Stu Lantz mentioned one word during the broadcast that was used a lot with this Laker team a few seasons ago – fortitude. Three seasons ago, they were overflowing with it, individually and as a team. No lead was big enough to keep from scoring and no deficit was too large that they couldn’t overcome. This season, it’s a word used to describe a quality of which they lack, and they lack it from every point that their most mentally-tough player, Kobe Bryant, is starting to show signs of despair.
Bryant, who has been a scoring machine this season, started the game with four assists before scoring his first points, and the Lakers actually opened the evening by playing some tight defense and causing Denver to miss their first seven field goal attempts. Unfortunately, instead of the defense growing more intensely, it waned and the Nuggets, despite the lead going back and forth for most of the contest, were able to do whatever they wanted offensively and came out with the win.
Falling behind by eight points after the first quarter, the Lakers rallied to end the first half and tied the game at 60. Allowing the Nuggets a 52-point second half and only mustering up 45 of their own, however, was their downfall. Just like the last game against the Clippers, Bryant tried in the end to win the game, scoring the last four field goals for the team, but just like in the last game, the Lakers’ did little defensively to keep Denver away from their offense.
A TWC SportsNet Lakers promo reads: Prepare as one. Work as one. Focus as one. Play as one.
In the Lakers’ back-to-back championship seasons, this wasn’t just some cable network tagline – it was a philosophy; a way of life in the purple and gold jersey; the belief in the greatness of the sum of the parts. Kobe Bryant was getting better with age. Pau Gasol was an offensive threat (remember that?). Lamar Odom’s versatility, coming off the bench, was practically unguardable. But as an entire team, the Lakers were dominant, and you needed only to observe their efforts, regardless of how badly they were shooting or how many teammates were withstanding injuries. Their singular goal was unquestionable. This season, however, is filled with nothing BUT questions and tonight’s game is but a sample size of what a struggle it has been for this team to deny their own doubts.
These Clippers – they know who they are. They know who’s in charge and they know how to play to their strengths. They pounded an 18-point lead onto the Lakers, and when the lead dwindled to three, recovered for a quick run and went up by 16 again. Had the Lakers come out with some tenacity to BEGIN the game instead of rallying so late in an effort to catch up, the end of tonight’s contest might’ve ended differently.
If the NBA playoffs were to start today, they would not include the Los Angeles Lakers. It’s almost unfathomable that a Lakers team stacked with 4 future Hall of Famer’s could be this mediocre. However, there’s still 60% of the NBA season left for the Lakers to turn things around, but the question has to be asked: Will the Lakers miss the NBA playoffs?
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 take a look at tonight’s crosstown match-up with the Pacific leading Clippers.
True or False: The Lakers will finish the season as the best team in L.A.
False. That 17-game win streak that the Clippers had throughout December? The streak alone had two more wins than the Lakers have had over the entire season. If the Lakers are going to finish as the top team in Los Angeles, they’re going to have to first overcome a 10-game deficit to the co-tenants of the Staples Center.
True. The Clippers-curse prevails. The Lakers will definitely not be able to catch the Clippers in the regular season, but the playoffs are a different animal. The Lakers’ savvy veteran experience and advantage inside will prove vital come playoff time.
Through the first few months of this season, it’s been Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Despite Kobe Bryant’s stellar play this season (30.3 ppg | 5.4 rpg | 4.7 apg | 47.9 FG%), Dwight Howard has been relatively inconsistent on both ends of the floor.
Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Kobe has been a one man wrecking ball for LA, but Dwight has yet to have a consistent impact this season. 31 games in, and I can’t think of a single game Dwight “won” for LA. Paul and Griffin have anchored a team with a 17 game win streak. They win this round.
Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. That tandem is one of the most exciting and thrilling in the entire NBA, with lobs coming in from nowhere and Griffin always being there to throw it down. Griffin and Paul seem to be winning the race of best duo in the NBA.
Right now, it’s CP3 and Earthquake Blake, because they know each other better, while Howard and Bryant aren’t really a Duo yet. Howard actually plays better with Nash, and his inconsistency sometimes costs the Lakers games.
Lakers. Lakers loyalists have made it clear all season that this team is built for the playoffs rather than the regular season. With the playoff experience of this year’s roster, you’d have to point to the Lakers and their half-court offense to slow down the Clippers. Of course, the Lakers would first need to make the playoffs for us to even have this discussion.
Lakers. If these two teams meet in the playoffs, I’m still going to say Lakers. Lakers are built for playoff basketball. That’s not discounting the Clippers and what they have done, but I doubt Kobe Bryant will walk off of the Staples Center floor in defeat to the Clippers.
The Fans. We would all win just by getting to watch that series. The Lakers are built for the postseason with their size and skill, so they get the edge over the deeper, but more inexperienced, Clippers squad.
Lakers… IF Dwight Howard is healthy. No matter what anybody says a healthy Dwight Howard is too dominate to contain, combine that with Kobe’s high level of play and we have both deciding factors solved.
Looking Ahead: If you had to choose, would you rather have the next 3 Clipper seasons, or the last 3 Laker seasons?
The Clippers. With the team chemistry they’re developing, combined with their players improving every year, it’s hard to pass the Clippers up. The Lakers have too many older core players, and too much uncertainty when it comes to building around Dwight Howard.
I’ll have to take the Clippers’ next three seasons. They’re channeling that OKC Thunder up-and-coming bravado right now and if they can keep it up, who’s to say they won’t follow in the same path of success as Kevin Durant and company?
Not including this year, you have to pick the last three Lakers seasons including their NBA title in 2010. A guaranteed title is worth infinitely more than a Clippers team that, if things don’t go smoothly down the stretch and into the playoffs, may lose Chris Paul to free agency at the end of the season.
The Lakers consistently have 2-3 minute lapses on defense, during which teams score 10-15 points. The Clippers have a very potent offense, and a great scoring punch off the bench, so any lapses in attention would be lethal. The Clippers take the battle Friday night.
Coming off a tough loss to the 76ers, The Lakers will come out with a ton of energy and will power. However, The Clippers will once again prove to be too young and fresh for the aging Lakers and will win Round 2 at Staples Center.
Lakers. This one could get physical. The Clippers enter this hallway matchup on a two-game losing streak, after their recent 17-game winning streak. Although the Lakers are not playing their best basketball either, Steve Nash and Dwight Howard should help the Lakers eek out a win.
Jeanie is the daughter of Laker’s majority owner Jerry Buss, as well as executive vice president of business operations for the Lakers. Phil and Jeanie have been dating for 12 years, so it’s good to finally see them take their relationship to the next level.
Much was made about Phil Jackson possibly returning to fill the Lakers head coaching vacancy, but that position was quickly filled by Mike D’Antoni. Laker fans have since been left to wonder what could have been.
Was Phil passed over for the Lakers position due to his relationship with Jim Buss’ sister Jeanie? We may never get the answer to that question, but I can’t help but think it clearly had something to do with it. Despite what we were told by the Laker’s organization, Jackson’s system seemed to be a much better fit for the old and slow Lakers than Mike D’Antoni’s.
In the meantime, rumors continue to persist that Phil may be interested in the Net’s head coaching vacancy. It remains to be seen, but I wish the best for the happy couple. Still, I can’t help but feel that Phil and Jeanie’s wedding may be a bit awkward with Jim Buss around.
Matt Barnes’ time with LA was apparently not an ideal situation for him. Barnes, now with the Clippers, was recently attributed to being a large part of the Clippers’ success as of late. Currently coming off a 17 game win streak, the Clippers seem next to unstoppable, and Barnes has been a big part of their success. An NBA executive even was caught saying that The Clippers are doing so well because:
“Matt Barnes is playing out of his mind.”
I wish NBA executives would have been saying these sort of things when he played for the Lakers. Unfortunately they didn’t, and Barnes feels it was because he was misused on The Lakers. Barnes was alerted of this comment and he had this to say regarding it:
“I’ve been working hard these past few summers. Last year, playing with the Lakers, I was told when I could shoot. If I made mistakes, I’d come out of the game,” said Barnes. “This year [Coach] Vinny [Del Negro] has installed a lot of trust in me. He lets me go out there and play my game. If I mess up, he still sticks with me and that goes a long way with any player.”
I suppose the trust issue with The Lakers was a big problem for Barnes as he felt he should have had more trust to do different things on the court. Currently, Barnes is averaging 11 points per game on 50% shooting, much better numbers compared to his 7.8 PPG on 45% shooting with The Lakers. Barnes had more to say regarding his time in a Laker uniform, and more about Barnes’ interview can be found here.
“Coach [Del Negro] has confidence in me; that’s all I need,” said Barnes. “I can play. I’ve just been stuck in a bad situation for a little while.”
And there it is, Matt Barnes rips his former team by saying it was a bad situation. It may not have been the greatest of situations, but I wouldn’t call it a bad one. Barnes is known for these type of comments and I’m not surprised he spit this latest one out. It’s unfortunate to think that Barnes didn’t like or appreciate his time with The Lakers, but he is no longer a member of The Laker locker room and no longer someone to worry about.
Most teams in the NBA are fighting to keep their positions in the conference a favorable one, looking ahead come playoff time. The Lakers, meanwhile, are fighting to maintain a .500 record and, as of today, are failing miserably…still.
Two weeks ago, these two teams met in Philly and the Lakers won fairly easily, leading by as much as 18 points during the game and winning by 13. But those were significantly different teams than those who played tonight. One factor was Jrue Holiday, who was not activated for play back then. He, along with Evan Turner, made a world of difference for the Sixers. Add two quick guards who can score with the best of them against a porous (Swiss cheese porous) Laker “defense,” and the ending writes itself. Another Kobe Bryant 30+ point game didn’t help, and the lack of ball movement was detrimental. The ball found hardly any energy tonight, especially from the hands of the team’s big men, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, both of whom did little offensively to make any impact at all.
Now the Lakers are back to where they’ve been for the majority of the season, a sub-.500 team.
Laker Bench – A negative factor in the beginning of the season, the Laker reserves have come through for the team in big ways. Three players managed to play off the bench tonight, led by Jordan Hill. 25 seconds upon entering the game, Hill picked up an offensive rebound and immediately scored. He hit his first four shots and had eight points in the first half, not to mention seven rebounds in just over 11 minutes on the floor. At halftime, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard had nine rebounds, combined. Hill finished with 10 points on 5-8 from the field (including a handy midrange jumper), and eight rebounds. Based on his hustle on both ends of the floor alone, it’s not a mystery why Hill has been chosen over Antawn Jamison lately. As a whole, the Laker bench outscored the Sixers’ reserves 30-24.
Turnovers – Just seven for the game.
Defense – Their pattern is starting to become more and more apparent. The Lakers play defense when they have to – like when they fall behind and need to catch up, or their lead is dwindling and they need stops to maintain a comfortable cushion. They have yet to play a game where defense lasted 48 minutes long, and though they’ve had success overcoming deficits of late, this will not always be the case and tonight was the perfect example. With under two minutes left in the game, Bryant hit a three pointer to reduce the Sixers’ lead to two points. They needed at least one more stop and then a basket to get on even footing and put themselves in a greater position to win the game, but in the ensuing Philly possession, Spencer Hawes got the opportunity to score from the same mid-range corner from which he’d done numerous time in this game, and STILL, Pau Gasol did not rotate quickly enough and the Sixers added to their lead. This “play defense when it’s necessary” habit that the Lakers have created is a slippery slope and if they continue to be negligent on that side of the floor, victories will become increasingly more elusive.
No Energy, No Ball Movement – The Lakers average just over 21 assists per game, and tonight, through three quarters, they handed out just 12 assists, seven of which belonged to Steve Nash and the remaining five dimes a collective of the other seven Lakers who’d gotten playing time by that point. They finished with just 17 assists on 37 made field goals for the game. The Sixers, in contrast, handed out 27 assists on 41 made shots. Note: Kobe Bryant’s 36 points on 14-29 from the field was great, if not for the donut under the assist column
Big-less – 18 points on 3-19 from the field, that was the shooting percentage of Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol combined. Howard did have 14 rebounds and five blocks, but 1-7 from the field? Gasol scored 11 points and grabbed nine rebounds, not to mention handed out four assists, but that 2-12 from the field did not help.
Downtown Downer – 3-22 from behind the arc.
So far, 2013 hasn’t been the Lakers’ year. Among their list of things to work on, certainly the free throws have improved as have their turnover tendencies, but defense is a huge undertaking of which they all must invest their time and energy in carrying out. Otherwise, that record won’t stretch farther than .500.
I’m not going to lie. The end of the Lakers 2012 was about as stark in contrast as some of the mismatched outfits Cindy Lauper likes to wear. Look no further than Christmas Day, when the Lakers conquered the ghosts of Christmas past and pulled out a 100-94 win. Pau Gasol streaking down the middle of the lane for a game clinching dunk put an exclamation point on how bad they wanted the win. It gave them a 5 game winning streak, and you could hear the whistle of the momentum train off in the distance. You could feel your feet leaving the ground, as you embarked on the beginning of your mountain top experience.
December was going to end just as I had predicted that it would. The Lakers would beat both Denver and Portland, enabling them to ride into 2013 on a 7 game winning streak. That is until the Lakers actually went to Denver the next day, where they gave up 126 points en route to their 15th loss of the season. For those keeping score, that loss sent them under .500, giving them a record of 14-15. The momentum train had been derailed, the mountain top experience had been cancelled, and it was time for Mr. Reality to show me I really didn’t know what I was talking about.
Fortunately, the Lakers were able to say farewell to 2012 with a convincing win over Portland on Friday. With the year over, and all that venting out of my system, without further delay, I give you my fictional, but rational, Lakers New Year’s resolutions.
1. Find a way to play defense. 2. Act like a team that ENJOYS playing defense. 3. Act like a team that WANTS to play defense. 4. Put the Paint by Numbers set away, and actually score points in the paint. 5. Stop turning the ball over 100 times a game. 6. Let Dwight Howard get intimately acquainted with that round, orange thing. Especially when he is wide open under the basket. 7. Stop making Kobe shoot 100 times a game, because nobody else can make a basket. 8. Pretend like you are actually listening to the coaching staff, instead of trying to spot Dyan Cannon in the crowd. 9. Let Steve Nash grow his hair longer, making everyone more comfortable watching him play point guard. 10. Stomp a mud-hole in the Clippers every time you play them.
That’s not all the resolutions the Lakers have, but let’s start with these and see how they do.
After Jaamal Wilkes’ jersey retirement ceremony during halftime of the Lakers’ victory over the Portland Trail Blazers, a reporter asked Kobe who he would like to present him for his jersey retirement ceremony:
When Stan Van Gundy was fired as the Orlando Magic’s head coach back in May, most fingers were pointed at Dwight Howard. Despite their awkward break up in Orlando, the LA Times’ Ben Bloch reports that the two are now getting along just fine.
Van Gundy and Howard regularly exchange friendly text messages, in which the two discuss Howard’s play and his progression in recovering from back surgery. Not only has Howard discussed his own play with Van Gundy, but he has also passed along a few thoughts about the Lakers’ shortcomings:
“The only thing he’s really gotten into was,” Van Gundy said, “He wants their defense to be better.”
Van Gundy took over the Magic coaching position in 2007 and led the Magic to five straight playoff appearances. The main reason for their constant success was Howard’s development into an elite NBA center.
The ex-Magic head coach saw Howard grow from a young blossoming player, into the 3-time Defensive Player of the Year. Predicated on defense, Van Gundy’s system played a large part in molding Howard into the tenacious defender he became.
Now, however, 8 months removed from having surgery to repair a herniated disk, Howard still lacks the same explosion Van Gundy saw in Orlando:
“I don’t think he looks quite as explosive or as quick as he has in the past,” said Van Gundy, “Now, he’s still above almost everyone in the league at that size athletically, but he has not totally looked like himself to me.”
In Orlando, Howard was certainly the league’s best center; in part due to the dying breed of elite NBA centers but also due to Howard’s superior athletic ability. Howard has had a decent start to this season as a Laker, averaging 17.6 points per game on 57.2% shooting, 11.8 rebounds per game, and 2.5 blocks per game.
These averages are very close to his career averages, but the same explosion and defensive prowess he has displayed in the past has clearly been lacking, thus far. Howard claims that his timing and conditioning are still an issue, which have taken longer to regain because of the surgery. Just a week ago, Howard explained that he is sometimes unable to even feel his feet because of the still redeveloping nerves:
“Tingling in my legs all the way down to my feet,” Howard said as he described his current state. “There’s times when sometimes I really can’t even feel my feet. [The doctors] said that’s going to happen. It takes at least nine months for you to get strength back in your legs and all that stuff. So I’m still in that process.”
As Howard explains, his recovery is still a slow and steady “process”. The main concern for Laker fans should be Howard’s health, but Van Gundy also added that the change in Howard’s offensive role has taken an adjustment period as well:
“It’s a big adjustment for him, going from being the guy to not only being the No. 2 guy but really a No. 2 guy that really doesn’t get the ball very much at all,” Van Gundy said. “It’s a different deal and an adjustment he has to make. Those kind of things take time.”
Despite this need to adjust, Van Gundy believes the six-time NBA All-Star can make that sacrifice, to both his role and ego, in the name of an NBA championship:
“I think Dwight is going to be more than willing to make the adjustment,” Van Gundy said, “but it’s still an adjustment and it takes time mentally too because your ego — and ego is not a bad thing, it’s a good thing, you need it to be great in this league — tells you that you’re supposed to be the man and having to adjust to playing off somebody else is not an easy thing.”
Even though Howard and Van Gundy’s relationship ended on a sour note in Orlando, Van Gundy still holds great admiration for the center. Van Gundy also appreciates what Howard has done for his own coaching career and the contributions he made to both the Magic and the city of Orlando:
“Dwight and my time in Orlando, I thought the relationship was good, worked well, produced results and that’s what player-coach relationships in this league should be about, are the results that they get and the results here were good, mainly because Dwight’s as good as he is. He’s a great, great player and I have a great appreciation for what he did for our teams and for me as a coach.”
Since Van Gundy admires and still believes in Howard, he sees a potential championship run on the horizon. Van Gundy, just like Howard, continues to preach patience and keeps reserved faith in Howard returning to elite-status:
“I think he’s getting ready to have a great year and you’ve got to have some patience, which is not a thing that fans really have in abundance and I understand that,” Van Gundy said. “I think if [the Lakers] can stay healthy, by late January you’ll have a pretty good indication of whether or not things are working.”
Just as Van Gundy explains, patience is key for this Lakers team. Unlike Lakers teams in the past, this team was relatively thrown together in a matter of months. Now, with a brand new culmination of players, a new system and coach in Mike D’Antoni, the key will be both health and synergy come playoff time.
If Howard can continue progressing well in his recovery back to full strength, and the rest of the team stays healthy, the Lakers certainly have the talent to surpass their current 8th place seed in the Western Conference.
Although Howard has shown flashes of dominance at times this season, it is clear that he is still not back to the same player he once was. With 52 games remaining, Van Gundy’s text messages could be key in pushing Howard back to consistent dominance and propelling the Lakers towards a 17th NBA title.
Kobe Passed! That’s right, on Thursday it was announced that Kobe Bryant passed Lebron James as the top vote-getter for the 2013 All-Star game. While the initial ballot return announcements had Lebron ahead of Kobe by 1,929 votes, the second return now shows Kobe ahead of Lebron by 7,130. It’s reasonable to assume that Kobe’s current streak of games with over 30 points has helped influence his increase in votes.
The starters in the Western Conference are projected to be Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, and Dwight Howard. This lineup would feature four All-Stars representing Los Angeles. The projected starters for the Eastern Conference are projected to be Rajon Rondo, Dwayne Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Lebron James, and Kevin Garnett.
Other Lakers receiving votes, and who most likely will appear in the All-Star game include Pau Gasol, Steve Nash, and possibly Metta World Peace. The All-Star game will be held on February 17th in Houston, Texas. The starters will officially be announced on TNT on January 17th.
Los Angeles Lakers reserve forward Antawn Jamsion was brought in to be a great scorer off the bench this season for a championship caliber team. However, after being given reduced minutes and not playing in the past five games, Jamison (via Mark Medina of L.A. Daily News) is beginning to question whether or not Los Angeles is the place for him.
Jamison is averaging a career low 7.2 points, 4.5 rebounds in just 20 minutes per game this season as a Laker. These numbers are notably below his career averages of 19.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 35.9 minutes per game. Even during his rookie campaign with Golden State (’98-99) he managed to post better numbers across the board.
Antawn Jamison has seen just about everything in his NBA career.
“Not this,” he said Friday after sitting out a fifth consecutive game via the dreaded DNP-Coach’s Decision.
“Fifteen years,” the Lakers forward said, recapping his career. “My only thing is let me know why. I don’t think you go from starting and 30-something minutes to not in the rotation whatsoever. And not explaining to me what exactly happened, that’s the toughest thing. There’s nothing you can do but be positive and support your teammates. The only reason I came here was they said I was going to play and to win a championship.”
Jamison didn’t stop there:
“There’s a competitor in me that wants to compete and I know I can help the team,” Jamison said. “Whenever I get answers, I guess I’ll feel more better about the situation but nothing has been told to me why nothing has happened or that I did anything wrong.
“DNPs for the first time in my career. I have not had a conversation with [D’Antoni] about anything about the situation.”
“Probably,” D’Antoni said, simply, when asked if Jamison would get a chance to cut his DNP-CD streak anytime in the near future. “Everybody gets another chance. We’re playing nine guys and I’m really liking Metta (World Peace) going and making us small. I like that. We don’t want to lose Antawn because he does what he does, but Darius (Morris), I want to keep developing him. His defense, his energy, his stuff of that sort. But, we’ll see. Antawn is ready to roll if we need him.”
“I’m sure he wants to play, as does any player wants to play, but he’s great,” D’Antoni said. “He’s a professional and he knows his chance will come around.”
Jamison did not play during the first three quarters because he has been out of the rotation. However, during the fourth quarter, with the lead well in hand, D’Antoni cleared the bench and sent in Robert Sacre, Devin Ebanks, and Earl Clark… while Jamison sat and watched.
Sacre, a rookie from Gonzaga, has spent time with the Lakers D-league affiliate Defenders and has played in 13 games with the Lakers. Ebanks, a young reserve forward, has played in 15 games this season. Earl Clark, acquired in the Dwight Howard trade, has played in 9 games with the team this season.
After the game, Coach D’Antoni spoke about Jamison not playing during garbage time:
After signing with the Lakers, Jamison came with lofty goals and expectations. It was widely assumed that he would come off the bench to add another threat to a team full of star players. With Steve Nash and Dwight Howard being added to the starting lineup, Jamison’s averages off the bench would provide the needed scoring punch to turn the Lakers from a good team, to a great team.
Unfortunately for Jamison, that has not happened yet. In a season full of peaks and valleys for the Laker faithful, Antawn’s absences have become an obstacle to overcome, instead of a pillar to rely on. Granted, the season is still young and there is plenty of time to turn things around. However, comments like these are sure to present problems if they are largely ignored in the locker room.
To date, Antawn Jamison has a reputation for being the consummate professional. It’s hard to speculate that his comments are anything more than a spill over moment of frustration about his lack of playing time.
Regardless of how he feels, the ball is not in his court.
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.