Archive for the 'Practice News' Category

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Kobe Bryant Returns to Practice

Memphis Grizzlies v Los Angeles LakersLakers Injury Report sponsored by UCLA Health SystemFor the first time since tearing his Achilles in April, Kobe Bryant returned to the practice floor with his teammates on Saturday afternoon in El Segundo.

It was a relatively light session for the Lakers, consisting mostly of 5-on-0 skeleton drills and some half-court work. Nonetheless, Bryant’s presence was more than a welcome sight for his teammates.

“He looked good and did a few moves I didn’t expect him to do right away,” said Pau Gasol. “I’m very happy for him and for us, and definitely looking forward to when he’ll play in a game.”

“We were just doing drills, nothing 100 percent, but he looked really good,” added Jodie Meeks. “After being out for seven months it’s amazing to see him our there like that.”

Bryant played alongside Steve Blake, Meeks, Wesley Johnson and Gasol in some drills, according to Meeks, and Bryant was doing everything from cutting side-to-side, shooting and running.

“He looked good doing it,” said Meeks. “He was making shots. He’s so intelligent that he helps guys get in the right spots and makes the game a lot easier not only for myself but for the whole team. He’s been in the league for almost 20 years, he knows it all inside and out.”

Perhaps more than anything else, Bryant filled the void he’s filled for several years as the leader of the team, asserting himself from the outset of practice.

“He’s the alpha dog,” Meeks explained. “He tells everybody where to go, gets everyone in the right spots and gives everyone confidence that our leader is coming back soon.”

How soon?

“I try not to ask him about it because I know everybody else is,” Meeks concluded. “When he comes back we’ll be happy to have him, but until then we’ll just have to keep fighting and try to win.”

LAL Draw Davis, Pelicans Again

Los Angeles Lakers v New Orleans PelicansOn Friday evening in New Orleans, the Lakers got a heavy dose of Anthony Davis, the No. 1 pick in the 2012 Draft, who posted the following line:

Davis vs. LAL on Nov. 8: 32 points on 12 of 18 field goals and eight of 11 free throws; 12 rebounds; six blocks; three assists and one steal in 37 minutes.

“He’s very talented and he’s becoming the go-to guy for them,” said Steve Blake, who drained five threes towards 19 points against Minnesota. “He’s young and athletic, but there were times where we could have made adjustments and a lot of his baskets were out in the open floor where we turned the ball over. If we could have made him play in the half court more we would have been more successful.”

Davis outplayed Pau Gasol, who appeared fatigued on the second of a back-to-back after Thursday’s win at Houston, the Spaniard making only 3 of his 12 attempts. Gasol didn’t have his best game on Sunday against Minnesota, either, scoring 11 points with 11 rebounds in a second consecutive loss. He did, however, say he’s improving his conditioning, which has been behind this season after he took the summer off from basketball to rehabilitate from a procedure on both knees.

While the Davis-Gasol matchup will be in focus, the Lakers will need to play far better as a team than they did at New Orleans or against Minnesota. They did hold the Pelicans to 43.7 percent shooting in the 96-85 loss, but were outrun 27-19 in the fourth quarter. Coach Mike D’Antoni thought the effort was questionable from the outset.

“I thought we came out and we weren’t ready to play,” he said after the contest. “We didn’t play with intensity. In the beginning, we were behind. The second unit came out and gave us a nice burst, and the first unit did pretty good in the second half. Then at the end, we didn’t have it. We didn’t play with the right energy. They just outran us and outplayed us. We needed everybody to be present and they weren’t.”

Furthermore, L.A. has yet to establish a firm identity, still dealing with not only Kobe Bryant’s continued absence from his April surgery on his Achilles, but Steve Nash’s ongoing nerve issues related to his back, hamstring and hips. Since those two players are L.A.’s best playmakers when healthy, it’s been difficult for the team to establish a solid foundation.

“One thing we have to do is find our identity,” D’Antoni explained. “We don’t play slow or fast, we don’t do anything with a purpose and we’re trying to get that. We’re trying to clarify what playing hard means because sometimes I misconstrue that in the press.

“Being able to anticipate what’s happening, being mentally alert. They’re all trying but a lot of time they’re one step or two steps behind because we didn’t anticipate or get to a spot. We need to get there to be able to benefit from playing hard. It’s not a character issue, it’s a matter of an execution thing.”

As such, we may see another starting line up on Tuesday. Nash – who missed Friday’s game against New Orleans – will unlikely play. Whether the group of Steve Blake, Jodie Meeks, Nick Young, Chris Kaman and Gasol (who started on Friday) remain has yet to be announced.

Lakers’ Offense Needs to Get on a “Roll”

Atlanta Hawks v Los Angeles LakersPerhaps the most basic and essential element of Mike D’Antoni’s – and really most of the NBA’s – offense is the screen-and-roll action, designed to force the defense into making a decision that leaves the offense with an open shot.

Five games into the season, the Lakers have not run it well. Too often, the big men are setting the screen and popping out for a jump shot instead of rolling to the basket, where they could either receive a pass with a chance finish or draw defensive attention that would produce open shots for teammates.

“(We need) more rolling, that’s what we want to do,” said D’Antoni after Wednesday’s practice in Houston ahead of Thursday’s game against the Rockets. “Mid-range shots aren’t the best thing in the world, so if that’s all you’re trying to get, that’s not a winning formula.”

I asked D’Antoni to what degree he’d prefer his big men roll, as opposed to pop.

“Almost 90 percent of the time we want you to roll hard, because we have another big that plays with (the roller) and he’d be the popper. You always have one shooter outside.”

And what is lacking?

“What we’re missing is a dynamic force going to the basket,” revealed D’Antoni. “Kobe (Bryant) would give you that, but we don’t have that force anywhere. So now we kind of play on the perimeter, and sometimes it works out a little bit, but that’s not what we need to do.”

“Sometimes we get too stagnant and we don’t create advantages,” said Pau Gasol when asked what L.A. needs to do better. “We have to create motion out of the pick and rolls, so that’s what we’re going to try and do more of from now on … (make) the defense move and for guys to be open from those actions. If we’re going to continue to run it, we have to do it more effectively. Hopefully when I roll, it’ll get me closer to the basket, too, and the ball might get there often, so that’s kind of the plan … our guards are not too fast, so we have to create advantages other ways.”

Gasol rolling to the hoop late in games after setting a screen for Bryant was L.A.’s bread and butter during the three consecutive trips to the NBA Finals from 2008-10, so he’s certainly capable and aware. Clearly, the coaches would prefer that he, Chris Kaman, Jordan Hill and even Wesley Johnson try and establish that “dynamic force” heading to the hoop after setting the screen. To what degree the bigs execute the plan remains to be seen.

Of course, there are two sides to the screen-and-roll, but on defense, the way the Lakers need to play the action is more simple.

“We just have to put the effort in mentally and focus on being gritty,” D’Antoni said. “For whatever reason, we have a hard time sustaining our effort mentally and focused in on being gritty … we’re not good enough to fall in like everybody else. Somehow we have to distinguish ourselves and that’s by grit and determination, and we’re not there yet.”

That grit was certainly lacking in Dallas, when Monta Ellis (30 points on 11 of 14 shooting, nine assists) got into the paint at will en route to the 123-104 blowout loss.

It’ll be just as much a focus in Houston on Thursday night, as the Rockets essentially run D’Antoni’s offense, with Omer Asik and Dwight Howard setting screens for James Harden and Patrick Beverley/Jeremy Lin. Howard did relatively little rolling to the hoop for L.A.’s offense last season, and D’Antoni hopes his bigs will begin to reverse that trend on Thursday evening.

Tip off is at 6:30 p.m. PST on TNT.

Gasol, D’Antoni Address Media in Houston

Los Angeles Lakers v Dallas MavericksPau Gasol talked to assembled media members at the Toyota Center in advance of L.A.’s game vs. Houston on Thursday night. Gasol discussed Dwight Howard’s free agency decision, summarized L.A.’s 2012-13 season and the state of the Lakers offensively and defensively through five games. Below is a transcript:

Pau Gasol
Q: On if he was surprised or disappointed about Dwight Howard’s decision:
Gasol: I was kind of open to everything and anything, just like any other time. He made his decision and he thought that was the best choice for him. I respect him for it, and that’s it.

Q: On if he expects the atmosphere to be crazier in L.A. when they face Houston:
Gasol: I’m sure, I’m sure. I’m pretty positive it will be a little different on our court than here (in Houston). We have to worry about our situation and what we’re dealing with now and we have to play better on the road. Houston is playing really well, especially here at home. It’s going to be a tough game for us, so we have to be able to challenge them and play a good game for 48 minutes, and not have the breakdowns that we’ve been having, especially on the road, where we haven’t been successful.

Q: On if he feels everything that could go wrong did go wrong last season for the team:
Gasol: A lot of things went wrong last year, for sure. A lot of adversity and nothing really clicked. It was a tough year for everyone, not for one individual. Pretty much for the entire team, it was a tough year to go through. You have to understand in the NBA you have those types of years, and those years are the ones that make you grow and you can use those years to build on and to work even harder to achieve later success.

Q: On if anybody knew to an extent about where Howard’s body was really at last year coming off back surgery:
Gasol: Kind of hard to say, right? I can’t speak for a person’s body, how he’s feeling and what he’s going through. We knew he wasn’t 100 percent, that’s what he talked about and that’s what he shared. Then he had the shoulder issue as well, but we all had issues.

Q: On if it’s hard to reconcile that Howard did not see his future in L.A.:
Gasol: No, like I said, it was his first time being in a free agent position. He had the freedom to pick his future, and he picked it. It wasn’t with the Lakers. It was with the Rockets, so good luck and that’s it.

Q: On what he feels the future of the Lakers is:
Gasol: There’s a lot of question marks. We’re just trying to focus on our season and on our next game. It’s hard to say what’s going to happen next year, who’s going to be here and who’s not. We’re going to try and focus on what we can control, which is working hard every day to get better and have a better season.

Q: On the keys to going after Howard defensively:
Gasol: You have to be able to move him around. You can’t really overpower him, so you have to keep in constant movement and make him uncomfortable, get him out of position, get him to be late to rotate and things like that. That’s what you have to do to be successful against him.

Q: On his view about the dynamic between Kobe Bryant and Howard last year:
Gasol: There was definitely a lack of understanding and connection. I don’t know how much tension there was, but there were days it was fine and everybody was on the same page, and when things get a little rough, usually that’s when the tension came up. Like I said it was a rough year and a lot of things didn’t go our way, and that made it much more difficult.

Q: On if he follows the Rockets and what Howard does:
Gasol: I follow almost every team in the league, so I’m on top of what every player does, especially at my position. I follow the top players and I just follow the NBA. I follow what teams do, what players do and who’s doing well and who’s not.

Q: On if there was any period last year where the Lakers had fun playing:
Gasol: The last stretch was a little fun. That’s when we made that run to get into the playoffs. I think that was fun. The team competed, we were fighting to get in and that was fun. I think we had a couple games in there that we all kind of enjoyed playing together without too many issues, but for the most part, that wasn’t the case.

Q: On what he wants to see individually and from the team in pick-and-roll situations:
Gasol: Sometimes we get too stagnant and we don’t create advantages. We have to create motion out of the pick and rolls, so that’s what we’re going to try and do more of from now on. Keep our guys moving, (make) the defense move and for guys to be open from those actions. If we’re going to continue to run it, we have to do it more effectively. Hopefully when I roll, it’ll get me closer to the basket, too, and the ball might get there often, so that’s kind of the plan.

Q: On when he chooses to pop or roll on offense, or whether it’s based off reads:
Gasol: I’m going to try and read the defense, but most of the time, I’m going to try and get myself closer to the basket. Otherwise we get too stagnant at times and we’re not creating anything. Our guards are not too fast, so we have to create advantages other ways.

Q: On coming to Houston last season in early January and if it was a low point with all three big men (himself, Howard and Hill) injured:
Gasol: It was a tough winter. I think we played San Antonio, Houston and then New Orleans – a similar trip to this one. Injuries just came together that way and we were super short handed. It was not easy for us and not ideal for us. It was the kind of year that it was. Sometimes it goes that way. It’s not going to be sunny all the time.

Q: On what he expected when Steve Nash and Howard came to L.A.:
Gasol: I was definitely hopeful. But I knew there was a lot of work to do. You don’t win games by showing up on the court and wearing a certain number or certain name. You have to work and you have to create chemistry, you have to create certain habits on the floor, understand your strengths and weaknesses and work on them every single day. We had a coaching staff change and a totally different system came in – a system that probably didn’t fit our personnel. It was a lot of stuff. I’m sure you grasp some of it, but as you go through it, you don’t understand how much stuff we had to go through.

Q: On if he felt Howard didn’t give it his all because he knew he wasn’t going to be here:
Gasol: I don’t think so. I think he had certain expectations and certain demands as far as the game that probably weren’t fulfilled. It was also a big job of adjusting. We all had to adjust. He had to adjust and keep up and (we had to) sacrifice ourselves for the betterment of the team. ‘How much are you willing to sacrifice yourself for the betterment of the team? Understand what it takes and what the team needs from you specifically, not what you would like to give in particular.’ Those are some of the questions individually we all should have asked ourselves and worked on from there on out. You live and you learn. It just didn’t work out. We’re trying to work this out right here and this is enough of a challenge right now.

Q: On his thoughts on the team’s defense thus far:
Gasol: Inconsistent and not enough. We just have to be engaged defensively, we have to be more active and we have to communicate. We don’t communicate and we don’t create energy for ourselves and that puts us in big trouble. That’s what we have to do whoever is out there regardless of the lineups, we have to establish a communication and connection amongst the players that are on the floor. Otherwise, we’re going to struggle. Teams are too good offensively and we have to understand that.

Q: On what makes it harder this year with Howard not in the middle:
Gasol: You don’t have a shot blocker back there that will bail you some of the time, that will protect the rim like Dwight can with his athleticism. He also is a guy that gets his hands on ball and he’s aggressive. He gets a couple steals a game. Those are extra possessions. We have to make up for that in different areas. We have smaller guys that are quicker and more athletic and we have to utilize that.

Mike D’Antoni
Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni talked to the media about Howard’s free agency decision, what specifically he would like to see from his team out of pick-and-roll situations on offense, Xavier Henry’s play and his thought process behind whether choosing to play big or small lineups. Below is a transcript:

Q: On Howard’s decision to go to Houston:
D’Antoni: It’s too bad. We would have loved for him to have been here in L.A. It didn’t work out. We turned the page and you go on. We knew there were some problems and we didn’t know which way he’d go. He picked Houston and I’m sure he’ll make the best of it, and we’ll make the best of it.

Q: On if Howard was the one that got away from them:
D’Antoni: When you’ve been around long enough, there’s a lot that got away. I was in New York and we tried to go after some high guys, and there’s a lot that gets away. That’s the business you’re in. You just have to retool and do it. Everybody does what’s best for them and Dwight (Howard) did what was best for him. There’s more ways to get where you need to get.

Q: On what he’s expecting from a defensive front line of Omer Asik and Howard:
D’Antoni: They’re good. They do a lot of pick and rolls and run the floor. Obviously their defensive presence is good. You have to try to spread them out and do as well as you can.

Q: On his view on the Howard and Bryant dynamic:
D’Antoni: Everybody wanted to win a championship. Some people weren’t healthy. Sometimes it gets complicated and personalities get complicated. It was a situation where it didn’t’ work out to a certain degree. I thought towards the end, they were good. They were good together. Like I said, everybody chooses what’s best for them personally and family, and everything else. Nobody knows the total decision why and you just have to play off of it.

Q: On if he thought towards the end of the year that it could work out with Howard:
D’Antoni: 50-50. It was one of those things you didn’t know. You never know what people are thinking, and again, you never know someone’s personal life and what they want or looking for. You just don’t know.

Q: On what he would like to see from the team in the screen and roll action:
D’Antoni: We just have to put the effort. For whatever reason, we have a hard time sustaining our effort mentally and focused in on being gritty. We’re not there. We’re kind of playing in the old NBA trot. We’re not good enough to fall in like everybody else. Somehow we have to distinguish ourselves and that’s by grit and determination, and we’re not there yet.

Q: On if he would like to see more rolling action to the basket on offense:
D’Antoni: More rolling. That’s what we want to do. Again, mid-range shots aren’t the best shots in the world. If that’s what you want to get, that’s not a winning formula.

Q: On if he gives his players the option to either pop or roll:
D’Antoni: Almost 90 percent of the time, we want you to roll hard because we have another big (out there) and he’ll be the popper. You always have one shooter outside. What we’re missing is a dynamic force going to the basket. Kobe (Bryant) would give you that but we don’t have that force anywhere. So now we kind of play on the perimeter and sometimes it works out a little bit. But that’s not what we need to do.

Q: On if he knew the extent of Howard’s health last year:
D’Antoni: Yeah, he said he wasn’t healthy all the way until February or so. You could see it. It just complicated a lot of stuff.

Q: On Xavier Henry’s play thus far and where he needs to improve:
D’Antoni: Just getting his consistency. He’s a young player at 22 years old and hasn’t had much playing time. All of a sudden, he’s in the Lakers starting lineup. It’s tough, and tough to handle all that. He’s not a great shooter some nights, but I think still he’s positive when he’s on the floor. He’s running the floor well, playing good defense, so I think he’ll even (it all out), and he’ll keep getting better as a shooter.

Q: On his sense of when he’s looking at whether to play big or small lineups:
D’Antoni: My message was we’re not sustaining our energy to where we can make an intelligent decision. If you don’t do what you’re supposed to do, and we don’t run back and we don’t have grit, how do we know if something works or not? It’s almost like: ‘Oh that doesn’t work.’ Well, let’s show it. Let’s see it. If we all play hard, then we’ll make a decision. Again, a little bit of the responsibility is players have to separate themselves. They have to show everybody this is the way to go. Right now we’re trying to grasp at straws now and we just can’t do that.

Lakers Seeking Consistency

ts_131004practice670In Sunday’s home win against Atlanta, coach Mike D’Antoni made one change to the starting lineup: inserting Xavier Henry in place of Nick Young. It was an early adaption for a coaching staff still trying to find a set rotation and settle on the best lineups that will best suit the team.

“The players will determine that, and the team will determine that,” D’Antoni said. “As one group plays better, then we’ll do it. I don’t think we’re at that point where we can determine what’s the best yet.”

One of the biggest question marks is trying to find the best big or small lineup combination. Through four games, Shawne Williams and Pau Gasol have started alongside each other. But D’Antoni has paired Gasol and Kaman together for stretches, Hill and Johnson, Kaman and Johnson and Gasol and Hill, too.

Finding that continuity amongst each other, though, has been a process.

“It’s a matter of finding consistency no matter who is on the floor so we can really see what lineups are excelling,” Nash said. “I think right now all lineups are showing glimpses of great stuff and glimpses of negative stuff. Once we get more consistent, we’ll see what lineups are really excelling.”

The glimpses of great signs point towards the Lakers building double-digit leads against both San Antonio and Atlanta in their two most recent home games. The downside was allowing the Spurs to erase that lead and win. The Hawks erased much of a 21-point deficit before L.A. held on to win. Nash explained the team needs to work out the kinks on the fly, however, and use their increased depth as an advantage.

“What we have to do is find ways to use our depth so we don’t give up 20-point leads,” he said. “At the end of the game, we have to give ourselves some breathing room because we’re not a well-oiled machine yet. We don’t even know what lineups suit us bet yet. It’s something that happens when you put a bunch of new guys together and it’s the growing pains to go through.”

Growing together can and will be a process, according to Nash, but with the team embarking on their first road trip of the season, D’Antoni knows exactly what he wants to see from his squad.

“More consistency,” he said. “We’ve played some really good teams and we’ve been ahead outside of Golden State, and we’ve looked good. Now we just have to extend that – maybe it won’t be 48 (minutes) right now – from 24 to 30, from 30 to 40, but we have to get more consistent minutes.”

Saturday Practice Report

San Antonio Spurs v Los Angeles LakersOne of the more pleasant surprises for the Lakers during training camp and through three regular-season games has been the play of Xavier Henry. His ability to get to the rim has been evident with his 23 free-throw attempts, a team-high.

Early in the second quarter of Friday’s game against San Antonio, Henry drove right past forward Kawhi Leonard, went airborne for a layup, drew contact and came down only to be greeted with a knee from Wesley Johnson.

Post practice on Saturday, Henry maintained he would be fine, and there is no concussion despite lingering headaches. He needed nine stitches to patch up the two-inch gash, but stayed in the game to hit two free throws before exiting with the Lakers ahead 33-18.

“We were just out there playing hard and we were hustling,” Henry said. “We made a lot of plays off hustle plays. They were missing shots and we were playing tough defense. I think that’s what got us out in front early in the game.”

During the first 15-plus minutes of the contest, the Lakers had held San Antonio to just 25 percent field goals. After Henry went down, the Spurs were 9 for 16 the remaining eight-and-a-half minutes of the second quarter to cut the lead to just one by halftime. San Antonio then used a strong second half – particularly their late-game execution – to come away with a 91-85 win.

“It seemed for whatever reason when (Henry) went down, it took the air out of our sails,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “I don’t know if that’s because (he) went down, or the stoppage. They just tightened up. Last night, I thought we kicked one away. We had good stuff going and we let it get away. Give San Antonio credit, but that’s on our plate.”

D’Antoni stated he was pleased with the team’s defensive play for much of the game and the ball movement. From an individual standpoint, one of the bright spots over the last two games has been the play of Wesley Johnson. D’Antoni has used Johnson almost exclusively at the four spot off the bench and has recorded back-to-back games of double-digit points.

“He was more energetic,” D’Antoni said of Johnson’s play against San Antonio. “We’re really trying to stress with him to be relentless in everything he does. If we’re going to play small, he’s going to have to be a force to the basket, either picking and rolling, running the floor, driving or getting to the basket, so he can create layups, fouls and threes. He can do that, he has that possibility and I think he’ll grow into it.”

Particularly in the fourth quarter of the last two games, Johnson has shown more of a comfort level with his jump shot. He’s converted on 7 of 12 field goals overall, including 5 of 7 on three-pointers. D’Antoni allowed he’s looked more comfortable in the system after missing three preseason games because of a foot injury. Outside of Johnson, Jodie Meeks is another player who has impressed through three games with averages of 13.7 points and 4.0 rebounds on 52.0 percent field goals.

“Jodie Meeks is playing great on both sides of the floor,” D’Antoni said. “He’s getting better going to the basket. He’s doing a lot more things than last year, but I thought last year he was good, too.”

Because of the strong play from numerous players, plus the increased depth, divvying up playing time is something the coaching staff is still trying to figure out. In two of the three games, D’Antoni has used an 11-man rotation, and 10 players are averaging at least 15 minutes per game.

“We don’t want grasp at straws, but we’ll definitely evaluate it,” D’Antoni said of possible lineup changes. “It could happen, but we’ll see. We’ll try to do it methodically and the right way, and understand people’s psyche. There’s a lot of things we’ll consider, and we’ll consider that every night.”

The schedule to work out the kinks on the fly won’t let up, though, as the Lakers begin a four-game stretch in six days, starting with Atlanta at home on Sunday evening, then a three-game road trip at Dallas, at Houston and at New Orleans. The main focus, the players say, is on themselves to get better and improve collectively.

“We have a really good team, and we have a lot of new guys, so we’re still figuring each other out,” Henry said. “But more so, we’re making sure we have everything we have down pat, so teams have a harder time scouting us.”

Lakers Prep for Clippers

Los Angeles Lakers v Los Angeles ClippersFor the first time in seven years, the Lakers will likely not see a familiar face in the starting lineup come opening night: Kobe Bryant.

After the team’s final practice in preparation for Tuesday’s home opener against the Clippers, coach Mike D’Antoni stated there remains no clear timetable as Bryant continues to rehab his Achilles.

“He’ll back when he can get back,” D’Antoni said. “I’m sure he’s making progress, but he’ll be back as soon as he can.”

In addition to Bryant’s uncertain return to the court, the Lakers enter the 2013-14 campaign with some uncertainty. Finding the right rotations during the preseason was a point of emphasis from the coaching staff, especially with eight new faces on the roster.

“When the lights come on, we’ll see how guys respond,” D’Antoni said. “You don’t know how the exact combinations will work or not in a battle. That’s all to be seen. We don’t have a great bead on all the combinations because there are so many. We have so many guys that can play and we’ll try to sort it out.”

What remains to be seen is whether D’Antoni chooses to start Shawne Williams as a stretch four alongside Pau Gasol, or use a more traditional lineup with two bigs in Chris Kaman and Gasol. Williams can stretch the floor, while Kaman also has the ability play outside the paint, a key that will allow the 7-foot Spaniard to operate inside as opposed to the last two seasons playing with Andrew Bynum and Dwight Howard.

“I’m a lot more comfortable, confident and in a much better rhythm,” Gasol said. “I’m operating in areas where I’m most comfortable and most effective.”

On the defensive side of the floor, increased athleticism on the wings allowed the team to force more turnovers, something that showed in the preseason. Last year, transition defense was also a sore spot, an area the team will likely emphasize against the Clippers, who finished eighth in fast break points per game.

“Chris Paul is the guy you’ll have to deal with,” D’Antoni said, “and it all starts and ends with him.”

Paul has arguably been the main reason for the Clippers resurgence, as they swept the season series last year from the Lakers for the first time since 1974-75 when they were known as the Buffalo Braves. Building upon last season’s success, the Clippers added new pieces to surround their core group and brought in Doc Rivers to lead the team on the sidelines. This year, both teams have different expectations.

“It’s definitely a different situation,” Gasol said. “We don’t look at ourselves as underdogs, but obviously, we’re facing circumstances that put us in that position. We just have to be confident and stay together throughout the season, and continue to work to get better. We have a young group that still needs experience to grow together and stronger as a team, and we’re looking forward to that.”

Sunday Practice Report

Golden State Warriors v Los Angeles LakersWith the exception of Kobe Bryant (Achilles), the Lakers expect to have a full roster of players available on Tuesday when the regular season begins.

The only other player not available in Friday’s preseason finale, Chris Kaman, returned to practice on Sunday after missing nearly a week-and-a-half because of gastroenteritis.

“I feel good,” he said. “My first practice in nine days, but I feel good. I was winded today but a couple more days and I’ll be good to go, so I’m not really worried about (my conditioning).”

With Kaman absent from the lineup in the team’s final two preseason games, coach Mike D’Antoni started Shawne Williams at the four alongside Pau Gasol, and used Wesley Johnson off the bench to play the stretch four position. The coach, though, chose to remain mum when asked about the starting lineup for the season opener.

“I’m not ready to make that announcement yet,” D’Antoni said. “We’ll see how everybody feels on Tuesday. We can go all kinds of different ways. We have a lot of good players and some have put their nose out further than the others. We could play guys in different combos that in the first month or so we can experiment a bit.”

Mixing various lineup units is something the coaching staff tested during the preseason, as the Lakers put out four different starting lineups in eight games. Even so, D’Antoni was pleased with how the team was able to pick up on what they want to run on offense and defense.

“The players have done everything we’ve asked as a coaching staff and more,” he said. “The ball movement, spacing and how we want to play generally, they’ve done a good job. Each week it goes by, I think they’ll (run) it smoother and get a little bit better at it, not think as much and not react to things.”

D’Antoni remains optimistic that this current crop of players can be good, based on chemistry and an understanding of each other.

“Everybody knows what their role needs to be, and they’re comfortable with that role,” he said. “That’s the makings of a good team.”

With the season opener just two days away, and a slate of three games in four nights to begin the 2013-14 campaign, Gasol maintains the team is up to the task.

“We have a tough start – pretty demanding in a short period of time to start off,” he said. “It’ll be a good test to see how we can deliver. It’s going to be a challenge and we have to take it one game at a time, starting with the Clippers and trying to defend our home court.”

Henry Finds his Stroke

blog_131021xavierdriveThe word on Xavier Henry coming into 2013-14 – fair or not – was that he was great at getting to the bucket, but not a consistent shooter.

In his first three seasons since being drafted 12th overall by Memphis in 2010 out of Kansas, Henry shot only 40.3 percent from the field and 28.9 percent from three-point range. The sample size was pretty small, as he played only 14.4 minutes and attempted 4.1 shots per game, but large enough to draw the conclusion that his shooting needed to improve.

And, well, through three weeks of preseason basketball in Los Angeles, his shooting stroke has looked pretty good, especially from three, albeit in an even smaller sample size.

While averaging 12.3 points in 20.8 minutes per game, Henry’s hitting 42 percent from the field and 56 percent from three (5 of 9). His play has certainly aided his chances in making L.A.’s roster, which currently stands at 16, one more than allowed once the season begins.

To understand what’s going on with Henry’s stroke, we interviewed Lakers player development coach Larry Lewis:

Q: On Henry’s emergence this preseason:
Lewis: It’s a brand new day for him and the team. It’s a new system. I can’t say why things happened the way the way they did in other places, but I know here, it’s like a breath of fresh air to see him grow and strive the way he’s doing.

Q: On what Lewis sees fundamentally from Henry’s shot, particularly his release, his follow through, etc:
Lewis: Nothing’s wrong with his shot fundamentally. He has a good shot. The timing of his explosion from his toes to his release, I think there was a timing issue there. Other than that, he had a nice looking shot. It’s not bad at all.

Q: On what was wrong with the timing and the release:
Lewis: I think he was holding the ball a little too long. For athletic guys, sometimes they have to tone it down in their jump shots. Sometimes, non-athletic guys shoot better because there’s less going on if you think about it. That’s all; nothing big. Just a few minor tweaks here and there, and that’s all it took.

Q: On how long it took the coaching staff to identify that and the process of cleaning up his shot:
Lewis: We saw it immediately. You just take them to the side and start with one concept. I remember early on with (assistant coach) Kurt (Rambis) on his side, it’s drilling him and you just do shooting the right way repetitiously for an amount of days. Then you go from one basic concept to deeper concepts. Like I said, Xavier’s a fast learner and he listens very well. He just tried to do it as we were saying it, so he started to practice right.

Q: On seeing Henry shoot so well (29 points) in the preseason opener and if it was a confidence building thing for Henry:
Lewis: Yeah, and he was going to the hole as well. That’s something he does well. Now it’s about taking him to the next level as far as when to go to the hole and making him a better passer, which he can do.

Q: Bottom line: He can shoot the ball well in the NBA as opposed to what he’s done in the past:
Lewis: Right, and bottom line, he has a chance to help this team.

Sunday Practice Report

blog_131020dantonipracticeAfter a weeklong trip to China as part of the NBA Global Games, the Lakers reconvened Sunday to watch film and a light practice.

Kobe Bryant (Achilles) and Chris Kaman (stomach virus) did not participate, while Steve Nash ended his day a little early because of a stomach virus, according to coach Mike D’Antoni. He told reporters post practice he would be fine, though. Both Jordan Farmar (calf strain) and Wesley Johnson (foot strain) went through a full practice after both played in the second game of the trip. Nash, who has also battled ankle problems, has played limited minutes in the last three preseason contests.

“It’s OK,” he said. “It’s not perfect, but it’s not bad, so I’ll take it.”

Even though the Lakers dropped both contests to the Golden State Warriors, the coaching staff maintains there were some positives to take away.

“I thought the guys practiced extremely well over there,” D’Antoni said. “We didn’t finish up the games really well, but a lot of it was very good stuff. We got some guys coming on and we got some guys trying to get back like Wesley Johnson (foot strain) and Jordan Farmar (calf strain) getting their wind back after missing a couple weeks. But I think overall, it was a good trip.”

Another player who had been off the court was the team’s second-round draft pick, Ryan Kelly (foot). He made his NBA debut in China, playing 12 minutes in both Tuesday and Thursday’s contest. He recorded a total of 10 points (two three-pointers) and four rebounds.

“He had a great couple practices, but he hasn’t played in six to eight months,” D’Antoni said. “It’s like starting golf – first couple times you go out, it looks good and then you’re all over the place. I thought he was all over the place, but that’s normal. He’ll keep working out. He looks good, though.”

With about a week-and-a-half before the season opener, D’Antoni acknowledged there are a number of areas he would like to see improvement from the team, especially in the final two preseason contests against Utah.

“It’s hard to say one thing,” he said. “I think we’re trying to get our pace down on offense, trying to get more disciplined on offense, running the right way and getting into our spots. Same on defense – trying to get back in transition, trying to get our bigs up on pick and rolls and trap a little bit better. We still have nine days of work, and we have to get ready for opening day.”