Monthly Archive for December, 2011

Bynum Goes Off in First Game Back

The numbers paint a clear picture of just how glad the Lakers were to have Andrew Bynum back from his 4-game suspension to open the season:

- 29 points
- 13-of-18 field goals (72.2 percent) and 3-of-3 free throws
- 13 rebounds
- 2 blocks

But the 24-year-old center’s lurking physical presence in the paint was what had Nuggets coach George Karl talking after L.A.’s 92-89 victory on Saturday afternoon in Los Angeles.

“His power around the basket – we haven’t seen it yet,” Karl said. “We’ll have to make some adjustments on him, there’s no question. They hurt us rebounding the ball and they hurt us with Bynum’s power underneath the basket.”

Bynum’s shot chart shows that he rarely ventured out of the lane, in favor of establishing himself as near to the rim as possible, to the point where Denver’s big men had little chance of curtailing his array of short jump hooks, layups and dunks. His new coach, Mike Brown, was able to use one of his favorite terms, “rim running,” to describe the most important of Bynum’s buckets, a layup with 1:52 left in the fourth quarter that put L.A. up 91-89, capping a 7-0 run.

“He’s a big fellow that’s extremely skilled, and he has some athleticism,” Brown began. “If he rim runs like he did on (that) play … that simple basketball play is huge … because if you do that in transition, teams don’t have time to double.

“Big fella is a load to deal with; 29 and 13 is what he’s capable of; he can get numbers like that for us once in a while.”

His efficiency was there last season, as well, but especially with a few more shots available since Lamar Odom skipped town, Bynum’s going to get plenty of opportunities.

“They’re looking for me a lot and I’m a focal point early in the offense and obviously late Kobe takes over,” said the 7-footer. “I was winded like crazy today … it’s only going to be a little bit worse tomorrow because of the altitude, (but) I think I’m going to do well again, coming in, get low, and try to go to work … defensively.”

L.A.’s defense wasn’t quite as good on Saturday as it was in back-to-back blowouts over Utah and New York in which neither team managed to shoot better than 33 percent despite Bynum’s absence, but holding that league’s top scoring team in Denver – who came in averaging 111 points – to 89 is something Brown can expect. Furthermore, his style of pick and roll defense (showing as opposed to downing) drew praise from Karl.

“They’re very good at playing an aggressive style of disrupting and guys coming at you in pick and rolls,” said the Nuggets coach.

That’s what Brown wants to hear. While he’ll certainly take Bynum’s efficient scoring day, he’s most interested in those numbers on the glass, and how hard his big(gest) man is working manning the paint on D.

It’s on that end that Brown wants to continue to see Bynum popping out aggressively to the perimeter and then collapsing back into the paint, starting tomorrow evening in Denver, where L.A. will conclude a rare home-and-away back-to-back.

Tip off is at 5 p.m. on KCAL9 and 710ESPN radio.

Lakers 92, Nuggets 89: Dec. 30 Running Diary

Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Saturday afternoon contest against Denver, the Lakers looking to build on consecutive wins against Utah and New York in which neither team shot better than 33 percent (first time since 1959), with some comments drawn from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, and a few more details in case you missed any of the action:

Lakers: Fisher, Bryant, Barnes, Gasol and Bynum
Nuggets: T. Lawson, A. Afflalo, D. Gallinari, Nene and T. Mozgov

12:00 As you may or may not have noticed above, we had two changes to the starting line up for L.A.: Bynum returned after missing four games due to suspension, and Matt Barnes got the nod over Devin Ebanks, Mike Brown rewarding him for solid bench play in the past two games. It was Bynum who got much of the early action, scoring eight of L.A.’s first 12 points, all at the rim or the foul line.

5:12 Barnes made his impact, too, putting back a Kobe miss from the paint a moment after his basket cut got him two more points, and L.A. holding a 16-10 early edge. The biggest concern heading into the game defensively, Ty Lawson’s penetration, was a non-issue as L.A. did well not to offer any driving lanes.

0:00 The Lakers weren’t able to capture the defensive energy they carried through blowout wins over New York and Utah, in part because the Nuggets are such a good pick and roll team that they know how to break down P&R rotations. Nonetheless, Bynum’s 4-of-5 FG’s for 10 points carried L.A., down just one at the quarter break.

7:37 Gasol, as a true Catalan from Barcelona, isn’t the biggest fan of day games. And while he looked sluggish at times in the opening minutes, you couldn’t really tell from his box score, as he totaled seven points, three boards and an assist with L.A. trailing 31-28.

2:55 After simply taking what the defense gave him for the first 13 minutes he was in the game, Kobe dished out of double teams to create plenty of open shots, getting five assists despite his teammates going 0-for-10 on three-pointers. However, when George Karl finally pulled the double team, Kobe scored on three straight trips down, each time from the lane.

0:00 L.A. managed to take a 46-45 lead into the second half despite turning the ball over 12 times and missing all 12 of its three-point attempts, thanks largely to smart decision making from Bryant, and 5-of-7 shooting from both 7-footers.

6:29 Led by Bryant and the bigs, L.A. began to assert its will a bit, opening a four-point lead on Bryant’s jumper, even as the Nuggets hung around. Triple-double watch was officially on, as Bryant’s eight assist got Bynum a dunk, alongside his 10 points and seven boards.

4:11 There are few, if any, better mid to long-range big men shooters than Gasol, who sank a 20-footer to put L.A. up seven. However, poor work on the defensive glass, and a failure to rotate out to Al Harrington resulted in a Lawson (he’s 5-11) put-back layup, and Al’s triple.

9:45 A corner three from Kapono was just the second make for L.A. in 19 attempts, good for 10.5 percent. Fortunately for the purple and gold, Bynum was gobbling up several of the misses, putting back two shots in two minutes to reach a 22-point, 10-rebound double-double. Denver, however, was scoring too, getting an Afflalo three and Mozgov layup as the score was tied at 78.

6:00 A rather sloppy day game saw the Lakers amass 19 turnovers and convert only 2-of-22 three-pointers, yet they found themselves down only two halfway through the fourth thanks to some terrific efficiency inside (Bynum 11-for-16, Gasol 7-for-10).

3:23 Bynum continued to go completely nuts, converting an and-1 alley-oop layup/dunk from Bryant (nine assists) to reach 27 points and 12 rebounds in his first game back. To say that he was dominating the paint would be an understatement, as L.A. got within two points.

0:01.1 What if I told you Denver wouldn’t score for the final 3:40 of play? L.A., meanwhile, scored eight points, highlighted by Bynum’s layup after he swatted Nene, while the Nuggets missed some glorious chances at tying the game. In fact, Gallinari finished a horrid day by missing a wide-open three, and more importantly, a wide-open layup with two seconds left that would have tied the game. Instead, Bryant hit 1-of-2 free throws, and Harrington missed a desperation three in a 92-89 final.

LAL Defense Clicking Early

In consecutive decisive wins over Utah (96-71) and New York (99-82), the Lakers used a swarming defense to hold both teams to under 33 percent shooting from the field, the first time that’s happened since 1959, when the Minneapolis Lakers held the Pistons and Cincinnati Royals under the mark.

The Jazz managed to make just 32.2 percent of their shots, and the Knicks 31.3, as head coach Mike Brown cited the team’s effort on the weak side and sound attention to the intended pick and roll scheme that had L.A.’s big men aggressively show out on the ball handler, then scramble back to pack the paint.

“Our weak side has been extremely active,” said Brown. “The weak side blocks that we’ve gotten when a guy catches the ball right off the post … that’s hard to do, because (opponents) are athletic. They take one dribble, and it’s a dunk or they’re to the rim, and our activity on the weak side has guys in the right spot.”

Josh McRoberts and Pau Gasol were particularly effective coming across the paint to block shots, Gasol amassing seven swats in the two wins and McRoberts two rejections in three of L.A.’s four games.

“For those guys to have that type of understanding in terms of positioning defensively and activity defensively, in a short amount of time, knock on wood, hopefully that doesn’t go away because that’s what we need to have in order to continue to excel on that end of the floor,” Brown continued. “That’s one of our staples: let’s shrink the floor and make that paint look crowded. We want to give up contested two’s or contested threes.”

The Spaniard has also been very effective on the basketball, using his combination of length and IQ to hold two of the league’s top scoring big men, Al Jefferson (2-for-16) and Amare Stoudemire (4-for-17), to a combined 6-for-33 from the field.

“It’s just being active, being aggressive, being physical,” said Gasol. “My teammates in our system defensively give you good support, you trust that if you make a mistake you’re going to have your back covered by your teammates, so that helps quite a bit in being more aggressive to the ball and forcing tougher shots.”

Brown patted Gasol on the back a bit more.

“He has a great understanding of what he needs to do in terms of trying to space guys and use his length,” Brown explained. “When I took the job, well, (people said ) Fish (Derek Fisher) can’t guard opposing PG’s anymore. There’s nobody, in my opinion, that can guard NBA starting point guards 1-on-1. You can’t do that. If you understand where your help is going to be and defensive positioning, anybody can guard anybody.”

Kobe Bryant has been a broken record for the past few weeks in praising the attention to detail Brown and his coaching staff have shown especially on the defensive side of the ball, and seeing it work as well as it has for two straight games (and the second half against Chicago) has everybody buying in further.

“We’re doing what we’re supposed to do,” said Bryant. “That’s what (Brown) encourages, that’s what he enforces. Everybody has assignments and (Brown) holds everyone accountable in terms of what mistakes are being made and who’s making them … everybody has a responsibility to one another to protect each other.”

The Lakers will receive an additional defensive shot in the arm when their biggest paint presence, and perhaps in the entire Western Conference in Andrew Bynum, returns to the court on Saturday against Denver after serving a four-game suspension. Bynum, who has dominated practices defensively with his sheer size and the returned ability to jump multiple times on healthy-feeling legs, had several teammates openly excitable about how much more effective they can be as a defense.

We’ll see if L.A. can sustain its high level of play defensively in a home-and-away back-to-back against Denver, who leads the NBA with an average of 111 points per game through a 2-1 start, the Nuggets a much better offensive crew than either the Knicks or the Jazz.

LAL – DEN Preview Pod With Post’s Hochman

Veteran NBA scribe Benjamin Hochman of the Denver Post joined us to discuss the home-and-away series between the Lakers and Nuggets set to tip off on New Years Eve in Los Angeles and New Years Day in Denver.

Hochman took us through the Nuggets’ roster, debating just how deep they actually are (including the players currently on Chinese teams), discussed Denver’s 2-1 start to the season, looked at the specific matchup with the Lakers (why lighting-quick PG Ty Lawson could be the key) and more.

Take a listen:

Lakers 99, Knicks 82: Dec. 29 Running Diary

Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Thursday evening home contest against New York, the Lakers looking to build on a Tuesday with some comments drawn from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, and a few more details in case you missed any of the action:

Lakers: Fisher, Bryant, Ebanks, McRoberts and Gasol
Knicks: T. Douglas, L. Fields, C. Anthony, A. Stoudemire, T. Chandler

8:30 After getting blown out in the fourth quarter at Golden State last night, the Knicks came out in aggressive fashion, getting back-to-back threes from Carmelo and Stoudemire to open a 15-11 lead. Gasol stood out for L.A., collecting four points, two assists, a board and a block in the first four minutes.

5:52 No shocker that Ebanks had some trouble handling Anthony, who led all scorers with seven after drawing the second personal on L.A.’s second year wing. In came Metta World Peace, still among the league’s best 1-on-1 defenders, with L.A. trailing 19-14.

2:03 A strong stretch was capped by Steve Blake, using glass off a foray into the paint that made it 27-19, a 13-0 run. McRoberts was terrific in the stanza, scoring six points and drawing a charge on Anthony. New York stayed in the game at the foul line, getting seven makes from … Tyson Chandler? … to cut L.A.’s lead to seven at the break, 31-24.

7:32 New fan favorite McRoberts was at it again on the alley-oop front, throwing home Blake’s lob to put the Lakers up 15. His eight points in the half were only 12 away from his career high of 20.

3:41 Checking in to guard Carmelo with World Peace (six more points in his successful start to the season offensively) heading to the bench was Barnes, not starter Ebanks, catching a Bryant pass on the other end near the rim to put L.A. up 55-41.

0:00 L.A.’s third straight strong defensive half was mitigated a bit by New York’s success at the foul line (they made 22-of-26), allowing the Knicks to stay within striking range despite shooting only 33.3 percent from the field. The Lakers were extremely efficient, on the contrary, shooting 71.9 percent on 23-of-32 attempts, led by Bryant’s 5-of-7 for 15 points.

8:34 The Knicks cut L.A.’s lead to single digits for the first time in a while with a fastbreak layup, but Bryant’s pull-up jumper countered to make it 68-57. A moment later, Mike Brown followed up his pregame word that he’d have a quick hook for Ebanks while guarding Melo by subbing Barnes in.

2:58 It’s clear that the Lakers have bought into Brown’s defensive scheme, as the Knicks continued to struggle to find any open looks, making 4-of-14 FG’s in the period as L.A. held onto a 74-61 lead into a late time out. Bryant’s dribble penetration was a problem for the Knickerbockers on the other end, his total climbing to 22 points on 8-of-11 FG’s plus three assists.

0:00 Bryant was putting on an individual show in the third, pulling out all sorts of ball-handling and footwork tricks to set up his shots towards 13 of his 28 points, but the Knicks stayed in it thanks to a late three from Steve Novak and eight more free throws, giving them 30 on the evening. A 6-0 run to close the quarter got them within eight.

10:30 The third McRoberts alley-oop was this time a lay-in, putting L.A. back up 12 points, and giving him 10 points with six boards. Those that watched McRoberts highlights last season know that he’d have been much more likely to take that back with a tomahawk were his sprained toe not bothering him so much.

3:21 More outstanding play from the Lakers as a team defensively caught on at the other end, a 10-0 burst including two put-back dunks (Barnes and Gasol) and two open threes from Bryant’s hand (Blake and Barnes), opening up a 97-75 lead. The only Knick who had anything going was Anthony, who managed 27 points on 8-of-14 field goals, but literally not one other Knick approached 50 percent from the field. Amare was 4-for-17, bothered by Gasol’s length a night after Al Jefferson hit only 2-of-16 shots.

0:00 The final: 99-82, L.A. winning their last two games at STAPLES Center by a combined 42 points. The defense was terrific for the second straight game, New York finishing 21-of-67 from the field (31.3 percent), compared with L.A.’s 52.1 percent. Furthermore, Andrew Bynum would return from his four-game suspension on Saturday against Denver.

Bryant Calls Knee “95 Percent Better”

There’s been more than a little bit of chatter about Kobe Bryant’s right knee early this season, particularly because he has looked legitimately more explosive and healthy than in recent years in L.A.’s first three games.

Lakers head athletic trainer Gary Vitti explained to us back on Dec. 5 that Bryant was in constant communication with the team’s training staff before he went to Germany for an innovative treatment that he has since recommended to Yankees shortstop Alex Rodriguez.

Bryant called his knee “95 percent better,” adding that it’s “as close to 100 percent” as it’s going to get.

In the three games, Bryant has averaged 27.7 points on 45.3 percent shooting, and has made more forays into the paint than he was able to last season, upping his free throw attempt average by more than one per game to 8.3.

Knicks Pod With New York Times’ Beck

Howard Beck of the New York Times, who used to cover the Lakers for the L.A. Daily News, is now on the Knicks and general NBA beat; he joined us after the Lakers completed shootaround at the team’s practice facility to discuss Thursday evening’s matchup.

Lakers 12/28 Injury Update

The Lakers made it through their lone back-to-back-to-back in the compressed 66-game season in relatively decent health, albeit with a slew of minor injuries.

Most notable is Kobe Bryant’s torn lunotriquetral ligament in his right wrist, which occurred in the team’s first preseason game on Dec. 19, but Bryant has pushed through soreness and swelling to lead the team with 27.7 points and 5.7 assists per game, plus 6.7 boards and 1.67 steals in 35 minutes per game on 45.3 percent shooting. He’ll continue to be listed as “day-to-day.”

Probably the next on L.A.’s soreness chart is Josh McRoberts, who not only has a sprained left thumb but also – and more painfully – his left big toe. While he managed to play 20 minutes towards six points, six boards and two blocks against the Jazz, McRoberts said the toe was sore enough to prevent him from running and jumping as he’s capable (though we didn’t notice on one huge alley-oop dunk). Nonetheless, he’s going to play through it in a starting role against the Knicks before heading to the bench when Andrew Bynum returns from suspension on Saturday.

Pau Gasol suffered a sprained right shoulder in the season opener on Christmas against Chicago, but has played through it with limited annoyance, posting 22 points, nine boards and five blocks in L.A.’s Tuesday evening win against Utah. He’s also listed as “day-to-day.”

Matt Barnes fell on his hip in the fourth quarter against Sacramento, in which he contributed four points and three boards in 13 minutes. The technical term is “bursitis, left hip,” through which Barnes said he can play. He was not called upon against Utah, with Devin Ebanks and Metta World Peace still ahead of him on the current small forward depth chart, but said he’s fine to play when called upon.

The lone longer-term injury in L.A. was suffered by Derrick Caracter in training camp, when he tore meniscus in his left knee on Dec. 14. He will be out for at least 2-4 more weeks.

Lakers 96, Jazz 71: Dec. 27 Running Diary

Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Tuesday evening home contest against Utah, the Lakers looking to snap a 2-game losing streak to start the season, with some comments drawn from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, and a few more details in case you missed any of the action:

Lakers: Fisher, Bryant, Ebanks, Gasol and Bynum
Jazz: D. Harris, R. Bell, G. Hayward, D. Favors, A. Jefferson

2:40 After a sluggish offensive start produced only five makes in 13 attempts, Steve Blake matched LAL’s entire three-point shooting total from last night in Sacramento, and Gasol followed with two foul shots to put the home team up 16-15.

0:00 The offense didn’t get much better, but the defense stayed solid for L.A., pleasing Mike Brown on the sideline. Utah managed to hit only 7-of-23 shots (30%), allowing the Lakers an 18-17 lead after one. Here’s as good a time as any to mention L.A.’s record against Utah in STAPLES Center since the building opened: 19-4.

8:16 Scrappy, aggressive defense remained the story from a second unit composed of Blake, Jason Kapono, Metta World Peace, McRoberts and Troy Murphy, with Utah falling to just 29% from the field. L.A., however, wasn’t much better on offense (32%), producing a 22-all tie.

5:41 With Bryant and Gasol checking back in, L.A. found its offense, producing a quick 7-0 run to force a Jazz time out. Bryant’s jumper, Blake’s second three-pointer off Kobe’s pass and a McRoberts alley-oop slam from Blake had Jazz Coach Tyrone Corbin (who runs much of Jerry Sloan’s offense) annoyed, and down 29-22.

4:06 Out of nowhere, World Peace exploded for a one-handed hammer dunk, driving in after faking a three-pointer. Kevin Harlan said something fun on the play-by-play for TNT (apparently, just a … WOOORRRRLLD PEEEEAAAACEEEE!” Meanwhile, guest “analyst” Andy Garcia (yes, the great actor) didn’t really know what to make of it on 710 ESPN. The dunk capped a 13-0 run for the Lakers, making it a 35-22 game.

1:27 Speaking of explosive dunks, Kobe got to the rim with a tricky move around Bell, convincing the Jazz SG he was going to use Gasol’s screen going the other way, and the Spaniard added a tip in of Bryant’s near miss at the buzzer to put L.A. up 10 at the break. Utah’s shooting percentage? Just 26%.

8:38 With a McRoberts hoop at the rim, L.A.’s lead grew to 51-33, the buckets coming with ease as Utah continued to struggle. Leading the defensive charge was Gasol, already with four blocks, while his man – Al Jefferson – was struggling mightily with a 2-for-15 from the field, bothered by the Spaniard’s length.

5:37 More of the same, as Bryant got to the line off a basket cut, breaking his tie with Gasol at 13 points and seven boards. The Lakers were the more fluid team despite still making errors in Brown’s system, as Utah’s young talented players (several lottery picks in uniform) struggled to find any cohesion.

0:00 The not-so-hidden benefit of L.A. being up 71-46 after three was that Bryant and Gasol in particular could rest for the entire fourth quarter, barring an absurd Jazz comeback. As it was the third consecutive day of NBA basketball, the veterans were surely happy to have 12 extra minutes of rest.

11:17 More World Peace to open the final period, with an and-1 leaner as the shot clock expired. Then Murphy’s extra effort got Kapono a wide-open three in front of L.A.’s bench, which swished home to put L.A. up 29 (77-48).

7:00 OK, ignore the comment to close the fourth quarter. Judging from the scores of questions on Twitter, many were confused as to why Mike Brown would put Gasol and Bryant back into the game. The easy argument is that Brown is still teaching his scheme on both ends, and wants his starters to benefit on the floor. Fisher (also checking in) had played only 21 minutes, Bryant 27 and Gasol 32, and Bryant immediately scored the next seven LAL points to push a 21-point lead to 88-62.

0:00 The final few minutes featured a “We Want Barnes” chant from the crowd, but Barnes pointed to his sore hip (bursitis, technically) as an explanation. Brown finally emptied the bench with two minutes to go. Your final score: 96-71.

Bryant finished with 26 points on 8-of-17 field goals, with eight boards and five assists, while Gasol added 22 points, nine boards, two steals and a game-high five blocks while holding Jefferson to 2-of-16 FG’s. Metta World Peace had another nice game off the bench, scoring 14 points with five boards and a steal. L.A. also committed only nine turnovers, which was a problem in their first two games, and held the Jazz to right around 30 percent from the field.

Pre-Utah Numbers

We took a look at some of the outstanding numbers from L.A.’s first two games, losses to Chicago and at Sacramento, in advance of the team’s third game in as many days against Utah on Tuesday:

82.6 Lakers winning percentage against the Jazz at STAPLES Center (19-4) in the regular season.

44.5 Team field goal percentage through two games.

28.5 Kobe Bryant’s ppg average, on 44.7% field goals.

23 Team rank in points per game (89.0).

16 Preseason scoring average of Jazz forward Derrick Favors, the No. 3 overall pick last season in New Jersey, who was acquired by Utah in the Deron Williams trade. He added 9.0 boards as well.

15.6 L.A.’s 3-point percentage after a horrible shooting night from the arc in Sacramento (1-for-16).

14.5 Pau Gasol’s ppg average on 50% field goals. His coaches would like to see him shoot the ball more, needless to say.

13 Lakers rank in points per game allowed (94.0).

7.5 Boards per game for rookie Enes Kanter, a Turkish 2011 lottery pick (also No. 3 overall, like Favors the year before), in only 19.5 minutes per contest, plus 1.0 block per contest.

1 Back-to-back-to-back on the season. At least L.A. gets it out of the way early. They’re set, however, to play 17 games in 31 January nights.