Archives For Game Recap

In only his second game back from injury, it’s difficult to avoid making almost every bit of analysis Kobe-centric. So, win or lose, the focus will shift his way and the tone of the conversation will shift away from the what the team did well (or not) to what Kobe did well or not. On that note, let’s look at Kobe first…

Number 24 looked much better tonight than he did on Sunday, showing better decisiveness in nearly everything he did and making sharper decisions in the process. His pass/shot decisions were worlds better than what they were against the Raptors and that showed up clearly in the box score where he tallied 20 points on 6-11 shooting handing out 3 assists to (only) 3 turnovers (compared to the 8 he had against the Raptors). Kobe’s movement in the full court wasn’t much better than what he showed on Sunday (more on this later), but he was much more crisp in how he moved in the half court, making sharp cuts to the ball and in backdoor plays on several occasions and showing good change of direction on more than a handful of possessions.

These are the positives that come from this game; the easily identifiable progress he made from his first game back to his second. But just as some of these improvements were clear, so was the fact that integrating Kobe back into the lineup has (and will continue to) provide hiccups that translate to adjustments from the way the team was playing before.

I tweeted that after the game and while some may interpret that as a dig at Kobe, it’s really not meant that way at all. Throughout the game what became quite evident is that Kobe is playing a style that mostly suits what he’s most comfortable doing and those aren’t really things that fit snugly into the style the team was playing before he came back. Kobe wants the ball in the mid post or the shallow wing. He wants to post up and play out of the triple threat. He wants to work in isolation, survey the floor and either create a good look for himself or draw the defense and kick the ball to an open teammate. We saw all of this on full display against the Suns.

These aren’t bad things. In fact, in many ways they are extremely effective ways to play this game. Kobe knows this because he’s played this way for the majority of his career and has had a lot of success doing it. It’s just not the way the team was playing before he rejoined them in the lineup.

Before Kobe came back, the team relied heavily on dribble penetration from the point guard out of the P&R or hand-off sequences at the top of the key and hard dives from their big men after they’d set screens in either one of these actions. When the ball was penetrated via the dribble or a pass to the diving big man, either shots were put up in the paint or passes were made out to perimeter players who either took shots in rhythm or swung the ball to the open man against a rotating defense (which then led to an open or semi-open shot before a close out fully arrived). Against the Suns, this wasn’t happening as often. You only need to see the box score and notice that the team only took 18 three point attempts (making only 5, which is as much of a problem as the low attempts) to see that the offense isn’t producing the same shots it has in the past.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But it is a thing. And that means an adjustment by players who have played one way for the first part of the season and now will need to start to play a different way. This will take time and while that time is passing, things won’t always look as good as you (or I) would like.

All that said, this game wasn’t lost because of the offense (at least not totally). Another quick glance at the box score reveals that the Suns made nearly 52% of their baskets while scoring 21 fastbreak points and 56 points in the paint. In other words, the Lakers’ defense mostly stunk. They couldn’t contain Goran Dragic or Eric Bledsoe all night and that duo combined to score 39 points while dishing out 14 assists. Add in Marcus Morris’ 22 points off the bench and the fact that the Lakers did not get enough stops is pretty obvious.

A lot of what the Suns did offensively was play at a tempo that bothered the Lakers. When Kobe and Pau shared the floor the team was at a clear speed deficiency. But it wasn’t just that the Suns outran the Lakers, it was that they out-quicked them too. In other words, the Lakers had severe issues transitioning from offense to defense (Kobe was a culprit in this, but so was Pau and several other Lakers who chased offensive rebounds but did not snare them) and that allowed the Suns to generate early offense. But, the Suns also used very good tempo within their half court offense to generate looks by attacking quickly and directly via penetration out of the P&R and off ball reversals when the Lakers closed out on shooters. These quick movements to the paint really bothered the Lakers’ defense and created a feeling that the team was often playing flatfooted against superior athletes.

This is another area where Kobe, in his current state of not yet having his full game legs, will need to make adjustments. Much like Gasol needs to (but still too often doesn’t), Kobe will need to position himself better defensively so that he can be in the right place at the right time to compensate for not having the burst he’d like to have. Over the past couple of seasons Kobe has lost more defensively than he has offensively, but coming off this injury he needs to compensate even more rather than just trying to gamble and hope it pays off. Because, while in the past those gambles may have worked and given him a sense that he could continue to try that style, as long as he’s a half beat (or more) behind those gambles will not work now.

This isn’t to rag on Kobe or blame the team’s defensive woes on him. An opponent doesn’t shoot 52% because of one guy. No one was particularly good on defense tonight and singling out Kobe would not be fair. I comment on him because he’s new and evaluating him is fresh, but the same trends of Nick Young and Wes Johnson committing bad fouls, Pau not helping well enough at the rim, and people not helping the helper when Hill leaves his man to block shots were on full display against the Suns and those errors cost the team many baskets.

All in all, then, this was a fairly bad loss even though it can be rationalized through the prism of adjusting to Kobe’s return and the Suns actually showing a lot of early season promise. There were certainly positives of Kobe playing better than he did on Sunday and the team finding good looks with him as a centerpiece shot creator. But there is still growth to be made and, much like in games before he came back, the team needs to play better defense consistently and can’t let bad offensive stretches define their effort level. These are things that already needed improvement but now that Kobe is back and the expectations for the team to play better are real, they really need to be better at them. Hopefully we start to see more consistency in these areas soon, especially since the adjustments that need to be made in other areas are very real.

*I didn’t mention this earlier in the recap, but this team misses Jordan Farmar something awful. Farmar was playing his best ball of the season when he got hurt and that makes it doubly worse, but just the simple fact that Blake is now the team’s only real PG makes finding suitable rotations quite challenging. One potential solution is to stagger Kobe and Blake more, but even that requires putting the ball in Kobe’s hands more off the dribble and the Suns game showed he’s probably most comfortable as an off the ball worker in the mid post and at the elbows. Ultimately, I am not sure where the team can go to get that creator and driver of the 2nd unit, but Farmar’s quickness on both ends of the floor is something that needs replacing but seemingly doesn’t have anyone to fill in. In other words, heal up quick Jordan. The team really misses what you bring.

First things first: It was nice to have Kobe Bryant back on the court. Just seeing him in the lineup and out there on the court was great and I’m looking forward to him and the team building on this first game back and using each proceeding game as a stepping stone towards what they can ultimately be this year. All that said, this game was a great reminder that with Kobe now back in the fold this team has a pretty big piece to incorporate and that will take time and will have some bumps along the way.

Kobe’s play offered spurts of encouragement and spells that showed how much improvement can still be made on his end. Let’s get the not as good stuff out of the way up front. On the night Kobe had 8 turnovers, mostly on plays where he either forced passes into too small a window or misread a play and simply passed the ball to the other team. His timing was off on multiple plays and it produced some plays that he will surely want back when he looks at them on film. Further, when looking for his own shot he was a bit tentative at times and looked to either give up the ball too early or didn’t press the action as he normally would. On one play, Kobe actually got by his man with a nice first step and was fouled from behind right as he left his feet. But rather than shoot and get to the FT line via a continuation, Kobe passed while in the air and the Lakers took the ball out on the side. What seemed clear to me is that Kobe was looking to fit in a bit too much to the style the team has played before this game and he was a little too pass happy.

On the other hand, Kobe did flash some very good playmaking on the night and showed that he hasn’t lost his feel for the game at all. While he only tallied 4 assists, he made several very good reads and was pretty decisive in where he wanted to go with the ball on any given possession. The ball rarely stuck in his hands for more than a few beats and when operating in the P&R he was mostly solid in stringing out his dribble and reading the play in front of him. Again, he got in trouble when he got sloppy with his delivery on some passes, but for the most part I was pleased with how he surveyed the floor and in his initial read of a play.

In terms of his ability to work off the dribble in isolation, I thought we got a mixed bag and come away with no definitive answer as to what he’s capable of doing at this point. On more than one occasion he was able to get a step on his man to gain an advantage off the dribble. That was countered, however, by other plays where he looked a step slow and not able to beat that initial layer of defensive pressure. As for his shot, it looked a bit flat and overall his legs didn’t yet seem game ready. There were not a lot of quick pull ups or explosive movements when working off the dribble, but his footwork looked solid and he looked very comfortable working out of the triple threat anywhere on the court.

All in all, none of what we saw was a surprise and at this point I can’t say I’m overly concerned about where he is. A lot of his issues looked to be a matter of timing and not yet having his full legs under him. Considering he hasn’t played a game in since last April and was talking about not yet having his “sea legs” the other day, what we saw should have been pretty much expected. Now, if he still doesn’t have his legs in a few weeks or still isn’t creating much separation off the dribble via sharp movements, I will reassess. But as of now, I consider tonight a mild success in terms of Kobe as an individual.

From a team standpoint, this first game showed that there is much work to do in terms of sorting out lineups and rotations. The Lakers’ best three players tonight were Jodie Meeks, Nick Young, and Xavier Henry. All three of those guys are natural shooting guards and down the stretch, when he had to choose, Mike D’Antoni put in Kobe and took out Henry while leaving Meeks and Young in. After the game D’Antoni said that he wanted to play Kobe because that’s what will happen in the future so, I can see his logic there. What is harder to sell is leaving in Young while taking out Henry considering how well the latter had played to that point. In the moment I thought taking out Henry was a questionable move, but that was the decision and I can live with it. It may not have worked out tonight, but it could have. Again, it’s not like Young had played poorly to that point.

The larger question, though, is how the lineups will get sorted out when everyone is healthy and what the substitutions will be like to build successful lineups. This may be the biggest challenge facing D’Antoni and tonight was an example of that, especially on the wing.

What didn’t aid in matters, though, was that the team really didn’t have any big men play particularly well. Pau Gasol was dreadful overall and sat the entire fourth quarter. Robert Sacre was in over his head against Jonas Valanciunas and got into early foul trouble that landed him on the bench. But even when he was in the game, he wasn’t making much of an impact outside of a handful of well played team defensive possessions. Jordan Hill turned it on late in the game, working the glass and doing other Jordan Hill things, but wasn’t that strong in his early stint in the first half. I was glad that Hill got the minutes down the stretch because he was the big man playing the best, but overall the Raptors’ front court had their way with their Lakers’ counterparts and if you’re wondering where this game was lost, that’s where you will find your answers.

Overall, I am disappointed in the loss and wish on the night Kobe returned the team, as a whole, could have played better. There were some signs of life in stretches, but it is clear it will take time to incorporate Kobe back into the lineup and for him and the guys who share the court with him to find a cohesion and balance in how they operate. Some of this will be dependent on coaching, but more of it will depend on guys just getting familiar and acclimated in how they best work together.

There are still some things that concern (Pau, especially, with his bad ankle and heavy legs needs to find his way soon) and sorting them out as quickly as possible is obviously a priority. But, for one night at least, I will put those things in the back seat and just say it’s good to have #24 back.

That was quite the fun game. But in the end, the Blazers became the #1 team in the West (technically, since they beat the Spurs earlier this season) after beating the Lakers, 114-108.

The Lakers have been resilient for most of the season and they showed that in this game. L.A. was down, 21-4, at one point. But they caught the Blazers in the second half as they got a great boost from Xavier Henry and Robert Sacre. Unfortunately, Jordan Farmar was lost to a hamstring injury, which was pretty big considering how well he has played this season, especially the last few games. I was ready for Steve Blake to play the entire second half; the Lakers aren’t going to play until Friday so I didn’t see any problems with him going the distance.

Unfortunately, the Blazers’ shooting and ball movement overwhelmed the Lakers in the third. They dropped 41 in that quarter and it seemed like it was over by then. The Lakers’ starters couldn’t get anything going and Mike D’Antoni went with a ragtag bunch.

The weird line-up of Robert Sacre, Wesley Johnson, Shawne Williams, Nick Young, and Xavier Henry (who played point in place of a tired Blake) got the Lakers back in the game. They were energetic on both sides of the ball (Xavier Henry’s dunks, Jodie Meeks’ threes, and Wesley Johnson’s block really got the Staples crowd unglued) and were able to get the team within one. But Wesley Matthews (who has been so good behind the arc this season) and Damian Lillard (26 points) made huge three-pointers. The Lakers really had no business being in a close game after being down 20 twice but they made it one hell of an entertaining contest. Like I’ve said many times in the past, sometimes, that’s all you can ask for.

Henry led the way with a career-high 27 points. Jodie Meeks had 20 points, Nick Young had 17, and Steve Blake had 13 points and nine assists. Robert Sacre had 12 points, a career-high for himself. And Shawne Williams (four points, eight rebounds) made big plays in the fourth as well. Pau Gasol played horribly (six points on 3/15 shooting, although a bad ankle is bothering him) after a few good games. The Lakers had won five of six coming into this game and this loss stops a little momentum but these guys are just so fun to watch since most of us had no expectations for the team. As for Portland, LaMarcus Aldridge was nearly unstoppable early; he had 27 points overall.

Funny thing is that the Lakers are 9-9. That’s a better 18-game start than last year’s team when they were 8-10; that squad was superstar-laden if you guys remember *cough*. The Lakers don’t play again until Friday when they go to Sleep Train Arena (zzzzzzzzz) to face the Sacramento Kings. A certain dude who wears #24 may come back to the Lakers for that game (sorry; it’s not Lloyd Daniels or Jim Jackson). THAT could be interesting.

In the meantime, we’ll have a little injury watch (Farmar, Steve Nash, Kobe) this week before the Lakers play again. The Lakers just had four straight days off two weeks ago, too. Weird scheduling.

Entertaining game, everybody.

This win was, for lack of a better term, a professional effort by the Lakers. Based off record, the Lakers came into this game the better team. The Kings may have more young talent on their roster, but the Lakers have more talent that is properly harnessed. Tonight, that difference showed and, though there were some stretches where it looked as if the Kings might overcome, the Lakers were able to hold on and win 100-86. The win is the third straight for the Lakers and brings their record to an even 7-7 through 14 games.

Offensively, there was a lot to like in this game. As it was on Friday, the Lakers played through Pau Gasol for the majority of the minutes he was on the floor and he responded with a 20 point, 10 rebound effort. Pau worked well in the post against Jason Thompson and DeMarcus Cousins while also hitting his jumper at a good enough rate to be a threat regardless of where he caught the ball. Pau wasn’t his normal self as a passer (he only tallied a single assist), but he consistently made the right shot/pass decisions, often kicking the ball out to the same side wing and attempting to re-post to set up his own offense. I’m not quite ready to say that this is the Pau we can look forward to on most nights, but I am ready to say that the respiratory infection that Pau was dealing with earlier in the year probably hampered him more than most were willing to acknowledge. Pau has more stamina and more life in his legs for longer stretches now and that bodes well for him moving forward.

As I mentioned in the preview for this one, having a bench player (or more) step up and have a good night is almost a necessity for the Lakers to win and tonight was no exception. Xavier Henry, quiet in recent games, broke out in a big way by scoring a team high 21 points on only 11 shots. Henry was active in transition and moved well off the ball in the half court, all of which aided him in finding the gaps in the Kings D that allowed him to get makable looks. Henry brought his usual aggression off the bounce and that allowed him to get to the FT line 6 times (making 5), but it also allowed him the space he needed to shoot his jumper.

Like it was against the Warriors, though, this game wasn’t so much won on offense but rather on the defensive side of the ball. The Lakers held the Kings to 41.7% shooting on the night and did a good job on nearly every King not named Greivis Vasquez. Because while the Kings’ starting PG had a good night scoring the ball (20 points on 9-18 shooting), the rest of his teammates had issues getting clean looks for most of the contest, often settling for contested jumpers or shots in the paint that always seemed to have either Pau or Jordan Hill lunging to try and alter the look.

The Lakers didn’t exactly force the Kings into a lot of mistakes, but what they did do was play fundamentally good D on most possessions, rotating well when the ball was swung and contesting shots when the Kings fired away. If there was one area the Lakers could have been better in it was playing the P&R a bit higher so to not allow the ball handler to get back to the middle after coming off the pick (Vasquez did this repeatedly most of the night and it was key to him scoring as well as he did), but for that was the only real issue I saw defensively. On most other actions the Lakers played things well and that led to the Kings taking the types of shots the Lakers could live with them taking.

Overall, I really can’t say enough about the way this team is starting to forge an identity for themselves and play a style that is not only sustainable, but one that can be successful long term. This isn’t to say they can be one of the better teams in the league — they still don’t have enough talent to make that claim — but by playing smart and hard every night, they’re positioning themselves to be in nearly every game with a chance to win. Without Kobe (and, to a lesser extent, without a healthy Nash) that’s really all you can ask for. So the fact that this team is .500 through 14 games with a chance to actually eclipse last season’s record through 15 games with a win on Tuesday is worth praising.

Where this team ends up will still be greatly influenced by Kobe, but where they are now is solely on the players on the court and the coaches pulling the strings. Both have been doing more right than wrong and have been entertaining us along the way. For that, I’m appreciative.

After four days of rest, practice, and preparation the Lakers took down the Warriors 102-95 to get within a game of .500 and show off some very good play on both sides of the ball.

The star of the night was Pau Gasol, whose 24 points and 10 rebounds paced the team. Pau, who seemed to most benefit from the time off, played with a good base and strong legs all night which allowed him to really shine offensively. Pau showed good lift on his jumper, leading to good success from mid-range. That success then fueled the rest of his offense as it forced defenders to close out on him, allowing the Spaniard to effectively use his dribble to set up some nifty post moves that kept defenders off balance all night.

The other stars offensively came off the Lakers’ bench. First was a very productive Jordan Farmar who has seemingly left his slump from a few games back all the way behind him. Like Pau, Farmar used an effective jumper as a springboard to the rest of his offensive attack, using quick moves off the bounce to get into the lane and create shots near the rim. On several possessions, Farmar was able to blow by the initial defender and either get up a short runner or scoop shot in the paint before the second line of defense could get to him and the result was some nifty shotmaking that was key to fueling the Lakers’ offense when the more methodical Steve Blake went to the bench.

As for Young, he was once again excellent in providing a nice scoring punch from his reserve role. Young poured in 21 points on 15 shots, hitting 3 shots from behind the arc while also doing damage in the paint. On several possessions, Young curled his way into paint in the half court and made quick decisions to attack the rim in the open court and the result was an inside-outside game that I’d really like to see more of from Young. When he doesn’t solely settle for long jumpers — which can be exciting shots when they fall, but not the most efficient option — Young becomes quite dangerous and the type of all court threat who can carry the team for short stretches on the floor and ignite the crowd with the flair he brings.

Where this game was won, however, was on the defensive end of the floor. The Warriors were down their top two point guards (Steph Curry and Toney Douglas both sat out with injuries) and later lost Andre Iguodala to a strained hamstring, so we must acknowledge the Dubs didn’t have their full roster, affecting how they built their attack. That said, the Lakers were smart in how they defended the Warriors, pushing them to the corners and showing ball handlers and post players a second defender early in possessions to try and disrupt what they wanted to do on that side of the ball.

This strong side zone look flustered the Warriors for most of the night as the Lakers were able to force them into turnovers via traps on the sideline and by picking off hastily thrown cross-court passes when they tried to reverse the ball. The Lakers’ wings — Young, Blake, and Henry combined for 6 steals — were very good at dipping to the paint to help down low and then quickly rotating back to the opposite wing to either pick off passes when the ball was swung or pressuring ball handlers into mistakes on the catch. The Lakers turned 19 Warriors’ turnovers into 22 points and that activity and production were a big impact in how this game was decided.

All in all, this was a very good win for the Lakers despite the Dubs missing some key guys. After all, without Kobe, Nash, and Kaman, it’s not like the Lakers are at full strength, but they were still able to establish their identity and dictate the terms of engagement of this contest. Strong guard play and Pau playing well were the catalysts, but just as important was the team sticking to their game plan and executing it to a level that put the Warriors on their heels. Moving forward, with our without Kobe, this is the type of effort and attention to detail the team needs, especially when they don’t have four days to prepare.