Monthly Archive for October, 2012

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Lakers 92, Kings 99: Oct. 21 Preseason Diary

Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Sunday preseason contest against Sacramento, with Dwight Howard expected to make his debut, with some comments drawn from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, and a few more details in case you missed any of the action:

Starters
Lakers: Nash, Bryant, World Peace, Gasol and Howard
Kings: I. Thomas, M. Thornton, J. Johnson, T. Robinson, D. Cousins

FIRST QUARTER
10:40 Just over a minute into his debut in purple and gold, Dwight Howard had already thrown down an alley-oop dunk off Pau Gasol’s lob from the high post and kicked out a pass for Kobe Bryant’s three-pointer. Lakers fans were quite entertained. There was something special even from the starting line ups, just hearing “World Peace,” “Gasol,” “Howard,” “Nash” and “Bryant” from PA legend Lawrence Tanter.

0:00 With Howard (four points, two boards, two blocks) making his presence felt on both ends, L.A. led by as many as seven before the Kings’ bench unit trimmed six points off the lead, 29-28 after one. Gasol had six points and Bryant seven, the Spaniard dunking emphatically after beating Cousins off the dribble at one point, as the Lakers made 9 of 15 shots (60 percent). Also of note: the Kings committed nine fouls trying to deal with L.A.’s offense. Expect a lot of free throws this season, ladies and gents.

SECOND QUARTER
5:59 Halfway through the second half, the starters had all returned to try and reclaim the lead, with Nash converting a tough driving bank shot that tied it at 39. L.A. looked brilliant at times and disorganized at others, as we remember it’s the first time the starting five had played against a live opponent, and the bench rotation had been close to intact (Jordan Hill was still out while recovering from a herniated disc in his back). It’ll take a bit of time…

0:00 … Or not? LAL looked fantastic in the final six minutes of the period, pushing their lead up to as many as 11 (55-44) when World Peace hit a contested three-pointer. Howard was everywhere, hammering home his second alley-oop (this time from Kobe), blocking his third shot and putting back a Kobe miss for his sixth rebound before matching Bryant’s 11 points by making an and-1 free throw. Furthermore, Howard took a hard fall after being shoved from behind on that put-back (Cousins), but popped right up.

THIRD QUARTER
8:40 The first half magic from LAL’s starters vanished quickly, a 12-0 run capped by a Tyreke Evans and-1 that followed a ridiculous put-back dunk from rookie Thomas Robinson, catapulting himself over Howard. Bryant’s two free throws snapped the run, L.A.’s lead at 61-58. A few moments later, Nash got tangled up in the backcourt and tweaked his ankle, but he played on and ended up being fine (head trainer Gary Vitti re-taped him in the locker room and Nash returned to the floor).

0:32.4 After a Gasol dunk and Steve Blake three pushed L.A.’s lead back to seven, the Kings reeled off a quick 9-0 burst to take a 74-72 lead out of the third quarter. Here we remember that the Lakers are installing a new offense and still figuring out defensive rotations, the team looking pretty disorganized in the final moments. Regardless, the coaching staff won’t be happy with twice allowing Sacramento right back into the mix.

FOURTH QUARTER
8:25 With Nash and Howard checking back in (alongside Ebanks, Jamison and Meeks) and L.A. trailing 80-75, the first offensive action was a powerful Howard dunk, and his defensive board on the other end gave him a double-double (17 and 10 plus four blocks).

0:00 The starters got a three-point lead when Gasol hit two free throws with 1:43 to play, but quickly lost it when Cousins hit back-to-back shots, and Howard didn’t get a call going up to the rim on the previous play. Down one with 33 seconds left, Nash got a good look in the paint, but rimmed out. After two Jimmer Fredette free throws, Bryant then just missed a game-tying three, and Sacramento added free throws late to take a 99-92 victory out of the building. There were some good moments, but the Lakers clearly need a bit more time to gel, having just gotten Howard into the line up. But the big man did look excellent: 19 points, 12 boards, four blocks, two assists and five turnovers in 33 minutes. Up next are the Clippers on Wednesday. See you there.

Howard To Start vs. Kings

Dwight Howard will make his Laker debut tonight at home against the Sacramento Kings.

Howard was cleared for full contact drills on October 9 and had slowly been working his way back into game shape. The biggest concern for the big man was his conditioning.

“That’s the main thing,” Howard explained after Thursday’s practice. “Like I told you guys: ‘I don’t want to go out there fatigued and injure something else.’ Most of the time, that’s when you (get) injuries. So I just want to make sure I’m in pretty good shape to play.”

For the first time, the Lakers will also put out their regular starting lineup on the floor with Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol and Howard.

Quote Round Up: Saturday Practice

Here’s a transcription of interviews from Jordan Hill*, Dwight Howard, Mike Brown and Steve Nash from Saturday’s Lakers practice. The team faces the Sacramento Kings at STAPLES Center tomorrow night at 6:30 p.m.

*Click on each name to watch the video.

JORDAN HILL
Q: On what he did in practice today:
Hill: I did everything – a full practice, stretched and did everything the team did. We’re still trying to watch out for the back, get my core stronger and see how it goes.

Q: On how the back feels:
Hill: It’s gotten lot better. Still trying to watch out for it, but it feels good right now. (I’ll) see what the trainer thinks, we’ll take a look at it and we’ll go from there.

Q: On if he’ll be ready for the opener:
Hill: There’s a possibility. Like I said, it’s up to the trainers – whatever they feel, however they think – but just got to keep working.

DWIGHT HOWARD
Q: On the team’s fourth preseason game:
Dwight: Everybody looked good in that last game and everybody played hard. It almost felt like a playoff game – the atmosphere was crazy in Vegas. Devin Ebanks came in and he had an excellent game. Pau (Gasol) did a great job all around. The game was pretty good. Our defense picked up, our offense picked up and I’m looking forward to the next couple games.

Q: On his excitement level to be playing soon:
Dwight: I’m very excited. I think everybody is excited just to see me play, which is a great honor. I just want to make sure I’m able to sustain everything that I do so I don’t have to play one game, sit out the next 20 (games) or something like that. I want to make sure that I’m being consistent with this team.

MIKE BROWN
Q: On Steve Blake’s play in the fourth quarter last night:
Brown: Steve Blake did some nice things; he did some nice things for us yesterday. I’m looking for a guy that’s going to keep us organized out there offensively that, at times, can put some pressure on the ball full court, make them work bringing the ball up the floor and be different than what the starters are bringing to the table. The biggest thing is I’m hoping to have a backup that doesn’t turn the ball over.

Q: On what Devin Ebanks needs to do to get more playing time:
Brown: He’s got to defend and defend consistently on a high level. Offensively, he’s got to be quick but not be in a hurry. Sometimes, you have a player a little out of sorts and you can start dribbling all over the place. When that happens, it gets everybody out of sync or out of rhythm. When you’re out of rhythm or our of sync like that, it can have a ripple down effect and affect the entire second unit for a few trips down the floor. So he has to stay composed offensively and play within the system and figure out how he’s going to get his looks within the system.

STEVE NASH
Q: On what Dwight will bring to the team:
Nash: Dwight is going to bring a lot to our team. He’s going to make the game a lot easier for all of us. Hopefully I can make the game easier for him, but he’s definitely going to make the game a lot easier for me. He’s going to draw a lot of attention; his roll to the basket gives me a great target, but he also is going to draw a lot of attention and open up a lot of teammates for open shots.

Q: On how he feels about playing with Dwight soon in a game situation:
Nash: I’m happy that we can get to another stage of development for our team. We’re learning the offense without Dwight and now we get to learn with him in a game situation. It’s just breaking down these barriers that’s important for us.

LAL 98, Kings 103: 10/19 Preseason Diary

Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Friday preseason contest against Sacramento, with some comments drawn from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, and a few more details in case you missed any of the action:

Starters
Lakers: Nash, Bryant, World Peace, Gasol and Sacre
Kings: I. Thomas, M. Thornton, J. Johnson, T. Robinson, D. Cousins

FIRST QUARTER
6:45 We caught a good look at the smarts of Steve Nash midway through the first quarter, when he recognized that 5-9 Isaiah Thomas got caught guarding Kobe in transition, and immediately signaled Bryant to the block for a post up. Two free throws resulted, as L.A. trimmed a few points off SAC’s early lead.

0:00 Struggling to create good looks for the second straight preseason game, the Lakers made only 5 of 17 shots, allowing the Kings to take a 27-20 lead out of the first. Bryant scored nine of those points, while Gasol had two nice moves in the post, but the rest of the Lakers didn’t hit much.

SECOND QUARTER
4:50 After checking back in, the starters started to work a bit harder, with Nash hitting a left-handed hook (yup), Gasol a hook of his own, a World Peace triple and Gasol’s layup off Bryant’s feed to cut the lead to two at 38-36.

0:00 The Lakers kept it up in building a 43-41 lead on Bryant’s layup, but the Kings went on a 9-0 run from that point, capped by Francisco Garcia’s second three and a Cousins fastbreak dunk, with only an Ebanks three stopping the burst to make it 50-46 Kings. Kobe had 11 and Gasol 12, but L.A. committed 10 turnovers.

THIRD QUARTER
7:40 Sacramento pushed its lead to as many as 10 with some transition buckets – they were up 19-2 in fast break points – but back-to-back World Peace buckets inside, then a Bryant layup in transition off Nash’s feed, cut it back to four.

1:00L.A. trimmed what was a double-digit lead down to as few as three, but a pretty layup with two seconds left from Thomas made it 81-75 heading into the fourth. L.A.’s starters played the entire third quarter – with Jamison in for Sacre halfway through – but did lose the quarter by two, with transition D and turnovers the main culprit. Bryant and Gasol might argue that non-calls led to a few too many of those buckets, but the score remained the same.

FOURTH QUARTER
6:00 The bench unit led by Steve Blake and Antawn Jamison did some nice things, but couldn’t quite get over the hump, missing multiple attempts that would have tied the game. Also showing positive signs was Devin Ebanks, who scored consecutive hoops to make it 88-85 Kings.

0:49.0 Ebanks continued his excellent individual play, hitting his fourth triple of the game and sixth of the preseason after not hitting a single bomb last season, but L.A. again couldn’t quite get over the hump. Again, it’s just tough to judge L.A. without Howard in the line up, but that could change in the next game. Sacramento held on to take a 103-98 result in Sin City, and will join the Lakers in Los Angeles on Sunday for a rematch. We’ll see you there.

Kobe the Teammate

How Kobe Bryant treats his teammates has been an NBA talking point for years.

Last week, an interaction between Bryant and former teammate Smush Parker made headlines, words having been exchanged in various mediums. Bryant discussed his philosophy on leadership in a Facebook post that seemed to at least indirectly address the issue.

It’s no secret that Bryant has repeatedly ripped Parker and that he is demanding of his teammates, but he remains close to many, past and present.

Most recently, in an extensive Lakers.com Q&A, camp signee/three-year veteran Chris Douglas-Roberts offered his thoughts on Bryant as a teammate:

Kobe is my man. He’s been great to me. I don’t know about Smush, but Kobe’s been great with me from day one. He’s a lunatic out here on the court, but I am too. He’s one of the greatest to ever play this game … and I’ve seen a guy who comes in here every day and treats practice like a game. I’ve seen a guy that will do anything to win. I’ve seen a guy who’s extremely competitive in each part of his day. I figured out that Kobe talks trash to keep you at a certain level. It’s about the alpha. This is what he does, and if you run with your tail between your legs, he sees this and he’s going to act on this. I have no problem with that. I like that. (Lakers head coach) Mike Brown assigned him as my 1-on-1 partner on my first day, and it got real. It got physical, some elbows were thrown, there was trash talking both ways, but it was all in the competitive nature. We were going at it. And I guess that’s why he respects me. He looks at me and he sees some characteristics in himself. I’m out there trying to kill you out there. Point blank, period. We can hang after practice, but I don’t see any faces while we’re on the court. I just see an opponent. If it’s Kobe that day, we gotta go at it, man! He’s extremely talented and skilled, so he’s going to win most of the time – but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to compete … And the bottom line is just that he’ll do anything to win. That’s it. That’s what I love the most. People used to try and make me feel bad for that, but that’s what he’s all about.

Thursday Practice Report

Here’s a round up from Thursday’s Lakers practice before the team headed to Las Vegas in advance of the team’s fifth preseason game.

Jordan Hill Returns To Practice:
Jordan Hill, who was diagnosed with a herniated disc in his back after the team’s first preseason game, went through non-contact drills for the first time since getting injured.

“He did everything that was non-contact, which was good, because it was the first time in awhile that he had a chance to go out there in script,” coach Mike Brown said. “For us, the way we’re playing, he’s got to know specific routes and reads, so there’s a lot that he still needs to do to play catch up. He didn’t do anything live.”

Brown was uncertain about when Hill will return to game action, but did note that it was a positive sign the 6-foot-10 power forward was out on the floor again.

“(The trainers) haven’t given a specific timetable yet, but I know they’re taking this one step at a time,” Brown noted. “The thing that surprised me – I knew he was going to be able to do non-contact stuff today – is we did a warm-up drill where you’re required to run and get out and go a little bit. He got out and ran and they let him do it, so that was a little surprising to me, but it was good to see.”

Gasol Wants More On Defense:
Pau Gasol wants to see more improvement from his teammates on that end of the floor in the next four preseason games, and in the regular season as well.

“I want us to be solid on the defensive end,” the 7-foot Spaniard explained. “That’s what I want to see us do. I want us to be consistent every single game. I want us to stop teams and choke them. That’s what I like to see. Offensively, we have enough talent on this team to be able to score, but if we defend like we’re supposed to do and want to, it’ll be very, very hard to beat us.

Brown echoed similar sentiments, citing transition defense as an area where the team collectively needs to improve, too.

“The one thing I’ve been disappointed in – if there is one thing – is in all four games our transition defense hasn’t been good,” he said. “Even in our last game, whether we’re winning or losing or we don’t have certain guys, we can still get back the right way and make them at least let them score over a contested defense or have the defensive presence and they got to many uncontested layups and/or shots in transition. I told our guys: ‘Let’s do a better job collectively as a group with our transition defense no matter who is on the floor.’”

Dwight Howard’s Return?
The Lakers center continues to make progress, he says, but his main concern – as has been said before – is getting his stamina back.

“It’s conditioning,” Howard stated. “That’s the main thing. Like I told you guys: ‘I don’t want to go out there fatigued and injure something else.’ Most of the time, that’s when you (get) injuries. So I just want to make sure I’m in pretty good shape to play.”

Howard continues to participate in full contact, 5-on-5 scrimmages during practice, and so far, he maintains there is no concern about having any setbacks.

“I came too far from where I was at to go backwards now,” he noted. “I want to continue to work hard as I can every day when I step on the court and make myself better and my teammates better.”

Quote Round Up: Postgame vs. Utah

Here’s a transcription of Lakers.com postgame interviews with Mike Brown*, Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant after the team’s fourth preseason game.

*Click on each name to watch the video.

MIKE BROWN
Q: On not having his starting five once in this preseason:
Brown: Yeah, but that’s OK. I’m OK with that. Whenever Dwight (Howard) is healthy, he’ll play and whenever everybody can play, we’ll play. The first three ball games, I thought we played the right way on both ends of the floor — for the most part. We just didn’t win them, which is understandable because it’s tough for (Ronnie) Aguilar, (Greg) Somogyi and some of the other younger (guys) to come in the last five minutes of a ballgame and try to win it, or come in the last 10 minutes of a ballgame and try to win it. To me, that’s understandable. I thought we played well the first three games, especially with where we were in the preseason. I thought tonight we took half a step backwards in terms of our execution and ball movement, and even our overall defense, especially in transition, which is going to happen from time to time. Out of the four preseason games, this one I’ve probably been the most disappointed. I was OK with the other three because we did a lot of other good things in the other three.

Q: On what the team needs to correct first to improve:
Brown: Right now would be good but I know it’s not going to happen. Our transition defense right now is probably the biggest thing that is of concern. Besides that, there are little things that pop up. Sometimes we gamble too much, which takes us out of position. But our transition defense is something we’re not doing a good job of at all.

Q: On if the team’s transition defense is attributed to the amount of turnovers:
Brown: Yeah, we’re turning it over, but I’m OK with some of our turnovers because we’re trying to make plays and the right guys are trying to make plays. We’re not having the wrong guys out there trying to make too many plays. Part of the reason we’re turning the ball over is we’re trying to execute the offense a little bit and trying to do things the right way. I think we’ll get better turnover wise, but it does hurt us when we do turn the ball over and they run out and get dunks and layups in transition. But hey, Utah is a good team, too, so you have to give them credit for playing as hard as they did.

Q: On if there were any positives he can take away from the team’s fourth preseason game considering the outcome:
Brown: It was great to see Jodie Meeks shoot the ball the way he did. I thought (Robert) Sacre did some things that make you go: ‘Maybe,’ which is a positive thing. I thought, at times, we did a nice job of trying to execute, but once we took Jamison off the floor, it was really hard for us to execute because we don’t have another guy that was able to play tonight that has played the power forward position. It takes us completely out of our offense because that specific position you have to know specific routes and reads, and all our power forwards right now from Pau (Gasol) to Jordan Hill to Earl Clark are out. So offensively, we had to keep our execution simple and run baseline screens or middle pick-and-roll when Jamison was out. Those guys tried to execute the right way, but it just didn’t happen all the time.

Q: On Jodie Meeks hitting four 3-pointers in the fourth quarter and if that kind of play can help limit Kobe’s minutes during the regular season:
Brown: Yeah, but we’re still searching for guys that are going to come off the bench. I’m not quite sure who it’s going to be yet. So to see Jodie step up and knock some shots down, but also defensively, he did some good things, too. So to see a combination of those two things was a positive at that two guard position.

STEVE NASH
Q: On if he saw any positives in the game:
Nash: I was only out there the first quarter and I thought there were some things on both ends that were positive, but again, not a great performance by any stretch. But sometimes you learn a lot more from the nights you struggle than the nights that everything goes well. This is good for us, it’s good for us to struggle, it’s good for us to want to come tomorrow with more resolve to improve and if we floated through the preseason, we might be fooling ourselves. So we got a lot of work to do and we continue to know that and realize that and tonight was a motivator as well.

Q: On if the team’s effort disappointed him the most:
Nash: Like I said, I was only out there the first quarter. I was getting treatment a lot of the night, but the effort wasn’t bad in the first quarter. We just had some matchup problems in the post that allowed them to score. Our defense was pretty good other than the fact that they had some terrific one-on-one post players. Offensively, we created some good opportunities, but we’re a work in progress. That’s the bottom line.

Q: On Kobe’s scoring outburst in the third quarter:
Nash: I wasn’t out there, so I missed it, but it’s certainly nice to have a player of his ability to go off like he can. I’m thrilled he’s on my team.

KOBE BRYANT
Q: On his rhythm in the third quarter:
Kobe: Yeah, I just had to come out and kind of get going a little bit, work on some things, shooting out of the offense, catch-and-shoot and things of that nature. Up until this point, I had just kind of been practicing throughout the course of the game and trying new things. Tonight, I just went back to the basics.

Q: On if he saw any positives in the game:
Kobe: You kind of just threw it out a little bit. We didn’t execute as well as we should have as a whole in the first half, and as a result, we dug ourselves deep, but you kind of have to throw it out. Their bigs dominated us for obvious reasons. All our bigs were out, so they kind of had a field day down there.

Q: On what he wants to see from the team in the second half of the preseason:
Kobe: Hopefully, we can get everybody out there at some point and work on our rhythm a little bit more and playing together. The more we play together, obviously, the better we’ll get — and that’s the most important thing. That’s what we try to do in practice; we just try to play a lot together and work on our execution, work on our rhythm, likes and dislikes and things of that nature.

Q: On not playing with the starting five once in this preseason
Kobe: In practice, we do it a lot, though. In practice, we play quite a bit together. Mike (Brown) has been really good about it of throwing the ball out there and letting us scrimmage and get some timing down. But you’re right — that’s the most important thing for us is to get out there, play together, work out some of the kinks out and communicate with each other on the floor.

Q: On how close Dwight Howard is to returning from his viewpoint:
Kobe: He’s extremely close. He’s making plays defensively that no big outside of Bill Russell can make in the history of the game in terms of playing the passing lanes, getting steals, guarding guards, stripping the ball from them. He does things defensively that no other big can do.

Q: On if he and Steve Nash can take more chances defensively:
Kobe: Sure, we can. It all depends on how the game goes in a ballgame. Early in a ballgame, you don’t want to do that depending on how they officiate the game. You don’t want to get Dwight in foul trouble. But certainly, at certain points of the game, we can.

Q: On his mindset in the third quarter:
Kobe. No, I just really went back to the basics. I was just kind of experimenting the entire preseason, just working on different moves and things of that nature. In the third quarter, I just went to the basics: catch guys off of you, just rise up and shoot, if you have a lane, drive, bump the guy off you, pull up and shoot it. I just went back to the simplicity of it.

Utah 114, Lakers 80: 10/16 Preseason Diary

Below is a running diary of L.A.’s fourth preseason contest against Utah in Anaheim with some comments drawn from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, and a few more details in case you missed any of the action:

Starters
Lakers: Nash, Bryant, World Peace, Jamison and Sacre
Jazz: J. Tinsley, G. Hayward, M. Williams, P. Millsap, A. Jefferson

FIRST QUARTER
7:26 After starting the game 1 for 6, L.A. got an Antawn Jamison jumper, Kobe Bryant free throws and Steve Nash floater to open a 9-5 edge. In the bigger picture, Pau Gasol had a night off (just to rest) and Dwight Howard (back), Jordan Hill (back) and Earl Clark (groin) were out with respective injuries.

0:00 Play was generally sloppy, shots not falling for either team … until the final two minutes, when Utah went on a 13-3 run to close the first with a 26-15 lead. We shouldn’t be too surprised; the number of LAL bodies out especially in the front court made it difficult.

SECOND QUARTER
5:07 With L.A. down 39-22 (in short, Utah had two former No. 3 overall lottery picks in Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors going against two undrafted free agent rookie bigs), Chris Duhon got his chance to run with the starters, with Nash done for the night (rest). Duhon managed a runner in the lane to halt a Jazz run, blocked a shot and had one turnover in his five minutes, but Utah added three points to their lead to take a 52-32 lead into the half.

0:00 Takeaways from the first half: it’s harder to play basketball when your three best big men sit out, especially when two of them are All-Stars; Kobe’s legs look good, he’s not looking like someone who’s been in the NBA for 17 years; Jamison allowed L.A. pretty good floor spacing with his shooting, but the shots weren’t falling for anybody (29.4 percent field goals).

THIRD QUARTER
4:24 Good news for LAL: Kobe had 10 points in the third quarter. Bad: the rest of the team had zero with 4:24 to play. Utah, meanwhile, had 24, enough to take a 76-42 lead. #preseason

0:00 Bryant didn’t stop there, folks. He kept nailing shots from everywhere, scoring 23 of the Lakers 24 points, including three triples, turning what remained a blow out into a great show for those assembled in Anaheim and watching on Time Warner Cable SportsNet. He’s pretty fun to watch when he’s in a rhythm like that.

FOURTH QUARTER
7:03 A bright spot throughout the preseason was the typical Mr. Irrelevant draft pick, No. 60 overall, dead last in Sacre. He scored on a spin move in the post and has a pretty good shot at nabbing a roster spot — in part because of L.A.’s current injuries to bigs — for the season. And, oh, L.A. was down 103-64.

0:00 Two late bright spots for Lakers fans: four catch-and-shoot triples from Jodie Meeks (LAL hoping his play can limit some of Kobe’s heavy minutes); and a fierce put-back slam from Reeves Nelson that got Dwight Howard off the bench cheering. Do you want to know the final score? Really? Fine: Utah 114, LAL 80. Up next is Sacramento, in Las Vegas, on Friday night. See you there.

Metta World Peace Rounding Into Form

A year ago, Metta World Peace conceded he was out of shape. His shot was off, he seemed to be a step slow defensively and his entire game was affected.

“The lockout hurt me a lot, because last season going into the playoffs I had a nerve issue in my back,” he explained during his exit interview in May. “Once the lockout happened I wasn’t able to address it so all I could do was rest. It took me 2-3 months to get in shape.”

During the first half of last season, World Peace shot only 33.5 percent from the field and 23.9 percent from the 3-point line, while averaging just 4.9 points.

After he was able to lose weight and get himself back into game shape, though, those numbers jumped. In the second half of the season, World Peace shot 43 percent from the field, 33.1 percent from the 3-point line and averaged 10.7 points. On the defensive end, he looked quicker, more nimble and displayed that prowess he’s been known for his entire career.

Going into this season, the small forward knew what he needed to do to continue playing at that level.

“I gotta come back just how I left off,” he said last May. “I was playing at a high level and need to be able to stay there.”

Fast forward to now and the former St. John’s product appears to be performing at that same level fans saw during the latter half of last season. He’s noticeably slimmer and he’s quicker on both offense and defense.

“He’s been in the best shape that I’ve seen him since I’ve been here,” Kobe noted. “I haven’t seen him in this kind of shape since I faced him when he was in Indiana. He’s really in tip-top condition.”

The results are showing, too.

Through the team’s first three preseason games, he’s shooting 50 percent from the field and the 3-point line, while chipping in almost 12 points. And he’s doing all of it in less than 24 minutes per contest. World Peace noted how much of a difference it feels to have lost 17 pounds in the offseason.

“I feel good that I can get to the basket,” said World Peace, who notched 13 points, grabbed four rebounds and shot 3-of-4 from the 3-point line in the team’s third preseason game. “I can push it without getting tired. I can go right a little bit more this year and (the opponent) doesn’t really know what’s going on defense. And I can help my team more.”

With World Peace in peak condition and playing at a high level, fans can expect to see some of the old Ron Artest — a more dynamic player on both ends of the court.

Injury Update: Earl Clark

Lakers reserve forward Earl Clark strained his left groin and is out indefinitely.

Clark, acquired in the Dwight Howard trade with Orlando, has played solid defense in training camp but is not expected to be in the regular bench rotation. In the regular season, the Lakers will most likely have Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol play center for the second unit, with Jordan Hill and Antawn Jamison getting the power forward minutes.

Hill (herniated disc) has been out for a week and is expected to be reevaluated in the coming week.

Howard continues to progress from his own back injury. No date has been determined for his return, but he hopes to play in some preseason contests.