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Photo: ESPN.com

With one of the most forgettable seasons in franchise history behind them, the Los Angeles Lakers approach the upcoming NBA season with tremendous optimism and confidence. Stinging from an injury plagued 2013-14 campaign and a complete breakdown of trust within the team, the Lakers aim to return the supremacy of Hollywood back to the purple and gold. With Kobe Bryant returning this season, there is no reason why the team would not be able to make the playoffs come April.

As fans though, why should we believe them? Why should we trust in a team full of turmoil? Why should we believe that the team can still be successful despite the loss of a key piece of the 2009 and 2010 Championships?

The answer starts at the top. With critics around the league pointing the blame of the past season on Jim Buss, management has sought to make better decisions for the team moving forward. Still reeling from the loss of Dwight Howard and the failed Mike D’Antoni experiment, this summer has given everyone the indication that the Lakers are headed for a better year.

With the hiring of coach Byron Scott, the Lakers have brought in a man with extreme mental toughness and character. His dedication and work ethic, both on the offensive and defensive end, will certainly be a big factor moving forward. Adding to this, his relationship with Kobe Bryant will be important in determining the success that the team can ultimately gain. By understanding Bryant’s strengths and weaknesses, he may be able to maximize his skills to compliment his teammates. His veteran leadership and understanding of the Laker culture will help them gain an identity.

Secondly, one cannot deny the talent that the team will be bringing in for next season. Despite the losses of Pau Gasol, Jordan Farmar, Steve Blake and Jodie Meeks, the team will still be competitive despite the lack of a superstar, outside of Bryant. Guys like Carlos Boozer, Ed Davis and Jeremy Lin will surely be productive and can be depended on for significant contributions. They will also have the services of rookies Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson, which will surely bolster the Lakers’ attack. Once everyone gains an understanding of Scott’s system, they will be a force to be reckoned with.

That being said, the most important reason why the Lakers will be successful is pride. Each member of the team, from the coaching staff all the way to the last guy on the bench, knows how big of a deal it is to don the purple and gold. Players like Nick Young have expressed how proud they are of being able to wear the jersey of the franchise with the most wins in NBA history. With so much doubt from people around the league, the team will be playing with a chip on their shoulder to prove the world and naysayers wrong.

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Los Angeles Times

Back from injury, Steve Nash and Steve Blake will both return to the starting lineup tonight vs. the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Nash will be on a minutes restriction according to coach Mike D’Antoni. The plan is for Nash to play 5-8 minutes in the first quarter then not play again until the third quarter where he will play another 5-8 minutes.

Nash will not play on the second of a back-to-back versus the Cleveland Cavaliers tomorrow night.

It is unclear whether Blake will be on a minutes restriction as well, but he will start alongside Nash. Jodie Meeks will be the third guard in the starting lineup tonight which gives the Lakers a small lineup as all three players are 6’4 and under. Robert Sacre and Ryan Kelly get the start in the front court.

If you are wondering about Chris Kaman, D’Antoni says he “will play a lot of minutes” off the bench.

As for Jordan Farmar, D’Antoni says he will suit up and could play limited minutes.  The plan for Farmar is to get Nash’s minutes tomorrow night so they are hoping to save him for one more day.

The question now is what happens to Kendall Marshall? Averaging 10.5 points and 9.6 assists, the young point guard has definitely earned his minutes on the team but with Nash, Blake, and Farmar returning, will his minutes decrease dramatically?  We will have a good idea of that over the next few games.

Are you happy with the changes being made to the Lakers lineup?

 

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Image Credit: Andrew D. Bernstein | Getty Images

Sunday night was the beginning of the Empire striking back. With Kobe Bryant’s Vader like return after rupturing his Achilles last season, he was the focus of the night while the Raptors, and the world, paid attention to his every move. The consensus was the focus on Bryant would create more scoring opportunities for everyone else, especially former all-star forward Pau Gasol. While it indeed created more open looks for the Gasol, he struggled to adjust as he is currently battling an ankle injury that caused him to trudge up and down the floor. When asked about his quality of play last night Gasol, via Mark Medina of the LA Daily News, stated that he is not 100 % but will still battle through his injury as best as he can.

“I wasn’t 100 percent but I don’t like to make excuses,” said Gasol, who has been nursing a sprained right ankle. “I’m just going to try to play through what I have going on.”

While modesty is appreciated from Gasol it will take more than that to prevent the onslaught of opponents who will attack him inside. His sprained ankle limited him on rebounds both offensively and defensively, sliding on pick and roll switches, running up and down the court, protecting the paint, offering help defense, and lastly on the offensive end. He simply looked troubled and uncomfortable. Pau is the consummate professional and will play as long as his body allows it but being unable to stop Amir Johnson en route to a 32 point performance where he shot 14 for 17 is unacceptable.

“A guy like that shouldn’t have that type of night against your team,” Gasol said. “We have to do a better job individually and collectively in order so anyone won’t have a game like that.”

Do not misunderstand me. All of Amir’s 32 points were not on Gasol. A good number of them came from him being more active than Gasol and every other Laker big, including Shawne Williams, on the court. However, if Amir can score 32 points against the Lakers inside defense by just being active, this upcoming stretch will be difficult with Phoenix’s Morris’ twins, Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka, and Al Jefferson of the Charlotte Bobcats. Going beyond just big men, it could become even tougher for Gasol to provide help relief for perimeter penetration. There were too many times against the Raptors where their guards or wing players would drive to the basket without being effected by Gasol’s presence. I will not say it is impossible for Gasol to guard their big men but, it will be a tall task for him to provide inside relief if he cannot move efficiently in the paint. That goes for the big man he is guarding or the help defense he attempts to provide for perimeter penetration. To put his injury and its effect into perspective, I took a look at some recently released NBA stats on the Lakers next three opponents. Phoenix, OKC, and Charlotte all have at least 1 player in the top 25 of total points for drives to the basket.

Photo Credit: @melvintaylorii
Photo Credit: @melvintaylorii

Oklahoma City is the exception with two players, Kevin Durant and Reggie Jackson. If you take it a step further and look at the top 50, All three teams now have at least TWO players in this category and OKC has three with Russell Westbrook. Looking at their drives to the basket per game, the Lakers inside defense will be have to potentially stop at least 5.1 drives to the basket (Durant’s number) by the team’s top perimeter players. This number increases to 5.2 with Reggie Jackson, 5.5 with Kemba Walker, 7.0 with Eric Bledsoe, 7.1 with Westbrook, and 9.3 with Goran Dragic. With the knowledge, and reality, of how poor defensively the Lakers are inside these numbers could increase exponentially. Not to even mention the number of kick out passes that these drives could lead to or drives by other players.

“I knew he had his ankle bothering him here or there, but we need him,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. “If you look at the stat sheet, our bench was all double figures. I might have to think about who starts. I don’t know.”

Photo Credit: AP Sports

This injury opens the door for coach Mike D’Antoni to begin playing Jordan Hill more.  Originally Hill was moved from the starting lineup, and replaced by Robert Sacre, due to his production decrease. However, after watching the game against the Raptors (and how hurt Gasol is), Hill seems to have found his energy. He was all over the court grabbing rebounds, putting back dunks, and playing active defense. Gasol is ranked number 9 in total rebounds in the league this season while Hill is ranked number 22. Gasol, who averages 9.7 rebounds per game, is better than Hill, 8.5, by a margin of 1.2 rebounds. This number would increase for Hill if given more or equal the amount of time to play. Not only do those stats reassure that Hill could provide more productivity than the currently injured Gasol but there are two more stats that tell an even greater story.

Photo Credit: @melvintaylorii
Photo Credit: @melvintaylorii

Those are percentage of rebounds per chance and contested rebound percentage. Before diving into it, I will state that I believe some if not most, of Hill’s rebounds come off sheer effort. Looking at the data, Gasol’s percentage of rebounds per chance are 65.8% for the 30.6 minutes he plays a game. Hill’s percentage of rebounds per chance 63.9% for every 21.7 minutes he plays. That’s a difference of 1.9% even with the 8.9 minutes Gasol receives over Hill. The second set of data again is contested rebound percentage. These are the percent of contested rebounds a player grabs per game. Gasol has a percentage of 32.5%. Hill’s average is 36.9%, a difference of 4.3% with the 8.9 minutes less he plays than Gasol.

“Pau will be back,” D’Antoni said. “He’s battled through some injuries. Just like everybody else, there was a product of no flow out there. It just wasn’t where it was. He’s fine.”

The data tells me that when Gasol is healthy the only problem the Lakers have, with him, is an aging forward who will not be able to move as fast as he used to. That is fine but if Gasol continues to look as bad as he did it could become a big problem. With this ankle sprain, D’Antoni needs to let Pau recover while giving more time to Jordan Hill. Making this change in a rotation that he is looking to shake up could provide the spark the Hill needs to play better, Gasol needs to recover, and for the team to gel with Bryant’s return.

“We talked a little bit after the game in the locker room in terms of making some adjustments and things that we read,” Bryant said. “It didn’t look like he had his legs underneath him that much. But I don’t know. We’ll see. We’ll talk it out some more and figure it out and see how he feels and where his body is and go from there.”

A downside to this could be decreased productivity from Gasol because of the pinch on minutes. Yet this early in the season I am sure Gasol would like to focus on his recovery for the long haul, even if it means giving more time to Hill and Sacre for the moment.

“We’ll lean on each other,” Bryant said. “As you can see, our bench is phenomenal. They play extremely well man. We just have to go out there and support each other. Any given night somebody can step up and be explosive. We just have to support each other and make each other better.”

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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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Photo Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Phtoo Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Photo Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Robert Sacre, former 60th pick of the draft, aka Mr. Irrelevant, will start for the Lakers tonight in Sacramento.

Sacre improved his shooting and defensive skills quite a bit over the summer, and turned himself from a fringe player to a legitimate NBA big man. In his most recent game with the Lakers, Robert shot 5-8 for 12 points. He added 7 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 2 steals without recording a turnover in 24 impressive minutes.

Sacre replaces Jordan Hill in the starting lineup, and coach D’Antoni hopes to Hill will be more successful as a spark plug off the bench.

Robert has certainly earned his opportunity, and Mike D’Antoni is giving it to him. Now Sacre needs to take advantage facing a tough Kings frontcourt featuring DeMarcus Cousins and Jason Thompson. Tip off at 7pm on Time Warner Cable SportsNet.

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Image: Nokia Theatre
Image: Nokia Theatre
Image: Nokia Theatre

August 15th, 2013 The Kobe & Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation partnered with the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center to host Kobe Up Close.

All proceeds from the event went towards eliminating homelessness in Los Angeles.

The event was a unique opportunity for Lakers fans to access the unfiltered mind of their beloved superstar, Kobe Bryant.

In attendance at the event were current Lakers Robert Sacre, Ryan Kelly and Wesley Johnson, new assistant coach Mark Madsen, former Lakers coach Bill Sharman, Lakers executives Jeanie Buss and Jim Buss, former NFL player Terrell Owens, among others.

The event began with CBS sportscaster Jim Hill speaking on Bryant.

Hill on his first impression of Bryant back when he was drafted by the Lakers:

“I remember Jerry West talking about Kobe Bryant and saying he was going to be very, very special. He was going to be one of the true great ones. And Jerry doesn’t say that about a lot of people, especially young people.”

“The first time I met Kobe, I knew then he was going to be not only a great one, but a very special one.”

On just how special Bryant really is:

“We will never see the likes of Kobe Bryant again, he is truly a gifted basketball player.”

“He doesn’t look at basketball as a job. For him it’s a passion. He’s spoiled us with his excellence.”

“What drives Kobe the most is when people doubt him. You will see a devoted Kobe this season like you’ve never seen before.”

Former Laker Robert Horry also spoke on Bryant before the main event started.

Horry on Bryant’s mental edge:

“Kobe’s mindset is amazing. When you see someone in the locker room as focused as he was, it really lifts everyone else up.”

On his relentless work ethic:

“When you walk into practice and you see him in there working hard. He’s in there sweating before you get there and after you leave.”

After Horry’s short segment, the main event with Kobe Bryant and Jimmy Kimmel began.

Bryant on the number of minutes he played last season:

“I don’t think it was too many. The Achilles injury was just a freak injury.”

On whether he’ll play less minutes next season:

“That’s the goal … I could sit back until June, I just want that jewelry.”

On when he will play again:

“I don’t know if I’ll be ready opening night, but I am really ahead of schedule.”

On whether it was a personal decision to stop tweeting during games last season or a franchise decision:

“That was my decision. The Lakers know I’m a little too stubborn to ever be told anything.”

On his popularity in China:

“I really don’t know. I started going out there in 1998 and have gone every summer since.”

Kobe was a Lakers fan even before he came to the United States:

“While I was living in Italy, my grandpa used to send me tapes of Lakers games and I absolutely fell in love with them.”

On his decision to skip college and go straight to the NBA out of high school:

“I liked Duke and I absolutely love Coach K. If I had had to make a decision though, I would have gone to North Carolina. Mainly because of the competition and being able to play against Vince Carter every day to improve.”

“The first college letter I ever received was from West Point … I was just happy to get a letter.”

Would he tell others to skip college?

“I would just tell others to follow their dreams.”

On his pre-draft workout with the Clippers:

“The Clippers told me they wouldn’t draft me because they wanted to ‘turn things around.’ They said they wouldn’t be taken seriously if they drafted a 17-year-old kid out of high school.”

On the late Dr. Jerry Buss:

“He knew exactly what his vision was. He was very patient, understanding. He allowed me room to grow as a person.”

On his first time meeting Shaquille O’Neal:

“It was the coolest thing in the world that he had a huge cell phone.”

Which title was Bryant’s favorite during his time with Shaq?

“Number 2. We should have gone undefeated. It still bothers us to this day that we let that one game drop.”

What is Bryant’s relationship with Michael Jordan like?

“It’s like a big brother relationship. He gives me phenomenal advice on how to better elevate my teammates.”

On who are the toughest players he’s played against:

“Allen Iverson was a load to handle. Stephon Marbury dropped 50 on me once. Gilbert Arenas. Today, probably Carmelo Anthony because he’s so strong. Kevin Durant too. The guy who gave me the most trouble though was Tracy McGrady.”

When asked if he was certain he’d be a Laker for life, Bryant responded: “Yeah.”

Bryant on Dwight Howard and his exodus from Los Angeles:

“Dwight is a great kid. We have different perspectives on what it takes to win and what it takes to be successful.”

On trying to convince Howard to stay:

“It’s all about the organization and trying to set them up the best I can for when I retire.”

On his once volatile relationship with Shaq:

“It never bothered me when other people said, ‘You only won because of Shaq.’ It bothered me when Shaq said it.”

On his evolution as both a player and a person:

“I was so consumed with my craft in the beginning of my career. … I go into games now looking at what my guys are going through and who’s struggling, and how I can help. I look at my teammates now as partners.”

When asked if he could have one former teammate return, who would it be:

“I’d take Derek Fisher back … that’s my guy.”

On what he’s most proud of:

“Being a 17-year-old kid and challenging the system at the time.”

Is Bryant chasing Kareem Abdul-Jabar’s all-time scoring mark?

“I’m so obsessed with winning that those type of things don’t really matter to me.”

Which is Bryant’s favorite nickname right now?

“I like Vino right now. Black Mamba is my alter-ego.”

On the ESPN experts projecting the Lakers to finish 12th in the West this season:

“I use it as motivation, as fuel. We were the favorites last year and they were wrong about that.”

On who is the ‘next Kobe Bryant’:

“There’s several. Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving. Even Nick Young. They all have that gene.”

The event ended with Terrell Owens asking Bryant a few questions. The two share a common neuro-muscular scientist consultant in Barrence Baytos. Both Bryant and Owens raved about Baytos and Bryant called him a “genius” who has helped prolong his career.

The Kobe Up Close event was a great opportunity to delve into the mind of Kobe Bryant.

This revealing ‘other side’ to the ever-intense Black Mamba was certainly riveting and quite interesting.

Bryant will continue what he called an “aggressive” rehabilitation process as he prepares to return from his Achilles tendon tear.

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Image: CHRIS TROTMAN | GETTY IMAGES

According to ESPNLA.com’s Ramona Shelburne and ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst, the Lakers are focusing on rebuilding around the two biggest free agents for 2014 – Lebron James and Carmelo Anthony.

Image: Harry How | Getty Images
Image: Harry How | Getty Images

In accordance with ESPN.com’s Marc Stein’s prediction of a $62.1 million salary cap for the 2014-15 season, the Lakers will theoretically have about $51.5 million in cap space next summer.

Although the reality of pairing James and Anthony together is still a long-shot at this point, the Lakers have made it clear that they plan to try.

The Lakers have positioned themselves into making a realistic run at not just one superstar next summer, but possibly two in the same off-season.

By refusing to commit to any contracts past this upcoming season, the Lakers have maintained maximum flexibility to cash-in on the 2014 free agency frenzy.

A league source with knowledge of the situation told ESPN:

“It’s all wishful thinking at this point,” a league source said. “Teams are doing more wishing than LeBron is wanting right now.

“It’s not about where LeBron wants to go [to win]. He already has two rings. If LeBron moved to Reno, teams would come to him.”

James, who has an opt-out clause for next season, has not made it clear as to whether he plans to exercise his opt-out or not.

It seems that James has learned from his previous “decision” by refusing to discuss his future plans until the time comes.

Image: Jeff Gross | Getty Images
Image: Jeff Gross | Getty Images

In addition to James, Anthony also has an early termination option in his contract after this next season.

One source close to Anthony’s situation told ESPN:

“It would make sense for him to exercise the early termination option on his contract after next season to become a free agent and secure either a four- or five-year extension.”

Although the Lakers have tons of cap space next season, there is nothing concrete to sell potential free agents on.

As it currently stands, the Lakers do not even have any current marquee players, like they would have had had Dwight Howard re-signed this off-season.

Not even Kobe Bryant, who is in the final year of his contract, is guaranteed to be in the fold after next year.

Bryant has said recently that he plans to play another two or three more seasons, but would need to take a major pay-cut for the Lakers to maintain enough room to purse two max-level free agents.

Bryant, however, recently told ESPNLA.com’s Dave McMenamin that he intends to be involved in the Lakers’ recruiting efforts for 2014:

“It’s an open conversation, via text and also meeting in person and just picking up the phone and calling,” Bryant said of his involvement. “[The Lakers] have kept me in the loop pretty well.”

With Bryant at the head of the recruiting process, it could bode well for the Lakers’ pursuit of Anthony, in particular.

Image: Phil Walter | Getty Images
Image: Phil Walter | Getty Images

Bryant and Anthony developed a close relationship during their time together in the recent Summer Olympics, and have remained friends since.

The two superstars have also discussed potentially playing together in the past.

It should be interesting to see if the Lakers can in fact lure two max-level free agents next summer, in addition to re-signing Bryant at an affordable price.

The Lakers remain poised to do so, however, with Steve Nash ($9.7 million) and Robert Sacre ($915,243) the only players on the books for 2014-15.

According to the ESPNLA.com’s report, the new collective bargaining agreement would allow the Lakers to waive the final year of Nash’s contract, so they could potentially “stretch” his $9.7 million out over three years.

This would mean that only $3.2 million would count against the 2014-15 salary cap, giving the Lakers even more cap flexibility.

As a result of this cap rule, the Lakers could then grant Bryant’s wish and extend his contract for another few seasons at between $10-15 million per season.

Even with Bryant making about $10-15 million per season, the Lakers would still theoretically have enough room to pursue two max-level players.

In addition to Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James, the 2014 free agency class potentially includes Dwyane Wade, Amar’e Stoudemire, Chris Bosh, Luol Deng, Danny Granger, Andrew Bogut, Dirk Nowitzki, and current Lakers Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, among others.

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PhotoCredit:GettyImages

Dwight Howard has finally made his big decision and it’s bad news to four out of the five teams who were trying to get him to wear their jersey.  He told Dallas that they were out of the running first, and shortly thereafter news surfaced that he had chosen to sign with Houston.

dwight-howard-houston-rockets-1

This shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to many unless you’ve been living on the moon, and even there you’ve probably heard about all of the Dwight drama.  It was basically a done deal that Dwight wanted to go to Houston to play along side the likes of Jeremy Lin and James Harden; a young core of players where Dwight wouldn’t feel the immense pressure to succeed like he would in Staples Center.  The lights of Hollywood were just too big for the NBA’s best center, and so he decided to go to a place where everything wouldn’t be on his shoulders.

All this news according to Sam Amick of USA Today:

 

Now, Howard can’t officially sign the deal until July 10, when the NBA lifts the moratorium, but it’s a done deal that Howard has made up his mind and he wants to take his talents to Texas.  What does this mean for the Lakers?  Well currently Los Angeles is without a decent center, with only Jordan Hill and Robert Sacre on the roster.  Los Angeles has many options to choose from to fix the currently shallow roster and I’m sure Mitch Kupchak is already on the phone making deals and asking questions.

This news of Howard affects the entire league as some players were basing their decisions off of his as to where they would sign.

However, news just surfaced that Howard’s agent has said Howard has NOT made his decision yet on where he plans to play next season.  Regardless of whether he has finalized his decision or not, it’s likely that Houston will be the winners of the Dwight Howard sweepstakes.

Chris Broussard has reported that Dwight’s camp has notified the Los Angeles Lakers that he will not be returning to the team.  Howard is to sign a 4 year 88 million dollar deal with the Houston Rockets.

I’ll update this article as more news comes out, so be sure to keep checking back Nation.  Are you glad to see him leave LA?  Would you have preferred to see him stay? Let’s hear your thoughts Nation!

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Photo: Noah Graham | Getty Images
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.

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Photo: Noah Graham | Getty Images
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.

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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.

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Photo: Noah Graham | Getty Images
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.

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Photo: Noah Graham | Getty Images
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.

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Photo: Noah Graham | Getty Images
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.

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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.