Los Angeles Lakers: NBA Playoffs

Rapid Reaction: Spurs 103, Lakers 82

April, 28, 2013
4/28/13
6:51
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- In a season that was defined by struggle from the very start -- an 0-8 exhibition record and a coaching dismissal after just five games -- maybe a four-game sweep was actually a merciful way for it to end.

Did anybody really want this Los Angeles Lakers train wreck to continue?

If the injuries to Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Metta World Peace, Steve Blake and Jodie Meeks weren't enough to deal with over the last couple of weeks, the insult of back-to-back home losses by 20-plus points to a rival like San Antonio surely made everybody involved -- players, coaches, fans -- ready for it to end.

L.A. was overmatched as a No. 7 seed against the No. 2 Spurs to begin with, but nobody could have predicted it being this lopsided.


How it happened: Tony Parker (23 points) was brilliant again and San Antonio was relentless, leading by six after the first, 18 at halftime, 20 after three and 21 in the end.

Meanwhile, the Lakers' twin towers in Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard, whom they planned on going through all series, combined for just 23 points.

What it means: The Lakers' much ballyhooed 2012-13 campaign that started with so much promise is officially a disappointment. Not as much as the disaster it looked to be before they finished the season with a 28-12 run, but still a massive disappointment.

Hits: Andrew Goudelock scored 34 points in playoff starts in Games 3 and 4 after being in the D-League two weeks ago.

The Lakers fans showed a lot of class, giving Gasol a standing ovation when he checked out with 3:08 remaining, knowing that it could be his last appearance in purple and gold.

Misses: The Lakers handed out white towels to fans entering Staples Center for Game 4. Apparently nobody thought of all the "waving the white flag" or "throw in the towel" jokes that would ensue.

One of the lowest points of the Lakers' regular season was Howard getting ejected in Toronto and L.A. losing a lackluster Sunday afternoon game to fall to 17-23 on the season. Howard managed to trump it Sunday, getting sent to the showers just more than two minutes in to the second half after picking up his second technical foul.

Stat of the game: The Lakers had 21 turnovers, leading to 24 points for the Spurs. San Antonio had just eight, leading to four points for L.A.

Up next: An offseason full of question marks. Forgive me for copying and pasting the list I used here from Game 3, but they all still apply: Is Mike D'Antoni truly safe, or will those "We want Phil!" chants we heard in Games 3 and 4 actually come to fruition? Who gets waived via the amnesty clause -- Kobe? Gasol? Blake? World Peace? Anybody? Will Dwight Howard re-sign? Will Nash and Bryant be able to come back healthy for their 18th seasons? Does Gasol get traded if he's not amnestied?

Lakers believe in new formula for success

April, 18, 2013
4/18/13
1:04
AM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- The Lakers are in.

In what seemed like a remote possibility months ago and a dicey proposition even a week ago when Kobe Bryant went out with a torn Achilles, the Lakers not only got into the playoffs, they got in playing a brand of basketball that could equate to some continued postseason success.

Here they are, 16 wins from an unlikely championship No. 17, with a suddenly stingy defense that allowed its past two opponents -- one of them being the highest-scoring team in the league in the Houston Rockets and the other being the No. 2 team in the West in the San Antonio Spurs -- to average 93 points on 39.3 percent shooting.

[+] EnlargeHoward/Meeks/Gasol
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesDwight Howard, left, Jodie Meeks and Pau Gasol know the Lakers are an inside-out team now and hope that style will continue to flourish in the playoffs.
Here they are, riding a wave of momentum and playing with one rock that is finding so many hands -- from the five guys who scored eight points or more against the Spurs to the six guys who tallied nine points or more against the Rockets.

Even when the ball was spread around Wednesday, it didn't always go in, of course; L.A. shot just 36.7 percent as a team. But the fact that it kept moving kept the Lakers' bodies moving on defense.

"The great thing about it was everybody contributed," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said.

Who makes up the "everybody" on the Lakers' roster that D'Antoni was referring to has changed drastically throughout the season and maybe even more so in the past two games without Bryant.

Suddenly Darius Morris has a place off the bench. And Steve Blake is relied on to score (47 points over his past two games, a dramatic change from the player who scored two points or fewer 16 times in 2011-12). And Jodie Meeks is starting in Bryant's place and even receiving "Jo-die! Jo-die!" chants from the crowd, taking Kobe's cheers.

Most important, the team identity is firmly established. The Lakers are an inside-out team controlled by Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol. They are not the second coming of Showtime. They are not Bryant freelancing with shades of the triangle. They are not Steve Nash running the pick-and-roll or Bryant running the pick-and-roll.

This is a team that will slow you down, grind you out, pound you all over and do it on both ends.

"Because [Bryant is] such a big, important part of what we did, and rightly so, it is different," D'Antoni said before the game Wednesday. "And then when Nash comes back, it will be a little different again. So, there’s always different layers, but he’s a big layer or two."

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8 questions facing the Lakers this offseason

May, 21, 2012
5/21/12
11:23
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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For the second straight season, the Los Angeles Lakers have been bounced in the second round of the NBA playoffs. Not cause for panic in many markets, but in Los Angeles, where expectations are always stratospheric and Kobe Bryant is far closer to the end than the beginning of his career, it's enough to sound the doomsday horn. The end of a season is (almost) always a disappointing time, but usually comes with a tinge of wait-'til-next-year optimism. To that end, while the goal is not to add insult to Thunder-induced injury, people deserve candor:


Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images
Was Monday's loss the last time Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol take the floor as teammates?


I have no idea how the Lakers quickly return to a championship level.

Not to say I don't know what they need -- the needs are pretty apparent, and not a whole lot different than the ones from last offseason -- just that I don't know how they get it. Change, likely significant, must come, but unfortunately while the Lakers may be rich in the literal sense, as it relates to assets available to reconstruct a team, they're relative paupers:
  • The Lakers lack young prospects not already integral to the team's success, have no quality draft picks, or easily moved talent bringing comparable talent in return.
  • Well over the salary-cap and luxury-tax thresholds, the Lakers have limited tools -- a mini mid-level exemption worth a little more than $3 million, basically -- available in a market thin on quality unrestricted free agents. (Most restricted FA's won't be an option, because L.A. can't offer a contract large enough to dissuade a rights-holding team from matching.)
  • After next season, the CBA's new SuperTax! kicks in, which at current levels could cost the Lakers tens of millions of dollars.

Good players cost money. The Lakers need more of them at a time when the prevailing pressure is to bring payroll down not up, or at the very least have a rock-solid plan to do so in the very near future.

Enjoy the summer, Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss!

Having spent years kicking the can down the road in an effort to build a winner, for which management should be applauded, the box in which the Lakers placed themselves in the process has grown incredibly tight. They're still a good team, but one that just lost to a better team. No shame in that, except the standards in L.A. don't tolerate this sort of thing for very long. Moreover, the Lakers are on the way down, while the competition around them is rising. Oklahoma City is a juggernaut. Memphis, despite the early exit from the postseason, is a team with upside, as are the Clippers. A healthy Denver team is a threat. They're feeling good about the future in Utah, too, and is there any reason to believe San Antonio won't again be awesome next year?

This is the context of what could very well be a transformative, challenging and potentially fascinating offseason.

Here are eight questions facing the Lakers' front office as the summer rolls on ...

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The problem with Pau is the problem for Pau

May, 20, 2012
5/20/12
11:30
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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The fourth quarter of Saturday's Game 4 loss to the Thunder was filled with mistakes by multiple Lakers, but one play in particular -- the shot opportunity passed on by Pau Gasol for the pass he made instead, picked off by Kevin Durant -- became almost instantly infamous. Durant turned the turnover, coming with 33 seconds remaining and the score tied at 98, into a triple. Oklahoma City held on for the win, and now has a chance to close things out Monday night on their floor.

Gasol should have taken the shot, and said so after the game.


Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
More aggression from Pau Gasol would have served the Lakers well in Game 4.


The giveaway, along with an underwhelming stat line (10 points, five rebounds, two assists, three blocks), landed Gasol directly in the next-day crosshairs, and appropriately so. In many ways, too, Gasol's mistake almost perfectly reflected a season shifting under his feet from the moment it started, when he was shipped off to Houston in the Chris Paul trade, then shipped right back after the NBA nixed the deal.

Mike Brown has spoken frequently about Gasol's versatility, and his belief Pau's expansive skill set allows him to be used in a variety of ways around the floor. In reality, only selected areas of Gasol's game have been effectively mined, reflecting shortcomings in the roster and an evolution in personnel. A lack of perimeter playmakers and reliable shooting pulled him away from the basket to facilitate and also spread the floor. This while ceding to a rising Andrew Bynum post touches he once had himself in an offense where he's often marginalized. (And in a nifty bit of irony, Pau is often the one making the feed to Bynum on the block.) Meanwhile, his chemistry with Kobe Bryant isn't as good, either.

No question, Gasol has been a pro. The transformation of his role isn't something every NBA player would accept, and as he told ESPNLA's Ramona Shelburne following Game 4, Gasol believes he's done it to the best of his ability even while wishing for more scoring opportunities. Unfortunately, while in the end his numbers this year were solid and at times the results were very positive, ultimately the facilitate-first role also reinforces, even codifies, Gasol's weakest tendencies as a player. Too frequently (though not nearly as much as some suggest), he blends into the wallpaper, his natural unselfishness tilting too far towards passivity.

As Gasol put it after the game, "I am unselfish. Sometimes it plays against me." He was referencing the turnover in the micro, while in the macro understanding how it reflects his wiring as a player.

Critics call him soft, defenders (like me) a multi-faceted, team-first talent with remarkable skill for a 7-footer. Regardless, one thing is clear:

This -- meaning the place he now occupies on the Lakers -- doesn't work. Not for Gasol, not for the Lakers.

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Lakers Late Night Replay, Game 4 vs. OKC plus postgame video

May, 19, 2012
5/19/12
11:59
PM PT
By the Kamenetzky Brothers
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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This is going to leave a mark.

Lakers lose, 103-100 and now trail 3-1 heading back to Oklahoma City for Monday's Game 5.

On tonight's show, we review the fourth quarter collapse, from a huge mistake down the stretch from Pau Gasol to a horrible 12 minutes of shooting for Kobe Bryant (2-of-10) to dominant play from Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. From there, we reflect on a season on the edge of extinction, and leaving the locker room tonight with a sense not just that this season is over, but that the era is done, too.

This band won't be touring much longer.

Watch live streaming video from espnlosangeles at livestream.com


Click below for video of Bryant, Ramon Sessions, Bynum, Gasol, and Metta World Peace.

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Rapid Reaction, Game 4 - Thunder 103, Lakers 100

May, 19, 2012
5/19/12
10:33
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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For the second time in the series, the Lakers had a game in their hands, and for the second time, they let it get away. In the process, they allowed any realistic chance of advancing to get away, too.

This will be one the locals talk about for a while. Final score: Oklahoma City 103, Lakers 100. The Thunder lead 3-1, with Game 5 coming Monday in OKC.

Here are five takeaways:

1. Kobe Bryant continued attacking.

He came out of the gate hot Saturday, hitting three of his first five shots and earning four trips to the line in the first quarter en route to 10 points. At the half, Bryant had 16 points along with three assists. Certainly nothing to scoff at, but relative to what he did in the third quarter, it felt like a trifle. Bryant attacked relentlessly out of the break, pounding on Thabo Sefolosha in the high post, bullying him to favored spots on the floor before rising for baby jumpers. When he wasn't putting bruises on Sefolosha's upper body, Bryant went at the rim, earning seven free throws. He capped a brilliant 12 minutes with a 22-footer at the end of the quarter so tight against the buzzer, it made 0.4 look like an eternity in comparison.

Combined with the 18 free throw attempts he took in Game 3, Bryant now has taken 35 in the past two games after getting only nine attempts total in Games 1 and 2. This happens only if he's in full attack mode, sending all his energy forward, as opposed to settling for the outside game. When it happens, the results can be staggering.

2. Unfortunately, it came at a price.

While Kobe was red hot in the third quarter, he cooled off considerably in the fourth and, perhaps emboldened by the tear he had just finished, started forcing shots. He missed six of his first seven, and the one make was a brutally tough, don't-try-this-at-home baseline jumper on James Harden. In the process -- I'm talking about both the third and fourth quarters -- the post game with Andrew Bynum that served the Lakers so well in the first half was basically abandoned. Bynum had 11 shots and 14 points in the first half, and only four attempts in the second.

Not to say Bryant was the cause of Saturday's loss, but as brilliant as he was in the third, he shot the Lakers out of the fourth. The Lakers' offense, as productive as it has been through the first four games of the series, scoring 29, 27 and 24 points in the first three quarters, died down the stretch. Only 18 points, in part because Bryant made only two of his 10 shots (the second being a totally meaningless jumper at the buzzer).

There was no balance and very little ball movement. Blame his teammates for not capitalizing on opportunities or being aggressive enough -- Pau Gasol, for example, passed up an open shot off a pick-and-roll with Kobe, compounding the error by turning the ball over while trying to kick out to Metta World Peace on the perimeter. Kevin Durant jumped the pass and hit a 3-pointer from the top of the arc, tying the score at 98 with 33 seconds remaining. It was a horrible, horrible play from any player, let alone one of Gasol's caliber. Throw some blame at the coaching staff as well for not figuring out ways to penetrate an Oklahoma City defense once again fronting Bynum and working hard to deny post entries.

But in the end, it's telling that nine of the team's 18 fourth-quarter points came in the first three minutes with Kobe on the bench, two more just after his return, when Jordan Hill put back a Bryant miss, then one more on a technical free throw.

He finished with 38 points on 28 shots (he made 12), but combined with the free throws it shows how ball dominant Kobe was Saturday night. It had an impact on the offensive flow, for sure, even when things were going well. How much, we'll probably never know with certainty. But what was shaping up to be a spectacular game went south. Bryant is going to take plenty of flak for Saturday's result, and with cause.

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Lakers Late Night Replay - Game 3 vs. Oklahoma City

May, 19, 2012
5/19/12
12:17
AM PT
By the Kamenetzky Brothers
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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The Lakers got off to a great start, but from there Friday's game turned into a slugfest. In the end, though, they came out on top, effectively saving the season and giving them a chance to knot up the series Saturday night.

We broke it all down on Lakers Late Night with special guests Arash Markazi and Dave McMenamin!



Click below for all the postgame moving pictures, from Pau Gasol, Kobe Bryant, Mike Brown, Andrew Bynum, Ramon Sessions, and Steve Blake.

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PodKast: Game 2 disaster, looking to Game 3, Sessions, and more

May, 17, 2012
5/17/12
8:47
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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Sometimes with a night's rest, the dawn of a new morning, and the opportunity for some fresh perspective, in the rear view mirror a game can look a little different.

Sometimes.



Play Download

Game 2 Wednesday in Oklahoma City doesn't qualify. As we stepped into the studio about 17 hours after those fateful two minutes in the fourth quarter in which the Lakers blew a seven point lead, the sense of what they gave away was just as strong. I'm not going to lie, those hoping to be uplifted by the newest edition of the Land O'Lakers PodKast aren't going to like what you hear. After noting another critical example of poor execution -- Andy and I unwittingly showed up at the office in nearly identical outfits, among the more mockable things a brother writing/radio tandem can do -- we dive into the the big issues ...
  • After briefly touching on L.A.'s final play, we get into why the loss in Game 2 was so significant. Yeah, it's nice the Lakers played OKC tight after the Game 1 blowout, but in a playoff series the lesser team can't afford to lose games they ought to win. In the process, we shoot down just about every moral-victory-encouraging-going-forward argument out there. Again, it's fairly depressing, which is why we make sure to drop a little Double Rainbow Guy in there.
  • Is there any hope going forward for the Lakers to pull the upset?
  • Ramon Sessions. He hasn't played well in the postseason. Why? What can change, and how does his poor playoff run impact his decision whether to become a free agent, and whether the Lakers should re-sign him?
  • A quick look at the Clippers vs. San Antonio. We're no more optimistic about the chances of the red, white, and blue.

We're normally pretty chipper folk, but not today. Listen, but be prepared to shed a tear.

On the last shot of Game 2

May, 17, 2012
5/17/12
9:54
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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So here's the last play from Wednesday's loss (fast forward to about 56 seconds in):



You'll notice (notice again, I'm sure) it was Steve Blake taking the shot, not Kobe Bryant. Any time something like this happens, there will be discussion. Via ESPN Stats and Information, Blake hadn't attempted a game-tying or go-ahead shot in the final 24 seconds of a postseason games since joining the Lakers, and has only one in his career (with Portland in '09, a miss). At the same time, S and I provides this nugget as well:
While conventional wisdom says Kobe Bryant should've had the ball in his hands for the Lakers' final shot instead of Steve Blake, the stats say it was the right decision. Kobe Bryant is 0-for-7 on game-tying and go-ahead shots in the final 10 seconds of playoff games since 2006-07. Meanwhile, his teammates are 4-for-7, including Blake's miss on Wednesday.

Honestly, it's not a stat with heaps of meaning, at least in the implication other players are better suited to take late shots than Kobe. Don't focus on the 4-for-7 part. At least two of those (Ron Artest in Game 5 vs. Phoenix, 2010 and Pau Gasol in Game 6 vs. OKC, 2010) came on ORB/putbacks, as opposed to designed plays or kicks from Kobe. Meanwhile, Bryant's percentage is low mostly because he usually takes very difficult shots in those situations, a different (and totally valid) discussion entirely. The issue relative to the final shot Wednesday isn't whether Bryant is clutch or not, or whether someone else is clutch-er. What matters is shot quality, and if Blake's was as good or better than the one Kobe would have taken had Metta World Peace instead inbounded the ball to him.

Here, I see little room for debate. Assuming the ball even made it to him-- MWP would have had to throw a difficult pass to Bryant over the top of OKC's quick, ball-hawking defense -- it appears Kobe would have caught the ball with only five seconds left and a defender in position to contest. Probably Serge Ibaka on a switch, with Thabo Sefolosha closing fast. He didn't appear to me, as Mike Brown suggested after, "wide open on the backside." Maybe Kobe can create a little space, or has enough time to make a pass out of what almost certainly would have been a tough double team.

It's very difficult to see how either scenario would have produced a higher percentage look than an uncontested corner 3. The idea isn't to get Kobe the ball because he's "supposed" to take the shot, but to get the best shot possible. World Peace's job was to make that happen, and he did. It didn't work out the way the Lakers wanted, but they did get as good a shot as could be hoped.

Today's Lakers chat transcript

May, 16, 2012
5/16/12
7:59
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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Lots of talk about the debacle in Game 1 (has "The World Naked Gardening Day Pruning" caught on, yet? I didn't think so.), and looking ahead to tonight's Game 2.

And while there is still a lot of hoops left to play against OKC, more than a few fans are looking forward to the offseason. We take a look at what might be coming, as well.

Here's the link to the transcript.

A very crowded drawing board

May, 15, 2012
5/15/12
3:08
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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On May 27, 1985, the Celtics destroyed the Lakers in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, 148-114, a game quickly declared the "Memorial Day Massacre."

The Lakers, of course, went on to win the series in six games, finally vanquishing the Celtics curse.


Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images
Kobe Bryant and the Lakers have a lot to do before Game 2.


Monday, the Lakers went to Oklahoma City and were similarly dominated, finding themselves down 30 points to the Thunder by the end of the third quarter. It was ugly on every level, and equally deserving of a nickname. Unfortunately, May 14 is a little short on signpost holidays or commemorations. The best I could come up with is "The World Naked Gardening Day Pruning."

Not bad, actually, and (with some imagination) maybe even a little apropos, but nonetheless unlikely to catch on.

More bad news: About the only commonalities in those games were the lopsided nature of the defeats. That 1984-85 Lakers team was dominant, winners of 62 games and favored to beat Boston for a title. This Lakers team is good, but not as good as their opponent. OKC outplayed them in about 10 of 12 quarters during the season series, and was superior in just about every measurable when considering the year as a whole.

Via Twitter and such, I've seen it suggested the law of averages will likely change how things play out in Game 2 on Wednesday night. Probably true. OKC was certainly above the mean in more ways than one. No team was more turnover prone than the Thunder in the regular season, but on Monday they gave up the rock only four times. Their starting lineup went 26-of-41 (63 percent), a tough number to reproduce even if L.A.'s defense doesn't improve much, and from 10-15 feet, OKC was a white-hot 60 percent (9-of-15). Put in perspective, Miami led the NBA from that distance this season, at 42.7 percent. The Thunder's offensive efficiency was straight out of NBA Live, at 133, versus 107.1 pre-playoffs. There are probably a few other areas in which the Thunder might naturally regress. Unfortunately for the Lakers, even if OKC suffers some slippage, it has a 30-point gap to chew up in Wednesday's Game 2.

That's more than a few more turnovers and missed jumpers.

Among the items on an extensive laundry list of needed improvements:

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Rapid Reaction, Game 1: Thunder 119, Lakers 90

May, 14, 2012
5/14/12
9:32
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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It's only Game 1. There is a lot of basketball left to play.

That is not meant as a threat.

The Oklahoma City Thunder entered their Western Conference semifinal against the Los Angeles Lakers as overwhelming favorites, and Monday at Chesapeake Energy Center, absolutely nothing happened that might alter the conventional wisdom. After a quick start for the Lakers, the Thunder dominated (I'm avoiding any Thunder/roll combos at this point) in every facet of the game save turnovers committed and "absorbing monumental tail kickings," not exactly the most aspirational categories in a box score.

Here are six takeaways ...

1. The Lakers looked like a team without time to fully prepare

The Lakers are not as good as Oklahoma City and therefore needed every available edge in order to compete effectively. They needed to be on the same page in every aspect of the game. This opportunity went out the door when the Lakers botched Game 5 against Denver last week. Now, having played every other day since, with flights in between, not only did the Lakers tax their legs, they short-circuited prep time. Both were in play on Monday night as the Lakers lost big on the execution end of things.

Defensively, the Lakers were inconsistent in their pick-and-roll coverages. Sometimes they pressured the ball, other times they didn't. They tried to back off shooters including Kevin Durant (25/8/4), who had too many midrange J's without a hand in the face. Russell Westbrook (27/9) also was conceded a ton of elbow J's off the high screen, a reasonable strategy until he starts canning them and establishes a rhythm. Then something had to change, but it didn't. The big men, generally speaking, tried to contest, helpers generally tried to help. Unfortunately, the Lakers were so scattered and disorganized and OKC was so hot, it didn't really matter. No wonder Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol were on the bench well after the game, still talking through coverages.

That the Lakers were actually working hard (though not at all efficiently) on their end probably isn't all that comforting. At least against Denver they could play the "if we try" card after Games 5 and 6. Other discouraging signs: The Lakers used Kobe on Westbrook a ton on Monday, and it didn't work.

Offensively, the Lakers weren't any better. The ball movement wasn't good, and they didn't generate a ton away from the ball, either. At times, the Lakers effectively used Bynum on the block, helping him to 20 points on 7-of-12 from the floor. He and Gasol were both aggressive on the offensive glass. But as the game went along and the deficit grew, the Lakers naturally started gravitating away from the post. That's not something that will serve them well going forward.

More than anything, though, the Lakers didn't seem like they had a cogent plan to score in Game 1. Credit some solid defense from the Thunder, who locked down the Lakers in their three regular-season meetings, and tentative play from the Lakers. One big factor there.

(Read full post)

Defending the superstars

May, 14, 2012
5/14/12
2:05
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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The series between the Lakers and Thunder features not only two of the NBA's great scorers, but also some of the league's better defenders countering them. The Lakers have Metta World Peace for Kevin Durant, while the Thunder offer Thabo Sefolosha on Kobe Bryant, supported by James Harden and at times, Durant.

Both defensive stoppers have been effective, as ESPN Stats and Information illustrates, starting with MWP on Durantula:
"With World Peace on the court, Durant scored just 22.9 points per 40 minutes, down 6.2 points from his season average of 29.1. Durant connected on 17 of 40 shots (42.5 percent) in the 77 minutes he was on the floor with World Peace, also well below his season average of 49.6 percent. And while Durant makes a living at the line (7.9 FTA per 40 minutes), he averaged getting there just 2.6 times."

The drop in free throw attempts is particularly significant. One intriguing aspect of the series pits OKC's league leading ability to get to the stripe (.269 FT's per FGA) against L.A.'s ability to keep teams off it (.158 FT's per FGA against, also tops in the NBA). The team doing more to preserve regular season trends will have a major leg up, and obviously limiting Durant's opportunities goes a long way towards limiting the Thunder as a team.

Stats and Info also breaks down the Thunder's effectiveness this year against Kobe:
"Bryant struggled mightily with his shot against the Thunder in three games this season – 24.3 points per game on 30.7 percent from the field (23-75) – down from his season averages of 27.9 points and 43.0 percent.

But Bryant particularly struggled against Sefolosha, going just 9-33 (27.2 percent) from the field this season when Sefolosha was the primary on the ball defender against him (Sefolosha played in two of three games against the Lakers this season). Since Sefolosha’s first full season with the Thunder back in 2009-10, Bryant has shot just 39.6 percent (72-182) from the field in the 360 minutes he’s been on the floor with Sefolosha (six postseason games in 2010 included)."

OKC's ability to supplement Sefolosha's defense with Harden's gives Thunder coach Scott Brooks a lot of flexibility. He can pull Sefolosha -- a more limited offensive player -- without fearing Bryant will automatically dominate in his absence or require heavy double-teaming. The Lakers will need to show some creativity in how they get the ball into Kobe's hands, using more screening action allowing him to catch on the move in multiple locations, rather than isolated on the wing.

Good post play will also help, drawing eyes and attention away from Bryant, affording him more freedom.

One more thing could impact Kobe's offensive output: How often he's matched up at the other end against OKC's All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook.

(Read full post)

First Look: Lakers vs. Oklahoma City

May, 13, 2012
5/13/12
10:55
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
High on the list of intriguing storylines in this series will be the battle between the NBA's two leading scorers.

The prospect of facing the Oklahoma City Thunder in the postseason has for most of the season conjured incredibly pessimistic images for Lakers fans. As the regular season wound down you could practically hear Adrian's pre-Drago speech to Rocky ringing throughout the city as most prayed the Lakers would leap through whatever logistical hoops required to avoid the Thunder until the Western Conference finals. But steadily the Lakers built momentum, solving some of their road woes and finding some actual support in the supporting cast.

Two games into their first-round matchup against Denver, things looked even better. Four games after that, they seemed much, much worse. Saturday, a strong performance pushed the Lakers through Game 7, finally earning a date with those very Thunder, starting Monday night in Oklahoma City. Nobody, save those viewing the world entirely through purple-and-gold-colored glasses, will make them a favorite -- nor should they. But despite the inconsistent effort vs. Denver, it's not out of the question the Lakers, through strong post play, attention to detail defensively, the intensity shown eliminating the Nuggets, and perhaps a healthy dose of ultra-rustic Siberian training can give OKC a genuine test.

Maybe even pull the upset?

The series features serious star power, with each team trotting out a high-end big three. Oklahoma City's combo of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden brings, among other things, scoring punch and athleticism, while the Lakers counter with the length, experience and skill of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. Lovers of subplots and intrigue will have a field day, too, starting with the NBA's two leading scorers facing off in a battle of old vs. new guard. Metta World Peace and Harden will share the floor for the first time since this happened. Bynum and Gasol each have narratives to repair.

And, of course, the Lakers face a motivated Derek Fisher in a playoff series. The citizenry fears getting .4'd.

With all that in mind, here's a first look at the matchup ...

SEASON SERIES -- Oklahoma City 2-1

1. Thunder 100, Lakers 85 (Feb. 23, Chesapeake Energy Arena): The Lakers finished the first quarter up 23-19, but were outscored by 19 the rest of the way. Bryant finished 7-of-24 from the field, while Durant popped for 33.
2. Thunder 102, Lakers 93 (March 29, Staples Center): Again, L.A. got up early but was thoroughly outclassed after the first quarter. Durant and Harden were relatively quiet, but Westbrook went off for 36. Again, Kobe struggled (7-of-25).
3. Lakers 114, Thunder 106, 2 OT (April 22, Staples Center): The Lakers limited OKC to 14 fourth-quarter points, erasing an 18-point deficit and pushing the game to OT. Kobe again struggled overall (9-of-26), but hit huge shots late and ate up Westbrook (3-of-22) defensively. Big games for Gasol and the Lakers' bench.

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Lakers Late Night Replay -- Game 7 vs. Denver (plus postgame video)

May, 12, 2012
5/12/12
11:42
PM PT
By the Kamenetzky Brothers
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
The Lakers move on after a fairly epic 96-87 win over the Denver Nuggets in Saturday's Game 7 at Staples Center.

Up next, the extremely well rested Oklahoma City Thunder.

On tonight's edition of LLN, we hit on...
  • Huge, and hugely redemptive, games for Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol.
  • An excellent return from exile for Metta World Peace.
  • A very good game for Kobe Bryant, who made Denver pay for double teaming him.
  • Steve Blake filling a big void for the Lakers from the perimeter.
  • The next series. What kind of odds should the Lakers get against the Thunder?
Watch live streaming video from espnlosangeles at livestream.com


Click below for more video from Kobe, Bynum, Gasol, Blake and World Peace:

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SPONSORED HEADLINES

TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Nick Young
PTS AST STL MIN
17.9 1.5 0.7 28.3
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsP. Gasol 9.7
AssistsK. Marshall 8.8
StealsJ. Meeks 1.4
BlocksP. Gasol 1.5