Saturday, December 20, 2014
Blog Page 25

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Credit: AFP
Credit: AFP
Credit: AFP

From day one, the relationship between Pau Gasol and Mike D’Antoni has been anything but cordial and pleasant.  During the season and off-season, the relationship was said to be repaired whether it was due to nice dinners or private meetings between the two, but it should not come as any surprise that problems between the two have once again shown its ugly head.

Gasol, speaking to Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times, had strong comments for D’Antoni’s system and the impact it’s having on his play:

“The fact that I’m not getting the ball in the post affects directly my aggressiveness,” he said. “When I’m not getting the ball where I want to, where I’m most effective, where I can bang guys and utilize my skill, that affects my aggressiveness and overall intensity….

“This year hasn’t been ideal, certain things are not ideal for me, but that’s not going to change any time soon,” he said.

To which D’Antoni responded:

“I can’t lie to him… Our numbers tell us the worst thing we do is post up,” he said.

Which lead us to this response by Gasol:

“I don’t pay attention. Mike is sometimes all over the place, I don’t give much credit to things like that,” he said.

Unfortunately for Gasol, myself and plenty of Lakers’ fans are siding with D’Antoni this time around, which should speak volumes.  Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News, published this quote from D’Antoni at shoot around this morning, questioning Gasol’s effort:

“It’s also a nice excuse not to play hard,” D’Antoni said. “That’s a classic, ‘I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.’ Well, you don’t have trouble getting up to the paystub line. You know what you need to do to get your check. You know what to do. They will. They’ll figure it out.”

Gasol’s play dating back to last season as been average at best.  This season, he is averaging 14.4 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists playing 30.3 minutes a game, but has a field goal percentage of 41%, which is terrible for a center and is the worst in the league for qualified centers, behind Al Jefferson at 44%.

Offensively, he is a shade of his former self and has continued to use D’Antoni as an excuse for his play instead of taking responsibility for it himself.   There is zero issue with Gasol wanting to be put in certain spots in the offense, all players want to be comfortable.  Where the issue lies is that when Gasol does get into the post, he gets pushed out 5-10 feet from his original position, resulting in long jumpers. Simply put, he can do more by being assertive in the offense, but doesn’t seem interested in doing so more times than not.

On the defensive side of things, there’s not many, if at all any good things to say about Gasol.   Although he is battling injuries, there has been times where he does not attempt to jump to block shots and instances where he will shy away from contact.  Gasol isn’t a defensive enforcer in any sense, but it’s the effort that bothers me.

Gasol has been a professional on and off the court during his time in Los Angeles.  You rarely hear negative things about him, so it’s disappointing to hear a situation like this.

At this point, Gasol has one of two options.  The first is to play this season out, keep his mouth shut, and find a better situation for himself in free agency or risk getting traded.  The second is simply to demand a trade out of Los Angeles.  With the injuries this team has gone through the last two seasons, the loss of Dwight Howard, and the losing, this franchise doesn’t need more distractions as they attempt to get through this season.   Unfortunately for Gasol fans, it looks as if a trade could be on the horizon if things do not change.

According to Sean Deveney of Sporting News, the Lakers could be looking to trade the disgruntled Spaniard:

League sources told Sporting News that the Lakers have been fielding trade offers for Gasol for a while now, and finally could find a new home for their disgruntled big man.

Gasol will earn $19.3 million this year, an obstacle to any deal. But he is in the final year of his contract, making him a workable target for a team hoping to find a short-term big man who won’t sit on the books past this season. Another obstacle—the Lakers are protective of their cap space, and any deal they make would have to include enough expiring salaries to allow them to pursue a max-contract free agent in July.

Could the Lakers find the right deal for Gasol? That’s unclear.  They have shopped him for the last three seasons, had in fact traded him in the Chris Paul deal, then kept him around and have turned down offers for the 12-year veteran over the past two seasons.

It’s important to remember that the Lakers will not sacrifice significant cap room unless it’s a player that can help them move forward in their rebuilding process. With Kobe’s extension in place, the team will almost surely look for expiring contracts and draft picks as Sporting News reports, but the question remains if there is a team out there willing to give the Lakers what they want, especially with the inability to trade draft picks until 2019 due to the Steve Nash and Dwight Howard trades.

What happens next is anyone’s guess.  This situation seems like it will only get worse but let’s hope a resolution comes quickly so the focus can stay on the basketball court.

 

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Steve Blake

Terrible news out of Laker land this morning as the Lakers announced that Steve Blake will be out a minimum of six weeks with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.

This is a crucial blow to the already injury-decimated Lakers as they currently have no healthy point guards.  Blake joins Steve Nash and Jordan Farmar on the injured list.

Blake has stepped up his game since Nash went down earlier in the season, averaging 9.8 points and 7.7 assists in 31 minutes per game this season.  He has played a big part in keeping the team afloat as they waited for the return of Kobe Bryant.

Blake said today that he will not have surgery but will instead get Platalet-Rich Plasma (PRP) therapy on his elbow.

The Lakers have an open roster spot, so it is more than likely that they will add someone in the near future. An interesting name to keep an eye on is Leandro Barbosa, who is playing in Brazil with Club Pinheiros and has fully recovered from his leg injury. He knows Mike D’Antoni’s system from Phoenix and seems like a logical choice.

It should be noted that Barbosa has an out-clause in his contract that will allow him to return to the NBA.

In the meantime, D’Antoni says Kobe and Jodie Meeks will be the starters.  Kobe will be the primary ball handler in the offense until other options are brought it.

We here at Laker Nation wish Steve Blake a fast and speedy recovery!

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The Lakers are 0-2 since Kobe Bryant‘s return, and while their defense is certainly a problem, it’s existed all year. However, LA’s offense has slowed down and generated fewer three point attempts with Kobe in the lineup, magnifying the effects of their poor interior defense.

Here is the Lakers’ shot chart for this season:
Lakers shot chart

Most of LAL’s shots come in the paint and beyond the arc, and they are WAY above average from three point range. In fact, their three point shooting is so good, it allows them to overcome poor transition and interior defense. The other team scores two, and the Lakers come right back with a three. It’s not my favorite type of basketball, but with this roster, the Lakers won more than they lost playing that way.

The Lakers’ interior defense has been awful all year, and let’s face it, it’s not getting better any time soon. Earlier this year, the Detroit Pistons scored 76 points in the paint against LA, and took TWENTY more shots than the Lakers, yet the Lakers WON. LA prevailed by making 14 threes, shooting 45% from downtown. Despite their defensive ineptitude, the Lakers can still win games by pushing the pace and making threes.

However, since Kobe’s debut, the Lakers’ pace and three point advantage has gone away, and they have two losses to show for it. Their pace has slowed from 99.69 without Kobe to 98.53 with him. The Lakers generated more and better shot attempts before Kobe came back, attempting 86.2 shots (26.3 3PT attempts) in the first 19 games, and just 79.5 shot attempts (20.6 3PT attempts) in two games with Bryant.

Because of the Lakers poor ball handling and rebounding, their opponents shoot more than them. During the first 19 games, the Lakers minimized this effect by running the ball to generate more possessions, and taking more threes. Opponents shot 87.7 shots per game to the Lakers 86.2, but the Lakers’ overcame that difference to the tune of a winning record by out-shooting their opposition from three. The Lakers averaged 10.7 three point makes on 26.3 attempts (40.7%), compared to 20.6 three point attempts from their opponents (5.7 less attempts than the Lakers).

In the two games with Kobe, the shooting discrepancy grew. Opponents are shooting four more times per game than the Lakers (83.5 vs. 79.5) with Kobe in the lineup rather than simply 1.5 more times (87.7 vs. 86.2) in the first 19 games. More troubling, opponents are now shooting more threes than the Lakers, taking away LAL’s great equalizer. In Kobe’s two games Laker opponents shot 24.5 3 point attempts, while the Lakers only shot 23.5 times from distance. Instead of taking 5.7 more threes than their opponents, the Kobe-led Lakers now shoot one fewer three than their opponents, effectively erasing their greatest strength. Without beating teams from deep, the Lakers cannot overcome their poor defense to win games.

The Suns shot 7-23 from three in Kobe’s second game back, compared to 5-19 from the Lakers, and Phoenix won the game by 6 points. In order for the Lakers to continue to win games, they have to push the ball and shoot (and make) more threes than their opponent.

Kobe himself was effective offensively, but his and Pau’s style conflicts with the Lakers’ overall offense. Kobe and Pau combined for 39 points on 12-22 shooting against Phoenix, but the Lakers offense stagnated from running plays for their stars that slowed the game down and generated two point shots.

In the screenshot below, Kobe isolates against PJ Tucker, and gets a dunk. In a vacuum, it’s a good play. However, the play took 16 seconds, led to a two point attempt, and only two players (Kobe, Pau) touched the ball. The other three Lakers literally stood still and watched for 16 seconds.

Photo Credit: Time Warner Cable SportsNet
Photo Credit: Time Warner Cable SportsNet

Plays like this slow the Lakers’ offense, making it hard for them to overcome their poor defense. They are minimizing offensive possessions, while not minimizing the opponents’ scoring opportunities.

Here’s another good shot Kobe got.

Photo Credit: Time Warner Cable SportsNet
Photo Credit: Time Warner Cable SportsNet

Pau Gasol set a back-screen to free Kobe, and Steve Blake found him for an easy layup. But look at the clock: 7 seconds remain when the ball goes through the hoop. Not exactly a quick score.

These plays are OK when the Lakers score but can be disastrous when they do not.

Below, Kobe isolates for an off balance shot, and the Suns push the ball off the miss. Again, Kobe shoots inside (this time contested) with the shot clock in single digits. As Kobe shoots, Pau and Shawne Williams are in poor position to recover on defense.

Photo Credit: Time Warner Cable SportsNet
Photo Credit: Time Warner Cable SportsNet

The Suns collect the rebound and now have a three on two break while three Lakers trail the play (including Kobe, who is off-screen).

Photo Credit: Time Warner Cable SportsNet
Photo Credit: Time Warner Cable SportsNet

Here’s an isolation play for Pau that comes late in the clock, and results in poor spacing for LA. Pau gets the ball with 17 seconds left on the shot clock, and goes one on one, shooting a contested 15 footer with 8 seconds on the clock. Steve Blake and Kobe are standing just feet from each other, making them both non-threats, and allowing the Suns defense to converge on Gasol.

Photo Credit: Time Warner Cable SportsNet
Photo Credit: Time Warner Cable SportsNet

Sometimes these shots are necessary if the Lakers cannot generate a quality attempt early in the clock, but the Lakers will struggle if they take 17-18 seconds to create a two point shot attempt while their opponents attack the Lakers’ poor transition defense in 5-8 seconds.

The Lakers are much more effective pushing the pace and shooting before the defense is set.

On this trip, Steve Blake gets into the lane and shoots with :17 left on the shot clock. He misses, but because he attacked quickly the Suns are scrambled, allowing Pau to collect the rebound and dunk the ball.

Photo Credit: Time Warner Cable SportsNet
Photo Credit: Time Warner Cable SportsNet
Photo Credit: Time Warner Cable SportsNet
Photo Credit: Time Warner Cable SportsNet

Compare that to late in the fourth quarter as the Lakers again slow the game down and post up Pau.

Photo Credit: Time Warner Cable SportsNet
Photo Credit: Time Warner Cable SportsNet

Pau catches the ball with 17 on the clock, and takes his man one on one, shooting with 14 seconds left. While he doesn’t score, it is a quality shot.

Photo Credit: Time Warner Cable SportsNet
Photo Credit: Time Warner Cable SportsNet

Unfortunately, four Lakers are standing from the free throw line in, and Pau, Nick Young, and Xavier Henry are all headed towards the Lakers’ basket as the Suns gain possession.

Bledsoe collects the rebound, pushes the ball up and finds Dragic for a layup in just three seconds, before the Lakers’ lone big man (Gasol) reaches half-court.

Photo Credit: Time Warner Cable SportsNet
Photo Credit: Time Warner Cable SportsNet
Photo Credit: Time Warner Cable SportsNet
Photo Credit: Time Warner Cable SportsNet

If the Lakers had more reliable defenders, post up options, and a system that favored playing inside and out, slowing the game down might be the way to go. This season they do not. The Lakers have a bunch of young perimeter players who can run the floor and shoot threes and a coach that can get the most out of them, so they have to rely on those strengths to overcome their weaknesses.

Don’t expect the defense to get better any time soon. Right now the Lakers’ best defense is a good offense. In order to improve they have to find a way to maximize Kobe’s offensive talents without sacrificing their speed and three point shooting.

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Image: Getty Images

Lakers lose to the Suns despite Bryant's improvementLakers lose to the Phoenix Suns, 114-108, despite Kobe Bryant‘s improved play.

Bryant finished the night with 20 points on 6/11 shooting, 3 assists, 2 rebounds and 3 turnovers.

Lakers are now 10-11 on the season and next play in Oklahoma City against the Thunder on Friday.

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Source: Danny Moloshok / Reuters
Kobe Bryant
Source: Danny Moloshok / Reuters

December 10, 2013 — 7:30 PM (PST)
STAPLES Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: TWC SportsNet / TWC SportsNet Deportes
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)

The Los Angeles Lakers (10-10) look to bounce back tonight against the Phoenix Suns (11-9) after a very disappointing loss vs. Toronto Raptors on Sunday. Lakers G Kobe Bryant, who made his season debut on Sunday after tearing his left achilles on April 12th game vs. Golden State Warriors, showed a lot of rust especially with his executing his passes as expected. Bryant scored a pedestrian 9 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, while committing 8 turnovers. Lakers fans however should be very patient with Bryant and let him play his way to return to his old form and develop an on-court chemistry with the rest of the Lakers, many of whom have never played with Bryant before Sunday’s game. Although the Lakers will struggle as a team the next few weeks to get Kobe in rhythm with the rest of the Lakers, any team with Bryant on the floor will be better off in the long run.

The Phoenix Suns, on the other hand, look to come into Staples Center after 3 days off and come away with a victory tonight. The Suns are led by the point guard duo of PG Goran Dragic and PG Eric Bledsoe. Dragic has performed very well replacing PG Steve Nash to run the show, averaging 17.7 PPG and 6.4 APG. Bledsoe clearly benefited from PG Chris Paul‘s tutelage during his Los Angeles Clippers days, bringing hope for the Suns franchise moving forward. Bledsoe has eerily similar numbers to Dragic, averaging 18.6 PPG and 6.0 APG, while causing havoc on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor.

Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni has decided to shuffle the starting lineup again to help Bryant on the defensive end so he would not have to guard quick guards like Bledsoe and Dragic tonight. SG Jodie Meeks will replace F Wes Johnson in the lineup to provide a quicker player on defense and F Shawne Williams will replace C Robert Sacre to help spread the floor out and match-up with Suns F Channing Frye.

Projected Starters

PG – Goran Dragic Steve Blake [Advantage: Suns]

SG – Eric Bledsoe / Jodie Meeks [Advantage: Suns]

SF – PJ TuckerKobe Bryant [Advantage: Lakers]

PF – Channing Frye / Shawne Williams [Advantage: Suns]

C – Miles Plumlee / Pau Gasol [Advantage: Lakers]

Notable Bench Players

Suns: G Gerald Green, F Markieff Morris, C Marcus Morris

Lakers: G Xavier Henry, G/F Nick Young, G/F Wesley Johnson, C/F Jordan Hill

X-Factors

Suns: G Gerald Green - who joined the Suns this season after a solid season coming off the bench for the Indiana Pacers, could cause the Lakers a lot of problems tonight. Arguably one of the most athletic players in the NBA, Green definitely helps the Suns run-and-gun style of play with his high flying dunking skills. Although Green has played for the Suns this season scoring at a career high 13.9 PPG, Green has struggled lately, shooting only 6-25 in his last three games. If Green can somewhat offset the points difference the Suns and the Lakers bench, the Suns will be in great shape to win tonight’s game.

Lakers: C Pau Gasol - While the Lakers coaching staff expected Bryant to struggle in his season debut, Bryant did not struggle as much as Gasol vs. Raptors. Gasol, whose sore ankle has clearly affected his mobility on the floor, had another dissappointing game on Sunday, scoring only 11 points on 3-11 shooting, while contributing a lot to Raptors C Amir Johnson‘s career high of 32 points. For the Lakers to have any chance in tonight’s game, Gasol has to play well to offset the Suns backcourt speed. If Gasol lets his sore ankle affect his production as significantly as Sunday’s game, the Suns will make tonight’s game a track meet, which will cause major problems for both Gasol and Bryant.

Bottom Line

As Bryant gets back into regular season form, expect to continue to see a lot of timing issues on the floor as Bryant and the rest of the Lakers learn how to play with each other and communicate more effectively. For the Lakers to have any chance to win tonight’s game, the Lakers bench, who has outscored their opponent’s bench in all but 2 games and lead the NBA in scoring at 48.1 PPG, has to outscore the Suns bench by a significant margin.

Prediction

Suns: 108-96

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Source: Lakers.com

It was pretty impossible to miss, but eight months after tearing his Achilles, Kobe Bryant made his long awaited return last Sunday against the Raptors. Ever since Kobe went down, fans eagerly awaited his return to the lineup. His rapid recovery and return to practice last month quickly turned into a guessing game on when Kobe will make his season debut. But, after weeks of speculation, Kobe and the Lakers announced his return through social media with a special “Seasons of Legend” video.

On game night, the NBA and Nike also welcomed Kobe back with commercials of their own.

During the starting line-up announcements, Kobe received a special introduction and took the floor to the Imperial March.

The game may not have gone according to plan with the Lakers falling to the Raptors 106-94, but for most Laker fans, Kobe being on the court is a victory in itself.

Kobe finished the game with 9 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists and 8 turnovers and had this to say following the game.

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Photo courtesy of Emmanuel Dunand, Getty Images
Photo by: Emmanuel Dunand/Getty Images
Photo by: Emmanuel Dunand/Getty Images

The NBA world isn’t just about what you do on the court. We scoured the web for Lakers-related quotations to provide you with the 10 best quotes from the past seven days:

#10:

“In the paint, we’re awful and we’ve got to get tougher. We’ve got to get a little stronger there. If we want to be a good team and if we want to get better, then that’s definitely a point of emphasis.”

Mike D’Antoni, via the L.A. Times

#9:

“It wasn’t clear what the team needed last year … It needed, maybe, an exorcism.”

Mike D’Antoni, via ESPN’s Dave McMenamin

#8:

“Now that we got our closer back, it should be easier. I was trying to step up and do that for Kobe, but we got the real version.”

Nick Young, via the Daily News’ Mark Medina

#7:

“That Achilles tendon injury forces you to play on the ground as well as in the air and that means becoming more fundamentally sound. And Kobe being a fundamentally sound guy anyway, it’s going to be easy for him to make the adjustment. The fundamentals will obviously be there for Kobe, but what about his explosiveness? The explosion will be there, especially if you really rehab it and strengthen it like you should.”

Dominique Wilkins, via ESPN First Take

#6:

“I’m not jumping through the gym by any means. But I don’t need to be able to do that in order to be a great player.”

Kobe Bryant, via the L.A. Times

#5:

“Sometimes I don’t believe I’m on the court with Kobe. He has the ball so much and he demands the ball so much as Kobe Bryant and sometimes you can catch yourself watching him on the floor. We just got to be out there and go with him. Sometimes we’ll bring it up and sometimes he’ll bring it up, we can’t just defer to him every time. It’s my first time out there with him so I deferred to him a lot. I looked for him a lot because he’s out there on the court and that’s what the fans wanted. The whole thing was about Kobe tonight so I got caught up in the moment.”

Nick Young, via ESPN

#4:

“I wasn’t 100 percent but I don’t like to make excuses. I’m just going to try to play through what I have going on. A guy like that (Amir Johnson) shouldn’t have that type of night against your team. We have to do a better job individually and collectively in order so anyone won’t have a game like that.”

Pau Gasol, following the Lakers loss to the Toronto Raptors, via the Daily News

#3:

“It was really weird. I think the last time I had eight months off I was still in the womb.”

Kobe Bryant, after returning to action against the Raptors, via USA Today

#2:

“I think calmer heads kind of prevailed and thought let’s not risk this kind of yo-yo season. Because that might be the case. I might not be able to play anymore. I might have to yo-yo it or I might be able to play the rest of the way. I think right now we want to see if I can play the rest of the way. (…) It’s been just an obviously pretty horrible 13 months for me. It’s really hard. It’s been a really hard 12 months, 13 months and it’s been in particularly even more hard the last six months, seven months since (the nerve issues) happened in April where I just could never quite get over the hump. It’s been . . . It’s a battle every day.”

Steve Nash, via ESPN

#1:

“As tough as ever to find that balance of where my mind needed to be. As soon as the injury happened, I had doubts whether this night would ever happen. And then, I kicked it into the full gear and fought myself to not think about the end result – just think about every single day of work it would take for me to get back again. I found out that I had another gear, a gear that I never knew was there. It’s one thing to push yourself when everyone expects you to be dominant, to perform at the highest level. I had a motivation to do that. But it was something else all together to find a motivation when there was no end goal in sight, when I literally couldn’t walk. I had to sit there and think about coming out and performing, months and months from now, but I didn’t really know when that time was going to be. And you keep going and you keep working and you find out, yes, I can get there… And I got there.”

Kobe Bryant, via Yahoo Sports

 

What is your favorite one? Do you think any quotations got snubbed? Let us know in the comment section below!

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Image Credit: Andrew D. Bernstein | Getty Images

Sunday night was the beginning of the Empire striking back. With Kobe Bryant’s Vader like return after rupturing his Achilles last season, he was the focus of the night while the Raptors, and the world, paid attention to his every move. The consensus was the focus on Bryant would create more scoring opportunities for everyone else, especially former all-star forward Pau Gasol. While it indeed created more open looks for the Gasol, he struggled to adjust as he is currently battling an ankle injury that caused him to trudge up and down the floor. When asked about his quality of play last night Gasol, via Mark Medina of the LA Daily News, stated that he is not 100 % but will still battle through his injury as best as he can.

“I wasn’t 100 percent but I don’t like to make excuses,” said Gasol, who has been nursing a sprained right ankle. “I’m just going to try to play through what I have going on.”

While modesty is appreciated from Gasol it will take more than that to prevent the onslaught of opponents who will attack him inside. His sprained ankle limited him on rebounds both offensively and defensively, sliding on pick and roll switches, running up and down the court, protecting the paint, offering help defense, and lastly on the offensive end. He simply looked troubled and uncomfortable. Pau is the consummate professional and will play as long as his body allows it but being unable to stop Amir Johnson en route to a 32 point performance where he shot 14 for 17 is unacceptable.

“A guy like that shouldn’t have that type of night against your team,” Gasol said. “We have to do a better job individually and collectively in order so anyone won’t have a game like that.”

Do not misunderstand me. All of Amir’s 32 points were not on Gasol. A good number of them came from him being more active than Gasol and every other Laker big, including Shawne Williams, on the court. However, if Amir can score 32 points against the Lakers inside defense by just being active, this upcoming stretch will be difficult with Phoenix’s Morris’ twins, Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka, and Al Jefferson of the Charlotte Bobcats. Going beyond just big men, it could become even tougher for Gasol to provide help relief for perimeter penetration. There were too many times against the Raptors where their guards or wing players would drive to the basket without being effected by Gasol’s presence. I will not say it is impossible for Gasol to guard their big men but, it will be a tall task for him to provide inside relief if he cannot move efficiently in the paint. That goes for the big man he is guarding or the help defense he attempts to provide for perimeter penetration. To put his injury and its effect into perspective, I took a look at some recently released NBA stats on the Lakers next three opponents. Phoenix, OKC, and Charlotte all have at least 1 player in the top 25 of total points for drives to the basket.

Photo Credit: @melvintaylorii
Photo Credit: @melvintaylorii

Oklahoma City is the exception with two players, Kevin Durant and Reggie Jackson. If you take it a step further and look at the top 50, All three teams now have at least TWO players in this category and OKC has three with Russell Westbrook. Looking at their drives to the basket per game, the Lakers inside defense will be have to potentially stop at least 5.1 drives to the basket (Durant’s number) by the team’s top perimeter players. This number increases to 5.2 with Reggie Jackson, 5.5 with Kemba Walker, 7.0 with Eric Bledsoe, 7.1 with Westbrook, and 9.3 with Goran Dragic. With the knowledge, and reality, of how poor defensively the Lakers are inside these numbers could increase exponentially. Not to even mention the number of kick out passes that these drives could lead to or drives by other players.

“I knew he had his ankle bothering him here or there, but we need him,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. “If you look at the stat sheet, our bench was all double figures. I might have to think about who starts. I don’t know.”

Photo Credit: AP Sports

This injury opens the door for coach Mike D’Antoni to begin playing Jordan Hill more.  Originally Hill was moved from the starting lineup, and replaced by Robert Sacre, due to his production decrease. However, after watching the game against the Raptors (and how hurt Gasol is), Hill seems to have found his energy. He was all over the court grabbing rebounds, putting back dunks, and playing active defense. Gasol is ranked number 9 in total rebounds in the league this season while Hill is ranked number 22. Gasol, who averages 9.7 rebounds per game, is better than Hill, 8.5, by a margin of 1.2 rebounds. This number would increase for Hill if given more or equal the amount of time to play. Not only do those stats reassure that Hill could provide more productivity than the currently injured Gasol but there are two more stats that tell an even greater story.

Photo Credit: @melvintaylorii
Photo Credit: @melvintaylorii

Those are percentage of rebounds per chance and contested rebound percentage. Before diving into it, I will state that I believe some if not most, of Hill’s rebounds come off sheer effort. Looking at the data, Gasol’s percentage of rebounds per chance are 65.8% for the 30.6 minutes he plays a game. Hill’s percentage of rebounds per chance 63.9% for every 21.7 minutes he plays. That’s a difference of 1.9% even with the 8.9 minutes Gasol receives over Hill. The second set of data again is contested rebound percentage. These are the percent of contested rebounds a player grabs per game. Gasol has a percentage of 32.5%. Hill’s average is 36.9%, a difference of 4.3% with the 8.9 minutes less he plays than Gasol.

“Pau will be back,” D’Antoni said. “He’s battled through some injuries. Just like everybody else, there was a product of no flow out there. It just wasn’t where it was. He’s fine.”

The data tells me that when Gasol is healthy the only problem the Lakers have, with him, is an aging forward who will not be able to move as fast as he used to. That is fine but if Gasol continues to look as bad as he did it could become a big problem. With this ankle sprain, D’Antoni needs to let Pau recover while giving more time to Jordan Hill. Making this change in a rotation that he is looking to shake up could provide the spark the Hill needs to play better, Gasol needs to recover, and for the team to gel with Bryant’s return.

“We talked a little bit after the game in the locker room in terms of making some adjustments and things that we read,” Bryant said. “It didn’t look like he had his legs underneath him that much. But I don’t know. We’ll see. We’ll talk it out some more and figure it out and see how he feels and where his body is and go from there.”

A downside to this could be decreased productivity from Gasol because of the pinch on minutes. Yet this early in the season I am sure Gasol would like to focus on his recovery for the long haul, even if it means giving more time to Hill and Sacre for the moment.

“We’ll lean on each other,” Bryant said. “As you can see, our bench is phenomenal. They play extremely well man. We just have to go out there and support each other. Any given night somebody can step up and be explosive. We just have to support each other and make each other better.”

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Image: Getty Images

Last week’s POW:  Wes Johnson

Last week is in the books and Laker fans now move onto the next week in this season.  Kobe Bryant returned last night and needless to say he was a bit rusty.  If he had played quite well I would have chosen him as player of the week but he wasn’t quite up to par.  Only two games made up the Lakers’ week and that was against Sacramento and Toronto.  This week we had one person play better than the rest throughout the two games: Jodie Meeks.

Jodie Meeks

Photo Credit | Getty Images

Jodie Meeks played well this week because of his strong shooting performance, he shot 56% from the field, had 16.5 ppg, 2 apg, 2.5 rpg over the last two games.  Meeks made some clutch 3-pointers in the game against Sacramento, and continued his hot shooting performance against Toronto albeit in a loss.

Meeks has always been a high caliber shooter and when the Lakers can get him into space to shoot he can be deadly.  I liked seeing him hit some threes this past week that really ignited the Lakers to rally and win the game, in the case of Sacramento at least.

His scoring definitely helped in the win over Sacramento as he started and played some solid efficient minutes in that game.

Hopefully the Lakers can utilize Meeks properly with Kobe Bryant back in the starting lineup.  Then he can continue to deliver clutch threes for the lakers when the games get close.

 

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Photo courtesy of Andrew Bernstein, Getty Images.
Photo courtesy of Andrew Bernstein, Getty Images.
Photo courtesy of Andrew Bernstein, Getty Images.

Well that was anti-climactic.

For all the hype surrounding Kobe Bryant’s return to game action after he ruptured his Achilles back in April, a victory tonight against a team on a five-game losing streak, who also just traded their best player hours before tip-off, would have been nice.

Unfortunately, the defensive effort was scarce, the starters struggled to…well…start anything and the offense was as disjointed as the rotation. As a result, the Lakers are back to .500 with this 106-94 loss.

High Points
Bench – Led by Xavier Henry’s 17 points, every reserve who received playing time scored in double digits, which is more than we can say about the starters (more on that later). Together, Henry, Jodie Meeks (who moved back to the bench with Bryant back), Shawne Williams, Nick Young and Jordan Hill combined for 71 of the Lakers’ 94 final points. How’s that for the most productive bench in the league? And that’s without key member, Jordan Farmar. It’s no mystery why every reserve fell in the positive under the +/- column. Had the coaching staff kept the reserves on the floor, this game may have ended with a win.
Kobe Bryant – And it has nothing to do with his production, but everything to do with the fact that he finished the game in one piece. There’s no telling how he’ll feel in the morning, but Bryant went 28 minutes jumping to grab rebounds, landing and then taking off to the other end of the floor. He had eight boards and four assists, which could have been more had the benefactors of his passes converted. His eight turnovers aren’t surprising, since his biggest challenge will be timing and getting accustomed to his teammates’ idiosyncrasies.

Low Points
Rotation-Roulette – Here we go again. If the starting line-up ever stays the same for at least 10 games, then maybe it wouldn’t be such a struggle to produce at the onset, but with players coming in and out of the first five, of course putting something consistent together would be difficult. Let’s start with the most recent shake-ups. The line-up of Steve Blake, Meeks, Wesley Johnson, Jordan Hill and Pau Gasol worked for a string of games, until Hill started struggling so he was sent back to the bench in favor of Robert Sacre. Sacre played well against the Sacramento Kings last Friday and started again tonight. Jodie Meeks, the Lakers’ leading scorer, was sent back to the bench with Bryant back on the active roster, while Blake, the team’s only true point guard since Farmar went down, had to give up the reins to Bryant, who tried to facilitate in his season debut, but didn’t run the floor like Blake has been and for good reason – he’s not a point guard who’s been running the team for the last 19 games. If Bryant was to be the ballhandler to start, Mike D’Antoni and the Lakers’ coaching staff should have just placed Blake with the second unit who have no playmaker. Moreover, Pau Gasol’s game is clearly being affected by his sprained right ankle. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he sat out a few games, in which case another change to the rotation would be imminent.
Defense – Bookend 30+ point quarters for the Raptors. It wasn’t so much the scoring that hurt the Lakers, at least not in the first half. They actually shot 50% in the first two quarters compared to Toronto’s 43%. And they went on runs that inched them closer and closer to the lead. But even getting to within three points, which they did, won’t do any good if you can’t stop the other team from scoring. The Raptors also had a 62-32 advantage in the paint. It’s easy to score when there’s no one threatening you at the hoop.
Turnovers – 19 turnovers for the Lakers led to 22 points for the Raptors.

It wasn’t the best game for such an anticipated return as Bryant’s, but let’s all remind ourselves that getting into game shape DURING the season is part of Bryant’s comeback. He didn’t have training camp or pre-season games to work out the kinks in his recovering body. Here’s hoping that Bryant doesn’t feel any pain come Monday morning, because up next up are the Phoenix Suns. A game against a team who holds a special place in his list of grudges might just do the trick to get back to his old self.

Box Score

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Source: Kobe Bryant/Facebook
Kobe Bryant
Source: Kobe Bryant | Facebook

December 8, 2013 — 6:30 PM (PST)
STAPLES Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: TWC SportsNet / NBATV
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)

He’s back.

Lakers superstar G Kobe Bryant makes his season debut for the Los Angeles Lakers (10-9) against the Toronto Raptors (6-12) tonight in front of a home crowd. Bryant, who returns from a devasating left achilles tear from the April 12th game vs. Golden State Warriors, provides the Lakers with a game-changer and team leader on the floor. Despite playing without Bryant, the Lakers have surprised many NBA experts this season by playing very well as a team,  winning 6 out of their last 8 games to maintain a .500 winning percentage. According to Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni, he expects to see Kobe play in the 20-25 minute range tonight.

The Lakers come off of a solid win versus the Sacramento Kings, where G Jodie Meeks and G/F Wesley Johnson led the way for the Lakers. Meeks scored 19 points by shooting 5-6 from the 3 pt line, including 2 huge 3-pointers to defeat the Kings, while Johnson locked down defensively by having 5 steals. Also, the emergence of C Robert Sacre has been a pleasant surprise for the Lakers. As a surprise starter vs. Kings last game, Sacre held his own against a very talented C DeMarcus Cousins, scoring 11 points, and getting key stops towards the end of the game.

The Raptors, on the other hand, just made news for themselves. According to Yahoo! Sports Marc Spears’ and Adrian Wojnarowski’s sources, the Raptors just traded SF Rudy Gay, Aaron Gray, and F Quincy Acy to the Sacramento Kings for F John Salmons, PG Greivis Vasquez, F Chuck Hayes, F Patrick Patterson, all who will obviously not be available for the Raptors tonight. Therefore, the Raptors will be led by G Demar Derozan. Derozan, a local product out of USC and Compton High School, has seemed to finally use his raw athleticism efficiently, leading the Raptors in scoring at a career high 21.3 PPG.

Projected Starters

PG – Kyle LowrySteve Blake [Advantage: Even]

SGDemar Derozan / Kobe Bryant [Advantage: Lakers]

SF – Terrence RossWesley Johnson [Advantage: Lakers]

PF – Jonas Valanciunus / Pau Gasol [Advantage: Lakers]

C – Amir Johnson / Robert Sacre [Advantage: Raptors]

X-Factors

Raptors: F Steve Novak - Arguably one of the best three-point shooters in the NBA, Novak can cause the Lakers defense a lot of problems if he can get wide open shots. Novak, who is one of many players who thrived in Mike D’Antoni’s offensive system during his days with the New York Knicks, is currently shooting at 37.7% from the 3-pt line after the Raptors acquired him this offseason for F Andrea Bargnani. Novak is the only offensive spark the Raptors have from the bench, so if the Lakers can shut him down with athletic defenders like Johnson or F Shawne Williams, the Lakers bench should outscore the Raptors’s bench by a significant margin tonight.

Lakers: Rest of the Lakers - With Bryant returning to the lineup, the Lakers coaching staff has a major question mark moving forward: how will the rest of the Lakers play with Bryant back. In the past, the Lakers would tend to stand around on offense, waiting for Bryant to save them every time. Hopefully with the rest of the Lakers gaining their own confidence offensively in Bryant’s absence, they can continue to stay aggressive towards the basket and not be hesitant to shoot the ball. Notably, players like Meeks, Johnson, G Xavier Henry, and G/F Nick Young have thrived in Bryant’s absence for the first 19 games, playing very well on both ends of the floor. In order for the Lakers to not only win tonight’s game, but also make some noise in the playoffs, the rest of the Lakers have to continue to move around without the ball and not stand around hoping Bryant will bail them out every possession, especially towards the end of the game.

Bottom Line

Since the atmosphere at Staples tonight will be electric due to Bryant’s return, the Lakers will have to channel their emotions tonight to execute both offensively and defensively. Although the Raptors have a lot of talent in their starting lineup, they are very thin on the bench, something the Lakers bench can thrive off of, especially with Meeks joining the bench unit. Once again, the Lakers do not have a healthy point guard. Without PG Steve Nash and PG Jordan Farmar available for tonight’s game, look for Bryant to play point guard quite often whenever PG Steve Blake, who is currently battling a hyper extended right elbow, needs a rest tonight. If the Lakers continue to play as a team and stay focused especially defensively for the entire 48 minutes of the game, look for the Lakers to get a solid victory in Bryant’s debut.

Prediction

Lakers: 104-95

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Image: Christian Petersen | Getty Images

Eight long, tedious months later, we’re finally here.

Kobe Bryant makes his return to the Lakers lineup for the first time after tearing his Achilles tendon on April 12th.

Laker Nation, prepare yourself for tonight’s spectacle with the emotional video montage above from theperson18, titled “Kobe Bryant – The Vigorous Worker”.

Number 24 is back. Are you ready?

Photo by: Mike Powell | Getty Images
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Photo Credit: Otto Greule Jr/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 December 8-14, over their 66-year history.

December 8, 2000

Shaquille O’Neal broke a 40-year-old NBA record, previously held by Wilt Chamberlain, when he went 0 for 11 from the free throw line in a loss to the Seattle SuperSonics. Chamberlain previously set the record when he went 0 for 10 from the charity stripe against the Detroit Pistons on November 4, 1960.

December 10, 1995

James Worthy’s No. 42 jersey was retired at halftime against the Detroit Pistons at the Great Western Forum. He became just the sixth player in Lakers’ history to enjoy this honor. The three-time NBA champion played all 12 of his NBA seasons with the Lakers, while averaging 17.6 points per game during his career. Worthy was a seven-time NBA All-Star and the 1988 NBA Finals MVP.

December 12, 1971

The Lakers won their 21st straight game, when they beat the Atlanta Hawks 104-95 at the Great Western Forum, setting a new NBA record for most consecutive wins. The previous record of 20 straight wins was held by both the Washington Capitols and Milwaukee Bucks. The Lakers’ unprecedented streak continued for twelve more games, as they set an NBA record for most consecutive victories at 33, which still holds today.

Photo by Getty Images
Photo by Getty Images

December 12, 1984

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar became the first player in NBA history to exceed 32,000 career points, when he dropped 15 points in a 131-107 Lakers win over the Golden State Warriors.

December 14, 1962

Elgin Baylor totaled 50 points for the Lakers, while Wilt Chamberlain scored 63 points for the San Francisco Warriors, in a 120-118 Lakers victory. This was one of only three times in NBA history that two players from opposing teams had scored at least 50 points in the same contest.

December 14, 1975

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar set an NBA record with 29 defensive rebounds, when the Lakers defeated the Detroit Pistons 110-100. Abdul-Jabbar shares the record for most consecutive seasons (2) leading the league in defensive rebounds, when he set the standard in both the 1975-76 and 1976-77 seasons. “Cap” also set the record for most defensive rebounds in a single season during the 1975-76 campaign, with 1,111.

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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.