Archives For Game Recap

Through 4 games the Lakers are 2-2 which, if we’re being honest is a bit of a surprise. After playing 3 contenders to reach the western conference finals and a borderline eastern playoff team, 0-4 wouldn’t have been a surprise and 1-3 would have been viewed as the most likely scenario. The team’s .500 record doesn’t make this team a world beater by any means, but it does show that they’re a bit more competitive than some would have thought. Whether that lasts is another story, but as of now the Lakers look like a feisty bunch that plays a style that can cause teams some problems.

The Hawks game was a perfect example of who this team can be. In the first half, the Lakers found their stride on offense, raining shots from the outside while showing enough activity defensively to give the Hawks some problems. The ball movement wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough to create good looks for the team’s shooters and the defensive rotations, while also not perfect, were good enough to force the Hawks into some misses. The combination of both allowed the Lakers to build a comfortable lead they could carry into the second half.

In those final two quarters, though, the Lakers also showed how the style they play can lead to their downfall. Being reliant on making jumpers is always dangerous and when those attempts went errant, the offense got off track. Defensively they became less attentive and those holes sprung leaks the Hawks took advantage of. Kyle Korver’s second half shooting helped close the gap on a game the Lakers were controlling and down the stretch of the game things got tight enough where nervousness of a loss was very real. When a crazy sequence of a block/charge call went in Pau Gasol’s favor with the subsequent two free throws going down combined with Pau closing out on and blocking one last Korver bomb was finally played out, we could all breathe a sigh of relief that the team held on.

This is probably what a lot of games will look like for the rest of the season so I hope you have a strong heart. The Lakers don’t have an abundance of talent, a fact that will still be true even when Kobe returns. Kobe will help, of course, and his presence will give the team more structure in late game situations, but the rest of the roster is still made up of multiple guys trying to earn a place in this league and with that will come ups and downs that aren’t easily escapable.

In any event, the team is .500 through 4 games and that’s undoubtedly a nice surprise heading into a rough stretch on the road that begins tomorrow. We’ll find out more about this team on that trip, but even with those new things we’ll learn it simply adds to the things we already know (or at least the things we think we know). So, on that note, some more thoughts from last game and the trends we’re learning through the three before it…

*Mike D’Antoni has a problem to solve in terms of his rotation and it’s not necessarily a bad one, or, for that matter, an easy one. For the type of offense he wants to run, this roster is not balanced. He has three point guards – Nash, Farmar, and Blake – who all should see floor time. He also has three centers – Pau, Kaman, and Hill – who all deserve time. His answers on the wing are mostly unproven, minimum salaried players who all have holes in their games. His stretch power forwards are a guy who was out of the league last year and a guy who has never played the position before. But, in stretches, all of these players have shown capable and are worth giving looks to. Managing this is not easy and, this early in the season, it’s not exactly crystal clear how the rotation should shake out. In other words, put away your pitchforks for now as these things get sorted out.

*All that said, let’s not act as if we don’t have hints as to what’s working and what’s not. Jordan Hill deserves more minutes. Yes, Hill has become a “closer” of sorts who comes in late and impacts the game down the stretch to either keep a game close or help the team win. But, it’s safe to say he should probably get more minutes in other parts of the game to try and make sure the ends of games aren’t as close. Who those minutes come at the expense of isn’t perfectly clear, but one candidate is Shawne Williams, even if it’s not Hill who ends up playing PF. One solution could be to play Kaman and Pau together a bit more and then let Hill play C with the second unit he seems to thrive with.

*Another player who could see an uptick in minutes is Jodie Meeks. Before the season I said Meeks would probably play his way out of the rotation, but it’s actually been the opposite. Meeks is shooting the ball well, making better decisions with the ball in his hands, and still displaying the hustle the coaches love. Yes he can still be turnover prone due to a shaky (though improved) handle, but when a guy is giving 50/40/90 shooting through four games, he deserves his praise. Meeks could likely see some more minutes at the expense of Steve Blake who is still competing well and dishing out assists, but not hitting enough shots considering the opportunities he’s getting. I expect Blake to start to hit those shots at some point, but until he does it’s hard to say he should be play the team’s most minutes as he did against the Hawks.

*Pau Gasol had a dreadful shooting night against the Hawks and looked low on energy for some stretches. After the game it was found out he’s been dealing with a respiratory infection, so part of that can be explained/excused. That said, Pau must still find a way to be less of a long two point shot taker and more of a guy who’s working closer to the paint. Pau has historically been a good mid-range shooter so I don’t want to take that part of his game away. However, if he rolled more towards the paint out of the P&R rather than being a stationary target and popping for the long jumper, I think he can have more success and be more of a threat to the defense. Get him on the move some and he can up fake and drive, make the skip pass to shooters on the wing, or still just shoot his jumper. Basically, I want Pau to have more options, not fewer.

*The Xavier Henry/Nick Young swap as starter worked out well for both gus ys. I want to see if that will remain to be true, but I liked how Young looked on the second unit – he even drove and created shots for others – just as I liked Henry’s aggressiveness in attacking the rim with the starting group. I think Henry’s 2-4 from behind the arc isn’t going to be there on most nights, but his driving and foul drawing will be and considering the starters don’t have a guy who draws a lot of fouls in that group, I like how his game complements theirs. Hopefully this continues. Young, meanwhile, seemed a bit looser coming off the bench and seemed to fit in better with the free-wheeling style of the reserves. Maybe it’s weird to say, but his decision making seemed to fit in better with that group and moving forward I expect that to be the case as long as Farmar remains a reserve.

As I wrote in the game preview, the Lakers faced circumstances that were far from ideal against the Warriors. Not only were they playing the second night of a back to back after a big win last night, but they were doing so on the road, against a team playing in their home opener, who also happens to be one of the better outfits in the conference. Well, all those variables came to a head in this game as the Warriors simply outclassed the Lakers, routing them to the tune of 125-94.

There’s really no need to go into much detail about the Lakers performance in this contest. Defensively, they looked disorganized and had too many instances of miscommunication. Rotations were missed on the perimeter — a deadly mistake against a team with the caliber of shooters the Warriors have — and when big men helped inside no one covered for them on the backside and that resulted in easy shots at the rim either off dump off passes or put-backs. The team also struggled to contain dribble penetration which opened up kick-out and skip passes to shooters when defenders got sucked into the paint. Further, by playing small-ish lineups against a team with good size at every position except point guard, the Lakers ended up double teaming more than they’d want, resulting in even more open jumpers when the Warriors moved the ball.

Offensively, the Lakers simply couldn’t hit shots. Their 39% success rate from the floor seems like generous score keeping based off how often the team missed. Credit the Warriors’ defense for a lot of the Lakers’ struggles on that side, but the team also missed shots that fell just a night earlier. Jumpers went halfway down and spun out, inside shots fell off the side of the rim, and their 3 point shots didn’t find the mark. The team did have some success finishing at the rim later in the contest, but all that did was make a horrid shooting night seem somewhat better than it actually was.

All in all, this game was an inverse of what the team did the night before. The bench never really found a groove and the starters, while okay in spurts, were simply outgunned by a very good Warriors’ first five. There’s no harm in that, especially considering the circumstances of the game mentioned at the top (not to mention that Nash didn’t play, so the rotations were thrown off some), but it’s still a tough pill to swallow when the 2nd half devolves into an attempt to avoid losing by 30.

In the end, it’s best to just forget this game as quickly as possible and hope that the team can put together a better effort on Friday against the Spurs. If you’d have told me that after the first two games the Lakers would be 1-1, I’d have taken it, so despite the ugliness witnessed in this game, it’s time to move on.

Guys, I can’t comprehend this. And this is Opening Day!

Mostly picked by people (including me) to not make the postseason, the Los Angeles Lakers stunned one of the West favorites, the Los Angeles Clippers, 116-103.

It was already strange for me that the Lakers kept up with the Clippers in the first three quarters. Even when the Clippers went on that predictable run early in the third to go up, 63-55, the Lakers stayed close and took the lead after two Steve Blake threes.

Early in the game, I was pained by Steve Nash’s play. Nash is one of my favorite players of all-time but he looked slow and didn’t seem automatic with his beautiful shot anymore. He even got called for a double dribble violation.

But Pau Gasol’s play in the first half was quite pretty. He played better in this first half than seemingly all of last season. Pau showed it all from his hook shot to his feathery jumpshots that included a three-pointer. Gasol had 15 points and 13 boards in the contest.

The biggest surprise was the fourth quarter 41-point explosion by the Lakers. The Jordans (Farmar and Hill), Jodie Meeks, and Xavier Henry all played huge in the last 12 minutes (including defensively! WHAT?); the bench did so well that the starters never returned in the fourth. Xavier Henry led the way with 22 points, which, I’m sure, shocked everybody (hey, guys, let’s try to come up with a pun that has something to do with INSANITY!). Farmar’s confidence was never in question but his play on the court was excellent, going for 16 points and six assists. Jordan Hill snared seven of his eight rebounds on the offensive end and added 12 points. Even though Wesley Johnson took a lot of ill-advised shots, he made a big three that put the Lakers up eight. Meeks added 13 to the cause.

Repeat after me. Xavier Henry led the Lakers with 22 points. Eh?! And the Lakers bench had a whopping 76 points. Astonishing.

The Clippers looked comfortable… and then they got too comfortable. DeAndre Jordan (17 points and 11 rebounds) and Blake Griffin (19 points) jams were jarring as usual. Chris Paul was a wizard on setting his teammates up (11 assists) and J.J. Redick shot the lights out early (13 points). But the Lakers showed more tenacity and fed off a Staples Center crowd that got louder as the night went on. It felt like Mick Foley won the WWE title for the first time.

The Lakers aren’t going to go 14 for 29 behind the arc all the time. But that effort from the team is all we ever asked for. They outrebounded the Clippers, 52-40. And the 11 Laker players that played brought it and defended their house. If they keep giving that effort and determination, this team will be exponentially more fun than last season’s.

Yes, we didn’t give this squad much of a chance to make the postseason. But for tonight, the Lakers are undefeated. And tonight was an unbelievably fun night. One of the more memorable opening Laker games in recent memory.

Wednesday Storylines

Darius Soriano —  October 23, 2013

After Tuesday’s win over the Jazz, the Lakers only have a single preseason game remaining before the regular season begins. One more game to evaluate players, try personnel combinations, switch up rotations. One more game before the final roster is cut down. One more game where the reasoning of it’s only the preseason applies.

In a way, the win over the Jazz perfectly summed up what could be — and in a way, what I’m sure some people hope will be –provided by the Lakers during the regular season.

Some of the bench and role players looked very good. Jordan Farmar had an excellent night, buoyed by his furious 2nd half where he scored all of his team high 20 points. Wes Johnson finally brought his practice performance to the actual game, scoring 14 points and grabbing 6 rebounds while flashing the length and athleticism that were a key reason for his signing. Jordan Hill looked solid as a back up C, working the glass in his typical fashion, contesting shots at the rim, and even showing nice ability to occupy defenders (and score) when diving to the cup out of the pick and roll. Add in Xavier Henry’s continued aggressiveness and some good all around work by Shawne Williams on both sides of the ball and there is a sense that this is the type of performance the team thinks it can get from these guys.

On the other hand, this game also offered a reminder of some of the things that can bring the Lakers down over the course of the year. Chris Kaman, while ill and not technically injured, missed the game — something that will probably happen on more than one occasion considering he hasn’t played in all 82 games since his rookie season. Steve Nash played through an issue with his neck in the first half, but sat out the second half as a precautionary measure. Steve Blake started the game at SG and played his typically scrappy style, but had issues defending the bigger (and very skilled) Gordon Hayward which, at times, compromised the team’s defensive integrity. This team will have it’s down moments simply because the individuals that make up the rotation all have their flaws.

The hope, of course, is that the roster is constructed in a way that allows for some of those players to have their down moments and that the teammates who stand next to them will pick up the slack. Against the Jazz, that happened. Kaman sat, but Hill played well in his stead. Nash sat out the 2nd half, but Farmar exploded for 20 points and ran the offense competently. As the night went on, players found ways to help the team in ways that contributed to a win. The Jazz aren’t some powerhouse that will challenge for a playoff seed (quite the opposite, actually), but the Lakers, as a team, still did what was needed of them to pull away and win the game.

The regular season will need more of that. We’ll see if the way this team fits together allows it to be possible over the long grind of the regular season. Now, on to the news of the day:

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As you read this, the Lakers are back in the states after a week long trip to China. The trip was eventful in many off the court ways, but on the court the team lost both contests to the Warriors, including yesterday’s blowout defeat that saw a close game at the half deteriorate into a highlight reel of Warriors’ fast breaks and three point bombs.

The decline in play during the 2nd half has been a theme most of this preseason. And while there are a variety of reasons that play into why it’s occurring — resting the starters, playing mismatched lineups, playing fringe players heavy minutes — it’s still no fun to see the team give up leads and lose these games. Preseason or not, it would be nice to start to get into some better habits about how to close games, especially if they’re winnable contests.

That said, I’m not exactly going to get overly concerned about the team’s 3rd string not winning games down the stretch against more talented players. When the regular season comes, I don’t expect to see too many contests where Marcus Landry, Xavier Henry, and Ryan Kelly play crucial minutes against other team’s starters. That’s been the case this preseason and the results are what you’d expect.

As for other trends, yesterday’s game offered few. Mostly because, with a full roster at his disposal, Mike D’Antoni tinkered with his starting lineup and with the personnel groupings throughout the game. This created some solid play in spurts, but also a general unevenness when certain groups who haven’t really played together saw extended action. It’s difficult to say if any of the changes in player groupings we saw will be the new norm, but I’m interested in seeing if that turns out to be the case.

On that topic, a few thoughts on some of the groups we saw…

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The Lakers played their first game in China early in the a.m. PST, losing to the Warriors 100-95. The loss drops the Lakers to 2-3 in the preseason, but the record isn’t really something that concerns me. In fact, I don’t have too many concerns about this team as they progress through their prep to the regular season. It’s not that this team is some sort of powerhouse with no weaknesses — they’re not that at all — but more the fact this team continues to play hard on both sides of the ball, is showing some smarts in how they execute their schemes, and is working to try and play to the strengths (both as a team and as individual players).

All in all, this leaves me feeling good about this team. They may not win a boatload of games and they’re still going to frustrate through some of the things they do, but with the work they’re doing and how they’re going about their process it’s hard to not root for this group. This isn’t something you could necessarily say about some of the recent versions of this team (especially, when recalling some of the drama, last year’s group).

With that said, the games, win or lose, continue to offer us insights into their progress and development. The loss to the Warriors was no different, opening the curtain a little bit wider to give us a clearer view of what this team is good (and not as good) at. So, onto my notes from the game…

*The more we see the Pau/Kaman duo start games, the more I think this will be the regular starting front-court once the real games start. Offensively they continue to show good chemistry, especially in the high-low games that start with both bigs at the elbows through the team’s HORNS sets. On the first play of the 2nd half, the Lakers ran the same action they so often ran when Dwight was still on the team, starting with an entry to Pau at the elbow and then having Nash cut through the lane and then set a back screen for the other big man who then dives to the rim. In this game, Nash set a great pick on Chris Kaman’s man and Pau hit his big man partner with a great pass that lead to an easy finish.

Where this duo is being tested, however, is on defense. David Lee scored at will in this game, hitting jumpers when either Pau or Kaman (but mostly Pau) didn’t want to venture too far out to guard him, driving by them when they did step out, and working in the post for good shots too. Andrew Bogut also did good work in the paint, scoring on dives out of the P&R and doing some good work out of the post as well. This work all reinforced the fact that even though Pau and Kaman offer good size, they’re not the best rim protectors and other team’s bigs (as well as their aggressive wings) will attack the paint and try to get good looks inside as often as they can. Whether Pau and Kaman can find ways to defend at a viable level remains to be seen, but some of the support they provided in this game didn’t inspire a lot of confidence.

*I continue to like what I see from Shawne Williams. The guy simply knows what his role is and doesn’t often try to step outside of it to do things he’s not great at. Offensively this means shooting when open and moving the ball when he’s not. He’s got good enough skill to dribble penetrate and will get to the rim if the path is there, but for the most part he’s penetrating only to draw the defense and to move the ball on to a teammate after the help comes. Defensively he’s proving to be mobile and active. He’s working to be in the right spots and has enough athleticism to get where he needs to be most of the time. He also fights on the glass and is a willing rebounder. When it’s all said and done, Williams looks like a real rotation player and could very much fill the spot that Earl Clark left open when he left for Cleveland.

*Nick Young played well, mostly because he hit shots but not only because he hit shots. While Young still stops the ball in order to work in isolation and shoot long jumpers, he’s also productively using his dribble to get closer to the rim where he’s drawing fouls and moving the ball when he doesn’t have an opening. He’s still out there to score the ball and when his shot is falling he can do that very well, but it’s also nice to see him do more than just fire up contested jumpers.

*When should we worry about Farmar (and to a bit lesser extent Wes Johnson) missing games? When Farmar was first ruled out a week ago, he (and the team) said this was mostly precautionary and that his injured calf wasn’t really a big deal. Now, though, he’s missed the last several games and there’s no official word on when he’ll be back. What’s most important is that he’s ready for the season and that he stays healthy once that time comes, but it would also be nice to see him in the lineup and get some idea that this calf issue really isn’t that serious.

*Ryan Kelly saw his first burn of the season and he played well in limited minutes. Not only did he hit two 3 pointers, but he also showed he’s a capable offensive player in other ways, showing a decent handle and nice post entry skills when he shared the floor with Pau Gasol. He also showed nice feel for how to move around the floor, drifting into open space where he could either shoot his jumper or move the ball on to an open teammate when the defense rotated to him. He also looked alright defensively, showing an understanding of where he should be in help situations. He has a long way to go before we can make any definitive statements about what kind of player he will be, but he showed some positive signs in this game.

*I noted on twitter that, based off performance to this point, I believe both Shawne Williams and Xavier Henry make the final roster. That would bring the roster to 13 players including the 11 guys with fully guaranteed deals on the team. That leaves two roster spots up for grabs with Ryan Kelly, Marcus Landry, and Elias Harris all fighting to make the team. This battle will likely go all the way towards the end of camp with several factors going into the decision.

With that said, here are some things to consider: Kelly has the best pedigree and good size. It’s also important to remember that he was drafted by the team and front offices often find it difficult to cut someone they’ve used real resources on. Especially in training camp. Harris has a very good all around skill set and, like Shawne Williams, really seems to understand his role and limitations, working to play within both. He’s got a “pro’s body” and has shown good athleticism on defense and the glass. He’s more of a “jack of all trades, master of none”, but that repertoire could come in handy down the line. Harris also has a partial guarantee ($100K) on his salary and that can’t be dismissed, even if it’s not a huge amount. Landry has shown he’ll compete and, despite some poor shooting numbers, has a good stroke. He also has a history with D’Antoni and has been the first of these fringe players to get into the game for the past few contests.

Which of these players, with their specific factors, gets the nod will be interesting. If it were me, I’d choose Harris and Kelly. Both are younger than Landry and both have more room to grow as players with as good or better talent bases. We’ll see how it goes, though.

The picture is far from complete, but after three preseason games we’re starting to get a clearer view of this incarnation of the Lakers. The win against the Denver Nuggets was an entertaining one that featured some good play up and down the roster and ended when a unit of deep reserves and Steve Blake got a couple of timely defensive stops to close the door on a Nuggets’ surge. But while the win was nice — the Lakers are now 2 and 1 in this exhibition season — the bigger, more important takeaways come from some of the trends that are starting to develop.

While we don’t yet have a complete picture of this group, we are starting to gather clearer bits of information of what they can be and how they may get their. Good and bad individual performances, personnel groupings that show promise, and hints at a style of play are all coming into focus. This is both exciting and revealing as the intel we’re gaining now can help inform us of how things may be a month from now.

On that note, a few thoughts not only from the win versus the Nuggets, but from the preseason at large to this point…

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The Lakers started out their preseason with a win against the Warriors, downing the Dubs 104-95. The game was choppy in areas — the Lakers scored the first 7 points of the game and immediately gave up a 15-0 run; they also had an awful offensive 3rd quarter where they couldn’t hit any outside shots — and there was clearly some stretches where the team missed having Nash or Gasol as outlets to run the offense through, but overall the team looked good in their first organized action of the year.

As for any takeaways, the one thing that stood out, at least from the team perspective, is that all the guys played hard and they really seemed to play for each other. Yes there were some defensive breakdowns. And there were also some moments where guys got too caught up in looking for their own offense. But, for the most part, every guy seemed to want to do the right thing and were getting after it in their pursuit of accomplishing their goals.

Guys cut hard. They hit the glass hard. They closed out on shooters and tried to make the second and third rotations when the Warriors moved the ball. It wasn’t always perfect and there were plenty of times where the action was sloppy and ugly. But it was the first real game action in months so some of that is to be expected. Overall, though, I was happy with the performance and I’d be saying that even if the team was on the wrong side of the final score. I’m happier that they weren’t, however. Especially after going winless last preseason.

Now, some notes:

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