Los Angeles Lakers: Jordan Hill
After the Lakers’ 132-125 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday, a game in which Jordan Farmar had 20 points and eight assists in 26 minutes while starting the second half at point guard over Marshall, D’Antoni said he was considering a lineup change, but ultimately decided to stand pat.
“[Farmar] will probably finish the [Clippers] game, maybe, we’ll watch it,” D’Antoni said after shootaround Thursday. “But we’re good.”
Marshall has gone scoreless in four out of the Lakers’ last five games, going 3-for-24 (12.5 percent) overall during that span.
“He has to get out of his slump, mini-slump, and we think the best way to get out of it is to play out of it,” said D’Antoni. “You got to be careful with peoples’ egos. It’s a tough position anyway, and just because somebody is in a little bit of a slump you don’t want to exacerbate the problem. That’s one. And Kendall is good about distributing the ball, getting it up and throwing the ball up and getting everybody involved.”
Marshall was the last player on the Lakers’ practice court Thursday, getting up extra shot attempts.
“You miss shots,” Marshall said. “You can’t expect to shoot 100 percent all the time. It’s a part of the game. You’re going to miss shots, you’re going to go through a slump, but you got to find a way to get out of it.”
Marshall, who has averaged 9.4 points, 11.0 assists and 34.3 minutes in 24 games as a starter with L.A. and 7.2 points, 5.3 assists and 21.0 minutes in nine games off the bench, said that he tries not to worry about a starting role.
“It’s all about what you do when you’re on the court,” Marshall said. “Whether that’s six minutes, 20 minutes or 40 minutes, you got to make the most of that time. Jordan has been playing great for us, we’ve played well when he’s on the court and he’s a great teammate.”
Despite Marshall’s shot being off lately, he has still dished out double-digit assists in each of the last three games. It is a rare feat by the second-year player. While Marshall totaled zero points and 10-plus assists in two of the last three games, the rest of the league combined has just three games like that all season, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
“Obviously I’m still able to get my teammates involved,” Marshall said. “So, as long as I’m doing that, the scoring is a bonus. But the main thing for me, what I strive in, is getting teammates involved.”
Perhaps the matchup with the Clippers’ Chris Paul will motivate Marshall. Paul, who Marshall said was the best point guard in the league, has become a bit of a mentor to the fellow ACC product (Paul went to Wake Forest, Marshall went to North Carolina) and Marshall even participated in Paul’s camp when he was younger.
“He’s kind of been like a big brother to me, honestly,” Marshall said. “From my time late in high school to throughout college, he was always giving me a word of advice and this summer, even when I went through being waived and stuff, he was there talking to me and everything. So, he’s been great for me and he’s a guy that I really look up to.”
Paul has helped Marshall’s confidence grow during his unconventional path in the NBA, from being traded by the team that drafted him (Phoenix) after just one season, to being waived by the Washington Wizards to being called up from the Delaware 87ers of the D-League by the Lakers.
“Just telling me that I am a player in this league and guys are going to go through these types of things all the time,” Marshall said of Paul’s advice. “You just have to find a way to fight through it.”
If Marshall doesn’t retain his starting spot moving forward, he could soon find himself competing with Xavier Henry for back-up point guard minutes. Henry, back on the court this week for the first time since a bone bruise in his right knee sidelined him in late December, will get a chance to run point also.
“We could go bigger which helps a lot of the mismatches,” D’Antoni said. “Yes, it’s something we want to try. I don’t know if we’re quite ready yet. But it’s something we want to look at in the last 20 games.”
Lakers forward Jordan Hill will not play against the Clippers and is considered day to day because of a sore right knee. Hill had already found himself out of D’Antoni’s rotation, collecting two straight Did Not Play – Coach’s Decisions in the Lakers’ last two games.
While nobody in L.A. was happy to see Steve Blake go at the trade deadline, the Lakers were able to save $4 million in the deal and may have found a keeper or two in Bazemore and Brooks in their trade with Golden State. After joining the Lakers for a shootaround before playing in their first game, the former Warriors combined for 18 fourth-quarter points against the Celtics, with Bazemore finishing with a career-high 15 points and Brooks scoring a season-high 14 on 7-for-11 shooting with three steals.
As bad as the Lakers have been this season, most of their struggles have come because of injuries (despite what coach Mike D'Antoni's lack of popularity in L.A. would suggest). It was no coincidence the Lakers finally ended their eight-game home losing streak with a 101-92 win over the Celtics thanks in large part to Gasol's 16 points and seven rebounds in his first game back from a right groin strain, and also the return of Meeks, who has led the team in scoring (17.5 points per game) in the two games he played since recovering from a sprained right ankle.
Lakers stay conservative at the trade deadline:
Leading up the trade deadline it seemed as if Gasol, Jordan Hill and Chris Kaman would all be on their way out of town if there were draft picks to be had and luxury-tax relief attached to the deal. Instead, the Lakers chose to stand pat after the Blake deal, setting up what is sure to be an offseason flush with activity.
Dwight Howard makes his triumphant return to Staples Center:
Lakers fans tried to take out their frustrations for the last year and a half of the franchise's struggles by chanting "Dwight Sucks!" when Howard and the Houston Rockets played at Staples Center against the Lakers for the first time since the All-Star center left L.A. in the offseason. Howard just laughed in their face, mocking the jeer by joining in himself, at the end of a night when he put up 20 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks on the way to a 134-108 win for his new team.
Another setback for Kobe Bryant:
The chances of Bryant making a return to the court sometime during the 2013-14 season are becoming slim. One day after Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said, "We're not going to push him to get back," Bryant was examined by Lakers physician Steve Lombardo and it was determined the star guard would miss at least three more weeks because of pain and swelling in his left knee before being re-evaluated. Of course at that point, Bryant would likely need another week or two of practice and conditioning before he would play in a game. If that's the case, there would be about only a dozen games left -- if that -- in the season for Bryant to return to.
"I would hope right now, we need a win," D'Antoni said when asked how much he thinks about the long-standing rivalry between the two teams. "I don't care who walks into the arena."
Just like Pitino said Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish were "not walking through that door," a championship version of the Celtics didn't come into Staples Center on Friday, nor were these Celtics being hosted by a title-contending group of Lakers, either.
Staples Center was the site of the last great moment in the rivalry's history -- Game 7 of the 2010 Finals -- but so much has changed since then that only four players combined from both rosters (Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Jordan Farmar and Rajon Rondo) were on either team that night.
"A lot of us in the locker room have never been a part of those games, but I think everybody gets it and I think everybody at different times throughout their lives have watched it in awe," first-year Celtics coach Brad Stevens said.
There wasn't a championship anywhere within reach for the two teams that came into the night a combined 35 games under .500, but there were some awe-inspiring moments from a couple of new Lakers in Kent Bazemore (15 points, four assists, three rebounds) and MarShon Brooks (14 points on 7-for-11 shooting), who combined to score 18 points in the fourth quarter to lift the Lakers to a 101-92 win, their first at home in nine games and a 2-0 season sweep of the Celtics.
How it happened: The Celtics jumped out to an 11-point lead in the first half before L.A. cut it to two heading into the third quarter. Boston pushed its cushion back up to as many as 13 in the third, but L.A. came out like gangbusters in the fourth quarter, erasing the deficit and pushing its own lead all the way up to double digits at 10 points en route to the runaway win.
What it means: L.A. stopped the bleedingl, and maybe with Gasol back healthy and the returns of Nick Young and Xavier Henry potentially right around the corner, these final 27 games of the season won't be quite as ugly as the first 55.
Hits: Other than Brooks' and Bazemore's impressive debuts, L.A. was helped by its big men. Gasol had 16 points and seven rebounds, Chris Kaman had 16 points and eight boards and Jordan Hill had 10 and 12.
Misses: Wesley Johnson's hot month of February was subdued with an 0-for-4 shooting night with four fouls.
Stat of the game: 8-for-24. That's what Boston shot in the fourth quarter as L.A. held the Celtics to 18 points on 33.3 percent shooting.
Up next: L.A. hosts the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday before heading off on a two-game back-to-back on the road in Indianapolis and Memphis, Tenn.
The Lakers have been one of the more active teams in advance of Thursday's deadline as they gauge the market for Gasol and veterans such as Jordan Hill, Chris Kaman and Steve Blake. With their record at 18-35 heading into Wednesday's game against the Houston Rockets, it makes little sense to pay luxury taxes and be in line to pay the more punitive repeater taxes in the future.
However, sources said the Lakers have remained resolute in every trade discussion not to trade Gasol without acquiring an asset in return, and that there is a growing sentiment within the organization that it could be more valuable to hold on to Gasol and his Bird rights as he becomes a free agent and the organization has substantial room under the salary cap for the first time in years.
The Lakers have stayed in contact with the two teams who had earlier showed interest in the four-time All-Star -- the Phoenix Suns and the Cleveland Cavaliers -- but sources said none of those discussions has made substantial progress.
On Tuesday, CBS Sports reported the Lakers and Dallas Mavericks were trying to assemble trade offers for 2015 prospective free agent Kevin Love, but thus far the Minnesota Timberwolves have given no indication they'd consider any such deal before the deadline.
The Lakers did inquire about Minnesota's interest in teaming Gasol with his Spanish countryman Ricky Rubio recently, according to a source, but those talks did not progress.
The Charlotte Observer reported the Charlotte Bobcats have been in contact with the Lakers about Gasol as they try to make a playoff push this spring.
The Suns had backed away from talks with the Lakers earlier this month when the 33-year-old suffered an injured groin that has kept him out for the past six games. Gasol had averaged 20.8 points and 11.9 rebounds in January before the injury. He practiced Tuesday and is listed as questionable for Wednesday's game.
The original construction of the talks between the Lakers and Phoenix involved injured center Emeka Okafor, who is owed $14.5 million in salary this season. While that falls well shy of Gasol's $19.3 million, it is allowable because the Suns are $5.6 million under the salary cap. A trade for Okafor's expiring deal would save the Lakers $4.8 million, but still leave them approximately $3 million over the luxury tax threshold.
The Lakers have concurrently had talks about Kaman, Hill, Blake and several other players. Sources confirmed to ESPNNewYork.com's Ohm Youngmisuk that Brooklyn and the Lakers have had trade discussions about Hill. The Nets have a $5.25 million Disabled Player Exception through March 10 that they were granted for losing Brook Lopez for rest of the season in December. But the Nets -- already possessing a payroll that will cost roughly $190 million this season -- would take an additional luxury tax hit of more than $15 million if they used it to absorb Hill's salary. The Hill discussions were first reported by Yahoo Sports.
After having a reason to feel good about themselves for the first time in a while as they finished their road trip on a two-game winning streak, the Los Angeles Lakers came back down to earth Sunday against the Chicago Bulls.
The Lakers did their best to make a game of it after falling down 10-0 to start and trailing by as many as 19 at one point, but a loss is a loss and Sunday's defeat marks 20 in the past 25 games for the Lakers.
How it happened: L.A. used a 9-2 run late in the fourth quarter to cut the Bulls lead to 86-80 with 1:28 left and got even closer with a Wesley Johnson dunk bringing the Lakers within four at 88-84 with 48.3 seconds left. L.A. got D.J. Augustin to miss a jumper on the next possession but turned the ball over on a Steve Blake pass when the Lakers streaked down the court to try to cut the deficit to two. Augustin responded with two free throws to put Chicago back up by six. Chris Kaman air-balled a 3 on the Lakers' final possession, despite a great game up to that point.
What it means: Those 10 "Did Not Play - Coach's Decision" that Kaman racked up in 15 games in January seem awful suspect after the former All-Star center put in 17 points, eight rebounds and three blocks against Philadelphia followed by an impressive 27-point, 10-rebound, two-block game against the Bulls. At the very least, he could be establishing some value on the trade market.
Hits: Kendall Marshall had 13 points and 11 assists off the bench and Jordan Hill had 15 points and nine rebounds, making their efforts as a reserve trio along with Kaman really stand out, especially considering L.A.'s starters combined for just 24 points.
Misses: The Lakers had 18 turnovers leading to 17 points for Chicago.
Steve Nash left the game early with nerve irritation in his left leg.
Jordan Farmar did not play as a precautionary measure because of hamstring tightness. He is considered day-to-day.
Stat of the game: 17. That's the combined number of healthy bodies the Bulls and Lakers had for the game.
Up next: The Lakers host Utah on Tuesday and Oklahoma City on Thursday before, mercifully, being given four days off to rest up and hopefully get some players healthy for the final 29 games of the season.
CLEVELAND -- Despite the Los Angeles Lakers coming into Wednesday night's game against the Cleveland Cavaliers with just eight healthy bodies available to play, coach Mike D'Antoni refused to use injuries as a crutch.
"We can play better, and we need to concentrate on that and not worry about the other stuff we can’t control," D'Antoni said with a little defiance, perhaps a little hopefulness. "Our guys are going to battle through it, and we’re just trying to stay positive and get better -- individually better and the team better -- and every game try to make a win out of it."
And the Lakers made D'Antoni look prophetic, for a little while, at least.
They tied their season high with 36 points in the first quarter and then set a new season high with 70 points in the first half, shooting 62.5 percent from the field as a team in the process. They led by 21 at the break.
But then Nick Young twisted his left knee on a fast break and did not return, and L.A. was down to seven players.
And then Chris Kaman fouled out, and the Lakers were down to six.
And then Jordan Farmar felt something tighten up in his left calf, and they were down to five.
And then Robert Sacre fouled out with 3:32 to go and the Lakers were down to five? Still? Sacre was allowed to stay in the game by virtue of a little-known NBA rule that requires teams to keep five players on the court at all times, even if a player has fouled out. The Cavs were simply rewarded a technical foul on top of Sacre's sixth personal foul and play continued on.
"I've never seen this situation before!!" Pau Gasol tweeted as he followed along from L.A. "Did anybody know about this rule!?"
It was bizarre. It was extraordinary. It was par for the course for this topsy-turvy Lakers season.
Steve Nash, who was supposed to have the night off, even scrambled to put on a jersey and get back to the bench in case the Lakers needed him.
They didn't need him. They actually won, breaking their seven-game losing streak.
How it happened: The Cavs cut the Lakers' 29-point lead all the way down to eight with less than three minutes left in the fourth quarter, but Blake hit two 3-pointers in the final minutes to keep L.A. afloat.
What it means: Sure, the Lakers almost blew a huge lead, and, true, they allowed a 16th straight opponent to score 100-plus points. But they somehow pulled it off and got the win despite some serious adversity.
Hits: Blake finished with a triple-double with 11 points, 10 rebounds and 15 assists.
Farmar had 21 points and eight assists in his first game since Dec. 31 because of a left hamstring tear.
Ryan Kelly scored a career-high 26.
Wes Johnson kept up his strong road trip with 20 points and nine rebounds.
L.A. shot 18-for-37 from 3 as a team (48.6 percent).
Misses: Both Jodie Meeks (right ankle sprain) and Jordan Hill (neck strain) missed their first game all season long by sitting out against Cleveland. They had been the only Lakers players to appear in every game this season up to that point.
The Lakers were outrebounded 57-40.
Stat of the game: 6-for-6. That's what L.A. started from 3 as a team.
Up next: The Lakers close out their three-game road trip Friday in Philadelphia against the 76ers. They have an off day Thursday.
Here they were, back in the city that started the franchise's reign of dominance over the league for the last 60-plus years and there they looked as vulnerable and pathetic as they've ever appeared in those seven decades.
On the same day the Lakers finally welcomed Steve Nash and Steve Blake back to the lineup for the first time in months, the team saw two more players added to the injury list by halftime as Jodie Meeks suffered a sprained right ankle and Jordan Hill collided with his own teammate, Chris Kaman, knocking him out of the game with a headache and cervical strain in his neck.
That's not even mentioning that Blake ruptured his right ear drum in the first half and played through it.
When asked about the prospect of flying to Cleveland later that night and dealing with the cabin pressure pounding on his punctured ear, Blake shrugged it off.
"Maybe it will hurt," Blake said. "Who knows? Who cares? I'll just get on a plane."
It was with the same casual tone that Nick Young summed up the season for the Lakers, who have lost two out of every three games they've played en route to a 16-32 record with 34 games left.
"Somebody must have put a hex or a curse on us or something," Young said.
Which brings us back to the laughter. When things start to feel helpless, often times the human condition will step in and relieve some of the stress with humor, if only as a survival technique. And so, the Lakers' locker room after the game Tuesday took on more of the feel of a merry wake than a funeral.
After two weeks on the road, the Los Angeles Lakers came home Tuesday night and looked essentially like the same team they were during a depressing 2-5 trip.
This time, it was the Indiana Pacers who beat the Lakers 104-92. The Pacers are one of the best teams in the NBA, so there's no shame for the undermanned Lakers in losing to them, but this could've been any of the other 17 games they've now lost since Dec. 21. The script is the same.
The Lakers give a solid effort in the first half but run out of gas in the second half, fall behind by double digits in the third quarter and don't have nearly enough firepower to get themselves back into the game. It doesn't help when you make only five of 24 3-point shots in a game, either.
All five Pacers starters finished in double figures. Indiana got 14 points from MVP candidate Paul George, even though he had an awful shooting night (4-for-21 from the field.). David West had 19 points, and Lance Stephenson had 15 points, 14 rebounds and six assists.
As usual, Pau Gasol led the Lakers with 21 points and 13 rebounds. Jodie Meeks had 21, and Kendall Marshall had 11 and 13 assists.
But the celebration of late, great Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss was the only highlight of this night.
How it happened: The Lakers mostly held the Pacers in check in the first half, but Indiana got it going in the third quarter and opened up a double-digit lead it would not surrender.
What it means: What does anything really mean for the Lakers these days? They're not making the playoffs, so wins are merely just bright spots in an otherwise dreary season. It's always nice to play one of the best teams in the league strongly. It's even nicer to put on a good show for the home crowd. But, ultimately, it was the same story it has been for L.A. this season: Indiana just had way too much for the undermanned Lakers to handle.
Hits: The Lakers continue to get strong performances from Gasol, who said he played most of Tuesday's game with a sore groin. The offense runs through him virtually every possession, and he has been carrying the load well. Tuesday night he finished with 21 points on 10-for-19 shooting and 13 rebounds with defensive player of the year candidate Roy Hibbert defending him.
Jordan Hill also came up with 10 points and 12 rebounds in 29 minutes off the bench, his best game in quite some time.
Misses: The Lakers basically have to shoot well from beyond the 3-point arc to win games. They did not do that by any stretch of the imagination Tuesday. Nick Young was 1-for-7 shooting on 3-pointers, and the Lakers made only five of 24. It was particularly ugly in the second half when they made only one of their 11 attempts.
Stat of the game: The Lakers get outrebounded virtually every night, so it's not surprising when another team controls the boards on them. But it's not often an opposing guard owns the glass as Stephenson did. He grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds as Indiana outrebounded L.A. 63-50.
Up next: The Lakers will take two days off before hosting the Charlotte Bobcats on Friday. L.A. beat former assistant coach Steve Clifford and his Bobcats in Charlotte, N.C., last month.
But let’s get one thing straight: He doesn’t want Kobe’s nickname.
When a reporter suggested after the Los Angeles Lakers’ 102-100 overtime loss to the Chicago Bulls on Monday that Young, fresh off 31 points, his new high-scoring game as a Laker, that his new moniker should be “The Swag Mamba,” he swatted the suggestion away with Dikembe Mutombo-like gusto.
Young takes the red leather backpack (made by some designer label) to every game. When he was leaving the visitor’s locker room in Toronto on Sunday, he actually ran into a young woman who happened to be accessorizing with the same bag, only it was beige colored. She offered to trade.
“You’ll have to give me that mink coat you’re wearing, too!” Young joked before bouncing down the hallway to the team bus.
While he clearly exudes individuality when it comes to his fashion and rejected the Mamba nickname, he is actually embracing the Bryant comparisons so much so that he was the lone Laker that Nike had wear the special Martin Luther King Jr. Day version of Bryant’s Kobe VIII sneaker on Monday.
In even bigger news, considering Bryant himself hasn’t even donned them yet on the court, Young will become the first player ever to wear Bryant’s newest signature shoe -- the boxing bootlike Kobe IX -- in an NBA game when the Lakers play the Miami Heat on Thursday, according to a league source.
The 28-year-old Young is coming into his own in his seventh season in the league, but it’s easy to see how much of an influence Bryant had on the southern California native when he was growing up. Long before Young became Bryant’s unofficial sneaker model, he modeled his game as a young kid after the Afroed shooting guard who was winning championships alongside Shaquille O’Neal.
Now Young has Bryant’s shoes. He has Bryant’s old Afro. And on Monday he found himself having what used to be a healthy Bryant’s role in crunch time, trying to lift the Lakers on the second night of a back-to-back in Chicago -- a day after scoring 15 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter to beat the Raptors.
With the Lakers trailing by three with 4.1 seconds left in regulation, Young had the ball at the top of key beyond the 3-point arc with Joakim Noah guarding him on a switch. He baited the center into fouling him and was granted three free throw attempts with a chance to tie the game.
“I went to the line thinking, ‘OK, this is where big players step up,’” said Young. “That’s what I was trying to do.”
He rattled in the first one and swished in the next two.
“Just to be in that situation, I know most people want to be in that situation and it was big,” said Young, who missed a potential game-tying 3 with 9.9 seconds left in the Lakers’ eventual 120-118 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers less than a week ago.
“If there's somebody that wants to take the ball and hit a shot, that’s Nick,” said Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni. “No doubt about it. He’s a big-time scorer and he can hit a shot anytime, or get fouled, as we saw.”
Pau Gasol was reluctant to loop Young in with the player he won back-to-back championships beside, but he did marvel at one aspect of his game.
“I think he’s the guy that gets more fouls from the 3-point line than I’ve ever seen,” Gasol said. “It’s incredible the way he gets fouled shooting 3s. I don’t know how that happens so often. But he does it really well, and I’m happy he plays well for us.”
Young added another ridiculous reverse layup in overtime, as well as a game-tying jumper along the baseline with 6.0 seconds left before L.A. blew it by not guarding Taj Gibson on an inbounds play with 0.9 seconds left.
Afterward, he also heard it from his teammates when another reporter brought up the comparison to Bryant.
“Kobe has more than one assist!” Jordan Hill heckled from a neighboring locker. “Kobe passes the ball and rebounds!” added Chris Kaman, completing a Statler and Waldorf-like routine from “The Muppets.”
That’s when Young turned down the swag and turned up the humility.
“I can’t play like Kobe, man,” said Young. “There’s only one Kobe.”
Well, how has he been able to pull off being the team’s leading scorer this season, averaging 17.1 points as kind of a Bryant proxy?
“Kobe’s been a great mentor for me, just telling me all kind of things during the game,” Young said. “That’s been unbelievable for me this whole year, just learning from the greatest player to play this game.
“Who wouldn’t want to learn from or have Kobe in their locker room?”
Dwight Howard, for one. But Howard’s in the past and gone.
As for Young, who has a player option for $1.2 million for next season, he also could very well be gone in the future, hitting the open market in search of a bigger contract after the value he’s showing this season.
All that is guaranteed with Young is the present. And right now, the Lakers -- very nearly winners of three in a row after that ejection of Young in Phoenix -- belong to Swaggy P.
Just listen to how D’Antoni described the turnaround.
“I think we’re getting our swagger a little bit back” said the coach.
And the circle of basketball life continues. Young the student also is a teacher.
“He makes tough shots, big shots,” said the newest Lakers guard, Manny Harris, who was called up from the D-League last week. “It’s definitely someone to watch and learn from.”
The Lakers outrebounded the Celtics 46-42, in stark contrast to when L.A. was being outboarded by an average of 8.5 rebounds per game during its string of consecutive losses.
Making the biggest difference in the rebounding department against the Celtics were Wesley Johnson (11 boards, up from his 3.6 per game season average) and Jodie Meeks (seven boards, up from his 3.0 per game season average).
"I know we’ve been getting beat up on the boards pretty much the entire season, so I just really made it an effort to really get in and then whenever we secure the rebound, just run back," said Johnson, who set a new career high mark for rebounds Friday. "So I made it an effort really just to get in."
Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said it came down to effort as much as anything.
"We need everyone to go in the paint and wrestle and box out and get those boards, because we usually play small," D'Antoni said. "We just need to protect the paint, because that’s been an issue for us. Second-chance points, points in the paint, easy putbacks.
"We just need to scramble and really compete there and understand how important it is to keep opponents under one shot, because that gives us an opportunity to really run at them and score on the other end. So we should continue to make that a point of emphasis for us."
The Lakers will start with a smaller group when they play the Toronto Raptors at 10 a.m. Sunday, with D'Antoni putting Ryan Kelly and his 2.4 rebounds per game average in the starting lineup in place of Jordan Hill, who is the Lakers' second-leading rebounder with an average of 7.4 boards per game this season.
D'Antoni doesn't think the lineup shift should hurt his team's chances collecting caroms, however.
"We don’t rebound anyway," D'Antoni said, sarcastically. "It’s not going to be any bigger challenge than what it is. We can’t get any worse. But rebounds, how many times do rebounds get above the rim? Not many. So, it’s all below the rim and we got to have guys a little more active and that’s what Ryan does.
"Ryan will clear out space, he’ll block out when he needs to. He’s a smart basketball player. So I think we’ll rebound the ball better."
He stays ready, even when he's being shuttled in and out of the lineup. He brings energy when he does find court time, his specialty being offensive rebounds, which often times results in him creating wide-open shot opportunities for his teammates through his efforts to secure extra possessions. He has an affable personality, one that lends to building a positive relationship with every player on the Los Angeles Lakers' roster.
With that said, it was mighty telling that it was Hill, of all people, who spoke out following the Lakers' 120-118 loss to Cleveland on Tuesday, pointing the finger somewhere other than the big men after the Lakers were outrebounded 48-35 by the Cavaliers, leading to 19 second-chance points.
It was more matter-of-fact than scathing, but there it was -- the first crack in the purple-and-gold facade between teammates this season. The smelling salts moment of realization that this group of likable Laker players -- which back in training camp longtime team trainer Gary Vitti called the closest squad he has ever been a part of in his 30 years with the franchise -- had fallen so far from mounting losses and an incredible number of injuries, that it was now playing the blame game.
It turns out Hill's comment was just the tip of the iceberg. Because one night later, after the Lakers fell 121-114 to Phoenix for their 12th loss in their last 13 games (including six straight while giving up 110-plus points to the opponent), that crack became an all-out fissure as the Lakers' locker room was split over Nick Young's ejection.
The quick synopsis: Young took a hard foul in the second quarter and was surrounded by several Suns players without any Lakers teammates intervening. Young was then ejected for shoving his way out of the pack after he was called for a punching foul for making contact with Suns guard Goran Dragic. After the game, Young said he was mad no teammate had come to his defense.
Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni and point guard Kendall Marshall both said Young should have been smarter, and with the Lakers only having nine players in uniform, they couldn't afford to lose their leading scorer. Others, like Pau Gasol and Wesley Johnson, empathized with how Young felt but also noted NBA rules prevented them from springing from the bench to his defense.
Rookie Ryan Kelly was spared criticism from his teammates -- Gasol noted that Kelly "was trying to hold a couple guys up" as the closest Laker to the play -- but was thoroughly criticized by former Laker, Robert Horry, on the team's flagship television station.
Even if Gasol fought through his upper respiratory infection and came close to his 14.7-point and 9.4-rebound averages, L.A. might have still lost with the way it missed 16 of the 23 3-pointers it took against the Jazz and turned the ball over 22 times against the 76ers.
But here is the unwavering truth that makes the outcomes of the games almost irrelevant when considering Gasol's lost contributions, no matter how strong or how meager they would have been: He could have played.
Gasol has not spoken to the media since Christmas Day -- the last game he played in -- when he chose to battle through the respiratory condition he was already dealing with then and finished with 13 points, 13 rebounds, 3 assists, a block and a steal. L.A. hung tight with the Miami Heat before losing by six.
After the Utah loss, Gasol tweeted, "Great team effort in Utah last night despite all the injuries #GoLakers."
Before the Philadelphia game, he tweeted, "I hope to recover soon and be back on the floor again. All my support to my team mates tonight vs the Sixers #GoLakers."
With him, the Lakers nearly knocked off the back-to-back defending champions Wednesday. Without him, the Lakers fell to a Philly team that had lost its past 13 road games coming into Sunday.
"What do you think?" D'Antoni shot back to the reporter. "He's not as good as X [Xavier Henry]."
"I understand that," replied the reporter.
"Well, then why'd you ask the question?" D'Antoni said in return.
Marshall had played only 10 minutes total since the Lakers plucked him out of the D-League, appearing in two of L.A.'s four games since he joined the team. But Jordan Farmar returned from his left hamstring tear in the two games Marshall didn't play, shoring up L.A.'s point guard situation with Farmar as the starter and Henry as the backup.
"He's got to be better than the point guard we have out there, and X right now is doing a pretty good job," D'Antoni said. "And the other thing he has going against him, I don't know him. I've seen him play maybe two minutes. I don't think we're at the point where, 'Oh, let's experiment.' Maybe when we're going good, but we're not going to lose games because I'm over here experimenting. I haven't had time to see him and he's trying to find his way in the league. He hasn't established that yet. But we hope that maybe in garbage time in our favor, or something would happen that we'd get a look at him, but I just can't just grasp straws."
Something did happen, of course. Henry went out with a strained right knee in the first quarter and did not return.
Suddenly, Marshall went from being an experiment to a necessity and the Lakers' season went from being star-crossed to darn-near depressing.
Really? Another injury? As if Kobe Bryant's knee and Steve Nash's back and hamstring and Steve Blake's elbow and Pau Gasol's respiratory infection weren't enough, add Henry to the list.
Marshall (eight points, three assists, two rebounds, two turnovers) wasn't the problem or the solution Sunday. He had the best game of his young Lakers career and he helped fuel L.A.'s fourth-quarter run, but he wasn't on the floor for the final minutes.
In those final minutes, L.A. lost the game, just as it had when it couldn't close against Miami and Utah in its last two defeats.
How it happened: L.A. made four of its first five shots to jump out to a 12-2 lead to start things off but then went just 2-for-17 as a team the rest of the quarter to hold a 22-20 lead after one. The score was tied at 52-52 at the half before Philadelphia jumped ahead to a 13-point lead at one point in the third that L.A. whittled down to 10 early on in the fourth before embarking on a 15-4 lead to take back a 95-94 lead with just more than seven minutes left.
Philly had a three-point lead in the final minute and Farmar set up Shawne Williams with a wide-open look from the top of the key, but Williams missed. The Sixers padded their cushion and L.A. had yet another loss on its hands.
What it means: This one stings. The Lakers are now on a season-high five-game losing streak to fall to 13-18 and have punted away two winnable games in a row.
Hits: Nick Young scored 26 points, marking his third straight game with 20-plus points and the fifth time in the Lakers' last six games he has reached the level, but he shot just 6-for-21 in doing so.
Jordan Hill had 18 points and 13 rebounds after filling in at center in the starting lineup.
Williams finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds and Ryan Kelly had a fine game off the bench with seven points and six rebounds.
L.A. shot 30-for-34 (88.2 percent) on free throws.
Misses: The Lakers had 22 turnovers leading to 27 points for Philly.
Stat of the game: Eight. That is the number of wins each of L.A.'s past two opponents came into the game against the Lakers with and both Utah (9-23) and Philadelphia (9-21) walked away boosting that number.
Up next: Three more home games in a row starting against Milwaukee on New Year's Eve, followed by the Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets.
"Both of them, we're hopeful," D'Antoni said. "But, obviously, they took a day off."
Gasol missed Friday's 105-103 road loss to the Utah Jazz because of the respiratory issue, the second time in the past four games he has sat out because of the condition. Kaman started in Gasol's place against Utah, putting up 19 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks before turning his ankle in the final minute.
D'Antoni said Kaman appeared to have a better chance of playing than Gasol.
"It looks pretty favorable," D'Antoni said. "He feels better about it. The swelling's not too bad."
Gasol and Kaman did not speak to reporters after practice, but Kaman spoke up about his vacillating role after the Utah loss.
"It’s not easy, but it’s part of the job," he said. "People are paying me to do a job. I need to do it the best I can, and so that’s what I try to do. It’s not easy, but I’m trying to be a pro here and do the right thing, and so we’ll see. Everything changes constantly."
If Gasol or Kaman cannot give it a go, D'Antoni said the team will look to Robert Sacre and Jordan Hill.
SALT LAKE CITY -- The Utah Jazz's 8-23 record coming into Friday was awfully deceptive more than deceptively awful as Utah had gone 7-9 in its last 16 games, which was the exact same record the Los Angeles Lakers had in their last 16.
And for much of the night they looked like dead-even teams more than the 15th team in the West (Utah) that came into the season with lottery expectations against the 12th (Los Angeles) that seemingly had postseason possibilities when the campaign tipped off.
There's no denying that the Lakers were short-handed (missing Kobe Bryant, Steve Blake, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol), but they had a strong performance out of Jordan Farmar at point guard, another quality game from Nick Young at shooting guard and a stellar game from Chris Kaman at center, so it wasn't as if they were lost at those positions.
But just like Christmas Day when they played a much better Miami Heat team, the Lakers gave themselves a chance to win but couldn't close it at the end.
How it happened: Farmar looked like the player he was before he sat out 24 days because of a left hamstring tear, commanding the action from the point with 12 points, four assists and four rebounds at the half (he would finish with 16, seven and seven) as L.A. trailed by three. Just as he did against Miami on Christmas Day, Young took over in the third quarter, scoring 13 points in the period to draw the Lakers within two points headed into the fourth. L.A. hung tight until Young fouled out with 5:45 to go in the fourth, giving the Jazz two free throws to push their lead to seven.
The Lakers didn't pack it in there, using a 6-0 run punctuated by buckets by fast-break buckets by Farmar and Jordan Hill to draw within one with 3:53 to go.
A Gordon Hayward floater (24 points, nine assists) put Utah back up by three, but Jodie Meeks came back with a 3-pointer to tie it with 2:48 to go. Hayward made a 3-pointer on the fast break to give Utah the lead back and padded it by making one of two free throws with 1:05 remaining to put the Jazz up by four.
Hill tipped in a Farmar miss to bring L.A. to within two with 48.8 seconds left and then Marvin Williams missed a 3-pointer, setting up a Farmar-Hill pick-and-roll that put Hill at the line with two free throws to tie it with 18.6 seconds left. He rattled the first one home and swished the second to knot it at 103-103.
Derrick Favors had a strong two-handed putback dunk on Hayward's missed layup as Utah tried to play for the final possession, but left 2.1 seconds on the clock when L.A. called timeout.
Meeks got a look at a long 3-pointer from the top of the key when the buzzer sounded, but it fell short and L.A.'s losing streak was extended to four games.
What it means: The Lakers are out of sorts these days and really need to shore things up when they return home or they could lose hope of rallying for a playoff spot pretty quickly.
Hits: Young finished with 21 points on 10-for-17 shooting, good for his 16th straight game off the bench with double-digit scoring and his fourth night with 20 or more in his last five games played.
Xavier Henry had another solid game off the bench since Farmar returned, scoring 12 points on 5-for-7 shooting.
Kaman had a double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds, besting his previous scoring high of 16 points with the Lakers while shooting 7-for-11 from the field.
Hill finished with 16 points and nine rebounds.
Misses: L.A. shot just 7-for-23 from beyond the arc (30.4 percent) with a significant portion of those misses coming on wide-open looks on catch-and-shoot opportunities.
L.A. shot just 16-for-23 from the foul line after going 15-for-26 against Miami.
Stat of the game: 14. That's how many turnovers the Lakers had, leading to 15 points for the Jazz, which isn't such an egregious number but it seemed as if many of the turnovers came at momentum-killing moments.
Up next: The Lakers return home to Staples Center for four straight games against teams with .500 records or worse as of Friday with Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Utah (all sub-.500) and Denver (.500 at 14-14) coming to town. It's a soft spot in the schedule they need to take advantage of.