Los Angeles Lakers: Lakers Postgame

Season is over, but is D'Antoni?

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
11:29
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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SAN ANTONIO -- The Los Angeles Lakers won on Wednesday, bookending the season with a win over the league's No. 1 team in the San Antonio Spurs much the same way they started things off with a surprising win over the Los Angeles Clippers on opening night.

You wouldn't know it from talking to Mike D'Antoni after the game. The coach stood in the cramped AT&T Center hallway outside the visitor's locker room looking as glum as Eeyore, sounding as beaten as an old rug.

[+] EnlargeMike D'Antoni
Chris Covatta/NBAE via Getty ImagesMike D'Antoni had nothing but good things to say about his players after the end of a tough season for the Lakers.
His team did everything he always asked them to do. They shared the ball, with eight out of the nine players to get in the game scoring in double digits. They outrebounded with hustle and heart, even though they were undersized. They spaced the floor, giving their shooters the room and rhythm necessary to go 11-for-27 on 3-pointers (40.7 percent).

It was beautiful basketball, a real life interpretation of the vision how D'Antoni believes the game is meant to be played.

And it cloaked D'Antoni in melancholy as it played out, making him wonder if this would be it for him. Maybe he should take it in one last time, make like Walter White as he revels in the perfect functionality of his lab equipment in his final moments.

It's no secret that his coaching seat has gotten mighty warm in the last couple of months. From the Lakers stumbling to a 27-55 record, the worst season in the history of the franchise since the team moved from Minneapolis to L.A., to Kobe Bryant -- whose relationship with the coach has deteriorated to the point where the two rarely speak to each another -- openly questioning whether D'Antoni should be retained or not, it wouldn't shock anyone if the Lakers showed him the door as they go into one of the most important summers they've ever had.

Yes, the Lakers owe D'Antoni $4 million for next season and yes, several Lakers players -- Jodie Meeks, Nick Young, Kent Bazemore, even Jordan Hill -- had career years playing in his system.

But sometimes there needs to be a scapegoat, and in a league that saw 12 of its head coaches fired last season -- including several who led their teams to the playoffs -- the coach is usually the one to go.

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Blake a reminder of a season gone awry

April, 12, 2014
Apr 12
12:07
AM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- For much of the second half of this season, Kobe Bryant's presence at Staples Center during Lakers game has sort of been like the fabled leprechauns at old Boston Garden.

You knew Bryant -- like the little green-clad lads -- was supposedly in the building, but you rarely got a glimpse of him because he couldn't bring himself to watch the games from the bench.

[+] EnlargePau Gasol and Steve Blake
Richard Mackson/USA TODAY SportsSteve Blake was warmly received at Staples Center on Friday, especially by former teammate Pau Gasol, who shared a hug with Blake.
Well, Bryant will come out of seclusion Sunday to address the crowd before the Lakers' final home game of the season.

It's an annual tradition by the Lakers to hand the microphone to a player before tipoff at the regular-season finale at Staples. It's not only a way to thank the fans for their support all season, but also to drum up enthusiasm for the Lakers' ensuing postseason run.

With no playoffs in the picture this season for the Lakers, who fell to 25-54 with a 112-95 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Friday, the context of Bryant's speech will be more like a eulogy for the worst campaign in team history.

But count on Bryant, who described himself as the "eternal optimist" a couple of years ago when the Lakers trailed the Dallas Mavericks 0-3 in a playoff series and he genuinely believed L.A. could come back to win, to offer up some kind of rallying cry for Lakers fans to latch on to rather than to dwell on the doldrums.

(Whether his optimism sometimes borders on delusion is another story for another day. The Lakers lost Game 4 of that Dallas series by 36 points to be swept out of the second round, of course.)

Besides, the timing for a eulogy at this point of the season with three games left would be all wrong. The truth is the Lakers' season flatlined long ago.

Just how long? There's a solid argument to be made that March 14 was the day the purple-and-gold dream died, when the Lakers became the first team in the league to be officially eliminated from postseason contention and there were still 16 games left to be played.

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Toll of season weighing on Nick Young

April, 6, 2014
Apr 6
6:42
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- For a guy who showed up to work on a Monday morning a couple of weeks ago sporting a smile and cracking jokes despite having his home burglarized the night before, it was pretty striking to see Nick Young on the bench during Sunday's 120-97 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers so fed up he had to bury his face in a towel.

His Los Angeles Lakers, the hometown team he always dreamed of being a part of, were en route to their 52nd loss of the season, tying the 1974-75 squad for the most single-season losses in franchise history with five games still to go.
His left knee, which had already caused him to miss 16 games because of a non-displaced fracture and bone bruise, had given out on him again.

His sunny demeanor had dissipated. His patience all but disappeared.

[+] EnlargeNick Young
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY SportsEven for a normally positive player such as Nick Young, the weight of this tough Lakers season is taking its toll.
"It was a little bit of everything that was going on," Young said after the game, describing his rock-bottom moment. "Pain, everybody getting hurt, just how the season's been a little frustrating. But at the end of the day, we just got to keep our heads up and go out there and fight. We can't give up now. Even though we're losing, we still got to battle."

The problem with Young trying to salvage the situation by sprinkling some patented Swaggy P optimism on it is that even he admits that the Lakers' battleship has already been hit and is taking on water at a rapid pace.

"I'm just trying to go down with the ship," Young said, explaining his motivation to get back in the lineup and drag his left leg up and down the court in the handful of meaningless games L.A. has left on its schedule.

The quote evokes memories of another awful team, the 1981-82 New York Knicks that went 33-49. When those Knicks were on the midst of their struggles, Micheal Ray Richardson summed it up with one of the most infamous lines in NBA history, telling reporters that "the ship be sinking."

While there is some nobility in Young's notion to want to be there for his teammates and his fellow native Los Angelinos who can't bear to see the purple and gold tarnished, it's getting harder and harder for the Lakers to keep up the charade trying to instill meaning into what's left of his "shamockery" of a season (to borrow another infamous line uttered by coach Mike D'Antoni last season).

Heck, D'Antoni all but conceded Sunday's game before it even started, knowing full well that he had only nine healthy bodies on his bench coming into the matchup with a Clippers team that had routed the Lakers by an average of 42 points in their previous two meetings this season.

"They know they're up against a mountain today," D'Antoni said before the game.

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Fun is not over for Steve Nash

April, 5, 2014
Apr 5
12:03
AM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- There was a bit of come-full-circle nostalgia in the air when the Dallas Mavericks ran a side pick-and-roll in the third quarter Friday and the Los Angeles Lakers chose to switch their coverage to try to defend it.

The 6-foot-11 Ryan Kelly found himself on the 6-3 Devin Harris on the wing as the 7-foot Dirk Nowitzki couldn't conceal a trace of a grin as he looked down and found the 6-3 Steve Nash pressed up against his waist as he tried to guard him at the foul line extended.

[+] EnlargeMavericks vs. Lakers
AP Photo/Gus RuelasSteve Nash had a rare moment in Friday's game when the 6-foot-3 guard was forced to defend his good friend Dirk Nowitzki, a towering 7-footer.
It was one of those moments that would be considered too over the top if it appeared in a movie script, but there was Nash -- who actually has two documentary projects in the works these days in "NASH: The Documentary" set to be released this month and his ongoing web series "The Finish Line" with ESPN's Grantland -- face to face with the best friend he has ever made in his time as a basketball player in quite possibly the last game he would ever play as a professional.

It brought to mind something Kobe Bryant told Sports Illustrated in a story last October, "Sports have a funny way of doing s--- like that."

The old pals, who played together in Dallas -- when Nash was ages 24-29 and Nowitzki was 20-25 -- and are still so close they went to dinner together in Los Angeles on Wednesday night, were given one last chance by the basketball gods to show what they got.

And staying true to how Nowitzki has managed to capture one championship in his career as Nash remains ringless, the German one-upped the Canadian again, calmly swishing the jumper over his former teammate. There was more than their shared history, too. With 27 points, Nowitzki passed Dominique Wilkins for 11th on the all-time scoring list. With seven assists, Nash pulled to within five assists from passing Mark Jackson for third on the all-time assists list.

Nash came into the game admitting that it could be the last game he plays this season, thus leading many to speculate that it could also be the last game of the former two-time MVP's career. His shaky health and the team's option to waive him with the stretch provision this summer help fuel the speculation.

By the end of the night, after seeing Nash do his thing for 19 minutes, if you didn't know that No. 10 for the Lakers was a 40-year old who has been ravaged by nerve damage in his back and hamstrings the last two years you would say L.A. had a promising backup point guard on its roster.

Nash left the arena without speaking to reporters Friday, but his coach is making sure there will be at least one more encore performance.

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Improved Meeks making his team proud

April, 3, 2014
Apr 3
12:05
AM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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SACRAMENTO -- Not that any awards should be handed out to anyone on a Los Angeles Lakers team that fell to a dreadful 25-50 with a 107-102 loss to the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday -- no need to pile on to the participation trophies trying to strip the competitiveness out of youth sports these days -- but specialized titles can still apply.

Biggest disappointment? That's easily Kobe Bryant, as Father Time won this round with him, limiting the 35-year-old to only six games when a fractured knee was the latest injury to strike his left leg after his torn Achilles.

[+] EnlargeJodie Meeks
Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY SportsJodie Meeks has been one of the Lakers' most consistent performers this season, averaging 15.3 points as the team's third-leading scorer.
Most entertaining? Again, that's an easy answer, as Nick “Swaggy P” Young has become a fan favorite with his patented four-point plays (he had another against the Kings, his seventh of the season), outlandish outfits and memorable quotes.

Most improved? Well, that's not so cut and dried. As bad as the season has been for the Lakers, the underlying saving grace has been that several players have proven to be better than their reputations.

Both Robert Sacre and Ryan Kelly have grown in leaps and bounds since training camp. Both Kent Bazemore and Kendall Marshall were acquired during the season as untested commodities and showed that they belonged in the league. Jordan Hill, Xavier Henry and Wesley Johnson all gave glimpses of the tremendous talents that made them lottery picks out of college.

But no one embodies a total improvement in his game, from top to bottom, quite like Jodie Meeks.

It was on display against the Sacramento Kings. On a night when the Lakers shot only 38.5 percent from the field, Meeks was the lone starter to shoot better than 50 percent, going 8-for-15 en route to a team-high 21 points.

"I think Jodie is ... he's good," Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said after the game, breaking into a genuine smile. "He's got a lot better and he keeps improving, too. There's something he gives you every day, something that's a little different. And his energy. I'm just really proud of him."

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How should these Lakers be judged?

March, 27, 2014
Mar 27
11:43
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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MILWAUKEE -- Granted, there are still 11 games left before this disappointing Los Angeles Lakers season mercifully will come to an end.

And history will almost assuredly show that the 2013-14 Lakers were the worst group of players ever to don the purple and gold, as the team would have to finish 7-4 to avoid assuming the title from the 1974-75 team that went 30-52.

[+] EnlargeD'Antoni
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsAfter a second loss this season to the lowly Bucks, Mike D'Antoni said the Lakers don't have the urgency they need most of the time.
But after Thursday's 108-105 embarrassment of a loss to the league's bottom feeders in the Milwaukee Bucks, there's no use of holding the guillotine of judgment off any longer.

This season's Bucks team isn't just on pace to be the worst team in Milwaukee franchise history, but it will end up with one of the 32 worst records in the history of the NBA unless it goes on some kind of unforeseen run and finishes 4-6 or better to close things out.

Yet those bad-as-they-come Bucks are now 2-0 against the Lakers this season (and just 12-58 against the rest of the league).

After the latest pox on an already ugly-as-sin season, what should Lakers fans think of these players? Hate them for failing to live up to the standard set by the squads before them who wore "Lakers" across their chest? Sympathize with them for leading the league with 256 combined games missed because of injury this season, by far tops in the league? Accept them as a necessary evil in the rebuilding process and simply look forward to the draft prospect the team will acquire as the fruit of their lackadaisical labor? Pretend they never existed and pass the time searching for old Showtime clips and Shaquille O'Neal-Kobe Bryant highlights on YouTube instead?

"All the stuff that's been thrown at us all year, it's been tough for everybody," Wes Johnson said when asked how fans should judge him and his teammates. "I wouldn't say we're underperforming, I'd just say we're not going out there every game focused and ready to compete at all times. That's just us. I can put it on us. I wouldn't put it on us having injuries or anything."

Jordan Hill, who had a strong night with 28 points and 16 rebounds Thursday but didn't do enough to help L.A. out defensively, was also asked how fans should view the team.

"I mean, without our leader, Kobe, it was definitely tough," Hill said. "I feel like guys that came out of nowhere and started playing their hardest -- Robert Sacre, Ryan Kelly, Kent [Bazemore], MarShon [Brooks]. Everybody is trying to do good. ... We're a young team with not as much talent as everybody else has, but we're still trying to battle."

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As Jackson looms, Lakers move forward

March, 26, 2014
Mar 26
12:55
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McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
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LOS ANGELES -- After casting a long shadow over the franchise since retiring from coaching nearly three years ago, Phil Jackson was literally looming over the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday from a luxury suite at Staples Center.

Of course, the newly minted president of the New York Knicks was there to preside over the guys in orange and blue, not purple and gold.

[+] EnlargeLakers celebrate
Harry How/Getty ImagesIt was a rare night of high-fives and smiles for the Lakers, who dismantled the New York Knicks at Staples Center on Tuesday.
And the Lakers beat the Knicks so bad, New York might have as well been wearing black and blue by the end of L.A.'s 127-96 victory.

It was quite the spectacle seeing Lakers president Jeanie Buss at the game sitting two rows from the court in Section 112, while her fiancÚ, Jackson, was way up in a skybox in Section 108. It provided a fairly symbolic representation of the 3,000 miles that will be between them as they lord over two of the league's marquee teams from opposite coasts. And the twists and turns of the NBA's most intriguing couple since Dennis Rodman and Madonna are sure to be talked about and picked over as every move their respective teams make in the future will be inevitably compared against one another.

But the best thing that could have happened to the Lakers on Tuesday did: Jackson didn't end up being the story.

For the first time in a long time, the Lakers played so well that the only thing there was to do was watch in awe. For all of the great teams the Lakers have ever fielded -- the 16 championship squads, the countless others that have gone deep into the playoffs -- none of them ever was as hot on offense for a single quarter of a game as this season's Lakers, already eliminated from postseason contention mind you, were in the third quarter Tuesday.

L.A. scored 51 points in the third, shooting 19-for-26 as a team overall (73.1 percent) and 6-for-9 on 3-pointers as it outscored New York by 20 and eclipsed the previous franchise record for points in a quarter, 49, that had stood for 42 years.

After the game, Nick Young, who made some more history by adding to his own franchise record already established this season by converting his sixth 4-point play, was asked about Jackson.

"Oh, I forgot about it," Young said. "Was he here tonight?"

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Rapid Reaction: Lakers 103, Magic 94

March, 23, 2014
Mar 23
9:10
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- It was appropriate that the Los Angeles Lakers and Orlando Magic met on Sunday night during the finale of the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament.

The Magic came into Sunday owners of the third-worst record in the NBA. The Lakers came in with the fourth-worst. The scouting departments for both teams will be scouring the tourney with an extra-keen eye, hoping to unearth the right prospect to turn their respective teams around when June's NBA draft rolls around.

Orlando might have one of the top candidates for rookie of the year in Victor Oladipo (21 points, 10 assists, five rebounds) to build around already, but the Lakers showed they have a few pieces that they should seriously considering keeping around next season and beyond as they try to ascend back to contender status.

How it happened: The Lakers jumped out to a 14-4 lead, but Orlando crawled back to go up by 30-29 early in the second quarter. Again, L.A. stormed ahead by 15, before the Magic used an 8-0 run heading into halftime to pull to within seven. The Lakers' lead was down to only two after three quarters, with the Magic's Kyle O'Quinn (14 points on 7-for-10 shooting) and Tobias Harris (16 points on 7-for-14 shooting) leading the charge. With the game going back and forth for much of the fourth, Nick Young nailed a 3-pointer with 3:23 left to put L.A. up by seven. The Lakers controlled things from there.

What it means: This is one of those wins the Lakers could be kicking themselves about when the lottery order is set in a couple of months. However, it was Catch-22 territory for the team. The Lakers want to see this group of players win games so the front office can properly evaluate their talent in situations that count. At the same time, the future of the franchise could be drastically improved if the Lakers get their man with say, for instance, the third pick, instead of potentially missing him with the fourth.

Hits: Jordan Hill had perhaps his best game as a Laker with a career-high 28 points and 13 rebounds.

Young scored 26 points off the bench.

Jodie Meeks had a career-high six steals.

The Lakers ended their four-game losing streak.

L.A. also snapped its streak of giving up 110 points or more at eight games.

Misses: Steve Nash did not play because of nerve root irritation in his right hamstring and Pau Gasol left the game at halftime because of dizziness and nausea and did not return.

Stat of the game: 5. That's how many four-point plays Young's season total is up to after notching another one in the first half Sunday. Young already owned the franchise record for most four-point plays in a season. In the process he upped the Lakers' four-point plays as a team this season to eight, which is also a franchise record.

Up next: The Lakers host the suddenly surging New York Knicks on Tuesday. The game is sure to pack plenty of intrigue for Lakers fans with Phil Jackson potentially being in the building and also Carmelo Anthony, who could be a free agent target of the purple and gold this summer, on the court.

Rapid Reaction: Thunder 131, Lakers 102

March, 13, 2014
Mar 13
9:36
PM PT
Young By Royce Young
Special to ESPNLosAngeles.com
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- There was no magic from Jodie Meeks on Thursday night. And no double-digit comeback from the Los Angeles Lakers. Just the Oklahoma City Thunder doing what was expected of them.

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook each had 29 points, and Serge Ibaka had 15 points, 13 rebounds and seven blocks as the Thunder comfortably got revenge for Sunday's loss, winning 131-102.

The Lakers showed their usual fight, trying to make a couple of second-half comebacks, but Durant had every answer to start the fourth quarter, scoring 12 of his 29 in the first six minutes of the fourth, to extend his streak of games with at least 25 points to a career-long 30.

After lighting up the Thunder for 114 points four days ago, the Lakers shot only 39.4 percent from the field. Though they made 13-of-27 on 3-pointers, they shot only 24-of-67 on 2s, and 15-for-25 from the free-throw line.

How it happened: With Durant in foul trouble, Westbrook took over the third quarter scoring 15 of his 29 points to extend the Thunder's 14-point halftime lead to 24 heading into the fourth. From there it was just about learning from past transgressions and not letting the lead slip.

What it means: After the euphoria of stunning the Thunder on Sunday, it's back to normal from the slogging Lakers. They hadn't played since that game, and possibly some of that fresh momentum had worn off. The 29-point loss ties them with the Jazz for the worst record (22-43) in the West.

Hits: The Lakers shot 13-of-27 on 3-pointers (48.1 percent).

Ryan Kelly had 12 points on 4-of-8 shooting with six assists and an impressive block of Ibaka.

Misses: Meeks followed up his career-high 42-point game with 19 but on 6-of-15 shooting.

Stat of the game: Durant and Westbrook combined for 58 points on 17-of-34 shooting, with 12 assists and six rebounds.

Up next: The Lakers continue their odd stretch of games, playing at San Antonio on Friday, then taking another four days off before hosting the Spurs Wednesday.

Meeks' career day caps wild week for L.A.

March, 9, 2014
Mar 9
6:00
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
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LOS ANGELES -- After trudging off the Los Angeles Lakers' practice court Saturday as the last player to get up extra shots in the impromptu practice following four games in five nights, Jodie Meeks dutifully stuck around to answer a couple of questions about his reeling team.

When Meeks was asked if the Lakers could glean anything from their 107-103 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder before the All-Star break that they could apply to Sunday's matchup, Meeks made it clear that circumstances had changed.

You see, Meeks sat out that previous meeting because of a sprained ankle.

[+] EnlargeJodie Meeks
AP Photo/Danny MoloshokJodie Meeks scored a career high 42 points Sunday but was more pleased that the Lakers won any individual accolades.
It was a confident statement from the fifth-year guard. He was saying that his presence would make a difference.

And boy did he back it up.

After the Lakers fell down by as many as 18 points in the first half, Meeks scored 20 of his career-high 42 points to help the Lakers storm back for the 114-110 victory over the Western Conference-leading Thunder.

"It's one of those games, man," Meeks said after going 11-for-18 from the field, including 6-for-11 on 3-pointers. "It's was fun out there. The most important thing is I was glad we got the win."

As encouraging as the offense was, it was Meeks' defense that provided the ultimate lift. With the Thunder trailing by 110-107 with 33.7 seconds left, it was Meeks who defended Russell Westbrook at the top of the key as the Thunder's All-Star launched an airball as he tried to tie the game.

"I think defensively he was out of sight and on Westbroook the whole time," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said. "So that's a lot of energy that he put out to win that game. But you know what? He's been doing that on a pretty consistent basis all year."

While Westbrook wanted no part in crediting Meeks ("There's nothing for me to talk about," Westbrook said when asked about Meeks' performance), Meeks heaped praise on Westbrook even though he had eight turnovers and shot 2-for-10 from 3.

"He's a tough cover," Meeks said. "He's a great player."

Meeks also had four steals, twice sniffing out a lazy pass by the Thunder and turning it into a breakaway opportunity that left Oklahoma City no choice but to foul him, leading to two clear-path violations.

"Every game I try to watch film on the opponent and try to see some of the passes they make," Meeks said. "Sometimes I'll get burned on backdoors, but a lot of the time I'm successful on steals."

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Defense remains demoralizing for Lakers

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
11:23
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
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DENVER -- It was some 16 months ago when Mike D'Antoni gave his introductory news conference with the Los Angeles Lakers. He was admittedly still a little loopy from pain medicine following reconstructive knee surgery, but regardless, the coach jokingly addressed the biggest shortcoming -- at least reputation-wise -- on his résumé right out of the gates.

"Maybe he can put the 'D' back in my name," D'Antoni said of Dwight Howard. "That would be nice. Some people have been taking that out."

[+] EnlargeLakers
Bart Young/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe Lakers' energy and effort on defense seems to be getting worse and worse as a torturous season winds down.
Howard is long gone and so are any laughs from poking fun at the Lakers' defensive deficiencies, which have become so atrocious that the final point totals they're giving up lately make you do a double take at the box score.

This week L.A. allowed the New Orleans Pelicans to score 132 points, the Los Angeles Clippers to score 142 points and the Denver Nuggets to score 134 points. All three games were in regulation no less and all three games ended up, not surprisingly, as losses.

The Lakers have no business even dreaming of winning another game this season if they're going to keep giving up 136 points per game.

"You can't win that way," D'Antoni said after a 134-126 defeat to Denver on Friday. "We are trying everything we can do and the players are trying. Just a lot of it is that we were outrun, out-strengthened, outmuscled and out-fought a little bit. I don't know if the air is going out or we're tired or what the problem is."

D'Antoni has repeatedly said the team's best chance to win is by playing with a smaller lineup, spacing the floor and getting up and down the court, but when you don't have a ton of talent on your team, most opponents will do more with that increased amount of possessions and embarrass you with video-game numbers in the process. Ty Lawson had 30 points and 17 assists Friday. Kenneth Faried had 32 points and 13 rebounds. Those stat lines aren't even easy to get on NBA 2K14.

Playing at a more balanced pace masks the talent gap.

Just take a look at the Chicago Bulls. While they lost two of their best players this season in Derrick Rose to an injury and Luol Deng to a cost-cutting trade, they've continued to stay afloat thanks to their defense and grind-it-out style. In their past four wins, they've allowed a total of 358 points.

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Pelicans prove Lakers plans could take time

March, 5, 2014
Mar 5
12:16
AM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
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LOS ANGELES -- Now that the Los Angeles Lakers' unexpected two-game win streak was snapped by a that's-more-like-it 132-125 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday, Lakers fans can get back to what they've become quite adept at over the past several months: looking ahead to the NBA draft.

And while those fans would rather not have to think twice about seeing a Pelicans team that came into the game on an eight-game losing streak completely take it to their team by shooting 59.7 percent from the field and lead by as many as 21 points, there was actually a lesson to be learned in observing New Orleans.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Davis
Noah Graham/Getty ImagesAnthony Davis is having a stellar second season for the Pelicans, which prompted coach Monty Williams to say, "Who at 20 is playing like him?"
You see, the Pelicans struck it rich in the draft only two years ago, securing the crown jewel in the 2012 draft by making Anthony Davis the No. 1 pick.

Davis isn't just any No. 1 pick, either. His 28 points on 10-for-16 shooting, 15 rebounds and three assists Tuesday was a mere taste of what the second-year big man can do. Heck, it wasn't even his best game against the Lakers this season. The 6-foot-10, 220-pounder put up 32 points, 12 rebounds and six blocks against them back in November.

Talk to people around the league and they'll tell you that Davis is one of a handful of young players they could envision being the linchpin on a championship team.

This isn't meant for the Lakers' faithful to lust over Davis' services (he won't be leaving New Orleans until 2019 at the earliest, unless he's traded), but rather realize that the road map to the future can be a bumpy one.

Even if the Lakers somehow out-tank the four teams with worse records than them down the stretch -- Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Orlando and Boston -- and end up with the best player the draft has to offer, be it Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, Dante Exum or somebody else, there will still be a growth process to endure.

Starting with the draftee himself. Davis had a solid rookie campaign, averaging 13.5 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocks, but Pelicans coach Monty Williams said he didn't stand out as the team's best player until New Orleans started to struggle with injuries this season.

"I think this has been a blessing in disguise in that he's been able to stamp his claim as the franchise player," Williams said before Tuesday's game, citing injuries to Ryan Anderson and Jrue Holiday that have thrust more responsibility on Davis' broad shoulders. "Now, when those guys come back, I think they have to adapt to his game. So, with all the stuff that we've been through this year -- no tragedies, just a lot of injuries and things that we can't control -- that's the one thing that, among other things, we can go into the summertime and say, 'We know he is the guy.' "

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Farmar going through Gasol, win or lose

February, 26, 2014
Feb 26
11:06
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Jordan Farmar scanned the visitor's locker room at FedEx Forum at halftime Wednesday.

His Los Angeles Lakers had already dug themselves a 19-point hole through the first two quarters to the Memphis Grizzlies -- a night after being outscored by 17 in the final two quarters at Indiana, meaning Farmar and the rest of the guys had been through a full game's worth of blowout city up to that point.

[+] EnlargeFarmar
Justin Ford/USA TODAY SportsJordan Farmar, right, made sure the Lakers would make the second half in Memphis respectable by flowing the offense through Pau Gasol.
The point guard wondered to himself who in the room could save them from having the final stretch of their season becoming a complete and utter exercise in futility.

This season is not what he signed up for when he left more than $3 million on the table in Turkey this past summer to return to his hometown team.

A rash of injuries, mounting losses and a roster made up primarily of players -- himself included -- on one-year deals, had created a caustic environment.

So when Farmar went searching for some kind of savior on a cold night in Memphis, his eyes settled on the guy he knew has what it takes to be a winner: Pau Gasol.

Like Farmar, Gasol had resisted simply accepting what has happened to the once-proud Lakers franchise this season. He spoke up about it Tuesday, calling out coach Mike D'Antoni for not creating accountability in the locker room through discipline and calling out his teammates for being selfish in the way they played the game.

So, Farmar had an idea: Forget small ball. Forget pick-and-rolls. Let's go through Gasol and let the chips fall where they may.

"I suggested it at halftime," Farmar said. "He's our best player by far. He's a many-time All-Star. He's one of the best players in the NBA. We have to use him to his strengths. We can't just expect him to just play through the motions and figure it out. So, playing through him, he's a willing passer and once he starts going to work, guys start doubling, guys get open shots, open driving angles and things like that. So, I suggested it, we did it and it worked out for us for a while."

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Minor trade having major implications

February, 23, 2014
Feb 23
10:58
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- As far a blockbuster trades go, the Los Angeles Lakers deciding to swap Steve Blake to the Golden State Warriors this week for two little-known bench players and save the team $4 million in salary and luxury tax fees barely made a blip on the radar.

But those little-known players, Kent Bazemore and MarShon Brooks, are suddenly being played a lot and that seemingly minor deadline deal has the rest of the Lakers feeling out of whack.

[+] EnlargeNick Young
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty ImagesNick Young is one of several Lakers with a vested interest to get as much playing time as possible as the season winds down.
Nick Young made his comeback to the lineup in Sunday's 108-102 loss to the Brooklyn Nets after missing the past six games because of a non-displaced fracture of the patella and a bone bruise in his left knee, and admitted that he may have rushed his return.

"They was actually telling me to wait until it's pain-free, but I just love the game of basketball and I want to get out there as fast as I can," Young said after putting up 10 points on 3-for-4 shooting in 20 minutes.

Young undoubtedly loves to play more than most in his sport, but his decision wasn't entirely altruistic. Young's contract expires at the end of the season and there will be money to be had on the free-agent market if he proves he can still play over this final stretch to the season.

To prove it, he'll need playing time, something he feared could be dwindling with Bazemore averaging 31 minutes in his first two games with L.A., Brooks averaging 21 minutes and Xavier Henry set to return in a week from the bone bruise in his right knee.

"When you see players out there -- like when we had four point guards -- you don't want to be lost in the shuffle," Young said. "I wanted to get back."

Young wanted to be back so bad that when he was re-examined this week by Lakers physician Steve Lombardo, he did not opt for an MRI exam on his knee as a final clearance.

"I'd rather not know it," Young said. "I told Doc I was ready."

While it has been a fairytale turn of events for Bazemore and Brooks to go from nightly DNPs to averaging 16 and 10.5 points, respectively, through their first two games with the purple and gold, it has been unsettling to the glut of wing players the Lakers already had on the roster.

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Lakers seek context for player evaluation

February, 22, 2014
Feb 22
12:29
AM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
LOS ANGELES -- Pop quiz: How can a statistical line of five points, eight assists and one steal by a player be considered to be better than his previous game of 20, 16 and three?

According to Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni, it's pretty easy to find the answer. Just look to see if the stats came in a win or a loss.

[+] EnlargeLos Angeles Lakers
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillNew additions Kent Bazemore, left, and MarShon Brooks made a good first impression, but their contributions the rest of the season will determine their future with the Lakers.
The stat lines just mentioned belong to Lakers point guard Kendall Marshall. The first set came in Friday's 101-92 win over the Boston Celtics, a game in which six Lakers scored in double digits and the team had some semblance of a normal rotation, with 10 healthy players suiting up and getting in the game.

The second came in Wednesday's 134-108 loss to the Houston Rockets, a game in which L.A. had only seven players available, and whatever good that came on offense was undone by all-out embarrassing defense that led to a franchise-worst eighth straight home loss.

Even though there was some joy and excitement in Staples Center for the first time in a long time Friday as the Lakers earned their first home win since Jan. 3 and swept the season series with the rival Celtics in the process, the reality is that even with the win, L.A. (19-36) is still 14th in the Western Conference, 13½ games out of a playoff spot with only 27 games left to play.

All the Lakers have left to play for this season is determining which players out of the 12 who have expiring contracts they will want to bring back for next season and beyond.

And while it's true the Lakers' chances of getting better positioning to add one player through the draft will be helped by losing, the best way the team will have a chance to properly determine what it has in those dozen other guys is to remain competitive.

"We also want to judge players around other good players. Especially like a Kendall Marshall," D'Antoni said, noting how important it was for the team to have Pau Gasol return from a groin injury Friday so it had a proper No. 1 option to revolve around. "And Pau will give that. So, you can judge players better instead of just putting stats up on a bad team. Anybody can do that. So, let's see if we can get some wins, see if we can get some traction, see if these guys can become winners, and then you can judge them a lot easier."

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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