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Eric Bledsoe

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Photo courtesy of Christian Petersen, Getty Images

January 16, 2014 — 6:00PM (PST)
US Airways Center, Phoenix, AZ
TV: TWC SportsNet / TWC SportsNet Deportes
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)

The Los Angeles Lakers (14-24) scored 118 points last night, shooting 52.4 % from the field and 38.2 % from the 3 pt. line. Jodie Meeks scored 26 points shooting 6/10 from the 3 pt line while Nick Young added 28 points. The problem? They allowed 120 points to Cleveland Cavaliers, who only average 96.2 PPG. The Lakers could not stop anybody, letting them get off any shots they wished to take.

Now, the Lakers have to embark on a brutal Grammy’s road trip, which unfortunately starts tonight vs. Phoenix Suns (21-16). However, the Suns, coached by former NBA sharpshooter Jeff Hornacek, have been dealing with injuries, which have caused them to lose 5 of their last 7 games. One of the point guard duo, PG Eric Bledsoe, had surgery on his right knee, which keeps him out indifinitely. Therefore, PG Goran Dragic will lead the show tonight. Dragic has become the cornerstone for the Suns turnaround this season, averaging 19.3 PPG and 6.0 APG. Dragic seeks to run around the Lakers defense in circles again, causing matchup nightmares and leading the Suns to open shots every possession.

Lakers C/PF Pau Gasol decided to play last night despite a strained toe tendon, which jeopardizes his future availability. Gasol made a gracious effort last night, grabbing 20 points and 12 rebounds. However, as Head Coach Mike D’Antoni has done with other injured Lakers, he did not protect Gasol’s health at all, playing him 36 on a bad toe despite another game tonight. A toe sprain might seem something very minor to those who have never suffered from it before, but the injury cannot be neglected since the big toe carries a lot of pressure every time one takes a step on it while running or even walking.

Projected Starters

PG – Kendall Marshall / Goran Dragic [Advantage: Suns]
SG – Jodie Meeks / Gerald Green [Advantage: Even]
SF – Wesley Johnson / PJ Tucker [Advantage: Even]
PF – Pau Gasol / Channing Frye [Advantage: Lakers]
C – Robert Sacre / Miles Plumlee [Advantage: Suns]

Notable Bench Players

Suns: F Markieff Morris, F Marcus Morris, G Leandro Barbosa

Lakers: G/F Nick Young, F Jordan Hill, F Ryan Kelly, C Chris Kaman

Bench Advantage: Even

Injury List

Suns: Out-PG Eric Bledsoe, Out-C Emeka Okafor, Questionable-SG Leandro Barbosa

Lakers: Out-G Kobe Bryant, Out-PG Steve Nash, Out-PG Steve Blake, Out-G Xavier Henry, Out-PG Jordan Farmar, GTD-C/F Pau Gasol

Keys for Lakers Victory

Defense: The Lakers defense has been atrocious to say the least this season, evidenced by allowing 120 points to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Regardless of how well the Lakers play offensively, difficulties to win a basketball game occur especially if they continue to allow the NBA’s 2nd worst 105.5 PPG to opposing teams. With Dragic running the show for the Suns, we cannot expect much better from tonight’s game. The only chance the Lakers have to stay competitive tonight has to be to limit the Suns to 1 possession and not allow offensive rebounds, something the Lakers have struggled with throughout this season.

Bottom Line

If the Lakers last 12 games when they lost 11 games foreshadows what will happen tonight vs. Suns, it seems like a sure loss for the Lakers. However, with a change of scenery and playing away from home taking a long road trip, lets see if the Lakers mindset will change starting tonight. The Lakers will have to contain Dragic and not let marginal players like SG Gerald Green and C Marshall Plumlee go off for career nights again like the Lakers allowed them to do last game. If they cannot succeed at that, this game could become ugly tonight.

Prediction

Suns: 125-110

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Image: Andrew D. Bernstein | Getty Images
Photo courtesy of Stephen Dunn, Getty Images
Photo courtesy of Stephen Dunn, Getty Images

December 23, 2013 — 6:00 PM (PST)
US Airways Center, Phoenix, AZ
TV: TWC SportsNet / TWC SportsNet Deportes
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)

The Los Angeles Lakers (13-14) look to bounce back tonight against the Phoenix Suns (16-10) after a very disappointing loss vs. Golden State Warriors on Saturday. The Lakers’s lack of a true point guard showed last game, as they could not get any good shots, resulting in a 3-21 shooting nightmare during the 3rd quarter. C Pau Gasol looks to rejoin his team tonight after missing last game due to an upper respiratory infection. The Lakers will be led by Gasol and 6th man G/F Nick Young, who has been a constant scorer off the bench, scoring more than 10 points in 13 consecutive games

The Phoenix Suns, on the other hand, come into tonight’s match up very hot, winning 7 of their last 8 games. The Suns are led by the point guard duo of PG Goran Dragic and PG Eric Bledsoe. Dragic has performed very well replacing PG Steve Nash to run the show, averaging 18.1 PPG and 5.9 APG. Bledsoe has slowly blossomed into a perrenial star in this league as he has finally gotten a chance to start for the first time in his NBA career. Bledsoe has eerily similar numbers to Dragic, but leading his team in points and assists, averaging 19.1 PPG and 6.3 APG, while causing havoc on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor.

Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni has decided to shuffle the starting lineup again to match up with the run and gun Suns and match up better with quick guards like Bledsoe and Dragic tonight on the defensive end. F Shawne Williams will replace F Jordan Hill to help spread the floor out and match-up with Suns F Channing Frye.

Projected Starters

PG – Goran Dragic Xavier Henry [Advantage: Suns]

SG – Eric Bledsoe / Jodie Meeks [Advantage: Suns]

SF – PJ TuckerWesley Johnson [Advantage: Even]

PF – Channing Frye / Shawne Williams [Advantage: Suns]

C – Miles Plumlee / Pau Gasol [Advantage: Lakers]

Notable Bench Players

Suns: G Gerald Green, F Markieff Morris, C Marcus Morris

Lakers: G Xavier Henry, G/F Nick Young, G/F Wesley Johnson, C/F Jordan Hill

Bench Advantage: Lakers

Keys for Lakers Success

  1. Defensive Rebounding: The Lakers have been struggling a lot at boxing out their players and allowing easy 2nd chance baskets. Their defense has played fairly well recently, but allowing offensive rebounds causes their defense to become very disorganized, causing them to lose their players they matched up with. The Morris twins, F Marcus Morris, and F Markieff Morris, killed the Lakers last time grabbing offensive rebounds, so anybody near them have to make sure to box these two players out by using proper fundamentals since they both possess a significant weight advantage over any players on the Lakers.
  2. Keep Guards Away From Paint: The Lakers have major problems keeping guards away from the paint, letting them get high percentage shots for themselves or an open teammate. Tonight’s match up will be their worst one, as they try to keep both Dragic and Bledsoe outside of the paint. Dragic destroyed and dissected the Lakers defense during their last meeting, which led to his career high of 31 points. The guards have to make the offensive players feel more uncomfortable while dribbling the ball and cause turnovers. Despite not having a point guard, guards like Meeks, Johnson, Nick Young, and Xavier Henry are all interchangeable skill-wise, so an excuse to play intense defense and show great communications cannot be plausible for this group.

Bottom Line

The very shorthanded Lakers will try to keep the game close and try to steal this game away from the Suns. The Lakers have to play with a lot of energy and effort, outrebounding the Suns, get easy baskets, and compete for all loose balls to grind out a victory tonight. With their Christmas game vs. Miami Heat coming up this Wednesday, the Lakers have to come away with a victory here to have positive momentum moving into Wednesday.

Prediction

Suns: 124-110

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Now that the NBA Finals have ended, the basketball world’s attention shifts to the off-season. Beginning with the NBA Draft yesterday and continuing with the beginning of free agency next week, the next three months will shape how the 2013-2014 NBA season goes down.

There might not be a team with a more uncertain future heading into the off-season than the Lakers. Will Dwight stay or will he go? (Here’s my opinion from yesterday in case you missed it)

Do you upgrade an aging roster? Stick to what you have? Get rid of everyone? What exactly should the Lakers do?

Let’s take a look at three options Los Angeles really has this off-season, and which is going to be best for the franchise.

Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Lakers

Re-sign and Build Around Dwight

The most obvious solution would be to go all in and put everything you have to bringing Howard back to Los Angeles. While injuries caused a dip in his production this season, there is no doubt Dwight is a top ten talent in the NBA and the best center in the league when healthy. Howard is a game-changer, especially on the defensive end of the court. With a player like that in the fold, you have a solid core for the next 5-10 years that you can build around.

With gobs of cap space coming in the summer of 2014, and a very impressive list of free agents, the Lakers could secure Howard and be back in contention within a year.

That is of course if the big man wants to be back in the Purple and Gold. Reports have recently surfaced that the Lakers are a long-shot to bring him back. According to ESPN:

Howard is willing to forgo the extra $30 million the Lakers can pay him to play for a coach and in a system he feels will better use his skillset, one source said.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Boston Celtics

Sign-and-trade Dwight for Depth

So if there’s no bringing him back, what can the Lakers do? Another idea that has been thrown around lately has been the concept of sign-and-trading Dwight to a team of his choosing to bring back some assets in return. While Howard would obviously have to agree to sign with the team he is going to, getting something in return is better than allowing Dwight to walk for nothing. (Contrary to popular belief, the Lakers can send a player out in a sign-and-trade, they just can’t bring a player in via sign-and-trade.)

With reports that Chris Paul and Howard want to form their own super team, the most talked about sign-and-trade has D12 going to the Clippers in exchange for Eric Bledsoe and Blake Griffin. Which sounds like a decent deal, except for the fact that the Lakers don’t want to send Howard to their rivals (if you can even call them that) down the hall, and the contract owed Griffin is going to become increasingly tough to justify if all he ever does is dunk and make Kia commercials.

If the Lakers are going to move Howard they need to take advantage of this opportunity and bring in a young talent that can help transform the franchise. A trade that gets the Lakers younger and more talented in exchange for Dwight would be the main objective of the franchise.

So what trade accomplishes these goals? That’s easy. A three-way trade between the Lakers, Clippers, and… (drumroll please) the T’Wolves! Minnesota happens to have a very talented young power forward who most people (Minny included), don’t expect to stick around past his opt-out after this season. A trade sending Dwight to the Clippers, Blake Griffin to the Wolves and Bledsoe and All-Star Kevin Love to the Lakers makes sense for all involved.

Paul and Howard get to team up in Clipper uniforms, Ricky Rubio gets the perfect alley-oop target, and the Lakers get two young, dynamic players to upgrade their roster. Which sounds like the perfect trade, meaning it will be almost impossible to pull off.

Andrew Wiggins 2

Blow it Up and Start Over

So if Dwight doesn’t want to come back, and the Lakers can’t get the right assets in return with a sign-and-trade, what option lies behind the proverbial door number three?

Blow it all up and rebuild. Let Dwight walk. Trade Pau. Amnesty Metta. Don’t bring Kobe back to play this year. Tank, tank, tank, tank, tank. (Then fire D’Antoni, I beg of you.)

If we’ve learned anything from the OKC’s and Spurs of the league, it’s that drafting talent is as important as signing talent. Unless you have Lebron James, you just can’t win in the league today without cheap, young talent.

In Los Angeles, it’s title or bust every season for the Lakers. And with a championship looking less and less likely next season, blowing it up for a franchise-changing lottery pick (Andrew Wiggins anyone?) could be the best route to take.

With ridiculous amounts of cap space next summer, the Lakers could potentially have a great, young talent on a rookie contract and two or three max players in the starting line-up with him. Doesn’t that seem like the best option towards a quick rebuild back into title contention?

The Lakers have some big decisions to make in the next couple of weeks. Will they look for instant gratification again, or decide to finally bite the bullet and rebuild for the future? Either way, you can guarantee it will be an interesting summer in Laker Land.

Belal Abdelfattah is a sports addict, sneaker junkie, and Laker Nation contributor. Follow him on Twitter over at @ItsBelal_A

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With the Lakers off to a poor start, trade rumors have begun to swirl around Kobe Bryant, leading many to speculate if he'll leave for greener pastures. Kobe puts those rumors to rest in his interview with Yahoo Sports.