Pau gasol

According to Sporting News’ Sean Deveney, Kobe Bryant has had enough of the losing and sources close to the superstar have said that Kobe will not play for head coach Mike D’Antoni next season and wants a new coach in place for the 2014-2015 season.

Bryant, sources said, has “no interest” in playing for D’Antoni next season, and wants a new coach in place for the 2014-15 season.

 

It is not exactly a shocking revelation as Kobe is one of the fiercest competitors in sports today, but the fact this news is starting to leak out after his strong words in his press conference on Wednesday in which he called out the front office and called for change this summer:

Then it goes down to the coaching staff, what Mike (D’Antoni) is going to do, what they want to do with Mike and it goes from there. It’s gotta start from the top.

Unfortunately for D’Antoni, the writing on the wall is looking clearer and clearer by the day.  Just a few days ago, ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith said that his sources informed him that D’Antoni would be fired at the end of this season and additionally, Bleacher Report’s Ric Bucher said in his article that some Lakers players have been assured D’Antoni will not return next season:

At least two other players frustrated with their current roles were told to be patient because the Lakers will have a new head coach next season, sources said.

There have been plenty of burned bridges this season between players and D’Antoni, notably big men Pau Gasol, Jordan Hill, and Chris Kaman.  In what has become a concerning trend of inconsistent playing time and comments in the media, it is not a surprise to hear that players are frustrated with the coach in what has been arguably the worst season in Los Angeles Lakers history.  Deveney shared similar sentiments on Twitter on Wednesday:

Despite all of that, the feelings of one Kobe Bean Bryant have the most impact on the direction of the franchise.  Kobe, who was notoriously called a “fan” by D’Antoni after a Twitter-spree during the Lakers first round matchup versus the San Antonio Spurs last season, seems to have put his foot down.

While he did not say it directly, it sounds like Kobe’s comments in his press conference were loud and clear as they were in 2007…

“Do something and do it now.”

After 16 NBA Championships and 31 Western Conference Titles, the Lakers have been one of the most storied and successful franchises in NBA history. From the eras of West, Chamberlain, Kareem, Magic, and Kobe, there have been countless record-breaking performances and memorable games that have added to Lakers glory. Let’s take a look back at some notable moments for the purple and gold, from the week of March 9-15, over their 66-year history.

March 9, 1988

Pat Riley got his 400th career coaching win in a 104-99 victory over the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. Riley reached the 400-win mark in just 540 games, making him the fastest coach to do so in NBA history.

March 9, 2010

Kobe Bryant hit a game-winning fade-away jump shot over Antoine Wright with 1.9 seconds remaining in regulation to lift the Lakers over the Toronto Raptors 109-107 at the Staples Center. Bryant, who scored 14 points in the fourth quarter, finished the game with 32 points. This victory ended a three-game losing streak for Los Angeles, which hadn’t lost four straight since April 2007. Andrew Bynum chipped in with 22 points for the Lakers, while Pau Gasol added 17 points and nine rebounds in the win.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images

March 10, 1987

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar set an NBA record for most-ever personal fouls committed, after fouling Denver’s Danny Schayes during the first quarter of an eventual Lakers victory over the Nuggets. With this foul, Abdul-Jabbar raised his career total to 4,194, which put him one ahead of Elvin Hayes, the previous all-time leader. Abdul-Jabbar finished his career with 4,657 fouls, which still stands atop the NBA’s all-time list.

March 12, 2005

Kobe Bryant hit a game-winning jump shot over Keith Bogans with 0.9 seconds left in the game to propel the Lakers passed the Bobcats 117-116 in Charlotte. Bryant scored 21 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter, on 8-for-12 shooting from the field. He added four rebounds and nine assists in the win. This victory gave Los Angeles its first consecutive road wins of the 2004-2005 season.

March 13, 1992

Chick Hearn broadcasted his 2,500th consecutive game for the Lakers, when they played the Cavaliers at the Richfield Coliseum in Cleveland. Hearn’s record-breaking streak spanned 3,338 games from 1965 to 2001.

 

After 16 NBA Championships and 31 Western Conference Titles, the Lakers have been one of the most storied and successful franchises in NBA history. From the eras of West, Chamberlain, Kareem, Magic, and Kobe, there have been countless record-breaking performances and memorable games that have added to Lakers glory. Let’s take a look back at some notable moments for the purple and gold, from the week of March 2-8, over their 66-year history.

March 2, 2008

The Lakers defeated the Dallas Mavericks 108-104 in overtime at the STAPLES Center. Kobe Bryant scored a game-high 52 points to lead the way, including 22 in the fourth quarter and eight in overtime. This game marked the 22nd time in Bryant’s illustrious career that he hit the 50-point plateau. Pau Gasol added 17 points and 14 rebounds for Los Angeles in the win. With his 52 points, Bryant moved past Walt Bellamy into 25th place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.

March 3, 2004

Kobe Bryant hit a jump shot over Yao Ming with 32 seconds left in regulation to give the Lakers a one-point lead en route to an eventual 96-93 victory over the Houston Rockets. The Rockets later intentionally fouled Derek Fisher, who then hit two free throws to seal the win. Bryant, who finished with 18 points, led the way for the Lakers as they rallied from an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter. Bryant also added 13 assists for Los Angeles, which were two short of his career high. Houston’s Yao Ming finished with 33 points for the tough-luck losers.

Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

March 6, 2000

On his 28th birthday, Shaquille O’Neal scored an NBA season-high and career-high 61 points and collected 23 rebounds, as the Lakers defeated the Clippers 123-103. Shaq shot 68.6% from the field to lift the Lakers to their 16th consecutive victory. O’Neal’s previous career-high came in 1994, when he scored 53 points for the Orlando Magic against Milwaukee.

March 7, 1996

Magic Johnson dished out seven assists in a 102-89 victory over the Kings in Sacramento to become just the second NBA player in history to tally 10,000 career assists. Johnson finished his career with 10,141 assists, and currently sits in 5th place on the NBA’s all-time assists list. He holds the NBA record for most assists per game with 11.2.

Jordan Farmar

February 28, 2014 — 7:30 PM (PST)
STAPLES Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: TWC SportsNet / TWC SportsNet Deportes
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)

The Lakers will face off vs. inter-state rivals Sacramento Kings in a battle of Western Conference bottom dwellers who destine themselves for a lottery pick in this upcoming NBA Draft.

Currently suffering a 3-game losing streak, the Lakers seek to get back on a winning track and end another dismal month on a positive note by playing with high energy tonight. The Lakers could not quite finish their comeback vs. Grizzlies after falling behind by 19 in the first half.

Along with Gasol, who I will mention later, SG Jodie Meeks continues to have a career year this season, scoring 19 points while shooting 7-10 from the field vs. Grizzlies. Meeks has scored 14.4 PPG this season while shooting a very high 39.4 % from behind the 3-point line.

The Kings will be without their leader C DeMarcus Cousins tonight to serve a one-game suspension for his actions vs. Rockets. Therefore, the Kings will be led by SF Rudy Gay, an all around player who averages 20.1 PPG and 6.3 RPG. Lakers‘ F Wesley Johnson will need to lock him up tonight in order to come away with a victory tonight.

Projected Starters

PG - Kendall Marshall  Isaiah Thomas [Advantage: Kings]

SG - Jodie Meeks / Ben McLemore [Advantage: Lakers]

SF - Kent Bazemore Rudy Gay [Advantage: Kings]

PF - Wesley Johnson / Jason Thompson [Advantage: Even]

C - Pau Gasol Aaron Gray  [Advantage: Lakers]

Notable Bench Players

Kings: PG Ray McCallumReggie EvansDerrick Williams

Lakers: PG Jordan FarmarChris Kaman, Jordan Hill, G Marshon Brooks

Bench Advantage: Lakers

Injury List

Kings: Out-C DeMarcus Cousins, Out-G Jason Terry

Lakers: Out-G Kobe Bryant, Out-PG Steve Nash, Out-F/G Nick Young, Out-G Xavier Henry

Keys for Lakers Success

Feed the Bigs: Kings C Demarcus Cousins will miss tonight’s game, leaving a gaping hole in the post for the Kings that the Lakers must take full advantage of. C Pau Gasol had a successful 2nd half vs. Grizzlies by scoring 12 points while dishing out 3 assists after teammate PG Jordan Farmar insisted the team ditch the small-ball philosophy and run the entire offense through Gasol. Although the Lakers fell short vs. Grizzlies, the Gasol led Lakers out scored the Grizzlies by 15 in the 2nd half. Even if Gasol is not out on the floor, The Lakers should run their offense around C Chris Kaman, who people can argue as one of the most offensively skilled center in the NBA.

Bottom Line

Tonight, the Lakers should and will get a victory vs. the Kings. That is if they play to their strength, which means to play through Gasol and Kaman. Currently, the Lakers would do anything to win a game, whether it’s within their usual offensive system or not. Regardless of the rankings these two teams currently sit themselves in, a win vs. Kings always brings peace to the city of Los Angeles.

Prediction

Lakers: 110-103

February 26, 2014 — 5:00 PM (PST)
FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN
TV: TWC SportsNet / TWC SportsNet Deportes
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)

Closing out this short two-game road trip, the Lakers head to Memphis to face off vs. Memphis Grizzlies (31-24), who find themselves in the thick of the playoff chase.

The Lakers philosophy last night to play small in order for the Pacers to match up vs. the Lakers’ quickness backfired terribly. The Pacers grabbed 20 more rebounds than the Lakers, including 20 offensive rebounds, and the Lakers could not shoot the ball well, and shot only 34.8 % from the 3 point line.

However, Laker Nation cannot help but to feel optimistic about newly acquired G Kent Bazemore, who has shown the Lakers that he can score well when given the opportunity. In his first 3 games with the Lakers, Bazemore has surpassed his career high during each game, scoring 15, 17, and 23 points respectively.

Now, the Lakers will try to play small vs. arguably the slowest team in the NBA in the Grizzlies, who run their entire offense through their twin towers, C Marc Gasol and PF Zach Randolph.

The only real headline for the Lakers tonight lies upon the matchup of the Gasol brothers, Pau and Marc. Despite scoring only 13 points vs. Pacers, C Pau Gasol has played significantly well due to shedding excess weight from the beginning of the season. Despite the Lakers losing streaks throughout the last 2 months, Gasol has shown Lakers management that he can still be a key piece in a championship run following this season. Meanwhile, Pau’s brother C Marc Gasol has had another solid season despite his mid-season injury, averaging 13.2 PPG and 6.4 RPG. We should expect to see a lot of Gasol post action throughout this game.

Gasol’s counterpart, PF Zach Randolph, who both averages 18.1 PPG and 10.8 RPG, brings a very old school low-post game. Call it what you want, Randolph might possess one of the slowest speed and quickness in the NBA and have trouble dunking the ball, but he uses his body extremely well. He backs defenders down with his tremendous strength and has the excellent ability to position his body in the correct areas of the floor to grab rebounds and get off easy shots.

PG Mike Conley, arguably the most underrated and improved point guard in the NBA, could have easily become an all-star this season, scoring a team leading 18.7 PPG and dishing out 6.5 APG. Grizzlies can consider Conley as the main reason the Grizzlies are in the playoff chase, keeping the team afloat while Marc Gasol missed time due to his injury.

Projected Starters

PG - Kendall Marshall  Mike Conley[Advantage: Lakers]

SG - Jodie Meeks / Courtney Lee [Advantage: Grizzlies]

SF - Kent Bazemore Tayshaun Prince [Advantage: Even]

PF - Wesley Johnson / Zach Randolph[Advantage: Grizzlies]

C - Pau Gasol Marc Gasol [Advantage: Lakers]

Notable Bench Players

Grizzlies: G Tony Allen, Mike MillerNick Calathes

Lakers: PG Jordan FarmarC Chris Kaman, F Jordan Hill, G Marshon Brooks

Bench Advantage: Lakers

Injury List

Grizzlies: Out-F Quincy Pondexter

Lakers: Out-G Kobe Bryant, Out-PG Steve Nash, Out-F/G Nick Young, Out-G Xavier Henry

Keys for Lakers Success

Defensive Rebounding: The Grizzlies play very big, using Gasol and Randolph to their advantage. Randolph is tied for 10th place in offensive rebounding, so whoever guards him has to beat him to the spot and box him out to get rebounds. The Lakers gave up 20 offensive rebounds yesterday and seem to suffer from a huge mismatch down in the paint. As Gasol said during yesterday’s post-game interview, if the Lakers decide to play small and put Johnson on Randolph, “good luck, right?”

Bottom Line

Hopefully, the Lakers limit the Grizzlies to 1 possession by rebounding the ball well. The Lakers have to play with a lot of energy as they have to use their athleticism to their advantage. If the Lakers hit their shots, the will have a good chance to beat the Grizzlies today. However, they have to get the basic fundamentals down, limiting turnovers and grabbing rebounds, to get themselves into position to win tonight’s game.

Prediction

Grizzles: 96-90

After the Lakers’ most recent loss, a 118-98 drubbing by the league best Indiana Pacers, Pau Gasol made sure his voice was heard post-game.

“There’s just too many individual actions right now. It’s really not a good flow and rhythm out there.”

“We got to be unselfish. If we see a teammate open, we have to make sure that guy gets the ball. Otherwise, it’s really deflating”

“When you get outrebounded by 20, I don’t care who you are and what you do, it’s not going to work and you’re not going to win.”

“I don’t think there’s a lot of discipline right now”

Gasol clearly isn’t pleased with how things are going, I don’t think anyone is for that matter.  D’Antoni decided to play small ball against the Pacers and ended up having the much smaller Wes Johnson guard the much larger David West.

“We do have guys with size who can do well.”

Tonight, Gasol played 27 minutes, Kaman played 14, Hill played 10, and Sacre played 6.  Clearly D’Antoni is favoring his smaller guys and is straying away from the bigs on the team, which is a detriment when the Lakers are playing bigger teams like the Pacers.

Gasol’s frustration hasn’t only been seen today, it reared its head back in December as well.

After Gasol openly complained about not being utilized in the post enough, D’Antoni had this to say:

“It’s also a nice excuse not to play hard, that’s a classic, ‘I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.’ Well you don’t have trouble getting up to the pay stub line.  You know what you need to do to get your check.  You know what to do. They will.  They’ll figure it out.”

Gasol has not been happy with the way D’Antoni utilizes his bigs on his team, he would much rather play small ball with a run-n-gun style offense.  It’s unfortunate to see Gasol so upset with his usage and the overall usage of the team as he has definitely earned more respect than he is receiving from D’Antoni.

Needless to say the Lakers are going to have to choose between the two this coming off-season as Gasol most certainly doesn’t want to return to a team where he isn’t used properly.  For that matter, no big man would want to come to Los Angeles if D’Antoni is still coaching, as they would receive limited minutes and not be put in a system where they could realize their full potential.

This off-season will be telling, Laker Nation, telling indeed.

February 25, 2014 — 4:00 PM (PST)
Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, IN
TV: TWC SportsNet / TWC SportsNet Deportes
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)

The Los Angeles Lakers take the show on the road as they take a quick road trip as they play vs. one of the Eastern Conference favorites, the Indiana Pacers (42-13)

The Lakers, cannot get away from injuries. F/G Nick Young, who returned Sunday to play his first game in 3 weeks, will sit out during this 2-game road trip as he felt some soreness in his knee that caused him to sit out.

Pau Gasol played very well Sunday, racking up another double-double by scoring 22 points and grabbing 11 rebounds.

Meanwhile, newly acquired G Kent Bazemore has taken full advantage of Mike D’Antoni‘s offensive system, which has given him the green light on the offensive end for the first time in his career. Bazemore has surpassed his career high in points, scoring 15 and 17 points respectively in his first 2 games.

The Pacers currently follow “the rich get richer” motto. When the rest of NBA did not think the Pacers could improve their roster any further, the Pacers shocked everyone by acquiring 76ers best player, G Evan Turner and also C/F Lavoy Allen in a trade for F Danny Granger. 

Turner, who will make his Pacers debut tonight along with Allen, has had his best season so far this season for the 76ers, scoring a career-high 17.4 PPG, while grabbing 6.0 APG and dishing out 3.7 APG. Turner’s brings scoring firepower off the bench when he gives George and G Lance Stephenson a break.

With Turner’s acquisition, the Pacers won’t lose any scoring powers in the Shooting Guard and Small Forward position.

Pacers F Paul George has blossomed into a bonafide NBA Superstar. George plays both ends of the floor significantly well, scoring 22.7 PPG, grabbing 6.4 RPG, dishing out 3.4 APG, and take 1.8 SPG from his opponent which ranks him 8th in the league.

Projected Starters

PG - Kendall Marshall / George Hill [Advantage: Pacers]
SG - Kent Bazemore / Lance Stephenson [Advantage: Pacers]
SF - Jodie Meeks / Paul George [Advantage: Pacers]
PF - Wesley Johnson / David West [Advantage: Pacers]
C - Pau Gasol / Roy Hibbert [Advantage: Lakers]

Notable Bench Players

Pacers: F Evan TurnerF Luis ScolaG CJ Watson, C/F Lavoy Allen

Lakers: C Chris Kaman, F Jordan Hill, Marshon Brooks, PG Jordan Farmar

Bench Advantage: Pacers

Injury List

Pacers: Out-C Andrew Bynum

Lakers: Out-G Kobe Bryant, Out-PG Steve Nash, Out-F/G Nick Young, Out-G Xavier Henry

Keys for Lakers Victory

Out-run the Pacers: Sounds very crazy thinking turning this game into a track meet with Pacers’ having young athletic players like George, Stephenson, and Turner. However, the Pacers do work best when they slow the game down and utilize F David West All-Star C Roy Hibbert. If the Lakers control the tempo of this game by playing they way that D’Antoni likes to, maybe they can catch the Pacers off-guard and make this game somehow competitive.

Bottom Line

The Lakers have to play almost perfect and the Pacers have to play very uninspired basketball for the Lakers to put themselves in position to win tonight’s game. The Lakers have to get off to an excellent start and hit their 3 pt. shots. Otherwise, this will be a very ugly game for the Lakers versus a team that views this season as their best opportunity to win a championship.

Prediction

Pacers: 109-96

After 16 NBA Championships and 31 Western Conference Titles, the Lakers have been one of the most storied and successful franchises in NBA history. From the eras of West, Chamberlain, Kareem, Magic, and Kobe, there have been countless record-breaking performances and memorable games that have added to Lakers glory. Let’s take a look back at some notable moments for the purple and gold, from the week of February 23-March 1, over their 66-year history.

February 23, 2007

The Lakers ousted the reeling Celtics 122-96, behind 38 points from Kobe Bryant at the Staples Center. Bryant, who added nine assists, scored 22 points in the first quarter, going 9 for 12 from the field. This game marked the second largest regular-season margin of victory in the history of the Los Angeles-Boston rivalry.

February 23, 2010

Kobe Bryant hit a game-winning three-pointer over Rudy Gay with 4.3 seconds left in regulation to lift the Lakers over the Grizzlies 99-98 in Memphis. Bryant’s game-winner occurred during his first time back on the hardwood after missing five straight games due to an ankle injury. He scored a team-high 32 points, including the Lakers’ final nine points of the game. Pau Gasol finished with 22 points and 13 rebounds for the Lakers in the win.

February 28, 1987

Lakers broadcaster Chick Hearn broadcasted his 2,000th straight game for Los Angeles in a 107-100 loss to the Utah Jazz. His unprecedented streak spanned 3,338 consecutive Lakers games over 36 years.

Allen Einstein/Getty Images

Allen Einstein/Getty Images

February 28, 2008

Los Angeles won its tenth straight game with a 106-88 victory over the Miami Heat. Jordan Farmar led a balanced attack for the Lakers, as he scored a career-high 24 points. Kobe Bryant added 21 points, while Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol chipped in for the first place Lakers with 13 points apiece. This win marked the 23rd double-digit winning streak in franchise history.

February 29, 2000

The Lakers defeated the Portland Trailblazers 90-87 in Oregon. Going into the game, both teams had records of 45-11, as well as 11-game winning streaks. Shaquille O’Neal led the way for the purple and gold with 23 points and 10 rebounds, while Kobe Bryant added 22. This victory marked the twelfth straight Los Angeles win, en route to an eventual 19-game winning streak.

February 21, 2014 — 7:30PM (PST)
STAPLES Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: ESPN / TWC SportsNet / TWC SportsNet Deportes
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)

With the build up for yesterday’s NBA Trade Deadline and continuous questions of what the Lakers front office will do this offseason, I bet a lot of Laker Nation forgot that the Los Angeles Lakers (18-36) will host their arch-rival Boston Celtics (19-36) tonight.

While the Celtics made no moves at the deadline, the Lakers surprised a lot of fans with their decision making. While the Lakers traded PG Steve Blake to the Golden State Warriors for defensive PG Kent Bazemore and scoring G Marshawn Brooks, the Lakers kept both C Chris Kaman and F Jordan Hill to the surprise of many Laker fans and columnists.

With that being said, the roster actually looks similar to their roster vs. Rockets which lies contrary to everyone’s belief.

Coach Mike D’Antoni expects C Pau Gasol to play tonight, which will shelve Kaman back to the bench after he has played very well since D’Antoni decided to play him out of necessity. Hopefully, Kaman will not end up at the end of the bench again.

The Celtics have treated this season as their rebuilding year. However they still possessing good talent that with an additional player or two, they possess potential to become very competitive in Eastern Conference soon.

4-time NBA All-Star PG Rajon Rondo continues to improve and shake off the rust from coming off a year-long ACL tear. Rondo, scoring 13.6 PPG and dishing out 9.5 APG in 11 games, will definitely cause the Lakers a lot of problems tonight by making all five Lakers on defense to keep an eye on him while he drives to the basket, finding open players behind the 3 pt. line or on a cut to the basket.

Meanwhile, C Jared Sullinger has been on a tear during the month of February. After getting scolded by his father for his bad attitude he showed on the floor, Sullinger took his father’s message to heart, playing with much more effort and passion on both ends of the floor. Sullinger has scored 15.7 PPG, grabbing 10.7 RPG, and blocking 1.7 shots per game, which clearly surpass his statistics from November through January.

Projected Starters

PG - Kendall Marshall / Rajon Rondo [Advantage: Celtics]
SG - Jodie Meeks / Avery Bradley [Advantage: Celtics]
SF - Wesley Johnson / Jeff Green [Advantage: Celtics]
PF - Ryan Kelly / Kris Humphries [Advantage: Celtics]
C - Pau Gasol / Jared Sullinger [Advantage: Lakers]

Notable Bench Players

Celtics: F Brandon Bass, F Gerald Wallace, G Jerryd Bayless

Lakers: PG Jordan Farmar, C Robert Sacre, C Chris Kaman

Bench Advantage: Even

Injury List

Celtics: Out-G Keith Bogans Out-C Vitor Faverani, G Avery Bradley

Lakers: Out-G Kobe Bryant, Out-PG Steve Nash, Out-G Xavier Henry, Out-G/F Nick Young, GTD-C Pau Gasol

Keys for Lakers Victory

Feed the Bigs: If Gasol comes back tonight, feeding the post players gives the Lakers their best opportunity to win tonight. Before Gasol’s injury, he played like the player who helped lead the Lakers to 3-straight NBA appearance with SG Kobe Bryant, averaging 20.8 PPG and 11.9 RPG during the month of January. In the few games where Kaman got big minutes, he showed why he possesses one of the most fundamentally sound offensive skills in the league, using his soft hands to properly catch the ball after rolling to the basket and also using his footwork to outsmart defenders. Hopefully, the Lakers slow the pace down tonight and play to their strengths.

Bottom Line

While both teams have a minimal chance of making it to the playoffs, any Celtics vs. Lakers matchup brings intrigue, regardless of who is on the floor. If Rondo plays like the Rondo we all know him to be, he will cause problems on the offensive end and also cause PG Kendall Marshall trouble by playing up-tight on him. The Lakers should come away with a victory tonight to finally snap their worst home-losing streak in years.

Prediction

Celtics: 111-109

February 19, 2014 — 7:30PM (PST)
STAPLES Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: TWC SportsNet / ESPN
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)

Former Lakers center Dwight Howard returns to STAPLES Center tonight as his Houston Rockets (36-17) face off vs. The Los Angeles Lakers (18-35) in their first game since the All-Star break.

All eyes are on Howard tonight, as he plays vs. Lakers at Staples Center for the first time since he left the Lakers. Fair or unfair, many have blamed Howard, who averages 18.8 PPG, 12.5 RPG, and 1.8 BPG this season, for last season’s debacle of a season. With this season’s disaster that the Lakers have faced throughout this season, we can sense that other major factors caused last season’s struggle and Howard’s eventual departure to the Rockets.

Meanwhile, very high probability exists that tonight will be the final game the Lakers roster would look like their current state. The Lakers will most likely make moves before tomorrow’s trade deadline, which would include getting additional picks for the upcoming NBA Draft, getting under the luxury tax threshold, or rebuild for another championship run with SG Kobe Bryant.

As usual, C Pau Gasol has once again been placed in the trade block, while PF Jordan Hill has been involved in many trade talks, notably Brooklyn Nets. Other candidates to get traded before tomorrow’s deadline include C Chris Kaman and PG Steve Blake, mainly since trading their contracts will get them much closer to get under the luxury tax threshold.

Ironically, the Lakers will be led by C Chris Kaman tonight, who for whatever reason Mike D’Antoni has placed at the end of the bench for the majority of this season. One of the most skilled center in the NBA on the offensive end, Kaman has been by far one of the most consistent Laker since finally receiving any playing time, scoring 22 PPG and grabbing 10.5 RPG in the last 4 games. If this is Kaman’s last game with the Lakers, he will definitely help another team’s cause at going for this year’s NBA Championship.

Projected Starters

PG - Patrick Beverly Kendall Marshall [Advantage: Rockets]
SG - James Harden / Steve Blake [Advantage: Rockets]
SF - Chandler Parsons Wesley Johnson [Advantage: Rockets]
PF - Terrence Jones Ryan Kelly [Advantage: Even]
C - Dwight Howard Chris Kaman [Advantage: Rockets]

Notable Bench Players

Rockets: PG Jeremy Lin, F Omri Casspi, G Francisco Garcia, Greg Smith, Omer Asik 

Lakers:  C Robert Sacre, F Jordan Hill, SG Jodie Meeks

Bench Advantage: Rockets

Injury List

Rockets: Questionable-PG Patrick Beverley, Questionable-F Greg Smith

Lakers: Out-G Kobe Bryant, Out-C Pau Gasol, Out-G Xavier Henry, Out-G/F Nick Young, Doubtful-PG Steve Nash, Doubtful-PG Jordan FarmarProbable-SG Jodie Meeks

Keys for Lakers Victory

Defense: The Lakers’ defense played well the 1st 3 quarters vs. Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder, holding them to only 72 points in the first 3 quarters. Hopefully the Lakers will come with the same energy tonight, especially since Howard returns to Staples Center and this game will be broadcasted nationally. The Rockets have a lot of weapons other than SG James Harden and Howard; SF Chandler Parsons and PG Jeremy Lin have shown that they can also take over games if needed, so the Lakers have to play great team defense and communicate well in order to contain the Rockets lineup.

Bottom Line

I expect the Lakers to play very inspired basketball tonight especially during the 1st half. They have to play with the same energy they came out with vs. Thunder but maintain throughout the duration of tonight’s game. Unfortunately, the Rockets’ talent will be very tough to overcome for the very shorthanded Lakers tonight, especially as 4 of our 5 top players are not even in uniform tonight.

Prediction

Rockets: 112-97

Every few weeks, our staff writers chime in on the trending topics, rumors and storylines surrounding the Lakers. In this post-All-Star Break edition of State of the Nation, they answer five questions that will ultimately decide the fate of the Lakers.

Will the Lakers be active at the trade deadline?

Johnny Navarrette // @JohnnyNav: It is hard to see the Lakers not being active this deadline. With the Lakers fighting for lottery positioning at this point, they have some goals financially they need to accomplish like getting under the tax threshold. I think the most realistic trade options are Pau Gasol, Steve Blake, Jordan Hill, and Chris Kaman.

Photo Credit | Tony Gutierrez AP

Image: Tony Gutierrez | AP

Oren Levy // @LakersOren: They should be active at the deadline. The Lakers’ season is effectively over, and the Lakers have some parts that could be valuable to contenders. Ideally, the Lakers should accomplish two things before the deadline: Get below the luxury tax, and acquire future assets. If they can get below the tax line (to avoid repeater tax in future years), and turn Gasol/Kaman/Hill/Blake/Whoever into a 1st round pick and a couple of 2nd rounders, they’ve improved their position.

Jory Dreher // @Jay_Laker: With the impending tax bill looming for a team that’s not going to make the playoffs, they almost have to deal for cap relief purposes. The Lakers have held discussions with the Brooklyn Nets in regards to a possible Jordan Hill deal, and we still hear the chatter about Pau to Phoenix–so I would be surprised if they stand pat.

Ash Kargaran // @aakargaran: Yes. The Lakers will be trying to find a trade partner for Pau Gasol. At this point, the Lakers may even take less value for Gasol just so they can guarantee he doesn’t walk away for nothing, a la Dwight Howard last year.

Kanta Ito // @Kanta_B_Ito: They have to be, but in order to build for the future. Players like Kaman, Hill, and Blake might get involved in minor deals in order for the Lakers to get under the luxury tax this season. However, reports of Pau Gasol getting shopped around creates a possibility that a blockbuster deal could occur before the trade deadline.

Garrett Garcia // @GarrettGarcia: The Lakers will be active at the trade deadline I believe, however it won’t necessarily be a big move like many may think.  Could be a series of small moves to help the team get under the luxury tax threshold or help the business side of the team.

Robert Benitez // @beeb0: Yes, whether it will be Pau or some small pieces, a change is definitely coming.

Melvin Taylor // @MelvinTaylorII: No I do not believe they will be. With all of the rumors surrounding the team I think they will keep what they have currently and finish out the season as best they can.

Next Question: How will the Lakers fare over the final 29 games?

Update (Feb 20, 12:00pm PST) – Pau Gasol, along with Jordan Hill and Chris Kaman, remains a Laker through the 2014 NBA Trade Deadline.

According to Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders, rival NBA executives believe the Lakers and Suns will resume trade talks, with Pau Gasol ultimately being traded to Phoenix.

Gasol, a free agent this off-season, has been looking into free agent destinations and is expected to leave Los Angeles this summer. Rival executives believe the Lakers will deal Gasol rather than lose him in the summer.

The Lakers have been looking for a first round draft pick in return for Gasol, as well as the expiring contract of Suns’ center Emeka Okafor.

With the NBA Trade Deadline less than 48 hours away, it will be interesting to see if Gasol is indeed finally traded this time.

Stay tuned to LakerNation.com for all the latest trade rumors and trade deadline news!

According to Ken Berger of CBS Sports, the Lakers are putting together trade packages in an attempt to acquire all-star forward Kevin Love from the Minnesota Timberwolves:

“The Lakers and Mavericks are trying to assemble trade offers for prospective free agent Kevin Love, but thus far the Timberwolves have given no indication they’ll consider moving the All-Star forward by Thursday’s deadline, league sources told CBSSports.com.

Love will be a free agent in 2015, and it is widely known around the league that he and his agent, New York-based Jeff Schwartz, are determined to get him to a major market. The Lakers, Love’s first choice, “have the best shot” of landing the Southern California native, one person familiar with the player’s thinking said. There is no incentive in the CBA for Love to sign an extension with Minnesota before he has a chance to decline his player option and hit the open market in July 2015.”

Regarding what the Lakers would offer, Berger says:

“Any Lakers offer would have to include Pau Gasol, whose $19.3 million contract comes off the books this summer. Rival executives believe the Lakers’ best chance of moving Gasol is to a team that views him as worthy re-signing to a more reasonable deal this summer — not as a rental. The Lakers also can offer their 2014 first-round pick, which has value. With Kobe Bryant out indefinitely, the Lakers are tied for the fourth-worst record in the league.”

It should be noted that the Lakers cannot trade their 2014 first-round pick until they are officially on the clock in this summer’s draft.  The next first round pick that would be eligible to be traded by the Lakers would not be until 2019.  Although, IF the Lakers were to acquire a second first round pick in the next 48 hours, their own 2014 first round pick becomes eligible to be traded.

While it seems unlikely the Lakers could acquire Love at the deadline barring some sort of multi-team deal, fans should be excited that management looks like they are not waiting until this summer to bring this team back to the NBA’s elite going into next season.

The trade deadline is Thursday, February 20 at 12:00 PM PST.

Keep it locked to LakerNation.com for all the latest surrounding the Lakers’ trade rumors!

Laker Nation network