Los Angeles Lakers: Denver Nuggets

Rapid Reaction: Nuggets 137, Lakers 115

January, 5, 2014
Shelburne By Ramona Shelburne

LOS ANGELES -- Pau Gasol remained a Los Angeles Laker on Sunday as the team continued to weigh a deal centered around former Lakers center Andrew Bynum.

He also remained on fire. The four-time All Star continued his resurgent play with another solid outing against the Denver Nuggets, in which he finished with 25 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.

But in a continuing theme for the Lakers this season, the team just didn’t have enough in a 137-115 loss to the previously slumping Nuggets.

Playing again with just one healthy point guard, the Lakers struggled to organize their offense when Kendall Marshall was out of the game, and besides Gasol and shooting guards Jodie Meeks (23 points) and Nick Young (21 points), they really couldn’t muster much scoring. Their defense was abysmal, too, allowing the Nuggets to shoot 53.5 percent from the field.

Reserve guard Nate Robinson led Denver with 21 points. Ty Lawson and Timofey Mozgov had 20, and Wilson Chandler and Kenneth Faried both had 17.

Both teams came into the game with shadows hovering overhead. The Lakers, with the trade chatter around Gasol and maddening string of injuries, and the Nuggets, with the suspension of veteran guard Andre Miller for conduct detrimental to the team, as well as a recent swoon that saw them lose eight out of their previous 10 contests coming into Sunday’s game.

How it happened: The Lakers had a nice rhythm going in the first half but struggled to score in the second half, and the Nuggets pulled away with a 17-2 run in the third quarter that put them up 79-67. The Lakers cut that lead down to 83-79 on free throws by Jordan Hill with 1:58 to go in the third, but Denver surged back to take a 10-point lead into the final frame, and the Lakers never seriously challenged again.

What it means: The Lakers were hoping to build some momentum after a resurgent win against the Utah Jazz on Friday before leaving on a tough back-to-back through Texas this week, but it didn’t happen Sunday. They fall to 14-20 on the season and are falling so far below .500 it’s hard to see how they can get back into a playoff chase.

Hits: The Lakers may really have found themselves a keeper in Marshall, who continued to impress since taking over as the Lakers' starting point guard. Marshall finished with nine points and 17 assists against the Nuggets. He had 20 points and 15 assists Friday night in the over Utah. He struggled with his shot Sunday -- hitting just three of 10 shots -- but the Lakers need him for playmaking and defense, not scoring.

Misses: It’s always going to be difficult to outrebound the Nuggets, who have excellent rebounders in Faried, Darrell Arthur and Mozgov. But you’re not going to win many games when the other team completely controls the glass, as Denver did Sunday, outworking the Lakers 58-38.

Stat of the night: The Lakers were an ugly 3-for-21 from behind the 3-point arc. The Nuggets were a respectable 12-for-29. Enough said.

Up next: The Lakers will practice Monday before heading to Texas for games against the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday and the Houston Rockets on Wednesday. Kobe Bryant said he will travel with the team.

D'Antoni leans on Pau Gasol

January, 4, 2014
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- After not playing three times in a five-game span because of an upper respiratory infection, Pau Gasol has returned to the lineup the past two games, averaging 24 points, 11.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 3.5 blocks.

He was as good as he's been all season against the Utah Jazz on Friday, racking up 23 points (on 10-for-17 shooting), 17 rebounds, eight assists and three blocks in the Los Angeles Lakers' 110-99 win to snap a six-game losing streak.

[+] EnlargePau Gasol, Derrick Favors
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillPau Gasol filled up the stat sheet Friday against the Jazz with 23 points, 17 rebounds, eight assists and three blocks.
What caused the turnaround?

"One is being healthy, that’s going to help," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said after practice Saturday. "Two, I think the rhythm of the team was better, and once that is [the case,] then he gets more confident and more aggressive. We want Pau to be aggressive. We want him to be in the post every time, or at least in the play every time."

Gasol, the subject of various trade rumors swirling around the past month, including talk of him being dealt to Cleveland that continues to persist, proved he can still perform and block out the distractions.

"Everybody is in this position, in a sense. You just do your job and good things happen," D'Antoni said. "The worst thing that can happen in this league is pretty daggone good, if you’re in the league. So, it’s not that bad."

D'Antoni wants to see more good nights like the one Gasol had against Utah and thinks the big man's ceiling is higher than the 15.3 points and 9.5 rebounds on a career-low 44.9 percent shooting Gasol is putting up this season.

"I think he should almost average a triple-double every night," said D'Antoni. "That’s what he did at the end of last year."

(Read full post)

Rapid Reaction: Nuggets 111, Lakers 99

November, 13, 2013
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
DENVER -- Former Denver Nuggets head coach and current ESPN NBA analyst George Karl once pushed the idea that one way to improve the league would be to do away with back-to-back games and reduce the 82-game schedule to around 65 nights when both teams are fresh and rested.

Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike D'Antoni said that dollar signs would get in the way.

"And everybody take a pay cut?" D'Antoni said before the Lakers' game in Denver on Wednesday. "It’s not going to happen. There’s no use talking about it."

Fair enough. Since back-to-backs are here to stay, let's talk about if the Lakers are ever going to win on the second night of a double dip this season. Is that ever going to happen?

The Lakers fell to 0-3 on the second night of back-to-back sets this season, losing each game by an average of 18 points.

They have 16 more of these this season. They better figure out how to come up with the proper energy and focus on consecutive nights soon, or those back-to-backs could put them back in the lottery for the first time since 2005.

How it happened: After falling down by as many as 13 early, the Lakers cut it to four points heading into the fourth thanks to a four-point play by Nick Young and two free throws by Wesley Johnson, but Denver kept pushing the pace and hitting the boards late as L.A. looked gassed.

What it means: Consistency is an elusive partner for this Lakers team. They still don't know who they can rely on from night to night with Kobe Bryant out.

Hits: Jordan Hill followed up his career-high 21 points and 11 rebounds Tuesday with 18 and 15 Wednesday, accounting for his ninth career double-double.

Pau Gasol put up solid totals (25 points, 12 rebounds) but shot just 12-for-27 from the field and 1-for-5 from the foul line.

Steve Blake (15 points, 11 assists) dropped double-digit dimes for the second straight night.

Misses: A day after playing his first game since having nine stitches removed from his forehead, Xavier Henry got cracked in the head in the third quarter and finished the game with a bandage above his left eye.

Denver outrebounded L.A. 58-51.

Timofey Mozgov had 23 points and nine rebounds off the bench for the Nuggets.

The Lakers had 14 turnovers leading to 20 Denver points. The Nuggets had just eight miscues leading to two points for L.A.

Stat of the game: The Lakers had an 8-0 lead to start the game and then found themselves down by as many as 10 in the first quarter.

Up next: L.A. returns home to play the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday, followed by the Detroit Pistons on Sunday.

Shaw uses Kobe as coaching tool

November, 13, 2013
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
DENVER -- Kobe Bryant has picked up the moniker "Coach Kobe" in recent seasons because of a couple of stretches when he has been injured and focused his attention toward instructing his teammates on the bench. Turns out that at the same time, Bryant's mere existence had been influencing the coaching of Brian Shaw.

[+] EnlargeBrian Shaw
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesBrian Shaw, in his first year as head coach of the Denver Nuggets, uses Kobe Bryant as an example when relating to his players.
"It’s been one of my best tools," Shaw, in his first year as head coach of the Denver Nuggets, said before Wednesday's game against the Los Angeles Lakers. "When I was in Indiana, Paul George, a player that I worked closely with, grew up in Palmdale [Calif.], right outside of L.A., and obviously I knew he had watched Kobe a lot and kind of idolized him as a player.

"So I would come in and if he was trying to cut corners or just wanted to just do enough to get through a practice, I would always remind him that I had seen the best guy at that position work every day and that it was no accident that he is as good as he is and he’s accomplished everything that he’s been able to accomplish. So, what makes you think that you can take a day off or cut this corner or that corner if that guy over on the other coast is not doing that?"

George, who wears Bryant's No. 24, helped lead the Pacers to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals last season and is tied with Houston's James Harden for fourth on the NBA's scoring list at 24.9 points per game this season as Indiana has raced out to an 8-0 start.

The Kobe coaching carrot works so well that sometimes Shaw doesn't even need to offer it up. His players come to him seeking war stories of what it was like to be down in the barracks with Bryant.

"This morning, one of our young guys, Quincy Miller, actually asked me a bunch of questions about Kobe," Shaw said of his 20-year-old forward. "What people don’t really understand is the discipline to just come in the morning and stretch for 30 minutes by yourself when no one else is around, do the therapy and rehab and get your work in before practice even starts so when practice does come around, it’s like a second practice for him.

"Nobody believes that he used to come in at 6 o’clock in the morning, but by the time that even the coaches got in in the morning, he had already been through a full sweat and he was kind of winding down from his own personal workout. So, he’s a special individual that I was fortunate to be around as a player and as a coach. And anytime that I can use examples to show how he kind of got to the level he did and maintained and stayed at that level, I try to use it."

After winning five championships in L.A. together -- three as teammates and two with Shaw as an assistant coach -- the pair still keep in touch "once or twice a month," according to Shaw, even though they are now opponents.

"I was mentioning to somebody this morning how he’s still not at the age that I was when I finished my career playing and just talking about how he always felt invincible and I would always say, 'Hey, you know, Father Time will catch up with you at some point and ice will be your best friend at some point,'" said Shaw, who was 36 when he finished his 14th and final NBA season with the Lakers in 2002-03. "I think he’s seeing that now. But if anybody can come back and defy the odds in terms of the injury that he’s dealing with, my money would be on him to be able to do that."

[+] EnlargeKobe Bryant
Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY SportsAccording to Shaw, the fact Kobe is still sidelined with his Achilles injury shows that he has begun to think of his body in more mortal terms.
Shaw said the fact Bryant is still sidelined with his Achilles tear 10 games into the season shows that he has begun to think of his body in more mortal terms, even if his resolve to return hasn't wavered.

"I think that part of it alone speaks volumes," Shaw said. "I think he understands at this point, even when he was pushing it and trying to be back for the beginning of the season, that that particular injury is a tough one. Especially with all the wear and tear that he has on his body. So, I think it’s made him take a step back and take a deep breath and say, 'OK, this is one that I have to actually allow to kind of fall in place and take care of itself.'"

Shaw said he has no idea when Bryant will take the court for the first time since undergoing surgery in April, but added, "I know he’ll do everything in his power to strengthen up that area that’s injured and give himself every chance to come back and play at the level that he’s accustomed to playing at."

He also knows that whether Bryant is playing or not, he'll still be a valuable reference point when trying to connect with his Nuggets team.

"Kobe, there’s a uniqueness about him in terms of his will to compete and to want to be the best -- his thirst for being the best -- that no one else has, and so I understand that," Shaw said. "But anytime I can use a story or an analogy to try to motivate guys to understand what it really takes to be good and to perform on that level night in and night out, especially when every team is game planning to stop you, I use it."

Rapid Reaction: Nuggets 97, Lakers 88

October, 6, 2013
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
LOS ANGELES -- Well, the Los Angeles Lakers won't be following up last preseason's 0-8 with an 8-0 one.

A night after looking sharp as a tack in their exhibition opener against the Golden State Warriors, the Lakers were dull as a human resources-required video Sunday against the Denver Nuggets.

The Lakers, still without Kobe Bryant, shifted their lineup around, giving Chris Kaman the night off and letting Jordan Farmar rest his left calf while welcoming Pau Gasol and Steve Nash back to the court, and all the pieces just didn't fit together so well.

How it happened: To put it bluntly, the Lakers couldn't throw a rock in the ocean Sunday night. They shot just 30-for-93 as a team (32.3 percent) with only two out of the 14 players who got in (Xavier Henry and Darius Johnson-Odom) personally shooting 50 percent or better.

What it means: Thank goodness there are still six preseason games left over the next three weeks to get things right before it counts, because the Lakers still have a lot of work to do.

For starters, having a consistent lineup and rotation will help keep things from getting so ugly.

From there, a little more discipline out of guys like Nick Young (4-for-16) and Marcus Landry (4-for-11) in their shot selection couldn't hurt.

Hits: Henry, who has had a whirlwind 24 hours that included his phone blowing up from well-wishers who saw his 29-point outburst against Golden State -- and even getting a follow on Twitter from his locker room neighbor in Bryant -- was a bright spot once again. He scored 15 points on 4-for-7 shooting and got to the line early and often, going 7-for-9 from the stripe.

Misses: Wesley Johnson, who had been raved about during training camp, left the game in the first quarter because of a strained left foot, finishing with two points on 1-for-5 shooting, two turnovers and two fouls in eight minutes after starting at small forward. It mirrored his struggles Saturday against Golden State, when he also went 1-for-5 with four fouls and two turnovers.

Nash (zero points, six assists, five rebounds) sat out the second half to rest.

Stat of the night: 13. Gasol's shot attempt total in just 23 minutes of playing time. He had 13 games last season in which he didn't reach double-digit shot attempts while playing a full game.

Rapid Reaction: Nuggets 119, Lakers 108

February, 25, 2013
Shelburne By Ramona Shelburne

DENVER -- Amnesty THAT … game?

After rallying for an emotional win in Dallas Sunday afternoon, then having a little fun at Mavericks owner Mark Cuban's suggestion that the Lakers should use the amnesty clause on the final year and $30.5 million of his contract, Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers had a game to forget against the Denver Nuggets Monday night, losing 119-108.

The loss snapped the Lakers' modest three-game win streak out of the All-Star break and dropped them two games below .500 and three games behind the Houston Rockets for eighth place in the Western Conference.

Bryant missed six of his first seven shots and picked up his league-leading 14th technical foul of the season on his way off the court at the end of the first half. He eventually found his scoring stroke, finishing with 29 points on 12-for-23 shooting and nine assists. But Denver's high-octane attack was just too much, too fast and too relentless for the Lakers to overcome.

Wilson Chandler had 23 points and Ty Lawson added 22 to lead Denver, which improved to 24-3 at home -- tied with the Miami Heat for the best home mark in the league.

How it happened: The Nuggets controlled the pace of this game from the start and basically ran the Lakers off the court in the first half, scoring 22 fast-break points and 48 of their 67 first-half points in the paint while shooting 56.3 percent from the field.

The Lakers stayed as close as they did because they shot 60 percent from the field in the first half. But Denver had 13 more field goal attempts (48-35) and was able to build a 13-point lead at the break that proved insurmountable for the Lakers.

What it means: The Lakers (28-30) had a chance to get back to .500 on the season and to close to within two games of idle Houston, but this loss put them right back where they were at the start of this trip and helped Denver (36-22) inch closer to the fourth-place Memphis Grizzlies (37-18).

Hits: Steve Nash continues to look for his own shot, this time finishing with 16 points on 6-for-8 shooting. He has been dealing with a sore lower back for the past week, but has obviously learned to manage it well.

"He plays through everything," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said of Nash before the game. "He might struggle out there a little bit, but just his brains and his ability to do things. Even if he's struggling, he'll find a way to be positive, and that's kind of what we need."

Misses: The Lakers fell back into a lot of the bad habits and game play that plagued them earlier in the season, turning the ball over far too much (15), failing to get back in transition and missing too many free throws. The Lakers were 14-for-31 from the free throw line. Dwight Howard made just three of his 14 attempts.

Stat of the game: The Nuggets were off to the races Monday night; the Lakers were mostly spectators. Denver averages 19.2 fast-break points per game. It had 22 fast-break points in the first half and 33 in the game.

What's next: The Lakers get a day off Tuesday and a practice day on Wednesday before hosting the Minnesota Timberwolves Thursday night at Staples Center. The rest couldn't come at a better time for three veterans -- Steve Nash (back), Kobe Bryant (shoulder) and Antawn Jamison (wrist) -- who are nursing injuries.

Rapid Reaction: Nuggets 112, Lakers 105

January, 6, 2013
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin

LOS ANGELES -- It was another gut-check game for the Los Angeles Lakers -- against another opponent ahead of them in the Western Conference standings -- and all L.A. did was get punched in the gut again.

Talk of the Lakers' chemistry, or lack thereof, dominated the headlines since their loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday, but coach Mike D'Antoni tried to put it to bed before Sunday night’s tipoff against the Denver Nuggets.

"Everybody’s got a job to do," D'Antoni said. "The only thing we can ask these guys is play as hard as you can. Whether you’re happy or not, it doesn’t really matter. Play as hard as you can. You don’t have to love each other.”

“I’ve been on a lot of championship teams in Europe when there was edges and we didn’t go out to dinner together every night,” he said. “That is not why we’re losing. We’re losing right now because we don’t have a consistent 48 minutes of basketball."

The Lakers might have played harder on Sunday against the Nuggets, but things are still broken in La La Land ... and there doesn't appear to be an easy fix coming anytime soon.

How it happened: The Lakers gave up 34 points to the Nuggets and trailed by as many as nine early on before clawing back. Same script, different day, because L.A. expended so much energy just trying to make a game of it that they let their guard down and allowed Denver to push the lead back up to 10 in the fourth quarter.

L.A. made a last-ditch effort, with Bryant knocking down a 3 to cut the lead to three with 11.2 seconds remaining (his second tough corner 3 in as many possessions at that point); but as has been the case a lot lately with the Lakers, it was too little too late.

What it means: The Lakers have to go 35-14 the rest of the way to get to 50 wins, which is the number you want to hit just to make the playoffs in the West.

Hits: Dwight Howard had a career-high 26 rebounds. Bryant scored 29 points to lead all scorers. Steve Nash had 10 points and 13 assists, racking up his fourth straight game of 10 or more dimes.

Denver coach George Karl selected the Lakers' Earl Clark to check in the game with 1:05 remaining in the fourth quarter after Gasol went out with a bloody nose and could not shoot his free throws. After not playing all game prior to that point, Clark stuck both freebies no problem like he was Sasha Vujacic in Game 7 of the 2010 Finals against Boston.

Misses: The Lakers had 18 turnovers leading to 14 Denver points.

The Nuggets outscored the Lakers 60-38 in the paint and 25-14 on fast-break points.

Stat of the night: All five starters scored in double digits for the Lakers and L.A. assisted on 30 of 38 baskets, and it still didn't matter in the outcome.

Notes: Antawn Jamison played in the first quarter and promptly hit a long jumper, accounting for the first points he's scored for L.A. since Dec. 13. … Chris Duhon returned to court action after missing the past two games because of back spasms.

What's next: The Lakers get a back-to-back in Houston and San Antonio on Tuesday and Wednesday against teams that are decidedly unafraid of the guys in purple and gold. They've now had four losses in their past five games. Include the Texas road trip and the home game against Oklahoma City when they get back from it, and losing seven of eight a real possibility.

Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Dwight Howard (shoulder) uncertain he'll play Sunday vs. Nuggets

January, 5, 2013
Shelburne By Ramona Shelburne
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard said he is unsure if he'll be able to play in Sunday's game against the Denver Nuggets after suffering a sprained rotator cuff in the Lakers’ 107-102 loss Friday to the Los Angeles Clippers.

"I thought it was a stinger. It kept hurting the whole rest of the game, but my adrenaline was pumping," Howard said after sitting out of the Lakers’ practice Saturday. "But last night, it was killing me. And I was in a lot of pain this morning. I couldn't put my clothes on.

"Hopefully it feels better so I can play, but if not, I'll have to sit down."

Howard was injured in the third quarter when he was fouled by Clippers forward Caron Butler while attempting a dunk.

Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said there was a good chance Howard would be available Sunday.

Jordan Hill (ankle) was able to practice and will be available Sunday.

Lakers defense remains unreliable

December, 26, 2012
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
Dwight HowardDoug Pensinger/Getty ImagesDwight Howard (12) was ejected on Wednesday night in Denver for this foul on the Nuggets' Kenneth Faried.

DENVER -- When the Los Angeles Lakers beat the New York Knicks on Christmas Day, it wasn't just an accomplishment because they got the W to run their streak to five and their record back to .500, but because of they way they did it.

When the Lakers needed to lock in late in the game, they were at their best on the defensive end, holding the high-scoring Knicks to just 16 fourth-quarter points. It was the same formula the Lakers used in a come-from-behind win against Charlotte (16 fourth-quarter points for the Bobcats) a few games back. When things got dire, the Lakers lifted themselves with their D.

That all went out the window Wednesday in the Lakers' 126-114 loss to the Denver Nuggets as L.A. allowed the most points it has all season and got back to giving up a poison-pill quarter (Denver scored 39 in the third), which was the same problem that plagued the Lakers in losses to Houston, Oklahoma City and New York prior to their win streak.

"Our pick-and-roll defense wasn't great tonight," said Dwight Howard who had to watch most of the second half from the locker room after being ejected for a flagrant-2 foul on Kenneth Faried in the third quarter. "The help wasn't there. The 'help the helper' wasn’t there. It just has to be better overall."

Not having the three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year on the court didn't help the Lakers' chances on paper, but it's not as though Howard was being his dominant self before he was tossed anyway.

Howard had just seven rebounds in 27 minutes as the Nuggets owned the boards with a 48-38 rebounding edge that led to 25 second-chance points.

"You can't play a team on the road and time after time you stop them and they get the rebound and put it back in," said Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni, who pointed out that L.A. held Denver to just 43 percent shooting in the first half, a stat nullified by the Nuggets' 17 second-chance points in the first two quarters. "You can't do it."

Howard was so ineffective that when D'Antoni was asked what the center's ejection meant to the Lakers' chances of winning, he replied bluntly: "Not a whole lot."

The team's frustration in its defense was manifested in the first quarter when Howard and Steve Nash openly stared at each other with their palms up and argued over who missed an assignment that led to an uncontested dunk for JaVale McGee. It was reminiscent of Howard and Kobe Bryant going at it a few weeks back in New Orleans.

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Rapid Reaction: Nuggets 126, Lakers 114

December, 26, 2012
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
DENVER -- Heading to the altitude of Denver for the second night of a back-to-back after playing at home on Christmas looked like a tall task when the NBA schedule was released in the summer. The challenge proved to be too much for the Los Angeles Lakers, who had their five-game win streak snapped and fell back under .500 at 14-15.

How it happened: After the Lakers kept things close in the first half, Denver exploded for a 39-point quarter in the third, with Corey Brewer (27 points) surprisingly being the one doing most of the damage. It was the same type of big quarter that teams like Houston, New York and Oklahoma City had hit the Lakers with back before their five-game win streak and it was discouraging to see, especially considering their defense looked so good in the fourth quarter Tuesday when they held the high-scoring Knicks to just 16 points.

What it means: The Lakers had a chance to go one game over .500 for the first time since they were 6-5, but will have to try to restart their momentum after facing their first bit of adversity since Steve Nash returned. Also, L.A. is now just 5-9 on the road, which needs to improve if the Lakers are going to make a run at getting a decent playoff seed.

Hits: Nash started off the game 6-for-6 from the field and finished with 15 points and eight assists. Kobe Bryant (40 points) extended his 30-point streak to 10 straight games, but L.A. is now 0-4 this season when Bryant scores 40-plus points.

Misses: After putting up 28 points and 20 rebounds in the Lakers' last meeting with the Nuggets, Dwight Howard was a dud Wednesday. He finished with just 12 points and seven rebounds (and went just 4-for-9 from the free-throw line) before being ejected for picking up a flagrant-2 foul with 5:02 remaining in the third quarter after hitting Kenneth Faried in the face on a drive by the Nuggets' big man.

Metta World Peace fouled out for the second straight game and shot just 4-for-13 from the field for 10 points after having back-to-back 20-point games coming into Wednesday.

Stat of the night: Faried had 11 points and nine rebounds in the first quarter with five of the boards coming on the offensive glass.

What's next: The Lakers return to L.A. for four straight games at the Staples Center starting Friday against the scrappy Portland Trail Blazers (13-13). They'll have Thursday off after playing a back-to-back on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.

D'Antoni dishes on Nash's minutes, defense

December, 26, 2012
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
DENVER -- There is no doubting the impact Steve Nash had on the Los Angeles Lakers' offense in his first two games back from the fractured fibula in his left leg, but there are still two areas of concerns for many Lakers fans: Nash's minutes and his defense.

Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni shrugged off both of those issues before L.A. played the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night.

When asked about Nash averaging 39.5 minutes in his first two games back, which allowed him to get to his 14.0 points and 10.0 assist averages along with the Lakers scoring 109 points per game, D'Antoni said he's keeping an eye on Nash's playing time more out of concern for public perception than his point guard's health.

"Yeah, because I will get killed if I say no," D'Antoni said with a chuckle. "He's only 38, come on. Here's how I look at it: I agree, we should get it down to about 34 [minutes per game]. Is three minutes playing better than having a day off the next day? I'm pretty liberal about giving him a day off and don't practice him and making sure he is ready to go. Is it better to go ahead and practice for an hour and a half or give him three minutes on the floor? I go the other way. I think it's more important that he plays, obviously. But, we will watch it, and as [Steve] Blake comes back and we get a little bit more comfortable about where we are, then I can cut it down a little bit more."

D'Antoni said that Blake was about "2-3 weeks" away from returning after undergoing abdominal surgery in early December. Having Blake available will certainly cut into Nash's minutes.

As for Nash's defense, which has been the biggest criticism of his two-time MVP, Hall of Fame-bound career, D'Antoni claims Nash is actually a better defender now than when they teamed together five seasons ago with the Phoenix Suns.

"He hasn't really slowed down; I haven't seen a whole lot," D'Antoni said. "He has gotten better defensively, I think. I think he is a better player now than he was in Phoenix, to a certain degree."

Just how has Nash improved defensively?

"Just him hounding people, getting through picks and different things," D'Antoni said. "He was a little bit better than what they always said, he's a better defender. Especially as a team defender he's really good and his understanding of the game is really good.

"So, it was never true that he couldn't defend and we couldn't defend [in Phoenix]. That's not true. We were always 10th or 11th or 12th or 13th. We were right there playing small and when you play small, you give up some second-chance points. But he said he's worked on his leg strength the last couple years to try to get better at it, and he has."

The Lakers rank 15th in the league this season in defensive efficiency, giving up 102.0 points per 100 possessions.

Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Jodie & Jamison Show stars for Lakers

November, 30, 2012
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
LOS ANGELES -- It's only been six games, so the jury is still out on Mike D'Antoni's ultimate impact. But give the coach credit for this if nothing else: His system has transformed the Los Angeles Lakers' bench from a bunch of sorry substitutes to the Jodie & Jamison Show.

Antawn Jamison scored a game-high 33 points and Jodie Meeks scored 21 on 7-for-8 shooting from 3-point land as the reserve duo nearly matched the 56 points scored by the Denver Nuggets' starting five in the Lakers' 122-103 win Friday.

The Lakers have been up-and-down as their 3-3 record suggests since D'Antoni took over, but it only has been up for Jamison (who's putting up 17.8 points in the last four games) and Meeks (who is 15-for-29 on 3-pointers since D'Antoni first assumed his seat on the sidelines).

"Me and him, we've been kind of like roommates here lately," Jamison said of his relationship with Meeks since joining the team as free agents this offseason. "We know we were brought here for a certain role, and we've been struggling together, as well."

They struggled for different reasons. Meeks simply was out of the rotation, parked on the pine. Jamison said he put pressure on himself to not only learn the offense that ex-coach Mike Brown was running but also wracked his brain to fit in among the pecking order of the Lakers' stars.

Friday, he not only scored more than Kobe Bryant (14 points) and Dwight Howard (28), he took more shots than them, too, leading the team with 19 attempts.

"I didn't think that was possible," Jamison said after the game.

With D'Antoni he's learning that a lot of things are possible, including him as a 36-year old on a veteran's minimum contract replacing Pau Gasol, who is four years his junior and makes 15 times as much money, in the starting lineup at some point.

"I don't want to lose Pau, but at the same time we do have to spread the floor," D'Antoni said.

When asked directly if he was considering lineup changes, D'Antoni certainly didn't cement Gasol's position as a starter but didn't hint that any swap is imminent.

"Not yet," D'Antoni said. "We're way too early."

Said Gasol of Jamison and Meeks, the first pair of Lakers reserves to come off the bench to each score more than 20 points in a game since Bryant (25 points) and Nick Van Exel (20 points) did it in 1998: "They're in perfect spots to get their games at a high level."

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Rapid Reaction: Lakers 122, Nuggets 103

November, 30, 2012
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky

After Tuesday's lemon against Indiana, this was just what the doctor ordered. Defensively, there were issues, particularly when it came to stopping ball penetration. But the Lakers played with great energy all night, and the offense was souped up with a D'Antonian engine. As always, work remains to be done, but this win, which pushed the Lakers to .500, represents a potential step in the right direction.

1) Dwight Howard looked as "Dwight Howard-y" as we've seen all season
Howard's messy departure from Orlando, which directly coincided with Stan Van Gundy's dismissal, left Superman branded as something of a coach killer. But tonight he looked like a brown-nosing coach's pet. As Dave McMenamin noted before the game, assistant coach Dan D'Antoni had the following message written on the locker room white board:

"Dwight win the damn game. I don't care how!!"

Well, never let it be said the guy doesn't follow marching orders. From the moment Howard set foot on the court, he was clearly looking to put his stamp on events. With the first quarter barely halfway finished, he'd already converted four baskets and typically drew fouls when he couldn't finish. After slipping a high screen set for Kobe Bryant, he stayed parallel with Kobe as he rolled to the bucket, setting himself up nicely for the eventual dump-off pass. The court was run after a Denver miss, which resulted in an over-the-shoulder feed from Darius Morris and a thunder dunk on the trailing catch.

The frame itself was concluded with a whopping 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting, five rebounds and two blocks, but Howard's impact was also felt in ways not directly measured by the box score. He protected the rim to alter a driving layup by Ty Lawson and the new possession was eventually turned into a 3-pointer from Morris.

That first-quarter tone was matched for another three, even after an eyelid laceration forced Howard into the locker room for treatment from trainer Gary Vitti. Twenty-eight points. Twenty boards. Three blocks. Dude even drained a 3-pointer in the closing seconds, but unlike the center he replaced, there was no cockiness nor defiance fueling the launch. It was pure joy, and Howard grinned like a kid in a candy store after the rock found bottom. And after a night like this one, the guy earned the right to take any shot he darn well pleased.

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Lakers vs. Nuggets: What to watch

November, 30, 2012
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
If the Lakers have been the most underwhelming team relative to expectations so far this season, the Denver Nuggets may run a close second. After pushing L.A. to the limits in a tough, seven-game first round series during the 2012 playoffs, the ingredients appeared in place to build on that momentum. Andre Iguodala was brought into the fold. JaVale McGee and Andre Miller were retained. And with (Coloradan fingers crossed) improved team-wide health, roster continuity would allow George Karl to guide his deep team to the next level. Instead, the Nuggets stumbled out of the gate, and have spent November hovering around the .500 mark. Like the Lakers, the search for fluidity and consistency remains a frustrating exercise in trial and error for the Nuggets.

For more knowledge about tonight's guests, I sent five questions to Joel Rush, who covers the Nuggets for the True Hoop network's Roundball Mining Company. Below are his responses, and here is a link to my thoughts on five Lakers questions from Joel.

Andy Kamenetzky: The Nuggets haven't gotten off to the start that many (certainly myself) expected. Why have they struggled and what, if anything, has improved?

Joel Rush: Nuggets fans have also been surprised and disappointed by the sluggish start, and there's been a lot of head-scratching as to why. In reality, it was a combination of factors. It has taken Iguodala longer than many expected to mesh with his new team. Danilo Gallinari started off the season in a horrible slump stemming in part from a bad ankle. Wilson Chandler has effectively sat out the season due to his hip injury. After signing a four-year, $48 million extension, Ty Lawson came out of the gate stumbling with subpar effort and a lack of the aggression that's so critical in driving Denver's offense. JaVale McGee's potential was showcased in Games 3 and 5 of last season's L.A.-Denver playoff series, so Lakers Nation will understand why Nuggets fans were cautiously optimistic he was poised to make positive strides. But that hasn't yet happened.

The Nuggets have struggled in finding consistent, lasting solutions. Steps back repeatedly follow steps forward. Until they can find some answers that stick, the Nuggets may at times have winning stretches, but they'll have their share of setbacks as well.

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The Forum: How good are the Lakers?

August, 28, 2012
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
After acquiring Steve Nash, Dwight Howard and Jodie Meeks and re-signing Jordan Hill, how do the Lakers stack up against the rest of the league? We evaluate the matchups against the Thunder, Heat and the next tier of competition.




Kobe Bryant
22.3 5.6 1.3 34.5
ReboundsJ. Hill 8.1
AssistsK. Bryant 5.6
StealsR. Price 1.5
BlocksE. Davis 1.1