Sunday, December 21, 2014
Blog Page 55

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Photo Credit: WashingtonPost.com

Every week, our staff writers chime in on the trending topics, rumors and storylines surrounding the Lakers. In today’s State of the Nation, they answer five questions that will ultimately decide the fate of the Lakers.

True or False: The ’12-13 Lakers season can still be salvaged?

Photo Credit: WashingtonPost.com
Photo Credit: WashingtonPost.com

Jordan Grant // @JordanGrant90:

True, but highly unlikely. Hard to see the Lakers going on the run necessary to pull it off. For a while I was confident they would get things together, but there hasn’t been any improvement.

Matevz Rojc // @MatevzRojc:

True. Margin of error is really small, but when you look at the players they have, it is possible. It’s all up to Mike D’Antoni’s willingness to adapt his coaching to this team. Health also plays a factor here when you look at the age of this roster. D’Antoni needs to somehow minimize the minutes played for Kobe and Nash. Also, now is the time for the Lakers to show some consistency. If they don’t do that in the games before the All-Star break, the gap for a playoff spot will close.

Jon Gaffer // @jewelslamo:

False. For me it was championship or bust with this team. The talent simply hasn’t lived up to the hype, so unless they win it all, the season won’t be salvaged, it will be wasted.

Garrett Garcia // @GarrettGarcia:

False. At this point in the season, the Lakers haven’t shown anyone they are capable of turning this around anytime soon.  They’d have to play about .700 basketball from this point on to make a strong push, which is highly unlikely.

Melvin Taylor // @PastPossible30:

True. Call me stubborn, but if the Lakers move the ball how they have been (a la Kobe), I still believe they can make something special out of this year.

Felipe Amaral // @F_Amaral:

True, but only if salvaged means going to the playoffs. If the Lakers keep playing with the same energy level and ball-movement ability that we’ve seen in the last two victories, they will eventually get within the 8th seed in the West and secure a playoff spot. But to reach June, the Lakers must continue to show signs of improvement with consistency if they’re going to have any shot in a series against elite teams like Miami, San Antonio and Oklahoma City.

Alex Lambeth // @AlexLambeth:

True. Despite their terrible month of January, the Lakers are still only 4 games back of the 8th seed in the Western Conference. With Kobe Bryant relishing his new facilitating role and Pau Gasol accepting his sixth man role, the Lakers may now be able to develop some chemistry and momentum, and climb back into the playoff race.

James Cypert // @JamesCypert:

If Kobe Bryant can continue to put together near-triple doubles every night, the Lakers can make a postseason trip a formality. That’s a huge “if”, but in the last two games, the Lakers are 2-0 with Bryant putting up 14-14-9 and 21-14-9 performances.

Oren Levy // @LakersOren:

True. Impressive wins over the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder over the weekend (with Kobe doing his best Magic Johnson impression) have breathed new life into these Lakers. The Grammy trip is coming up, which will either be a springboard for the Lakers to unite and rise, or will drop them out of the playoff race for good.

Anna Gonda // @AnnaLBG:

True. Anything is possible, but because they’ve put themselves into such a deep hole more than halfway through the season, the Lakers not only have to win almost every game ahead, but the teams above them (namely Utah, Houston and Portland) have to start losing as well.

Robert Benitez // @beeb0:

True, but it won’t be easy. Houston gave the Lakers a nice gift in the form of a losing streak, but if the Lakers want to make the playoffs, they have to keep their level of intensity up. The past 2 games were great, but as we’ve seen, they have a tendency of giving us high hopes, only to break us back down again.

Next Question: True or False: Pau Gasol will be a Laker after 12:00pm PT on February 21st.

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

“Everyone feels like they’re part of the team,” Steve Nash said in the locker room after the Lakers got their biggest win of the season against the mighty Oklahoma City Thunder, 105-96.

It’s never enough to BE part of a team if one player feels left out, and that seems to have been one of many causes for these Lakers’ struggles. Not enough touches, not enough minutes, etc. Division is the quickest way to perdition and Coach Mike D’Antoni said it post-game today, “We hit rock bottom.” The only way for the Lakers to rise from under is to play together, struggle through games together, support each other, and that’s exactly what they did this afternoon.

Kobe Bryant had more assists than field goal attempts. Steve Nash had more field goal attempts than assists. Pau Gasol showed it doesn’t matter whether he starts or comes off the bench because his impact is major nonetheless. Metta World Peace was a workhorse on both ends, as usual. And as a team, the Lakers never let lost leads discourage them nor OKC runs exhaust them. This is how you win.

 

HIGH POINTS
Kobe-of-all-trades – For the second game in a row, Bryant is leading by example. A scorer at heart, he has played the last two games showing off not just his ability to put the ball in the hoop, but his craftiness to get his teammates on the scoreboard. 21 points on 8-12 from the field, 9 rebounds, 14 assists, a steal, a block and just three turnovers in almost 39 minutes on the floor – that’s called efficiency and Bryant knows a thing or two about that. Thabo Sefalosha is one of Bryant’s many proud defenders, but on this Sunday afternoon, he had to worry about a lot more than him trying to score. Most every baseline drive by Bryant was followed by a hand-off to a cutting teammate on their way to the hoop, and when Kobe decided, a little fancy footwork got him an open jumper.

Balanced Scoring – Six Lakers scored in double figures, including Steve Nash who went for 17 and Metta World Peace with 15 of his own. The reserves outscored OKC’s bench 33-17. Gasol’s 16 points on 7-10 certainly helped, but Antawn Jamison chipped in 12 points and Jodie Meeks checked in in the fourth quarter and rattled off five quick points to give the Lakers a lead. And the Earl Clark experiment? How about 11 points on 5-9, including a three pointer and four rebounds?

Sustained Effort – There were 18 lead changes. OKC led by as much as five points and the Lakers led by as much as nine. Another knock on the Lakers during those 25 losses were the close games that they couldn’t finish in the end. Today’s game was the exact opposite. Halfway through the fourth quarter, OKC took an 87-86 lead off Kevin Durant’s 3-pointer. After a step-back jumper from MWP that gave the Lakers back the lead, the home team never looked back.

Defense – The Thunder are the highest scoring team in the NBA at 105.9 ppg and third in FG% at 47.8%. It’s one thing to hold OKC to 23 points on 39% shooting in the first quarter, but to hold them to 96 points on 44% for the entire game? That’s something else. The Lakers stood their ground for an entire game, and after losing the lead midway through the fourth, they outscored the Thunder 19-10 the rest of the way. OKC’s big two still scored a combined 52 points and Russell Westbrook handed out 13 assists, but 13 of Durant’s points came from the free throw line, so his 22 points from the field took 26 attempts. The Lakers made him work hard for every shot, and for a scorer like Durant, that’s often the most that you can do. Westbrook went just 6-22 from the floor, with Bryant taking on the assignment in spurts, and MWP checked Durant, as usual, but it took a team effort on the defensive end to hold the Thunder to under 100 points.

LOW POINTS:

Free Throws – 13 missed free throws on 29 attempts, with eight of those misses coming courtesy of Dwight Howard, who didn’t have his most efficient game.

Dwight Howard – Eight points on 3-7 from the field and 2-10 from the charity stripe, 10 rebounds, an assist and two steals. It’s not the most impressive stat line from the supposed best center in the league. Howard was in foul trouble, but his constant complaint of not getting touches could be remedied with some effort on the glass. Bryant, a guard, was one rebound shy of tying the rebound total of the starting center on his team.

“As long as we utilize what we have, we should win,” said Metta World Peace in the locker room after the game. In essence, it’s the simplest solution for this talent-riddled Laker team to score some victories if they could only just REMEMBER who they are and what they have, and play like it.

It’s a great day in Lakerland today – a win over the best team in the league, and the birthday of the best owner in sports history. Happy Birthday, Jerry Buss!

Box Score

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During the ABC telecast against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday, ESPN color analyst and former NBA coach, Jeff Van Gundy had some harsh words for Dwight Howard.

The rant was well received by Lakers fans on Twitter and had many applauding the semi-monologue by Van Gundy in the second quarter of Sunday’s game.

Here is a transcript:

“He’s let everybody know ad nauseum that his back hurts OK, and that he is not 100%.

That’s not what people are upset about.

They’re upset about his waffling constantly on everything. This idea that he has to have less touches now? You’re the one that wanted out of the situation in Orlando where you were the featured guy. So this is what I‘ve ascertained that would make him happy:

Highest paid player, on a championship caliber team, first option offensive threat, in a big market, with no pressure, no responsibility and no one to prod him from a coaching standpoint.

Where do you find that in the NBA?

What he should do is say, ‘I wanted out. I wanted here. I’m going to make it work here.’

You should not have to beg a NBA player for energy, effort and unselfishness. Because you are not getting touches doesn’t give you the right to hold your team hostage by not giving your very very best.”

Dwight Howard is currently averaging 16.7 points, 12.1 rebounds, and 2.48 blocks per game this season.

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

The long layoff is almost over for Steve Blake. The point guard announced via his official twitter account that he will finally be back to action against the New Orleans Hornets on Tuesday night at Staples Center. Blake has missed the last 36 games due to an abdominal muscle tear suffered against the Sacramento Kings on November 11th.

It was not an easy recovery for Blake. The nine-year veteran underwent surgery on December 5th, and faced an onslaught of medical complications before and after the procedure. Prior to the injury, Blake was averaging 5.1 points and 3.4 assists per game, while making 40% of his 3-point shot attempts.

The Lakers will certainly welcome back Blake’s feistiness and experience off the bench, and he should be reinserted to his original duty of backing up Steve Nash.

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Photo Credit: Getty Images
Photo Credit: Getty Images

With last night’s win over the visiting Utah Jazz, the Lakers pulled into a tie for…

Was I really going to write “11th in the Western Conference” right there?

Yep, I was, and no matter how much this team continues to set us free from all our lofty expectations, the whole season still seems hallucinatory to me.

Since we’re all forced to continue watching, let’s talk about the most interesting thing that happened at Staples Center last night. It wasn’t Pau Gasol playing like his family had been taken hostage, or Kobe’s assist-to-shot ratio, or even Metta World Peace firing 11 shots from downtown. It was Bryant’s remarks following the game to USA Today about teammate and fellow all-star Dwight Howard.

“It’s a matter of learning (for Howard). What I try to tell him is that it’s not necessarily about what you (want), how you are as a person, or what’s comfortable for you. It’s really about what’s going to help elevate us.

From what we’re able to observe, Dwight Howard isn’t a confrontational, in-your-face personality. During his first several years in Orlando, it was his youthful demeanor and playful wit that endeared him to NBA fans. You could make the argument that his avoid-confronation-at-all-costs behavior is what ultimately made him look so foolish during his last season with the Magic.

Bryant played a big chunk of his career with another ex-Magic center with a similar personality, someone he eluded to when referencing Howard:

“It’s a process for him. He wants to be one of the greats of all time, and to do that you have to learn from the greats of all time – be it Bill Russell, be it Shaq. I mean Shaq was a moody, temperamental dude. So if you watch all the big men who have come before, you start to see a common denominator. … I want (Howard) to be great, so I’m trying to push him.”

But how effective will Kobe’s sometimes unpolished method of leadership be with a personality like Howard? And the bigger question, will Howard still be wearing the purple and gold after February 21st?

“I don’ t know what the future holds. I don’t know if (Howard will be traded)…But I know that as long as he’s here, I’m going to continue to help him, mentor him, help him be great. That’s all I can do.

… And the rest is on Howard to adapt, get healthy, tread some water, and most importantly, morph back into Dwight Howard again.

With the trade deadline looming, the Lakers reeling and Howard’s signature on a long-term contract not certain, the time for substantial change is now. Whether that change comes in the form of Howard’s temperament, or the name on the front of his jersey, remains to be seen…

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Photo courtesy of Robyn Beck, Getty Images

The Lakers returned to Staples Center tonight and got their first victory in five games, beating the Utah Jazz 102-84. Kobe Bryant ended the game with 14 points, 9 rebounds, and 14 assists, one shy of his career high.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press
Photo Credit: The Associated Press

The Lakers looked to get to a good start following their fourth straight defeat on Wednesday in Memphis. They started the game on a 7-0 run, with Dwight Howard on the receiving end of lob after lob. Howard played with energy following his comments about being, “sick of hearing about all the negative stuff” at shootaround this morning. He finished the game with 17 points, 13 rebounds, and 2 blocks.

The Lakers led all the way, with Utah getting as close as three points away from the lead with 2:37 left in the 3rd. The Lakers answered with 4 straight assists from Kobe to finish the quarter, 72-63. The bench, led by Pau Gasol, was able to build on that lead in the fourth, hitting 11 straight field goals. Gasol and Howard played well together, with Howard occupying the high post to set up a Gasol layup in one sequence. The Spaniard finished with 15 points on 7-of-8 shooting.

With Bryant taking on the role of facilitator, Nash was aggressive on the offensive end, finishing with 15 points. The fourth starter in double digits was Metta World Peace, who hit 5 of 11 from three point range and finished with 17 points. Perhaps the Lakers lowest point tonight was the 18 turnovers.

The Purple and Gold look to make it two straight Ws Sunday when the Oklahoma City Thunder come to town.

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Photo Credit: Getty Images

I am sure everyone that has been paying attention heard about the recent team meeting that took place prior to Wednesday’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies. It was one of those intended to be soul cleansing, brutally honest, and motivational all at the same time. You know, the kind where the coach gathers his players around him for an internal examination of the current state of team affairs.

These are the types of meetings that take place in order to keep “family business” inside the house, yet give individual “family members” an opportunity to vent. These things are a must for teams to do, especially when the waters are starting to rise, and the alarm is being sounded.

As the Lakers found themselves beginning to drown in their losing streak, and wallow in their misery of poor play, with no apparent light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, it was time to talk.

Now, me being the ever inquisitive sort, found myself wondering what in the world it must have been like in that room with D’Antoni and the boys. With that being said, I thought it would be fun to morph into that “fly on the wall”, and do a little eavesdropping on the meeting of the minds (or mindless). So, for the sake of all those who need to find a bit of humor in this otherwise dismal and disastrous season thus far, I bring you the brief excerpt of what I thought I heard while buzzing around the room. Pay close attention, there are many important things being discussed.

D’Antoni: Okay everyone, listen up. I thought it was time to set the record straight on a few things. For starters, I am not happy about the way we closed the game against the Bulls. You guys just stopped playing the last 3 minutes . I expect you to at least pretend you are guarding someone like you did the rest of the time. We can’t expect to be consistently awful if we aren’t going to try”.

And another thing, if we don’t start jacking up more 3 pointers with a hand in our faces, or make more ill advised passes, or stand around under the rim and give up more defensive rebounds, we are in for a very long year.  

I am trying my best to reduce the minutes of those deserving more, using the wrong guys off the bench in the wrong rotations, and above all else, I’m really, really trying to run Kobe ragged and give him as many minutes as humanly possible. Now with all that said, does anybody have anything to add here?

Howard: Coach, I apologize for not being more selfish, and demanding more people to look at the stat sheet from the game last night. I won’t let that happen again. I also want to say I am proud of the way I almost hit the rim on some of my free throws. 

D’Antoni: That’s great to hear, Dwight. If we can just get a bit less productivity out of you offensively, and you could find a way to get ejected a few more times, you will have met all of our expectations for all that money we wasted on you.

Nash: Look Mike, this ain’t Phoenix and this ain’t the Suns. If you think for one minute I haven’t lost a step, and I can’t guard anyone anymore, or I don’t commit way more turnovers than I ever have in my entire career, you got another think coming, bro.

D’Antoni: Calm down Steve! I convinced Buss and Kupchak to get you for those very reasons. You think I didn’t know you were a broken down mule?

Metta World Peace: I just wanna hit something right now! And I don’t mean any shots, I mean something worth hitting.

Kobe: I just want the ball, and the freedom to do what I do. And everyone in this room knows what I do. I do what I tell y’all to do, so just do it and let me do what I tell you to do.

Gasol: Can you people stop calling me Marc? I’m not Marc, and I will never rebound or play tough and physical like Marc. Matter of fact, I’m not playing at all lately, thanks to you, D’Antoni.

Duhon, Sacre, Jamison, Clark, Blake, Meeks, Morris, and Ebanks: Don’t feel bad Pau, some of us have been on the bench so long we thought D’Antoni had forgotten we had any talent at all. 

D’Antoni: Oh, I didn’t forget fellas… your talent is exactly why you are on the bench.

Me: Man, I feel so much better now! Let me fly on out of here before these guys see me. I bet they go out and drill the Grizzlies tonight!”

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If Mike D’Antoni ever deserved some kind of award for his performance as the Los Angeles Lakers head coach, he earned it yesterday.

As the Lakers took their final preparations to the game at Memphis, D’Antoni had the quote of the year. He said that he believes the Lakers are an “All-Star Team”. But, not in a good way.

Here’s what he had to say about his team (via Yahoo!)

We’ve got an All-Star team. Have you ever watched an All-Star Game? It’s God-awful because everybody gets the ball, they go one-on-one and then they play no defense. That’s our team.

If you think that’s enough ripping of his own men, D’Antoni saved some extra salty words to his squad for his meeting with the media after the loss to the Grizzlies.

I do think they played as hard as they can play. That’s what’s scary.

So, what do you think, Laker Nation? Has Mike D’Antoni gone too far? Or does he have the rights to express his opinions if he truly feels that way?

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In a story that every Los Angeles Lakers supporter, fan, or advocate will soon have read, Yahoo! Sports Adrian Wojnarowski tells all in a recent column following the Lakers loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.

In the article, Wojnarowski discusses everything wrong with the current Lakers squad. He begins with a statement about why the organization hired head coach Mike D’Antoni. Next he moves on to Laker Vice-President Jim Buss who believed that former Laker coach Phil Jackson would not have correctly utilized point guard Steve Nash and would have tried to “move nash out”

The biggest issue Lakers vice president Jim Buss had with choosing Phil Jackson over Mike D’Antoni as head coach centered on the consequences for Steve Nash. With no use for this point guard in the triangle offense, Buss’s fear was that Jackson would’ve pushed to move Nash out, sources said.

“The way this turns out,” one league source connected to the hiring process said, “you’ve chosen not only Steve Nash over [Pau] Gasol, but maybe over Gasol and Dwight [Howard].”

To say the Lakers been below expectations this season would be a sever understatement. They are currently 17 – 25 which places them 3rd in the Pacific Division and 12th in the Western Conference standings, far from the championship aspirations the team had after acquiring stars Dwight Howard and Nash.

Buss doubled down on the wrong coach, and wrong player. D’Antoni and Nash are busts, unable to bring the systematic and connective threads to a lineup that they were charged to regenerate. As far back out of the playoffs as these Lakers have dropped, here’s the most disturbing truth: Los Angeles is closer to the drop-dead bottom of the Western Conference with Phoenix and New Orleans – three games – than they are climbing four games to reach the eighth spot in the Western Conference playoffs.

On top of that reality Lakers power forward Pau Gasol is reportedly bracing for a trade he believes will soon come,

Nevertheless, D’Antoni has marginalized Gasol, leaving him livid and privately expecting to be traded before the February deadline for an athletic forward who fits his coaching designs. Buss believed that Nash had been neutralized in the Princeton offense, sources say, and that he would never flourish with the changes – blessed by the organization over the summer, by the way – that Brown implemented for the season.

Two years ago, Buss chose Mike Brown over Kupchak’s choice, Rick Adelman. This time, it was the desert myth of D’Antoni and Nash, a reunion that feels like it should be touring state fairs with REO Speedwagon.

Wojnarowski touched upon how bad the Lakers currently are and how Jackson would have led this team away from a mess like this,

The Lakers are a flat-lined, free-falling folly, an embarrassment of excess, a mangle of mismatched and non-connective parts. Whatever confrontational message Kobe Bryant delivered to Howard in a team meeting reported by the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday morning, make no mistake: The Bryant-Howard dynamic is the most minimal of the Lakers’ issues.

Under Jackson, the Lakers would’ve played through Gasol, Howard and Bryant in the post, would’ve dictated terms through the strengths of the franchise’s Hall of Fame players. Under Jackson, the Lakers would’ve had a leader of men to gather them out of this rubble.

The team’s best stretch of basketball this season was during the transition of former coach Mike Brown to D’Antoni. Assistant coach Bernie Bickerstaff coached the team for five games and went 4 – 1 by making everything as simple as possible,

For the Lakers to fire D’Antoni with three years left on his new contract – just after they fired Mike Brown with three years left – would leave them buried with $25 million in coaching payouts. And then, who do you get? Forget Jackson. That can’t happen now. Funny, but everyone on the Lakers knows that the best week this team played happened to be under Bernie Bickerstaff, who simplified the offense, played traditional sets and had the Lakers hustling on defense in winning four of five games in November.

Trade rumors within the past few weeks have also included Dwight due to him not speaking about signing a new deal with the Lakers. Despite the rumors, the Lakers are not looking to move their future star but doubt about his future is certainly beginning to creep in on Howard’s part,

For those who’ve called the Lakers on Howard’s availability – the Dallas Mavericks and the Atlanta Hawks – the message has been unmistakable: Howard isn’t available, nor will that change before the February deadline.

The Lakers understand that Los Angeles gives everything Howard wants to be a global star, gives him the guarantee of a five-year, $100 million extension this summer. They don’t believe he’ll walk, and yet as one source tied to the Lakers and Howard says: “Even if they’re right, and Dwight stays, do you want Dwight unhappy and feeling uninvolved with D’Antoni?”

Wojnarowski even discussed how D’Antoni turned the Knicks away from acquiring Howard and sparked their interest in Tyson Chandler

As New York Knicks coach, D’Antoni issued a clear stance in organizational discussions on a possible pursuit of Howard: He wasn’t a fan. He told Knicks front-office staff stories about how the elders of USA Basketball preferred Tyson Chandler to Howard, and that the Knicks would be wise to adopt that thinking, a source with knowledge of the conversations told Yahoo! Sports.

The entire story is worth the read and can bring new light onto the troubling situation within Los Angeles, with so many different story lines unfolding it is very difficult to tell which one is the most important. Nonetheless, I have hope that the Lakers will turn it around. It will just take more time than usual.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

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Photo Credit: Getty Images

Whenever ESPN NBA analyst Jeff Van Gundy speaks, I listen. Not because I believe Van Gundy is a basketball guru, but because he is very entertaining and will always bring up a point I would not have considered.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Early Wednesday morning, Eric Pincus of the LA Times reported that Jeff discussed the Los Angeles Lakers on The Herd with Colin Cowherd. Jeff had a lot to say about Lakers center Dwight Howard‘s antics,

“When you lose games and you’re going around after the game with a stat sheet in your hand and you’re saying, ‘Look at the stat sheet’ to reporters and to your teammates — you know what it is?  It’s passive-aggressive, immature stuff,” said Van Gundy.  “It’s sad.  This guy has so much to offer that is good for the game, to the game and to the Lakers.  They’re paying him huge money and they gave up a lot to get him.”

The Lakers this season are 17 – 25, the worst they have ever been with star Kobe Bryant in a Laker uniform. This season has been abysmal to say the least, add that with everyone attempting to hit the restart button lately and you have a bad situation taking a turn for the worst.

“Unfortunately right now his attitude towards the game is impacting his production on the court and the Lakers are not getting his very best,” said Van Gundy.  “At his very best he’d still be a dominant defender, rebounder and 18 point-per-game scorer. He doesn’t like his role.  You can see from his comments, from his play, he has very high role-frustration right now.”

Van Gundy then spoke about Dwight’s increasing displeasure and it causing major concern,

“I think it’s more dissatisfaction with his situation,” said Van Gundy.  “He wants to be the best player or No. 1 option offensively.  I think it’s impacted his entire game.”

Van Gundy didn’t hold back describing what he sees to be Howard’s limitations.

“He has rudimentary offensive skills,” said Van Gundy.  “He’s not a good ball handler.  He doesn’t have a really well-defensive low-post game – a poor free-throw shooter.  But he can have a huge impact on the game defensively – rebounding, screening, rolling, the occasional post move because he’s so athletic – but he doesn’t want to do it that way.”

The Lakers do not have much time to figure out their woes on the court. They do have three upcoming home games against the Utah Jazz, Oklahoma City Thunder, and the New Orleans Hornets but simply cannot afford to only come away with one win. The rest of this month’s stretch will definitely tell Laker supporters what to expect from February on.

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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 noun “insecurity” can be defined as the state of uncertainty or anxiety about oneself, a lack of confidence. It also can be defined as playing for Mike D’Antoni. In a turbulent season in which the Los Angeles Lakers have endured the national media criticism, coaching changes and injuries to their best players, one thing has been a constant: the revolving door that has been their rotation. D’Antoni is the main culprit of the Purple & Gold’s huge inconsistency with their personnel usage, as it looks like the more the current head coach tries to turn the ship around, the quicker he changes his mind about how to manage the Lakers’ roster.

This is what Matt Barnes described as a “bad situation” a few weeks ago. “Confidence” plays a huge part in the sport of basketball and it does not help at all if a player doesn’t have an idea of how many minutes they will get when he hits the court, or  how many opportunities he will receive until the coach sees enough, or if there’s even a chance he will be suddenly stripped out of the rotation completely. And if your name is not Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard or Steve Nash, you are likely on that distressing situation while representing the Purple & Gold.

A volatile rotation does not make players better by keeping them on the edge. It weakens their confidence and worsens their performance by making them think too much instead of just playing naturally. It forces a player to negatively worry about every shot, every pass, every defensive effort instead of just following his basketball instincts and have fun while performing at a high level. It hurts the sense of trust between a coach and a player that will eventually lead to the latter not being able to completely buy into the system, into what’s being teached and preached day in and day out.

Pau Gasol is the latest victim. Even though the Spaniard has recovered from the concussion that forced him to miss five contests, he initiated last Monday’s game against the Bulls on the bench, in a move that is said to be “set in stone”, in the words of coach D’Antoni himself. So even if a 4-time All-Star that has already won two NBA championships with the Lakers doesn’t know what to expect from his head coach, other players must feel like walking into a room blindfolded when trying to predict their respective upcoming playing time. As we’re about to see, almost every name in LAL’s roster was forced into some kind of “rotation whirlwind” already in a season that has just reached its midway point.

Metta World Peace was also demoted to the bench in December. Darius Morris has been swinging in and out of the starting five for as long as D’Antoni has been in L.A., and was granted with just 4.3 minutes per game in the past three contests, despite having streaks of 10 and 5 straight games as a starter in different moments of the season. Devin Ebanks, after getting major playing time during a 3-game stretch in mid December, went back to his routine of seldom minutes and has only seen the court twice in the past 15 contests. Jordan Hill, who has been a constant presence on the floor since emerging late last season, saw himself as the odd man out during a 4-game streak in December, then being able to fight his way back into the rotation before being declared “out for season” with a torn labrum.

But no players represent the best how lost D’Antoni is with his roster than Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks. Both signed with the Lakers in the past off-season to be the team’s main source of points off the bench for what the world thought it would be a strong title contender. And, justifiably so, Jamison and Meeks have proved that they can indeed provide valuable scoring ability as backups, but that has not translated into their head coach’s trust to use them consistently. Jamison had his best moment of the season during a 8-game stretch between November 23rd and December 7th when the 14-year veteran averaged nearly 29 minutes and 15 points per game, including a season-high 33 points against Denver. Then, surprisingly, Jamison started a streak of  six “DNPs” (“Did Not Play, due to coach’s decision), beginning at December 18th. Only since the second week of January that Antawn was able to receive consistent playing time again, but a lot of it was due to injuries to other centers and forwards like Howard, Gasol and Hill.

Jodie Meeks seemed to be one of D’Antoni’s favorites players off the bench, as he was constantly used by the head coach due to his quick shooting ability from beyond the arc. During the month of December, Meeks averaged nearly 26.5 minutes and 11 points per game, including a 24-point performance against the Wizards and 39:03 minutes played versus the Bobcats, both season-highs. On his last two games with over 20 minutes of playing time (January 4th vs. the Clippers and 8th vs. the Rockets), Meeks averaged solids 13 points off the bench. But since his 12-point, 32-minute performance against Houston, Jodie never saw more than 15 minutes on the court, accumulating two “DNPs” and three cameos (3 MPG) on his last five games.

It’s tough to play for the Lakers right now, not knowing for how long your minutes will last before they get shattered by the head coach, often with not enough reason behind it. It’s also a hard time to be a Laker Fan, being forced to watch a team perform with nothing close to an identity on the court and a sense of knowing what they are doing as a unit. But is it even possible to reach a “team identity” with such inconsistency on how the personnel is handled? Is it possible to stablish a certain way of performing as a player, defensively or offensively, if the faces around you keep changing by the minute, as it not only hurts the squad’s chemistry but also puts a huge doubt in your mind of “when is it going to be my time to be benched”?

One thing is for certain: it is not possible, in a team sport like basketball, to perform at a high level without building an identity and playing without chemistry. As of now, the Lakers are just a bunch of talented players who happen to wear the same uniform. “Chemistry” and “Identity” will not visit the Staples Center if “Consistency” is not placed upon the team’s rotation first.

Mike D’Antoni is clueless. He is like a kid pushing all the buttons at the same time on a videogame controller hoping anything good comes out of it.  It is time for the Lakers head coach to pick a path and walk through it until the end, by defining his rotation and creating a sense of stability inside his players’ minds. D’Antoni has been forcing his men to come up with too many questions for themselves. “For how long am I going to play? What’s my role on this team? When is it going to be my turn to be the odd man out?… Why am I the odd man out?”. That has to stop as soon as possible if the Lakers still plan to make the playoffs and eventually dream about the finals, series by series.

Basketball is a game of confidence and mentality. When a coach acts like Mike D’Antoni has been acting, not making himself clear of how he’s going to use the tools to make the machine work, the players give out. The gears start to go missing. As of now, the engine is clearly not functioning.

The players have mentally broken.

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2012-2013 Los Angeles Lakers.

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Photo courtesy of Bruce Bennett, Getty Images
Photo courtesy of Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images
Photo courtesy of Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images

Tonight isn’t just about the low points (though there were many to choose from) and it definitely isn’t just about the high points (not for the Lakers anyway). We’ve rattled off stats all season long; analyzing, to death, every box score, every debate on ESPN, every interview on sports talk radio, but in the end, we still have no answers for the Lakers’ disappointing season.

The Memphis Grizzlies are one of many teams this season who have taken their turn at beating the purple and gold off the Lakers’ jerseys. Not even early foul trouble for the home team could help the visitors from taking advantage.

HIGH POINTS
First Quarter – It’s the most active on both sides of the court that the Lakers have looked in a while. They forced five Memphis turnovers, foul trouble for four players (including their starting and back-up centers) and the Grizzlies only shot 39%. Kobe Bryant went 5-6 from the field for his 12 points to lead the game, and it looked like it would be a competitive game throughout…until the second quarter.

LOW POINTS:
In the second quarter, the Lakers reverted back to their old selves, allowing a 35-point, 59% shooting quarter for Memphis. Mike Conley went off for 13 points on 6-7 and by halftime, the home team led 59-50. With just over two minutes left in the first half, Dwight Howard, who had been playing actively from the onset, re-aggravated his shoulder and left the game, never to return to the floor. It just keeps getting worse, doesn’t it folks?

The second half was all Memphis, who only outscored the Lakers by four points, but killed the visitors in the paint and on the offensive glass. The Lakers were outscored in the paint 60-34 and 24-3 on second chance points for the game. They were outrebounded 52-34, including 16 offensive boards for the Grizzlies, who led by as much as 21 points.

Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol sat side by side on the Laker bench as the last few minutes of tonight’s game counted down to yet another loss. Their blank stares saying more than their voices in a closed team meeting could ever reveal. Three years ago, a loss like this would empower the duo to dominate the next game, and inspire their team to follow suit. Unfortunately, one has been babysitting the new center, and the other has been relegated to the bench. Both are running out of things to say about their team’s struggles, and who can blame them? Coach Mike D’Antoni cancelled practice tomorrow, perhaps sensing his team’s exhaustion, or needing a break from his own. A calling out for a new season, a new beginning was a nice gesture. When you’re 17-25 into the season, however, there isn’t enough time to keep starting over.

Box Score

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The Lakers continue their downward spiral towards the bottom of the Western Conference. Do they fire Mike D’Antoni? Do they trade Dwight Howard, or even Pau Gasol?

On the latest episode of Voice of the Nation: Fastbreak, David Brickley and Jason Riley ask the question: If you owned the Lakers, what would be your very first move? 

Be sure to leave us a comment for a chance to win a Lakers titanium bracelet, courtesy of our friends over at Phiten.

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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.