Archives For pau gasol

Records: Lakers 8-9 (9th in the West), Rockets 8-8 (7th in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 105.1 (5th in the NBA), Rockets 104.1 (t-7th in the NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 99.4 (8th in the NBA), Rockets 103.4 (21st in the NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Chris Duhon, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Antawn Jamison, Dwight Howard
Rockets: Jeremy Lin, James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Patrick Patterson, Omer Asik
Injuries: Lakers: Pau Gasol (out), Steve Nash (out), Steve Blake (out); Rockets: Cole Aldrich (questionable)

In fairness to these Lakers, the 2012-13 season has presented a stream of tumult maddening not only in its persistence but also its diversity.

Spend the summer building a quad-HoF juggernaut around an (exhaustingly discussed) offense that risks marginalizing your new all-universe playmaker, watch it do so for precisely one full game before losing said playmaker to a broken leg (and his primary backup to an abdominal injury), while the squad actually thrives offensively but can’t keep the opponent off the scoreboard (or the win column) to the extent that your defensive guru coach is shown the door. Dogmatically pursue the coach with whom you dominated the previous decade before employing one of the great play-fakes in modern HR history and opting for the himself hobbled professional soul mate of your banged up point guard, and win four of five to return to break-even while awaiting his arrival.

The summer’s top get, the generational big man expected to author a new chapter in the franchise’s already glorious tome, months after undergoing major (I don’t believe there’s any other kind) back surgery, has, in mere weeks, allayed any lingering concerns about his ability to regain his characteristic dominance. The bench has (as it is wont to do) frustrated, though recent flashes of competence (no longer, mind you, from last spring’s surprise find, the backup center who’s now been buried on an NBA bench twice by the same coach) are certainly fodder for optimism.

The team’s since found firm-enough footing to rank in the league’s top third in efficiency at both ends of the floor, with Kobe Bean not only continuing to dominate on a nightly basis, but doing so in as efficient and mature a manner as we’ve ever seen.

And yet, the Lakers continue to drop more games than they win.

Now? Big boy pants.

Seriously, it’s never nothing with this crew.

To paraphrase ex-NFL coach/exec Bill Parcells, at some point, you simply are what your record says you are. Set aside payroll, prestige, raw talent and past achievement. 8-9 is 8-9. Yes, there have been injuries and upheaval, and yes, continuity cannot be achieved overnight, but – if I may once again channel my inner Tuna – don’t tell about the labor pains, show me the baby. The Lakers have certainly encountered some bumps in the road, and there can be little doubt that this team’s best is yet to come. It’s worth noting, however, that no team featuring peak-Kobe and well-on-his-way Dwight Howard – two players whose mere presence all but ensures 50 wins and the playoffs – never mind one that’s played 12 of the its first 17 games at home (not counting a “road” game against the Clippers), ought to be struggling (and, at present, failing) to keep its head above water more than 20% of the way through a season.

This is certainly not meant to suggest that the Lakers will be spectators come playoff time, but to continue to shoehorn this team – this turnover-plagued atrocity at the free throw line, yet again (for now) lacking at the point – into the ranks of the NBA’s contender is to invite more disappointment into a season that’s been defined by just that.

Tonight, in the absence of Pau Gasol (knee tendinitis), the Lakers travel to Houston, to square off against the team to which they last December actually traded their embattled scapegoat extraordinaire.

I have never shared the unflattering view of Gasol that – almost from the moment he was acquired, and in spite of his vital role in three conference titles and two banners – permeates Laker Nation. The unshakable “soft” label that has adhered itself to him (even after 19 and 18 in Game 7 of the NBA Finals against the team that had tormented him two years earlier) is nothing short of absurd. That he, one of the most gifted big men in NBA history, has maintained his grace and professionalism despite constantly demeaned as such by his own fans (never mind violently threatened on a regular basis by a disgusting but high-decibel minority), incessantly involved in trade speculation and actually traded a year ago is as impressive as anything he’s managed on the floor.

That said, at this moment, Pau is frankly not a good NBA player. That he’s struggling to define a niche for himself in a new system is well documented, as is the discomfort in his knees that will keep out of action tonight. What’s bothersome, however (as we discussed on the Silver Screen and Roll podcast, recorded prior to Sunday night’s game), is the extremity of his passiveness and failure to execute certain basic, system-neutral basketball plays (like wide open 18-foot jump shots and basic pick-and-roll defense) that have twice led to his watching the final moments of a Laker defeat from the bench.

That said, however, in this, the first of seven road contests in their next eight outings, Gasol’s absence will be absolutely glaring. Much of the attention focused on these Rockets tends to be directed at the high-profile backcourt of Jeremy Lin (11.6 points on 51% FG, 4.2 rebounds, 6.4 assists and 2 steals per game in his last five) and noted Laker antagonist James Harden (24, 6.8 assists, 2.4 steals and 46.4% from 3-point range during the same span), but the front court is where the Rockets have done the bulk of their damage en route victories in four of their last five. The onus tonight will fall squarely on the shoulders of Metta World Peace and Antawn Jamison, as their counterparts, Chandler Parsons (21.5 points, 7 rebounds and 57.9% from 3 in Houston’s last four wins) and Patrick Patterson (20 and 6 over his last five, 20+ points four times and 54% from the field) will command their full attention, as offseason steal Omer Asik (15.5 and 14 in his last five, and 25-of-38 from the field) will likely keep Howard occupied and unable to offer as much help as the Lakers might prefer.

Tuesday night’s outing in Houston offers up comprehensive challenge for the Lakers: win a road game (they’ve lost four of five this season), even more short-handed (say what you will about Pau…), despite starting one of the NBA’s most defensively challenged forwards against a hot-handed frontcourt. Because these Lakers are these Lakers, it wouldn’t be at all shocking to see them return to .500 tonight. To do so, however, it will take a massive effort from the front line (both defensively and on the boards), Kobe doin’ more work and, in all likelihood, a trip out of Mike D’Antoni’s doghouse for Jordan Hill.

Rockets Blogs: Check out The Dream Shake and Red94 for some excellent coverage of these Rockets.

Where you can watch: 5:00pm start on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.

Records: Lakers 6-5 (6th in the West), Kings 2-8 (15th in the West)
Offensive ratings*: Lakers 105.9 (5th in the NBA), Kings 94.5 (27th in the NBA)
Defensive ratings*: Lakers 98.4 (8th in the NBA), Kings 102.1 (18th in the NBA)
Probable Starting Lineups: Lakers: Darius Morris, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard
Kings: Aaron Brooks, Tyreke Evans, John Salmons, Jason Thompson, DeMarcus Cousins
Injuries: Lakers: Steve Nash, Steve Blake; Kings: none

The Lakers Coming In: …over .500, baby! WOOOOO!!!!!

Whaddya want? For a ragtag group of upstarts, it’s all about baby steps.

In all seriousness, the Lakers arrive will celebrate Thanksgiving not in the state we’d expected prior to the season, but as close to it as we’ve seen thus far. After scuffling (mild understatement) to a 1-4 start (and the end of the Mike Brown regime), the Lakers have crept into the NBA’s top third at the defensive end, while their offense – never the issue to begin to begin with – continues to rank among the league’s best. Winners of five of six since Mike Brown’s dismissal and six of eight overall, the Lakers have (for the moment) overhauled the narrative that perpetually surrounds this team, moving the pessimism and nitpicking of a week ago to the back burner, in favor of the optimism that accompanies the gradual cohesion of a new cast

Last night marked the young season’s high water mark, as the artists formerly (and probably again in the future) known as Team Turmoil not only gutted out a solid victory over a talented Brooklyn Nets squad in Mike D’Antoni debut on the bench, but did so with a strong defensive effort, holding four of five Nets starters under 40% from the field, while Dwight Howard turned in his best performance as a Laker (23 points, on 8-of-11 shooting, 15 rebounds and four blocks) and Kobe Bryant – despite a late game dalliance with “hero ball” that so perturbs some observers – continued to exhibit efficiency seldom seen from the Mamba, pouring in 25 on just 15 shots, and adding four boards and five dimes.

Unfortunately, in order to pull out the win, the Lakers were forced (as they often will be against quality opposition) to run four of their five starters (all except Darius Morris) at least 39 minutes. Not exactly an ideal start to a four-games-in-five-days stretch (that includes roadies in Memphis and Dallas) for a veteran squad whose top two point guards are on the shelf.

Enter the Sacramento Kings…

The Kings Coming In: According to the standings, the Kings have managed a pair of victories in 10 outings to start the 2012-13 season. Their statistical profile, however, suggests otherwise. Seriously, this team is downright AWFUL.

Only three teams are managing fewer points per 100 possessions than the Kings’ 94.5. Only the Pacers and Wizards boast a lower eFG% than Sacto’s 44.9%. The Kings are connecting at a below-average rate from all area of the floor (in fairness, they are average from 10-15’), have the third-worst Assist Rate in the league and have had one in every 11 shots blocked. (You hear that, Dwight?)

Defensively, there’s not much to write home about either. Though they rank in the league’s middle third in points allowed per 100 possessions, only two teams (Charlotte and Detroit) are allowing offensive rebounds OR free throws at a great clip, and only the Cavs and the Knicks are allowing a higher field goal percentage at the rim than Sacramento’s 68.7%. (Hi Dwight!)

On the bright side, DeMarcus Cousins is back from the absurd suspension that kept him out of the Kings November 11 loss to the Lakers. Incredibly gifted as he is, however, Cousins’ tendency to get caught flat-footed defensively (and the resulting propensity for foul trouble) will likely limit his impact against whichever of the Lakers’ bigs he’s matched up against.

Kings blogs: For the view from the other side, check out the fantastic work turned in by Sactown Royalty and Cowbell Kingdom.

Keys to the Game: Expect Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol to own the offensive glass – and, consequently, to own DMC and Jason Thompson as well – with Kobe continuing to play some of the most efficient ball we’ve seen in years, against a perimeter defense that is simply incapable of preventing him from having his way.

I’ve done this before, with checkered results is memory serves, but if the Lakers are mentally present at Sleep Train Arena (this name makes me so sad), a comfortable victory – and perhaps a quarter of rest for the first stringers – ought to be in the cards.

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

The version of the Princeton offense the Lakers will use this season has the chance to be an evolving oasis of offensive possibility. The sheer talent and versatility of their core four players can translate to a multitude of actions — some obvious, some not so much — that can hurt a defense in a variety of ways.

When the Princeton was first talked about as a system the Lakers would employ, one of the first things that came to mind was Pau Gasol operating at the high post. Using Pau at that spot on the floor, with Howard occupying the low block, would take advantage of his elite passing while also utilizing his ability to space the floor as one of the better mid-range shooting big men.

This, of course, has become a staple of what the Lakers do run on offense. Every game we’ve been treated to at least one Gasol dime to Howard where he makes a catch at the elbow and plays high-low basketball with his frontcourt partner. As the season advances and these two develop even more chemistry, we should see even more of this action and little wrinkles added to it to force defenses into making the types of lose/lose choices that often result in made baskets.

However, one of the not so obvious ways the Lakers have started to take advantage of their talent has been the inverting of their big men. Against the Pistons, the Lakers ran several actions that put Pau at the low block and left Howard at the high post. This is the opening play of the game:

This play starts as many Lakers’ sets have lately, with the point guard (Steve Blake in this instance) bringing the ball up the left side of the floor with Kobe on the wing and Dwight in the ball side post. Blake enters to Kobe who looks to Dwight for a quick post up. Instead of entering the ball, Kobe passes the ball back to Blake who then enters a quick pass into Dwight as he slides up the lane line to the elbow. Blake then screens away for Pau who pops open at the top of the key where he gets the ball from Howard. This is where the heart of this action comes to life.

After Pau gets the ball at the top of the key he swings the ball back to Kobe and then rubs off a high pick from Dwight to dive to the low post. Kobe hits Pau with an entry pass while Howard hovers around the free throw line. It’s important here to note how closely Howard’s man is playing him and how much room Pau has to work on the post:

Pau post up

With all this room, Pau backs his man down and shoots a half hook that misses. But since he’s maneuvered his way around his man, he follows his shot, gets the offensive rebound and scores easily on a put back. It bears repeating, in this next still Howard isn’t even in the picture and Maxiell still hasn’t left the FT line area to help on the glass and is watching as Pau scores an easy two points:

Pau put back

One of the key reasons this set works is that the Lakers have put Pau in the post and spaced the floor in a way where if the double team comes Gasol can use his tremendous passing ability to hit the open man.

Furthermore, with Dwight at the elbow, the defense has a unique problem. If Dwight’s man leaves to double team he’s allowing Howard to dive from the FT line with the best passing big man in the league ready to drop him off a pass that will surely end with either a basket, a foul, or both. Not to mention that if Dwight’s man leaves him but the pass doesn’t go to him, he still has a wide open lane to crash the glass and be an offensive rebounder.

What the Lakers have figured out — and based off how many times they ran a variation of this set, they have figured something out — is that the defense must respect Dwight if he’s anywhere near the paint. His ability to cut to the ball and score off passes or simply get to the front of the rim for rebounding chances means that his man has to keep within arm’s distance of him at nearly all times or risk being exposed.

This doesn’t have to be a full time set for the Lakers. Dwight is still best served operating from the low post and trying to score on his man via touches in the paint. Many of those touches will come from the splendid passing ability of Pau. But there will be times where the Lakers can invert their bigs and use Pau’s strength as a post scorer to their advantage and not hesitate. Even though Dwight doesn’t have range on his jumper and isn’t known as a great high-low passer, it doesn’t matter. He’s too dangerous to leave.

Offensive spacing can come from many places. In this case it comes from Dwight Howard standing at the foul line. Not sure many people saw that coming.

The Pau of Los Angeles

Danny Chau —  October 29, 2012

I’d like to welcome Danny Chau as a contributor to FB&G. He’ll be joining us from time to time to write on the Lakers, basketball in general and, if we’re lucky, what he ate for lunch and where he got it. Danny brings a unique and incredibly thoughtful writing voice to the game we love and his L.A. roots make him well versed on what the Lakers mean to the city and the league at large. We’re lucky to have him. You can find more of Danny’s work at Hardwood Paroxysm and you can follow him on twitter here. His first effort is on Pau Gasol. Enjoy.

A nationally broadcasted Lakers game wouldn’t be complete without the panned-out shot of the ubiquitous Hollywood sign, standing tall and inert as it has been for almost 90 years. Hollywood is the spiritual home of the Los Angeles Lakers, a team with a history of blockbusters and A-list celebrities — and that doesn’t count the stars who attend home games. The team is one of the most recognizable in all of sports, and the idea of Hollywood is one of America’s most important and enduring cultural exports. It’s a symbiotic relationship that begets continued dominance.

With the introduction of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, the Lakers have their highest-profile team in almost a decade. The team, if the Hollywood spirit is still alive and well, will be among championship favorites just from the breadth of their star power. And in one fell swoop, Pau Gasol, once the team’s unquestioned second option, becomes the fourth player mentioned in any Lakers conversation. Naturally, he takes it in stride. After all, after a couple years of dealing with serious trade rumors and internal strife, it’s probably a blessing just to be standing as a Laker.

But Gasol’s relationship with dominance—and with those who expect him to dominate—has been tenuous at best, nonexistent at worst. Three consecutive trips to the Finals (with each one incrementally better than the last) as Kobe Bryant’s right hand man can do wonders for a player’s image, but Gasol has found out how soon the heaps of praise can wither when expectations are stacked too high. In four years time, he shed the “soft” label and then, once again, emerged as one of the softest players in the league. This is no small feat given the timeframe.

However, it seems most can agree that Gasol’s role in on this season’s team will be a positive for all parties involved. But if Kobe, Dwight, and Steve keep the team Hollywood as Hell, where does that leave Pau? I suppose with the rest of Los Angeles — a county that doesn’t always have the luster of its internationally-recognized focal point, but one with a compelling collective narrative all its own.

Los Angeles is a sprawl — as iconic as New York but nowhere near as condensed.  It’s a result of centuries of various ethnic migrations and subsequent white flight. Good, bad, or neither, it’s how the county became the cultural jigsaw it is today. Each city is its own archive; many of which are part of a grander story of how the underrepresented can still cultivate vibrant communities in spite of external forces. It’s a collection of compartmentalized clusters loosely sutured together by the freeway system.

Navigating through the county is a lifelong endeavor, and there are many who have made it their life’s work to map out as much of L.A’s everchanging landscape as humanly possible. Of course, food is a convenient way to experience much of L.A.’s cultural diversity. But it’ll take a drive. In the day time, head to the Harvard Heights district for a pupusa; at night, have as many tacos as you can handle from the taco tables that line Pico Blvd. Less than five miles away is Langer’s, where you will get some of the best pastrami anywhere on earth. Neighboring cities Gardena and Torrance are about 20 miles south, home to many stellar mom-and-pop ramen shops. A few miles east is Bludso’s BBQ in Compton, where I would suggest the Texas Sampler (bring a friend, or five) and the mac and cheese.  And I’d be thoughtless to neglect the San Gabriel Valley, my home, which in my unbiased opinion has the best regional Chinese and Taiwanese fare in America.

(Oh, and one of the best burritos I’ve ever eaten was from a small little shack in La Puente, an almost exclusively Latino community. It’s a family business owned and operated by a Korean father and son, obviously.)

It’s all worth taking in. It just requires time and patience and gas.

Pau is reading The Taoof Pooh by Benjamin Hoff. Actually, he’s probably finished it by now. He’s not exactly taking up Daoist teachings from the source, but it’s a start. The core beliefs of Daoism center on the idea of flow and wu-wei, the way of being natural, of uncontrived action. Phil Jacksonsaid Gasol is the oil that makes the machine run. Kobe has said similar things in the past. Despite being lower on the chain of command, Gasol is the only player of the without a rigid set of objectives in the system. We have a good idea of what Dwight will bring to the team, and we know that Kobe, regardless of system, won’t be deviating far from what has made him the player he is. Nash’s historic shooting and pick and roll ability will both be viable at the beginning of any possession and as safety blankets when options begin to crumble. In an offense that won’t key in on strict sets and a defense with the most intimidating stopper in the league, Gasol will need to fluidly switch in and out of his many compartments to keep the Lakers steady. That means being a dual threat from the high post, defending the opposition’s best big man to give Howard the freedom to make plays elsewhere, and remaining aggressive on scoring opportunities.

A Gasol that can and does do everything on the court isn’t beyond the realm of possibility — he’s done it before. His game is understated; as understated as it can be when he’s basically good at everything. It’s easy to focus on Gasol’s startling passivity last year and how his role as a facilitator seemed to overshadow the rest of his game (never mind that Gasol averaged more shots a game than in any previous season as a Laker). With Andrew Bynum’s emergence over the last two seasons, Gasol adapted to the shift in focus in a sensible manner. Compartmentalizing his game allowed Bynum to blossom, but in sealing off portions of his game for the sake of continuity, he ceased to be the player the team needed. And when you’re playing alongside an obsessive maniac, dips in assertiveness are magnified. It’s baffling to consider Gasol the “glue guy” on this team when he is still among the league’s top talents, but he is. He’s the freeway system that can connect the team’s newfound diversity.

Pau is entering his fifth full season as a Laker, but there still seems to be a disconnect between the player he is and the player fans are expecting. In the new offense, perhaps Gasol’s freer role can serve as a reminder of why Gasol has been so integral to the Lakers’ success. With Howard and Nash soaking up a larger portion of the spotlight, it’s a good season to stop and appreciate the nuance of Gasol’s vision and footwork and balance. The team’s new look promises Michael Bay-esque explosions on screen. Gasol should ensure that the dialogue won’t be half bad either.

That Hollywood sign is why many come to Los Angeles, but you stay for the rest of it. Los Angeles is dense, but it rewards your effort. So take a drive. Maybe put on the new Kendrick Lamar album. The world of Los Angeles can’t be taken in all at once. There’s just too much there hidden from plain sight and so much left undiscovered. Absorb the experience in bits and pieces, and live without ever expecting to complete the jigsaw. If that sounds like an endeavor worth undertaking, then there’s one reason why Pau Gasol is worth rooting for.

Welcome to the Strategy Session. In this space we’ll explore different aspects of the game from a strategy standpoint. It may mean looking at a coaching decision — like determining a rotation. Or a specific offensive play that we think will work. Or it could be an examination of a defensive scheme. Sometimes we’ll use video others we’ll just blab away for a while on the topic of the day. Hope you enjoy it.

At the beginning of last season, the Lakers looked to be (at least) one player short from elite status. Sure, their top three players were as good as any other trio in the league, but outside of them they had a mash-up group of guys that would need to provide their best case scenario nightly in order for the Lakers to get that extra boost.

At the trade deadline, however, reinforcements arrived, mainly in the form of Ramon Sessions. Sessions flashed game changing speed and an attack mentality that helped boost the Lakers’ offense whenever he was on the floor. However, over time — especially after a shoulder injury curtailed his aggressiveness, the tighter defenses of the playoffs took hold, and the Lakers adjusted their offensive approach — Sessions’ aggressiveness waned and the Lakers again struggled to produce offensively at a consistently dangerous level. Thus, Ramon Sessions is no longer a Laker.

When Sessions was at his Laker peak, though, Mike Brown made the strategic decision of always having either him or Kobe on the floor at all times. The reasoning behind this was simple: for the Lakers to be at their best offensively they’d need a balance between the post and the perimeter. The only way to achieve that balance would be to have at least one offensive threat who called those places home on the court at the same time.

Brown’s strategy, then, was to not only have at least one of Kobe/Sessions on the floor at all times but to also do the same for Gasol/Bynum. This upcoming year, Brown would be wise to do the same with his new perimeter and post-up dynamic duos of Kobe/Nash and Gasol/Howard.

I understand that the hope is for all four of these players mesh seamlessly when they share the floor. The only way the Lakers are going to achieve at the levels they want to this season (aka win the championship), these guys will all need to blend together and find a comfort level where their games can not only co-exist, but collaborate to make each other better.

All that said, the Lakers are in the unique position of having two duos whose games not only compliment one another’s, but can be the foundation for an elite offense.

In Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, the Lakers have acquired one of the best pick and roll guards and the best pick and roll finisher in the league. They are, essentially, a symbiotic match in how their skills are best deployed. Mike Brown would do well to find line-up combinations that feature these two players as often as possible. Pair them up, flank them with shooters (Meeks and Jamison) and let them run a lot of one/five pick and rolls like they’ve both done their entire careers.

Ideally, I’d like to see Mike Brown use a substitution pattern that subs Nash out around the six minute mark, Dwight at the 8 to 10 minute mark of the 1st quarter, and then send them both out at the start of the 2nd quarter (or near the end of the 1st quarter). This would match them up with a lot of team’s 2nd units and let them wreak havoc against teams’ reserves by pounding them with P&R’s with the Lakers’ best shooters supporting them.

Opposite of Nash/Howard, Mike Brown could then use alternative lineup combinations around the duo of Kobe/Gasol. Remember, these two were the foundation for three Finals and back to back championship teams. Last season their chemistry suffered some, but I think it’s fair to say that both men will be rejuvenated this upcoming season. And, if both can be played together frequently — while being used as the key scoring options for their unit — I think we’d see a return to the chemistry of season’s past.

Plus, the games of Pau/Kobe would seem to be good matches for the other role players not playing with Nash/Howard. In Steve Blake the Lakers have a PG who is more adept at sharing ball handling duties and spacing the floor next to a more dominant perimeter creator. And Jordan Hill’s defensive ruggedness, penchant for attacking the glass on both ends, and offensive game that’s built off cuts and put-backs is nice match for Gasol. This unit could play together for stretches in the 1st, 2nd, & 3rd periods with Brown then using his starters as the primary closers every night (if they’re even needed to close).

Ultimately, we’ll see what Mike Brown actually chooses to do. But, with the way the Lakers’ roster is built they’re in a unique position of having two sets of wing/big-man duos that can not only compliment each other well but do so within the context of what the Lakers want to do on offense. In Nash and Howard, Brown can direct his troops to free lance a bit more by leaning on the pick and roll prowess the two newcomers bring to the table. With Pau and Kobe anchoring the O, the team can shift to the Princeton’s more formal structure and return to the read and react roots that those two have thrived under in their time together.

Basketball can be a complex game. All five players on the floor must be in synch for the best results to be produced. However, basketball can also be quite simple where the two man game — a style we’ve all played since we were kids — can be the foundation for a unit’s success. It will come down to personnel groupings and rotations, but the Lakers have the pieces to produce two of the best two man games in the league. I’m excited, to say  the least.