It’s February 23, 2012 and the (20-13) Los Angeles Lakers are in Oklahoma City, the state capital of Oklahoma and its largest city, to do battle with the (26-7) Thunder. The Lakers got a huge road win in Dallas, arguably their best road win of the season. The Lakers put on a solid team effort, but had to hold on at the end and came close to giving the game away at the end by missing free throws.
It is imperative that the Lakers put on a much better performance tonight in the last game prior to the All-Star break against the Western conference leading Oklahoma Thunder. The Thunder are arguably the most balanced and athletic team in the conference.
Everything is bigger in Texas…especially when Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol are in town. On the first night of a back to back, the Lakers arrived in Dallas fresh off a week’s worth of, “he said, they said, no one said.” Tonight they let their playing do the talking, and in the end, the men in purple got the last word.
The Lakers were all business when they walked onto the court. There was a seriousness about them before the tip, like something was locked in – pure focus. With his first jumper over Dirk Nowitzki in the opening seconds, Pau Gasol set the tone for the rest of the 47 minutes and 39 seconds. Whatever he lacked the last time the Lakers were in Dallas, getting swept out of last season’s playoffs, it popped up in bunches tonight as he rattled off 12 points in the first quarter to his counterpart, Nowitzki’s zero.
There would be no 36-point blow-outs by the home team this time. No Andrew Bynum clotheslining smaller players, and definitely no Jason Terry running all over the court with his arms outstretched in victory. Despite losing a 14-point lead in the second quarter, and then going into the final minute of the game with a 7-point lead but then missing six straight free throws, the Lakers remained undeterred, as did the Mavericks, which made for an exciting, hard-fought game between two Western Conference teams who have been written off but are still battling to maintain their good name.
It’s February 22, 2012 and the (19-13) Los Angeles Lakers are in the heart of Texas to put the off-the-court turmoil behind them and face the (21-12) defending champion Dallas Mavericks. The Lakers embark on a short, but very important two-game road trip that pits L.A. against the Dallas Mavericks and the Oklahoma City Thunder on back-to-back nights.
The Lakers return to the American Airlines Arena, where their 2010-2011 season came to an abrupt end under an avalanche of three’s, an NBA-record tying 20-three point shots leading to a 36-point defeat nine-months and 14-days ago that completed a four game sweep. The loss was an embarrassing exit for Head Coach Phil Jackson arguably the best coach in NBA history.
The Lakers will have revenge on their minds; Hopefully L.A. bought their ‘A’ game on this road trip. The Lakers, 5-11 away from the Staples Center and have not looked like the same team on the road. The Lakers have won six of their last 10 games.
Yesterday I wrote an article intimating that Lakers star, Kobe Bryant, was taking a players perspective when expressing his frustrations with the Pau Gasol trade rumors. While I felt it was a great show of leadership for Kobe Bryant to stick up for his teammate, I didn’t think placing public pressure on the organization to make a trade or not make a trade did the team or the organization any good. So on the surface, Kobe’s rant really served no positive purpose outside of showing his support for Gasol, which has been doing all along anyway.
However according to Ken Berger of CBS Sports, Kobe’s rant had less to do with his frustration with the Pau trade rumors, and more to do with the structure of the organization as a whole:
The Lakers’ front office is an uncommunicative, rudderless fiasco, and the unrest and paranoia that have been festering for years threaten to derail the team’s plans to ride Bryant to his sixth NBA title while they still can. And much of it can be traced to the growing influence of executive vice president Jim Buss, the owner’s bon vivant son, who has helped transform a great franchise into a steaming pool of nepotism and nincompoops.
Joey Buss, another son of the owner who runs the team’s D-League franchise, has moved into Jackson’s old office. Jesse Buss, 23, who was arrested for alcohol intoxication in Lexington, Ky., on a “scouting” trip in December, has moved into (Ronnie) Lester’s former office.
Pau Gasol walked down the regular line of teammates before the game, hugging and bumping chests along the way. Whatever words were uttered by him and Kobe Bryant after yesterday’s loss against the Suns, it didn’t matter much come game time. Trade bait or not, when that ball is tossed up, you can either choose to live in what could be or live in what is. Tonight, Gasol and the Lakers chose to live in what is and found themselves on the receiving end of a victory.
In the first quarter, the Lakers stomped on the Blazers to the tune of 29-7. Seven points – that’s all that Portland managed to score in those first 12 minutes. They opened the game with a three pointer, then scored just four points in the next 11:41, shooting just 18%. The Lakers defended them well, but the Blazers also missed a slew of high percentage shots, not to mention wide open opportunities, and the home team gladly took advantage, with excellent ball movement that had their offense humming.
In the second quarter, the Lakers continued their surge, hiking up the lead to 37-7, and conceded just eight points before going into halftime with a 22-point lead. But as is their M.O., they squandered all but 10 of their once perfectly sound lead, yet still managed to hold on for the win.
The Lakers’ front office knows Kobe Bryant is looking for it to improve the roster, and GM Mitch Kupchak has been working the phones. He’s spoken to Minnesota about Michael Beasley, and sources say the Lakers are intrigued by the Timberwolves’ small forward. The Lakers were actually in discussions with Minnesota about a potential trade for Beasley before the season started. If they would have been able to pull off the deal for Chris Paul, there is a good chance that a trade for Beasley would have followed.
It’s not clear what the Lakers would give Minnesota for Beasley (if indeed the talks get that far), but the Lakers could absorb Beasley into their $8.9 million trade exception while giving up a draft pick or cash. I’m told the teams have not spoken about Pau Gasol since the preseason. Minnesota is looking to move Beasley, who they feel has matured very little (if at all) since he’s been there, according to sources. The Lakers believe they can handle a player like Beasley because of their winning culture and the leadership of Bryant.
Beasley’s been averaging 12.4 points and 5.4 rebounds during 26 minutes per game this season in a backup role. He’s definitely talented, but has had a history of attitude issues.
Broussard also mentions that the Lakers are still in a position to land Cleveland’s Ramon Sessions — likely for a first round pick. Sessions has been on a role as of late, with extended minutes due to an injury to Kyrie Irving. Ramon put up 24 points and 13 assists earlier this month against the Clippers.
It’s February 20, 2012 and the (18-13) Los Angeles Lakers return to the Staples Center to face the (17-15) Portland Trailblazers. The Lakers had a disappointing and forgettable performance against the Suns in Phoenix. It appears that the team that beat the Suns easily on Friday at the Staples Center was not the same team that showed up in purple and gold jerseys the following Sunday in the valley of the sun.
The Lakers are a poor road team and what ails them appears to be mental. The Lakers can overcome this issue by playing better defense, playing with more focus, intensity, a higher energy level, execute on offense and play with a sense of urgency.
What was surprising was the fact that the Suns won the game without a phenomenal shooting percentage, Phoenix did not knock down a high percentage of three point shots and the Lakers bench outscored the Suns bench. The difference in the game was the Lakers defense or the lack thereof. L.A. did not get back in transition; the result was 21 fast break points for the Suns.
The Lakers trail their season series against the Blazers 1-0, after winning last season’s series (3-1) against Portland for the first time since the 2005-2006 and overall, just the third since 1989. At Staples Center, the Lakers are 7-5 all-time against the Blazers. L.A. has won seven of their last eight games in Los Angeles.
That speculation has not sat well with Kobe Bryant, who feels that Gasol is still a key component to the Lakers championship aspirations. Kobe voiced his displeasure with a group of reporters after the Lakers loss in Phoenix last night:
I wish management would come out and either trade him or not trade him. It’s just tough for a player to give his all when you don’t know if you’re going to be here tomorrow. I’d rather them not trade him at all. If they’re going to do something, I wish they would just (expletive) do it. If they’re not going to do it, come out and say you’re not going to do it. This way he can be comfortable, he can go out, he can play and he can invest all of himself into the game.”
As much as fans and pundits say that the NBA is a business, it is more than understandable how constant trade speculation can weigh on the mind of a player. Pau’s field goal percentage has taken a bit of a dip over the last few games, but his overall production has been consistent throughout. Despite his age and adjusting to playing more outside of the paint, Gasol has scored at least 15 points 19 times and has grabbed at least 10 rebounds 21 times in 31 games, which is still better than most at his position. Bryant, as many should expect, is thinking from a players perspective. If a move is going to be made, then make it as quickly as possible so that the team can move forward and not have to deal with the constant rumors on a day to day basis.
The problem with that notion is that the trade deadline is just barely under a month away. Mitch Kupchak (or more likely, Jim Buss), isn’t going to the pull the trigger on a trade just for the sake of doing it. For every name that we hear linked to potential trades around the NBA, there are dozens of names that we would never imagine being discussed (see the trade that brought Pau to Los Angeles from Memphis). The closer we get to the deadline, the more and more potential names that will come available.
Bryant has been in the NBA long enough to know that trade speculation comes with the territory of being an NBA player, and he is playing the good soldier by vouching for his teammate. But the fact of the matter is that in a perfect world the Lakers wouldn’t want to move Pau Gasol. He’s a double double machine who has helped them win two championships. The problem is that he is the only tradeable asset that other teams would covet (sans Andrew Bynum, but we all know there’s only one place they would trade him to). Bryant needs to understand that any move that the organization would make would be done with the intent to improve his chances of winning a 6th championship this season and if that means taking their time to make a move to place the team in the title hunt, then so be it. Of course, that theory is out of the window should the Lakers consummate a deal like the T-Wolves trade, at which point they’ll be dealing with an even angrier Kobe Bryant who just might ask to be sent to pluto again.
On a side note: I spoke with co-host of the Petros and Money Show on Fox Sports Radio, as well as columnist for foxsportswest.com, Matt “Money” Smith, this past weekend and he laid out multiple trade scenarios for the Purple and Gold. You can hear that interview here
After last night’s 102-90 setback loss against the lowly Phoenix Suns, Kobe Bryant was not interested in the standard postgame rhetoric. With a Lakers squad that has seemingly plateaued since the failed Chris Paul trade back in December, Bryant’s attention was pointed directly at Lakers management, who since the trade have failed to acquire any substantial acquisitions while allowing Lamar Odom to dictate his terms into a trade out of Los Angeles.
Futhermore, Bryant’s ire was directed at Lakers management regarding the mishandling of the eventual destination of forward Pau Gasol, who at one time was included in the Chris Paul trade but for the past two months has been mentioned in trade talks with multiple clubs. Bryant’s opinion? Actions speak louder than words (from the OC Register):
I wish management would come out and either trade him or not trade him,” Bryant said after the Lakers’ loss in Phoenix on Sunday night.
Bryant said his preference is the Lakers do not trade Gasol, citing the team’s “foundation” is in place with Bryant, Gasol and “the emergence of Andrew (Bynum).”
“Can’t have one of our pillars not knowing if he’s going to be here….It’s just tough for a player to give his all when you don’t know if you’re going to be here tomorrow.”
Gasol, who had 17 points and 12 rebounds in the loss to Phoenix, responded to Bryant’s words and the trade rumors that night as reporters caught up to him boarding the team bus (from ESPN Los Angeles):
“So, we got March 15th, the (trade) deadline. That’s what I’m thinking (about). Hopefully we get to that day (without a trade). Obviously if something was told to me before, it would be good, but I’m not trying to force things. I’m not trying to force a team, ‘If they want to trade me, trade me tomorrow.’ Because obviously I still believe in our team, I believe in our city and I believe that we can continue to be a special, special team and a successful team.”
Gasol, who missed his first NBA All-Star game since coming to Los Angeles four years ago, is averaging a career-low 16.6 points per game while shooting 49.6% from the field, the second lowest percentage of his career.
The latter part of the third quarter had all the makings of a huge comeback for the Lakers – 27 points down, everything going the home team’s way and then suddenly Kobe Bryant stepped in and led a 15-4 run to decrease the deficit to a manageable 15 points. After putting their collective foot on the Lakers’ neck, the Phoenix Suns suddenly went cold in the third, shooting just 38% to the Lakers’ 63%.
After Bryant missed a free throw early in the fourth quarter, he immediate rebounded the ball and tossed it to Troy Murphy who stood at the corner and threw up a three pointer that brought the lead down to an even more manageable 11 points. With just over seven minutes still left in the game, all the Lakers had to do was bear down on the defense, make good choices on offense and this game would be theirs.
Unfortunately, the Lakers brought the Suns’ lead to just 10 points but never got over the double-digit hump. They couldn’t hit a three pointer to save their lives and the turnovers just continued to haunt them. Add all this to a desperate Phoenix Suns team who had already lost to the Lakers twice this season and were just12-19 entering this game, and the end wasn’t all that unpredictable.
It’s February 19, 2012 and the (18-12) Lakers have traveled to the valley of the sun to play the (12-19) Phoenix Suns. Two days after defeating the Suns at the Staples Center round two will take place at the US Airways Arena.
Despite Friday’s much needed Laker win there was a good dose of the good, the bad and the ugly. The good, L.A. had four players score in double-digits including double-doubles by both Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, 54 points in the paint, 52 rebounds, a triple double by the reserves (34-points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists).
The bad, L.A. had nine offensive rebounds, shot 75% from the free throw line and Kobe Bryant logging 35 minutes. The ugly, L.A. was careless with the basketball leading to 19 turnovers, allowing the Suns bench to score 46 points.
Nothing has really changed in 48 hours, the Lakers are the better team, the only question is can the Lakers prove it on the road? The Lakers lead their season series with the Suns (2-0), after winning last season’s series for the fourth consecutive year. The Lakers have gone 6-4 in their last 10 regular season games, 6-2 in the last eight trips to Phoenix.
The Lakers can come away with a win by communicating on defense, playing solid against the pick-and-roll play, stopping the dribble penetration of the guards, control the tempo, defend, get back in transition, control the boards and quickly rotate out to open shooters and extend their defense out to the three point line.
When it comes to the Phoenix Suns, Kobe Bryant is always ready to unleash his fury; fury over the team who eliminated his Lakers from the playoffs many years ago; fury over the guy who took back-to-back regular season MVPs that could have, should have been his. It doesn’t matter if the Suns personnel has changed, or the capabilities of the team have gone down since 2006. Mamba never forgets.
Now losers of four games in a row, the Phoenix Suns aren’t exactly contending for much this season, but doggone it, they can still play. Marcin Gortat, now a focal point of the typically outside shooting Phoenix offense, has given the Suns a presence inside. He led the team with 21 points on 9-16, including a thunderous dunk early in the game. He also pulled out 16 rebounds. The Suns bench, which includes former Laker Shannon Brown, contributed 46 points, and of course Steve Nash, despite scoring just 11 points, handed out 17 assists! They led by seven in the first half, got down by 20 points in the third quarter, and somehow made a run that cut the lead down to five with a whole four minutes left in the game. Unfortunately for them, the Lakers woke up from their daze just in time to finish.
In the last four minutes of the game, the Lakers outscored the Suns 16-9. No matter how hard Phoenix worked to go down fighting, even if it meant taking the loss but keeping those darn tacos away from the Staples Center faithful, there was Derek Fisher hitting a corner three, Pau Gasol going baseline and dunking it in, Matt Barnes hitting both free throws and Bryant rebounding the Suns’ final attempt to disappoint the taco-loving crowd.
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.