Monthly Archive for December, 2012

LAL Key: Howard’s Energy

In Los Angeles, it still starts with Kobe Bryant. The Lakers are his team, especially as he continues to get his Benjamin Button (as he described) on, leading the NBA in scoring at 30.1 points per game on a career-high 47.8 percent shooting and slowing not even a little bit from recent years.

But for the Lakers to go as far as they want to in 2012-13, things won’t just be determined by Bryant, Steve Nash or Pau Gasol, but by a former three-time Defensive Player of the Year.

Indeed, Dwight Howard’s ability to dominate things on the defensive end, and still punish teams on the other side of the court, could be the whole key to L.A.’s championship aspirations.

“It starts with me,” Howard acknowledged. “My effort has to be there every night; I can’t allow anything to affect how I play and that’s what I did (vs. Portland).”

Against the Blazers on Friday night, Howard was all over the place from the outset, totaling 21 points, 14 boards in 29 minutes. When he wasn’t blocking shots (three), he was affecting then, the central force behind Portland’s 41 percent shooting.

Howard’s effort against Denver on Dec. 26 was nearly as poor as his game against Portland was good, as he totaled 12 points, seven boards and a block in 27 minute before being ejected with a flagrant two foul in the third quarter. He’d played better defensively on Christmas Day vs. the Knicks despite taking only eight shots (14 points, 12 boards), but said it’s going to take him some more time to truly get in peak condition. Howard, of course, had back surgery to conclude his 2011-12 campaign in Orlando and did not play any basketball during the offseason while recovering.

“The key for me is continue to get rest,” Howard offered. “Sometimes those back-to-back games are very tough for me, but I’m just trying to play as hard as I can.”

Despite not being where he knows he can be, Howard is still averaging 17.6 points, 11.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks on 57.2 percent shooting, all amongst NBA leaders.

The good news for the Lakers is that there are no back-to-backs in the playoffs, and by then, Howard should be in peak shape regardless.

“It does make a difference,” said Nash of Howard’s energy level. “When he plays hard it really takes a toll on the other team for both ends of the floor. He beats them up on the side on both ends. Has a big presence. That’s why we got him. We are going to lean on him. That’s why he’s a one-of a-kind player.”

Sunday Practice Report

Here is a roundup from Sunday’s Lakers practice in advance of the team’s New Year’s contest against Philadelphia. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

Steve Nash Effect
In four games since his return from injury, Nash has averaged 9.5 assists, including two double-digits outings – one against New York and one against Portland.

While coach Mike D’Antoni expected this much of Nash, Pau Gasol has also recorded at least five assists in five straight games.

“We’re creating more advantages and more odd-man opportunities, and trying to be aggressive in the pick and roll,” Steve Nash said. “I think in the pick and roll, with two guys on me, I give it to Pau where he’s got an advantage and he can use his playmaking abilities. With Pau’s size, it’s a great skillset we can exploit. “

Gasol noted the effect it has on the rest of the team.

“It’s important to have guys facilitate and willing to make the extra pass because it’s contagious,” he said.

The Lakers are averaging nearly seven more assists per game – 28.3 to 21.4 – since Nash’s return. L.A. is also putting up 109 points per game since the Canadian’s return, right at the cusp of the goal of 110-115 points per game Mike D’Antoni said could be expected during his introductory press conference.

Darius’ Defense
Second-year guard Darius Morris has started the last four games, primarily because of his athleticism and solid size. While he’s been playing on the wing on the offense Steve Nash is running, Morris has started out defending tricky point guard covers like Golden State’s Stephen Curry, Denver’s Ty Lawson and Portland’s Damian Lillard. Morris played only 16 total minutes on the former two, but was key in 24 minutes against the Blazers, helping hold the likely Rookie of the Year in Lillard to 11 points on 4 of 17 shooting with four assists.

“He’s been terrific defensively, playing with energy and he brings a physical presence,” Nash said.

Morris added eight points, four boards and two assists against Portland, the highlight a strong two-handed alley-oop finish from Kobe Bryant’s lofted pass.

Jordan Hill’s Impact
After a stretch of three DNP-CD’s, Jordan Hill finds himself playing regular backup minutes to Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard in the last four contests, where he’s recorded at least eight rebounds in three of those games.

“It’s not the personnel as much as this guy fits better with this guy,” D’Antoni said. “In this situation, we need Jordan’s energy, his defense, his ability to get offensive rebounds his ability to run the floor and be a big presence and having some youthfulness and legs.”

Lakers – Blazers Postgame Numbers

We broke down some of the more intriguing numbers from LAL’s 104-87 win against Portland:

Points the Lakers are averaging in four games since Steve Nash returned from injury. The team rode a 62-point first half on 57.1 percent shooting from the floor en route to getting to the .500 mark again (15-15).

Points the Lakers allowed to Portland in the second half, the Blazers shooting just 36.6 percent from the floor (15 for 41). Dwight Howard recorded three blocked shots – and altered many others – to go along with 21 points and 14 rebounds, his first 20/10 game in two-and-a-half weeks. “His presence on the defensive end is invaluable and we have to have it,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “If we don’t have it, then we’ll suffer a little bit. He played very well.”

Fastbreak points for LA, a team that had ranked 24th in the league coming into the contest (10.4 per game).

Offensive rebounds for LA toward 26 second-chance points. They also held a +8 differential on the boards (52-44), one game after conceding 20 offensive boards and 25 second-chance points to the Nuggets. “We just came out and we played hard tonight from the beginning,” Dwight Howard said. “Our effort was there, we played inside-out, ran the ball, our defense was real good tonight and that’s why we won the game.”

Points for Blazers point guard Damian Lillard, who shot just 4 for 17 on the night. D’Antoni started Darius Morris on the rookie of the year candidate, who was praised postgame for his defensive energy, as well as his play on offense. “He plays a good role for us defensively,” Steve Nash said. “He guards tough players and allows us to save some energy. He also showed tonight he can make some plays offensively. He’s a young player that’s going to continue to get better. He brings athleticism and energy to our team that we don’t have an abundance of and he’s important.”

Assists for Pau Gasol, who has had at least that amount since his return from tendinitis in his knees. It is also the number of 3-pointers made for the 7-foot Spaniard in his last three contests, after converting on 2 of 3 for the second straight game. “I like that,” Gasol said. “It’s a good stat more so than the 3′s. I like getting my teammates easy looks and just moving the ball. It’s a good sign when your assists are up as a team. Everybody gets a chance. Open guys can get the ball. It gives you confidence and a good team flow.”

Fourth-quarter minutes for Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, a game in which the Lakers never trailed and led by as many as 27 points. It was the first time since Dec. 5 at New Orleans Bryant had played less than 40 minutes.

Lakers 104, Blazers 87: Dec. 28 Running Diary

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

Lakers: Nash, Morris, Bryant, Gasol and Howard
Blazers: D. Lillard, W. Matthews, N. Batum, L. Aldridge, J.J. Hickson

7:00 L.A.’s offense flowed smoothly at the hand of Steve Nash, as the veteran point guard amassed three assists plus two field goals to allow a 14-8 early lead, though the defense wasn’t particularly energetic or active. As the season progresses, the Lakers will need more, starting with Dwight Howard in the middle, to really reach the level they’d like to. With that said, L.A. continued to score with ease in the next few minutes, with Kobe hitting a triple and Howard converting his second field goal that put the Lakers up 22-12. Nash had four dimes.

0:00 Kobe kept scoring, reaching 13 points in his quest for an 11th straight game with at least 30 points, and Nash was up to six assists as L.A. took a 34-25 lead into the second quarter. The Lakers were getting out in transition to a degree that had to please Mike D’Antoni, notching nine fast break points to zero for Portland, and hit 62.5 percent of their shots. Howard got going on offense, as well, towards nine points on 4 of 5 field goals.

5:20 Blazers coach Terry Stotts brought the Hack-a-Howard out from the ashes (teams haven’t been doing it of late, especially as Howard’s shooting has improved to around 67 percent in his last six games. And Howard punished him, making all four of his free throws after consecutive fouls off the ball, helping L.A. continue to build its lead.

0:00 Howard continued to be the story of the first half, totaling 17 points with eight boards, helping L.A. build a 20-point lead that was trimmed to 14 (62-48) with a poor final three minutes. Nonetheless, the Lakers were in full control, totaling 16 dimes, shooting 57 percent from the floor, scoring 11 fast break points and turning it over only six times.

5:41 Climbing some air steps was Darius Morris, who rose high to slam home Kobe’s alley-oop pass, putting the Lakers up 76-58. Yet it was the D from Morris that was more notable, as likely Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard was only 4 for 17 through three quarters.

0:00The margin was a healthy 20 points after three, with Nash reaching 10 dimes, Howard a 21-point, 14-board double-double and Bryant 27 points. L.A. continued to run, reaching 20 fast break points, and were up to 24 assists on 34 field goals. The biggest thing of the night, by far, was the much-improved all-around effort from Howard, which is what LAL will need more than anything moving forward.

6:02 D’Antoni’s been very complimentary of Meeks this season, mostly because he loves his effort and toughness, whether his shot is falling or not. There was a play with about six minutes left that typified his effort: he came up with a steal on D, sprinted to the rim, got his own rebound after being blocked, then dove on the floor to collect a loose ball after his follow up attempt. He got up, went to the three-point line, collected a pass and drained a triple. “I told him, on that one play he almost had a triple-double,” said D’Antoni after the game. “Jodie’s Jodie, and he’s going to play as hard as he can play.”

0:00 L.A. cruised to a 104-87 victory, as Howard, Bryant and Nash enjoyed spots on the bench in the final quarter, Gasol staying in for the first few minutes to add his second three-pointer, and reach five assists for the fifth consecutive game. It was as solid an all-around effort for the Lakers, but to reiterate, getting so much out of Howard is the biggest key. He told me just after the buzzer on Time Warner Cable SportsNet that he’s had trouble with back-to-backs this season, getting his legs and his energy, but expects to continue to improve as the season rolls on. That will certainly be the biggest key to L.A.’s season, since Kobe, Nash and Gasol have started to play consistently well. Up next is a New Year’s Day game against Philly. We’ll see you there.

Lakers – Nuggets Postgame Numbers

We broke down some of the more intriguing numbers from LAL’s 126-114 loss at Denver:

Season-high number of points the Lakers allowed, including 69 in the second half, as the Nuggets improved to 9-1 at home this season and avenged a 122-103 beating at Staples Center on Nov. 30. All five starters scored in double figures, a first this year.

Lakers shooting percentage, helping explain how they scored 114 points in a game they lost by 12. Steve Nash made his first six shots before missing his final two and Pau Gasol made 7 of 11 to lead the good shooting parade. However, Denver attempted 11 more shots thanks to their big edge on the offensive glass (more on that below), made one more three (12 to 11) and three more free throws (24 to 21).

Scoring average for Kobe Bryant after scoring 40 more points on an efficient 13 for 24 from the floor (5 for 9 from three plus 9 for 11 free throws). It was his 10th straight game with 30+ points, doubling the record he matched for players at or above age 34 (tying Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with five). In 13 December games, the 17th-year veteran is averaging 37.2 points.

Points for Corey Brewer off the bench, tying a career high, including 21 in the second half. The Florida product finished 9 of 16 from the floor, and 6 of 7 from deep (a career best).

Three-pointers from the Nuggets out of 22 attempts, a 54.5 clip for a team that came into the game ranked 28th in 3-point shooting percentage. Denver nailed 11 for 15 in the second half alone, Brewer with all six of his triples coming after halftime.

Offensive rebounds for Kenneth Faried — who finished with 21 points and 15 boards — on a night the Nuggets grabbed 20. The result: 25 second-chance points, which killed the Lakers, and helped create a 20-point differential in paint points.

Three-pointers hit by Pau Gasol, towards his 19 points. He added six boards, five assists and two blocks, and has not totaled at least five assists in all four games since returning from an 8-game hiatus (knee tendinitis).

Lakers 114, Nuggets 126: Dec. 26 Running Diary

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

Lakers: Nash, Morris, Bryant, Gasol and Howard
Nuggets: T. Lawson, A. Iguodala, D. Gallinari, K. Faried, K. Koufos

3:48 It wasn’t a great start for the Lakers in this one, as Kenneth Faried’s seven points and five boards in eight minutes typified Denver’s effort, but four straight points from Kobe (despite two missed free throws) cut the early deficit to 22-18. The Nuggets were getting to the rim way too easily, however, something L.A. would need to clean up.

0:00 The Lakers only played well for a short stretch of the first, with Nash rolling towards three assists and 3 of 3 shooting to help a 6-0 push that gave the visitors the lead, but Faried continued his assault on the O glass (five of his nine boards on that end) to help give the Nuggets a 29-26 lead out of the first. The rebounding advantage was 16-10, and the Lakers missed five free throws on top of that.

5:44 Remember the emphatic driving dunk from Gasol in the final seconds to clinch the Christmas win against New York? Gasol made a similar movement in the second quarter, getting all the way to the rim for a tough layup, then drained a three on the next trip down to cut what had grown to an 8-point lead to one at 46-45. Moments later, he’d drain another triple to reach 13 points.

0:00 With the Lakers really not playing well for much of the half, missing seven free throws and getting out-rebounded 31-21, being down only three at 57-54 was actually a good thing from L.A.’s perspective. Bryant had 15, Gasol 13 points, but Howard was quiet, and Nash had to sit the final three minutes of the second quarter with three fouls. Keep an eye on screen/roll defense, as well, as that was a problem area for the Lakers throughout the half. Howard has traditionally been one of the NBA’s best in that context, but it wasn’t there in the first.

7:51 Starting in the middle with Howard, L.A. continued to look lethargic, the Nuggets taking advantage with a 9-0 run to push their lead to 73-60. Bryant was the only guy being aggressive, reaching 21 points on 8 of 16, but Denver had five fast break points in the quarter and was still dominating the glass, 36-23. The were also plus nine at the foul line, L.A. missing nine of their 16 attempts.

5:02 Howard’s legs weren’t showing much more of a vertical than Andre Miller, as we’ve mentioned, and he stayed close to the ground while pushing Faried with two hands on a drive and not making a play on the ball. He was ejected with a flagrant two foul, even if the call was a bit harsh, and walked back to the locker room with the Lakers down seven.

0:00 Kobe was hitting some ridiculous shots from the perimeter, no matter who was in his face (usually either Iguodala or Corey Brewer), helping to get the Lakers back to within four after they’d trailed by as many as 13. The deficit ended up being six heading into the fourth after Iggy answered Chris Duhon’s long two with a reverse layup

10:47 Compounding the poor finish to the third, L.A. allowed the first five points of the fourth, and were suddenly down 14. Corey Brewer hit his 4th three pointer towards a season-high 21 points in just 13 bench minutes, really killing the Lakers with a combo of frenetic energy and long-distance shooting. They’d been down 18 against Charlotte, 14 at Golden State and nine against the Knicks, all in the second half, before coming back for wins. Perhaps they’d finally learn their lesson with a loss in this one.

4:00 The Lakers had given themselves a chance with another push, trimming it to seven and clearing a defensive board, but World Peace missed a transition layup, and Gallinari hit a triple on the other end to push the lead right back to 10. It was the 10th three-pointer for the Nuggets in 20 attempts, this for a team that ranks 27th in the NBA from distance.

0:00 L.A. couldn’t get much closer than nine in the final few minutes, Denver continuing to drain shots, including the fifth and sixth three-pointers from Brewer, to match a career high with 27 points. Bryant added a late triple himself to reach 40 points (five triples himself), but L.A.’s 5-game winning streak was snapped. The Nuggets had more energy early, and built leads that were this time too steep for L.A. to handle. Up next is a Friday home game against Portland. We’ll see you there.

Podcast: LAL at DEN w/Hochman

A veteran of the NBA beat, Benjamin Hochman of the Denver Post, took our call to preview Wednesday evening’s contest in the Mile High City between the Lakers and Nuggets.

In the long run, Hochman thinks L.A.’s talent is undeniable, and especially with Steve Nash back, is sticking with his preseason pick that they’ll win the title. He also shared what he thinks we’ll see in tonight’s matchup, explains what’s been going on with underachieving Ty Lawson and Danilo Gallinari and debates with us what George Karl should do at center with starter Kosta Koufos and the talented, if mercurial JaVale McGee.

Take a listen:

Lakers – Knicks Postgame Numbers

We broke down some of the more intriguing numbers from LAL’s 100-94 win against New York:

Career points for Kobe Bryant on Christmas Day – the most from any player in league history – after finishing with 34 on 14 for 24 shooting. This was also the ninth straight game Bryant had scored 30+, the second longest streak of his career.

Percent free throws for Dwight Howard in his last six games (26 for 38), after a 6 for 9 performance. The big man notched a double-double of 14 points and 12 boards, to go along with two steals and two blocks.

Paint points for the Lakers, while the Knicks had just 26, a +20 differential. The Lakers are averaging 51 points inside in two games since Steve Nash returned.

Points for Metta World Peace off the bench, his second straight game with 20. In three games off the pine, World Peace is averaging 19.0 points, 6.3 boards and 2.0 steals. Postgame, Nash praised World Peace’s energy and defense on Carmelo Anthony as a key to the team’s win. “I want to say [his play] is inspired, but this is what he’s been doing the whole year,” Nash said. “He pounds on the best player on the other team and gets his hands on a lot of balls, rebounds, scores, makes threes. He’s playing phenomenal, he’s a great teammate and he’s a huge part of why we were able to win the last five games.”

Fourth-quarter points for the Knicks, the Lakers limiting the visitors to 6 for 16 shooting (37.5 percent), while forcing five turnovers in the final 12 minutes.

Assists for Steve Nash, who also finished with 16 points and six boards. In two games since returning from injury, Nash has 20 assists to six turnovers. His late game play in the final two minutes of the ballgame – a 10-foot jumper and an assist on Pau Gasol’s dunk – was key in the team’s victory, according to Bryant. “Everybody goes to their natural positions and everybody is able to do what they do best, and focus on that,” he said. “You’re talking about one of the greatest point guards ever. He’s able to line us up and get us into certain things that he believes will be most effective for us down the stretch.”

Game winning streak for the Lakers, pushing their record to .500 at 14-14. “We have everybody back on the floor,” Pau Gasol said. “We’re working together. Everybody on the floor is playing together. We’re finally getting somewhere, we’re getting closer to the place that we want to be and the team that we want to be.”

Lakers 100, Knicks 94: X-Mas Running Diary

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

Lakers: Nash, Morris, Bryant, Gasol and Howard
Knicks: R. Felton, J. Kidd, R. Brewer, C. Anthony, T. Chandler

7:28 The Lakers and Knicks went back and forth in the early minutes, with Steve Nash running L.A.’s offense for four points and two assists (both to Pau Gasol, one being a three-pointer), the game tied at 11 until Gasol’s alley-oop to Dwight Howard and Bryant’s jumper gave L.A. an early 15-11 lead.

0:00 In search of his eighth straight game with at least 30 points, Kobe Bryant had the final five points of the quarter to make it a 25-23 Lakers edge, but it was on the defensive end where things had improved. After starting the game 8 of 13, the Knicks made only 2 of 13 shots to close the quarter at 38.5 percent from the field, including Carmelo Anthony’s 2 of 7. The matchups in this one were certainly intriguing, with Gasol at times defending Ronnie Brewer, Morris starting on Anthony (until Metta World Peace came in early), Jordan Hill in early to spell Howard as Tyson Chandler played all 12 minutes.

4:52 For as dominant a scorer Anthony has been this season, second only to Kobe with his 28.3 points per game, nobody could have defended him any better than how World Peace was in this one, serving as a sort of Christmas wrapping paper. With Anthony making only 2 of his 8 field goals plus two turnovers when being guarded by MWP, L.A.’s defensive stopper was also working on the other end, scoring 13 points on 3 of 4 field goals, with two triples and 5 of 6 free throws.

1:40 The last two of MWP’s free throws tied the game at 46, though Raymond Felton countered with a layup around Nash and under Howard. And if you’re sensing a theme from the second quarter, World Peace was there for all yet again, draining his third three-pointer to reach 16 points, and help L.A. hold a 51-49 lead at the half. Bryant took only one shot in the second (a make), able to conserve plenty of energy and activity as MWP took things over.

9:53 The Knicks opened the second half with a parade of long, swished jump shots, all five attempts going down to cap a 12-2 run that put the Lakers in a 61-53 hole. Anthony hit from 27, 22 and 20 feet, while Kidd added his second three and Felton hit a floater, the lone bucket in the paint. Time out, Lakers.

4:10 Despite Anthony staying hot, and his buddy J.R. Smith not far behind (20 bench points on 8 of 13 shooting), the Lakers hung around with two Nash free throws, a Kobe three and MWP driving lay up. Howard continued to struggle, not being hugely involved on either end.

0:00 The Lakers scored the final six points of the third, capped by an and-1 layup from Bryant (26 points), though he missed both the and-1 free throw plus a technical free throw (called on Chandler). With that, the Knicks held a 78-77 lead into the fourth. Compared to where L.A. has been in its previous two games – down seven against Charlotte, down 13 at Golden State – this would be a piece of cake! (Stay tuned).

4:33 L.A. was really executing well on offense, getting a variety of open looks, while holding the Knicks primarily to jump shots. Nash was of course orchestrating all of it, and one of his 10 assists got Gasol an easy look at a J, which he hit to put the Lakers up 91-86. They’d erased that deficit, and continued to hold on in the next few minutes, with Nash and Howard finally working as a screen/roll tandem with Howard drawing fouls and hitting three of four clutch free throws.

0:41.4 Gasol missed 1 of 2 free throws as L.A. held onto a 3-point lead despite a triple from Smith, but he more than atoned for the miss with a furious two-handed slam through traffic, putting the Lakers up 99-94 with 12 seconds left. Jodie Meeks had come up with a key defensive board on the previous Knicks possession, and then added 1 of 2 free throws to make the final tally 100-94 for the home team. That’s five straight wins, with a tough back-to-back at Denver to follow tomorrow. We’ll see you there.

Lakers on Christmas Day

- In 1947, the NBA played its first games on Christmas Day (3 total) and including this year’s slate of games, the league has seen a total of 222 Christmas Day games in all.

- The Lakers relationship with Christmas Day games dates back to 1949 and the team’s second season in the NBA. On December 25, 1949, the Lakers hosted Ft. Wayne,
defeating the Pistons 72-58 in the team’s first ever Christmas day game.

- Now in their 65th NBA season, the Lakers have played on Christmas Day 38 times, second only to the New York Knicks (47), going 20-18 in those games.

- With 20 victories, the Lakers trail New York by two for most Christmas Day victories by a team in league history. Overall, the Lakers are 12-9 all-time when home for the holidays while going 8-9 in away games.

- This will be the Lakers 14th straight Christmas Day game dating back to 1999.

- Among Christmas Day opponents, Phoenix (6), Detroit (5), Boston (4) and Miami (4) top the list of teams the Lakers have faced on December 25th.

- Surprisingly, despite the Knicks and Lakers being the two teams that have played the most Christmas Day games in league history, this is just the second time the two teams will have met on Christmas Day. In their only other meeting, the Lakers traveled to New York on Christmas Day in 1963, defeating the Knicks 134-126 behind 47 points from Jerry West and 27 points from Elgin Baylor.

- This Christmas, Kobe Bryant will be playing in his record 15th game on December 25th, further surpassing the old mark of 13 games held by Earl Monroe, Shaquille O’Neal and Dolph Schayes. Bryant (349 points) ranks 2nd all-time in Christmas Day points scored behind Oscar Robertson (377 points).

- Additionally, Bryant ranks 2nd in assists (81) on Christmas Day behind Robertson (145), ranks 4th in steals with 15 and is tied for 2nd in three-point field goals made (11) along with LeBron James and teammate Steve Nash (trailing Chauncey Billups (13)).

- Nash also ranks 13th in assists per game (8.4) on Christmas Day while Dwight Howard ranks 10th in rebounds per game (15.3), 3rd in blocks per game (3.50) and 3rd in all-time total blocks (14) on Christmas.