Archives For NBA Playoffs

I’ve not stopped watching the NBA since the Lakers were eliminated from the playoffs. While it’s disappointing seeing the post-season in full flow while the Lakers sit at home, the playoffs have been riveting to watch and I can’t imagine depriving myself of these games simply because the team I’d like to see still playing is not.

I’ve actually been covering the 2nd round match up between the Warriors and the Spurs for Pro Basketball talk. So if you miss my ramblings about X’s and O’s, adjustments, and everything else you can go there are check it out. In any event, watching that series unfold in the manner it has is sort of a cruel reminder of why the Lakers are in the circumstance they are.

(Tangent: One of key reasons the Lakers are in the position they are is because health literally crippled this roster’s ability to be competitive. I have no illusions of grandeur with this particular roster (okay, that’s not true, I have some), but I know that a completely healthy Lakers’ team would have been competitive with the Spurs with a real chance of winning that series. I said it at the time, but by game 3 the Lakers weren’t just missing Kobe but were also missing Nash, Blake, Meeks, and Ron. That’s 5 of the team’s top 9 players and their entire back court rotation. I don’t want to rehash all those feelings of frustration that stemmed from that series, but I can not be convinced those injuries didn’t mean a great deal to the Lakers. In just typing that sentence and reading it aloud, it seems silly to argue otherwise. But I digress. Back to our regularly scheduled programming.)

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If you were looking for good news, you came to the wrong place. Mike Trudell of Lakers.com has an injury update and it’s not a good one.

After having his knee drained before game three and still trying to give it a go, though not playing at all in the 2nd half, Ron has been ruled out of game 4. He joins Nash, Blake, and Meeks who have also been ruled out.

If you’re counting at home, those four players plus Kobe Bryant make up five of the Lakers top nine players and nearly their entire wing rotation. Say that out loud a couple of times to let it sink in. If you’re looking for an equivalent on the Spurs, from a strict position standpoint, imagine of Parker, Ginobili, Neal, Leonard, and Green were all ruled out. That’s a sobering thought (that will likely lead you to knock back a couple of drinks to make you less sober).

The Lakers will only have 10 players available for the game and will be starting two 2nd year players who were both taken in the 2nd round. Yep, this is where the team is at.

The Lakers are in an onerous position heading into game three. They trail two games to none, losing both games by double figures as the Spurs took control of both games in the 2nd half. Further, their depth is severely compromised. Steve Blake has already been ruled out due to a strained hamstring that leaves him out indefinitely. Jodie Meeks’ MRI revealed a partially torn ligament in his ankle and he remains doubtful to play. Steve Nash is also doubtful with his various lower body ailments.

These players represent the top three guards in the Lakers’ back court rotation. With Kobe already on the shelf, they’re every guard you’d want to be able to rely on to play meaningful minutes at this time of the year. All of them being out spells trouble of the worst kind, especially for a team already having issues generating offense from the perimeter in a way that’s respected by the Spurs.

This game, then, represents the type of challenge that can’t realistically be expected to produce a positive result. This isn’t optimism versus pessimism, it’s simply a matter of health. Take away Parker, Ginobili, Neal, and Joseph against a fully healthy Lakers’ team and I’d venture to say the Spurs’ outlook would be exactly what the Lakers face today.

All that’s left is hope. Hope that Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard can find a bit more efficiency in their games to score well and create good looks for others (especially Pau). Hope that Darius Morris, Andrew Goudelock, and Chris Duhon play some of the best ball of their lives. Hope that Earl Clark, Jamison, and Ron hit their open jumpers and find slashing and post opportunities behind a Spurs’ D that is heavily committing to stopping Pau and Dwight. Hope that the Lakers find some home court magic that provides them a level of energy and effectiveness that translates to a winning formula.

Because, without those things, it’s safe to say the Lakers are severely outmatched in this game. We can talk beating the fronting defense of the Spurs via high-post flashes and lobs over the top to Dwight Howard. We can talk shading Parker to the baseline on every single touch to funnel him to where the help is. We can talk trapping Ginobili aggressively to make him a passer rather than a scorer. We can even talk pressuring full court to change the tempo and feel of the game. These are all tactical moves that make sense in a vacuum; moves that can improve the Lakers’ chances if executed well and if the Spurs aren’t fully prepared for them.

But the fact is that unless some of the Lakers’ available players can play above their heads in this game, there’s simply too much a disparity in talent on the floor for the tactical adjustments to really make a huge difference. On many levels that’s discouraging. But it’s also how this series is evolved. Even if Nash and Meeks both play, it was really Blake and Kobe who carried the Lakers’ perimeter offense down the stretch of the season and both those guys will be in suits on the sideline. If Nash and Meeks don’t play (which, at this point, seems most likely), the Lakers will be turning to their fifth, sixth, and seventh guards on the roster and players who would not be in the rotation otherwise. That’s no insult to them, it’s simply what they are.

So, hope for the best tonight folks. If nothing else I expect the Lakers’ to play hard and try their best to get what is a very important game within the context of this series. It’s just that they’re so undermanned it’s difficult to see a realistic path where the outcome is different than what’s expected. Maybe at 10:30 tonight, we can all celebrate the improbable. I sure hope so.

Friday Forum

Dave Murphy —  April 26, 2013

Maybe you thought the injury bug had passed, that Kobe’s Achilles tear would be enough to appease the dark basketball gods who inexplicably dogged the Lakers all season long. Wrong and wrong again. The maladies cycle and regenerate in direct correlation to whatever the team’s greatest needs and weaknesses are at any given moment. It is beyond reason now, it has gone viral. It has become a macabre plot device – the last man standing, a post-apocalyptic scenario in which the remaining players exit the bunker and look around – are we the only ones left? Until some sadistic winged creature swoops down and grabs another one in its wretched scabby grip. There is no safe place to be. Give us more.

The Kamenetzky Bros offer up another fine podcast on their Land O’Lakers blog – on injuries, the future of Mike D’Antoni,, PJ scenarios and trips to Mars.

C.A. Clark for Silver Screen and Roll examines the Lakers gift that keeps on giving – turnovers.

Dave McMenamin for ESPN Los Angeles writes about the likely loss of Steve Blake, Steve Nash and Jodie Meeks for tonight’s game.

Speaking of Meeks, Mark Medina of the LA Daily News is reporting Meeks’ MRI shows a “partial ligament tear. That doesn’t sound good.

Ben Bolch for the LATimes also chronicles the guard corps woes.

Dan Devine for Ball Don’t Lie on a hopeless scenario and Magic Johnson’s affirmation of same.

Sam Amick from USA Today has a different take, this from Dwight Howard who says he’s not going down without a fight.

Mark Medina for Inside the Lakers brings Dwight’s take on the Spurs’ art of flopping.

Finally, Ross Gasmer for Lakers Nation has put together a chart of the Lakers injuries this season.

And more finally, a late-breaking misery loves company report, Russell Westbrook is out for the season. You never want to see a player go down, no matter whose team it is.

***

Things are seeming grim, just two games into the first round playoffs. But what about the newly-named NBA Development League’s Most Valuable Player? The inside-out game won’t work without perimeter threats. Enter Andrew Goudelock, the 2011 College Three-Point Champ, also drafted by the Harlem Globetrotters for his 4-point ability. The problem of course is the small matter of defense – it’s really not Glock’s forte. Which is why we have Darius Morris, no? At 6-4 he’s got some size and played a bit more this season than last. End of year report cards have indicated potential and he’s managed a place on the roster for insurance reasons. And then there’s Chris Duhon, the nine-year journeyman and third cousin to Robert Sacre.

Sometimes things go so calamitously wrong that you wind up using those guys on the padded leather chairs at the end of the line. They fill a variety of roles – some are practice bodies, some possess a particular skill set and some still have vestiges of the star power that once made them the face of a franchise. Tracy McGrady was recently signed by the Spurs after stints in China and his living room couch. What would you rather have, a guy who was once the truth or a young gunner straight off a minor-league MVP award? Players like Duhon, Morris and Goudelock are often dismissed by virtue of definition – they’re at the end of the bench for a reason. Sometimes the reason becomes the reality you never expected – they’re needed. Here’s hoping the 41st and 46th picks of the 2011 draft do us proud. Just keep an eye on the Staples Center rafters for those screaming death-spiral birds of prey. They might still be hungry.

 

The Lakers fought like mad just to make the playoffs. Their 28-12 run to close the season implies a certain amount of fluidity and good fortune, but that wasn’t the case at all. Nearly every game was a grind with injuries and in game lapses providing a teeter-totter feeling to each contest. Wether the Lakers would hold on to a lead, be able to come from behind, or simply survive to the next contest was an every game adventure for players and fans alike.

Now that they’ve actually made the post-season, finding themselves down two games to none versus the Spurs, it seems that 40 game grind has caught up to them.

Forget Kobe’s ruptured achilles tendon for a moment and simply look at what’s developed in the last two games against the Spurs. Steve Nash has returned from his hip/back/hamstring issues, but resembles someone trying to play with a weighted vest on. His stride is short and choppy and he lacks most (if not all) of the burst he had before he went down 11 games ago. Jodie Meeks rolled his ankle in game 1 and missed game 2 after trying to test the sore joint in pre-game warmups. And now Steve Blake is also injured with a strained hamstring, saying that he “felt a sharp pain” when he tried to drive baseline towards the end of game 2. He’ll undergo tests today, but I’m not that optimistic this will end up being something that doesn’t limit him moving forward.

Even if all three players are able to play this Friday (which, as of now, doesn’t seem likely), they’ll all be compromised in some way. Having your best three guards hobbled (with the fourth, and best of them all, already injured) is no way to compete in a regular season game, much less the playoffs. Plus, with Ron still being more than a step slow after his knee surgery and Jamison still playing with a torn ligament in his wrist, the team doesn’t have many healthy bodies from their original 10 man rotation (and none not named Pau or Dwight unless you count Jordan Hill who looked active in his first game back from a hip surgery that took place three months ago).

And that’s just the physical side of the story.

The Lakers are also clearly suffering from the mental wear and tear of a grueling season. I mentioned the strong run they had to close the season, but that came on the heels of a 17-25 start to the campaign. That hole they dug themselves put them in a position where whatever room for error they had to start the season vanished. They needed every single one of those wins to close their season just to qualify for the playoffs and had to gear up mentally to make the run they did.

Said another way, the Lakers’ playoffs didn’t start on Sunday, they started months ago. They started with an air-it-out meeting in Memphis and have been rolling along ever since, grinding away at the players and coaches who understood that every game mattered towards a goal of simply making the post-season. There was no cushion to fall back on, no net to catch them if they fell just one more time. They battled through injury and exhaustion just to get to this point and now that they’re here they’re even more injured and more exhausted. You can see it on their faces as they walk to timeouts and in their slumped shoulders when a broken play leads to another big basket by their opponent. They’re still fighting — something that I admire them a great deal for — but in this battle of attrition they’re showing the wear of the warfare they’ve endured.

So, even though there are tactical adjustments that can be made, there isn’t really a magic elixir to help the Lakers at this point. We can talk about the coaching (which has actually been fine, all things considered), what the players need to do better (hit some shots), or how a few breaks within the game could help the Lakers win a game or two. But, in the end, the Lakers are showing the weathering, both physical and mental, of a journey that’s been much too long with the stakes way too high. What they need is rest. And, sad to say, that may be coming sooner rather than later.