earl clark

PhotoCredit: Jeff Gross/Getty Images

PhotoCredit: Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Well Nation, we’ve reached yet another off-season, one full of a particularly large amount of questions regarding the Lakers’ future.  So I’ve decided to create a series of questions that you, the fans, will answer about the Laker offseason.  Then in a week or so I’ll gather all the answers and write about what would need to happen for each scenario to occur.  Obviously the big ones are about retaining (or losing) Dwight Howard, and what will come of Kobe Bryant after his devastating Achilles tear.  So Nation, here are the questions, the more who answer the more interesting the possible scenarios will be!

Would you like to see the Lakers re-sign Dwight Howard?

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Should Chris Paul decide to leave the Clippers, would you want him to sign with the Lakers?

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Should the Lakers trade up in the draft for a better pick?

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If you said yes to the previous question, who would you like to see traded for a pick?

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Of these free agents, who would you like to see the Lakers sign?

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What would you like to see done with coach Mike D'Antoni?

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What coach would you rather see if the Lakers are to fire D'Antoni?

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Who should the Lakers amnesty this season?

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Will Kobe Bryant be the same player when he returns from his Achilles' tendon tear?

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Poll analysis is complete! Check it out HERE to see your answers discussed! Thanks!

 

Photo: Noah Graham | Getty Images

Photo: Noah Graham | Getty Images

The Lakers completed last week with a 3-2 record. Although they remained in the 8th slot in the Western Conference, the Lakers suffered a significant loss to their personnel.

In the waning moments of the Lakers’ loss to the Atlanta Hawks, Kobe Bryant sprained his ankle when guard Dahntay Jones slid under him. Despite trying to play in the next game in Indiana, Bryant has since missed the last two games.

The Lakers started the week off well with a 106-97 win over the Orlando Magic. Dwight Howard certainly left his imprint on his return to Orlando, scoring 39 points and grabbing 16 rebounds.

The Lakers then traveled to Atlanta where they lost 96-92, in addition to suffering yet another crushing injury.

Concluding the quick 3-game road trip in Indiana, the Lakers defeated a solid Pacers team with little contribution from Bryant.

Travelling home, the Lakers beat the Sacramento Kings handedly, 113-102. The next night, the Lakers travelled Phoenix, losing 99-76. The Lakers’ 76 points were a season-low, as coach Mike D’Antoni’s 7-man rotation showed signs of fatigue.

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

Steve Blake Up arrow : Now this is the Steve Blake the Lakers thought they signed back in 2010.

Since Bryant’s injury, Blake has averaged 15.7 points per game and 6.3 assists per game. Blake has also shot 56.7% from the field in his last three games.

With all of the hype surrounding the Lakers’ starters and the emergence of Earl Clark this season, Blake’s consistency has been sorely overlooked.

Since his return from the abdominal injury, Blake has helped turn the Lakers’ bench unit into a deadly asset for the Lakers.

With Bryant and hopefully Pau Gasol returning from injury as soon as this Friday, Blake’s improved play should continue.

Blake, in combination with Antawn Jamison, have been integral parts of the Lakers’ recent turnaround.

Dwight Howard Up arrow : ‘Superman’ is back.

Photo: Douglas Jones | USA TODAY Sports

Photo: Douglas Jones | USA TODAY Sports

Dwight Howard is playing his best basketball of the season right now. Even with a rough shooting night in Phoenix, Howard averaged 19.4 ppg and 14.4 rpg in his last five games.

In the Lakers win over the Magic, and Howard’s return to Orlando, Howard set a few records.

With 39 free-throw attempts in that game, he tied the NBA record he set last year against Golden State and established a Lakers standard, blowing past Shaquille O’Neal’s old mark of 31 in 1999 against Chicago.

Howard seems to be healthier and in better condition now. His activity level on both ends of the floor has also gradually improved from game to game.

With Bryant out, Howard seemed to take more of a leadership role on this team. His effective leadership significantly helped the Lakers pull out a win in Indiana.

As long as Howard stays relatively healthy, there is no reason why he won’t return to his supremely dominant self by the playoffs.

Antawn Jamison Up arrow : Like many of the Lakers’ player in Phoenix, Antawn Jamison struggled to find the basket.

Jamison did have great games against Indiana and Sacramento this past week, however.

Against Indiana, Jamison’s three-point shooting helped the Lakers overcome the Pacers’ stout defense. Jamison made 4-7 threes and finished with 17 points and 7 rebounds.

The next game, against Sacramento, Jamison had an even better performance. Jamison made 5-8 three pointers and finished with 27 points and 9 rebounds.

D’Antoni’s short 7-man rotation has paid dividends for both Jamison and Blake off the bench. Both players seem much more comfortable now playing starter-type minutes.

The key will now be whether or not Jamison can continue his stellar play once Bryant and Gasol return.

Metta World Peace Up arrow : Metta World Peace seems to have finally climbed out of his month-long shooting slump.

Photo: Ross D. Franklin | AP

Photo: Ross D. Franklin | AP

World Peace scored double-digit points in each of his last five games. World Peace averaged 17.4 ppg and 4.6 rpg over that stretch.

After the win over Sacramento, World Peace informed the media that he had been dealing with a leg injury.

World Peace claimed that the injury had been hampering his ability to defend as well as post-up.

It seems that that injury has now healed and World Peace is on his way to returning to his early season form.

Steve Nash Up arrow : Both Steve’s played consistent basketball this past week.

Steve Nash averaged 15.0 ppg and 6.8 apg over his past five games. Nash also hit a season-high in assists against Sacramento, dishing out 12 dimes.

Since Bryant went down with injury, Nash has increased his playmaking role. Nash continues to find his teammates in good operational areas on the offensive end.

Nash has also become more aggressive shooting the ball. Nash attempted double-digit shot attempts in four out of the five games last week.

With Bryant and Gasol returning soon, the onus will fall on the Lakers’ veteran backcourt to make sure the offensive cohesiveness continues.

Earl Clark even: Earl Clark can’t seem to get out of his recent funk.

Despite shooting 42.9% from the field, Clark only averaged 6.6 ppg in his last five games.

Clark did average 6.2 rpg this past week, but the Lakers could use even more production from the 6’10” forward.

Recently, Clark has been settling for jump shots way too often. When Clark first emerged as a legitimate scoring threat earlier this season, he was attacking the basket with great ferocity.

In recent weeks Clark seems to have let off the gas a little.

Clark’s knee injury may be more serious than we understand, but the Lakers could certainly use the ‘attacking’ Clark going forward.

Jodie Meeks Down arrow : Tough week for Jodie Meeks.

Photo: Reed Saxon | AP

Photo: Reed Saxon | AP

Even with Bryant being out for an extended period, Meeks just couldn’t find much consistency on offense.

Meeks, who started in place of Bryant for two games, averaged 5.6 ppg but only shot 30.3% from the field.

As Jamison, Nash and Blake continue to shoot the ball exceptionally well, the Lakers are really only waiting on Meeks to catch up.

Hopefully with Bryant’s return, Meeks will become more comfortable off the bench and return to his sharp shooting behind the arc.

Robert Sacre Down arrow : Robert Sacre appeared in limited minutes against Orlando, Indiana and Phoenix.

Sacre did score 2 points and grab a rebound against Indiana.

Darius Morris Down arrow : Darius Morris appeared late in the Lakers’ loss to Phoenix when the game was out of reach.

Morris attempted two shots and made one free-throw.

Chris Duhon Down arrow : Chris Duhon appeared only in “garbage-time” against Phoenix this week.

Devin Ebanks Down arrow : Devin Ebanks also appeared late in the loss to Phoenix, but failed to score.

Kobe Bryant Injury sign : Kobe Bryant sprained his left ankle in the fourth quarter of the Lakers’ loss to Atlanta. The injury occurred when Bryant elevated for a shot and opposing defender Dahntay Jones slid under him.

Bryant claimed afterwards that the play was dirty because Jones did not give Bryant room to come down from his jump shot.

The play was reviewed by the NBA and decided that the play should have been called a foul on Jones, but no punitive damages resulted.

The play, for those of you who have not seen it yet, can be seen here.

Bryant is currently listed as ‘day-to-day’, but is expected to play in the Lakers’ next game, Friday vs. Washington.

Pau Gasol Injury sign : Pau Gasol continues to make his recovery from his partially torn plantar fascia.

Earlier in the week, there were murmurs that Gasol might play against Sacramento. He did not, but the Lakers remain optimistic that Gasol may also be ready for Friday’s game against the Wizards.

Stay tuned for next weeks’ Lakers Stock Watch as the Lakers try to solidify a playoff berth battling Washington and Golden State.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Kobe Bryant is doubtful for tonight’s game against the Phoenix Suns. After sustaining his ankle injury in the last seconds of the Atlanta Hawks game he played for only a quarter of the win against the Indiana Pacers and did not dress Sunday in the win versus the Sacramento Kings. Via Twitter, Kobe announced he has the #flu alongside his ankle injury. Before Sunday nights game, coach Mike D’Antoni talked to ESPNLA reporter Dave McMenamin on when Kobe will return.

“I think the determining factor is whether he feels like he can contribute and feels like, ‘I’m good enough to play,’” D’Antoni said. “He’s been in the league a long time, he knows his body and he’ll have to make that determination.”

Speculation began to build around tonight’s game as Pau Gasol had planned on returning from his torn Plantar Fascia. However, Saturday Pau felt soreness in his foot after a 2 on 2 game at the team’s practice facility.

“It was to be expected,” Gasol said of the soreness. “As you raise the intensity in the amount of load you put on the foot, it’s going to create a little soreness. It’s a pretty normal reaction with the injury that I had.”

On Sunday Pau met with foot specialist Dr. Kenneth Jung. Those results have yet to be announced but Gasol will undergo an ultrasound on his foot Tuesday. The next possible date for Gasol’s return would be Friday against the Washington Wizards but D’Antoni doesn’t want to get his hopes up just yet.

“You just never know,” D’Antoni said. “There’s really been no contact yet or 5-on-5, he’s working out pretty hard. It’s going to be sooner rather than later. Whether it’s Friday or not, you just can’t tell.”

Gasol, who missed his 32nd game of the season Sunday, was noncommittal about when he would be back.

“I don’t want to put any date so there are no surprises or disappointments,” Gasol said before the Kings game.

Forward Jordan Hill has begun feverishly working out in hopes to return in late April or early May. Ruled out since January with hip surgery, Hill believed he was done for the season. Despite the news he will be reevaluated in April to check his progress. D’Antoni believes it would be a long stretch for Hill to return so soon as the elliptical machine is different than an NBA game.

“Even if he could come back, to get back in shape and get in the rotation, that would be tough,” D’Antoni said. “That would be a miracle.”

Even with both stars and Hill currently out for the Lakers they have begun surging as of late. With a record of 11-3 since All-Star break (2-0 without Kobe, yes Indiana does count) the Lakers are undergoing a stretch where Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, and team’s role players are finding continuity and an identity.As ESPNLA reporter Ramona Shelburne reported, it couldn’t have come at a better time.

“The ball moves and there are some good guys out there on the floor,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. “Antawn has had back-to-back 50-point games in this league. Steve Blake is starting with a good team and has played really well in this league. Steve Nash is a two-time MVP. And Dwight Howard is really good. So we don’t have to be one player dominant.

“That ball needs to move and, if it does, then we are really good.”

Ball movement early in the season was as consistent as the Lakers were inconsistent. Too many times the team had to lean on Bryant to bail them out of close calls. However with Kobe out of the lineup and shots falling, the team is making a case that without two of their best players they are still better than people perceive.

“I was talking to Metta [World Peace] and he was like, ‘Now it’s our time to finally play our style, posting up and things like that,’” Jamison said.

“You’ve got guys being accustomed to being the man or being the first and second option,” he said. “We know how to do this and play with each other. And guys are eager to show — when somebody is hurt, when my time comes — we won’t miss a beat.”

The Lakers have three players in Howard, Jamison, and World Peace, who at different points of their careers were leading scorers for NBA teams. They have Nash who once was a two-time MVP and league leader in assists. Steve Blake and Jodi Meeks both were starters for teams and averaged over 10 points per game. Earl Clark was a lottery pick who never got a real chance until this year.  Coming to LA everyone knew that things were going to change and sacrifices were to be made. Yet now, they have the chance to live up to the expectations of the purple and gold standard.

“We’re just not making any excuses,” said Jamison, who finished with a game-high 27 points Sunday.

“I think once we finally had our back up against the wall and people were counting us out, that’s when we kind of went, ‘OK, we’ve got to start playing better.’ There’s no excuse for us not to turn this thing around and make it one of the best stories in sports.’”

The Lakers resume play tonight against the Phoenix Suns at 7:00 pacific time.

Photo: Noah Graham | Getty Images

Photo: Noah Graham | Getty Images

The Lakers are back in the playoff picture!

Finally, after a 3-1 week with wins over New Orleans, Toronto and Chicago, the Lakers have jumped to the 8th seed in the Western Conference.

The Lakers began the week with a tough loss in Oklahoma City, 122-105. In that game, the Lakers conceded 71 points in the first half and were never able to comeback from the early deficit.

The next night, the Lakers conceded 67 points in the first half for another dismal start in New Orleans. The Lakers eventually fell behind by 25 points, but thanks to a 20-0 run to close out the game, they roared back to win 108-102.

Returning home for a quick two-game home stand, the Lakers continued their trend of falling behind early. Thanks to some late-game heroics from Kobe Bryant, however, the Lakers pulled out a win, 118-116 in overtime.

The Lakers finally broke their habit of suffering early deficits by controlling the full game against the Chicago Bulls. A dominant paint presence by Dwight Howard helped the Lakers beat the injury-riddled Bulls by a score of 90-81.

With their three wins this weak, the Lakers are now two games over .500 with a record of 33-31.

With only 18 games left in the 2013 regular season, the Lakers currently hold the 8th seed in the West, but are only a 1/2 game ahead of the Utah in the standings.

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

Kobe Bryant Up arrow : Kobe Bryant, or ‘Vino’ as he now calls himself, is having arguably the best stretch of his 17-year career. At 34 years old, Bryant averaged 33.0 points per game, 7.0 assists per game, and 5.8 rebounds per game this past week.

Bryant also shot 50.6% from the field and 58.9% from three-point range.

Bryant had back-to-back spectacular games against New Orleans and Toronto. He was the main catalyst in the Lakers’ terrific 20-0 run, scoring 42 points and dishing out 12 assists to lead the team to victory.

Bryant followed up that performance with a similar one against Toronto— 41 points, 12 assists and 6 rebounds. Hitting remarkable shots late, Bryant’s play helped the Lakers come out on top in overtime.

The greatness of Bryant’s seemingly ‘superhuman’ abilities is capsulated below:

Bryant’s unmatched determination is the main reason why the Lakers have crawled back into the playoff race.

This recent stretch of excellent play did not come easy for Bryant, however. Bryant struggled finding a balance between scoring and facilitating earlier this season.

It seems that Bryant has now found this elusive balance between over-shooting and over-facilitating. As shown by his efficient scoring and passing, Bryant’s leadership of this Lakers team has reached a new level.

Despite suffering an ulnar nerve contusion in his right elbow against Oklahoma City, Bryant overcame the adversity to lead his team to another terrific week.

Dwight Howard Up arrow : Along with Bryant’s superb play, Dwight Howard has also picked up his play since the All-Star break. Howard’s control of the glass and defensive paint were especially key in all three Lakers victories.

Photo: Stacy Revere | Getty Images

Photo: Stacy Revere | Getty Images

Howard averaged 16.5 ppg, 16.3 rpg and 3.3 blocks per game over this past week. Howard’s consistent scoring has been icing on the cake in concert with his elevated focus on the defensive end.

If Howard can continue controlling the boards on both ends of the floor, the Lakers should continue to flourish.

The main issue that has hampered Howard of late is foul trouble. With Pau Gasol still out with a foot injury, Howard needs to be on the floor for the Lakers to be successful.

Howard looks much healthier since the All-Star break, however. His legs seem to be coming back now and his explosive finishing ability is improving.

A focused Howard, matched by a hungry Bryant, will be the key to any Lakers playoff push.

Steve Nash Up arrow : As Howard and Bryant understand how to play with each other more, Steve Nash has also started to settle into his role.

Nash significantly increased his scoring load this past week, averaging 15.8 ppg on 48.9% shooting from the floor.

With Bryant dominating the ball on offense, the two-time MVP has been forced to change his approach. Nash seems to be making this transformation now and his scoring has clearly benefited.

Nash’s three-point shooting ability has also helped open up the floor for the Lakers’ big men. Nash shot 50% from three-point range this week, including 4-6 threes against Toronto.

The Lakers are finally playing their best basketball of the season, and Nash’s sacrifice in playing off the ball has had a huge impact on this turnaround.

Jodie Meeks Up arrow : With consistent playing time off the bench, Jodie Meeks has become a solid contributor on both ends of the floor.

Photo: Gerald Herbert | AP

Photo: Gerald Herbert | AP

Meeks’ three-point shooting was deadly this week, as he shot 55.6% from behind the arc.

Benefitting from Bryant’s facilitating, Meeks hit five three pointers to help bring the Lakers back against New Orleans.

Although Meeks is an under-sized shooting guard, his fierce competitive nature has earned him the opportunity to play behind Bryant.

His lack of size was evident when Meeks was routinely isolated on the block against Toronto.

But his unrelenting intensity on the defensive end helped stop the Raptors late and seal the victory.

With Meeks finally shooting consistently from behind the arc, the Lakers’ offensive attack becomes scary.

Antawn Jamison even: After a solid few weeks off the bench for Antawn Jamison, his production sputtered some this week.

The Lakers’ sixth-man only averaged 7.3 ppg and 5.3 rpg over his last four games. In comparison, Jamison averaged 13.7 ppg on 50% shooting and 6.3 rpg last week.

Jamison’s scoring ability has been a huge boost off the bench for the Lakers this season, but they certainly need him to return to his double-digit scoring.

With Howard holding down the paint, Jamison should take advantage of his outside opportunities. Bryant’s penetration will continue to create opportunities for his teammates, and Jamison must capitalize.

Steve Blake even: Although Steve Blake has been playing well since returning from injury, Blake’s production slipped some this week.

Photo: Brett Deering | Getty Images

Photo: Brett Deering | Getty Images

The Lakers are 14-6 since Blake’s return on January 29th, but Blake only averaged 4.0 ppg this week.

Blake did average 5.0 apg over the last four games, however.

With Nash scoring the ball at a higher rate now, the onus on Blake to score may be lifted some.

That certainly doesn’t mean the Lakers wouldn’t welcome Blake’s scoring, but his role, as the bench’s “floor general”, is much more important at this point in the season.

Metta World Peace even: Another tough shooting week for Metta World Peace.

Although World Peace had been shooting the ball better last week, he returned to his inconsistent form this week.

World Peace averaged 10.3 ppg, but only shot 40.2% from the field and a dismal 27.5% from three-point range.

The consistent play of Bryant, Howard and Nash has created many scoring opportunities for World Peace.

As a result, the 6’9” small forward needs to start capitalizing on these opportunities. If he doesn’t, opposing defenses will shift their focus away from him, forcing him to hit shots.

Despite another shooting slump this week, World Peace’s defense was solid. World Peace played great defense late in the win over Toronto, limiting star Raptor Rudy Gay to just 2-15 shooting in the second half.

World Peace’s role on the Lakers is certainly not to be a prolific scorer, but they could certainly use more consistency from him going forward.

Earl Clark Down arrow : The biggest surprise of this season has officially hit a wall. After Earl Clark’s great January and February, he has struggled mightily in March.

Photo: Gerald Herbert | AP

Photo: Gerald Herbert | AP

Clark averaged 9.5 ppg, but only shot 25.2% from the field this week.

Clark’s rebounding numbers have also dipped recently, as he only averaged 5.5 rpg over the past four games.

The Lakers have to hope that Clark will return to his active, productive self once Gasol returns to the lineup.

The return of Gasol will hopefully relieve some of the pressure off Clark and help him become comfortable again.

In the meantime, however, the Lakers need Clark to bring more to the table on a nightly basis.

Clark seems to be struggling with opposing teams making adjustments. Earlier in the season, the Lakers’ starting power forward excelled because opposing teams just weren’t ready for him.

Now, with opposing defenses adjusting to his tendencies, Clark must make the counter-adjustments himself to return to the level of productivity he experienced earlier in the year.

Robert Sacre Down arrow : Robert Sacre appeared in limited minutes against Oklahoma City and New Orleans, but failed to score in either game.

Sacre has since been assigned to the Lakers’ developmental league-affiliate, the LA D-Fenders.

Darius Morris Down arrow : Darius Morris did not appear in a game this past week.

As he continues to receive little to no minutes on the Lakers’ bench, Morris was also assigned to the D-Fenders this week.

Chris Duhon Down arrow : Chris Duhon appeared only in “garbage-time” against Oklahoma City this week.

Photo: Pau Gasol | Twitter

Photo: Pau Gasol | Twitter

Devin Ebanks Down arrow : Devin Ebanks failed to appear in a game this week.

Pau Gasol Injury sign : Pau Gasol continues to make his recovery from his partially torn plantar fascia.

Gasol, now in week four of his 6-8 week recovery time, has been cleared to begin running on the treadmill.

Hopefully Gasol is able to return sooner than later, and make an immediate impact for the surging Lakers.

 

Stay tuned for next weeks’ Lakers Stock Watch as the Lakers try to solidify a playoff berth battling Orlando, Atlanta, Indiana and Sacramento.

Image Credit: Noah Graham | Getty Images

Photo: Noah Graham | Getty Images

The Lakers continue crawling back into the playoff picture.

A 2-1 week, coupled with losses by Utah and Golden State, certainly helped their cause.

The Lakers lost a difficult game in Denver, 119-108, in which Kobe Bryant scored a game-high 29 points.

Returning home for a quick two-game home stand, the Lakers beat the Minnesota Timberwolves handedly, 116-94. The Lakers followed up that win with an exciting victory over the Atlanta Hawks, 99-98.

With their 2-1 record last week, the Lakers made it back to the .500 mark at 30-30, for the first time since December 28th.

With only 22 games left on the regular season schedule, the Lakers are currently just 2 games back of the Utah Jazz for the 8th seed in the Western Conference.

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

Kobe Bryant Up arrow : Even at his elderly age of 34, Kobe Bryant continues playing spectacular basketball.

Bryant even gave the Lakers’ faithful some fireworks late in the win over the Hawks. (If you haven’t seen the play yet, you better just click ‘Play’ below):

Bryant’s exceptional play of late is a testament to his work ethic, diet and determination to make the playoffs.

After the Lakers’ win over the Timberwolves, Bryant had this to say about his mindset:

“I’ve been in attack mode since the [All-Star] break,” Bryant said. “It’s go time.”

It’s certainly been “go time” lately.

Along with his spectacular plays this past week, Bryant was also named the Western Conference Player of the Month for the month of February.

Bryant averaged 23.9 ppg on 48.9% shooting, 6.6 apg and 6.7 rpg in February to be named Player of the Month.

Coming off the award this past week, Bryant topped those averages. In the past three games, Bryant averaged 32.0 ppg on an efficient 52.8% shooting, 6.0 apg and 5.7 rpg.

With Bryant now in full “attack mode”, and the Lakers playing better team-basketball, the rest of the league should be on notice.

Bryant also created a new self-proclaimed nickname for himself this week; the new nickname is ‘Vino’—Spanish and Italian for wine, since he seems to get better with age.

Antawn Jamison Up arrow : The Lakers’ sixth-man has officially returned to his old self. Antawn Jamison is playing the most consistent basketball right now of any Laker not named Kobe.

Photo: Harry How | Getty Images

Photo: Harry How | Getty Images

Jamison averaged 13.7 ppg on 50% shooting and 6.3 rpg. Jamison’s scoring ability has been a huge boost off the bench for the Lakers.

With Pau Gasol still out for another 2+ weeks, Jamison’s consistency has helped keep the Lakers afloat in his absence.

Jamison’s ability to find creases in the defense and move without the ball earned him an endearing nickname from his fellow teammate.

Bryant, who has had a field day of creating nicknames this week, gave Jamison the nickname ‘cockroach’ because he “keeps finding the cracks”.

Jamison, who has averaged 19 points per game for his career, finally seems comfortable in Los Angeles. A defined role and consistent minutes have yielded great performances from Jamison.

This past week, Jamison also gave some insight on what has been the Lakers’ deciding factor in their recent turnaround.

Steve Blake Up arrow : Another player who seems to have found his comfort zone is Steve Blake.

Since Blake’s return on January 29th, the Lakers have gone 11-5 in that stretch.

Blake’s scoring has been an added bonus to the bench unit, but his ability to control the tempo has been key. When Steve Nash goes to the bench, Blake’s ability to control the pace and keep the offense flowing has been important.

Over the past week, Blake averaged 8.0 ppg on 66.7% shooting and 40% from three, 5.0 apg and 3.7 rpg.

Blake’s return to the lineup has had a direct impact on players like Jodie Meeks and Jamison. His ability to create plays for himself and his teammates was something the Lakers dearly missed earlier in the year.

Dwight Howard Up arrow : Dwight Howard didn’t have the best week offensively, but his defensive presence and rebounding were key in the Lakers’ wins.

Photo: Noah Graham | Getty Images

Photo: Noah Graham | Getty Images

Howard only averaged 12.3 ppg, but did average 14.0 rpg in his past three games. The Lakers certainly need Howard to be more dominant in the paint on offense, but those rebounding numbers are promising.

Howard looks to be recovering from both his back and shoulder injuries. Although his torn labrum will not heal on its own, Howard has done a much better job playing through the pain.

Not only has Howard looked more “springy” lately, but he also seems to be getting some of his conditioning back. With a focused Howard on the defensive end and a focused Bryant on the offensive end, the Lakers’ attack should be deadly going forward.

Howard continues to struggle on post moves with his back to the basket, however, so he should instead focus more on rolls to the basket and easy put backs off offensive rebounds.

The Lakers need more than 12 points a game from Howard, but if he continues patrolling the paint like he’s been doing, the Lakers should be fine.

Steve Nash even : Despite an off shooting night in the Lakers’ win over Minnesota, Steve Nash completed the week with a solid performance against Atlanta.

Photo: Noah Graham | Getty Images

Photo: Noah Graham | Getty Images

Nash shot just 4-12 from the field against the Timberwolves, but did contribute 7 assists in the win.

Nash followed up that performance with a stellar game against the Hawks. Nash scored 15 points and dished out 10 assists, which led to a victory.

The main issue hampering Nash of late has been turnovers. Nash had six turnovers in the loss to the Nuggets and five turnovers against the Hawks.

The Lakers, who have been hampered by turnover problems all season long, need to cut down on them in the future.

When the Lakers play quick, athletic teams, they especially have to limit their mistakes and clean up their protection of the ball.

Limiting the turnovers starts with the point guard, and Nash must take it upon himself to take better care of the ball going forward.

Metta World Peace even : This past week Metta World Peace seemed to climb out of his shooting slump some.

World Peace scored 15 points on an efficient 54.5% shooting against the Nuggets. He followed up that efficient shooting with a poor shooting display of 2-7 against Minnesota.

World Peace was especially key in the Lakers win over the Hawks, however. The Lakers’ strongest perimeter defender helped slow down both Josh Smith and Al Horford on the defensive end.

In combination with his solid defense, World Peace also scored 13 points on 62.5% shooting. This efficient shooting was key, especially late in the fourth quarter, when World Peace made an important three-pointer to keep the game close.

With Bryant, Nash, Blake and Jamison playing efficiently on the offensive end, defensives will begin to adjust by keying-in on those players. World Peace can be the ultimate beneficiary of this, if he can end his slump and shoot the ball consistently.

Jodie Meeks even : Backup shooting guard Jodie Meeks had yet another inconsistent week. Despite scoring 16 points against Minnesota, Meeks did little in the Lakers’ other two games.

Photo: Luis Sinco | LA Times

Photo: Luis Sinco | LA Times

Meeks, the Lakers’ most proficient three-point shooter, did shoot 42.9% from three-point land, but his one point performance against Atlanta is unacceptable.

Both Jamison and Blake have found consistency producing when coming off the bench, so if Meeks can find that consistency as well, the Lakers’ bench will be that much better.

Although Meeks has been playing well of late, averaging 9.0 ppg in his past 10 games, the Lakers could use more production from behind the arc.

Bryant’s high level of play alleviates the pressure off Meeks, but if Meeks can match some of Bryant’s production, it could help reduce the minutes of the NBA’s minutes-played leader and save Bryant’s legs.

Earl Clark Down arrow : It seems that Earl Clark has finally come back down to Earth.

Photo: Mike Ehrmann | Getty Images

Photo: Mike Ehrmann | Getty Images

After a breakout January and a solid early-February, Clark has struggled in his last few games.

Clark averaged just 6.3 ppg and 4.0 rpg over the past week. These numbers need to improve from the Lakers’ starting power forward going forward.

It’s obvious that opposing defenses have started to figure out Clark’s game and have adjusted accordingly. The onus now falls on Clark to make his adjustment and return to his productive form.

The key to Clark’s early success was his unrelenting desire to grab offensive reb0unds and attack the rim. Clark’s low rebounding numbers have had a direct impact on his recent poor play.

Until Gasol returns, the Lakers desperately need Clark to return to form and continue attacking the rim. Clark, one of the few young, athletic players on the Lakers, gives the team a different dimension.

This dimension is important because it allows the Lakers to play at multiple paces and keep the ball flowing quickly on offense.

If Clark can return to even half of what he once was, the Lakers could be real, real scary.

Chris Duhon Down arrow : Chris Duhon played 6 minutes against Minnesota in garbage-time. Duhon did record 3 assists in his short time on the floor, however.

Coach Mike D’Antoni seems set on his eight-man rotation now and Duhon is on the outside looking in.

Robert Sacre Down arrow : Robert Sacre is in the same predicament as Duhon. Sacre only played against Minnesota as well, registering 4 points and 1 rebound in 5 minutes of play.

Darius Morris Down arrow : Darius Morris played 5 minutes against the Timberwolves too, registering 1 assist and 1 rebound.

Devin Ebanks Down arrow : With the Minnesota game out of reach late in the fourth quarter, even the rarely used Devin Ebanks got a chance to play. Ebanks played 2 minutes but did score 2 points and grab 3 rebounds in his first opportunity to play since February 7th.

Pau Gasol Injury sign : Pau Gasol continues his rehabilitation from the partially torn plantar fascia he suffered on February 5th.

Gasol has ramped up his rehab some by doing cardio work on the elliptical machine this week. Gasol is now four weeks into his 6-8 week estimate, so he could possibly return as early as two weeks from now.

Stay tuned for next weeks’ Lakers Stock Watch as the Lakers continue chasing a playoff berth battling Oklahoma City, New Orleans, Toronto and Chicago.

Image Credit: Noah Graham | Getty Images

Image Credit: Noah Graham | Getty Images

The 2013 NBA All-Star break certainly treated the Lakers well this year.

Coming out of last week’s All-Star break, the Lakers have won their last 3 games in a row, and improved their overall record to 28-29 this week.

With Monday’s devastating passing of long-time Lakers’ owner Dr. Jerry Buss, the Lakers rallied around the spirit of their joyous owner.

After a touching pre-game ceremony in the first game since the late owner’s death, the Lakers beat the Boston Celtics handedly, 113-99.

The Lakers followed up that emotional win with a win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday. Kobe Bryant’s 40 points led the Lakers to victory over another team with playoff aspirations.

With two wins under their belts, the Lakers departed Los Angeles for Dallas on Sunday—defeating the 10th-place Mavericks, 103-99.

With 25 games remaining now, the Lakers sit just 2 ½ games back of the 8th seed in the Western Conference.

Also, after the February 21st NBA Trade Deadline this past week, the Lakers’ entire roster remained intact.

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

Kobe Bryant Up arrow : At 34 years of age, the man, the legend, Kobe Bryant, continues to play at an extremely high level.

Image Credit: Gary A. Vasquez | USA TODAY Sports

Image Credit: Gary A. Vasquez | USA TODAY Sports

Bryant did not have a particularly great game against the Celtics, but did contribute 16 points and 7 assists in the win. Bryant also made a number of key defensive stops and even dove on the ground for a loose ball late in that game.

It looked like Bryant, despite an off shooting night, really took it upon himself to give 110% effort on such an emotional night for the Lakers.

Bryant responded against Portland and seemingly reverted back to the “scoring-Kobe” of old.

Bryant poured in 40 points on 15-23 shooting, including 9-9 from the free-throw line, and 7 rebounds. Bryant’s perfect free-throw shooting was key in sealing the win late for the Lakers.

It’s pretty difficult to upstage a 40-point game, right? Well, Bryant found a way to do that against Dallas.

Bryant scored 38 points on 13-21 shooting, and contributed 12 rebounds and 7 assists. Bryant also made 5-5 field goals in the fourth quarter to ensure a Lakers’ victory.

Bryant certainly set the tone offensively early and often, and sealed the victory late with tough shots on the perimeter.

Bryant also drained 4-5 three-pointers in that game, effectively ending his recent “drought” from behind the arc.

With these recent performances, it seems that the 34-year-old has finally figured out his toughest challenge this season.

Bryant struggled finding a balance earlier this season between scoring too much and facilitating too often. With averages of 31.3 ppg and 6.0 apg this past week, Bryant seems to have found that elusive balance.

If Bryant continues playing at this high of a level going forward, Bryant and the Lakers will backup his playoff ‘guarantee’.

Dwight Howard Up arrow : Could the passing of the great Dr. Buss have had a direct impact on Dwight Howard as well?

It looks like it may have, coupled with the rest and rehabilitation Howard received during the All-Star break.

Image Credit: David Crane

Image Credit: David Crane

Howard was the main reason the Lakers got off to such a quick start against the Boston Celtics. Howard established himself inside early and often, and looked much more “springy” to start.

Howard finished the game with a team-high 24 points along with 12 rebounds, 7 of which were offensive.

Against Portland, Howard contributed another solid performance with 19 points, 16 rebounds and 2 blocks.

The treatment Howard received during the All-Star break really paid dividends this week, as Howard had the best back-to-back stretch of his short Lakers career.

In the game against Dallas, however, Howard got into early foul trouble. With Pau Gasol still out at least another 4 weeks, the Lakers desperately need Howard to stay out of foul trouble going forward, especially since he’s the only real center in the rotation.

Howard finished with just 9 points but did contribute 13 rebounds, and played solid defense patrolling the paint.

Howard’s ability to contest and alter shots is not something that shows up the stat sheet, but it’s something that has a huge impact on the outcome of games.

As demonstrated by their current three-game winning streak, the Lakers have been effective on both ends of the floor with this more “active” Dwight Howard.

Antawn Jamison Up arrow : Two straight weeks of solid performances from Antawn Jamison have been a huge factor in the Lakers’ recent turnaround.

Image Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea | USA TODAY Sports

Image Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea | USA TODAY Sports

Jamison seems to have finally settled into his role in Los Angeles.

For the month of February, Jamison is averaging 12.7 ppg on 47.5% shooting and 5.3 rpg. Jamison, the Lakers’ sixth-man, has become a considerable threat off the bench.

What once was a glaring weakness for the Lakers, the bench has now become somewhat of a strength. Jamison’s recent play has had a lot to do with this, along with fellow reserves Jodie Meeks and Steve Blake.

Over the last three games, Jamison has averaged 14.7 ppg and 5.3 rpg. This increased production has helped pick up the slack with Gasol injured.

After the Lakers’ win in Dallas, coach Mike D’Antoni had this to say of the bench:

“I think our bench is playing great for us. [Meeks, Jamison and Blake are] crucial to what we’ve been doing as of late.”

If Jamison can continue scoring at this rate, the Lakers’ bench unit will become a potent aspect of this team.

Earl Clark Up arrow : After a tough week last week for Earl Clark, he turned it around this week.

Clark averaged 10.3 ppg and 9.0 rpg in the last three games. Clark’s 14 points and 16 rebounds were especially instrumental in the Lakers’ win over the Celtics.

Clark, who dislocated his left pinky in the win over Portland, has continued to play with solid energy starting alongside Dwight Howard.

It was a welcomed sight to see Clark bounce back from the difficult stretch he had before the All-Star break. That type of resiliency is promising, especially from a young player like Earl Clark.

With Gasol still out with his plantar fascia tear, Clark’s contributions will be paramount in the Lakers’ continued success.

Steve Nash even : Despite a tough 2-11 shooting performance against Portland, Steve Nash finished the week strong.

Image Credit: Cameron Browne | Getty Images

Image Credit: Cameron Browne | Getty Images

Nash scored a huge 20 points against Dallas, including 4-5 from three-point range.

Nash’s clutch three-pointer late in the fourth quarter helped catapult the Lakers to victory.

Nash also had a solid game offensively against Boston, in which he scored 14 points on 6-7 shooting and dished out 7 assists.

One particularly surprising part about Nash’s game this season has been his defense. Sure, Nash is not a lock-down defender by any means, but his defensive toughness this season has been great.

Nash has always had the reputation of being a poor defender, but his solid defense on the perimeter of late should have people revisiting that perception.

Finally, Nash did ‘tweak’ his back in the Lakers’ win over the Trail Blazers. Nash is confident that this injury is only temporary, but did say that it is an acute injury, different from his usual back issues.

With Nash playing 30+ minutes per game, that’s certainly something to keep an eye on going forward.

Jodie Meeks even : Although Jodie Meeks did not shoot the ball particularly well this week (6-14 from the field and 3-9 from behind the arc), he did hit some timely shots.

Meeks averaged 8.7 ppg this week off the bench and contributed defensively with constant hustle.

Despite Meeks’ scoring contributions, the Lakers could definitely benefit from Meeks shooting more efficiently.

Steve Blake even : Since returning to the Lakers’ lineup, Blake has averaged 4.9 ppg and 3.2 apg off the bench.

Although those aren’t the most spectacular stats, Blake’s ability to control the game has been beneficial for everyone on the floor.

Blake’s command of the offense has been a significant upgrade from the inconsistent play of Chris Duhon. Blake’s defensive tenacity has also helped slow quicker opposing point guards.

The Lakers’ bench unit has flourished since his return, but Blake only shot 25% from behind the arc this past week.

Like Meeks, Blake’s three-point shooting efficiency could also use a boost going forward.

Metta World Peace even : Had Metta World Peace not played excellent defense on Paul Pierce and Dirk Nowitzki this past week, he would have received a red down arrow.

World Peace struggled mightily from the floor this week, shooting a measly 9-29, or 31%, from the field. World Peace also shot 30.8% from three-point range.

Image Credit: Wally Skalij | LA Times

Image Credit: Wally Skalij | LA Times

Opposing defenses continue to leave World Peace wide open on the perimeter, and he has to knock down those shots in the future.

With defenses keying in on Bryant, Nash and Howard, World Peace has become the open player.

If World Peace keeps struggling like this, opposing teams will continue scheming their defenses towards allowing World Peace to shoot as much as he’d like.

Despite his offensive struggles, World Peace did play excellent defense in all three games this week.

In the win over Boston, World Peace held Paul Pierce to just 3 points in the second half, despite scoring 23 points in the first half.

Against Portland, World Peace filled up the stat sheet with 6 rebounds, 2 steals and a block. He also had a key defensive stop against the Trail Blazers’ LaMarcus Aldridge late in the fourth quarter.

In Dallas, World Peace played superb fourth quarter defense against a hot-shooting Dirk Nowitzki. Despite Nowitzki scoring 30 points in the game, World Peace locked him down late in the game to seal the victory for the Lakers.

For the Lakers to make the playoffs, however, they will need World Peace to get back on track offensively.

Chris Duhon Down arrow : Reserve point guard Chris Duhon has failed to crack D’Antoni’s “8-man rotation”.

Duhon only played 3 minutes against the Celtics this week, in ‘garbage-time’, but did make a long distance three-pointer in that game.

Robert Sacre Down arrow : Reserve center Robert Sacre continues to sit on the bench, even when Dwight Howard gets into foul trouble.

Even with Pau Gasol still out for an extended period, it looks like Sacre will remain on the bench.

Sacre, however, did have a good time on the bench watching Kobe’s scoring spree against Dallas:

Image Credit: SBNation

Image Credit: SBNation

Darius Morris Down arrow : Point guard Darius Morris did not play this week.

Devin Ebanks Down arrow : Small forward Devin Ebanks also did not play this week.

Pau Gasol Injury sign : Prior to the Dallas game on Sunday, the OC Register’s Kevin Ding gave an update on Pau Gasol’s recovery from his partially torn plantar fascia:

Jordan Hill Injury sign : Kevin Ding also provided an update on injured forward/center Jordan Hill, who is recovering from hip surgery.

Although a long shot, Ding did suggest Hill might be able to contribute for the Lakers if they reach the NBA Finals in June:

Stay tuned for next weeks’ Lakers Stock Watch as the Lakers continue chasing a playoff berth battling Denver, Minnesota and Atlanta.

Image Credit: Noah Graham | Getty Images

Image Credit: Noah Graham | Getty Images

Despite a shortened week due to the All-Star break, the Lakers continued their season-long trend of mediocrity.

The Lakers remained average this past week, splitting their two home games 1-1, and bringing their record to 25-29 on the season.

Despite a 1-8 shooting performance from Kobe Bryant against Phoenix, center Dwight Howard led the Lakers to a 91-85 victory over the Suns with 19 points and 18 rebounds.

Following that ugly win, the Lakers had an opportunity to gain some much-needed momentum going into the All-Star break.

As expected though, the Lakers lost to the Clippers in disappointing fashion on Valentine’s Day. 20 points and 11 assists from Bryant were not enough to overcome the Clippers barrage of threes in the loss.

After an exciting Western Conference win over the East in the 62nd All-Star game Sunday, the Lakers look to get back on track for the stretch run.

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

Antawn Jamison Up arrow : One of the biggest bright spots this past week was sixth-man Antawn Jamison.

Image Credit: Mark J. Terrill | AP

Image Credit: Mark J. Terrill | AP

In recent weeks, Jamison has significantly elevated his game. Jamison, 36, was a huge spark off the bench in both games this past week.

In the win against Phoenix, Jamison scored 19 points on 8-16 shooting with 2 three-pointers and 10 rebounds. Jamison’s scoring burst helped pick up the slack from Bryant’s measly 4 points.

Jamison was also the best player on the floor against the Clippers. The Lakers’ sixth-man poured in 17 points on 7-13 shooting. Jamison’s scoring actually kept the Lakers in the game in the first half of that game.

With Pau Gasol still out indefinitely, the Lakers are forced to lean on Jamison and his scoring ability.

For the Lakers to turn this season around and make a run at the playoffs, Jamison’s production off the bench will be an important part of any turnaround.

Dwight Howard Up arrow : Like Jamison, Dwight Howard had an excellent week leading up to the All-Star break.

Howard actually showed flashes of the three-time Defensive Player of the Year. With the continued drama surrounding the Lakers, especially with Howard, the Lakers desperately need a focused Howard going forward.

Howard scored 19 points in the win over the Suns, but more importantly, grabbed 18 rebounds and blocked 2 shots. The rebounding void left from Gasol’s absence now falls squarely on Howard.

Image Credit: Mark J. Terrill | AP

Image Credit: Mark J. Terrill | AP

Howard’s rebounding average of 11.8 rpg has been down this season from his career average of 12.9 rpg.

Hopefully as Howard continues to improve his conditioning, and assuming there are no more set backs with his torn labrum, Howard will return to being a consistent, tenacious rebounder.

In the loss to the Clippers, however, Howard’s rebounding numbers slipped again. Howard only grabbed 8 rebounds but did score 18 points.

With Gasol out, Howard has to be the defensive anchor at all times. Against the Clippers, however, Howard allowed Blake Griffin to get off to a hot start offensively.

Griffin scored 10 points in the first five minutes of the game, something that should not happen with Howard guarding him.

As has been the case all season, the Lakers need even more from Howard. His offensive statistics and efficiency have improved of late, but the Lakers desperately need Howard to become the captain of their defense.

Howard did seem to have fun in the All-Star game this past Sunday, however, something he hasn’t shown much of in his time in Los Angeles. Howard scored 9 points, including a three-pointer, and led the Western Conference in rebounding with 7 boards.

But for his Lakers, Howard must start taking things personally and control the paint on both ends. If Howard truly dedicates himself to those things, the Lakers may be able to string together some winning streaks going forward.

Oh, and Dwight Howard finally lost the headband this week!

Steve Blake Up arrow : Since returning from injury this season, Blake has been shooting the ball exceptionally well.

Against Phoenix, Blake scored 5 points on 2-2 shooting with 1 three pointer and 3 assists. Blake also shot 3-3 against the Clippers, scoring 7 points and adding 7 assists.

Blake’s consistent play of late has been great for Steve Nash as well. With Blake playing at a high level, coach Mike D’Antoni is able to limit the 39-year old point guard’s minutes and keep Nash fresh.

Despite struggling for much of his tenure in Los Angeles, Blake has returned from injury this season in promising fashion.

It looks like Blake will continue to run the bench unit as the primary backup point guard going forward.

Expect Blake to keep playing at a high level if allowed consistent playing time, and hopefully those high assists numbers will continue.

Kobe Bryant even : Tough week for Kobe Bryant.

Image Credit: Mark J. Terrill | AP

Image Credit: Mark J. Terrill | AP

Bryant shot just 1-8 in the Lakers’ win over Phoenix and finished with 4 points. Bryant did have 9 assists in that game, but also turned the ball over 8 times.

Bryant, in fact, did not even attempt a field goal in the first half. The key for Bryant going forward is to find that middle ground between facilitating and scoring.

In that game especially, Bryant was over-committed to facilitating early. This over-commitment led to Bryant’s poor shooting and a lack of rhythm on the offensive end.

Bryant seemed to find that fine line between the two extremes in the loss to the Clippers. Bryant scored 20 points on 7-13 shooting with 11 assists and 5 rebounds.

Unfortunately, the Lakers’ defense, or lack thereof, was the downfall in that game.

The Clippers starting backcourt scored a combined 45 points. The Lakers starting backcourt, however, only combined for 27 points.

This is a major issue on both the offensive and defensive ends. Along with his own individual scoring, Bryant, and teammate Steve Nash, need to find ways to get each other going, early and often.

With Gasol out, Nash’s offensive scoring role becomes heightened. As a result, Bryant and Nash must find a way to become more effective on the offensive end together.

One way to do this is to run more 1-2 and 2-1 ball screens, either at the top or on the wing. The key here is that if opposing defenders switch, then Bryant can take advantage of smaller defenders on the block.

If opposing defenders go under the screen, however, then Nash can burn them with a quick three-pointer behind the screen.

Along with on the offensive end, Bryant and Nash need to re-dedicate themselves to slowing opposing backcourts. Because the Lakers’ backcourt tandem is on the older side, they need to start funneling the opposition into Howard.

Funneling and helping each other is the only way the Lakers’ slower backcourt will be able to keep up with the likes of Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups, Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker, etc.

Bryant did play well in the All-Star game, highlighted by his late defense on LeBron James to seal the win for the West. Bryant scored 9 points on 4-9 shooting and had 8 assists in just 28 minutes.

Ultimately though, any Lakers turnaround this season will start with the captain, Kobe Bean Bryant. If he is able to find that elusive balance between scoring and facilitating, the Lakers may make their way back into the playoff picture.

Metta World Peace even : After struggling for much of the past few weeks, Metta World Peace turned things around some.

Image Credit: Allen J. Schaben | LA Times

Image Credit: Allen J. Schaben | LA Times

Although he continued his shooting slump, World Peace played a little more consistently this week.

In the Lakers win, World Peace scored a surprising 17 points, albeit on 6-16 shooting from the floor. World Peace also snatched 8 rebounds and 4 steals in the win.

This type of aggression is needed from World Peace night in and night out. If World Peace can get back to the consistent play he had earlier in the season, the entire team will benefit on both ends.

Against the Clippers, however, World Peace reverted back to his inconsistent ways. Scoring just 11 points on 4-9 shooting, World Peace was practically a non-factor.

World Peace also made little impact on the defensive end. Both his rebounding and steals numbers dropped to just 4 rebounds and 1 steal in the loss.

Any offensive contributions from World Peace are an added bonus at this point, but his defensive prowess must be present each and every night for the Lakers to win ball games.

Jodie Meeks even : Along with Jamison, Jodie Meeks also had a nice week offensively off the bench.

Meeks scored only 6 points in the win over the Suns, but dropped 13 points against the Clippers.

The Lakers could certainly use more of Meeks’ perimeter shooting ability. With Meeks now receiving consistent playing time, the Lakers need him to stretch the floor even more.

Meeks’ 2-4 three-point shooting was a welcomed sight vs. the Clippers, but the Lakers could use more off the bench.

If Meeks can start making 3 to 4 three-pointers per game, that would open up the floor even more for Howard, Bryant and Nash.

Meeks’ energy on the defensive end this season has been a welcomed sight as well. The Lakers certainly need his change-of-pace energy and effort off the bench to continue.

Earl Clark Down arrow : A tough week for Earl Clark as well.

Image Credit: David Crane | Daily News

Image Credit: David Crane | Daily News

Clark has been this season’s big surprise, but he came back to Earth some this past week.

After receiving an MRI on his sore right foot last Tuesday, Clark was unable to produce for the Lakers.

Despite registering two double-doubles last week, Clark did not even come close to one this week. Clark scored 11 points on 4-9 shooting against Phoneix, but only had 4 total rebounds.

Clark followed up that mediocre performance with an even worse one against the Clippers. Clark scored just 4 points on 2-10 shooting in that game.

This recent stretch of inconsistency is understandable from a player who has never been in this role before. With the All-Star break now behind us, Clark should be able to regain his consistent, high-energy play.

Hopefully Clark’s foot is not be an issue going forward, but it could certainly flare up if D’Antoni continues playing him healthy minutes per game.

Steve Nash Down arrow : Although not talked about as much this season, Steve Nash is quietly having a below average year by his standards.

This season, Nash is only averaging 11.8 ppp and 7.4 apg, both down from his career averages of 14.4 ppg and 8.6 apg.

Against the Suns, Nash scored just 10 points and had 8 asissts. Against the Clippers, Nash scored just 7 points on 3-9 shooting and 5 assists.

Although Nash is currently on his way to another 40-50-90 year shooting-wise, he was 0-6 from three-point range this week.

Image Credit: Noah Graham | Getty Images

Image Credit: Noah Graham | Getty Images

Nash’s poor shooting this past week was probably an anomaly, and the Lakers still desperately need Nash to shoot even more.

Nash, one of the league’s best shooters of all time, has to become more aggressive in the near future. For the Lakers to have success, Nash’s scoring ability needs to be utilized much more.

With Bryant continuing to facilitate the offense, Nash should switch his focus to more of a “shoot-first” mentality.

Nash’s superior shooting ability, coupled with Bryant’s attacking mentality, can significantly help the Lakers’ offense for the stretch run.

Since the Lakers’ backcourt is the oldest and slowest in the NBA, a more efficient offensive attack should also lead to a more efficient half-court defense.

If the Lakers want to make the playoffs, that push will ultimately start with their two most seasoned players, Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant, leading the charge.

Darius Morris Down arrow : With Steve Blake permanently back from injury now, Morris remains at the end of the rotation.

The Lakers could use his speed and quickness to penetrate opposing defenses, but D’Antoni remains committed to his short rotation of 8-9 players.

Morris did not play against Phoenix, but did play 4 minutes of “garbage-time” against the Clippers, in which he scored 4 points on 2-3 shooting.

Robert Sacre Down arrow : Even with Gasol still out, Robert Sacre barely played this past week.

Sacre did not play in the Suns game but did play 4 minutes of “garbage-time” against the Clippers.

Chris Duhon Down arrow : Chris Duhon did not play in either of the Lakers’ games this past week.

Devin Ebanks Down arrow : Devin Ebanks also did not play in either of the Lakers’ games this past week.

Pau Gasol Injury sign : After suffering a partially torn fascia in his foot, Pau Gasol continues receiving treatment in Los Angeles.

Gasol is now entering week three of his recovery process. The Lakers could certainly use his contributions with Howard playing hurt, but Gasol remains out indefinitely.

There is no target return date set for Gasol at this time.

Stay tuned for next weeks’ Lakers Stock Watch as the Lakers begin the stretch run battling Boston, Portland and Dallas.

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.

Image Credit: Noah Graham | Getty Images

Image Credit: Noah Graham | Getty Images

Another week, another bad break for the Lakers.

Despite a promising start to the week with a win in Brooklyn, the Lakers finished the week at just 2-2.

The Lakers endured a blowout loss in Boston, followed by a come-from-behind victory in Charlotte, then concluded the 2013 Grammy Trip with a discouraging loss in Miami.

Although the Lakers finished the Grammy Road Trip with an overall record of 4-3, they suffered a devastating long-term loss in the process.

In their exciting victory over the Brooklyn Nets, forward/center Pau Gasol suffered an injury to his foot.

After an MRI and a flight back to Los Angeles, Gasol was diagnosed with a partially torn plantar fascia in his foot. Early speculation suggests Gasol will miss anywhere from 6-10 weeks.

Once Gasol was deemed out for the remainder of the trip, the Lakers turned to their injured star center Dwight Howard. Unfortunately, Howard’s slow recovery from his re-aggravated right shoulder injury and his ‘lack of urgency’ stirred up drama between Howard and Kobe Bryant.

After an up-and-down week for Laker Nation, the Lakers currently find themselves with an overall record of 24-28—returning home for the final week before the All-Star break.

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

Kobe Bryant Up arrow : Bryant had yet another stellar week offensively this past week. Although he failed to record an assist in the loss to Boston, Bryant still managed to average 5.3 assists over the past four games.

Image Credit: Mike Ehrmann | Getty Images

Image Credit: Mike Ehrmann | Getty Images

Bryant also shot the ball well, averaging 24.0 points per game on an efficient 47.9% from the field. Despite this efficient shooting, Bryant has only made 2 three-pointers out of his last 26 attempts.

With both Howard and Gasol in and out of the lineups, Bryant also increased his focus on the glass. In his past four games, Bryant averaged 7.0 rebounds per game—a major factor in helping control the boards while the big men missed time.

Despite Bryant’s efficient play on both ends, he was only able to lead his team to a 2-2 record.

In the Boston game, Bryant tried to get his teammates going early, but they simply just missed shots for most of the game.

In the loss against Miami, Bryant made a conscious effort to be the facilitator on offense in the first half. However, in the second half, Bryant reverted back to his score-first mentality.

Image Credit: AP

Image Credit: AP

Miami’s pressure, trapping defense made it difficult for the Lakers to have any flow on offense, especially in the fourth quarter.

Bryant’s continual isolation at the mid-post, coupled with Miami’s pressure, resulted in inefficient offense and many turnovers for the Lakers.

Bryant’s increased facilitator role has resulted in additional turnovers lately, as shown by Bryant’s 4.0 turnovers per game average this past week.

With coach Mike D’Antoni failing to make adjustments late in games, that onus to adjust will fall on Bryant to continue making smart decisions down the stretch.

Going forward, Bryant must continue to feed the ball inside to Howard and look for kick outs for the Lakers to win close games late.

Earl Clark Up arrow : What more can be said about “Easy” Earl Clark? After receiving an opportunity due to injuries, Clark has certainly relished his chance at being a fixture in the Lakers’ rotation.

Image Credit: Chuck Burton | AP

Image Credit: Chuck Burton | AP

Clark continued his emergence this week with standout games against Brooklyn, Charlotte and Miami. Clark registered double-doubles (points and rebounds) in both wins against Brooklyn and Charlotte.

Over the past week, Clark averaged 13.5 ppg on 50% shooting and 9.5 rpg.

Clark’s presence on the boards has been a welcomed sight, especially with the recent loss of Gasol. Clark’s athleticism and efficient shooting have also added key dimensions to the Lakers’ offense.

Despite Clark’s solid numbers, his full contributions do not always show up in the box score. Clark’s hustle and energy have been key factors in the Lakers’ recent success.

Also, with Gasol now out for a while, Clark’s responsibilities on both ends of the floor are sure to increase.

Clark does fit in well with Dwight Howard though, because his outside shooting and slashing ability compliment the center well.

For the Lakers to make a hard push at a playoff spot, sans Gasol, Clark will have to continue his excellent play, and assume this unfamiliar role as the Lakers’ starting four with confidence.

Jodie Meeks Up arrow : Meeks had a solid week off the bench for the Lakers. After losing Gasol early in the week, a scoring void needed to be picked up.

Image Credit: Ezra Shaw | Getty Images

Image Credit: Ezra Shaw | Getty Images

Meeks somewhat answered the call with solid performances in Boston, Charlotte and Miami.

Meeks scored 13 points in Boston and 14 points in Charlotte, hitting all four three-pointers in the win over the Bobcats.

Meeks also hit a huge three late in the comeback against Charlotte, resulting in an important win for the Lakers.

Meeks’ hustle and high activity, especially on the defensive end, were also key in stimulating the eventual comeback.

If Meeks can continue to play consistently, the main beneficiary will be Kobe Bryant. Bryant is playing a league-leading 38.5 minutes per game this season, so Meeks can certainly help to keep him fresh.

Also, with starting small forward Metta World Peace in a deep shooting slump, Meeks’ 50% shooting from behind the arc this week has helped stretch the floor.

The Lakers will need even more of that to take the pressure off Bryant and Howard inside.

Steve Nash even: The multitude of injuries for the Lakers has also had a direct effect on Steve Nash. Nash has significantly increased his scoring load as a result.

Nash, whose assist numbers have been down of late, averaged 14.5 ppg on 51.4% shooting and 5.5 apg. Nash’s efficient shooting has complimented Bryant’s facilitating well.

The Lakers might need more from Nash going forward though. With Gasol out for the long-term, and Howard being less of a factor offensively, Nash may need to control the offense even more.

For the Lakers to be successful, Nash must find the right balance between scoring and facilitating.

In the Lakers’ wins this past week, Nash averaged 17.0 ppg and 7.5 apg. In the losses, however, Nash averaged 12.0 ppg and only 3.5 apg.

Obviously, there is a clear winning formula there.

The key will be for both Nash and Bryant to work effectively off each other, which will inevitably increase the flow of the offense collectively.

Antawn Jamison even: Jamison has been mediocre of late off the bench as the Lakers’ sixth man. Jamison averaged just 8.0 ppg and 4.3 rpg this past week.

Image Credit: Sue Ogrocki | Associated Press

Image Credit: Sue Ogrocki | Associated Press

The Lakers need more than that on a nightly basis to be effective. Since Jamison brings little defensively, he needs to be more efficient scoring the ball.

Jamison shot just 42.9% from the field and 30% from three-point land in his past four games.

With Gasol out and Howard still hampered by injury, the Lakers also need Jamison to rebound more.

Jamison’s 4.3 rpg are not going to get it done off the bench, especially when the Lakers were just out-rebounded by the worst rebounding team in the league (Miami).

With an aging roster, the Lakers desperately need a consistent bench unit. Meeks’ solid play of late has been promising, but the Lakers also need Jamison to reach that level of consistency to spell the starters some rest.

Steve Blake even: Although Steve Blake is not a great back-up point guard, he gets the job done better than Chris Duhon. Blake has never been a great scoring threat during his time in Los Angeles, but he does control the game well at the point.

Blake averaged just 4.3 ppg and 2.5 apg this past week. Blake also shot only 37.5% from three-point range, something the Lakers could surely use from the back-up point guard role.

As with Jamison, the Lakers need a little more consistency out of Blake going forward. When Nash goes to the bench, the drop-off to Blake is too large of a margin right now.

When Blake enters the game for Nash, he needs to play more aggressively by getting his teammates good looks. If Blake can slightly shrink that drop-off, it would greatly help the Lakers’ continuity.

Dwight Howard Down arrow : A tough week for Dwight Howard.

Despite returning from his aggravated shoulder injury against Boston, Howard did not play well this week.

As the Lakers’ second or third offensive option, Howard only averaged 12.0 ppg, 9.7 rpg and 1.7 bpg. Howard did shoot 58.3% from the field, however, but also averaged 3 turnovers per game.

Image Credit: Jared Wickerham | Getty Images

Image Credit: Jared Wickerham | Getty Images

Howard is clearly still affected by both his off-season back surgery and the torn labrum in his right shoulder. Since Howard cannot damage his shoulder anymore, his dominance on both ends of the floor must improve.

This lack of dominance inside was clearly evident in the Lakers’ loss to Miami. Howard was 6-9 from the field and had 9 rebounds, but coming from the Lakers’ lone premier big man, that’s just not enough.

With the news that Gasol is now out a minimum of six weeks, Howard must take it upon himself to be more dominant.

Along with his poor play on the court, Howard also created some unnecessary drama of the court. Howard, along with D’Antoni and Bryant, need to find a way to co-exist successfully, or else this season could make a turn for the worse quickly.

Howard doesn’t seem like he will be close to full health this season, but he must become more efficient on the glass. Howard’s recent rebounding numbers have been below average for him, and without Gasol there to help him, he must control both the offensive and defensive glasses.

Howard needs to establish himself more inside on offense as well. Too many times Howard does not seal off his man or establish deep post-position.

To make matters worse, Howard has been setting terrible screens lately. The athletic center must start setting better ball screens because his rolls to the basket have been rendered ineffective lately. Howard continuously sets weak, brush screens in pick-and-rolls, which don’t work for his teammate nor himself.

Back in Orlando, Howard would absolutely punish smaller defenders on switches, something he has done little this season.

For the Lakers to make a serious push back into the Western Conference playoff picture, Howard and Bryant must set aside their differences.

Howard’s play going forward will significantly determine whether or not the Lakers right the ship this season.

Metta World Peace Down arrow : World Peace was suspended in the Brooklyn game for his flagrant foul on Brandon Knight. Along with the suspension, World Peace also continued his dismal shooting slump this past week.

Image Credit: Jared Wickerham | Getty Images

Image Credit: Jared Wickerham | Getty Images

Shooting just 26.3% from the field in his past three games, World Peace averaged 8.3 ppg and 3.3 rpg. This is unacceptable from the Lakers’ starting small forward.

World Peace’s individual defense has also struggled of late. In both Laker losses, World Peace allowed Paul Pierce and LeBron James to get going early. Pierce finished with 24 points and James had 30 points.

The Lakers desperately need a solid perimeter defender to stop these types of players. World Peace, who played great to start the season, has slowed down significantly in the past month.

World Peace needs to find some way to get out of his current shooting slump. If he can play better offensively, that will hopefully translate into better defensive performances.

Lately, opposing defenses leave him open and focus in on Bryant, Nash and Howard. If opposing defenses continue to do that, World Peace must make them pay by hitting open shots consistently.

Robert Sacre Down arrow : In the Lakers’ win over Brooklyn, Robert Sacre actually received some meaningful minutes.

In return for his 10 minutes, Sacre scored 4 points and played solid defense inside. Unfortunately for Sacre, Gasol’s injury has not translated into more playing time for the reserve center.

If, however, the Lakers’ thin string of big men gets into foul trouble, or another major injury occurs, Sacre could see consistent minutes in the future.

Chris Duhon Down arrow : This past week, Chris Duhon continued his role as the Lakers’ “emergency” guard. Duhon appeared in two games (Brooklyn and Boston) but only scored 2 total points.

Duhon did average 1.5 apg in limited minutes, but his prospects of playing consistent minutes in the future look bleak—especially with the consistent play of fellow back-up point guard Steve Blake.

Devin Ebanks Down arrow : We had a rare Devin Ebanks sighting this past week. After not playing in 13 straight games, Ebanks played 5 minutes of ‘garbage time’ against Boston.

Ebanks did score 5 points on 2-6 shooting, but he looks to remain a permanent benchwarmer going forward.

Darius Morris Down arrow : Like Ebanks, Morris received 5 minutes of playing time against Boston. Morris registered 2 assists in garbage minutes, but failed to do much else.

After being a regular starter earlier this season, Morris now looks to be sharing Ebanks’ role as glued to the bench.

Pau Gasol Injury sign : Just when you thought the back breaks were over for the Lakers, they encounter another unfortunate set-back.

Image Credit: Emmanuel Dunand | Getty Images

Image Credit: Emmanuel Dunand | Getty Images

Pau Gasol had been playing solid basketball for the first time this season, until he suffered the major foot injury against Brooklyn.

After a next-day MRI in Boston revealed a partially torn plantar fascia, Gasol flew back to Los Angeles to consult with team doctors.

Gasol had been dealing with plantar fasciitis earlier in the season, but this time it was serious.

Unfortunately, the Lakers will now lose Gasol for a minimum of 6 weeks, and up to 10 weeks, right as they begin their stretch run towards the playoffs.

This injury news was just another of the many crushing blows the Lakers have experienced this season.

Stay tuned for next weeks’ Lakers Stock Watch as the Lakers head into the All-Star Break battling Phoenix and the Clippers.

Image Credit: Noah Graham | Getty Images

Image Credit: Noah Graham | Getty Images

The Lakers are back! Well, sort of.

The Los Angeles Lakers finished off last week with an exceptional 3-1 record. The Lakers have now won 5 of their last 6 games.

This past week, the Lakers beat New Orleans, Minnesota and Detroit as they embarked on their annual “Grammy Road Trip”. The Lakers’ lone loss in Phoenix came after All-Star center Dwight Howard reinjured his right shoulder.

Despite Howard’s injury, the Lakers finished a solid week with significant help from a rejuvenated Pau Gasol. Along with Gasol’s contributions, Kobe Bryant continued his stellar facilitating on the offensive end.

With Gasol returning to his All-Star form, the Lakers have managed to continue finding success, even without their star center. Despite losing big leads in Minnesota, Detroit, and especially in their loss to Phoenix, the Lakers escaped the week with a 22-26 overall record.

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

Pau Gasol Up arrow : Despite a difficult start to the season, to say the least, Pau Gasol seems to have found his rhythm.

Image Credit: Doug Pensinger | Getty Images

Image Credit: Doug Pensinger | Getty Images

Since returning from his concussion, Gasol has averaged 16.5 points per game on 55.3% shooting and 7.4 rebounds per game. Gasol’s numbers are still below his career averages, but this recent 10-game stretch has been much more efficient than earlier in the season.

With Dwight Howard going down against Phoenix, Gasol has stepped up in his absence. Gasol looks more aggressive on the block and more comfortable being the only true post player in the lineup.

Instead of first looking to pass when he catches the ball, Gasol is now looking to shoot or drive. This is a welcomed sight, because Gasol’s quick aggressiveness is vital to his success on the offensive end.

Gasol will certainly have to adjust his game when Howard returns, but if his recent aggressiveness is any indication, that adjustment should continue to yield positive results.

As much as D’Antoni seems disinclined to make Gasol and Howard work together, Gasol’s new aggressive attitude can help alleviate any issues between the two premier big men.

The key for Gasol is confidence. Like most big men, when Gasol gets going early and often, he gains confidence that usually lasts for the remainder of the game. This confidence has shown by Gasol’s improved midrange shooting consistency and his confidence in driving to the basket.

Kobe Bryant’s facilitating has also been a huge help in ‘reviving’ Gasol’s game. Bryant is finding Gasol in good, operational areas in which Gasol can use his versatility to score in multiple ways.

The Lakers certainly need Gasol to return to his All-Star playing ability. Whether it be off the bench or as a starter, Gasol’s play on both ends of the floor is absolutely vital this season.

With Howard still not fully healthy, expect Gasol to continue his aggressive play on the block.

Kobe Bryant Up arrow : Kobe “Magic” Bryant continued his assist tear this past week. Bryant again focused on getting his teammates going and improving ball movement on the offensive end.

Over the past four games, Bryant has averaged 8.3 assists per game. Bryant’s facilitating role has increased the ball movement, spacing, and just simply makes the Lakers more fun to watch.

Bryant’s facilitating has especially helped rejuvenate Gasol. Bryant seems to have made a conscious effort over the past few games to get Gasol involved early and often. This tactic has led to an “engaged” Gasol, a scary notion for opposing teams.

Bryant’s exceptional passing also led to the Lakers making 12 three-pointers against Minnesota. Bryant, along with his teammates, contributed to moving the ball quickly, which resulted in open perimeter shots.

There is no doubt that Bryant can return to his scoring ways in a moment’s notice, but with the Lakers’ newfound winning ways, why change what works?

“If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”

It seems Bryant is content in being the offense’s main facilitator, a role he has not always embraced in the past.

With the playoffs fast approaching, Bryant must continue finding a balance between scoring and facilitating. Once Bryant finds that elusive balance, the Lakers could become even more deadly.

Earl Clark Up arrow : What a pleasant surprise Earl Clark has been this season! Along with “Magic Mamba”, Clark’s versatility at the power forward position has been key in the Lakers’ recent resurgence.

Image Credit: Stephen Dunn | Getty Images

Image Credit: Stephen Dunn | Getty Images

Clark had arguably the best game of his career against New Orleans in which he notched 20 points, 12 rebounds and 4 assists in the Lakers win. Clark also had back-to-back double doubles vs. Minnesota (13 & 10) and Detroit (17 & 10).

Clark’s ability to space the floor with his three-point shooting has also been a welcomed surprise. Clark is shooting a blistering 50% from behind the arc this season.

With Gasol going to the bench full-time when Howard is healthy, Clark has stepped into the starting power forward position with no problems. Clark constantly brings energy and effort from the starting tipoff, something the Lakers often lacked earlier in the season.

Clark’s rebounding and defensive versatility have been important as well. In Howard’s absence especially, Clark has taken it upon himself to improve his rebounding. His dedication to rebounding has helped the Lakers control the glass in recent games.

Clark’s defensive versatility has also led to an improved team defense and better defensive rotations. Clark’s unique ability to switch and guard multiple positions make him a great defensive asset.

It’s difficult to say that Earl Clark has been this season’s “savior”, but his contributions on both ends of the floor have been a huge part of the Lakers’ recent turnaround.

Antawn Jamison Up arrow : Remember that stretch of six straight games with a DNP-CD for Antawn Jamison? Well, it seems those days are far behind us.

Jamison has become a consistent player off the bench for the Lakers. In his last four games, Jamison averaged 14.3 ppg and 5.5 rpg in just 22.5 minutes per game.

Jamison’s consistency has helped the Lakers continue their efficient offensive play once Gasol or Clark goes to the bench. It seems that Jamison has found his groove and is playing more relaxed lately.

The Lakers specifically signed Jamison in the off-season to be the anchor of the bench. Over the past few games Jamison looks to be embracing that role.

Jamison’s offensive game remains awkward and unorthodox, but for the most part it’s effective. Jamison also compliments both Gasol and Clark well because of his ability to stretch the floor and find holes in the defense by slashing inside for easy dunks and layups.

For the Lakers to continue to have success, Jamison has to anchor the bench unit even more. The bench has given up too many leads late, something the Lakers must fix if they want to make the playoffs.

Jamison must thus take it upon himself to lead the Lakers’ bench unit and maintain leads, rather than lose them.

Steve Blake even: Since returning from his groin and abdominal injuries, Steve Blake has resumed his backup point guard duties. Replacing Chris Duhon as the primary backup, Blake has done a decent job running the offense when replacing starter Steve Nash.

Image Credit: Garrett Ellwood | Getty Images

Image Credit: Garrett Ellwood | Getty Images

After missing 37 games, Blake returned to the lineup against New Orleans. Despite only scoring 2 points, Blake’s 4 assists were a welcomed sight. Blake has since averaged 6.0 ppg and 2.7 apg.

These numbers are not extraordinary, but they are certainly an improvement over Duhon.

Blake’s three-point shooting ability has also been an added bonus to the Lakers’ rotation. Since returning to the lineup, Blake is shooting 36.3% from behind the arc on 4-11 three-pointers.

Blake has certainly underachieved in his time in Los Angeles, but he is the best backup point guard on the Lakers’ roster. Blake controls the game much better than Duhon and Darius Morris, which will help the Lakers’ bench unit even more going forward.

Steve Nash even: Steve Nash is essentially playing out of position now. Over his past four games, Nash has only averaged 6.0 assists per game, way below his career average of 8.6 apg.

With Bryant as the primary facilitator, Nash has continued to be more of a spot-up shooter over the past week. This changing of roles has obviously been successful with the Lakers winning 5 of their last 6 games.

The Lakers will still need Nash to be an aggressive player on offense, however, especially when Bryant goes to the bench. Nash has done a decent job balancing his scoring and facilitating with Bryant of late—a major key to the Lakers’ success on offense.

In the past week, Nash averaged 12.8 ppg on 50% shooting. This bodes well for the Lakers because Nash is able to take a little more of the scoring load off Bryant’s shoulders.

Nash has especially been solid from three-point range this season, shooting an exceptional 44.4% from behind the arc. In fact, in the last four games, Nash is shooting a scorching 53.8% from three.

With Gasol’s aggressiveness inside and Bryant drawing defenders on his penetration, Nash continues to be efficient on kick outs for three-pointers.

Unfortunately, Nash’s free throw shooting is a different story. Nash gave all of Laker Nation a good scare in Detroit, in which he missed two consecutive free throws late in the game*.

If Nash is able to keep up this ultra-efficient three-point shooting, however, and Bryant keeps facilitating, the Lakers’ spacing on offense will continue to improve.

* Nash had made 33 consecutive free throws in the last minute of fourth quarters before his two misses on Sunday.

Jodie Meeks even: Over the past week, Jodie Meeks has become a little more consistent off the bench for coach Mike D’Antoni. Since retaking the primary backup shooting guard role, Meeks has played consistently.

Meeks averaged 8.7 ppg in the past week, but only shot 30% from the field. For the Lakers’ “best three-point shooter”, that shooting percentage must improve.

Meeks’ defense has been better of late, creating havoc and bringing energy off the bench. Meeks is an underrated defender, which has allowed him to stay on the floor, despite his poor shooting.

With Jamison and Blake playing well off the bench, the Lakers lone missing piece to the equation is Meeks. If Meeks can find some consistency with his shot, the Lakers’ bench could become deadly.

Metta World Peace Down arrow : World Peace had the worst week of any Laker this past week. Although World Peace played decent defensively, he had a dismal shooting week.

Image Credit: Rick Osentoski | USA TODAY Sports

Image Credit: Rick Osentoski | USA TODAY Sports

World Peace averaged 8.0 ppg and 6.3 rpg, but shot an awful 27.3% from the field. The Lakers desperately need World Peace to return to how he was playing earlier in the season.

Despite starting off the season strong, World Peace is now shooting just 40.1% from the field and 34.9% from three-point land.

World Peace’s main role on the Lakers is to be a lock-down perimeter defender, but he cannot shoot 27.3% from the field for the Lakers to be successful against good teams.

Unfortunately, World Peace has been suspended for Tuesday’s game in Brooklyn for grabbing Detroit’s Brandon Knight around the neck and striking him in the jaw.

Robert Sacre Down arrow : Despite Dwight Howard re-aggravating his labrum tear, reserve center Robert Sacre received zero minutes off the bench this past week.

Sacre may actually get the chance to play this upcoming week, though. With Howard being out for an extended period of time, Sacre could see some meaningful minutes if the Lakers’ big men get into foul trouble.

Chris Duhon Down arrow : With Steve Blake’s return, point guard Chris Duhon has officially been relegated to the end of the bench.

Duhon did not play in any of the Lakers’ games last week.

Darius Morris Down arrow : Steve Blake’s return also seems to spell the end for Darius Morris’s minutes as well.

Morris did not play in any of the Lakers’ games last week, either.

Dwight Howard Injury sign : In the fourth quarter of the Lakers loss to Phoenix, Dwight Howard reinjured his right shoulder. Howard powered up for a dunk, but Suns guard Shannon Brown stripped him and fouled him hard on his right arm.

The result was gruesome. Howard instantly clutched his right shoulder—the shoulder with the torn labrum. After a few seconds, Howard fell to the ground in agony.

This shoulder injury looks like it will bother Howard for the rest of the season. Howard, who is out again against Brooklyn, continues to deflect questions about season-ending surgery.

Howard looks like he will attempt to push through this painful injury, although his return to the Lakers’ lineup remains uncertain.

Howard is still officially listed as ‘day-to-day’.

Notes: The Lakers received a ‘disabled player exception’ for injured Jordan Hill this past week. The ‘DPE’ can used to help facilitate a trade or sign a free agent. Reserve SF Devin Ebanks continued adding to his current 12-game DNP-CD streak.

Stay tuned for next weeks’ Lakers Stock Watch as the Lakers conclude their ‘Grammy Trip’ battling Brooklyn, Boston, Charlotte and Miami over the next week.

Denver Nuggets v Los Angeles Lakers - Game Seven

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Since the 2012-2013 NBA season kicked off, Lakers fans have been on a weekly roller coaster ride. From Opening Night onwards, we’ve seen some good, some bad, and even some ugly. The Laker season has played out like a cheesy day-time soap, changing dramatically from day-to-day, keeping Lakers fans everywhere on their toes.

There is so much going on weekly with this team that it sometimes becomes exhausting trying to keep up with everything. So how do we keep track of all the weekly events in Laker Land?

Simple, by tracking all of the ups and downs of the past week. Without further ado, here is the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly from the last week of Lakers action.

Good – Lakers Ball Movement.

While much of the attention has gone to Kobe Bryant’s new found “Magic Mamba” persona, the Lakers as a unit have really been moving the ball well in the past six games. That was apparent this week during hot stretches against New Orleans, Phoenix, Minnesota and Detroit when the Lakers were getting good looks and easy shots, which lead to them building double-digit leads in each contest.

Side-note: Speaking of ball movement, that Kobe to Clark alley-oop to end the first half in Detroit was absolutely gorgeous.

Bad – Dry Spells.

However, with all of that great ball movement comes one major concern; over-passing the ball. There were a couple of really bad Laker dry spells in the past couple of games where guys became a little too pass-happy. Passing up some good looks leads to bad shots at the end of the shot-clock and also turnovers, which adds up to terrible stretches of play for the Lakers. While the Lakers were able to hold on after nearly blowing leads of 29, 18 and 16 in three wins this week, they were bitten in Phoenix where a 13-point lead was lost in defeat.

Ugly – Metta World Punch?

Things got a little chippy in Detroit for the man formerly known as Ron Artest, again. While this wasn’t as bad as the Malice at the Palace, Metta got into a scuffle with second-year Pistons guard Brandon Knight towards the end of the second quarter. Both players got tangled up going for a rebound, and in the ensuing sequence Metta seemed to throw a slight jab at Knight. World Peace was assessed a flagrant-1 foul on the play. But if you ask Knight, that wasn’t enough of a punishment.

The play needs to be reviewed because he definitely threw a punch. It felt like he threw a punch. That’s why I reacted the way I did.

It will be interesting to see if the league does indeed take a look at the play for any further disciplinary action.

UPDATE – The NBA has suspended Metta for one game following his altercation with Knight.

Bad – Dwight Howard’s Shoulder, Again.

In what is becoming a recurring theme for the All-Star big man, Howard aggravated the torn labrum in his right shoulder again during the Lakers collapse in Phoenix. Howard flew back to LA for treatment, and has since rejoined the team, and is currently day-to-day after sitting out the past two Laker road games. This is an injury that Lakers fans will have to worry about for the rest of the season. Something as serious as a torn labrum will not be completely healed until Howard is able to have surgery performed on it. With Dwight trying to avoid going under the knife during the season, the organization will have to wince and pray every time a defender takes a whack at D12 for the rest of the season.

Good – Pau Gasol’s Aggression.

It’s hard to take positives from an injury like Howard’s, but one good thing to come from him missing a few games is the re-emergence of Gasol. Pau has been the starting (and only) center for the Lakers since Dwight went down, and he has been a revelation in the past two games. Against the Pistons, Gasol had 23 points, 10 boards and 3 assists to follow up a game in Minnesota that was much more dominant than his 22 point, 12 rebound stat-line would suggest. It’s been good to see the Spaniard once again playing like Laker fans are accustomed to seeing. The hope is that he can keep his production up when moved back to his sixth man role.

Ugly – Fourth Quarter Collapses.

Starting with the near collapse against the Pelicans Hornets on Tuesday, the Lakers were anything but solid in the fourth quarter this past week. Los Angeles completely blew a big lead in a road-loss to Phoenix that gave the Lakers what was at the time their eighth straight road loss. The fourth-quarter bug almost bit the team again in Detroit with Earl Clark and Steve Nash (no, really) each missing two free throws in the final 20 seconds of what turned out be a very uncomfortable one-point victory. Against better teams, these lethargic fourth quarters will not get it done, especially come playoff time.

Credit: Stephen Dunn/Getty Image

Credit: Stephen Dunn/Getty Image

Good – The Continued Emergence of Earl Clark.

While this is something that has not been limited to the past week, the emergence of Earl Clark has really helped the Lakers on both ends of the court. Clark is a stretch-four who can play opposite both Howard and Gasol, and considering the troubles those two have had co-existing, that has turned into a great luxury for the Lakers to have. Defensively, Clark has spent time doing everything from trying to slow down the other team’s best player like Lebron James, to guarding the other teams hottest player like Will Bynum in Detroit. He has really helped boost the Lakers on both ends with his versatility and athleticism.

Bad – Mike D’s Rotation Minus Dwight.

If you looked at the Laker line-up to start the second quarter against Detroit or Minnesota, you may have been surprised to notice that Metta World Peace or Antawn Jamison were playing center for the Lakers. You also may have noticed the Pistons and T’Wolves scoring at will in the paint with those two playing the center position while Pau gets a breather. This line-up really has some Laker fans scratching their heads. As we all know, D’Antoni is generally an offense-first coach, but to oplay no big men at any point in an NBA game is kind of ridiculous. Getting Robert Sacre some minutes is a much better option for LA because not only does he give you some type of size inside, he offers some type of resistance at the rim.

Good – Steve Blake Sparking the Bench.

Finally, the missing piece to the championship puzzle returned to action this past Tuesday against the Pelicans Hornets. Okay, so that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but the return of Steve Blake has undeinably impacted the Lakers bench. Blake is doing a good job of getting guys running and involved in a way that Chris Duhon simply couldn’t. Having Blake running the show for the second unit will only benefit the Laker bench, especially Gasol. Blake has played in this system longer than Duhon and Nash, and is comfortable getting Pau the ball in places where he can go to work in the post. This could help the Lakers stem some of the runs made by other teams that have plagued them when the bench is in the game.

Ugly – Creating All-Stars

One thing that has killed the Lakers all season is the fact that almost every game, a role player on the opposing team tends to have an All-Star kind of night. The Lakers have been beaten by guys like Jose Calderon, Greg Smith, Toney Douglas and most recently Michael Beasely this season. They have also nearly blown games to guys like Charlie Villanueva, Will Bynum and Gerald Henderson. Things have gotten so bad for Laker fans that when a guy like Villanueva checks in you automatically have two reactions. One is shock that he is still in the league. The other is the fear that he is about to light the Lakers up. This is especially frustrating when you see that a guy goes right back to doing nothing in his next game. It’s alarming that the Lakers haven’t been able to put a stop to this disturbing trend yet this season, and it’s definitely something to watch for as we approach the postseason.

Good – Magic Mamba

What? You thought I was going to do a whole article and not mention Kobe? Bryant has dished out at least eight assists in five of the past six games, including five straight for the first time in his career. It really has been remarkable to watch Kobe adapt and get his teammates involved. In the past six games alone, Mamba has made some of the nicest passes of his career. While he does have a tendency to revert back to his hero-ball ways (see: 4th quarter, Phoenix), Kobe and the Lakers seem to be realizing that the best way to hurt a team is by having them have to guess whether or not Kobe is going to score or pass. This works much better than the old way, where teams just figured Bryant was going to shoot. It will be very interesting to see if the Kobe can keep this up for the rest of the season. The Lakers are clearly a much better team when Magic Mamba is on the court.

 

Image Credit: Noah Graham | Getty Images

Image Credit: Noah Graham | Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Credit: Reed Saxon | AP

Image Credit: Reed Saxon | AP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Credit: Mark J. Terrill | AP

Image Credit: Mark J. Terrill | AP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Credit: Associated Press

Image Credit: Associated Press

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Credit: Noah Graham | Getty Images

Image Credit: Noah Graham | Getty Images

“Another disappointing week in the books for the Los Angeles Lakers.” This seems to be a recurring theme for the season.

After a promising 2-0 start to the week, the Lakers finished this past week with a 2-2 record; a record that will simply not cut it for the 17-23 Lakers. The Lakers started the week off with solid wins against Cleveland and Milwaukee, but ended the week in discouraging fashion with losses to Miami and Toronto, thus adding to their current 5-game road losing streak.

Forward Earl Clark continued his surge towards becoming a mainstay in the Lakers’ rotation, while both Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol returned from injury. The returns of the two big men failed to help the Lakers climb out of their rut, however, as the Lakers ended the week right where they started, six games under .500.

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

Earl Clark (SF/PF) Up arrow : Clark, 25, continued his stellar play this week and proved he was not a “fluke.” Clark’s energy and effort, both off the bench and in the starting lineup, have been a huge lift for this inconsistent Lakers team.

Image Credit: USA TODAY Sports

Image Credit: USA TODAY Sports

Over the past four games, Clark averaged 9.8 ppg, 9.8 rpg, and 3.0 apg in 29 minutes per game. Clark started at power forward for the Lakers vs. Cleveland, Milwaukee and Miami, but came off the bench against Toronto.

Clark’s game against Toronto was the main reason the Lakers had a chance to win the game late. Clark registered a very active double-double with 14 points and 14 rebounds, on 6/10 shooting from the field. Clark’s high activity level and his ability to snatch offensive rebounds (6) were key to keeping the Lakers in the game.

Coach Mike D’Antoni’s “run and fun” system works the best with a “stretch four” player playing power forward. Clark, being 6’10”, certainly fits the bill. If he can continue to produce and bring energy off the bench, Clark could seriously push Gasol for the starting power forward position.

Clark, the 14th overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, has been an end of the rotation type player for much of his career. In Los Angeles, however, Clark has seized his opportunity with the Lakers’ recent injuries, and has finally been able to show all the hard work he put in this season.

Expect Clark to keep receiving ample playing time, as long as his energy and effort continue to be there on a consistent basis.

Dwight Howard (C) Up arrow : Howard had a solid week after returning from a torn labrum injury in his right shoulder. Howard returned against Cleveland and had back-to-back monster performances vs. Cleveland and Milwaukee.

Despite having a solid start to the week, Howard was ejected in the 2nd quarter against Toronto for picking up his second technical foul. Over the past week, Howard averaged 17.8 ppg, 12 rpg, 1.3 apg, and 1.8 bpg on an efficient 71.8% shooting.

Howard’s two exceptional performances, 22 & 14 vs. Cleveland and 31 & 16 vs. Milwaukee, were a big reason why the Lakers won both of those games. Howard’s activity level has also improved on the defensive end since returning from injury.

For the Lakers to be successful going forward, they have to give the ball to Howard in the post early. As evident in the Lakers’ two wins, getting Howard going early yields success for the remainder of the game. With Howard getting early touches, he seems to become even more active on defense on the help-side and on both defensive and offensive glasses.

Howard will continue to recover from off-season back surgery but he needs become the Lakers’ defensive captain, quickly. Howard’s defensive presence has been there some nights, but it must become a consistent part of the Lakers’ attack every night if they want to make the playoffs.

Along with the need for Howard’s superior defensive presence, Howard must start making his free throws at a higher percentage. This need was particularly evident when Howard missed two key free throws down the stretch of the game against Miami, which could have led to a Lakers win.

Howard was also selected as a frontcourt starter on the 2013 Western Conference All-Star team this past week.

Pau Gasol (PF/C) Up arrow : After missing six games with a concussion, Gasol returned against Miami. Gasol came off the bench vs. Miami in which he registered 12 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists on 4/7 shooting in just 24 minutes.

With his solid performance against Miami, Gasol was re-inserted into the starting lineup in the following game. Gasol followed up that solid offensive game with another one in Toronto. After Howard was ejected, Gasol became the Lakers’ offensive focus in the post. Gasol finished the game with 25 points on 10/15 shooting, but only had 5 rebounds.

Image Credit: Kevork Djansezian | Getty Images

Image Credit: Kevork Djansezian | Getty Images

Gasol’s ability to score in the paint has been a consistent part of his offensive game, but the Lakers need much more from their 32-year-old Spaniard. Since returning to the Lakers’ lineup, Gasol has only grabbed 9 total rebounds in two games. The Lakers need Gasol to be a much more consistent rebounder for them going forward.

Despite two decent games offensively, Gasol continues to struggle this season. Gasol is averaging career lows in points (12.2), rebounds (8.2) and field goal percentage (42%). If Gasol wants to continue to start for the Lakers, rather than come off the bench as D’Antoni has toyed with recently, he must become more consistent on both ends of the floor.

Continue keeping an eye on Gasol as the NBA Trade Deadline nears (February 21st), although there has been little reported interest in the Lakers’ 7-footer thus far.

Kobe Bryant (SG) even : Bryant’s defense was the main reason the Lakers won their two games this past week. Coach D’Antoni has decided to place Bryant on each opposing team’s best guard going forward.

As a result of this change in defensive scheme, Bryant limited the Cavaliers’ Kyrie Irving to just 15 points on 7/15 shooting. Bryant also contained Milwaukee’s reigning Eastern Conference Player-of-the-Week, Brandon Jennings, to just 12 points on 4/14 shooting.

Bryant’s defense on opposing guards was key in the Lakers’ success on the defensive end. Going forward, Bryant must continue to set the tone on the perimeter defensively because it trickles down to the other players on the floor.

With Bryant taking on a bigger task defensively, his efficiency on offense has suffered. Over the past four games, Bryant has shot just 43.3% from the field, despite scoring 25.5 ppg. In the Lakers’ two losses, Bryant shot a dismal 31.6% and forced a season-high 32 shot attempts against Toronto.

It seems that with Bryant taking a larger role defensively, his energy on offense has been negatively impacted. Bryant is constantly short on his jump shots and has settled from the perimeter more than he had earlier in the season. Bryant still leads the league in scoring (29.7 ppg) but his FG% is now down to 47.4% on the season.

After the Lakers’ loss to the Raptors on Sunday, Bryant was quoted as saying, “My legs are a little tired out there, and it’s been impacting my jumper, making it short at times.”

If D’Antoni continues putting Bryant on the opposing team’s best guard defensively, Bryant must make the adjustment on offense. The Lakers will not win many games with Bryant forcing 32 shots or shooting 31.6% from the field.

After the loss to the Raptors Sunday morning, Bryant took the blame for the Lakers’ recent struggles:

With Bryant expending more energy on the defensive end of late, he needs to find his teammates more often and get them going early. Doing this early in games should lessen the offensive burden on Bryant, in particular.

Bryant was also selected as a backcourt starter on the 2013 Western Conference All-Star team with a league-leading 1,591,437 fan votes.

Steve Nash (PG) even : Nash had a decent week both scoring and assist-wise, but turnovers and defensive lapses plagued him. Nash has helped bring some consistency to the Lakers’ point guard position this season, but he needs to shoot the ball more for the Lakers to be successful.

Over the past week, Nash has averaged 3.3 turnovers per game along with 10.8 ppg and 9.0 apg. At age 38, Nash is averaging 32.8 minutes per game this season. That number will hopefully decrease once backup point guard Steve Blake returns from injury.

In the last four games, Nash has only shot 45.5% from the field, an uncharacteristically low shooting percentage for him. Still, Nash continues to get open looks when Howard or Gasol is doubled inside, so he must continue to shoot with confidence. If Nash is even more aggressive with his own shot, it could open up the floor even more for his teammates.

Image Credit: Ezra Shaw | Getty Images

Image Credit: Ezra Shaw | Getty Images

In the game against Miami, Nash looked relatively helpless against the Heat’s trapping defense. The Lakers continued to run high pick and rolls, even after the Heat made it clear they were focused on stopping them. In this instance, the Lakers should have made an adjustment; this adjustment falls on the “floor general”, Steve Nash.

If D’Antoni continues to fail to make adjustments late in games, like he has on numerous occasions this year, Nash must take it upon himself to read the defense and make the necessary adjustments. Nash should have directed Gasol to the high post to relieve the pressure, instead of continuing to run high pick and rolls that were rendered ineffective.

Along with making late-game adjustments, Nash needs to start the Lakers half-court offense sooner in the shot clock, especially against athletic teams. Too many times the Lakers’ offense starts around the 10-second mark and the ball becomes stuck on one side. Nash should make sure the Lakers take advantage of the entire shot clock by moving the ball from side to side when he crosses half-court.

Since Nash is the emotional and floor leader, his improved play and on-court direction will prove paramount in turning this season around.

In this past week, Nash also continued his streak of made free throws (26/26), and remains a perfect 100% from the free-throw line on the season.

Metta World Peace (SF/PF) even : Despite being torched by Heat F LeBron James, World Peace has played consistently over the past week. World Peace averaged 11.3 ppg and 4 rpg while shooting 42.9% from the field and 35% from three-point range in that period.

Although World Peace has not been as efficient as he was earlier in the season, his averages are still a welcomed sight from the supposed “fifth option” of the Lakers. The Lakers need even more from the 13-year veteran, however, especially on the defensive end.

World Peace’s defense on LeBron James in the Lakers’ loss to the Heat was poor, to say the least. World Peace allowed James to become comfortable early in the game and let him become both a playmaker and scorer, simultaneously. In the future, World Peace must take away one of those two abilities to be successful against the league’s top scorers.

The Lakers need World Peace to return to being a “lock down” defender on the perimeter. Most of the Lakers recent struggles have come on the defensive end of the floor. World Peace has done little to help those struggles and the Lakers’ collective defense this season, posting a 105 Defensive Rating*.

World Peace has had his best season in Los Angeles so far this season, but the Lakers dearly need him to return to being a defensive force. World Peace, Bryant and Howard need to come together and create some defensive cohesion.

* Defensive Rating = an estimate of the number of individual points allowed per 100 possessions; a good DRtg is below 100.

Antawn Jamison (PF) even : Jamison has played inconsistently since becoming a major part of the Lakers’ rotation. The problem with Jamison is that you never know what you will get from him on any given night. Jamison could go off for 30 points one game, then the next game he could only get you 5 points.

Image Credit: Gary A. Vasquez | US Presswire

Image Credit: Gary A. Vasquez | US Presswire

Jamison had a high last week of 16 points in the win against Cleveland, in which he made 4/5 three pointers, but he also had a low of 5 points against Toronto, where he went 2/6 shooting from the floor.

Jamison’s role on the Lakers is certainly not to play defense or rebound, instead it is to score. Unfortunately, Jamison has yet to become a consistent scoring threat off the bench for the Lakers this season. A player with a career average of 19.2 points per game has become a player with an average of only 7.7 points per game.

Although Jamison is playing fewer minutes and receiving fewer opportunities with the talent around him, the Lakers need him to become more consistent from the floor. With Jordan Hill now out for the season, the Lakers will need both Jamison and Clark to become consistent to bolster the bench.

Jamison’s averages of 10.8 ppg / 5.8 rpg / 1.5 apg on 50% shooting in the last four games is just not enough production from the Lakers’ “best” bench scorer.

Chris Duhon (PG) Down arrow : Duhon continues to be the Lakers’ backup point guard, but also continues to have little impact off the bench. Duhon takes care of the ball (only 1 turnover in his last four games), but does little else to help the Lakers.

The Lakers’ main backup for Steve Nash, Duhon, has only scored 4 points in the last four games. Duhon does get ample playing time (21.5 mpg), but he does little else besides initiate the offense.

When Duhon does shoot, however, he is only shooting 40% from the field and 37.5% from three-point range. As a result, Duhon has become a glaring liability for the Lakers. As much as a “bust” Steve Blake has been for the Lakers over the past few years, he is clearly needed to give them some type of production from the backup point guard position.

Darius Morris (PG) Down arrow : It seems that Morris has now been relegated to just an emergency guard. Coach D’Antoni made Morris the main backup at the shooting guard position earlier in the week, but now with two straight games of only 5 minutes of play, Morris seems to have an even smaller role.

Morris played well against Cleveland, registering 14 points on 5/9 shooting, but has only scored 5 points over the past three games. Morris’s athleticism is something the Lakers can surely use and take advantage of, but D’Antoni seems confident in leaving him on the bench.

Robert Sacre (C) Down arrow : With Howard and Gasol returning from injury, Sacre’s role has also been reduced. Sacre, despite playing 18 minutes in the win against Cleveland, has only played a total of 12 minutes over the last three games.

Despite playing solid while filling in for the injured big men, it now seems like Sacre will only see the floor if Howard or Gasol get into foul trouble or become injured again. Like Morris, Sacre looks to be in the same situation as an “emergency big man.”

Jodie Meeks (SG) Down arrow : Meeks is now glued to the bench. Despite once being a consistent three-point threat for the Lakers, D’Antoni has chosen to leave Meeks on the bench. Meeks has not shot well from behind the arc in the past few weeks, and has yet to get a real chance to revive his shooting ability.

It looks like Morris is now the official backup shooting guard, although even Morris is rarely given a chance. Meeks can certainly be a great asset off the bench, because of his ability to stretch the floor, but as long as D’Antoni is the coach, it seems that Meeks will remain glued to the bench.

Steve Blake (PG) Injury sign : Blake began the week playing three-on-three games at practice. Blake has fully recovered from his abdominal surgery, but is now dealing with a groin issue. He is expected to receive a cortisone shot in his groin on Sunday, however, which will hopefully speed up the recovery process.

The Lakers are optimistic that Blake will be able to return to the lineup within the next 1-2 weeks. His return would be a welcomed sight for the Lakers’ bench, especially with Duhon’s poor play of late.

Notes: SF Devin Ebanks has not played in a game since January 11th against Oklahoma City. Ebanks, 23, is averaging 3.6 ppg and 2.2 rpg this season, but has only played in one of the past 13 games.

 

Stay tuned for next weeks’ Lakers Stock Watch as the Lakers battle Chicago, Memphis, Utah and Oklahoma City over the next week.

Lakers Stock Watch

Image Credit: Noah Graham | Getty Images

The Lakers have continued building, or regressing, on their six-game losing streak this past week. Despite losses of Dwight Howard (torn labrum), Pau Gasol (concussion) and Jordan Hill (bone fragments in hip – Out for the Season), the emergence of forward Earl Clark has been a pleasant surprise.

Since last Sunday, the Lakers have suffered losses to Denver, Houston, San Antonio and Oklahoma City, all while giving up 116 points per game in that stretch. Taking those past performances into account, the following is a look at the stock changes for the Lakers going forward:

Earl Clark (SF/PF) Up arrow : Clark’s emergence in the past three games has been the lone bright spot for the Lakers during their six-game losing streak. After losing the entire Laker front-court against Denver, coach Mike D’Antoni turned to Clark to fill spot minutes at the forward position in the subsequent game against Houston.

Clark responded with a decent performance of 5 points, 9 rebounds and 3 assists in 21 minutes off the bench. The next night, in San Antonio, Clark was again thrusted into the Lakers’ rotation. This time, Clark had a coming-out party as a Laker in which he posted career highs in both points and rebounds. Clark, a main reason the depleted Lakers were able to make a game out of their matchup with the Spurs, scored 22 points on 9/12 shooting, grabbed 13 rebounds and dished out 3 assists.

With his huge performance in San Antonio, Clark has begun drawing clever nicknames such as “Earl-Sanity” and “Clarkemonium”, among others. With his stellar play against the Spurs, Clark was placed in the starting lineup against Oklahoma City and entrusted with the task of guarding Kevin Durant.

Although Durant scored a season-high 42 points, Clark’s energy and effort were key to the Lakers’ success early in the game. Clark finished the night with a double-double (10 points, 10 rebounds and 3 blocked shots), but was unable to contain Durant all night.

It seems that with back-to-back solid performances, Clark has cemented himself in D’Antoni’s rotation. Clark’s unique combination of size, length and ball-handling ability make him a valuable piece in the Lakers’ rotation. With the recent news that F/C Jordan Hill is lost for the remainder of the season, Clark could become an important replacement going forward.

Steve Nash (PG) Up arrow : Nash’s return from his shin injury has been a welcomed sight for the Lakers and Lakers fans alike. Although Nash hasn’t quite been the “savior” for the Lakers this season, his ability to control the pace and offense for the Lakers have been key.

Over the past four games, the Lakers have averaged about 106 points per game. This high offensive efficiency has been due in large part to the Lakers’ two-time MVP point guard. Nash’s ability to put players in the right spots on offense was something the Lakers were clearly lacking in his absence. Since Nash’s return, the Lakers are averaging 106 ppg, a step up from the 102 ppg they averaged without him. Unfortunately, the Lakers’ demise this season has not been on the offensive end, but much more importantly on the defensive end.

Nash has averaged an efficient 11.7 ppg on 50% shooting and 9.7 assists per game in the past four games for the Lakers. The Lakers, however, may need Nash to be even more aggressive on offense and look to shoot more often if Howard and Gasol remain out for an extended period of time. Surprisingly enough, Nash’s usage rate this season is at a career low of 15%. This will need to increase for the Lakers to have any future success.

* For a reference point on usage rate: Ramon Session’s usage rate for the Lakers last season was 20.5%.

Antawn Jamison (PF) Up arrow : With the multitude of injuries to the Lakers’ front-line, Jamison has gotten a chance once again to be a fixture in the Lakers’ rotation. Jamison has seized this opportunity and played solid in the bigs’ absence, registering 11.3 points per game in that stretch.

Jamison has been in and out of D’Antoni’s rotation this season, but with his recent play, he may have made a case to stay in. Jamison will have heavy competition for minutes with Earl Clark though, once Howard and Gasol return to the lineup.

As for now, however, Jamison will need to continue playing solid basketball, as the Lakers need his scoring punch without their usual interior presence. Another performance, like the one he had against Oklahoma City (19 points and 10 rebounds), would be a huge boost for the depleted Lakers.

Robert Sacre (C) Up arrow : With Dwight Howard missing extended time with a torn labrum, Sacre has been called upon to start at the center position. Sacre is not the most dazzling player, but his scrappiness and constant energy have been a shot in the arm for the Lakers.

Sacre, the last pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, has played decently since being called up from the Lakers’ D-League affiliate, the D-Fenders. Anytime you go from the developmental league to starting for the Los Angeles Lakers, you must be doing something right, or that team must have a lot of recent injuries (which is the case here).

Kobe Bryant (SG) even : Bryant, 34, continues to have a historic season individually thus far. Unfortunately, Bryant’s exceptional play has yet to translate into wins this season for the Lakers.

Over this past week, Bryant has played considerably well without the three big men. Bryant registered averages of 26 ppg on 38.5% shooting, 4.5 rpg, 5.5 apg in 39 minutes per game. Bryant continues to lead the league in scoring at 30.0 points per game.

At his current age of 34 years old, Bryant continues to amaze and silence his critics. In fact, no guard has ever averaged over 15 points per game in his 17th season or later. Bryant has doubled that average with his 30 ppg average.

The main thing here that prevents Bryant’s stock from increasing is his defensive deficiencies. Like most Lakers this season, there have been too many defensive lapses on a consistent basis. Bryant continues to suffer breakdowns defensively, most notably in Harden and Durant’s recent offensive explosions.

If the Lakers want to turn this season around, they have to buckle down defensively, and that especially starts with their captain, Kobe Bean Bryant.

Metta World Peace (SF/PF) even : World Peace is having his best season offensively for the Lakers. Along with his shooting percentage being up to 42.1%, his points per game average is at 13.8 ppg this season, compared to just 7.7 ppg last season. World Peace is finally in shape, after losing about 15 pounds in the off-season, and this has helped him considerably to start the year. He both looks and moves much quicker than he has in years past.

In this tough stretch of games last week, World Peace averaged 18.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg and 3.2 steals per game. World Peace had great back-to-back games in Houston and San Antonio, in which he registered 24 points and 23 points, respectively. World Peace also had 7 steals in the loss to the Spurs, something the Lakers desperately need to continue in order to have success on the defensive end.

World Peace has arguably been the Lakers’ most consistent player this season. His offensive efficiency is as high as it’s been as a member of the Lakers. Although his offense has been great, World Peace’s defense is still not what it once was. Allowing Durant and Harden to both go off last week, granted World Peace wasn’t always guarding them the entire game, is something that would not have happened a few years ago.

World Peace, along with Bryant, is going to have to turn it up on the defensive end and start leading by example if the Lakers want to have a legitimate shot at turning this season around.

Jodie Meeks (SG) Down arrow : Meeks was specifically brought in to be a consistent backup to Kobe Bryant this season. Unfortunately, that has not happen thus far as Meeks has been relatively streaky.

Meeks is currently in a long slump from three-point range, extending further back than just this past week. Since Christmas, Meeks is shooting a dismal 28.6% from beyond the arc. This percentage, from the team’s supposed “most consistent three-point shooter”, is unacceptable for a team in search of a playoff berth.

Although his shooting has not always been there, Meeks does bring consistent energy and effort off the bench. His effort often seems to be contagious, especially when the starters lack energy to begin games.

Meeks can be a integral piece in the Lakers’ cog this season, but he needs to start hitting three pointers at a higher percentage. If Meeks is able to regain his confidence and consistent shooting ability, he will be able to open up the inside for the Lakers’ bigs as well as for easier drives for Nash and Bryant.

Chris Duhon (PG) Down arrow : Duhon remains the Lakers’ backup point guard, but has had little impact of the bench. Duhon takes care of the ball well (only 4 turnovers in his last four games), but he does little else to help the Lakers.

Averaging 17 minutes per game over the last four, Duhon has scored a combined 10 points and 12 assists in that stretch. Sure, Nash is one of the best point guards in the league, but having a backup with that type of production is unacceptable and a liability for this Lakers team.

Darius Morris (PG) Down arrow : Remember when Morris was a regular starter for the Lakers? Those days seem to be over. Even with his superior speed and ability to get to the basket, Morris seems to be relegated to the end of the bench.

Over the past four games, Morris has only played in three games in which he has averaged 12 minutes per game. In that stretch, Morris has averaged 7.3 ppg and 5 apg, but D’Antoni seems to favor Duhon as the primary backup point guard.

The Lakers could certainly use Morris’s speed off the bench in a “change of pace” type of role. His defense has been lacking of late, but if in the right role, Morris can still be a valuable asset off the bench.

Dwight Howard (C) Injury sign : Howard went down with a torn labrum injury in his right shoulder last Sunday against the Nuggets. Howard has missed the last three games, but will start at center tonight against Cleveland.

With Howard out of the lineup, the Lakers have struggled defending the paint. Although not fully healthy this season, Howard’s presence in the key and as the last line of defense remains unmatched by any of his teammates.

If the Lakers want to make a decisive run at the playoffs soon, getting Howard back in the lineup will be a step in the right direction.

Pau Gasol (PF) Injury sign : Like Howard, Gasol suffered a major injury in the Lakers’ loss to Denver. Gasol was inadvertently hit in the face by Nuggets’ center JaVale McGee and suffered a concussion. Gasol has also missed the last three games and will not be allowed to return until he passes the NBA’s strict concussion program.

Along with Howard, Gasol’s absence has been felt on the inside, especially on offense. The Lakers need Gasol’s facilitating ability back in the lineup to become even more efficient on the offensive end.

Gasol continues to be re-evaluated daily but is officially listed as OUT against the Cavaliers.

Jordan Hill (PF/C) Injury sign : This was absolutely the most crushing blow of the past week. Hill injured his hip in the game against Denver last Sunday, but received discouraging news on Friday.

After an MRI revealed lose bone fragments in his hip, as well as a possible labral tear of a muscle in his hip, Hill will be forced to have surgery. Early estimates say that Hill will miss the rest of the season, but he will try to get a second opinion tomorrow to see if he can speed up the recovery process.

Hill’s injury is just the latest of the many crushing blows the Lakers have felt this season. Hill has been having the best season of his career and his energy and rebounding ability have been unmatched by almost anyone in the entire NBA. Hill’s 13.0 rebounds per game per 36 minutes was one of the highest rebounding marks in the league.

The Lakers will unfortunately have to right the ship without Hill’s services. Maybe the emergence of Earl Clark will soften the blow, but Hill’s value to this team is irreplaceable.

Notes: Lakers’ backup PG Steve Blake remains sidelined after abdominal surgery in November, but he expects to return to the court sometime in the next few weeks. Reserve small forward Devin Ebanks continues to be a DNP-CD in the Lakers’ box score, despite being re-signed this off-season and being seen as an “exciting prospect for the future.”

 

Stay tuned for next weeks’ Lakers Stock Watch as the Lakers battle Cleveland, Milwaukee, Miami and Toronto this week.

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