Los Angeles Lakers: Week In Preview
Kevin Love will be in a uni ... right?
Unless, of course, he comes down with an unforeseen, semi-random, non-career-threatening ailment, as has been the case in the last two games. (After the flu and back spasms, what's the next logical diagnosis? Post-nasal drip? Grade-1 charley horse? Beiber Fever?) As I noted in the last preview, Love's March splits entering that ultimately missed game were impressive. A week later, little has changed. Dude's numbers for the month are simply absurd: 32.3 points, 12.7 rebounds -- a shade over four of which come on the offensive glass -- 2.2 assists, 47.1 from the field, 46.7 from deep and nearly 81 percent from the line.
As always, slowing Love will be a tall order tasked to the Lakers' bigs. In particular, I'll have my eye on how Pau Gasol responds to this challenge. Over the last few games, Gasol's effectiveness has come in sputtering fits. Against Memphis, three quarters passed before his presence was felt in the slightest. The next night in the Big Easy, he started strong but couldn't maintain that pace. In the latter game, fatigue appeared a mitigating factor. (In this respect, he had company.) But you also had to wonder if a clock ticking down to the trade deadline also weighed on his head. Well, noon pacific time passed Thursday with Gasol still on the roster. At least until the offseason, this shouldn't be an issue anymore. No better way to prove his head is clear than to hold his own against a forward playing as well as any in the NBA not named "LeBron" or "Durant."
For the inside track on the Wizards, we tracked down Kyle Weidie, who runs Truth About It for the True Hoop Network. Here are his responses to four question about D.C.'s squad.
These two don't make for a quality frontcourt or taco.
Kyle Weidie: Building around a guy like John Wall requires long distance shot makers, and seeing as the Wizards have an NBA-5th worst eFG% of 46.1, team management hasn't provided their franchise face what he needs. This area hasn't been addressed through the draft in years, and veterans like Rashard Lewis, Roger Mason and Mo Evans aren't cutting it. Nick Young, who leads the Wizards with 38.2 percent three-point shooting, hijacks too many possessions for an ideal spot-up partner.
Washington's other glaring need is an offensive block player. The Wizards are desperate for an intelligent, space-eating player to run the half-court offense from the post. I'm not sure who thought JaVale McGee and Andray Blatche could form a united frontcourt tandem. The two mix as well as a cottage cheese, jellybean and raw herring taco.
Words won't be minced. The Pistons are a bad team. Yes, second year center Greg Monroe --who could receive Most Improved Player of the Year votes -- and rookie point guard Brandon Knight could emerge a foundation worth building around. But unless they can jump forward in time five or so years, gain seasoning and veteran savvy, then go back to March 6, 2012 to stop the Lakers (like "The Terminator," but with basketball), they can only elevate a crummy Detroit squad so much. The Lakers are a far superior team, which makes this a game that should feature 5-10 minutes of garbage time from Devin Ebanks, Jason Kapono, Josh McRoberts, and Luke Walton.
Then again, being so outmatched, in its own right, makes the Pistons potentially dangerous. The Lakers are coming off a victory against Miami, which makes a battle in Detroit feel anticlimactic by comparison. The game should be pretty one-sided, but those expectations could turn this into a legitimate game. A sham will do just nicely, thank you very much.
The Piston cannot stop Hamed Haddadi. They can only hope to contain him.
Land O' Lakers: I realize there are many to choose from, but if you had to put your finger on the single biggest reason the Pistons are struggling so mightily this season, what would it be?
Patrick Hayes: Yeesh ... like you said, tough question. I'll go simply with defense, though. Heading into the season, the reality was everyone knew the roster had major deficiencies. Lawrence Frank has done a good job with restoring some semblance of locker room harmony and he's given young players Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight, Rodney Stuckey and Jonas Jerebko plenty of minutes, but with Frank's defensive pedigree, I hoped the Pistons would be more competitive at that end of the floor sooner. There are many games where opponents simply do whatever they want offensively with no resistance.
To prepare for the rematch, Jeff Caplan, who covers the Mavericks for ESPN Dallas, and I had a conversation breaking down both teams. Below is the transcript.
Shawn Marion has been a big part of the Mavs' defensive makeup.
Jeff Caplan: Defense. Believe it or not this a defense-first outfit. They've really absorbed Rick Carlisle's "system" and no matter who is out with injuries and who is playing, the offense might dip, but the defense has been consistently good. The Mavs are first in opponent field goal percentage, fourth in scoring defense and, before Sunday's loss at New York, top six in defending points in the paint.
AK: And all without Tyson Chandler. Was the fret over his absence overwrought?
JC: I don't think we'll really know until the playoffs. Brendan Haywood has played well and Carlisle is really using three centers with Ian Mahinmi and Brandan Wright. Mahinmi has gone south lately while Wright has shown promise. However, Chandler brought so much emotion and fire, both on the court and in the locker room, and that's a quality this team just didn't have in years past. So, yes, Chandler's absence has been overblown because the Mavs have surprisingly gotten good performances from their centers and the defense overall has been very good. But in the heat of the playoffs, the Mavs might miss Chandler's overall package.
AK: Is safe to assume Dirk is back?
JC: He certainly is getting there. He had a terrific stretch of six games or so, then his shooting tailed off again ... and now he's shooting lights out.
Kobe called out management after yet another road loss at Phoenix on Sunday. What is the chemistry like on this team? You get the sense that Kobe is unhappy.
AK: If Kobe's not truly "unhappy," he's definitely "unhappy-adjacent." As for chemistry, I think guys get along, but on the court and mentally, there's much to be desired. They're struggling to score, which turns basketball into a grind-it-out chore and often a joyless drag. It also doesn't help that, in my opinion, the entire team is waiting for a trade to happen. There's a collective vibe of expected disbandment, which doesn't help in terms of jelling. I get the feeling guys are having a hard time buying into the idea of growing as a group.
For perspective on the defending champs, I recorded a podKast with Tim MacMahon, who covers the team for ESPN Dallas. The topics discussed included the presence of Delonte West, the absence of Tyson Chandler and the team's prospect for repeating as champs. You can hear the entire show by clicking here.
It has not been easy for Odom in Dallas so far.
But of course, from a Lakers fan's perspective, there's no talking point more intriguing than Lamar Odom now in Dallas. His exit was abrupt and controversial, and since arriving in Big D, LO's adjustment on and off the court has been a work in slow progress. Considering the incredible 2010-11 campaign, numbers like 6.8 ppg, 5 rebounds and a PER of 7.44 are pretty shocking. Below are some excerpts from MacMahon about Odom's transition.
MacMahon, on why Odom has struggled in Dallas:
"He's out of shape. He's out of sorts. And he's completely out of sync with what's going on here. He came in in poor conditioning. The primary goal is to get him in shape. He's not playing many minutes because he's not in good enough shape to do so, and the minutes he is playing, he's usually not playing very well. They've got to get him up to speed in the Mavericks' system and then a lot of this, mentally, he just has to come join the party here in Dallas. He obviously took it extremely hard that the Lakers wanted to trade him in the Chris Paul deal, and [when] that fell apart, he pretty much demanded to be traded. Now that that happened, he has to deal with it.
He also had an extremely difficult offseason from a personal perspective. He had a cousin that was murdered. He was in a car where there was an accident. He wasn't driving, but a young man was killed, who wasn't in that car, but was killed in that accident. So he's dealing with a lot of very difficult off-the-floor emotional baggage. He hasn't fit in with his new team and a lot of that is his own fault and some of it's situations that are out of his control."
MacMahon, on Odom's comments to Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix that he's not "prepared to play" and that his game isn't adapting the way he thought it would:
"Really, I think he has to accept the fact that it's a new situation and he has to completely invest himself emotionally. That and his conditioning are the two main things. They don't want to run a bunch of set plays. They want to play a flow type of offense that he theoretically should fit in very well, but he doesn't know what he's doing on the defensive end of the floor. If you're not getting stops, it's hard to get into a flow type of offense, and that's part of the problem.
But what I really think, for the most part, he has to get into shape, and deal with the fact that he's in Dallas now. This is a team that obviously has a chance to contend. It won the championship last year. Stop moping around, start focusing on not what happened in the past, and the opportunity he has in front of him. I think he'd be surprised at how well he might fit in."
MacMahon, on whether there have been signs of that happening
"The one thing you hear is that he has a good attitude in terms of he's on his own conditioning program. They've got him running extra sprints, doing extra conditioning after practices, after shootarounds. ... But his body language on the floor is just awful. He looks like a guy who doesn't want to be here, who doesn't want much part of what's going on. They like the work ethic, but everything else really needs to improve and improve quickly."
Gilbert was among the owners who took umbrage at the original deal sending Chris Paul to the Lakers, even going so far as to send David Stern an email urging him to block it. Unless you take the Commish at his word about acting independent of outside pressure -- and I don't -- Gilbert by extension had a hand in preventing Paul from wearing a Laker uni. And if you didn't get the memo, Paul now plays for a local team trying to steal the Lakers' thunder.
So there's that.
For further insight on the Cavs, I called upon John Krolik, keeper of the True Hoop network's Cavs:The Blog. Below are his answers to five questions, plus additional thoughts sprinkled in from yours truly:
1) Land O' Lakers: At the risk of offering a backhanded compliment, the Cavs are 5-5, much better than I expected. Even acknowledging some wins over weak teams, are they moving in a good direction?
Quicken Loans Arena played host to the Lakers' rock bottom moment of the 2011 regular season.
The team looks like it's playing with a purpose this year, which is huge.
(AK's note: Lest we forget, the rudderless version managed to beat the Lakers in what may have been the worst loss of Phil Jackson's L.A. coaching career, much less last season. The Lakers are obviously more engaged in January 2012 than January 2011, but then again, so are the Cavs. In a shortened season of perpetually sloppy basketball, the "any team can beat any other team on any given night"clicheŽ feels especially pertinent. The Lakers should win, but there are no guarantees.)
Start with the pick and roll. The Hornets eviscerated the Lakers in the opener, scoring almost twice as many points on their pick-and-roll sets. As ESPN Stats and Information notes, it wasn't simply a matter of Chris Paul's brilliance, brilliant as it was. When the Hornets ran P-and-R sets without Paul, they were almost as successful, meaning the Lakers had problems running deeper than CP3. The plan for Wednesday is simple: Do what they were supposed to do in their coverages Sunday. As Lakers assistant coach Chuck Person noted Monday, when the Lakers followed their own rules, they successfully contained New Orleans' screen-and-roll sets.
The Lakers need an aggressive Pau Gasol in Game 2.
There are other adjustments to be made, as well -- including a commitment to enter the offense faster and a little more ball denial in those moments Paul doesn't have the rock. If he gives it up, make it tough to get it back. Another big move for the Lakers is cranking up the dial on Pau Gasol, something two-plus days of "Seriously, how could you be so awful?" questions seems to have accomplished.
Tuesday, Gasol again took responsibility for his poor performance, and vowed to be better Wednesday. Odds favor a bounce-back evening, because as Kobe Bryant noted after Game 1, Gasol is simply too good to be as bad as he was Sunday. With that out of the way, here are ...
Three More Things Unlikely to Repeat Themselves in Game 2 ...
1. Lamar Odom and Gasol combining for 18 points. Or eight rebounds, for that matter. Somewhat overshadowed by the wasteland that was Gasol's performance Sunday afternoon was a similarly bad outing from Odom. The Sixth Man of the Year was a total non-factor, failing to register a rebound in the first half and finishing with only one. Most of his 10 points came in garbage time. Historically, the Lakers have shown an ability to work around bad games from either Gasol or Odom, but when both have bad nights, it hurts. Particularly on a night Andrew Bynum struggles to make a full impact. Fortunately for the Lakers, it doesn't happen all too often.
I'd happily wager the two will combine for more than five field goals Wednesday night.
2. Huge production from New Orleans' bench players. Their 39-point outburst Sunday was about 10 more than their regular-season average. More surprising was their collective field goal percentage. Jarrett Jack, Willie Green, Aaron Gray, D.J. Mbenga and Jason Smith combined to make 16 of their 22 shots, or 73 percent, about 30 points above the team's season average for bench shooting. Even understanding some of those attempts were layups and dunks as opposed to a full array of mid- and long-range jumpers, there's just no way that group duplicates its Game 1 efficiency, particularly with Gray nursing a sore ankle and being questionable for the game.
The Hornets could very well have a productive night from their reserves, but there's regular productive, and then there's 73 percent productive.
3. Three turnovers. Thanks in part to their super slow pace, the Hornets tied for the league lead in fewest turnovers per game with 13, and by percentage were a top-10 team taking care of the ball. There's no reason to suspect they'll start giving things away like it's the tail end of a garage sale, but even if the Hornets stick to season averages, there's a big difference between three turnovers and 13, great as the latter figure may be.
On the flip side ...
As for other matters, here are a few other items to be mindful of once the ball is jumped.
Blake's ability to harass Terry could swing the final result and LO's 6MOY campaign.
While examining this game in our "Week in preview," I mentioned how this game could be the tipping point for voters undecided between Lamar Odom and Jason Terry for Sixth Man of the Year. However, LO theoretically outplaying The Jet isn't simply a matter of his own numbers. Someone has to limit Terry's stats, and matchup-wise, that task doesn't fall on Odom's shoulders.
During times when it's second unit vs. second unit, checking Terry could fall on Steve Blake's shoulders. Based on the most recent meeting, the Laker reserve will be able to answer the call of duty. Blake's pesky defensive effort was a big reason Terry finished with just 13 points on 16 shots. He also stripped The Jet on a drive to the cup and generally discombobulated his rhythm throughout the night. This showing against Terry was indicative of Blake's game in general, which may have been his best in a Laker uni.
Mitch Kupchak recently appeared on The Stephen A. Smith Show and offered the following assessment when asked if he had faith in Blake for the postseason:
"Yes, I do. I know he's been criticized a little bit. Maybe for not scoring as much as people thought... (But) I think maybe the fact that Blake is out there looking to move the ball and do the little things has allowed Lamar to have the type of season he's had this year because Lamar brings the ball up the court a lot and acts as a guard."
It's not the first time the intertwined relationship between Blake and Odom has been acknowledged, and Kupchak is correct about the way subtleties often get lost in the shuffle when evaluating how teammates improve each other. Still, it would be great if whatever assistance Blake offers LO -- much less the Lakers -- is of the decidedly more tangible variety.
Game of the Week
Thursday vs. Dallas, 7:30 pm PT
The "both teams are jockeying for 2nd place in the west and a win Thursday essentially cements the Lakers' hold on the spot" angle has already been heavily examined and will undoubtedly be revisited before the tip off. Instead, I wanted to touch upon a pair of potential battles within the battle.
With the regular season chugging towards the finish line, that means awards talk is in full bloom. Some voters on the fence for various honors will often let a head-to-head matchup break the tie. I remember how a mid-April game between the Lakers and Hornets was cited by many in 2008 as the tipping point to vote for either Kobe Bryant or Chris Paul as MVP. Personally, I consider this approach an illogical and naked cop out for the undecided, as one game shouldn't take precedence over a seasonal body of work. But as a non-voter, I don't makes the rules. I just get to periodically shake my head at their application.
Could 6MOY honors be decided by this game? It's not out of the question.
In my opinion, LO should win, but I get the impression it's still a fairly wide open race. Absurd as it may be, outplaying Terry could swing momentum in Lamar's favor.
This game could also perhaps shift a few minds regarding Kobe in this season's MVP race. The general consensus seems to have him on the outside looking in, but should the Lakers maintain their torrid run since the All-Star break, it wouldn't shock me if Kobe -- your new Western Conference Player of the Week -- gained traction as a more "viable" candidate. Were this the case, a great performance in an important rubber match will certainly speak well to his credentials.
The Lakers very successfully worked their way through a tough four-game road trip, winning three and peforming reasonably well in the other. They've ripped off nine wins in ten tries since the All-Star break, generally against very high level competition. Now they won't play a game outside Staples Center until next month, a seven game run of home cooking providing an opportunity to boost their place in the standings.
The schedule doesn't just favor them in terms of location, but timing. The Lakers get three days between Monday's game against the Magic and Friday's tussle with Minnesota. Not a bad way to start a homestand. Here's what to watch for...
LaMarcus Aldridge has been spectacular for Portland this season, filling the void created when Brandon Roy's knees went south.
Game of the Week
Sunday vs. Portland, 6:30 pm PT
Since the break, the Lakers have taken a tour of possible playoff opponents, from potential Finals foe (Miami), Western Conference Finals (San Antonio), Western Conference Finals, Upset Version (Oklahoma City), second round (Dallas), and first round (Portland). Sunday afternoon, the Lakers get another crack at the Blazers, following an epic OT battle at the Rose Garden February 23rd. In that game, L.A. got 24 points from Ron Artest and 37 from Kobe Bryant, offsetting 29/14/3 from LaMarcus Aldridge.
That night, though, Portland was without Marcus Camby, and more importantly hadn't yet acquired Gerald Wallace from Charlotte in a huge deadline day deal.
Portland is 4-4 with Wallace in the lineup. He's had great games, and clunkers. Currently, Nate McMillan has him coming off the bench, and while the minutes have been reasonably large (around 32 in Portland after averaging 39 on a weaker Charlotte team), Wallace is adjusting to teammates adjusting to him, all while Portland adjusts to losing size up front in Joel Przybilla, sent east to the Bobcats in the exchange.
It's a lot to take in so late in the season, but by Sunday Portland will have had three more chances to iron out the wrinkles with home games against Dallas, Cleveland, and Saturday night vs. an increasingly impressive Philadelphia squad.
The re-made Blazers don't have much depth remaining in the frontcourt. Aldridge has been absolutely unbelievable over the last few months, and Camby, when healthy, remains a weakside shotblocking presence and serial eater of glass. But after those two, their only remaining player over 6'9" is Jarron Collins. They are, however, rich in versatile wing and backcourt players offering McMillan a variety of available lineup combinations. Wallace and Nicolas Batum are both athletic, long armed defenders, and while he's not the tallest guy in the world, Wes Matthews is very strong on that end, as well. All are likely to see time against Kobe Bryant.
So, what comes next? Could it be more of the same?
GAME OF THE WEEK
Saturday at Dallas, 5:30 p.m. PT
The importance of home-court advantage has sparked a season-long debate between Brian and me. Unlike my brother, I've steadfastly insisted that the Lakers, assuming they're playing at a high level entering the playoffs, don't really need it. They're a very good team away from the Staples Center. They've closed series on the road. And coming out the other side of a grueling Game 7 against Boston with the Larry O'Brien Trophy creates a type of confidence more powerful and real, in my mind, than an extra game in L.A. could.
Unless Jason Terry's buddy is willing to travel and bring a gaggle of Dallas residents with him, home-court advantage is mandatory for the Mavs to beat the Lakers.
Mind you, I'm not saying the Lakers wouldn't prefer home-court advantage. Only an idiot would look a gift horse in the mouth. For that matter, I'm not saying this route wouldn't be more difficult. But whether because of my faith in this team's collective mettle or a realization long ago that the Lakers had already made their bed, I've calmly resigned myself to this fate.
Where we're in agreement, however, is how much home-court advantage could make or break a team like the Mavericks. It's certainly not impossible to imagine them unseating the Lakers with the series beginning in Dallas. But the Mavs dethroning the Lakers without home court? Beyond the realm of what I consider a possibility. Thus, leapfrogging Dallas in the standings isn't so much about the Lakers gaining their own advantage but about stealing an opponent's lifeblood.
Making up this ground is an admittedly tough mission, and as Brian noted in a recent post, the remaining schedules are basically a wash. But a solid arrived in the form of a Sunday buzzer-beater from Zach Randolph, adding another "L" to the wrong side of Dallas' column. The Lakers are now just two losses behind Dallas, making potentially monumental the swing from a win in Big D on Saturday. Passing the Mavs was always essentially impossible without a victory, but the scenario is now considerably more doable should the road trip end on a high note.
Two games against San Antonio this season have provided few highlights for Kobe Bryant.
The Lakers now get a brief break from a rough stretch of schedule before Sunday's game in San Antonio, kicking off a four-game trip against a quartet of playoff teams.
Here's how it plays out...
Game of the Week
Sunday at San Antonio, 12:30 p.m. PT (ABC)
Unless they decide to forfeit the remaining games on their schedule, nobody is catching San Antonio for the top spot on the Western Conference playoff ladder. It's a reality the Lakers are speaking about more openly as they hit the stretch run. So Sunday's game doesn't matter when it comes to seeding (as pertaining to San Antonio), but could very well be a preview of the Western Conference Finals.
Because the Lakers and Spurs are veteran led and playoff tested, they're likely the pair of squads to whom home court is least significant among W.C. playoff contenders. Nor will either team read too much into the results of regular season matchups, so as it relates to looking ahead, it's almost a game better viewed without looking at the score. If the Lakers play a game similar in quality to their last-second loss on Feb. 3, cause for alarm will be limited, even in a loss. Should they get blown out, as it was the first time L.A. visited San Antonio this year, feel free to chew a few fingernails.
A good game whets the appetite for later this spring, when the teams could meet again. In the meantime, like every game they'll play from now until the end of the regular season, it's one the Lakers need to win as they jostle for position with Dallas, Boston, Miami and Chicago behind the Spurs. For that to happen, L.A. needs to find ways to score. In both meetings thus far, the Lakers were held below season averages for offensive efficiency. One big reason is San Antonio's work against Kobe Bryant, who has missed all but 13 of his 45 shots over two games this year against the Spurs.
Obviously if Kobe is more effective Sunday -- it's unlikely he'll be worse -- the Lakers stand a much better chance of winning.
Al Horford does his best to help on D, but the backcourt doesn't hold up its end of the bargain.
To get a better idea of how the Hawks operate, we reached to Bret LaGree of the True Hoop Network Hoopinion blog. Here are a few items to keep an eye on once the ball is jumped:
Q: The Hawks were playing .500 ball in the last 10 games heading into the break. How would you assess their current state as they head into the home stretch? What are the strengths and weaknesses?
Bret LaGree: The Hawks are coming to terms with how difficult it is to send the same team out on the court and get different results. Given a possibly impossible task (improve on 53 wins without an improved roster), Larry Drew hasn't really settled on a rotation and tinkers with the starting lineup depending on the opponent.
The crux of the problem is Mike Bibby and Jamal Crawford are poor defenders and Joe Johnson, when pressed into duty against opposing point guards, isn't much better. Josh Smith and Al Horford do tremendous work on the defensive end to keep the Hawks an average defensive team but when either big man is out of the game, the Hawks are pretty porous defensively.
OK, that's a lie, but who wants to be the buzz kill after a fun weekend?
It's back to business for the Lakers, and as you can see from the slate of contests on this week's docket, business will be challenging.
Game of the week
Tuesday vs. Hawks, 7:30 p.m.
Under normal circumstances, this game would qualify as one to keep an eye on. Al Horford is an All-Star with a mid-range game and long arms enabling him to average double-digit rebounds, attributes making him quite the cover for Andrew Bynum. The consensus opinion has Joe Johnson overpaid, but he's still a five-time All-Star -- including last weekend -- and among the more versatile two-way players in the league. As for Josh Smith, his February numbers would have qualified him for the All-Star game: 20.3 points on 57.3 percent shooting. Nine rebounds. A shade over three dimes. A block for good measure. The freakish athlete can be a blast to watch (unless you're Gasol or Lamar Odom, who'll be charged with checking him.)
Al Horford is among the best big men in the league.
Throw in Sixth Man of the year candidate/scoring machine Jamal Crawford, Mike Bibby's scorching 44.7 percentage from deep, and a solid contributor in Marvin Williams, and the Hawks present a formidable "second half" kick off.
But ultimately, Atlanta gets top honors because it's the first game immediately following the All-Star Break and a three-game skid low-lighted by an unthinkable loss to the Cavaliers. Lakers fans, not to mention the Lakers themselves, will be looking for quick signs the ship has been righted. No better time than the first opportunity to begin easing minds. The longer the wait, the worse it gets for all involved. The time for identity rediscovery is long past "nigh."
On a more enjoyable note, Josh Powell will complete the cycle of ex-Lakers receiving bling. (Adam Morrison, out of the league, was mailed his.) He's playing more in Atlanta, but as a Laker, JP busted his butt in practice for very little PT. Brian and I -- not to mention Kobe -- grew to admire Powell's work ethic, so it'll be nice to see him receive some appreciation.
Meaning they'll take a back seat this week, too. Four games, all against playoff teams, starting tonight in Memphis. Here's how it lays out ...
Game of the Week
Pau Gasol was overmatched in the first meeting between Boston and L.A., and for the Lakers to win Thursday's rematch will need to be better.
Lakers at Boston -- Thursday, 5 p.m. PT.
Is there another choice?
After the Lakers lost to the Celtics at Staples last week, all hell seemed to break loose. Mitch Kupchak slapped the (Potentially) Open For Business sign on the front door, and Magic Johnson declared the team lacking. It was a game basically serving as the embodiment of everything seen as wrong with the Lakers this season, from defensive questions to toughness (mental and otherwise) to an opportunity to simultaneously debate whether Kobe Bryant's teammates (Ron Artest and Pau Gasol in particular) will step up in big games and if the offense becomes detrimentally Kobe-centric down the stretch. (For a refresher on my take, click here.)
Particularly when mashed together with a horrid loss two nights earlier to Sacramento, fair to say it made for a rather angst-filled Monday morning for Lakers fans.
The good news is a strong showing at TD Banknorth Garden on Thursday night will go a long way toward undoing a few '10-'11 talking points for the purple and gold, starting with the ability to beat an elite team away from home. Anywhere, really. To do it, they'll need the sort of ball movement and distribution seen in the first half against New Orleans. Kobe was a monster early against the Celtics at Staples, single-handedly keeping the Lakers in striking distance. Boston, though, is too good defensively for that approach to work again. The supporting cast has to be better. From there, shoring up the boards would be a welcome next step. Boston was plus-13 in the rebounding battle at Staples.
No dogs in the bunch, starting with...
Monday at Memphis, 5 p.m. PT
Had the Grizzlies merely defeated the Lakers in both of this season's matchups, this game would be intriguing enough. That Memphis is among the hottest teams in the Western Conference, winning eight of their last 10 to grab a rung on the playoff ladder, makes it intriguing and dangerous. In November's 19-point home debacle, the Lakers turned the ball over 20 times. Not a total shock, given Memphis forces more giveaways than any team in the league. So there's one place to start. Another? Keep a lid on Zach Randolph. In the first two games, the Lakers did a reasonable job on Z-Bo, but of late Randolph has been on a streak torrid enough to earn him Western Conference player of the month honors in January.
Only a supremely crowded field (and perhaps his history and low-profile team) kept him off the All-Star roster.
Plenty more coming on this game later in the afternoon.