With the victory over the Memphis Grizzlies (51-25) last night, the Los Angeles Lakers (40-36) are undefeated in the last seven days. They’ve won three games in a row during the stretch and it’s helped solidify their grip on the final Western Conference playoff spot for the moment.
The Lake Show then took out the Grizzlies on April 5 thanks to a solid defensive effort.
The Hollinger Playoff Odds give the Lakers a 60.5 percent chance of making the postseason. Those are the best chances for any team seeded lower than seventh in the west.
Here’s a quick look at the Lakers’ remaining April schedule courtesy of NBA.com:
Now here’s a breakdown of the remaining games:
Games left: 6
Home games: 4
Road games: 2 (one of them versus Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center)
Games versus opponents with .500 record or better: 4
Games versus opponents with sub-.500 record: 2
The schedule is relatively tough, but the majority of the contests will be held at Staples Center and one has to like the Lakers’ chances in their home venue.
Given that Mike D’Antoni and company are embroiled in a heated battle with the Utah Jazz (40-37) for the last spot in the Western Conference playoffs, let’s see how their schedule shakes out:
Games left: 5
Home games: 2
Road games: 3
Games versus opponents with .500 record or better: 3
Games versus opponents with sub-.500 record: 2
The Jazz’s final game of the regular season is against the Memphis Grizzlies. In the event the Grizz are locked into their playoff spot at that point, they might opt to rest their core players. It’s a hypothetical obviously, but an important one.
The Purple and Gold has won six of their past 10 games and might be headed in the right direction currently. The best thing the Lakers can do at this point is simply win out.
That would assure them of a postseason berth and a date in the first round of the playoffs with the San Antonio Spurs (56-20) or Oklahoma City Thunder (56-20).
Laker of the Week
Expecting a 17-year veteran to play like your best guy every single night seems like an utterly ridiculous proposition. But Kobe Bryant as well as his teammates probably disagree given Vino’s productivity this season.
More importantly, with the Western Conference’s final playoff spot well within reach in the past week or so, the Lakers needed not only guidance but also assertiveness from their leader.
With Steve Nash and Metta World Peace both injured, it forced Bryant to step his game up all the while dealing with his own nicks and bruises that prevent him from resting for long stretches during games.
Kobe looked exhausted late in the Memphis game last night and even conducted part of the post-game interview with both hands clenching his shorts as he bent over from fatigue.
Make no mistake, the playoffs have already begun in Lakerland and Bryant’s play in this past week is proof. In the last seven days, the Lakers’ all-time leading scorer has averaged 45.7 minutes (!), 22 points, 11.3 assists, 8.3 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game on 39 percent field goal shooting.
He might not be shooting the ball well currently, but he’s definitely been the catalyst for the improved play of the team with his offensive contributions and defensive focus.
Black Mamba sir, you are the Laker of the week.
Layups and swats
Earlier in the week, the Los Angeles Clippers hosted the Phoenix Suns in a game that turned into a blowout. During the contest, Clippers play-by-play man Ralph Lawler commented on Shaquille O’Neal’s jersey retirement ceremony and pointed to the amount of retired Laker jerseys hanging in the rafters of Staples Center.
In a brief moment of sheer brilliance and on-air comedy, Lawler acknowledged that Staples Center offered a whole lot of vacant air space in the rafters for Clippers jerseys. Then he gave the viewing audience comedy gold by affirming the stadium only needed room for three additional retired jerseys: Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and LeBron James after he joins the team in 2014.
If that doesn’t speak to the difference between Lakers and Clippers, well nothing does.
Antawn Jamison came out of Friday’s game to the Wizards clutching his right wrist. He didn’t return to the game and afterwards had X-rays taken that thankfully came back negative. On Saturday, Jamison had an MRI on that wrist and the results allowed a brief sigh of relief:
An MRI on Antawn Jamison’s wrist revealed a sprain. He’ll be listed as “day to day” and re-evaluated at the end of the season.
Jamison plans to play through the injury and should be in the lineup when the Lakers travel to Oakland to play the Warriors on Monday. Again, this is good news and allows Lakers’ fans to exhale for a moment.
However, while breathing that sigh of relief, there should also be some concerns about how effective Jamison can be with an injured wrist on his shooting hand. Jamison is a player whose value resides almost exclusively on the offensive side of the ball. He is the Lakers best bench scorer and is a key rotation player based on a skill set that revolves around getting buckets. Anything that compromises his ability to perform this task is problematic.
And a bad wrist on his shooting hand is something that has a good chance of doing just that. Anyone who has ever sprained their wrist knows how it affects range of motion and how painful it can be when it gets flexed the wrong way. Considering a jump shot is completed by snapping your wrist to propel the ball forward, I don’t see any way in which this injury doesn’t affect Jamison’s outside shot. I’m not questioning his ability to play through pain — nor do I know how much pain he’s actually in — but I’m simply stating the fact that any wrist injury will affect a player’s ability to shoot a basketball.
Furthermore, Jamison’s a player who relies heavily on craft around the basket to score. He’s very good at scoring on flip and scoop shots and is also great at drawing fouls when taking shots at awkward angles or with strange timing. If his wrist affects his touch on those shots, his ability to score around the rim could be compromised. Plus, if his unorthodox approach around the rim leads to more contact when he’s attempting shots, he could be exposing himself to the types of swipes and hits that lead to him hurting his wrist further.
I’m quite happy that Jamison is going to gut through this injury and try to play. He’s become a vital part of the Lakers’ rotation and considering the team is in the home stretch, they need all available bodies to aid their push towards the post-season. That said, this is a tricky injury for a player like Jamison to navigate and it wouldn’t surprise me if his ability to perform at pre-injury levels is compromised. And if that ends up being the case, one has to wonder how that changes the Lakers’ rotations (if at all) and what the domino effect would be on the team not just from a production standpoint, but in terms of rotations and player groupings.
Of course, I’m getting ahead of myself here and there’s a chance Jamison will be just fine. He’s a veteran player, knows his body, and may have experience in adjusting to an ailment on his shooting hand. Players who’ve been around along as him have surely dealt with nearly every kind of injury there is and have found ways to work around most things that don’t keep them off the floor. I think we all hope this turns out to be the case.
But if it’s not, the Lakers are once again going to have to adjust to having a key rotation player banged up. It’s something that is, sad to say, something they’ve had a lot of experience with this year.
It is truly a sad day for the Laker organization, the city of Los Angeles, and the team’s fans all over the world. Jerry Buss was not just a great owner, but was also great ambassador of the game and, most of all, a great person. He will be sorely missed.
Across the internet, tributes to Dr. Buss have been presented for consumption and, below, we share some of those with you.
Dr. Jerry Buss, longtime owner of the Los Angeles Lakers, passed away today at 5:55 am after a long illness. He was 80 years old.
“We not only have lost our cherished father, but a beloved man of our community and a person respected by the world basketball community,” a statement released on behalf of the Buss family said.
Dr. Buss had been hospitalized much of the past 18 months in a battle which “showed his amazing strength and will to live. It was our father’s often stated desire and expectation that the Lakers remain in the Buss family. The Lakers have been our lives as well and we will honor his wish and do everything in our power to continue his unparalleled legacy,” the statement concluded.
He is survived by sons Johnny, Jim, Joey and Jesse and daughters Jeanie Buss and Janie Drexel, all of Southern California; eight grandchildren; former wife JoAnn of Las Vegas; half sister Susan Hall of Phoenix; half brother Micky Brown of Scottsdale; and stepbrother Jim Brown of Star Valley, Wyoming.
Funeral and memorial service arrangements are pending. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Lakers Youth Foundation or a charity of the donor’s choice.
From Ramona Shelburne, ESPN Los Angeles: The man smiling in all the pictures, the one in blue jeans and a casual shirt with a beautiful young woman on his arm, looks as though luck has smiled on him once or twice in his day. And truth be told, Dr. Jerry Buss, who turned a $1,000 real estate investment into the keys to the Los Angeles Lakers, and went on to become one of the most influential and successful owners in professional sports, did get one very important break when Magic Johnson fell into the Lakers’ arms the very same year he bought the team. But to chalk up his remarkable life to the whims of fate and fortune is profoundly shortsighted. It wasn’t luck that brought Buss from a Great Depression food line in a frigid corner of Wyoming to the sun-kissed boulevards of Los Angeles and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It was vision.
From Steve Springer, Yahoo! Sports: For most men, such a swift and impressive rise would have been enough to savor for a lifetime. Not Jerry Buss. He had his eyes on bigger prizes. That same year, 1979, he pulled off arguably the most complicated and lucrative transaction in sports history. Buss’ savvy real-estate investments helped make him a fortune. Supported by an army of approximately 50 lawyers and accountants, Buss purchased the Lakers, the Kings hockey team, the Inglewood Forum and the 13,000-acre Raljon Ranch in the Sierra Nevada mountains from Jack Kent Cooke for $67.5 million. The deal broke down to $33.5 million for the Forum, $16 million for the Lakers, $10 million for the ranch and $8 million for the Kings. Cooke, in exchange, received the lease to the Chrysler Building in New York, and properties in Virginia, Massachusetts and Maryland. When the deal was done, 12 separate escrows finalized, Buss spent his first day at the Forum inspecting the crown jewel of his properties. As the workday ended and the arena emptied out, he lingered, surrounded by only a few security people. With no event that night at the Forum, Buss took a chair and walked down to the empty floor where he was surrounded by silence and darkness, except for a few scattered lights. He sat down at what would be mid-court or center ice, took out a cigarette, lit it and inhaled the magnitude of his surroundings. In his mind’s eye, he could see the seats packed, his Lakers and Kings moving up and down the floor or ice, his championship banners on the wall. Smiling, Buss told himself, “You’ve come a long way, baby.”
From Kurt Helin, Pro Basketball Talk: What many basketball fans will remember him for is winning — the Lakers won 10 NBA titles under his ownership and made it to the finals 13 times. They produced legends of the game such as Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant, plus welcomed others such as Shaquille O’Neal. Under Buss’ watch the Lakers grew into the center of the Los Angeles sports universe, and one of the most recognized brands in all of sport. But where Buss was truly an innovator was off the court. Back in 1979 most NBA owners treated basketball as, well, basketball. You came to the game, there was nothing else. Buss understood what he had purchased was an entertainment enterprise that sold basketball. He bought the steak, what he needed to add was sizzle. First in came the Laker Girls, the first dance team unit in the league. Next was Dancing Barry — a guy in top hat and tails who would dance through the crown during timeouts, which seems quaint now but was a revolution in entertainment back in the day. Soon music was being pumped through the arena during breaks. Nobody else was doing that, but Buss started putting on a show with basketball at the heart of it. Buss made Lakers games the coolest place to be seen in L.A., and the celebrities flocked (and still do). Buss established the Forum Club so celebrities had a place to throw back a few cocktails (and plenty of drugs, if we’re going to be honest) before, after and during the game. When they left the club those celebrities sat in very visible courtside seats. Jerry Buss lived that lifestyle, too — he was always seen with a beautiful young woman on his arm. He was part of the scene. None of it would have worked if the team stunk, but in the Lakers first draft after Buss bought the team they got the No. 1 pick and selected Magic Johnson. He and Buss were a perfect fit — Magic wanted to entertain and had a bigger-than-life personality on the court. It was Showtime and it was fun to watch — plus they won. A lot. It was a captivating era of the NBA that lifted the league out of a time in the 1970s when NBA finals games were taped delayed and shown at midnight.
From J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: Don’t confuse Buss’ distance with disinterest. He felt better served by watching the games from halfway up the arena, rather than courtside, because the higher vantage point allowed him to see the plays and patterns of the game unfold. As for his occasional decision to, say, stay out West and hop over to Las Vegas rather than watch the Lakers in the Finals because he couldn’t think of anything fun to do in Indianapolis, ask yourself what you’d rather have as a fan: an owner who watches his team in the NBA Finals or an owner who consistently gets his team to the NBA Finals? The Lakers went to the NBA Finals 16 times in Buss’ 33 years as owner — about once every two years, on average. For Buss, wait ’til next year wasn’t a lament, it was a promise. He won with Magic and Kareem, he won with Shaq and Kobe, he won with Kobe and Gasol. He won with Jerry West as general manager and with Mitch Kupchak as the GM. He won with Paul Westhead as coach, then Pat Riley, then Phil Jackson, then Phil Jackson again. Buss was the constant over three decades. He made the Lakers glamorous, bringing in the Laker Girls to dance in front of A-list celebrities, turning the Lakers into the entertainment industry’s entertainment. He never forgot that the product came first, so he steadily reinvested the proceeds into the payroll. He signed Magic to a 25-year, $25 million contract back when that was considered an outlandish sum. He spent $121 million for Shaquille O’Neal in 1996. This season’s team has a $100 million payroll. In 2002, when the Lakers were en route to their third consecutive championship, there was concern they wouldn’t have a clear shot at a fourth because Buss wanted to slash payroll and get the team below the luxury tax threshold. Then they beat the Nets in the Finals, and at a victory party afterward a giddy Buss came up to me and said, “I’ve got a secret for you: We’re going way over the tax! I love winning!”
From Mike Trudell, Lakers.com: Innovative in numerous areas, Dr. Buss made break throughs in advertising (like a major agreement with Great Western Bank in 1988), served served two terms as President of the NBA Board of Governors and helped launch Prime Ticket Network (now FS West/Prime Ticket) in 1985. He got his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2006 in a ceremony he shared with his team’s staff, including each of his six children (Jeanie, Johnny, Jim, Janie, Joey and Jesse) who are continually active in the franchise. Among his numerous philanthropic efforts, Dr. Buss focused on supporting education and the needs of disadvantaged youth and the elderly, leading to honors from such organizations as the City of Hope, NAACP, the B’nai B’rith, United Negro College Fund, United Indian Development Associations, American Hebrew University, National Organization of Women, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Muscular Dystrophy Association, the Los Angeles Human Relations Commission and Heart of Los Angeles Youth among many others. Dr. Buss also provided resources for scholarships at Wyoming and USC, and endowed the Magic Johnson Scholarship at Michigan State University.
From Jeff Shultz, Atlanta Journal Constitution: Eventually, and I seem to recall it was just before the sun came up, it was time for the last four or five of us to leave. Somebody had to drive Buss back home – to Pickfair. I regret to say it wasn’t me — it would’ve made this story better. But I have this lingering memory of leaving the parking lot, looking in the rearview mirror and barely seeing the top of Buss’s head in the car behind me as he was slowly sinking down in the passenger seat. It was the end of the show for one night. But there would be others. Magic Johnson starred in “Showtime,” but Jerry Buss produced it. He was a rarity for a sports owner then, and even now, one who connected with people at every level. The sports world has lost a great one. It was cool to have known him.
(UPDATED) From Kevin Ding, OC Register: With savvy decisions that played out both inside and outside of the arena, Buss was always the smartest and most daring guy in the room. That includes the high-stakes poker room, his most recent passion that challenged him to match wits with the best professional poker players in the world. Buss’ intelligence was applicable to a variety of realms: He started out a graduate of the University of Wyoming with a degree in chemistry, believing education would be his springboard to whatever else he could imagine. He was right. Buss sought his doctorate in physical chemistry from USC, bringing him to the area with which he would become so identified. He shifted gears from the aerospace field into real estate – turning a $1,000 investment in a West Los Angeles apartment building into a Lakers empire that today is valued conservatively at $1 billion by Forbes magazine. Lakers star Kobe Bryant, who was swayed by Buss’ last-ditch phone call in 2004 in choosing to stay a Laker rather than sign with the Clippers, called Buss “extremely, extremely intelligent and extremely patient.” “You think about the rivalry that took place between the Lakers and the Celtics and what that did for the global outreach of the game,” Bryant said. “It reached me, and I was all the way in Italy and I was only 6 years old.”
Commissioner Stern said today that, “The NBA has lost a visionary owner whose influence on our league is incalculable and will be felt for decades to come. More importantly, we have lost a dear and valued friend. Our thoughts are with the family at this difficult time.”
And, if you simply hop on twitter, you’ll find countless anecdotes from so many basketball writers, players, and historians. The common theme is that Jerry Buss truly was one of a kind.
Finally, I leave you with Dr. Buss speaking with another Laker Legend — the late great Chick Hearn — talking about Buss’ role as an owner, expansion, and other league topics:
Recently, it had been reported that Dr. Buss was hospitalized with cancer. The fears were that this day was coming soon and reports were that family was bedside and that former players had visited him to pay their respects. Sadly, that day has come.
Buss was the man who built the Lakers into what they are today: the most successful professional sports franchise of recent modern history. He had the tremendous ability to provide a long term vision and the patience to execute a plan while mixing in a gambling spirit. That guidance and stewardship, which directly led to so much success, will be sorely missed.
Our condolences and most heartfelt wishes go out to the Buss family, the players, executives, team staff, and the extended Laker community. Today, we mourn the loss of a titan. An icon. The best owner in all of professional sports.
Rest in peace, Dr. Buss.
Laker fans from all over the world thank you for all that you’ve done to enrich our lives through the team that you guided so wonderfully.
Earlier reports from Ken Berger have Pau missing at least 6 weeks if he decides to let the tear heal on its own, or 12 weeks if surgery is the decided course of action. However, as Trudell reports, the Lakers aren’t yet putting a timetable on Pau’s recovery until he can meet with team doctors and a foot specialist. That said, in any event, Pau will be out for a some time and that, of course, is bad news for the Lakers.
Gasol was just starting to find his stride in Mike D’Antoni’s offense both as a replacement for Dwight Howard and in playing next to him. As we noted, Gasol’s shooting efficiency has been up in recent weeks and his individual defense, while not elite, was better than it had been all season. When you add those things to the constants in his game — the passing, rebounding, the general feel of where to be and when — Gasol was a difference maker for the team. Especially with Dwight missing games due to his shoulder injury.
It’s this total skill set that makes “replacing” Pau Gasol impossible. His skill set is too varied and unique for any one player to come in and adequately give the Lakers what they miss with him absent. Not to by hyperbolic, but not even Dwight’s return replaces what Gasol gives the team.
So, seeking another player on the open market is complicated. There are names out there — Kenyon Martin, Troy Murphy, Brian Cook, Sean Williams — who are free agents and could be useful, but to think that any of them should even be considered good options is overselling their abilities at this point.
If I were making decisions, I’d rather play Robert Sacre more until Dwight is ready to return and potentially add a wing so that Ron could slide up to play PF for the majority of his minutes. Since Earl Clark’s emergence, Ron has been more of a SF on offense but he’s still guarded most PF’s the Lakers have faced while Clark has chased players around the perimeter. A more full time shift of Ron to PF with the Lakers exploring options in the wing (where capable 10-15 minute players are easier to find) is the much more reasonable option, rather than combing through the incredibly slim pickings in the FA bigs market.
All that said, it needs to be restated that whatever decision is made, there’s really not a “solution” out there. Losing Gasol is a major blow to the Lakers’ season and finding a way to stay afloat and still make a push for the playoffs will be incredibly difficult. Even when Dwight returns, the rest of the roster will need to step up a great deal and perform at levels they may not be capable of — at least not consistently.
So, at this point, all the Lakers can do is hope that Howard returns soon, that Pau’s timeline is on the shorter end of the estimates out there, and that the current roster raises their games enough to fill in the gaps the best that they can.