Los Angeles Lakers: Scouting Reports

How the Lakers match up: Los Angeles Clippers

August, 24, 2012
8/24/12
9:27
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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The Lakers aren't the only team in L.A. that has been busy this summer. The Clippers, despite working without a G.M. in the wake of Neil Olshey's leap to Portland, have also made a ton of moves, adding Lamar Odom, Grant Hill, Jamal Crawford and more. (Granted, only the purple and gold launched themselves into legitmate title contention.)

We've examined how the new-look Lakers match up with Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Miami, and Denver. In the latest installment, we bring in TrueHoop and Clipper Podcast co-host Kevin Arnovitz to break down this year's version of the Hallway Series. Video style, because words are old technology and we live on the cutting edge.

No surprise, there is unanimity in our little group that the Lakers are definitely the superior team, but (playoffs being all about matchups, after all) could the LAC give the LAL fits in a seven-game run?

How the Lakers match up: Miami Heat

August, 21, 2012
8/21/12
9:48
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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In the wake of their team's roster overhaul, there are matchups around the association of great interest to Lakers fans. The precocious (and still improving) reigning Western Conference champion Oklahoma City Thunder, for one. San Antonio, which won more regular-season games than anyone in the conference last year, for another. Denver, among the "sub-elite-but-dangerous" teams.

Heck, I'm sure there are people die-hard enough to want analysis on how their Big 4 and improved bench change things against Sacramento.

Then there are matchups of interest to everyone who loves, or likes, or even thinks he might one day show some interest in basketball. Ten months or so out, it's easily the sexiest of potential 2013 Finals -- Los Angeles vs. Miami. L.A.'s foursome of Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, and Steve Nash vs. the current champion and its Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh, with the newly added Ray Allen now tossing in 3-pointers from around the arc.


Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
This year, Kobe Bryant will be reaching for more than the ball. With a juiced-up roster, a Finals matchup against LeBron James and the Heat is possible.


That the season series could be limited merely to a pair of regular-season games in January and February is a cryin' shame. But on the (not so) odd chance it isn't, we hit up ESPN.com's Tom Haberstroh, frequent contributor to the Heat Index, to break down how a series between the Lakers and Heat might look . . .

Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’Lakers: What was the reaction in Miami to the Howard trade?

Tom Haberstroh: I was talking to someone with the Heat staff this summer and they didn't think the Lakers saw eye-to-eye with the Heat, even with Nash. But that came with one qualification: "Unless they get Dwight.”

Miami fans reacted like so: "Uh oh," but are still basking in the glory of the championship, so they aren't all that panicked. If the Heat DIDN'T win the title and the Lakers loaded up like this? I think they'd be calling for Erik Spoelstra's head first and then they'd be calling David Stern's cell phone "for basketball reasons."

BK: Given that Andrew Bynum was pretty good already, why would they be that much more concerned about Dwight? (I mean, beyond the obvious reason -- that he's a better player and is among the league's truly dominant forces, particularly defensively.)

What specifically about the matchup doesn't the staff like?

Haberstroh: Simple -- Steve Nash's pick-and-roll partner.

With a talent like Howard, you can't think of him as "just" an upgrade for Bynum. Baseball kind of works like that, but basketball doesn't. Because of the synergy between him and Nash, the Lakers' offense just got so much more dynamic. That is, if Kobe Bryant complies.

BK: I think he will -- I've said/written a few times that if this roster doesn't meet expectations, Kobe's ego won't be a primary factor -- but obviously the personalities we're talking about here are very strong, so there are no guarantees, even if everyone wants to row in the same direction.

Tom, when LBJ and Wade hooked up there was obviously an adjustment, but from your perspective how much of it was based on finding a rhythm, and how much was based in that idea of compliance? That both had to be willing to let it work?

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First Look: Lakers vs. Oklahoma City

May, 13, 2012
5/13/12
10:55
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
High on the list of intriguing storylines in this series will be the battle between the NBA's two leading scorers.

The prospect of facing the Oklahoma City Thunder in the postseason has for most of the season conjured incredibly pessimistic images for Lakers fans. As the regular season wound down you could practically hear Adrian's pre-Drago speech to Rocky ringing throughout the city as most prayed the Lakers would leap through whatever logistical hoops required to avoid the Thunder until the Western Conference finals. But steadily the Lakers built momentum, solving some of their road woes and finding some actual support in the supporting cast.

Two games into their first-round matchup against Denver, things looked even better. Four games after that, they seemed much, much worse. Saturday, a strong performance pushed the Lakers through Game 7, finally earning a date with those very Thunder, starting Monday night in Oklahoma City. Nobody, save those viewing the world entirely through purple-and-gold-colored glasses, will make them a favorite -- nor should they. But despite the inconsistent effort vs. Denver, it's not out of the question the Lakers, through strong post play, attention to detail defensively, the intensity shown eliminating the Nuggets, and perhaps a healthy dose of ultra-rustic Siberian training can give OKC a genuine test.

Maybe even pull the upset?

The series features serious star power, with each team trotting out a high-end big three. Oklahoma City's combo of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden brings, among other things, scoring punch and athleticism, while the Lakers counter with the length, experience and skill of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. Lovers of subplots and intrigue will have a field day, too, starting with the NBA's two leading scorers facing off in a battle of old vs. new guard. Metta World Peace and Harden will share the floor for the first time since this happened. Bynum and Gasol each have narratives to repair.

And, of course, the Lakers face a motivated Derek Fisher in a playoff series. The citizenry fears getting .4'd.

With all that in mind, here's a first look at the matchup ...

SEASON SERIES -- Oklahoma City 2-1

1. Thunder 100, Lakers 85 (Feb. 23, Chesapeake Energy Arena): The Lakers finished the first quarter up 23-19, but were outscored by 19 the rest of the way. Bryant finished 7-of-24 from the field, while Durant popped for 33.
2. Thunder 102, Lakers 93 (March 29, Staples Center): Again, L.A. got up early but was thoroughly outclassed after the first quarter. Durant and Harden were relatively quiet, but Westbrook went off for 36. Again, Kobe struggled (7-of-25).
3. Lakers 114, Thunder 106, 2 OT (April 22, Staples Center): The Lakers limited OKC to 14 fourth-quarter points, erasing an 18-point deficit and pushing the game to OT. Kobe again struggled overall (9-of-26), but hit huge shots late and ate up Westbrook (3-of-22) defensively. Big games for Gasol and the Lakers' bench.

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Rapid Reaction: Looking to the first round vs. Denver

April, 26, 2012
4/26/12
10:02
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
Not so suck the wind out of Christian Eyenga's Lakers debut, but the Bold Play of Thursday's Game came before it started, when Kobe Bryant decided to sit it out, passing on a chance to beat out Kevin Durant for this year's scoring title.

Nor is a lot of analysis from Thursday's 113-96 loss required. With Bryant, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Metta World Peace, and Matt Barnes in street clothes, the Lakers aren't very good. Not exactly a shock.


Garrett W. Ellwood/Getty Images
Arron Afflalo's ability to contain Kobe Bryant will be a major factor in the first round.


So instead of breaking down a meaningless loss in a meaningless game, let's look ahead to L.A.'s first round opponent, the Denver Nuggets.

George Karl's crew comes into Sunday's Game 1 (12:30 pm PT, ABC) as one of the West's hottest teams, going 11-4 over their last 15, including four straight victories to end the season. At 18-15, they sport the NBA's fifth best road record, and at +2.9 have a better average point differential than the Lakers. In short, they're a sturdy first round matchup for a shorthanded Lakers squad, one with no stars but scads of B-level talent.

Denver started 14-5 before injuries took them off the rails, and while not completely healthy -- forward Wilson Chandler is done for the year, as is guard Rudy Fernandez -- they should not be taken lightly.

Here's a primer on the Lakers' opening round matchup ...

SEASON SERIES - Lakers 3-1.

1. Lakers 92, Denver 89 (Dec. 31, Staples Center): In Bynum's first game of the season, the Lakers squeak out a win. Drew pops off for 30, while Bryant and Gasol each score 17.
2. Denver 99, Lakers 90 (Jan. 1, Pepsi Center): Kobe goes 6-of-28 from the floor, while six Nuggets score in double figures as Denver takes their half of the home-and-home.
3. Lakers 93, Denver 89 (Feb. 3, Pepsi Center): Bryant was only 7-for-23, but spread around nine assists. Bynum hit 10 of his 13 FGA's, as the Lakers held on to the ball (11 turnovers) and won the glass battle, 47-40.
4. Lakers 103, Denver 97 (April 13, Staples Center): Bynum went for 30/8 with three blocks as the Lakers raced to an early 11-point lead, beating Denver without Bryant in the lineup.

SEASON STATS (through Wednesday's games)-

Offensive Efficiency - Lakers 103.4 (10th), Nuggets 106.1 (3rd)
Defensive Efficiency- Lakers 101.4 (12th), Nuggets 103.4 (20th)
Pace (possessions per game) - Lakers 92.9 (20th), Nuggets 96.6 (2nd)
Rebound Rate (percentage of shots a team rebounds) - Lakers 53.1 (2nd), Nuggets 51.5 (4th)
Turnover Percentage (turnovers per 100 plays) - Lakers 14.2 (19th), Nuggets 14.1 (18th)

5 REASONS THE NUGGETS POSE A PROBLEM FOR THE LAKERS

1. Transition offense. Via Synergy, in transition possessions Denver is the NBA's third best team measured by points per play, at 1.205. Moreover, they push relentlessly. No team in the league has had more transition opportunities than the Nuggets, by a healthy margin of over 100 possessions. While Denver isn't a strong defensive squad, they do force turnovers (7th in defensive TOV%) and are solid on their own glass (9th in DRB%, only .08 percent behind L.A.), two keys in fueling an effective running game. The Lakers, meanwhile, grade out as the 25th ranked team defensively in transition, at 1.171 points per play.

You can see where this could be problematic.

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Lakers at Phoenix: What to watch with Valley of the Suns

April, 7, 2012
4/07/12
11:02
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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As was made abundantly clear Friday against the Rockets, the Lakers have pitched a tent in Strugglesville on the defensive side of the floor. Only twice in their last 11 games have they limited opponents to a points-per-possession figure lower than their season average for defensive efficiency, and those two were against New Orleans and New Jersey, both bottom third NBA offenses. So it's in this context that the Lakers, losers last night, nicked up with injuries, again fielding questions about the emotional maturity of their All-Star center, and playing their fourth game in five nights take the floor tonight against the still explosive Phoenix Suns.

One of the better teams in the conference since a 12-19 start, the Suns are fighting tooth and nail for a playoff berth and botched a huge game against the Nuggets Friday. A win would be huge, so they won't be doing L.A. any favors. To get a little more insight into the game, we hit up the rock-solid Michael Schwartz of TrueHoop's Valley of the Suns with a few Q's . . .

Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Steve Nash is old, and still awesome.



1. The Suns were 12-19 and left for dead a few weeks ago, but now are contending for a playoff spot. What has prompted the improvement?

Schwartz: Many things, but to me the biggest is that Phoenix once again boasts one of the league's elite offenses. Since the All-Star break (a few games after they dropped to 12-19), the Suns rank sixth in the NBA with a 106.8 offensive rating whereas before the break the offense was perfectly mediocre with a 100.2 offensive rating that ranked 16th. The offense has improved in large part because Channing Frye and Jared Dudley have scored much more effectively in the second half of the season.

Then there's the bench. Alvin Gentry really struggled to find a bench rotation that worked in the first half of the year, but almost to a man all of his reserves have been much better during the team's current16-8 run. Sebastian Telfair has solidified the backup point guard position, Robin Lopez finally looks healthy, Michael Redd has provided some much-needed scoring punch off the pine and Shannon Brown just looks much more comfortable now.

2. At age 59 (OK, 38), Steve Nash is averaging almost 54 percent from the floor, and still piling up big assist numbers. Have you seen any change in his game, or is it still a "same as it ever was" type thing?

Schwartz: It's really a "same as it ever was" type of thing. Occasionally you will see him run off a screen for a spot-up jumper, but for the most part he's doing the same things he's done the past seven years just with a different supporting cast. According to mySynergySports, 61 percent of his plays come as the pick-and-roll ball handler, which goes to show how often he’s running the same tried and true play that’s made him a future Hall of Famer.

I actually think one of the reasons his game has aged so well is because he’s essentially doing the same things that worked for him a decade ago, only now he’s that much smarter.

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Three is (probably) a magic number

April, 5, 2012
4/05/12
7:56
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
Go ahead and sing.

Wednesday's win over the Clippers was significant not simply for being a quality effort against a strong opponent, though it was, but for what it did to the standings. The Lakers now own the season series and accompanying tiebreaker over the Clippers, giving them what amounts to a three game lead in the Pacific Division with only 11 games remaining.

Meanwhile, one rung up on the playoff ladder, the Lakers are 4.5 games behind San Antonio for the Western Conference's second seed. Put it all together, and barring the unusual and unexpected, the Lakers likely enter the postseason exactly where they are now, as the third seed.


Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Tony Allen and the Memphis Grizzlies are a scary proposition in the playoffs.

The team should keep its collective eye on the games in front of them, since the schedule still contains three games against San Antonio, and dates with Denver, Dallas, and Oklahoma City. The goal is to enter the postseason playing at as high a level as possible, and in that regard the Lakers still have plenty of i's to dot and t's to cross. They need to go one day at a time. (Go ahead and sing.) The rest of us can look ahead at potential playoff opponents. The bottom half of the W.C. is tightly packed, meaning any of five teams have a reasonable shot of finishing sixth.

Who should the Lakers want? Is there a nightmare opponent out there? Here are the squads they're most likely to face, starting from the bottom, up... though the order is likely to change almost daily until the end of the regular season.

DENVER NUGGETS

Current Position: 29-25 (8th, 1.5 games behind sixth seed)

Matchup: The problem with Denver hasn't been talent, but health. Basically everyone on their roster has missed games, and in the case of key talent like Danilo Gallinari, a significant amount of them. But the tide might turn by playoff time. Wilson Chandler, who returned from China only to hurt his groin, will soon be back in the lineup. Gallinari (thumb) is practicing again, too. Rudy Fernandez, despite back surgery, could return for the playoffs. Keep in mind, the Nuggets started 14-5, including a win over L.A., and when whole are a dangerous bunch. They have good point guards in Ty Lawson and Andre Miller, a wing who can defend Kobe Bryant (Arron Afflalo), and a ton of depth. Most playoff rotations get shorter, but the Nuggets can still come in waves.

Fear Factor (scale of 1-10, keeping in mind the Lakers have shown an ability to lose to anyone, so all opponents deserve respect): 5 if injuries persist, 6.5 if healthy. Even if Denver gets their pieces back, how well will they fit with so little time together?

HOUSTON ROCKETS

Current Position: 29-25 (7th, 1.5 behind sixth seed)

Matchup: Kyle Lowry is back on the practice floor, and could return by the postseason. Obviously that changes the dynamic considerably for the Rockets, given how well Lowry has performed this season. Kevin Martin has also been banged up, but should be on the floor by the postseason. Houston beat the Lakers on March 20th without either one of those guys, so they'd have to be taken seriously. The Rockets don't excel in any one area, but are average to above average in a wide range of key statistical categories, and don't have a lot of clear soft points ripe for exploitation. Luis Scola is still a solid player, Chandler Parsons has earned his way into the starting lineup, and with Marcus Camby and Sam Dalembert, there's at least a little size.

Fear Factor: 5. Houston will force 48 minutes of solid play every game, but ultimately don't have enough top end players to beat the Lakers in a series.

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What to watch: Lakers at Memphis

March, 13, 2012
3/13/12
7:40
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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As John Hollinger noted Monday afternoon (Insider required), the Western Conference has gone a little squishy as teams for a variety of reasons have piled up losses. Denver, the Clippers, Dallas, Houston, Portland, and Utah have all suffered either significant bouts of mediocrity or full on slumps at points over the last few weeks, pulling the lower rungs of the playoff ladder a lot closer to .500 than typically seen in the W.C.

Even the Lakers, winners of seven in ten, lost to the Pistons and Wizards last week, and nearly dropped a game to a Kevin Love-less Timberwolves squad.

A quiet exception to this southward inertia has been the Memphis Grizzlies, who have gone 21-10 since a 3-6 start despite the fact star power forward Zach Randolph has played only four games thanks to a knee injury. (This after losing key frontcourt backup Darrell Arthur to an Achilles injury before the start of the season.) On any floor, tonight's matchup against Memphis would be a tough game for the Lakers. In what is sure to be a raucous FedEx Forum, where the Grizzlies are 15-5, it's an even bigger challenge, particularly given how the Lakers are so flippn' awful away from Staples.

To gain a little extra insight into Lionel Hollins' crew, we hit up Red Coleman of 3 Shades of Blue, a great resource for scratching your Grizzlies itch.

1. The Grizzlies aren't at all impressive offensively, but are very solid at the other end. What accounts for their success, and how do you think they'll approach the Lakers Tuesday?

Memphis has a commitment to playing defense that permeates everything they do. It's similar to the mindset that Tom Thibodeau has instilled in Chicago, really. Tony Allen is the spark plug for this, but everyone buys into it completely. That's why everyone is active and attentive on that end of the floor.

I think the Grizzlies will approach this game like they do any other -- stick your man, disrupt the passing lanes, and box out when the ball goes up. That's fundamental basketball, so there is no reason to expect them to change. They'll pay special attention to Kobe, of course, but it will still just be solid, team defense that is employed to try and hold him in check.

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Lakers vs. Celtics: What to watch with ESPN Boston

March, 10, 2012
3/10/12
7:51
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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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.


David Butler II/US Presswire
Andrew Bynum has been on a roll. Can he keep it up against a stiff Boston D?


Still, just as it was when the teams met this year in Boston, a Lakers/Celtics matchup brings the sort of intensity out of both teams reminding everyone why, even if both squads need a little polish to get back to the top, we still pay close attention when they're on the floor together. Certainly until the cast of characters changes significantly, at least.

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.

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It's easy to forget, given the total disappointment of Sunday's effort against the Suns and Kobe Bryant's strong comments to management about Pau Gasol, that the Lakers have a game to play Monday night. Against no cupcake, either. The Portland Trail Blazers may be slumping, having lost six of 10 and playing sub-.500 ball since starting the season 7-2, but they have tons of talent, match up well with the Lakers, and -- oh by the way -- beat them by 11 in the first meeting of the season.


Sam Forencich/Getty Images
Raymond Felton has been a disappointment for Portland this season. The Lakers need that to last at least one more night.

In that game, L.A. had absolutely no answer for Gerald Wallace, who lit the Lakers up for 31 points on 13-of-19 shooting from the floor. Meanwhile, LaMarcus Aldridge scored 28 and Jamal Crawford 17. For the Lakers, the Big Three played well, scoring 70 points on 29-for-50 from the floor, but the bench was nonexistent (14 points), and they got virtually nothing from the point guards and small forwards.

Sound familiar?

It will be the Lakers' last home game before the All-Star break, and given how the week ends (back-to-back games in Dallas and Oklahoma City), a win feels like as much of a necessity as the 32nd game of a 66-game season can. To get a few quick thoughts on the game, we hit up Andrew Tonry of TrueHoop's Portland Roundball Society with a few questions.

1. Ray Felton is averaging fewer than 10 points and shooting under 36 percent in February, and on the season he's 34th in assist-to-turnover ratio. On the other hand, he did have a good game Saturday against Atlanta. Was that a blip or the start of a trend?

Tonry: While he made a few shots on Saturday against the Hawks, Felton did not control the tempo or lead the team in the way a point guard is supposed to. So no, one game does not make a trend. Felton has dug a huge hole to climb out of. After all, point guard is a position most requiring consistency.

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Lakers vs. Suns: What to watch with Valley of the Suns

February, 17, 2012
2/17/12
7:08
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
Kobe Bryant does not like the Suns. So strong is his distaste and so deep his competitive nature, it wouldn't surprise me to learn Bryant resents the sun itself. The actual, rises in the east, sets in the west sun, like some sort of hoops vampire.

In Phoenix's first visit this season to Staples Center, Kobe dropped 48 points, shooting 18-of-31 from the floor. Another crack at the team he loves to hate could be the perfect elixir for his mini-shooting slump. In seven February games, Bryant is shooting only 37 percent and has seen statistical decline in just about every category.

Noah Graham/Getty Images
If the Suns are going to win Friday night, they'll need a big game from the underrated Marcin Gortat.


Certainly the Suns are a ripe target, having lost three straight going into Staples for the first half of a weekend home-and-home. And with dates against Portland, Dallas and Oklahoma City on the docket this week, the Lakers would be wise not to let the Suns off the mat. To gain a little more insight into Friday's visitors, we hit up Ryan Weisert of TrueHoop's Valley of the Suns.

1. The last time these teams met, the Lakers won in a walk. What has changed for the Suns since that day?

Weisert: This is really a question of good news and bad news. The good news: Since that game against the Lakers, Steve Nash has taken on a larger scoring load and earned an All-Star spot. Marcin Gortat has recovered from his early-season thumb injury to become a legitimate low-post scorer and double-double machine. The bad news: The bench has not developed at all. None of the free-agent acquisitions have played well consistently, and coach Alvin Gentry has yet to find a reliable second unit. The Suns have lost 13 of their last 21 games primarily because they just aren’t deep enough talent-wise to compete.

2. Gortat doesn't get a ton of publicity but has put up very solid numbers this season. Where does he rank among the league's crop of centers? How will he match up with Bynum in the middle?


Weisert: Gortat is definitely a top-10 center in the league and has the ability to be top 5. He is clearly behind Dwight Howard, but I think he is in the same class as Andrew Bynum, Al Jefferson, Greg Monroe and Marc Gasol. As the Suns leave their run-and-gun style behind and commit more to their half-court offense, Gortat’s scoring numbers and usage rate will increase and get him more recognition around the league. The matchup with Bynum should be a battle. Andrew’s size and shot-blocking definitely give him an edge, but Marcin’s ability to score with either hand and mobility on pick-and-rolls will make Bynum work hard on the defensive end.

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Lakers at Toronto: What to Watch with Raptors Republic

February, 11, 2012
2/11/12
9:17
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
It will be the Lakers' sixth game in about nine-and-a-half days, the last of a long trip, with an early tip time that has never suited them particularly well.


AP Photo/The Canadian Press/Frank Gunn
With Andrea Bargnani sidelined, Compton product DeMar DeRozan is as good an offensive option as the Raptors have.

And there are all the reasons the Lakers could struggle Sunday in Toronto. They're external, centering on the context of the game, not the opponent, because the Raptors are a bottom-feeding squad, no question. At 9-19, only five teams have fewer wins, and they'll take the floor without their only high-end talent in Andrea Bargnani. With him, they're bad. Without him, they're borderline unwatchable.

Still, while it's a game the Lakers should win, it's fair to say when it comes to this team, particularly on the road, there may be no such thing. To gain a little more insight into Sunday's game, we reached out to Sam Holako of Raptors Republic.

1. With Bargnani out, where does Toronto's scoring come from?

Holako: The first thing to remember is that with Bargnani out, the Raptors score through sheer attrition, void of much team ball-movement. You'll see a lot of listless passing on the perimeter then someone jacking the ball up with under eight seconds left on the clock. Jose Calderon has been doing his part of hitting outside jumpers and finding guys off the pick-and-roll, and Leandro Barbosa is hit-or-miss as he's always been, but the three-headed hydra of Jerryd Bayless, James Johnson and Linas Kleiza has been carrying much of load, putting up shots at will. DeRozan checks in from time to time with a big game, but they are too few and far between. It's the Raptor effort that keeps us interested as fans, not the offense sans Bargnani.

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Lakers vs. Rockets: What to watch with Red94

January, 3, 2012
1/03/12
11:32
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
Tuesday night, the Lakers face a Houston Rockets squad that always seems to give them fits. While a few roles have been recast in Houston, starting with the coach -- Rick Adelman out, Kevin McHale in -- the basics of this year's team are similar. The Rockets remain an efficient offensive group with sneaky good weapons inside and out. At the point, Kyle Lowry (13.3 points, 11.5 assists, 6.3 rebounds, 2.5 steals) has been spectacular, and with Luis Scola (15.5 points) and Kevin Martin (19.3 points, 42 percent from beyond the arc), the Rockets are considered a potential playoff team out West, if things break in their direction.


AP Photo/Pat Sullivan
Through four games, Kyle Lowry has been a special kind of good.

"They're extremely talented, and they're young and athletic," Mike Brown said Monday. "They're going to be tough. Lowry right now, is in my opinion the catalyst for them. Defensively he's the head of the snake, and then offensively he's got to be averaging something close to 12 assists a game. They're tough, from top to bottom."

On the other hand, Houston lost its two road games by nine (Orlando) and 20 (Memphis), so they haven't quite figured out that end of things, yet.

For a little more insight into the Rockets, we hit up Rahat Huq of TrueHoop's Red94 with some questions ...

1. What is different for the Rockets under Kevin McHale?

Hut: Terrence Williams is getting a chance but the biggest difference is the result of Chuck Hayes' departure. Without Hayes' passing, the Rockets aren't initiating their offense as much from the high post and instead are running a more traditional guard-facilitated offense. The outcome is Kyle Lowry's sparkling statistics.

2. Kyle Lowry has been great in the early going. Where does he fit in on the list of high-end NBA point guards?

Hut: Behind Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo for sure. After that, I put him in the mix with anybody. The assist numbers speak for themselves, but beyond that, he defends and rebounds as well as any guard. Lowry's only major weakness is that he can't really create much for himself off the dribble in the way someone like Rose can. Because of that, his upside is capped from true elite status.

(Read full post)

Five roster needs for the Lakers

November, 26, 2011
11/26/11
7:28
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive


While everyone is excited players and owners have reached a tentative deal to play ball again, the reality is a season starting on December 25 doesn't leave Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak much time to tweak a roster that, while not in need of a major overhaul, definitely needs some tweaking. A few after market upgrades to match a still-solid engine and transmission, so to speak.

No matter how the fine print of the CBA reads, the Lakers, well over the cap and into the luxury tax, will not only have a small window, but also won't have a ton of options available to make those changes. Meaning they'll need to shop quickly and wisely.

Below are five big areas of need,


Evan Gole/NBAE/Getty Images
The Lakers need a knock down 3-point shooter to space the floor for Kobe Bryant and their bigs.


1. Outside Shooting: If there was a single issue dogging the Lakers offensively last season, it was an inability to force opposing defenses to respect them from the perimeter. Derek Fisher, who took just under two 3's a game, was the only Laker shooting 40 percent (39.6, technically, but we'll round up) from downtown. From there, Lamar Odom and Steve Blake were around 38 percent, Metta World Peace was a tick over 35, and Kobe Bryant, who led the team with 4.3 triple attempts per game, hit only 32.3 percent of them. In the playoffs, things were even worse. 28.9 percent as a team, and only one guy (Fish) converted more than one of three.

Blake had performed at a much higher level in the seasons leading up to signing with the Lakers, and it's reasonable to expect he'll improve (I say this not only because I advocated so strongly for him last offseason, and would like to be proven correct). Unfortunately, Odom's mark was a career high, meaning regression wouldn't shock anyone, and Kobe has never been an efficient shooter from downtown. Andrew Goudelock arrives from the College of Charleston with the pedigree of a shooter, but even if he makes the team-- big if-- playing time will likely be scarce. Meaning if the Lakers want a pure 3-point specialist to stretch the floor, they'll have to do some shopping.

Lest you think the Lakers were lacking from 3, but gangbusters everywhere else, via Hoopdata.com, the Lakers were 26th in the NBA from 16-23 feet. Generally speaking long 2's are the worst shot in basketball, but they'll happen and it would be nice for the Lakers to convert at a higher rate.

As a team, the Lakers can absolutely abuse the opposition in the paint, whether with Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol, and Odom doing what big guys do down on the block, or with Kobe operating in the high, mid, or low posts, making life miserable for defenses. Inside play will remain their calling card under Brown, but without the ability to knock down jumpers with consistency, as they did in last season's early run of dominance, the offense will never operate with the efficiency suggested by their talent.

2. Point Guard Productivity: Ask John Q. Lakers Fan where the team most needs improvement and he'll likely say point guard. And with cause! As laid out on Hoopsstats.com, the Fisher/Blake tandem scored the fewest points per game with the fewest assists than any other group in the NBA. They had the lowest combined field goal percentage, and, had the lowest efficiency and efficiency differential.

All appropriate caveats (Phil Jackson's offense didn't feature the PG, Fish and Blake are low level offensive options for the Lakers, etc.) aside, that ain't good. Unfortunately, the prospects for improvement are limited. Particularly after a grueling offseason of marathon CBA negotiations, it's hard to picture a 37-year old Fisher elevating his numbers all that much. Blake has real potential for improvement in a more traditional system, but even then it's important to remember he'll then be playing like Steve Blake should. He won't suddenly morph into Russell Westbrook.

Unfortunately, whereas the Lakers have some flexibility in how they address the shooting issue -- new blood can come in the backcourt, on the wing, as a stretch four, and so on -- only a point guard can improve the depth at point guard. It's a serious reach expecting contributions from Darius Morris, the free agency rolls at the position are extremely thin, and given their dearth of appealing trade chips beyond team cornerstones Bynum and Odom, cobbling together a solid deal in a tiny preseason while everyone is still digesting the new CBA feels like a reach.

Is the point a weakness? Yep, but more likely than not, the Lakers will have to make do, and look to compensate by strengthening the team somewhere else.

3. Center Depth: The roots of Gasol's postseason meltdown could very well be found in Theo Ratliff's bum knee.

(Read full post)

The 2011 NBA Draft is Thursday afternoon (4 p.m. PT, ESPN). We've spent scads of time taking stock of where the Lakers stand heading into draft day, and now aim to catch up on the rest of the Western Conference.

Today, the Pacific Division...


Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images
Building around Blake Griffin, a shrewd move or two makes the Clips a challenge for the Lakers in the Pacific.


Los Angeles Lakers

2010-11: 57-25, lost in second round 4-0 (on the odd chance you forgot) to Dallas.

Picks: 41, 46, 56, 58 (Round 2).

Where They Stand: Uncharacteristically uncertain. The Lakers certainly have more questions this offseason than anything faced in the last two. With four second round picks, making significant additions through the draft to a roster still designed to win now is, to say the least, unrealistic. G.M. Mitch Kupchak has said he just hopes to find a player able to stick on the roster. An admirable goal.

As a team, though, the Lakers have plenty of needs, including outside shooting, point guard production, center depth, speed/athleticism, and another shot creator.

Projections (Round 2): Chad Ford, ESPN.com (Insider required)- Nolan Smith (SG, Duke), Malcolm Thomas (PF, San Diego State), DeAndre Liggins (SG, Kentucky), Julyan Stone (SG, UTEP). DraftExpress- Shelvin Mack (PG, Butler), Jordan Williams (C, Maryland), Jereme Richmond (SF, Illinois), Greg Smith (C, Fresno State).


Phoenix Suns

2011-12: 40-42, missed playoffs

Picks: 13 (Round 1).

PODCAST
Andy and Brian talk with David Thorpe (ESPN.com's Scout's Inc.) about what the Lakers can do in the second round of the draft. Plus, a look at the hot rumor (Pau for Kevin Love/#2 pick) and the vocal stylings of Dirk Nowitzki


Podcast Listen
Where They Stand: Limbo. A surprising run to the Western Conference Finals two seasons ago faded from memory this year, as the Suns finished below .500 and in the lottery. Steve Nash is entering the final year of his contract, while Grant Hill is a free agent. At 34 years old, Vince Carter, acquired in December's big deal with Orlando, is a shell of the shell of himself, and reportedly will be bought out.

The supporting cast has some quality in it. Marcin Gortat was a major score in the Orlando trade, quickly overtaking Robin Lopez in the starting lineup and becoming one of the most productive centers in the NBA. Channing Frye didn't quite meet his lofty shooting stats of 2009-10, but still hit nearly 40 percent of his triples. Plenty of teams would love to have a guy like Jared Dudley.

Role players, though, won't be enough to again lift the Suns to the elite. They need serious help on the glass, landing near the bottom of the league in rebounding on both sides of the floor. Where in previous seasons the Suns were bad more by reputation than actual output defensively, this season they were genuinely lacking, finishing 25th in efficiency. Contrary to their reputation, with a hole at shooting guard and a decision to make on Aaron Brooks, the Suns could find themselves in need of scoring, as well. Certainly an upgrade at the two is required.

Projections: Ford- Tristan Thompson (PF, Texas). DraftExpress- Thompson.


(Read full post)

Pre-Draft status updates: Southwest Division

June, 21, 2011
6/21/11
8:33
AM PT
By the Kamenetzky Brothers
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
The 2011 NBA Draft is Thursday afternoon (4 p.m. PT, ESPN). We've spent scads of time taking stock of where the Lakers stand heading into draft day, and now aim to catch up on the rest of the Western Conference.

Today, the Southwest Division...

San Antonio Spurs

2010-2011: 61-21, lost in the first round to the Memphis Grizzlies 4-2

Picks: 29, Round 1. 59, Round 2.


Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images
Manu Ginobili will once again lead the Manu/Timmeh/(probably) Parker core, but to say the clock is ticking is an understatement.


Where They Stand: At the tail end of an era. It was a strange year for the Spurs, who remained remarkably healthy for most of the season, earned the best record in the Western Conference, then saw Manu Ginobili hurt himself at the worst possible time and lost in the first round to a Memphis team showing oodles of potential. Now the Spurs have one more year with Tim Duncan under contract and two more seasons with Ginobili to go with Tony Parker for their Big Three. I suspect the trio will make at least one more run together, and as the 61 wins from this season attest, it's still a very competitive core. Add in solid role players like Gary Neal, George Hill, DeJuan Blair and Tiago Splitter, and the Spurs have every reason to give it one more go.

In terms of significant pieces likely gone for next season, the only big name is Antonio McDyess, likely retiring after a distinguished 16-year career. Whether he shelves the sneaks or not, the Spurs need some size to bolster the frontcourt and prevent Duncan from being overtaxed. Explosiveness on the wings wouldn't hurt, either, because Richard Jefferson essentially became a spot-up shooter last year, with nearly half of his shots coming from beyond the arc. Parker and Ginobili still attack the rack, but one more guy would take a lot of pressure off a core needing every break it can get.

A little defensive help would be a nice touch, too.

Projections (Round 1): Chad Ford, ESPN.com (Insider Required)- Davis Bertans (SF, Latvia). DraftExpress- Nikola Mirotic (PF, Montenegro)

--Brian Kamenetzky

Dallas Mavericks

2010-2011: 57-25, won the 2011 NBA championship

Picks: 26, Round 1. 57, Round 2.

Where they stand: With bigger fish to fry than the draft. Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea, and DeShawn Stevenson all could depart after playing critical roles in capturing the franchise's first title, and Caron Butler, their second best player before a season ending injury, is a free agent as well. The Mavs outlasted the field in part because of their superior depth, thus their bid to repeat depends in large part on retaining as many useful players as possible to surround their lone superstar (Dirk Nowitzki, for the benefit of the thick).

PODCAST
Andy and Brian talk with David Thorpe (ESPN.com's Scout's Inc.) about what the Lakers can do in the second round of the draft. Plus, a look at the hot rumor (Pau for Kevin Love/#2 pick) and the vocal stylings of Dirk Nowitzki
Podcast Listen
Still, there are needs beyond maintaining continuity. With Roddy Beaubois an unproven commodity, covering their bases with another point guard wouldn't be the worst idea. Shawn Marion will need a backup if Butler isn't re-signed. And while Jason Kidd isn't quite ready yet to drive a Rascal, every year spent counting on a player pushing 40 carries inherent risk. Equally risky is penciling in a shrimp like Barea as a 30-40 mpg lead guard of the future. Again, factors pointing to bolstering the backcourt.

But really, given the team's collective age, prospects at any position are justifiable, particularly since the likelihood of finding a player able to help immediately from their draft position is unlikely.

Projections: Chad Ford - Josh Selby (PG, Kansas), Draft Express- Justin Harper (PF, Richmond)

--Andy Kamenetzky

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