Los Angeles Lakers vs Orlando Magic

Fri Feb 6, 7:00 PM EST – TWSN, FSFL

Line: ORL -4.5, O/U: 201.0

Amway Center – Orlando, FL

Recent Matchups

Ranks

  • 103.9 ORTG (21)
  • 110.9 DRTG (29)
  • 94.4 Pace (9)
  • 74.9 DRB% (14)
  • 0.515 TS% (25)

Latest Results

Leaders

  • Kobe Bryant 22.3 ppg
  • Jordan Hill 8 rpg
  • Kobe Bryant 5.6 apg
  • Ed Davis 1.1 bpg
  • Ronnie Price 1.5 spg

Ranks

  • 101.6 ORTG (28)
  • 108.3 DRTG (25)
  • 94.3 Pace (13)
  • 76.8 DRB% (5)
  • 0.53 TS% (19)

Latest Results

Leaders

  • Nikola Vucevic 19.6 ppg
  • Nikola Vucevic 11.3 rpg
  • Elfrid Payton 5.8 apg
  • Kyle O’Quinn 1 bpg
  • Victor Oladipo 1.6 spg

Those who follow me on this site or on other platforms know that I have had my fair share of critiques of Byron Scott (maybe more than my fair share). They started when his name was thrown into the ring as a candidate, continued when it was becoming clear he was likely to be the choice, and flowed right into the season with some of his comments on strategy and the tactics he’s displayed on the court.

Wednesday’s Buck’s game was another example as the Lakers lost the game in overtime after giving up a game tying three in the closing seconds of regulation. Forward thinking strategy says that in those situations — up three in the closing seconds while on defense — a team should foul to put the offense at the foul line where they cannot do better than get two points. This approach reduces the probability of a game tying shot and puts the team that is ahead in a better position to win. What, then, was Byron thinking heading into the final possession?

Again, this may seem like piling on. But when the coach comments that he’d prefer not to foul in the closing seconds while up three, even when there was clear opportunity to do so (the Bucks’ play involved a dribble hand-off where the player who gave Mayo the ball had his back to the basket in no position to shoot while getting fouled) he’s exhibiting a poor “philosophy”.

Let’s disregard these things for a moment, however. Late game mistakes are made and, as noted in the quote he gave, Byron isn’t above trying to sort through his current process and adjust. That last point is important because as the season has progressed, Scott deserves credit for how he’s attempted to adapt to the changing nature of his team (due to injuries and what projects to be another losing campaign). The question, however, is whether he has adjusted enough.

When it was announced that Byron would become the coach, part of what I wrote was the need for him to strike the proper balance between today’s and tomorrow’s goals:

What Byron will control, though, are the lineups, offensive and defensive schemes, minute allocations, and the functioning of the locker room. It will be on him to decide how much or little Kobe Bryant plays, how much veterans should get time over younger players, and how to best develop the talent he has at his disposal. It will be on him to navigate expectations and balance short term success with long term goals and the overall health of the franchise moving forward. He will be that steward who has been given the keys at a time that, for all intents and purposes, may be one of the more important in recent franchise history.

This Lakers’ team is squarely at the stage where they are clearly not a contender for a championship but still trying to win games and do so while looking for cornerstone young players who can carry the torch after Kobe Bryant retires. That is one of the finest lines to walk as an organization and, more often than not, ends up being impossible. Whether he is up to the task of being the guy who steers the ship during this time remains to be seen, but I think it’s more than fair to question if he is.

Scott has taken solid steps towards the future by inserting Jordan Clarkson into the starting lineup, doing the same for Ryan Kelly, and inserting Tarik Black into the rotation. Even in doing that, though, Scott remains parked on the fence rather than moving completely to the side of trying to develop his young players.

While Clarkson starts, he has not always been finishing games and only averages 5 minutes in the 4th quarter this year. Ryan Kelly is getting burn, but almost all of it comes at small forward, rather than at his more natural position of power forward. Kelly’s stretch ability is being limited in this role as SF’s are quicker to close out on him and are limiting his ability to get his shot off in space. Meanwhile Boozer is still a key part of the rotation — and he is playing quite well, too — which puts a crunch on the available minutes at PF and C, limiting how much court time players like Kelly, Black, Davis, and even Sacre can see in any given game.

Coaches — at least those not in Philly or Boston — are pretty much all judged on their win/loss record. And maybe Scott feels that pressure to win games too and is trying to walk that line between getting his young players minutes while still leaning on his veterans in key moments. But one has to wonder if he should swing in the other direction, go to his young players even more and put them in better positions to succeed by slotting them into roles that best fit their current skill sets. This may limit the potential for wins, but as we’ve seen — and was clear in the Bucks’ game — the team is finding ways to lose games anyway.

What does this have to do with the game against the Magic tonight? Nothing, really. But as Scott peers across the sideline to his counterpart, he’ll see that the fellow who was supposed to be standing there — Jacque Vaughn — is gone now. Yesterday the former point guard was handed his walking papers as the Magic flounder through another season, running unimaginative offensive sets with inconsistent lineups that didn’t always try to maximize the growth of the young players. Funny, some of that sounds familiar. Scott, might take note of that and realize that he has a couple more years on his contract and with this season pretty much lost, it might be time to start shifting things up to accomplish some of the other organizational goals that don’t involve winning. Especially if he wants to build a foundation where winning can actually happen with some of these younger players he’ll need in a couple of years. That is if he’s still here.

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

Los Angeles Lakers vs Milwaukee Bucks

Thu Feb 5, 1:00 AM EST – TWSN, FSWI

Line: MIL -9.0, O/U: 192.5

BMO Harris Bradley Center – Milwaukee, WI

Recent Matchups

Ranks

  • 103.8 ORTG (21)
  • 110.8 DRTG (29)
  • 94.5 Pace (9)
  • 74.7 DRB% (15)
  • 0.516 DRB% (25)

Latest Results

Leaders

  • Kobe Bryant 22.3 ppg
  • Jordan Hill 8 rpg
  • Kobe Bryant 5.6 apg
  • Ed Davis 1.1 bpg
  • Ronnie Price 1.5 spg

Ranks

  • 103.6 ORTG (22)
  • 101.7 DRTG (2)
  • 93.9 Pace (15)
  • 72.4 DRB% (27)
  • 0.545 DRB% (9)

Latest Results

Leaders

  • Brandon Knight 17.7 ppg
  • Zaza Pachulia 6.6 rpg
  • Brandon Knight 5.3 apg
  • John Henson 1.7 bpg
  • Brandon Knight 1.7 spg

The Lakers’ last game was a forgettable one — a hat-handed-to-them loss in New York by the Knicks. That game saw Carmelo Anthony pretty much eviscerate any defender the Lakers put in front of him (sorry, Ryan Kelly you were outmatched when the ball was tipped) and the rest of the team ride his coattails to what was a pretty easy victory considering the closeness of the records of the two teams.

With a couple of days off to chew on that loss, the Lakers are back in action tonight against the surprising Bucks. Even after a season ending knee injury to prized rookie Jabari Parker, continued off-court issues for Center Larry Sanders, and the adjustments of playing under new coach Jason Kidd, the Bucks are 4 games over .500 and looking like one of those dangerous teams who can give a top seed some issues when the playoffs start. They have youth, athleticism, length, and a commitment to defense that has proven to be the foundation for a nice run through the first half of the year.

In other words, they have been the opposite of the Lakers. It used to be that sentence would be a good thing when discussing the Lakers and Bucks. Not so much anymore.

In any event, the Lakers, though rested, will have their hands full tonight. While the Bucks don’t have a traditional “star” in their lineup, Giannis Antetokounmpo is one of the most exciting players in the league, becoming some sort of hybrid player of Anthony Randolph’s realized potential and Jazz era Andrei Kirilenko. The “Greek Freak” as he’s known, can, seemingly at least once a game, be found dribbling the length of the court (in four dribbles) and euro-stepping from the three point line to finish with a dunk. The kid may not have a developed jumper, but his giant strides and incredible reach allow him to finish in the lane from spots on the floor thought to be impossible.

Along with Antetokounmpo, the Bucks have several other young and veteran players having good to very good years. Brandon Knight, who came to the Bucks in the trade of Brandon Jennings, is boasting career best numbers as a scorer and assist man. He still has holes in his game and can be mistake prone, but he’s doing more good than bad nightly. Add to him OJ Mayo, Jerryd Bayless, and Jared Dudley they have a fine wing rotation. With Ersan Ilyasova, John Henson, Zaza Pachulia and the aforementioned Antetokounmpo, their bigs are also a nice group.

What this means is that the Lakers will have their hands full. With Jordan Hill nursing his hip-flexor strain, Tarik Black will start and the team will need his hustle on the glass and quick wits defensively to try and combat the Bucks’ attack. Similar efforts from Ed Davis will also help, as will timely scoring and rebounding from Carlos Boozer. With Nick Young back in the lineup after his DNP against the Knicks, there is hope he can bring some offensive firepower off the bench while giving Jeremy Lin more room to operate via better floor spacing than Wes Johnson provides.

Those are the hopes. We will see if they can actually pull it off.

Where you can watch: 5pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM Los Angeles.

Thank goodness for Jordan Clarkson. Wait. What?

If I’d have told you, when the season’s schedule came out, that the thing I’d be looking forward to the most when the Lakers and Knicks played a Sunday day game — originally scheduled to be on ABC — was the second round rookie’s play, you’d have thought I was making some sort of a sick joke. After all, this is Lakers vs. Knicks. Kobe! Carmelo!! Derek Fisher and Phil Jackson returning the Knicks to prominence!!! Yeah, not so much (at least not yet).

With Kobe injured, Carmelo battling a nagging knee issues, and Derek/Phil stewarding one of the worst Knicks’ teams in history, this game got dumped from ABC and is now just a regular game between two bad teams broadcast on local TV as a prelude to today’s Super Bowl. So, I’ll say it again: thank goodness for Jordan Clarkson.

The rookie guard starts his 5th consecutive game for the Lakers and is showing signs of being a real player in this league. In the four contests leading up to this one, the rook has squared off against Tony Parker, Derrick Rose, and John Wall and held his own in each match up. There are still major strides to make and his learning curve is steep, but those things were to be expected when he was drafted out of Missouri. What he has, however, are things no other point guard on the team currently does: a combination of youth, athleticism, and a quality that makes you want to zero in on him when he’s on the floor. And while Lin is the better player, it is Clarkson who is capturing the imagination of Lakers’ fans as a potential building block for the future.

So, for the time being and with Julius Randle hurt, Clarkson becomes the young player worth turning in for. With Kobe Byrant out as well and the team shifting into rebuild mode more and more with every passing game, keeping tabs on Clarkson’s development is actually one of the more tangible things to do while watching the games. How is he managing the offense? Is he able to navigate the 2nd level of a defense? How is his court vision progressing? Can he start to make his jumper with more consistency as defenders play off him? Is he learning from his mistakes? These are questions we seek the answers to and the game experience is what will provide the answers.

As an aside, while I have been hard on Byron Scott for a lot of reasons and still disagree with some of the decisions he’s making (Ryan Kelly playing a lot of SF and Tarik Black — if healthy enough to play — getting DNP-CD’s are two examples), I think he deserves some credit lately. When Nick Young was playing with poor effort, he benched him in the game against the Rockets. He has inserted Clarkson into the starting lineup, removed Price from the rotation, and found a workable rotation for his big men (though, again, at some point I would want to see Kelly slotted appropriately and Black return to getting minutes). His players are, for the most part, playing hard in the face of long losing streaks and being outmatched from a talent standpoint almost every game.

He has his flaws as a coach and a full analysis on how he’s done this season will involve several things I’d call missteps, but his recent responses to injuries via lineup changes and rotations adjustments have been solid and are more indicative of the process you’d want from a team rebuilding. I’d like to see a bigger push in that direction, but those things may be coming soon without his doing should the Lakers dive into the trade season.

In any event, there is a game today. And I’ve been able to get through almost this entire preview without discussing a single item regarding the actual Lakers/Knicks game. Which, considering the quality of the teams, is exactly what I’m thinking this match up deserves.

Where you can watch: Early 11am start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM Los Angeles.

The Bulls visit the Lakers tonight and they come in flashing some of the determination, grit, and, most of all big victories, that had many installing them as the eastern conference favorites to reach the finals. They are winners in three of their last four games, with all three of the wins coming against strong Western opponents — San Antonio, Dallas, and Golden State. Their most recent win against the Warriors was one where they played with Jimmy Butler (though the Duns were missing Andrew Bogut), but were still able to gut out an overtime victory when Derrick Rose hit a clutch game winning jumper in the closing seconds.

Rose and (especially) Butler are two key reasons why teams are so high on the Bulls, but the reason most see them as a true threat is due to the addition of our old friend Pau Gasol. The Spaniard has thrived in Chicago as an anchor in the pivot, putting up strong numbers and having the type of impact those who still believed he still had something left in the tank thought he was capable of. The Bulls have offered him exactly what he needs to thrive — space in the post, a defensive scheme that limits some of his weaknesses, and teammates who compliment him on both sides of the ball — and he is taking advantage of it all.

Pau’s return to Los Angeles, then, is a bit bitter sweet. For me, personally, I am happy to see him playing so well and contributing on a team that has a chance to contend for a championship. On the other hand, I miss watching him nightly on the team I root for; I miss watching the exquisite passing, great feel for the game, and ability to act as the hub of an offense from the low post. Fact is, though, is that it was time for him to move on. The fact that things are going well for him, but so poorly for the Lakers does sting, but does not erase the good memories he provided during his time with the team.

With that, one has to wonder how fans will respond to Pau in his first game back at Staples Center since leaving in free agency. If Byron Scott has his way, Pau will be welcomed back as a former championship contributor should. Via ESPN’s Baxter Holmes:

And Lakers coach Byron Scott said fans owe Gasol one thing: “A standing ovation,” Scott said. “This is a guy that was here that helped to win two championships. He deserves that. Pau was a great player when he was here and is still a great player. He’s having a lot of success in Chicago. But I think fans should show him the respect that he deserves.”

Byron and I agree wholeheartedly here.

As for the actual game, considering who the Bulls have beaten lately and the fact that the Lakers have lost 9 straight games, I am not expecting anything different than what I wrote in leading up to the Wizards game. This is even more true with Jimmy Butler expected to return tonight to a lineup that already features Rose, Pau, and Noah. The Lakers simply do not have the front line talent to deal with these caliber of players, which is even more true with Nick Young (who hasn’t been playing great, but can explode on any given night to improve the Lakers’ chances) already ruled out with his sprained ankle.

In saying all that, there are a few things I’ll be monitoring tonight, specifically how a few Lakers fare in their individual match ups against their Bulls counterparts.

The first, of course, is Jordan Clarkson facing off against Derrick Rose. There may not be a more “trial by fire” position in the league for a young player than point guard. Clarkson has already had to defend Tony Parker and John Wall and be defended by Patrick Beverly. Tonight he faces Rose who, while not at the level he was when he won the MVP a few years ago, is still a load to deal with. I’ll be interested in seeing how Clarkson deals with the pressure Rose puts on him defensively. I’ll also be interested in seeing how he manages against a Bulls defense that is typically very good at dealing with perimeter players who love to attack off the dribble.

Secondly, I really do want to see if Ed Davis, Jordan Hill, and Tarik Black can hold their own against Pau, Noah, and Taj Gibson on both ends. The three Bulls are the superior players, no doubt. But the Lakers’ trio offer solid games of their own and have an ability to do damage in the paint on the glass and as release valves when slashing/diving/cutting around the rim. I am interested in seeing what, if anything, they do against a very good front court duo like what the Bulls offer.

Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on TNT. Also listen live on ESPN Radio 710AM Los Angeles.

 

The Lakers are 1-11 in their last twelve games. They have lost eight games in a row – their longest streak of the season. Their last win was 18 days ago against a Magic team who is also quite bad. The team is currently 21 games under .500 and 13.5 games back of the 8th seed in the Western conference. Oh, yeah, and Kobe Bryant is set to have surgery on his torn rotator cuff on Wednesday, which will almost surely end up sidelining him for the rest of the season.

The details of the win-loss record and streaks will change over the course of the season, but the general feel of despair that comes from the words in that paragraph above will not. The Lakers are a bad team and will continue to be a bad team. They have not shown to be particularly well coached nor play particularly well for longer than half a game on most nights (and that might be generous). The only things still worth truly watching for this season are the following:

  • Jordan Clarkson, Ryan Kelly, and Tarik Black’s development as potential rotation players.
  • What moves, if any, the Lakers make leading up to and at the trade deadline next month.
  • Whether or not the Lakers end up with a record that makes keeping their top-5 protected draft pick in the upcoming draft a strong proposition or a coin-flip.

Some might argue that there are some other things to include in that list, and I’m willing to entertain them. But for me, that’s about it. I’m not looking for any major breakthrough in philosophy from Byron Scott. I’m not looking for Jordan Hill or Ed Davis or Jeremy Lin to suddenly start out-performing their season norms. This is it, you guys. 38 more games of this.

With that, it’s the opponents who become the most interesting part of most nights that the Lakers play. Tonight that is probably more true than most others as the Wizards come to town. In the past, that last second would be followed by some sort of sarcastic snicker, but those days are long gone. These Wizards are currently 30-15 on the year and have the 2nd best record in the East. They are powered by John Wall, but have incredible balance with Bradley Beal, Nene, Marcin Gortat, Paul Pierce, and Andre Miller all offering strong contributions.

But, really, Wall is the main attraction. After all, he does things like this:

And, THIS:

AND THIS:

I mean. Come on, now. Wall is one of the most exciting players in the league and it’s no longer just the league pass junkies who recognize it. Wall will start in the all-star game, beating out more established names like Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade.

And if Wall isn’t enough, there’s always the other guys I mentioned above. Beal isn’t quite at Klay Thompson’s level yet, but he is one of the best up and coming shooting guards in the league. I have always had an affinity for Nene’s combination of bruising physicality and touch/skill all over the floor. And there’s Paul Pierce. Ha. I’m just kidding. I have nothing good to say about Paul Pierce.

In any event. This game will be on tonight. You should watch it to see how Clarkson does against a top flight point guard, to see if Nick Young has a revenge game against his old team, and to watch the other team’s really good players play well.

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