Today, the conjectural March toward the playoffs begins. When the NBA first released the schedule, I scanned it loosely until I got to this month, March, where that little @ symbol appeared at a higher rate than it did any other month. Over 73 percent of the Lakers games are going to be on the road this month (11 of 15 games), and of those 11 games, nine of the teams are still in playoff contention. There will be two back-to-backs, two three-game road trips and they’ll finish off the month at San Antonio, at Oklahoma City, at Houston, at New Orleans and finally at Atlanta. Suffice to say, gaining home court throughout the playoffs is not going to be easy, and, with Dallas only 5 1/2 games back, playing extremely well, a number one seed in the Western Conference isn’t exactly locked up either.
So today, the Lakers begin their toughest month of the season, the one, more than any other, that will let us know if the team is championship ready, against the Indiana Pacers. During this time of year in the past, the Lakers have shown the propensity to look past lesser teams, which is why tonight’s game is just as important as their Sunday meeting with Orlando. The Lakers aren’t going to have too many gimmies, and are going to have to play these teams like they’re playing playoff contenders. They have some offensive kinks to work out, Kobe has to get back into his shooting rhythm, the bigs need to find a way to work together the way they did while Kobe was hurt and the bench needs to play with some consistency. These things do not improve when you take nights off against teams like the Pacers.
The Lakers practiced yesterday, and Kobe was able to get some work in on his jump shot. After practice he was interviewed about his off shot:
“What’s going on with your j right now? Is a little out of whack?” a reporter asked.
“Three for 3 for 17, I would say it’s a little (messed) up,” Bryant said laughingly. “But I had a lot of time off, where I wasn’t able to shoot the basketball and that’s why I haven’t been consistent. I haven’t had a chance to work on it. I did a little bit today and will do more tomorrow and hopefull get it back to that level of consistency that I’m used to.”
Bryant did get some work in on his shot after practice, taking turns going one-one-one against two young sons of a friend. At one point, he posted up the older kid, whose curly head barely reached Bryant’s shoulder.
“No mercy,” Bryant said, evoking laughter from the media. “There’s nothing wrong with posting up a little kid. He wanted to play one on one, (so) he knew full well what he was getting into.”
(Note: Kobe didn’t use the word “messed” in the interview and one of the kids who he played one-on-one against had one of their shots blocked into a wall, or at least that’s what I’ve heard through twitter.)
The Los Angeles Times has some updates on both Sasha Vujacic and Luke Walton’s injuries:
Sasha Vujacic, who has been out because of a sprained right shoulder, has been unable to practice, but said he hopes to be available next Monday after the Lakers return home from a three-game trip.
Luke Walton, who has been out because of a pinched nerve in his back, worked out on an exercise machine Monday and said his back felt good, but that “good is a relative term right now.”
Land O’ Lakers has post-practice interviews with Phil Jackson where he talks about the Lakers lack of execution in the first half against Denver, Ron Artest on the defensive end, their decision to move Kobe into the post in the second half and more.
Yesterday, a lot of you were asking if Michael Finley could be a viable option as a pickup for the Lakers. Well, it’s been reported that the Celtics are interested in picking up the 36-year-old Finley (in attempts to get younger, I’m sure). Zach Lowe of Celtics Hub and Graydon Gordian of 48 Minutes of Hell talk about Finley’s decreased role and why the Spurs released him. After reading it, you’ll understand why the Lakers showed no interest in Finley.
CelticsHub: Finley has barely played this season after playing 81 games last season and more than half of San Antonio’s minutes. Have his physical skills declined that much, or is the lack of PT more about the emergence of George Hill and the trade for Richard Jefferson?
48 Minutes of Hell: Although we do have some new faces in the backcourt, I think the biggest factor in Finley’s decreased minutes is his physical decline. Popovich has nothing but glowing things to say about Finley and is well known for sticking with veteran guys who have mastered this system (which Finley has) for longer than he arguably should. If Popovich thought Finley still had it in him, he’d have seen meaningful minutes.
There wasn’t too much Lakers news from yesterday. Be sure to check back later for Darius’ Lakers/Pacers Preview and Chat.
The picture in that twitter report is great. Kobe is giving that kid a “rocker” step. Blow by ’em Bean.
As for Finley, it sounds like his agent is trying to float his name with contenders so Finley can latch on for one last post season run. Personally, I don’t see the Lakers adding any player before the end of the season. The team has 22 games left and now is the time for this team to gel as is and build towards the playoffs, not bringing in guys on the fly to see if they can help. Adding a bought out player this late in the season is a desperation play. Leave moves like that Boston who is short on depth on the wings after trading away all their young wings (save Tony Allen) in the deal for Nate. Or even Denver, who has long felt they’re a big man short and now have Birdman dealing with “chronic” tendonitis in his knee – tendonitis which had him sitting out most of yesterday’s loss to the Suns. The Lakers don’t need another player to sit at the end of the bench. They’ve got Ammo for that. Sasha will be back soon and going into the playoffs, the Lakers will have the 8-9 guys that they feel comfortable playing on a nightly basis. Whether it’s enough or not will remain to be seen, but I have to think that any player that is picked up off of waivers (or right off the street) isn’t going to be a difference maker in a run to a championship.
Any chance that Luke would be back for a playoff run? It may not be bad to have a ball mover / big body to throw out there on the court for relief minutes, even if he’s not 100%
The Cavaliers are the best team in the NBA. The Lakers should give up now. Oh, wait a minute, the regular season doesn’t count….
“The Lakers don’t need another player to sit at the end of the bench. They’ve got Ammo for that.”
heh heh !
In terms of viable options, how about Mikki Moore? Dude would be an improvement over Mbenga as a backup and would prove very useful in playoff games where Drew gets into foul trouble (which is VERY likely to happen more than once). I also think he would be very useful against the Nugs, Celts and Cavs.
I think Mikki is injured.
Mikki can’t join the Lakers. He’s scared of Shannon Brown. More seriously though, the Lakers are fine with Powell and Mbenga. Powell, though not as consistent this season as last, was good against Denver and is only a spot player anyway. In order for the Lakers to truly “improve” (remember, they are one of the best teams in the league), our core players need to find more consistency. Farmar, WOW, Artest, Bynum, LO, Pau, Fish, Kobe – all of them can have better performances from game to game and that is what this team (I think) is building and going after.
Darius7, Did you say scared?… Or forever scared!
How is Mikki Moore an improvemnt over Mbenga?
He’s a bum. Absolute bum. Mbenga is good in the role he has with the Lakers. He’s the 13th guy for a reason, and Mikki Moore gets cut from multiple teams for a reason.
Chownoir (was J) says
Sasha’s injury came at a particularly bad time. It seemed like Phil had slowly built his confidence back up. Sasha was playing under control, making smart decisions and doing the little things that’s needed from a role player. He had an impact on the court even if he didn’t take a shot. Not only that but his shot was actually returning. He was hitting close to 40% again from behind the line.
Meanwhile Shannon has regressed and stopped doing the little things while going for the spectacular and stupid decisions. If Sasha was healthy, I could see Phil playing him more and making Shannon sit and observe to understand how to fit back in again.
Hopefully Sasha can find his groove again once he returns. As discussed here many times, Lakers need even the hint of a threat to open up the paint a bit more for the big guys.
If Sasha can hit one or two shots, that might be enough to make defenders worry about his past and ability to get hot. That half step of hesitation to get back and cover would help immensely with Laker big men finding space inside instead of the immediate double team.
If the lakers make a move for someone it should be a young unproven athletic guy outta the dleague who could potentially bring a spark. Not a veteran that no one wants like hughes, finley or stackhouse who is shooting 30some percent in MIL
T. Rogers says
9) – I agree. Moore gave the Celtics nothing last year. I haven’t paid attention since them. DJ may get a little too excited at times trying to block every shot, but I would take him any day of the week over Moore.
Gonna be a blowout tonight. Lakers in swagger mode and Bryant working on his jumper. TO’s will be resolved. Players hungry
Mbenga may be the best 3rd-string center in the league, especially with what we’re paying him. In fact both he and Josh Powell are putting in a perfectly acceptable performance for their paychecks. In addition to that, they both seem to be well liked and popular with their team mates. They both work hard in practice and on game-night, and I have never, ever heard anything about either one of them asking for more minutes or having anything but a very positive attitude. I remember that I was happy to see DJ and Josh being the first two expired contracts that were re-signed after last championship, and I’m sure there’s a good reason for that.
I don’t see how the Lakers can improve their championship chances in any way by getting rid of DJ Mbenga or Josh Powel. It will be difficult to find improvement in their respective spots on the roster without spending a lot more money than we currently are, their combined contracts are not enough money to pay for a new starting point guard or a backup shooting guard.
Whatever problems the Lakers are having right now, a trade is not the solution. If nothing else, I thought general consensus was that several of the problems came from integrating a new player into the rotation and the offensive system? Adding a second new player just as the first has figuring things out seems counter-productive to me.
j.d. Hastings says
The Lakers could absolutely turn Finley into an effective player again- they just have to harvest healthy body part from Morrison, Vujacic and Walton to do so.
j.d. Hastings says
The warriors waived Mikki Moore. Why the hell would the Lakers want him? Denver has interest in him and my reaction to that was glee that they were desperate.
If Finley can still knock down threes then he’d be a great addition. I’d rather have him then Luke any day.
Just read the preview over at silver screen and roll. 2 things I wanted to discuss here:
1. Everybody, including those on this site, has written the pacers off. That make anyone else a little nervous? I mean, the celts aren’t what they were last year, but how many people thought they’d ever lose to the NETS?! Every team is full of NBA players who can beat you on a given night. The pacers do not scare me, but our collective attitude does if shared by the players.
2. Looking at the team stats for the lakers, we’re a really good team defensively. We’re 1 or 2 in all the major defensive categories. Anybody else get the impression that once in the playoffs our offense will likely stay the same and our defense will ratchet up a bit? It’s comforting to think of the second season in these terms because I don’t know about you, but I’d rather close out April as the NBA’s best defense than the NBA’s best offense.
3. Oh, and suck it cavs.
Ryan O. says
17 Rudy: Unfortunately, Finley cannot still knock down threes. 38% from the floor and 31% from 3 this season. Yuck.
At this stage in their careers, and especially within the triangle, Luke is the better player by a wide margin.
Joel B. says
Finley is worth the consideration, but not much more. Sasha will be back before the playoffs so its no need to crowd the back court even more.
But with all the talk about Powell, he’s what the lakers need right now in luke and sasha’s absence. I would love to see a line up of Powell, Odom, Pau with whomever at the guards. Phil has went to this line up once or twice this season. Kobe has been back 4 games and played 40 minutes in 3 of those games. Thats too much. Kobe isn’t getting any lift on his shots, looks slow on defense. They need decrease his minutes to 36, not increase to 40+. Putting Powell and Odom at the forwards can allow kobe to take his usual rest, instead of having to play at the forward with brown and farmar at the guards. The Powell, Odom, Pau line up theoretically works since Pau would be the inside guy, brown, farmar, powell spotting up and Odom being able to play anywhere on the floor. Stop running kobe into the ground and use the guys we have.
Powell is a good rebounder and spot up shooter. Give him 7-10 minutes and see what he can do.
Joel B. says
Correction:Actually Kobe played at least 40 minutes in all 4 games since he’s been back.
Another advantage with the line-up you suggested is that it will force the guys on the floor to get used to and better figure out how to play without Kobe to bail them out. We know they can do it, they did a pretty good job while he was out, but they need to be able to do it consistently, including sometimes when he’s on the floor — like they did when his shooting was so horribly off against Denver. The team stepped up and scored when they had to, and they need to be able to do that at will.
How do people feel about Larry Hughes around here?
j.d. Hastings says
Is this team really in the market for a washed up 2 guard or PF? Really? Isn’t a washed up PG what we really need?
Pacers preview and chat is up.
Ed The Sports Fan says
Just want to add my 2 cents on this…
I personally think that Mike Finley would be a great add for the OKC Thunder…a veteran wing who could mentor Harden and Thabo and still give you 10-15 minutes a game.
And its personally very sad to see the demise of the Pacers, a brawl gone terribly bad has turned Indy into pastries, they are soft and have zero athletes…
Sometimes cleaning up a PR mess isn’t worth it. Shoulda kept the potential 2004 NBA Champs together for one more run.