Friday, November 28, 2014
Blog Page 54

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Photo Credit: NY Daily News
Photo Credit: NBC LosAngeles
Photo Credit: NBC LosAngeles

The Los Angles Lakers seem to have turned on a switch as of late.  A switch that has the power to turn dismal teams into championship ones, a switch that could very well put the Lakers into title contention.  OK, probably getting ahead of myself there, but nonetheless The Lakers seem to have figured it out these past few games, and the one constant change from those 3 games has been Kobe Bryant.

Kobe isn’t ashamed to consider himself a scorer, and the one guy on the team who can always be counted on to hit clutch shots and make timely buckets. Unfortunately there is that horrible statistic floating around the sports world that states The Lakers are better when Kobe Bryant doesn’t score more than 30 points.  Back in December of this season that stat line read that The Lakers were 1-9 in those very games.  Yikes, that’s quite the horrifying statistic, and I for one thought it was a fluke and that the stat really didn’t mean anything because Kobe was shooting nearly 49% from the field.  When someone shoots that well it makes it hard to believe those shots are unnecessary.

And then suddenly he changed, The Black Mamba, Kobe Bryant, changed.  He changed his game for the sake of the team and boy has it paid off in the best way possible.

Photo Credit: Espn.go
Photo Credit: Espn

The Lakers last four games have been phenomenal (except the collapse in Phoenix) and a lot of it, if not all, is due to Kobe’s new game he’s bringing to the table.  Instead of shooting his average of 21 shots per game, he’s dialed it down to an average of 13 shots per game, and he’s making 53% of those attempts over the last 4 games.  Not only is he adjusting his shots per game but he’s also averaging 12 assists and about 8 rebounds per game over this span.

These kind of changes to Kobe’s game are unprecedented, (Kobe’s career averages are 5 assists and 5 rebounds per game), we have never seen him dish out this many assists in his entire career, it’s just not how he plays basketball.  These near triple-double numbers are exactly what The Lakers need right now and it seems to be paying off in wins.

Kobe Bryant has changed his game by passing up typical “Kobe” shots and instead sends sharp, zooming passes down the lane to a wide open cutter, or he drives to the hoop and kicks it out to an open man beyond the arc.  It’s this type of play that wins games and boosts that ever so elusive team chemistry and moral.  All Laker players are benefitting from Kobe’s unselfish play, and with everyone getting their touches and shots, one can only assume it’s a matter of time before LA gets on the right track.

Unfortunately the team lost their momentum a couple nights ago in Phoenix as they blew a 13 point lead with 9 minutes left in the fourth.  Regardless of the collapse, this is the way the Lakers must play in order to be successful and really make that push to be where they should be.

Photo Credit: MySanAntonio.com
Photo Credit: MySanAntonio.com

Kobe Bryant is a scorer and the one who always takes the open shot if he’s got it, and the fact that he has changed his game so drastically for the betterment of the team is fantastic.  As long as The Lakers continue to play team basketball, find the open man, and play a strong defense they will find themselves close to where they’d like to be.  Unfortunately the hole they dug themselves up to this point in the season is more than likely too deep to get completely out of, but they can fill it in a bit with the style of play they are exhibiting.

The Lakers will be tested again tonight against The Minnesota Timberwolves and I hope to see the new look Kobe Bryant out there on the court.  If the Lakers falter back to their old ways we may as well throw the rest of the season away, as most of you already have.  The Lakers seem to have found a silver lining in this disaster of a season and if they can look to that during hard times they will be successful and begin to chalk up some W’s when it counts.  Here we go Los Angeles, let’s see what we’re made of.

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After a frustrating first half of the season, it appears the Lakers have ditched the D’Antoni System in favor of the Kobe System. Despite a setback in Phoenix, the Lakers have suddenly won 3 of 4, including a nice win at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The question has to be: Is the Kobe system the right system for the Lakers? And maybe more importantly, will Kobe continue to play distributor? David Brickley and Jason Riley break it all down in the latest episode of Voice of the Nation: Fastbreak.

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Photo Credit: Arash Markasi
Photo Credit: Arash Markasi
Photo Credit: Arash Markasi

After Aggravating his torn labrum in Wednesday Night’s loss to the Phoenix Suns, Dwight Howard will miss the Lakers game with the Timberwolves tonight.

Following inspection by Lakers trainer Gary Vitti, Dwight Howard has been officially listed as day to day,

While repairing the injury will eventually require surgery, Dwight said he will “not (have surgery) right now” to repair his shoulder. Instead, he’ll try to play through it, and help the Lakers make a push for the playoffs.

“I’m going to try as much as I can, but I don’t want to cause more damage to my shoulder,” Howard said. “I don’t want to (miss any games), but we’ll see.”

He will sit tonight, but hopes to return to action as soon as possible.

LakerNation, how will the Lakers fare tonight without their defensive presence in the middle? Can they bounce back against Minnesota tonight after falling apart without Dwight in Phoenix on Wednesday?

 

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Image Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn | US PRESSWIRE
Image Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn | US PRESSWIRE

Pau Gasol and Ricky Rubio are teammates on the Spanish National Basketball team. Leading up to the Lakers match-up with the Timberwolves tonight, Ricky Rubio was asked about Pau Gasol’s move to the bench, and issues between the Lakers big man and his coach and team. Rubio had some strong words for the Lakers:

“It’s been the last two years that it seems like they don’t want him, but actually they need him,” Rubio said. “He’s a great player. He can do a lot of things and he had some issues with the knees, too. It’s been a lot of years without resting for him. But he’s a veteran. He knows how to play.”

Rubio continued:

“It’s hard, when you are hearing things with the rumors that you are going to be traded, to be focused. Like he says, he’s a professional and he’s been playing for a long time and he’s going to keep doing what he doing.”

Finally Rubio praised his fellow Spaniard, and offered a solution for the big man:

“He proved to the league he is one of the best,” Rubio said. “He can pass. He can shoot. He can rebound. He can do a lot of things. I think if you use him in the right way he is a top player in this league. If they don’t want him, we are more than welcome to get him.”

Pau Gasol to Minnesota trade rumors have been floating around for quite some time now – usually based on the premise of Minnesota wanting to unite good friends Rubio and Gasol.

Where there’s smoke, there’s a fire?

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Image Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn | US PRESSWIRE
Image Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn | US PRESSWIRE
Image Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn | US PRESSWIRE

The Los Angeles Lakers visit the Target Center Friday night to face the Minnesota Timberwolves. The T-Wolves enter the matchup on a five game losing streak, losers of 10 out of their last 11 games. Similar to the Lakers, the T-Wolves have been hampered by injuries all season. Minnesota has been somewhat rejuvenated by the recent returns of Alexey Shved and Nikola Pekovic, so expect the T-Wolves to come out scratching and clawing for a win.

The Lakers, winners of 3 out of their last 4 games, enter Minnesota riding some momentum. Coming off an embarrassing loss in Phoenix, however, the Lakers will look to snap their current 8-game road-losing streak. Unfortunately, the Lakers could be without All-Star center Dwight Howard, who is listed as day-to-day with a ‘sore right shoulder’.

Expect Kobe Bryant to continue his stellar facilitating on offense Friday night, although he may need to shoulder more of the scoring load if Howard is unable to go. The Lakers, like the T-Wolves, have struggled with consistency this season, so it will be interesting to see which teams show up for this one.

While the Lakers prepare for Friday night’s game in frigid Minnesota, I linked up with John Flesta from the Timberpups blog for a Q&A game preview.

Here’s our Q&A …

Pups Question #1 for John:

After a promising off-season, this regular season has gone in similar fashion as the Lakers’ season. Injuries have played a major factor in this season’s disappointment, but with Kevin Love out at least another five weeks and Brandon Roy still out indefinitely, is there still time to salvage this season? Or is it time to start looking towards next season?

John:

While I am probably not supposed to admit this, I am no longer expecting the T-Wolves to make the playoffs this season.  At the beginning of the season I went on record saying that they were a lock to make the tournament.  I think it was less than a week after that article went on our site when Kevin Love broke his hand doing knuckle push-ups.  The Wolves are going to need a good amount of help and a lot more luck on their side to sneak into the playoffs.

However, I have a hard time looking towards next season in January/February.  There are still a lot of intriguing storylines for the team; A. Can Rubio return to form, B. Does Love come back this season if the team falls way behind in the standings, and C. Is Derrick Williams on this team after the trade deadline?  I really do not want to think about ping-pong balls when this season had so much promise!

Lakers Question #1 for Alex:

Let’s get right to the gorilla in the room; what is your take on Mike D’Antoni and will he be the coach for the Lakers next season?  I’ve always viewed him as the perfect assistant coach who can run the offensive side/end of a practice, similar to an offensive coordinator in the NFL that is terrible when they get a head coaching gig. Your thoughts?

Alex:

I agree with that assessment. Mike D’Antoni was certainly a mistake by the Lakers’ front office this season. Along with his inability to utilize the Lakers’ unique culmination of talent, D’Antoni has remained stubborn in forcing his up-tempo system upon a roster that simply doesn’t fit. D’Antoni’s controversial benching of players late in games, as well as his inability to manage superstars, have also hampered the Lakers’ team chemistry lately.

The Lakers, more specifically the players, have since gone away from his failed system and are now finding success with better ball movement and spacing. Kobe Bryant’s facilitating and offensive leadership have spearheaded this newfound success.

The Lakers will not terminate D’Antoni’s three-year contract this season, due to the obvious financial ramifications, but it is certainly possible that D’Antoni is replaced in the off-season. If the Lakers really want to make pending free agent Dwight Howard the future face of the franchise, they may need to bring in a coach with a system more tailored to the Lakers’ premiere big man.

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Image Credit: Harry How | Getty Images
Image Credit: Harry How | Getty Images

After a 15-day waiting period, the NBA has successfully granted the Lakers a ‘disabled player exception‘ for injured reserve Jordan Hill.

Hill injured his left hip on January 6th in the Lakers’ loss to the Denver Nuggets. Hill then underwent successful, season-ending hip surgery on January 23rd to remove loose bone fragments and repair a torn labrum and damaged cartilage.

Hill is now officially out for a minimum of 6 months. As a result of his long-term injury, the league has finally awarded the Lakers a disabled player exception.

The exception can be used to sign a free agent for about $1.78 million, or in a trade to acquire a player making up to $1.88 million in the final year of his contract.

According to the LA Times’ Eric Pincus, General Manager Mitch Kupchak acknowledged that the team may or may not use the exception, but that it could be used to help lubricate a larger trade.

Along with the disabled player exception, the Lakers still have three separate trade exceptions worth $1.4 million, $1.2 million and $544k. The $1.4 million trade exception, acquired in last season’s deadline acquisition of Ramon Sessions, is set to expire at this year’s trade deadline, however.

With the February 21st NBA trade deadline fast approaching, these exceptions could be useful in making a complicated transaction work under the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement.

The disabled player exception could be used to add a free agent for the rest of the season, but it looks more likely that the Lakers would only use it to help facilitate a trade.

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Photo courtesy of Frederic J. Brown, Getty Images
Photo courtesy of Stephen Dunn, Getty Images
Photo courtesy of Stephen Dunn, Getty Images

Aaaaaand they’re back, ladies and gentleman – that Laker team tripping over each other on their way to the bottom of the Western Conference; the squad whose peaks are as high as their valleys low; the same group who has been together for 46 games, but sometimes play like they just each just walked into the same pick-up game for the first time. They are, in a word, unbelievable.

This game was in the bag, and the Lakers had it under their control…until they didn’t. They led by as much as 13 points in the third quarter, entered the fourth up by 10 and at one point led by 11. But with still over 10 minutes left in the game, their defense disappeared, the ball movement stopped and the sloppiness ensued. 92-86 – loss number 26.

HIGH POINTS:
1st through 3rd Quarter – Despite racking up 14 turnovers through three quarters (last night they committed 15 for the entire game), the Lakers were still shooting at a high percentage (51%), were keeping the Suns at bay (allowed them just 40% from the field), crashing the boards (37-27 advantage) and moving the ball (16 assists on 29 made field goals). Kobe Bryant was approaching another all-around good night with nine points, nine assists and four rebounds. Metta World Peace was making up for a bad night against the Hornets with 15 of his own, as was Pau Gasol with 12 points. All the Lakers had to do was play one more quarter with relatively solid efficiency and effort, but they couldn’t even do that. They were one quarter, 12 minutes away from taking this game and they folded.

LOW POINTS:
Turnovers – The game began very sloppily for the Lakers, and it being the second night of a back-to-back, it was understandable. They racked up 12 turnovers in the first half, but cleaned it up in the third quarter, committing just two. But in the quarter that mattered the most, they gave away six possessions that helped the Suns erase a double-digit lead.
Three-Points – The Lakers went just 8-27 from behind the arc tonight. 27 attempts from downtown is way too many when there are post players on the team who are capable of scoring on higher percentage shots. MWP alone attempted 10 threes.
4th Quarter – After outscoring the home team 73-63 through three quarters, the Lakers were outscored in the final 12 minutes 29-13. 29-13! They shot just 4-21 from the field (19%) and after 3 ¾ games of making the ball movement the center of their game plan, they handed out just three assists in tonight’s fourth. Every finger will undoubtedly point to Kobe Bryant, who will be accused of playing hero ball in the final 12 minutes, but after his nine assists for the game, no one else had more than three assists of his own. Steve Nash, in his homecoming, had two assists, as did Gasol, who is a day removed from a seven-assist game against New Orleans. Bryant scored six of the Lakers’ 13 points in the fourth.
Antawn Jamison, who was having another good game (13 points, four rebounds), was taken out of the final quarter in favor of Metta World Peace, who was assigned to try and stop a very hot Michael Beasley. Unfortunately, Beasley went for 10 of his 27 points in the final stretch of the game anyway, aiding the Suns with the win. In such a case, Jamison’s scoring might’ve made more sense.
Dwight Howard had to leave the game early in the fourth after re-aggravating his shoulder injury. He went for a rebound and strained it while fighting over a rebound with former Laker, Shannon Brown. Gasol played the center position in his stead. Unfortunately, Howard’s defense vs. Gasol’s is no close contest and the interior became a free for all for the Suns. They scored 10 points in the paint in the fourth quarter.

That Utah win that signaled a turn ahead, the signature victory against the Thunder and the trap game they avoided losing against New Orleans – all seem like distant memories. Of the seven games on this long road trip, this contest against the Suns was noted as a win for many. But as they’ve done time again this season, the Lakers are back to square one.

Box Score

 

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At 20-25, the Lakers are carrying a three game winning streak into their annual Grammy Road Trip. This season, they’ll have stops in Phoenix, Minnesota, Detroit, Brooklyn, Boston, Charlotte, and Miami.

Our own Jason Riley takes a crack at predicting exactly how the road trip will go down.

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Photo: USA Today Sports
Photo: USA Today Sports

After such a promising summer, no one could have foreseen the current state of the Los Angeles Lakers as we approach the halfway mark on the season. While the Laker Nation has experienced a few highs, overall we feel like we’ve been dragged through the mud.

The fan ship of any team will have a flock of personality types. You have the “we’re going to win it all this year” type, the “throw away the season we lost another game” type, even the “if I was coach we wouldn’t be in this mess” type…the possibilities are endless. Doubts have been high up to this point, but it’s not time to throw in the towel, not yet.

With the current roster and coaching staff, I can’t promise we will win the title this year, but I also can’t say we won’t…think about it. In the span of a few months, this newly assembled Laker team has gone through coaching changes, a new system implemented, and significant injuries to key players.  Even with a dream roster, without chemistry, health, and time, no squad is going to be successful in today’s NBA. Especially when you are under the lights at Staples Center playing for one of the most prestigious basketball franchises.

Not to make excuses for the lack of defense and effort game in and game out, you can sense that this Laker team is sick of losing. Between the team moral over the past three games and the Magic Johnson-esk looking Kobe, it appears the Lakers stock is finally on the rise. Every team is going to have their rough patches in a season, the Lakers situation unfortunately, resembled a train wreck. Look at the bright side; you don’t sense panic from the team, coaches or organization. Now if this team is still putting together losing streaks come March then you can begin to worry.

With that being said, one fact still remains. No team is going to want to face the Lakers in the playoffs.

PLAYOFFFFFFS ?!?! You wanna talk about PLAYOFFS?!? Yes, I said “PLAYOFFS”… If you think a team led by Kobe Bryant is going to miss the playoffs with all-star talent surrounding him, you have another thing coming.

Keep calm Laker Nation. The obstacles we have faced thus far are battle testing our team.  It appears that tweaking the system, letting our young players gain game experience and being punched in the mouth a few times has made us a better unit.  Another way to look at it, the Lakers have problems that more than half of the teams in the NBA wish they had. Give the team a little more time, because the reality is this team knows how to ball. This isnt a question of how, but when will the gear get stuck in overdrive?

The Lakers look to continue rolling tonight when they square off with the Phoenix Suns. Tip off from US Airways Center is at 7:30 pm PT.

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Photo Credit: Lakers Topbuzz
Photo Credit: Lakers Topbuzz

To this point, the Lakers season can be best described as one of those daytime soap operas. You know, the shows that everyone swears they never watch, even though viewer ratings continue to keep them on the air for decades.

We’ve seen one Mike get kicked to the curb in favor of another Mike, former All-Stars get demoted, then promoted, then demoted again, current All-Stars passing box scores around the locker room, and finally, winning streaks, followed by losing streaks, followed by winning streaks. On and on the drama continues, much like that absurd run-on sentence you just read.

The latest episode came after last night’s win escape over the Hornets at Staples Center, where Pau Gasol, for maybe the first time in his career, strongly voiced his extreme dissatisfaction over Mike D’Antoni’s decision to have him on the bench during the 4th quarter.

“I’m a competitor, I’m a guy that thinks I bring a lot to the table, and not being on the floor is something that I don’t like, I don’t appreciate.”

Gasol didn’t stop there.

“It’s a challenge. We’re challenged every day, and I’m challenged every day to keep my calm and keep my peace and not let my emotions take over my words.”

Pau, who’s battled with injuries this season, had triple-7’s last night (7 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists), but only played 21 minutes. When he left the floor, the Lakers had a comfortable 10 point lead heading into the fourth.

Mike D’Antoni almost immediately addressed the situation after the game:

“They went small. I couldn’t get Pau back in there because of the lineup change.”

The Lakers get back to work tonight, taking on the Suns in Phoenix, at 10:30pm ET on ESPN.

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Photo courtesy of Stephen Dunn, Getty Images
Photo courtesy of Stephen Dunn, Getty Images
Photo courtesy of Stephen Dunn, Getty Images

When the season began, no one would’ve guessed that a team with Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol would take 45 games to finally get their 20th victory, but they finally did tonight against the New Orleans (soon-to-be Pelicans but for the time being) Hornets, 111-106. After two well-earned wins against the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder, tonight’s contest was considered nothing less than a trap game; an opportunity for the Lakers to back-track after having seemingly turned a corner this weekend.

At 15-30, the Hornets are far from being a playoff team, but this season’s short history has shown that Laker losses come at the feet of both championship-caliber teams and bottom-dwellers alike. They could have folded after losing either of two 18-point leads (one towards the end of the game). Kobe Bryant could have decided to abandon the entire plan and try to shoot them out of a scoring drought when the lead fell to a single point. The Lakers had chances to revert back to their old ways in this game, and they didn’t. They moved the ball with purpose, crashed the boards, played some decent defense in stretches and worked together.

HIGH POINTS:
Move it or Shoot It – 34 assists on 39 made field goals. Led by Kobe Bryant’s 11(!) dimes, every player who got some floor time, save for Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks, handed out an assist. It was sharing the ball at its very best for this team this season. Is it strange to see Bryant with six points and Pau Gasol with just a single point after the first half? Yes. But Bryant with five assists and Gasol with six by half-time? That’s leadership you just can’t question. Bryant finished with a double-double, 14 points, eight rebounds and 11 dimes.
Earl Clark – 20 points on 8-11 from the field, including 4-5 from downtown, 12 rebounds and four assists! As terrible as the injury to Jordan Hill is, it opened a door for Clark and he has taken full advantage of it, much to the pleasure of his teammates who rose from the bench almost every time he scored. His six turnovers aside, Clark contributed immensely in this win.
Dwight Howard – 24 points on 9-13 from the field, four rebounds, a pair of assists, five steals, four blocks and some great defense. Howard was all over tonight, including the free throw line where he hit 6-11.
Bench – The Laker reserves outscored the Hornets’ bench 38-32. Steve Blake was back on the active list after missing the majority of the season so far. He played just over 13 minutes but scored a pair, handed out four assists and played some scrappy defense. Gasol’s line reads like a slot machine jackpot – 7 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists and a game-high +21. The bulk of the bench scoring came from the reserve dynamic duo of Jamison and Meeks. Antawn Jamison scored 16 points and grabbed seven rebounds, while Jodie Meeks chipped in 13 points. Bench Mob 2.0?
Balance – For the second game in a row, six players scored in double figures.
First-Half Defense – The Lakers kept the Hornets to just 42 points on 35%, kept them out of the paint, where they only scored 14 points and kept them from getting too many second chances (just two second chance points).

LOW POINTS:
Second-Half Defense – Unfortunately, the second half was not a carbon copy, defensively, of the first two quarters. The Lakers allowed New Orleans a 64-point, 50% shooting half. For the game, they broke even in the paint 46-points apiece, but were killed in fast-break points 30-9. With just under six minutes left in the game, and the Lakers up 98-80, they were outscored by the Hornets 26-13. The visitors closed in to a 102-101 distance with still two minutes left, but a Steve Nash three, Jamison finger roll and two Bryant free throws sealed the win. The Lakers could have and should have ended this game on that 18-point advantage, but their defense faltered in the end and they had to scramble to keep the lead.
Free throws – 21-33 from the free throw line. Even Nash, Meeks and Gasol, who are historically good free throw shooters, missed from the charity stripe tonight.
Metta World Peace – It wasn’t a great night for MWP, just three points on 1-8, and he didn’t check in at all in the final quarter. Mike D’Antoni decided to go with Jamison in the end, who had been shooting well and was playing just enough defense to stay in the game.

It’s good to get a win before the 7-game long Grammy Trip. The Lakers haven’t played well on the road, but they can use this momentum to make up some lost ground. It all depends, however, on how well they can stick to this current plan of attack. It’s not a complicated strategy: play defense, move the ball, stay engaged for 48 minutes. If they can do that, they’ll come home at .500, perhaps even better. Here’s hoping.

Box Score

 

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

Are the real Los Angeles Lakers finally here? Well, they might just be.

Despite a slow start, with losses to Chicago and Memphis, the Lakers finished the week winning two straight games against Utah and Oklahoma City, both in promising fashion.

‘Shooting guard-turned-point guard’ Kobe Bryant led the Lakers to two straight wins over legitimate Western Conference playoff teams. Bryant’s back-to-back games of 14 assists were key in sparking the Lakers’ success and salvaging a 2-2 record for the week.

With Bryant now assuming a facilitator role within the Lakers’ offense, and Dwight Howard taking on more responsibility on the defensive end, the Lakers seem to have found a winning combination as a team. The Lakers remain 6 games under .500 at 19-25, but they may finally be on the road to recovery.

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

Kobe Bryant (SG / PG) Up arrow : Bryant may have found his all-important niche on this Lakers team. After continuing to struggle against Chicago and Memphis, Bryant significantly changed his plan of attack.

Against Utah and Oklahoma City, Bryant came up only one rebound short of a triple-double, in both games. Bryant registered 14 points, 14 assists, 9 rebounds in the Lakers’ definitive 102-84 win over the Utah Jazz. Bryant then followed up that near triple-double performance with yet another near triple-double vs. Oklahoma City.

Bryant again registered 14 assists, along with 21 points and 9 rebounds, in the Lakers’ 105-96 win over the Thunder for arguably the Lakers’ best win of the season. Bryant also had a hand in limiting opposing All-Star PG Russell Westbrook to 17 points on just 6-22 shooting from the field.

Despite the Lakers’ miserable start to the season, and the mistake of hiring head coach Mike D’Antoni, it seems that the Lakers’ captain, Kobe Bryant, has figured things out in Laker Land. The Lakers have reportedly scrapped D’Antoni’s offense and are now playing with more freedom, and more flow, on both ends of the floor. The Lakers’ chemistry and communication have also seemed to improve on a collective basis.

Image Credit: Reed Saxon | AP
Image Credit: Reed Saxon | AP

Bryant’s new role in the Lakers’ offense has been that of a full-time facilitator; he is now facilitating in a way that gets all of his teammates going early and significantly improves the overall ball movement. Apparently, Bryant is “happy as hell” in the new role as the Lakers’ playmaker because he values winning over scoring.

Bryant’s playmaking has also led to a more balanced scoring distribution for the Lakers’ offense. In the Lakers’ win over the Thunder, for instance, six different players scored in double figures.

The team’s improved ball movement has led to a higher offensive efficiency, as seen by the Lakers’ back-to-back 100+ point games. The improved efficiency, in less offensive possessions, has also translated to better team defense. Opposing teams in the past two games have had less transition opportunities and Bryant has been able to exert more energy on the defensive end, mainly as a result of his reduced scoring role on offense.

Bryant has also learned that slowing down the offense, while utilizing all of the Lakers’ strengths (especially inside), and capitalizing more on easy offensive opportunities, are the main keys to the Lakers’ success going forward.

Bryant’s facilitation and rededication to team-basketball have also energized his teammates. When players, especially those that are used to being ‘go-to scorers’ for their careers, receive more consistent touches on the offensive end, it translates to a more engaged team on the defensive end.

Bryant, along with Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace, have collectively improved the Lakers’ defense, as evident by the 84 points given up to Utah and the 96 points allowed to Oklahoma City. With those three defenders leading the defense, the Lakers’ communication and rotations have significantly improved on that end.

The primary reason for the Lakers’ recent turnaround has been Bryant’s willingness to become an effective facilitator for the team. The change, or scrapping, of the Lakers offense, along with Bryant’s realization that his reduced scoring role leads to a more successful team, have set the standard for the Lakers. The new offense in which everyone “eats more often” seems to be a rallying point for the team and has significantly increased their chemistry on the court.

Players now seem to actually “buy-in” to team concepts and enjoy playing in this new, free system. Bryant’s reduced role also looks to be contagious, as his teammates, especially Pau Gasol and Howard, have accepted and thrived in the Lakers’ new “team-first” mantra.

Expect the Lakers to continue their success and salvage this season as long as Bryant continues to lead the offensive attack through his superb facilitation on the offensive end.

Pau Gasol (C / PF) Up arrow : Gasol is now the Lakers’ permanent sixth man and has been doing a solid job in that role. Despite scoffing at the idea initially, Gasol began cherishing the sixth man role last week. Gasol remains unhappy with his bench role, but is content enough to accept it for the remainder of the season and not request a trade.

Moving Gasol to the bench as the primary backup center to Howard has created balance between the starters and reserves. With Gasol on the bench, Earl Clark has added athleticism and versatility to the starting lineup, along with allowing Howard to get going inside, early and often.

Once Gasol enters the game, usually for Howard, he has continued the Lakers’ dominance inside and there is little drop-off in production from Howard to Gasol.

Most importantly, Gasol is now able to punish the opposing team’s second unit in his natural center position. This was certainly evident in the Lakers’ two wins where he posted 15 points and 7 rebounds vs. Utah then 16 points and 4 rebounds vs. OKC. Gasol’s contributions were the main reason the Lakers were able to outscore both benches of the Jazz and Thunder.

If Gasol continues to play big minutes off the bench, and finish games at the PF position effectively alongside Howard, the Lakers will be a much stronger team, top to bottom.

Earl Clark (PF) Up arrow : The Lakers have officially found another “diamond in the rough” in Earl Clark. Clark’s continued emergence has been an important part of this recent turnaround. His versatility at the power forward position, starting alongside Howard, has given the Lakers a more balanced attack on both ends of the floor.

Image Credit: Mark J. Terrill | AP
Image Credit: Mark J. Terrill | AP

Clark has cooled off offensively of late, but his intangible contributions such as effort, energy and athleticism have been there consistently. Clark also adds a different element defensively as he can guard multiple positions on that end.

Clarks’ ability to defend multiple positions helps with rotations and allows the Lakers to switch matchups more often. With Jordan Hill out for the season, Clark has also added much-needed frontcourt depth that will pay dividends in keeping Howard and Gasol fresh.

Clark’s ability as an offensive “slasher” should also not go unnoticed either, especially with Bryant’s dedication to facilitating. Clark’s speed and superior athleticism have also contributed to a faster pace for the Lakers and led to more fast break opportunities from the start of games.

Over the Lakers’ past two wins, Clark has only averaged 9 points and 5 rebounds, but his energy and defensive presence have helped the Lakers start games quickly. Expect Clark to produce even more with Bryant continuing to facilitate effectively, and as Clark becomes more comfortable in his starting role.

Metta World Peace (SF / PF) Up arrow : Like many of the Lakers, World Peace has also benefited from Bryant’s control of the offense. World Peace has gotten many easy looks from three-point range, which has translated to a higher shooting percentage.

World Peace consequently made five three-pointers and poured in 17 points vs. Utah. He then followed that up by making three three-pointers and 15 points with 10 rebounds against Oklahoma City.

With World Peace receiving easier scoring opportunities on offense, he has been able to rededicate himself more on the defensive end. World Peace, along with Howard, has started to lead the Lakers’ defense on the perimeter. This was clearly evident by Kevin Durant’s 10-26 shooting performance against World Peace’s tenacious defense.

If Bryant keeps up his stellar play and the Lakers’ ball movement continues to flow, World Peace should shoot the ball even more efficiently going forward. His efficient shooting and easier opportunities should also translate into increased energy on the defensive end. Hopefully, if the recent trend continues, World Peace can return to being a “lockdown defender” once again.

Steve Nash (PG / SG) even : Steve Nash as a shooting guard? Well, with Bryant’s focus on facilitating the offense, Nash has effectively become a ‘combo’ point/shooting guard. Bryant is now handling the ball more than Nash is, which makes Nash much more of a scoring threat.

Nash has adjusted well to Bryant, however. Nash was the recipient of multiple Bryant assists in the past two games, which contributed to his back-to-back 15 and 17 points performances.

Regulating Nash to more of a spot-up shooter on offense certainly restricts his biggest strength as a facilitating point guard, but it is not a bad idea when Nash is a five-time member of the 40 / 50 / 90 club*.

Since the Lakers are no longer running D’Antoni’s offense, Nash’s importance as the offensive captain is reduced. Nash can essentially become the Lakers’ second point guard when Bryant goes to the bench and continue effectively executing Bryant’s plan of attack. Nash should continue to be an effective offensive weapon for the Lakers, especially as a shooter and scorer, but his role as the primary ball-handler seems to have permanently changed.

* The ’40 / 50 / 90’ club includes players who shoot at least 40% from three-point range, 50% from the field and 90% from the free throw line. Nash has accomplished that feat five times in his career.

Dwight Howard (C) even : Along with Bryant, Howard finally seems to “get it”. Howard now looks like he understands that he will not always be the first option offensively. Howard also seems to understand he will not always get the ball where he wants it, when he wants it.

Image Credit: Associated Press
Image Credit: Associated Press

This realization and acceptance has been a major key to the Lakers’ recent surge. Howard now seems content on winning, rather than getting 15+ shot attempts per game.

Howard has also started to apply himself more on the defensive end by contesting shots more consistently. He has even started to communicate and rotate more often and more effectively as the last line of defense.

Howard had a disappointing offensive game against Oklahoma City, as he was in foul trouble and only scored 8 points on 3-7 shooting, but he did not allow those struggles to impact his defensive presence. Despite his struggles, Howard remained upbeat and made his presence felt on the defensive end for the entire 29 minutes he played.

Howard was recently quoted as saying that he and Bryant are “two big dogs and [they] bump heads.” Howard continued by explaining that, “Instead of bumping heads, [they] can both do things to lead this team.”

Those things involve Bryant controlling the offense and Howard leading the defense. If Howard remains focused on leading the Lakers’ team defense and returns to being a defensive enforcer, he could return to that three-time Defensive Player of the Year he was in Orlando.

Now, if that actually happens, it could spell real trouble for the rest of the league.

Antawn Jamison (PF) even : Gasol’s demotion to the bench has had an indirect effect on the play of Antawn Jamison. With Gasol coming off the bench, Jamison now has an effective passing big man that can find him cutting or spotting up for threes.

Jamison certainly has struggled with consistency this season for the Lakers off the bench. If his 4-6 for 12 points in 14 minutes performance vs. the Thunder is any indication, he can still be a potent player off the bench for Los Angeles.

Bryant’s focus on facilitating and Gasol’s presence inside will significantly help Jamison’s stock going forward. If Gasol, Jamison and Meeks can find some consistency between each other, it could make the Lakers’ bench a strength, where it has been a weakness for so many years.

Jodie Meeks (SG) even : Meeks continued to receive sporadic playing time as the Lakers’ “pure shooter” this past week. Meeks has played solid the past two games, however, filling in for Bryant when he went to the bench.

Meeks scored 8 points on 3-6 shooting against the Jazz and scored 5 points on 2-3 shooting against the Thunder. Not only was his timely offensive production a spark off the bench, but also his energy on the defensive end, were keys in the Lakers’ victories.

If Meeks returns to being a consistent three-point threat, while playing solid defense, he can become a legitimate backup to Kobe Bryant.

Chris Duhon (PG) Down arrow : Duhon continues to do little to help the Lakers’ cause. As the Lakers primary backup point guard, he brings little scoring or facilitating production to the table.

Hopefully with Steve Blake returning from injury this Tuesday, and Bryant taking on more of the point guard duties, Duhon will be relegated to the end of the bench.

Darius Morris (PG) Down arrow : The fluctuation of minutes for Morris and Meeks continued this week. Before this week, Morris was getting more minutes than Meeks off the bench as the primary backup shooting guard.

Now, Morris has barely seen the court in the past four games. If Meeks becomes a consistent backup to Bryant, Morris could be glued to the bench, yet again.

Morris’s athleticism and up-tempo style of play can be advantageous for the Lakers, but it seems D’Antoni will roll with Meeks over Morris this upcoming week.

Robert Sacre (C) Down arrow : As Gasol settles into his sixth man role as the Lakers’ backup center, Robert Sacre has resumed his role as an ‘emergency big man.’

Barring any type of injury to the Lakers’ frontline or major foul trouble, Sacre will continue his “Sacre-dance” on the bench.

Steve Blake (PG) Injury sign Up arrow : Blake has finally been medically cleared to return to the court and will make his return to the lineup this Tuesday vs. New Orleans. Blake has not fully healed from his groin injury, which stemmed from the lower abdominal strain back in November, but he will attempt to play through it for the time being.

Coach D’Antoni recently expressed his excitement for Blake’s return at practice:

Expect to see Blake come off the bench against the Hornets (or Pelicans) on Tuesday night in limited minutes.

Notes: Jordan Hill had successful hip surgery this past week on his injured left hip. The surgery included the removal of loose fragments, repair of a torn labrum and a microfracture procedure to repair damaged cartilage. Hill is expected to be out approximately six months. Also, reserve SF Devin Ebanks continues his DNP-CD streak.

Stay tuned for next weeks’ Lakers Stock Watch as the Lakers begin their ‘Grammy Trip’ battling New Orleans, Phoenix, Minnesota and Detroit over the next week.

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As we do every week, LakerNation joined the Out of Bounds Sports Radio show on Fox Sports Radio: Tampa Bay. Last week, our own David Brickley joined to talk about the Lakers underachievement this season, the feud between Phil Jackson and Jim Buss, and why Mike D’Antoni is the wrong fit for this Lakers roster.

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Last week, Alex Lambeth joined and broke down the Lakers recent struggles:

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And the week before that, Ashkan Kargaran talks about the possibility of blowing things up in Laker-land:

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Next week, Jason Riley will join John Russo for his Lakers segment. You can listen LIVE every Thursday, starting at 5pm PT, and be sure to follow the show on Twitter: @OutOfBoundsTalk.

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Image Credit: Alex Lambeth | LakerNation
Image Credit: Alex Lambeth | LakerNation
Image Credit: Alex Lambeth | LakerNation

The Lakers crowd was engaged throughout the Sunday afternoon showdown between the Lakers and Thunder. Laker faithful could sense the season hanging in the balance, the team’s need for a signature win, and the effort the Lakers were putting into this game.

The Lakers finally entered their “discomfort zones” to earn the win. Kobe facilitated from the start – earning 14 assists. Nash played off ball for most of the game, and looked to shoot first when he got the rock, punishing the Thunder defense for playing the passing lanes. Pau Gasol accepted his role of the bench, and played big. Dwight Howard committed himself to defense, touches be damned. The Lakers all did the dirty work that they have been reluctant to do in the past, and came away with a signature win.

In response, the fans were as loud as they have been all year. Despite LakerNation being down on Dwight recently, the fans all cheered for the big man every time he went to the line – supporting him amidst a horrid shooting night from the stripe. The building nearly exploded as the Lakers took control late in the game, and finally ended with a standing ovation at Staples as the clock ran down. This was the best game of the season.

High Point:

Late in the fourth quarter, an incredible pass from Kobe to Earl Clark for a slam got the fans riled up.

On the next possession, Russell Westbrook took to the skies to try to send one home on Pau Gasol. Instead, Russell sent the ball out of bounds, resulting in a turnover. Incensed, Westbrook went after the referee, and drew a T. The fans rejoiced. Everyone was on their feet, ecstatic to see the Lakers up late in a close game, and the Thunder losing their composure. It was wonderful.

Fan of the Night:

The middle aged bald man in a goatee on the jumbotron late in the fourth. Decked out in yellow Laker gear, his epic dance can only be described as a standing up seizure – he went full retard. Staples Center even replayed his dance on the jumbotron. It was fantastic.

Runner Up: This is a tie – the two fans sitting next to each other who brought cut outs of Nash and Kobe’s heads and flailed them around after every big play.

Another fan had a license plate that said Kobe-Wan. ‘Nuff Said.

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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.