It was the end of the game and Kobe was talking to Mike Trudell of Lakers.com and TWC Sportsnet. He was describing the team’s win, but also how sore his body was after games and some of what he would do to recover to play the next game.

Kobe had played nearly 36 minutes and led the Lakers down the stretch, scoring nine of his game high 32 points in the final period including two big free throws that pushed the lead to three in the closing seconds. Further, over the final six minutes of the game, Kobe had a hand in every point the Lakers scored tallying three assists on the only points not scored by him over that stretch.

Nights like this have been rare for Kobe. Not necessarily the numbers part, the winning part. The W’s have been few and far between, but the numbers have been there almost nightly. The good and the bad.

A simple scan of his season stats tells you a couple of things. First, Kobe is still a guy giving the Lakers his 25, 5 and 5. These are the numbers that will be engraved on his tombstone, a testament to the all around game that made him one of the league’s best for the better part of two decades. The second, however, is that those numbers are coming at the worst efficiency of his career. Kobe’s not even shooting 40% from the field, not even 30% from behind the arc, and has a True Shooting Percentage below 50%. And all of this on over 22 shots a game and a usage rate that is leading the league and the 2nd highest of his career. It all adds up to some troubling statistics that, when added up, tell a story of Kobe doing more harm than good when he’s on the floor.

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The Lakers’ season has fallen into a fairly consistent pattern through 21 games. They will lose four to five games in a row, then win one or two straight. This cycle has repeated itself three times already this year and is in the middle of the fourth. This is how you get to be 5-16 on the year and looking as if wining one of every four games you play is the standard you can realistically achieve.

Maybe this is what this season was always going to be. The talent is what it is; the coaching hire is what it is; the strength of the rest of the league — especially the West — is what it is. The Lakers are on the outside looking in at teams who can be classified as even mediocre and that really doesn’t look to be changing any time soon. Not even with Byron Scott’s shifting of his starting lineup or the dumbing-down (my words, not his) of his defensive scheme. For what it’s worth, maybe this isn’t such a bad thing. At least if you ask Magic Johnson.

Tonight, then, the Lakers continue down this path hosting the Sacramento Kings. Or should I say, the much improved Sacramento Kings. Before the season started, the Kings were one team thought to challenge the Lakers for one of the lesser records in the Western Conference. Instead the Kings have taken a nice step forward this year, mostly due to DeMarcus Cousins’ ascension as one of the best big men in the league, some personnel changes, and some subtle improvements from some of the other players on the roster.

While this development is somewhat surprising, the Kings’ improvement isn’t so different from what we have seen from other teams recently. The question with Cousins was never his talent, but whether it could be harnessed on a nightly basis to maximize. With Rudy Gay it wasn’t so much about how good a player he could be, but whether he would make the adjustments to his game needed to remove the elements that had past teams looking to dump him for more efficient options. Add in bounce back seasons by veterans Omri Casspi and Darren Collison, the return of Carl Landry from an injury plagued season, and young players Ben McLemore, Derrick Williams, and Nik Stauskas finding ways to contribute and the Kings have a nice mix of players who seem to be taking to the coaching of Michael Malone.

For the Lakers dealing with this group will be a challenge, though it will be somewhat lessened by the fact that Cousins will be out with a viral infection (meningitis). Missing their anchor will put more pressure on Gay, Collison, Landry, and McLemore to produce offensively to counter the points that the Lakers should be able to produce — at least that’s the hope from the Lakers’ end. If the Lakers can force Gay into an inefficient night (which may be difficult considering their defensive options) and bottle up Collison, it will go a long way towards getting this win.

Offensively, look for a heavy dose of Kobe to start the game but with Lin and the second unit being able to do some damage. Lin’s move to the bench paid some dividends in that units’ productivity, even if his individual numbers did not stand out. If Lin can continue to distribute while adding some points of his own, it will allow that unit to fully flourish and, potentially, put the Kings on their heels.

Add it all up — Cousins missing, Kobe finding a groove, and the 2nd unit getting buckets — and there is a template for a win tonight. Whether the Lakers get it…well, that depends on if they can break the cycle that’s been their norm this year.

Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet and NBA TV. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.

After the Lakers were handed a bad loss at the hands of the Celtics on Friday night, Byron Scott said there would be lineup changes in tonight’s game versus the Pelicans. True to his word, Scott has swapped out two members of his starting group:

Reasonable minds can disagree about this move, but Scott is clearly trying to inject some defense into his starting group by removing Boozer and Lin in favor of Davis and Price. As we have discussed all season, the Lakers’ defense is horrid ranking last in points allowed per 100 possessions and doing so by a fair margin. Without getting into all of the details, the Lakers don’t do anything particularly well on that side of the ball and injecting two of the players the coaches feel are better on that end is deemed as the logical move.

That said, the numbers don’t really support this particular change. Let’s dive in:

  • The lineup of Lin, Kobe, Johnson, Boozer, and Hill has posted an offensive efficiency of 102.7 and a defensive efficiency of 117.7 for an efficiency differential of minus-15.0.
  • The lineup of Price, Kobe, Johnson, Davis, and Hill has posted an offensive efficiency of 96.0 and a defensive efficiency of 119.5 for an efficiency differential of minus-23.5.
  • In terms of the big men pairing, when the Boozer/Hill tandem have shared the floor, the Lakers’ defensive efficiency has been 117.0.
  • When the Hill/Davis tandem have shared the floor, the Lakers’ defensive efficiency has been 119.3.
  • When Jeremy Lin shares the floor with Kobe Byrant, he is shooting 46.5% from the floor and has 94 assists to 42 turnovers.
  • When Jeremy Lin has not shared the floor with Kobe, he is shooting 33% and has 4 assists to 11 turnovers.

There are some caveats in these numbers — the Price, Kobe, Johnson, Davis, Hill lineup have only played 20 minutes together over the course of five games. The Hill/Davis numbers offer a larger sample — 134 minutes — but still not as large as the Boozer/Hill duo (394 minutes). As for the Lin numbers, they too offer a small sample as Scott has preferred to play Lin almost exclusively with Kobe to try and optimize his two best guards by playing them together. So, these numbers should be taken with a grain of salt as there are simply not big enough samples to say any of these trends are irreversible.

That said, these numbers are what they are and do make me raise an eyebrow. The Lakers are making changes that, per the numbers, make them worse on the floor than better. When the samples get larger maybe these trends will reverse. But, my guess is that even if they do improve, they won’t do so at a rate that makes any sort of dent in how well the team plays as a whole. At least not without other shifts in how the lineups are deployed and how many minutes specific groups play together. We’ll see if Scott makes any such changes or if he simply swaps Lin and Boozer’s roles with Price and Davis’. If that happens, I expect things to look just as bad as they have to this point.

In any event, there is a game to play tonight and these changes will be put into play with a chance to make some waves. The Pelicans aren’t a great team by any means, but they have one of the league’s best players in Anthony Davis and other useful players who can make an impact against the Lakers. Chief amongst them are Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, and Ryan Anderson. Evans may be of particular issue since his ability to create off the dribble is a trait that the Lakers have struggled to contain all year. Maybe having Wes Johnson on him will slow him some, but unless Hill and Davis are there to help while still managing the stay with Anthony Davis on the glass and when slashing into open creases, it will all be for naught.

Further, when Anderson comes into the game the Lakers will need to find a way to defend the arc with a big man. With Boozer now coming off the bench, one has to wonder if defending Anderson will fall on his shoulders. If it does, watch out. Boozer is hesitant to defend out the three point line and that is exactly where Anderson will set up. If Boozer cannot get to the arc, Anderson will bomb away with quick releasing threes and hit more than his fair share if he’s open.

Offensively, we’ll see if the changes the Lakers make can at least spark their second unit. In theory, a unit of Lin, Ellington, Young, Boozer, and Sacre will be able to score some points and get up and down the court in the process. Lin, Ellington, and Young can all stretch the floor as well, so the space that they create should open up some post opportunities for Boozer and driving lanes for the guards should their men get too aggressive with closeouts. Hopefully, the bench can take advantage, especially against a Pelican’s bench that isn’t very strong in their own right.

Where you can watch: 6:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.

Look, let’s skip the pleasantries and get down to business. The Lakers are not a good team. As many people have pointed out over the last couple of seasons, this isn’t necessarily the worst thing. The way the NBA is set up, it’s in the team’s best interests to lose games, get high draft picks and use them as core rebuilding pieces for the future. This season, it has been argued, that strategy is doubly important since their draft pick is only top five protected and will go to the Suns should it be six or lower. If the Lakers want to keep this pick they need to lose a lot of games. The more the better, some would say.

I can understand this logic. I really can. And while I detest the idea of “rooting” for losses, the benefits that come from those L’s stacking up can’t be ignored.

None of that applies tonight, though. No, when the Lakers play the Celtics, I don’t care about the future pick. I don’t care about accelerating a rebuild. I don’t care for your logic. Nope. Not at all. You see, these are the Celtics. I don’t want the Lakers to lose to them. Not today, tomorrow, or next week. Not ever. As I said above, if the only games the Lakers won all season were against the C’s, it would take some of the sting off. This is what a rivalry does.

Of course, when both teams are bad — and the C’s are pretty much equally bad right now — some would say the luster of this rivalry is removed. Yes, these organizations have 33 banners between them but right now they are cellar dwellers. Of all the games on tonight, this is one a lot of fans will actively avoid. Watching Kobe and Rondo is nice and all, but when it’s all said and done a Carlos Boozer/Jared Sullinger duel isn’t something people are using up their Friday night on. Again, I see this perspective. But, again, I do not care. This is appointment viewing for me. This matters.

In saying all that, I could get into X’s and O’s here. I could talk about slowing Rondo, keeping Sullinger off the offensive boards, and making sure ┬áthat Kelly Olynyk is defended out the 3 point line. I’d discuss Jeff Green and how he must be kept out of the lane and turned into a jump shooter. And ditto for Avery Bradley. I could then get into Lin being aggressive in getting to the rim, how the C’s lack rim protection, and how this would be a good game for Ed Davis to get going. Oh, I’d also discuss how Kobe has a size advantage against most of the C’s wings and how this might be a good game for him to really work to get into the post to create double teams and easier scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates. This stuff, in the micro, matters towards the end goal.

But, in reality, all I really care about is getting the W. How they do it, isn’t important to me. If it means going to Nick Young down the stretch, do it. If it means running plays for Jordan Hill, make it happen. If it means playing Kobe a few extra minutes, I’m saying go for it. Like I said, logic isn’t going to cut it with me today. The faces may change, but the goal remains the same. Just beat the Celtics.

With that, here’s a video to get you in the mood. Enjoy, folks.

The Lakers continue their three game road trip tonight in Washington, just a night after beating the Pistons in Detroit. That game saw a tired and flu-ridden Kobe rely heavily on his teammates and a nice third quarter burst of his own to win the game and bring the Lakers record to 5 and 14 on the season. Of those 5 wins, 4 are against the Eastern Conference and 3 of them are on the road.

Which means, tonight, against the Wizards in Washington the Lakers are sure to win. Yeah, not so much.

I know I’ve said this a lot this season, but the Lakers are pretty outclassed in this match up. The Wizards are one of the more balanced teams in the league, showing out well on both sides of the ball with deep roster. They currently boast the the 2nd best record in the conference and have enough talent on their team to make it so they will be in the mix at the top of the conference until the end of the season — health permitting.

In other words, the Lakers are in for a severe challenge and any expectation about this game remaining close is likely just wishful thinking. In their core four players of John Wall, Bradley Beal, Nene, and Marcin Gortat the Wizards have advantages at nearly every position save in Kobe’s match up with Beal. When you add to this that Paul Pierce is their 5th starter, the Lakers are going to struggle to keep pace with this team and will likely find themselves in disadvantageous positions all over the floor trying to defend this group.

I could go on and on with this, but in it’s most simply explained by the fact that the Lakers really don’t have anyone who can stay with John Wall for an entire game. And if Wall is able to break loose, it’s only a matter of time before the rest of the team follows. Mind you, the rest of the team is good enough to get their own without Wall drawing extra defensive attention and getting his own offense going, but with Wall attacking Lin and Price for most of the night, those other guys are very likely to feast on a lot of open looks.

This is where I’d normally say that the Lakers’ offense would need to step up. And while that’s true, I have my doubts about it actually happening in this game. As noted at the top, this is the Lakers 2nd game in as many nights and a road game. Plus, with Kobe not 100% physically, their will be an over reliance on other players to step up and play well. That worked last night against the Pistons…but that was the Pistons. They’re awful. The Wizards are decidedly not and have good defensive players all over the floor to give the Lakers’ issues. Of course the Lakers can still get theirs and hitting some contested shots will go a long way in closing the talent gap (ask the Raptors), but it is certainly a lot to ask for.

So, sorry to be a downer folks. I know the Lakers are feeling good coming off two straight wins. But I’ve a feeling tonight, all factors considered, ends up being too tough a match up for the Lakers to overcome.

Where you can watch: 4pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.