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Farmar To Return Against Miami

Los Angeles Clippers v Los Angeles LakersThe Lakers received some good news in advance of their Christmas Day matchup against the Miami Heat: Jordan Farmar was cleared to play after undergoing an ultrasound that showed complete healing of his hamstring.

“I felt good for awhile,” Farmar said post practice. “But finally to get the clearance and just be able to come out there and help the guys out and do anything I can is what I’m excited about.”

Farmar had missed the previous three-plus weeks after suffering a tear in his left hamstring in L.A.’s home contest against Portland on Dec. 1. While sidelined, the team also lost Steve Blake to a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow and then Kobe Bryant to a fracture of the lateral tibial plateau of his knee. With only three healthy guards on the roster, that left Xavier Henry to assume starting point guard duties over the last three games.

“He did a good job,” Farmar said of Henry filling in at point guard. “It’s tough to just throw somebody out there who has no previous experience and then have no backup for a long time. It was tough and he did a good job with it. Now I look forward to him being able to attack and do what he does best.”

Farmar understands his main duties for a team that has struggled of late on the offensive end, especially in the last two games at Golden State and at Phoenix. In those contests, the Lakers averaged just 86.5 points and shot 34.8 percent from the floor, and their assist numbers were down from 23.3 per game to 11.5.

“I’m just trying to get everybody back to doing what they’re comfortable doing and be in positions where they can really be successful,” Farmar said.

Prior to his injury, the UCLA product had been playing some of the best ball of his career, particularly on the team’s three-game road trip at the end of November. In those games, he was averaging 16.7 points, 4.7 assists and 3.7 rebounds while shooting 61.3 percent from the floor and 62.5 percent on three-pointers.

His return comes against a Miami team that has won five in a row and seven of their last eight games. The Heat defeated Atlanta in overtime on Monday, after erasing a seven-point deficit in the final 1:39 of regulation.

“They move the ball, they spread the floor, they’re very aggressive defensively and they turn you over,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “That gets them out on the fastbreak and they’re a devastating team (in transition).”

Miami ranks first in the league in forcing turnovers (18.4 per game) and ranks second in the league in offensive efficiency (109.6). LeBron James, who is shooting a career high 59.9 percent from the floor and 41.7 percent on three-pointers, spearheads that offense.

“He’s playing at a very, very high level,” D’Antoni said. “He gets better every year, which is scary. You don’t him to get to the rim and you don’t want to foul him. You try to do that and you try to contain him as much you can.”

But with Farmar back in the mix, the Lakers receive what they hope will help spark a team that has lacked the playmaking ability on offense recently. And the coaching staff remains optimistic that this group can get it done, despite facing adversity all year long.

“We have to rise to the occasion,” D’Antoni said. “This is another chance to do that. We have a good group that’s fun to coach and we have to pull in the same direction to make sure we’re hitting on all cylinders.”

A Look at LAL’s Line Up (Sans PG’s)

Charlotte Bobcats v Los Angeles LakersOn Thursday afternoon, we learned that Steve Blake will miss at least six weeks with a torn elbow ligament, joining already-injured point guards Steve Nash (nerve root irritation) and Jordan Farmar (torn hamstring) on the inactive list.

Mike D’Antoni was asked after Thursday’s practice if he’s ever seen a team with so many injuries at one position.

“Yeah, last year,” he said, pointing to a 2012-13 campaign in which he inherited a team without both Blake and Nash. “We’ve really had (many) good point guards, but the problem is (they) have been hurt for two years in a row. We’ll lick our wounds today, but tomorrow, we have to come out. Somebody else will have a great opportunity to step up, play more and get it done.”

Last season, Darius Morris and Chris Duhon* got some minutes at point, but Kobe Bryant ended up doing much of the playmaking, and that’s what we’ll likely see again with the following starting line up: Jodie Meeks, Bryant, Wesley Johnson, Jordan Hill and Pau Gasol.
*Neither player is currently on an NBA roster.

Just two games into his own comeback from (a major) injury, Bryant’s going to have to be up for increased responsibility.

“I don’t really have much of a choice right now,” he said. “I got to get out there and do a lot more than expected in terms of handling the ball and doing significantly more running.

“We have guys that can hopefully bring the ball up and just get us into some stuff and then save my legs a little bit by having me play from the elbow and from the post a lot more and being on top of the floor running screen and roll actions.”

D’Antoni expects Xavier Henry to continue the role he’s taken since Farmar went down of initiating the offense with a second unit that will likely include Nick Young, Shawne Williams, Robert Sacre and one of the starters. The only other healthy body right now belongs to rookie Ryan Kelly, who’s yet to crack any regular rotation minutes.

Nash’s return date is unknown; he’s heading back to Vancouver to work with his personal trainer/therapist while the team is away on the road trip, and is expected to rejoin his teammates subsequently.

Farmar is the closest of the point guards to a return, said D’Antoni, and he’s in line for the most playing time of his career once he’s medically cleared. The UCLA product and L.A. native is going on the team’s four-game road trip (Dec. 13-17) to continue to rehabilitate, and will be re-evaluated upon the team’s return to Los Angeles.

On Thursday, Farmar lingered after practice to work on his shot, and told me he’s already feeling much better. The tightness he’d been feeling in what was a very small tear of his left hamstring has gone away, though he conceded that he’s yet to do anything that might irritate the injury, like sprinting.

Until he’s ready, it’s going to be a big, unique line up for Los Angeles. Stay tuned.

Monday Practice Report

Los Angeles Lakers PracticeNearly eight months after tearing his Achilles tendon, Kobe Bryant made his season debut against Toronto on Sunday evening. He played 28 minutes, but acknowledged his body felt fine on Monday post practice.

“It feels good,” Bryant said. “It feels really good, actually. I felt better after the game than I even did before.”

It has been a general progression for Bryant from nearly three weeks ago when he experienced “general soreness” after practicing hard two straight days to just last week to where his range of motion had improved considerably. Now it’s a matter of making adjustments on the floor as he continues to see more court time.

“You go out there and play, see what you can do, see where you’re at now and adjust accordingly,” Bryant said. “I made some pretty good reads and got my guys some pretty good looks, but as far as my floor game, it wasn’t as bad as I thought.”

He recorded nine points, eight rebounds, four assists and two steals, but also committed eight turnovers. Bryant and the coaching staff both understand that it will take some time before he returns to his normal self.

“It’s going to be awhile,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “He hasn’t played in eight months. It’ll take awhile for him to get on par, but he’ll get there. It takes everybody to get back in a groove and get his legs. He’ll definitely be better anytime he goes out.”

Along with Bryant still trying to find his timing, the team is also trying to integrate him into the lineup. Pau Gasol stated it would take time for him to be his normal self, too, and to also find a comfort level on the court amongst everybody.

“It’s just positioning and changing rhythms out there,” Gasol said. “I think mainly that’s what it’s going to take – understanding where he’s going to be, where the ball is going to go, the amount of plays and what type of plays we’ll run most often. That’s the bigger challenge we’re going to face.”

With the Lakers about to play five contests in one week, including a road trip that entails four games in five nights, Bryant has his mind set on what he wants to accomplish starting Tuesday night against Phoenix.

“Do the same thing I did in the first game, but just do it better,” Bryant said. “Keep those turnovers under control, get my guys in position to be successful and see if I can make a couple shots in a row.”

Lakers Prep For Raptors, Bryant To Return

Los Angeles Lakers PracticeNearly eight months after tearing his Achilles tendon, Kobe Bryant will make his return against the Toronto Raptors on Sunday.

Replacing his 27.3 points per game from last year hasn’t been an issue thus far through 19 games (10-9 record), as nine different players average at least eight points. The key to the team’s success with Bryant absent from the lineup, according to Jodie Meeks, was their unselfishness.

“Guys sharing the ball,” he said. “We knew we had to do it by committee. We have to play that way the whole season and I think we’ll be fine.”

With numerous players stepping up, the Lakers have won six of their last eight games, including three straight on the road after Friday’s win at Sacramento. What will be the biggest challenge in incorporating Bryant back into the mix?

“Just to integrate him,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “He’s a big piece. You throw that boulder in the water and there will be some serious ripples. Adding a big piece like this, everybody has to adjust a little bit.”

The coaching staff, however, maintained the offense won’t change one bit when Bryant returns.

“He can get 40 in any offense so it doesn’t matter,” D’Antoni said. “Our offense is designed to help the other guys get their shots and keep it going. We’ll use the same thing. There might be points of emphasis in the schemes we have with Kobe, and it’ll be a little different, but it’s still the same schemes.”

What might change is how Bryant chooses to approach the game, whether that be scoring or facilitating. D’Antoni believes he’ll opt for the latter, since he’ll likely have the ball in his hands more often and try to find a comfort level on the court. With Steve Nash doubtful and Jordan Farmar ruled out of Sunday’s game, some of the playmaking duties will fall on Bryant’s shoulders.

“I think that’s most of what he’ll do to start with to try and get in a rhythm,” D’Antoni said. “He was doing that last year. The last 40 games that’s what he did mostly. Everybody should be a benefactor of it.”

D’Antoni hinted that Meeks will likely move to the bench, with Bryant sliding into the starting unit alongside Steve Blake, Wesley Johnson, Pau Gasol and Robert Sacre, who made his first start of the season at Sacramento. The coaching staff has been pleased with Sacre’s development thus far on both sides of the ball, citing his energy and activity, particularly on the defensive end.

“He’s a good fit for Pau (Gasol) because he gives a physical presence under there,” D’Antoni said. “He can take the tough guy defensively. He really runs the floor well. He understands the offense and how he wants to do it. He’s a great dive guy so it opens up a lot of shooters … and he finishes well now. He’s a better offensive player than people give him credit for. Defensively, he’s good, and that’s what we need.”

D’Antoni acknowledged there haven’t been any tough moments through this whole process in trying to integrate Bryant back into the fold. That is, in large part, due to the players, he said.

“They have a great spirit among themselves, whether they play five minutes or 20 minutes, they are all in,” D’Antoni said. “When that happens, there are really no tough moments. We’re just trying to win and get better, and we’re doing that.”

Bryant Practices For Second Straight Day

blog_131204kobeFor the second straight day, Kobe Bryant hit the practice floor as the Lakers prepped for Friday’s game at Sacramento. He went through an extensive session on Tuesday with no setbacks, an indicator his return will come sooner rather than later.

“He feels good,” coach Mike D’Antoni said of Bryant. “He had a good practice (yesterday). He’ll practice today full bore and see how he feels tomorrow.”

Bryant’s return is still uncertain, but Pau Gasol elaborated on the importance of the next two days for Bryant, as well as the entire team, before the Lakers hit the road.

“Ten days ago, we (got) a good couple practices in. Yesterday was really good and really positive. I saw him playing better, doing more things, being more explosive. He’s been a really good contributor. He’s been facilitating the ball, he’s been a leader on the floor, which he has always been, and it’s great to see him out there.”

Gasol was quick to point out that Bryant’s presence in the lineup will boost the team’s level of play, regardless of what he can bring to the table.

“He’ll be a benefit no matter what,” Gasol stated. “Just his presence will pick everybody’s energy up and spirit up. We’ve been playing with energy, but with him on the floor, it could be a lot higher.”

Though no definite timetable has been set, Gasol wants Bryant to be 100 percent ready before stepping onto the floor, being wary of not rushing back too fast, too soon.

“I want him to be completely comfortable and confident he can play and do whatever he needs to do out there without any setbacks,” Gasol said. “That’s the perfect scenario. We don’t want him to play Friday if he’s not ready to play Friday. We don’t want him to play Sunday if he’s not completely ready to play Sunday. Whenever he comes and plays, I want him to stay there and continue to play the rest of the year.”

Saturday Practice Report

Kobe Bryant participated in various 5-on-0 drills and shooting exercises Saturday afternoon, as he continues to progress towards an imminent return to the court.

The Lakers went through a light practice session Saturday afternoon, in part to allow Bryant to get some work in. He has been ruled out for Sunday’s game against Portland, but with the team not playing again until Friday at Sacramento, the possibility remains he could return then.

“We’ll have to see where he is,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “I don’t want to anticipate anything. Those are days where he can work and see and reevaluate where he is and how he feels after the three days and then make a decision going forward. It doesn’t mean he will play Friday, it doesn’t mean he won’t. But that’s the time to evaluate it.”

Though Bryant worked out on the court, Jordan Hill and Pau Gasol did not participate in any activity because of various injuries.

Hill played just 14 minutes at Detroit, exiting the game for good early in the third quarter after landing awkwardly on his left ankle. Gasol, meanwhile, recorded 13 points and 12 rebounds in 33 minutes of action, his third double-double in the last five games.

LAL Stepping Up On Defense

Sacramento Kings v Los Angeles LakersAfter using five different starting lineup combinations through the first eight games, coach Mike D’Antoni elected to make another change in the team’s ninth game: insert Jordan Hill and Wesley Johnson into the starting unit.

The move has paid off.

In the six games with Hill and Johnson starting, the Lakers have allowed 97.9 points per 100 possessions, which would rank seventh in the NBA.

In Sunday’s win against Sacramento, the Lakers conceded just 86 points, a season-low for an opponent. This included a 13-point third quarter in which the Kings shot just 5 for 20 from the floor.

“We’re sticking to our principles a lot, and I think they’re getting to the point where they’re not thinking about things and reacting and sticking to what we’re doing,” D’Antoni said postgame. “They’re just following the game plan really well. The last part is their effort. They want to do it. Because you share the ball on offense and everybody feels good about how they’re playing, that transfers on the defensive end and you have more team energy.”

That energy has been no more evident, particularly over the last four games, where Lakers opponents have failed to top the century mark and teams are averaging 92.3 points and shooting just 43.8 percent shooting and 31.7 percent on three-pointers.

The improvement on the defensive end has also translated to the offensive side, where the Lakers are averaging 106.0 points per 100 possessions in the last six, which would rank fifth in the league. The play of Steve Blake in particular has aided in this marked improvement, as the former Maryland product has reached double-digit assists in five of those games.

“There’s nothing better than being out there and setting up guys for shots,” Blake said postgame. “Coach gives me the freedom to do that and the offense lets you as a point guard create for people, so I’m just loving it right now.”

Despite playing the second-toughest schedule in the league (trailing only Memphis), the Lakers own a three-game winning streak and have won four of their last six. Twelve of their 14 opponents are above the .500 mark, the lone exceptions being Detroit (5-8) and Sacramento (4-9), but even without Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant, the team has found success on both ends of the floor over the last two weeks.

“The repetitions in practice have gotten us in a good place,” Blake said. “Coach was tinkering with the lineups till he found something that works. We’re at that point now where it’s working, so we’ll stick with it, keep running it and hopefully we can keep being successful.”

Saturday Practice Report

Golden State Warriors v Los Angeles LakersAfter Kobe Bryant sat out Thursday’s practice because of “general soreness,” he went through his own workout while the rest of the team participated in a light session.

“(Bryant) will amp it up as much as he needs to,” coach Mike D’Antoni explained. “It’s not soreness of the Achilles, just general soreness. He hadn’t played since April and he went hard, and you just feel sore and sluggish. It’s a normal thing. He didn’t have to back off because of injury.”

The Lakers will embark on a three-game road trip next week, where practice time will be limited. But D’Antoni stated Bryant will be with the team and participate in shootaround. There is still no definitive timetable for his return, however.

“We look at the calendar and we say we’ll get practice here and you need to amp it up here,” D’Antoni said. “But how he responds to that is when he’ll be able to play, so we don’t know how that’ll be.”

Until Bryant returns, Pau Gasol believes the team should be focused on what they can do and build upon their play the last couple of games.

“We can’t really anticipate too much or stress about it,” Gasol said. “He’s going to come back when he comes back. Whenever that is, we’ll be happy and excited. But at the same time, we have to continue to play with the intensity and focus we have been playing with the last few games.”

With the team afforded more practice time over the last week, the 7-foot Spaniard, who finished with 24 points and 10 rebounds vs. Golden State, has seen a difference on both the offensive and defensive end.

“We have improved on both ends of the floor,” Gasol said. “We’ve developed our offensive game, but defensively, I think we’re hustling, we’re working together, we’re coming up with big stops and (creating) a bond that’s needed for our team to be successful.”

Thursday Practice Report

ts_131121practice670After going through two straight practices on Tuesday and Wednesday, Kobe Bryant skipped Thursday’s session, as he works his way back from the Achilles tear he suffered in April.

“It’s just precautionary,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “I know everybody is eager but it’s going to be a little bit of a process to make sure he’s healthy when he comes back.”

Aside from Bryant’s ongoing process to return to the floor, Steve Nash also continues to rehabilitate after missing the last 10 days because of nerve root irritation.

“Steve is progressing,” D’Antoni said. “He’s still in the process of working out and getting back his conditioning, trying to get over the nerve (issue) and get his body aligned. It’ll probably be another week or 10 days, and he’ll try it. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, he’ll go back and try again.”

Lakers.com’s Mike Trudell reported the plan for Nash is to fly to Vancouver next week while the team is on their three-game road trip at Washington, Brooklyn and Detroit. He will rejoin the club when they return on Saturday, Nov. 30.

The three practices in the last week for the team is an NBA rarity, as the club had played 12 games in 20 days prior – the most of any club in the league – including three sets of back-to-back contests. In advance of Friday’s tilt against Golden State, the coaching staff emphasized particular defensive schemes to counter the Warriors’ high-powered offense.

“We just worked on a lot of their sets and what they do; pick and roll defense, getting out to their three-point shooters, making sure we run them off the line,” D’Antoni said. “It’s normal stuff we do against every team except Golden State does it as good as anybody.”

The Warriors rank first in the league in three-pointers made per game (10.6) and rank second in three-point field goal percentage (44.9). In particular, Klay Thompson leads the league in three-pointers made (40), while shooting 48.8 percent from distance. Thompson scored 38 points against the Lakers in Golden State’s home opener on Oct. 30, and is averaging a career-best 20.6 points per game this year. Stephen Curry, who missed the team’s last game because of a concussion, also ranks among the league leaders in three-pointers made and three-point field goal percentage. He is expected to play on Friday, according to the team.

The Lakers defense, however, has improved over the last four games, in large part because of the play of Jordan Hill. Opponents are averaging 98.5 points on 43.0 percent field goals and 26.9 percent on three-pointers in that span, compared to the first eight games when teams put up 106.5 points and shot 46.4 percent field goals and 40.2 percent from distance. Wesley Johnson’s length at the starting three has also keyed the team’s success on the defensive end.

“We’re much more comfortable defensively and what we’re trying to do, and they’re reacting without thinking,” D’Antoni said. “We got the rotations down a little bit better, guys are more comfortable, we have guys that are playing really well.”

Jordan Hill Seizing The Opportunity

blog_131120hillOne of the more pressing questions coach Mike D’Antoni faced early in the season was figuring out a set rotation. Through the first eight games, the Lakers used five different starting units, while 11 players averaged at least 15 minutes. Against New Orleans, the coaching staff once again shook up the lineup again, inserting Jordan Hill at the starting four spot.

“We switched up the lineup to get a little more energy in there,” D’Antoni said pregame. “He brings energy and hopefully we can start off a little (better).”

Hill responded with a career-high 21 points and 11 rebounds in his first start to key the Lakers 116-95 win that night. In Sunday’s 114-89 win against Detroit, he posted new career-highs of 24 points and 17 rebounds against a frontcourt that featured 7-footer Andre Drummond, 6-foot-11 Greg Monroe and 6-foot-9 Josh Smith.

“That’s just will and effort,” Wesley Johnson said of Hill’s rebounding ability. “I know that he has a nose for the ball and he definitely doesn’t stop.”

In four starts this year, the Arizona product is averaging 18.8 points, 12.0 rebounds and 1.8 blocks on 61.7 percent field goals. According to NBA.com/stats, the 6-foot-10 forward has converted on 69.2 percent of his attempts from eight feet and in. And in a small sample size, Hill is 3 for 6 on jump shots from 16-24 feet, something he’s acknowledged he worked on during the offseason.

“Tremendous,” Kobe Bryant said of Hill’s play thus far. “He really worked hard this summer and got himself into good shape and shed some weight. He has a knack for the ball and is great around the rim. He has a great touch on the low post and a great touch on the perimeter. He’s been a pleasant surprise.”

Aside from his individual statistics, Hill’s play has aided in an improvement on the defensive end for the Lakers. In the last four games, opponents are averaging 98.5 points on 43.0 percent shooting compared to the first eight games where teams put up 106.5 points per game on 46.4 percent field goals. Along with Hill, the continuity in the lineup the last four games has played a key role in the team’s defensive success.

“Playing Jordan Hill gives us a little more length at the four,” D’Antoni said. “And guys are starting to get into rotations and how we do things without thinking so much that it becomes a habit, and that way you can react quicker and they react quicker to the ball and different situations. As a young team, that takes time, but it’s starting to settle in a little bit. Hopefully we can keep on that right path.”

With Bryant’s return on the horizon as he continues to practice with the team, the forward maintains he’ll continue to do what he does best: rebound and bring energy to the court. D’Antoni believes that his recent string of success is not a fluke.

“(He’s) not only (bringing) energy, but he’s averaging (a double-double),” D’Antoni said. “He’s playing at an All-Star level. What he’s doing is remarkable. There’s no reason why he can’t keep that up.”