Los Angeles Lakers: Washington Wizards
Nash did not practice Saturday, instead using the time to undergo treatment on the hamstring injury that is connected to the nerve root irritation that has hampered the 18-year veteran for much of the season.
“It’s the same problem that he’s had, just his nerves back there,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said Saturday. “We’re trying to be cautious, but we haven’t found a solution. For (Sunday’s) game we’re going to be cautious. We’ll see. If he feels good, he’ll play, but if there’s any doubt, he won’t.”
Nash had five points and 11 assists in 19 minutes against the Wizards. He subbed out of the game with 2:14 remaining in the fourth quarter because of the injury.
The 40-year-old point guard has played in just 11 of the Lakers’ 68 games this season, averaging 7.4 points and 5.3 assists while shooting 36.7 percent from the floor.
Xavier Henry also did not practice Saturday after suffering a strained left wrist against the Wizards. X-rays on Henry’s wrist taken after the game came back negative, but Henry followed up with an MRI exam on his wrist Saturday that showed a torn ligament. Henry will be examined by a hand specialist Monday and an estimate on his return will be announced then, according to a statement released by the team.
“He’s pretty sore right now, so we’ll see,” D’Antoni said before the MRI results were known.
D’Antoni also said he planned to shuffle the starting lineup against the Magic, going with Jordan Hill instead of Robert Sacre and Wes Johnson instead of Kent Bazemore. Johnson missed the Wizards game with an upper respiratory infection but was back at practice Saturday.
LOS ANGELES -- It's never easy with this team, is it?
It was an important night for the Los Angeles Lakers, welcoming two starters back in the lineup in Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol and facing a team buried way below .500 after losing to a team just like that Monday in Phoenix.
And boy, did they blow it.
L.A. dropped its second straight game to a team that has no prayer of making the playoffs and instead of using a soft spot in the schedule to build momentum, finds itself back in a bit of a tailspin with just 12 games remaining in the regular season.
Gasol's night started off great, as he grabbed a defensive rebound on the Washington Wizards' first possession and picked up a no-look assist to Metta World Peace on the Lakers' first possession, but he finished with just four points on 2-for-10 shooting and eight rebounds.
That's OK. Gasol had missed close to seven weeks of action and 20 games, so rust was expected.
Turns out Gasol was a minor part of the story.
Former Laker Trevor Ariza ended up having a much bigger impact on the game.
Ariza scored 19 of his game-high 25 points after halftime, setting a new career high by hitting seven 3-pointers as he was able to help Washington come all the way back from an early 18-point deficit to briefly take a two-point lead in the fourth.
While the Wizards came into the game with a 24-43 record, they were actually 19-15 this season with their best player, John Wall, in the lineup, so the fact that they gave L.A. a challenge shouldn't have been a surprise.
Bryant didn't have his normal late-game magic working, as he missed an open 8-foot jumper to tie it in the final minute, and had one more chance at it with a desperation heave at the buzzer on a fadeaway 3, which clanked short off the rim.
L.A. got some help by Utah losing to San Antonio on Friday, so it holds on to its eighth seed for the time being -- but at some point you worry about these missed opportunities piling up.
How it happened: L.A. controlled the game at the start, leading by 16 at the end of the first quarter and never letting up. Washington was playing its fifth game in seven days and its third road game in a row, while the Lakers on came in on three days' rest -- and it showed. Washington made its run on the backs of Ariza and John Wall (24 points, 16 assists) and finished the upset.
What it means: Mike D'Antoni's pregame remarks were pretty prescient.
"We got to win, first of all," D'Antoni said. "We can’t experiment and we can’t play around with it too much. We got to win every game and that’s how it’s going to be played, and hopefully we get better every game because they have some improvement they can do -- a lot of improvement because they haven’t played together. A lot of talent is on the floor; let’s see if we can get it together."
Getting Gasol and Bryant back is certainly a boost to the Lakers' chances down the stretch, but L.A. has to stick to what it did to get back in the playoff hunt in the first place. It can't get too cute.
Hits: Dwight Howard had 20 points and 15 rebounds.
Jodie Meeks scored 16 points off the bench, including eight in the fourth quarter.
Bryant added another momentum-changing dunk to his season-long aerial display, sending home a reverse jam with 7:04 remaining in the fourth quarter to put L.A. up by 3 when its offense was struggling. It ended up being a moot point, though.
Misses: Seeing World Peace take it upon himself to go 1-on-5 and pick up an offensive foul in a crucial possession when he has playmakers like Bryant and Steve Nash on his team is a crime against basketball.
While Bryant's distribution game was strong (11 assists), his defensive game wasn't. Bryant was routinely late to close out on open shooters (most notably Garrett Temple, who scored 10 points on 4-for-8 shooting) and L.A. in turn let Washington hang around longer than it should have in the third quarter when the Lakers could have put it away.
Antawn Jamison was brilliant in the first half, scoring 11 points on 5-for-9 shooting to go with seven rebounds, but he suffered a sprained right wrist in the third quarter which ended his night early. He will receive X-rays on it after the game.
Stat of the game: The Lakers had 10 assists on 13 buckets in the first quarter, but finished with 27 on 39 baskets for the game as the ball started to stick.
What's next: For the first time in a long time, the Lakers do not have games on either Saturday or Sunday, as they'll have the weekend to get ready for their final multi-game road trip of the season -- four games through Golden State, Minnesota, Milwaukee and Sacramento beginning Monday. The Warriors game will be doubly important as L.A. is still in the hunt to catch Golden State for the No. 6 seed in the West, and it will also set the tone for the trip.
Does a six-point victory over a 3-17 Washington Wizards squad without John Wall, Trevor Ariza, Trevor Booker and A.J. Price qualify as a particularly impressive achievement? Not in the slightest. But that’s not what’s important right now for the Lakers.
They needed to stop the bleeding, even temporarily, and that’s what happened.
Here are five takeaways from the game:
Bryant didn’t shoot the ball well but stepped up big as a leader
Thursday’s loss to the New York Knicks wasn’t painful just to the Lakers’ place in the standings. It also did a number on Kobe Bryant’s health. The guard was hit hard with back spasms, then spent as much time as possible with a heat pack attached to his body. His availability for Friday's game was never in question -- it’s Kobe -- and while he played through gritted teeth, I thought he did a fantastic job setting a “do whatever it takes to win” tone for his teammates.
Despite the bad back, Bryant was extremely lively on the defensive end, snagging a pair of steals and pulling down seven rebounds. He forced Cartier Martin into a travel by crowding him in pick-and-roll coverage. He even drew a charge, which Bryant, by his own admission, rarely does with a healthy back, much less a balky one. And speaking of playing through pain, Bryant absorbed some contact from Martell Webster after converting an alley-oop pass from Jodie Meeks. The landing was awkward, and Bryant stayed on the ground for about 20 seconds. But as is typically the case with Kobe, he dusted himself off and got back to work. Bryant also had the hustle play of the game, flying in to retrieve and put back a missed late fourth-quarter free throw from Dwight Howard, essentially putting the game on ice.
In the meantime, Bryant made good on his word Thursday night to operate more often as a quasi-point guard with Steve Nash and Steve Blake on the shelf. Seven assists demonstrated how Bryant appeared intent to set up others as well as himself. He went behind the back to set up Howard for an attempt at the rim. He ran a high screen-and-roll with Robert Sacre, then dished to Darius Morris along the arc to set up a triple. And perhaps the most impressive pass came toward the end of the third quarter, when he turned getting trapped by two Wizards into a pinpoint cross-court pass to a red-hot Meeks, who drained a 3.
Clearly, with 29 shot attempts, Bryant also was looking for his, and that’s fine. For that matter, so were the inevitable forced shots on a few possessions. But there was a better balancing act between scorer and facilitator Friday night, and I’m hoping that remains the case moving forward.
Meeks a major spark plug
The night didn’t begin particularly well for Meeks, who missed a couple of layups, one of which was wide open in transition after having been set up beautifully by Kobe. But it didn’t take long to discover a rhythm, and once that happened, the reserve guard became a huge spark for the Lakers. Shots were drained along the arc and in the corners, often in succession, creating desperately needed (if not necessarily carefully guarded) separation. The rim was attacked with more success, even if it meant occasionally putting back his own miss from close range. He finished the night with 24 points off the pine and appears to be usurping Antawn Jamison as the designated sixth man. And despite a few lapses, I thought Meeks did a nice job on the defensive end, highlighted by nonstop hustle.
Sacre took advantage of an opportunity
Against New York, Robert Sacre got tossed into the mix after foul trouble plagued both Howard and Jordan Hill. Mike D’Antoni had no choice but to roll with the rookie. Generally speaking, that’s how second-round rookies get on the floor: The coach’s hands are tied, so the dice are reluctantly rolled. Given how Hill missed Friday night's contest with back spasms, it stood to reason Sacre would get some more run. After Howard picked up a third foul in the first half, the rookie ended up playing nearly 11 minutes before halftime. He performed well. Four first-half rebounds were snagged -- one on the offensive glass, which he converted into an authoritative dunk -- and a Wizards shot was returned to sender. Another bucket came on a pretty step-back jumper along the baseline.
Sacre’s second-half run didn’t add anything to his stat column, but he maintained his energy and, more important, didn’t make many mistakes. Once Hill’s back heals, I’m guessing Sacre will resume his role as arguably the league’s most popular sideline entertainer, what with his dancing and reveling after big plays. But he did a nice job reassuring his coach and teammates that if times get lean, he can take the floor without the game going off the rails. For that matter, Devin Ebanks also presented himself well in an unexpected start with Hill on the shelf.
World Peace was solid throughout
The resident bull in a china shop drove the lane against Nene on consecutive plays to close the first half, the first bucket earning him an and-1 opportunity. Metta World Peace then attacked the rim on consecutive possessions to open the second half, the latter bucket a pretty give-and-go with Howard that started after MWP took a defensive rebound three-quarters of the court. While converting the layup, World Peace hurt his hand and appeared in excruciating pain for a few minutes. But, like Kobe, he gutted it out, and that help made a massive difference.
This team has no clue how to close a game
None. Whatsoever. At all. And that needs to change, posthaste.
For the inside track on the Wizards, we tracked down Kyle Weidie, who runs Truth About It for the True Hoop Network. Here are his responses to four question about D.C.'s squad.
These two don't make for a quality frontcourt or taco.
Kyle Weidie: Building around a guy like John Wall requires long distance shot makers, and seeing as the Wizards have an NBA-5th worst eFG% of 46.1, team management hasn't provided their franchise face what he needs. This area hasn't been addressed through the draft in years, and veterans like Rashard Lewis, Roger Mason and Mo Evans aren't cutting it. Nick Young, who leads the Wizards with 38.2 percent three-point shooting, hijacks too many possessions for an ideal spot-up partner.
Washington's other glaring need is an offensive block player. The Wizards are desperate for an intelligent, space-eating player to run the half-court offense from the post. I'm not sure who thought JaVale McGee and Andray Blatche could form a united frontcourt tandem. The two mix as well as a cottage cheese, jellybean and raw herring taco.
But whichever side of the fence you sit, what cannot be debated is the dude's doing work, and the job requires him to walk a tight rope at full speed. Need even more proof than what your eyes see while watching games? Well, Ian Levy of Hickory High has you covered.
Levy created assist distribution graphs for each team in the league, charting each player's assists vs. their assisted buckets on a per game basis. Take a look at the Lakers' artwork and you'll see how all things quite literally point towards Mr. Bean.
If Kobe's graph seems remarkably even, that's only because it is. As Levy notes, "Of the 27 players who average at least 5 assists per game, the most even ratio belongs to Kobe Bryant who hands out 5.6 assists per game, and makes 5.2 assisted field goals per game."
Bryant as the clubhouse leader in assists won't surprise anybody, but the assisted bucket numbers might, since he's by far the Laker most capable of creating his own shot. However, it makes a lot of sense. There's been a very conscientious effort by Mike Brown and Bryant to find ways to get him off-ball opportunities, whether on a cut, catch-and-shoot, or where minimal dribbles are required. These buckets require teamwork, and Bryant's made efficient use of that synergy.
The reasons for this heavy lifting -- the Lamar Odom trade, Steve Blake's injury, the lack of perimeter creators, Bryant sometimes shooting too often, Pau Gasol's periodic indecisiveness -- have been dissected to death on this space, and thus don't need to be rehashed in depth. (I gotta pace myself with 45 games remaining.) But the graphic provides a striking snapshot of how the Laker offense operates right now.
Obviously, it's worth your time to check out the ratio created by the other 13 Lakers who've stepped on the court. For that matter, the dynamics of the other 29 teams are pretty fascinating as well. As True Hoop's Henry Abbott noticed, the Wizards get a jarringly low amount of dimes from folks not named "John Wall."
Kobe has two losses in the Finals vs. Jordan's undefeated clip. Bryant's teams were eliminated by a margin of 28 (2003 semifinals vs. San Antonio), 31 (2006 quarterfinals against the Suns in a Game 7 where Kobe supposedly "quit") and 39 (2008 Finals against Boston) and now 26 in these recent playoffs. Failure to reach the second round of the 2006 playoffs after going up 3-1. MJ's superior collection of individual awards. The Three-peat teams "belonged to" Shaquille O'Neal. (And for those truly obsessed with keeping score, the '97 air balls, the radio tour, "running Shaq and Phil out of town," etc.)
If there's a silver lining to the Lakers' collapse against Dallas, it's the potential liberation for Kobe from the "you know who" comparisons.
Getting swept by Dallas was the icing on the naysayer cake. There's just too much failure now staining Kobe's career to put him in the same class as Jordan. Thus, it's over. Let us never mention Kobe in the same breath again.
Better late than never to reach this pact.
This reaction, by the way, shouldn't be interpreted as agreement. Honestly, I've given this never-ending debate very little thought, and don't imagine that changing anytime soon. Personally, I find the "Jordan vs. Kobe" regurgitation as a matter of course beyond cliched at this point. As I said after last season's title, the fervent denial of his own identity often astonishes me. Bryant has embarked on one of the most fascinating -- much less successful -- careers in recent sports history, and yet it's barely viewed through any prism other "MJ." Even if you think Kobe falls short of Jordan by every quantifiable measure known to mankind, his accomplishments are strong enough to be the primary factor shaping his legacy.
Plus, it's not even a fair fight. For so many basketball fans, nobody will ever pass Jordan. Period. Point blank. End of story. Again, the validity of this opinion isn't the issue, but if Bryant can't win in the first place, stop pushing him into the ring. After these playoffs, perhaps the knee-jerk comparisons may lessen, which should make a lot of people happy (not the least of which, Kobe himself).
Fingers crossed, after 15 seasons we may actually be embarking on a time in Kobe's career where, for better or worse, he's seen as himself.
However, this isn't the only potential transformation in the making for Kobe. And since old habits die hard even for those not in need of breaking them, there's still one way where he can get a leg up on MJ, regardless of how many more rings do or don't come:
The ability to age gracefully, in perfect fashion and with clear purpose.
Everyone will be excited to high-five Andrew Bynum during a lineup introduction.
Andrew Bynum's return
On the heels of a day spent hanging out with Barack Obama, Andrew Bynum told the assembled media he'll "definitely" suit up against the Wizards. The timing couldn't be better, between the Lakers' recent malaise and Pau Gasol on the verge of needing an IV between dead balls. I suspect Bynum will remain a starter as planned and predict he'll log minutes somewhere in the low-mid 20's over the next few games.
As Brian and I discussed on the most recent podcast, Bynum shouldn't be viewed as "Instant panacea: Just add 7-footer." Execution and success on both sides of the ball have been sketchy. Ron Artest has grown increasingly absent of shooting touch and offensive certainty. He has had a consistent lack of focus over 48 minutes and on down the line. Every core player has dirty hands to some degree during the last few weeks of underachievement, and that same collective is needed to right the ship.
Plus, Bynum hasn't stepped on the court since Game 7 of last year's Finals, a long time to gather cobwebs. Mind you, Bynum could look brilliant, since the opposition is currently battling for sole possession of the 14th seed in the East. But I tend to be a realist with an open mind for pleasant surprises, so rather than obsess over how good Bynum looks out of the gate I'll be focused more on signs of good things to be built upon:
Did rebounds seem to bounce the Lakers' way more often, because Bynum snagged the loose ball or he bodied up a Wizards' player within proximity of the rock? Did the rim feel more protected, even on just 25-35 percent of defensive stands? Were points a little easier to come by, particularly ones of the putback variety. Do we get a glimpse as to how Lamar Odom will mesh as a full-time Killer B(L)ee? And most importantly, did El Spaniard have a little more vida in his step?
The guy has been running on fumes for the last few weeks and exhibited downright crabby body language against the Nets, as contact worthy of a whistle went uncalled. Bynum's presence equals an immediate weight lifted from Gasol's shoulders, if for no other reason than he's another 7-footer in the mix. (Think how much better Gasol played with Theo Ratliff on hand eight consistent minutes per night.) Even if Bynum plays just 12-15 minutes at the outset, I think Gasol will enjoy an immediate uptick in production, efficiency and energy. Attention paid toward Bynum down low should allow Gasol more freedom as an offensive conduit, which could result in a smoother offense for everyone. And defensively, not having to conserve his fouls as carefully should lead to a more aggressive brand of lockdown.
These are not normal circumstances.
The Lakers have been positively ordinary since charging through the first eight games like a Real Housewife of Beverly Hills at Saks Fifth Avenue. Their 9-7 record since the hot start is at best underwhelming, especially considering the nonet includes a grand total of one win against a squad with a winning record (Nov. 23 vs. Chicago), and totally uninspired efforts like their squeaker against the Clippers and the tougher-than-required win over a poor New Jersey team Sunday afternoon.
The giddiness of early November, when some wondered if maybe this whole 70 win thing might actuallyhappen, has given way to questions about whether the Lakers will equal last year's 57. Sunday's victory puts them on pace for 58 -- basically a wash -- and as we've all noted, their schedule has been almost absurdly easy. Only four games (Denver, Utah, and two vs. Chicago) against teams opening Monday's action with a plus-.500 record. For the record, they lost three of those four. It adds up to the the league's easiest slate of games. The Lakers haven't played 20-3 San Antonio or 19-4 Dallas. Or Oklahoma City, New Orleans, Boston, Miami, Orlando or Atlanta.
This week, Andrew Bynum should become more than a rubber band man.
Big picture, the challenge in front of them is stiff. All sorts of things are in question, not simply the NBA's best record and home court advantage throughout the playoffs. The idea that the Lakers would finish the regular season with the top seed in the Western Conference has since this summer generally been treated like a foregone conclusion. Given their current level of play and, more importantly, the brutality of their schedule over the final 58 games, it shouldn't be. In a very competitive league, the Lakers are in danger of letting a great many things slip away, or at the very least, making the process of holding on to said things a whole lot more difficult.
They can't afford to lose much more ground, particularly when matched up against the Association's weak sisters. A nice dovetail to this week's . . .
. . . Little picture, the challenge in front of them is stiff. All sorts of things are in question, most revolving around the team's ability to play with relative consistency for 48 minutes, whether against good, mediocre, or poor competition. "We're not finishing games," Phil Jackson said Sunday. "We're not finishing quarters."
Said Lamar Odom, ""That’s the story of our last 10 or 15 games – having leads and losing it, not playing up to our potential . . . We can play a lot better than what we did today. We got to get through this lackadaisical spell that we’re in right now."
He'll find trouble finding anyone who disagrees. Here's how the next seven days shake out:
GAME OF THE WEEK
Whatever Game In Which Andrew Bynum Finally Makes His Season Debut
In theory, it's supposed to be Tuesday in Washington. Unfortunately, Bynum, who last week expressed a desire to get a few more practices under his belt before engaging in the real thing, made the projection based on schedule including a full court run Saturday afternoon, one the Lakers canceled thanks to bad New York City traffic. A pain-and-complication free workout with his teammates would have removed much of the lingering doubt about the safety of his return. Now, his participation in Tuesday's game seems contingent on how he comes through Monday's practice. Hopefully, the scheduling snafu won't change the timetable, but it wont be totally clear until he's put on the active roster Tuesday night.
Here's how it broke down...
Most of the high points came in the first half, which sent the Lakers into the locker room with a 13 point lead, or into the third, when they led by as much as 19. The final 24 minutes were an entirely different story (though save plays off turnovers, the Lakers did generally keep the Wizards out of the lane).
Keep that in mind when reading the following.
1. Kobe Bryant- From the moment he dropped a 17 footer at the 11:21 mark of the first quarter, it was clear he had "that look." The one allowing him to move aggressively, get inside position, put the ball on the floor, and generally get any look he'd like. He hit four of his seven shots in the first 12 minutes, then five of seven in the second. Along the way, Bryant broke out some of the footwork making his mid-post game so much fun to watch, with a variety of spins and step throughs you figure have to be travels until watching the replay. What helped make it all so effective, though, was how he got his shots. 14 might seem like too much for one half, but the vast majority came off quality movement for the Lakers.
Kobe was very effective off the ball, coming off screens and slicing through the lane. Instead of being the start and finish of the Lakers offense, he accepted the ball in good position after it cycled around multiple pairs of hands. I've always said it's about touches, not shot totals. Tonight showed why. Bryant was a little quieter in the second half (though the footwork was just as good, evidenced by a fourth quarter spin/pump/spin/step-through he stuck on Nick Young at the free throw line), scoring "only" 14 more points at a less efficient clip, but overall it was an effective night for 24, and at least early on was representative of a blueprint the Lakers and Kobe should use more often.
2. Lamar Odom- 13 points on five-for-six shooting, four boards, an assist, and a block. Not an ineffective line for your average NBA'er over the course of a game. Odom put it together in the first quarter. Like Kobe, much of Odom's effectiveness came because he was moving well in space, aggressively filling the space left open by Washington's zone defense. Like his teammates, Odom wasn't quite as effective in the second half as he was in the first- the Lakers had 69 points by halftime, and finished with 115- and was part of the collective breakdowns helping keep the Wizards close down the stretch, but it's hard to argue with the overall production, particularly early production.
He loses points, though, for taking a horrible shot with about 20 seconds left in the fourth, when the Lakers had a chance to either drain some clock or force Washington to foul, Odom bailed out the Wizards with a bad jumper from the wing. No surprise he got an earful from Phil Jackson during the ensuing timeout.
3. Pau Gasol- It's not every day a guy can miss seven of his first 10 shots, and still land in this category, but such was the case with Gasol, who assisted on three of the team's first four buckets, and five of fifteen in the first quarter. The Lakers effectively used Gasol as a pivot point against the zone, and he responded by hitting cutters or making effective skip passes over the defense helping great penetration later in the trip. By halftime, Gasol had, in poker terms, a set of eights. Eight points, eight boards, eight assists, and finished with 21/14/8, plus five blocked shots.
Perhaps his most significant play with 32 seconds left. With the Lakers nursing a four point lead, Kobe missed a jumper from the left wing. Derek Fisher slapped the rebound to the floor, and Gasol hit the deck to force a jump ball. Odom's wayward J meant the Lakers had to work harder than they should have to finish off the game, but Gasol's play still earned L.A. possession and burned valuable time.
When large dudes hit the floor like that, they deserve some kudos.
To get a better idea of what's hindering D.C.'s finest, I tossed a few questions the direction of Truth About It's Kyle Weidie. Check out the excellent skinny provided by the TrueHoop Network member:
Andy Kamenetzky: When you look at the Wizards from the standpoint of individual components, there are theoretical ingredients for a decent defense. JaVale McGee is third in the NBA for blocked shots. John Wall is second for steals, demonstrating his ability to disrupt. Kirk Hinrich has always been known as a good defender. Instead, the Wizards are allowing 105.6 ppg with a defensive efficiency (108.4) fourth-worst in the league. Why the bad showing?
Baskets like these probably look very
familiar to Wizards fans.
KW: Some of those individual defensive abilities are nice, but they fall far short in making the sum of the team's parts into a solid defensive unit. Starting with the last line of defense, the Wizards' big men simply aren't paint presences. Sure, McGee has swatted a lot of shots and intimidated even more, but a blocked shot doesn't always mean a precious change in possession. McGee also has a very low basketball awareness on both ends of the floor, but especially when it comes to help-side rotations and placement in the matchup zone defense that Flip Saunders occasionally implements. McGee will just as quickly dazzle with his ability to catch alley-oops and finish out of nowhere as he'll make fans face-palm themselves because of frequent MIA spells.
The rest of the lot doesn't provide much substance: Andray Blatche has been notoriously lazy on defense this season. Yi Jianlian has shown impressive footwork when healthy but still looks lost to aggressiveness. Hilton Armstrong tries hard and sets good screens, but is rail thin (with no offensive ability). Trevor Booker and Kevin Seraphin are big, bruising bodies but often succumb to the ways of a rookie.
In terms of guard play, Wall has quick hands and can adeptly play passing lanes without gambling too much, but his ability to limit the effectiveness of pick-and-rolls is suspect, as demonstrated best by Steve Nash on Sunday. Guys like Brandon Roy also have made Wall look his age with crafty footwork and pump fakes. Wall has the tools to be Gary Payton but is far from that point. Hinrich can defend because he's smart and he has moxie, but he'll turn 30 in January, and his body is starting to catch up with him. Arenas is Arenas on defense -- not as bad as the old Arenas so far, but still a defensive liability.
Capabilities are one thing, but working as a team is vastly different and a mirage in the distance for the Wizards right now. It's worth noting the Wizards are among the top five at forcing opponents into turnovers but are also among the top five in most turnovers per game. So, giving easy opportunities to the other team certainly has a big hand in the Wizards' defensive inefficiencies. But in the big picture, it's not always a winning formula when some of the more talented players (Arenas and Blatche) are also some of the worst defenders.
GAME OF THE WEEK
Wednesday @Clippers, 7:30
My first gander at Blake Griffin up close and in the flesh during a game officially counted towards an NBA regular season? You better believe I'm stoked! There are better players in the NBA than the Clipper rookie, but graded on the scale of excitement potential, he may very well be the reigning big kahuna for The Assocation.
Seriously, Tiago. Get out of the way.
Covering the Lakers day in and day out often leaves me with disappointingly little time to just kick back and watch other teams play on a regular basis. Even a local team like the Clippers can be a viewing challenge. Thanks to the power of Twitter, however, I never miss a Griffin highlight. Every move by the kid sends the Tweetosphere into "bananas" overdrive. Particularly his dunks, so powerful and elevated the descriptions feel cartoonish. (Think if people had more than 140 characters at their disposal.) If I didn't know for a fact Griffin was a real person, he could very well be written off as an urban legend. A Sidd Finch or Lochness monster for the 21st century Internet age. It's just impossible to thrill at such a high rate, right?
Seeing is believing, and I can't wait to believe from inside the building.
In the meantime, the Clippers as a team offer some interesting wrinkles. For starters, their improved play over the last couple of weeks. Upon snapping a nightmarish nine-game losing streak, the Clips have played .500 ball, highlighted by wins over the Hornets and Spurs. They're also playing with more fire and solidarity, evidenced by the ejections for Brian Cook and Craig Smith (among other dustups) during Sunday's loss in Portland.
There are also lineup considerations. Will a tweaked ankle prevent Chris Kaman from suiting up? Will Baron Davis usurp rookie Eric Bledsoe as the starting point? (I hope so. "The Beard" may the A-Lister, but I think Derek Fisher matches up considerably better against Baron than the fleet-footed rook.) And if recent pairings against the Xavier Henry's of the world have left Kobe Bryant, shall we say, uninspired to exert his full defensive attention, a date with Eric Gordon -- assuming the assignment doesn't fall to Ron Artest -- should provide the polar opposite effect. Between his staggering improvement and the injury bug's vendetta with Brandon Roy, an argument can be made Gordon is the best two-guard in the western conference without an ankle insurance endorsement deal. I can't imagine Kobe won't attempt to pull out all the stops on both sides of the ball.
Or in this case, twelve of them, each lasting one minute apiece, coming together to create a time commonly referred to as "the fourth quarter."
Positive stuff like Kobe's baskets were a big
part of the first half, not the second.
During this time span, the Lakers got outscored 32-17, shot just 38.5 percent from the field while allowing a hapless Wizards crew to sink half their shots, and turned the ball over a ridiculous eight times. As a result, the Lakers began the quarter up 22 points, then watched the streamers drop to commemorate a single digit victory margin. Tacos secured for Staples patrons, but hardly in style and definitely not in a way to be proud of.
I won't exaggerate the situation and claim to have feared a loss brewing. Frankly, there was no chance in hell. Washington doesn't have enough talent on hand to put the fear of God in an opponent while up 25, much less while chipping away at a deficit. Plus, the Lakers weren't being outplayed as much as they were simply sloppy. I knew a win was coming, which makes the scenario considerably less scary.
It doesn't, however, make the scenario any less wasteful, and for a team about to embark on a difficult road trip while shorthanded, the chance to rest starters and key reserves went inexplicably flushed down the toilet. There was absolutely zero reason Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol should have flirted with 40 minutes of run after entering intermission with a 26-point advantage. Ditto Lamar Odom, who's already playing through a painful shoulder ailment as it is. That D.J. Mbenga played less than three minutes (none during the fourth quarter) and Adam Morrison didn't even remove his warmups is pretty indicative of how drastically the Lakers lost their focus during the final stretch.
Some will write this off as simply a case of playing down to an opponent, a reaction less likely to surface against the Cleveland's and Denver's of the world. Perhaps a reasonable statement. Of course, the Lakers haven't exactly killed it against elite teams, so there's only so much solace this theory will provide for certain fans. And either way, there was a mission accompanying this evening's cupcake contest.
To paraphrase our last President, Mission unaccomplished.
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In other news, if you missed this morning's chat- or didn't but really want to see your name on the Internet- here's the transcript. Key question: Can Adam Morrison star on Gossip Girl or 24?
Shannon Brown pleases President Obama, who wished him luck in the dunk contest.
Just a year into his presidency, Barack Obama has yet to fix everything wrong in our country. I don't think mine is a particularly partisan claim, or even particularly critical, as the man's plate has enough piled on it to leave Kobayashi with a full tummy. Still, the ability to bring about large-scale, permanent change remains somewhat unproven.
But give the Prez this much. Last Monday, he played host to a Lakers squad whose current road trip had featured a pair of losses against a contender and a pretender, and a win that didn't swing in the Lakers' favor until the fourth quarter. They've been so largely unimpressive, Steve Mason crashed our PodKast to tee off on how poorly they've played. A little time with Obama, however, and the purple and gold are suddenly inspired to kick off the cobwebs, as ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin reports:
- Being in the president's presence not only helped cause (Kobe) Bryant (26 points, eight assists) to play at the title-taking level he's capable of, it infused the whole team with the life it had been lacking. "It reminded us what we were playing for," Bryant said. "It reminded us what's at stake. I'm sure it helped re-energize us a little bit."
Bryant's tank wasn't quite topped off with Obama's influence after Monday, so he made a return trip to the White House on Tuesday morning, spending "about 20 minutes" in the Oval office with the president, bringing along his wife Vanessa and their two daughters, Natalia and Giana. Following Bryant's lead, the Lakers shot 58.7 percent as a team, ran out to a 16-point lead at halftime and didn't let the lead dwindle to less than nine the rest of the way.Just about every Lakers player who starred on Monday credited the president in one way or another.
Still letting Shannon dunk. Brown was nails Tuesday night in Washington, scoring 11 points as L.A. cruised to an easy win over the Wizards.
Under normal circumstances, I might say the Lakers, in the midst of a 1-2 road trip and a general period of malaise, were inspired by Monday's visit to the White House and an afternoon with President Obama. After all, the Big Moment in L.A.'s 115-103 win Tuesday night over the Washington Wizards didn't come in the fourth quarter. There was no late scramble, no heroic Kobe Bryant push, no real question about the outcome. The Lakers basically controlled throughout.
Can Lakers fans thank the leader of the free world? Maybe, maybe not, since the Wizards are the basketball equivalent of a friendly audience plant in a town hall debate, existing only to make the star look good.
In the end, while the team will surely prize their Pennsylvania Ave. memories, the game itself was likely just a routine victory over a vastly inferior opponent. But in a nice change of pace, the big push came early and was fueled by the reserves.
To say Lamar Odom got the decisive second quarter off to a strong start is a mild understatement. First, he assisted on a nice layup inside from Pau Gasol, then after Washington's Antawn Jamison gave the Wizards a 32-31 lead with a jumper from 11 feet at 11:07, Odom found Shannon Brown streaking to the basket for a sweet alley oop. The Lakers again had the lead. For good measure, LO logged L.A.'s next three baskets, helping them push the lead to five. From there, they hit the gas, holding the Wizards to a single bucket, stretching the advantage to double digits in the process.