Archives For Steve Nash

Halfway (well, 65.8%, but who’s counting) through its annual marathon, the NBA bestows upon its rank-and-file (players, coaches, hell, fans) a much-needed four-day respite from the mental and physical grind of 82 in ~175. In 2013, nowhere is this midseason oasis more welcome than in Lakerland, where, in depressingly short order, euphoria and stratospheric expectations have devolved into the most disappointing campaign in franchise history, a nightly nut-punch mad lib on the floor outdone only by incessant upheaval behind closed doors.

On a far brighter note, the NBA convenes this weekend in Houston, to celebrate its present and future, flaunt its athletic wares and, presumably, provide tuition assistance to certain ilk of “law student.” Last night, behind 40, on an unreal-even-against-All-Star-D 18-for-22 from the field, and 10 rebounds by the Nuggets’ Kenneth Faried and 20 apiece from Cavs and Spurs sophs Tristan Thompson and Kawhi Leonard (who also had 10 and 7 rebounds, respectively), Team Chuck laid the wood to Team Shaq in a still-entertaining Rising Stars Challenge. This evening, the All Star festivities shift into top gear, with the always-meh Shooting Stars, underrated (seriously, I love it) Skills Challenge and All Star Saturday mainstays, the 3-point and slam dunk contests.

Though likely for the best, given the manner in which the pas three months have unfolded, conspicuously absent from tonight’s proceedings will be the Los Angeles Lakers.  Not here! Infusing your day with memories of brighter days, a look back at the Lakers on All Star Saturdays past:

1984 Slam Dunk Contest

Three decades ago, the NBA lifted a(nother) page from the ABA playbook with a revival of the slam dunk contest. Fittingly, the event (re)debuted in the Rockies, where eight years earlier, at halftime of the 1976 ABA All-Star Game, a Spurs’ greats George Gervin and Larry Kenon, Kentucky Colonel Artis Gilmore, Denver’s own David Thompson and then-New York Net Julius Erving. The Doctor returned to headline the nine-man field, which included the preeminent perimeter defender of his (and maybe all) time and author of many a Coop-a-Loop, Michael Cooper. Suffice it to say, the Lakers’ inaugural All-Star Saturday performance was less than auspicious:

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Though still immortalized:

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1987 3-Point Contest

Three years after the slam dunk dud of ’84, Coop was back at All-Star Saturday, this time to take part in the second annual Larry Bird Invitational, err, 3-Point Contest. Accompanying Cooper to Seattle for the festivities was fellow sharpshooter Byron Scott. In a star-studded eight-man field featuring a who’s who of the game’s great shooters – and Danny Ainge (some grudges die hard) – Scott stumbled, while Cooper more than held his own, outscoring Bird, Dale Ellis and future three-time contest champ Craig Hodges in Round 1, before exiting in the Semifinals, the third place finisher.

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1988 3-Point Contest

This time flying solo, Byron Scott returned to the 3-Point Contest the following year in Chicago. Scott rather emphatically avenged the previous year’s last place finish with a first round performance that paced a similarly power-packed field. Not surprisingly, as the stakes ratcheted up, so did Larry Bird’s performance. Though light years behind Bird, Scott and Dale Ellis engaged in battle for the second spot in the final round, with Ellis advancing by the narrowest of margins.

Is it wrong that this burns me up as much as any Lakers-Celtics battle of which we were deprived?

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1994 Rookie Game

In a stirring homage to Michael Cooper’s showing the inaugural NBA slam dunk contest a year earlier, in the first-ever (at the time) Rookie Game, Nick Van Exel, in 20 minutes of burn, handed out six assists but turned in a rather impressive goose egg, whiffing on all eight of his shots (have you seen the defense in these things?!?), including three 3-point attempts. Oof. Let’s move on.

1995 Rookie Game

The Lakers’ first-ever lottery pick, the unheralded Eddie Jones (selected #10 overall in the 1994 draft) had quickly established himself as not only one of the league’s best young players, he’d almost immediately etched his name in the NBA’s top tier of perimeter defenders. This NBA ready defense, along with his stellar athleticism in slashing to the bucket earned him an invite to the second annual Rookie Game, where, sharing the floor with the top two picks in the draft, Glenn Robinson and Jason Kidd (Grant Hill had been voted into the big-boy game), Eddie stole the show, racking up 25 (including 4-of-8 on 3-pointers), six swipes, and handing out four assists en route to the game’s MVP award.

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(I’d planned to include a highlight video of this game, but sadly was only able to find the full telecast, chopped into 20-minute clips. You can find those here.)

1995 Slam Dunk Contest

In the first round of the 1995 Slam Dunk Contest, Antonio Harvey almost set the desert ablaze, but instead became the Andy Reid of All-Star Saturday.

1997 Rookie Game

Far be it for me to gloss over an excellent performance by Young Bean – a then-record 31 points, plus eight rebounds (seven turnovers, though) – but quickly run through this game and you’ll find quite a bit going on.

1997 Slam Dunk Contest

Later that night, Bean returned to floor as the second Laker ever to take part in the NBA’s Slam Dunk Contest. With the contest on the ropes (it would actually be shelved the following year), the league had implemented the latest of what ultimately became a comedic laundry list of gimmicks, allowing each competitor 90 seconds in Round 1 to do with as he pleased, with the best of two dunks making up his final round score. Sadly, this resulted in our being limited to a scant three dunks by Kobe in his lone appearance in the contest. As one would expect, however, Kobe made good, delivering as emphatic and technically perfect a one-hand reverse as you’ll ever see for an opening salvo. By the way, the whole “keep the warmups on” bit looks a lot cooler when it’s Kobe instead of Brent Barry.

After edging out now-assistant coach Darvin Ham (perhaps owing to a bit of judging generosity, but whatever), Kobe set the house ablaze with a thunderous between-the-legs number – remember, this is before Vince Carter and Jason Richardson made a mockery of the skill – which earned him 49 points and dunking supremacy

(Bonus points for aggressively flexing with the sub-Durant physique and openly cheering Michael Finley’s last miss)

2004 Skills Challenge

Ok, who had Open Court Legend placing second in a competition that rewards speed, quickness, agility and outside shooting?

Seriously, I remember guffawing upon discovering Fisher’s inclusion in this field (in large part, probably, because the Lakers were that year’s host, but still), and simply hoped he could out-duel Earl Boykins and avoid last place. Taking out Boykins, Stephon Marbury (when this was still an impressive thing) and making prime-Baron Davis work in final?

Well played, Fish.

2007 Rising Stars

Really not a lot to say here. 12 points for Jordan Farmar, Andrew Bynum with 7 points and 4 boards in 18 minutes.

2007 Skills Challenge

Anyone else kinda totally forget that this happened?

With the notable exceptions of the Malice at the Palace and the 1984 Draft Lottery, I’m not sure there’s an event the NBA’s worked harder to bury in history than 2007’s All-Star Weekend in Vegas. Without going into detail, let’s just say it wasn’t exactly public relations coup for the league.

That said, it was there that one of the most stealthily cool competitions in ASW history took place. It’s over in a flash (pun possibly intended), and it’d have been awesome if Kobe hadn’t flubbed the opportunity to make a run at Wade’s final time, but simply having Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Paul – and no one else – in a test of basketball fundamentals is pretty awesome.

2008 Rising Stars

A year after posting a solid, if unspectacular 12 points as a rookie, Jordan Farmar returned to All Star Weekend as an NBA soph, and quietly turned in a stellar playmaking performance. In a game whose narrative was dominated by Kevin Durant (23 and 8), Rudy Gay (22 on just 12 shots), Brandon Roy (17 and 7 assists), LaMarcus Aldridge (18 and 9 rebounds) and MVP Boobie Gibson (33 on 11 threes), Farmar played a central role, feeding (among others) Gibson to the tune of 12 assists, scored 17 points on 10 shots, ripped four steals, and made the play of the game (#8 below).

It might even have been recognized as such had that lob found, say, Kevin Durant instead of Ronnie Brewer.

2010 Slam Dunk Contest

They Let Shannon Dunk. It… was.

Enjoy the festivities everyone – no Laker losses tonight!

Is Steve Nash becoming marginalized?

Over the past several games, Kobe Bryant has found out what every other chief perimeter player in Mike D’Antoni’s system has figured out: being the chief playmaker is how you lead the team. So, Kobe has moved off the ball to on it. He’s now calling for the ball earlier in possessions and actively seeking out a playmaking role. This is allowing him to dictate the terms of how this team will play from an active position, rather than a passive one. Furthermore, Kobe has also seemed to conclude that his individual game needed more balance, saying that he was looking to be a finisher too much and that he needed to help lighten the load on Steve (Nash) as the lone perimeter playmaker. Kobe is stepping up to help diversify the Lakers’ offense. And, so far, it’s working.

But where does that leave Nash? Lately, seeking his own balance as Kobe has slid in and taken some of his role for his own. Kevin Ding explains this nicely in his most recent column:

So Nash’s search will go on. He has the sweetest attitude of anyone, but Nash must find something for himself. Whether it’s making five 3-pointers every night or seizing a pick-and-roll time with Gasol early each game to play his old way, the guy who has made so many role players look so good in his career needs to find a role of his own. Nash’s mind doesn’t work like Bryant’s — always looking for something for himself, and thus indirectly the team — but it needs to start. Assuming Nash’s body is ready, he needs to go get something for himself and show everyone he’s not just the good guy willing to help his team, he can still be the bad boy crushing opponents’ hopes.

How Nash, and the team, find this balance will be key to how this season evolves and how successful the Lakers are. The formula they have now is a nice template, but as I’ve said since the start of the season, the goal is to get the most out of all the players in a way that maximizes both the individual and team’s production. Optimizing roles will mean getting them to perform great within the context of their singular roles while also finding a way for that role to fit into the team structure.

But, how do you do that for Nash while Kobe is evolving his game in ways that obviously help the team? I have one suggestion. Play Nash with Kobe a bit less.

This season Nash has played 733 minutes. Of those 733, Nash has been on the floor with Kobe for 706 of them. I don’t know about you, but I find that amazing. Don’t get me wrong, there are obvious benefits to playing Nash and Kobe together. They do a great job of creating shots for each other and providing spacing for each other. The perimeter offense flows much more smoothly when on either side of the floor you have a hall of fame player who can make defenses pay if the ball is swung in that direction. During the Lakers’ recent stretch of good play we’ve seen this in action as Kobe has held the ball on one wing only to pass the ball out, watch the ball find Nash, and then see him break down the defense and create an easy basket.

That said, getting the most out of Nash is more than simply having him and Kobe interact on the floor. Getting the most out of Nash has to be him creating offense for the teammates who can’t create offense for themselves. When D’Antoni was hired, what we envisioned was Nash operating high in the P&R and attacking the defense in a way that generated great shots for himself or a teammate. And while we’ve seen plenty of that since he returned, we’re seeing less of it now that Kobe has taken such a prominent role as an offensive facilitator. For Nash, though, the proper balance in his game means that he needs some of those possessions back. And not just for Nash, but for the rest of the Laker offense to really thrive.

The Lakers are slowly building towards their ideal output. In the past few weeks we’ve seen D’Antoni make some pretty daring moves to try and get the most out of his players. He’s moved Earl Clark to the starting lineup to better complement Dwight. He’s moved Pau to the bench to better maximize the Spaniard’s offensive skill set. Kobe has become more of a distributor to take advantage of his ability to manipulate defenses. The only player left to help find a smoother role for is Nash.

And, oddly enough, it may mean a similar fate for him that it has for Gasol. Not a move to the bench — that would be too drastic — but a separation from his backcourt partner. Because just as Howard and Pau can play together to good success but have found that less minutes together gives them their best output, Nash and Kobe seem to be headed in that same direction. It wouldn’t have to be for long stretches, but for short bursts where Nash is once again given the reins, and allowed to be Steve Nash. We may find it’s not just best for Nash, but best for the team.

Steve Nash is in an interesting position on this particular Laker team.

He is the team’s point guard and, simply due to his position, one of the de facto leaders. Furthermore, because he is one of the best players on the team he is positioned as someone who others will look to for guidance. So, even though Nash is a newcomer and someone who came to the Lakers as a secondary player (not only to Kobe, but, arguably to Pau as well) he is still one of the most important players. When the coaching change occurred and Mike D’Antoni was hired, Nash’s stature on the team only grew as the head coach singled him out as a difference maker.

At this point in the year, Nash has lived up to his reputation in a lot of ways. He has been a point guard in the truest sense. When the Lakers started out running the Princeton Offense, Nash was one of the players voicing his buy in the loudest. He spoke of process and his own willingness to step back in order to accomplish more as a team. On the floor, he has played as a man more interested in getting the most out of his mates rather than someone who is concerned about himself. He makes the extra pass, looks to set up a teammate who has a mismatch, and has willingly given the ball up in order to be a worker away from the action in order to spring someone else for a chance at a shot. The term “floor general” was created for a player who goes about his business this way.

However, in Nash’s pursuit to help make his teammates better, it seems he may be giving up too much of himself. It goes without saying that Nash is doing a lot to help the team play well (or, at least well within the context of what’s been an awful season to date), but it’s also arguable that what the Lakers need is for him to stop worrying about his teammates so much and to start calling his own number more.

Consider the following:

  • Per 36 minutes, Nash’s scoring is down from 14.2 points last year to 11.7 points this season. Two seasons ago, that number was 15.9; three seasons ago it was 18.0.
  • Per 36 minutes, Nash is shooting nearly one and a half fewer times per game and attempting a shade over one less foul shot per game.
  • This season, Nash’s usage rate is a paltry 15.0. That number is 4.6 points lower than last season and represents his lowest usage since the 1999-2000 season where he only played in 56 games (only starting in 27).

Taken individually, none of these numbers are too alarming (except the decline in usage, which we’ll get to).

It’s not some sort of big surprise that Nash might score less this season. Playing with scoring threats like Kobe and Howard automatically affect any players’ point totals. As Kobe mentioned the other day, he and Dwight are “finishers” and are going to be the players who end plays taking shots whenever they’re on the floor. With this being the case, it’s also not a surprise that Nash’s FGA’s and FTA’s are also down. As the Lakers’ offense has evolved (under both the Mikes), Nash has been playing off the ball more and that’s led to him spectating as Kobe, Dwight, and (to a lesser extent) Ron take the shots. It was always going to be the case that Nash, operating with more individual talent than he has in recent seasons, would see a decline in certain stats.

However, it’s fine line between surrendering some of your individual numbers for the betterment of the team and not doing more with the ball when given the opportunity to do so. This season (and especially lately with Pau and Dwight out injured), the latter describes Nash better than the former. This may not be the Lakers’ biggest problem this season (it’s not close, actually) but it’s a problem all the same.

It can get lost in the discussion of Nash being able to create for others so well, but he can also do a pretty good job of creating shots for himself. As one of the best shooters in the game (Nash is shooting 53% from the floor this year and has a TS% of 61.7%), he can take advantage of even the tiniest slivers of space with a quick flick of the wrist better than most other players in the league. We’ve seen it this season multiple times: Nash probes the defense, escape dribbles to either hand, fades and hits a jumper; Nash drives by a closing out defender and hits a scoop shot at the rim; Nash comes off a pick, keeps the defender on his hip and then hits a floater/hook shot before the secondary help comes; Nash pulls up in transition and buries a long jumper.

We just haven’t seen it as often as I think we’d all like to.

Constructing an offense can be a delicate balance. Few understand that better than the best point guards in the league. Ever listen to Magic Johnson talk? Or Chris Paul? Or John Stockton? They all understood the value of getting guys looks and how, as the point guard, it was their responsibility to make it happen. Keeping your teammates engaged offensively is one of the surer ways to keep them engaged in other facets of the game. Nash, like those other all-timers, is in that mold and I’ve heard him make similar comments over the course of his career.

However, one of the reasons the Lakers’ even pursued Nash is because they’ve had a hole at point guard for several years. Taking nothing away from Derek Fisher or even Ramon Sessions, but they were not able to control the reins of an offense and be critical scorers for their team at the same time. Nash, for all his pointgod-ly ways, has not had that problem in his career. As Lakers’ fans, we’ve had front row seats to Nash not only creating for others, but hitting countless big shots of his own and controlling the game with both his passing and his scoring.

This season, however, Nash has become a player too willing to let others finish. Usage rate is a measurement of how often a play ends with a shot, free throws, assist, or turnover when a player is on the floor. As mentioned earlier, Nash’s is 15.0 this season. For comparison’s sake, Darius Morris’ is 15.7, Jamison’s is 16.7, and Meeks’s 19.7 (last year, Sessions’ was 20.5). I understand that Nash is a playmaker and that he’s moving the ball on to the open man and that may not lead to anything more than another pass. My point is that Nash needs to take it upon himself to shoot more; to look to be a finisher more, even if he has to force the action a bit to do so.

When completely healthy and playing to their abilities, the Lakers are a team with four all-star level players at the top of their roster. For the Lakers to be at their best, they need all of those guys playing to their strengths. And while Nash’s primary strengths are that of a playmaker for others and a person who can organize the offense, he’s also one of the game’s best shooters whose scoring is key part of his skill set. The Lakers can only be their best if Nash is taking it upon himself to do a bit more with that latter skill.

If that comes at the expense of an additional shot from Kobe, Ron, or Meeks, I don’t think anyone will mind. I know I won’t. I also think it will help the team.

Records: Lakers 13-14 (11th in the West). Knicks 20-7 (2nd in the East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 106.3 (6th in NBA), Knicks 109.8 (2nd in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 102.2 (15th in NBA), Knicks 102.4 (16th in NBA)
Projected starting lineups: Lakers: Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Devin Ebanks, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard
Knicks: Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler, Ronnie Brewer, Jason Kidd, Raymond Felton
Injuries: Lakers: Steve Blake (out); Knicks: Amar’e Stoudemire, Iman Shumpert, Rasheed Wallace (all out)

Who knew having Steve Nash at the point is beneficial to winnings basketball games?

Through 36 minutes on Saturday night, however, the Lakers, who fell behind by as many 14 points in the second half and trailed the Warriors by 13 heading into the fourth quarter, tried valiantly to sully Nash’s return by adding yet another brick to the cathedral of disappointment that is the early days of the 2012-13 season. Dwight Howard was whistled for a pair of fouls in the game’s opening five minutes and had seen the floor for all of 12 minutes before picking up his fifth 12 seconds into the fourth quarter.

Called upon by Necessity (the dude manning the PA system in his head – little known fact), Kobe Bryant fired up the chuck wagon, delivering a staggering 41 attempts (and a lone, unsuccessful free throw) in 44 minutes in the vicinity of the bucket. Of the smorgasbord of heaves, 16 found paydirt, and Kobe wound up with 34 points (plus 10 rebounds, five assists and a steal).

Before we move on, a morsel of perspective: on January 22, 2006, Kobe took the floor for 42 minutes and attempted 46 shots. That night, he scored 81 points.

Another perhaps? Prior to Saturday night, in the 16+ seasons since Bean entered the NBA, 14 times (eight of them his own) had an NBAer attempted at least 40 shots in a game. On none of these occasions did said player fail to score at least 40, with just three efforts falling short of 45. So, yeah…

HOWEVAH…

Despite it all, the largely-undeserved-until-it-was-in-their-grasp OT triumph over the Dubs is perhaps the ideal opening verse for this (at full strength) Laker squad. In addition to pulling the team to within a single victory of the comically elusive .500 mark, the Lakers’ most recent most significant victory of the season was accompanied by certain takeaways that augur well for the full-strength version of this team:

For a guy who has not played competitive ball since Halloween, Steve Nash was spectacular. Conditioning and reacclimation to the speed of the game are the primary focuses of many players’ returns to action following serious lower body injuries. Nash hit the hardwood running… and driving, probing and backpicking. 41 minutes, 12 points on eight shots, nine dimes, a pair of steals, a huge crunch time triple in the fourth quarter and a picture-perfect runner to ice the game in overtime.

And Kobe let him!

It’s been my contention since this team was assembled that from both a talent and personality perspective, Nash resides in the exclusive neighborhood of players in possession of Kobe’s unconditional respect. It was glorious to actually watch it unfold.

Metta. We joke about his idiosyncrasies – and he is certainly not without his flaws – MWP’s willingness to sacrifice for the good of the team with nary gripe nor lapse in effort is remarkable. And he’s only just begun to feel the Nash Effect. A monster inside and out on Saturday and the spark for the Lakers’ fourth quarter comeback, provided not only the effort that so personifies his game, but efficient productivity the Lakers have too often lacked. Whether the three threes and uber-efficient 20 make a cameo on Christmas Day remains to be seen, but his work rate and tenacity perfectly complement the style of the maestro now at the reins.

Speaking of which, let’s talk some Jesus’ birthday, huh?

At noon local time at Staples, in their latest attempt to claw back to break-even, the Lakers square off against the Eastern Conference powerhouse that has exceeded not only its own preseason expectations, but the Lakers’ lofty set as well. A third of their schedule in the books – and 12 days removed from a comfortable victory over a Nash-/Pau-less Laker team – the New York Knicks head west on a 60-win pace. Though their perimeter assault has been relegated to the slums of “top third in the league,” Carmelo and Company remain one of the revelations of this NBA season, with an Effective Field Goal Percentage ranking fifth in the league (51.8%; the Lakers rank sixth, at 50.9%) and an offense trailing only the Oklahoma City Thunder in terms of efficiency.

None of this, of course, is news to the Lakers, who on December 13 at MSG saw up close the swift and blinding manner in which the Knicks – namely, the aforementioned Mr. Anthony – are able to deploy their attack. That night, Carmelo buried a trio of triples inside of 150 seconds, and racked up 22 of the Knicks’ 41 first quarter points. The Knicks ultimately opened up a 26-point cushion and appeared to be cruising to a laugher until a left ankle injury brought Carmelo’s evening to untimely end, just five minutes into the second half, and opened the door for a Lakers comeback that trimmed the margin to just six points, though a combined 67 from Tyson Chandler, J.R. Smith, Ray Felton and Steve Novak was enough to preserve a Knick victory.

For all of the frustration that has permeated this campaign for the Lakers, this was the outing in which rock bottom was achieved. I used “achieved” because at that point in time everyone associated with the Lakers – players, management, coaches, fans – needed to stare into the abyss of abject mediocrity (at the time, a generous assessment) before refusing to go quietly into that Manhattan night and ultimately looking to a brighter day ahead. The Lakers are unbeaten in four games since, with road wins against the Wizards and 76ers, a comeback victory at home over the Bobcats and the aforementioned W over the Dubs.

This afternoon, the Lakers look to truly right the ship. Their full complement of talent (ex-Steve Blake) finally in tow, some momentum built and an opportunity to even their record against a premier foe on their home floor, the opportunity lies before them to notch their greatest signature victory of the season. For the first time in a long time, they enter the game favored at both backcourt spots. What will prove vital is the ability of the wing defenders (primarily Metta and Devin Ebanks) to sap the efficiency from Carmelo Anthony’s offensive game, while making the Knicks’ talisman expend some energy defensively, and hopefully offsetting some of his inevitably significant production.

Finally, we arrive at the middle, where Tyson Chandler is in the midst of one of his most prolific seasons. Averaging 12.8 and nearly 10 rebounds per game and shooting a goofy 70% from the field (13.6, 11.4 and 66.7 over his last five), more than anyone not named Carmelo, Chandler will set the tone for the Knicks. The Lakers can simply ill-afford a repeat of Saturday night from Dwight Howard, and, in addition, will need quality minutes – not only as a defensive rebounder and high post passer, but as a rim protector – from Pau Gasol, with Jordan Hill, seemingly no longer “out of the rotation” adding to the Lakers’ dilemma in the middle.

Knicks blogs: Both Knickerblogger and Posting and Toasting do a fantastic job of covering the Knicks. Give both a read. Additionally, P&T’s Seth Rosenthal and I got together on the I Go Hard Now podcast last week, where we talked all things Laker and Knick.

Where you can watch: This is a noon Pacific tip. Watch the national telecast on ABC. You can also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.

 

In closing, huge thanks to the gang here at FB&G for continuing to bang out some of the best Lakers coverage – and letting me do whatever it is that I do. Also, thanks to everyone swinging by to check out our analytical styling’s. Want to wish you all and your families a happy and healthy holiday. Everyone enjoy the game!

Sigh.

For a team that will need to be as healthy as possible to achieve what they want to this season, things aren’t off to that great a start on that front:

For a team that can’t afford to have any injuries to its top players, this is obviously a major blow. Add it to Kobe nursing an extremely sore foot and Dwight’s back still not 100% and the Lakers are in a position, early in the season, where things are not breaking their way (no pun intended).

We’ll have more on this over the next couple of days, for sure.