Los Angeles Lakers: Nick Young
LOS ANGELES -- A common refrain from Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni this season has been that if his team spent half the amount of energy caring about its defense as it cared about its offense, it could end up being a half-decent team.
And even though D'Antoni's reputation in his decade-plus in the league with Denver, Phoenix, New York and now Los Angeles is that his mind works the same way -- prioritizing offense over defense -- the coach claimed when asked about his practice plans last week that 75 percent of the team sessions are spent on the defensive end.
Which brings us to Friday, where the Lakers faced an equally inept Sacramento Kings team that came into the night with 20 wins to L.A.'s 19. It was almost as if both teams gave one another a wink-wink before tipoff that defense never made an appearance at Staples Center.
What fans did witness was some entertaining basketball from two teams that came into the night a combined 37 games under .500, which should be considered an accomplishment in itself.
An evening that began with injured guard Nick Young ruminating about the state of his team stating, "Some games you see it and you feel like it’s all individuals," turned into a full-on display of L.A. clicking like clockwork on the offensive end.
Young wasn't the only one whose pregame disposition belied what was about to occur.
"I don’t think you’re ever as a coach you’re like, ‘Oh boy, we got all 15 guys really happy,'" D'Antoni said. "There’s always a couple guys that use the old, ‘I don’t know my role.’ Well, OK. That’s kind of a cop out. What do you mean you don’t know your role?
"You play hard and then when the coach tells you to go in, you go in. That’s your role."
And then the Lakers went out and seemingly every player was on a roll.
It was a good win for a team that needed something to feel good about.
How it happened: The Lakers closed the third quarter on a 16-6 run to cut an 11-point halftime deficit that had grown down to four. What was already a high-scoring night for both teams exploded in the third, when L.A. outscored Sacramento 41-34. The Lakers erased the rest of the Kings' cushion as they stayed hot with 31 points in the fourth to snap a three-game losing streak.
What it means: That halftime talk between Pau Gasol and Jordan Farmar in Memphis seems to have paid off. The former championship teammates led the way together against the Kings, with Farmar scoring a career-high 30 points and Gasol doing a bit of everything, with 22 points, six assists and five rebounds.
Now the question begs: Just how many of these final 23 games will the Lakers win if they keep it up?
Hits: Jodie Meeks scored 22 points on 8-for-8 shooting.
MarShon Brooks had 23 points off the bench, including a couple of banked-in layups in the game's final minutes to seal the deal.
Ryan Kelly only had five points in the scoring extravaganza but contributed a big block late, when Sacramento was threatening.
Wesley Johnson had 12 points and 12 rebounds as he continues to adapt to playing the stretch 4 role.
Kendall Marshall had 10 assists.
Misses: L.A. allowed the Kings to score 122 points. Can't ignore that.
The Lakers had 17 turnovers leading to 25 points for Sacramento.
Stat of the game: 8-for-10. That was Farmar's line from deep. His eight made 3-pointers also were a career high.
Up next: The Lakers have no games the rest of the weekend, gearing up for a pair of back-to-backs next week: Monday in Portland followed by Tuesday at home against New Orleans and then Thursday at home against the Clippers followed by Friday on the road in Denver.
Lakers catch fire from 3 in Memphis:
The Lakers were sleepwalking in Memphis for the first two quarters of their game Wednesday, falling down by 19 at the half before Jordan Farmar, Pau Gasol and 3-point shooting sparked a turnaround. Farmar suggested to his teammates at halftime that they started going through Gasol in the post and having the offense flow from the inside out. Once Gasol started scoring down low (12 points in the second half), the double teams started coming his way, leading to Gasol finding wide-open teammates on the perimeter. L.A. shot 10-for-16 from deep after the change, cutting the Grizzlies’ lead all the way down to three before falling by five.
The Lakers are a part of history against the Brooklyn Nets:
The 2013-14 season will rather not be remembered by Lakers fans who can always fall back on the memories from 16 championship campaigns, but even in another forgettable loss, there was a moment that should be celebrated forever. Last Sunday, the Brooklyn Nets signed Jason Collins to a 10-day contract and when he checked into the game against the Lakers later that night, Collins became the first openly gay player to appear in a game in one of the four major professional sports in U.S. history. It was an event that will prove much more significant over time than the outcome of the game.
Xavier Henry does a stint in the D-League:
With time ticking away on the season and Xavier Henry set to become a free agent this summer, the pressure was starting to mount on the four-year vet who has been sidelined since Dec. 29 with a bone bruise in his right knee. Obviously, he did not want to return too soon and make his knee worse, but at the same time, it was paramount he get back on the court and prove that his solid start to the season for the Lakers wasn’t an aberration and that he is deserving of a new deal come July 1. With Henry, who had ramped up his workouts in recent weeks, needing a final on-court test before returning, the decision was made to have him play a game with the L.A. D-Fenders, the Lakers’ D-League affiliate, while the Lakers had the day off. The choice worked out. Henry had 15 points and four steals in 23 minutes, opening the door for his return to the varsity squad.
Nick Young’s return from knee injury is short-lived:
Young declared that it was a “miracle” that he was ready to return to the court less than three weeks after suffering a non-displaced fracture in his left knee, as well as a bone bruise and added, “You can’t keep the swag down.” His exuberance didn’t last long, however. Young played 20 minutes against Brooklyn after sitting out six straight games and showed flashes of “Swaggy P,” particularly in being able to draw a foul on baseline fadeaway jumper as well as on a 3-point attempt, but experienced pain and swelling in the knee after scoring just 10 points against the Nets. After the game, Young admitted that he was partly motivated to rush his return because of the sudden glut of shooting guards on the Lakers roster after they acquired Kent Bazemore and MarShon Brooks. He went back to rehabbing the knee while the Lakers were on their two-game road trip through Indiana and Memphis.
Second half dooms the Lakers against the Pacers:
The Lakers came into Bankers Life Fieldhouse and hung around with the league-leading Pacers for the first half Tuesday, before reckless play robbed them of any chance of a victory over the final two quarters. Indiana outscored L.A. by 17 after halftime and while Bazemore’s career-high 23 points might seem like a bright spot from the game, he actually shot just 4-for-11 in the second half, prompting Gasol to go on a post-game rant criticizing the Lakers’ selfish play and lack of discipline.
But those little-known players, Kent Bazemore and MarShon Brooks, are suddenly being played a lot and that seemingly minor deadline deal has the rest of the Lakers feeling out of whack.
"They was actually telling me to wait until it's pain-free, but I just love the game of basketball and I want to get out there as fast as I can," Young said after putting up 10 points on 3-for-4 shooting in 20 minutes.
Young undoubtedly loves to play more than most in his sport, but his decision wasn't entirely altruistic. Young's contract expires at the end of the season and there will be money to be had on the free-agent market if he proves he can still play over this final stretch to the season.
To prove it, he'll need playing time, something he feared could be dwindling with Bazemore averaging 31 minutes in his first two games with L.A., Brooks averaging 21 minutes and Xavier Henry set to return in a week from the bone bruise in his right knee.
"When you see players out there -- like when we had four point guards -- you don't want to be lost in the shuffle," Young said. "I wanted to get back."
Young wanted to be back so bad that when he was re-examined this week by Lakers physician Steve Lombardo, he did not opt for an MRI exam on his knee as a final clearance.
"I'd rather not know it," Young said. "I told Doc I was ready."
While it has been a fairytale turn of events for Bazemore and Brooks to go from nightly DNPs to averaging 16 and 10.5 points, respectively, through their first two games with the purple and gold, it has been unsettling to the glut of wing players the Lakers already had on the roster.
Happy 40th birthday, Steve Nash:
Steve Nash's strict diet that has aided him in extending his NBA career into its 18th season probably wouldn't permit him to celebrate his 40th birthday with a big ol' slab of birthday cake so he had to settle for a win against the Philadelphia 76ers instead. Nash led L.A. with 19 points, scoring the most points for a 40-year-old since Karl Malone scored 20 for the Lakers on April 1, 2004, and chipped in five assists and four rebounds, mixing in a highlight-reel shimmy-shake on Evan Turner and a teardrop jumper to ice the game late.
Lakers survive some controversy in Cleveland:
In one of the most bizarre finishes to an NBA game, the Lakers closed out their 119-108 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers with only four eligible players on the roster. Thanks to a little-known NBA rule, Robert Sacre was allowed to stay in the game for the final minutes even though he had already fouled out because the Lakers didn't have any other healthy players available. Steve Blake, playing in only his second game back from a right elbow injury, hit two big 3-pointers down the stretch to lift L.A. to the win, finishing with a triple-double line of 11 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds.
Jordan Farmar's return is short-lived:
The good news about Farmar's return against the Cavaliers after being out since Dec. 31 because of a left hamstring tear? He came out sharp as a tack, racking up 21 points on 8-for-15 shooting (including going 5-for-8 from 3), along with eight assists and two steals. The bad news? He played 33 minutes and the extended work load took its toll as he ended the game on the bench with a cramp in his left calf which led to tightness in that left hamstring again. After the fact, coach Mike D'Antoni said he tried to sub out Farmar for Wesley Johnson in the third quarter, but Johnson was in the bathroom at the time. Yikes. Farmar went back to being sidelined after the Cavs game and his status is day-to-day.
Injuries continue to mount:
As if Farmar going out at the end of the Cavs game wasn't enough, the Lakers lost Nick Young just before halftime as he twisted his left knee trying to avoid contact with Cleveland's C.J. Miles while trying to finish a fast break opportunity. Young went in for an MRI exam and was diagnosed with a non-displaced fracture of the patella and a bone bruise in his left knee and will miss a minimum of two weeks. Add in Jodie Meeks suffering a severely sprained right ankle this past week and Pau Gasol (right groin strain) and Xavier Henry (bone bruise in his right knee) having their timelines for return extended -- not to mention Kobe Bryant continuing to miss time because of his left knee injury -- and it's plain to see how much injuries have hurt this team.
Minnesota runs roughshod over the Lakers' defense:
The Lakers' defense has had its struggles this season -- those three straight games it gave up 120 points or more in January leading to three straight losses come to mind -- but even though it allowed "only" 109 points in a loss to Minnesota, it looked just about as bad as it has ever been. L.A. allowed Minnesota to score 38 points in the first quarter en route to a long night when both Kevin Martin (32 points) and Kevin Love (31) hit the 30-point plateau, Minnesota shot 8-for-17 from 3 (47.1 percent) and led by as many as 25 before settling in for a comfortable 10-point victory.
It was the moment many people in the basketball world first became aware of Rule No. 3, Section I, Part A of the NBA's rulebook.
"Each team shall consist of five players. No team shall be reduced to less than five players. If a player in the game receives his sixth personal foul and all substitutes have already been disqualified, said player shall remain in the game and shall be charged with a personal and team foul. A technical foul also shall be assessed against his team. All subsequent personal fouls, including offensive fouls, shall be treated similarly. All players who have six or more personal fouls and remain in the game shall be treated similarly."
Ignore the archaic language for a second (I could do with never having to hear the word "shall" again after that paragraph) and you'll find the reason why Robert Sacre (aka "said player") was allowed to stay in the game with 3:32 remaining in the fourth quarter, even though he just picked up his sixth personal foul, which normally would foul a player out of the game.
Did coach Mike D'Antoni know what was going to happen when Sacre picked up his sixth foul?
"Yeah ," D'Antoni said with his voice trailing off and his eyes letting reporters know he wasn't being truthful. "Not really. But it’s a nice rule."
"I never knew when you fouled out, you could go back in," 11-year veteran Chris Kaman said. "I never knew that was a rule. So, I had my shoes untied and I was like lying down on the bench because we had like a really long bench. There was like 30 feet of extra space."
Lakers assistant coach Kurt Rambis and trainer Gary Vitti, who began their respective NBA careers in 1981-82, both said they had never seen anything like that before.
Said Jordan Farmar: "I didn't even know half the rules that just went into effect right now."
"I've never heard of it," Steve Blake added. "It's crazy. But it was a fun way to finish it off."
CLEVELAND -- Despite the Los Angeles Lakers coming into Wednesday night's game against the Cleveland Cavaliers with just eight healthy bodies available to play, coach Mike D'Antoni refused to use injuries as a crutch.
"We can play better, and we need to concentrate on that and not worry about the other stuff we can’t control," D'Antoni said with a little defiance, perhaps a little hopefulness. "Our guys are going to battle through it, and we’re just trying to stay positive and get better -- individually better and the team better -- and every game try to make a win out of it."
And the Lakers made D'Antoni look prophetic, for a little while, at least.
They tied their season high with 36 points in the first quarter and then set a new season high with 70 points in the first half, shooting 62.5 percent from the field as a team in the process. They led by 21 at the break.
But then Nick Young twisted his left knee on a fast break and did not return, and L.A. was down to seven players.
And then Chris Kaman fouled out, and the Lakers were down to six.
And then Jordan Farmar felt something tighten up in his left calf, and they were down to five.
And then Robert Sacre fouled out with 3:32 to go and the Lakers were down to five? Still? Sacre was allowed to stay in the game by virtue of a little-known NBA rule that requires teams to keep five players on the court at all times, even if a player has fouled out. The Cavs were simply rewarded a technical foul on top of Sacre's sixth personal foul and play continued on.
"I've never seen this situation before!!" Pau Gasol tweeted as he followed along from L.A. "Did anybody know about this rule!?"
It was bizarre. It was extraordinary. It was par for the course for this topsy-turvy Lakers season.
Steve Nash, who was supposed to have the night off, even scrambled to put on a jersey and get back to the bench in case the Lakers needed him.
They didn't need him. They actually won, breaking their seven-game losing streak.
How it happened: The Cavs cut the Lakers' 29-point lead all the way down to eight with less than three minutes left in the fourth quarter, but Blake hit two 3-pointers in the final minutes to keep L.A. afloat.
What it means: Sure, the Lakers almost blew a huge lead, and, true, they allowed a 16th straight opponent to score 100-plus points. But they somehow pulled it off and got the win despite some serious adversity.
Hits: Blake finished with a triple-double with 11 points, 10 rebounds and 15 assists.
Farmar had 21 points and eight assists in his first game since Dec. 31 because of a left hamstring tear.
Ryan Kelly scored a career-high 26.
Wes Johnson kept up his strong road trip with 20 points and nine rebounds.
L.A. shot 18-for-37 from 3 as a team (48.6 percent).
Misses: Both Jodie Meeks (right ankle sprain) and Jordan Hill (neck strain) missed their first game all season long by sitting out against Cleveland. They had been the only Lakers players to appear in every game this season up to that point.
The Lakers were outrebounded 57-40.
Stat of the game: 6-for-6. That's what L.A. started from 3 as a team.
Up next: The Lakers close out their three-game road trip Friday in Philadelphia against the 76ers. They have an off day Thursday.
LOS ANGELES -- Six weeks ago the Lakers rolled into Charlotte full of hope. Kobe Bryant was in his fourth game back after Achilles’ surgery and seemingly finding his rhythm with every game. He needed to adjust to his teammates, and they to him. But it was coming, one way or another, in the next few weeks.
Bryant led the team to a win against the Bobcats that night in December with a vintage fourth-quarter performance, making clutch shot after clutch shot. Pau Gasol even looked more engaged after struggling to embrace his role and complaining publicly earlier in the week.
That was a six weeks ago.
To say things have changed a bit since then is a vast understatement. Honestly, you don’t even need to say anything. Bryant fractured a bone in his knee two games later and hasn’t played since. The Lakers have fallen off the map and almost into the cellar of the Western Conference without Bryant and virtually every point guard with which they started the season.
The Bobcats (21-27) have treaded water but find themselves in a playoff contention in the weak Eastern Conference.
Friday night they met again and continued along the same trajectory. Charlotte rode Al Jefferson to a 110-100 win over the listless Lakers (16-31).
Jefferson crushed L.A. in every which way possible, scoring 40 points on 18-for-32 shooting and grabbing 18 rebounds. Gerald Henderson added 20 points and former Lakers player Ramon Sessions had nine points and 13 assists.
How it happened: The Bobcats outscored the Lakers 31-22 in the second quarter and never really looked back. The Lakers made a little run at the end of the third quarter, cutting the lead to 86-74 on Ryan Kelly’s four-point play, but this one really wasn’t close. Charlotte dominated inside, held the Lakers to 38 percent shooting and led by as many as 20 points in the second half.
What it means: The Lakers have consoled themselves by how hard they’ve competed during this rough patch. Friday night the effort was there, it just wasn’t very effective. You’re not going to win many games shooting 38 percent and allowing the other team to shoot 52 percent on their way to 64 points in the paint.
Hits: Jodie Meeks has found his game. Night in and night out, Meeks is bringing it these days. The sharpshooting guard had another 19 points on Friday night. Pau Gasol led L.A. with 24 points and nine rebounds.
Misses: Nick Young finished with 21 points, but continued to struggle with his shot, making just 8-of-22 attempts Friday.
Stat of the game: 64. That’s the number of points in the paint the Bobcats scored Friday night. The Lakers had just 38. It’s hardly the first time that’s happened this year, but that kind of margin is still staggering.
Up next: The Lakers will take Saturday off before gearing up to go back out on the road next week. There’s a chance injured guards Steve Nash and Steve Blake will be back for Tuesday’s game in Minnesota against the Timberwolves. Jordan Farmar is said to be a little behind them. Any help would be a boon to the undermanned Lakers as they head out next week, with additional contests in Cleveland and Philadelphia.
After two weeks on the road, the Los Angeles Lakers came home Tuesday night and looked essentially like the same team they were during a depressing 2-5 trip.
This time, it was the Indiana Pacers who beat the Lakers 104-92. The Pacers are one of the best teams in the NBA, so there's no shame for the undermanned Lakers in losing to them, but this could've been any of the other 17 games they've now lost since Dec. 21. The script is the same.
The Lakers give a solid effort in the first half but run out of gas in the second half, fall behind by double digits in the third quarter and don't have nearly enough firepower to get themselves back into the game. It doesn't help when you make only five of 24 3-point shots in a game, either.
All five Pacers starters finished in double figures. Indiana got 14 points from MVP candidate Paul George, even though he had an awful shooting night (4-for-21 from the field.). David West had 19 points, and Lance Stephenson had 15 points, 14 rebounds and six assists.
As usual, Pau Gasol led the Lakers with 21 points and 13 rebounds. Jodie Meeks had 21, and Kendall Marshall had 11 and 13 assists.
But the celebration of late, great Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss was the only highlight of this night.
How it happened: The Lakers mostly held the Pacers in check in the first half, but Indiana got it going in the third quarter and opened up a double-digit lead it would not surrender.
What it means: What does anything really mean for the Lakers these days? They're not making the playoffs, so wins are merely just bright spots in an otherwise dreary season. It's always nice to play one of the best teams in the league strongly. It's even nicer to put on a good show for the home crowd. But, ultimately, it was the same story it has been for L.A. this season: Indiana just had way too much for the undermanned Lakers to handle.
Hits: The Lakers continue to get strong performances from Gasol, who said he played most of Tuesday's game with a sore groin. The offense runs through him virtually every possession, and he has been carrying the load well. Tuesday night he finished with 21 points on 10-for-19 shooting and 13 rebounds with defensive player of the year candidate Roy Hibbert defending him.
Jordan Hill also came up with 10 points and 12 rebounds in 29 minutes off the bench, his best game in quite some time.
Misses: The Lakers basically have to shoot well from beyond the 3-point arc to win games. They did not do that by any stretch of the imagination Tuesday. Nick Young was 1-for-7 shooting on 3-pointers, and the Lakers made only five of 24. It was particularly ugly in the second half when they made only one of their 11 attempts.
Stat of the game: The Lakers get outrebounded virtually every night, so it's not surprising when another team controls the boards on them. But it's not often an opposing guard owns the glass as Stephenson did. He grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds as Indiana outrebounded L.A. 63-50.
Up next: The Lakers will take two days off before hosting the Charlotte Bobcats on Friday. L.A. beat former assistant coach Steve Clifford and his Bobcats in Charlotte, N.C., last month.
Tweet your questions, comments or concerns about the Lakers with an #ESPNLAKERS hashtag and we’ll do our best to answer as many as we can each Monday the rest of the way.
The Lakers are falling fast south of the border. What needs to be done besides dumping everyone and starting fresh? -- @JackieEllen83
Well, they can’t dump everyone and start fresh as much as that might be tempting. Remember, they re-signed Kobe Bryant to a two-year $50 million contract. Steve Nash is still on the books for almost $10 million next season if he comes back this season and unless Nick Young opts out, you’re looking at Young, Robert Sacre and Kendall Marshall coming back as well (for deals around the minimum).
Outside of that, the Lakers are still in position to offer a max contract or perhaps sign a couple of players for less than the max. The problem is this free agent class is top heavy with stars who are all expected to stay with their current teams, such as LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Dirk Nowitzki. That leaves you looking at guys like Luol Deng and Lance Stephenson, who aren’t going to make the Lakers a championship team overnight. Perhaps the Lakers’ best chance at getting a star player this offseason will be through the draft, if they end up with a top five pick.
Mike D'Antoni is a great coach for this team going nowhere. Does he need to be canned to attract star free agents? -- @Dmagallon3
I would agree that Mike D’Antoni isn’t the problem right now for an injury-riddled team that isn’t going anywhere this season. Changing coaches now isn’t going to solve anything. The big question is what will they do after this season? If Carmelo Anthony is a target, you’d have to imagine the Lakers would also be open to making a coaching change, given how that relationship ended in New York. However, if they don’t realistically think they can land an all-star free agent, don’t be surprised if D’Antoni is back. Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak believe in him and don’t seem to be in a rush to pull the plug on his tenure before the end of his three-year, $12 million contract.
If Kevin Love wants out of Minnesota and Carmelo Anthony isn't staying with the Knicks, what [are] Kupchak and Buss waiting for? Make it happen!! -- @stangjz
Kevin Love will be a free agent in 2015 so that’s not going to happen this offseason unless the Lakers make a trade for him but the Lakers don’t currently have anything that would entice the Wolves to trade their 25-year old franchise player. If Love is a target for the Lakers in 2015, they would probably pass on signing a max player to a long-term deal this offseason with the hopes of getting Love and making a push for one other marquee free agent with the cap room they will have. Players like Rajon Rondo, Arron Afflalo, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tony Parker, Roy Hibbert and Tyson Chandler are all eligible to be free agents in 2015. As far as Anthony goes, the Lakers will likely make a push for him this offseason but chances are he’ll stay in New York.
Should the Lakers amnesty Steve Nash after this season? -- @jeffmG35
The Lakers can’t amnesty Nash. If Nash decides to retire for medical reasons, even if he returns to play three or fewer games this season, he would receive the balance of his salary but his $9.7 million would not be counted towards the Lakers’ salary cap next season. The key is he needs to have played in fewer than 10 games this season for that option to be available and he’s already played in six games this season. If Nash returns (and that continues to be something he is working toward) this season and wants to play next season, the Lakers might look to use their stretch provision, allowing them to waive him and stretch his cap number over the following three seasons.
Should Elgin Baylor get a statue outside Staples Center? --@bfred34
Sure. He and Wilt Chamberlain would be next on the list if it were up to me. I would have no problem if they had a statue for every player who had their jersey retired. After all, they gave a statue to Oscar De La Hoya, who lost his only fight at Staples Center.
What is the realistic chance Pau re-signs with Lakers without asking for so much? -- @CallMe___Kratos
I think Pau is probably gone after this season but if he doesn’t get any crazy offers in free agency and the Lakers fail to land anyone big in free agency, which are both are real possibilities, I could see them coming back together and working on a deal. The important thing to consider is the Lakers’ long-term plan. If the Lakers pass on this year’s free agents to make a splash in 2015 by going after, for example, Love and Rondo, they can’t sign Pau or anyone else to longer than a one-year deal. It would be a similar situation to this season where the Lakers have tried to keep their flexibility for future spending.
If the Lakers get the No. 1 pick, which would be the only thing that makes all of this worthwhile, who do you take? -- @heyjdey
The one big silver lining of the Lakers’ struggles this season is they are having their worst season in years at the same time the NBA will have its best draft in years. I think there are five franchise players at the top of this draft in Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, Marcus Smart and Julius Randle. I would take Parker with the first pick and would be just as happy to take Wiggins with the second pick, but any pick in the top five would leave the Lakers with a solid player.
"That shower was freaking cold, man," Kaman said.
The Lakers got a rude awakening that shook them to the core as if a bucket of ice water was doused over their heads. With the trip spiraling out of control with a four-game losing streak to end it, including Sunday's 110-103 loss to the New York Knicks, and with Lakers now having gone just 3-16 since Dec. 21, there is no getting around the fact they are a flawed team.
"Just play with a purpose," Pau Gasol said when asked for his goal for the Lakers going forward. "Sometimes we don't play enough with a sense of urgency and purpose. We just go with the flow and play through the motions and that's something we cannot afford as a team and, again, we're a young, inexperienced team for the most part. So, it is what it is. There's nothing you can do."
It was a statement devoid of any optimism or pessimism, really. It was the cold, hard facts.
It brings to mind the infamous rant by former NFL coach Dennis Green after his Arizona Cardinals lost a game: The Lakers are who we thought they were.
How could they be anything else than a slumping team with five guards out of the lineup in Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Steve Blake, Jordan Farmar and Xavier Henry? How can they not struggle with turnovers when they play a high-paced speed with a lineup full of players who get shuffled in the starting lineup on a near nightly basis? How can they not give up too many points in the paint and lose the battle of the boards when they start Ryan Kelly at the stretch 4 and purposely position him out by the 3-point line and have Nick Young, a shooting guard, playing small forward like he did against the Knicks? How can they be expected to win like the Lakers have always been known for when seven of the 15 players on the team are wearing the purple and gold for the first time? How can the team play with poise when so many of its key contributors have never been there, done that before?
If all of the Los Angeles Lakers were deflated, why shouldn't the ball be, too?
The tantrum, spurred by Young missing a layup on the fast break when he thought he was fouled, led to his fourth technical foul in the past five games.
Things are so tough for the Lakers -- losers of 15 of their past 18 -- these days that, after Friday's 114-105 drubbing, the hit Young's wallet will take from all those T's doesn't nearly match the damage to the team's pride in what has become nearly five weeks straight of consistent losing.
How it happened: The Lakers led 16-8 early, and it felt like all downhill from there. The Magic used runs of 11-0 in the second quarter and 14-0 in the third to take a 81-70 lead into the final frame. L.A. used a 6-0 spurt to try to get back into things at the start of the fourth, but the Magic were too much in the end.
What it means: Mike D'Antoni gave a sort of state of the Lakers address, explaining their woes before the Magic game:
"It's a little bit of youth coming in. It's a little bit you get into an NBA trot, and we're not good enough to play [that way]. Miami can do that. They can have plays where, 'Oh, you're right. My fault.' We can't do that. Our margin to win is very limited because of injuries and stuff, so we have to play at a high caliber of intelligent basketball all the time, and we have to be engaged all the time. If we're not, we come up short, and we've been coming up short because there are times in the game where we're not quite focused like we should be. We're trying to work on it. It's not a criticism. To me, that's reality. And those are the things we talked about and things we can get better."
The following 48 minutes of basketball in Orlando only further proved his point. The Lakers just aren't very good right now, and they need just about everything to go right to even have a chance of beating a Magic team that came into Friday having lost 12 out of 13 games.
Hits: Pau Gasol had another strong individual effort go to waste with 21 points, 11 rebounds and 6 assists.
Kendall Marshall had 19 points and 14 assists.
Ryan Kelly had 15 points on 5-for-8 shooting.
L.A. shot 12-for-22 on 3-pointers (54.5 percent).
Misses: Young shot just 6-for-16.
The Lakers were outrebounded 51-40.
L.A. allowed Tobias Harris to put up 28 points and 20 rebounds.
Stat of the game: L.A. had zero turnovers in the first quarter and led by four. The Lakers had 11 over the next three quarters during which they were outscored by 13 points.
Up next: The Lakers' seven-game, 12-day trip mercifully comes to an end Sunday at Madison Square Garden against Metta World Peace and the New York Knicks.
Lakers beat Boston, 107-104:
Having lost 12 of their last 13 games heading into their showdown with the Celtics, the Lakers desperately needed a win no matter who their opponent was. Breaking through against a rival like Boston made it only sweeter, especially with how the Lakers spoiled Rajon Rondo’s long-anticipated return from injury the same way the Toronto Raptors did to them when Kobe Bryant made his season debut in December.
Nick Young's fourth quarter in Toronto
Fresh off a one-game suspension for his involvement in a shoving match against the Phoenix Suns, Young took over in Toronto, scoring 15 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter as L.A. erased an early 19-point deficit to string together its first winning streak in nearly a month.
Ryan Kelly, stretch 4 starter:
After coming up clutch with 12 of his career-high 20 points coming in the fourth quarter in Boston, Kelly was awarded a spot in Mike D’Antoni’s starting lineup. Kelly averaged 15 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists in his first two starts against Toronto and Chicago, but the bloom came off the rose a bit in Miami, as he totaled seven points on 3-for-10 shooting, five rebounds, three fouls and two turnovers (however he did draw a charge on LeBron James).
Porous defense against the Heat:
L.A. gave itself a shot to win in Miami, trailing by only four points late in the fourth quarter, but the final defensive numbers were ugly: Miami scored 109 points on 57.7 percent shooting from the floor and 40 percent shooting from 3. The final score would have been even uglier too if not for the Heat shooting just 11-for-23 on free throws.
L.A.’s inbound defense in Chicago:
All the Lakers had to do was play 0.9 seconds of defense in overtime in Chicago with the game tied at 100-100 and they would be heading to a second extra session with a chance to steal a win on the road. Instead, new Laker Manny Harris got caught watching the paint dry as Taj Gibson cut down the lane to receive an inbounds pass from the baseline for a game-winning layup as time expired.
MIAMI -- The old maxim might state that defense wins championships, but there’s also a saying in basketball that on any individual play, great offense always beats great defense.
A defender can position himself perfectly to guard a shot with his body squared and his arms outstretched, but some guys can just score anyway. Think Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s skyhook, Tony Parker’s floater or, as was the case in the Los Angeles Lakers’ 109-102 loss to the Miami Heat on Thursday, LeBron James’ fadeaway jumper.
After L.A. cut a 10-point Miami lead to start the fourth down to four with 2:24 remaining, James unleashed a pull-up, 25-foot fadeaway from the right wing with Jodie Meeks all over him.
"I played pretty good defense, and he hit a tough shot," Meeks said. "That is why he is LeBron. Really nothing you can do. Just play hard and hope he misses sometimes."
Pau Gasol had another solid game with 22 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals to continue his tremendous run in the month of January, but he let out a long sigh when asked if the Lakers can become the defensive team it needs to be.
"We don’t have great, let’s say, defensive individuals," said Gasol, knowing full well that L.A. lost two former defensive player of the year winners in Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace from its team last season. "So we got to cover for each other. We got to work together. We got to communicate. We really have to be better at communicating and getting each other going and letting each other know where we’re at and just energizing each other."
MIAMI -- Kobe Bryant understands what the Miami Heat are going through, trying to make it back to the NBA Finals for a fourth straight year.
After all, it was only a couple of seasons ago that Bryant was trying to lead the Los Angeles Lakers along that same path before things fell apart in spectacular fashion with a four-game second-round sweep by the Dallas Mavericks.
"Having a competitive spirit night after night is very, very tough to do," Bryant said before the Lakers played the Heat on Thursday. "Going for three championships in a row, four Finals in a row, it's tough. It's tough to get guys going.
"It's like a malaise that kind of sets in."
That lethargy seemed to grab a hold of Miami, which was playing without Dwyane Wade, for most of the night against the Lakers. But LeBron James made just enough plays to save them.
It was almost like Bryant could see it coming.
"LeBron's been doing a great job of keeping the guys going with his own energy," Bryant said. "That's his responsibility to keep guys engaged. Then, when the time rolls around, hopefully the other guys will get charged up and ready to go."
James led the way with 27 points, 13 rebounds and 6 assists, but Chris Bosh was one of those charged-up guys right beside him, pouring in 31 points on 15-for-22 shooting and keeping L.A. at bay when the Lakers tried to make a game of it late.
How it happened: L.A. trailed by 10 heading into the fourth quarter before scoring the first five points of the final frame to cut Miami's lead to 85-80 with 9:46 remaining. Things went back and forth from there, with Nick Young making it a four-point game with a jumper with 4:06 remaining. But Miami came right back with a 3 from Ray Allen to push the lead back to seven. L.A. kept fighting though, and Jodie Meeks hit a pull-up 3 on a broken play a couple of minutes later to again draw L.A. within four at 103-99. After a timeout, James hit a pull-up 3 with 2:23 to go to push Miami's lead back to seven. The closest L.A. got was five the rest of the way.
What it means: With Miami having lost four of its previous seven and Wade out, it was conceivable that the Lakers come in and steal one. But L.A. just couldn't make enough plays on defense, allowing the Heat to shoot 57.7 percent from the field.
Hits: Pau Gasol continued his inspired play with 22 points and 11 rebounds.
Meeks tied Gasol with a team-high 22 points including a 4-for-6 mark from the 3 line.
Young scored 19 off the bench.
Kendall Marshall had 11 assists.
Ryan Kelly took a charge on James in the open court.
Misses: The Heat outrebounded L.A. 48-35.
L.A. trailed by as many as 16 in the first half and never held a lead during the entire contest.
Stat of the game: Miami shot just 11-for-23 on free throws (47.8 percent), but L.A. couldn't capitalize.
Up next: Five down, two to go. The Lakers close out their Grammy road trip in Orlando on Friday and in New York to play the Knicks on Sunday.
But let’s get one thing straight: He doesn’t want Kobe’s nickname.
When a reporter suggested after the Los Angeles Lakers’ 102-100 overtime loss to the Chicago Bulls on Monday that Young, fresh off 31 points, his new high-scoring game as a Laker, that his new moniker should be “The Swag Mamba,” he swatted the suggestion away with Dikembe Mutombo-like gusto.
Young takes the red leather backpack (made by some designer label) to every game. When he was leaving the visitor’s locker room in Toronto on Sunday, he actually ran into a young woman who happened to be accessorizing with the same bag, only it was beige colored. She offered to trade.
“You’ll have to give me that mink coat you’re wearing, too!” Young joked before bouncing down the hallway to the team bus.
While he clearly exudes individuality when it comes to his fashion and rejected the Mamba nickname, he is actually embracing the Bryant comparisons so much so that he was the lone Laker that Nike had wear the special Martin Luther King Jr. Day version of Bryant’s Kobe VIII sneaker on Monday.
In even bigger news, considering Bryant himself hasn’t even donned them yet on the court, Young will become the first player ever to wear Bryant’s newest signature shoe -- the boxing bootlike Kobe IX -- in an NBA game when the Lakers play the Miami Heat on Thursday, according to a league source.
The 28-year-old Young is coming into his own in his seventh season in the league, but it’s easy to see how much of an influence Bryant had on the southern California native when he was growing up. Long before Young became Bryant’s unofficial sneaker model, he modeled his game as a young kid after the Afroed shooting guard who was winning championships alongside Shaquille O’Neal.
Now Young has Bryant’s shoes. He has Bryant’s old Afro. And on Monday he found himself having what used to be a healthy Bryant’s role in crunch time, trying to lift the Lakers on the second night of a back-to-back in Chicago -- a day after scoring 15 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter to beat the Raptors.
With the Lakers trailing by three with 4.1 seconds left in regulation, Young had the ball at the top of key beyond the 3-point arc with Joakim Noah guarding him on a switch. He baited the center into fouling him and was granted three free throw attempts with a chance to tie the game.
“I went to the line thinking, ‘OK, this is where big players step up,’” said Young. “That’s what I was trying to do.”
He rattled in the first one and swished in the next two.
“Just to be in that situation, I know most people want to be in that situation and it was big,” said Young, who missed a potential game-tying 3 with 9.9 seconds left in the Lakers’ eventual 120-118 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers less than a week ago.
“If there's somebody that wants to take the ball and hit a shot, that’s Nick,” said Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni. “No doubt about it. He’s a big-time scorer and he can hit a shot anytime, or get fouled, as we saw.”
Pau Gasol was reluctant to loop Young in with the player he won back-to-back championships beside, but he did marvel at one aspect of his game.
“I think he’s the guy that gets more fouls from the 3-point line than I’ve ever seen,” Gasol said. “It’s incredible the way he gets fouled shooting 3s. I don’t know how that happens so often. But he does it really well, and I’m happy he plays well for us.”
Young added another ridiculous reverse layup in overtime, as well as a game-tying jumper along the baseline with 6.0 seconds left before L.A. blew it by not guarding Taj Gibson on an inbounds play with 0.9 seconds left.
Afterward, he also heard it from his teammates when another reporter brought up the comparison to Bryant.
“Kobe has more than one assist!” Jordan Hill heckled from a neighboring locker. “Kobe passes the ball and rebounds!” added Chris Kaman, completing a Statler and Waldorf-like routine from “The Muppets.”
That’s when Young turned down the swag and turned up the humility.
“I can’t play like Kobe, man,” said Young. “There’s only one Kobe.”
Well, how has he been able to pull off being the team’s leading scorer this season, averaging 17.1 points as kind of a Bryant proxy?
“Kobe’s been a great mentor for me, just telling me all kind of things during the game,” Young said. “That’s been unbelievable for me this whole year, just learning from the greatest player to play this game.
“Who wouldn’t want to learn from or have Kobe in their locker room?”
Dwight Howard, for one. But Howard’s in the past and gone.
As for Young, who has a player option for $1.2 million for next season, he also could very well be gone in the future, hitting the open market in search of a bigger contract after the value he’s showing this season.
All that is guaranteed with Young is the present. And right now, the Lakers -- very nearly winners of three in a row after that ejection of Young in Phoenix -- belong to Swaggy P.
Just listen to how D’Antoni described the turnaround.
“I think we’re getting our swagger a little bit back” said the coach.
And the circle of basketball life continues. Young the student also is a teacher.
“He makes tough shots, big shots,” said the newest Lakers guard, Manny Harris, who was called up from the D-League last week. “It’s definitely someone to watch and learn from.”