Saturday, October 25, 2014
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Basketball

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Courtesy: Getty Images
Courtesy: Getty Images

Wow, what a week.

That’s really the only way to look back on what transpired for the Lakers this past week. The Lakers used a 4-1 record and some timely losses from all the teams in front of them (shout out to Milwaukee!) to place themselves squarely in the playoff picture.

This was definitely a week we may all be able to look at in the future and know that this was when the Lakers finally turned their season around for good.

As always, let’s take a look at some of the good, bad and downright ugly of the past week for the Lake Show.

Good – Vino.

This is starting to get ridiculous. Actually it is ridiculous, and is only becoming more and more unfathomable. Heading into last nights game against Orlando, all the Mamba was averaging was 33 points, 9 assists, and 6 boards per on 51% shooting for the week. That was good enough to be named Western Conference Player of the Week, again. We all know that the man is in his 17th NBA season, is 34-years-old, and is supposed to be getting worse and withering away, not getting better and better.

And just when you think you’ve seen it all, that he can’t possibly wow you again, he goes and does this to the Raptors. Seriously, watch all four minutes of that video and enjoy every second, especially that first three, HOW DID HE MAKE THAT SHOT!?!

Oh, that was during the second of consecutive 40+ point, 10+ assist games, becoming the oldest player in NBA history to do that twice, and he did it in back-to-back games. We all need to enjoy what Kobe Bean Bryant is doing right now. I’d call it incredible, but that might not even do him justice right now.

Bad – The First Quarter Against Toronto.

An issue that popped up in three of the five games for the Lakers this week was a total and complete collapse in at least one quarter per game. The first quarter of the Raptors was a great example of that. Toronto, who is a middle of the pack offense at best, averages a whopping 97.8 points per game. They scored more than a third of that in the opening twelve minutes against a prous, plodding Laker defense.

Granted, the Raptors do have newly-acquired Rudy Gay and the streaky DeMar DeRozan, but really 37 points? While the Lakers ultimately came back and won the game in overtime thanks to the Mamba, they spent the last three quarters and overtime catching up from a terrible defensive start against a team they really should have dominated.

Ugly – The Second Quarter Against New Orleans.

If you thought that first against the Raps was bad, take a look at what the Lakers did (or didn’t) do against the Hornets during the second quarter of last weeks game. The Lakers pretty much forgot how to play defense altogether. New Orleans jumped out to a great start, turning a 28-28 tie after one into a blowout at the half. The Hornets shot 13/22 from the field, including four long three’s, en route to a 39 point quarter.

It wasn’t only the Laker defense that was bad during that stretch. The second-unit couldn’t hit a shot to start the quarter, and that coupled with their inability to stop New Orleans from scoring resulted in the Lakers trailing by as many as 25 in the quarter and 19 at the half. Allowing 67 first-half points to a team that averages 94.4 a game is unreal. Well, at least they made up for it in the fourth quarter…

Good – A Furious Fourth-Quarter Rally.

As bad as the second quarter against New Orleans was for the Lakers, the fourth quarter was a total and complete opposite. The Lakers absolutely locked the Hornets down, limiting New Orleans to 4/23 shooting and a whopping 9 points. The soon-to-be Pelicans scored exactly 0 points in the final 6:47 of the game, allowing the Lakers to close it out with a 20-0 run and a huge rally in a 108-102 win.

Courtesy: Getty Images
Courtesy: Getty Images

While the Lakers as a unit played unbelievably in the fourth, there were three guys who really keyed the rally. Jodie Meeks hit four huge 3-pointers that were crucial to the Laker rally. And for the first time all season, we were able to see what the Lakers can do with Kobe controlling the offense and Dwight Howard dominating on defense. Kobe had 15 of his game-high 42 during that 20-0 Laker run, and assisted on many of Meeks big shots in the fourth as well. In fact, Kobe and Jodie (Jobe?) were the only Lakers to hit a field goal in the fourth.

Perhaps the best part of the whole fourth quarter was seeing what Dwight can do on defense when he is dedicated to shutting down the other team. He had a flashback to pre-surgery Dwight when he swatted Robin Lopez on a tying dunk-attempt in the final 30 seconds, and really dominated the quarter defensively. More on Dwight in a bit.

Ugly – Falling Flat in OKC.

First things first, the Lakers showed a lot of heart in this game after falling behind big. Kobe was hurt early but came back to try and push the Lakers to a huge road-win. Los Angeles put in the effort and even got within five points in the fourth quarter, but a Thunder 12-0 run to close out the game made sure that they never got any closer.

While it would have been great to see the Lakers win in OKC, the fact is that this game showed us all a few things. First, the Thunder are a much better team than the Lakers right now, no matter how well LA is playing. There is still a long way to go for the Purple and Gold if they want to truly compete with OKC this season.

Second, the Lakers are still nto a team that has shown they can win on the road against a top-tier opponent. With the way the season has gone, the Lakers are going to have to win at least one road game against a great opponent to win a playoff series, so this has to be a major concern.

Bad – Stopping Opposing PG’s.

Ahh, there’s that problem which never seems to go away for the Lake Show. Tell me if you’ve heard this one before; the Lakers are getting torched by opposing point guards. Yes? Of course you have because this has been an issue for the Lakers since, oh I don’t know, 1996? We knew bringing in Steve Nash would help on offense and hurt on defense, but look at the numbers of the starting point guards the Lakers faced last week:

Russel Westbrook: 37 points, 10 rebounds
Greivis Vasquez: 15 points, 12 assists
Kyle Lowry: 15 points, 10 assists
Nate Robinson: 19 points, 8 assists

Sure, Wesbtrook kills everyone, and yeah Vasquez has been doing great passing the ball this season, so those numbers aren’t too bad. Except Lowry has been so bad this year that the Raptors tried to trade him five months after acquiring him. Nate Robinson is a shoot-first, pass-never point guard who racked up eight assists on the Lakers while also being the only Bulls player to score consistently all game.

Those are all pretty bad, but my biggest concern are Westbrook’s numbers. While he is impossible for anyone to realyl stop, he has absolutely murdered the Lakers this season. That’s not a good sign, especially with all roads to the Finals leading through OKC. Raphael Westbrook isn’t a problem that will be going away any time soon.

Ugly- Jodie Meeks D.

Meeks was an integral part of the Laker come back in New Orleans, and he helps stretch the floor which in turn makes life easier for Kobe and Dwight down the stretch.

But have you seen Jodie play defense? Me neither. Unfortunately for Meeks, he’s the guy that teams pick on at crunch time. I mean his defense is so bad I considered making a Joie Meeks joke right here but thought better of it.

Friday night against the Raptors, Toronto kept going to Alan Anderson (I know, me neither.) down the stretch, who scored at will on Meeks. I get Mike D’Antoni wants offense in the game, but when he isn’t hitting 3′s he certainly isn’t contributing on defense. Kobe’s heroics are incredible to watch, but Meeks defense is part of the reason those crazy shots are even neccessary.

Good – Dwight’s Back.

See what I did there?

Heading into his return to Orlando, a lot of people wondered if Dwight would be able to handle the backlash he was about to face. Howard was introduced to a chorus of boo’s louder than anything he’d ever experienced, and we were all curious to see whether he would come out and dominate or fade into the background in the face of adversity. 39 points, 16 rebounds and 3 blocks later, we have an emphatic answer from Dwight and the hope that the problems that plagued the big man this season are all gone. Howard also tied his own NBA record with 39 free-throw attempts, and set the Lakers record by making 25 for the game, including eight straight to close it out.

Howard also was a force in the other four contests the Lakers had this past week. This was clear on the defensive end of the floor, where Howard is flat-out dominating the paint recently. Many Lakers have taken notice of his improved play, including coach Mike D’Antoni.

Dwight is just feeling better, you can see it all over the place. His back is better, he’s in rhythm, whatever it is, he’s a monster defensively.

Which sums up exactly what the Lakers expected from Howard when they acquired him last summer.

So is Dwight officially back? Well if his past two games are any type of evidence, it seems he is pretty darn close. On Sunday he was especially impressive against Chicago putting up 16 points, 21 boards and 4 blocks going against Joakim Noah. You might have heard some “experts” proclaiming Noah to be the best center in the league right now. Dwight sure looked like he’d heard the chatter, dominating Noah on both ends of the court to put that argument to rest.

After a good week for the Lakers, the team has two more tough road games and a home date remaining this week. They face a revenge-hungry Hawks squad in the second of a back-to-back, then head to Indy to take on the defensive-minded, dangerous Pacers. After the mini-trip, the Lakers return home to face a Kings squad that seems to always give them trouble. By Sunday night, this Laker squad has a chance to really launch themselves up the standings in the West.

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Courtesy: Getty Images
Courtesy: Getty Images

Another week in Laker Land has passed us, and for the first time in a long time it feels like our boys in Purple and Gold are (finally) headed in the right direction. While the Laker schedule was light on games with only three contests this week, there were plenty of things to take from games against Denver, Minnesota and Atlanta.

Here is a look at the Good, the Bad and the Ugly of the Lakers past week in action.

Good: Kobe Bryant circa 2006 is Back.

Really, I could just post a link to this dunk and it would be enough of an explanation.

The Mamba has been on an absolute tear since the All-Star break ended, and the Lakers 5-1 record during that time is tied directly to what Bryant is doing. In the past five games alone Kobe is averaging a whopping 34.8 points per game, on 66-116 shooting, good for a cool 56.9% from the field. Did I mention that Bryant is doing this at 34-years old, in his 17th NBA season, 60 games into a campaign that has seen him average 38.2 minutes per contest? Oh and all while shooting what would be the highest field goal percentage of his career.

Bryant realizes this is a make or break stretch for the Lakers playoff chances, and he looks to be up for the challenge.

I’ve been in attack mode since the break. It’s go time. We’re getting a little bit closer and we’re starting to get in more of a striking distance where you start watching (the playoff race).

It’s absolutely mind-boggling that this guy is not only still going strong, but getting better as the season and his career progress. With the way Kobe’s been playing since the break, would you really want to bet against him getting the Lakers into the playoffs? Me neither. Kobe is aging like a fine wine (or Vino as he’s now apparently calling himself), just in time to save the Laker season.

Ugly: Interior Defense.

One negative that really stood out this week for the Lakers was just how bad their defense is in the paint, especially when Dwight Howard sits. In the loss to Denver, the Lakers gave up an astronomical 78 points in the paint. That’s more than some teams have scored in ENTIRE GAMES recently. The Nuggets were also able to gain a 33-3 edge on the fastbreak, further emphasizing the Lakers inability to not only get in position, but to challenge at the rim at all. This only gets worse when LA’s lone shot blocker has to take a seat. Granted, that Denver game was the second of a road back-to-back in an arena where any team that’s not named the Nuggets is expected to lose, so you can make a bit of an excuse for the Lakers, right?

Wrong. That would be fine and dandy if the Hawks didn’t score almost at will inside at the end of the game last night. While the Lakers were able to escape with a huge win (or avoid a huge collapse, your choice), you simply cannot ignore the fact that Atlanta scored three consecutives times at the basket in the final two minutes. Oh, and all those buckets were basically unguarded lay-ups and dunks. In fact, had Josh Smith been able to handle Devin Harris’ entry pass at the end of the game, we’d probably be lamenting another terrible loss rather than breathing a sigh of relief.

The Lakers should be able to slow down the scoring of other teams inside once Pau returns from his injury right? Wait what do you mean no? Let’s just move on.

Bad: Steve Nash Turnovers.

With the Lakers winning games and Kobe dominating on offense, it’s been difficult to find many things wrong with the Los Angeles offense. One thing that has definitely been off in the six games since the All-Star break has been Steve Nash’s handle. Nash has 20 turnovers (TWENTY!) in those six games, and that number is actually helped by the fact that Nash had none in the blow-out win over Minnesota. It’s hard to pick on anything Nash does because he has done such an incredible job of adjusting to the offense so that his teammates can thrive, basically becoming a spot-up shooter in this system.

But in Denver, those Nash turnovers became very costly. As is often the case with turnovers on the road, Denver was able to turn six Nash turnovers into points on the fast-break that really ignited their offense and helped them kill any Laker hope of winning int he Mile High City.

Courtesy: Getty Images
Courtesy: Getty Images

Good: Dwight Howard.

No, really. This isn’t sarcasm. I’m serious!

I know, it’s been a long time since we had a week free of tearing Dwight down, but the All-Star big man has actually been a force since the All-Star break. Sure he still forces some bad shots in the paint, and yeah his free throws are still terrible. But, hold on let me channel my inner Rock, FINALLY DWIGHT HAS COME BACK, sort of. Howard has really been playing with great energy lately.

Starting with a dominating 24-point, 12-rebound performance against the Celtics and on through the next five games, Howard has shown flashes of the All-Star Laker fans expected to see when he was brought in. In the past six games, Dwight is averaging 17 points and 14 boards per game, while also throwing in two swats a night. His scoring may not be as high as Dwight would like, but he is finally making an impact for the Lakers in a way that translates directly to wins. Boards, defense, and hard screen-and-rolls on offense will help this team win, and Howard seems to have finally figured that out.

Ugly: Opposing Role Players (still) Killing the Lakers.

This has really been a theme of the entire Laker season, but there were a few more instances this week of role guys really hurting the Lakers. In Denver, Wilson Chandler was a late insert into the starting line-up for the Nuggets, and all he did was drop 23 points on the Lakers. And just in case Laker fans forgot what he did to them the last two times these teams met, Corey Brewer chipped in 16 points and plenty of overdone celebrations. These two specifically played a huge role in sparking the Nuggets to a win over the Lakers.

Then, this ugly problem reared its head again against Atlanta. Devin Harris turned into an All-Star for a five-minute stretch spanning the end of the third and beginning of the fourth quarter. By scoring 14 of his 16 points during that span, Harris nearly single-handedly brought the Hawks back from a 16-point deficit. Not to be outdone, Kyle Korver came in and also scored 16 on the Lakers, hitting a few big shots that nearly cost the home team the game.

This is another issue that doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon, but the Lakers are .500 so let’s stop talking about bad stuff!

Bad: Momentum Swings with the Bench.

Okay, so this is still something bad we have to discuss, but I’ll counter it with some good. The Laker bench was great against the T’Wolves this week. Jodie Meeks, Antawn Jamison and Steve Blake all scored in double-digits and helped the Lakers blow Minnesota out of the building.

It was the other two games this week that were cause for alarm, however. After a solid first quarter in Denver, the Laker bench allowed the Nuggets to blow the game open in the second quarter. Denver built a lead the Lakers were never able to recover from. Then against the Hawks, the bench twice blew a double-digit lead they had inherited from the starters. While only Meeks, Jamison and Blake entered the game off the bench, they were a collective -40 against Atlanta.

Simply put, this is not going to get it done most nights. Scoring isn’t a problem for the bench guys, but their inability to stop anyone on the opposing bench from scoring really puts a limitation on what the team can do.

Like most .500 teams, the Lakers have plenty of room for improvement. On the plus side, this is the first time in a roller-coaster of a season where Laker Nation can confidently say that its team is finally on the rise. This time, we just have to hope it’s for the rest of the season. Any more steep drops on this ride will have the Lakers heading straight into the off-season.

Oh and by the way, just in case you forgot what Kobe did yesterday, here you go. You’re welcome.

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Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash
Courtesy: Getty Images

Breathe in, breathe out, repeat. Another week in Laker Land has come and gone, and once again, fans are having to remind themselves to stay calm and carry on. As has been the norm this season, the past week was filled with some great highs and some horrible lows.

From injuries, to short-handed victories, to parental guidance, here is a recap of the Lakers past week.

Good – Winning in Brooklyn with no Front-Court.

The week started out pretty well for the Lakers. They went into Brooklyn short-handed knowing Dwight Howard was out with an injury and that Metta World Peace was suspended for the game. Things got worse from there as Pau Gasol was injured with about five minutes left in a tightly-contested game (more on that later). This left the Lakers with Earl Clark and Antawn Jamison as their only front-court players to try and close out a key game on the roadtrip.

From everything we’d seen this season, there was no reason to think the short-handed Lakers would go on a 10-0 run to close the game against a quality opponent on the road, but that’s exactly what they did. The impressive 92-83 win was a great confidence-boost for a team desperately in need of one.

Bad – Ow Gasol.

Not everything that happened in Brooklyn was positive for the Lakers. Unfortunately, recently demote big-man Pau Gasol suffered a partially torn plantar fascia in his already injured right foot. Gasol is now expected to miss six to eight weeks, but was trying to look at things positively when he took to Twitter to discuss the injury:

@PauGasol: I’m hoping to recover asap so I can be back with the team and keep fighting until the end of the season. #GoLakers #AlwaysPositive

Pau was considered a near-lock to be traded at the deadline, due mainly to the fact that Coach D’Antoni can’t figure out his rotation or how to get his two talented bigs playing together. However, this injury should put a stop to any trade talk involving the Spaniard. The Lakers up-hill climb into the playoff picture becomes even more difficult with the former All-Star sidelined.

Ugly – MWP is MIA.

One of the things that has really stood out in the past couple of Laker games, especially the losses, is just how much Metta World Peace is struggling lately. In three games this week (MWP was suspended for the fourth), the man formerly known as Artest has shot a horrendous 10-38 (26%) from the field. MWP also had just ten rebounds in those three games, a paltry 3.3 per game average for the Lakers starting forward.

Defensively, Peace hasn’t been much better. While getting torched by Lebron James doesn’t make him any different than any other defender in the league nowadays, Metta struggled mightily against Paul Pierce in Boston. Wheelchair Paul was able to get rolling early on offense and ignite the Celtics in their blowout win over the Lakers. Speaking of Boston…

Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Ugly – The Entire Boston Game.

If you wanted to find a reason for this particular Laker loss, you could probably choose from one of fifteen or so. Porous defense? Check. Lack of rebounding? Definitely. Zero energy from your All-Star Center who may have only been playing to shut your All-Star Shooting Guard up? Checkmate.

The worst part of this game was probably the fact that Boston of all teams was the squad who go to enjoy beating down the Lakers. Let’s just chalk this up to being a bad game on a long roadtrip and forget it ever happened. Any objections? Didn’t think so. Moving on.

Good – The Charlotte Comeback.

Now I know a lot of people really look at this win as a loss and find it hard to look at anything positively in a game that the Lakers trailed by 20 against the lowly Bobcats, but hear me out people. First off, a 20-point comeback in the sixth game of a seven game roadtrip is not something you should dismiss, no matter the opponent. This is the NBA after all, so most of these teams are talented enough to win a couple of good games and (almost) nobody is expected to blow a 20-point lead at home.

The Lakers really looked great for most of the second half, with Kobe dissecting the defense with his shot and passing ability, and Dwight Howard dominating the fourth quarter defensively for what seemed like the first time as a Laker. Criticize the effort all you want, but a win is a win, especially this season for the Lakers. With all that being said…

Bad – Being Down 20 in Charlotte.

Okay, now that the optimist got his point out I’d just like to state the Bobcats are probably the only team in the league you expect to blow a 20-point lead. Which means they’re terrible. Which means that even though a comeback like that is great, being down 20 to a team like Charlotte just shows how bipolar this Laker squad can be. This was the second time this season the Bobcats gave the Lakers a win in a game they had a huge lead, meaning the already bad Laker record could look much worse.

Bad – Mike D’s Rotation, Again.

I know I ranted on this last week, but I still for the life of me cannot understand the thought process Mike D’Antoni must go through with his rotations. How does a head coach in the NBA not realize that size is important in this league? How does Mike not think about putting Robert Sacre into a game when Dwight Howard sits, even after the Celtics and Heat are pounding the Lakers on the glass? Boston and Miami are two of the worst rebounding teams of all-time.

D’Antoni also has a penchant for leaving the bench in about a minute or two too long when they play well, giving them just enough time to undo all of their good work. It’s beyond frustrating and this is more a venting than anything, but I think most Laker fans would agree that Mike D might not have any clue what he is doing sometimes. Hopefully he realizes sooner than later that this isn’t NBA 2K13, and offensive-minded units won’t win you games against good teams.

Ugly - The 4th in Miami.

Speaking of Mike D’s rotation issues, the fourth quarter against the Heat was a prime example of leaving bench player in for too long. In what was essentially a must-win for the Lakers, D’Antoni went with his second unit for a few minutes longer than he should have, allowing Miami to seize control of the game. The Lakers started the fourth turning the ball over multiple times, and it didn’t help the cause that the starters came back into the game and started doing the same.

In the end, Los Angeles committed a whopping eight turnovers in the fourth, while forcing Miami into exactly zero. That’s not going to get it done on the road against the defending Champs. The fourth quarter also saw the Lakers go back to the hero-ball offense that grinds everything to a halt and makes this team almost unbearable to watch in the half-court. Just like the game in Boston, the fourth quarter against the Heat is something to forget.

Good – Surviving the Grammy Trip.

While most Laker fans and pundits agree Los Angeles needed a 5-2 record for the annual Grammy roadtrip to be a success, the Lakers came out with a 4-3 record. In past seasons, this trip has been an indicator of what we can expect from the Lake Show the rest of the season. While this season’s trip was up and down, a winning record on a road trip is a step in the right direction for a team that has struggled away from home all year. The Lakers are going to have to win games on the road to just make the playoffs, and hopefully to make some noise once they get there.

Teams need success they can draw from once the playoffs arrive, and games like the comeback in Charlotte and the short-handed Brooklyn victory should give the Lakers some confidence.

Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Ugly – Kobe, Dwight and Papa Howard.

One of the most interesting things from the roadtrip was the drama surrounding Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard. After Pau went down with his injury, the sense of urgency surrounding the team was greater than it had been all season. Kobe came out and basically said that the Lakers didn’t have time to wait for Dwight to recover, followed by Dwight coming out and saying Kobe isn’t a doctor, all while Laker fans everywhere rolled their eyes at the soap opera.

This time, instead of just going away like most other Laker stories this season, the Bryant/Howard issue took a left-turn into the land of comedy. Dwight Howard Sr. spoke with the Atlanta Constitution-Journal, saying among other things that his son and Kobe needed to have a sit down to discuss their issues. Howard Sr. also went on to blame Coach D’Antoni for not controlling things and keeping all the drama in-house. I think it’s safe to say that we can all agree this is getting to the point of embarrassment for the Lakers. Here’s hoping the drama goes away, Dwight plays like the old Dwight, and Mike D’Antoni gets fired.

Wait what?

Since returning from injury in the Boston game, Dwight Howard has been a shell of the shell of himself that he was originally this season. Get all that? Don’t get me wrong, even at 70% Howard is still the most intimidating center in the league. However, it’s impossible not to notice the drop-off in his game this season as compared to what fans were used to prior to his back injury.

That drop-off has gotten even worse since Howard’s return from injury. In three games since his return, Howard is averaging 12 points and 9.6 rebounds per game. Solid numbers, sure, for Emeka Okafor. But this is Dwight Howard we’re talking about. The main issue with Howard seems to be that he lets his offense predicate how he plays. When Howard gets touches early, he tends to try harder to dominate defensively.

The Lakers have realized this, force-feeding the big man inside even if it’s to the detriment of the team, in hopes that it will inspire him to play defense. But when Dwight doesn’t get shots, well Dwight doesn’t really care. This all sound familiar? It should, because it is the same problem the Lakers had thought they solved by trading away Andrew Bynum. It will be interesting to see if Dwight can tough through this injury and be the player the Lakers need him to be to have any success this season.

Good – Kobe Turning the Clock.

By now, everyone has seen Kobe’s thunderous slam over Kris Humphries and Gerald Wallace in the fourth quarter of the Mamba’s first game in Brooklyn. ESPN has shown it on a continuous loop since it happened, and the video has probably been retweeted a million times by now. If you are one of the three people who haven’t seen it yet, all you neeed to know is the fact that a 34-year old in his 17th season can do this in the middle of a game is absolutely incredible.

That dunk was just another reminder that we need to enjoy watching Kobe on the court, because sooner rather than later, his highlights will be just a distant memory.

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