It only took 69 games*, but Byron Scott has uttered words that fans have been hoping to hear all season. When it comes to the team’s young players — specifically D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, and Julius Randle — Scott says they will be given a longer leash, especially when it comes to 4th quarter playing time. The OC Register’s Bill Oram has the story:

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I won’t pretend to put this game in any other context than what it means — potentially, at least — to the Lakers’ chances of keeping their top 3 protected pick this summer. Let’s face it, we can talk all we want about the development of the Lakers’ young players, Kobe’s retirement tour, or even smaller storylines of Larry Nance playing some SF for the rest of the year.

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The idea of “positionless basketball” isn’t new, but in the past 5-10 years it has become more and more en vogue. Front offices fall over for the versatility of bigs who can shoot with range, guards who can post, and players of all sizes having the skill sets of wings who are as comfortable handling the ball as they are setting a down screen.

The Lakers have an interesting mix of players who are capable of helping the team move in that direction. It’s an idea we touched on in the preseason and, while it hasn’t always been the case this year, we have seen hints of the Lakers playing a more positionless brand of ball — especially recently, with the team running more modern offensive sets.

While we often talk about positionless basketball within the context of offense, though, the key to really making it work is as a viable approach is defensive effectiveness. If you want your “PF” and “C” to be Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green in order to maximize offensive spacing, those guys need to be able to be able to defend bigger players and then rebound the ball.

So, defense matters. And, as the old saying goes, the position you play is the one you can defend. The more positions you can defend, the higher your value in a league which wants to pick and roll teams and run a myriad of motion sets designed to force switches and create mismatches.

This brings us to the Lakers and, as the head coach calls it, an experiment they are trying over the course of the team’s final 14 games this season:

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FB&G’s March Madness Tourney Pick ‘Em is back off hiatus. I figure, if you’re a Lakers’ fan, you’re probably already heavily invested in what’s going on in college basketball (or at least know who Brandon Ingram is — sorry Ben Simmons, LSU isn’t in the tourney) so why not let you try to defeat me and my infinite knowledge of the college game. (I actually have almost zero knowledge of the college game.)

To sweeten the pot, and offer more than just bragging rights, we have actual prizes for the winner! Whoever wins the challenge will receive a copy of two wonderful basketball books which have recently released.

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Sunday’s loss to the Knicks served as another reminder that regardless of how much in-season progress we have seen from the Lakers’ young players, there will still be down nights. They will not always play well and, when they don’t, you will also get the type of rhetoric which came out of the loss because this team is still coached by Byron Scott.

That means a reminder that minutes are not guaranteed and that the young players have to play hard all the time in order to get playing time. No, you won’t get these same reminders about veteran players because even when they don’t play hard, they don’t need to be reminded about it. They know better, so they’ll do better the next time, I guess.

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I have a hard time reading the tea leaves when it comes to what Byron Scott’s future might entail. Last month, when a report surfaced that the Lakers were “torn” on whether Scott would return for a third season as Lakers’ head coach, I was not really surprised. I am sure Scott has backers in the front office (remember, these people hired him) and Scott is Lakers’ family due to his showtime connections.

When that last point is put into the context of the Lakers being a family business, it truly matters. There were whispers for a long time that Dr. Buss was quite fond of Scott and as a coach whose biggest influence is Pat Riley, that connection to the past is strong.

That said, when the aforementioned report surfaced, I also wrote a leak like this signified that Scott also has detractors in the front office. That there’s no reason for a leak like this to come out unless Scott being let go was truly a consideration. And that concerns which go beyond the team’s record and spill into how he’s handled the team’s young players might carry more weight than the circumstances he’s faced with injuries (his first season) and the Kobe retirement tour + incorporating a slew of young players (season two).

Why does this matter today? Well, Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck floated an interesting theory this morning on Scott’s potential future with the organization which adds another variable to the equation:

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Coming out of Ohio State D’Angelo Russell was billed as a complete offensive player. Yes, his outside shooting and court vision were highlighted as real strengths, but when watching tape of him there were so many other aspects of offensive basketball he excelled at – especially as a scorer. He possessed a polished mid-range game, had a nice floater, could get to the rim and finish, and could work in the post against smaller defenders.

Early in the year it was only his mid-range jumper (specifically out of the P&R) and his 3-point shot (mostly as a spot up option) which carried over most quickly. However, in the 2nd half of the season, we have seen the more of the offensive prowess he showed in college start to surface in the pros. Especially his work in the post.

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After a fun game on Thursday (though in a losing effort) that brought us one last Kobe vs. LeBron duel, the Lakers are back in action against the Knicks on Sunday. This game offers a much more winnable contest — especially with how the Lakers are playing lately. And while we should always be weary of actually projecting a victory, if you look at the trajectory of both teams for the past month or so, it’s not farfetched to think the Lakers come out on top tonight.

This game, at least for me, isn’t so much about the game between these two teams, but rather the games within game stemming from individual match ups and storylines between the two rosters. Kobe Bryant will play tonight, so his battle with Carmelo Anthony will take center stage. Kobe and Melo have long been close, so this last match up between the two before Kobe’s retirement is likely to mean something to both players. If we could get a similar show to the one Kobe and LeBron put on Thursday, we’d all be appreciative.

But this isn’t just about the veteran stars. In the Knicks’ rookie big man Kristaps Porzingis, D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle both have a target to aim at this game. For Russell, the challenge of facing another top rookie — especially one who was getting major press early in the year and being hailed as a future star at a time when Russell was not playing as well as he is now — is real. Russell has been playing better than Porzingis has recently, but that’s not matter. Seeing who can come out on top when they face off is one of the stories of this game and one I will be watching closely.

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