Los Angeles Lakers: Wes Matthews

Lakers at Blazers: What to watch

October, 31, 2012
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
No rest for the winless. Upon wrapping up a disappointing debut against the Dallas Mavericks, the Lakers hopped a plane to the great Northwest for a date with the Portland Trail Blazers. For the past decade or so, the Rose Garden has served as purple-and-gold Kryptonite. Blame it on the energy from a rabid fan base, a typically solid roster or the rain, but whatever the reason, Portland's been a tough place to score a road victory, even during championship seasons. However, the Blazers are in the midst of a post-Brandon Roy/Greg Oden/Nate McMillan facelift, and the results aren't expected by most to be immediately pretty.

Will this developmental stage equal an easier road in the Rose City and the first Lakers' win of the season? For more perspective, I conducted an IM discussion with Andrew Tonry of the True Hoop network's Portland Roundball Society. Below is the transcript:

Andy Kamenetzky: Like the Lakers, the Blazers have undergone a lot of roster changes. What's your general impression of this team?

Andrew Tonry: I hate to say it, but the forecast for the season looks a lot like the Portland weather: cold, dark and grey. The team is rebuilding. (As a Laker follower, you may forget how that works.) While there are pieces to be excited about -- rookie point guard Damian Lillard, for example -- Portland simply lacks talent. Perhaps half of their roster is true NBA-level players, and the top -- LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum -- have yet to prove themselves as guys truly capable of leading a playoff-bound squad.

AK: What are Portland's strengths and weaknesses so far?

AT: New Blazers coach Terry Stotts gets a lot of credit for Dallas' offensive schemes over the last few seasons. He's come to Portland with a plan to open things up with more movement and dynamism. The Blazers leaders -- Aldridge and Batum -- are guys who've shown the most promise on the offensive end. Defense, however, will be the sticking point. Nobody on Portland's roster is particularly known for defense, especially around the rim, where the Blazers will start J.J. Hickson, a natural power-forward, at center.

Even more than defensive deficiencies, the Blazers will be hurt by a wafer-thin bench. As I mentioned earlier, most of the guys in the second unit are players who lucked their way onto the roster because bodies were needed.

AK: As a natural forward playing center, how do you anticipate Hickson handling the matchup against Howard?

AT: I anticipate Hickson getting manhandled. I also anticipate rookie Meyers Leonard getting some minutes, and for what it's worth, he's a true 7-footer, one of the few players in the NBA with the size, strength and quickness to match Howard's. But it's too early to expect much. Leonard has a lot to learn, including how to stay out of foul trouble.

The Lakers starters haven't had much time together. How long do you expect it'll be until they become a cohesive unit? And until their potential is reached?

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Lakers 111, Jazz 110: One moment

May, 8, 2010
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
If the hand of Wes Matthews is angled an eighth of an inch in another direction, perhaps his buzzer beating tip of a Deron Williams miss drops through the net rather than off the side of the rim, and the story is different. Perhaps we're chastising Ron Artest for an errant inbound pass on the previous possession (or the refs for not calling a potential foul as Derek Fisher went/was brought to the floor), turning the ball over with the Lakers up one and giving Utah a chance to win. Or maybe we're critical of Kobe Bryant, despite a top shelf 35 point, seven assist night, for ball watching on Williams' shot and letting Matthews, his man, slip inside on the play.

Maybe in Salt Lake City they're beating up Williams for missing the jumper, or Matthews for botching the opportunity.

But really, to do any of that- on either side- would be a disservice to both teams and to the game itself. Saturday night, the Lakers and Jazz engaged in 48 minutes of what playoff basketball is supposed to be. Two teams playing at an extremely high level, rising to the occasion to make plays down the stretch, and through the game generally. How many of you stood in your living rooms for the final moments of the game? Or were so wired after the buzzer you inhaled all the leftover Zankou Chicken still sitting on the counter after a halftime dinner? (Okay, that's a little specific, but you get the point...)

In the end, it came down, quite literally, to a matter of inches. The Lakers were on the right end of it, and now own a commanding 3-0 series lead over the Jazz. (With Phoenix sitting on an identical advantage over San Antonio, it's fair to start busting out all your Suns scouting reports.)

The game wasn't elegant from start to finish, had compelling moments throughout. How about Artest blowing up in the third quarter for three triples, nearly half of his total through the first eight games of the playoffs? Artest continued to be a force offensively, shooting and moving off the dribble en route to a postseason high of 20 points. But his unexpected outburst was matched by Kyle Korver, who kept Utah in the game with an unconscious nine-of-10 shooting, including five threes in five tries, for 23 points of his own.

Lamar Odom, quiet for much of the game, hit two clutch free throws with 2:47 remaining, then a three on the next Lakers possession, in 22 seconds taking the Lakers from down four to up one. Bryant, who missed four shots over a two minute stretch between the five and three minute marks of the final quarter, came back with two huge jumpers and a pinpoint pass to Fisher for a clutch corner three. Fish, by the way, finished with 20 points on seven-of-13 from the floor, continuing a run of strong postseason play. Pau Gasol, non-existent in the first half, hit an array of jumpers in the second, and at the buzzer had a typically productive stat line, with 14 points and 17 rebounds, including critical tap-backs on the offensive glass to give the Lakers more opportunities.

Add in a fun strategy decision with about eight seconds remaining- with a three-point lead Phil Jackson chose to foul with intentionally, sending Williams to the line and starting the chain of events likely giving every basketball fan in southern California and the Beehive State some sort of coronary attack- and it's fair to say this one had everything.

While in all honesty the Jazz were unlikely to win the series even if they won Saturday night, any shot they had of making this a series evaporated as Matthews' tip rolled off the rim. From here, the Lakers seem destined to eliminate the Jazz for the third straight season. The Lakers were obviously happy to do it, but with much of the drama sucked out of Monday's Game 4, it's a shame they can't simply replay Saturday's action, because it's hard to imagine a scenario in which anything else in this series will hold a candle.

Much more to come...

Lakers vs. Utah: Three names to watch

May, 2, 2010
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
We all know the big, important names for the series: Kobe Bryant, Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, and so on. Lakers fans have seen so much of the Jazz over the last few postseasons there's a possibility five of them selected at random could come together and work through Utah's offense. But this year, there are a few variables making the series starting today a little different than the last two versions.

Here are a few on which to chew before the tip:

1. Kyrylo Fesenko: As a rule, anyone able to cram two y's into a six-letter first name is all good in my book, but for the first three years of his NBA career, Fesenko hasn't done much other than confuse people trying to pronounce his name. But with Mehmet Okur out for the series and the Jazz already undersized against the Lakers, Fesenko (or Really-that-guy?-doppelganger Kosta Koufos) will have an opportunity to make an impact. Utah fans just hope it's not a totally negative one.

Early returns are mixed. Pressed into service against Denver, Fesenko didn't exactly light the world on fire, at least away from Salt Lake City. In Game 3, Fesenko shocked the world with nine points, five boards, and three dimes before adding five more boards and two blocks in Game 4. Over the final two games of the series, though, Fesenko had more turnovers (seven) and personal fouls (six) than points (three) and swats (zero). He is also not fond of the Staples Center lighting.

Carlos Boozer and Paul Millsap will get the bulk of the work up front for Utah, and don't necessarily match up well with the Lakers. But at least those guys are effective and productive players. If Fesenko (or, should he falter, Koufos) can't give Jerry Sloan passable minutes, the Jazz will have problems. (And for the record, I think the Jazz will have problems.)

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Kobe Bryant
24.6 4.9 1.4 35.4
ReboundsJ. Hill 8.3
AssistsK. Bryant 4.9
StealsK. Bryant 1.4
BlocksE. Davis 1.2