Monthly Archive for April, 2012

Page 3 of 5

Western Conference Playoff Picture

With 10 days left in the regular season, things are starting to shape up in the Western Conference playoff push, even if we may not know every matchup until the final day of the regular season, April 27.

As things sit today, this is what we’d see in the Wild West:

#1 San Antonio (43-16) vs. #8 Phoenix (32-29)
#2 Oklahoma City (44-17) vs. #7 Dallas (34-28)
#3 L.A. Lakers (39-22) vs. #6 Denver (34-27)
#4 L.A. Clippers (38-23) vs. #5 Memphis (35-25)

LAKERS, CLIPPERS SHOOT FOR THIRD
The battle for the No. 3 seed is centered in Los Angeles between the Lakers and Clippers, with the Grizzlies looking in from the outside, 3.0 games back of the Lakers. Mike Brown’s team holds a one gamelead on the Clippers, who won a big game at home against Oklahoma City on Monday night to stay well within striking distance, though the Lakers do own the tiebreaker. Here are the remaining games for each squad:

LAKERS: vs. SAS, @ GSW, @ SAS, vs. OKC, @ SAC
CLIPPERS: @ DEN, @ PHO, vs. NOH, @ ATL, @ NYK

On the surface, the Clippers schedule appears more difficult, as all four road teams they’re set to visit are battling either for their playoff lives or seeding. For the Lakers, the Warriors and Kings are a combined 36 games below .500, while the Spurs and Thunder may or may not be in competition for the No. 1 seed, which could impact the level of intensity for each of the three matchups. That’s why they play the games…

ON THE BACK END
Don’t count out Houston (32-29) or Utah (32-30) from sneaking in, as both have a puncher’s chance at claiming the final playoff spot Phoenix moved into with a Monday win over Portland due to consecutive Rockets losses to Denver. The Nuggets, with those two wins, moved from the eight slot to the six, since Dallas lost back-to-back road overtime games at L.A. and Utah on consecutive evenings. In short, whichever L.A. team gets the No. 3 seed could face any one of five teams, with Denver and Dallas holding narrow advantages in the loss column.

All of this can change in a single NBA day, so stay tuned while we try to make sense of it all for you.

Bynum Earns 3rd Western POW Award

For the third time in his career and second time this season, Andrew Bynum was named the Western Conference Player of the Week after leading the Lakers to a 4-0 record despite Kobe Bryant’s absence due to his shin injury.

In leading the Lakers to road wins over New Orleans and San Antonio, and home defeats of Denver and Dallas, Bynum averaged 21.8 points, a league-best 16.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.5 blocks:

April 9 @ New Orleans: Scored 19 points on 7 of 10 FG’s with 10 rebounds, two assists and two blocks.
April 11 @ San Antonio: Scored 16 points with 30 rebounds, two assists and two blocks in a 98-84 win. It was just the 20th time in franchise history that a Laker grabbed at least 30 rebounds, the other four players to do so – George Mikan, Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – all Hall of Famers.
April 13 vs. Denver: Scored 30 points with eight rebounds, three assists and three blocks in a 103-97 win over the Nuggets.
April 15 vs. Dallas: Went for 23 points, 16 rebounds and two dimes as the Lakers topped the Mavericks 112-108 in OT.

His coach, Mike Brown, was particularly pleased with Bynum’s effort against Dallas, thanks to his dominance on defense.

“He was an absolute monster today,” said Brown. “I’m not talking about his 23 and 16, but he was a monster in the paint today in pick and rolls and lastly, rebounding the basketball. He was unbelievable. I think I enjoyed watching him more today than any other night because of his dominance, or presence, in that lane on both ends of the floor.

“Every rebound he got, he went and got. They didn’t fall in his hands, this is a very good box out team. He went and got every single rebound that he collected.”

Bynum’s last Western POW came for games played from March 12 to March 18, when he led the Lakers to a 3-1 week behind averages of 27.5 points and 14.8 rebounds while shooting 66.5 percent from the field.

His first career POW honors came for the week of 1/19/09 to 1/25/09, when he posted averages of 23.5 points, 11.5 rebounds and 2.25 blocks in helping lead the Lakers to a 4-0 week.

LAL 112, DAL 108 (OT): April 15 Running Diary

Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Sunday afternoon home contest against Dallas, the Lakers looking to complete a season sweep of the Mavs, with some comments drawn from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, and a few more details in case you missed any of the action:

Starters
Lakers: Sessions, Ebanks, World Peace, Gasol and Bynum
Mavericks: J. Kidd, D. West, S. Marion, D. Nowitzki, B. Haywood

FIRST QUARTER
7:12 A super slow start from the Lakers was highlighted by the struggles of Andrew Bynum, who missed his first four shots and looked sluggish. This made some sense, as we learned before tip that he was struggling with an upper respiratory infection. But he wasn’t the only Laker off to a slow start, as Pau Gasol was 0 for 3, the team 2 for 13 as Dallas took a 13-5 early lead.

4:05 L.A.’s most effective player in Wednesday’s win over Denver was Matt Barnes, who scored a season-high 24 points with 10 boards, and he kept it going early by hitting his first shot, then feeding fellow sub Josh McRoberts for a layup that cut the Mavs’ lead to 21-15.

0:00 To be down only 27-22 after a quarter in which Bynum and Gasol combined to shoot 1 for 11 for two points as Kobe watched in (slick) street clothes wasn’t all that bad for the Lakers. Sessions led the way with 10 points, and McRoberts had two buckets off the bench while Delonte West was terrific for Dallas, surpassing his season average of 9.0 points with 12 in the quarter alone.

SECOND QUARTER
8:55 Dallas went on a 5-0 run to open the second quarter to push the lead back to 10, but L.A. again responded, getting a corner three from Barnes and six total free throws from Gasol and MWP to cut the lead down to just one … and this despite World Peace, Gasol and Bynum combining to make only one of 16 shots.

4:33 Dirk (0 for 6) and Gasol (0 for 3) returned without having hit a shot, such a rarity for the NBA’s most skilled big men (we could say “arguably,” but it’s tough to argue against either from a skills standpoint). Bynum had managed to hit his previous two field goals after starting 1 for 8, however, keeping L.A. within two points at 42-40 into a Mavs time out.

0:00 Terry nailed a three with nine seconds on the clock to put Dallas up six at the half, 54-48, a scoreline the Lakers couldn’t be that upset with considering how poorly they shot the ball (39.5 percent)

THIRD QUARTER
6:52 Picking up their play, the Lakers used a slew of offensive put backs, with World Peace wreaking havoc in the Mavs paint for eight of the team’s first 10 points, and Gasol putting home a Bynum miss to cut Dallas’ lead to two. Dallas continued to hit 3′s, getting the third from Kidd and Dirk’s first for 6 of 11 total, to maintain the lead.

4:45 For the first time since it was 5-3, the Lakers took a lead as Ebanks swished a baseline jumper courtesy of the fifth Gasol assist. LAL’s defense had picked up considerably, forcing the Mavs to hit long jump shots. Of course, they’re one of the NBA’s best jump shooting teams, and Kidd’s third three (his previous was changed to a two) countered the second Sessions triple of the day.

0:20.8 A three-pointer from Barnes gave L.A. its biggest lead of the game at 76-72, but Terry hit his second late triple in as many quarters, allowing Dallas to cut the deficit to one going into the fourth quarter. Still, the Lakers had outscored their opponent 28-18 before Terry’s shot, using solid defense that kept the Mavs taking contested two point shots, and getting little easy, L.A. thus erasing a 6-point halftime deficit to lead by a point with 12 minutes to go.

FOURTH QUARTER
9:06 We’ve been writing about how defending the three-point line has been a big problem for the Lakers since Houston hit 10 in their April 6 win, and today’s game was no different, with Dirk nailing a trailing triple and Terry an open look from the wing to make the Mavs 9 of 15. L.A. had regained a 3-point lead, but the triples turned that around.

5:25 With the Mavs trying to go small, using Brandan Wright at center, L.A. took immediate advantage as Bynum first sealed him for an and-1, then followed a World Peace miss with an emphatic 2-handed flush. Barnes also swatted Wright on the other end, prompting Rick Carlisle to come back with Haywood after a 7-2 Lakers run that cut the Mavs lead to one.

0:00 Ready for overtime? A series of big plays from both teams mandated an extra session, as Sessions buckets/free throws were countered by a big pull-up shot from Terry, and L.A. couldn’t convert two chances in the final minute, with Kobe watching from the bench.

OVERTIME
2:55 OK, folks … how about four consecutive three-pointers, with none other than Pau Gasol nailing both for the Lakers to answer Mavs triples from Terry (his fifth) and Dirk (his third). The Spaniard’s first triple was to beat the shot clock in desperation, but his second came fully set up in the exact same spot, his sixth and seventh made triples on the season – three of them coming in overtimes (the first at Utah to clinch the team’s first road win).

1:26 Bynum’s defensive board was his 16th overall, as he joined Gasol (10) and Barnes (11) in double digits on the glass, LAL having grabbed 10 more than Dallas. He also converted a pull-up jumper in the paint to put the Lakers up two moments earlier, and World Peace then buried a tough leaning jumper to make it 110-106 in the final minute.

0:00 World Peace buried a tough jumper to put L.A. up four with 1:24 to play, and L.A. would come up with the key stop it needed a minute later, with Terry getting too far under the rim and rejecting himself on the bottom while trying to tie the game (Dirk had hit 2 FT’s earlier to get it to a two-point deficit). Subsequently, Gasol would hit two free throws with 0.5 seconds left (Marion waited two full seconds to foul him, for some reason) to make the final margin 112-108, an impressive fourth win in five games without Kobe for the Lakers.

Barnes Stepping Up

WATCH: Matt Barnes postgame video:

With Kobe Bryant wearing a suit for the fourth straight game, no Laker played better basketball than Matt Barnes, who scored a season-high 24 points on 9 of 11 shooting (four of four three-pointers) to lead L.A. to a 103-97 win over Denver on Friday night.

Barnes had been solid in the three previous Bryant-less games, averaging 8.0 points on 45 percent shooting plus seven boards per game, and added 10 more boards for his second double-double of the season vs. the Nuggets. To Metta World Peace, the energy level of his fellow small forward is to what the rest of the team should be aspiring.

“Matt Barnes is on a whole other level right now,” World Peace exclaimed. “He’s very fired up. You see the red in his eyes. We all need to get on his level.”

To Barnes, it’s the only way to do it.

“When we play hard, we’re a tough team to beat,” he said. “We’re so talented, but sometimes we’re lazy. When we’re lazy, we allow teams to do stuff that shouldn’t normally happen.”

Barnes takes issue with those judging L.A.’s bench solely by its scoring – or lack there of – since the unit ranks 30th in the NBA in points, because scoring isn’t what’s asked of the bench … not when Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum have the offense run through them for nearly all 48 minutes. Indeed, even when four bench players are on the floor, either Gasol or Bynum is out there to anchor the unit, and get the majority of the touches and shots. Furthermore, each of L.A.’s primary scoring options play big minutes, Bynum’s 35:17 the low, as only Boston’s bench (15. 6 minutes) gets fewer than the Lakers’ 15.8 per game.

“There’s been talk all year that the bench can’t do this or other guys can’t do that,” Barnes said after his 24-point scoring night. “This team is a very talented team and we know our roles. My job is not going to be to score like this every night. My job is to bring energy and play hard. With nights when Kobe is out, guys have to step up.”

And so, despite Barnes’ scoring uptick (he had 13 in the team’s win at San Antonio), defense and energy remain his areas of focus, especially once Bryant returns to the line up. He hopes that will prove a useful combination as the Lakers gear up for a playoff run.

LAL 103, DEN 97: April 13 Running Diary

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

Starters
Lakers: Sessions, Ebanks, Barnes, Gasol and Bynum
Nuggets: T. Lawson, A. Afflalo, D. Gallinari, K. Faried, K. Koufos

FIRST QUARTER
6:34 Inspired by a bit of everything from Metta World Peace, the Lakers reeled off an 8-0 run to take a 15-8 lead. MWP continued his terrific offensive streak from the past week or so, hitting a three to go with a transition dunk, and smashing home a one-handed dunk off his own strip of Gallinari.

By the way: Mike Brown left the game for personal reasons before tip, leaving assistant John Kuester to handle head coaching duties for the evening. No more information was available, but we of course wish Brown well.

1:08 L.A. continued an excellent all-around quarter with consecutive stops around a Matt Barnes triple off the bench, moments after he’d stripped a Nugget and slammed home a dunk in transition, to make it 28-14 for the home team. Denver was shooting only 26 percent up to that point.

0:00 The D relented a bit in the final minute and change, however, allowing three straight Denver makes, plus 1 of 2 free throws that cut L.A.’s lead to 11 after one at 30-19.

SECOND QUARTER
9:00 After allowing Denver to cut the lead to six, LAL answered with a 5-0 run, featuring a Barnes and-1 (eight bench points in seven minutes) and Gasol’s long jumper that made it 37-26.

7:01 How about World Peace, folks? He was up to 11 points on 4 of 5 field goals after burying another three. If he plays like this on offense, and Bynum continues to control the defensive paint and glass in general, the Lakers are scaring a lot of teams in the playoffs.

4:15 However, three minutes later, L.A. had yet to score again, while the Nuggets took advantage of suddenly sloppy offense to roll off an 11-0 run, keyed by easy transition buckets, that cut the lead to only four. Barnes ended a fantastic individual half with a buzzer-beating heave that must have gone 30 feet into the air before swishing home, making for a 54-48 margin at the break.

THIRD QUARTER
7:51 A sloppy start to the third saw L.A. turn the ball over four times in the first three minutes of the period, though Bynum’s transition dunk of a Nuggets’ turnover kept L.A. in front by five, Bynum reaching 14 points, though he had only three boards after grabbing 30 at San Antonio. George Karl obviously had his troops watch the game tape from that Spurs tape … think boxing Bynum out came up?

5:00 The lead was pushed back to double digits on a tough baseline hook from Bynum, followed by his put-back on the next play, getting him to 18 points with five boards and three assists, a solid all-around effort in Bryant’s absence.

0:00 L.A. had used more interior dominance from Bynum, Denver double teams be damned, to push its lead back to double digits, though Al Harrington’s 3 cut the lead to eight entering the fourth quarter. Same pattern: LAL push lead big, Denver charges back, leaving us 12 more minutes of intrigue.

FOURTH QUARTER
8:22 Like we were saying … the Lakers would push the lead back to double digits (87-79 on Gasol’s jumper) only to concede consecutive hoops to Denver, cutting the lead back to eight. What had been just as consistent: Barnes. He drained another three to reach 18 bench points, plus seven boards, second only to Bynum’s 24 and eight.

4:25 Really, really sounding like a broken record here, but the Nuggets used a 6-0 run to cut the lead down to just two, but no tie was to be had just yet as two Bynum free throws. But with 2:12 left, L.A. had pushed the lead again back to five, this time thanks mostly to Barnes, who hit another three (his fourth in four attempts) and 1 of 2 free throws after clearing his ninth board.

1:29 Gasol added a key defensive swat, but this night belonged to Barnes, who added a runner to reach a season-high 24 points, then lofted an alley-oop pass to Bynum (30 points for the sixth time this season) that closed the door for good in the final minute. Barnes did his damage on 9 of 11 field goals, sinking all four of his three-pointers, in a most efficient evening that also included 10 boards.

The final score, 103-97, saw the Lakers improve to 38-22 with a third straight victory, leaving them 1.5 games ahead of the Clippers (plus the tiebreaker) for the No. 3 seed in the West. Up next: Dallas on Sunday. See you there.

Level of Efficiency in Kobe’s Absence

It’s been three games since Kobe Bryant suited up for the Lakers, his tenosynovitis of the shin getting in the way of 138 consecutive games played. That absence has had varying short term affects on his teammates.

Perimeter-oriented players like Metta World Peace, Matt Barnes and Steve Blake have used the extra minutes and shots available to find a nice collective rhythm on offense. Pau Gasol and Ramon Sessions stayed pretty consistent with or without Kobe, while the lone Laker that really struggled in his absence, Andrew Bynum, has had a more difficult time getting open looks through quicker-than-usual double teams.

Here’s a closer look at the increase in efficiency for MWP, Barnes and Blake, and decrease for Bynum from a small sample size of shooting numbers:

Three Games Sans Kobe:
World Peace: 21 of 32, 66%, 17.7 ppg
Barnes: 9 of 20, 45% FG’s, 8.0 ppg
Blake: 7 of 14, 50%, 6.0 ppg
Bynum: 24 of 64, 38%, 19.0 ppg

Three Previous Games With Kobe:
World Peace: 14 of 30, 47%, 12.7 ppg
Barnes: 4 of 20, 20%, 3.7 ppg
Blake: 4 of 12, 33%, 4.3 ppg
Bynum*: 26 of 41, 63%, 24.7 ppg
*Including games vs. Houston (4/6), at L.A. Clippers (4/4) and vs. New Orleans (3/31), as he missed the New Jersey game and most of the Golden State contest due to a sprained ankle.

Among the conclusions we can draw:

- Bynum is very clearly struggling to get the same kind of looks he gets when Kobe Bryant draws so much attention, compared to his replacement, Devin Ebanks (whose effort has impressed teammates and coaches nonetheless). Shooting 63 percent with Kobe and 38 percent without as the primary focus of the opposing defense is telling. Instead of letting Bynum have time and space to put the ball on the floor or get into his post moves, he’s been blitzed immediately, even more quickly than he has throughout the season (generally speaking).

That said, Bynum’s focus on defense and rebounding (30 boards against San Antonio, an NBA season high that had been accomplished by only four Hall of Fame Lakers (George Mikan, Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) was perhaps the biggest factor in L.A.’s back to back road wins at New Orleans and San Antonio despite Kobe’s absence.

- The perimeter players have indeed taken advantage of the increased opportunity to get into rhythm, as Matt Barnes described after the win at San Antonio: “Playing more minutes with more chances to get shots up can’t help but get you into rhythm as an NBA player.” That said, Barnes was quick to mention that he and his teammates “of course” and “absolutely” want Kobe back as soon as possible, adding that it’s on them to maintain the rhythm they’ve found when No. 24 returns.

- Gasol is so talented offensively that it’s tough to get him out of rhythm, as he can take whatever the defense gives him, inside or out. He hit 14 of 25 shots in a loss at Phoenix for a season-high 30 points, and averaged 23 points in the two subsequent road wins, but was also well over 50 percent from the field in the three previous games with Kobe.

- Despite initially hurting his shin against New Orleans on March 31, Kobe went on to shoot 57.1, 62.5 and 68.4 percent in his next three games while playing through pain, before noticeably limping his way through an 8 for 20 shooting night (11 for 11 free throws) against Houston on April 6. He was shut down after that one, and continues to be listed as day-to-day in advance of Friday’s game against Denver.

What would be ideal for Mike Brown? A healthy Kobe helping make Bynum’s life easier, with the other perimeter players continuing their upward trend. Easier said than done, of course; he’ll surely start with just getting Kobe back on the floor.

LAL 98, SAS 84: April 11 Running Diary

Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Wednesday evening road contest at San Antonio, the first of three meetings between the two teams in the next two weeks, with some comments drawn from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, and a few more details in case you missed any of the action:

Starters
Lakers: Sessions, Ebanks*, World Peace, Gasol and Bynum
T. Parker, D. Green, K. Leanard, D. Blair, T. Duncan
*Kobe Bryant remained out with tenosynovitis of the left shin.

FIRST QUARTER
12:00 In their past three games, the Lakers have given up nine, 14 and 10 three-pointers to the Hornets, Suns and Rockets, on a combined 54.1 percent (33 of 61). This is an extended anomaly, as the Lakers allow 33.7 percent on the season, dropping from fifth to eighth in the last three alone.

6:20 A 5-0 LAL run tied us up at 10 after San Antonio had rolled off eight straight, with a World Peace three-pointer capping the quick burst. Bynum was all over the glass, grabbing seven boards, L.A. using its superior length with the 6-7 DeJuan Blair defending Bynum.

0:00 Despite giving up four three-pointers to the Spurs (continuing that trend mentioned a few words ago), L.A. took a 24-21 lead out of the first, thanks mostly to eight offensive boards, which made up for 10 of 29 shooting, including Bynum’s 3 of 9 and Gasol’s 3 of 7. Bynum grabbed 10 boards, four of them offensive, to key L.A.’s 21-10 edge on the glass.

SECOND QUARTER
7:30 The second unit started out hot in the second, getting the third World Peace triple and then back to back triples from Matt Barnes to open a 33-26 lead. Moments later, Barnes tipped in a McRoberts miss to keep L.A. up six, totaling eight quick points off the pine.

2:35 How good was Bynum in the first half? Well, his 16th rebound was the same total as San Antonio had as a team, and it happened to be an offensive tip from the block with one hand, putting the Lakers up 11 points. The Spurs, however, rallied to cut the lead to five, as the whistles seemed to go away in the final minute as L.A. played volleyball at the rim, Bynum reaching 19 total rebounds (!), but the Lakers not able to put away a tip in that San Antonio turned into a transition layup, making it 48-43 at the break.

THIRD QUARTER
8:21 The Lakers continued to play great ball to open the second half, losing nothing from the halftime break, as World Peace converted a fastbreak layup off his own steal to put L.A. up 58-45. Bynum added his sixth bucket to reach 14 points with his 20 boards, both game highs.

5:00 Continuing to step up his scoring in Kobe’s absence was World Peace, who caught fire in this one, nailing two turnaround jumpers that gave him 18 points, and the Lakers a 69-51 lead when Sessions followed with a long two of his own. Last four games for Peace: 23, 19, eight, and … now 20 after ANOTHER World Peace hoop. He was 8 of 11 from the field, with Kobe nodding in admiration on the bench, and L.A.’s lead pushing to 71-53.

0:00 The lead was a healthy 16 points after three, with Blake’s 20-footer stopping a 5-0 Spurs run, putting L.A. in control with 12 Kobe-less minutes to play.

FOURTH QUARTER
7:54 How about Metta World Peace, folks? He buried a three without leaving his feet to beat the shot clock (you know like he does when he’s in the paint and gets fouled on a put-back attempt, right?), his fifth triple of the night, to reach 26 points, the most he’s scored as a Laker. His triple put L.A. up 89-63, their biggest lead, enough to coast to a victory…

2:25 … And that they would, even though the Spurs took advantage of L.A. finally backing off by reeling off a quick 14-2 run, hitting their 13th three with 2:25 to go to cut it to 11, but Blake answered with a triple of his own moments later as if a final dagger were needed.

1:47 How much glass was Andrew Bynum cleaning? Well, in the entire history of the Lakers, featuring by far the best collection of dominant big men of any franchise, a 30-rebound game had happened only 19 times. The last time it happened? Back in 1978, when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did it. But with under two minutes to play, Bynum got No. 30, the 20th such game, joining George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain (who did it 14 times), Kareem and Elgin Baylor.

As such, Bynum got the walk off interview on KCAL 9, expressing frustration with his game as he made only 7 of 20 shots, choosing not to focus on his history game on the glass. He was helped by the 26 from World Peace, 21 points, 11 boards and four assists from Gasol and 13 off the bench from Barnes, who was excellent in Kobe’s absence. It was the seventh Lakers road win in nine tries, improving the team to 37-22 on the season, with a home game against Denver coming up on Friday. See you there.

Ramon Sessions: General Update

Fourteen games into his Purple and Gold tenure, Ramon Sessions checked in with reporters following the team’s practice in San Antonio, addressing a number of topics that we summarized below:

DEFENSE: When asked about how his D was progressing, and what his coaches wanted from him, Sessions had this to say: “It’s coming along a lot better. The last couple of days we’ve been able to get some (film) time in, and today was great to get some practice in. I’m definitely picking up on it, which is good heading into the playoffs. (They want me to be) up on the ball and don’t stop on the play and look for rebounds. Hit the bigs that are down there and just help on the boards.” Sessions added that he can “definitely be more aggressive” pushing onto his guy thanks to the presence of seven footers Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol in the paint. L.A.’s coaches agree, and would actually like him to push up even more onto his man.

That said, Mike Brown was complimentary of Sessions’ development on D:

“He had some good actions on the defensive end of the floor from yesterday’s game and we showed a couple of them on the film session today,” said Brown. “He’s definitely getting better, which is exciting to see, because we still have some time left for him to continue to learn and grow.”

INJURIES: Sessions has been dealing with a sprained left shoulder (ac joint) that has required frequent treatment and constant icing, in addition to a bothersome, jammed right index finger.

His thoughts first on the finger: “It feels better, but it’s just the grind of the season. Just trying to not get it banged on again, and I kind of got it banged again (at New Orleans). It’s one of those things. It was feeling the best it’s felt last night, and to get it hit again was another little set back. But nothing too major.” Indeed, Sessions managed to sink the dagger three in the final minute that buried New Orleans, exploded for a two-handed dunk in the paint and finished with 17 points on 5 of 9 field goals (plus six free throws), plus six boards and six assists.

And the shoulder: “It’s getting better each day. It hasn’t gotten really hit too hard yet, so hopefully before long it gets to 100 percent. Nobody really knows the time it’ll get right, but (I’m) just getting treatment on it and hope it gets better.”

DUNKING ON PEOPLE: Sessions said he’s understanding what he’s supposed to do on offense pretty well, and has become especially comfortable running the pick and roll. The Hornets saw this most notably in the third quarter, when at the 5:03 mark, Sessions blew right by Greivis Vasquez and exploded for a two-handed dunk over Chris Kaman. His thought: “The guys always tell me, I’m already up there so I might as well turn (the ball over into the rim).”

Kobe Bryant to Miss Third Straight Game

Kobe Bryant continues to improve as he deals with tenosynovitis of the shin, but since pain remains on his lower left leg, he will not play at San Antonio on Wednesday evening.

The shin has been inflamed, but once the pain goes away, so should the inflammation.

Bryant had started 138 consecutive games before being held out of L.A.’s Saturday evening loss at Phoenix and Monday’s win at New Orleans. Head athletic trainer Gary Vitti said that shutting Bryant down was the only way to ensure he’d heal fully and be healthy heading into the stretch run of the regular season and playoffs, and head coach Mike Brown has repeatedly supported the plan of making sure Kobe’s both healthy and rested.

“It’s OK that it’s taking time for him to get right,” said Brown after Tuesday’s practice in San Antonio.

Prior to the win over New Orleans, Brown said that the general rest can actually be a positive for his shooting guard, since Bryant ranks third in the NBA in minutes (38.5) in his 16th NBA season.

Bryant will be treated and re-evaluated continually; the next game on the schedule coming at STAPLES Center on Friday against Denver.

****UPDATE: Bryant also missed the team’s Friday and Sunday wins over Denver and Dallas, and remains listed as day-to-day in advance of the next contest, coming on Tuesday against San Antonio.

LAL 93, NOH 91: April 9 Running Diary

Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Monday evening road contest at New Orleans, the Lakers looking to bounce back from back-to-back losses to Houston and Phoenix, with some comments drawn from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, and a few more details in case you missed any of the action:

Starters
Lakers: Sessions, Ebanks*, World Peace, Gasol and Bynum
Hornets: G. Vasquez, E. Gordon, A. Aminu, J. Smith, C. Kaman
*Devin Ebanks started for the second straight time with Kobe Bryant resting his bruised shin.

FIRST QUARTER
4:38 L.A. got off to a slow shooting start, helping the Hornets jump to a 7-2 lead, but responded with a 12-4 run to open a 14-10 lead on a floater from Sessions, which got him to six early points. While the main priority for Sessions remains getting Bynum and Gasol enough touches, L.A.’s coaches do want him to be aggressive with his own shot when given space, particularly with Bryant sitting out a second straight game.

1:02 Bynum hit 1 of 2 free throws to reach 3 of 4 on the night, important to him since he really struggled from the stripe at Phoenix, making only 3 of 9 attempts. That was a rarity of Bynum of late, who especially since late January has been very solid at the stripe, improving his percentage from the 50′s up to 68 percent on the season (74 percent post All Star). L.A., meanwhile, led by four, though the Hornets got two points back to make it 21-17 after 12 minutes.

SECOND QUARTER
6:00 Providing an early bench boost was Matt Barnes, who nailed a corner three and the put back a Gasol miss, five straight points putting L.A. up 34-29. This was a good sign for Barnes and his team, since he’d made only three of his past 21 shots going back three games.

4:25 With Kaman trying to avoid his third foul, Bynum scored rather easily over Chewbacca (the Hornets play a Chewy noise every time Kaman scores), and Troy Murphy hit a corner two to put the Lakers up 40-31 on the next trip, the biggest lead of the game.

0:00 Biggest problem of the half for L.A.? Quick double teams from NOH on Bynum, who hasn’t dealt especially well with them all season, but struggles even more when they come immediately, which is what happened with the Hornets leaving Ebanks (instead of Kobe) on the wing and sending a second defender flying down. Bynum grew frustrated both with the constant double and a few no calls inside, New Orleans taking advantage at the other end with a 7-0 run. Gasol did manage a sixth field goal to reach 15 points, ending the half with a long two that made it 44-43 Lakers.

THIRD QUARTER
5:00 You don’t see too many point guards turn the corner on pick and rolls and get all the way to the rim for a two-handed dunk (Westbrook, Rose come to mind), but Sessions did just that to keep the game tight halfway through the third.

2:53 The latest LAL opponent to get red hot from three was Vasquez, who drained his fourth triple in as many attempts to put New Orleans up eight. It’s been a frustration for the last three games, with Houston and Phoenix shooting lights out from three, for a Lakers team that ranks fifth in the NBA in three-point percentage against.

0:00 The Hornets lead was seven after three quarters, as L.A. continued to look a bit disjointed on offense without Kobe, even with Sessions getting to the hoop and the foul line to reach 14 points, eight in the period.
Continue reading ‘LAL 93, NOH 91: April 9 Running Diary’