Saturday, December 20, 2014
Blog Page 53

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Image: Jared Wickerham | Getty Images
Photo: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Photo: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Despite Dwight Howard’s return to the lineup, the red-hot Celtics rout the Lakers. Here are a few takeaways from the Lakers-Celtics game:

Dwight Howard did not show up to play.

It’s no surprise that Dwight Howard, after being sidelined for 3 games, looked rusty. With his return, the Lakers offensive attack was out of sync and showed a lack of defensive urgency. The Lakers shot 41% and doled out only 16 assists, while allowing the Celtics to rack up 116 points on 53% shooting. Some credit should be given to Boston’s tough defense, which swarmed Howard in the first half and ran a help defender at Kobe early in his isolation sets.

Regardless if Howard felt compelled to return to the lineup tonight to silence the public scrutiny he’s received for sitting out the past three games, it’s clear that he is nowhere close to 100%, mentally or physically. At this point in the season, every game is important, and tonight’s game should be a red flag there are still a number of on-court (and off-court) problems to iron out if the Lakers are truly serious about making a run at the playoffs.

Kobe Bryant looked to shoot, but only after passing wasn’t an option.

The story so far this season has been that when Kobe passes, everyone is happy and the Lakers win. Tonight, Kobe didn’t log a single dime and the Lakers were blown out. He was efficient from the field, shooting 9/15 and scoring 27 points. Unfortunately, he couldn’t shoot his team out of its slump against the seemingly perfect Celtics.

Since he only shot 15 times, fans shouldn’t be worried about Bryant regressing from the facilitator role. Against the Celtics, he regularly looked for Howard and his teammates early and often. But the shots simply weren’t falling for his teammates, and only then did he truly start to take over scoring responsibility. Simply put, the Lakers just had a bad shooting night.

The Celtics took advantage of a Pau-less Lakers team on the ropes.

With Dwight Howard unable to will his team on either end of the court, it’s obvious that these Lakers cannot win without Pau Gasol. Whether he comes off the bench or starts next to Dwight Howard, his versatile skillset and intelligence makes the Lakers so much more effective and efficient.

Pau’s injury was a gift to Doc Rivers and the Celtics, and their game plan became simpler: trap Kobe (which they always do every time these teams meet) and force Dwight Howard into becoming a playmaker (which he isn’t). Without Pau Gasol to relieve pressure from Bryant and Dwight, the Celtics defense collapsed in the paint, forcing the Lakers to win the game on the perimeter (and 21% 3PT shooting isn’t going to do it).

D’Antoni’s choice to leave Howard in the game after it was out of reach.

It definitely is a head-scratcher. As spectators, it’s easy to pick apart decisions made by the coach, and most of us usually don’t know enough about what’s going on courtside to really warrant such complaints. However, when the opposing team has a 30-point lead in the fourth quarter and the game has essentially been decided, it’s probably best to rest your injured center instead of putting him at risk by keeping him on the floor.

Who knows why D’Antoni decided to keep Howard in, but Howard’s exit plan, also known as “fouling out”, seemed to be a message to the coach that he was done playing in this game.

KG’s 25k points: Bad game for Lakers fans, but good for NBA fans.

Midway through the second quarter, Kevin Garnett became the 16th player in NBA history to score 25,000 points. While the Celtics can’t boast a 30,000 point scorer like the Lakers, Garnett joins an elite group of players that have truly dedicated themselves to the game of basketball. Known more as a defensive specialist than an offensive powerhouse, this milestone speaks volumes of Garnett’s ability to extend his career and cements his legacy as one of the best two-way big men to play the game.

And, given the history between these two teams and how this season has played out, it shouldn’t surprise any Lakers fans that a Celtics player set a new record on a night when the Lakers fell flat.

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Photo courtesy of Jared Wickerham, Getty Images
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Charles Krupa
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Charles Krupa

The win in Brooklyn the other night, without Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace, was quite impressive. With both back in the lineup, there should not have been a problem for the Lakers to play a competitive game against their fierce rivals, the Boston Celtics; especially with Rajon Rondo gone for the rest of the season. At least in theory.

The Celtics started off hot, with Paul Pierce hitting his step-backs. Dwight Howard managed to get Kevin Garnett in foul trouble less than three minutes into the game when he picked up two quick fouls. It really didn’t matter much,however, because Howard  went 1/6 from the free throw line and took only eight shots in nearly 29 minutes of playing time, despite Boston lacking a true center. It was sad seeing the Celtics play at a faster pace than the Lakers without Rondo leading them on the floor. They moved the ball and they were hit their shots – it was that simple.

In the first half, the Lakers played some very slow basketball, and allowed the Celtics to score where and whenever the pleased. The score was 44-58 at the break. As we’ve heard many times with this Lakers team, offense alone can’t always win games. Most times, it all starts on the defensive side of the floor.

The second half wasn’t much different from the first. Kobe Bryant hit some tough fade aways, but other than tha,t the Lakers played sloppy basketball and their defense was just terrible. After Dwight got his fourth personal foul, the Lakers’ lineup shrinked even more than it already was, forcing Antawn Jamison into the center position.

The Celtics’ ball movement was evident in the box score – six players scored in double figures. The Celtics can play like this every night, yes, but the Laker defense didn’t help. It was, in a word, slow.

On the offensive end, it sometimes looked like they didn’t want to win this game. The ball movement that had won them six of the last seven games going into tonight’s contest, was gone. They combined for only 16 assissts. Steve Nash had just five dimes and Kobe went from double-digit assist games to zero tonight. The Celtics had 25 assists in all.

Shot selection was also bad. They attempted 23 shots from the 3 point line and converted only five. Bryant had a solid night (27 points, 9-15 from the field, 7 rebounds), but besides him there wasn’t a Laker who could match the Celtics on this night, when almost everything was going their way. In one play, Bryant tried to get the ball to Steve Blake, and Avery Bradley stole it and scored on an easy lay-up. Again with the carelessness that had plagued them earlier in the season.

Tonight’s loss perpetuates the Lakers’ slowly diminishing hope of making the playoffs. They are now 23-27 and they have a lot of work to do until Sunday when they face the Heat. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade will be ready to embarrass them on their home floor.

Tonight should be forgotten, move on. It’s bad enough having to adjust to Pau Gasol being out for the next 6-8 weeks. Bryant still has to urge Howard to play with a sense of urgency? The clock is ticking and the playoffs are closer than it seems. Now they stand at 4 wins behind the 8th seeded Houston Rockets, and there’s no hope until they start playing defense and moving the basketball like they’ve done in those 23 wins.

We have seen them win against the best teams, but they lack consistency. There are two games left on their road trip – Charlotte and Miami. The Bobcats shouldn’t be a problem, but who knows, as we’ve seen it all this season. Miami will be interesting. Dwight Howard’s commitment, ball movement and defense are going to be the keys on Sunday, as well as tomorrow. The Heat don’t have a big man like Dwight, and they’ve suffered at the hands of teams who outsize them. To have a chance at winning, the Lakers have to take advantage of that.

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(Photo Cred: Reuters)
(Photo Cred: Reuters)

The Los Angeles Lakers seemed to hit a turning point in the season coming into Tuesday’s matchup with the new-look Brooklyn Nets, taking five out of their last six games.  During their first ever visit to the breathtaking Barclays Center, the Lakers looked to claw at the Western Conference standings while building on momentum that has been missing most of the season.

Walking through Barclays Center gave you the feeling of being in an exclusive New York nightclub. You never felt a swagger or confidence coming from the Nets organization in previous seasons. With key signings in the off season, new arena, and the move to Brooklyn, this franchise has clearly been revitalized.

As the Lakers were introduced something didn’t seem right in the building. Typically you hear a wave of boo birds when the well travelled Laker fans begin to cheer for their team. Not tonight though, you could tell that the Laker fans presence was deeper than usual. It literally looked like Laker fan sections had been designated in the arena.

Not knowing what to expect with a line up missing Howard and World Peace, the team was able to keep pace, only trailing 18-24 at the end of the first quarter. As the second quarter started, the Lakers bench was able to provide a spark of energy. Earl Clark, Robert Sacre and Jodi Meeks provided some early scoring tying the game up mid way through the second.

Then you heard it…. “DEFENSE, DEFENSE, DEFENSE!” Did the Laker Nation really just begin to take over the Barclays Center? Neither the music or Nets fans could  silence the Laker Nation chants. In my countless road game attendances, I have never heard the Lakers so well represented.  At the same time it was surprising to see the Brooklyn Net fan base not seem to care. Typically when this happens you hear the home team fans booing immediately, but not tonight.

Toward the end of the quarter Kobe went to the line and the typical “MVP, MVP, MVP!”chants were louder than some of the games I have witnessed at Staples Center. It was really unbelievable how many Laker fans were in the building showing so much energy. This energy helped the Lakers take a 49-40 halftime lead. The offense had a big quarter and the defense/bench was playing at an intensity level has not been shown in a lot of games this season.

As the second half got under way, Kobe came out with two quick baskets igniting more Laker noise in the building. By attacking the paint, the Nets managed their way back into the game, only trailing by three after the third quarter. By the fourth you could see fatigue setting in as the Lakers big men tried to keep Brook Lopez and company off the boards. Between the lack of size and experience playing down low, the Lakers got pounded in the paint all quarter.

Throughout the game, Gerald Wallace looked as if he was in no man’s land guarding Kobe.  With 2:45 left in the forth, tied at 80,  who else is going to put the team on his back other than the Black Mamba? Kobe drove to the lane and threw down a ferocious dunk adding two more bodies to his graveyard of posterizations. You would have thought it was a Laker home game as the crowd erupted. There were even times you could not take your eyes off the court because you did not know who the “DEFENSE!” chants were aimed for.

Although the Lakers were able to close out the game playing great defense, it was not all good news. In the closing minutes Gasol left the game after getting tied up with Brook Lopez on a rebound. Gasol was able to walk off the court under his own power, but did not return to the game.

After the game the Lakers headed to the team bus one by one, but from their emotions, you could sense something was wrong. The facial expressions weren’t the kind that just won a big game on the road. As Gasol emerged from the locker room, he was on crutches, most likely as a precaution until he could be reevaluated the next day.

As reported yesterday by Laker Nation writer Jason Riley and multiple other sources, the news from the Laker camp was anything but good. Gasol will miss anywhere from 6-10 weeks with a partial tear of his plantar fascia.

With the Lakers big man situation goings from bad to worse, let’s hope Superman is ready to throw on his cape and play through his injuries. Howard did take part in Thursday’s shoot around, however Howard is a game time decision for tonight’s game against the rival Boston Celtics.

Tip off from TD Garden is at 8PM ET on TNT.

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The injuries continue to pile up for the Lakers. With Dwight Howard still ailing, the Lakers confirmed yesterday that Pau Gasol will miss significant time with a partial tear of his plantar fascia.

With the season hanging in the balance, how does Gasol’s injury effect the Lakers, and what can they do to fill the void left by Pau’s absence? David Brickley and Jason Riley discuss in the latest episode of Voice of the Nation: Fastbreak.

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For Pau Gasol, things continue to go from bad to worse. After injuring himself during the 4th quarter of last night’s win in Brooklyn, the Lakers have confirmed that Gasol has a partial tear of his plantar fascia.

While early speculation suggests that Pau will mis anywhere from 6-10 weeks, if surgery is needed, he could be out significantly longer. Gasol will return to Los Angeles tomorrow to be evaluated by the team doctor.

Keep it tuned right here to Laker Nation for the latest updates on Gasol’s injury.

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Photo courtesy of Emmanuel Dunand
Photo courtesy of Emmanual Dunand, Getty Images
Photo courtesy of Emmanuel Dunand, Getty Images

This was not supposed to happen tonight. No way the Lakers were going to extend their winning streak over the Nets to 10 straight, especially with news that Metta World Peace would be serving a one-game suspension for his flagrant foul against the Pistons, and Dwight Howard sitting again with his aggravated shoulder injury. But hold EVERYTHING! These are the Lakers we are talking about, and this is the Hollywood ending everyone has been waiting on.

The Lakers stayed consistent by blowing another double digit lead, but withstood the Nets’ body blows and upper cuts, and came back to win in dramatic fashion. Jay Z and Beyonce sat front and center, listening to a large Laker contingent chanting M-V-P for Kobe Bryant as the final seconds were ticked off the clock. Now that, my Laker friends, is what I call showing up for the purple and gold.

With their 92-83 win tonight, the Lakers have now won 6 of their last 7 games, and have suddenly discovered what seemed to elude them most of this season. Players have finally begun accepting their roles and the minutes (or lack of ) that come with them. They have started trusting in each other and showing they still have a pulse come crunch time in the fourth quarters of games. The Lakers held Brooklyn to under 35% from the floor, keeping them scoreless in the final 2:33, while they scored the last nine points to put this game on ice. They accomplished all this with Pau Gasol leaving midway through the final quarter with an apparent foot injury. His departure left Antawn Jamison and Earl Clark to do battle with Brook Lopez on the boards the rest of the way. Clark played 41 minutes, scored 14 points, grabbed 12 boards, and threw in a block & a steal for good measure. Jamison put up nine points and eight rebounds. Not too shabby all things considered.

This win was huge for the Lakers. It kept the momentum train firmly on the tracks, and the confidence meter is soaring to a new altitude. Speaking of altitudes, Kobe Bryant added more highlight film to his already endless reel of footage. He had 21 points, eight rebounds, four assists, and four steals. Overshadowing all those stats was the crossover move he put on Gerald Wallace and the thunderous dunk on a helpless Nets defense. Let’s not forget about Steve Nash and the value he brought to the court tonight. He displayed the whole arsenal of moves and shot variations, while scoring 17 points and dishing out eight assists. Pau Gasol had 15 points on the evening as well.

Don’t get me wrong, the Nets contributed to this win tonight as well. They came into the game with clear player mismatches, but simply didn’t game plan well enough to exploit them. With the likes of Deron Williams and Joe Johnson against Nash and Steve Blake, you have got to take advantage better than they did. The handful of times Williams posted on Nash, he had decent results, and Johnson had a distinct height advantage over both Nash and Blake. The bottom line, however, is they didn’t go to the well enough and they came up dry. Brook Lopez had a double-double, but missed some key shots down the stretch.

All that being said, serious props have to be given to Blake tonight. He provided a spark off the bench, allowing Bryant and Nash much needed minutes off the floor, and scored the first seven points of the fourth quarter. I’m quite sure the Nets were not expecting that to happen. And so you have it, game balls galore for many heroes tonight, and more importantly, a big old injection of ,”We have turned the corner”.

So it’s goodbye Brooklyn, hello Boston. The Celtics await, and they will be ready. Something tells me we have a bit of history with this team. Oh well, as the barber always says……NEXT!

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Trust Isuues
Photo Credit: In Flex We Trust

As Drake once said the number one problem with relationships today are trust issues. Usually someone has their phone locked, tweets blocked, or just do not want to tell their partner how they feel in fear of being the bad guy (or girl). On Monday, Lakers star center Dwight Howard sat down in an exclusive interview with ESPN broadcast journalist Stephen A. Smith to discuss all-things Lakers and his role in the team’s future plans:

In a one-on-one interview, Dwight Howard swore he’s committed to the Lakers — for this season. That he wants to remain a Laker — for this season. That he’s happier with Kobe Bryant now, more so than he was before, although he said there’s still room for their relationship to get better.

“I’m learning from Kobe,” Howard told me on Monday. “I’m watching how he works, how he operates, what he knows and feels about this organization. Things continue to get better every day. But there’s always room for growth.”

Let’s just say Dwight is trying not to be the bad guy in this relationship:

Howard is free to trust everyone or no one. Free to dictate his own terms. That means his own system, arguably his own coach, and definitely which franchise to choose between the Lakers, Mavs and Hawks, just to name a few.

“I’ve trusted enough people in my career,” Howard deadpanned. “Now it’s time for me to trust myself. I’ve given and given. I’ve thought about everyone else. Now it’s time for me to think about me.”

Throughout the article Stephen A. brings up the point that the Lakers do not have time to waste with Dwight. On July 1st he becomes a restricted free agent and is free to roam to any team he wants to. The problem with that scenario is that Dwight is the Lakers future: for better or for worse:

He never swore his allegiance to the Purple and Gold. He never said he wanted to be a Laker for life. Dwight Howard never displayed affection for the pantheon of Lakers big men serving as his predecessors — just that he wanted to one day be as iconic as they are.

This is the best the Los Angeles Lakers can hope for from D-Howard at the moment. That he’s great. Committed to excellence.

And so it is precisely for that reason that, as we sit here today, with the Lakers visiting the Nets in Brooklyn and an injured Howard on the sideline, GM Mitch Kupchak should make sure to visit his Nets counterpart, Billy King, for the sole purpose of attempting to trade L.A.’s resident big man.

Quick, fast and in a hurry!

Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak recently stated that:

“We will not trade Dwight Howard,” Kupchak told Newsday last month. “We have no intention of making a trade. It’s unlikely that we’ll make any trade with any of our principal players.”

Yet Smith stuck to his guns about his feelings on the statement:

Such proclamations do not make the Lakers look smart, or like an organization with a clue about what is in the heart and mind of Howard.

Trade him for some combination involving Nets center Brook Lopez. Trade him for multiple pieces involving Hawks forward Josh Smith — who desperately wants out of Atlanta — and other respectable parts.

Dwight even touched upon how he and, power forward, Pau Gasol can be effective together on the court despite what may be said:

Howard also said he believes he and Pau Gasol should play together, even though coach Mike D’Antoni has them playing apart.

What part of all this are the Lakers finding difficult to comprehend?

Somebody help me out here, please!

Stephen A. Smith makes very valid points. Losing Dwight could derail the Lakers for a number of years. They essentially gave up draft picks to bring him here as he is the present and the future of the organization.

The Lakers do need to find out what exactly Dwight’s thoughts are because there is no future if he decides to leave Los Angeles during free agency. With an aged point guard in Steve Nash, a disgruntled but valuable player in Gasol, and a hall-of-famer in the twilight of his career named Kobe Bryant the Lakers have no time to waste.

To say that this season has been been more frustrating than exciting would be an understatement. Everyone had high hopes once the trades were made however we all have been left looking confused rather than looking like Confucius. Call me crazy, but I still do believe that with Bryant’s willingness to become a play maker, rather than his usual scoring self, the Lakers can still make a title-run. Yet it will take less #countonKobe and more #countonDwight to make it there.

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Image Credit: Andrew D. Bernstein | Getty Images
Image Credit: Andrew D. Bernstein | Getty Images
Image Credit: Andrew D. Bernstein | Getty Images

What should the Lakers do with Pau Gasol?

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Pau Gasol is a true professional.

Thankfully, those words ring true for the Lakers’ 7-footer, because it’s no secret that Gasol is having a difficult time as a Laker right now.

In a season marked by disappointment and frustration, the two-time NBA champion has maintained a level head. Despite being publicly embarrassed and marginalized by head coach Mike D’Antoni, Gasol remains confident and upbeat about the Lakers’ prospects.

Being the ultimate team player that he is, Gasol certainly does not deserve this type of embarrassment from his coach. Gasol, however, continues to handle each additional dig from D’Antoni, with a presence unmatched by most NBA players.

The constant putdowns started with D’Antoni’s benching of Gasol late in a game against Memphis. D’Antoni defended the benching by saying, “I was thinking, I’d like to win this game.”

D’Antoni consequently benched Gasol permanently later in the season. Although he never explicitly admitted it, the famed “7 seconds or less” coach wanted to play ‘small ball’, rather than maximize the Lakers’ strength inside.

Gasol, a starter his entire career, was understandably frustrated by his demotion to the bench. As a result, D’Antoni fired more shots at the Spaniard in the media.

Before the Lakers’ game in Phoenix, D’Antoni told reporters, “I guess the ‘all for one’ lasted about 48 hours. Not bad.” This was an obvious dig at Gasol, who has personally been unhappy with his role since the benching.

In a recent interview with the LA Times’ TJ Simers, Gasol finally opened up about his frustrations, the current state of the Lakers, his view of coach D’Antoni, as well as his potential future in Los Angeles:

In response to Gasol’s dinner meeting with coach D’Antoni a few weeks back, Gasol had this to say:

“It was an effort on our part to try and come to an understanding,” Gasol said. “But I don’t think it’s translated to an understanding. Nothing significant has happened; it’s probably even gone a little backwards.”

On the notion that Gasol was a “happy camper now because D’Antoni was saving Gasol’s knees and prolonging his career”:

“Never heard that,” Gasol said.

Gasol, 32 and with one year remaining on his contract, was then asked what would happen if All-Star center Dwight Howard and coach D’Antoni remain with the Lakers this off-season:

“It would be hard for me to deal with another season knowing the facts you just mentioned,” said Gasol. “It’s a possibility [that I ask for a fresh start elsewhere].”

However, Gasol will not ask for a trade before the February 21st trade deadline:

“I’m not a quitter,” he said. “Just because things look better on the other side of the fence, I’m not going to take the easy way out. “I have a certain level of loyalty here, and I’ve been through a lot of great, amazing things. And there have been others that have been hurtful. But that’s life.

“I don’t have cancer, my mom wasn’t dying and I’m still playing basketball. I love the Lakers and Los Angeles, and none of that has changed just because certain things are out of my control.”

Despite D’Antoni’s constant disrespect of the 11-year veteran, Gasol refused to blame D’Antoni for misusing him:

“He has his philosophy and system, and the Lakers hired him,” said Gasol. “It’s not his fault. His philosophy is to play with one big guy and four guys spread out, so then he had to make a decision: Dwight or Pau?” It was an easy decision. The Lakers are committed to making Howard happy so he will return.

Gasol then offered up a prediction for the future:

“They try to decide how I can be productive in this mix, while I know I’m not going to be in position to do what I do best and help us win more games. It’s frustrating, but it’s not going to stop me from playing as hard as I can in whatever role.”

Gasol also elaborated on his displeasure for being under-utilized:

“I’m fortunate to be doing what I am for a living and being highly rewarded for it,” Gasol said. “But it hurts me that this unique opportunity we have with such good players is not being maximized.”

Gasol on whether being disrespected by D’Antoni will affect him:

“I’m not going to let it affect me. In a way he’s messing with my season, but not my career,” he said. “I know what I’ve accomplished, and I still feel like I’m one of the best players in the world.”

Although the two bigs have had difficulties playing together at times, Gasol remained optimistic:

“Dwight is a huge presence defensively,” said Gasol. “In a perfect world I’d love to see us dominating as an interior couple, thereby making everything easier for our teammates.

“I’m always trying to pass to Dwight to get him going. He hasn’t been very effective from the post, so I want to give him easy shots and get him into rhythm. You know he’s going to get fouled and then he’ll make one out of two.”

Like many around Los Angeles, Gasol agrees that both he and Dwight can co-exist effectively, and that he still deserves to be starting for the Lakers:

“Nothing is going to change, but I have no doubt we could coexist and dominate every single game,” Gasol said.

“I believe 100% if I was starting inside with Dwight we could make the playoffs. I just don’t know if coming off the bench gives the team a chance to be better and win more games.”

Be sure to make your vote count on what you think Pau Gasol’s future should be in the poll question above!

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Photo: Noah Graham | Getty Images
Image Credit: Noah Graham | Getty Images
Image Credit: Noah Graham | Getty Images

The Lakers are back! Well, sort of.

The Los Angeles Lakers finished off last week with an exceptional 3-1 record. The Lakers have now won 5 of their last 6 games.

This past week, the Lakers beat New Orleans, Minnesota and Detroit as they embarked on their annual “Grammy Road Trip”. The Lakers’ lone loss in Phoenix came after All-Star center Dwight Howard reinjured his right shoulder.

Despite Howard’s injury, the Lakers finished a solid week with significant help from a rejuvenated Pau Gasol. Along with Gasol’s contributions, Kobe Bryant continued his stellar facilitating on the offensive end.

With Gasol returning to his All-Star form, the Lakers have managed to continue finding success, even without their star center. Despite losing big leads in Minnesota, Detroit, and especially in their loss to Phoenix, the Lakers escaped the week with a 22-26 overall record.

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

Pau Gasol Up arrow : Despite a difficult start to the season, to say the least, Pau Gasol seems to have found his rhythm.

Image Credit: Doug Pensinger | Getty Images
Image Credit: Doug Pensinger | Getty Images

Since returning from his concussion, Gasol has averaged 16.5 points per game on 55.3% shooting and 7.4 rebounds per game. Gasol’s numbers are still below his career averages, but this recent 10-game stretch has been much more efficient than earlier in the season.

With Dwight Howard going down against Phoenix, Gasol has stepped up in his absence. Gasol looks more aggressive on the block and more comfortable being the only true post player in the lineup.

Instead of first looking to pass when he catches the ball, Gasol is now looking to shoot or drive. This is a welcomed sight, because Gasol’s quick aggressiveness is vital to his success on the offensive end.

Gasol will certainly have to adjust his game when Howard returns, but if his recent aggressiveness is any indication, that adjustment should continue to yield positive results.

As much as D’Antoni seems disinclined to make Gasol and Howard work together, Gasol’s new aggressive attitude can help alleviate any issues between the two premier big men.

The key for Gasol is confidence. Like most big men, when Gasol gets going early and often, he gains confidence that usually lasts for the remainder of the game. This confidence has shown by Gasol’s improved midrange shooting consistency and his confidence in driving to the basket.

Kobe Bryant’s facilitating has also been a huge help in ‘reviving’ Gasol’s game. Bryant is finding Gasol in good, operational areas in which Gasol can use his versatility to score in multiple ways.

The Lakers certainly need Gasol to return to his All-Star playing ability. Whether it be off the bench or as a starter, Gasol’s play on both ends of the floor is absolutely vital this season.

With Howard still not fully healthy, expect Gasol to continue his aggressive play on the block.

Kobe Bryant Up arrow : Kobe “Magic” Bryant continued his assist tear this past week. Bryant again focused on getting his teammates going and improving ball movement on the offensive end.

Over the past four games, Bryant has averaged 8.3 assists per game. Bryant’s facilitating role has increased the ball movement, spacing, and just simply makes the Lakers more fun to watch.

Bryant’s facilitating has especially helped rejuvenate Gasol. Bryant seems to have made a conscious effort over the past few games to get Gasol involved early and often. This tactic has led to an “engaged” Gasol, a scary notion for opposing teams.

Bryant’s exceptional passing also led to the Lakers making 12 three-pointers against Minnesota. Bryant, along with his teammates, contributed to moving the ball quickly, which resulted in open perimeter shots.

There is no doubt that Bryant can return to his scoring ways in a moment’s notice, but with the Lakers’ newfound winning ways, why change what works?

“If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”

It seems Bryant is content in being the offense’s main facilitator, a role he has not always embraced in the past.

With the playoffs fast approaching, Bryant must continue finding a balance between scoring and facilitating. Once Bryant finds that elusive balance, the Lakers could become even more deadly.

Earl Clark Up arrow : What a pleasant surprise Earl Clark has been this season! Along with “Magic Mamba”, Clark’s versatility at the power forward position has been key in the Lakers’ recent resurgence.

Image Credit: Stephen Dunn | Getty Images
Image Credit: Stephen Dunn | Getty Images

Clark had arguably the best game of his career against New Orleans in which he notched 20 points, 12 rebounds and 4 assists in the Lakers win. Clark also had back-to-back double doubles vs. Minnesota (13 & 10) and Detroit (17 & 10).

Clark’s ability to space the floor with his three-point shooting has also been a welcomed surprise. Clark is shooting a blistering 50% from behind the arc this season.

With Gasol going to the bench full-time when Howard is healthy, Clark has stepped into the starting power forward position with no problems. Clark constantly brings energy and effort from the starting tipoff, something the Lakers often lacked earlier in the season.

Clark’s rebounding and defensive versatility have been important as well. In Howard’s absence especially, Clark has taken it upon himself to improve his rebounding. His dedication to rebounding has helped the Lakers control the glass in recent games.

Clark’s defensive versatility has also led to an improved team defense and better defensive rotations. Clark’s unique ability to switch and guard multiple positions make him a great defensive asset.

It’s difficult to say that Earl Clark has been this season’s “savior”, but his contributions on both ends of the floor have been a huge part of the Lakers’ recent turnaround.

Antawn Jamison Up arrow : Remember that stretch of six straight games with a DNP-CD for Antawn Jamison? Well, it seems those days are far behind us.

Jamison has become a consistent player off the bench for the Lakers. In his last four games, Jamison averaged 14.3 ppg and 5.5 rpg in just 22.5 minutes per game.

Jamison’s consistency has helped the Lakers continue their efficient offensive play once Gasol or Clark goes to the bench. It seems that Jamison has found his groove and is playing more relaxed lately.

The Lakers specifically signed Jamison in the off-season to be the anchor of the bench. Over the past few games Jamison looks to be embracing that role.

Jamison’s offensive game remains awkward and unorthodox, but for the most part it’s effective. Jamison also compliments both Gasol and Clark well because of his ability to stretch the floor and find holes in the defense by slashing inside for easy dunks and layups.

For the Lakers to continue to have success, Jamison has to anchor the bench unit even more. The bench has given up too many leads late, something the Lakers must fix if they want to make the playoffs.

Jamison must thus take it upon himself to lead the Lakers’ bench unit and maintain leads, rather than lose them.

Steve Blake even: Since returning from his groin and abdominal injuries, Steve Blake has resumed his backup point guard duties. Replacing Chris Duhon as the primary backup, Blake has done a decent job running the offense when replacing starter Steve Nash.

Image Credit: Garrett Ellwood | Getty Images
Image Credit: Garrett Ellwood | Getty Images

After missing 37 games, Blake returned to the lineup against New Orleans. Despite only scoring 2 points, Blake’s 4 assists were a welcomed sight. Blake has since averaged 6.0 ppg and 2.7 apg.

These numbers are not extraordinary, but they are certainly an improvement over Duhon.

Blake’s three-point shooting ability has also been an added bonus to the Lakers’ rotation. Since returning to the lineup, Blake is shooting 36.3% from behind the arc on 4-11 three-pointers.

Blake has certainly underachieved in his time in Los Angeles, but he is the best backup point guard on the Lakers’ roster. Blake controls the game much better than Duhon and Darius Morris, which will help the Lakers’ bench unit even more going forward.

Steve Nash even: Steve Nash is essentially playing out of position now. Over his past four games, Nash has only averaged 6.0 assists per game, way below his career average of 8.6 apg.

With Bryant as the primary facilitator, Nash has continued to be more of a spot-up shooter over the past week. This changing of roles has obviously been successful with the Lakers winning 5 of their last 6 games.

The Lakers will still need Nash to be an aggressive player on offense, however, especially when Bryant goes to the bench. Nash has done a decent job balancing his scoring and facilitating with Bryant of late—a major key to the Lakers’ success on offense.

In the past week, Nash averaged 12.8 ppg on 50% shooting. This bodes well for the Lakers because Nash is able to take a little more of the scoring load off Bryant’s shoulders.

Nash has especially been solid from three-point range this season, shooting an exceptional 44.4% from behind the arc. In fact, in the last four games, Nash is shooting a scorching 53.8% from three.

With Gasol’s aggressiveness inside and Bryant drawing defenders on his penetration, Nash continues to be efficient on kick outs for three-pointers.

Unfortunately, Nash’s free throw shooting is a different story. Nash gave all of Laker Nation a good scare in Detroit, in which he missed two consecutive free throws late in the game*.

If Nash is able to keep up this ultra-efficient three-point shooting, however, and Bryant keeps facilitating, the Lakers’ spacing on offense will continue to improve.

* Nash had made 33 consecutive free throws in the last minute of fourth quarters before his two misses on Sunday.

Jodie Meeks even: Over the past week, Jodie Meeks has become a little more consistent off the bench for coach Mike D’Antoni. Since retaking the primary backup shooting guard role, Meeks has played consistently.

Meeks averaged 8.7 ppg in the past week, but only shot 30% from the field. For the Lakers’ “best three-point shooter”, that shooting percentage must improve.

Meeks’ defense has been better of late, creating havoc and bringing energy off the bench. Meeks is an underrated defender, which has allowed him to stay on the floor, despite his poor shooting.

With Jamison and Blake playing well off the bench, the Lakers lone missing piece to the equation is Meeks. If Meeks can find some consistency with his shot, the Lakers’ bench could become deadly.

Metta World Peace Down arrow : World Peace had the worst week of any Laker this past week. Although World Peace played decent defensively, he had a dismal shooting week.

Image Credit: Rick Osentoski | USA TODAY Sports
Image Credit: Rick Osentoski | USA TODAY Sports

World Peace averaged 8.0 ppg and 6.3 rpg, but shot an awful 27.3% from the field. The Lakers desperately need World Peace to return to how he was playing earlier in the season.

Despite starting off the season strong, World Peace is now shooting just 40.1% from the field and 34.9% from three-point land.

World Peace’s main role on the Lakers is to be a lock-down perimeter defender, but he cannot shoot 27.3% from the field for the Lakers to be successful against good teams.

Unfortunately, World Peace has been suspended for Tuesday’s game in Brooklyn for grabbing Detroit’s Brandon Knight around the neck and striking him in the jaw.

Robert Sacre Down arrow : Despite Dwight Howard re-aggravating his labrum tear, reserve center Robert Sacre received zero minutes off the bench this past week.

Sacre may actually get the chance to play this upcoming week, though. With Howard being out for an extended period of time, Sacre could see some meaningful minutes if the Lakers’ big men get into foul trouble.

Chris Duhon Down arrow : With Steve Blake’s return, point guard Chris Duhon has officially been relegated to the end of the bench.

Duhon did not play in any of the Lakers’ games last week.

Darius Morris Down arrow : Steve Blake’s return also seems to spell the end for Darius Morris’s minutes as well.

Morris did not play in any of the Lakers’ games last week, either.

Dwight Howard Injury sign : In the fourth quarter of the Lakers loss to Phoenix, Dwight Howard reinjured his right shoulder. Howard powered up for a dunk, but Suns guard Shannon Brown stripped him and fouled him hard on his right arm.

The result was gruesome. Howard instantly clutched his right shoulder—the shoulder with the torn labrum. After a few seconds, Howard fell to the ground in agony.

This shoulder injury looks like it will bother Howard for the rest of the season. Howard, who is out again against Brooklyn, continues to deflect questions about season-ending surgery.

Howard looks like he will attempt to push through this painful injury, although his return to the Lakers’ lineup remains uncertain.

Howard is still officially listed as ‘day-to-day’.

Notes: The Lakers received a ‘disabled player exception’ for injured Jordan Hill this past week. The ‘DPE’ can used to help facilitate a trade or sign a free agent. Reserve SF Devin Ebanks continued adding to his current 12-game DNP-CD streak.

Stay tuned for next weeks’ Lakers Stock Watch as the Lakers conclude their ‘Grammy Trip’ battling Brooklyn, Boston, Charlotte and Miami over the next week.

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Photo by: Harry How/Getty Images North America
Photo by: Harry How/Getty Images North America
Photo by: Harry How/Getty Images North America

The Los Angeles Lakers will be without two starters when they hit the court later today at the Barclays Center to face the Nets. Both Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace won’t be available for the Purple & Gold against Brooklyn, as “D12″ continues to struggle with pain on his right shoulder, in addition to “MWP” being suspended by the NBA for his altercation with Brandon Knight last Sunday versus the Pistons.

Howard will miss his 3rd consecutive game after aggravating the pain on his shoulder against the Phoenix Suns on January 30th. Dwight suffered a torn labrum on January 4th and has been trying to play through the injury in order to avoid surgery, which would probably cost his season. He told head coach Mike D’Antoni that his shoulder hurts almost as much as it did on Sunday, thus playing would not be the best option in the long run.

World Peace has been suspended for one game without pay for “grabbing Brandon Knight of the Detroit Pistons around the neck and striking him in the jaw”, according to the official press release from the NBA. The altercation happened with 1:43 to go in the 1st half of last Sunday’s contest at the Palace of Auburn Hills, resulting in a “flagrant foul 1″ called against Metta.

It still remains to be seen how will the Lakers’ starting lineup will look like come game time. A simple solution would be inserting Antawn Jamison in place of World Peace, granted that Pau Gasol will remain the center while Howard is out. In the other hand, head coach Mike D’Antoni can decide to go small and play Kobe Bryant at the small forward position, with Jodie Meeks or Steve Blake as the starting shooting guard.

The Lakers will face the Brooklyn Nets at 4:30 P.M. (PDT).

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Denver Nuggets v Los Angeles Lakers - Game Seven
Photo Credit: Getty Images

Since the 2012-2013 NBA season kicked off, Lakers fans have been on a weekly roller coaster ride. From Opening Night onwards, we’ve seen some good, some bad, and even some ugly. The Laker season has played out like a cheesy day-time soap, changing dramatically from day-to-day, keeping Lakers fans everywhere on their toes.

There is so much going on weekly with this team that it sometimes becomes exhausting trying to keep up with everything. So how do we keep track of all the weekly events in Laker Land?

Simple, by tracking all of the ups and downs of the past week. Without further ado, here is the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly from the last week of Lakers action.

Good – Lakers Ball Movement.

While much of the attention has gone to Kobe Bryant’s new found “Magic Mamba” persona, the Lakers as a unit have really been moving the ball well in the past six games. That was apparent this week during hot stretches against New Orleans, Phoenix, Minnesota and Detroit when the Lakers were getting good looks and easy shots, which lead to them building double-digit leads in each contest.

Side-note: Speaking of ball movement, that Kobe to Clark alley-oop to end the first half in Detroit was absolutely gorgeous.

Bad – Dry Spells.

However, with all of that great ball movement comes one major concern; over-passing the ball. There were a couple of really bad Laker dry spells in the past couple of games where guys became a little too pass-happy. Passing up some good looks leads to bad shots at the end of the shot-clock and also turnovers, which adds up to terrible stretches of play for the Lakers. While the Lakers were able to hold on after nearly blowing leads of 29, 18 and 16 in three wins this week, they were bitten in Phoenix where a 13-point lead was lost in defeat.

Ugly – Metta World Punch?

Things got a little chippy in Detroit for the man formerly known as Ron Artest, again. While this wasn’t as bad as the Malice at the Palace, Metta got into a scuffle with second-year Pistons guard Brandon Knight towards the end of the second quarter. Both players got tangled up going for a rebound, and in the ensuing sequence Metta seemed to throw a slight jab at Knight. World Peace was assessed a flagrant-1 foul on the play. But if you ask Knight, that wasn’t enough of a punishment.

The play needs to be reviewed because he definitely threw a punch. It felt like he threw a punch. That’s why I reacted the way I did.

It will be interesting to see if the league does indeed take a look at the play for any further disciplinary action.

UPDATE – The NBA has suspended Metta for one game following his altercation with Knight.

Bad – Dwight Howard’s Shoulder, Again.

In what is becoming a recurring theme for the All-Star big man, Howard aggravated the torn labrum in his right shoulder again during the Lakers collapse in Phoenix. Howard flew back to LA for treatment, and has since rejoined the team, and is currently day-to-day after sitting out the past two Laker road games. This is an injury that Lakers fans will have to worry about for the rest of the season. Something as serious as a torn labrum will not be completely healed until Howard is able to have surgery performed on it. With Dwight trying to avoid going under the knife during the season, the organization will have to wince and pray every time a defender takes a whack at D12 for the rest of the season.

Good – Pau Gasol’s Aggression.

It’s hard to take positives from an injury like Howard’s, but one good thing to come from him missing a few games is the re-emergence of Gasol. Pau has been the starting (and only) center for the Lakers since Dwight went down, and he has been a revelation in the past two games. Against the Pistons, Gasol had 23 points, 10 boards and 3 assists to follow up a game in Minnesota that was much more dominant than his 22 point, 12 rebound stat-line would suggest. It’s been good to see the Spaniard once again playing like Laker fans are accustomed to seeing. The hope is that he can keep his production up when moved back to his sixth man role.

Ugly – Fourth Quarter Collapses.

Starting with the near collapse against the Pelicans Hornets on Tuesday, the Lakers were anything but solid in the fourth quarter this past week. Los Angeles completely blew a big lead in a road-loss to Phoenix that gave the Lakers what was at the time their eighth straight road loss. The fourth-quarter bug almost bit the team again in Detroit with Earl Clark and Steve Nash (no, really) each missing two free throws in the final 20 seconds of what turned out be a very uncomfortable one-point victory. Against better teams, these lethargic fourth quarters will not get it done, especially come playoff time.

Credit: Stephen Dunn/Getty Image
Credit: Stephen Dunn/Getty Image

Good – The Continued Emergence of Earl Clark.

While this is something that has not been limited to the past week, the emergence of Earl Clark has really helped the Lakers on both ends of the court. Clark is a stretch-four who can play opposite both Howard and Gasol, and considering the troubles those two have had co-existing, that has turned into a great luxury for the Lakers to have. Defensively, Clark has spent time doing everything from trying to slow down the other team’s best player like Lebron James, to guarding the other teams hottest player like Will Bynum in Detroit. He has really helped boost the Lakers on both ends with his versatility and athleticism.

Bad – Mike D’s Rotation Minus Dwight.

If you looked at the Laker line-up to start the second quarter against Detroit or Minnesota, you may have been surprised to notice that Metta World Peace or Antawn Jamison were playing center for the Lakers. You also may have noticed the Pistons and T’Wolves scoring at will in the paint with those two playing the center position while Pau gets a breather. This line-up really has some Laker fans scratching their heads. As we all know, D’Antoni is generally an offense-first coach, but to oplay no big men at any point in an NBA game is kind of ridiculous. Getting Robert Sacre some minutes is a much better option for LA because not only does he give you some type of size inside, he offers some type of resistance at the rim.

Good – Steve Blake Sparking the Bench.

Finally, the missing piece to the championship puzzle returned to action this past Tuesday against the Pelicans Hornets. Okay, so that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but the return of Steve Blake has undeinably impacted the Lakers bench. Blake is doing a good job of getting guys running and involved in a way that Chris Duhon simply couldn’t. Having Blake running the show for the second unit will only benefit the Laker bench, especially Gasol. Blake has played in this system longer than Duhon and Nash, and is comfortable getting Pau the ball in places where he can go to work in the post. This could help the Lakers stem some of the runs made by other teams that have plagued them when the bench is in the game.

Ugly – Creating All-Stars

One thing that has killed the Lakers all season is the fact that almost every game, a role player on the opposing team tends to have an All-Star kind of night. The Lakers have been beaten by guys like Jose Calderon, Greg Smith, Toney Douglas and most recently Michael Beasely this season. They have also nearly blown games to guys like Charlie Villanueva, Will Bynum and Gerald Henderson. Things have gotten so bad for Laker fans that when a guy like Villanueva checks in you automatically have two reactions. One is shock that he is still in the league. The other is the fear that he is about to light the Lakers up. This is especially frustrating when you see that a guy goes right back to doing nothing in his next game. It’s alarming that the Lakers haven’t been able to put a stop to this disturbing trend yet this season, and it’s definitely something to watch for as we approach the postseason.

Good – Magic Mamba

What? You thought I was going to do a whole article and not mention Kobe? Bryant has dished out at least eight assists in five of the past six games, including five straight for the first time in his career. It really has been remarkable to watch Kobe adapt and get his teammates involved. In the past six games alone, Mamba has made some of the nicest passes of his career. While he does have a tendency to revert back to his hero-ball ways (see: 4th quarter, Phoenix), Kobe and the Lakers seem to be realizing that the best way to hurt a team is by having them have to guess whether or not Kobe is going to score or pass. This works much better than the old way, where teams just figured Bryant was going to shoot. It will be very interesting to see if the Kobe can keep this up for the rest of the season. The Lakers are clearly a much better team when Magic Mamba is on the court.

 

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Photo Credit: Getty Images
Photo Credit: Steve McCrank
Photo Credit: Steve McCrank

This may come as news to many Laker fans, and it may have been expected by some as well, but GM Mitch Kupchak says he has no plans of making any big trades before the trade deadline this season.  Mitch was interviewed this morning and crushed any trade rumors that had been circulating by saying this:

“We will not make a trade,” said Kupchak.  “We will not trade Dwight Howard.  We have no intention of making a trade.  It’s unlikely that we’ll make any trade with any of our principal players.  To make another change at this time of the year behind the eight-ball like we are, I think that would make it more difficult.  The talent is there.  We have to find our way.”

Kupchak clearly believes we have the coach and personel be a successful team and make it to the playoffs by season end.  Howard is in the final year of his contract and Lakers fans everywhere are hoping he signs with us long term before he leaves for free agency at the end of the season.  With the Lakers on a bit of a win streak and having won 5 of their last 6 games Mitch doesn’t want to make any drastic changes to mess up what seems to be clicking right now.  More about Kucpchak and his interview can be read here.

Kupchak later went on to say that he supports D’Antoni and is happy with the progress so far:

“We’re very happy with Mike D’Antoni,” Kupchak said. “I think when he took the job I think he thought Nash [fractured left leg] might be out a week or two. Not two months. Getting everybody on the same page took a little longer than expected. Not to say it’s been smooth sailing, that’s for sure.”

It seems that everyone is safe for now and The Lakers don’t have any big trades looming.  Let’s hope The Lakers’ recent play continues and Lakers fans everywhere won’t be wishing by the end of the season that Mitch had made another blockbuster trade.

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Photo courtesy of Scott Halleran, Getty Images
Photo courtesy of Ezra Shaw, Getty Images
Photo courtesy of Ezra Shaw, Getty Images

The Lakers must go through an examination of conscience before every game to ask themselves, “How can we make this game difficult to win? What can we do to push ourselves to the very edge?” It is, in a word, maddening. Against Phoenix, they lost a 13-point lead late in the game and gave away a win that was absolutely theirs to lose. In Minnesota, they went from a 29-point advantage to a four-point lead before coming alive long enough to eke out a victory. And today, against the now 18-30 Detroit Pistons, they closed the first half with an exciting play and an 11-point lead, push the lead to 18 points in the third quarter, and then stumble to a one-point 98-97 win.

They never make it easy on themselves, do they? As we’ve learned often to do this season, however, we “celebrate” the victory nonetheless.

HIGH POINTS:
Earl Clark – The subpar season aside, one thing the Lakers can be proud of is how once bench-ridden players step up when their numbers are called. From Darius Morris and Chris Duhon playing the bulk of the season with Steve Nash and Steve Blake injured, to Jordan Hill stepping in when Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol had to sit out, and now the latest and greatest development – Earl Clark, stepping in (and starting!) with Jordan Hill out for the season. What a revelation the young Clark has been in this last stretch of games. Today he chipped in 17 points on 6-11 from the field, grabbed 10 rebounds, had two steals, blocked a pair of shots, didn’t commit a single turnover and was the recipient of the game’s highlight – an inbounds pass/lob from Kobe Bryant with 0.4 seconds left in the first half that he converted into a dunk. He also played almost 42 minutes. Oh to be young.
Pau Gasol – If anyone is relishing Dwight Howard’s absence, it has to be Pau Gasol, back in the starting line-up the last two games and making the most of it. Tonight he played over 40 minutes, went for 23 points on 10-18 from the field, grabbed 10 rebounds, handed out a trio of assists and just played with a fire and desire that we’ve missed in this not-so-ideal of a season.
Balance – A positive that has come out from the last few games has been the all-in mentality of this Lakers team. There were five players in double figures, all who saw minutes (except for Jodie Meeks) handed out an assist and the players on the bench who didn’t get the opportunity to even play, were on their feet, constantly encouraging their teammates on the floor.
First Half – The Lakers shot 57% from the field in the first half to take an 11-point halftime lead. They’d committed just seven turnovers and their ball movement was a source (16 assists on 24 made field goals). The inbounds pass/lob before the break was the exclamation point on an efficiently played two quarters.

LOW POINTS:
Second Half – Unfortunately, the Lakers didn’t end the last two quarters in the same fashion as they ended the first. After scoring 62 first-half points on 57% shooting, they went cold in the second half, scoring just 36 points on 37%. They only hit seven of 23 shots in the third for 16 points from. They went up 72-54, four minutes into the second half, and suffered run after run by the Detroit Pistons who continued to, and succeeded, in chipping away at the lead until they tied it twice late (very late) in the game. The final 17 seconds of the fourth quarter seemed to last an eternity, with the Lakers holding on to a one-point lead and Earl Clark and Steve Nash (yes, Steve 90% career free throw shooter) going 0-4 from the free throw line. If not for Will Bynum, who had 18 points in the game, had not missed that layup or Andre Drummond had converted on that lob, the Lakers might not have been so lucky in the end, and by the way they ended this game, this was a lucky win.
Kobe Bryant – Maybe he’d been distributing so much that he forgot how to score because Bryant scored 18 points but went just 8-20 from the field. He did hand out five assists and completed a three-point play which were the Lakers’ final points in the game.
Inability to Close – This is the third game in a row where the Lakers have built large leads in the second half and were unable to sustain the energy and efficiency that brought them to that advantage in the first place. With the majority of the season behind them, they need to learn how to close these games out, and just when it’s close. Close games out as soon as you have the opportunity to do so, and learn to keep that intensity UNTIL THE GAME IS OVER.

The Lakers were able to escape after faltering in these last two games, but they should have finished that game in Phoenix with a victory. Who knows how they will fare against the next four opponents – Brooklyn, Boston, the dreaded Bobcats and Miami – if they continue playing the second halves of games in this manner? They’re 2-1 so far on this Grammy trip and four games from hitting the .500 mark. Ideal would be to get 30 wins before 30 losses. Can they? Yes, they absolutely can. WILL they? To be determined.

Box Score

 

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Photo courtesy of Scott Halleran, Getty Images
Photo courtesy of Ezra Shaw, Getty Images
Photo courtesy of Ezra Shaw, Getty Images

Well thank goodness for that 29-point lead! Otherwise, who knows how this game would have ended for the Lakers.

Coming off a should’ve-won loss in Phoenix, the Lakers arrived in Minnesota still without a road win in 2013 and without Dwight Howard. Howard, who re-aggravated his shoulder injury against Suns, flew back to Los Angeles to be treated. Subbing in for him was, naturally, Pau Gasol, back in the starting line-up after a stretch of games coming off the bench.

The Lakers started red-hot, shooting 68% in the first quarter, en route to a 68-point half. They led by as much as 29 points before the break…and then the two quarters after halftime began. After pounding the Kevin Love-less Timberwolves with two 30+ point quarters, the Lakers entered the third a whole new team, and not in a good way. They allowed the T-Wolves to get as close as four points from the lead, with still six minutes left in the fourth quarter. Antawn Jamison and Pau Gasol, however, chipped in nine points apiece to close the game and the Lakers escaped, 111-100.

HIGH POINTS:
Hot Start – And by hot, I mean scorching. 15-22 for a 37-point first quarter, led by Gasol’s 13 points (including a three). By halftime, the Lakers had scored 68 points on 56% from the field, and 10-20 from downtown. 10 three-pointers in the first half and four players already in double figures.
Clean First Half – When the ball moves freely and purposefully, there is less chance of losing it. In the first two quarters, the Lakers had 18 assists on 27 made field goals, which led to just three turnovers.
Glasswork – Even without Dwight Howard, the Lakers outrebounded the Timberwolves in a big way, 57-40. Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol each grabbed 12 rebounds and Earl Clark had 10. Steve Nash, Metta World Peace and Antawn Jamison each had seven boards for the night.
Balance – Everyone did a little bit of everything in this game, and it is essentially how the Lakers managed to get the win, despite the lost lead. Six players finished with double-digit points, led by Gasol’s 22 on 8-15 from the field. Backcourt teammates, Bryant and Nash, chipped in 17 points apiece and Jamison came off the bench to contribute 18 huge points, 15 of which he scored in the second half. As for the role of floor general, Bryant had another big night for assists, handing out eight, with Nash next in line with seven dimes.

LOW POINTS:
Cold Finish – What goes up must come down? What starts hot, must get cold, because as efficient as they were in the first half, it was the exact opposite in the second half. Minnesota started zoning up and suddenly the Lakers didn’t know what to do. They didn’t score their first field goal in the third quarter until Nash hit a three with more than six minutes gone in the first half. They went just 3-19 from the field in the third quarter – 16%! When the fourth corner came around, the lead was down to just nine points. The final quarter wasn’t much better. They still shot just 9-25 from the field, and 27% in the second half. And despite shooting just 40% themselves, the TWolves gave the Lakers a fight until the end.
Careless Second Half – After just three turnovers in the first half, the Lakers gave away 10 possessions in the final two quarters. Interior Defense (ok fine, defense in genera) – Without Howard guarding the paint, the TWolves managed to score 46 points inside, compared to the Lakers’ 38.

They never learn, do they? The Lakers have given away large leads a handful of times this season, and it’s baffling how their mentality and focus dims before the game is even over. This could have been another disappointing loss, but they survived and must now turn their heads to an 18-29 Detroit Pistons team. As evidenced this season, the record of their opponent is a useless scouting tool. If the Lakers want to come out of this road trip successfully, they need to play from tip-off to the final buzzer.

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.