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Box Score: Lakers 88, Celtics 87
Offensive Efficiency: Lakers 91.9, Celtics 90.4
True Shooting %: Lakers 44.1%, Celtics 43.9%

The Good:
First and foremost, any win on the Parquet is sweet. That the Lakers, coming off a tough loss in Philadelphia, have now won four straight regular season contests in Boston, this one on the heels of yet another crushing Patriots’ Super Bowl defeat… brings a little extra something to the table, no?

As far as the actual game is concerned, the most praiseworthy performance, on either side, was turned in Pau Gasol. Consistent throughout, Gasol connected on 12 of his 20 (!!) field goal attempts (3 in the first quarter, 3 in the second, 4 in the third and two in the fourth), 10 times converting from inside the lane, en route to 25 points. Additionally, he was a force on the glass, collecting 14 rebounds, four on the offensive end (more on this in a minute), handed out three assists, blocked a pair of shots (more on this in a minute) and made every play the team needed from him down the stretch.

A mere 13 seconds after reentering the game in the fourth quarter (at the 7:13 mark) Pau hit a 17-footer to put the Lakers up by two points. A quiet six minutes later, with the Lakers down a bucket, on a play in which Steve Blake’s hustling offensive rebound netted the Lakers a second shot, Pau followed up a 10-foot jumper from Kobe, tipping in the rebound to tie the game at 82. It was his fantastic closeout on a beyond-the-arc Ray Allen that derailed the ensuing Celtics possession, forcing overtime. In OT, despite missing his only field goal attempt, Pau continued to make his presence felt, grabbing four defensive rebounds and, most important of all, swatted away a point blank, potentially game-winning put-back attempt by Ray Allen to secure the Lakers’ 15th win of the season.

Tonight, Pau eats first.

Deserving of an honorable mention here is the effort of the entire Laker team on the boards. In addition to Gasol’s 14 rebounds, Andrew Bynum was a monster on the glass, with 17 of his own, including a massive seven offensive rebounds. Also deserving a shout are Troy Murphy (9 in 24 minutes), Matt Barnes (4, 3 ORB, in 17), Kobe Bryant (5) and Steve Blake (3), all of whom helped the Lakers to a 55-45 rebounding edge on the night.

The Bad:
As this is the first Laker victory I have recapped for FB&G, I’d like to keep the negativity to a minimum.

With that said, I would remiss if I didn’t mention the Lakers’ work from downtown on Thursday, which I will generously describe as “putrid,” only because a sincere assessment might result in Darius amnestying me from the site. I realize that at this stage of the season, having gotten to know our personnel and watched them fight tooth and nail to barely escape the 3-point shooting cellar (at a blistering 29.4%, just edging out Utah, at 28.9%), having any expectation of a potent attack from the perimeter is an invitation to disappointment, but seriously guys? 1-for-15? 1-for-f*$^ing-15?? That’s 6.7%.

For those of you keeping score at home, Metta World Peace has now made nine of his 53 3-point attempts on the season (17%), Derek Fisher is 11-for-41 (26.7%), Matt Barnes is 8-for-37 (21.6%) and Kobe Bryant, raising the team’s percentage, is 38-of-129 (29.5%). Ugh.

The Lakers’ stalwarts on the perimeter are Steve Blake (18-52; 34.6%), Andrew Goudelock (12-30; 40%) and Troy Murphy (13-32; 40.6%), all of whom are hitting at rates ranging from “respectable” to “pretty good,” but do not yet inspire confidence in crunch time.

The Ugly:
By and large, Kobe Bryant enjoyed an efficient and productive game on Thursday night – 27 points, on 11-24 FG and 5-5 FT, five rebounds and four assists. At halftime he’d attempted just six shots, making four, and had 11 points. He added another 10 points in the third (on 4-of-9 FG, plus a pair of free throws) in third, including an extremely contested fadeaway – a harbinger of things to come. After making one of three in the fourth quarter, we moved to overtime, where Bean produced a pair of possessions, one actually successful, that are best described as “cringe-worthy.”

A minute and a half into OT, Kobe received the ball on the left wing with ~15 (don’t remember exactly) seconds remaining on the shot clock. At this point he proceeded to pound a dead spot into this Garden floor, attempting a couple of times to probe the defense, before (in a move I deemed “aggressive Usage”) letting go of a contested 20-footer… which found the bottom of the net.

Net result? Good. Process? Not so much.

Three minutes later, after an Andrew Bynum putback had given the Lakers an 88-87 lead, Kobe brought the ball up the floor, and with a four-second difference between shot and game clock, had an opportunity to time his attempt in such a way that the Celtics would be lucky to gain possession with more than three seconds remaining. Rather than doing this, however, Kobe began to back down his man on the left wing with about seven second left on the shot clock and, in a move diametrically opposed to the off-the-charts basketball IQ we’ve come to expect from him, launched a 17-foot turnaround that was off the mark, and recovered by the Celtics with six seconds remaining. Now, all’s well that ends well, but…

I love Kobe Bryant. With the exception of Magic Johnson, no player has meant more to my basketball life. Having Kobe as a member of the Lakers for 15+ years, and having the opportunity to watch 75%+ of his career games has been nothing short of a gift.

However, this season, and seemingly increasingly with the passage of time, Kobe has stretched the role that he’s defined for himself – “I eat first” – to obscene lengths. That he’s earned his free rein on the floor is, in my mind, beyond question, but there is something a problem festering. What is at times troubling is not the fact that Kobe is clearly unwilling to subjugate his role on the team, but the fact that he is becoming increasingly brazen in reminding the world, and I mean the world – fans opponents, his teammates, coach Mike Brown – of this fact.

Play of the Game:
In Andrew Bynum’s beautiful, hard-nosed and-1 just before halftime – in which he recovered a loose offensive rebound and flipped the ball back over his head (and in!) while getting hacked – and Pau Gasol’s game saving blocked shot at the end of overtime we have a couple of extremely deserving honorable mentions. However, a play in the dying moments of regulation combined hustle, excellent fundamentals, equisite skill and grace under pressure.

Trailing by two with roughly 15 remaining, Steve Blake, from the left wing, attempted to feed Andrew Bynum in low post. Bynum had the “chair pulled” on him, resulting in a loose ball along the baseline. Rather than a potentially game-sealing turnover, however, the Lakers retained possession, thanks to some fantastic hustle by Steve Blake. At this point, Kobe Bryant made a beautiful cut toward the basket along the left edge of the key. Seeing Kobe, Blake, now on the baseline about 15 feet from the rim, made a slick pass of no more than five feet to Kobe, who elevated for a 10-foot jumper, which rimmed out.

HOWEVAH…

In keeping with the play’s heady/hustle theme, Pau Gasol attacked the offensive glass, skying over a pair of Celtics that had inside position and, avoiding a loose ball foul, tied the game (ultimately forcing overtime) with a left handed tip-in.

If ever a reminder is necessary of Gasol’s sublime combination of grace, body control, otherworldly length and basketball IQ, this is it.

Box Score: Lakers 90, 76ers 95
Offensive Efficiency: Lakers 106.1, 76ers 112.5
True Shooting %: Lakers 50.1%, 76ers 53.7%

The Good:
It’d be criminal to simply gloss over Andrew Bynum’s performance. ‘Drew was, for the most part (the five turnovers are a bit ugly), sensational on Monday night, posting the second 20-20 game of his NBA career, and generally dominating the paint at both ends of the floor. ‘Drew poured in an efficient 20 points (8-of-13 FG, 4-of-6 FT) and absolutely owned the offensive glass, tallying as many offensive rebounds (8) as the entire Sixers team. He added three assists – including a beauty to Pau Gasol (who had an impressive 16 and 11, with 6 offensive boards of his own) early in the third quarter for a dunk – and swatted three shots at the defensive end. Like I said, criminal.

Well, here’s hoping it’s a misdemeanor, because as they tend to, this evening belonged to Kobe Bryant.

Needing just 23 points to surpass former running mate Shaquille O’Neal on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, it stood to reason that Monday would mark the last time (for several years, at least) that Kobe would rank outside the top-five in career scoring. That he quickly and aggressively set about amassing those 24 points should also come as no surprise. The manner in which he did it however, while hardly foreign, never ceases to be the rarest of treats for Laker basketball fans the world over.

The numbers (24 points on 8-of-14 FG and 4-of-6 from beyond the arc), while impressive, simply do not do justice to the deadly precision with which Kobe Bryant struck in the opening half of Monday night’s contest. With arguably the world’s best perimeter defender draped all over him, Kobe was, as he always is, undeterred. This was his night, in his hometown, with his continuing march toward immortality front and center, and Kobe came out throwing haymakers.

Call it what you will – Kobe doin’ work, going Mamba, going nova, one of those Kobe games – Kobe Bryant’s first half in Philly on Monday night perfectly encapsulated everything we’ve come to expect from the Lakers’ superstar – an unabashed, almost delusional sense of self-confidence made to appear sane by the brilliance of one Kobe Bean Bryant. No matter how many such performances we see – and we have been privy to a great many – it’s debatable whether we will ever truly understand the heights to which we have consistently seen the game elevated.

Congratulations, Kobe. And thanks.

The Bad:
Stop me if you’ve heard any of this before: the Lakers turned the ball over too frequently, failed to force turnovers and did not receive nearly enough help from the second unit.

Despite boasting the league’s top mark for defensive efficiency (by a considerable margin), when it comes to forcing turnovers, the Sixers are completely average, equaling the league average by forcing 14.3 turnovers every 100 possessions. Not to worry. Regardless of opposition, there is not a team that these Lakers, in a careless and lackadaisical manner that is all their own, cannot elevate to upper reaches of ball-hawkery on any given night. In this case, the Lakers turned the ball over 16 times, a majority coming in the second half, while managing a pathetic four takeaways at the defensive end, and losing the “points off of turnovers” battle by a 20-6 count.

A bad pass by Troy Murphy. An ill-advised jump pass from Kobe. Andrew Bynum’s third quarter entry into the “laziest post-up ever” sweepstakes. Each of these, along with any of 13 other giveaways, represents an opportunity missed. This is a team that has neither the depth nor the firepower to justify cavalierly frittering away a half-dozen or more possessions, game in, game out. The margin of error is simply not there.

Speaking of which, Monday night is yet another in a long line of subpar performances by the second unit. On a relative basis, Monday’s performance by the four Laker reserves that took the floor (Troy Murphy, Andrew Goudelock, Matt Barnes and Jason Kapono) was actually not that bad. What’s sad, however, is that what constitutes “not that bad” ‘round these parts lately is a 71-minute, 7-of-15, 16-point, 11-rebound, 6-assists outing. Throw in sadly characteristic 1-of-6 for four points from Metta Wrold Peace and a six-point, six-rebound outburst from Derek Fisher, and… sigh.

The Ugly:
After playing an excellent first 43:30, for the second time in three nights, the Lakers were done in by lackluster late-game execution. On the heels of his sublime first half performance, Kobe Bryant took the floor in the second half in “facilitator” mode – running the pick and roll beautifully, looking not for his own shot, but for the proper pass. This was vital in helping the team find a rhythm on the offensive end and seemingly take control of the game with 4:37 left, when Kobe found Bynum with a beautiful lob pass that the All-Star big man hammered down to stretch the advantage to seven points.

At this point, although turnover differential and hot 3-point shooting by the Sixers had prevented the Lakers from capitalizing on their best stretches of play and opening up a sizeable gap, the Lakers still appeared to be the superior team. From that point forward, however, all semblance of rhythm was taken out of the Lakers’ offense, as Kobe Bryant grew weary of his facilitator role and opted to attempt to recapture the magic of the first half – without success – slamming the brakes on the team-oriented ball with which they’d built the lead in favor of attempting seven shots in the final 4:37, of which he made just one, and putting the finishing touches on a 2-of-12 second half shooting display that undermined the near-perfect game he’d played until that point, and will be remembered for being as fruitless as his first half was brilliant.

Play(s) of the Game:
I’m guessing you don’t need to ask.

Kobe Bryant now has more regular season points than Shaquille O’Neal. This is how it came to be.

Box score: Lakers 87, Heat 98
Offensive Efficiency: Lakers 97.7, Heat 110.2
True Shooting %: Lakers 49.4%, Heat 52.7%

The Good:
Pau Gasol was excellent in this game. He was aggressive early, scoring eight points (on 3-of-4 from the field) in the game’s opening five minutes, crashed the offensive glass (two early, four for the game) and for the second straight game recapped by yours truly, nailed a 3-points from the corner. In all, Pau logged 37 minutes, hitting on 11 of 19 shots (one miss was a desperation heave from 35 feet out) – eight of those from inside 10 feet – for his 26 points, grabbing eight boards (including the aforementioned four offensive rebounds) and turning the ball over just once. It’s tough to see in the moments immediately following such a fiery wreck, but Pau Gasol’s performance on Thursday night was legitimately a thing of beauty.

Let’s see, what else have we got to cling to in the aftermath of a loss that would have felt artificially close at double the 11-point margin? Well, Metta World Peace connected on a pair of jumpers from beyond the arc, doubling his season total for made 3-pointers and nearly doubling his hit rate from long range- to 12.9%. So, uh, yeah… there’s that.

Best of all though? I had “Bad” and “Ugly” pretty well sorted out by halftime. So… thanks, guys!

The Bad:
Where to begin…

In the Lakers’ defense (words that will not be bandied about frequently in the aftermath of this showing) a significant chunk of Miami’s 15-point half time lead was courtesy of an awesome 3-point barrage, in which the Heat drained an 61.5% of their 13 attempts from beyond the arc. Beyond that, however, the story on Thursday night was one of effort and execution, and at every turn the Lakers were found wanting.

The game was tight early, with the Lakers poised to exploit their superiority on the front line. With Pau Gasol storming out of the gate (see above) and Andrew Bynum aggressively hitting the glass in the opening minutes, it looked as though the NBA’s best big man tandem would set the tone. Sadly, however, just over six minutes into the first quarter, Chris Bosh disposed of Gasol with a pump fake and attacked the chest of Andrew Bynum, drawing the Laker big man’s first foul of the night while draining a twisting jumper from the middle of the key. Just 23 seconds later, with the Heat leading 12-10 in a nip-tuck start, Bynum was whistled for a second on his opposite number, Joel Anthony. This sent ‘Drew – and his three early rebounds and incredible wingspan around the rim – to the Lakers’ bench, prematurely. Given Miami’s hot shooting, the Lakers’ depressing lack of effort on defense (even Kobe, which is unconscionable) and abysmal execution on offense, it’s debatable whether an uninterrupted (he did end up playing a “full” game, 37 minutes) game for Bynum – who did manage 15 points and 12 rebounds (though only one on the offensive glass) – would have dramatically altered the outcome.

It’s tough to argue that Bynum’s presence wouldn’t have at least presented a flu-ridden LeBron James with a higher degree of difficulty as he dissected the Laker defense, but there was no stopping LeBron on Thursday. In the first half he made half of his eight shots (for 13 points), and added six rebounds and six assists – five of which were on 3-pointers. He was every bit as dominant after the break – though now more aggressive about looking for his own shot and helping tighten the defensive screws as Miami opened up a well-deserved 23-point lead. He finished the game having played 37 minutes, during which he made 12 of 27 field goals attempts, a shockingly pedestrian line in a virtuoso 31-8-8 (plus four steals and three blocks!) performance.

The Lakers, meanwhile, failed (miserably) to execute on offense, with horrible spacing in the half court, no fast break to speak of and Miami’s aggressive D not only neutralizing Kobe Bryant on the pick and roll, but relegating the Mamba to an evening of contested, long two-pointers (more on this in a sec). That this team lacks the depth and offensive firepower we’ve come to expect from the Lakers is a) hardly news and b) not insurmountable against most NBA squads. What is disconcerting, however, is the ease with which the Heat were able to totally discombobulate the Lakers, sapping their attack of any rhythm and cohesiveness.

Now, it is important to remember that this is merely one game out of a slate of 66 – just 1.5% of the regular season – and that the team administering the beating is arguably the best in NBA. HOWEVER, it is also worth noting that this opponent, administerer of said beatdown and arguably the NBA’s best… managed the feat with one of the best two-guards of all time in a suit.

The Ugly:
Engage any knowledgeable observer of basketball in a conversation about offensive efficiency and it’s unlikely that you’ll have to wait very long to have pointed out to you that offensively efficient teams a) take advantage of their opportunities in the paint and b) do not settle for long 2-point jump shots.

I submit, for your disapproval and dismay, the Lakers’ shot chart from January 19, 2012 in Miami:

 

Play of the Game:
The Lakers’ execution on offense on Thursday was appalling. Early foul trouble prevented their anchor in the middle from ever really finding his groove. And the best basketball player on Planet Earth laid waste to their defense. These things happen. Sometimes a better team just kicks your ass.

However, cliché though it may be, hustle should never slump. For every facet of the game in which the Heat bested the Lakers, the most maddening was in the area of effort. According to Kobe Bryant, the Heat simply “played harder” than the Lakers did on Thursday night. When asked if the Lakers fought back against their opponents, Andrew Bynum replied “not really.”

I get it. Long regular season. Off night. Condensed schedule. LeBron is really good. The emotional return of Eddy Curry. I get it. Ya can’t win ‘em all. But can we please, please covert our breakaway layups when spotted 30 feet and a head of steam?

Box score: Lakers 90, Jazz 87 (Overtime)
Offensive Efficiency: Lakers 90.6, Jazz 86.1
True Shooting %: Lakers 49.8%, Jazz 43.5%

The Good:
Through three quarters not only was this not a contest, I was hard pressed to identify an honorable mention.

As he did last night against the Suns, Kobe Bryant set the tone early for the Lakers, hitting five of seven from the field in the first quarter, for 14 points.  While he was characteristically aggressive offensively, Kobe did an excellent job of operating within the offense, finding his own shot and creating a couple of easy buckets for Matt Barnes and Andrew Bynum. He continued his efficient assault in the second quarter, connecting on three of five to bring his halftime total to 21, on just 12 shots. By the halfway point of the third, sitting on 27 points on 16 field goal attempts (he had 31 on 11-19 FG after three quarters), it looked as though Kobe had not only picked up where he’d left off against Phoenix, but would actually manage to trump Tuesday’s brilliant showing.

That he finished the overtime tilt with 40 is somewhat disappointing (I know, right? We are spoiled), though not because he managed just nine points in the final two stanzas, but because of how he got there. The efficiency and team play of the first 36 minutes became a distant memory, as the offense stagnated while Kobe tried to singlehandedly put the Jazz away. He made just three of 12 shots after the third quarter, and took three less-than-stellar shots in the final 64 seconds (he was bailed out on two).

Make no mistake, the Lakers do not sniff this win without Kobe, but this game was sealed at the defensive end. After allowing the Jazz to rack up 30 points in the paint in the first half, the Lakers’ bigs staked their claim to the lane, allowing just 10 points inside in the second half, with Andrew Bynum racking up five blocked shots (more on this in a sec). The effort was not limited to the inside. The Jazz connected on less than 39% of their shot attempts (43.5% TS) for the game, and with the exception of the red-hot Paul Millsap, who scored 29 on 14-of-24 from the field, the Jazz hit just 22 of 69 shots  (32%). Additionally, while the Lakers continued to have difficulties protecting possession, turning the ball over 17 times, the stellar defensive effort prevented their carelessness from coming back to haunt them, as Utah managed just seven points off of those 17 takeaways.

One last thing… DARIUS MORRIS PLAYED! And he looked pretty good too! Sure he overdribbled a couple of times and forced a drive attempt that resulted in a turnover, but if his first 13 NBA minutes are any indication, this guy has a place in the NBA. His first meaningful touch came in the final seconds of the first quarter, when he led a perfect 2-on-1 break and found Metta World Peace for a dunk. He also made both of his field goal attempts and later found Steve Blake for a late-third quarter 3 that put the Lakers ahead by a bucket. Not saying this guy is the next Chris Paul, but given the (let’s be kind) suspect play turned in by Blake and Derek Fisher at the point, a young lead guard that adjusts nicely to the pace of the game and avoids mental errors in his pro debut is probably worth a look.

The Bad:
I had initially planned to call out a pair of “B’s” here, but the Laker Bigs, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, while lackluster offensively – a combined 10 of 27 from the field and 5-of-8 on free throws, for 26 points – and lit up by Paul Millsap, played hard in the paint and made a series of vital plays down the stretch (more on this in a second) without which the Lakers would not have registered the victory.

The other “B,” however, the Lakers’ Bench, a night after contributing to a nice home win, was virtually nonexistent. The bench logged a total of 72 minutes Wednesday, combining to score 11 points on 5-of-13 from the field (no free throw attempts), grab nine rebounds (none on the offensive glass) and hand out two assists. Pretty ugly. Pull out the contribution of the aforementioned Darius Morris and this crew was downright brutal, scored seven points (on 3-of-11 FG) and grabbing eight rebounds in 59 minutes. By comparison, in 34 minutes, Utah’s sixth man, ex-All-Star-turned-veteran-castoff Josh Howard, managed 18 points and four rebounds, while the rest of the Jazz backups combined for 17 points, 17 rebounds (five offensive) and five assists, and made up for a putrid 5-of-20 FG by earning 12 free throws and making nine.

The 2011-12 Lakers are a top-heavy team – we know this. With Matt Barnes healthy and seemingly carving out a valuable role with the starting unit, it may not be long before we can call the Lakers a “four deep” squad. However, looking beyond that quartet I am hard pressed to identify a single player capable to consistently contributing in crunch time. Hell, at this point I think I trust Darius Morris more than anyone else on the bench.

The Ugly:
The Lakers entered Wednesday’s game as the NBA’s second-worst 3-point shooting team, connecting on an unbelievable (and not in the good way) 23% of their attempts from beyond the arc. The collective 4-for-9 effort does technically represent an improvement, but within that number is perhaps the most disheartening statistic of the young season: with their combined 0-for-3 effort on Wednesday, Derek Fisher and Metta World Peace – two guys expected to create space for the bigs and receives the kicks following Kobe’s drives – have now combined to hit on just 10% (4-of-40) of their 3-point attempts this season.

The less said here, the better.

Play(s) of the Game:
Not a whole lot to choose from in the first 51 minutes of this one. Early candidates included Darius Morris finding Metta World Peace with 44 seconds remaining in the first quarter (0:52 mark) for his first career assist, Kobe Bryant’s picture perfect pump fake/pivot/step-through jumper (0:55) – also in the final seconds of the first, and Andrew Bynum stopping his massive frame on a dime and finding Matt Barnes to finish off a third quarter fast break (2:10).

Ultimately, however, the nod goes to the Lakers’ big men in the clutch. On most nights, the first runner-up- Pau Gasol’s nothing-but-net 3-pointer from the corner (3:09) in OT to cut a four-point deficit to one- would win going away.

HOWEVAH…

On a night when his shot was simply not falling, rather than allowing himself to become discouraged, Andrew Bynum focused his energy on denying Al Jefferson (one night removed from a 30-point performance) the post position he so covets and protecting the rim (five blocks!).

It was this effort – roughly 50 seconds after Bynum hit the offensive glass to tip in a wild miss by Kobe (3:24) and return the Lakers to the lead – that ultimately wound up sealing the win. With the clock running down and the Jazz trailing by a point, Gordon Hayward drove the lane (3:30 mark), drawing two defenders to the rim, before dropping the ball off to Jefferson. One of the best inside scorers in the game, Jefferson gathered the ball and, at point blank range went to secure the win, but…

Full highlights – Lakers at Jazz, January 11, 2012

Records: Lakers 4-4 (6th in West), Warriors 2-4 (10th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 104.2 (12th in NBA), Warriors 98.9 (26th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 100.9 (12th in NBA), Warriors 106.5 (22nd in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Matt Barnes, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Warriors: Monta Ellis, Ishmael Smith (Klay Thompson and Brandon Rush are also possible replacements for the injured Stephen Curry), Dorell Wright, David Lee, Andris Biedrins
Injuries: Lakers: Derrick Caracter (out), Josh McRoberts (questionable); Warriors: Stephen Curry (out)

The Lakers Coming In: To observe these Lakers through the prism of conventional wisdom is an exercise in futility. That they’ve lost half of their first eight games, with one true howler in the bunch, is somewhat disappointing, but the stylistic inconsistency they’ve exhibited in arriving at this point is nothing short of infuriating.

The Lakers return home following- stop me if you’ve heard this before- a come-from-ahead loss in the Rose Garden. In and of itself, the 107-96 defeat is hardly a shock- the Lakers have dropped an incredible 24 of 30 regular season games in Portland during the Kobe Bryant era. What is maddening, however, is this team’s ongoing refusal to play to its greatest strength.

It stands to reason that on the heels of a red-hot first half, with Andrew Bynum a perfect 7-for-7 from the field, against a front line that features a defensively average (at best) LaMarcus Aldridge and the two-headed fossil that is Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas, a team would exhaust every avenue to ensure that its star big man saw as much of the ball as possible going forward. The Lakers (namely Kobe Bryant) however, rather than continuing to pound the paint at all costs and allow Bynum to continue his evisceration of the Blazers’ bigs, were content to allow the game’s final 23 minutes to elapse with a mere eight field goal attempts from their MVP candidate* – with catastrophic results.

To lay the entirely (or even the majority) of the blame for Thursday’s defeat at Kobe’s doorstep would be totally irresponsible. The Lakers’ supporting cast- those players not named Bynum, Bryant or Gasol- combined to connect on just eight of 29 shots (27.6%) and missed all seven of their 3-point attempts. Gasol, meanwhile, turned in a performance that is becoming frustratingly commonplace. While he made seven of his 10 shots from the field for 19 points, Pau was essentially a non-factor down the stretch, both offensively (he made three of four in the second half, but c’mon! FOUR attempts??) and on the glass, where he did not manage his sixth rebound until the final two minutes of the fourth quarter, when the game had already been decided.

No, Kobe Bryant, who made 13 of 24 shots (he missed four 3-pointers of his own, however) en route to 30 points and grabbed eight rebounds, is not the primary culprit of this defeat. However, with each passing game (actually just the losses), it becomes increasingly evident that Kobe Bean’s career has come full circle, but in a bizarre manner in which he finds himself once again diverting his attention from the game’s best offensive big man (to the tune of a whopping 38.85 Usage Rate), only this time someone else is the superstar on the ascent.

This is neither a call for Kobe Bryant to surrender his superstar status, nor to resign himself to spending his twilight as a role player. This is, however, an appeal to Kobe to recognize that in order for this team, his team, to legitimately compete for a championship, he must do what Shaq never could- give an inch.

* Yeah, I went there.

The Warriors Coming In: These are not your daddy’s Warriors. These aren’t even your Warriors.

Gone are the fun-and-gun days of Nellyball, when the defensively challenged Dubs would roll into town, pedal to the floor and fight tooth and nail to outscore you, succeeding roughly a third of the time. Oh, they still struggle on defense (22nd in the NBA) and after winning two of three to start the season, they still only win about a third of the time. They just do it more slowly now.

For the second time in six years, the Warriors are not among the NBA’s two most uptempo teams. Thing is, unlike last season, when they played the same style of ball and merely rounded out the top five, this season’s 91.4 possessions per game represent a paradigm shift. A high-IQ floor general in his playing days, rookie head coach Mark Jackson’s first order of business upon sweeping into town this offseason was to seek out the brake pedal. While this new philosophy is likely to pay dividends in the long run, it will take time for Jackson to change the mindset (or the composition) of the roster he inherited. In the meantime, there will be growing pains on D, with fewer opportunities to put points on the board.

Entering the season- as tends to be the case with this team- the Warriors’ biggest strength was expected to be in the backcourt. One half of that unit, Monta Ellis- a man I’ve likened to Allen Iverson– not only ranks (once again) among the league’s hardest working (40 minutes per game), most productive backcourt scorers (23.8 points per game; 22.5 APER, per Hoopdata) and prolific penetrators (making 62.2% of 7.4 attempts per game inside of 9 feet, including 5.4 at the rim), but is enjoying his best season as a facilitator (8.2 assists per game and a career-high 23.78 Assist Rate) and is coming off of a spectacular 38-point performance against the Spurs Wednesday night.

His running mate, however, is another story. The Warriors will be without Stephen Curry for at least two games, after their second-year maestro rolled his left ankle in San Antonio for the second time in the young season, in a rather frightening scene, as he walked the ball upcourt, with no one in his general vicinity. These Warriors aren’t exactly world-beaters with Steph in the lineup. In his absence, with the likes of Ishmael Smith, Klay Thompson or Nate Robinson trying to fill the void, the Dubs’ outlook is bleak.

Warriors Blogs: For the Warriors’ perspective on tonight’s tilt at Staples, check out the excellent Golden State of Mind, as well as Warriors World, one of the web’s best team sites and the domain of FB&G’s own J.M. Poulard.

For more on Stephen Curry’s injury, check out these excellent pieces from Warriors World’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss and Hardwood Paroxysm’s Danny Chau.

Key to the game: No brain surgery here. This is a game the Lakers should win with minimal fuss. Which not to say that a strong effort will not be necessary, but with sustained focus in one vital area:

Dominate the interior. Plain and simple. At the moment there is not a defender outside of Central Florida that can stop Andrew Bynum, who’s averaging 22.3 on just 15.3 field goal attempts per game and crashing the boards (15.8 per game; 37% Defensive Rebound Rate, 26% Total) at a higher rate than anyone in the league. The Lakers must feed their beast early and often, as the Warriors have little beyond former Laker Kwame Brown (a big body and decent defender) and Andris Biedrins (big body, not a decent defender) to throw at Bynum on the block.

Additionally, the rest of the Lakers’ Big Three will do well to follow the big man’s lead and head inside, as Pau Gasol will spend much of the evening dueling with David Lee – as bad an interior defender as there is in the NBA – who, should foul trouble or extreme abuse on the defensive end become an issue is back up Ekpe Udoh, potentially a good defender but a total non-factor on offense. Meanwhile, Kobe Bryant is likely to be checked by some combination of Monta/Ish Smith/Klay/Nate Rob/Dorell Wright. ‘Nuff said there.

Where you can watch: 7:30pm local start time on Fox Sports West. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.

Pau Gasol’s #NBARank

J.M. Poulard —  October 14, 2011

The Los Angeles Lakers were eliminated in the 2011 Western Conference Semifinals at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks for a multitude of reasons. The one that most chose to focus on was the subpar play of Lakers starting power forward Pau Gasol. And really, it would have been impossible not to direct some blame towards the Spaniard based on his averages against Dallas during the postseason: 13.2 points, 9.0 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game on a woeful 42.1 percent field goal shooting.

And thus, when #NBARank announced that Gasol had been rated as the 11TH best player in the NBA; it might have surprised some. It was far too easy to look at his performance during the spring and conclude that he was not worthy of such praise. Mind you, it’s extremely important when discussing the Lakers forward as well as any other NBA player to do so with a bit of perspective.

Indeed, Pau may not have played up to his standards during the playoffs, but he was certainly productive during the regular season as he showcased his tremendously polished post game.

For years, Tim Duncan owned the low block on offense. No big man could match his array of footwork, hook shots and drop steps. However, with the Big Fundamental’s skills declining, the title of low post king probably now belongs to none other than Pau Gasol. He has the ability to face up defenders and breeze past them for lay ups and dunks, he shoots a deadly perimeter jump shot (according to Hoopdata, Pau shot 49 percent from 16 to 23 feet during the 2010-11 regular season), uses terrific footwork to score on the low block with either right or left handed hook shots, adequately uses his reverse pivot to set up defenders for drives or pump fakes and also finishes well at the rim.

In addition, Gasol is a solid passer who is more than willing to give up to rock to teammates to create high percentage shots. Combine those facts with his ability to pull down tough rebounds in traffic as well as provide support on the defensive end and we are quite evidently talking about one of the premier power forwards in the league.

Put it this way: other than Blake Griffin and Dirk Nowitzki, would you want any other power forward starting for your team today? And let’s not forget, Gasol is often asked to play both the center and power forward positions on both offense and defense for the Lakers depending on the availability of Andrew Bynum.

Indeed, when the Lakers lacked their full complement of players during the 2010-11 regular season, they called upon Gasol to play harder, to be tougher and to play extended minutes to help the team find its way while dealing with injuries.

During the early part of the regular schedule last season, with Andrew Bynum sidelined and Kobe Bryant slowly trying to figure out his way physically, Pau Gasol helped the Los Angeles Lakers win 10 out of 15 games in the month of November, with averages of 20.3 points, 12.3 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 2.1 blocks per game on 54.1 percent field goal shooting.

Pau Gasol is unquestionably one of the best players in the NBA and the numbers back it up. Have a look at the graphic with the 15 best player efficiency ranking figures (more commonly referred to as PER) from last season:

Rank

Player

PER

Usage Rate

1

LeBron James

27.34

29.7

2

Dwight Howard

26.13

24.3

3

Dwyane Wade

25.65

29.1

4

Kevin Love

24.39

21.3

5

Kobe Bryant

23.94

33.0

6

Chris Paul

23.76

22.2

7

Kevin Durant

23.70

27.8

8

Russell Westbrook

23.63

30.8

9

Derrick Rose

23.62

31.3

10

Dirk Nowitzki

23.52

25.5

11

Pau Gasol

23.33

20.6

12

Amare Stoudemire

22.78

27.7

13

Zach Randolph

22.67

23.0

14

Tim Duncan

21.94

21.2

15

Blake Griffin

21.93

25.6

Gasol compares favorably to some of the best players in the league. The Spaniard had the 11th best PER in the league and yet had the lowest usage rate (John Hollinger defines it as the number of possessions a player uses per 40 minutes) of the top 15 players rated by PER.

One could easily make the argument that no top player in the league had to share the wealth more than Gasol given the amount of talent on his team and yet he still managed to thrive within his role.

Since arriving in Los Angeles, Gasol has helped the purple and gold reach three consecutive NBA Finals. The elimination at the hands of the Mavericks came as a shocker because many expected that the Lakers would repeat as champions once again thanks in large part to the play of their star forward. When the squad failed to advance, the majority of the blame fell on his shoulders, but that is a testament to how far he has a come and how talented a player he is.

Only a handful of big men could step in today and take Gasol’s spot on the Lakers; a surefire sign that he is close to being irreplaceable. He may not be your prototypical franchise player (think Kobe, Duncan, LeBron and Shaq in their best years), but he is the perfect big man to complement one.

#NBARank has decided that Pau Gasol is the best player not to make the NBA’s top 10 players list and really, his spot could not be more perfect.

All summer we’ve been checking in with Pau Gasol’s progress as he suited up for his native Spain for the EuroBasket Tournament in Lithuania. The tournament is now over and Gasol is once again a champion, playing a crucial role in his home country’s victory in the title game over France.

Over at The Painted Area (a site worth your time for more than today’s link) Jay Aych sums up Pau Gasol’s tourney quite well:

Another international competition, another sterling tournament for Pau Gasol. Pau capped off a great EuroBasket with another sharp all-around performance vs. the French with 17 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and three blocks. Pau added a 3pt. make on Sunday to finish Euro ’11 shooting 7-for-11 on 3PA.

Pau finished EuroBasket third in points (20 ppg), third in FG pct. (54%), fourth in rebounds (8.3 rpg), third in blocks (1.7 bpg). Pretty much does this everytime he suits up for Spain. If there were any doubts about his enshrinement into the Naismith Hall of Fame, they should cease forever. (We covered Pau’s FIBA accomplishments after Spain’s 2009 Euro final win.)

Don’t agree with the MVP vote–Pau should have won over Juan Navarro. Pau was more of a factor of both sides of the floor, with an underrated impact defensively once again. Navarro was clutch in the knockout round for Spain, but was a little off at the start of the tourney while Pau was consistent throughout.

As we’ve been saying, a strong effort from Gasol serves as a reminder that he is one of the best players in the world and also gave him the opportunity to be the focal point of a team – something that will serve him well when he’s back stateside with the Lakers. If Pau can channel that strong play and carry it over into next season, the Lakers are already a better team than they were when they faced Dallas in last season’s playoffs.

Now, if only we had some progress on the negotiations that will ensure there is a next season…

Over in Lithuania, at the EuroBasket Tournament, Pau Gasol is rolling. He’s playing efficient basketball and again showing why he’s considered one of the best players in the world. In Friday’s Spanish drubbing of Serbia, Pau was the leading scorer with 26 points in only 23 minutes of action, missing only 4 combined field goals and free throws (going 8-10 and 7-9 respectively), while grabbing 8 rebounds, dishing 3 assists, blocking 2 shots, and committing only a single turnover. Needless to say, this is the Gasol we’ve grown to love and appreciate in his Laker career.

But more than the numbers and his overall stellar production, it’s the role in which he’s being asked to play while still producing these statistics that has me encouraged. Simply put, Gasol is being asked to be the man for his home country and he’s delivering in spades.

Gasol is notorious for being one of the game’s most unselfish players and often adapts his game to try and play within the team concept. Even when he speaks out to the press about wanting the ball more it’s nearly always within the context of wanting more touches rather than wanting more shots. When expanding on this idea he’s always speaking within the terms of how to best utilize not just himself, but the rest of his teammates in order to produce the best results. Some view this as a passive-aggressive way of complaining about his teammates (cough, cough Kobe) but I’ve always taken these statements at face value and to mean that he wants everyone (including himself) more involved while not putting anyone above the team’s success.

However, when playing for his home country, Pau is taking on a different role than the highly skilled #2 to Kobe’s #1. He’s being asked to do more; he’s being asked to be the focal point of his team’s success. It’s no coincidence that Spain lost its only game this tournament when Pau sat out nursing a sore ankle or that Spain pulled away from Germany in the 2nd half of their match up when Gasol asserted himself on offense and raised his game. Pau is thriving as the driving force behind his team’s success. If you’re a Laker fan, this is a great development and the biggest reason to be encouraged about Pau bouncing back when the NBA season resumes.

You see, Gasol may be the number 2 behind Kobe, but his value to the Lakers’ success is equal to that of #24. In the Lakers’ recent championship seasons Gasol has come up huge and it’s that level of contribution that will lead to another chance to claim the Larry O’Brien trophy next season. Of course there will need to be a balance to his game as he will be returning to a roster that not only has Kobe, but other talented teammates that deserve the ball and opportunities to help the team. But it’s undeniable that Pau will also need to channel that part of his game that puts him up front as a focal point of the team for the Lakers to win it all as they did in 2009 and 2010. And in order to achieve that level of individual play, Gasol also has to embrace his role as a co-conspirator to Kobe, not a guy that stands behind him.

And make no mistake, Pau is getting that chance as Spain’s leading man this summer. The fact that he’s embracing it and succeeding  is why I’m feeling good about Pau Gasol. And why you should be too.