that must be answered is who guards Mike Conley. The Lakers have tried to hide Kendall Marshall in certain match ups and one against Conley would be one that makes sense to do so again. Conley’s quickness and ability to create shots in the half court for himself or teammates by working off the dribble is an area that Marshall can struggle to contain. Putting Bazemore or Meeks on Conley might make more sense, but that leaves open the question of who Marshall then guards. Lee is a fine off-ball worker who has regained some of the form offensively that had him as one of the more respected role-player-guards in the league. Tayshaun Prince isn’t much of an offensive threat, but he’s a fine post up option against smaller players. Putting Marshall on either player presents issues that would need to be addressed and can create holes in a defensive scheme that is already extremely leaky.

On the other end of the floor the Lakers should try to establish the post early and hope that Pau can find his groove against his brother Marc to a level that creates openings on the perimeter for the Lakers’ wings to get (and make) open threes. The team would also be wise to involve Randolph in enough P&R’s defensively that Marc Gasol is forced into help situations early in possessions with the result being other players having to recover on the weak side to Pau and shooters posted in the corner. If the Lakers can get the Grizz scrambling defensively, they can hang tough in this game. If they can do so in the 2nd half, they can even be close down the stretch where anything can happen.

Of course, that’s a lot of ifs. And the Lakers are severe underdogs for that exact reason. But if the goal is still to compete and win games down the stretch, these are things they’ll need to do well. And if they want to erase some of those hard feelings expressed after the Pacers’ game, being competitive in (or even winning) a game like this would help do that.

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