Los Angeles Lakers: Game Preview
And while there is still a lot of hoops left to play against OKC, more than a few fans are looking forward to the offseason. We take a look at what might be coming, as well.
Here's the link to the transcript.
There's a lot on the line Wednesday when the Lakers "visit" the Clippers (7:30, ESPN), starting with positioning in the Pacific Division. The Lakers will wake up Thursday in first place no matter the result-- they're 1.5 games up heading in -- but a victory for the LAC would pull them even with the Lakers in the loss column, and more importantly the winner takes the season series 2-1, earning what could be a very useful tiebreaker.
Griffin vs. Gasol is a big matchup to watch, particularly if Andrew Bynum plays.
Unburdened from responsibility on his side of the floor, Griffin is far freer to load up on highlight dunks and soaring rebounds.
The Lakers are riding what might be the most unsatisfying three game win streak in sports history. With only 12 games left before the playoffs, they don't have a lot of time to coalesce, and their apparent allergy to comfortable leads obviously won't play well in the postseason. The LAC, meanwhile, have quietly posted a six game win streak, their longest as a franchise since March of '92 (an NBA record for largest gap between five win streaks), including a thumping of Dallas Monday night. Before, though, they'd lost 12 of 19, and still have some work to do convincing observers they're truly on track.
Add in a quickly developing, very chippy rivalry and, to paraphrase Rasheed Wallace, both teams have good reason to play hard.
To get a better feel for Wednesday's battle royale, we sat down with Kevin Arnovitz and Jordan Heimer, hosts of ESPNLA's The Clipper Podcast (among other things) for an audio preview. Click here to listen. To serve the more literary crowd, Arnovitz was nice enough to answer a few questions...
1. Maybe 10 days ago, we were all speculating about Vinny Del Negro's job security. Now the Clips have won six straight. What has changed?
"The Clippers had a relatively easy homestand against of slew of really, really bad road teams. But in the process, they've started to figure out some stuff defensively. On top of that, they've gotten some otherworldly shooting performances from all over the roster. The average NBA team puts up an effective field goal percentage of 48.6 percent. The Clippers over their six-game winning streak? 54, 55, 54, 57, 61, 54."
The matchup between Pau Gasol and Zach Randolph will be key Sunday night.
Friday, we noted the ways in which Sessions has improved the team's offense, goosing efficiency with high-percentage shots either for himself or teammates, many coming in transition, plus an ability to get himself (and teammates) to the line. And this was before he made his debut as a starter, lighting up the Blazers for 20 points and 11 assists Friday night at Staples. The game was significant not only for his impressive numbers but how Sessions affected the action down the stretch. In a still competitive game, Sessions dominated the fourth quarter with eight points and six assists as the Lakers piled up 32 points, all while Kobe Bryant happily took only one shot in the final 12 minutes.
It's a brave new world, folks.
Sunday, the Lakers get another good test against the Memphis Grizzlies, the same team L.A. edged in double-OT not even two weeks ago at FedEx Forum. That night, the Lakers were carried by Andrew Bynum (37 points) and Bryant (34) but only had one other player in double figures (Pau Gasol, with 14). Meanwhile, the Grizzlies got a career night from Marreese Speights, one of six Grizzlies with 10 points or more. Normally, when teams meet twice in a small window, the first game can be instructive. Not here.
The Lakers played that night with Derek Fisher and without Sessions. Memphis was missing not only Zach Randolph, but also Rudy Gay. They've also added Gilbert Arenas as a free agent, giving him real minutes in his first two games. The cast on the floor Sunday will be very different on both sides.
With that in mind, here are three things to watch:
1. Z-Bo vs. Pau Gasol.
In five games since returning from a knee injury, Randolph has been solid: 15.4 points and 7.8 rebounds, while shooting nearly 47 percent in about 31 minutes a night. Pretty good, but not the walking double-double he was in a dominant 2010-11 season. At some point, Randolph will round into form. If it's Sunday, the Lakers (and specifically Pau Gasol) have one more tough cover. Friday against Portland, the Lakers, who rarely do this sort of thing, were forced to bring doubles against LaMarcus Aldridge in the first half before order was restored in the second. If the same thing happens Sunday, the Grizzlies -- not a good half-court team offensively -- might find some lanes opening up that would otherwise be closed. The more extra rotations the Lakers have to make, the more wing players such as Gay can attack or Marc Gasol, who needed 25 shots to get 20 points in Memphis, can get easy looks on putbacks and open feeds at the bucket.
2. Kobe Bryant vs. Tony Allen.
Allen is among the league's most active defenders, one of the few guys capable of making Kobe's life truly difficult. On the ball, he can be very hard to beat, but while the Lakers had periodic success with Bryant operating away from the ball at points this season, with Sessions on board they have the means to do it more effectively and more consistently. Closer to the rock, the potential for good 1/2 or 2/1 pick and rolls could give Allen and Mike Conley looks they haven't seen much against L.A. Bottom line, as Mike Brown and Bryant noted after Friday's win, with Sessions the Lakers have so many more ways to attack, making them much tougher to prepare for.
Still, despite some weakness (see below) the Grizzlies constitute a very solid test for the revamped offense. They'll be at full strength, making them the best defensive team the Lakers have seen since acquiring Sessions, more effective than a Dallas squad missing Shawn Marion. Moreover, no team in the NBA is better at forcing turnovers, and Synergy rates them as the league's second most productive team in transition, meaning mistakes on the offensive end won't go unpunished.
3. L.A. vs. expectations.
Memphis is a dangerous team, one nobody will want to see in the postseason -- unless perhaps the postseason started today. The Grizzlies have dropped five of six overall, including Saturday afternoon to a slumping Clippers squad, and four of five on the road, and are just 9-14 outside Memphis overall. Perhaps it's because they don't score much, averaging only 91.2 points on the road compared to 99.1 at home. Nor have they been very good against teams over .500, going just 10-17. All told, Memphis' talent says it's a game the Lakers could absolutely lose, while the numbers say they really should win.
While the Lakers have performed at least a little better on the court than their shamrocked enemies from the east, the basic narratives surrounding both teams are similar. Aging squads clinging like kittens on tree branches to championship relevance while all sorts of pre-deadline rumors swirl around their big stars, putting into serious question the future of their current ring bearing cores.
Andrew Bynum has been on a roll. Can he keep it up against a stiff Boston D?
To get a little more insight on where things stand with the C's, we caught up with our man Chris Forsberg of ESPN Boston, who was kind enough to step away from a family vacation (seriously!) to answer a few questions:
Q: The Celtics still get it done defensively (3rd in efficiency) but the offense has fallen off a cliff (25th), even relative to what's gone on with the Lakers. What accounts for their struggles?
Forsberg: As you'd expect from an aging team, the pace of play has dipped (even Rajon Rondo can't get these guys to run often) and Boston's pace has bogged down a full possession per game since its championship season. The bigger problems are that Boston (1) turns the ball over at an alarming rate, (2) doesn't rebound particularly well at either end of the floor, and (3) settles for an insane amount of jump shots (all signs of an aging team). The result? A Celtics squad that averaged 100.5 points per game in their title campaign is now averaging a mere 90.5 points per game this season. We see occasional bursts of life, particularly when Rondo fuels them, but if jump shots aren't falling, this team really struggles to put points on the board because they don't typically generate easy buckets.
Q: How real are the Rajon Rondo trade discussions? Can you explain the persistent chatter surrounding him? On an aging team, he seems like the one guy you'd want to build around.
Forsberg: The Rondo trade chatter was very real in the preseason when the team tried to pry Chris Paul from New Orleans. Even when we heard rumors about Rondo being offered to another team, it was always with the goal of obtaining the pieces necessary to land Paul, who was the only endgame for Danny Ainge. Ever since? I'm sure Ainge is listening, but the Celtics understand his value. He's not going anywhere without an elite cornerstone coming back to Boston and that's unlikely to happen at the deadline. Is he a stubborn kid? Sure, but what superstar doesn't have his flaws? When he's engaged, he's one of the best at his position.
Sunday, Miami visits Staples Center, looking for the season sweep. The Lakers, playing better of late, could still use a signature win. Add in the standard dose of Kobe vs. LeBron hype supplemented by any lingering controversy surrounding Dwyane Wade and his All-Star level foul on Bryant last weekend -- he will be booed, that much is certain -- and you're left with what should be a very entertaining game.
To break it down, we fired up the Google Chat machine and conversated (virtually!) with ESPN.com's Tom Haberstroh, who covers Miami for the Heat Index.
Brian Kamenetzky: Right now, it looks like the only thing that can stop LeBron James is the fourth quarter of a Finals game (cheap writer zing!). What’s he doing differently?
Save last possessions, everything's been coming up "LeBron" this season.
Tom Haberstroh: If there's one thing he's doing differently, it's that he's playing more at the four, which has been a matchup nightmare of nightmares for opponents. The potential has always been there, but he had to be sold on it. The best salesman is the scoreboard. Score don't lie. We emphasize how versatile LeBron is, but this is something that's unique to LeBron only. He played 1-through-5 Thursday night in Portland like he was in a video game. Just unfair.
Brian Kamenetzky: How do you think that translates to Sunday's game? Does he force Mike Brown to put a big on him?
Haberstroh: It's a fascinating battle of personnel. Does Erik Spoelstra put LeBron at the four if he knows that he'll have to guard Pau? Does Mike Brown dare ask Pau to guard LeBron? Basketball is kinda fun in this way.
Andrew Kamenetzky: Does Brown play Metta World Peace at the four, which has happened at times?
Haberstroh: But then you're putting World Peace on the floor instead of Pau or Andrew Bynum. Win for Spo, right?
Andrew Kamenetzky: Depends on whether MWP can be effective, but your point is well taken.
Brian Kamenetzky: I'll go ahead and call that a win for Spo.
Andrew Kamenetzky: Who typically plays the 3 with LBJ at the 4?
Haberstroh: The Heat like to throw out Shane Battier next to LeBron so that they can cross-match as they please. Battier, like LeBron, can guard 4s as well as 2s so they use those two like a Swiss Army knife. Mike Miller is also there, as well as a 3-point contestant in James Jones. To say the Heat are loaded on the wing is like saying water is wet.
Turning back to the Lakers, what's the solution for L.A. at the 1?
For some perspective on the Blazers, I tracked down Andrew Tonry of Portland Roundball Society (True Hoop Network). Below are some thoughts from the Blazer blogger, along with a few of my own. And for those interested, here are my responses to his questions about the Lakers.
The Blazers are now "LaMarcus Aldridge's team," whether ready or not.
Land O' Lakers: With Brandon Roy retired, the Blazers are truly now built LaMarcus Aldridge. His progress last season was pretty marked. Does he appear to be moving along the same path? Do you see him as a suitable centerpiece for a contending team?
Andrew Tonry: Right now LaMarcus Aldridge can be The Man on a team counted on to make the first round of the playoffs. He has yet to become, or even flash hints, that he'll be the best player on a team capable of winning the NBA Championship. As far as his progress is concerned, it's too early to say. Aldridge, because of a heart procedure during of training camp, is still rounding into game shape. Also, he's learning to work with a new point guard in Raymond Felton. Aldridge has said that his relationship with former Blazers guard Andre Miller was profound, and that Miller taught him as much as anyone.
(AK's note: True Hoop's Kevin Arnovitz recently wrote a nice piece about Aldridge-Miller relationship, for those interested.)
LO'L: How has Jamal Crawford fit in with the Blazers? Between him and Aldridge, who do the Blazers tend to go through for scoring down the stretch, acknowledging the sample size is small.
At the end of games both are getting shots. That part of Portland's offense hasn't quite solidified yet, for a number of reasons. First, there haven't been a lot of close games. Second, Crawford's shot has been rather cold. Still, it's just too early to say.
Save the final score, there was much to like about Sunday's loss. Many good things happened, and I think it can be generally said that if the Lakers consistently provide efforts of similar quality throughout the season, they'll win plenty of games, starting with this one.
Here's what to watch:
1. How will Kobe's wrist respond to a back-to-back?
(Note: This question is a prequel to tomorrow's "How will Kobe's wrist respond to a back-to-back-to-back?" ahead of the Utah game, as well as variations you'll see throughout the season including "How will Kobe's wrist respond to playing on a Wednesday?" and "Kobe had eggs for breakfast, how will his wrist respond?" Just so you know.)
Sunday's game featured any number of positive moments for Bryant. There were strong drives to the bucket, some pure jumpers from midrange coming off screens, a couple nice pull-ups, and that killer spinning drive-'n'-baby J along the left side of the lane that put L.A. up by six with a minute to go. There were also worrisome sequences, including two lost dribbles early in the game, two of his eight turnovers on the night. Some of those might be attributed to the wrist, others to a lack of familiarity with teammates, and a couple more to bad ideas and a couple misguided attempts to pass fancy like a Harlem Globetrotter.
But too often Kobe finished plays shaking that right wrist, which is now rather famously lacking an intact lunotriquetral ligament. He shook it after plays as apparently harmless as a fairly gentle two-handed breakaway dunk as well as after more violent falls, meaning he probably could have shaken it a lot more. While he certainly filled up the box score, you'll pardon me for thinking he isn't, in fact, "fine," as he's declared over the last couple days.
On Christmas, the Lakers were a little too literal with the whole "better to give than receive" thing early on, handing the Bulls 10 turnovers in the first half. Many came with the reserves on the floor, as players other than Kobe and Pau Gasol were forced into greater ballhandling/decision-making roles. There was also uncertainty and some garden variety sloppiness, too. In the second half things were better, though the game certainly swung on a critical turnover in the final seconds.
For 149 gut-wrenching days, the 2011 NBA lockout churned on. At times it seemed to be standing on its last legs, like when NBA Players' Association executive director Billy Hunter said, "I think we're within striking distance of getting a deal," back on Oct. 27. Then there were the days when the gap between both sides seemed so enormous that the 2011-12 season would certainly be lost, like when NBA commissioner David Stern said "we are about to go into the nuclear winter of the NBA" on Nov. 14.
There were serious concerns from people from every corner of the NBA's expansive universe that I spoke to throughout the dog days of summer. We all tried to convince ourselves that Nike's "Basketball Never Stops" campaign had some truth to it.
Players Aaron Brooks, J.R. Smith, Wilson Chandler and Kenyon Martin bet it would never start. They’ll end up playing in China rather than for the Suns and Nuggets in 2011-12.
Support personnel in every organization across the league, including the Lakers’ assistant general manager Ronnie Lester and trainer Chip Schaefer, were let go during the work stoppage.
Sometime in August, I covered a charity golf event that Matt Barnes was hosting in San Pedro. He didn't know if all the work he put in during the offseason to strengthen his right knee and slim down his body would pay off with an "on" season.
Sometime in October, I ran into Lakers rookie Darius Morris at a restaurant in Venice. He didn't know if he'd get to play a game this season and wondered if he had turned in his junior and senior seasons at Michigan for a year's worth of pickup games.
Sometime in November, I caught up with Shannon Brown at the UNC-Michigan State game played on the aircraft carrier down in San Diego. He didn't know if he'd finally get to test the free agent market and find a team to offer him a multi-year deal (after playing in four different cities through the first five years of his career).
Matt is competing for a starting gig with Devin Ebanks these days. Darius got to run out of the tunnel wearing the No. 1 on his Lakers uniform on Monday, and scored double digits in his first taste of NBA action. Shannon didn't get the security he was hoping for by signing a lengthy free agent contract, but he did get roughly a $1.1 million raise by signing with Phoenix for a year instead of staying in L.A.
Like Andy Dufresne, crawling through it and coming out clean on the other side, they’re ready to begin the season.
Aren’t we all?
Bring on Christmas; the day we worried would only be about presents under the tree.
Bring on Kobe Bryant wearing a pair old wildly colored sneakers. Andrew Bynum trying to prove to a team, a front office, a fan base and himself that he can avoid injury and realize the potential we all wonder if he's capable of realizing. Pau Gasol doing things his way, which has been good enough to become a two-time champion and four-time All-Star (but may never be good enough to quiet the skeptics). Derek Fisher hitting big buckets. Metta World Peace taking the same head-scratching shots that Ron Artest did.
Bring on Randy Newman's "I Love L.A." blaring from the Staples Center's public address system and fans cheering for free tacos.
The season was saved. The league is back. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.
|Andy and Brian preview the Lakers-Mavericks Western Conference semifinals with ESPNDallas.com's Tim MacMahon.
- "I think he pretty much has to be absolutely dominant," answered McMahon when asked how well Dirk needs to play for the Mavs to pull the upset. "I think for the Mavericks to have a chance in this series, Dirk clearly has to be the best player on the floor for at least four games."
- MacMahon points to Jason Terry, Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion as supporting cast members who must step up in support of Nowitzki. He also says he thinks the confirmed unavailability of Caron Butler hurts. The ex-Laker has been out a while, but were he somehow able to recapture his old form in a hurry, Butler has been the best No. 2 scoring option alongside Nowitzki in quite some time.
- How will the Mavs go about defending Kobe Bryant? In MacMahon's estimation, not particularly well. DeShawn Stevenson is a decent enough option but plays only limited minutes as a starter. If you eventually put Marion on Kobe, that leaves "Pick your undersized Player X" to get bullied by Ron Artest. As for matchups favoring the Mavs, MacMahon says he thinks the backup backcourt of Terry and Jose Barea could provide some fits, but at the end of the day, it's mostly about Dirk being the best big on the floor.
- So what to expect in this series from Mark Cuban and his rarely shut mouth? Beyond "fun" jabs at Artest and Phil Jackson, MacMahon predicted another scenario with the potential to send the billionaire's lips into motion:
"Any time the Mavericks lose, be on the look out for lessons about officiating and journalism, because those are the things that seem to cost the Mavericks a ton of games."
Speaking of patterns, there is a decided rhythm to whenever Cuban decides to embark on an anti-journalism crusade: Mavericks will lose a few straight games, then Cuban will take issue with the press. In 2008, after slow dividends to the Jason Kidd deal, Cuban imposed a brief locker room lockout for any blogger, even those attached to a major newspaper. This pitted MacMahon (then with the Dallas Morning News) and me (then with the L.A. Times) as quasi-political prisoners during a Lakers-Mavs game in Dallas. It also led to my open letter to Cuban calling shenanigans on this nonsense.
Ah, Memory Lane!
- Predictions! MacMahon offers a skeptical"Lakers in 7," while Brian and I both see the Lakers closing out in Game 6.
- With MacMahon gone, Brian and I discuss more Lakers-Mavericks matchups and whether the Lakers can resist the bait that is Dallas' zone defense.
"Most teams see it as our weak point," Lakers assistant coach Chuck Person told me Monday after practice in El Segundo. "For instance, the second game we played in San Antonio, they ran 79 pick and rolls. So we know what that system is. We know [Hornets] Coach [Monty] Williams played in that system. He coached in it. I was his teammate in San Antonio. He went to Portland, and they run a lot of pick and rolls up there as well, so he carried it over to New Orleans."
"We knew coming in that we were going to face Chris Paul and the pick and roll," Person continued. "Over the course of this year when we played New Orleans, I don't think it was a concern. It's only a concern if you do things improperly, or out of the system that we determine is best [for us]."
You wouldn't know it based on Sunday's effort, but the Lakers are actually among the best in the league in defending the pick and roll. Via ESPN Stats and Information, when guarding the ball handler in P-and-R sets this season they ranked sixth in points per play and tied for fourth in adjusted field goal percentage. Against the roll man, again the Lakers were very good, ranking in the NBA's top five in both categories. Not Sunday. In Game 1, whether it was Chris Paul (1.5 points per play) or others (1.43 ppp, primarily fueled by Jarrett Jack), the Lakers essentially surrendered twice as many points per pick and roll as they did in the regular season.
Still, don't expect sweeping changes. As Kobe Bryant noted following Sunday's loss, the Lakers never gave themselves a chance. "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, but we didn't stick to our game plan."
In Wednesday's Game 2, they aim to fix that. Among the points of emphasis:
So it wasn't that long ago Golden State was competitive. It just seems like a _illion years ago, right? (Fill in the blank yourself. Suggestions include m, b, z, t, or gaj. I don't want to put words in your mouth.)
Steph Curry and the Warriors are 0-3 against the Lakers this season. L.A. hopes to make it a clean sweep Wednesday night.
In consecutive losses Sunday and Tuesday, the Lakers turned the ball over a fairly appalling 39 times. Given how important component pace is to any game at Oracle Arena, a matchup against the run-and-gun Golden Staters provides a prime opportunity for the Lakers to reinject a little more discipline into their collective game. Run the offense. Take good shots. Limit mistakes. Keep the Warriors in half-court sets.
Any and all of those things would likely put L.A. back on the winning path.
Or, they could just stay careless with the ball and see what happens. After all, the recipe Tuesday night against the Jazz was similarly simple, and look how that went.
Now, those who frequent this space know we'll typically call on bloggers from other cities to help us learn more about a given night's opponent. This game is no exception. But where normally our respondents at least feign some optimism, today things are a little different. Consecutive losses got you down? Particularly Tuesday's game, one Lamar Odom called "the worst loss of the year" in a year with plenty of strong candidates? Try using up your hoops energy on the Warriors, as our man Ethan Sherwood Strauss of WarriorsWorld.net does 82 times a year.
Judging by his responses, it's not a happy thing, despite the recent (again, it's all relative) success:
Whether it is in Sunday's game or in a first-round series, do the Hornets have a shot at the Lakers without David West?
Still, in the first round there's certainly a good chance the Lakers, putting an increasingly strong hold on the second seed, will draw New Orleans, currently sitting in seventh. So tonight's tilt at Staples against Chris Paul and the Hornets gets a little added dose of intrigue. On its face, a matchup against the Hornets feels like the best possible draw for L.A., particularly after New Orleans lost star forward David West this week to an ACL tear. In the face of the bad news I immediately wondered if the Hornets could hold on to their playoff spot -- can't believe I was the only one -- but in their first game without West the Hornets managed to keep pace, beating Phoenix on the road Friday night.
One game, sure, but the Hornets hold the tiebreaker on Memphis in eighth (with two more games against the Grizzlies still on the schedule), and a fairly comfy lead over ninth-place Houston. There's some wiggle room, and with Paul at the point, the Hornets aren't guaranteed to fall off the end of the Earth.
Without West balancing out the scales (at least somewhat), the Lakers have a serious advantage in overall talent, and an even bigger one in the frontcourt (despite the presence of noted Lakers killer Carl Landry, promoted to the starting lineup in West's place). Certainly the first three meetings of the season -- Lakers victories all, all games in which the Hornets had West available -- reinforce the point.
Can CP3 win four games against the back-to-back champs by himself?
To get a better feel for Monty Williams and Crew, both for tonight's game and looking forward to the postseason, I hit up our guy in New Orleans, Ryan Schwan of Hornets 24/7. He was nice enough to answer a few questions:
1. What do the Hornets do now that David West is out for the season? Do they still make the playoffs?
The Hornets will still make the playoffs. After a rough stretch through February and early March, CP3 got some rest as a result of a concussion that kept him out of two games (as odd as that sounds) and has come back at full strength, averaging 22 points and 11 assists. At full strength, he's good enough to carry most teams the rest of the way into the playoffs even without his high-scoring partner.
|Andy and Brian welcome Tim Varner and Andrew McNeill of TrueHoop's 48 Minutes of Hell to preview Sunday's game vs. the Spurs, and more.
In the meantime, the Lakers are trying to catch Dallas in the standings, so they can't afford a loss even if psychology isn't an issue.
For more perspective on this always intriguing matchup, we recorded a PodKast with Tim Varner and Andrew McNeill from the 48 Minutes of Hell blog. The show (recorded before Tony Parker's surprisingly quick return) can be heard in its entirety by clicking on the module to the right, but below are a few excerpts.
Pop alone with his thoughts... all of which center around adjustments.
McNeill, on what Sunday's game means to the Spurs (a topic discussed from the Laker perspective in the latest edition of The Triangle):
"Not much. Mainly just a matter of pride and making sure things work the way they should as far your system goes. (With) Pop, no matter who they're playing and who's coming to town, it's the same thing every time. It's our system vs. them. We're not changing anything to account for this guy and we're not changing anything to account for this style of play. We're gonna do our thing and try to do it better than they do their thing. They don't make adjustments that much until the playoffs. For them, it's just a matter of making sure everything is fine tuned.
"That's how the entire season is. It's one long fine tuning session before the playoffs begin."
Meaning they'll take a back seat this week, too. Four games, all against playoff teams, starting tonight in Memphis. Here's how it lays out ...
Game of the Week
Pau Gasol was overmatched in the first meeting between Boston and L.A., and for the Lakers to win Thursday's rematch will need to be better.
Lakers at Boston -- Thursday, 5 p.m. PT.
Is there another choice?
After the Lakers lost to the Celtics at Staples last week, all hell seemed to break loose. Mitch Kupchak slapped the (Potentially) Open For Business sign on the front door, and Magic Johnson declared the team lacking. It was a game basically serving as the embodiment of everything seen as wrong with the Lakers this season, from defensive questions to toughness (mental and otherwise) to an opportunity to simultaneously debate whether Kobe Bryant's teammates (Ron Artest and Pau Gasol in particular) will step up in big games and if the offense becomes detrimentally Kobe-centric down the stretch. (For a refresher on my take, click here.)
Particularly when mashed together with a horrid loss two nights earlier to Sacramento, fair to say it made for a rather angst-filled Monday morning for Lakers fans.
The good news is a strong showing at TD Banknorth Garden on Thursday night will go a long way toward undoing a few '10-'11 talking points for the purple and gold, starting with the ability to beat an elite team away from home. Anywhere, really. To do it, they'll need the sort of ball movement and distribution seen in the first half against New Orleans. Kobe was a monster early against the Celtics at Staples, single-handedly keeping the Lakers in striking distance. Boston, though, is too good defensively for that approach to work again. The supporting cast has to be better. From there, shoring up the boards would be a welcome next step. Boston was plus-13 in the rebounding battle at Staples.
No dogs in the bunch, starting with...
Monday at Memphis, 5 p.m. PT
Had the Grizzlies merely defeated the Lakers in both of this season's matchups, this game would be intriguing enough. That Memphis is among the hottest teams in the Western Conference, winning eight of their last 10 to grab a rung on the playoff ladder, makes it intriguing and dangerous. In November's 19-point home debacle, the Lakers turned the ball over 20 times. Not a total shock, given Memphis forces more giveaways than any team in the league. So there's one place to start. Another? Keep a lid on Zach Randolph. In the first two games, the Lakers did a reasonable job on Z-Bo, but of late Randolph has been on a streak torrid enough to earn him Western Conference player of the month honors in January.
Only a supremely crowded field (and perhaps his history and low-profile team) kept him off the All-Star roster.
Plenty more coming on this game later in the afternoon.
|Andy Kamenetzky talks with ESPNDallas.com's Tim MacMahon about the Dallas Mavericks' recent tailspin and what to expect in Wednesday's game against the Lakers.
To get an idea of what's ailing Mark Cuban's team and the game, I caught up with Tim McMahon, who covers the team for ESPNDallas. You can hear the entire interview by clicking the module in the box to the right, but below are some choice excerpts from our conversation. As you'll see, MacMahon doesn't pull many punches.
"It's one thing to play poorly," says the scribe about the Motown loss. "It's another thing to absolutely play with no heart or no effort. The stench of quit, we could smell it from Dallas when they were all the way up in Detroit."
MacMahon, on what's gone wrong during the bad stretch:
"They've had some medical woes, without a doubt, but I think what's really happening is this team is starting to feel sorry for itself. They're bad without Dirk. They're worse without Caron Butler. And you add the Chandler thing into the mix and I think you've got a team that right now feels helpless, like they aren't good enough to win. And that's pathetic for a team that started out 24-5. But you know what? Forget the 24-5 start. This team has lost six straight games.
"It's disturbing. There's no question about the fact that this is disturbing."
Frustration led to Dirk getting tossed against the Griz.
MacMahon, on whether someone can step up in Butler's absence:
"It's not a position fit, (but the injured) Roddy Beaubois is the one guy who can really at least fill the scoring void that Butler had. But again, we're talking about a guy that hasn't even been through a practice this season. Just started shooting jump shots. Just starting to run a little bit. Still, And oh, by the way, as Dirk Nowitzki pointed out (Tuesday), this isn't a kid who averaged 18 or 20 points a game last year. This is a guy who had a handful of flashes of brilliance. He was a fringe rotation player last year. He's still only 22 years old. What he really is is an undersized shooting guard. But there is a ton of pressure on this kid to come in and really perform at a high level, because they've got (only) two proven scorers on this team.
"But honestly, their biggest problem right now is the deterioration of their defense. They were a very good defensive team at the beginning of the season and that's completely gone away lately."
MacMahon, on the cause of the bad defense:
"Tyson Chandler is clearly the key to this team from a defensive perspective, but even going back last year, for the first month and a half of the season, they were a pretty good defensive team. They had some injuries, specifically Erick Dampier. People can laugh at this, but Erick Dampier's knee starting acting up and suddenly the Mavericks morphed into a horrendous defensive team. A Nellie-ball kind of defensive team.