Los Angeles Lakers: New Jersey Nets

From N.Y. to L.A., still with something to prove

October, 1, 2013
10/01/13
5:27
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- Shawne Williams was just another draft bust that had been discarded by the league when he arrived on Mike D'Antoni's and the New York Knicks' doorstep in September 2010.

"I gained my respect for Mike was when I first got to New York," Williams told ESPNLosAngeles.com at Los Angeles Lakers training camp this week. "We had a meeting and he told me a couple things. I won't put that out in the public, but he told me some things. He told me the truth. And I respect him for that."

What did D'Antoni tell him? What do you say to a former first-round draft pick who had already been charged with possession of marijuana, possession of a stolen handgun, and in a separate incident, misdemeanor drug possession for allegedly selling a codeine substance?
What message did D'Antoni have for someone who had already worn out his welcome with both the Indiana Pacers and Dallas Mavericks and became such a persona non grata that he was out of the league completely for the 2009-10 season before arriving in New York?

[+] EnlargeShawne Williams
Jason Miller/USA TODAY SportsShawne Williams, above, played for Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni when both were in New York in 2010.
"I remember," D'Antoni said. "I told him I didn't want him. Because that's what happens in this league sometimes, you get labels on guys. I didn't know him, only what I read, what I saw, what I heard. So I'm thinking, 'Why do we need to go down that path again?' "

The honesty was something Williams, a 6-foot-9 forward with deep range who had been relying more on talent than mental toughness, needed to hear.

It humbled him.

For the first 18 games of the 2010-11 season, Williams sat on the Knicks' bench, racking up DNP after DNP. When he finally got a chance to play, New York went on an eight-game winning streak, with Williams making 15 of the 28 shots he put up during the tear.

"Eighteen games in, I got a shot to play and I ended up doing alright and I was playing ever since," Williams said. "To me, I just feel like Mike's system is a great system. He's a great coach. He respects players. He knows how to coach players. And that's basically it. That's just my guy. I like him as a coach, a person. That's just it."

For D'Antoni, the feeling is mutual.

"When you get to know the guy, he's nothing like the perception," D'Antoni said. "He's one of the most stand-up, nicest, coachable and skilled players that I've ever coached and I'm hoping. He's been off a couple years, so that is what it is and he still has to fight perception, but he's one of those guys that plays a lot better than people think."

"Sometimes this league is a revolving door"

Williams' lone season in New York with D'Antoni has proved to be the glory days of his career so far. Williams averaged 7.1 points, 3.7 rebounds and 0.8 blocks in just 20.1 minutes per game that season, while shooting 40.1 percent on 3-pointers.

He signed with the then New Jersey Nets after the lockout and never found his niche, shooting just 28.6 percent from the field in 25 games. The Nets traded him to the Portland Trail Blazers at the end of the 2011-12 season. Portland bought out his contract for 2012-13. Williams was out of the league, again. And fell back into trouble, again. This time he was arrested for possession of both marijuana and codeine cough syrup.

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Lakers Late Night Replay vs. New Jersey, plus postgame video

April, 3, 2012
4/03/12
11:20
PM PT
By the Kamenetzky Brothers
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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With 7:16 left in the third, the Lakers led New Jersey by 17. In other words, the Nets had 'em right where they wanted 'em. Once again, a game L.A. should have won going away became uncomfortably close down the stretch. Jersey tied the game at 86 with 1:29 remaining before Kobe Bryant hit a pair of tough jumpers to seal the win.

Good for the Bryant highlight time capsule, bad for the town's blood pressure.

On Tuesday's edition of Lakers Late Night, we hit on the following:
  • Another lost lead. What gives? Mike Brown's answer wasn't totally satisfying, which leads to...
  • ... Brown's apparent unwillingness to be genuinely critical of his team publicly. Even after Saturday's game, a bad effort against a horrible Hornets team, he came out with praise. As you'll see below, Tuesday he started offering some mild criticism, saying the team tends to relax when up big, then backtracked on the follow up. It leads to a larger conversation about how Brown has handled the Lakers gig, overall.
  • Andrew Bynum. Didn't play tonight because of an ankle injury, but the big news came from ESPNLA's Dave McMenamin, who reported earlier in the day the team had fined their All-Star center for a variety of infractions. How concerned should people be?
Watch live streaming video from espnlosangeles at livestream.com


Click below for more postgame video from Brown and Pau Gasol.

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Rapid Reaction: Lakers 91, Nets 87

April, 3, 2012
4/03/12
10:16
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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The Lakers built a big first half lead. The Lakers lost a big first half lead. The Lakers won a tight contest made incredibly more complicated than necessary. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Here are three takeaways.

1) Ramon Sessions and Kobe Bryant capitalized on the ball residing in Sessions' hands more often.
Ever since being promoted to the starting unit, the opportunities for Sessions to operate as a true floor general have fluctuated. In particular, the balance between him and Kobe Bryant has proved difficult to discover. Both have claimed to be working off the ball more than they're used to. And while that may be the case at times, with all due respect to The Mamba, he may not be working off the ball quite as often as it may feel like to him. Tonight, however, Bryant truly worked away from the rock, especially during the first half, often fed for catch-and-shoots or a prime spot for attacking off the wing. Bryant took just 16 shots, largely of the effortless variety, and scored his 24 points with primo efficiency.

Some detractors will dismiss this as a ball hog simply doing what any selfless player would do, but working so often without the rock constitutes a genuine adjustment on Kobe's part. Giving and working outside a comfort zone is required, and tonight he did just that. Thus, it actually felt appropriate that the Mamba would end up once again the hero after rattling in the game-icing 3-pointer with ticks remaining on the clock. Well, it actually felt inappropriate, since such a shot should never have been necessary in the first place. But you know what I mean.

As for Sessions, his 19-point, 11-assist double-double nicely combined self-created jumpers and forays to the rim, plus a healthy dose of smart passes. In particular, I liked a first quarter sequence where Sessions, running the ball upcourt, spotted Pau Gasol in the lane with a defender attached to him. Both exhibited good patience and waited until Gasol's man left to help on the approaching point guard. Sessions casually dumped the ball over the top to El Spaniard who threw down a quick dunk before the weakside help arrived. Neither player in question seemed to break a sweat, and it was a treat to watch such smart basketball.

Obviously, against a better team with a credible defense, unison between the guards won't come as easily. But games with the emphasis on this division of labor have been few and far between of late. Practice can hopefully make perfect, even when the reps come against inferior competition.

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Lakers vs. Nets: What to Watch

April, 3, 2012
4/03/12
9:51
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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Stop me if you've heard this one before, but it would be nice to witness the Lakers play a strong game wire-to-wire. I don't necessarily mean flawless (although I won't look a gift masterpiece in the mouth), but strong. Strong in overall execution. Strong in overall defense. And most importantly, strong in overall effort. You have to go back to March 21 in Dallas for the most recent evidence of when the Lakers were dialed in from start to finish. Since then, the collective focus has mimicked a roller coaster. Against inferior and top-shelf competition alike, the Lakers suffer stretches where they appear to be going through the motions.

Which brings us to tonight's game with New Jersey. While they may be 19-35, Brooklyn's future franchise is on a three-game winning streak, the last two coming on the road. And that should come as no surprise, since they're actually much more proficient outside of the Garden State. They have an elite point guard, an upper-echelon small forward and Lamar Odom's ex-brother-in-law -- which must count for something, right? In other words, take NJ too lightly, especially the way the Lakers have played of late, and this carries the potential for disappointment, even with a W at the end of the night.

For some Nets-ian knowledge, we called upon Devin Kharpertian of the True Hoop network's Nets Are Scorching blog. Below are his responses to a quartet of questions.

Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images
It's the hard knock life for Jay-Z watching his Nets in person.



Land O' Lakers: The Nets have been better away from their arena. Why do you think that is, and what, if anything, tends to change in the way they play on the road?

Devin Kharpertian: The players blame the arena, as the cold weather conditions and sight lines come from an arena built for hockey. What they won't blame is the cold conditions from those watching in the arena; the Nets "boast" the worst attendance figures per game in the league, and fans range from the few die-hard rabids to the casually indifferent corporate season ticket holders. For the "Jersey Strong, Brooklyn Ready" Nets, there's hardly a home-court advantage.

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Howard says he wants to stay in Orlando through the season

March, 14, 2012
3/14/12
8:57
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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UPDATE (10:41 am PT)- ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard reports the Magic are, in the wake of Howard's comments last night, more open to moving him unless he makes some sort of commitment to Orlando. "Dwight Howard's public plea late Tuesday to remain in Orlando for the rest of the season has only served to anger the Magic and has instead pushed them closer than ever to trading their superstar center, according to league sources with knowledge of the situation," writes Broussard. While I suspect any deal would likely land him with New Jersey -- I can't imagine a team like the Lakers giving up real value absent a commitment from Howard not likely coming -- it looks like Howard's comments may have goosed the trade market in a few ways.)

The ever-developing developing Dwight Howard story developed ever more Tuesday night, when after the Magic beat Miami in Orlando, the All-Star center said he hopes not to move before Thursday's trade deadline. Reports ESPN.com's Michael Wallace:
"Howard, who is in the middle of wide-ranging trade speculation, said he has talked with Magic owner Rich DeVos and other front-office executives about his desire to stay for the past two weeks. But Howard would not commit to signing a long-term contract extension and could opt out of his deal to enter free agency in the summer.

"We've been talking, like I said, for a while," Howard said after leading the Magic to a 104-98 overtime home victory against the Miami Heat. "I told them I want to finish this season out and give our team, give our fans some hope for the future. But I feel they have to roll the dice. It might be tough, but I feel we've got a great opportunity. But they've got to roll it."

This benefits a few people. First, LeBron James, because even he of "taking my talents" fame cringed at Howard's horrendous "roll the dice" line. It also benefits Howard, since the prevailing opinion is he wants to stay only so he can then opt out in July, and sign with a more fully stocked Nets team.

The Lakers haven't seemed like true players in the Howard sweepstakes in a while, but his comments Tuesday night could add some clarity to the hours leading up to the deadline and serve to loosen up what has to this point been a pretty quiet market. If teams still interested in Howard (and by extension, teams waiting on teams still interested) feel he's staying put for now and the jump to Brooklyn is inevitable, they can start looking at respective plan B's more earnestly.

Daydreaming about D-Will

January, 18, 2012
1/18/12
1:25
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
Dwight Howard is, and will continue to be the superstar most heavily rumored to land in L.A.. Still, as ESPNLA.com's Ramona Shelburne notes, it's worth keeping New Jersey's Deron Williams on the radar:
"While the Lakers had extended conversations with Orlando about Dwight Howard last month, it is lost on no one that when they actually pulled the trigger on a blockbuster deal, it was for a point guard -- Chris Paul -- not Howard.

With that deal long since scuttled by the NBA, would the Lakers ever make a play for Williams?

Judging by the reaction that Williams admits to getting as he's walked around Los Angeles the last couple of days, Lakers fans certainly hope so.

"I've had that since I was in Utah, Laker fans wanting me to come here," Williams said Monday. "It's definitely flattering. I'll address all that when the time is right."

When my colleague J.A. Adande asked if playing at Staples Center and walking around town the last couple of days made him think about spending more time here one day, Williams smiled and said, "I like the warm weather out here. I live right up the street in San Diego."

It was a vague answer to be sure. But it wasn't a shutdown answer, either.

Indeed.

Keep in mind, nothing is happening on the D-Will front until Howard's future is set. Not traded somewhere, set, but signed on the dotted line, set. If Howard doesn't move in March, the Nets will hold on to Williams and make a play this summer to get/keep both. Bottom line, it's a slow process.

Constructing a trade for Williams-- the only way he's coming here, given L.A.'s cap issues-- isn't a snap, either. Then again, putting one together for Chris Paul wasn't easy, and the Lakers managed to figure it out.
Again, I quote Chris Paul. "WoW."

Via ESPN.com's Marc Stein:
"The Los Angeles Lakers have pulled out of the three-team deal with New Orleans and Houston that would have landed Chris Paul in L.A., according to sources close to the talks. The reason for the Lakers' withdrawal was not immediately known... One source close to the process said that the Lakers will instead trade Lamar Odom to the Dallas Mavericks."

The deal would net the Lakers "unspecified draft considerations" (likely modest) and an $8.9 million trade exception from Dallas, essentially allowing them to trade for a player making $8.9 million without sending a player with comparable salary in return. Obviously things are only beginning to play out, but here are some in-the-moment thoughts:

1. The Lakers are clearly moving to another option, in terms of acquiring a high profile player. Despite reports today he's asking to be traded to New Jersey, in flashing neon lights it seems to signal Dwight Howard.

2. I find it near impossible to believe the Lakers would make this move-- shipping out such a valuable player, however disgruntled, for such a small return-- without having the dominoes lined up. Or at least without having purchased a package of dominoes, with a really, really good idea of how they'd like to line them up. Remember, they're handing Odom to the team eliminating them from last season's playoffs. It strengthens the Mavericks, a team that just lost Tyson Chandler and will soon lose J.J. Barea.

The only way the Lakers throw Mark Cuban a life preserver is if they believe the payoff is worth it.

3. The Lakers would have acquired the same exception in the original deal for Paul, so it's likely an important component in whatever they'd like to do next, whether aimed at Howard or any of the other multiple holes they currently have across the roster, independent of any desire to add another star.

4. The trade exception can't be offered to Orlando in an effort to absorb their toxic Hedo Turkoglu contract. It's worth only $8.9 million, while Hedo makes couch cushion money over $11 mil. But it can be used to acquire a player who might be flipped to Orlando as part of a Howard deal, for other players on the Magic's roster (Jameer Nelson and J.J. Redick would fit), or in an entirely different trade for another piece.

5. Or-- and this is pure speculation (pure, pure, pure speculation)-- the Lakers could offer Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol to Orlando for Howard and Hedo (Trade Machine approves!), and then use that exception to fill one of the many roster holes they'd have left once that was done. Would this make them a better team? Impossible to say without knowing how they plug those gaps.

That said, keeping in mind the quality of the team they could be blowing up, creating something better is a very difficult task. Kobe Bryant+Howard+spare parts is not better than Kobe+Gasol+Bynum+Odom.

Meaning for Lakers fans, this is simultaneously exciting and frightening. In a week or two, Jim Buss is likely either going to look brilliant, or there will be many a torch and pitchfork outside the facility in El Segundo.

Report: Dwight Howard demands trade... to New Jersey?

December, 10, 2011
12/10/11
8:16
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
While everyone sorts out the whole tampering issue involving the New Jersey Nets and Dwight Howard, one thing is clear: Howard has formally requested a trade from the Orlando Magic, and via Yahoo! Sports he appears to be targeting the Nets.

Obviously disappointing news to many Lakers fans who have gone all in emotionally on Howard coming to L.A., but it doesn't necessarily mean the Lakers are out. Orlando G.M. Otis Smith is going to trade Howard to the team offering the best deal, and if Mitch Kupchak is able to construct a better one than Jersey's Billy King, the Lakers probably win the derby. Remember, too, while the Nets have more cap flexibility and draft picks to work with, unless something changes drastically with the revised terms of the proposed Chris Paul trade, the Lakers still have the single most appealing player available to offer in Andrew Bynum.

I'm not exactly sure how Kupchak puts together a large enough package to sway Smith, but at least he starts with the best chip.

Meanwhile, while Howard reportedly has expressed a preference for the Nets, multiple sources sourcing their sources sources say he's also keeping the door to L.A. open. I don't believe for a second if he were to be traded here he wouldn't stay, particularly given the money he'd have to leave on the table to sign elsewhere.

There's very real chance Howard goes somewhere other than the Lakers. He could land in New Jersey. Maybe Dallas makes a late, great pitch (and I'd love to read Mark Cuban's post-trade comments given his criticism of CP3-to-L.A.). The process could take a few days, a week or two, or longer. But until you hear someone-- Howard, preferably, but failing that multiple sources close to him-- say unequivocally that he won't sign with the Lakers they trade for him or the Lakers themselves declare they're out, try not to get too bogged down in the details.

Like the giant fountains outside Cesar's Palace, this process comes with fluidity built in.

Lakers 100, Nets 88: Postgame video

January, 15, 2011
1/15/11
1:11
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
After reading Brian's postgame analysis, take in a few talkies...

Brook Lopez's 35 points obviously pop out in the box score, but from Lamar Odom's perspective, the center didn't "control" the game, which is why the Lakers were able to withstand his performance.



With the Clippers on deck for Sunday, Lamar Odom talked about Blake Griffin."Awesome player," gushed the southpaw. "Awesome entertainer. Awesome basketball player." The athletic freak has whipped the basketball community into a frenzy, but is he special enough to change the culture that is the Los Angeles Clippers? LO thinks the potential is there, but others beyond the likely Rookie of the Year will need to step up as well. Bottom line, without the requisite wins, this is mission impossible for Griffin regardless of how well he plays.

It's a familiar scenario for Lamar, drafted in 1999 by the Clippers with these same hopes. Punches weren't pulled about how "off the court" issues messed up his crack at the perennially impossible dream. But, as he noted, everything happens for a reason, and it's hard to criticize Lamar's career path.

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Lakers vs. Nets: What to watch, with Nets Are Scorching

January, 14, 2011
1/14/11
12:54
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
Before the Lakers can fast forward to Sunday's game against the suddenly hot Clippers or Monday's big game at home against the Thunder, there's the little matter of the New Jersey Nets. The 10-28 Nets, losers of eight of their last 10, and 18 of 21 road games overall.

They are not good, but are still at least somewhat interesting thanks to the presence of Sasha Vujacic and Jordan Farmar, both of whom make their first appearances at Staples since being traded earlier this season and signing with the Nets last summer, respectively. For the Lakers, winning the game involves repeating the things allowing them to win their last six games. Move the ball, use the bigs, play some defense, pay attention. For the Nets, it's a little more complicated.

To gain a little more insight, I hit up Mark Ginocchio, of TrueHoop's Nets Are Scorching to answer a few questions...

PODCAST
New Jersey Nets guard Sasha Vujacic talks about returning to Los Angeles along with Jordan Farmar, to face their former team, the Lakers, for the first time since being traded earlier in the season.

" Podcast Listen
1) Sasha Vujacic's career in L.A. was decidedly a mixed bag. In Jersey, he's getting playing time he never got here. How has he fit in with the team and with fans? How is Avery Johnson using him on the floor, and what impact does it have?

Sasha's quick ascent with the Nets has really been amazing and surprised a lot of people. A lot of Nets fans were bummed because of outside of the draft picks, Vujacic was the only tangible player the team received for Terrence Williams - a guy who's got boatloads of talent, but just can't seem to put it together (and hasn't yet in Houston). The Nets version of Sasha has been a tenacious defender, a very good long-ranger shooter (40 percent from three) and a clutch player with one game-winning shot already on his NJ resume. As our playbook specialist Justin DeFeo pointed out in December, Sasha has added a new element on offense as being really the only guy
on this team who can effectively curl off screens and drain a jump shot.

2) Jordan Farmar and Sasha weren't necessarily seen as best buddies in L.A., but obviously know each other's games well. Have you seen any evidence of constructive on-floor chemistry between the two?


Yeah, I've heard some buzz about the Farmar/Sasha issues when he arrived here, but I've honestly haven't seen or heard anything since the trade to suggest that anything has carried over. With that said, I can't really claim to see any great chemistry developing there, just because the Sasha trade also reignited a lot of the Carmelo Anthony trade rumors that really seem to be dragging this team down as a unit. I don't know if any of these guys are demonstrating chemistry right now, regardless of their histories.

PODCAST
New Jersey Nets head coach Avery Johnson talks about coaching a young team in the midst of a whirlwind of trade rumors and says that if Lakers forward Lamar Odom does not make the All Star team, then the selection process as we know it needs to be scrapped completely.

" Podcast Listen
3) The Nets gave the Lakers problems in New Jersey, but have been a hideous road team. What has to happen for them to win Friday?

Well, going back to my prior answer, I think the 'Melo stuff is really hitting a breaking point with this team, so I'm not terribly confident in the Nets executing enough to pull an upset. There are eight guys on this roster that could be told to pack their bags at any given minute and while the team looked relatively focused against Phoenix on Wednesday, they still blew a double digit fourth quarter lead and lost in OT. The last time the Nets won in LA, they had Kidd-Carter-Jefferson and the Lakers did not have Pau Gasol.

But for fun, I'll say if Devin Harris goes for a big night (say 30-plus points and 12 assists) and a combination of Stephen Graham and Sasha can hound Kobe into a poor shooting night, AND the Nets get a big game from someone in their frontcourt (either Travis Outlaw or Derrick Favors), they might make it close.

Thanks again to Mark for weighing in.

New podkast: Matt Barnes, winning and 'Melodrama

January, 13, 2011
1/13/11
9:57
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
The Lakers keep rolling. The K Bros keep talking. Here is the latest batch of ear candy. Among the talking points:

PODCAST
Andy and Brian talk about the impact of Matt Barnes' injury, the team's improved play and the insane growth of the 'Melodrama.

Podcast Listen
- The impact of Matt Barnes' absence. The surgery on his torn right meniscus was deemed successful and his time on the shelf estimated at eight weeks. (And I always remind everyone, eight weeks is the MINIMUM, not the exact return date.) Barnes has played beyond expectations,filling a specific void from last season, small forward depth provided by someone other than Kobe Bryant. How will the Lakers offset this absence?

Obviously, Ron Artest --trending recently in the right direction, despite a stunning lack of hops -- will need to step up in the face of increased minutes. I've wondered lately if Artest could gain some comfort without looking over his shoulder at a backup outplaying him. Also, varying degrees of slack must be picked up by Steve Blake (who needs to shoot more under any circumstances) Shannon Brown and Luke Walton, and Kobe (whose minutes hopefully won't rise too much).

- As we predicted at the time of Tuesday's recording, the Lakers managed to eke out a win against the Cleveland Cavaliers. That victory made it five in row (a roll maintained against the Warriors), and the defending champs appear back on track. Whether you're talking defense, Pau Gasol or the team-wide execution, we agree everything is moving in a nice direction. Whether the previous issues were caused more by focus or basketball issues, however, is a matter of debate.

PODCAST
Andy Kamenetzky joins the Max Kellerman show, talking about whether the team has turned a corner.

Podcast Listen
- Finally, the insanity that is Carmelo's Anthony future with either the Nuggets, the Nets or the Knicks. We reveal how Donnie Walsh and a wacky Russian accent could prevent Anthony from winding up in a Nets uni, even though sabotage shouldn't be required. For the life of us, we don't understand why 'Melo would even consider hitching his wagon (and extension) to that team.

Also, I appeared on Max Kellerman Show to talk some purple and gold, if you'd wanna give second podcast link a click.

Lakers week in preview: Jan 10-16

January, 10, 2011
1/10/11
11:38
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
The holidays have come and gone, but it's finally beginning to look a lot like Christmas for Lakers fans. L.A. has won four straight, most recently Sunday's thrashing of the Knicks, and six of seven overall, and look like a different team than the one taking it on the chin at home last week against the Grizzlies. More aware, more committed to tasks at hand.

Not to say the Lakers have hit their championship stride yet, but it appears they've finally started running.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Welcome to the (double-double) machine.



Still, while the Lakers are unquestionably playing better ball, the schedule maker has still been relatively kind during this winning stretch. Take away a legitimately dangerous Knicks team and you're left with home dates against the Sixers and Pistons, two against a New Orleans squad that isn't a pushover but is also 11-15 following an 11-1 start to the season, a game in sagging Phoenix. Not a run of pushovers, but hardly Murderer's Row, either.

Things will get tough fast, though, in the very near future, which is why this week's slate of games -- all against teams wallowing well under .500 -- is so important. The Lakers need to keep momentum heading into the teeth of their calendar, but also can't afford to give away any games against a shrinking pool of, to use Ron Artest's description of the Pistons, "under average" opponents. It's a busy week with four games, but by all rights the Lakers ought finish it with four wins.

Here's how it lays out:

GAME OF THE WEEK

Sunday at (as it were) the Clippers, 12:30 p.m. PT

Or, if you prefer, the L.A. Blake Griffins. With 23 points and 12 rebounds in the LAC's 105-91 win over Golden State Sunday afternoon, the top pick in last year's draft ran his streak of consecutive double-doubles to 23. On the season, Griffin is averaging almost 22 points and 13 rebounds, while shooting 52 percent from the floor and adding an impressive 3.3 assists. Forget "pretty good for a rookie," these are big numbers for anyone.

In the process, he's managed to do all sorts of amazing things:

1. Make anything Clipper-related relevant on a national level again. Usually cast in the Washington Generals role on the evening highlight shows, Griffin has single-handedly increased the number of positive LAC clips by a factor of about eleventy billion. He will be rookie of the year, he will almost surely win the slam dunk contest, and -- beyond the rookie/sophomore game, could very well make the All-Star team, too. People check in on the Clippers for reasons beyond lawsuits and draft lotteries.

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Sasha Vujacic traded to the Nets, Joe Smith incoming

December, 15, 2010
12/15/10
9:11
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
From the outset of this season, it's been obvious if the Lakers were going to trade anybody, it would be Sasha Vujacic. He's in the last year of a moderately priced contract. An injury or a severe slump from a Killer Bee would be required to crack the rotation. And the lack of future as a Laker beyond 2011 is plainly evident. The problem was finding a workable deal. The Lakers understandably have no desire to take on additional salary, which means facilitating a deal with a team under the cap or bringing in a third team, which can be complicated.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Image
Sasha was every bit as happy about his situation this season as he looks here.



To paraphrase Han Solo as he's about to enter an asteroid field, never tell Mitch Kupchak the odds. He took the latter route, and managed to find the right formula. According to ESPN.com, Sasha will head to the New Jersey Nets along with a future first round pick in exchange for veteran big man Joe Smith. They'll also receive second round picks from Golden State (2011) and Chicago (2012), plus the rights to Ukrainian big man Sergei Lishouk, originally drafted by Memphis in 2004. (As part of the deal, the troubled Terence Williams heads from Jersey to Houston in exchange for another first round pick, fueling speculation the Nets are stockpiling draft assets to entice a trade for Carmelo Anthony. )

So how did the Lakers and Vujacic make out? In my mind, both parties come out ahead in the wash.

I'll start with the Laker haul. Smith makes the veteran's minimum and his arrival is as much -- more, really -- about saving approximately nine million bucks (counting the luxury tax hit). This cash off Dr. Buss' books can only enhance the odds of resigning Shannon Brown and/or Matt Barnes, should they opt out as anticipated if their strong seasons continue. Or make quality replacements more feasibly inked, should both bolt. Either way, money was a driving element.

From a basketball perspective, I pegged Smith during the summer as a sensible acquisition to play the D.J. Mbenga/Josh Powell role. Recent campaigns in New Jersey and Atlanta hint he's no longer the player he was a few seasons ago, much less the guy the Wolves risked their entire franchise to pay under the table. But assuming Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom stay healthy, Smith won't be asked to do much besides enhance practices and provide his famously good locker room presence. Should periodic frontcourt injuries surface, Smith will be asked to provide what Theo Ratliff offered before getting hurt: A breather for the bigs in the rotation, veteran smarts and a willingness to do what he's told.

If more is asked for over long stretches, the Lakers are likely in deep trouble, but that's more about the A-list talent lost than Smith's inadequacies. But in a pinch, he can probably get by and I doubt a better option would have been available within the same cost-effective parameters.

(Read full post)

Lakers 99, Nets 92: At the buzzer

December, 12, 2010
12/12/10
1:43
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
The most important thing is the Lakers secured the victory. The NEXT most important thing, however, would be to tighten up all that ails the team at the moment. Even as someone letting the panic button collect dust bunnies, there's no question the play at the moment is less than inspiring and legitimately concerning. A tight game against the New Jersey Nets simply shouldn't happen. Period.

Three good

Kobe Bryant

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images
Kobe turned it on in the second half.



Like his mates in general, Kobe experienced his share of early struggles uniting ball and net. At the half, Bryant was sitting on 7 points (one-for-six shooting), with four turnovers against just two assists. I'm not sure what was in the halftime Gatorade and orange slices, but the second half was an entirely different affair for the Mamba. Kobe racked 25 points over the final 24 minutes, canning eight of 13 attempts from the floor.

Beyond his effectiveness filling up a bucket, Bryant was often brilliant setting up his teammates for success out of double teams. The floor was surveyed with patience, Kobe found the cutter, then created opportunity. During a critical stretch deep in the fourth frame, six points were netted by Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, all due to Kobe's table-setting.

This half was the epitome of what Kobe refers to when he talks about making teams pick their poison: Kobe the scorer or Kobe the play-maker. This afternoon, the Nets got a taste of both versions, and I doubt they liked either.

With 12.1 seconds remaining on the board and Bryant at the line, "MVP" chants were heard, even as guests in the house. This kind of love is common for Bryant, and on this occasion, totally earned.

Lamar Odom

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images
Lamar Odom worked hard on both sides of the ball.



According to what I was hearing via Twitter, the New York native had a lot of family and friends on hand. Nice to see he didn't let the opportunity to entertain loved ones go to waste. Odom enjoyed a hot start -- a dozen points on five-of-seven shooting, two blocks -- and sustained his effectiveness throughout the evening, despite dealing with foul trouble. 22 points, seven rebounds and three dimes.

I thought Odom also had a nice game on the other side of the ball, highlighted by a pair of noteworthy sequences. He forced Kirk Humphries to put the ball on the floor, which led to a turnover and an eventual score for Derek Fisher. There was a stiff challenge against Brook Lopez at the rim, creating a miss and another score for Fish in trans. Defense creating offense, which is often necessary when a team can't seem to find a rhythm.

Three-point shooting

As many easy looks as the Lakers missed, they managed a quality showing on lower percentage makes. Nine makes on 16 tries from behind the arc, and on a day where the close looks were stubborn, the bombs were gladly accepted.

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Lakers-Nets: What to watch

December, 12, 2010
12/12/10
3:15
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
For many Laker fans, Friday's loss to the Chicago Bulls was viewed as a missed opportunity for a statement win against an upper-echelon Eastern Conference team. A win against the 6-17 Nets, however, wouldn't constitute much in the way of bragging rights. Still, it would be reassuring for the Lakers to not just win this one, but forge a fourth quarter where the starters mostly sit with ice on their knees. If Devin Ebanks isn't presented a legitimate shot to establish career highs in several categories, something likely went wrong.

Here are a few items to keep an eye on once the ball is jumped:

Jordan Farmar playing against the Lakers for the first time
As I mentioned in our week in preview, I'm endlessly fascinated by games featuring players doing battle against a former team; particularly the first time around and especially when the new player is on his second team. Farmar -- who could end up starting for an injured Devin Harris -- fits the bill on every level, with a "didn't see eye-to-eye with his old coach or role" B-plot for good measure. I wouldn't characterize his offseason exit as "ugly," but it nonetheless felt impending since roughly 2008. Farmar sporadically attempted to play good soldier, but made no secret of an opinion the triangle and Phil Jackson were preventing his evolution as a player.

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images
Jordan Farmar used to celebrate championships with the Lakers. Now he'll battle them.



Being motivated at the chance to prove that opinion correct would be human nature, and I can't picture Farmar immune to this urge. Balling with a chip on ones shoulder, however, has a dangerous history when it comes to effectiveness. For every player focused properly by the circumstances, you have many others too jacked up to shine.

I have no idea whether Jordan will listen to the angel on his left or right shoulder, but should he choose the devilish version, Laker fans have seen how this movie ends. The inconsistency of last season's bench isn't entirely on the Bruin's shoulders, but a greater share of fingers will (and should) point in the direction of the quarterback and his proclivity for ignoring the playbook. If Farmar's too fixated on "lighting up" the Lakers, as opposed to executing the game plan, not only will his performance likely suffer, but I imagine those on the court with him will follow suit. It's not a particularly impressive crew to begin with, much less talented enough to offset a point guard going off the grid.

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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 7.9
AssistsK. Bryant 5.6
StealsR. Price 1.5
BlocksE. Davis 1.2