Los Angeles Lakers: Earl Clark

Lakers will revisit defense with Rambis

July, 30, 2013
7/30/13
10:33
AM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
Can an NBA team lose two players who had been honored as the league's top defenders and, in the process, become a better defensive unit?

That’s what the Los Angeles Lakers are trying to find out.

Gone is their best rim protector in Dwight Howard, off to Houston. Gone, too, is their best perimeter stopper in Metta World Peace, off to New York.

Now the Lakers will find out if less is more.

Not that L.A.’s defense was any good with the services of the three-time defensive player of the year in Howard and one-time DPOY winner in World Peace, anyway. The Lakers were tied with Brooklyn for 18th in the league in defensive efficiency, allowing opponents to score 103.6 points per 100 possessions. Even with Howard patrolling the paint, L.A. ranked 22nd in the league in opponents’ field goal percentage inside of five feet, according to NBA.com Stats Cube (59.8 percent), and even with World Peace’s notoriously quick left hand, the Lakers were 26th in steals per game, generating just 7.0 a night.

“Their defense never really gave them a chance to win,” newly hired Lakers assistant coach Kurt Rambis told ESPNLosAngeles.com. “It was very erratic at best. In a lot of ways, when you bring in a lot of players from a lot of different systems, it takes awhile to get everybody connected and on the same page, how you have to defend a myriad of offensive NBA sets and you have to defend talented offensive people, it takes all five guys. They’ve got to be connected, and they’ve got to make the correct decisions at the correct time, and for the Lakers last year, it was clear that they just never really got connected on that end of the floor.

“You could see throughout most of their games, guys would turn their palms up to the sky, and it was like, ‘Is that my responsibility? Is that your responsibility? Who was supposed to do what?’ So, we’ve got to do a much better job of getting them so they can cover each others’ backs at that end of the floor.”

The reason that Rambis is back with the Lakers is not only because the team lost its two most talented defenders in Howard and World Peace, but because it lost its two most defensive-minded assistant coaches in Chuck Person, whose contract was not renewed, and Steve Clifford, who became the head coach in Charlotte.

Rambis, who assumed a defensive coordinator-type role in the final two seasons of his last run with the Lakers when Phil Jackson was head coach, said that Mike D’Antoni isn’t giving him the same label.

“(D’Antoni) said that all assistant coaches will be involved in all areas in our initial conversation,” Rambis explained. “Not that we have etched everything in stone, but to come back as a defensive coordinator, you can talk to Mike about whether there’s going to be any sort of designation on that. By my understanding, there isn’t going to be, but he just kind of wants all of the gaps to be covered so everybody is responsible for working with players and being involved in practices and being involved with games. But to have myself associated with the defense, that means that area is going to be covered.”

The Lakers have had a precipitous decline on the defensive end. After they held the Boston Celtics to just 79 points on 40.8 percent shooting in their Game 7 win in the 2010 Finals, their last three playoff appearances have ended in ugly fashion. First the Dallas Mavericks shot a blistering 46.2 percent on 3-pointers during a four-game sweep in 2011, amid Andrew Bynum decrying the team’s “trust issues” on the defensive end. Then the Oklahoma City Thunder scored 100 or more in three of their four wins against L.A. in their 2012 second-round series. Finally, in last season's first-round sweep by San Antonio, the Spurs shot a combined 53.0 percent from the floor in Games 2-4 after figuring out the Lakers' D that held them to just 37.6 percent shooting in Game 1 of the series.

“They never got connected defensively,” Rambis said of the 2012-13 season.

(Read full post)

Looking at the Lakers' free agent prospects

July, 2, 2013
7/02/13
11:36
AM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
LOS ANGELES -- Ever since Aug. 10, 2012 -- the day the Dwight Howard trade to the Los Angeles Lakers became official -- the team has been preparing for the day in July 2013 when they would get the chance to ensure that Howard would stay a Laker for years to come.

Howard is the top free agency priority for the Lakers this summer. It cannot be overstated how much the team is hitching its hopes to Howard sticking around to assume the role as the next face of the franchise.

But one All-Star center does not a team make.

The Lakers have seven players under contract for next season: Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol, Metta World Peace, Steve Blake, Jordan Hill and Jodie Meeks. Howard would make eight.

They have also extended a qualifying offer to Robert Sacre, making him a restricted free agent, and drafted Ryan Kelly in the second round. If they both make the team, that puts the roster at 10.

The Lakers could very well amnesty either World Peace or Gasol if Howard decides to come back, which could bring the roster number down to nine. Or they could look to trade one of them, which could swell the Lakers' number of players to 10 or more, depending on if it was a package deal.

Because of all the uncertainty, and because of the limited resources available to them to sign free agents, and being that they are a luxury tax-paying team which comes with repercussions under the current collective bargaining agreement, the Lakers cast a wide net when it came to pursuing their initial wave of free agents.

Yes, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak met with Howard for a brief face-to-face shortly after 9:01 p.m. PT Sunday evening, but his night didn't end there. The Lakers' GM got lost in a flurry of phone calls, making sure to express initial interest in a bevy of free agents that could potentially fit in with the team.

Going back to the roster math, we've outlined a Lakers team that is already comprised of 10 players. That means L.A. will be looking to add five more players at the maximum, but more likely three or four. The Lakers like to enter into a season with at least one open roster spot to make it possible to pick up an unsigned or waived player later into the year, or help facilitate an uneven trade (example: trade one player away, get two in return).

As hinted at before, keep in mind the Lakers don't have much to offer to these free agents because of their current salary cap situation. L.A. has the mini mid-level exception (worth approximately $3.2 million) and veteran minimum contracts available at their disposal. That's it.

Here's a breakdown of the players who we know are on the Lakers' radar, thanks to ESPNLosAngeles.com and media reports:

THE INCUMBENTS

These players are all unrestricted free agents, but have the benefit (or potentially the drawback) of familiarity with the team.

Earl Clark: A throw-in as part of the Howard deal, Clark was a spark plug for the Lakers in January and February before fading down the stretch and bottoming out in the playoffs. L.A. could do worse than getting Clark back, but there could be better options out there, despite the fact Clark is just 25. Clark is set to meet with the Cavaliers and former Lakers coach Mike Brown on Tuesday, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Darius Morris: A second-round pick by the Lakers in 2010, Morris finally got his number called in the playoffs because of injuries and averaged 14 points and four assists in L.A.'s final three playoff games after Bryant, Nash, Blake and Meeks went out. The Lakers chose not to extend Morris a qualifying offer, but did invite him to play on their summer league team. If he comes back, it would be for a minimum contract.

Andrew Goudelock: There's no doubt that Goudelock can shoot it, but the same reason he was cut from the Lakers in the first place (lack of size and defensive deficiencies) is the same reason he probably won't be back with the team next season.

THE REACHES

These guys are young and talented with enough of a question mark surrounding them to make it conceivable the Lakers get them, but enough upside to create a competitive market that will likely price the Lakers out.

Nick Young: The Lakers had interest in the L.A. native last summer as well, before Young inked a one-year deal with Philadelphia worth $6 million. Although sometimes erratic, Young has a prototypical 6-7, 210-pound frame as a shooting guard and is still just 28 years old. He would have to give the Lakers a major hometown discount to put on the purple and gold.

Chase Budinger: Part of the Lakers' pitch to Howard will be that they will surround him with shooters to open up his game down low. Budinger fits the bill, but Minnesota has interest in keeping him and Milwaukee, New Orleans, Utah, Indiana, Dallas and Memphis could all look to get him as well. The Lakers probably won't be able to compete in a bidding war, but Budinger grew up in San Diego, so maybe the SoCal appeal could help.

Chris Copeland: The 6-8, 225-pound Copeland possesses the potent skill combo of being able to defend on the wing while also hit down his outside shots (42.1 percent from 3 as a rookie). However, New York, Milwaukee and Indiana all have interest in him as well.

THE SENSIBLE FITS

These players should fall right into the Lakers' wheelhouse in terms of being affordable, while bringing a clear skill set to the table.

Wayne Ellington: The Cavs did not extend a qualifying offer to the 6-4 Ellington, who has shot 38.2 percent from 3 in his four-year career. He might be somewhat redundant with the Lakers already having Meeks, but as Miami proved in the playoffs, you can never have too many shooters.

Francisco Garcia: He's been on the Lakers' radar for a while -- Phil Jackson once urged the team to trade Sasha Vujacic for him while Garcia played for Sacramento -- and he could bring the right mix of what L.A. is looking for. Garcia is a gritty small forward with length who could shore up L.A.'s perimeter defense. He's also a career 36.1 percent shooter from deep, so he could help in that department too. At 32 years old and coming off a lackluster season, he should be attainable for L.A.

Carlos Delfino: Another Houston castoff as the Rockets shed salary in their pursuit of Howard, the rugged Delfino offers much of what Garcia does, but is two years younger. His playoffs were cut short by a fractured right foot that required surgery, so health could be a concern.

Byron Mullens: The classic case of a guy putting up good numbers on a bad team, Mullens blossomed in Charlotte into a legit stretch four after not seeing much playing time in Oklahoma City. He could be a redundancy considering the Lakers drafted Kelly, but at just 24 years old and standing 7 feet tall, there is a reason for the Lakers' interest.

THE FORMER LAKERS

These are the been there, done that guys who are looking for work. Like the incumbents, the Lakers' familiarity with them can be a double-edged sword.

Jordan Farmar: To get Farmar would require the Lakers to pay his buyout of approximately $500,000 to Anadolu Efes of the Turkish Basketball League. While that figure wouldn't count against L.A.'s cap, the Lakers already have two point guards in Nash and Blake and would probably only offer Farmar the veteran's minimum of $1 million if they did try to get him. Still, at just 26 years old and with athleticism, scoring ability and championship experience, Farmar could be a bargain and good insurance to have behind the Steves.

Matt Barnes: He never really found his rhythm in his two seasons with the Lakers, but Barnes is coming off a great year with the Clippers when he put up a career-high 10.3 points in just 25.7 minutes per game. As a confidant of Bryant and former teammate of Howard, he could fit right back into the locker room as well.

Sasha Vujacic: Vujacic is in L.A. training for the summer and has been in contact with Lakers reps. He can still shoot and he's still long and can be pesky on defense.

THE PLAN B'S

This group lets you know just how wide of a net the Lakers have cast. Because of the relatively meager contracts they can offer compared to other teams with cap space around the league, the Lakers must have contingency plans.

Brandan Wright: He came into the league with big expectations out of UNC and has been labeled a disappointment because of it. Yet, Wright's numbers last season (8.5 points on 59.7 percent shooting and 4.1 rebounds in just 18 minutes per game) were solid. Perhaps the back-up big could be a reclamation project for Kupchak, a fellow Tar Heel.

Shawne Williams: He was out of the league in 2012-13, but before that enjoyed the best stretch of his career playing for Mike D'Antoni in New York when he averaged 7.1 points on 40.1 percent from 3 in 2010-11.

Will Bynum: A classic change-of-pace guard off the bench, the compact 6-foot, 185-pound Bynum had a rocky relationship with management in Detroit but proved he could score in bunches.

2012-13 Lakers Report Card: Bench frontcourt

May, 3, 2013
5/03/13
12:33
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
For a franchise that has won 16 titles, any Los Angeles Lakers season that doesn't end with a championship is considered a failure. But rather than just dole out a blanket "F" for the Lakers' disappointing 2012-13 season, we're going to break down each player's production in groups: Today it's the bench frontcourt. Yesterday was the bench backcourt. Check back for grades on the starters and the Lakers' coaching staff and front office next week.

JORDAN HILL

Back in the preseason, when Dwight Howard was out and Mike Brown was coaching and Hill was on the court playing with boundless energy on the boards and actually hitting some jump shots on offense, it looked like the fourth-year forward would be the Lakers’ most important player off the bench this season.

A coaching change for L.A. followed by a hip injury for Hill changed all that. Under Mike D’Antoni, Hill received three straight DNP-CDs in December and then missed the rest of the regular season after hurting his left hip against Denver on Jan. 6 and requiring surgery. Hill made a brief return in the playoffs, only missing three months of action instead of six, which is a testament to his dedication to rehabilitation and his body’s healing powers, but he couldn’t sway the Lakers’ fate against the Spurs.

Hill says he might not ever return fully to the player he was before hip surgery, but even 90-95 percent of the activity he’s known for bringing on the court can be a game changer.

“Once you injure something, it’s not going to be back to where it originally came from, but it’s not going to stop me from doing what I do,” Hill said. “I just got to stay on it.”

Stats

6.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 0.7 bpg, .497 fg -- Hill’s points and rebounds were career highs and he did it in just 15.8 minutes per game, but his most notable stat was that he played only 29 games in the regular season.

Outlook for 2013-14

Hill’s role will depend on who returns out of the Lakers’ frontcourt group of Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Antawn Jamison, Metta World Peace and Earl Clark and also on how, or if, D’Antoni feels comfortable with him in his system. Hill is a young (turns 26 in July), inexpensive (owed $3.5 million next season) talent that will help the Lakers one way or another, either on the court or as an attractive piece in a trade.

Grade

B-: Hill performed when given the chance and healthy, but his season, like many of his teammates’, was derailed by an injury.

ANTAWN JAMISON

Jamison certainly didn’t leave a three-year, $11 million offer from Charlotte on the table to come to L.A. and receive six straight DNP-CDs, as he did in late December through early January. The 15-year veteran and the Lakers went through growing pains together, evidently, because around the time Jamison’s role started to become defined, L.A. started winning.

During the Lakers’ 28-12 finish to the regular season, Jamison scored in double digits 25 times. Overall, the Lakers were 15-4 this season when Jamison scored 15-plus points, as his offense added another dimension to the sometimes predictable tandem of Kobe Bryant and Howard. And Jamison did it playing the final five weeks of the season with a torn ligament in his right wrist that required surgery this week.

All in all, Jamison’s contributions to the team were a bargain for the $1.4 million veteran’s minimum he signed for.

Stats

9.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg, .464 fg, .361 3fg, 21.5 mpg -- It was the first time since Jamison’s rookie season that he scored less than 10 points per game, but it was also the first time since he was a rook that he played less than 30 minutes per game, explaining the drop in production.

Outlook for 2013-14

Jamison is only 42 points shy of becoming just the 39th player in league history to score 20,000 points. That fact alone will be motivation for Jamison, who turns 37 in June, to want to lace them up again next season. It just probably won’t be in Los Angeles. Jamison butted heads with D’Antoni, even getting into an on-court shouting match with the coach while checking into a game in Houston, and the Lakers will sacrifice the skills of a guy like Jamison to find a younger, more athletic replacement for their bench.

Grade

B: Jamison played a role capably and often excelled at it.

(Read full post)

Rapid Reaction: Lakers 113, Trail Blazers 106

April, 10, 2013
4/10/13
9:45
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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PORTLAND, Ore. -- The Rose Garden has been a place, for quite some time, where the Los Angeles Lakers' hopes and dreams have come to die.

Coming into Wednesday, the Lakers' previous three games in Portland were losses. As were 12 of their previous 14 and, going back all the way to 2002, 17 of their past 21.

But Kobe Bryant has shown that he has the power to rise above the Trail Blazers' house of horrors before, and boy did he ever do it again in a 113-106 victory.

Bryant has been going by the self-appointed "vino" nickname this season to describe how his game has been aging like a fine wine.

Forget vino, Wednesday was straight vintage.

Bryant did everything but sell popcorn, as they say, finishing with 47 points, eight rebounds, five assists, four blocks and three steals in an epic performance.

If the Lakers are going to live up to Bryant's playoff guarantee, he just might have to be the guy to will them there.

How it happened: L.A. gave up one of its all-too-typical poison-pill quarters to start things off, as Portland posted 41 points in the opening frame, but thanks to Bryant keeping up the torrid pace that he started against New Orleans, things never got too out of hand. The Lakers settled down on defense and used a 17-2 spurt to start the third quarter to really take back control of the game. They outscored the Blazers by nine in the fourth thanks to Bryant and Pau Gasol two-manning them to death, and the team defense holding Portland to just 16 points.

What it means: L.A. has a one-game lead over the Utah Jazz for the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference playoffs with three games left to play. That's what matters.

Hits: As brilliant as Bryant was, Gasol had himself a night. Gasol finished with 23 points, nine assists, seven rebounds and two blocks.

Dwight Howard had 20 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks.

Misses: The Lakers' defense allowed surefire rookie of the year winner Damian Lillard to score a career-high 38 points.

L.A. had 15 turnovers leading to 16 Portland points.

Steve Nash missed his fifth straight game because of lingering right hip and hamstring issues. He is questionable for Friday.

Stat of the game: Bryant put up his eighth 40-point game of the season.

Up next: The Lakers have three games left in the regular season, all of them at home: Friday against Golden State, Sunday against San Antonio and Wednesday against Houston.

Rapid Reaction: Lakers 104, Hornets 96

April, 9, 2013
4/09/13
10:16
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- With all the 5-0 talk surrounding the Los Angeles Lakers' finish to the season, it was questionable whether L.A. would even have enough fight left to get the first game toward that goal.

The severely sub-.500 New Orleans would seem like an easy opponent to start things off against, but then again, the Hornets led by 25 against L.A. back in March before Kobe Bryant scored 18 points in the fourth quarter to key a ridiculous rally.

He one-upped himself Tuesday, scoring 23 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter to put the pesky Hornets away.

How it happened: L.A. led by as many as 10 points in the second quarter before New Orleans used a 14-0 run to erase that to take a 50-45 lead into the locker room. Things were tied at 70-all to start the fourth quarter before Bryant went on a personal 7-0 run, connecting on three straight jumpers, to give L.A. a small cushion, and he extended that spurt to score the Lakers' first 14 points of the final period as the Hornets kept it close.

What it means: The Utah Jazz did their part, falling to the Oklahoma City Thunder 90-80 on Tuesday. L.A. is back to holding a half-game lead over the Jazz for the eighth and final playoff spot as the games continue to be checked off the schedule. The Lakers are back to being in the driver's seat when it comes to meeting their postseason goal; now they just have to stay on the road.

Hits: Metta World Peace returned to the lineup after missing just 12 days following knee surgery. Remarkable stuff. He finished with just four points and one assist, but he was able to play 15 minutes and take some of the load off the starters.

Antawn Jamison scored 13 points off the bench, including a crucial five straight with less than five minutes to go in the fourth when L.A. was getting offense out of only Bryant to that point.

Misses: Earl Clark scored zero points, going 0-for-3 from the field in 24 minutes while picking up four fouls. He did collect five assists, however, often hooking up with Dwight Howard.

Howard had problems with the whistle-blowers, too, getting called for five fouls. He did notch 19 points, six rebounds and four assists in 33 minutes, however.

Howard had a careless violation with 2:16 left, stepping on the endline when he went to inbound the ball, thus turning it over when it was only a six-point game.

L.A. had 16 turnovers leading to 12 points for the Hornets.

Stat of the game: Every Lakers starter had at least four assists as L.A. recorded dimes on 26 of its 40 baskets.

Up next: It's on to Portland, where the Lakers will try to elude the hold the Rose Garden seems to have over them. They also will attempt to sweep a back-to-back for the first time all season. "Save the best for last, probably," World Peace said. He better hope so.

Rapid Reaction: Lakers 86, Grizzlies 84

April, 5, 2013
4/05/13
10:05
PM PT
Shelburne By Ramona Shelburne
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- Playing the Memphis Grizzlies on any given night is like signing up for an MMA fight. The Griz are among the NBA's most physical teams. Nothing comes easy against them and their stout defense, which gives up a league-low 89.8 points a game.

Of course that's nothing new for the Los Angeles Lakers in a difficult season. The next thing that comes easy for the Lakers will be the first.

Friday was no exception as the Lakers held off the Grizzlies 86-84 to maintain a tenuous grip on the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference.

While L.A. always seemed in control of the game, Memphis was never out of it. It took a key free throw by Dwight Howard with 4.1 seconds left, after a key rebound by Howard off Mike Conley's miss with 4.1 seconds remaining, and every bit of energy Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol had left to pull out the win.

How it happened: The Lakers built a 13-point lead in the first half and a seven-point lead late in the third quarter. But Memphis is the kind of team that never seems to go away. The Grizzlies, who came in having won four in a row, rallied time and again to keep the pressure on the increasingly desperate Lakers.

Ultimately though, the Lakers pulled it out behind clutch performances from Bryant, (24 points), Gasol (19 points, 9 rebounds), Earl Clark (13 points) and Antawn Jamison (13 points).

What it means: After the Utah Jazz took care of business at home against the lowly New Orleans Hornets, the Lakers basically had to win this game to maintain their slim half-game lead in what's shaping up to be a dogfight for the last playoff berth. With Utah owning the season-series tiebreaker, the Lakers need to finish a game ahead of the Jazz to get in as the No. 8 seed. This win was critical.

Hits: With Memphis' interior defense collapsing on Howard every time he tried to post up, Gasol had room to operate out of the high post and had one of his most effective games of the season. Gasol made 8 of 14 shots to finish with 19 points and 9 rebounds.

Clark had another nice game, finishing with 13 points, 5 rebounds and one very impressive fourth-quarter block on Grizzlies guard Quincy Pondexter that you'll be seeing on "SportsCenter."

Misses: Steve Blake had been on a roll coming into this game, averaging 13 points on 52.9 percent shooting in the two games he'd filled in for the injured Steve Nash. But he struggled in this one, finishing with just six points and turning the ball over five times, all in the first half.

Stat of the game: Jamison needed to average 16 points a game over the Lakers' final seven games of the season to get to 20,000 career points. With a badly sprained right (shooting) wrist, it's not going to be easy. But the crafty veteran continues to soldier on, finishing with 13 points in 25 minutes Friday night.

What's next: The Lakers will have a light workout Saturday to prepare for Sunday's 12:30 p.m. PT tip against the Los Angeles Clippers. It figures to be a heated game, because it always is between these two teams, but also because both are playing for playoff seeding, the Clippers for the critical No. 3 seed, the Lakers for the No. 8 spot.

Rapid Reaction: Lakers 101, Mavericks 81

April, 2, 2013
4/02/13
10:40
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- It was a night to remember in Lakers history Tuesday as Shaquille O'Neal had his No. 34 jersey retired, but the current team had to make sure its playoff hopes didn't become history with a gutsy 101-81 win over the Dallas Mavericks. Here's a quick look:

How it happened: The Lakers jumped out to a 16-point lead with Kobe Bryant leading the way, getting off to a tremendous start with seven points, three rebounds, one assist and one block in the first quarter (and also tallying several approval-seeking glances to Phil Jackson, it seemed, who was sitting next to Jeanie Buss in the second row). Things got a little hairy in the fourth quarter (that wasn't meant to be a Dallas beard joke, but it works) as L.A.'s lead was cut to eight, but the Lakers surged late to take it by 20.

What it means: The Lakers are 2-0 on their quest to finish off the season 9-0 and they may have quieted the Mavericks for good, as they now lead them by 2 1/2 games with seven left to play. Now they just have to catch the Utah Jazz, who owns the tiebreaker over the Lakers despite the teams having the same record.

Hits: Before the game, O'Neal challenged Dwight Howard to consistently average 28 points and 10 rebounds. Howard came close with 24 and 12.

Earl Clark was everywhere with 17 points, 12 rebounds and a career-high five rebounds.

L.A. held the Mavs to just 81 total points on 42 percent shooting.

Misses: After tying a season low with just seven turnovers against Sacramento on Saturday, the Lakers had 18 turnovers against Dallas leading to 16 points.

Jodie Meeks and Antawn Jamison combined to shoot just 4-for-16.

Stat of the game: Bryant racked up his second triple-double of the season with 23 points, 11 assists and 11 rebounds.

What's next: The Lakers have the day off Wednesday before getting back at it Thursday when they hope Steve Nash's strained right hip and hamstring will be healthy enough for him to ramp up to return to the lineup Friday against the Memphis Grizzlies.

Rapid Reaction: Warriors 109, Lakers 103

March, 25, 2013
3/25/13
10:16
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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OAKLAND, Calif. -- The second quarter was so ugly that Kobe Bryant decided he had seen enough even while there was still time left on the clock.

Bryant left the court and stalked off to the locker room with 0.5 seconds remaining after the Golden State Warriors had upped their already ample 19-point lead to 23 with two tip-ins in the span of 1.4 seconds.

There was a comedy of errors from the Los Angeles Lakers to end the quarter, from Dwight Howard picking up a technical foul after getting smacked in the face by a David Lee elbow (causing a cut to his lip that required three stitches) to Metta World Peace nearly stealing a ball, only to deflect it to a wide-open Klay Thompson for a 3-pointer, to World Peace throwing a full-court inbound pass away, which led to the second of the aforementioned tip-ins by Andrew Bogut.

Sham-mockery, indeed.

The second half was better, as L.A. held Golden State to 44 points after allowing 63 in the first two quarters, but too much damage was done early on.

How it happened: The Warriors used runs of 8-0 and 7-0 in the first quarter to open up a 12-point lead after the first period. That was the closest L.A. would get the rest of the way. The last time the Lakers came to Golden State in December, they erased a 13-point fourth quarter deficit to win. That was not the case Monday. The Lakers attempted a rally, cutting the Warriors' lead all the way down to six, but a win wasn't in the cards.

What it means: "We’re in a fight for our lives, and let’s act on it," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said before the game.

If the Lakers didn't know that going into the night -- having lost consecutive games to the Phoenix Suns and Washington Wizards -- they should certainly be well aware of it after getting embarrassed by Golden State.

It's the Lakers' first three-game losing streak since that air-it-out meeting they had in Memphis back in late January.

For a team that has said its strategy to get into the postseason is to win three out of every four games the rest of the way, that constitutes a crisis.

As bad as Utah has played, with a 4-9 record in March so far, the Jazz are just a game behind L.A. for the eighth seed in the Western Conference and hold the tiebreaker over the Lakers.

Hits: Dwight Howard had 15 rebounds.

Steve Nash neared a triple-double with 21 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists.

This dunk by Bryant.

Misses: Three Warriors players -- Lee, Thompson and Stephen Curry -- scored 20 or more points.

Bryant, while scoring a game-high 36 points, shot 11-for-27 overall and 2-for-10 from 3.

Stat of the game: Jarrett Jack, who scored 29 points the last time the Lakers played in Golden State, scored 19 Monday and nearly matched the 21 points scored by the Lakers' bench contingent of Jodie Meeks (13), Antawn Jamison (five), Steve Blake (three) and Earl Clark (zero). The L.A. bench shot 7-for-26 overall while Jack was 9-for-16.

What's next: The Lakers continue their four-game road trip with a back-to-back on Wednesday and Thursday in Minnesota and Milwaukee, respectively, and then finish it up in Sacramento on Saturday.

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."

Duhon dances, D'Antoni notices

March, 13, 2013
3/13/13
6:57
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
ATLANTA -- From the creator of the "Travel Dance" we give you Chris Duhon's latest bench celebration.

Despite not playing a single second in the Los Angeles Lakers' 106-97 win over the Orlando Magic on Tuesday, there might not have been a more animated player in purple and gold than Duhon.

The nine-year veteran broke out a cheer I hadn't seen from him before when Jodie Meeks hit a 3-pointer and again when Earl Clark connected from downtown. Once the 3s went down, it was Duhon's cue to crouch down off the bench, put one foot on the court while game action was continuing down the other end and kneel with his other leg as he straightened three fingers on each hand and pointed them toward the ground as he motioned his arms up and down over and over.

What was that exactly?

"It's just something we did in Orlando, Quentin Richardson and I," Duhon said. "We were a rock band. We both had the guitars and J.J. [Redick] was on the drums and we always did that for 3s."

Duhon didn't have a name for his dance on Tuesday (although I think "Ooh-three wally wally, ooh-three bang bang" would be ridiculous enough to work) but said it wasn't as wild as he can get.

"That was kind of our subtle one," Duhon said. "You'll see us do the air guitars. It was just something that would always keep us into the game."

(Read full post)

Rapid Reaction: Lakers 106, Magic 97

March, 12, 2013
3/12/13
7:06
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- In many ways the entire Los Angeles Lakers' season has been more spectacle than substance.

Tuesday was no exception as the Lakers had to wade through a scorned Orlando crowd that didn't have much to look forward to the rest of the season for their 18-47 Magic team, but sure had a lot to be upset about looking back at how Dwight Howard left their franchise.

The fans let Howard and the Lakers hear it from the minute the All-Star center led the team out of the tunnel for pregame warmups, through the national anthem that was punctuated by several fans screaming insults at Howard and on through the game when he engaged in back-and-forth banter with some courtside-seat occupants during timeouts.

In a season in which Howard has struggled to find a rhythm, he looked mighty comfortable wearing an opposing uniform in his old home for the first time.

Howard dominated the game from start to finish, putting up a new high as a Laker with 39 points to go along with 16 rebounds and three blocked shots.

No boos could ever have sounded so good when Howard checked out with 49.9 seconds left and L.A. up by 13. He closed his night with congratulatory hugs from Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash.

How it happened: Even though the Lakers built a double-digit lead in the first half, the Magic kept L.A. from breaking it open too fast, first with an 11-4 run to finish the first quarter and then an 8-1 run to close out the second. Orlando briefly regained the lead at 57-56 in the third, but L.A. used a 17-4 burst to take control from there and didn't look back.

What it means: With the Utah Jazz off on Tuesday, the Lakers jumped back ahead of them for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West by bringing their record to 34-31, the most games over .500 they've been all season long. That's 17 wins in their past 23 games, for those of you scoring at home.

Hits: Antawn Jamison scored eight of his 10 points in the second half.

The Lakers held their opponents to sub-40 percent shooting for the second straight game as the Magic connected on just a 39.8 percent clip.

Misses: Bryant shot just 4-for-14 from the field, but dished out a game-high eight assists.

Earl Clark had just six points and four rebounds in his Orlando return.

Stat of the game: Orlando coach Jacque Vaughn proved he had no problem resorting to a gimmick like "Hack-a-Howard" to win. He did in the Magic's victory in L.A. on Dec. 2, when Howard went 9-for-21 from the line, and he did it again Tuesday. Howard tied his own NBA record for free-throw attempts in a game by going 25-for-39 against the Magic. He eclipsed Shaquille O'Neal's old Lakers' record of free-throw attempts in a game. Shaq was 19-for-31 on Nov. 19, 1999.

What's next: The Lakers continue their trip with the second night of a back-to-back Wednesday in Atlanta and will put their four-game winning streak up against the Hawks, who had lost five of six games coming into their matchup on Tuesday against the Miami Heat.

Rapid Reaction: Lakers 90, Bulls 81

March, 10, 2013
3/10/13
3:30
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- The downside of the Los Angeles Lakers putting together those two inspiring comeback wins in the past two games is that they played so poorly at the start that they needed to pull the rabbit out of a hat.

The less-exciting, yet much more efficient approach is to take care of business from the start and not need to rely on any late-game heroics.

Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni called it a "ditch."

"We can't get in there," D'Antoni said before the Lakers played the Chicago Bulls on Sunday. "That's not good. We got to be able to cure that."

L.A. had the antidote for a day at least: defense.

Led by Dwight Howard (not too many Lakers sentences have started that way this season, huh?), the Lakers completely stifled Chicago's offense.

Now, the Bulls were without Derrick Rose, Kirk Hinrich and Taj Gibson of course, but the way the Lakers were protecting their turf Sunday, you could have put Jordan and Pippen back in a Chicago uniform and L.A. still would have given itself a chance.

The Lakers kept the Bulls to just 37.1 percent shooting overall, 25 percent on 3-pointers and just 81 points total -- the least points they've given up to an opponent since Golden State scored 77 back in November.

How it happened: Even though the Lakers weren't exactly sharp themselves to start the game (0-for-8 on 3-pointers in the first quarter), they held the Bulls to 6-for-18 shooting in the opening period to take a four-point lead. With balanced scoring (six players in double digits) and tough defense, L.A. was able to push that lead to as many as 18 in the third. Then the tables were turned a bit as the Lakers found themselves as the team protecting a late lead, rather than being the ones trying to dig out of a late deficit. Chicago cut the margin to just eight points with a little more than eight minutes remaining, but the Lakers were able to keep it back over 10 for pretty much the rest of the way until Marco Belinelli hit a meaningless 3-pointer in the final minute.

What it means: Get this: the Lakers are two games over .500 for the first time this season. They've now won 16 of their past 22 games (.727) -- a significant stretch spanning more than a quarter of the season. With the win, the Lakers are now a half-game ahead of the Utah Jazz for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference with 18 games left to play.

Hits: Bryant followed up his 40-point, 12-assist games with a solid 19 and nine along with seven rebounds.

Howard had 16 points, 21 rebounds, four blocks and a steal.

L.A.'s bench outscored Chicago's subs 16-10.

Misses: The Lakers shot just 5-for-26 (19.2 percent) on 3-pointers.

Howard shot an airball on a free throw in the first quarter and was 0-for-5 from the line overall.

Bryant and Metta World Peace got into a brief shouting match late in the first half after World Peace was called for an offensive foul while trying to set a screen for Bryant. Steve Nash intervened to settle both players down.

Stat of the game: Howard grabbed 21 rebounds, his fourth time this season grabbing 20 or more. The Lakers were just 1-2 the first three times he did it. Sunday also marked the 10th straight game that Howard had 12 or more rebounds.

What's next: The Lakers go back on the road for a three-game trip, continuing their brutal March where 10 out of their 14 games are away from Staples Center. The trip starts Tuesday against the Magic in Howard's return to Orlando. The Lakers follow that with the second night of a back-to-back Wednesday in Atlanta and then go to Indiana to play the Pacers on Friday.

Earl Clark slowing down a bit

March, 9, 2013
3/09/13
4:46
PM PT
Shelburne By Ramona Shelburne
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Has the best story of this season hit a wall?

That would be forward Earl Clark, whom the Los Angeles Lakers discovered when three of their big men got hurt before a road trip and Clark responded with 22 points and 13 rebounds Jan. 9 in a loss to San Antonio. Recently he has fallen off some, scoring in double figures just once over his previous seven games.

"His energy level is way down," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said. "He might hit a wall a little bit. I don't know the reason, but his playing time has been cut back a little bit. But hopefully he will be re-energized. We need it. Hopefully he can get back up there."

However when Clark was asked whether he was tired, he disagreed.

"Not for me," Clark said. "I just continue to play. I don't know what it is. I'm just playing and trying to do whatever he wants. He's just coaching. If he feels like my energy level is down, he's going to take me out. I guess I have to provide more energy."

Clark has never played anything close to the 31 minutes a game he has averaged in 27 games as a starter. The most minutes he has played in his five NBA seasons was last year when he played almost 13 minutes a game for the Orlando Magic.

He has been putting in extra conditioning before and after practice to try and get into the type of shape to handle the extra workload, but was told recently that he may be overdoing it.

"They say I should slow down with working out and getting more rest," Clark said. "But it's hard when you've been doing this your whole life. I just have to take more precautions and take it easy a little bit. Going to sleep and don't come in here as much. Don't overwork yourself."

How much does he sleep?

"I sleep a lot. I think I get enough rest," he said. "But it's kind of hard to stop working when you've gotten so far and see success. You want to keep going. I never played this much. I don't know the toll that it's taking on my body. It's just about learning and keep going."

Steve Nash more comfortable in new role

March, 9, 2013
3/09/13
1:02
AM PT
Markazi By Arash Markazi
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- Steve Nash went to get the ball because, well, Nash has always had the ball in his hands.

Midway through the first quarter Friday night, as Earl Clark picked up the ball to inbound it, Nash held up his hands as Clark looked at him and Kobe Bryant, who was holding up his hands as well. Clark ended up passing it to Nash, who immediately gave the ball to Bryant and ran down the court toward the right arc.

Steve Nash
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty ImagesSteve Nash is accustomed to having the ball in his hands, so it has been quite an adjustment for him the last few months mostly playing off the ball.
This is Nash's new role with the Los Angeles Lakers. He is no longer one of the league's best point guards, but rather its newest shooting guard.

Sure there are still moments when Nash will bring up the ball depending on defensive adjustments by the opposition, but more often than not, Nash is patrolling the perimeter and waiting for Bryant to get him the ball.

"It's a big adjustment for me and I am trying to embrace it," Nash said. "I'm trying to do what I can to help the team. It's not something I'm accustomed. It's been a difficult transition in some ways, but at the same time I love being here and I really want to help the team the best I can."

As much as Nash would like to have the ball in his hands, he has stepped up to the challenge of being an outside shooter for the Lakers. He had a season-high 22 points on 7-of-13 shooting, including 4-of-6 on 3-pointers in the Lakers' thrilling 118-116 overtime win over the Toronto Raptors on Friday. It's sill jarring, however, to see Nash finish a game with just two assists. Over the past seven games, Nash has scored at least 20 points three times but has averaged less than 4.0 assists in those three games.

"He's one of the best shooters in history and he's playing a little bit off the ball now," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said. "Kobe does some unbelievable things when he has the ball in his hands. It's going to be that way for a little bit. At the same time he'll get some pick-and-rolls and stuff but right now Kobe is orchestrating a lot of stuff and Steve is OK with it.

"It's not easy, but if anybody can do it, he can do it and he'll accept anything to win. That's what makes him so great."

(Read full post)

Rapid Reaction: Lakers 118, Raptors 116 (OT)

March, 8, 2013
3/08/13
10:49
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- How do you trump coming back from 25 points to win on the road?

How about Kobe Bryant personally hitting three 3-pointers in the final 1:41 of regulation to force overtime in a game that the Los Angeles Lakers trailed the Toronto Raptors by as many as 11 points in the fourth quarter?

How about the 3-pointers not even being Bryant's most impressive plays of the night?

Bryant topped himself again with yet another highlight-reel classic hammer dunk in overtime to give L.A. the lead for good at 117-115.

Bryant finished with 41 points and 12 assists, his second straight game going for 40-plus points with 12 dimes.

Unprecedented stuff.

The Lakers' season wouldn't have been over had Bryant not stepped in to save the day once again, but it certainly wouldn't have been this fun, or historic for that matter.

Bryant is not going down without a fight and that means, no matter what garbage the Lakers have had to wade through so far this season, his team has a fighter's chance.

How it happened: Stop me if you've heard this one before: The Lakers play a subpar team that is looking to give some meaning to its season by beating all the glitz and glamour that is the Lakers so the whole league pays attention, and L.A. doesn't come out with anywhere near the requisite energy and focus to keep said subpar team from thinking it has a prayer. Maybe it was just making the comeback from 15 points down even that much more spectacular. Seems kind of like the script the entire Lakers season has followed.

What it means: It took 108 days, but the 32-31 Lakers are back over .500 for the first time since Nov. 20, when they were 6-5 following Mike D'Antoni's first game on the sidelines.

Hits: Two games after tying his Lakers career high with 20 points against Oklahoma City, Steve Nash had his shooting touch going again and set a new high with 22 points on 7-for-13 shooting, including a huge game-tying 3 in OT.

Howard, although just 6-for-13 from the line for the game, went 2-for-2 from the stripe with 3:55 remaining in the fourth when the Raptors briefly employed a Hack-a-Howard strategy. Oh, not to mention he had 24 points, 13 rebounds, three steals and five blocks.

Misses: Bryant had nine turnovers, but who are we to quibble?

Other than Bryant's ridiculous 5-for-10 night from deep, the Lakers shot 9-for-29 from 3 as a team (31.0 percent) with the main culprits being Jodie Meeks (2-for-9), Metta World Peace (1-for-6) and Antawn Jamison (1-for-4).

Stat of the game: Just take a look at Bryant's line one more time: 41 points and 12 assists, a game after he had 42 and 12. Nutty. Simply nutty.

What's next: The Lakers host the Chicago Bulls on Sunday in a game that tips off at 12:30 p.m. PT. L.A. always seems to struggle with early starts, but it should be thrilled to play the Bulls any time of day considering Chicago's Marco Belinelli knocked off the Utah Jazz, the team currently occupying the No. 8 spot in the West, with a winning shot on Friday night.

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 1.5
BlocksE. Davis 1.2