Archive for the 'Features' Category

Lakers Bench Finding Rhythm

At his introductory press conference, Mike D’Antoni was asked how he could maximize the bench.

One of the Lakers’ offseason signings, 14-year veteran Antawn Jamison, was expected to largely bolster the second unit. However, while only seeing 16.5 minutes of court time, he had averaged just 4.3 points and 3.6 boards, while shooting 37.5 percent from the floor in the team’s first 10 games.

“It was difficult,” Jamison said of trying to find his role with the team in the beginning of the year. “I knew what I was dealing with when I was getting in. We all were trying to figure out the scenario that we could help out the team as much as possible.”

Fellow offseason acquisition Jodie Meeks was in a similar predicament. The former Kentucky product saw the court sporadically, sitting out two contests, while receiving five minutes or fewer in two others.

Signed primarily to space the floor and help a team that ranked 25th out of 30 teams in 3-point percentage a year ago, the career 37 percent 3-point shooter had converted on just 5 for 20 from deep.

Despite the second unit’s struggles in the early part of the season, D’Antoni maintained the bench would be fine.

Now, the results are showing.

In the team’s 122-103 win against Denver, Jamison scored a team-high 33 points on 12-of-19 shooting (5 for 10 from deep), to go along with 12 rebounds, and Meeks tied a personal record with seven 3-pointers. The two became the first pair of Laker teammates to score more than 20 points in over a decade since Kobe Bryant and Nick Van Exel had 25 and 20, respectively, against Utah in 1998.

Under coach Mike D’Antoni, both his subs’ numbers have gone up, especially for Meeks, who had his coach’s vote of confidence since Day 1.

“I told him the only time he needs to shoot is when he touches the ball,” D’Antoni said of Meeks during his introductory press conference. “That’s what he does. He’s not in the league because he can drive and dish – that’s not him.”

And that’s exactly what the fifth-year guard has done since the 61-year-old coach started roaming the sidelines. He’s averaged nearly nine points, while shooting almost 52 percent from the 3-point line (15 for 29), and 50 percent overall from the field (18 for 36) in six contests.

“(I’m) getting consistent minutes and I’m playing with more confidence,” Meeks said. “Coach D’Antoni gives not only myself but the whole team confidence to just shoot when you’re open.”

For Jamison, his numbers are up, too – to 12 points and six boards per game, while shooting at a 55 percent clip from the floor (29 for 53).

“D’Antoni’s done a great job of giving me confidence to go out there, compete and giving me some minutes to make something happen,” he said.

Along with Meeks, Jamison’s playing time in the last four contests – 27, 30, 23 and 33 – have coincided with three of his highest-scoring games of the season, including his performance against Denver and a 19-point, 15-rebound outing at Dallas.

“They’re guys that can spread the floor,” D’Antoni said of Jamison and Meeks. “They can shoot it extremely well. They could be two major parts that we need to keep developing, just give them space, let them go and play.”

Jamison has seen more time at small forward as of late as well, D’Antoni subbing the 6-foot-9 forward at the halfway point of the first quarter in the last three games, to play alongside Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard for stretches.

“Both (Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol) demand so much attention,” Jamison said. “They put so much pressure on the defense and now I’m starting to understand that with Pau I can do this, I can do that, and with Dwight what my role is as well – and we’re starting to get a rhythm.”

That rhythm has also been aided by the play of Chris Duhon, who has served as the backup point guard to starter Darius Morris since Steve Nash and Steve Blake have remained sidelined. The Duke product has posted 22 assists to just three turnovers in six games since D’Antoni took over, and notched a season-high eight assists against Denver.

“That’s what we need, especially guys coming off this bench,” Jamison said. “We need to set a tone and set an identity of what we’re going to do.”

It seems they’re headed in the right direction.

How Good is Gasol? Kobe Knows.

59130619Pau Gasol is the NBA’s best all-around big man.

Just ask Kobe Bryant.

“I don’t think it’s close,” said Bryant, No. 1 to Gasol’s 1A on the Lakers.

In the 15 games Gasol had played this season prior to L.A.’s 111-108 Tuesday evening victory over Oklahoma City, the seven-footer had posted the kind of numbers that quickly punch a ticket to the NBA All-Star game.

Try this: 17.1 points on 54.6 percent shooting (14th in the NBA); 12.7 rebounds, which would rank second in the NBA if the Gasol had played enough games; 3.9 assists, good for third on the team; 1.47 blocks, second to Andrew Bynum’s 1.63; and 89.3 percent from the free throw line, which ranked fifth in the NBA and further cements a theory that Gasol must receive as many touches as possible on offense.

Well, the Spaniard was at it again against the Thunder, doing a bit of everything while posting 15 points, 11 rebounds and a season-high six blocks in helping the Lakers to their 15th win in 16 games since he returned to L.A.’s lineup after 11 games spent nursing a strained hamstring.

59189660To Bryant (who oh-by-the-way dropped another 40 points) it’s no coincidence that the Lakers have a 93.75 winning percentage with the multi-talented big man starting at power forward.

“Oh yeah,” said Bryant, nodding his head knowingly. “He’s been a blessing to me. I can’t say enough about him … he knows how much I love him and appreciate him. I think he’s probably under-appreciated, but not from me, that’s for sure.”

Coming off a crucial role in the Lakers’ latest NBA Championship and MVP honors while leading Spain to the 2009 EuroBasket title, Gasol has raised his game to a new level since L.A.’s loss in the 2008 NBA Finals.

That offseason, Gasol realized that he needed to add some strength and develop a nastier attitude in the paint, and he steadily progressed in that facet throughout the Lakers’ 2008-09 campaign until his defense and toughness had reached the point that single-covering Orlando’s Dwight Howard in the Finals was not a problem.

As it was on Tuesday against, well, whoever came into the paint.

“Pau was blocking shots,” said Ron Artest, keeping things simple for us. “He played good.”

The six swats aside, it wasn’t Pau’s best box score of the season by any means (that would be his 26 points, 22 rebounds, four blocks and four assists against Milwaukee last week). But his skill set is so extensive and varied, he always finds ways to contribute in a healthy manner just by playing his game.

Four examples:

11:19, 1st Quarter: After Andrew Bynum missed a layup, Gasol snuck in from the weak side to grab the board and stick it back in.
9:51, 1st: Gasol, while posting up, spotted Bynum under the hoop, and threw a pretty lob pass over his head that somehow wound up in a surprised Bynum’s hands.
5:36, 2nd It doesn’t show up in the box, but Gasol showed why he’s perhaps the league’s best running big by sprinting full-court after blocking a shot, drawing the attention of two Thunder players scrambling back in transition to free Derek Fisher for a wide open jumper.
0:02.9, 3rd: Gasol swatted Russell Westbrook’s layup attempt, rebounded the ball, drew a foul and sank two free throws at the other end.

D069680012.JPGIt’s no coincidence that Gasol’s best quarter, the third, was also L.A.’s best, and the period that won the game. He of Barcelona scored five points, grabbed seven rebounds, blocked two shots and added an assist without a turnover or missed shot as the Lakers outscored the Thunder 34-21 to turn a seven-point deficit into a six-point lead.

OKC refused to quit, hanging around to see Bryant avoid an injury scare and Westbrook have a chance to tie the game on a final-seconds-three-pointer, but in no small thanks to Gasol, L.A. won its fifth straight.

“We stepped up our game in that third quarter,” concluded Gasol. “We really just want to continue to improve on a daily basis.”

Getting better every day? Gasol may well have been talking about himself.

During the team’s East Coast road trip last week, in the lobby of the team’s New York City hotel, an injured Luke Walton saw Gasol walk into the hotel’s entrance, and exchanged pleasantries with his power forward/center for a few minutes before Gasol continued towards the elevators. Walton spent the next several minutes gushing about what a fantastic player Pau is, how he still isn’t getting enough credit, and how impressive he is on a daily basis at both ends of the floor.

Then there are opposing coaches like the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich, who even just a week or so ago* couldn’t keep from cringing when hearing Gasol’s name mentioned, still troubled by how promptly the balance of power shifted in the West when Mitch Kupchak acquired Gasol from Memphis.
*To the L.A. Times.

Then, the Lakers couldn’t have been more eager to acquire Gasol. Now, the team that has yet to lose three straight games with Gasol adorned in purple and gold is eagerly working on a contract extension that both Gasol and Phil Jackson say is nearing completion.

No need to ask Bryant how he feels about that.

Utah Series Wrap: Coming Soon

We’ll have a full report from L.A.’s 4-1 first round series win over the Utah Jazz, complete with links to each running diary and postgame story, a player-by-player breakdown of each Laker on the roster and an interview with Andrei Kirilenko highlighting an opposing player’s view of the Lakers.

Just check Lakers.com later tonight.

Friendly Success

Luke WaltonLuke Walton and Jordan Farmar have their Matt Damon – Ben Affleck thing going on, no question about it.

The question is, does that friendship translate into success onto the NBA floor?

“I don’t know if there’s a direct correlation between being good friends and playing well together on the court,” said Walton upon first consideration. “I think it more has to do with our styles of playing the game. We both understand the game pretty well and over the past two years, we’ve played a lot of 2-of-2 and 3-on-3 with each other and developed a good feel for each other’s games.”

Farmar had a different perspective.

“It definitely helps,” he countered. “If you’re friends with someone, you know their game, you know what they’re good at, you know how to put them in a position to be successful and you want them to be successful. They want the same for you, so it’s a different kind of chemistry and feeling out there when you like, know and enjoy people you’re playing with.”

So … which is it?

To read more, CLICK HERE to visit the article’s home on Lakers.com.

Lakers Balancing Their Economy

Throughout the 2008-09 NBA season and particularly just before the Feb. 19 trade deadline, several teams seemed to be cutting salaries for purely economic purposes. Here’s why the Lakers weren’t one of them:

This basketball season, much has been made about the impact of the nationwide recession that’s adversely affecting so many people not just in America but around the world.

Owners throughout professional basketball have made deals that appear, at least on the surface, to have just as much to do with their respective economic situations as on-the-court performance (see: pre-physical Tyson Chandler).

““I think the country’s economic struggles will have an effect on the business of basketball and the NBA.” said Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchack. “It is obviously a tough economic environment right now with a lot of uncertainty going forward. It is essential that all NBA teams and the NBA in New York pay close attention to the economy and how it may affect this great game in the short term so as to ensure its success in the long term.”

To read the rest of the article, CLICK HERE.

Frosted Flakes, Medicine and Penelope Cruz

Whether you’re talking about food, basketball, medicine or what have you, Lakers forward Pau Gasol generally has something interesting to offer.

We caught up with the 2008-09 All-Star in his hotel room – while he was waiting for some pasta with marinara sauce (entrée No. 1), grilled chicken breast with mashed potatoes (entrée No. 2), a coke (he had plenty of water at shootaround) and a banana (for dessert) – to see what was on his mind:

MT: Let’s begin with a no-nonsense question. What’s your favorite cereal?
Gasol: Frosted Flakes. That’s easy. Also, Corn Flakes … with sugar. I guess that’s basically Frosted Flakes, but I started eating them when I was very young in Spain.

To read the rest of the interview, head right here on Lakers.com.

Gasol Named Western Player of the Week

Pau GasolThanks to a terrific individual week in which his team also happened to go 4-0 with wins over the two best teams in the Eastern Conference, Pau Gasol earned Western Conference Player of the Week honors, joining Kobe Bryant (twice) in receiving the award this season.

Gasol, after moving to center in place of the injured Andrew Bynum, averaged 26.0 points on 67.6 percent shooting and ranked third in the NBA with 13.8 boards per contest.

He was terrific when it counted both in an OT win at Boston and the win that snapped Cleveland’s 23-0 home record three nights later, helping the Lakers return from their trip with a 6-0 record to post the league’s best record at 41-9.

We took a closer look into Gasol’s fantastic play of late by detailing his numbers in the last five games since Bynum went down, and trying to describe how he’s done it with the help of some video from Luke Walton.

You can read it by clicking here.

On the Road with Clem

81330572CC010_2008_NBA_FinaHow does an NBA assistant coach prepare for a six-game road trip? Which opponents does he focus on, what occurs on “off days” and what are his particular methods and tricks to impart information on his players?

On the road in Minneapolis, we spent a little time with Lakers assistant coach Jim Cleamons to talk about those topics and more.

Here’s what Clem had to say:

Midseason Review: Mitch Kupchak

Mitch Kupchak

After 43 games of the 2008-09 campaign, the Lakers have 35 wins. No matter how you think L.A. is playing, it’s certainly it’s hard to expect anything more from the win column. To reflect on the season’s first half, we welcomed Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak onto Lakers.com.

MT: After advancing to the NBA Finals last season without Andrew Bynum and Trevor Ariza, you knew you had a very good team. To what degree have the Lakers lived up to your expectations at the season’s midpoint?
Kupchak: The expectations were great, and I think there was a curiosity factor with a healthy Andrew Bynum. People didn’t know what to expect based on Trevor Ariza’s short window of opportunity with us last year; I’m not sure there was much expectation there. But certainly with Andrew coming back, people were very curious, and as I would expect myself they’d expect us to be a stronger team. We’ve had our share of small knickknack injuries and we haven’t really faced any extreme adversity so far. Jordan Farmar especially, Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, Sasha Vujacic all missed time and Kobe Bryant’s probably the most banged up of anybody but he continues to play. So where we are today, overall, we’re pleased. But we’ll be evaluated on how we conclude the season, not where we stand in January.

To read more, CLICK HERE.

Fisher Revelling in Big Minutes

Derek FisherFact: Every NBA player wants to play big minutes.

With perhaps a few exceptions (uniquely unmotivated souls, you know who you are), playing time is the thing players covet most and control least. That mandate may not apply as directly to players like Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, whose talents any coach simply can’t leave on the pine … But nearly every other player on L.A.’s roster knows that at least some of his professional livelihood may depend on if Phil Jackson decides to play him 10, 20 or 30 minutes a night.

Players as good as Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum and Derek Fisher are going to earn their share of minutes, but playing 20 vs. 30 can make a huge impact not only on the team, but more pointedly (in this case) on a player’s production.

For Fisher, getting big minutes hasn’t been much of an issue since his backup, Jordan Farmar, went down with a knee injury on Dec. 19 against Miami.

Derek Fisher 2008-09 Stats
Pre Farmar Injury:
28.0 minutes; 10.5 points; 3.3 assists; 2.5 rebounds; 0.9 turnovers; 41.3% FGs

Post Farmar Injury: 36.2 minutes; 14.8 points; 4.0 assists; 2.8 rebounds; 1.0 turnovers; 49% FGs

Totals Through 30 Games
29.4 minutes; 11.2 points, 3.4 assists, 2.6 rebounds; .93 turnovers; 42.8% FGs

Does 34 Matter?
The other number upon which there’s been a focus at least in the media is Fisher’s age: 34.

Though we should acknowledge that Fisher’s 34 isn’t the usual 34 – not after he takes such terrific care of his conditioning – do we know if playing six more minutes a game, on average, since Farmar’s injury makes a big difference on a body that hasn’t missed a game in four years? Maybe not. Fish has maintained throughout his career that he trains his body to play 48 minutes a night, and he honestly doesn’t appear to be fazed in the least – not that it should surprise us.

“I think it’s fun to compete,” said the veteran after Wednesday’s practice. “Guys that have made it to this level of professional sports – the drive and the persistence and determination that you have to show to get to this point – you don’t get here to want to sit on the bench half the game, and that goes for everybody.”

Of course, the feeling is somewhat fleeting.

“I think the difference for me is that through my life experiences and my basketball experiences, I know it’s not something that will stay forever,” Fisher added. “So I appreciate it and I maximize it when it’s there, but I’m smart enough and enough of a team player to know when to step back as soon as Jordan comes back, because he’s an important member of our team.”

Farmar did say at Thursday’s practice that his knee feels really good after the surgery. But until then, Coach, Fish doesn’t seem to mind playing all 48. That’s up to you.