Monday, December 29, 2014
Blog Page 29

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Photo courtesy of Jeff Gross, Getty Images.
Photo courtesy of Jeff Gross, Getty Images.
Photo courtesy of Jeff Gross, Getty Images.

As I stood outside Staples Center, a kid, wearing his Sunday white #24 jersey, walked by Magic Johnson’s statue, then turned to his father and said, “Kobe Bryant’ll have one of those someday.”

Even when he’s not on the court playing, Bryant is in the mind of every Laker fan, especially on game nights like tonight, when the team could’ve used a closer. Their closer. Instead they failed, yet again, to finish the final quarter strongly, despite having solid second and third quarters to catch up, and then overtake Memphis’ lead.

Huge efforts from the usual suspects, Jodie Meeks and Steve Blake, couldn’t overshadow the game that Zach Randolph had. Jordan Hill had his hands full with Z-Bo, and Pau Gasol had the same challenge keeping watch of brother, Marc Gasol.

The Lakers fell behind by as much as 10 points early in the game, but managed to keep it close. As has been the Lakers’ issues in these close games (except for the Atlanta and Houston wins), they can’t seem to take hold of the final quarter to win. While the Grizzlies got their first road win, the Lakers suffered their seventh loss.

High Points
Jodie Meeks – The team’s leading scorer showed today why he is the team’s leading scorer. Meeks finished with a team high 25 points on 10-16 from the field, and 5-9 from downtown. Known mostly for his long-range shooting, Meeks has been a mildly surprising player this year, taking it to the hoop almost as often as he launches from 23 feet away.
Nick Young – SwaggyP did some work tonight, chipping in 18 points on 7-14 from the field, including 2-4 from behind the arc. His shooting is streaky, but when he’s on, he can be a real factor.
Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar – They may not have scored in bunches, but together they handed out 16 assists.

Moot Point:
Pau Gasol – Despite scoring just 10 points on a terrible 4-12 from the field, Gasol did collect 13 rebounds. He missed quite a few shots that he usually makes – lefty hooks and mid-range jumpers. So the issue tonight isn’t his lack of touches or aggressiveness, it’s his lack of accuracy.

Low Points
Free Throws – The Lakers, having essentially been turned into a perimeter-minded team, haven’t earned a lot of free throw attempts in the last few games, but as evidenced in the last few games, even when they get the attempts, they haven’t been able to convert the majority of them. Tonight, the Lakers earned 11 free throws, but only made 6. Considering they lost by three points, those 5- missed throws could have made a difference.
Bench – The Laker reserves top the NBA, averaging almost 50 ppg. Mike D’Antoni usually depends on them to score when the group on the floor is having a tough time putting up points. Tonight, however, they scored just 30 points collectively. Young led the reserves with his 18 points on 7-14 from the field, but Chris Kaman was just 3-10 for his six points, Xavier Henry was 0-2 and didn’t score a single point, and Jordan Farmar’s struggles carried over into this game, as he went 0-4 from the field.
Ultimate Non-Closers – The Lakers either play really awesome or really bad in games. They don’t seem to have a middle ground. Close games like today are winnable, but the Lakers’ scoring droughts go on for minutes at a time and soon that small lead or tie has turned into a deficit.

Kobe Bryant was only suited up to donate the $150,000 check that the Laker Youth Foundation is donating to the relief efforts in the Philiipines. But the gasp heard ‘round Staples Center was genuine glee and surprise when he appeared. How long had it been since we’ve seen Kobe Bryant in a uniform? If only he could have played tonight.

Box Score

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Photo courtesy of Doug Pensinger, Getty Images
Photo courtesy of Doug Pensinger, Getty Images.
Photo courtesy of Doug Pensinger, Getty Images.

There are two things the Lakers have yet to check off their list in this early season. One – win on the second night of a back-to-back (they are currently 0-3 in such sets thus far); and two – play from behind for the majority of the game and then close out with a win in the end. After a 111-99 loss in Denver, they need to wait a bit longer to do both.

A 16-point deficit was their largest (compared to the 30-point holes they’ve put themselves in, this was nothing), and it happened in their worst quarter (the fourth) where they were outscored by just eight points. Five players still managed to score in double figures, Denver shot just 0.6% better than they did and their 15 turnovers were relatively trivial because they’ve had a 24-turnover game this season. They didn’t play a completely terrible, listless game compared to contests against the Warriors and Timberwolves. They were clearly not as efficient as they were last night against the Pelicans, but they didn’t just get rolled over the entire time like they have in recent games, which makes this loss all the more maddening. They always got close, but could never get over the hump.

Could they have rebounded more? Yes. Could they have put in more effort to score inside and give themselves a chance to shoot more free throws? Definitely. But they didn’t, and 10 games into the season, they’re still searching for some consistency.

High Points
Hill-Gasol – For the second game in a row, Mike D’Antoni started Jordan Hill and, in the loss, the energetic player was winning. Hill led the game in rebounds with 15, and in the interim, also managed to score 18 points on 6-11 from the field, and made all six of his free throws. He also blocked three shots and battled with the Nuggets’ Kenneth Faried and Timofey Mozgov at the rim. He did all this while playing in foul trouble. Pau Gasol, had one of his biggest games in the season, with 25 points on 12-27, 12 rebounds, three assists, and a block. Gasol didn’t shoot with the highest of accuracy, but the fact that he even attempted 27 shots is worth noting. At least he’s being aggressive out there. The 1-5 free throws, however, could use some work, especially the number of attempts.
Steve Blake – Where would the Lakers be without Blake? Win or lose, he’s been one of their most consistent contributors, gladly taking on the reigns even before Steve Nash would be out for two weeks. Last night, he had just five points and 10 assists. Tonight he chipped in 15 points on 5-11, hit 2-4 from downtown, handed out 11 assists and grabbed six rebounds.
Wes Johnson – Being placed in the starting line-up along with Hill was a good thing, as it has given life to the Lakers’ defense. Stat lines aren’t the best indicators of a player’s defensive efforts, but tonight Johnson had a solid box score of 10 points on 3-6, 2-3 from behind the arc, five rebounds, two assists, three steals and five blocks. He really was all over the floor, blocking Jordan Hamilton’s three-point attempt, taking the ball away from Randy Foye and then hitting a jumper on the other end, blocking Ty Lawson’s layup. When the Lakers were playing defense tonight, it was due in large part to efforts like Johnson’s.

Low Points
Bench – Just 28 points for the reserves, compared to Denver’s 51 bench points. Jordan Farmar was the most disappointing of all, going 0-4 from the field, hitting just one free throw for his single point, grabbing just one rebound and handing out just one assist in 14 minutes of play. As we’ve learned so far this season, where the bench goes, so do the Lakers usually, and tonight the bench got nowhere.
Free Throw Disparity – The point-difference in each quarter was minimal, but the free throw disparity was hard to ignore. In the first half, the Nuggets attempted 26 free throws and the Lakers attempted eight. For the game, Denver went 23-35 from the charity stripe, while the Lakers went just 17-26.
NBA Scheduling – We can thank the NBA schedulers for the Lakers’ Denver game on the second night of a back-to-back. Their next game in Denver in March is also under the same circumstances. They’ll play the Clippers at home, and then fly to the Mile High City right after. The team didn’t land in Denver until almost 3 am last night, and with the airport being so far away from the city, they didn’t check in until almost an hour later. The upside to all this? They’ve already checked off three of the 19 back-to-backs.

So the Lakers are 0-2 when Xavier Henry is struck on the forehead and bleeding ensues (yes, it happened again, courtesy of Wilson Chandler). They could have had this game. They kept coming at the Nuggets, getting as close as three points, before allowing Denver to go on another scoring run. Next thing they know, the lead is back to 10. This inability to close out close games has been a real struggle for this team, and there’s really no mystery as to why. Aside from Steve Blake’s heroic three-pointer to ice the game in Houston, they have no real closer; no one to take it upon themselves to go at the opponent head-on. Basically, they’re short one Kobe Bryant.

Box Score

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

In one Time Warner Sports promo, a video of players laughing on the bench and on the court shows as a voiceover says, “Work together. Play together. Win together.” Tonight they did just that.

With his sixth starting line-up combo, Coach Mike D’Antoni put together Steve Blake, Jodie Meeks, Wes Johnson, Jordan Hill and Pau Gasol. Based solely on this game, this starting five looks to be a winner. With high-energy guys like Hill and Johnson, the Lakers played with a liveliness from tip-off to the final buzzer, which we haven’t seen since the first game of the season against the Clippers.

The defense was active, keeping New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, who single-handedly killed the Lakers in their last meeting, to a minor appearance. The ball, as D’Antoni always hopes it will, found its energy time again – in the paint, at midrange, from behind the arc.

Before halftime, the Lakers had led by as much as 20 points, and despite small scoring spurts by the New Orleans Pelicans, they managed to lead by as much as 26 for the game, before the 21-point final win.

High Points
Jordan Hill – Note to Lakers coaching staff – keep this man in the starting line-up. His work on the boards and his mere activity warrants 26 minutes of floor time in every game. Hill said after the game that he doesn’t care whether he starts or comes off the bench. He just wants to get the minutes. He always puts himself in the right spots to fight or rebounds or receive passes, and his teammates seemed to make it a point to find him tonight. What a night Hill had – a career-high 21 points on 7-12, 11 rebounds, a pair of assists, two steals and a block.
Pau Gasol – He’s aliiiiive! It feels like weeks since we’ve seen Gasol as active and present as he was tonight. What a difference it makes to see your first shot attempts go in. He began with a fingerroll at the hoop, which he followed with a signature hook shot and then a jumper some minutes later. In the third quarter, he hit back-to-back jumpers. Gasol finished with 14 points on an efficient 6-10 from the field, right rebounds, three assists, and a block.
Backcourt Support – Steve Nash is suffering from some nerve damage and will be out for at least the next two weeks, but in his stead are solid back-ups in Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar. The Laker point guards were responsible for 18 of the team’s 33 assists. Blake may have only scored five points, but he said post-game that he’s more excited when he racks up 10 assists as he did tonight, than when he scores. Farmar chipped in nine points, but it was his eight assists and seven rebounds that made all the difference for his team. Blake and Farmar have really learned the ways in which their teammates like to receive passes, whether it’s bounce passes inside for the bigs, or long lobs to runners like Nick Young.
Bench – Truly the single most consistent and constant contributors on this Laker team has been their bench. And despite the number of times players have gone back-and-forth between the starting line-up and the pine, they have managed to be the team’s backbone no matter who plays which role. Nick Young led the reserves with 17 points on 7-11 form the field, two points which came from receiving a pass from Farmar and dropping it into the hoop mid-air. Xavier Henry had 15 points on 6-8, highlighted by his monster dunk over fellow University of Kansas Jayhawk, Jeff Withey. The reserves put in a collective 56 points. What a difference this group of bench players are compared to last season.
Threeball – How does 11-20 from downtown sound? Sounds like rain, is what that sounds like, and it’s starting to be the measuring stick for this season’s team. When they are shooting well from outside, it’s usually an indication that they are moving the ball, creating a rhythm that gets it to the right spots around the perimeter for an almost-sure thing the long shot. Jodie Meeks led the three party with 3-5 from behind the arc for nine of his 15 points.
Glasswork – The Lakers outrebounded the Pelicans 53-31.
Energy – The ball finds energy – it’s a philosophy that D’Antoni preaches and he’s absolutely right. When the Lakers are getting whomped by 30 points, guess who’s got the energy? The opposing team. But when the Lakers start the game like they did today, and sustain that energy it for the duration of the contest, the ball will indeed be good to them on both ends of the court. Tonight they moved the ball well, handing out 33 assists out of the 44 made field goals. The Lakers had energy on the defensive end as well, holding the Pelicans to just 3-10 from downtown, and keeping Anthony Davis to just six points, two rebounds and three fouls in the first half.

Low Points
Turnovers – 19 for the game which led to 27 Pelicans points. As expected, the Lakers got a little sloppy when the lead ballooned to that it was, and New Orleans took advantage.

Tonight’s game was all well and good, but it begs the question, which team is going to show up tomorrow in Denver? Or on Friday against Memphis? Will it be tonight’s team, who exacted some revenge on the Pelicans after getting romped in New Orleans? Or will it be Sunday’s team, who allowed Minnesota to score 47 points in the first quarter? There’s no telling what effort we’ll see on a night to night basis, and that’s disconcerting for any fan, or any member of the team for that matter, to have to deal with. Hopefully, tonight’s team will make the Denver appearance.

Box Score

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Photo by: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images North America
Photo by: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images North America

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:

“That’s probably the best shot I’ve made in my career. I’ve never quite made a shot like that.”

Steve Blake, on his game-winning shot against the Houston Rockets, via ESPN’s Dave McMenamin

#9:

“When we play a team that people don’t expect us to win, we just want to go out there and work much harder. When we play a team that we expect to win, it’s kind of lackadaisical and we just want to go out there and compete with them with the same energy that they do and we’re not good enough for that.”

Jordan Hill, via ESPN

#8:

“If anybody can come in this league off of that injury and from that age and still get 25 to 30 a night, he’s probably the only one that you would bet on that could do that. His mindset is strictly to dominate and so he will push his body back to the point where he can dominate. Then he knows how to score.”

Isiah Thomas, who retired after suffering an achilles tear at 35 years old, on Kobe Bryant, via the Daily News

#7:

“We need Kobe Bryant come back sooner or later. Especially in late game situations, you need some guy who has the ball and gets you buckets and scoring. That’s what is Kobe is known for and good at. He’s a killer at the end. We have to hold the fort down. Hopefully we can hold the fort down while he’s gone and get us above .500 before he gets back. It’ll help set us up at the end of the season.”

Chris Kaman on Kobe Bryant, via the Daily News

#6:

“Pau is so talented. I don’t think anyone needs to worry about [his late struggles]. The guy is one of the most skilled men I had the opportunity to play with and everything in general. He just needs to continue to fight, play hard. I’m not even worried about it. He has so much ability and can do so many different things.”

Chris Kaman on Pau Gasol, via the Daily News

#5:

“We’re going to continue to try as a team and unit. We can’t do it individually. But I understand the responsibility within the team. It’s pretty obvious. I have to be sharper. I just got to play a little smarter. I might not have all the speed and all the explosiveness I used to have years ago. But I still have to use my experience and fundamentals to be effective every single night regardless of who we’re playing.”

Pau Gasol, via the Daily News

#4:

“It’s tough on him more than anybody. He wants in the worst way to be able to perform and have a good year. He’s doing everything he can do. When you watch him and watch him struggle, it’s not fun for anybody.”

Mike D’Antoni on Steve Nash’s injury, via the L.A. Times

#3:

“I’m just staying positive and hungry. It’s hard everyday to keep fighting uphill. I also have to weigh it against the fact that I still really love playing and I want to be a part of this group. That makes it worthwhile, but there are days when it’s a big challenge.”

Steve Nash, via the Daily News

#2:

“We got to find our identity. We don’t play slow or fast. We don’t do anything with a purpose. We’re trying to get that.”

Mike D’Antoni, via ESPN

#1:

“You got to make up your mind now and go with what you think is best and stick with it and work from it and build on what we have. Otherwise, if we continue to go back and forth, back and forth, we’re never really going to establish it and develop it at the full potential. That’s something that the coaching staff also needs to be aware of.”

Pau Gasol, via ESPN

 

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

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Photo courtesy of Layne Murdoch, Getty Images
Photo courtesy of Layne Murdoch, Getty Images
Photo courtesy of Layne Murdoch, Getty Images

Thoughts on the game tonight?

Coach Mike D’Antoni answered simply, “We needed everyone to be present.”

Everyone. Not just Steve Blake, who hit last night’s game winner and replaced Steve Nash in the starting line-up tonight. Not just the bench who, relative to previous games, did very little to make the difference they usually make. Not just Pau Gasol, who has been absent on this road trip completely. Everyone…and there lies the source of the Lakers’ four loss of the season.

There would be no stopping the Pelicans’ (I still can’t say it with a serious face), Anthony Davis, but he alone did not lose this game for the Lakers. Until the final four minutes of the game, the victory was still up for grabs.

Sure, the Lakers didn’t shoot lights out from downtown (or from anywhere else on the court for that matter), but they played steady defense and worked their offense enough to keep within striking distance…until New Orleans dealt the final blow, a 14-6 run that ended with a 96-85 loss for the purple and gold.

High Points
Anthony Davis – Incredible. That seems the only appropriate word to describe this second year’s game. Tonight he went for 32 points on 12-18 from the field, 12 rebounds, three assists, a steal and a game-leading six blocks. He’s able to score from midrange, finish at the rim, play defense – he can do it all.
Chris Kaman – Since he played his first game as a Laker, the term “Steady Eddie” comes to mind when it came to Kaman. He just has a very solid, fundamentally sound game. He finished tonight with 16 points on 7-13 from the field, four rebounds, a pair of assists and another pair of blocks. It’s a real wonder why he didn’t play a single minute in the fourth quarter, where he would have been of great use to his team.
Steve Blake – Blake followed his game-winning shot yesterday with another solid showing tonight, taking Nash’s place in the starting line-up. It seemed that every time the Lakers needed a shot, Blake answered. Behind by five points in the fourth quarter? Blake hit a three to bring the lead down to two. The Pelicans follow that with a 6-0 run? Blake answered with yet another triple, followed by a jumper. Blake scored eight straight points mid-way through the fourth quarter to bring the Lakers to within three points. Unfortunately, that’s as the close the Lakers got before New Orleans went on their 14-6 barrage.

Low Points
Pau Gasol – 15/13, 12/7, 20/11, 16/13, 10/8, 2/12, 9/11 – these are Gasol’s points/rebounds in the first seven games. He seemed to be getting a groove before they left on this three game road trip, because since then, he’s done very little. Yes, he’s rebounding and in some cases, it is better than nothing. But “better than nothing” is not good enough for a two-time NBA Champion and team co-captain. It’s nowhere near enough, especially when he knows that this team is struggling. It’s so disappointing, watching Gasol look so reluctant to step into the paint and go to work. Tonight, D’Antoni decided to put him back into the game in the fourth quarter, despite Gasol’s 3-9 from the floor up to that point, and despite the fact that Chris Kaman was having a great game. But in the four minutes that Gasol spent in that final quarter, he shot 0-3 and didn’t grab a single rebound, didn’t hand out a single assist, didn’t block a single shot attempt. Gasol, in these last three games, has been unrecognizable.
Bench – Just 23 points from the reserves tonight, who didn’t have the same positive impact on the game as they usually have. They shot just 8-23 from the field, and didn’t look at all like their energetic selves. Perhaps they’re fatigued, tonight being the second night of a back-to-back, but the Lakers have 17 more back-to-backs, so they’ve got to learn to pick up the slack when those times come somehow.
Three Ball – 11-14 from three were not. They shot just 6-19 from behind the arc, which seemed to deflate the play of the reserves, who shoot most of the Lakers’ three pointers.
Free Throws – Methinks the Lakers caught Dwight Howard’s free throw bug, because 17-26 is not a great percentage when you’re trying to win a close game.

The Lakers need to find a way to win these winnable games, and this game was, indeed, winnable. They kept it close until the last few minutes, but couldn’t keep their bearings straight with so little as four minutes left in the game. Like D’Antoni said, to win a game, everyone must be present and the Lakers, for all the teamwork they used to win last night’s game, could not find a stretch of time in New Orleans where they could work together.

Box Score

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Photo courtesy of Bill Baptist, Getty Images
Photo courtesy of Bill Baptist, Getty Images
Photo courtesy of Bill Baptist, Getty Images

Under the category of most important wins so far for the purple and gold, tonight would rank numero uno. Sure the Lakers romped their hometown rivals in the first game of the regular season, but that seems a novelty because no one expected it and they haven’t been able to duplicate the effort since then.

No, tonight’s victory meant much more. It was their first road win, and it came against former teammate, Dwight Howard.

After a rough loss to the Dallas Mavericks, the Lakers came into today’s game looking much more focused and energetic, getting off to a big 36-19 lead after one quarter, and rattling off 64 points for the first half. And it wasn’t just their offense, especially from behind the arc, that was accomplishing this feat. It was their defense (yes, the Lakers can, indeed, play defense), that forced the Rockets to shoot just 35% from the field in those first two quarters.

The same effort and energy, however, did not make it into the second half, where the Rockets forced the Lakers to make mistake after mistake, thereby aiding in their takeover late in the fourth quarter. Houston got over the hump and took a 97-91 lead with just 2:24 left in the game…and then the Hack-A-Howard started. Fortunately for the Lakers, not much has changed in Howard’s free throw repertoire. He made the first two and then missed the next five. Jodie Meeks hit a three pointer to get to within two points and Steve Blake iced the win with a three of his own, getting his team the 99-98 victory.

High Points
First Half Effort – 50% from the field, 11-14 from downtown, rebounding advantage, assist advantage – the Lakers couldn’t be stopped in the first two quarters, led by their guards. Steve Nash, Steve Blake and off the bench, Jodie Meeks, had 30 of the Lakers’ 64 first-half points. James Harden had 20 points by then, but no one else in a Rockets uniform came close to being second. On the defensive end, Houston was 15-43 from the field, and if not for their 27-6 lead in free throw attempts, the Rockets may have been down by much more.
Bench – After scoring 72 points in the loss to Dallas, the Laker bench poured in 54 points tonight, once again proving how vital they are to the success of this team. Leading the reserves was Jodie Meeks, who finished with 18 points on 6-9 from the field, 5-7 from three. Wes Johnson chipped in 16 points, four rebounds, two blocks and a steal, including a three pointer at the buzzer to end the first quarter. Jordan Farmar, charged with running the floor, scored 11 points, but moreover handed out seven assists to lead the game. They have been the difference this season. Last year, the Lakers could barely rely on two, let alone three, bench players. This season, they can go 10-deep, easily.
Steve Blake – He’s so unassuming, commands such little attention, yet Kobe Bryant has always said that he loves Blake’s feistiness. His slight build and mild manners are a façade, because put Blake in a pressure situation, and he can make you pay. He had 14 points on 5-10 from the field, 4-6 from behind the arc. With just 3.4 seconds left in the game, Blake ran off the screen that Nash provided, received the inbounds pass from Meeks, stepped behind the three-point line, and threw up the last shot, winner of the game.

Low Points
Second Non-Effort – After such a solid first half from both ends of the court, the Lakers walked into the third quarter looking like they’d just woken up from a nap. They shot just 12-44 from the field for 27%, and after the hot shooting from downtown in the first two quarters, they went just 5-21 from behind the arc. Their 12 turnovers turned into 14 points for the Rockets and they gave up their lead completely and fell behind by six points with just over two minutes left in the game. If not for Howard’s missed free throws, Houston might’ve taken this win.
Pau Gasol – Where has the Lakers’ co-captain been? Is he still recovering from injury? Is he just bored, because aside from his 12 rebounds, Gasol didn’t do much else. He was just 1-10 from the field and attempted zero free throws. ZERO. It’s what happens when he settles for jump shots so far away from the area from which he has had career-long success. His behavior is more than peculiar. He talks a good game about effort and making the right play after a loss, but does so very little to change it. James Harden scored 35 points. He shot just 9-24 from the field, but he grabbed nine rebounds, handed out five assists and made 14-16 free throws. That’s what leaders do –they put the team on their backs. Since the regular season began, the only thing Gasol has done is look like he’d rather be doing something else.

They can never just build a lead and sustain it, can they? The Lakers are victims of big leads, regardless of whether the advantage belongs to them or their opponent. In both the game against San Antonio and tonight against Houston, the Lakers created 15-point and 19-point leads respectively, but quicker than you can say, “seven seconds or less,” the lead had turned into a deficit. In the other extreme, when the opposing team got going at the onset, like the Warriors and Mavericks, a five-point lead turned into 10, which turned into 20 and eventually 30, leaving the Lakers unable to recover.

There is still much for the Lakers to work on, but at least tonight they showed themselves that they can win on the road, and in a close game, so here they are at .500.

Box Score

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Credit: Getty Images

It is safe to say this Lakers squad so far is not what many fans are used to seeing.  Kobe Bryant is still without a timetable to return from his Achilles injury and Steve Nash is far from his former self, leaving the Lakers with Pau Gasol as a centerpiece.  The starting line-up has switched up already and they’re only six games into the season, which goes to show coach D’Antoni is still experimenting with all the guys on the squad.  But through three games it is clear the offense is running through Pau Gasol and he is of key importance to the Lakers’ success this season.

Until Kobe Bryant returns Pau Gasol will be the number one option to go through on offense and thus far he has proven to be effective with 10.4 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1 bpg, and

PhotoCredit:Harry How/Getty Images
Photo Credit:Harry How/Getty Images

14.6 ppg in an average of 27 minutes of action.  Gasol’s numbers should be a little bit higher for a more effective and efficient offense, but they aren’t bad and are an improvement from last season.  Gasol is a true talent, his post moves are fantastic, he has a high basketball IQ, and is one of the best passing big men the game has ever seen.  With someone of his caliber down low on the block, the Lakers would be ignorant not to use him to his full potential.

It is clear he is more involved in the offense this season than last season, partly because he dealt with numerous injuries last season, and also because of the departure of Dwight Howard.  With Gasol having more room to work down low, and a clean bill of health, the Lakers need to take advantage of their big man.

Gasol should comfortably average about 18 ppg and 12 rpg this season with the way the Lakers are currently situated.  These kind of numbers could be even higher if things go better than expected in the current system.

The Lakers are clearly still searching for an identity under head coach Mike D’Antoni and they are still without their veteran leader in Kobe Bryant.  Gasol is the most seasoned veteran on the team and is the largest embodiment of the 2009 and 2010 championship Lakers squads.  With him leading the way, the Lakers should find success by following the 7-foot Spaniard.  If they underutilize Pau again, however, they will find their season ending in a similar fashion to last year’s disastrous finish.

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Courtesy: Getty Images

Mike D'Antoni

Five games into the 2013-14 NBA season, most teams know for the most part which players will be in their eight or nine-man rotations. At this point, the Lakers are definitely not one of those teams. Coach Mike D’Antoni has been tinkering with rotations and player combinations to the extreme, going with an 11-man rotation thus far that has already produced over 34 player combinations. As can be expected, results have been far from consistent. As Steve Nash put it:

“We’re not a well-oiled machine. We don’t even know what line-ups suit us best yet, let alone what each other are going to do.”

Clearly, D’Antoni is going to have to eventually slim the rotations down. Because of the depth of this roster as well as the uncertainty of the bench pieces, the Lakers are likely to go to a nine-man rotation as the season wears on. So what can we expect to see on the court in the coming months? Let’s take a look at the likely line-ups the Lakers will employ the rest of the season.

Starting Line-Up:

PG – Steve Blake

Probably not the Steve you were expecting huh? Five games in, it’s clear that Steve Nash is still dealing with nagging injuries and adjusting to age. Blake, not Nash, is best suited to lead the starting unit because of his aggressiveness on defense and because he has simply looked better on the court than Nash.

Courtesy: Getty Images
Courtesy: Getty Images

SG – Xavier Henry

On a roster full of question marks, Henry has emerged as a breakout player so far this season for the Lakers. His aggressiveness on both ends of the court fits well in LA’s fast-paced system, and he seems to have all but locked up a starting spot for the foreseeable future. He can also slide down to the small forward position in smaller line-ups with a two point-guard backcourt.

SF – Kobe Bryant

When the Mamba returns, he will obviously be a fixture in the starting line-up. There has been talk for a while of Bryant sliding down to the small forward position, and upon his return that is where he’s expected to be. It will be interesting to see how Kobe plays in the uptempo system that places a premium on ball movement, but knowing the veteran I’m sure (hoping) he’ll fit in just fine.

PF – Jordan Hill

On a roster filled with guys who like to (try to) be scorers, the rebounding machine that is Jordan Hill is a perfect fit for this Laker team. Hill has a constant motor and is always around the basketball at every rebound opportunity. He currently sits in the top 20 for rebounds per 48 minutes and should be there all season long with the rebounding opportunities this team can present.

C – Pau Gasol

With the departure of He Who Shall Not Be Named to Houston, Gasol has been able to move back to his more natural position of center. As the man in the middle of a team surrounded by shooters, Gasol will be able to display his passing skill and low post repertoire in the paint. While the relationship between Pau and D’Antoni is up and down to say the least, Gasol should get plenty of opportunities to go to work with this roster.

Bench:

G – Steve Nash

Aside from Bryant, Nash is currently the biggest question mark on the Laker roster. Is he aging and no longer capable of being the player he once was? Or, as Nash believes, does he just need to shake a few lingering injuries before being back to normal? This storyline will only grow as the season moves on, especially as trade rumors continue to grow louder and louder.

Courtesy: Getty Images
Courtesy: Getty Images
G – Jordan Farmar

When the Lakers signed Farmar, many people thought it was nothing more than a nostalgia signing on the cheap. But through five games this season, Jordan has been the Lakers best point guard averaging 10 points and 5 assists in under 23 minutes a game. Farmar’s energy and aggressiveness will be key to sparking the second unit all season long.

F – Nick Young/Wesley Johnson

Johnson and Young are the two bench players whose minutes will most likely fluctuate all season long. Because they bring two completely different elements to the court, their minutes will be based on what is needed on a game-to-game basis. When starters are struggling to get buckets, Young will be called upon to provide a scoring spark. When the offense is clicking, it’s likely that D’Antoni will want to use Johnson for his defensive prowess to slow down opponents. Either way, it will be interesting to see these two young forwards try to separate themselves from one another.

C – Chris Kaman

Kaman is more of a fit due to need rather than what he provides on the court. While he can hit an open midrange shot and crash the boards, the Caveman will get minutes due to the fact that he provides size to back up Gasol and Hill. Shawne Williams is also an option here, however he is more of a stretch four who provides shooting that is not a major need on this second unit.

Odd Men Out:

Jodie Meeks

Shawne Williams

Needless to say, I do not envy the decisions that Mike D’Antoni will need to make dividing up the minutes amongst his players. There are sure to be questions, confusion and discontent amongst players as the season wears on and minutes are cut. But when looking at the lack of depth last season, it is a good problem for Coach D’Antoni to have. At least until a few tough losses and people start calling for his job. Oh wait that already is happening? This is going to be one very interesting season.

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Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

For me, it has not been easy to identify who this Lakers team is right now, or for that matter, what they will look like at the end of the year. Too many moving pieces at the moment, & like many other teams with overhauled rosters, just finding some consistency is an immediate, short term goal for the head coaches. The one consistent pattern the Lakers have upheld 4 games into the season, is lack of defense.

Don’t believe me? Try this on for size.

The season opening win against the Clippers they allowed 103 points. They followed that up by letting Golden State torch them for 125 points, then in game 3, they had their best effort against the Spurs, who scored 91 without the services of Tim Duncan. Sunday night they gave up 103 to the Hawks, and so it goes.

Now I understand the Lakers gave themselves a much needed infusion of youth, speed, & bench depth. I also get it, that their coach doesn’t exactly preach defense in practice, or on game day. His belief is if your team scores more than the other guys, you win. Most times that is true, but in this league you better have at least one clamp down defender to bring to the party if you want to be a serious playoff contender.

The high flying, run and gun offense is a welcome sight after watching the Lakers plod their way to an 8 seed in the playoffs last year. Make no mistake, that team was hard to watch more often than not, but at least they had a few guys actually guarding their opponents.

Summer league is for pick up games, shirts vs skins, that sort of stuff. Now that the season has arrived, it’s time to stop looking like a playground pickup team only interested in padding statistics and not guarding anyone on defense.

I want nothing more than for this Lakers team to be one of the most memorable of all time. I just don’t want the memory to be of the one that gave up the most points in a season. Summer is over boys, school is now in session. Let’s put away childish things, and play grown men basketball. You want to win championships?

Play defense.

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Photo courtesy of Ronald Martinez, Getty Images
Photo courtesy of Ronald Martinez, Getty Images
Photo courtesy of Ronald Martinez, Getty Images

Every sport, at their core, has simple goals and strategies. For basketball, it’s getting the ball in the hoop and preventing the other team from doing the same. The team who can do both, or at the very least one of these things, better than the other wins. The Lakers, in five regular season games, have been good at both just once – the first game where they blew out the Clippers. Since then they have gotten blown out by Golden State and Dallas, outsmarted and outhustled against the Spurs, and barely won by the skin of their teeth versus Atlanta. So far we’ve learned one thing about this team, and that’s that they don’t take to simplicity well.

After giving up 35 points to the Mavericks in the first quarter, while only able to score 22 themselves, the Lakers continued to make decisions contrary to the solution that could have won them this game. Down 16 points in the second quarter and running ahead with the ball, by all means, Pau Gasol, shoot a three in transition (miss). Down by 30 points in the third quarter after Jose Calderon hit a three, Jordan Farmar pulls for a jumper (again, miss). The Lakers were raining bricks on Dallas tonight, opting always for the low-percentage shot over the inside game that provides a better chance to score.

For a second time this season, the Lakers looked lost from every corner of the court, and the Mavericks took advantage, taking the 123-104 victory.

High Points
Monta Ellis – 30 points on 11-14 from the field, a perfect 8-8 from the free throw line and six rebounds. Once a scorer, always a scorer and Ellis is one of the league’s prolific ones. Not known for his three-point shot, Ellis scored most from mid-range and inside, often beating his man off the dribble and heading in for a layup. No Steve Blake or Nick Young could stop him tonight.
Nick Young – Speaking of Nick Young, he couldn’t stop Ellis, but he did what he could on the offensive end, going 8-12 from the field for his team-leading 21 points. Coming off the bench seems to have aided Young in his offensive struggles as a starter.

Low Points
Defense – Where to begin with the defense? How about zero, because there was none on the perimeter (13-27 from downtown for the Mavs) and none whatsoever inside the arc either (52-36 advantage for Dallas in the paint). The Mavs strolled so easily and so often to the basket for layups and dunks that the Lakers may have well just sat out. Communication is important on the offensive end, but it is even more so vital on defense, and the Lakers are not heeding.
No Rebounds, No Rings – The Lakers played all thirteen dressed players tonight, and three had absolutely no boards (Young, Shawne Williams, who only played about five minutes, and Steve Blake). Pau Gasol, a historically good rebounder, had just eight boards in 31 minutes, which wouldn’t seem so disappointing if not for the rest of his team barely fighting for rebounds themselves. Dallas grabbed 50 rebounds to the Lakers’ 35. With all the shots they missed, they could have given themselves more chances to score, but chose not to bother.
Lack of Leadership – Kobe Bryant on the sidelines, advising teammates during the game, shows more leadership in a suit than the veterans on this team who are out there on the floor. When your team has cut the lead from 30 points to just 12, where’s the leader to help close the gap even further? Who, out there, will barrel themselves to the basket to score and be fouled? Who is going to run plays to get the other players involved in the surge? Who is going to rebound every miss, contest every shot and play defense? It’s easy to point the finger at Mike D’Antoni, and to a certain extent the Lakers’ coaching staff, when the team plays as listless as they did tonight. But at a certain point in the game, and the early season while Bryant isn’t playing, there has to be someone else who will step up and be that guy. There is no Derek Fisher on this team to back up Bryant, but there is Gasol. Nash is a veteran leader and D’Antoni’s guy, true, but this isn’t his team. While Bryant is re-conditioning for his return, Gasol needs to take the reigns on this team. He needs to shoulder the load. He needs to lead the way, and 10 points on 4-9 from the field, with eight rebounds, four assists and zero blocks is not the way to do it.

Each morning, I start my day with a simple request: Make good choices. It’s time the Lakers (players and coaches alike) start asking the same of themselves. They’re making the game harder than it has to be by making disappointing and baffling decisions on the court. Keep the game simple. Field goal percentage down? Take higher percentage attempts. Getting outrebounded? Rebound more. Have a size advantage? Feed it inside. Opponents scoring too easily, communicate on defense.

This Laker team has shown their potential, even without an active Kobe Bryant. But they can’t seem to show it in consecutive efforts. Fortunately for them, there are still 77 games to go.

Box Score

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Belgian-born Xavier Henry is looking to be the “X Factor” for the 2013-2014 Lakers. As it seems he will be given an ample role on the team, will he euro step up to the plate?

Show your support with this new Xavier Henry wallpaper set by designer, Ryan Tang.

Available for desktop, iPhone, Facebook, and Galaxy phones.

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[button colour=”purple” type=”standard” size=”large” link=”http://lakernation.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/The-X-Factor.zip” target=”_blank”]Download Wallpaper Set[/button]

Mobile users: Download for iPhone 4, iPhone 5, iPad, or Galaxy.

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Photo by: Ethan Miller/Getty Images North America
Photo by: Ethan Miller/Getty Images North America
Photo by: Ethan Miller/Getty Images North America

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:

“We have 7-8 question marks and if we hit on 5 of them, we’ll have a really good season.”

Mike D’Antoni, via the Daily News’ Mark Medina

#9:

“It’s very rare for a team to go 0-8 in the preseason. I think that’s definitely a big alarm there. So, you knew something wasn’t clicking, wasn’t working for whatever reason. It was an indicator.”

Pau Gasol on last year’s pre-season, via ESPN

#8:

“I have never been a bad guy and I won’t be that bad guy ever. I will always be gracious and happy to have the opportunity to play with the Lakers. It was a learning experience and I think it helped me with this team. So, I’m glad that I had the chance to play in L.A. even though it ended soon it was a learning lesson for myself and for everybody else.”

Rockets’ Dwight Howard, via ESPN

#7:

“I was mad at the Lakers for recruiting him to stay. I’m not begging anybody to play for the Lakers. You always have a plan B if he doesn’t sign, so don’t be rolling out the red carpet, begging this dude. This dude hasn’t won a championship yet. I don’t think Dwight could stomach L.A. It was too much pressure. There’s pressure being a Laker. There’s pressure in this town.”

Magic Johnson on Dwight Howard, via ESPN

#6:

“You could feel the energy of guys rooting for one another. Last year it was cold”

Mike D’Antoni, via ESPN’s Dave McMenamin

#5:

“I love our attitude. Our attitude is the biggest thing we have going. We have guys who are ready to go get it. We’re hungry.”

Xavier Henry, via the Daily News’ Mark Medina

#4:

“They’re tough with Kobe, and they’re tough without Kobe because they’re playing up and down. They’re going to be a good team.”

Spurs’ Tony Parker, via Bleacher Report’s Kevin Ding

#3:

“Even in the midst of going against him, I’m in huddle, I’m saying, ‘Don’t fall for the okeydoke. He’s all right. Don’t allow him to take over this game,’ not knowing that he was really hurt. If I would’ve known Kobe Bryant was hurt I would’ve called a timeout. They would have not had to call a timeout. That’s how much respect I have for him.”

Warriors’ head coach Mark Jackson on Kobe Bryant’s achilles injury, via the L.A. Times

#2:

“They’re special people. It comes from within, their competitiveness and mental toughness and they’re willing to be consistent leaders and competitors night after night. A lot of people have good nights, but people like those guys understand it’s their responsibility to do it night after night.”

Spurs’ head coach Gregg Popovich on Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan, via the Daily News

#1:

“The nerves in the broken leg, then the nerves in the back and hamstring (last season)… I’d never felt my nerves in my life. I feel them every day now. So my body’s different. I worked incredibly hard this summer and got myself back where I have a chance. The want is there; I’m still enjoying the challenge. It comes from within. I know what I’ve been through; I know how old I am and the miles I have on the body, but I still take the challenge. And there are still things I can build on and can improve. I am 39. I’ll be 40 in a few months. So you have to adapt your mindset to the new challenge. This is where I am. I’ve got to accept some of that—and not give an inch when it comes to my belief.”

Steve Nash, via Bleacher Report

 

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

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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.