Los Angeles Lakers: Chris Duhon

Lakers waive guard Chris Duhon

June, 29, 2013
6/29/13
5:14
PM PT
By ESPNLosAngeles.com
ESPNLosAngeles.com
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Lakers have waived guard Chris Duhon, it was announced Saturday by the team in a news release.

The team said general manager Mitch Kupchak made the announcement.

In 46 games (nine starts) last season with the Lakers, Duhon averaged 2.9 points, 1.5 rebounds and 2.9 assists in 17.8 minutes while recording three double-figure scoring games, 10-plus assists twice and one double-double.

Duhon was a point guard at Duke from 2000-04. He then played for the Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks, and Orlando Magic before joining the Lakers.

2012-13 Lakers Report Card: Bench backcourt

May, 2, 2013
5/02/13
12:18
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
For a franchise that has won 16 titles, any Los Angeles Lakers season that doesn't end with a championship is considered a failure. But rather than just dole out a blanket "F" for the Lakers' disappointing 2012-13 season, we're going to break down each player's production in groups, beginning with the bench backcourt. Check back for grades on the bench front court, starters and the Lakers' coaching staff and front office.

STEVE BLAKE


In the four starts Blake made after Kobe Bryant went out with season-ending Achilles surgery, Blake was the Lakers’ most consistent offensive threat on the floor. Blake averaged 18.8 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 1.5 steals in those four games -- two wins to end the regular season and get L.A. into the playoffs and two losses to start off the postseason against San Antonio before suffering a season-ending hamstring injury of his own.


The pulled hamstring was a particularly unfortunate way for Blake to go out. The Lakers' injury-plagued season was perhaps cruelest for Blake, as he also missed 27 games during the regular season with a groin and abdomen injury and had the bizarre incident when he stepped on a spike strip in a beach parking lot that caused him to miss a chunk of training camp.


“As everybody knows, it was a tough year injury-wise, not only for myself but for the entire team,” Blake said after his exit interview. “Whenever we took a couple steps forward, there was an injury there to make us take steps back. But, I was pleased with the way I played throughout the year even though I was hurt.”

Stats


7.3 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 3.8 rpg, 26.1 mpg, .422 fg, .421 3fg -- all of these averages were Blake’s best in his three seasons with L.A.

Outlook for 2013-14


Blake is one of four players on the team -- along with Bryant, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace -- who is eligible to be waived via the Lakers’ one-time amnesty clause this summer. At one time, it seemed feasible for L.A. to use it on Blake. Not anymore. Blake’s $4 million deal for the last year of his contract looks like a bargain for next season, especially because the Lakers can’t rely on the 39-year-old Steve Nash to stay healthy all season.

Grade

B: Blake was a very important piece for L.A. this season and stepped up when he was needed. His grade would have been better if he hadn’t missed so many games because of injury.

JODIE MEEKS


The Lakers had very limited resources available to them last summer to attract free agents and used up half ($1.5 million) of their mini mid-level exception on Meeks. The 6-4 shooting guard had a rocky season in L.A., but eventually settled in along with Blake and Antawn Jamison as one third of the Lakers’ core group off the bench as they made their playoff push.


He certainly had his moments -- a baseline dunk in overtime to seal a win against Houston in the regular season finale, 14 points in a must-have road win in Sacramento late in the season, 12 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter during an incredible comeback in New Orleans, and 21 points on 7-for-8 shooting from deep against Denver -- but he was largely inconsistent. After staying healthy all season, he too fell victim to the injury bug, missing the Lakers’ final three playoff games with a sprained left ankle.

Stats


7.9 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 0.9 apg, .387 fg, .357 3fg -- Meeks’ numbers took a dip across the board from his previous season with the Philadelphia 76ers.

Outlook for 2013-14


The Lakers have a team option for Meeks at $1.55 million that Meeks’ camp expects to be exercised. If he can improve his accuracy and consistency, he could be a steal. Plus, with Bryant’s status up in the air for the start of the season as he recovers from his Achilles, Meeks could be leaned on more in the early going. “My shooting was up and down this season for whatever reason. I’ll be ready to come back next year and (get better); this system fits me perfectly and (Mike D’Antoni) has a lot of confidence in me,” Meeks said at after his exit interview.

Grade

C: Meeks was an X-factor at times, but hard to trust night-in and night-out.

DARIUS MORRIS


It’s rare in the NBA for a team to have a player considered a home-grown talent, but Morris fits that description as he matriculated at Winward High School in L.A. and then was plucked in the second round out of Michigan to learn at the feet of Bryant the last two seasons. “He gave me a lot of insight about stuff on and off the court,” Morris said of Bryant. “He became a mentor to me, kept me encouraged, and I really appreciate that.”


If Morris’ rookie year was about improving his body, as he added 15 pounds of muscle, his sophomore season was about getting that body to perform in games. Morris made incremental improvements, most notably on defense, but he still has a lot to learn. He finished off the season strong, however, averaging 14 points and 4 assists in the Lakers’ final three playoff games after Bryant, Nash, Blake and Meeks went out.

Stats


4 ppg, 1.2 rpg, 1.6 apg, .388 fg, .364 3fg -- Morris’ points, rebounds and assists all went up from his rookie year, but his shooting percentages slid significantly.

Outlook for 2013-14


Morris could be brought back on a minimum deal. The Lakers like his attitude and work ethic and he likely hasn’t done enough in his two seasons in L.A. to generate much interest around the league. Bryant said the Lakers’ top needs heading into next season were “length, speed and athleticism” and Morris fits two out of three, which isn’t a bad place to start.

Grade

C -: After starting 17 games early on in the season, D’Antoni didn’t trust Morris’ decision-making skills enough to play him so much that when L.A. was plagued with injuries, the coach limited his rotation to seven players at times rather than give Morris another shot.

ANDREW GOUDELOCK


In one of the few feel-good parts of the Lakers’ nightmarish season, Goudelock -- a 2011 second round draft pick by the Lakers and a 2012 training camp cut -- was called up from the D-League shortly before the playoffs, after Bryant was injured. His time back with the team was short as the Lakers’ season was over two weeks after he was signed, but Goudelock reminded everybody why he deserves a chance back in the NBA, averaging 17 points in two starts in Games 3 and 4 against San Antonio.


“I definitely think I’ve come a long way,” Goudelock said at his exit interview. “From getting cut [by the Lakers in training camp], going to the D-League for the whole season, winning the MVP and then coming back and getting significant minutes [in the playoffs] . . . It was crazy.”

Stats


12 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 1.0 apg, 1.7 spg, .444 fg, .200 3fg -- Goudelock’s playoff stats in three games played in the first round.

Outlook for 2013-14


Goudelock proved that he can not only dominate the D-League, he can perform in the NBA when the playoffs pressure cooker is on. There are still deficiencies to his game, most notably his lack of size on defense, that won’t make it an automatic for him to latch back onto an NBA roster, but his shooting will give him a chance. Whether that chance will be with the Lakers will be worked out after L.A. goes through its other major offseason moves.

Grade

A: Goudelock couldn’t have reasonably done any more with the opportunity he was given. He maximized it.

CHRIS DUHON


Duhon was not targeted by L.A., but rather came to the Lakers as part of the Dwight Howard deal to make the numbers work. Ten games into the season, Duhon found himself with an ally in new coach Mike D’Antoni, who coached him back when they were both with the New York Knicks. Injuries to Nash and Blake, coupled with D’Antoni’s trust, gave Duhon an opportunity to start nine games and he filled in capably -- 6.9 points, 5.4 assists and a 42.1 percent mark on his 3-pointers. The nine-year veteran was a back-up and solid bench presence the rest of the season, but seldom used once D’Antoni settled on a shortened rotation when the Lakers were making a late-season push for the playoffs.

Stats


2.9 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 2.9 apg, .382 fg, .363 3fg -- Not impressive stats, but his 3.3 assists to turnover ratio was respectable for a point guard.

Outlook for 2013-14


Duhon’s $3.8 million salary for next season can be bought out by the Lakers by June 30 for approximately $1.5 million. L.A will go that route and Duhon will not be back with the team next season. He mentioned in his exit interview that he is interested in getting into coaching.

Grade

C: Duhon remained a professional in a topsy-turvy season for the Lakers.

Lakers exit interviews: Day 1 highlights

April, 29, 2013
4/29/13
7:28
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The light bulbs on the scoreboard showing the Los Angeles Lakers' 103-82 season-ending loss to the San Antonio Spurs had barely cooled down before they got together one last time to sort through the rubble of their disappointing 2012-13 campaign before saying goodbye for the summer.

The Lakers conducted exit interviews for nine of their 15 players on Monday, with the rest to come on Tuesday.

Here's a recap of what each player had to say to the media, in chronological order, after meeting with Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak on Monday.

CHRIS DUHON
Synopsis: Duhon finished with 11 points and seven assists, playing a whopping (and game-high) 43 minutes in Game 4 against San Antonio because of how depleted the Lakers' roster was after not receiving consistent playing time since January.

Lakers future: Duhon is set to make $3.9 million next season if L.A. keeps him around. The more likely scenario is the Lakers buy him out for the $1.5 million that's partially guaranteed in his contract and go their separate ways. "We’re going to talk," Duhon said. "I’ll be here all summer. I’ll be engaged. I have until June 30 for them to pick up my option. We talked about it, and that’s what it is. It’s talk. I’ll be here, we’ll be in contact and whatever decision they make, we’re going to make that decision and go from there."

On Dwight Howard: "I think he’s learned from Orlando, like I’ve always told him, ‘Do what’s best for you.’ Do what’s best for you and your family, whatever makes you happy and keep that to yourself. He’s always been a people-pleaser, always trying to go out into the media and get the media on his side, [but] for him, it’s about him and his family. What makes Dwight happy, that’s what he needs to do. Whatever makes Dwight happy. … He can be happy here in L.A. Why not? This is a great city, a great town. Obviously, it’s an organization with a great tradition and pride, and he should be one of those guys that eventually will get a statue here."

Best quote: On why the Lakers had trouble establishing an identity -- "Injuries, two coaches in one year, not a training camp, injuries, injuries again, another injury. … I mean, I think probably every member on this team has been injured and missed a game this year. I've never experienced that in my nine years in this league. I think we had five guys have major surgeries. This has been a wacky year."

METTA WORLD PEACE
Synopsis: World Peace limped into the practice facility after missing the second half of Game 3 and all of Game 4 after getting a cyst in his left leg drained. He was generally in good spirits, even wearing a Cookie Monster T-Shirt in an ode to a bizarre off-court incident that happened back in February.

Lakers future: World Peace has a player option for $7.7 million. If he exercises it, he could become an easy target for the Lakers' amnesty clause. "You never know, anything could happen," World Peace said. He added he "definitely" wants to be a Laker in 2013-14. "I'm very competitive, so when you lose with a team, you want to win with that team," he said. "The only thing on my mind is winning, and winning here."

On Dwight Howard: "It took me a bit to get used to his personality, but once I was around him a lot -- we sat together on the plane -– once I got the chance to know him a little bit, it was an easy adjustment. He played hard. His personality was just different than everybody was used to.

"He’s just different. He’s always happy for the most part. In games, he’s really serious; not all the time, sometimes. But when it’s like crunch time, he’s very serious. Pregame, the locker room is very at ease. So you got to get used to a franchise player like that."

Injury outlook: World Peace returned to the lineup just 12 days after left knee surgery, but still needs the summer to get back to 100 percent. "As of right now, I'll just take six weeks and heal up," World Peace said, citing the original time frame of play he was expected to miss.

Best quote: On Washington Wizards center Jason Collins' decision to announce that he is gay -- "You should be free to act and do what you want to do as long as it's not violent, no matter what it is. I came here in a Cookie Monster shirt because I wanted to. And I was going to wear the pants, but I thought you guys were going to judge me. And I was going to wear the hat too, but I figured you guys were going to judge me and I didn't want Mitch to judge me. So that's why I didn't wear the hat and the pants, but I should have wore it. You should be free to do and act how you want to act.

"When you can feel comfortable with yourself, not only does it make you a better person, it's unnecessary stress. As we all know, if you're holding things in it can create unnecessary stress to your heart, to your mind and when you can release it and talk about it, you feel better. That's how it should be with anything. Not just coming out if you're gay or if you have a mental issue, or whatever other issue or stigma you have out there, you feel better."

STEVE NASH
Synopsis: The season was a nightmare for Nash, bookended by a broken leg and a bothersome hip and hamstring, but he still appreciated the Lakers life after being on the other side for so long as a rival. "It was an amazing experience to play for this franchise and for this fan base," Nash said. "I think that's the one thing that burns me right now, that it didn't go the way I envisioned. I really wanted to have a huge impact on the team and really make this an incredible year and experience for the fans, players and everybody involved. So, great experience for me, I'm really thrilled to be a part of the franchise and just hope that next year we can repay everybody for their loyalty and their enthusiasm."

Lakers future: Nash has two years and $19 million remaining on his contract with the Lakers. He's set to play seasons Nos. 18 and 19 of his career in L.A.

Injury outlook: Nash missed the final two games of the playoffs with a right hip injury and nerve damage in his right hamstring, which required four epidural injections and a cortisone shot in the last two weeks. But the 39-year-old is already on the mend. "I'm not going to take any time off," Nash said. "I'm going to start rehabbing right away and try to get right." Nash estimated it would take a month to get back to 100 percent and added, "I don't have any concern and I haven't gotten wind from anyone on the medical staff that there's concern for long-term issues or for next season to be in jeopardy. But I still have a little bit of work to do to get right."

Best quote: On the team camaraderie, or lack thereof -- "In the big picture, I think relationships were formed, relationships were kept and developed that were really positive. I think that's the only reason we didn't sputter out of control and find ourselves out of the playoffs."

More to come. For more on the day, read this story featuring World Peace and Nash's thoughts on Howard.

Duhon dances, D'Antoni notices

March, 13, 2013
3/13/13
6:57
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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ATLANTA -- From the creator of the "Travel Dance" we give you Chris Duhon's latest bench celebration.

Despite not playing a single second in the Los Angeles Lakers' 106-97 win over the Orlando Magic on Tuesday, there might not have been a more animated player in purple and gold than Duhon.

The nine-year veteran broke out a cheer I hadn't seen from him before when Jodie Meeks hit a 3-pointer and again when Earl Clark connected from downtown. Once the 3s went down, it was Duhon's cue to crouch down off the bench, put one foot on the court while game action was continuing down the other end and kneel with his other leg as he straightened three fingers on each hand and pointed them toward the ground as he motioned his arms up and down over and over.

What was that exactly?

"It's just something we did in Orlando, Quentin Richardson and I," Duhon said. "We were a rock band. We both had the guitars and J.J. [Redick] was on the drums and we always did that for 3s."

Duhon didn't have a name for his dance on Tuesday (although I think "Ooh-three wally wally, ooh-three bang bang" would be ridiculous enough to work) but said it wasn't as wild as he can get.

"That was kind of our subtle one," Duhon said. "You'll see us do the air guitars. It was just something that would always keep us into the game."

(Read full post)

Rapid Reaction: Sixers 103, Lakers 99

January, 1, 2013
1/01/13
10:18
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- It had the feeling of a letdown game when you saw it on the schedule. What was going to wake up the Lakers for a game on New Year's Day against a sub-.500, Andrew Bynum-less Philadelphia 76ers team that L.A. just beat in Philly about two weeks ago with relative ease?

"It’s always a tricky game on a holiday," Pau Gasol warned at practice Monday. "So it’s a game that we need, and then we’ll think about the next one when we get to it."

Turns out that road win against the Sixers was a bit misleading, because UCLA product Jrue Holiday wasn't playing. With Holiday's 26 points and 10 assists, Philadelphia was a whole different animal on Tuesday.

How it happened: After falling behind by 11 early, the Lakers let a four-point halftime deficit swell to eight headed into the fourth quarter. Kobe Bryant and Metta World Peace tried to shoot the Lakers back into the game in the fourth quarter, but the closest L.A. would come was within two points after a Bryant 3-pointer, which was immediately followed by a Spencer Hawes jumper to bump it back to four points.

What it means: Consistent energy and effort have been elusive mistresses for the Lakers this season. As 2013 begins, they'll have to try to find that six-of-seven-wins momentum they had at the end of 2012.

Hits: Kobe Bryant got back on the 30-point train with 36 points on 14-for-29 shooting to lead all scorers.

Jordan Hill had 10 points and eight rebounds in 19 minutes, but eight of those points and six of those boards came in the eight minutes he played in the first quarter.

Misses: It took Dwight Howard until 6:15 remained in the third quarter before he scored his first field goal after starting the game 0-for-5. He managed to chip in 14 rebounds and five blocks, but his mobility didn't seem to be there as he finished with just seven points (1-for-7 from the field and 5-for-10 from the line). Gasol had 11 points and nine rebounds, but his accuracy wasn't much better (2-for-12 overall, 0-for-2 from 3).

The Lakers shot just 3-for-22 as a team from 3-point range (13.6 percent).

Notes: Antawn Jamison received a DNP-CD for the sixth straight game. … Chris Duhon did not play because of back spasms. He said he will "definitely" be ready for the Lakers' next game Friday against the Los Angeles Clippers.

Stat of the night: Don't blame this one on turnovers. The Lakers had just seven of them, leading to six Philly points.

What's next: The Lakers-Clippers rivalry has certainly picked up in recent seasons, with Blake Griffin making the Lakers' Staples Center cohabitants relevant again and the Chris Paul trade fiasco adding fuel to the fire. The Clippers won't be coming into Friday's game riding a long winning streak (it ended at 17 with a loss in Denver on Tuesday), but it should be a great test for the Lakers regardless. The schedule also gives the Lakers a break -- two days without a game before the Clippers matchup. The Lakers have an off day Wednesday and get a practice in Thursday before the game.

Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Duhon (back spasms) misses practice

December, 31, 2012
12/31/12
4:14
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Lakers haven't had much luck with injuries to their point guards this season. Chris Duhon is the latest to join the list.

After pulling out of practice early Sunday because of back spasms, Duhon did not practice Monday, instead using the time to undergo treatment.

"Duhon has a little bit of a back issue," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said. "We’ll see (Tuesday). Treatment today but it’s more of a game-time decision (against the Philadelphia 76ers), probably."

With Steve Blake expected to be out another 3-4 weeks following abdominal surgery, Duhon had been serving as Steve Nash's primary backup. When Nash was out with a fractured left fibula, Duhon started nine games, averaging 6.9 points and 5.4 assists while shooting 42.1 percent on 3-pointers. For the season, Duhon is averaging 4.1 points and 3.7 assists in 22.8 minutes per game.

D'Antoni said he could use Darius Morris, who has been starting at shooting guard of late, as Nash's backup if Duhon can't play against the 76ers.

"Look at him, he can play," D'Antoni said of Morris. "He can play some minutes. He’s strong. He’s young. So, he can go."

Morris also started games this season at point guard while Nash and Blake were out.

Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Rapid Reaction: Cavaliers 100, Lakers 94

December, 11, 2012
12/11/12
7:27
PM PT
Buha By Jovan Buha
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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Just when it looked as if it couldn't get any worse for the Los Angeles Lakers, things may have hit a season low Tuesday after a 100-94 road loss at the hands of one of the NBA's worst teams, the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Kyrie Irving, playing in his first game in more than three weeks because of a broken finger in his non-shooting hand, kept the trend alive of opposing point guards torching the Lakers' defense. Irving had 28 points on 11-of-21 shooting, to go along with 11 assists and 6 rebounds.

Irving's inspired play seemingly affected the rest of his teammates, as C.J. Miles (28 points, 10-of-18 shooting, 5 3-pointers), Anderson Varejao (20 points, 9 rebounds, 3 steals), and Alonzo Gee (17 points) each took turns dismantling the Lakers' shoddy defense.

On the Lakers' front, Kobe Bryant continued his efficient shooting performances, scoring a season-high 42 points on 16-for-28 shooting. However, Bryant had five turnovers and only two assists, a sign of both his ball dominance and the Lakers' inability to aid his potent offensive attack.

Dwight Howard had a quiet 19 points and 20 rebounds, as he was frustrated with the double- and triple-teams the Cavs threw his way. Besides that, no other Laker had a decent offensive night.

Not all was terrible, though, as L.A. pounded Cleveland on the boards 54-43 and grabbed an astounding 15 offensive rebounds against one of league's top rebounding teams. The Lakers also kept their turnovers low in the second half, with only five.

Where they lost the game was the plethora of turnovers they had in the first half (13), missed free throws (25-for-40, 62.5 percent) and lack of ball movement (only 11 assists).

Pau Gasol sat out his fifth straight game and is still day-to-day. The Lakers are 1-4 in his absence.

The Lakers, now 9-13 on the season, have lost eight of their past 11 games and are 2-7 on the road. Next up are the New York Knicks on Thursday, before L.A. finishes up its four-game trip in Washington on Friday and Philadelphia on Sunday.

Here are four takeaways from the game:

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Sacre and Duhon: Lakers' family affair

December, 7, 2012
12/07/12
3:34
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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It's been a bizarre season for the Los Angeles Lakers, with coaching changes and a seemingly never-ending array of injuries causing a rocky start for the team.

With that said, it almost came as no surprise in this anything-would-be-believable season that Lakers point guard Chris Duhon and backup big man Robert Sacre aren't just teammates; they're related.

"His momma and my dad are second cousins," Sacre said before the Lakers played the New Orleans Hornets earlier this week.

As Sacre continued to trace back the family tree out loud, he seemed to confuse even himself, getting tripped up when he tried to connect how he and Duhon's grandparents would be related to one another.

"I just know we're third … we're third cousins," Sacre said.

Sacre said that despite being related to Duhon, he met his cousin only once prior to becoming teammates with him this year -- at a Duke-Gonzaga game at Madison Square Garden when Duhon came to see his alma mater play against his cousin and the Bulldogs.

"That's when I said, 'You know, we're cousins,'" recalled Sacre.

Despite not having met face-to-face prior to that, the 23-year-old Sacre and the 30-year-old Duhon kept in touch through basketball as they grew up.

"I just remember whenever he was at Duke, he sent me a bunch of posters and, like, signed pictures from Duke, so I have that," Sacre said. "But we didn't know each other before."

When Duhon was traded to the Lakers in August, he hadn't familiarized himself with L.A.'s roster to the point where he realized the Lakers were carrying Sacre on the team after they drafted the 7-footer with the 60th pick of the NBA Draft back in June.

"I didn't know until I came in and we were playing pickup and it was just kind of one of those things," Duhon said after the Lakers game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday. "You're looking at him and it was like he could notice me seeing him and I was like, 'Yo!' and he was like, 'Yeah, we cousins!'

"I was like, 'Yeah, I thought so. You look familiar.' It was just one of those things."

Duhon grew up in Slidell, La., and Sacre spent some of his youth in Baton Rouge, La., when his father, Greg LaFleur, played football for the New Orleans Saints.

"[Duhon's] momma and my dad went to the same high school in Ville Platte, La., so that's where we're all from," Sacre said. "That's how the lineage is."

The rookie Sacre has leaned on Duhon, a nine-year veteran, for advice as the year has gone on.

"He's been great," Sacre said. "He's been an awesome teammate and cousin. He's definitely helped me out with the plays and just the adjustment of being in the NBA."

Said Duhon: "Just telling him what it is going to take for him to stay in the league. Things he needs to do, things he needs to learn about the NBA game, which is completely different from the college game. Just giving him the nuances so he can enjoy a long career."

Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Lakers at Thunder: What to watch

December, 7, 2012
12/07/12
9:22
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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When the Oklahoma City Thunder shocked the world by trading James Harden just days before the season opener, many wondered whether the franchise was prioritizing the bottom line ahead of winning. On and off the court, Harden's been a critical factor in the Thunder's steady rise since 2010, and his do-it-all skill set was often the grease for the dual engines of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Kevin Martin may be a talented scorer, but he's not the same player, and a shorter financial commitment doesn't change that. Clearly, OKC couldn't be written off without Harden, but last season's Western Conference champions appeared poised for a slow start while adjusting to a new dynamic.

That lull lasted precisely three games.

After a 1-2 start, the 15-4 Thunder have lost just two games. They're riding a six-game winning streak, and have put up 100-plus in 10 consecutive contests. Fourth quarters still present times when the reigning sixth man of the year might come in handy, but overall, OKC has moved forward in strong fashion. A game in Oklahoma City always represents a tough challenge, and this one doesn't figure to buck any trends.

For more perspective on OKC, I conducted an IM conversation with Royce Young, who covers the team for the True Hoop network's Daily Thunder blog. Below is the transcript.

Andy Kamenetzky: On the surface, it appears the post-Harden era has commenced without a hitch. Has it been that smooth?

Royce Young: Honestly, it has. I recently looked over the schedule and the only game I thought the Thunder probably would've won with Harden around was the opener against the Spurs. They clearly hadn't adjusted to not having him -- that was only about four days after the trade -- and they didn't close well. Otherwise, by pretty much any metric, not only are the Thunder winning, they're winning better this season. Bigger margin of victory. Better offensive efficiency. Better assist rate. Better defensive efficiency. I guess that's not all that difficult when Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are still on your team.

AK: We've seen Harden serve as an important bridge between Durant and Westbrook in the fourth quarter. How do they operate down the stretch of close games without him?

RY: Basically it's all Westbrook and Durant, all the time. Like you said, Harden was an extremely valuable late-game player. When "Bad Russell" was in the building and playing wild and reckless, the Thunder could just take the ball away from him and let Harden run point and create. And don't get me wrong. There's still a very real fear about crunch-time situations in the postseason. Kevin Martin has fit in extremely well, except during late-game situations. Serge Ibaka is a bit more involved, but it's mostly all Durant and Westbrook. So far, it's worked pretty well. But that doesn't mean it's a lock to work smoothly in May.

This is off the wall, but I'd love to hear your thoughts. In OKC recently, there's been a discussion over who's better: Serge Ibaka or Pau Gasol. Who would you rather have?

AK: Ibaka. He's got two good knees (to the best of my knowledge) which makes him more immediately valuable than Pau. He's also nearly 10 years younger, a huge plus for the long term. And while Ibaka may not be as versatile, he seems like an incredibly hard worker intent on improving weaknesses. (Witness the improved jumper.) Plus, he and Howard would form an absolute wrecking-crew defensive frontcourt. Pau certainly has a better understanding of the game, and is light-years ahead at running an offense. But were Sam Presti to offer a straight swap, I'd say yes in a heartbeat.

You mentioned Martin's snug fit with the second unit, but how has Eric Maynor performed since returning from injury? I thought his absence flew under the radar last season.

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Lakers at Hornets: What to watch

December, 5, 2012
12/05/12
11:52
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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For 24 minutes Tuesday night in Houston, it appeared the Lakers were on the verge of bouncing back from a mortifying loss to Orlando with a blowout win over a Rockets squad with consecutive home wins under its belt. After 36 minutes, it seemed the Lakers would simply have to settle for a comfortable win. After 43 minutes, a respectable, if less impressive, single-digit victory. After 47 minutes, a dogfight squeaker W.

And after 48 minutes, they settled instead for an 8-10 record and heads shaken in disbelief.

On the plus side, the Lakers have an immediate opportunity to get back on a winning track against a Hornets squad missing key players and fairly thin even at full strength. On the minus side, a win over a 5-11 squad can't even remotely be taken for granted. Either way, they'll lace up the sneaks and give it a run.

For more perspective on the Hornets, I sent some questions to Joe Gerrity, who covers the team for the TrueHoop Network's Hornets 247 blog.

Andy Kamenetzky: I realize this question could ask you to cover a lot of ground, but what are the main reasons the Hornets are struggling to win games?

Joe Gerrity: Well, they're paying about $36 million of their $63 million in total salary this season to Eric Gordon, Anthony Davis, Rashard Lewis and Matt Carroll. Lewis and Carroll -- both waived after arriving via trade -- have never and will never touch the floor for the Hornets. Gordon is rehabbing in L.A. and continues to have his estimated return date pushed back. Davis has played only six games so far. They're struggling to win because the team they're fielding is less talented and less experienced than the vast majority of opponents. On Monday night, for example, Brian Roberts, Austin Rivers, Xavier Henry, Lance Thomas and Jason Smith were all in the game at the same time for the Hornets.

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New drama, same problems for slow-learning Lakers

December, 4, 2012
12/04/12
11:09
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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HOUSTON -- Your drama-a-day Los Angeles Lakers were back at it Tuesday. During the afternoon they digested the latest team-altering news to occur in their haphazard season -- Pau Gasol deciding to sit out indefinitely to rest his knees -- before belching out an all-too-familiar clunker of a game that night.

Gasol's absence wasn't what derailed them, just like Monday's drama -- Steve Blake scheduling abdominal surgery that will sideline him for six to eight weeks -- was sidestepped without any major setbacks.

Antawn Jamison started in place of Gasol, and put up 15 points on 6-for-11 shooting, nine rebounds and three blocks -- all better numbers than Gasol averages. Chris Duhon got the start with Blake and Steve Nash out, and had a serviceable six points, seven assists and five rebounds of his own.

The story of the Lakers' 107-105 loss to the Houston Rockets on Tuesday was the same one the team has been reliving all season.

Just what are these déjà vu deficiencies that keep coming up for the Lakers?

Start with the turnovers. The Lakers coughed up the ball 19 times, leading to 17 points for the Rockets. L.A. went into the game averaging 16.7 turnovers per game, tied for worst in the league, so it's not like the team hasn't been cognizant of that problem area.

"You turn the ball over, and the other team gets an opportunity to score," Dwight Howard said. "I think they shot 100 and something shots tonight. That’s a lot."

Houston took 101 shots, to be exact. The Lakers took 82. Eighty-two plus 19 equals? Anybody?

Howard had a team-high four turnovers, so he contributed greatly to that repeat offense. But he also was suspect on the free throw line, yet again. A game after going 9-for-21 on free throws in a loss to Orlando in which the Magic went to a Hack-a-Howard strategy, he was just 8-for-16 against the Rockets as the rhythm of the Lakers' offense came to a halt in the final three minutes with each empty parade to the stripe by Howard.

"We have to really lock down solidly defensively, because if we get stops, they are not going to really be able to foul him," said Duhon, who admitted he's "been through this before" as Howard's teammate, with "this" being opponents frequently fouling Howard on purpose. "But if we foul them, put them on the free throw line, or if they score a bucket, then they’re able to set up their defense and foul him."

Not only will defense help combat bush-league tactics by opponents who want to park Howard on the free throw line late in game, but it will help protect late leads. The Lakers led by as many as 13 in the fourth quarter Tuesday before seeing it all disappear, as the Rockets had their biggest quarter of the game with 34 points. In the Orlando loss, it was 40 fourth-quarter Magic points that did L.A. in.

"We had so many breakdowns defensively," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said. "We can’t do that. We took some plays off. It’s a little bit of, ‘Oh my gosh, our record is what it is,’ where we can’t make a mistake."

Kobe Bryant is not afraid to make a mistake, certainly. He's shown time and time again that if he senses his teammates aren't up to the task on a particular night, he'll step into the void and try to shoulder the slack. He tallied 39 points to lead all scorers, shooting a decent 14-for-31 (45.2 percent) from the field, but in doing so, he took the same amount of shots as all four other starters did combined.

The Lakers fell to 1-7 this season when Bryant scores 30 points or more.

"We need to share the ball again," Howard said after the game, making a not-so-vague reference to Bryant's disproportional shot total.

Bryant might have had a little extra cooking other than just going for a win. After shootaround Tuesday morning, I mentioned to him that he was just 52 points from 30,000 for his career and he hadn't had a 50-point game since his 61 against D'Antoni's New York Knicks in Madison Square Garden in February 2009.

"Really? It's been three years since I got 50?" Bryant said. "OK. I'll get it tonight."

Well, after Bryant's 39 against Houston, the 50-less streak continues. That 61 against the Knicks was 266 games ago (in terms of games Bryant has played) and 1,401 days ago (or three years and 306 days ago -- closer to four years, actually).

Bryant setting a goal certainly isn't a problem, and don't forget that James Harden, the NBA's second-leading scorer behind Bryant, went just 3-for-19 in the game. But the heavy-volume game by one scorer isn't what D'Antoni's system has ever really been about.

And problems picking up D'Antoni's system is the header under which all the other recurring problems reside, if you really think about it.

"I really believe that we’re closer than what most people have to say," D'Antoni said after the game before echoing himself later.

"We're close. I keep repeating it."

Yet the Lakers keep repeating the same problems.

Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Lakers at Rockets: What to watch

December, 4, 2012
12/04/12
9:16
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
Under the best of circumstances, conventional wisdom dictated the Lakers would require some time to jell. With so many new faces (and at the time, a new offense, which eventually sparked the decision for a new coach), instant chemistry would be a tall order. However, the opening 17 games on the schedule were, in theory, a reprieve of sorts. Home-heavy with few games against contenders from either conference, this slate of contests was made to be exploited ... or frittered away through poor execution, inconsistent play, injuries and periodically middling energy, whichever makes the most sense.

The Lakers are now 8-9 and staring down nine December road games. The first comes against the Houston Rockets, a similarly rebuilt team tasked with coming together on the fly. After a slow start, they're seemingly in better sync these days, having won four of their past five games. Not that the Lakers have earned the right to take any team lightly -- just ask the Orlando Magic -- but Houston may offer a tougher contest than I certainly figured a month ago.

For more perspective on the Rockets, I sent some questions to Rahat Huq, who covers the team for the TrueHoop network's Red94 blog. Below are his responses.

Andy Kamenetzky: When these teams met at Staples Center on Nov. 17 for an eventual Rockets loss, Houston was 3-6 heading into the game. They're now 8-8. What's happened to explain this?

Rahat Huq: Offensively, the Rockets have been playing out of their minds, averaging 113 ppg on 49 percent shooting overall (46 percent from deep) during their current five-game home winning streak. They’ve also gotten consistent contributions across the board, with all five starters in double figures in each of their past three home games. In the most recent outing against Utah, seven Rockets finished with at least 13.

Plus, third-year forward Patrick Patterson has been a revelation. The Kentucky product has put in at least 20 points in four of Houston’s past five games, scoring from an assortment of spots, including the corner 3. In his past 10 games, Patterson has averaged 17 ppg on 55 percent shooting from the field and 43 percent from behind the arc.

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Rapid Reaction: Lakers 122, Nuggets 103

November, 30, 2012
11/30/12
11:04
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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After Tuesday's lemon against Indiana, this was just what the doctor ordered. Defensively, there were issues, particularly when it came to stopping ball penetration. But the Lakers played with great energy all night, and the offense was souped up with a D'Antonian engine. As always, work remains to be done, but this win, which pushed the Lakers to .500, represents a potential step in the right direction.

1) Dwight Howard looked as "Dwight Howard-y" as we've seen all season
Howard's messy departure from Orlando, which directly coincided with Stan Van Gundy's dismissal, left Superman branded as something of a coach killer. But tonight he looked like a brown-nosing coach's pet. As Dave McMenamin noted before the game, assistant coach Dan D'Antoni had the following message written on the locker room white board:

"Dwight win the damn game. I don't care how!!"

Well, never let it be said the guy doesn't follow marching orders. From the moment Howard set foot on the court, he was clearly looking to put his stamp on events. With the first quarter barely halfway finished, he'd already converted four baskets and typically drew fouls when he couldn't finish. After slipping a high screen set for Kobe Bryant, he stayed parallel with Kobe as he rolled to the bucket, setting himself up nicely for the eventual dump-off pass. The court was run after a Denver miss, which resulted in an over-the-shoulder feed from Darius Morris and a thunder dunk on the trailing catch.

The frame itself was concluded with a whopping 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting, five rebounds and two blocks, but Howard's impact was also felt in ways not directly measured by the box score. He protected the rim to alter a driving layup by Ty Lawson and the new possession was eventually turned into a 3-pointer from Morris.

That first-quarter tone was matched for another three, even after an eyelid laceration forced Howard into the locker room for treatment from trainer Gary Vitti. Twenty-eight points. Twenty boards. Three blocks. Dude even drained a 3-pointer in the closing seconds, but unlike the center he replaced, there was no cockiness nor defiance fueling the launch. It was pure joy, and Howard grinned like a kid in a candy store after the rock found bottom. And after a night like this one, the guy earned the right to take any shot he darn well pleased.

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Lakers vs. Nuggets: What to watch

November, 30, 2012
11/30/12
9:20
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
If the Lakers have been the most underwhelming team relative to expectations so far this season, the Denver Nuggets may run a close second. After pushing L.A. to the limits in a tough, seven-game first round series during the 2012 playoffs, the ingredients appeared in place to build on that momentum. Andre Iguodala was brought into the fold. JaVale McGee and Andre Miller were retained. And with (Coloradan fingers crossed) improved team-wide health, roster continuity would allow George Karl to guide his deep team to the next level. Instead, the Nuggets stumbled out of the gate, and have spent November hovering around the .500 mark. Like the Lakers, the search for fluidity and consistency remains a frustrating exercise in trial and error for the Nuggets.

For more knowledge about tonight's guests, I sent five questions to Joel Rush, who covers the Nuggets for the True Hoop network's Roundball Mining Company. Below are his responses, and here is a link to my thoughts on five Lakers questions from Joel.

Andy Kamenetzky: The Nuggets haven't gotten off to the start that many (certainly myself) expected. Why have they struggled and what, if anything, has improved?

Joel Rush: Nuggets fans have also been surprised and disappointed by the sluggish start, and there's been a lot of head-scratching as to why. In reality, it was a combination of factors. It has taken Iguodala longer than many expected to mesh with his new team. Danilo Gallinari started off the season in a horrible slump stemming in part from a bad ankle. Wilson Chandler has effectively sat out the season due to his hip injury. After signing a four-year, $48 million extension, Ty Lawson came out of the gate stumbling with subpar effort and a lack of the aggression that's so critical in driving Denver's offense. JaVale McGee's potential was showcased in Games 3 and 5 of last season's L.A.-Denver playoff series, so Lakers Nation will understand why Nuggets fans were cautiously optimistic he was poised to make positive strides. But that hasn't yet happened.

The Nuggets have struggled in finding consistent, lasting solutions. Steps back repeatedly follow steps forward. Until they can find some answers that stick, the Nuggets may at times have winning stretches, but they'll have their share of setbacks as well.

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The Lakers bench shows signs of life

November, 27, 2012
11/27/12
2:54
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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Last week's road trip wasn't exactly a rousing success (a horrendous effort in Sacramento followed by a frustrating one in Memphis before Saturday's thumping of Dallas), but it provided the first glimpses of real hope for this season's bench crew.

After scoring a total of 45 points in the first 12 games of the season, Antawn Jamison went for 16 against Memphis on Friday night, then added 19 in Dallas on Saturday. In each, he hoisted 11 shots, a veritable explosion relative to the four a night he'd put up to that point. He was productive on the boards as well, grabbing 22 in total. Basically, Jamison looked like the guy Lakers fans (and Lakers management) expected when he was signed over the summer, but hadn't yet seen.

He wasn't the only member of the bench coming alive. Jodie Meeks was a man in exile under Mike Brown, playing only 22 minutes through the first five games. While his playing time increased under Bernie Bickerstaff, Meeks' production didn't. He hit only three of his 15 3-point attempts in the season's second five games and struggled with turnovers. In Sacramento, though, he broke through with a 12-point fourth quarter, and 15 overall. In Memphis, he hit a pair of second half triples, and in Dallas made 3-of-5 from downtown.

For both guys, a big key was a change in how they were deployed. Brown had played Jamison almost exclusively at small forward, in part to utilize his shooting skills but mostly to make room for Jordan Hill, who was among the team's best players in camp. The impulse to play Hill made plenty of sense, but in the process Jamison was pulled out of his comfort zone.

"It was difficult to get into a rhythm when my first three or four shots are three pointers. You’re going to hit one here or there, but it was just tough for me to get into a rhythm. And I’ve always been a guy who can get it from anywhere," he said Monday following practice. "Whether it’s driving to the basket, a put-back, or something off the dribble. Pick and pop. Those are the things that kind of get me into a rhythm, and honestly it was tough getting into one coming in, trying to come in and knock down three’s after sitting down for eight or nine minutes."

In Memphis, Jamison entered the game as a power forward with only one other big on the court, and was almost instantly more productive, able to use the entire floor. In Dallas, he started at the 3, quickly scoring twice with excellent off-ball movement, but again spent plenty of time at the 4 and again produced a good looking shot chart.

Some positive messaging helped as well, helping Jamison push past hesitation that had been dogging him.

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SPONSORED HEADLINES

TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Kobe Bryant
PTS AST STL MIN
22.3 5.6 1.3 34.5
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Hill 8.0
AssistsK. Bryant 5.6
StealsR. Price 1.6
BlocksE. Davis 1.3