Los Angeles Lakers: Grades
Mitch Kupchak gets a contract extension:
Hardly anything went right for the Lakers this season. The only thing worse than losing is losing without a plan in place. The Lakers took care of the latter by inking general manager Kupchak to a contract extension, as first reported by ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelburne last week. While the terms of the deal were undisclosed, the Lakers confirmed that Kupchak will be back calling the shots on a multiyear agreement. Kupchak, who has been with the Lakers organization since retiring as a player in 1986, was called the best GM in the league by Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey earlier this season. He should give L.A. a steady voice up top as the team navigates a difficult period of upheaval.
Steve Nash moves into third on the career assists list:
Nash would be the first to admit his time in L.A. hasn’t gone at all according to plan, but he was able to reach a major achievement as a member of the purple and gold nonetheless. With his fifth assist against the Rockets on Tuesday -- an outlet pass leading to a Jodie Meeks dunk on the break -- Nash notched assist No. 10,335 of his career, passing Mark Jackson for No. 3 on the all-time list. He now trails only John Stockton (15,806 assists) and Jason Kidd (12,091) in the history books. Unfortunately, Nash aggravated his hamstring against Houston and said he “probably” will not play again this season after setting the record.
Jodie Meeks keeps on scoring:
Before a clunker of a 2-for-12 night against the Golden State Warriors on Friday, Meeks was having one of his best weeks of the season on the offensive end. The fifth-year shooting guard scored 25 points against the Dallas Mavericks, 17 against the Los Angeles Clippers and 30 against the Rockets, shooting a combined 28-for-53 (52.8 percent) in the three games. Meeks is a lock when considering which player on the Lakers roster is most improved from last season and could very well receive some votes for the most improved player award for the league at large.
Clippers embarrass the Lakers for the third straight time:
That 116-103 win by the Lakers over the Clippers on opening night seems like a distant memory after the Clippers beat the Lakers 120-97 last Sunday to take the season series 3-1. As bad as the 23-point loss was -- with the Lakers allowing the Clips to shoot 56.6 percent from the field and 52.6 percent from 3 -- it was actually an improvement from the Lakers’ past two losses to the Clippers -- by 48 points in March and by 36 points in January.
Lakers get trounced by Dwight Howard-less Rockets:
When you score 130 points in a game, you’re supposed to win. The Lakers somehow managed to do that and still get blown out, losing 145-130 to Houston last week. The game was terrible for L.A. for a lot of reasons -- getting outscored 49-29 in the third quarter, allowing James Harden and Terrence Jones to score 33 points apiece and getting walloped 80-46 in points in the paint -- but perhaps the toughest pill to swallow for Lakers fans was seeing Howard rocking magenta pants on the Rockets bench as he laughed along and enjoyed the victory.
Chris Kaman stars in rout of the Suns:
He came to the Lakers as a former All-Star who could provide depth behind the oft-injured Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill in the front court, or maybe even play alongside them. He became buried on Mike D'Antoni's bench, considered redundant alongside Gasol on offense and lacking when it came to defense as compared to Hill or Robert Sacre. Yet, after 10 straight DNP-CDs to start the month of March, Kaman had his number called when Gasol went down with a bout of vertigo and boy did he deliver. Kaman pumped in 28 points, 17 rebounds and six assists, helping the Lakers to a rare win that was even sweeter coming against a team like the Phoenix Suns, who were fighting for a chance to make the playoffs.
Nick Young goes off for 40 against the Trail Blazers:
There hasn't been much that has been enjoyable about this Lakers season, but Young routinely has kept the entertainment value at the highest level it could be all things considered. "Swaggy P" provided some more must-see TV against Portland, starting the game off 8-for-8 and finishing 15-for-26 as he ended up with 40 points (with only one assist, of course). Even though L.A. lost 124-112 to the Blazers, Young -- playing on a fractured knee no less -- provided enough highlights to make the game worth watching.
Kent Bazemore resumes starting role:
After D'Antoni abandoned the experiment of putting Wesley Johnson as the starting stretch 4 when Johnson's energy level waned, the coach went back to the team's surprising trade deadline acquisition in Bazemore with the first five. While he still has plenty of learning to do -- his foul at the end of the Kings game after missing a layup was unnecessary and could have cost L.A. a win -- he also clearly has plenty of game. In his last five games, he's averaging 15.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.8 steals per game.
McCallum, Gay and Cousins scorch depleted Lakers in Sactown:
That ill-advised foul by Bazemore mentioned above was on Kings rookie Ray McCallum, who abused the Lakers' defense to set a career high of 27 points on 12-for-22 shooting. He wasn't the only Sacramento player to scorch L.A. Rudy Gay scored 31 points. DeMarcus Cousins had 20 points and 10 rebounds. The Lakers, meanwhile, had only nine healthy players and shot 38.5 percent from the field as a team.
L.A. gives up a season-high 143 points to the Timberwolves:
Maybe it's because before the game happened the Lakers had already had 14 games where they surrendered 120 points or more this season (including five games of 130 or more) that when Minnesota hung 143 on L.A. it didn't seem like as big of a deal as it really was. The Lakers have had their bad luck this season, but there's no excuse for the abhorrent defensive effort they put forth against the Wolves. Minnesota shot a franchise-best 67.1 percent from the field and scored 41 points in the first quarter after L.A. came into the game supposedly stressing first-quarter defense because the Wolves had already torched the Lakers for 47 in an opening frame earlier in the season.
While nobody in L.A. was happy to see Steve Blake go at the trade deadline, the Lakers were able to save $4 million in the deal and may have found a keeper or two in Bazemore and Brooks in their trade with Golden State. After joining the Lakers for a shootaround before playing in their first game, the former Warriors combined for 18 fourth-quarter points against the Celtics, with Bazemore finishing with a career-high 15 points and Brooks scoring a season-high 14 on 7-for-11 shooting with three steals.
As bad as the Lakers have been this season, most of their struggles have come because of injuries (despite what coach Mike D'Antoni's lack of popularity in L.A. would suggest). It was no coincidence the Lakers finally ended their eight-game home losing streak with a 101-92 win over the Celtics thanks in large part to Gasol's 16 points and seven rebounds in his first game back from a right groin strain, and also the return of Meeks, who has led the team in scoring (17.5 points per game) in the two games he played since recovering from a sprained right ankle.
Lakers stay conservative at the trade deadline:
Leading up the trade deadline it seemed as if Gasol, Jordan Hill and Chris Kaman would all be on their way out of town if there were draft picks to be had and luxury-tax relief attached to the deal. Instead, the Lakers chose to stand pat after the Blake deal, setting up what is sure to be an offseason flush with activity.
Dwight Howard makes his triumphant return to Staples Center:
Lakers fans tried to take out their frustrations for the last year and a half of the franchise's struggles by chanting "Dwight Sucks!" when Howard and the Houston Rockets played at Staples Center against the Lakers for the first time since the All-Star center left L.A. in the offseason. Howard just laughed in their face, mocking the jeer by joining in himself, at the end of a night when he put up 20 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks on the way to a 134-108 win for his new team.
Another setback for Kobe Bryant:
The chances of Bryant making a return to the court sometime during the 2013-14 season are becoming slim. One day after Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said, "We're not going to push him to get back," Bryant was examined by Lakers physician Steve Lombardo and it was determined the star guard would miss at least three more weeks because of pain and swelling in his left knee before being re-evaluated. Of course at that point, Bryant would likely need another week or two of practice and conditioning before he would play in a game. If that's the case, there would be about only a dozen games left -- if that -- in the season for Bryant to return to.
Kendall Marshall nears a triple-double against the Thunder:
It’s amazing this guy was in the D-League just a few short months ago. Marshall continued to prove he belongs on basketball’s brightest stage with 14 points, 17 assists and seven rebounds against the Thunder on Thursday. It was his fourth game with 15-plus assists since taking the reins of Mike D’Antoni’s offense and also his 11th double-double.
L.A. controls league-best Oklahoma City for 42 minutes:
Thunder coach Scott Brooks and his coaching staff, as well as Oklahoma City star Kevin Durant, were all New Orleans bound for All-Star weekend after Thursday’s game against the Lakers but it looked like they already had gumbo on the mind come tipoff. The Lakers took advantage, leading by as many as 15 and never trailing until Durant hit a go-ahead jumper with just more than six minutes remaining. Whether moral victories really count for anything or not in the grand scheme of things, the Lakers – who dressed just eight healthy players for the game – should be commended for giving the 43-14 Thunder all it could handle.
Shawne Williams makes his case:
Shawne Williams was already waived by the Lakers once this season and wanted to make the best impression he could playing in his last game before his current 10-day contract expires to make sure he doesn’t get waived again. Williams put up 15 points, nine rebounds, two blocks and a steal against the Thunder. Even though the stretch 4 is a D’Antoni favorite, his fate will be likely sealed by a combination of what the Lakers do at the trade deadline and which players return to the lineup healthy, rather than what he does on the court.
Steve Nash suffers a setback:
After Nash turned back the clock with a splendid 19-point performance on his 40th birthday to secure a road win in Philadelphia, his body failed him the very next game as Chicago’s Kirk Hinrich made contact with Nash’s left leg near the same exact spot the veteran point guard broke his leg last season and Nash had to exit the 92-86 loss before halftime. He tried to give it a go against Utah the next game and again had to shut it down at the half. Nash sat out against the Thunder, but said he hopes to play again after the All-Star break.
Big lead disappears against the lowly Jazz:
It may have been rock bottom in a season full of lowlights. The Lakers, fresh off an encouraging 2-1 road trip and that hard-fought loss to the Bulls, ran out to a 15-point lead in the first quarter against the cellar-dwelling Jazz and ended up losing by 17. Then again, they won the battle for draft lottery positioning for the night.
Happy 40th birthday, Steve Nash:
Steve Nash's strict diet that has aided him in extending his NBA career into its 18th season probably wouldn't permit him to celebrate his 40th birthday with a big ol' slab of birthday cake so he had to settle for a win against the Philadelphia 76ers instead. Nash led L.A. with 19 points, scoring the most points for a 40-year-old since Karl Malone scored 20 for the Lakers on April 1, 2004, and chipped in five assists and four rebounds, mixing in a highlight-reel shimmy-shake on Evan Turner and a teardrop jumper to ice the game late.
Lakers survive some controversy in Cleveland:
In one of the most bizarre finishes to an NBA game, the Lakers closed out their 119-108 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers with only four eligible players on the roster. Thanks to a little-known NBA rule, Robert Sacre was allowed to stay in the game for the final minutes even though he had already fouled out because the Lakers didn't have any other healthy players available. Steve Blake, playing in only his second game back from a right elbow injury, hit two big 3-pointers down the stretch to lift L.A. to the win, finishing with a triple-double line of 11 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds.
Jordan Farmar's return is short-lived:
The good news about Farmar's return against the Cavaliers after being out since Dec. 31 because of a left hamstring tear? He came out sharp as a tack, racking up 21 points on 8-for-15 shooting (including going 5-for-8 from 3), along with eight assists and two steals. The bad news? He played 33 minutes and the extended work load took its toll as he ended the game on the bench with a cramp in his left calf which led to tightness in that left hamstring again. After the fact, coach Mike D'Antoni said he tried to sub out Farmar for Wesley Johnson in the third quarter, but Johnson was in the bathroom at the time. Yikes. Farmar went back to being sidelined after the Cavs game and his status is day-to-day.
Injuries continue to mount:
As if Farmar going out at the end of the Cavs game wasn't enough, the Lakers lost Nick Young just before halftime as he twisted his left knee trying to avoid contact with Cleveland's C.J. Miles while trying to finish a fast break opportunity. Young went in for an MRI exam and was diagnosed with a non-displaced fracture of the patella and a bone bruise in his left knee and will miss a minimum of two weeks. Add in Jodie Meeks suffering a severely sprained right ankle this past week and Pau Gasol (right groin strain) and Xavier Henry (bone bruise in his right knee) having their timelines for return extended -- not to mention Kobe Bryant continuing to miss time because of his left knee injury -- and it's plain to see how much injuries have hurt this team.
Minnesota runs roughshod over the Lakers' defense:
The Lakers' defense has had its struggles this season -- those three straight games it gave up 120 points or more in January leading to three straight losses come to mind -- but even though it allowed "only" 109 points in a loss to Minnesota, it looked just about as bad as it has ever been. L.A. allowed Minnesota to score 38 points in the first quarter en route to a long night when both Kevin Martin (32 points) and Kevin Love (31) hit the 30-point plateau, Minnesota shot 8-for-17 from 3 (47.1 percent) and led by as many as 25 before settling in for a comfortable 10-point victory.