Friday, December 19, 2014
Blog Page 12

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Photo Credit | Getty Images

This past week, Kobe Bryant sat down with Kustoo.com to discuss his latest release of his new kicks.  During the interview, Bryant updated everyone on the progress he’s made on his left knee injury.

“It’s progressing slowly. It really tests my patience,” said Bryant. “There’s only so much you can do, so I find myself relegated to riding the bike.”

Bryant has only played in six games this season due to his recovery from his Achilles’ tear last April and then after injuring his lateral tibial plateau on Dec. 17 against the Memphis Grizzlies.

“After the first few weeks [riding the bike], it’s cool — you’re getting a good workout,” said Bryant. “Then third, fourth — I need to do something else. I want to play. I want to run. I want to do something different, but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”

At this point it is unclear whether Bryant will even return this season as the Lakers currently sit at the bottom of the Western Conference standings.

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Photo courtesy of Noah Graham, Getty Images

Win a game in a city that has provided more losses than wins. Lose three in row by giving up a total of over 400 points to your opponents. Then defeat the team with the best record in your conference. This Lakers team has been described by many words this season (mostly negative), but the phrase that describes them best is consistently inconsistent.

When the team with the worst record in the Western Conference is set to meet the best team in the same pool, the predictions are no mystery. The Oklahoma City Thunder had 25 more wins than the Lakers when today’s game started. Kevin Durant has been playing an MVP season and teammate, Russell Westbrook was back from injury. One of the NBA’s dynamic duos against this rag-tag bunch of expiring contracts – who would choose the Lakers to win this afternoon? Perhaps that was OKC’s attitude as well.

The Thunder pummeled the Lakers to start the game, getting off to an 18 point lead not even halfway into the second quarter. If the Clippers could lead by 50 points, it was hard to imagine OKC not doing even more damage, but Los Lakers, dressed in their white, sleeved jerseys, gathered themselves and fought back.

They outscored OKC 61-40 in the second and third quarters, building up to an 18-point lead themselves. Jodie Meeks couldn’t miss, they got to the free throw line and shot well from it, they played defense and, even when the Thunder got as close as two points in the last few seconds of the game, they continued to play until the final buzzer. Lakers with the win, 114-110.

High Points
Jodie M33ks –If the Lakers had to choose their best and most consistent player this season, no one would come close to Meeks’ consistency in terms of longevity, scoring and overall competitiveness. He’s played in 59 of the season’s 64 games (and started in 52), missing just a few games’ worth due to injury. He’s the second leading scorer on the team right after Pau Gasol, and his effort and energy is the same in every game he’s played. Today’s game wouldn’t have ended the way it did without Meeks’ production. He poured in 42 points (a new career-high) on 11-18 from the field, shot 6-11 from three and was a perfect 14-14 from the charity stripe. He’s the first Laker this season to break the 40-point mark, and he alone outscored OKC in the third quarter by pitting his 5-7 from the field and 6-6 from the free throw line for 20 points, against the Thunder’s 7-21 shooting, 3-4 from free throws. Lebron James may want to give Meeks a call and ask for pointers on how to play with the sleeved jerseys.
Pau Gasol – Under Meeks’ shadow was a double-double from Mr. Consistency himself. Ever since he came back from his groin injury, Gasol has been playing the way we have known him to play – with a lot of purpose. He chipped in 20 points on 8-17 from the field and a perfect 4-4 from the free throw line, grabbed 11 rebounds, handed out three assists and blocked one shot.
Teamwork – A win against one of the best teams in the NBA can’t be had by the performance of just two players. The Lakers had a whole team doing work today. Seven players had double-digit stats, including Ryan Kelly, who not only scored 12 points, but handed out eight assists (career high); second to Kendall Marshall’s 10. Jordan Farmar, third in the league in three-point percentage, went 3-4 from downtown and put in 12 points himself. Wesley Johnson and Kent Bazemore had 11 points apiece.
Free Throws – The Thunder average just over 24 free throws a game and make them at a very efficient 81% clip. The Lakers don’t (because they often don’t attempt to) get there. Today, however, the home team got to the free throw line 30 times and converted on 25 of them, while OKC got there just 21 times, and missed seven (four misses were by Kevin Durant, 27 points, 23 assists, 10 rebounds, a rarity). Meeks, who should no longer be known as just a three-point shooter after this season, got to the line the most today at 14 attempts and he hit every single one. The Lakers equaled OKC in points-in-the-paint today at 40 apiece.
Threeball – It’s become directly related to the Lakers’ performance in each game. When they shoot well from three, they shoot well period, and today they hit 13, led, again, by Meek’s six.
Defense  – The Lakers were trapping from full court, on the baseline, in the paint, around the arc (which often ended with Kevin Durant attempting three free throws) – the energy wasn’t just happening on one side of the court. They were clearly putting in more effort on defense. If only they were as energetic on defense as often as they are on offense.
Energy – Mike D’Antoni has been preaching this all season – the ball finds energy. It’s a fine philosophy, but if the players don’t have energy to pass on to the ball, the ball won’t find a darn thing. Whether the Lakers have won games this season via wire-to-wire, come-from-behind or late-game heroics, they do so because they played with the right energy, or with just plain energy period.

Low Points
Rebounds – It’s a good thing the Lakers shot well from outside, because they were outrebounded 59-36. They allowed OKC 19 offensive rebounds to their one. The Lakers had ONE offensive rebound the entire game and were fortunate that the Thunder went 5-15 in second chance points.
Late-game Errors – The Lakers outscored OKC 36-19 in third quarter, and were leading by 18 points three minutes into the fourth quarter. The Thunder flipped a switch, however, and, despite shooting just 42% to the Lakers’ 59% in the fourth, got to the free throw line 14 times and hit nine. They also made six threes and outscored the home team 35-27.

When the Lakers are bad, they’re awful, and for a long period of time. When they’re good, it’s short-lived. And everything mediocre in between is a mixed bag. Lost as this season is, it’s hard not to revel in a little joy with games like today. Fortunately for the Thunder, they get another crack at the purple and gold in a few days…in OKC. Predictions? Who knows?!

Box Score

NBAE/Getty Images

After 16 NBA Championships and 31 Western Conference Titles, the Lakers have been one of the most storied and successful franchises in NBA history. From the eras of West, Chamberlain, Kareem, Magic, and Kobe, there have been countless record-breaking performances and memorable games that have added to Lakers glory. Let’s take a look back at some notable moments for the purple and gold, from the week of March 9-15, over their 66-year history.

March 9, 1988

Pat Riley got his 400th career coaching win in a 104-99 victory over the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. Riley reached the 400-win mark in just 540 games, making him the fastest coach to do so in NBA history.

March 9, 2010

Kobe Bryant hit a game-winning fade-away jump shot over Antoine Wright with 1.9 seconds remaining in regulation to lift the Lakers over the Toronto Raptors 109-107 at the Staples Center. Bryant, who scored 14 points in the fourth quarter, finished the game with 32 points. This victory ended a three-game losing streak for Los Angeles, which hadn’t lost four straight since April 2007. Andrew Bynum chipped in with 22 points for the Lakers, while Pau Gasol added 17 points and nine rebounds in the win.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images

March 10, 1987

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar set an NBA record for most-ever personal fouls committed, after fouling Denver’s Danny Schayes during the first quarter of an eventual Lakers victory over the Nuggets. With this foul, Abdul-Jabbar raised his career total to 4,194, which put him one ahead of Elvin Hayes, the previous all-time leader. Abdul-Jabbar finished his career with 4,657 fouls, which still stands atop the NBA’s all-time list.

March 12, 2005

Kobe Bryant hit a game-winning jump shot over Keith Bogans with 0.9 seconds left in the game to propel the Lakers passed the Bobcats 117-116 in Charlotte. Bryant scored 21 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter, on 8-for-12 shooting from the field. He added four rebounds and nine assists in the win. This victory gave Los Angeles its first consecutive road wins of the 2004-2005 season.

March 13, 1992

Chick Hearn broadcasted his 2,500th consecutive game for the Lakers, when they played the Cavaliers at the Richfield Coliseum in Cleveland. Hearn’s record-breaking streak spanned 3,338 games from 1965 to 2001.

 

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Photo Credit: Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images

March 9, 2014 — 12:30 PM (PST)
STAPLES Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: ABC
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)

408 points. Let that soak in, Laker Nation. The Lakers have allowed that many points in their last 3 games which, according to LATimes.com’s Mike Bresnahan, happens to be the most points the Lakers have ever allowed in a 3-game stretch in their franchise history.

A combination of turnovers, poor rebounding, and slow rotation on defense have doomed the Lakers on the defensive end.

Now, the Lakers will have to face off vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (46-16), a team destined to be in the mix to represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals once again.  

Thunder F Kevin Durant has dominated the NBA this season, averaging a spectacular 31.8 PPG, 5.5 APG, and 7.7 RPG. Durant, who has scored more than 30 points vs. Lakers 12 out of their last 15 meetings, should score 30 points again at ease.

Durant’s counterpart, PG Russell Westbrook, has returned to the form he possessed prior to his injury. Since returning from injury, scoring 21 PPG and dishing out 7.3 APG.

Despite losing a nail-biter vs. Suns last Thursday and going 3-4 in their last 7 games, the Thunder should not exert much energy vs. Lakers today.

For the Lakers, C Pau Gasol will play tonight after turning his right ankle vs. Nuggets tonight.

Also, this will be former Lakers PG Derek Fisher‘s final game on the Lakers floor after he announced he plans to retire following this season before regular season started. Fisher was one of the main reasons why the Lakers won 5 NBA Championship with SG Kobe Bryant

Projected Starters

PG – Russell Westbrook / Kendall Marshall [Advantage: Thunder]
SG – Perry Jones III / Jodie Meeks [Advantage: Lakers]
SF – Kevin Durant / Kent Bazemore [Advantage: Thunder]
PF – Serge Ibaka / Wesley Johnson [Advantage: Thunder]
C – Steven Adams / Pau Gasol [Advantage: Lakers]

Notable Bench Players

Thunder: G Derek Fisher, G Jeremy Lamb, F Nick Collison, SF Caron Butler
Lakers: PG Jordan Farmar, C Robert Sacre, F Ryan Kelly, Marshon Brooks, Xavier Henry

Bench Advantage: Thunder

Injury List

Thunder: Out-C Kendrick Perkins, Out-G Thabo Sefelosha
Lakers: Out-G Kobe Bryant,  Out-PG Steve Nash, Out-F Jordan Hill Will Play-C Pau Gasol,

Bottom Line

The Lakers have to show some grit and play with the same energy they exerted when they almost beat the Thunder right before the All-Star Break. C Chris Kaman led the way scoring 19 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Now, he finds himself buried at the end of the bench for reasons unknown to many Lakers supporters. The Thunder seek to end this game quickly and give superstars Durant and Westbrook most of the 2nd half off.

Prediction

Thunder: 135-119

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Photo courtesy of Garrett W. Ellwood, Getty Images

Of course the Lakers had to fly to Denver to play the second night of a back-to-back after losing by 48 points to the Clippers. That is the way of the world for this team this season, and there was a time when they showed some fight towards the end of games. These last few losses, however, have been demoralizing.

The Denver Nuggets scored 77 first-half points and 59 second half points. After giving up 142 points last night, the Lakers gave up 134 tonight. There was a time when allowing a team to score 100 points over you was a bad thing. Allowing them to scored over 130, and even worse, 140, is beyond comprehension. 134-126 – wow.

High Points
Capability vs. Reality – Looking at the box score and the stat sheet, the Lakers didn’t play a completely terrible game. They outrebounded the Nuggets, made just two less three pointers, handed out almost as many assists, their bench outscored Denver’s 68-28, they had more blocks, just one less turnover and even attempted and converted more free throws than the home team. The difference? Defense – neither team was playing any. The Nuggets didn’t exactly lock down the Lakers defensively (they 126 points!), but the plan for both teams was clear – who can score the most? Had the Lakers put in as much effort into keeping Denver from scoring, as they do trying to score themselves, this game would not have gotten away from their reach as quickly as it did. Did they do some good things in this game? Absolutely. Did they do good things under all the categories necessary to win? No…but they could have.
Ryan Kelly – It’s been awhile since Kelly had a productive game, and tonight he went for it, scoring 24 points on 7-14 shooting, and grabbed 11 rebounds in the process.
Jordan Farmar – 24 points on 8-14 from the field, four assists. What Kendall Marshall lacks in scoring lately, he makes up for in playmaking. Farmar coming off the bench, however, is a point guard who can light it up. He went 4-5 from downtown tonight and was a perfect 4-4 from the free throw line as well.
Pau Gasol – Gasol has put together a string of solid games of late. Tonight he chipped in 27 points on 12-21 from the field. The downside? He had five rebounds, none of which were on the offensive end.

Low Points
Defense
Defense
And lastly, DEFENSE – Giving up 132 points to the Pelicans wasn’t enough. Allowing the Clippers to score 142 points was still not enough. So they went for it – a third straight game giving up more than 130 points to their opponent. The Lakers shot 57% from the field in the first quarter. A great percentage…unless you’re Denver and shoot 75% from the field, resulting in a 35-point first quarter. The Lakers had a few runs in them, but scoring wasn’t their issue. Exchanging baskets with the Nuggets is one thing, but they’ve gotten into a bad habit of scoring on their end, and then lollygagging back on defense. Tonight, the Lakers would score and in a matter of seconds, Denver was off and running for an uncontested layup or dunk. The Lakers’ most recent field goal was quickly negated. In possessions when they came up empty, Denver took advantage and led by as much as 23 points.

A friend texted after the game, “Yesterday I was happy they didn’t lose by 50 and won the fourth. Today I’m happy they didn’t lose by double digits and won the fourth.” Desperation – everyone is desperate for anything positive to come from these unwatchable “contests.” With 19 games left in the season, however,

Box Score

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March 7, 2014 — 6:00PM (PST)
Pepsi Center, Denver, CO
TV: TWC SportsNet / TWC Deportes
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)

The Lakers (21-41) have officially hit rock bottom. They just lost to their team they share their arena with, the Clippers, in a 142-94 blowout loss which included them being down by more than 50 points.

To make matters worse, they have to play vs. Denver Nuggets (26-34) at Pepsi Center, a location that the Lakers have always struggled at regardless of the talents on the Lakers roster. In their 4th game out of 5 nights, the Lakers will have to muster up some energy and show some pride to give Lakers new hope and something to look forward to for the rest of this season.

The Lakers started the 1st quarter decently well running its offense through C Pau Gasol, who scored 10 points in the 1st quarter. Tonight, the Lakers will have to continue to play through him throughout the entire game instead of just 1 quarter and hold on to the ball. The Nuggets, similar to the Clippers, like running up and down the floor, and they will take advantage of every Lakers turnover and have easy fastbreak points as a result.

Nuggets PG Ty Lawson, who averages 18.3 PPG, 8.8 APG, and 1.5 SPG, has caused the Lakers major problems throughout his career, quickly pushing the ball down the floor for easy fast break points and driving aggressively off on-ball screens.

Projected Starters

PGTy Lawson/ Kendall Marshall [Advantage: Nuggets]

SGRandy Foye / Jodie Meeks [Advantage: Even]

SFWilson Chandler Kent Bazemore [Advantage: Nuggets]

PF -Kenneth Faried / Wesley Johnson [Advantage: Nuggets]

CTimofey Mozgov / Pau Gasol [Advantage: Even]

Notable Bench Players

Nuggets: F JJ Hickson, G Aaron Brooks, G Evan Fournier, F Darrell Arthur

Lakers: G Marshon Brooks, PG Jordan Farmar, C Robert Sacre, F Ryan Kelly, G Xavier Henry

Bench Advantage: Even

Injury List

Nuggets: Out-F Danilo Gallinari, Out-C Javale McGee, Out-G Nate Robinson

Lakers: Out-G Kobe Bryant, Out-PG Steve Nash, Out-G Nick Young, GTD-F Jordan Hill

Keys for Lakers Victory

Defense : The Lakers have allowed 274 points allowed the last 2 games. Tonight’s matchup will be another embarrassing outing for the Lakers if they do not spend more effort on the defensive end and show some pride.

Bottom Line

Lets see how much energy the Lakers possess tonight. If they still want to show pride despite what has transpired this season, they will play with much more intensity and not let the Nuggets stomp on them. I really do not expect the Lakers to allow a team to score more than 132 points on them again, but winning tonight will be difficult since the game will be played in the high altitude of Denver.

Prediction

Nuggets: 117-110

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Photo courtesy of Robyn Beck, AFP, Getty Images

…and when I say embarrassed, I really mean mortified…and when I say mortified, I really mean completely and utterly humiliated. Crestfallen, if you will. How else can you describe a 48-point beating by a team who could barely keep a roster of healthy players in tact not too long ago? A team with a turnstile philosophy when it came to coaching changes? A team who couldn’t win 25% of their games?

Now the roles have been reversed. The Lakers have been an unhealthy bunch for the last two seasons. They will barely win a quarter of their games by the time April rolls around. And since they won their last championship in 2010, they’ve had two coaching changes (three if you count the Bernie Bickerstaff era that lasted about four days).

How bad was tonight’s game?

The Lakers were outscored by two points in the first quarter and they won by a point in the fourth quarter. In the second and third quarters, however, the Clippers outscored the Lakers 80-33. The Clippers led by as much as 51 points. It was as like a vengeful rage, for all the seasons that the Lakers made them the laughing stock of the NBA.

Eight Clippers scored in double figures; just three players for the Lakers.

The Clippers had 18 turnovers, and the all the Lakers could produce from it were 15 points, which isn’t a surprise seeing as to how they could barely shoot 40% from the field, while the Clippers ran with a 55% shooting percentage.

Along with this embarrassing night comes an even more shameful fact – this was the team’s worst loss in franchise history. What a terrible piece of Laker trivia to be part of.

Box Score

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Photo courtesy of Jeff Gross, Getty Images

March 6, 2014 — 7:30PM (PST)
STAPLES Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: TNT
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)

The Lakers battle the Clippers in an inter-city rivalry game with the Lakers as the home team tonight. After the Lakers won impressively vs. Trail Blazers, the Lakers laid an egg, allowing 132 points to a very struggling New Orleans Pelicans team.

Their Clippers will cause more problems vs. the Lakers tonight. PF Blake Griffin has clearly improved his game, scoring 24.2 PPG on 53.2% shooting along with 9.7 RPG. Griffin has devoloped a much better jump-shot and has devoloped more of an all-around post game to score in more various ways instead of only depending on his athleticism. Although NBA analysts still have their jury out on whether or not Griffin can play this well against true post players like Grizzlies PF Zach Randolph, the Lakers will most likely not give him any resistance especially if PF Wesley Johnson has to guard him tonight.

Pau Gasol will lead the lakers tonight. Gasol has made a great case that he can still help the Lakers to another future championship run, scoring 17.5 PPG and grabbing 10.0 RPG, with most of his big games coming within the last 2 months of play. Despite C DeAndre Jordan blossoming into one of the best post defenders in the NBA, Gasol should be able to get his buckets and play well tonight. Even if Gasol does not score up to his average, he can still create problems for the Clippers defense if the ball goes through Gasol since he has the intelligence to create shots for others.

Projected Starters

PGChris Paul / Kendall Marshall [Advantage: Clippers]

SG – Darren Collison / Jodie Meeks [Advantage: Even]

SF – Matt Barnes Kent Bazemore [Advantage: Clippers]

PFBlake Griffin / Wesley Johnson [Advantage: Clippers]

CDeAndre Jordan / Pau Gasol [Advantage: Even]

Notable Bench Players

Clippers: F Jared Dudley, G Willie Green, F Danny Granger, F Glen Davis 

Lakers: G Marshon Brooks, PG Jordan Farmar, C Robert Sacre, F Ryan Kelly, G Xavier Henry

Bench Advantage: Lakers

Injury List

Clippers: Out-G JJ Redick, Doubtful-G Jamal Crawford, Questionable-SF Jared Dudley

Lakers: Out-G Kobe Bryant, Out-PG Steve Nash, Out-G Nick Young

Keys for Lakers Victory

Prevent Fastbreak Points : The Lakers’ defense once again had a poor effort defensively, allowing 132 points to a bad Pelicans team. In order for the Lakers to win tonight, they have to force players like PG Chris Paul and Griffin to high contested shots. The Clippers, along with the Lakers, thrive off of fastbreak baskets, something the Lakers cannot afford to give up in order to have any chance of winning tonight. For the Lakers to limit the Clippers strength, they need to slow the game down tonight and continue to feed the ball to Gasol in order to slow down the Clippers.

Bottom Line

The Clippers seek to prepare for the playoffs, while the Lakers seek to prepare for the lottery. However, the Lakers play much better when their game is broadcasted on national TV, so the Lakers will come out and play with a lot of effort vs. Clippers. However, the Clippers just simply possess more talent than the Lakers, and will pull away from the Lakers in the 2nd half.

Prediction

Clippers: 113-104

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Photo courtesy of Noah Graham, Getty Images

This team’s short term memory is unbelievable. When they lose games, they can’t seem to remember what they did wrong to make it right for the next contest. And when they win, they can’t seem to remember what they did right so they can do it again.

Last night, the Lakers defeated the Portland Trailblazers IN Portland, where they rarely every win. They crashed the boards, played active defense, which forced turnovers, which led to fast break points and high-percentage shots inside. They produced a 33-point first quarter and allowed just 20.

Tonight, the second night of a back-to-back, 24 hours after their victory, they started in exactly the opposite way. Their defense was lazy, they were outrebounded almost three times over in the first quarter, took jumper after jumper and, in effect, they fell behind by 12 points at the end of the first quarter. They continued this effortlessness through the third quarter, where they fell behind by as much as 21 points.

Late in the third quarter and into the fourth, the Lakers feverishly tried to rally to eke out a win, but their defensive efforts (or lack thereof) in the second half were just as bad as their efforts in the first, and they lost 132-125 (132!!!).

High Points
Pau Gasol – A double-double for Gasol tonight, 29 points on 10-15 from the field, 12 rebounds, four assists and a block. Gasol was en fuego out there, going for 15 points in just the first quarter. Whether he’s trying to prove to the Laker front office that he’s still worth it, or auditioning for potential new teams, he’s looking great out there. Too bad about those five missed free throws, though. Gasol is usually a great free throw shooter.
Kent Bazemore – 23 points on 8-17 shooting, four rebounds, three assists, a steal and a block. 18 of those 23 points came in the second half. It’s funny what happens when you give a player a chance. In his first seven games as a Laker, he’s averaging 16.9 ppg on 47% from the field. To think he was a bench warmer up in Golden State.
Jordan Farmar – He’s like a workhorse, finishing with 20 points on 7-12 from the field and handing out eight assists in the process.
Offense – The Lakers followed their party in the paint last night with tonight’s 60 points. They also outscored New Orleans 17-15 in second chance points and 20-12 in fastbreak points. They scored 74 points in the second half and 125 points overall.

Low Points
Defense – …the bad news is, they allowed the Pelicans to score 132 points. As great as their offense was, their defense was just as bad. How can a team who shot 54% from the field lose? By allowing their opponent to shoot 60%, that’s how. The Pelicans’ lowest field goal percentage was 55% in the second quarter. They shot 58% in the first, 65% in the third and 63% in the fourth. Yes, the object of the game is to score more than your opponent, but at some point, perhaps a plan to keep the opponent from scoring should follow. The Lakers did not defend and, in effect, did not win because of it. Anthony Davis, who basically ran over the Lakers in New Orleans, went for 28 points on 10-16 from the field and 8-11 from the free throw line. Then there’s Eric Gordon, who shot 9-13 for his 28 points and 4-5 from downtown. Tyreke Evans chipped in 24 points as well. The Lakers couldn’t even stop one of those players, let alone three.

There goes that “winnable” game. Next up are the Clippers, Denver Nuggets and Oklahoma City Thunder.

Box Score

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Photo courtesy of Andrew Berstein, Getty Images.

March 4, 2014 — 7:30 PM (PST)
STAPLES Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: TWC SportsNet / TWC SportsNet Deportes
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)

The Lakers (21-39) face off vs. the struggling New Orleans Pelicans (23-37) after coming away with a very impressive road victory vs. Portland TrailBlazers last night.

Wesley Johnson, who scored 14 points and grabbed 7 rebounds, received a sideline out-of-bounds alley-oop from G Kent Bazemore after backdoor cutting on PF LaMarcus Aldridge to lay the ball in from the right side of the rim. 

Johnson has seemed very comfortable playing the Power Forward position, averaging 14.8 PPG while shooting at or greater than 50% during his last 4 games. If Johnson continues to stay aggressive tonight, he should have another great game if he has either C Alexis Ajinca or F Anthony Davis guarding him.

Meanwhile, the Hornets have been struggling significantly, losing 8 straight games caused by costly injuries to many of their rotation players. All-Star C Anthony Davis has blossomed into a very high quality big man in the NBA. Davis has scored 20.1 PPG and grabbed 9.9 RPG, both surpassing his statistics from last season by a significant margin.

Projected Starters

PG – Kendall Marshall Brian Roberts [Advantage: Even]
SG – Jodie Meeks / Eric Gordon [Advantage: Pelicans]
SF – Kent Bazemore / Tyreke Evans [Advantage: Pelicans]
PF – Wesley Johnson / Alexis Ajinca [Advantage: Lakers]
C – Pau Gasol Anthony Davis  [Advantage: Even]

Notable Bench Players

Hornets: G Austin Rivers, Anthony MorrowGreg Steisma

Lakers: PG Jordan FarmarRobert Sacre, F Ryan Kelly, G Xavier Henry

Bench Advantage: Lakers

Injury List

Hornets: Out-G Jrue Holiday, Out-F Ryan Anderson, Out-F Jason Smith

Lakers: Out-G Kobe Bryant, Out-PG Steve Nash, Out-F/G Nick Young

Keys for Tonight’s Game

Rebound the Ball: Despite last night’s impressive win, the Lakers cannot afford to let their opponents grab 20 offensive rebounds like they did vs. Blazers. With the Pelicans going with a big front-line with Ajinca and Davis, all 5 Lakers have to crash the glass on the defensive end and help each other out to grab all of the 50/50 loose balls. The small lineup that the Lakers have featured throughout the last week seems to have made the offense flow better and provides more quickness. However, anytime the Lakers give away extra possessions to their opponents, they will have more difficulties coming away with a victory.

Bottom Line

Although both the Pelicans’ and Lakers’ management will never admit that they want to see them lose, they must secretly hope that they lose as many games as possible including tonight’s game. The Lakers management must want one of the top 4 players available in this highly-coveted draft class while the Pelicans will lose their 1st round pick to the Philadelphia 76ers unless they have a 5th pick or lower in this upcoming draft.

However, the Lakers have to make sure they play very hard tonight to continue on their momentum. a 3rd straight win tonight will be huge considering they have a very daunting schedule facing them following tonight’s game.

The Lakers should play with a lot of focus tonight and just maybe the fans in Staples Center will receive free tacos following tonight’s game.

Prediction

Lakers: 106-99

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Photo courtesy of Cameron Browne, Getty Images

The Lakers…this season…in Portland. This game had “loss” written all over it, and if you say you knew they’d win, you’re lying. Of all places NOT to look for a victory, the Moda Center (formerly the Rose Garden) was it, but something funny happened to start the game tonight – the Lakers played defense. And not just a few moments of defense – we’re talking defense throughout a good part of the game, even, and especially when the Blazers caught up and overtook the lead.

Led by Pau Gasol, the Lakers pounded the paint (a rarity), and got up to a 15-point lead in the first quarter. Cue shocked face here. If it was in any other arena, it wouldn’t be so surprising, but given the bad luck they’ve had here, it was only natural to believe they’d figure out a way to lose anyway.

But they didn’t. They only won that first quarter, but stayed within a certain amount of points at the end of each 12 minutes of game time. Despite losing the lead with just over 30 seconds left in the game, they managed to pull out one more play that got them the 107-106 win.

High Points
Offense – The Lakers outscored the Trail Blazers in the paint 58-40. It’s an area they never (okay, perhaps maybe a handful of times) dominate. It’s no secret that their offense this season is perimeter-based, so scoring inside often isn’t the first priority. Tonight, however, it’s like they decided to forego that plan and feed it to the big men, or cutters to the hoop, and it paid off. They Lakers also won the fast break contest 13-0 in the first quarter, and 32-9 for the game. The Blazers had 20 turnovers that helped, 12 of which are thanks to Lakers’ steals. Also helpful in the offense’s success was the team’s ball movement. They had 29 assists on 43 made field goals.
Defense – The Blazers were outscored 33-20 in the first quarter, which helped the Lakers as the game went on. They intercepted passes, picking up 12 steals for the night. They also outrebounded Portland in the first three quarters.
Starters – Four starters scored in double figures in points, and one starter handed out double-digit assists. Gasol led the team with 22 points on 10-20 from the field, He also grabbed nine rebounds, handed out five assists, took two steals and blocked two shots. It was a great overall game for the Spaniard. Not to be outdone, Jodie Meeks scored 21 points on 8-16 from the field, He went just 2-6 from three, but led the team in the +/- column with his +11. Kent Bazemore and Wesley Johnson chipped in 14 points apiece, with Johnson grabbing seven boards, handing out four assists, taking two steals and blocking a pair of shots. Kendall Marshall is going through a bit of a scoring slump, but that hasn’t stopped him from contributing to the team as much as he can. He doled out a game-high 11 assists.
Bench – They outscored Portland’s reserves 29-22, taking Jordan Farmar’s lead, who also handed out six assists.
Win – A win is a win, but a win in Portland will always be something to remember.

Low Points
Fourth Quarter – The final stretch of tonight’s game played out just like a lot of the Lakers’ losses. They didn’t shoot efficiently, especially towards the end, and when they needed to rebound most, they failed. They were about even on the boards going into the final quarter, and then were outrebounded 18-8. They gave up eight offensive rebounds that helped Portland with nine second-chance points. The Lakers were holding on to an 11-point lead with seven and a half minutes left in the game. In Those final minutes, the Blazers not only caught them on the scoreboard, but surpassed them by a point. A Damian Lillard free throw put Portland up 106-105. In what was the Lakers’ final possession of the game, Bazemore inbounded a lob that Johnson caught at just the right moment for a lay-in, and the team went up 107-106. With some tight defense from Meeks on Lillard, the Lakers managed to escape with a win on the road.

It’s no winning streak, but the Lakers did win back-to-back games. For a long-suffering fan base, it was a good game to watch. Up are Anthony Davis and the Pelicans tomorrow at Staples Center.

Box Score

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Photo courtesy of Sam Forencich, Getty Images.

March 3, 2014 — 7:00 PM (PST)
Rose Garden, Portland, OR
TV: TWC SportsNet / TWC SportsNet Deportes
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)

Projected Starters

PG – Kendall Marshall  Damian Lillard [Advantage: Trail Blazers]
SG – Jodie Meeks / Wesley Matthews [Advantage: Trail Blazers]
SF – Kent Bazemore Nicholas Batum [Advantage: Trail Blazers]
PF – Wesley Johnson / LaMarcus Aldridge [Advantage: Trail Blazers]
C – Pau Gasol Robin Lopez  [Advantage: Lakers]

Notable Bench Players

Blazers: G Mo WilliamsDorrell WrightCJ McCollum

Lakers: PG Jordan FarmarChris Kaman, Jordan Hill, G Xavier Henry

Bench Advantage: Lakers

Injury List

Blazers: Out-C Joel Freeland, Doubtful-F Thomas Robinson

Lakers: Out-G Kobe Bryant, Out-PG Steve Nash, Out-F/G Nick Young, Will Play-G Xavier Henry

Prediction

Trail Blazers: 110-103

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Image: Scott Halleran | Getty Images

Kobe Byrant and Steve Nash have had quite the tumultuous injury-filled season to say the least.  Bryant has been out since December with his fractured knee and Nash attempted to return a couple weeks ago but has since found his way off the court again due to chronic nerve and back pain.

“The doctors haven’t cleared Kobe so it’s a non-issue right now,” D’Antoni said. “The thing is, does he get back and play some games to get his rhythm back for next year or just wait? So I don’t know.”

D’Antoni was asked whether he sees a benefit from Bryant playing again this season.

“Not really,” he said, adding quickly. “That’s not on me. That’s something that they’ve got to figure out.”

His prognosis on Nash was just as bleak if not worse.

“I don’t know what to tell you,” D’Antoni said. “What’s the endgame? We’ve talked about it. He’s not completely healthy. We have 23 games left. We’re not going to make the playoffs. So what’s his objective in taking minutes away from the young guys that we’re trying to develop?

“Now, if Steve starts to feel better, then we’ll see. It’s always an ongoing process in talking to him, but it’s not something that’s on the horizon right now.”

Nash has made it clear that the thought of retirement has entered his mind, but that hasn’t changed the fact that he wants to return next season for his final season under contract.

“I want to come back for sure,” Nash said. “You never know what the case is in a month or a week or two weeks, physically, from a club standpoint, from my standpoint. You’re looking at potentially the last few months of my career. I didn’t want to just let that slide by without getting back on the court, so it motivated me. But who knows now?”

The Lakers could decide by Sept. 1 to use the stretch provision on Nash which means the Lakers would waive him and pay off his salary over the next three seasons, thus diminishing his salary’s cap hit on the coming years.

Its unfortunate to see these all-time greats pressed to the pine for so long, but at this point it’s almost a liability for the Lakers to have them back out on the court.  With this team not making the playoffs, and no reason to attempt to play better this season, the two guards are better off resting up and watching from the bench as this season smolders away.

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Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

In a recent interview with USA Today Sports, legendary coach Phil Jackson spoke on different topics, ranging from potential future opportunities in the NBA to the state of the Lakers and what they could do moving forward.

Below are the key points regarding Jackson and the Lakers, plus his comments on the direction of the NBA:

On the direction of the Lakers:

“Well really, there’s a limited free agent market this year. Luol Deng, and Pau Gasol is going to be a free agent — they can resign their own guy, which I don’t know if Pau would want to re-sign with them or not. Maybe he feels that’s not the best place, but he likes LA, he likes the fans. Who else is in the free agent market besides Luol that jumps (at you)?”

On potentially having more involvement with the team:

“I don’t think so. I have a good relationship with the vice president in business affairs (Jeanie Buss) — at least it has been pretty good (laughs).”

“Their father’s memorial service is not a year old, but he has been gone for a year now and they’re still just kind of figuring out, ‘How are we going to do this?’ So I think they want to have an opportunity to do it.”

“Some of the major moves, Dr. Buss was still there. But the other stuff Jimmy and Mitch have been working on. They’ve got a relationship, so I don’t see that happening.”

On if that will disappoint Lakers fans:

“I know, I’m trying not to gin up any hope in that direction. I don’t go to games. I keep encouraging them as fans to follow their team, and they’re having a hard time doing that. They’re not used to being in the position they’re in, so it’s tough.”

On if he ever received a clear answer as to who signed off on hiring D’Antoni over him:

“Jimmy was pretty happy about it and Mitch was still saying, “We’re going to keep interviewing people,” and I think the ultimate (decision) kind of rested with Dr. Buss and he made the decision in the hospital the day after. I haven’t chosen to bite on that. I’ve just let that go. I’m real comfortable with it. I don’t have any trouble. I think Jesus could probably coach this team pretty well, but outside of him maybe Mohammed, maybe Gandhi, someone like that.”

On the direction of offensive systems in the NBA:

“Well, the game has moved on to another level. Three-point shooting has become like the (pauses). Really the analytics people have taken it to the point of saying, ‘The worst shot in the game is a 20-foot jumper, a two-point jumper that’s 20 (feet).’ And the best shot might be the corner three. Efficiency, OERs (offensive efficiency ratings), all these efficiency ratings are pointing to how many points per possession you generate from certain types of shots. … But there’s so much more to the game.”

On if he is a fan of analytics in the game:

“I like the analytics. We were always on the forefront of that. I’m not going to go after that. I think that it’s a really important movement. I think a lot of owners have turned the game, the general managers’ jobs, over to people who are more analytic-minded than basketball hierarchy or guys who have been around the league.”

“I do think that it’s still about that being able to look a guy in the eyes and kind of understand that this one is going to go in the fox hole with you and this guy is going to be one of the guys who’s on board with what we’re doing. Yeah, he’s going to be on the line when it comes to that time that’s the challenge. And then the rest of the stuff kind of falls in together.”

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Could Jackson return to the bench? No one except he and Jeanie know the answer to that, but I will say that his response about the direction of the league is telling.  Could motivation to show the league that old school system basketball wins in the NBA be enough to lure the Zen Master back to the bench?

One thing to remember when reading anything from Jackson is that he is the master of words.  Sometimes you need to read between the lines instead of reading directly what he is saying.

Read rest of the interview here

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With the Lakers off to a poor start, trade rumors have begun to swirl around Kobe Bryant, leading many to speculate if he'll leave for greener pastures. Kobe puts those rumors to rest in his interview with Yahoo Sports.