Los Angeles Lakers: Tristan Thompson

Lakers at Cavaliers: What to watch

December, 11, 2012
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
On its face, a four-game road trip seems like the last thing the struggling Lakers need at this moment. However, among their myriad issues are recurring bouts with complacency, and time away from Staples Center could theoretically alleviate that ... unless opening the trip against 4-17 Cleveland offsets any urgency created by leaving L.A. In that respect, perhaps the earlier-than-expected return of point guard Kyrie Irving from a broken finger potentially becomes a blessing in disguise. Given this 9-12 team's inexplicable proclivity for seemingly treating any game as an automatic win, his presence can only help keep them engaged.

Plus, the Cavs are 2-8 with Irving and 2-9 without him, so practically speaking, the Dukie's talents haven't translated to much winning, anyway. Hopefully, it's the best of both worlds for the Lakers. Here are three things to be mindful of once the ball is jumped.

1. A defensive tone set by Kobe Bryant
Some of the Lakers' defensive issues are caused by elements beyond their control. Say what you will about Pau Gasol's defense, but he's an upgrade over Antawn Jamsion. Say what you will about Steve Nash's defense, but with the two-time MVP quarterbacking the offense, quality shots should increase while turnovers decrease, both of which should cut down on possessions in which the Lakers find themselves defensively in transition. And until the Lakers are at full strength for an extended time, continuity remains elusive. As Dwight Howard and Jodie Meeks noted after the Utah loss, this group is still learning each other, and defensive synchronicity takes time.

However, it also takes effort, particularly when short-handed, and consistent willingness has been in short supply. And to be blunt, chief among those guilty of fluctuating effort has been Kobe Bryant. Darius Soriano at Forum Blue and Gold wrote a terrific breakdown of The Mamba's recent issues, which include ball watching, gambling and poor rotations, all points discussed by Brian or I at various points this or the past few seasons. Kobe has also maintained his habit of reacting to perceived non-calls (in his mind, more or less whenever he shoots) by demonstratively arguing with referees in lieu of getting back. As I noted in Sunday's "Rapid Reaction," Bryant didn't even bother crossing halfcourt on one possession while his teammates defended four-on-five. In the past, Bryant's teams were good enough to stop opponents while he jawed with officials. This season, not so much.

But beyond how Bryant's inconsistent defense creates practical on-court issues, it sets a troubling tone. Howard is the Lakers' defensive anchor, and his credentials on that side of the ball best any teammate's, but Kobe rightfully remains the unquestioned leader whose cues are taken foremost. Thus, when he's not attentive or devoted defensively, it's easier for others to take possessions off. Or, for those actually consistently trying, foster resentment over what they perceive as unmatched effort. Either way, it's a problem.

Obviously, all of the Lakers' defensive problems shouldn't be laid at Kobe's doorstep. He's hardly the only one guilty of sloppiness, and these guys are all professionals obligated to perform as such. However, until Bryant makes a point of investing himself defensively, I believe there's a ceiling to any potential improvement. This is the burden that comes with being a franchise player and a Hall of Fame first-ballot lock. Inevitably, it all starts with you.

And for those who claim Bryant is too taxed by his offensive responsibilities to be a two-way player, I would submit he scale back what he's doing, anyway. The Lakers are 1-9 when he scores 30-plus, 5-3 when he scores between 20-29, and 3-0 when he scores less than 20. Moreover, a look at Kobe's splits reveals that in wins, Bryant's taking 15.9 shots while averaging a shade under seven assists. In losses, his assists drop by nearly half as the shot total climbs by nearly seven. Taking things a step further, to a man, Howard, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace are averaging more shots in wins than losses.

This can't all be coincidence.

History has generally dictated that the more judicious Bryant is in seeking his shot (especially those created off-ball, where he never seems to work anymore), and the more conscientious he is toward creating for others, the better the Lakers perform. During this period down key playmakers in Nash and Gasol, even more so. This issue isn't really about Kobe taking "too many" shots, but the overall dynamic of a game as he tries to do too much. Kobe is not "the reason" for the losses, but I do think an altered approach would result in more wins.

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Lakers vs. Cavaliers: What to watch, with Cavs:The Blog

January, 13, 2012
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
In any scenario, I want the Lakers to win. It's "good for business," as the saying goes. It's good for my soul, too. There's just no downside to a purple and gold W, and I doubt the Laker Nation would disagree. But if extra incentive were ever needed for this fan base to cheer on the Lakers, try this on for size: Friday's opponents, the Cleveland Cavaliers, are owned by Dan Gilbert.

Gilbert was among the owners who took umbrage at the original deal sending Chris Paul to the Lakers, even going so far as to send David Stern an email urging him to block it. Unless you take the Commish at his word about acting independent of outside pressure -- and I don't -- Gilbert by extension had a hand in preventing Paul from wearing a Laker uni. And if you didn't get the memo, Paul now plays for a local team trying to steal the Lakers' thunder.

So there's that.

For further insight on the Cavs, I called upon John Krolik, keeper of the True Hoop network's Cavs:The Blog. Below are his answers to five questions, plus additional thoughts sprinkled in from yours truly:

1) Land O' Lakers: At the risk of offering a backhanded compliment, the Cavs are 5-5, much better than I expected. Even acknowledging some wins over weak teams, are they moving in a good direction?

Jason Miller/US Presswire
Quicken Loans Arena played host to the Lakers' rock bottom moment of the 2011 regular season.

John Krolik: I've gone on record as saying that I was hoping the Cavs would be absolutely terrible this season while developing their young guys so that they could snag another high draft pick rather than get stuck in "we're in the hunt for the #8 seed!" purgatory. And I will say that the Cavs were off to a fairly nice start last season before the first time they hosted the Heat. But yes, they are moving in a good direction. They've gone from 29th to 13th in defensive efficiency, which is the biggest thing for me -- the frontcourt simply did not care about defense last season. This year, [Anderson] Varejao and [Tristan] Thompson have changed that, and even Antawn Jamison has looked decent on defense, which is a 2,000% improvement from last season.

The team looks like it's playing with a purpose this year, which is huge.

(AK's note: Lest we forget, the rudderless version managed to beat the Lakers in what may have been the worst loss of Phil Jackson's L.A. coaching career, much less last season. The Lakers are obviously more engaged in January 2012 than January 2011, but then again, so are the Cavs. In a shortened season of perpetually sloppy basketball, the "any team can beat any other team on any given night"clicheŽ feels especially pertinent. The Lakers should win, but there are no guarantees.)

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Nick Young
17.9 1.5 0.7 28.3
ReboundsJ. Hill 7.4
AssistsK. Bryant 6.3
StealsK. Bryant 1.2
BlocksW. Johnson 1.0