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Pregame

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Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Photo courtesy of Kevin C. Cox, Getty Images.
Photo courtesy of Kevin C. Cox, Getty Images.

December 16, 2013 — 4:30 PM (PST)
Phillips Arena, Atlanta, GA
TV: TWC SportsNet / TWC SportsNet Deportes
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)

An ugly win? Yes. Does it matter how we win? Not at this moment. After a tumultuous week, which included a 3 game losing streak and a conflict between the head coach and the Lakers main post player, the Los Angeles Lakers (11-12) beat the Charlotte Bobcats to get a win they needed in the most desperate fashion.

In Saturday’s game, G Kobe Bryant resembled the Kobe Bryant prior to his injury. Bryant led the team for their Saturday win, scoring 21 points, having 7 rebounds, and 8 assists as the point guard. However, his true-telling sign that he’s back did not come from that. Bryant got C Pau Gasol’s attention by yelling at him for not handling the ball during the Lakers’ timeout in the 3rd quarter, causing at least half of Bryant’s turnovers. It showed everyone that Kobe’s on-court edge has returned. Although Gasol seems to tune out Head Coach Mike D’Antoni whenever he criticizes Gasol, Bryant knows the right buttons to press to get Gasol’s attention.

That being said, the Lakers face another tough road battle versus the Atlanta Hawks (12-12) tonight. The Hawks are led by the 2 big men C/PF Al Horford and former Utah Jazz F Paul Millsap. Horford has had a great season so far, averaging a career high in scoring at 17.7 PPG while averaging 8.3 RPG, while Millsap has performed well replacing now Pistons F Josh Smith, averaging 16.5 PPG and 8.0 RPG. Outside of Horford and Millsap, the Hawks are a well-balanced team, with each player having a solid role in their team.

Projected Starters

PG – Jeff Teague Kobe Bryant [Advantage: Lakers]

SG – Kyle Korver / Jodie Meeks [Advantage: Even]

SF – DeMarre Carroll Wesley Johnson [Advantage: Hawks]

PF – Paul Millsap / Jordan Hill [Advantage: Hawks]

C – Al Horford / Pau Gasol [Advantage: Even]

Notable Bench Players

Thunder: G Lou Williams, F Cartier MartinG Shelvin Mack

Lakers: G Xavier Henry, G/F Nick YoungF Shawne Williams

Bench Advantage: Lakers

Keys for Lakers Success

  1. 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 matchup will not me easier, as they try to keep PG Jeff Teague, who averages 15.9 PPG and 7.9 APG, outside of the paint. Without a rim protector and a slow Pau Gasol as our center, 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.
  2. Continue to Feed Gasol: Despite a poor offensive performance by Gasol on saturday, the Lakers have to continue to feed him the ball. Kobe Bryant knows, D’Antoni knows, the rest of the Lakers know, and the Laker Nation knows that for the Lakers to have any chance at success moving forward, Gasol needs to play close to an all-star level again. Hopefully with Kobe Bryant on the floor at all times with Gasol lately, we will not have to worry about Gasol complaining about not receiving any touches in his sweet spot since Kobe has audibled out of the regular offensive system to force feed Gasol the ball inside.
  3. Stop Kyle Korver: Hawks SG Kyle Korver has always caused the Lakers defense problems, swishing three-pointers at the most inopportune time, including scoring 22 points in the Lakers last meeting vs. Hawks. Korver now owns the NBA’s all time record for the most consecutive games with a 3-point make, which now stands at 92 games. The Lakers have to go above both on-ball and off-ball screens whenever they guard Korver. Furthermore, whoever guards Korver should not worry about helping off of Korver since everyone on the Hawks know to rely on him whenever he has an open 3-pointer. Watch for Korver to make the Lakers pay again if their attention slips again at paying attention to Korver at all times.

Bottom Line

With Bryant getting his mojo back and with positive momentum carrying the Lakers, they have a good shot at beating the Hawks tonight. However, the Lakers have to play with a lot of effort tonight on the defensive end to prevent any easy buckets or a wide open three-point shot from Kyle Korver. While this game will be another low-scoring outing by both teams, the Lakers now have the cleaner in Kobe Bryant, which should propel the Lakers to another nail-biting victory.

Prediction

Lakers: 88-87

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Source: Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant
Source: Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

December 14, 2013 — 4:00 PM (PST)
Time Warner Cable Arena, Charlotte, NC
TV: TWC SportsNet / TWC SportsNet Deportes
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)

After a disappointing, albeit expected blowout loss vs. Oklahoma City Thunder, the Los Angeles Lakers (10-12) look to bounce back tonight vs. Charlotte Bobcats (10-13) and return to their winning ways. Once again, the Lakers come into tonight’s game without a point guard. The three Lakers point guards, PG Steve Blake, PG Steve Nash, and PG Jordan Farmar, all expect to miss games for the foreseeable future due to various injuries. G Kobe Bryant, who once again will start the point guard position, looks to continue to keep his teammates involved and not prioritize as high on scoring.

More importantly, the Lakers defense has been atrocious to say the least. They let Toronto Raptors C Amir Johnson, who doesn’t have any low post moves whatsoever, score a career high 32 points of 14-17 shooting without any resistance, let Phoenix Suns PG Goran Dragic, who also scored a career high 31 points, and PG Eric Bledsoe run around in circles around the Lakers defense, and let the Oklahoma City Thunder run the Lakers out of the building scoring 122 points.

Meanwhile, the Charlotte Bobcats have players who can cause a lot of problems for the Lakers again, especially on the defensive end. PG Kemba Walker and former Utah Jazz C Al Jefferson lead the Bobcats team who has shown improvement and would be the 6th seed in the Eastern Conference if season ended today. Walker, who led the Connecticut Huskies to a NCAA Championship in 2011, leads the team in scoring at 17.0 PPG while dishing out 4.5 APG, while Jefferson brings a veteran presence to a team that has been lacking that asset for years, averaging 15.1 PPG and 9.2 RPG. To close out the 4th quarter, we expect to see a combination of former Laker PG Ramon Sessions and Kemba Walker to finish out the game in back court, which hopefully would not cause the Lakers defense as much turmoil as the Phoenix Suns’ back court of Dragic and Bledsoe

Projected Starters

PG – Kemba Walker Kobe Bryant [Advantage: Lakers]

SG – Gerald Henderson / Jodie Meeks [Advantage: Bobcats]

SF – Jeffrey Taylor Wesley Johnson [Advantage: Even]

PF – Josh McRoberts / Jordan Hill [Advantage: Lakers]

C – Al Jefferson / Pau Gasol [Advantage: Even]

Notable Bench Players

Thunder: G Ramon Sessions, F/C Cody Zeller, G Ben Gordon

Lakers: G Xavier Henry, G/F Nick YoungF Shawne Williams

Keys for Lakers Success

  1. 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. Without a rim protector and a slow Pau Gasol as our center, 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.
  2. Get Pau Gasol Involved: Who knows what the fallout will be from the drama between Gasol and Lakers Head Coach Mike D’Antoni will become moving forward. However, if D’Antoni meant to press a button to jump-start Gasol at least on the offensive end, it might have worked. Offensively, Gasol scored 19 points off 6-11 shooting, the first time Gasol shot over 50% from the field since they played the Brooklyn Nets on November 27th. With Bryant continuing to get his body reconditioned to regain his form as an elite scorer, he seems more interested in jump starting Gasol, evidenced by Bryant’s 13 assists. Bryant knows, D’Antoni knows, the rest of the Lakers know, and the Laker Nation knows that for the Lakers to have any chance at success moving forward, Gasol needs to play close to an all-star level again.

Bottom Line

Hopefully a back to back game, especially for Bryant and Gasol, would not be an issue, since they each only played 23 minutes. After an embarrassing loss vs. Oklahoma City Thunder, I expect the Lakers to play with effort and efficiency and find a way to close out the Bobcats in a closely contested game tonight.

Prediction

Lakers: 96-93

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Source: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images North America
Kobe Bryant | Kevin Durant
Source: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

December 13, 2013 — 5:00 PM (PST)
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK
TV: TWC SportsNet / ESPN / TWC SportsNet Deportes
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)

The Los Angeles Lakers (10-11) make their first stop in their four-game, five-day road trip against Oklahoma City Thunder (16-4) after another very disappointing loss vs. Phoenix Suns on Tuesday. The Lakers come into tonight’s game with major issues. According to LA Times Bill Plaschke, the tension between C Pau Gasol and Head Coach Mike D’Antoni leaked into the public yesterday after they both made very critical comments against each other to Plaschke. Furthermore, the Lakers are without a Point Guard for tonight’s game. Lakers starting PG Steve Blake is now out 6 weeks due to a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, joining PG Steve Nash and PG Jordan Farmar on the injury list.

Meanwhile, the Oklahoma City Thunder have been breezing through their schedule so far this season, going 11-1 their last 12 games. The Thunder are led by the 1-2 punch of PG Russell Westbrook and SF Kevin Durant. Westbrook has recovered well from a meniscus tear in his right knee, averaging 21.9 PPG, 6.4 APG, and 4.9 RPG . Meanwhile, Durant has had another typical superstar season, average a NBA leading 28.4 PPG and 8.4 RPG. The speed and athleticism of Westbrook and the length of Durant will cause a tremendous amount of problems tonight for the Lakers, who don’t have any ideal players to guard these 2 superstars. In fact, Bryant, who still tries to return to game shape, will now have to match up vs. Westbrook at the point, according to coach Mike D’Antoni, due to the depleted guard situation for the Lakers. Durant and Westbrook look to lead their team not only to tonight’s win, but to make another run at an NBA championship together.

As a result of Blake’s recent injury, Mike D’Antoni has now inserted G/F Wesley Johnson starting lineup, while F Jordan Hill replaces F Shawne Williams in the starting lineup. Johnson will guard Durant tonight and he looks to use his own athleticism and quickness to keep Durant away from the basket and force him to settle for contested jump shots.

Projected Starters

PG – Russell Westbrook Kobe Bryant [Advantage: Even]

SG – Thabo Sefelosha / Jodie Meeks [Advantage: Even]

SF – Kevin Durant / Wesley Johnson [Advantage: Thunder]

PF – Serge Ibaka / Jordan Hill [Advantage: Thunder]

C – Kendrick Perkins / Pau Gasol [Advantage: Lakers]

Notable Bench Players

Thunder: G Reggie Jackson, F/C Nick Collison, G Jeremy Lamb

Lakers: G Xavier Henry, G/F Nick YoungF Shawne Williams

How Lakers Can Win

  1. 3-point Shooting: The Lakers have to spread the floor tonight and shoot a lot of threes to have any shot at marginalizing the superior talent of the Thunder. With a lack of a point guard for the Lakers tonight. The Lakers are currently 4th in the NBA in 3-point shooting percentage at a very high 39.7%. The Lakers have defeated great teams like Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers by making a lot of shots from behind the arc.
  2. Bench Play: The Lakers have a clear advantage in one aspect vs. Thunder: the bench. For the Lakers to have any shot at winning tonight, they would have to depend on the bench players to have another productive night. Leading the NBA in bench scoring at 47.8 PPG, the bench has won the majority of the games this season. The bench is lead by G/F Nick Young, who is 2nd in scoring for the Lakers at 14.3 PPG.
  3. Kobe Bryant’s Passing: When the Lakers had their one win vs. Thunder last season, Kobe Bryant chose to create shots not for himself, but his teammates, catching the Thunder very off guard. Bryant dished out 14 assists and only shot 12 times to dissect the Thunder defense that clearly focused on Kobe. Unfortunately, the Thunder will not have to have all 5 of their players on the floor focus on Bryant since he still tries to regain his superior conditioning after returning from a torn achilles.

Bottom Line

Let’s face it Laker Nation, the Lakers will need a miracle to defeat the Thunder tonight. The Thunder will try to turn this game into another track meet, similar to what the Suns did vs. the Lakers last game, forcing the Lakers to play catch-up for the entire game and run them out of the gym.

Prediction

Thunder: 114-92

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Source: Kobe Bryant/Facebook
Kobe Bryant
Source: Kobe Bryant | Facebook

December 8, 2013 — 6:30 PM (PST)
STAPLES Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: TWC SportsNet / NBATV
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)

He’s back.

Lakers superstar G Kobe Bryant makes his season debut for the Los Angeles Lakers (10-9) against the Toronto Raptors (6-12) tonight in front of a home crowd. Bryant, who returns from a devasating left achilles tear from the April 12th game vs. Golden State Warriors, provides the Lakers with a game-changer and team leader on the floor. Despite playing without Bryant, the Lakers have surprised many NBA experts this season by playing very well as a team,  winning 6 out of their last 8 games to maintain a .500 winning percentage. According to Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni, he expects to see Kobe play in the 20-25 minute range tonight.

The Lakers come off of a solid win versus the Sacramento Kings, where G Jodie Meeks and G/F Wesley Johnson led the way for the Lakers. Meeks scored 19 points by shooting 5-6 from the 3 pt line, including 2 huge 3-pointers to defeat the Kings, while Johnson locked down defensively by having 5 steals. Also, the emergence of C Robert Sacre has been a pleasant surprise for the Lakers. As a surprise starter vs. Kings last game, Sacre held his own against a very talented C DeMarcus Cousins, scoring 11 points, and getting key stops towards the end of the game.

The Raptors, on the other hand, just made news for themselves. According to Yahoo! Sports Marc Spears’ and Adrian Wojnarowski’s sources, the Raptors just traded SF Rudy Gay, Aaron Gray, and F Quincy Acy to the Sacramento Kings for F John Salmons, PG Greivis Vasquez, F Chuck Hayes, F Patrick Patterson, all who will obviously not be available for the Raptors tonight. Therefore, the Raptors will be led by G Demar Derozan. Derozan, a local product out of USC and Compton High School, has seemed to finally use his raw athleticism efficiently, leading the Raptors in scoring at a career high 21.3 PPG.

Projected Starters

PG – Kyle LowrySteve Blake [Advantage: Even]

SGDemar Derozan / Kobe Bryant [Advantage: Lakers]

SF – Terrence RossWesley Johnson [Advantage: Lakers]

PF – Jonas Valanciunus / Pau Gasol [Advantage: Lakers]

C – Amir Johnson / Robert Sacre [Advantage: Raptors]

X-Factors

Raptors: F Steve Novak - Arguably one of the best three-point shooters in the NBA, Novak can cause the Lakers defense a lot of problems if he can get wide open shots. Novak, who is one of many players who thrived in Mike D’Antoni’s offensive system during his days with the New York Knicks, is currently shooting at 37.7% from the 3-pt line after the Raptors acquired him this offseason for F Andrea Bargnani. Novak is the only offensive spark the Raptors have from the bench, so if the Lakers can shut him down with athletic defenders like Johnson or F Shawne Williams, the Lakers bench should outscore the Raptors’s bench by a significant margin tonight.

Lakers: Rest of the Lakers - With Bryant returning to the lineup, the Lakers coaching staff has a major question mark moving forward: how will the rest of the Lakers play with Bryant back. In the past, the Lakers would tend to stand around on offense, waiting for Bryant to save them every time. Hopefully with the rest of the Lakers gaining their own confidence offensively in Bryant’s absence, they can continue to stay aggressive towards the basket and not be hesitant to shoot the ball. Notably, players like Meeks, Johnson, G Xavier Henry, and G/F Nick Young have thrived in Bryant’s absence for the first 19 games, playing very well on both ends of the floor. In order for the Lakers to not only win tonight’s game, but also make some noise in the playoffs, the rest of the Lakers have to continue to move around without the ball and not stand around hoping Bryant will bail them out every possession, especially towards the end of the game.

Bottom Line

Since the atmosphere at Staples tonight will be electric due to Bryant’s return, the Lakers will have to channel their emotions tonight to execute both offensively and defensively. Although the Raptors have a lot of talent in their starting lineup, they are very thin on the bench, something the Lakers bench can thrive off of, especially with Meeks joining the bench unit. Once again, the Lakers do not have a healthy point guard. Without PG Steve Nash and PG Jordan Farmar available for tonight’s game, look for Bryant to play point guard quite often whenever PG Steve Blake, who is currently battling a hyper extended right elbow, needs a rest tonight. If the Lakers continue to play as a team and stay focused especially defensively for the entire 48 minutes of the game, look for the Lakers to get a solid victory in Bryant’s debut.

Prediction

Lakers: 104-95

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LaMarcusSource: Harry How/Getty Images North America
Source: Harry How/Getty Images

December 1, 2013 — 6:30 PM (PST)
STAPLES Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: Time Warner Cable SportsNet
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)

The Los Angeles Lakers (9-8) return home to play the red hot Portland Trail Blazers (13-3), who come into STAPLES Center as a surprise 2nd seed in the Western Conference so far this season. The Blazers are led by the duo of F/C LaMarcus Aldridge and PG Damian Lillard.  Aldridge, who is having another All-Star caliber season, comes into tonight’s game averaging a career high 22.1 PPG and 9.6 RPG, while Lillard continues to make a name for himself in the NBA, averaging 19.9 PPG and 5.8 APG.

The Lakers, who came off of a successful 2-1 road trip, look to continue their momentum tonight vs. the Trail Blazers. The Lakers won their last game vs. Detroit Pistons, led by G/F Wesley Johnson and F Shawne Williams, who scored 27 points and 20 points respectably, shooting a combined 12-18 from the three-point line. This might be the Lakers last game without G Kobe Bryant, who continues to get himself into game-shape to return to the floor with the rest of the team.

Key Matchup: LaMarcus Aldridge vs. Pau Gasol

This game will come down to the battle of the bigs, notably between Aldridge and Lakers C Pau Gasol. Both players showcase a variety of post moves that comes at a premium in today’s NBA. Both of these players can also comfortably shoot from as far as 20 feet away from the basket, forcing both players to guard against a perimeter shot while protecting against a drive to the basket.

While Aldridge has been playing at a very high level throughout the season, Gasol, has slowly but surely returned to his old form. After struggling to battle conditioning and groin issues earlier this season, Gasol has started to become assertive with the ball again, creating his own shot from the post and driving more aggressively to the basket. As a result, Gasol has increased his scoring productivity, averaging 17.75 PPG his last 8 games compared to a subpar 12.11 PPG his first 9 games this season.

If Gasol can hold his own versus Aldridge and continue to play aggressively and be assertive to call for the ball, look for the Lakers to give themselves a chance to defeat the Blazers tonight.

X-Factors

Trail Blazers: G Mo Williams - who joined the Blazers after a 2-year stint as the starting point guard for the Utah Jazz, has now thrived in his new role as a 6th man for the Portland Trailblazers, averaging 9.1 PPG and 4.8 APG despite only playing 25.5 MPG. If Williams can successfully lead the Trail Blazers’ bench the upgraded Lakers 2nd unit, who average a league leading . When Mo Williams scores more than 10 points this season, the Trail Blazers are a perfect 6-0 this season.

Lakers: F Shawne Williams - who fits the stretch 4 position in coach Mike D’Antoni’s system, finally had himself a breakout game on the stat sheet. Williams scored in double-digit for the first time since  February 2, 2012, scoring 20 points and shooting 6-11 from the three-point line. The Lakers hope for Williams to continue to shoot well versus a more stout Trail Blazers defense, who lead the NBA in fewest opponents  three-point percentage this year, holding opponents to 32% this season.

Projected Starters

PGDamian Lillard / Steve Blake
SGWesley Matthews / Jodie Meeks
SFNicolas Batum / Wesley Johnson
PFLaMarcus Aldridge / Jordan Hill
CRobin Lopez / Pau Gasol

Prediction

Lakers: 104-100

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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.