Los Angeles Lakers: Atlanta Hawks

Nash's guarded optimism mirrors team's

November, 3, 2013
11/03/13
11:19
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- In recapping the Los Angeles Lakers' fervent first week of the season that included four games in six days, it's pretty hard to draw any conclusions and feel confident those same observations will ring true in a week or two.

Pau Gasol has looked re-energized from a season ago, but then again coach Mike D'Antoni benched him from the 6:29 mark of the third quarter to the 5:40 mark of the fourth quarter Sunday because he thought Gasol "lost his steam."

[+] EnlargeSteve Nash
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesSteve Nash's up-and-down start to the season seems emblematic of how things have gone for the Lakers, but not all is doom and gloom.
Xavier Henry has looked like a hidden gem, scoring 22 against the Clippers, 14 against the Warriors and 18 against the Hawks, but then again there was that 0-for-6 night against the Spurs and that wild offensive foul with 2:39 left in the fourth quarter against Atlanta in a four-point contest that could have cost L.A. the game.

The Lakers' deep rotation has looked harmonious, with all 11 players who got in against Atlanta contributing three points or more; then again after the Hawks game, Chris Kaman said, "I want to be patient but it is frustrating when you play 13, 12, 18 [minutes]. I want it to be consistent."

No, maybe the best way to make some sense of how the Lakers' 2-2 season has gone so far following their 105-103 win Sunday -- in a game they once led by 21 points -- is to compare it to how Steve Nash has developed in the early going.

Much like the Lakers, the expectations for Nash, a former two-time league MVP, have been lowered so much that there's an ever-growing faction of Lakers fans who feel like the team would be better off if the 39-year-old simply hung it up and retired. Odds are many of those same people are the ones calling for the Lakers to tank the season, already writing off any chance of success in 2013-14.

There's no arguing that Nash has been underwhelming so far. His first three games of the season went three points, five assists, three turnovers in a win; DNP; and five points (on 1-for-8 shooting), five assists and two turnovers in a loss. And in the two games he played, he wasn't on the court during the fourth quarter at all.

But then came Sunday's game. Nash had 13 points (albeit on 5-for-13 shooting), six assists, zero turnovers, one steal and perhaps, most important, played the final 7:09 of the fourth quarter as the Lakers held on to win. To put it in perspective, Jeff Teague, Atlanta's starting point guard who is 14 years Nash's junior, had 14 points, four assists and two turnovers.

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Lakers contingency plan: What happens if Dwight leaves?

June, 27, 2013
6/27/13
8:26
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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According to ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard, there is "very little chance" that Dwight Howard re-signs with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Here's the scoop from Broussard:

[+] EnlargeDwight Howard
Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY SportsIf Dwight Howard chooses to leave L.A., there are a number of contingency plans the Lakers could put into effect.
Howard is willing to forgo the extra $30 million the Lakers can pay him to play for a coach and in a system he feels will better use his skill set, one source said.

The Lakers can offer Howard a five-year, $118 million contract, while other teams can pay him only $88 million over four years.

Howard plans to meet with the Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets and Atlanta Hawks before meeting with the Lakers once teams are allowed to contact free agents beginning July 1, a source said. It appears that the teams will visit Howard in Los Angeles.


According to this breakdown by an accountant, the financial difference is realistically $9.3 million should Howard choose Houston over L.A.

But enough about why Howard would leave. The question for the Lakers is, what do they do if Howard does indeed bolt?

I explored this scenario when detailing the Lakers' offseason options a couple of weeks ago.

The first decision the Lakers would have to make is whether they plan to simply let Howard walk, or try to work with him on a sign-and-trade deal.

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How will the Lakers respond?

March, 14, 2013
3/14/13
2:57
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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Mike D'Antoni warned that the Lakers weren't out of the woods yet.

"We’re still in the middle of a dogfight," D'Antoni said prior to his team's 96-92 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday. "We’ve dug ourselves a hole and we’re definitely not out of it."

If D'Antoni was aware of it before the game, the rest of his team was certainly on that same frequency after the game.

It had been a while since the Lakers had deviated from the plan to get to the postseason by simply taking care of the teams they're supposed to beat and giving themselves a shot in the other games by playing hard.

Before their letdown loss to a Hawks team that came into the game having lost six out of seven and was without Josh Smith and Jeff Teague, L.A. had won nine of 11 since the All-Star break.

They had fallen behind early and faced deficits similar to the 14 points Atlanta led by in the first half -- think New Orleans and Toronto -- but had been able to rally thanks to Kobe Bryant.

"You just can't do that," D'Antoni said after the game. "We played with fire."

Their only two losses since the All-Star break came at Denver on the second night of a back-to-back, against a Nuggets team that is currently 29-3 at home, and at Oklahoma City to a Thunder team that is 29-4 at home.

After winning their previous two games against Chicago and Orlando by holding each opponent to sub 40-percent shooting, it was clear why the Hawks won: the Lakers' defense.

Atlanta scored 55 points in the first half on 52.3 percent shooting and not even Bryant's 20-point third quarter was enough to give L.A. control of the game from there.

"We just got to be there," said Dwight Howard who had just one block and five fouls because he was not "there," on time on defense for much of the night. "Erase the mistakes.There were a lot of times where I let guys get behind me. I just got to do a better job."

Howard holding himself accountable is a good sign for L.A.'s chances of bouncing back, especially if they are without the now-injured Bryant for a significant period.

Howard could get a chance to have the team run through him, as it did in win over Orlando, but he'll have to stay on the court and out of foul trouble to make that happen.

He'll also have to set the defensive tone for everybody.

"Just engage ourselves," said Earl Clark. "When we go down and we sprint down and we clog it up and help Steve (Nash) on the pick-and-rolls and help on the inside and not letting everybody get to the middle, I think we're a better team defensively."

The Lakers were already working on Friday's game against the Indiana Pacers before Wednesday's result, as players huddled on the court in the final seconds discussing their next game.

The message?

"We just got to come out better," said Howard. "We're going to have some bad games throughout the year, but we just have to come out the next game and make up for it."

Fortunately for L.A., the Utah Jazz also had a bad game on Wednesday -- losing 110-87 to Oklahoma City -- and keeping the standings as is, with the Lakers holding a half-game lead for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.

Unfortunately for L.A., its next game is in Indiana against a Pacers team that's 26-7 at home and has won nine of its last 12 games, just like the Lakers.

"They have a great home court," said Nash. "We’re going to have to be efficient and for me, I think the biggest thing is come back with a lot of passion and energy and belief."

Bryant, whether he is playing or not, has that belief that Nash spoke about.

"We’ll bounce back next game," Bryant said.

And D'Antoni was left echoing his pregame remarks as he addressed the media at the end of the night.

"We’re still in the fight," D'Antoni said. "We’re still in the hunt. Stuff happens and we just have to get it back together and go."

Rapid Reaction: Hawks 96, Lakers 92

March, 13, 2013
3/13/13
7:39
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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ATLANTA -- I walked to Phillips Arena from my hotel on Wednesday afternoon with a fan who said he never got the chance to see Michael Jordan play live, so he wanted to make sure he got to see the next-best thing in Kobe Bryant.

The fan figured there was no way Bryant would have two clunkers in a row after going just 4-for-14 in the Los Angeles Lakers' win over the Orlando Magic on Tuesday.

For a while it looked as though the fan would end up disappointed, as Bryant started the game 0-for-6 in the first quarter and had just three points on 1-for-8 shooting by halftime as the Lakers trailed big.

Then the third quarter happened.

Vintage "Vino."

Bryant scored 20 points in the quarter on 8-for-16 shooting (along with three rebounds and a steal), nearly matching the Hawks' 21 points as L.A. was down just two heading into the fourth.

Bryant's magic seemed to wear off in the fourth as he started the quarter shooting just 1-for-7 before hitting a deep 3-pointer to pull L.A. to within one in the final minute.

He missed his final attempt, however, a pull-up jumper from the baseline with 2.6 seconds left that could have tied the score. He went down on the floor clutching his left leg after the play, adding injury to insult.

That Lakers fan can try to trick his memory to focus on just Bryant's third quarter when he tells his grandkids about seeing him play one day, but that won't do this current Lakers squad any good.

How it happened: The Hawks had control of this game for most of the night, leading by as many as 14 in the first half. They pulled it out thanks to balanced scoring (six Atlanta players in double digits) a timely late layup by Ivan Johnson and a couple of late free throws from Kyle Korver after he missed one to open up the door for Bryant's potential overtime-forcing jumper that missed.

What it means: It means that on the second night of a back-to-back, a weary Lakers team had no legs. It means that winning on the road for this Lakers team that started off 5-15 away from Staples Center and had since gone 7-5 before Wednesday's loss remains a challenge. It means the Lakers can't afford Dwight Howard missing any playing time because of foul trouble. It means that when Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said "We're still in the middle of a dogfight" before the game, he meant it.

Hits: Howard had 16 rebounds, continuing his streak of 12 straight games of 12 rebounds or more.

Misses: With Atlanta missing three of its best players in Josh Smith, Jeff Teague and Lou Williams because of injury, and the Hawks entering the game losers of six out of seven games, this was clearly a missed opportunity for the Lakers.

Earl Clark suffered a sprained right ankle, leaving the game in the third quarter after putting up just four points and three rebounds in 12 minutes and did not return. His ankle was examined, but X-rays were negative.

Stat of the game: Bryant shot just 11-for-33, taking 24 more shot attempts than Howard's nine.

What's next: The Lakers finish out their three-game trip against the Pacers on Friday in Indianapolis, where they'll have to watch out for most improved player candidate Paul George and former assistant coach Brian Shaw's schemes. Indy had the second-best record in the East while winning seven of its past 10 games coming into Wednesday's action.

Rapid Reaction: Lakers 99, Hawks 98

March, 3, 2013
3/03/13
9:18
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- Are we sure Kobe Bryant is really 34 years old and in his 17th season?

He put on yet another turn-back-the clock performance on Sunday with 11 of his game-high 34 points in the fourth quarter of the Los Angeles Lakers’ thrilling 99-98 win over the Atlanta Hawks.

Much in the same fashion that Bryant's game seemingly has gotten better with age, he saved his best stuff for the final minutes against the Hawks -- soaring past Josh Smith for his best dunk of the season, knocking down clutch free throws and hitting a tough, driving layup with nine seconds left that proved to be the difference-maker.

How it happened: The Lakers led by as many as 16 points in the third quarter but allowed Atlanta's hot shooters off the bench (Kyle Korver and Devin Harris had 16 points apiece) to get the Hawks back in it. But Bryant and Metta World Peace (two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter) made the plays that mattered in the win.

What it means: All the jokes about the Lakers restarting the season for the umpteenth time aside, the guys in purple and gold got back to the same even record they began the 2012-13 campaign with on Sunday.

At 30-30 with the win over the Hawks, the Lakers are .500 for the first time since Dec. 28, when they were 15-15.

Hits: Bryant did the scoring (34 points on 13-for-27 shooting), Dwight Howard did the rebounding (a game-high 15 boards) and Steve Nash did the passing (a game-high 10 assists). That's how it's supposed to work.

Novak Djokovic, the world's No. 1 ranked tennis player, visited the Lakers' locker room before the game and spent time with Howard and Antawn Jamison joking and posing for photographs.

Misses: Howard shot 5-for-12 from the field and allowed his frustration to boil over into being called for a technical foul.

Jamison finished 3-for-7 after starting the game 3-for-3.

Stat of the game: This isn't an encouraging one. The Lakers had 21 turnovers, leading to 29 points for Atlanta.


What's next: The Lakers go on the road for a back-to-back tilts starting Tuesday in Oklahoma City. The Thunder have won four of their past five games and are 26-4 at home, including a 114-108 win the last time the Lakers visited Chesapeake Energy Arena. The Lakers follow it up Wednesday on the road against the New Orleans Hornets, who are just 21-39 as of Sunday.

Pau Gasol and the Trade Machine

February, 20, 2012
2/20/12
2:23
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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Last week, in the wake of that day's rumor-du-jour (to Minnesota for Derrick Williams and stuff) Pau Gasol told me he'd like some sort of resolution to the ongoing swap gossip swirling around him. Following L.A.'s loss to the Suns on Sunday in Phoenix, Kobe Bryant laid into management, saying essentially the same thing. Trade him or don't, but make a decision quickly. Don't let Gasol, or the team, twist in the wind.

I suspect Kobe's comments won't do much beyond making Gasol's mental state an even bigger focus between now and the deadline.


Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images
Would you want to see these guys switch jerseys?

Pau is a tough guy to trade. On the one hand, even in a "down" year, Gasol is averaging 16.8 points, 10.7 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.3 blocks a game. Last night, he put up 17/12/6, and after people were concerned about circumstances sending his game downhill. He's very, very good, and has a skill set most teams covet. Far too good to give away for a box of saltines and 15 basketballs.

On the other hand, he's 31, carries a pricey contract and still has a little image rehab to do following the end of last season.

Still, if everyone wants a resolution and the Lakers, as Gasol believes, are simply waiting for the right offer, what could the deals look like? Below are a collection of Trade Machine-approved swaps, many reflecting some of the very rumors causing all this controversy in the first place.

(A couple of notes: First, for simplicity's sake, I stuck to two-team deals with at least some degree of viability. Second, I tried to keep each deal boiled down to the key figures. Again, a nod to simplicity, and the clarity of a deal's essential components. Experiment with them as you please to appease the gods of equity. Finally, inclusion of a scenario is not necessarily an endorsement.)

TRADE 1: Lakers trade Gasol to Houston for Luis Scola, Kevin Martin and Goran Dragic.

It's the deal everyone made before, right, cutting those pesky league-owned killjoy Hornets out of the loop? No, not really. That swap worked well for L.A. because they got back Chris Paul in the process. Houston's package nets them a lesser replacement at power forward whose numbers this year are down, an explosive scorer in Martin who plays the same position as Kobe and a score-first prospect at the point who represents an improvement over what the Lakers have, because almost anyone does.

Maybe the Lakers can flip the components for something else, but unless you think the Lakers win by adding more depth -- I'm a believer that, generally speaking, in the NBA the team getting the best player wins the deal -- I don't think this improves them.

Adding Kyle Lowry changes the equation, but Houston isn't doing that.

TRADE 2: Gasol to Chicago for Carlos Boozer and C.J. Watson

It would be interesting, because as worked up as the fan base can get over Gasol's perceived inadequacies few players have been more roundly mocked locally than Boozer, going back to his Utah days. Just about every criticism has been thrown his way, fairly or not. Offensively, the fit isn't bad. Boozer is skilled, and unlike Gasol doesn't pine for high-quality touches on the block, so he'd open things up for Andrew Bynum down low. On the other hand, except for rebounding, Boozer is an awful defender, and his short arms (for a 6-foot-9 guy) and earthbound game mean he alters very little inside (0.5 blocks per game). The Lakers would suffer defensively in the exchange. Plus, Boozer gets hurt all the time. Only three of his past seven seasons could be reasonably considered healthy, and he's owed a lot of money going forward.

The key would be Watson. Is he a starting-caliber PG who simply hasn't had the opportunity, or just a solid backup? I tend to believe the latter. For this trade to work, the Bulls would have to add sweetener. A package centered around Luol Deng might have appeal for the Lakers, but the metrics don't work as well for Chicago.

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Lakers Late Night Replay vs. Atlanta

February, 14, 2012
2/14/12
11:10
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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I'm not going to tell you the sell out crowd at Staples got their money's worth, but they did see a win (and walked out with a nifty "I (heart) Lakers" Valentine's Day t-shirt).

With special guest Dave McMenamin sitting in for AK, we broke it down on tonight's edition of Lakers Late Night. Points of emphasis included...
  • A spry showing for Metta World Peace, including not one, but TWO slam dunks!
  • Bench production, thin most of the year, was there on Tuesday.
  • A very productive night for Andrew Bynum, but did he get enough opportunities?
  • The need for the Lakers to find fun in what they're doing.
Watch live streaming video from espnlosangeles at livestream.com

Rapid Reaction: Lakers 86, Hawks 78

February, 14, 2012
2/14/12
10:01
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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The middle two quarters may have been the ugliest I've ever seen, as the Hawks and Lakers combined -- combined! -- for 59 points. Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol couldn't buy a bucket, and collectively the teams seemed determined to punish fans for shelling out their hard earned money for something as frivilous as basketball tickets.

But in the end, the Lakers got it together, going on a run to finish the third and pulling away down the stretch. Here are five takeaways...

1. Matt Barnes had some hop.

The Lakers are not a swift, dynamic bunch. Barnes is one of the few guys on the roster who makes things happen with movement, and Tuesday he absolutely energized the team (to whatever degree this game had energy) doing the stuff he does best. Slicing through the lane, he converted a nice pass from Bryant into points, then later got up the floor and, like the standout wide receiver he once was, hauled in a long bomb from Steve Blake for an easy deuce. Even on the ball, not generally his strength, Barnes found ways to produce. In the first half, with the shot clock running down, he put the ball on the floor from the top of the key, then wrapped a nice pass to Troy Murphy for a corner 3.

Throughout the game, Barnes was constantly moving towards the rim, running the wing, and aggressively closing on perimeter shooters. He finished with seven points and five rebounds, plus one assist, steal, and block each.

2. So did Metta World Peace.

Maybe he should pop off at the coach more often?

Whatever the cause, MWP was very active tonight, not just defensively, where he spent a lot of time against Joe Johnson with very positive effects, but also on the other end. He closed the first half with a 3-pointer from the right corner that the Hawks, to put it mildly, let him take. (Had they simply left the floor before the horn, World Peace wouldn't have been more open.) The second half brought another triple, and even a thunderous drive through the paint, capped by a dunk. Then he dunked again! One-dunk MWP games are a rarity these days. Double dunk games generally arrive at the arena saddled up on a unicorn.

He finished with 10 points and four rebounds.

World Peace's days as a premier player are gone, but it makes a significant difference for the Lakers when he's not a liability. When he's actually a positive influence, it's even better.

POSTGAME UPDATE: Apparently, World Peace switched from high tops to low tops at halftime. Perhaps that explains his burst in the third and fourth quarters. Less weight keeping him down.

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Lakers vs. Hawks: What to watch, with Hoopinion

February, 14, 2012
2/14/12
8:49
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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Among the surprises this season has been the strong record of the Atlanta Hawks. Despite a first round upset of the Orlando Magic in the first round of the 2011 playoffs, most folks (myself included) seemed to think this core, which had been together a while, had likely maximized its potential. Regression is usually inevitable for teams that run in place long inevitable, and rising squads like the Pacers and Sixers appeared ready to push Atlanta down the standings. After Al Horford injured his shoulder, this felt even more inevitable.

Instead, the Hawks have emerged one of the more consistently strong Eastern Conference teams as the All-Star break approaches. In retrospect, this actually makes sense. A truncated season rewards continuity and this team hasn't experienced much significant roster turnover. Throw in some improved defense, and the Hawks still may not be a true "contender," but they're looking like a team the real deal would just as soon avoid in the playoffs.

For the skinny on the Hawks, I threw a few questions at Bret LaGree, who runs Hoopinion for the True Hoop network. Below are his responses to four questions, plus a couple thoughts of my own.

Land O' Lakers: I didn't expect the Hawks to play this well, especially with Horford out this long. What are the main factors for the strong start?



Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty Images
Was Smith a victim of not "playing the game?"


Bret LaGree: Unlike last season, Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams are healthy, while Jeff Teague and Zaza Pachulia are getting regular minutes. That's not enough to make up for Horford's absence completely but it is enough to keep them comfortably in the Eastern Conference's middle-class, beating up on the lower third and competitive with their peers.

LO'L: Josh Smith hasn't been shy in letting folks know he should have been selected as an All-Star? How valid is his complaint?

BL: It's valid but it's not like he makes it easy on himself. I completely understand the difficulty people who don't watch Josh Smith every night have in accurately evaluating him. He is very productive without consistently playing to his strengths. His weaknesses (shot selection, one-on-one defense) are as obvious as his strengths (finishing at the rim, help defense). The way he expresses his valid complaint, "It's all about politics," exemplifies why he plays the way he plays and why he's not on the All-Star team. It's like he diminishes his own agency in how he plays basketball.

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The McTen: Streaking Lakers fly past Hawks

March, 8, 2011
3/08/11
10:48
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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Here are your 10 additional things to take away from the Lakers 101-87 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday ...

1

It's the Lakers' version of the chicken and the egg.

What came first: the Lakers defense looking dominant because of Andrew Bynum or Andrew Bynum looking dominant because of the Lakers' defense?

No matter what the answer to the question, the result of the game was more of the same as L.A. throttled Atlanta with Bynum leading the way with 16 points, 16 rebounds and three blocks.

"It made me feel like I could find a little bit of a niche on the squad and find where I’m supposed to be," Bynum said of his new responsibilities this season as the rover in the middle.

And it's found the Lakers right where they need to be with the playoffs fast approaching and their play rising to a championship level.

Despite a right knee that is still less than 100 percent (Bynum admitted to taking pain medication for it Tuesday), the sixth-year center continues to put mind over matter and drag his teammates along with him.

"He played through injury last year and actually played better," said Ron Artest. "He played through a knee that was almost gone. He played even tougher last year and now he’s healthy, so, of course, this is nothing."

Said Kobe Bryant: "He’s playing phenomenally well. He’s just doing everything we can ask him to do."

And everything Bynum is doing for L.A.'s success is bringing everyone on the Lakers together on and off the court.

"You start to come together more as a team and that’s where we’re at as far as this part of the season where we’re at right now," said Lamar Odom. "Our camaraderie, what we think about each other, how we feel about each other and how we all love to win is showing on the court."

2

Bynum's 16 boards gives him a staggering 50 rebounds over his last three games. The 7-footer has always been OK on the glass, averaging 8.2 rebounds for the season and 6.9 for his career, but he has taken it to another level.

"He’s pursuing the ball," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "That makes such a difference when that big guy goes to where the point of the ball is coming off. He’s gotten challenged on rebounds and he’s still coming down with them. His hand strength and arm strength is dominant out there. Not only his size, but he is challenged on rebounds and comes away with them."

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Replay: Lakers Late Night vs. Atlanta

March, 8, 2011
3/08/11
9:28
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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It took a second try, but like the Lakers on the defensive end these days, we're persistent.

Among the topics covered Tuesday in the wake of L.A.'s 101-87 win over the Hawks in Atlanta, the team's eighth in eight tries since the All-Star break, include:
  • Another game-changing performance from Andrew Bynum. What he's doing is now abundantly clear. We throw around some theories as to how he's arrived at this point.
  • While Bynum anchored the middle, Ron Artest shut down Joe Johnson along the wing. With everyone else helping the helper, the Lakers are flat-out rough to score on these days.
  • Singing the praises of improved ball movement. Against a team like Atlanta who thrive on mistakes and in transition, the Lakers were able to maximize their defensive effort with good, clean work offensively.
  • Looking ahead to Miami on Thursday. How bad are things for the Heat? What's our take on CryGate?

Hope you enjoy it.

Lakers 101, Hawks 87: At the buzzer

March, 8, 2011
3/08/11
6:17
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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For the first time since Pau Gasol's arrival, the Lakers get a win in Philips Arena. Which is nice, because judging by the buzz, it was all Laker fans anyway.

The Good


Defense

Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty Images
Not much doing in the lane against Bynum.



On several counts, it was another outstanding effort from the Lakers. Individually, several players brought their A-game. Andrew Bynum continued his reign of terror, blocking three shots, altering several other shots he couldn't get his paws on, and snagging 12 defensive rebounds (16 in all). Derek Fisher drew a pair of charges (one against Joe Johnson away from the ball), deflected a pass to create a turnover and got a steal while backpedaling in transition to prevent the kind of buckets Atlanta's offense desperately requires. Ron Artest hounded Johnson into a miserable 11 point/14 shot performance. Allowing barely an inch to operate, Ron-Ron's pressure also helped induce the Atlanta wing into three turnovers.

And so on and so forth.

Fruit was also harvested through group effort. The Hawks were held to just 16 third quarter points and the Lakers forced a few 24-second violations. And specifically, two possessions heavy on teamwork grabbed my attention.

First, when the combination of Artest crowding his hip and Gasol cutting off the lane (while still tracking his own man via peripheral vision) forced Johnson to awkwardly give up the ball. Fisher deflected the errant pass, creating a Hawks turnover. Later in the game, Smith got Bynum in the air on a fake, but Kobe came out of nowhere to provide the weak-side block. With little time left on the clock, Gasol provided an outstanding challenge to bother Johnson into an air-balled trey and a 24-second violation.

Time and time again, the Lakers kept the Hawks on their heels and out of rhythm.

Andrew Bynum
Drew patrolling the lane like a possessed watchdog has grown into a commonplace occurrence these days, and it's becoming increasingly evident when he's in this zone, the Lakers become darn near impossible to beat. Over the last few seasons, Drew has "understood" this concept, but perhaps for the first time ever, he truly understands the impact he's capable of offering without touches. Still, the big dog needs to get fed every now and then as a reward for protecting the porch, to borrow the parlance of the last great Laker center.

After preceding games with four and two shot attempts, Drew launched ten, and made the most of the increased touches. 80 percent from the field and 16 points. It's not mandatory for Drew to be this prolific on both ends of the court, but ain't much to hate when it happens.

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Lakers at Atlanta -- What to watch, featuring Sunday's win over SAS

March, 8, 2011
3/08/11
9:43
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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When the Lakers and Hawks met at Staples following the All-Star break, both squads were surrounded by questions. Atlanta was slumping, while the Lakers had marinated in a loss to Cleveland for five days or so.

That night, the Hawks became L.A.'s first victim in their current seven-game winning streak, as the Lakers overwhelmed Atlanta on both sides of the ball. Tuesday evening at Phillips Arena, they meet again. Obviously the Lakers are red hot, but the Hawks continue to scuffle, winning about as much as they lose (though they are 3-2 with Kirk Hinrich- acquired from Washington for Mike Bibby at the deadline- in the lineup). Save the PG change for Atlanta, in the two weeks or so since the initial matchup not a whole bunch has changed, and with people still buzzing about Sunday's beatdown of San Antonio, it makes sense to look back to see what went so well.

Consecutive plays early in the first quarter- one on offense, the other defense- showed why the Lakers rolled over the Spurs, and should they execute in a similar fashion tonight will likely lead to similar results against Atlanta (and any team on any night, for that matter).

Here's how they broke down...

1. Ball Movement. In a game filled with some very good offensive plays, this may have been my favorite.

Derek Fisher takes the ball to the right wing, initiating the offense with a pass into the post for Andrew Bynum. With Tim Duncan on his back, Bynum patiently surveys the floor, dribbling left into the lane and drawing Manu Ginobili down in a double team. He kicks to Kobe Bryant at the top of the key, who immediately swings to Ron Artest on the left wing, who immediately swings to Fisher, now in the left corner (having cleared the strong side along the baseline after making the initial pass).

Fisher fakes the shot, but instead passes to Pau Gasol in the left post area, where he's picked up by Ginobili. Seeing the mismatch, Richard Jefferson rotates down to help. Gasol kicks to Kobe, again at the top of the arc. With the Spurs now scrambling, Bryant puts the ball on the floor, bringing a late-rotating Tony Parker with him and drawing attention in the lane. He throws over the top to Fish, who takes and makes a three from the left corner.

Every Laker on the floor touched the ball at least once, and all five passed up opportunities for a decent shot in order to create a great one.

The Spurs bring the ball up the court...

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Week in preview: March 7-13

March, 7, 2011
3/07/11
9:59
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
Sunday saw the Lakers pit a six-game winning streak against the power of the San Antonio Spurs in their house, the first of four road games against quality competition. Well, it's safe to say the results were positive. The Lakers didn't just whup their hosts from the opening tip. They were oozing from every pore with swagger. I don't recall the last time I've seen them look quite so swaggery.

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.

Matthew Emmons/US Presswire
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.

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Lakers 104, Hawks 80: Postgame videos

February, 23, 2011
2/23/11
1:09
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
Brian broke down the blowout in his postgame report. Below are some talkies to accompany his thoughts.

Kobe Bryant discussed a variety of topics, including the defense, the team's mindset and Carmelo Anthony's relocation to New York. He also praised the efforts of Andrew Bynum, whose 15 rebound/three block showing personified the phrase "defensive presence."

"He did a fantastic job," gushed Bryant. "He was extremely active. We funneled everything to him and the blocks that he didn't get, he really altered shots. The shots that (Atlanta) even made were tough ones, so he just had a fantastic game."



Click below the jump for videos of Shannon Brown, Steve Blake, Phil Jackson and Pau Gasol.

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SPONSORED HEADLINES

TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Kobe Bryant
PTS AST STL MIN
22.3 5.6 1.3 34.5
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Hill 8.0
AssistsK. Bryant 5.6
StealsR. Price 1.6
BlocksE. Davis 1.3