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Lakers No Longer the Champs

When the Lakers lost in Round 2 of the 2011 playoffs to Dallas in early May, L.A.’s receptionist at the team’s business office stopped answering phone calls with the “Back-to-back champion Lakers” line she’d gotten used to since the Purple and Gold defeated Boston last June.

But since the Mavericks sealed up their first ever NBA championship on Sunday evening in Miami, the Lakers are officially no longer champs for the first time since June 14, 2009 in Orlando, when they defeated the Magic in five games.

Instead, the Lakers are just one of 29 teams who didn’t win, one of 29 who had to watch Mark Cuban and Co. raise the trophy when handed off by Commissioner David Stern. For many, that’s part of the process of creating a bit more motivation for the following season. Imagine Kobe Bryant sitting at home in his Orange County home, watching Dirk Nowitzki cap a fantastic individual postseason by raising the Larry O’Brien trophy, then the Bill Russell Finals MVP trophy that’s been Bryant’s for two straight seasons.

In fact, during the clinching Game 6 between Dallas and Miami, Twitter follower @LArunr asked, “@LakersReporter, who do u [sic] reckon Kobe’s pulling for: #Heat or #Mavs?

My (somewhat facetious) response: “Neither, just plotting revenge.”

No, we don’t know if Kobe was literally sitting at home with his teeth grating, looking like Khal Drogo in HBO’s “Game of Thrones” after someone dared disrespect his queen … but it’s not hard to imagine.

Follow Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) on Twitter.

Heat On 2010 LAL Track?

The 2010 Finals went like this: the Lakers win Games 1, 3, 6 and 7. Boston wins Games 2, 4 and 5.

Thus far in what’s been a fantastic 2011 Finals, the Miami Heat are on the Laker track, winning 1 and 3, losing 2, 4 and 5, and heading back to Miami for Games 6 and 7.

As Kobe Bryant — having been swept a few weeks ago by the Mavs — is forced to watch from his Orange County home (angrily plotting his revenge, naturally), will the Heat be able to do what L.A. did?

Game 6 is Sunday.

Shaq’s Jersey Headed for Rafters

Having one’s jersey retired as a Laker is a particularly significant honor, as the franchise has traditionally reserved the accolade for players elected into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame:

While the team does not follow any specific policy regarding decisions for jersey retirement, team spokesman John Black did acknowledge that the Lakers will at some point retire the jersey of Shaquille O’Neal, who is a no-brainer first-ballot Hall selection when he becomes eligible after the five-year waiting period. The three-time Finals MVP as a Laker (2000-02) announced his retirement from the game on Wednesday, 6/1/11, after a remarkable 19-year career.

Here’s the elite list that Shaq, not to mention Kobe Bryant, will one day join:

44 – Jerry West
13 – Wilt Chamberlain
22 – Elgin Baylor
25 – Gail Goodrich
32 – Magic Johnson
33 – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
42 – James Worthy

If another former Laker (Jamaal Wilkes, for example) is one day elected to the Hall, the team would very likely considering retiring his jersey as well.

Bryant’s All-NBA Selection: No. 13

In 13 of his 15 seasons in the NBA, Kobe Bryant has been voted onto the league’s All-NBA team, including nine straight appearances on the first team after 2011′s teams were announced on Thursday.

With five players selected to a first, second and third team each year, Bryant made the third team in his third year (1999), and again in 2005, the second team in 2000 and 2001, and the first team from 2002-11, minus 2005.

To further translate, Bryant has been selected by a panel of selected media members as a top two guard in the NBA for 60 percent of his career, and as one of the top six for 86.7 percent of his years.

Shaquille O’Neal used to join him as the center on the first team in the early portion of Bryant’s career, while Pau Gasol has now been there alongside him for the past three seasons, in 2009 and 2010 on the third team, and now the second team in 2011.

Yet another selection brings Bryant still further into elite status, just two behind record holder Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (15). Karl Malone and Shaq are next with 14 total honors, with Kobe and Tim Duncan next with their 13. Duncan was a third-team selection in 2010, but did not make the cut this season. Malone’s 11 selections to the All-NBA first team are the most, with Abdul-Jabbar, Bob Pettit, Bob Cousy, Elgin Baylor, Jerry West and Michael Jordan next with 10 apiece.

Bryant would have to continue his torrid pace for two more seasons to catch Malone on the first team, no easy task with players like Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose in their primes, but would catch Abdul-Jabbar’s 15 with a place on any of the three teams in the next two seasons.

L.A.’s Western Playoff Picture: April 13

CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE CURRENT STANDINGS:

The last day of the regular season is here, offering us the following playoff scenarios for the Lakers:

Lakers Get the No. 2 seed in the West IF:
1) L.A. beats Sacramento
2) L.A. loses to Sacramento and Dallas loses to New Orleans

Lakers Get the No. 3 seed in the West IF:
1) L.A. loses to Sacramento and Dallas beats New Orleans

Here’s whom the Lakers could play depending on what seed they get:

Lakers would face the Hornets IF:
1) New Orleans beats Dallas
2) New Orleans loses to Dallas, L.A. beats Sacramento and Memphis loses to the Clippers

Lakers would face the Blazers IF:
1) L.A. loses to Sacramento and Dallas beats New Orleans

Lakers would face the Grizzlies IF:
1) L.A. beats Sacramento, New Orleans loses to Dallas and Memphis beats the Clippers

L.A.’s Western Playoff Picture: April 12

CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE CURRENT STANDINGS:
With two days left of regular season games, the Eastern Conference playoff matchups are all set … yet we have no idea what we’ll see in the West. As in, the only things set in stone are San Antonio’s No. 1 seed and Denver’s No. 5.

But will that keep us from speculating wildly to determine the possibilities for the Lakers?

Nope.

Lakers Get the No. 2 seed in the West IF:
1) L.A. wins both of its final two games vs. San Antonio (Tuesday) and at Sacramento (Wednesday).
2) L.A. wins 1-of-2 games and Dallas loses at New Orleans (Wed.).

Lakers Get the No. 3 seed in the West IF:
1) L.A. loses 1-of-2 games and Dallas beats New Orleans.
2) L.A. loses 1-of-2 or both games, Dallas beats New Orleans and Oklahoma City loses vs. Milwaukee (Wed.).
3) LAL loses both games and Dallas and Oklahoma City lose their final games. The Lakers have the tiebreaker over OKC and would be No. 3.

Lakers Get the No. 4 seed in the West IF:
1) L.A. loses both of its games and Oklahoma City beats Milwaukee.
Editor’s note: OKC would only get the No. 2 seed if both Dallas and the Lakers lose all remaining games and the Thunder win their finale. Dallas could lose to N.O. and still stay above L.A. in the standings if L.A. loses both games.

Now, whom L.A. would potentially play in the first round is even more complicated, since Memphis, Portland, New Orleans and even Denver are all in play. Much light will be shed on the issue after Portland plays Memphis on Tuesday, though all three teams also play on Wednesday. Of course, it all depends upon L.A.’s seed.

Alas, here’s a look at some potential scenarios:

Lakers would face the Hornets IF:
- With L.A. as the No. 2 seed, New Orleans beats Dallas, Portland beats Memphis (Tue.) and Portland beats Golden State (Wed.) to make N.O. the 7 seed.
- With L.A. as the No. 3 seed, New Orleans beats Dallas, Portland loses to Memphis and Golden State and Memphis beats Portland but loses to the Clippers. All three teams would then have 35 losses, with New Orleans owning both tiebreakers to be the 6 seed.

Lakers would face the Blazers IF:
- With L.A. as the No. 2 seed, Portland loses to Memphis and beats Golden State, Memphis beats Portland and the Clippers, and New Orleans loses to Dallas, making Portland the 7 seed.
- With L.A. as the 3 seed, Portland beats Memphis and Golden State to lock up the 6 seed.

Lakers would face the Grizzlies IF:
- With L.A. as the No. 2 seed, Memphis loses to Portland but beats the Clippers, and New Orleans loses to Dallas, making Memphis the 7 seed.
- With L.A. as the 3 seed, Memphis beats Portland and the Clippers to earn the 6 seed.

Lakers would face Denver IF:
- L.A. drops to the 4 seed by losing both of its games and Oklahoma City winning out; the Nuggets are locked into the No. 5 seed.

Lakers Among the Numbers Leaders

The Lakers have had pretty well-balanced contributions across most of the major statistical categories this season, with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum finding themselves amongst NBA leaders in a multitude of areas.

We took a look at their respective places among the league’s best scorers, passers, rebounders, shooters, shot blockers and most efficient players:

NBA SCORING LEADERS:
1) Kevin Durant: 27.8
2) LeBron James: 26.6
3) Dwyane Wade: 25.7
4) Amare Stoudemire: 25.5
5) Carmelo Anthony: 25.5
6) Kobe Bryant: 25.1
22) Pau Gasol: 18.9

Note: Of the top 10 scorers, Bryant (33.9 minutes) and Kevin Martin (23.5 points in 32.4 minutes) are the only players that don’t rank in the NBA’s Top 50 in minutes played. As such, Bryant ranks first in points per 48 minutes at 35.6, with Martin second at 34.8 and Anthony third at 34.2.

NBA ASSIST LEADERS:
1) Steve Nash: 11.4
2) Rajon Rondo: 11.3
3) Deron Williams: 10.3
4) Chris Paul: 9.8
5) Jose Calderon: 8.9
31) Kobe Bryant: 4.7
Note: No Laker ranks in the top 20 in part due to the principles of ball movement within Tex Winter and Phil Jackson’s triangle offense, as many players get their hands on the ball each possession, contrary to what Phoenix does with Nash or Boston with Rondo. Also, Bryant operates in isolation sets frequently (or just holds onto the ball), as do Gasol and Bynum and at times Odom, limiting opportunities for assists going to one particular player. That said, the Lakers still average 21.99 dimes per game, with six players notching at least two per game for a total that’s 13th in the NBA.

NBA REBOUNDING LEADERS:
1) Kevin Love: 15.2
2) Dwight Howard: 14.2
3) Zach Randolph: 12.2
4) Blake Griffin: 12.2
5) Kris Humphries: 10.4
6) Pau Gasol: 10.2
10) Andrew Bynum*: 9.5
14) Lamar Odom: 8.7

*Bynum, who missed the team’s first 24 games and two more with a suspension, does not yet have enough boards to qualify.
Note: The Lakers have three players in the top 14 on this chart, while no other team has more than one player. As a team, L.A. ranks third on the glass overall, fourth on offense and sixth on defense. Bryant is the league’s third best rebounding guard at 5.1 per game, after only Dwyane Wade (6.5) and Landry Fields (6.3).

NBA FIELD GOAL % LEADERS:
1) Nene: .614
2) Dwight Howard: .596
3) Emeka Okafor: .579
4) Andrew Bynum: .576
5) Al Horford: .557
6) Marcin Gortat: .556
7) Javale McGee: .549
8) Serge Ibaka: .546
9) Thaddeus Young: .540
10) Lamar Odom: .534
11) Paul Millsap: .531
12) Pau Gasol: .530
Note: The numbers are showing us just how valuable L.A.’s three big men are, all ranking in the league’s top 14 in rebounding and top 12 in field goal percentage. Like on the glass, no other team has more than one player in the top 12.

NBA BLOCKS LEADERS:
1) Andrew Bogut: 2.58
2) Javale McGee: 2.44
3) Dwight Howard: 2.4
4) Serge Ibaka: 2.37
5) Darko Milicic: 2.03
6) Andrew Bynum: 1.96
14) Pau Gasol
: 1.64
Note: A healthy Andrew Bynum, otherwise known as post-All-Star-break Bynum, would rank third in rebounding (13.0), tie for first in field goal percentage (.641) and tie for third in blocks (2.4).

ESPN’S PER LEADERS:
1) LeBron James: 27.22
2) Dwight Howard: 26.19
3) Dwyane Wade:25.70
4) Kevin Love: 24.42
5) Chris Paul: 24.37
6) Kobe Bryant: 23.79
9) Pau Gasol: 23.49
18) Andrew Bynum: 21.66
31) Lamar Odom: 19.55
Note: John Hollinger’s Player Efficiency Rating has three Lakers in the top 20, the only team which can say so, and four in the top 31. The Heat (James and Wade), Thunder (Durant and Russell Westbrook), Knicks (Stoudemire and Anthony) and Spurs (Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili) all have two in the top 20.

Lakers: NBA’s Best Road Team

Who is the NBA’s best road team?

For much of season, the Dallas Mavericks have held that title, winning a series of early-season games out East and holding stubbornly onto the best record. Phil Jackson even mentioned how well the Mavs have played on the road in his chat prior to L.A.’s Wednesday evening contest in Golden State.

But Mark Cuban’s 110-82 loss to the Lakers in Los Angeles preceded back-to-back losses at Portland and Golden State, the three-game losing streak dropping the Mavs’ road record to 27-13.

Which means the league’s new best road team could end up being … the Lakers.

At 26-12 with three games left (at G.S., at Portland and at Sacramento), L.A. has a chance to go 29-12, besting the Mavs, Heat (26-13), Bulls (23-15), Celtics (23-15) and Spurs (25-14).

The Lakers lost at Chicago back on Dec. 10, and to the Heat on March 10, but have won in their most recent trips to Boston (Feb. 10), Dallas (March 12) and San Antonio (March 6). They also have wins at Portland, Oklahoma City and most teams currently in playoff position.

Throughout their last two championship runs, the Lakers have won at least one playoff game against all eight opponents.

NBA League Standings Update: April 6

After coming out of the All-Star break on an extended 17-1 burst, the Lakers (55-22) have floated back down to Earth, losing consecutive home games to Denver and Utah to put the San Antonio Spurs (59-19) all but out of reach with five games to play.

Neither Phil Jackson nor any of his players were willing to fully admit to a focus upon catching the Spurs, who led L.A. by a season-high nine games heading into the All-Star break. The margin slipped to 1.5 games prior to Sunday afternoon’s Lakers loss to the Nuggets due to a six-game S.A. losing streak coinciding with L.A. sandwiching streaks of eight and nine wins around a lone loss at Miami on March 10, but has grown back to 3.5.

Indeed, three games separate the two teams in the loss column with five to play for L.A. and four for the Spurs, meaning San Antonio would not only need to lose to the Lakers on April 12, but also drop a minimum of two games vs. Sacramento, vs. Utah and at Phoenix. Unlikely as that is, if the Lakers win their final five games and finish with the same record as the Spurs, the Lakers would in fact own the tiebreaker since that potential situation would give L.A. a better record in its division and conference.

While securing home court advantage against the Spurs out West is a long shot, the Lakers are still two games up in the loss column on third-seeded Dallas (53-24), losers of three straight. In reality, L.A. in more like three games up on the Mavericks thanks to being the Pacific division winner, while the Mavs will come in second to the Spurs in the Southwest. Winning a division while matching records with a team not winning their own is the first tiebreaker, even before the next, head-to-head, which was also won by the Lakers (2-1).

Western Conference Leaders Remaining Schedules:
1) Spurs: vs. Kings, vs. Jazz, @ Lakers, @ Suns
2) Lakers: @ Warriors, @ Blazers, vs. Thunder, vs. Spurs, @ Kings
3) Mavericks: vs. Nuggets, vs. Clippers, vs. Suns, @ Rockets, vs. Hornets

That’s not the only race upon which the Lakers are keeping an eye, as three Eastern Conference teams are going at it themselves, each of the six teams with at least a spare thought on what might happen were they to reach the finals. As it stands, the Lakers would hold the tiebreaker advantage over Boston (54-23), but not Chicago (57-20) or Miami (54-23).

Eastern Conference Leaders Remaining Schedules:
1) Chicago: vs. Boston, @ Cleveland, @ Orlando, @ New York, vs. New Jersey
2) Boston: @ Chicago, vs. Washington, @ Miami, @ Washington, vs. New York
3) Miami: vs. Milwaukee, vs. Charlotte, vs. Boston, @ Atlanta, @ Toronto

The Heat get their tiebreaker on the Lakers thanks to a 2-0 regular season sweep, while Chicago has a better record against the opposing conference (23-7), the next tiebreaker. Boston, on the other hand, went 19-11 against the West, just worse than L.A.’s 21-9 in the East.

The beauty of all of this? It can change daily, starting with L.A.’s Wednesday game at Golden State.

Defending the Three-Pointer

The Lakers have been among the NBA’s best in three-point defense over the past few seasons, as Zach Lowe of Sports Illustrated delves into on SI.com’s Point Forward blog:

You can see the impact of (the Lakers’) size in something that is unusual among the league’s best defenses: They allow opponents to shoot a ton of three-pointers. As the three has become more accepted as a crucial scoring weapon, limiting three-point attempts has turned into one of the bedrock principles of top-level defenses in Boston, Chicago, Orlando and San Antonio — and to a lesser extent in Philadelphia and Milwaukee. Not so with the Lakers. Only the Timberwolves have allowed more three-point attempts, but opponents just can’t knock them down against L.A.; the Lakers rank second, behind only Chicago, in three-point defense, and they also led the league in that category last season. This rare double comes from the fact that the Lakers smartly tilt their defense away from so-so perimeter shooters, and it suggests opponents take threes out of weakness — an inability to deal with L.A.’s interior defense — rather than opportunism.

After Tuesday’s practice, I asked Kobe Bryant for his explanation of what’s been so good about L.A.’s three-point D.

“We don’t allow guys to take rhythm shots, particularly at the three-point line,” he said. “We do a good job of running them off those shots or rushing them into those shots. We don’t want anybody just squatting and having a good look at it.

“We force them to take tough shots inside the paint with our bigs, Pau (Gasol) and ‘Drew (Bynum), and then when they take long two’s and contested threes, just make sure our hands are up in their face and they’re taking rushed opportunities.”

With Gasol and Bynum inside, plus Derek Fisher and Ron Artest (and usually Bryant) consistently closing down on shooters on the outside, this technique can work particularly well against teams like San Antonio and Dallas that shoot the three both often and well.

The Spurs rank first in the league at 39.9 percent from distance, while the Mavs come in seventh at 37.0 percent. Only the Knicks, Rockets, Suns and Magic take more threes than Dallas (21.35), while San Antonio’s 20.99 attempts ranks seventh after the Warriors and aforementioned squads. Meanwhile, the Lakers hold opponents to the second lowest three-point percentage in the league (33.6 percent), behind only Chicago (32.7 percent).

In three games against L.A., the Spurs have hit 31.7 percent of their triples. The Mavs and Lakers have played twice, with Dallas nailing 12-of-26 threes in a 109-100 win in January in what was a major differentiating factor in the game, L.A. uncharacteristically failing to close out on shooters. But L.A. made the adjustment in their March 12 game, holding the Mavs to 4-of-16 triples in a 96-91 win.

We’ll see how Dirk and Co. shoot the triple on Thursday in the third and final meeting between the two squads.