Los Angeles Lakers: At the buzzer

Deep breaths... Happy place...

December, 13, 2011
12/13/11
7:57
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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Here's what we know:

1. The Lakers weren't good enough to win a title last season, for reasons related to context (burnout after three straight Finals runs) and shortcomings in personnel.

2. The Lakers aren't as good now as they were last season, having traded Lamar Odom and lost Shannon Brown to free agency, while adding only long-range bomber Jason Kapono.

3. The Lakers, even without Odom, still have high-end talent, but they have real depth issues after the elite guys, including backup holes behind Kobe Bryant at shooting guard as well as Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol in the frontcourt.

Here's what we don't know:

1. Everything else.

This while every team in the league busts through a post-lockout, Wild West, sleep-deprived transactionpalooza -- leaving the NBA, in the words of Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak, "shooting from the hip." (He would know, considering one of those bullets shattered his Chris Paul deal.) Basically, it's the worst possible time for a team to be dealing with high-end uncertainty. Particularly when that team is the Lakers. They do drama on a daily basis, but few if any franchises in sports have been as reliable in their success or as infused with stability, meaning that when uncertainty does come, the impact is heightened.

Concerns surrounding the franchise's future are legit. The highlights include the potential decline of Bryant, labor rules designed specifically to keep teams like L.A. from building and maintaining the sorts of dynastic teams to which the locals have grown accustomed, and the ascension of Jim Buss, who fans don't yet trust and, frankly, isn't particularly well-respected around the league.

No wonder fans are flipping out.

(Read full post)

Mavericks 122, Lakers 86: At the Buzzer

May, 8, 2011
5/08/11
3:20
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
Not much in the way of nuance, gray area or degrees. Plain and simple, this was an inexcusable performance by the two-time defending champions.

An actual game breakdown strikes me as an exercise in pointlessness. The game was far too lopsided in Dallas' favor.

A critical mind isn't needed to explain why the continuation of terrible accuracy from behind the arc (this time, 5-for-24) handcuffed the Lakers.

Or the damage created by allowing Dallas enough uncontested looks to connect at a mind-boggling rate of 62.5 percent (20 3's in all, nine of which belonged to Jason Terry in a record-tying playoff performance).

Or the overall performance on either side of the ball (60.3 percent shooting for Dallas versus 37.8 themselves).

Or Pau Gasol failing to go out in a late blaze of a glory.

Or the way Kobe Bryant's approach to start the game -- eight shots in the first quarter versus his team's collective 11 -- was doomed to fail because it often does fail (even if it's somewhat understandable why Bryant felt the need to put it all on his shoulders, and the loss hardly falls on his shoulders).

Or the last piece of glaring evidence of Phil Jackson's failure to prepare his team for this postseason.

For me, what stands out the most from this loss was the lack of pride, composure and class. By and large, what we witnessed represented exceptionally little, and that's the worst part of what was ultimately a sweep by Dallas.

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Mavericks 98, Lakers 92: At the buzzer

May, 6, 2011
5/06/11
9:39
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
They played hard. And at times, they played well. But certainly not for 48 minutes or anything close, and that's mandatory when you're down 0-2 and playing in someone else's house.

Lowlights

Pau Gasol

It... just... keeps... getting... worse.

Let's see: 12 points on 13 shots, eight rebounds, two assists against two turnovers. Constant bouts with indecisiveness. The lingering bad body language. Getting drilled in the head by Kobe Bryant on a pass because he was looking in the other direction. The ability to inspire Phil Jackson to scream at him what felt like every 12 seconds.

Yes, there were scattered good moments, like a fourth-quarter charge drawn and several quality challenges running out to close on shooters. But all in all, Pau remains a player who looks absurdly out of sorts, and at the worst possible time for the Lakers.

Pick-and-roll coverage

The defense in all senses was erratic throughout the game, but in particular, this approach unglued the Lakers.

The low point? After back-to-back triples for Dirk Nowitzki so wide open there was time to autograph the ball before shooting it, Phil Jackson ripped into Bynum and Gasol, who'd been arguing over who blew the coverage. (According to the sideline report, Phil told them both to knock it off, then identified Pau as the offending culprit.) But it's actually impressive in its own right that only this pick-and-roll possession drove PJ so batty. Throughout the game and especially during the first half, the Lakers just looked scrambled whenever Dallas threw this look their way.

Fourth-quarter composure

The third frame ended with a six-point lead and momentum pointing in the Lakers' direction after several good plays down the stretch. Then came a slew of damage from Peja Stojakovic, who'd scored just four points on five shots in the previous three quarters. He finished the game with 15 points after a 5-6 quarter, indicative of how everything fell apart when matters mattered the most. In crunch time, the Lakers just couldn't get it done.

Three-point shooting

On the plus side, they made three of their 13 tries, which is certainly better than the 18 misses in 20 tries in Game 2. On the other hand, that it's an improvement says a lot about how bad the Lakers' outside shooting has been all series.

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Mavericks 93, Lakers 81: At the buzzer

May, 4, 2011
5/04/11
10:37
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
It was like a car crash, except nobody on hand wanted to watch.

Lowlights (and there were an awful lot to choose from)

First half defense
At times, the issues were understandable. For example, the overwhelming majority of shots Dirk Nowitzki drained. Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and even Ron Artest each took cracks at The Big German, often with a legitimate body against his back or hand in his face. The dude has just been unconscious in this series, as one would typically label a guy hitting fade-away J's off one leg. At times, you just gotta tip your hat.

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
Kobe said after the game stopping this cat is the least of the Lakers' defensive problems. Scarily, he's right.



Then, of course, there were the possessions defending the pick-and-roll like it was the NBA equivalent of a Boise State football trick play. Or the time Odom left Dirk wide open at the arc to help Steve Blake trap Jason Terry along the sideline. The resulting trey was as predictable as your garden-variety Adam Sandler movie. Or the breakdowns resulting in uncontested Tyson Chandler thunder dunks. Or Pau getting caught in the air with two seconds on the clock, allowing Jason Kidd to pause, then absorb the contact for an easy three trips to the stripe.

The latter examples did a lot of damage, despite the tight score heading into intermission.

Bench
Well...

Shannon Brown had a first half sequence where -- on three straight possessions -- he got screened off while shading Jose Barea and was extremely slow to recover (Dallas bucket), then got called for an offensive foul trying to create space, then got screened off again while chasing Barea and recovered slowly (Dallas bucket). There were a few nice sequences for Brown, but all in all, he played so badly, he essentially got benched for...

Steve Blake, who had consecutive missed treys on two different second chance possessions, missed the rim entirely on another three-ball, and seemingly forgot how to pass. The degree to which he grew tentative with the ball was downright disturbing.

In the meantime, Matt Barnes had as many fouls (two) as shots attempted and missed, and Lamar Odom may have worked hard, but he also worked ineffectively.

Aside from that Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?

Offense

As the game continued, I kept rubbing my eyes and double checking to make sure that wasn't bunch of headless chickens in Lakers unis. Turns out, it was in fact the actual players, growing more disorganized and on tilt. During the second half, a combination of generally improved defense and sloppiness from Dallas created a chance to get back into the game. But as the old saying goes, defense wins championships, assuming you can actually put the ball in the bucket.

Pau Gasol
A few weeks before Kwame Brown was eventually jettisoned to Memphis in a game-changing trade for the Lakers, he was booed viciously inside Staples Center during a game where his play was incompetent even by his low standards. Even with Kwame, as walking a punchline as the NBA has seen in recent years, the moment was jarring, shocking and uncomfortable to watch.

Well, things done come full circle.

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Mavericks 96, Lakers 94 - At the buzzer

May, 2, 2011
5/02/11
11:02
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
When the Lakers scored four points over the final .7 seconds of the first half, heading to the locker room with a nine point lead, it's fair to say I thought they'd win. When the lead swelled to 16 2:21 into the third, it's fair to say I really thought they'd win.

Shows what I know. A very disturbing Game 1 loss for the Lakers, who were dominated down the stretch by a Mavericks team appearing to come apart at the seams halfway through the game.

Here's how it broke down...

LOWLIGHTS

1. Second Half Defense. Limited to a very reasonable 43 percent in the first half, Dallas found far more success in the second half, hitting 21 of their 37 attempts from the floor (57 percent). Dirk Nowitzki, handled relatively well in the first half (12 points on 11 attempts) boosted that number to 16 on an equal number of hoists after the break. From beyond the arc, Dallas hit five-of-nine. Credit the Mavs for their excellent ball movement, as they racked up 16 assists on the aforementioned field goals, consistently forcing the Lakers into awkward rotations and patiently using the entire floor to generate clean looks deep into possessions. Chide L.A. for sloppiness on their end.

Mistakes from the home team, as the offense devolved with the Mavs dropping in zone sets and packing the paint no matter the defensive formation, helped fuel the Dallas attack, as well. The Mavs were treated to more long run outs and transition chances, capitalizing on the other end.

Dallas hit five of their final 10 shots over the last four-plus minutes.

2. Second Half Offense. Kobe Bryant provided plenty of third quarter fireworks, scoring 15 points (including 12 straight at one point) on 6-for-10 shooting (3-of-4 from downtown), but around him any offensive structure and ball movement into the paint crumbled. Moreover, Bryant's attack was built entirely off jump shots, many coming in isolation, all along the perimeter. Even when the shots fell, and they generally did, the tenor of the offense changed completely.

The Lakers moved the ball extremely well early, generating eight assists on nine field goals in the first quarter, and adding five more dimes in the second. In the third, they had only two over the last nine minutes of the quarter, and only three in the fourth, two coming while Kobe was on the bench. The Lakers became a jumpshooting, Kobe-centric group, something playing to their worst instincts as a team.

Spectacular as Kobe's shooting performance was through the third, the manner in which the Lakers maintained, then lost, their lead was completely unhealthy. Balance went out the window, as Bryant took 17 of the team's 42 shots following the break (keep in mind, he only played 17 of the 24 minutes following the break, give or take). The point here isn't to blame Kobe for the loss. He didn't shoot the team out of the game, so to speak. Bryant, like his teammates, had some great moments and some lesser ones.

But the bottom line is this: If the Lakers expect to win the series, it cannot happen with Bryant taking seven more shots in the second half than any of his teammates took in the entire game. Particularly when the vast majority come on the perimeter. Even if many go in, and Monday they did, it's unsustainable, and plays away from the team's strengths.

3. Three Point Shooting. The Lakers are not a strong jump shooting team, something noted extensively in the lead up to Game 1. Tonight, it showed. They hit only five of their 19 attempts from beyond the arc, and players not named Kobe missed nine of 10.

4. Ron Artest. He did some good things on the defensive end, but if he's going to shoot eight times, more than one needs to go in. Particularly when he's liberal pulling the trigger with the jumper.

5. Andrew Bynum. Only three field goals and two free throws. After missing some good looks early in the game, Bynum seemed to fade away as a major factor in the game. He'd finish with eight points and five boards in about 30 minutes of burn.

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Lakers 98, Hornets 80 -- At the buzzer

April, 28, 2011
4/28/11
7:58
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
It took at least a game more than most people expected, but the Lakers finally polished off the Hornets Thursday night in New Orleans, winning Game 6 98-80.

Here's how it broke down.

HIGHLIGHTS

1. Defense. Before the game, I wrote about the need for Chris Paul not just to play well, but at a level approaching the upper edges of elite (as he was in Games 1 and 4) for the Hornets to have a chance. Fair to say he didn't get there. For the first time in the series, the Lakers almost completely eliminated Paul as a factor. CP3 finished the first half with only one field goal, four assists, and two turnovers as the Lakers crowded him on the ball, and when he gave it up L.A. did a great job denying him opportunities to get it back. The third quarter wasn't particularly kind, either, as Paul had more turnovers (two) than buckets (one).


Layne Murdoch/NBAE/Getty Images
Andrew Bynum carried the Lakers through the first half Thursday in Game 6.


He'd finish with 10 points on 4-of-9 from the floor, and while he had 11 assists also turned the ball over five times, a ratio the Lakers could more than live with.

All series long, Paul has been called the head of the snake. Take it off, and the whole thing dies. Thursday, the Lakers not only decapitated the slithery reptile, but turned the skin into a boots and barbecued the meat. L.A. was very strong inside, pressuring nearly everything near the bucket (six blocks), forced most of New Orleans' possessions deep into the clock, and successfully executed their plan to keep the Hornets operating away from the paint and at mid-range.

Perhaps most importantly, the Lakers absolutely shut off the glass on that side of the ball. Despite shooting only 43 percent from the floor and bricking 40 attempts, New Orleans had only seven offensive boards, and a mere four at the end of the third.

The Lakers limited the Hornets to only 34 points in the first half, and in the fourth quarter when it was time to drop the hammer, held New Orleans to six points over the first six minutes. By the time the Hornets rallied, the game was well in hand. Even accounting for the relatively limited collective skill of New Orleans' offense and a couple off shooting nights, the Lakers were outstanding. When they defend like this, beating them is a very tall order.

2. Andrew Bynum. Any defensive effort from the Lakers this good obviously features strong work from Bynum. At this point, too, it's really no surprise to watch him get on the glass. In Game 6, Bynum put the whole package together, carrying the Lakers offensively through what was an otherwise woeful start for the Lakers. At about the six minute mark of the second quarter, Bynum was 6-0f-9 from the floor. Everyone else in purple combined to shoot 6-of-23.

Needless to say, Bynum was better. And it included not simply putbacks on offensive rebounds, but moves in the post and face up jumpers. He had 12 points and seven rebounds at halftime, en route to 18 and 12, plus the two blocks and a steal. This in a very modest 30 minutes of work.

3. Pau Gasol (Second Half). Early on, Gasol tried to be active, working his way to a few decent looks, but nothing went down. He finished the first half with a pair of assists and four rebounds, but without a field goal and only two points as Bynum produced inside in a very sluggish offensive performance for the Lakers.

(Read full post)

Lakers 106, Hornets 90: At the buzzer

April, 26, 2011
4/26/11
10:53
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
With the rubber match secured and series control reestablished, for now, everyone can exhale.

Highlights

Kobe Bryant
I'll say this for Kobe, the man doesn't just play while hurt. He throws all possible caution to the wind when it comes to logical approaches in this state.

First, he refuses to get an MRI on his injured ankle like any sane person whose body is their temple would do. From there, it's not about limping all game to lend a complimentary helping hand, as many (myself included) felt would be the case. Instead, Bryant mustered as much or more aggression as he would on his teenage ankles. The lane was attacked -- often to great effect -- and he offered some of his most electric elevation since that time he introduced his midsection to Steve Nash's face.

By any sensible measure, the approach doesn't hold up to sound reason.

But guess what? It worked.

Bryant's evening actually started out with a whimper and a lot of ominous hobbling, as he struggled to contain Trevor Ariza. He also didn't take a shot in the first quarter and looked generally out of sorts. Twitter was chock full of folks wondering whether the Lakers might be better off with a minimal Mamba presence, particularly after the second unit pushed the Lakers out of an early hole. Bryant eventually rejoined the action in the second quarter, and after a few mixed bag possessions, it was as if he just said "Screw it."

That's when he launched himself from between the circles to throw down with vicious force over Emeka Okafor. This was just a ridiculous blend of hops and brutality, one of two wicked dunks for Kobe. But beyond the shocking showmanship, Bryant's contagious energy sparked a team-wide ripple effect that can't possibly be overestimated.

I have no earthly idea how these feats were pulled off, but like a lot of things involving Kobe, attempts to understand are an exercise in futility. Better to just sit back and say, "Wow!" His night rounded out with 19 points on 13 shots, four dimes, better defense and another chapter in a storied career.

Derek Fisher
The old man is known mostly for crunch time theatrics during the playoffs, but tonight, he went to work early. Fisher chipped in nine first half points, three points and a steal, and his fingerprints were all over a critical second quarter push when the lead was regained for good. Yes, Chris Paul enjoyed some success with Fish shadowing him, but lest we forget, he's Chris-freaking-Paul. But when the dust finally settled, CP3 was sitting on 20 points and 12 dimes, which is pretty easy to swallow. The goal is to prevent Paul from going absolutely bananas, and Fisher had a hand in accomplishing that mission.

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Hornets 93, Lakers 88 - At the buzzer

April, 24, 2011
4/24/11
10:03
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
The feeling in most circles, this one included, was after grinding out a win in Game 2, the Lakers found their rhythm against an undermanned Hornets squad in Game 3. Sunday's Game 4, then, should have been more of the same. The Lakers would continue pressing their advantage inside, keep their hold on the series and put themselves in position to close things out Tuesday night at Staples.

Instead, after a great start, L.A. was dragged back into a slugfest, and couldn't land enough punches to escape without guaranteeing themselves a return trip for Game 6.

An unexpected result, for sure. Here's how it broke down...

LOWLIGHTS

1. Defensive Rebounding. In Game 3, the Lakers turned the Hornets into a one-and-done group, locking down the defensive glass as New Orleans had only four offensive boards. Sunday, they weren't nearly as clean. The first half was particularly problematic, when the Lakers delivered the totally non-productive pairing of allowing New Orleans to shoot a high percentage (52.5 percent) while allowing enough offensive boards (six) to help the Hornets to a plus-eight advantage in second chance points over the first 24 minutes, and 20 overall.

From there, feel free to criticize the team's overall effort on the glass. Over the first three games, the Lakers were +21 in total rebounding. Tonight, the Hornets outdid them by seven. Chris Paul had as many rebounds (13) as Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol combined.

That ain't good.

2. Lamar Odom. Six misses in seven tries, only four rebounds and nary an assist (against two turnovers) in 24 minutes. This on a night where Bynum and Gasol both had issues with foul trouble. Odom is often used by the Lakers as a security blanket, but Sunday he was a complete non-factor. At least in a positive sense. I'm sure the Hornets were happy with his contributions.

3. Movement. Early on, the Lakers were extremely crisp and active, moving the ball and themselves and generating points with excellent flow. L.A. logged five assists on their first seven field goals, but from there they were unable to generate easy looks against an aggressive Hornets defense. Some of that can be chalked up to the direction taken by the offense as the game went on- heavy on Bryant isos, which does tend towards stagnation with the other guys- but in the postseason particularly there's no reason why players should stand still.

Despite popular narratives, throughout most of the season, when the Lakers have struggled it's been because of faulty offense instead of defense. Sunday was no different. L.A. was hardly pristine on their end of the floor, particularly in the first half, but despite a spectacular from Chris Paul still limited the Hornets to 44 percent shooting overall, and only 44 points in the second half the last few coming at the line. But while the D improved as the game went on, at the other end things quickly went sour.

After scoring 17 points over the first six minutes, the Lakers were limited to 71 the rest of the way, averaging only 21 points over each of the final three quarters. The Hornets are a very strong defensive team, and showed it again Sunday night. They deserve a great deal of credit for the result, but the Lakers didn't do themselves many favors. Only in spurts did they make much of an effort to play through the post despite finding some success when they did (Gasol, for example, hit three of his first five in the opening quarter). Some of it gets back to the lack of ball and player movement- throughout most of the series the Hornets have demanded the Lakers made the extra pass or extra cut to gain entry into the paint, and as it's been in all but Game 3, L.A. generally didn't come through.

Instead, they allowed the game to devolve too deeply into isolation sets for Kobe, or plays off the pick and roll.

Part of the problem, though, was a lack of space on the block. The Hornets threw bodies en masse at the Lakers in the post, forcing kick outs, in part because L.A. never forced them into anything else. Which leads me to...

4. Outside Shooting. The Lakers gave the Hornets absolutely no reason to respect their perimeter game. 4-for-18 beyond the arc, and only 3-of-16 after the first quarter. Long 2's weren't exactly money, either. Throughout their championship run, the Lakers haven't been a particularly strong jump shooting team, and at different times it's been a problem.

Game 4 was one of those times.

5. Late Pau. He was part of the problems on the defensive glass, and while hardly dominant on the offensive side was also a victim of L.A.'s inability to utilize their length. Still, he had a chance to help the Lakers steal the night, and couldn't do it. Between the fumble of a great pass from Bryant (tough catch, has to be made) underneath late in the fourth and a missed free throw following an aggressive play to the bucket on L.A.'s next trip, Gasol left three critical points on the table. In the playoffs, those plays have to be made.

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Lakers 100, Hornets 86 -- At the buzzer

April, 22, 2011
4/22/11
9:29
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
Oh, so that's why everyone thought the Lakers would roll in this series.

A big 14-point win for L.A., as the champs regained full control of their matchup with New Orleans, taking a 2-1 lead with Game 4 coming Sunday. Here's how it broke down...

HIGHLIGHTS

1. Kobe Bryant. In the first quarter, Kobe gave the Lakers the best of both worlds, giving space for guys like Ron Artest and Andrew Bynum to get going, but staying aggressive with his offense, as well (in contrast to Game 2, in which he barely shot over the first 24 minutes). Bryant did it, too, with a lot of forward motion. Probing before hitting a six footer for his first points of the game. A pull up in transition over Chris Paul, a big dunk off a handoff at the elbow. He finished the frame 4-of-6, for 10 points. In the third quarter, Kobe moved his game to the perimeter, burying a pair of triples to open the half, then hitting a third at the four minute mark, pushing L.A.'s lead back to double digits.


Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Kobe Bryant was controlled and efficient en route to 30 points Friday night.


Bryant was more a steadying force for the offense, rather than a dominating one, an excellent plan on a night where the Lakers found contributions all over the floor. He finished with 30 points on 10-of-20 shooting.

2. Offensive Rebounding. Through three quarters, the Lakers had 32 misses from the floor, but 14 offensive rebounds, a remarkably strong percentage. Not surprisingly, the combination of Bynum and Pau Gasol led the way, hauling down nine between them to that point. Beyond the second chance points the Lakers earned off the ORBs- and they were significant- their ability to attack the offensive glass was a major limiting factor on the Hornets. New Orleans was unable to push very hard off misses, because everyone had to stay home just to keep the Lakers from maintaining possession.

A great use of their superior length inside.

3. Defense. There was a great deal to like from L.A.'s perspective, starting with the way Paul was handled. While his final line was certainly impressive- 22 points on an ultra-efficient 9-of-13 from the floor, plus eight assists and two steals- Paul wasn't able to take over the game as he did in Game 1, dominating as both a scorer and a facilitator. In total, Friday he put together a line implying that was the case, or at least partially so, but the reality was different. In the first half, Paul was a scoring machine, missing only two of ten shots en route to 18 points. But he only had three assists to go with it. In the third, Paul racked up five more dimes, but only had three points. In the fourth, Paul was a non-factor.

The Lakers never allowed him to be both scorer and facilitator at the same time. That'll do nicely.

With Paul under control and the New Orleans transition game contained by the offensive rebounding, the Hornets were forced to come up with other options, and not surprisingly they couldn't. Their bench, so big in Game 1, was invisible Friday, scoring only nine points. Emeka Okafor had a few nice buckets over Bynum and Carl Landry was his typical Laker-killing self with 23 points, but on the wing the Hornets were awful, as both Trevor Ariza and Marco Belinelli had subpar games.

And in a development sure to please the coaching staff, the Lakers played their best defensive quarter in the fourth, holding the Hornets to 18 points while turning the game into a rout.

(Read full post)

Lakers 87, Hornets 78 - At the buzzer

April, 20, 2011
4/20/11
10:52
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
After allowing a little fear to ripple through the greater Los Angeles area Sunday afternoon (lingering through off days Monday and Tuesday), the Lakers overcame a slow start to restore some order in their first round matchup against New Orleans. Tied 1-1, the series heads to New Orleans for Game 3 Friday night.

The result was expected, as was the relatively comfortable margin of victory. How they got there, though, held a few surprises, starting with five field goals between Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. Not exactly a conventional recipe for success.

Here's how it broke down...

HIGHLIGHTS

1. Andrew Bynum. In Game 1, Bynum never gave himself an opportunity to make an impact, because he was saddled with foul trouble. Wednesday night, he solved that problem, and was arguably the best player on the floor for the Lakers. Offensively, Bynum was extremely aggressive, whether facing up on Aaron Gray with short jumpers, or working on the block. In one outstanding second quarter sequence, Bynum used a nice baby hook to score on one end, hustled back in time to gain position on Emeka Okafor for a rock solid defensive rebound, then worked his way back through the lane at the other end, fielding a terrible lob from Shannon Brown, gathering and finishing for the and-one.


Jayne Kamin-Oncea/US Presswire
Andrew Bynum was a difficult cover for the Hornets Wednesday night. Maybe because he was so well camouflaged?


Defensively, Bynum was a big reason New Orleans weren't nearly as successful scoring in the paint. He was the deterrent inside the Lakers needed, and combined with much better organization along the perimeter for L.A., contributed to a far better night on that side of the floor.

He finished with 17 points on 8-for-11 shooting, plus 11 rebounds and a pair of blocks.

2. Lamar Odom. Thanks to the attention given Gasol, Odom's poor effort in Game 1 was less an issue than it otherwise might have been. But while Pau struggled to bounce back, one day after receiving his Sixth Man of the Year Award Odom showed why he deserved it, quickly making an impact after entering late in the first quarter. He converted at the bucket on a great lob from Bryant out of a timeout, and on the next trip slipped through traffic along the right baseline to finish a driving layup. He finished the first quarter with a 20-footer tying the game at 23.

In the third, Odom hit consecutive shots in the lane pushing L.A.'s lead from seven to 11, then helped keep the Hornets at arms length with a face up jumper over Carl Landry in the fourth. After a hot start, the Lakers stalled offensively, particularly in the third, but Odom was among those providing the boost they needed. He finished with 16 points on 8-for-12 from the floor, plus seven boards and a pair of assists.

3. Bench Play. Spotty to say the least in Game 1, the reserves put forth a much stronger effort Wednesday. Returning from his bout with the chickenpox, Steve Blake piled up five assists in his first five minutes on the floor, and did a credible job defensively when matched up against Chris Paul and Jarrett Jack. Matt Barnes, a total non-factor Sunday, made his presence felt with eight points, making all four of his shot attempts, plus four rebounds, and two steals. Brown (making up for a couple wobbly choices in the first half) kicked in with a timely triple from the left wing in the fourth, pushing a 10-point lead to 13.

More importantly, at the other end, the bench flipped the script on the Game 1 loss, limiting the Hornets' subs offensively one game after that crew shot over 70 percent as a group.

(Read full post)

Hornets 109, Lakers 100 -- At the buzzer

April, 17, 2011
4/17/11
3:18
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
Heading into the opening round of the Western Conference playoffs, nobody gave the New Orleans Hornets even a puncher's chance in a series against the Lakers.

Apparently, the Hornets didn't get the memo.

In Game 1 Sunday at Staples, Monty Williams and crew did a number on the two-time defending champs, playing stiff defense for most of the game while slicing and dicing the Los Angeles Lakers with an endless series of pick and rolls. In the end, they earned themselves a fairly stunning upset.

I thought the Hornets would win a game in the series, but not Game 1.

"It is dangerous," Kobe Bryant said of losing the opener. "Absolutely. A series can be over quick." Particularly given how the Lakers performed down the stretch.

Here's how it broke down. ...

LOWLIGHTS:

1. Ball Movement. Like everyone else in creation, the Hornets entered Sunday's game aware of the size advantage held by the Lakers in the block. It's no coincidence Andrew Bynum shot about 65 percent against them in the regular season, while Pau Gasol shot better than 70. So, not unexpectedly, the Hornets started virtually every trip with an extra defender shading toward whichever big man L.A. had on the low block at any given time.


Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
"Hey you, in the front row! Watch me as I destroy the Lakers in Game 1!"


It's not anything the Lakers haven't seen before, and they could have found better looks. But particularly in the first half, too many possessions ended with one, maybe two passes, and then the type of mid-range jumper likely available to them later in a trip, if they wanted it. The Lakers did very little to punish the Hornets for overplaying the post. Didn't make them move, help or recover. It explains, in part the relatively low first-half shooting percentage (42 percent) and the anemic output of Gasol and Bynum in the first half (combined three field goals, including only three attempts in the first quarter).

"There wasn't a lot of direction going towards [Gasol]," Phil Jackson said after. "There wasn't a lot of balls in the post. We didn't get the ball inside, which is one of our strengths."

As a team, the Lakers lost the points in the paint battle over the first 24 minutes by 12, and for the game by 18. Defensive breakdowns leading to penetration contributed to New Orleans' output- it's not like Emeka Okafor dazzled the crowd with post moves- but for the Lakers a total inability to use their length inside was the limiting factor.

Even when the Lakers managed to put points on the board, it was a grind. In the third, they managed to turn aggressive defense into opportunities the other way, but the fourth wasn't a picture of elegance, and overall the Lakers never worked their way into any sort of flow. Credit New Orleans, no question. The Hornets were an ordinary offensive team this season, but by any metric locked down well at the other end. Still, the Lakers didn't suddenly get bottled up Sunday. Their problems were the same down the stretch of the regular season against lesser defensive teams such as Sacramento, Utah and Golden State.

2. Defense, Save the Third Quarter. Early on, the Lakers surrendered the types of shots you can live with. A long jumper from Trevor Ariza, midrange plays from Carl Landry and Marco Belinelli. That sort of thing. But as the game went along, particularly in the second quarter, the Hornets were offered extremely high-percentage looks, thanks in large part to the efforts of Paul, who consistently broke down the Lakers off the dribble, particularly on the pick and roll. In one second-quarter sequence, New Orleans scored on a dunk inside from Emeka Okafor, earned free throws after Aaron Gray was fouled trying to finish at the rim, a dunk from Landry, a layup in transition from Jarrett Jack following a Bryant turnover, and another layup from Gray off a dish from Paul.

That's eight points in about three minutes, all from no more than two feet out, and it would have been worse had Gray hit his freebies.

One common strategy when playing a dynamic point guard like Paul is to turn him into either a scorer or a distributor. One or the other, but not both. Fair to say the Lakers failed in that regard against CP3, who entered halftime with 11 points and 10 dimes, and finished with 31 points, 14 assists, seven boards and four steals. But it wasn't just Paul who hurt them. Jack was nearly as effective off the screen/roll sets, racking up five assists in 21 minutes of burn to go with 15 points. Something feels tolerable about Paul penetrating and finishing with a slick pass to Landry on the post. I suspect fans aren't quite so charitable when the combo is Jack and Gray.

The Hornets finished the first half by shooting nearly 60 percent, and after the Lakers locked down in the third, came back strong again to start the fourth, breaking down the defense with an endless series of pick and rolls, piling two or three up on each trip. Paul, it should be noted, was absurdly effective down the stretch.

"We didn't do the coverages defensively that we were supposed to do. We just didn't do them. I don't know if we forgot about them, or if it was lack of effort to execute them," Bryant said of the repeated breakdowns, "but we didn't stick to our game plan... We just made mistakes. We didn't do what we were supposed to do. What we talked about doing, we didn't do it."

3. Pau Gasol. As noted, the Lakers did a poor job moving the ball to get him touches down low, but Gasol didn't help himself, either. The looks he got, he missed, whether on the block or facing up along the perimeter. One field goal through the first 47 minutes of action isn't enough. And the second one, coming late with the game already decided, didn't exactly make up for it.

Bad, bad start to the playoffs for L.A.'s front-court All-Star.

"I was just not very sharp," Gasol said. "I couldn't get into a good rhythm in the first quarter. i didn't get myself going at all, so it's up to me to get some energy out there and be a little more aggressive, and find ways to find that rhythm."

Bryant, speaking both to encourage and challenge, said Gasol is obviously capable of more. "Pau is our guy. He's our guy, he's the next in line. Responsibility and pressure comes along with that. He'll be ready to go next game."

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Lakers 116, Kings 108: At the buzzer

April, 13, 2011
4/13/11
10:57
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
Before this game, I decided I'd provide a formal breakdown only in the event of a loss. I mean, let's be honest. At the end of the day, is the nitty gritty of how the Lakers managed to beat the lowly Kings really all that compelling? But on the flip side, if the Lakers actually dropped a contest to the Pacific Division bottom-feeders, which by extension means dropping the second seed in the West, fans would likely and rightly be curious to know what the (N.S.F.W.) happened.

Thankfully, if you missed tonight's game, you won't learn a thing about what happened in this space. Well, except one small, trivial detail.

The Lakers blew a 20-point fourth-quarter lead and required overtime to secure a victory.

It's the perfect regular-season capper for a massively underwhelming April. Five consecutive losses, with the skid finally snapped by a discombobulated victory over a short-handed San Antonio Spurs squad. The victory drought featured wretched offensive execution, a sudden inability to avoid turning the ball over, late rotations and nonexistent transition defense. Plus, there's been no shortage of complacency, the most glaring example coming against Portland, when the Lakers resembled a squad of zombies. And not the fast, aggressive kind from "The Walking Dead." I'm talking your daddy's zombies, the ones easily timed with a sundial.

Oh, and Andrew Bynum hyperextended his knee, Matt Barnes' surgically repaired knee began flaring up and Steve Blake is, to the best of my knowledge, the only 31-year-old man in America with chicken pox.

I'm not saying the Lakers backed into the playoffs ... I just don't know how to finish this sentence.

But on the positive side, there is a positive side.

The Lakers wanted the second seed, and despite the ugly delivery, they got it.

They wanted (with hands on the Bible and truth serum ingested) a first-round date with the New Orleans Hornets, and they got it.

A potential second-round match with the Dallas Mavericks -- or even the Portland Trail Blazers, who I think will upset the Mavs -- feels easier than a showdown with the Thunder, and they got that as well.

Bynum and Barnes will be in uniform by the time Game 1 rolls around, and everyone should be rested and ready to rock and roll. Plus, there are several days ahead to regroup, refocus and and get their proverbial "stuff" together. And while I'll constantly remind people the regular season is often a horrible barometer for predicting postseason futures, the Lakers' 4-0 clip against the Hornets, now battling without David West, makes me think the first round won't be merely an extension of the status quo, but an opportunity to bang out some of the kinks. Like a series of dress rehearsals, if you will.

By the time the presumed second round arrives, the Lakers will have perhaps rediscovered the white-hot form they exhibited immediately following the All-Star break -- or if not quite that good right off the bat, something in the neighborhood.

Is it really all that simple? I don't know, but for the Lakers' sake, it better be. The final games allotted for playoff tuneups were inexplicably frittered away, so this is the lumpy bed they've made. Focus, execution and intensity must be summoned from scratch, and they'll need to hit the ground running after a whole lotta walking.

Then again, this is a team built decidedly for the playoffs. The Lakers have had their eyes blatantly fixed on mid-April and beyond since roughly December, and it's finally arrived. Maddening as it might be, this is the Laker DNA. And for the last two seasons, the purple and gold double helix has amounted to success. No team enters these playoffs with a better pedigree, more experience and -- despite the recent malaise -- more unwavering belief in an ability to win when the games truly matter. That time is now, and it's the time the Los Angeles Lakers live for.

Let the second season begin.

Lakers 102, Spurs 93 -- At the buzzer

April, 12, 2011
4/12/11
10:38
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
Those hoping Tuesday's game would serve as some sort of preview for the Western Conference finals were likely disappointed from the jump, since Gregg Popovich kept Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker in street clothes. Combined with a thinned-out Lakers squad missing both Steve Blake (chicken pox) and Matt Barnes (knee), as a forecasting tool the evening was predestined to be completely worthless.


Chris Carlson/AP Photo
It's never good to see Andrew Bynum on the floor. On the floor and holding a knee? Even worse.


Of course, all of that became basically irrelevant at the 8:11 mark of the second quarter, when Andrew Bynum left the game because of a hyperextended right knee -- the same one he had repaired last offseason. Bynum suffered the injury after stepping on DeJuan Blair's foot at the right elbow, extending his leg awkwardly before falling to the floor under the Lakers' basket. He stayed down for about 30 seconds or so but was able to walk off the floor under his own power.

He's scheduled for an MRI exam at 11 a.m. Wednesday.

It doesn't take a Ph.D in Basketballogy to understand how significantly L.A.'s three-peat dreams would be undercut by a significant injury to Bynum. When the Lakers have been at their best over the course of the season, he has been a major catalyst. Until the results of the exam are in, the Lakers can do nothing but wait and hope. The good news is the Lakers have plenty of experience playing without him, so should Tuesday's injury force Bynum out of the lineup for a week or two they wouldn't be unprepared.

As for the game, once Bynum left, an already raggedy affair grew even more so, as necessity forced Phil Jackson to dust off both Joe Smith and Theo Ratliff as part of a lineup facing, as someone joked in the media room at halftime, what looked like San Antonio's Summer League roster. As a group, they ran into foul trouble (both Kobe Bryant and Ron Artest finished with five apiece), and continued struggling with some of the execution issues plaguing them throughout their five-game losing streak. But while it won't go down as a work of art, nor will it be particularly reassuring to fans (who, cynics they are, don't hold James Anderson, Daniel Green, and Chris Quinn in the same esteem as Parker, Duncan, and Manu), the Lakers left the floor with something extremely significant -- a win.

With it, L.A. kept pace with Dallas in the race for the Western Conference's second seeding, and eliminated any chance of falling all the way down to fourth behind Oklahoma City. This stuff matters.

Here's how it broke down...

HIGHLIGHTS:

1. Lamar Odom. Replacing Bynum in the lineup following the injury, Odom overcame a slow first half (1-for-7, two points) and fueled the Lakers over the final 24 minutes. He hit four of his six shots in the third quarter, good for nine points, while adding three assists and three rebounds. In the fourth, Odom continued to roll, missing only one of six shots and earning an impressive share of and-1's in the process. Twelve more points left him with 23 on the night, going with seven boards and four dimes.

(Read full post)

Thunder 120, Lakers 106 - At the Buzzer

April, 10, 2011
4/10/11
9:35
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
For those keeping score, that's five straight losses since Andy started staying home to take care of his newborn daughter. Where are your priorities, AK?

The most recent installment of Loss Fest '11! came Sunday night at Staples, as the Oklahoma City Thunder used a major push over the final stretches of the fourth to push past- well past- the home team. This one is painful for the Lakers on a few levels. First, unlike Friday's game in Portland in which L.A. didn't really bother with incidentals like effort and focus until the fourth quarter, Sunday the Lakers were invested in the proceedings, particularly after a second quarter dust up between Kendrick Perkins and Kobe Bryant (see below). It's easier to brush off a loss chock full of complacency, less so on a night with more robust effort.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea/US Presswire
Ron Artest and the Lakers have had good success against Kevin Durant of late. Not Sunday.



Second, and more importantly, it's another costly ding for the Lakers in the standings. Now a game behind Miami in the loss column and without the tiebreaker, the Lakers have almost certainly lost any chance to finish ahead of the Heat. Meanwhile, they remain only a tiebreak ahead of Boston, and "pulled even" with the Mavs in the race for the third seed out West.

The Lakers stay in front for now, but at this point there are no guarantees.

Plus, the loss allows Oklahoma City- currently the W.C.'s fourth seed- to remain in the hunt for the third spot behind Dallas. For that matter, they're only a loss behind L.A. now, too, meaning a more precipitous drop is possible for the Lakers. Not necessarily likely, but possible. .

Lowlights:

1. Defense. In reality, there were many things that went well for the Lakers Sunday. They busted out of their offensive slump, for three quarters, at least. Kobe Bryant had a nice bounce back game, Steve Blake hit a few clutch three-pointers, and so on.

But they were awful defensively. Oklahoma City managed to score in bunches, shooting 75 percent through most of the first quarter, and over 60 percent for the half. In the third, the Lakers managed to keep the Thunder under fifty percent, but OKC finished the game at 55.6. Plus, they worked their way to the line a staggering 35 times, making 32. It was barely 10 days ago we were writing about L.A.'s chance to become the least foul-prone team in NBA history. Clearly, this didn't help. But beyond all the ugly numbers- Kevin Durant finished 11-for-15, busting out of his seemingly perpetual slump against Ron Artest and the Lakers, while Russell Westbrook had 26 points- was how the Thunder got their points.

Layups. Dunks. Backdoor cuts. Open jumpers. Breakdowns on the perimeter and inside, and a healthy dose of what appeared to be confusion. Plus the tough ones talented players like Durant and Westbrook can make even when the defense does its job.

And when, too. Despite a slow start, the Lakers had every opportunity to win Sunday night, in a game tied at 101 with four minutes to play, and up a point a minute later. From there, the Thunder blew up, outscoring the Lakers 17-2. Some of the total came on late-game free throws, but not all. The damage had already been done.

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Trail Blazers 93, Lakers 86: At the buzzer

April, 8, 2011
4/08/11
9:50
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
"These guys just don't want to play hard right now," Phil Jackson said after the game.

Really? Couldn't tell.

The streak now sits at four, and with the loss the Lakers slip behind Miami on the playoff ladder- both teams have 24 losses, but the Heat hold the tiebreaker- and erase the benefits of Thursday's beatdown of the Celtics by Chicago. (Boston also has 24 losses, though need to finish ahead of L.A. to earn home court in a potential Finals matchup.) In a lot of ways, I feel tonight like I could simply re-post pieces of the last three breakdowns, but I'm contractually obligated to produce fresh material after each game. Here's how it broke down...

Lowlights:

1. Transition Defense. It'll happen periodically. Someone takes an awkward shot, maybe a player crashes the glass unexpectedly, or perhaps the opposition simply catches a team buy surprise in how fast they get the ball up the floor. Once? Twice? These are things you can live with. But by the fifth or sixth time, patience melts away. By the eighth or ninth time, fans start throwing remotes through their flatscreens. Or taking the flatscreen from the living room and throwing it through the one in the bedroom.

Portland pushed pace off Lakers mistakes, off missed shots, and even after makes (when they happened). At some point, the Lakers needed to understand and adjust. For a while, the failings could be chalked up to simple laziness, or turnovers. Then confusion. But when the league's slowest paced team pumps out 20 fast break points through three quarters, it's an indication things have gone... awry.

Contrary to at least some elements of popular opinion, apathy isn't the reason for every Lakers loss. They can care and still play poorly, like every other team in any other sport. But sometimes, it's pretty clear they're not invested in a game. Tonight was such a game.

2. General Attentiveness. To steal a joke from our man Dave McMenamin: Backdoor cut, lob, dunk. Backdoor cut, lob, dunk. Backdoor cut, lob, dunk. Backdoor cut, lob, dunk. Backdoor cut, lob, dunk. Backdoor cut, lob, dunk. Backdoor cut, lob, dunk. Backdoor cut, lob, dunk. Backdoor cut, lob, dunk. Backdoor cut, lob, dunk. Backdoor cut, lob, dunk. Backdoor cut, lob, dunk. Backdoor cut, lob, dunk. Backdoor cut, lob, dunk. Backdoor cut, lob, dunk. Backdoor cut, lob, dunk.

I could keep going, but the goal here isn't to reproduce literature from The Shining.

3. Offense. I fully understand "defense wins championships," but there's a minimum amount of work required on the other side of the ball, right? The type not exactly fulfilled by scoring three points over the first 8:40 of the third quarter? Or 62 points through three quarters? (Though maybe complaints are out of line, because it beats the 55 through three against Golden State, or the 57 posted heading into the fourth against Utah. Baby steps.) As it has been over the length of the now four-game losing streak, turnovers were a problem, particularly early. 10 of them, leading to 11 points for the Blazers. The Lakers would finish with 17.

As we've noted, it's not simply a question of the points given up at the other end, but 17 turnovers means 17 fewer chances to score.

As a team, the Lakers shot under 40 percent. Kobe Bryant led the way with 24 points (on 10-for-25 from the floor), nine of which came in an 86 second stretch just before halftime. Pau Gasol missed seven-of-11 shots, marring a strong night on the offensive glass (seven ORB's) with an inability to capitalize. Ron Artest spent most of the first half launching shots putting Portland in great shape to run in transition, finishing with 10 misses in 14 hoists. Against an undersized team- any team, really, Artest should never have more shots (14) than Gasol and Andrew Bynum combined (13).

Bad as the Lakers were defensively- and this was the worst of the four games in the streak- the one place they've been consistently poor over the losing streak is on offense. I can't remember a time when as a group they struggled to get shots off before the end of the clock, or entered their sets so slowly. While not a running team, they're usually very efficient in the half court. Not Friday night.

It says something about their performance when, fueled by 21 offensive rebounds, the Lakers had nine more field goal attempts than Portland, and still lost by, if you toss out a meaningless Derek Fisher triple at the buzzer, double digits.

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SPONSORED HEADLINES

TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Nick Young
PTS AST STL MIN
17.9 1.5 0.7 28.3
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Hill 7.4
AssistsK. Bryant 6.3
StealsK. Bryant 1.2
BlocksW. Johnson 1.0