Wednesday, November 26, 2014
Blog Page 47

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Photo Credit: Getty Images

Every week, our staff writers chime in on the trending topics, rumors and storylines surrounding the Lakers. In today’s State of the Nation, we dive into the Lakers’ playoff picture, pick our favorite first round opponent, and most importantly, try to figure out just how far this Lakers team can go if once they get in.

Assuming the Lakers make the playoffs, who would you rather they face: Spurs, Thunder, or Clippers?

Belal Abdelfattah // @KyrieSWERVEing:

Of those three teams, there’s really only one squad I would hate to see and that’s the Thunder. The Lakers are familiar with the Spurs and have actually played them well this season despite missing key players in both games. The Clippers are scary when they get running and have a deep bench. But let’s be real here, a seven-game series with all games at Staples gives the Lakers homecourt for all seven games, no matter what Clipper fans want you to believe.

Alex Lambeth // @AlexLambeth:

Despite having the best record in the NBA, the Spurs are ultimately the best matchup for the Lakers. In the two past match-ups this season, the Lakers only lost by 2 points at home and 3 points in San Antonio. With a full, healthy roster, the Lakers can match the Spurs depth and pull the 1-8 upset over the Spurs.

John Gaffer // @jewelslamo:

I’m a bit of a sadist, so I say bring on the Thunder. Lakers are going to have to go through them at some point in the playoffs, so why not knock out the favored heavyweight? Beat them & suddenly the Finals look like a realistic goal. It would be like the little, scared, scrawny kid giving the school bully a bloody nose. Besides, Kobe wouldn’t sleep at night if Fisher got another ring before he does.

Bummi Anderson // @BummiNAnderson:

Out of three teams, it is best to avoid the Thunder. Lakers would be in better position to advance vs Spurs due to better match ups and vs Clips due to rivalry.

James Cypert // @JamesCypert:

On a historical level, it would be satisfying to watch another Popovich-D’Antoni playoff series (in which Popovich is 12-4 in playoff games against D’Antoni). But more importantly, should the Lakers pull off the upset against the Spurs, the Lakers would likely face Denver or Memphis is the second round, much easier match-ups for them than the Clippers or Thunder in Round 2. If choosing the Clippers or Thunder, the Lakers essentially have to play all three teams in order to make the NBA Finals, a hellish stretch for any team.

Felipe Amaral // @F_Amaral:

Even though facing the Clippers could be interesting since the Lakers would remain in the same city for the whole series, the Spurs are a better matchup for the Purple and Gold. The Lakers can struggle a lot with speedy teams and that’s what the Thunder and the Clippers are. Any of the three would be tough challenges, but the Spurs present a style of basketball that better fits the Lakers’ slower pace.

Oren Levy // @LakersOren:

The key is to avoid OKC until the conference finals if possible, and hope another team plays traffic cop for the Lakers, and knocks out the Thunder. So I’ll pick any seed/team that keeps the Lakers out of OKC’s bracket until the WCF.

Garrett Garcia // @GarrettGarcia:

If the Lakers are to in fact make the playoffs this season I believe their best match-up would be against the Clippers.  What would be more exciting than an LA v. LA playoff series?  I really think the Lakers would find a way to win this series and show who truly is king of L.A.

Photo by Harry How/Getty Images
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Melvin Taylor // @MelvinTaylorII:

I’m with Kobe on this one. There is nobody to fear in the West if the Lakers can make the playoffs The thing is they just have to keep their current spot if all else fails. I would rather face the Clippers or the Spurs in the opening round. The Thunder will be rolling by that point and could be too much for the Lakers that early. Playing the Spurs could would be beneficial for the Lakers as they have the talent advantage and could grind out majority of those wins. Playing the Clippers would be great due to the home court advantage. (It’s still the Lakers arena regardless of how good the Clippers are.) Lob City struggles when they are forced to play in the half court. Thus could also be big brother showing little brother that no matter how good you think you are you will not beat me.

Robert Benitez // @Beeb0:

Even though we’re losing the season series with them, both games were close and both games the Lakers were not at full strength. Assuming the spurs can hold onto the first spot and Clippers the fourth, I’d rather see Spurs in the first round and Clippers in the second.

Anna Gonda // @AnnaLBG:

If the Lakers make the playoffs, I would rather they face the Minnesota Timberwolves…in every round. Between the Spurs, Thunder or Clippers, however, I think the Lakers match up best with the Spurs. They’ve beaten OKC just once at Staples Center, and have yet to defeat the Clippers this season. Unlike the young Thunder and Clipper squads, the Spurs are not the run-‘n-gun type, which would suit the Lakers’ defensive abilities more.

Jordan Grant // @JordanGrant90:

Of the teams at the top, the Lakers easiest opponent would be the Spurs. The speed and athleticism of OKC and the Clippers would prove tough match-ups for the Lakers. Historically, the Lakers play the Spurs well. If they can minimize the effectiveness of Tony Parker(albeit no easy task), they would have a great shot at taking the series.

Ashkan Kargaran // @Aakargaran:

The Clippers and here’s why: All 7 games will be played in the Staples and regardless of the colors on the floor, the majority of fans will be wearing purple and gold. The Clippers’ biggest strengths as a team are their depth and their transition “lob city” game. In the playoffs, possessions are slower, turnovers are lower, and player rotations are kept around 8 or 9 per team. So the Clippers won’t be playing 11 guys a game like they have been for the regular season. They won’t be getting many baskets in transition and will therefore have to rely on their half-court offense which, outside of CP3 iso’s, has been non-existent. While this doesn’t necessarily mean the Lakers will beat the Clippers, they will definitely have a higher chance unlike facing the Spurs or Thunder.

Assuming the Lakers make the playoffs, who would you rather they face: Spurs, Thunder, or Clippers?

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Next Question: True or False: A healthy, motivated Lakers team can still compete for the Western Conference title in this years’ playoffs.

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Photo courtesy of Noah Graham, Getty Images.
Photo courtesy of Noah Graham, Getty Images
Photo courtesy of Noah Graham, Getty Images

On this Noche Latina (which should technically be Dia Latina since it was an afternoon game, but I digress), how else to describe the Lakers’ play but to say, muy bien. Yes, this is an injury-ridden Chicago Bulls team, but so are the Lakers. And despite missing some of their key players, Chicago is still a 5th seed in the Eastern Conference.

The last time these two teams met in the windy city, the Lakers were a bunch of players who were still trying to figure themselves out. Today, with a chance to get to the 8th seed in the Western Conference, they broke habit and led for a great part of the game rather than falling behind like they have been in their last two contests. They didn’t shoot lights out, but stayed the course by not letting poor shooting determine their fate. Behind Dwight Howard’s inspired work on the defensive end and a balanced effort all around, the Lakers pulled out a 90-81 victory.

HIGH POINTS:
Dwight Howard – With less than 24 seconds left in the game and the Lakers holding a nine-point lead, Dwight Howard blocked Nate Robinson’s attempt to score and then stole the ball from Joakim Noah as the clock ran down towards another win. The game was more than decided at that point, but Howard was on a roll. Why not play defense until he no longer had to today? This attitude was appreciated even more by Kobe Bryant, to whom Howard approached after the game to receive a congratulatory bear hug. Any questions about the center’s commitment to the team had been silenced since the All-Star break, as did any concern regarding his relationship with Bryant. Today, Howard put in 16 points on 8-14 from the field, 21 rebounds, four blocks and a steal. Minus the 0-5 from the free throw line, he had as dominating of a game as he has had all season and it’s no coincidence that the Lakers’ play of late has improved since Howard’s game has improved.
Defense – The Lakers weren’t exactly smoking hot from the floor in the first half. They barely shot 42% from the field, and it’s easy for this team to get down when their offense isn’t clicking. However, they didn’t let this one aspect of their game affect their play. Instead, they placed their efforts on the other side of the court, defending Chicago into a bad shooting game. The Bulls’ best FG% of the day was 45.8% in the second quarter, but they didn’t shoot over 40% in any of the other three quarters. They shot just 33% in the first, 29% in the third and 39% in the fourth. They were outrebounded 43-31 through three quarters. Metta World Peace was on Carlos Boozer watch, allowing the Bulls forward just a 12 point, 4-16 from the field kind of game. Aside from the defensive efforts of MWP and Howard, however, the Lakers as a team were rotating and helping regularly, sealing passing lanes and guarding the paint.
Balance – Six players scored in double figures, led by Bryant’s 19 points. Bryant also led the game in assists with nine dimes. Steve Nash scored 10 of his 16 points in the third quarter; letting the Chicago defense have it by hitting running jumpers, fadeaways and even a three. MWP, who has been struggling with his shot as of late, chipped in 12 points of his own, adding in seven rebounds a steal and tied Howard with four blocks. Jodie Meeks came off the bench and chipped in 10 points.
Ball Care – The Lakers turned the ball over nine times in the first half, but only turned it over four times in the second half. By taking better care of the ball, they gave themselves more of a chance to take and then maintain the advantage until the final buzzer.

LOW POINTS:
Threeball – We know the Lakers aren’t going to hit 16 three pointers in every game, but to go 5-26 from downtown is disappointing. They were getting the looks, but just weren’t knocking them down. MWP was 0-6. Earl Clark and Bryant were a combined 2-9 and even Jodie Meeks went just 2-7. Thankfully, the Bulls didn’t make them suffer as they went just 4-16 from behind the arc themselves.
Antawn Jamison – Jamison had an 8-game streak in which he scored double-digits in every game. Lately, however, he has been unable to get that same consistency going. He scored just six points today on 3-7 from the field.

It’s hard to imagine that the Lakers were ever eight games under .500, struggling to figure out how to win, and now they’ve reached the 8th seed in the Western Conference. It’s a spot which will continue to be challenged until the regular season is over. Utah, Golden State and Houston are all jockeying for the same seeds and all the Lakers can do is keep winning to keep themselves in playoff position. They can’t do anything about how these three teams perform, but they can certainly continue to concern themselves with how they play. The 8th seed is not locked up yet, but for now, we’re just happy they’ve had the will and tenacity to get there.

Box Score

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Photo: Noah Graham | Getty Images
Photo: Noah Graham | Getty Images
Photo: Noah Graham | Getty Images

The Lakers are back in the playoff picture!

Finally, after a 3-1 week with wins over New Orleans, Toronto and Chicago, the Lakers have jumped to the 8th seed in the Western Conference.

The Lakers began the week with a tough loss in Oklahoma City, 122-105. In that game, the Lakers conceded 71 points in the first half and were never able to comeback from the early deficit.

The next night, the Lakers conceded 67 points in the first half for another dismal start in New Orleans. The Lakers eventually fell behind by 25 points, but thanks to a 20-0 run to close out the game, they roared back to win 108-102.

Returning home for a quick two-game home stand, the Lakers continued their trend of falling behind early. Thanks to some late-game heroics from Kobe Bryant, however, the Lakers pulled out a win, 118-116 in overtime.

The Lakers finally broke their habit of suffering early deficits by controlling the full game against the Chicago Bulls. A dominant paint presence by Dwight Howard helped the Lakers beat the injury-riddled Bulls by a score of 90-81.

With their three wins this weak, the Lakers are now two games over .500 with a record of 33-31.

With only 18 games left in the 2013 regular season, the Lakers currently hold the 8th seed in the West, but are only a 1/2 game ahead of the Utah in the standings.

Take a look back now at the changes in the Lakers’ stock values and the impact the players should have going forward:

Kobe Bryant Up arrow : Kobe Bryant, or ‘Vino’ as he now calls himself, is having arguably the best stretch of his 17-year career. At 34 years old, Bryant averaged 33.0 points per game, 7.0 assists per game, and 5.8 rebounds per game this past week.

Bryant also shot 50.6% from the field and 58.9% from three-point range.

Bryant had back-to-back spectacular games against New Orleans and Toronto. He was the main catalyst in the Lakers’ terrific 20-0 run, scoring 42 points and dishing out 12 assists to lead the team to victory.

Bryant followed up that performance with a similar one against Toronto— 41 points, 12 assists and 6 rebounds. Hitting remarkable shots late, Bryant’s play helped the Lakers come out on top in overtime.

The greatness of Bryant’s seemingly ‘superhuman’ abilities is capsulated below:

Bryant’s unmatched determination is the main reason why the Lakers have crawled back into the playoff race.

This recent stretch of excellent play did not come easy for Bryant, however. Bryant struggled finding a balance between scoring and facilitating earlier this season.

It seems that Bryant has now found this elusive balance between over-shooting and over-facilitating. As shown by his efficient scoring and passing, Bryant’s leadership of this Lakers team has reached a new level.

Despite suffering an ulnar nerve contusion in his right elbow against Oklahoma City, Bryant overcame the adversity to lead his team to another terrific week.

Dwight Howard Up arrow : Along with Bryant’s superb play, Dwight Howard has also picked up his play since the All-Star break. Howard’s control of the glass and defensive paint were especially key in all three Lakers victories.

Photo: Stacy Revere | Getty Images
Photo: Stacy Revere | Getty Images

Howard averaged 16.5 ppg, 16.3 rpg and 3.3 blocks per game over this past week. Howard’s consistent scoring has been icing on the cake in concert with his elevated focus on the defensive end.

If Howard can continue controlling the boards on both ends of the floor, the Lakers should continue to flourish.

The main issue that has hampered Howard of late is foul trouble. With Pau Gasol still out with a foot injury, Howard needs to be on the floor for the Lakers to be successful.

Howard looks much healthier since the All-Star break, however. His legs seem to be coming back now and his explosive finishing ability is improving.

A focused Howard, matched by a hungry Bryant, will be the key to any Lakers playoff push.

Steve Nash Up arrow : As Howard and Bryant understand how to play with each other more, Steve Nash has also started to settle into his role.

Nash significantly increased his scoring load this past week, averaging 15.8 ppg on 48.9% shooting from the floor.

With Bryant dominating the ball on offense, the two-time MVP has been forced to change his approach. Nash seems to be making this transformation now and his scoring has clearly benefited.

Nash’s three-point shooting ability has also helped open up the floor for the Lakers’ big men. Nash shot 50% from three-point range this week, including 4-6 threes against Toronto.

The Lakers are finally playing their best basketball of the season, and Nash’s sacrifice in playing off the ball has had a huge impact on this turnaround.

Jodie Meeks Up arrow : With consistent playing time off the bench, Jodie Meeks has become a solid contributor on both ends of the floor.

Photo: Gerald Herbert | AP
Photo: Gerald Herbert | AP

Meeks’ three-point shooting was deadly this week, as he shot 55.6% from behind the arc.

Benefitting from Bryant’s facilitating, Meeks hit five three pointers to help bring the Lakers back against New Orleans.

Although Meeks is an under-sized shooting guard, his fierce competitive nature has earned him the opportunity to play behind Bryant.

His lack of size was evident when Meeks was routinely isolated on the block against Toronto.

But his unrelenting intensity on the defensive end helped stop the Raptors late and seal the victory.

With Meeks finally shooting consistently from behind the arc, the Lakers’ offensive attack becomes scary.

Antawn Jamison even: After a solid few weeks off the bench for Antawn Jamison, his production sputtered some this week.

The Lakers’ sixth-man only averaged 7.3 ppg and 5.3 rpg over his last four games. In comparison, Jamison averaged 13.7 ppg on 50% shooting and 6.3 rpg last week.

Jamison’s scoring ability has been a huge boost off the bench for the Lakers this season, but they certainly need him to return to his double-digit scoring.

With Howard holding down the paint, Jamison should take advantage of his outside opportunities. Bryant’s penetration will continue to create opportunities for his teammates, and Jamison must capitalize.

Steve Blake even: Although Steve Blake has been playing well since returning from injury, Blake’s production slipped some this week.

Photo: Brett Deering | Getty Images
Photo: Brett Deering | Getty Images

The Lakers are 14-6 since Blake’s return on January 29th, but Blake only averaged 4.0 ppg this week.

Blake did average 5.0 apg over the last four games, however.

With Nash scoring the ball at a higher rate now, the onus on Blake to score may be lifted some.

That certainly doesn’t mean the Lakers wouldn’t welcome Blake’s scoring, but his role, as the bench’s “floor general”, is much more important at this point in the season.

Metta World Peace even: Another tough shooting week for Metta World Peace.

Although World Peace had been shooting the ball better last week, he returned to his inconsistent form this week.

World Peace averaged 10.3 ppg, but only shot 40.2% from the field and a dismal 27.5% from three-point range.

The consistent play of Bryant, Howard and Nash has created many scoring opportunities for World Peace.

As a result, the 6’9” small forward needs to start capitalizing on these opportunities. If he doesn’t, opposing defenses will shift their focus away from him, forcing him to hit shots.

Despite another shooting slump this week, World Peace’s defense was solid. World Peace played great defense late in the win over Toronto, limiting star Raptor Rudy Gay to just 2-15 shooting in the second half.

World Peace’s role on the Lakers is certainly not to be a prolific scorer, but they could certainly use more consistency from him going forward.

Earl Clark Down arrow : The biggest surprise of this season has officially hit a wall. After Earl Clark’s great January and February, he has struggled mightily in March.

Photo: Gerald Herbert | AP
Photo: Gerald Herbert | AP

Clark averaged 9.5 ppg, but only shot 25.2% from the field this week.

Clark’s rebounding numbers have also dipped recently, as he only averaged 5.5 rpg over the past four games.

The Lakers have to hope that Clark will return to his active, productive self once Gasol returns to the lineup.

The return of Gasol will hopefully relieve some of the pressure off Clark and help him become comfortable again.

In the meantime, however, the Lakers need Clark to bring more to the table on a nightly basis.

Clark seems to be struggling with opposing teams making adjustments. Earlier in the season, the Lakers’ starting power forward excelled because opposing teams just weren’t ready for him.

Now, with opposing defenses adjusting to his tendencies, Clark must make the counter-adjustments himself to return to the level of productivity he experienced earlier in the year.

Robert Sacre Down arrow : Robert Sacre appeared in limited minutes against Oklahoma City and New Orleans, but failed to score in either game.

Sacre has since been assigned to the Lakers’ developmental league-affiliate, the LA D-Fenders.

Darius Morris Down arrow : Darius Morris did not appear in a game this past week.

As he continues to receive little to no minutes on the Lakers’ bench, Morris was also assigned to the D-Fenders this week.

Chris Duhon Down arrow : Chris Duhon appeared only in “garbage-time” against Oklahoma City this week.

Photo: Pau Gasol | Twitter
Photo: Pau Gasol | Twitter

Devin Ebanks Down arrow : Devin Ebanks failed to appear in a game this week.

Pau Gasol Injury sign : Pau Gasol continues to make his recovery from his partially torn plantar fascia.

Gasol, now in week four of his 6-8 week recovery time, has been cleared to begin running on the treadmill.

Hopefully Gasol is able to return sooner than later, and make an immediate impact for the surging Lakers.

 

Stay tuned for next weeks’ Lakers Stock Watch as the Lakers try to solidify a playoff berth battling Orlando, Atlanta, Indiana and Sacramento.

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Photo Credit: AP Photo/Reed Saxon

The Lakers just love that Hollywood drama, don’t they? Despite losing to the Thunder, the purple and gold added 3 games to the win column with exciting and dangerously close games against the Hawks, Hornets (future Pelicans) and Raptors. Check out what Laker Nation had to say in our favorite Tweets of the Week.

Interesting way of putting it Chelsea.

 

Not everyone gets to walk into the Laker locker room before a game. Being the #1 tennis player in the world could get you there.

 

This is very much true but can’t we just enjoy a win, Magic?

 

We hope so, Snoop.

 

Photo Credit: @christianclancy

Odd Future celebrated Domo Genesis’ birthday at a Staples Center suite. Take off that jersey, Tyler, the Creator!

 

Clutch 3 pointers and a huge dunk against the Raptors. Kobe aka Mamba aka Vino can still shock seasoned journalists.

 

https://twitter.com/asvpxxtrilla/status/310274626125189120

Don’t stop believing!

 

Watching the Lakers has become a health risk! But one we’d all gladly take.

If you would like to be included in Tweets of the Week, include @lakernation or #lakernation in your post. We’d love to hear from you!

 

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Photo courtesy of Harry How, Getty Images
Photo courtesy of Harry How, Getty images
Photo courtesy of Harry How, Getty images

They make it interesting, don’t they?

With Utah losing to Chicago and Golden State losing to Houston, the teams above the Lakers in the Western Conference standings are giving them every chance to rise above that 9th seed. Tonight’s game should have been played with a lot of determination, a lot of fire, a lot of energy, especially after the huge comeback win against the Hornets two nights ago. Unfortunately, the Lakers’ short-term memory was in full effect at the onset, allowing the Raptors to score 37 points in the first quarter, and almost 60 points in the first half.

The Lakers fell behind by as much as 15 points and still had a double-digit deficit to overcome entering the fourth quarter. That’s when Kobe Bryant went to work, leading the team to a tie-game at the end of regulation to force overtime and the victory.

HIGH POINTS:
Kobe Bryant – How does he do it? Is his Gatorade bottle full of water from the fountain of youth? Is he immortal? Bryant’s life stats all point to what he SHOULD be at his age and point of his career – slow and on the decline, but he defies it. All of it. After a 42-point, 12 assist, seven rebound game in New Orleans, Bryant aka Mamba aka Vino poured in 41 points on 11-22 from the field, 12 assists, six rebounds and two steals. He hit three 3-pointers in a row in the last two minutes of regulation to put the game into overtime. He followed that by hitting both of his free throws and a spectacular dunk in the five minutes that followed. Unreal. Asked after the game about his big night, Bryant replied, “I was completely irresponsible with the basketball all night long (referring to his nine turnovers). I just wanted to be in a position to redeem myself.” It says a lot when, in the process of producing the stat line that he did two games in a row, Bryant was fixated on wanting to make up for his carelessness. He was keeled over, hands resting on his knees after the game. It was a tough one, he told Lakers sideline reporter, Mike Trudell. His team pulled it off, though, thanks in large part to him.
Dwight Howard – Howard needed help on defense. He had no issues defending the paint, but he needed his teammates to cover for him, and through most of the game, he was an island of defense all by himself. The Lakers may have allowed Toronto to shoot more than 50% from the field for the game, but Howard was there to do his part, and his part produced 24 points on 9-15 from the field, 13 rebounds, three steals and five blocks, including one against Rudy Gay late in the fourth quarter. Howard’s movements look more spry; he appears healthier. He’s also doing a lot of talking on the floor, guiding teammates like Jodie Meeks, on defense. Howard has embraced his role as a defender on this team, and if he can get the rest of his teammates to help on that side of the floor, these Lakers will be better for it.
Steve Nash – That Kobe Bryant, stealing all of Nash’s playmaking accolades. How dare he? Nash handed out just a pair of assists tonight, but he also scored 22 points on 7-13 from he field, including a three-pointer late in the final quarter that brought the Lakers to within four points of the lead. Nash also grabbed four rebounds and two steals. For months, analysts and fans alike have been wishing that Nash would punish the defense more with his ability to score. Tonight he took heed and made Toronto pay with 4-6 from downtown.
Never Say Die – Yes, it’s upsetting that the Lakers must constantly put themselves in situations where they have to work twice as hard to come from behind and win the game, but at least they’ve got some fight in them. In the last two games, they had every right to give up, but they chose to give themselves the chance to win. If this season has done anything for the Lakers, it’s humbled them. They’re aware that it takes more than a smile to get into the playoffs, and that every victory brings them closer to their goal.
Over .500 – 32-31, for the first time since November 20, 2012, the Lakers find themselves with a winning record. Hopefully it’s upwards from here.

LOW POINTS:
Slow Starters – They just can’t help themselves, can they? The Lakers keep allowing their opponents to strike first, and in turn, they must figure out ways to strike second, and strike stronger. 73.9% – that was the Raptors’ shooting percentage in the first quarter. By halftime, Toronto was shooting 58%.
Too Many Minutes – Three players hit the 40+ minute mark (Bryant, Howard and Metta World Peace) and two players who hit the 30+ mark.

Why?

That’s the first question that comes to mind after this thrilling win that shouldn’t have been so thrilling. Why, after a miraculous 25-point turnaround victory against the New Orleans Hornets would the Lakers put themselves in a position that would force them to rally from behind AGAIN? They rallied from 20 points down against the lowly Bobcats, 25 down against the Hornets and 15 down against the Raptors. We may never get the answer to the why’s and how’s of this Laker team this season, but you have to admit – despite the madness they incite, it’s exciting to watch them. No matter what team name is stitched into their jerseys, they are underdogs this season, and this seems to be uniting the team.

Box Score

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Photo by: Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images
Photo by: Gerald Herbert / Associated Press
Photo by: Gerald Herbert / Associated Press

With six minutes and 46 seconds remaining in last Wednesday’s game versus the Hornets, a dunk by Robin Lopez put his team 14 points ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers. It was the 102nd point scored by New Orleans. It also was the last time they would get a bucket until the end of the contest.

The incredible shutdown applied by the Purple and Gold enabled a 20-0 run that would fuel one of the most memorables comeback victories in recent years. Not merely coincidentally, following Lopez’ dunk, Dwight Howard started to perform like his old self at the defensive end, being involved in some manner in every failed offensive attempt by the struggling Hornets.

While Kobe Bryant and Jodie Meeks were taking care of business scoring-wise, being responsible for 30 of the Lakers 33 points in the 4th quarter, “D12″ took over the paint and showed how a center is supposed to defend the pick-and-roll, which was heavily utilized by the opposing team. And despite missing a free-throw, Howard made his presence felt in the offense by setting solid screens to Bryant, giving the Mamba clearer paths to either get a basket or an assist.

It all started by Howard pressuring Lopez underneath the rim, forcing the missed shot and securing the rebound for the Lakers. Dwight also made a good job of raising his arms to constantly pressure the ball-handler in the pick-and-roll sets. By doing that, he disrupted guards Greivis Vasquez and Eric Gordon’s rhythms, rushed their decisions and altered their shots, leading to a bad pass and some missed attempts at the basket.

With a little under five minutes left, Ryan Anderson, instead of going for the three-point shot like he usually does, decided to dribble inside the paint against Metta World Peace. Even though he was able to eventually get past “MWP”, Anderson saw himself right in front of Dwight. With no room to work with due to the Lakers’ center strong presence, the Hornets’ forward ended up taking too many steps after picking up his dribble, which translated to a travel violation, a turnover and another failed possession by the home team.

Following a layup by Bryant that cut the Hornets’ lead to five with 3:38 left, Robin Lopez took advantage of Howard mistiming his jump for the rebound and secured the basketball. But Dwight quickly redeemed himself by staying tight on Lopez and, not only forcing him to miss a dunk, but also grabbing the rebound. It led to a wide open three by Meeks which put the Lakers in an one-possession game.

When the game clock showed two minutes and 45 seconds to play in the contest, Howard picked up his fifth foul, but that didn’t stop him of being aggressive and, most importantly, highly effective on the defensive end. A few seconds later, Dwight’s solid double-team on Al-Farouq Aminu forced the basketball to go back to beyond the arc with the shotclock ticking away, leading to a missed three and another rebound for “D12″.

And then, with just 28 seconds remaining, we had a Superman sighting. In perhaps the best play of his time as a Laker until now, Howard elevated and met the 7-footer Lopez at the very top, emphatically stuffing his dunk attempt like the Dwight we were all used to see prior to the back surgery. It not only put L.A. in position to open up a four-point lead with less than 26 seconds left in the game, but it also sent the message that, on that night in New Orleans, the paint was his. Dwight Howard had decided to stick his flag underneath the basket, so if the Hornets wanted to score, they would have to get past him first. And they did not.

Game winning block.

Howard finished the game with 20 points, 15 rebounds and 4 blocks. But the best about his performance cannot be shown through stats. If the Lakers were able to win on a 20-0 run, it was due to Dwight’s great presence against the pick-and-roll and dominance of the rim for the Purple and Gold. The Hornets were not afraid of going straight at him on every possession, but “D12″ rose up to the challenge.

Howard is still not the same man who won the “Defensive Player of the Year” award on three straight seasons, but performances like the one versus New Orleans go out to prove that he’s getting his body and mind back to where they once were. Those types of efforts kindle the hope that he’s returning to the kind of shape and confidence that would allow him to become the dominating player the Lakers faithful has been expecting to see from him since his signing day.

And, if that happens, good luck finding the kryptonite.

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Photo Credit: Getty Images

The Lakers have finally crawled back to .500 and are within striking distance of the playoff picture. With the Houston Rockets and Utah Jazz hanging on to the last couple playoff spots, Laker Nation will be forced to do a little bit of scoreboard watching over the last 20 games of the season.

In the latest edition of Voice of the Nation: Fastbreak, David Brickley and Jason Riley lay out the road to the postseason, and give you a few reasons why the Lakers may, or may not, play beyond 82 games this season.

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PhotoCredit:Jayne Kamin-Oncea, US Presswire
PhotoCredit:Jayne Kamin-Oncea, US Presswire

When The Lakers said no thank you to Phil Jackson earlier this season, fans everywhere thought that’d be the last we’d hear of the 11 time champion coach. Well, that seems to be false, as reports have surfaced that Phil Jackson is now mentoring Dwight Howard.  Dwight had this to say regarding his new mentor in Jackson, via Mark Medina, Daily News LA:

“Phil, he texts me and he understands how it is to come off back surgery,” Howard said. “He just said it takes a full year to recover, so you can’t beat yourself up over the things that have happened this year.”

This is something Howard has been attempting to convey to the general public as of late, but most don’t understand and just want immediate results from Howard.  Phil also believes that LA is misusing Howard and aren’t putting him in the situation he needs to succeed.

“Dwight just doesn’t get any touches,” Jackson said. “They’ve basically eliminated his assets.”

Phil is clearly on Dwight’s side regarding his current situation in LA.  Howard is still rehabbing from his back surgery last April, and it’ll likely be through the offseason that Howard gets himself back to 100%.  Howard sometimes wonders what it’d be like if he had postponed his return until he was 100%.

“I said that plenty of times, but I don’t want myself to be thinking so much on what I should’ve done,” Howard said. “The harder I push myself every day to get better and get in shape, my body will respond. This summer, after the season, I’ll get an opportunity to train and get my body right.”

“Looking back on it, I could have sat out the whole season until now and starting playing now, but I just felt like we had such a great opportunity,” he said. “Some of these guys, their windows for winning are very small, and I just wanted to get back and try to do whatever I can to help this team, knowing that I wasn’t in great shape. My body wasn’t all the way there yet.”

PhotoCredit:Harry How/Getty Images
PhotoCredit:Harry How/Getty Images

Howard is also continuing to nurse his torn labrum in his right shoulder, which also hinders him in games.

“Sometimes I have gotten beat up for it, but that’s fine. I’ll take all those hits and I’ll keep moving,” Howard said. “People watch games and they see me playing so they think it’s all good. It’s just a time thing. I’ve just got to keep going, keep pushing myself and it’ll get better.”

Because Phil Jackson is on Howard’s side and understands him, more fans around the league should be more sympathetic towards Howard as he continuously tries to get himself fully healthy.  Howard returned in order to help out his team when he saw they could really use him, he knew it was risky coming back so early from such a serious injury but he wanted to help out as best as he could.

Howard continues to get healthier by the day and incrementally is performing better and better on the court. With Phil Jackson mentoring Howard one has to think what else they could be talking about, a possible return to LA? Perhaps, but it’s unlikely seeing as D’Antoni is still under contract, but you never know, Los Angeles is always full of surprises.

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AP Photo/Gerald Herbert
AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

Stu Lantz said it best when describing last night’s game: it was “a gut check of all gut checks”. With their season on the line the Lakers showed mental toughness and grit in coming back from 25 down against a sub-par team in the New Orleans Hornets.

The Lakers dug themselves a grave in the 2nd quarter and nearly slept in it early in the 4th quarter, but that’s when the momentum shifted to L.A.’s side. Jodie Meeks ignited the comeback with a barrage of 3’s and it was an offensive clinic by Kobe alongside arguably the best defensive performance of the year from Dwight.

This win as important as it is, especially considering both Utah and Houston lost, must be taken with a grain of salt considering who the opponent was. While the Hornets do have some nice young talent, they should not be able to gain a 25 point lead against the Lakers.

This win will galvanize the team, but let’s hope it doesn’t start a trend of the Lakers taking a 3 ½ quarter break before they “turn on the switch” and actually start playing hard. The Lakers are now 1 ½ games behind Utah for the 8th seed and 2 games behind Houston for the 7th seed. Let’s see how this team responds to this win in the next two games at home against Toronto and Chicago.

Ultimately, this season rides on how Pau will be re-integrated into the flow of the team as well as how healthy Dwight can be by the time the post season begins. Fans that have watched every game can notice Howard’s explosiveness coming back slowly, yet consistently as he can now jump more than once on any possession. A win is a win and this was one the Lakers badly needed and earned. Here are the grades for last night’s W:

 

Steve Nash: C

Nash was invisible at times during this game mainly because Kobe was doing just about everything on offense. Give credit to Nash for making the right plays and playing good defense on Greivis Vasquez down the stretch.

 

Kobe Bryant: A+

Aside from the 6 turnovers, this was about as well as Kobe has played all season. He was attacking the rim like he was wearing #8 again. Kobe worked the high screen-and-roll beautifully with Dwight which resulted in open lanes for Kobe, open 3’s for Jodie Meeks and/or easy alley-oops to Dwight. As crazy as it sounds, Kobe’s name should be right after LeBron James’ for the MVP race.

 

Metta World Peace: B

The 0 rebounds seem peculiar, but take into consideration that Metta was guarding Ryan Anderson for a majority of the game and Dwight was grabbing every rebound in the painted area. Metta hit some key 3’s and played stingy defense on Ryan Anderson for almost the entire second half.

 

Earl Clark: C

Not much of a performance for EC as he was limited to just 22 minutes and scored all 5 of his points from the charity stripe.

 

Dwight Howard: A

Dwight’s block on Robin Lopez to end the game was a beautiful thing to watch. He helped on the driver, rotated back to his man (Lopez), blocked the dunk attempt, corralled the rebound, and then quickly got it into the hands of a ball handler. If Dwight Howard ever fully recovers from his back injury, then this line from last night’s game of 20 pts, 15 reb, 4 blocks, and 3 steals will be known as an average for Dwight. That’s who the Lakers expect to carry their franchise for the next decade.

 

Jodie Meeks: A+

Great shooting night from Jodie on top of his game changing defensive play forcing Eric Gordon to step out of bounds and give the Lakers possession of the ball with :51 seconds to play. Jodie began the comeback with a few 3 pointers that gave life to the Lakers on the defensive end. Kobe handled the rest from there.

 

Antawn Jamison: B-

Not much from Antawn, but he was on the unit that brought the Lakers back into the game. Luckily Jodie was able to carry the load as far as bench scoring was concerned.

 

Steve Blake: B-

While he did not score, Steve Blake did dish out 7 assists in 22 minutes.

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Photo courtesy of Stacy Revere, Getty Images
Photo courtesy of Doug Pensinger, Getty Images
Photo courtesy of Doug Pensinger, Getty Images

Sometimes it’s not about how you start, but about how you finish. And tonight, the Lakers started with a loser’s game plan, but eventually figured out how to win in the end.

After losing to the Oklahoma City Thunder last night, a game against the 21-40 New Orleans Hornets was just what the Lakers needed. A team they’ve defeated in nine straight games, surely it would be an easy win, right? The answer would be a definitive NO. Not very many wins this season have been easy for the Lakers, regardless of their opponents’ records. They’ve had to claw their way through a number of ugly games against not only playoff-bound teams, but a slew of subpar squads as well. Tonight would be no exception.

The Lakers fell behind by as much as 25 points, appearing completely incapable of playing well for the length of even one possession. The score was tied after the first quarter, and then the Hornets poured it on in the second, scoring 71 points in the first half, just as OKC did last night. But Kobe Bryant refused to let this game get away from them, putting on a show in the second half and, with Dwight Howard anchoring the defense, erased a double digit lead to take the game at the buzzer, 108-102

HIGH POINTS:
Kobe BryantVino-that’s Bryant’s newest moniker. He’s like fine wine, getting better with age, and tonight he continued to support his newest title. There is no slowing this man down, physically or mentally. He doesn’t know the meaning of surrender or despair. If there is time on the clock, he will do whatever it takes to try to win. Down 19 points after the first half, Bryant played the entire second half, scoring 25 of his 42 points on 9-11 from the field and handed out 11 of his 12 assists. He also grabbed seven rebounds and blocked a shot. With 25.5 seconds left in the game, and the Lakers up by just two points, Bryant ran from halfcourt as he received the inbounds pass from Steve Blake to score on a wide open dunk. The Hornets didn’t appear to know what had just transpired, standing in shock as Bryant ran to the Laker bench in celebration.
Dwight Howard – With 2:45 minutes left in the game, and the Lakers just two points behind New Orleans, Howard picked up his fifth foul. Did that fifth foul take him out of the game? Actually, the contrary. Howard continued to rebound, cover the paint and his biggest play was a block on Robin Lopez’s attempt with just over 30 seconds left in the game. Howard finished with 20 points on 9-16 from the field, 15 rebounds, three steals and four blocks.
Jodie Meeks – There are some players who are just really good at doing one thing, and Meeks is really good at shooting

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

from afar. He scored just seven points through the first three quarters, and then went a perfect 4-4 from behind the arc in the fourth quarter, contributing in a huge way to the Lakers’ 20-0 run to victory. He finished with 19 points and lead with a +19 for the game.
Ball Movement – Led by Bryant’s 12 assists, the Lakers handed out 26 assists on 38 field goals. In comparison, last night against OKC, they handed out just 11 dimes for the entire game. The ball movement was stagnant at best, leading to turnover after turnover. Tonight, the Lakers’ 26 dimes helped keep their mistakes in check, committing just 11 turnovers for the game.
Fourth Quarter – Not only did the Lakers outscore the Hornets 33-9 in the fourth quarter. They went on a 20-0 run in the final 6:47 minutes of the game, shooting 63.2% from the field and committing just one turnover. They held the home team to 17.4% shooting and forced them into six turnovers of their own, which led to 12 points.

LOW POINTS:
Slow Start – “Slow” is an understatement. The score was tied after the first quarter, but in the second quarter, the Lakers completely fell asleep. New Orleans practically outscored them but twice as much, 39-20, while shooting almost 60%. The Lakers went 6-23 from the field for a 26% FG%. Nothing was going their way, but you get out what you put in, and they didn’t put in very much.
Steve Nash – Just six points on 2-7 from the field for the starting point guard, and while Blake didn’t score at all, he did manage to hand out seven assists. Nash handed out just one in his 35 minutes of playing time.
Antawn Jamison and Earl Clark – The Lakers’ sparks the last few weeks, even Jamison and Clark can have off nights. Jamison went just 3-6 from the field for his six points and Clark was 0-4 from the field, scoring only from the free throw line.

By any means necessary – that’s Kobe Bryant’s motto. With the Lakers still sitting in the ninth spot in the West, and Utah and Houston both losing tonight, they couldn’t afford to lose any more games, especially games they SHOULD win. A 25-point deficit isn’t insurmountable if you have the time and the will to get over it, and the Lakers certainly did tonight. They could have mailed it in when the deficit hit its peak, but Bryant just doesn’t lead that way and his team is better for it.

Box Score

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PhotoCredit:ESPN

Remember way back when The Lakers traded their star center Andrew Bynum to Philadelphia in the three way trade that landed Los Angeles Dwight Howard? Of course we

PhotoCredit:David Maialetti:Philly.com
PhotoCredit:David Maialetti:Philly.com

do, how could anyone forget?  Well, despite what many LA fans think about Howard’s sub-par play thus far, it’s still better than that of former Laker Andrew Bynum.

Bynum has played a whopping 0 games this season and is averaging a huge 0 PPG and 0 RPG.  Howard, while not playing to his full potential yet, at least has given it a go this season and attempted to help the team as best as he can.  While many fans of the purple and gold didn’t want to see Bynum go for Howard, we have to be thankful that Howard is at least healthy enough to play this season.  Who knows where The Lakers would be without Bynum or Howard this season, it’s hard to imagine they could be any worse than their current record shows but that would likely be the case.

The District Attorney of Philadelphia had something to say regarding Bynum’s recent lack of play via his personal Twitter account and (LarryBrownSports)

From what the Philly DA is saying, it sounds like he wants to investigate Bynum for fraud for his lack of playing this season.  Bynum is due 17 million this season and he hasn’t helped the 76ers one bit towards winning basketball games.  Considering $17 million is due to Bynum for playing basketball, which he isn’t doing, I think District Attorney Williams has a legitimate case.  I think it’s safe to say, no matter Los Angeles’ current situation, The Lakers received the better end of the deal, hands down.

However, based on the last tweet it completely sounds like this will never happen.  Granted I understand that the district attorney of a city such as Philadelphia has much more important things to worry about than an overpaid basketball player, he probably shouldn’t start the fire if he doesn’t intend to stoke it.  We’ll see if anything comes out of this but don’t hold your breath.

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scoreboard-watch
Photo Credit: Getty Images

There are a lot of “un’s” I can use to describe this entire article.

Unusual.
Unpredictable.
Unnecessary.

But the best adjective I can come up with is: Unexpected.

Scoreboard watching? In Laker Nation? Get out of here.

Despite our lofty expectations for this team, it has come down to a little bit of scoreboard watching. The star-studded Lakers are going to need some help if they plan to extend their season beyond 82.

CURRENT STANDINGS:

Playoff Seed

Team

Record

Games Back

#7

Rockets

33-28

14.0

#8

Jazz

32-28

14.5

 

Lakers

30-31

17.0

The Lakers sit 2.5 games back of the Utah Jazz for that final playoff spot. With just 21 games left on the schedule – 10 at home, and 11 on the road – now is the time for the Lakers to win the games they’re supposed to, and a few of the games they aren’t.

LAKERS – NEXT 3:

Photo by Harry How/Getty Images
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Opponent

Date

Time

@ New Orleans

Tonight

5pm

Vs. Toronto

Friday

7:30pm

Vs. Chicago

Sunday

12:30pm

After a defenseless (literally) loss in Oklahoma City, the Lakers are in New Orleans tonight against the Hornets Pelicans (21-40). The Hornets are coming off a home loss to the Orlando Magic, where they blew a 17-point second half lead. New Orleans is a subpar 11-19 at home, whereas the Lakers are an equally meager 10-20 on the road.

Staples Center is the last stop for the Raptors (23-38) on their current 4-game road trip. Heading into tonight’s game in Phoenix, Toronto has dropped 5 in a row. They are just 8-22 away from the Air Canada Centre.

Chicago (34-26) swings through Los Angeles for a matinee on Sunday. Still without the services of Derrick Rose, the Bulls have managed to slide into the top 4 in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls are one of the few teams in the NBA that have a better record on the road (17-12) that at home (17-14).

JAZZ – NEXT 3:

Opponent

Date

Time

@ Cleveland

Tonight

4pm

@ Chicago

Friday

5pm

@ New York

Saturday

4:30pm

After a very winnable game tonight in Cleveland (20-40), things get tougher for the Jazz on the road.

With a back-to-back in Chicago (34-26) on Friday, then in New York (36-21) on Saturday, the Lakers may have a great opportunity to pick up a game on Utah by the end of the weekend.

ROCKETS – NEXT 3:

Opponent

Date

Time

@ Dallas

Tonight

5:30pm

@ Golden State

Friday

7:30pm

@ Phoenix

Saturday

6:00pm

Houston demolished Dallas – 136-103 – in one of their best offensive performances on the season on Sunday. The embarrassed Mavs (26-33) will look to fire back tonight at home.

The Warriors (34-27) are 19-7 at home, but are only a game up on the Rockets in the standings.

While the lowly Phoenix Suns (21-39) don’t appear to be much of a threat, they have won 3 straight and will be the second game of a back-to-back for Houston. This one has trap game written all over it.

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

The attitude in the air for tonight’s game was simple and consistent all around – if the Lakers won, it’d be their biggest victory of the season. If they lost, it would be no surprise. Well, they lost and it really is no surprise. Yes, the Lakers have been on an upward swing the last couple of weeks. They’ve been playing like a team, gaining some ground in the standings and just look like they’re finally “getting it.” Unfortunately, “getting it” isn’t enough to defeat a team like the OKC Thunder.

There’s no getting around it – nothing encouraging about losing by 17 points. The Lakers, however, fell behind by as much as 18 points, and still managed, in spurts, to keep the Thunder on their toes by going on a few runs to claw away at the deficit, getting as close as six points from the lead late in the third quarter. Unfortunately, the Lakers needed to play a perfect game with the perfect amount of energy throughout the 48 minutes, but they caught on too late to fall under .500 again after a 122-105 loss.

HIGH POINTS:

Kobe Bryant – A collective gasp was heard ‘round Laker Nation three minutes into the game when Kobe Bryant keeled over in pain as he grabbed his right elbow. He subbed out and headed straight to the locker room to be checked. Not surprisingly, he returned a few minutes later, diagnosed with an ulnar nerve contusion (injury to his funny bone). Bryant played the remainder of the game (of course), scoring 18 of his 30 points, in the first half and went 11-12 from the free throw line.

Earl Clark – A source of energy and hustle for the team, Clark scored 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds in the first half, and finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds for the game. He only shot 3-8 from the field but hit 6-8 from the charity stripe.

Threeball – How did the Lakers manage to keep the game competitive? They hit some big shots from downtown, that’s how. 12-29 from behind the arc, while OKC managed just 8-23. Aside from Dwight Howard, every Laker who saw minutes hit at least one from three-point land.

Free Throws – Despite being the worst free throw shooters in the league, the Lakers actually did a decent job from the charity stripe this time around. They converted 31 of their 40 attempts from the free throw line.

Third Quarter – If the Lakers played in the first half and fourth quarter the way they did in the third, tonight might have ended on a happier note. Everything in the third quarter kept them in the game. They outscored OKC 34-26, only allowed the Thunder 38.5% shooting while they managed to shoot 52.4% and they held Kevin Durant to just two points. Steve Nash, after going 1-7 in the first half, went off for 13 points on 5-6 from the field on the way to his 20 points for the game. They also only allowed the Thunder to score 10 points in the paint after allowing 28 paint points in the first two quarters.

LOW POINTS:

Bench – The bench isn’t expected to score 52 points in every game like they did against the Timberwolves, but chipping in just 20 points against such a high-octane team like OKC is not enough of a contribution.

Defense – OKC scored 52 points in the paint, 71 points in the first half, and 122 points for the game. The Lakers looked powerless for the greater part of game, unable to stop Russell Westbrook, who went off for 37 points on 15-29 from the field, from getting to the hoop. Without his seven made free throws, Kevin Durant scored just 19 points on 9-22 from the field, but it wasn’t just OKC’s big two that chipped in. Four other Thunder teammates scored in double figures, and the Lakers did little to stop them.

Ball Movement – When the Lakers defeated OKC back in January, they handed out 29 assists on 41 made field goals. Tonight, they collected just 11 assists. 11! There were too many isolation plays, especially on Bryant’s part. Too many quick threes early in the shot clock and three-point attempts in transition didn’t help either. Instead of slowing the game down to start, they waited until the third quarter after falling into a double-digit hole. They played at OKC’s pace, and as a result, collected 16 turnovers which the Thunder turned into 22 points. OKC only committed two turnovers for the game. TWO TURNOVERS IN 48 MINUTES.

Despite being unable to score in the final six minutes, the Lakers really did have a chance to win this game, but instead of executing the proper game plan for their opponent, they played scattered for the majority of the time and suffered another loss because of it. By the time they found the energy to match the Thunder, it lasted for one quarter and then faded. Next up is Atlanta on Wednesday night. .500 – it was great while it lasted, and if the Lakers would like to take that record back, they’ll have to defeat the second team on this back-to-back road trip.

Box Score

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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.