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Lakers Round Up

Sacramento Kings v Los Angeles LakersHere’s a look at a bevy of topics surrounding a team that’s now won 19 of 26 games and 11 of 14 out of the All-Star break in advance of Monday’s tail end of a back to back in Phoenix:

NOTES ON THE SUNS
- Marcin Gortat (sprained foot) is out. Channing Frye (enlarged heart) is out. This means Jermaine O’Neal is starting at center. He’s found the fountain of youth with averages of 12.8 points and 8.1 boards per game since the All-Star break. The minutes of Luis Scola have fluctuated as well (17 minutes or less in 5 games), and he’s way undersized for Howard, so coach Lindsay Hunter likely need foul machine Hamed Haddadi to play backup minutes.
- The Suns are allowing 111.6 points per game on 49.2 percent field goals and 49.2 percent 3-pt field goals in their last five contests, four of them losses.
- Phoenix acquired Marcus Morris on Feb. 21 to join twin brother Markieff, the second pair of twins to be teammates in NBA history. The Kansas products have been together in the starting line up since March 8, along with Wes Johnson (9.8 ppg post All-Star break), Dragic and O’Neal.
- Michael Beasley has gotten inconsistent minutes post All-Star break (15 minutes or less in 5 games), but killed the Lakers in the 13-point fourth quarter comeback on Jan. 30. Former Laker Shannon Brown is no longer in the rotation, appearing in one game since All-Star break as the Suns try to see what they have in the young guys.
- Dragic has averaged 9.1 assists since All-Star break, and is the only starter from the last time these two teams played.

LAL LOOKING FOR FIRST BACK-TO-BACK SWEEP:
The Lakers have not won both games of a back-to-back all season, with age and injuries – and generally poor play early in the season – a factor. The good news for L.A.: they have only 3 of their 16 back-to-backs left, and they’re all against struggling teams. After beating Sacramento on Sunday, L.A.’s in position for a sweep if they can beat Phoenix. Here are the remaining B2B’s: Mar. 17/18: SAC/@PHO; Mar. 27/28:@MIN/@MIL; Apr. 9/10: NOH/@POR.

JAMISON EXPLODES:
Check his stats in the last 2: 22.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 58.3% FG’s, 60% 3-PT FG’s. So he’s back in rhythm after a streak of four straight games without hitting double figures in early March, and back in form to a streak of eight consecutive games with at least 10 points from Feb. 12 to March 3.

Sacramento Kings v Los Angeles LakersBLAKE LOVING D’ANTONI BALL:
In his first two years with the Lakers, Steve Blake was reduced to the role of backup PG in low-post heavy offenses, which primarily required inside passing, dump offs and the occasional spot up shot. That didn’t exactly suit his style, as we’ve seen in his development under Mike D’Antoni. The coach who loves spreading the court and moving the ball around told reporters before the season that he thought Blake was perfect for his system, and we’ve seen why. With Kobe Bryant out, the last two games have particularly allowed Blake some more freedom. At Indiana, the Maryland product went off for 18 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds and 4 steals, hitting 5 triples. He backed that up with 16 points, eight assists and five boards against the Kings, including 4 more 3-pointers. Since Blake returned, the Lakers are 17-7 overall (.708), including 9-1 at home and 8-6 on the road. He’s now hit 11 of 18 3’s in the last 3 games (61.1%), but perhaps more importantly – if you ask D’Antoni – his pressure D on the perimeter has made a big impact in the team defense.

KOBE’S DOUBTFUL WITH SEVERELY SPRAINED ANKLE:
Thanks to “significant pain and swelling” in his ankle, Kobe Bryant is “doubtful” to play at Phoenix, after missing his first game of the season in L.A.’s win over Sacramento on Sunday. Bryant’s ankle was bad enough to keep him out of one game, so it’s unlikely that one additional day was going to get him ready enough to play, particularly when the Lakers have three full off days prior to Friday’s home game against Washington. Bryant did make the trip to Phoenix with the team, primarily so he can work with team physical therapist Dr. Judy Seto.

GASOL EXPLAINS HIS FOOT PAIN (OUT MONDAY):
I walked out of the locker room with Gasol after the team’s Sunday night win, and he said he wasn’t really discouraged by having pain in his foot after playing 2-on-2 on Saturday, because having some pain is expected with his plantar fascia tear. It’ll be two weeks tomorrow, the front end of the estimated time he’d be out by two weeks. His plan is to get an ultrasound exam on Tuesday when the team returns from Arizona, and then see what he can do on Wednesday and Thursday. If everything goes well, there’s a chance he could return for Friday’s game, but Gasol did not want to put an expectation on it, as he simply doesn’t know how it will feel throughout the week.

HOWARD, LAKERS D PICKING UP:
In the last five games, LAL are holding their opponents to 93.8 points per game on 41.0% FG’s, with three of the last five opponents hitting less than 40% from the field. Dwight Howard has been the key, as vs. Sacramento when he grabbed 17 boards and swatted 5 shots. Since the All-Star break, he’s averaging 15.0 rebounds per game, and in his last 5 games, he’s averaging 19.4 points, 16.4 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per game, clearly getting healthier and healthier. In fact, with 17 window cleans on Sunday, Howard matched the best rebounding streak of his career by grabbing at least 12 for the 14th straight game, in this case each game out of the All Star break, of which LAL have of course won 11.

EAZY EARL CLARK COMES BACK TO EARTH: The surprise story of January, Earl Clark, has struggled since the All-Star break as opposing teams put him on the scouting report.

PRE BREAK: 8.1 ppg on 47.1% FG’s and 40.5% 3’s; 6.3 rpg
POST BREAK: 7.9 ppg on 41.7% FG’s and 25.0% 3’s; 5.7 rpg

Expect Clark’s minutes to go down once Pau Gasol returns. Gasol will likely start, and it could be Jamison who replaces him as the first big off the bench.

LAKERS 19-7 SINCE MEMPHIS MEETING:
Remember the much-publicized big team meeting in Memphis, which came before the Lakers dropped 8 games below .500 and had many questioning whether it would be just the third time since Dr. Buss bought the team in 1979 that the Lakers would miss the playoffs? Since then, the Lakers have gone 19-7.

LAKERS.COM PLAYOFF TRACKER:
By winning 19 of 26 games and 11 of 14 out of the All-Star break, the Lakers have moved past Utah into the 8 slot, closing in on Houston and Golden State.

No. 9 UTAH (34-32) 1.0 game down. The Jazz have won only three of their last 11 games, and host New York before going on a trip to Houston, San Antonio and Dallas. The Lakers do not play Utah again, and the Jazz hold the tiebreaker.
No. 7 HOUSTON (36-31): .5 games up. The Lakers play Houston one more time, on the final day of the season at STAPLES Center, and if they win, are in good position to win the second tiebreaker since they’d have a better Western Conference record (right now 19-21 to Houston’s 17-23).
No. 6 GSW (38-30): 2.0 games up. The Warriors went only 4-3 on a 7-game home stand, and have two straight road games at New Orleans and San Antonio. They’ve played two more road game than the Lakers, and play L.A. twice more, with a big one next Monday in Golden State.

Doug Collins on Kobe & Meeks

Prior to L.A.’s Sunday evening game in Philadelphia, Sixers coach Doug Collins had some thoughts comparing Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan, as well as reflections on his former starting shooting guard, Jodie Meeks.

Bryant leads the NBA in scoring in his 17th season, which apparently doesn’t surprise Collins, who saw similar will power in Jordan.

“They’re geniuses,” he said. “They’ve seen everything, they don’t waste any energy, they know from night to night who’s guarding them, where they want the ball, how they’re going to get it there, where they want their teammates when they get it. They’re brilliant.

They just don’t go out and play. There’s a sense of purpose to everything they’re doing. That’s why when they have guys like this, you admire how they do their job.”

Fair enough.

As for Meeks, Collins put the two guard into his starting line up in 114 of the 159 games he played in Philly, and could not have been much of a bigger fan.

I love Jodie Meeks. I’ll never forget the day Jodie came into my office our first year together. I don’t think he had dressed the first few games. He said: ‘Coach, what do I have to do get my uniform on?’ I said this is what I need from you. I think (Andre Igoudala) hurt his wrist or Achilles. We went up to NY, put (him) in the game, played well, gave us great energy and shot the ball (well). He’s one of the most professional guys I’ve ever been around my entire life. He’s one of the nicest human beings I’ve ever been around. We miss his professionalism, his speed, we miss everything about him.

Meeks is averaging 15 points per game in his past five for the Lakers, capped by a season-high 24-point effort at Washington in L.A.’s Friday evening win, but has done far more than shooting. His current coach Mike D’Antoni said he really loves how hard Meeks has been competing, sharing that his work ethic and energy on the floor – for a guy known mostly as a shooter – is fantastic.

Meeks will be called upon once again for the short-handed Lakers on Sunday, with only 10 players available. Jordan Hill (back spasms) joins Pau Gasol (knee tendinitis), Steve Nash (non-displaced fracture) and Steve Blake (abdominal surgery) on the shelf.

Memphis Grizzlies Notes

The Lakers tip off at Memphis in just a few hours on Friday afternoon (5 p.m. PST), as they look for their first road victory of the young season in a place where W’s are quite hard to come by.

L.A. will again start Darius Morris at point guard, as Steve Nash is out for at least two more games with his non-displaced fracture in his left leg, and Steve Blake is not yet ready to return from an abdominal strain.

Get to know the Grizzlies a bit with our five notes on the opponent:

1) The Grizzlies won eight straight games after dropping their season opener at the Clippers, enough to hold the NBA’s best record for the first time in team history. That streak tied the best in franchise history, which occurred back when Pau Gasol was the team’s best player in January of 2004. Gasol is the Grizzlies’ all-time leader in 12 statistical categories, including points (8,966), rebounds (4,096) and blocks (877), and was the first-ever All-Star (2006).

2) Their 15-game home winning streak that was snapped on November 19 by Denver had dated back to March 16, 2012, when Memphis fell to Toronto. The Lakers won their last matchup in Tennessee in thrilling fashion, holding on for a double OT conquest on March 13, 2012. The Grizz went up by as many as 17 points in the 3rd Q despite missing Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph due to injury, but L.A. rallied to take a 2-point lead in the final minute. Kobe Bryant, Gasol and Andrew Bynum all had huge games.

3) The Grizz are hitting the three this season, ranking 8th in the NBA at 36.2% after regularly finishing in the bottom 1/3 of the league in the previous five seasons. Mike Conley’s at 39.5% (37.7% last season led the Grizz) and Rudy Gay 33.3%, but a key has been the bench. Jerryd Bayless (in Toronto last year) is shooting 44%, Wayne Ellington 38.7% and Quincey Pondexter 36.7%. LAL aren’t too far behind as a team, however, hitting 35.2%, which ranks 13th. Kobe leads the way at 41.8%. Darius Morris is at 42.9% and Chris Duhon 44.4%, with Metta World Peace at 36%.

4) Memphis is 6-0 when scoring 100 points this season. They play well at a faster pace, last season leading the league in steals and turnovers forced. The backcourt duo of Conley (2.0 ranks 7th) and Tony Allen sparks that action.

5) Zach Randolph is leading the NBA in rebounding at 13.8 per game and is second in offensive boarding (5.2) to Denver’s Kenneth Faried (5.5). He’s double-doubled every night this season, and became just the third player in league history to go for at least 15 points and 10 boards in his first nine games of the season, joining Karl Malone (1988-89), David Robinson (1994-95) and Kevin Garnett (2004-05). Meanwhile, his frontcourt partner Marc Gasol ranks 3rd in the entire NBA in assist to turnover ratio (4.60). He has 46 assists and only 10 turnovers.

Howard To Start vs. Kings

Dwight Howard will make his Laker debut tonight at home against the Sacramento Kings.

Howard was cleared for full contact drills on October 9 and had slowly been working his way back into game shape. The biggest concern for the big man was his conditioning.

“That’s the main thing,” Howard explained after Thursday’s practice. “Like I told you guys: ‘I don’t want to go out there fatigued and injure something else.’ Most of the time, that’s when you (get) injuries. So I just want to make sure I’m in pretty good shape to play.”

For the first time, the Lakers will also put out their regular starting lineup on the floor with Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol and Howard.

Darius Morris To Receive Backup Minutes

Minutes were few and far in between for Lakers guard Darius Morris a season ago.

Despite this, Morris put in the work this summer, training at the team’s practice facility on most days. Lakers coach Mike Brown noted the second-year player’s growth.

“The one thing he’s doing a better job of is utilizing or understanding how to use his quickness to his advantage on both ends of the floor, especially offensively,” Brown said. “He’s worked extremely hard on his shooting. It was tough for us to put him out on the floor with spacing purposes, but because he’s had some time under his belt and worked extremely hard on his game, I’m excited for him.”

Brown noted the preseason will be used to determine how he will play certain guys come the regular season. In this case, Morris will be the first point guard off the bench in the team’s third preseason game.

Steve Blake, the assumed backup point guard for the regular season, will be held out of tonight’s contest.

Lakers Opting for Rest

In 65 NBA games, the Lakers managed to win 41 times, enough to secure the Pacific Division title and No. 3 seed in the Western Conference heading into Thursday evening’s regular season finale at Sacramento.

With that standing secure, the Lakers are opting to rest stars Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, Bryant’s rest being the most intriguing since a 38-point scoring night would have given him the NBA’s scoring title over Kevin Durant.

Matt Barnes (ankle) did not make the trip, and Metta World Peace will serve the first of seven games in which he’ll be suspended, leaving a starting line up that could include Ramon Sessions, Steve Blake, Devin Ebanks, Josh McRoberts and Jordan Hill (or Troy Murphy).

Since the Lakers have not played since Sunday’s double OT win vs. Oklahoma City, and the first playoff game won’t be until Sunday, L.A.’s starting line up – minus perhaps Sessions – will have a full week off from games.

And whom will the Lakers play? We’ll know after Denver and Dallas finish off their respective games at Minnesota and Atlanta, both of which tip at 5:00 p.m. PST. Should Denver win or Dallas lose, Denver gets the No. 3 seed and the Lakers. Should Denver lose and Dallas win, it’s a rematch of the Western Semi’s from last season between L.A. and Dallas.

Opposing Coach View: Gregg Popovich

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich held his usual pregame presser prior to the Lakers’ Tuesday evening tilt against San Antonio, producing enough interesting comments to relay:

- Popovich opened by answering a question about whether or not his three best players (Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker) would play, given the fact that the Spurs are in a back-to-back-to-back, though all three played limited minutes in a Monday win: “Everyone’s available and ready to go … they were available and ready to go last time we played, and we got humiliated, so I figure we better at least have them all.”

- When asked about how much Duncan gets his coaching on, the question regarding how active Kobe Bryant has been in recent games, Pop quipped: “Duncan doesn’t let me say a word most of the time. He’s been a thorn in my side for 15 years, and I don’t know how much longer I can take it.” How does Popovich deal with it? “I’m a hell of a guy.”

- Several questions followed about his philosophy on sitting guys, which basically comes down to taking the long view. He’s more interested in health than seeding: “You don’t want to win the battle and lose the war.”

- On the emergence of Andrew Bynum: “He looks like a totally different player to me. He looks so much more confident … he almost has a sign on his head like, ‘I’ve arrived.’ He’s confident in knowing what he can do, and the team knows what he can do, so you see him down low – it’s a great inside-out team. We used to play inside-out to that degree when Timmy was younger for obvious reasons, and Bynum is showing that there’s a reason they’re throwing him the ball down there so much. He’s done a great job.”

- On how that brings Gasol out to the perimeter more: “It just makes them that much more difficult to guard. He’s gone from the 5 position in some ways to the shooting 4 to some degree – not totally like a Matt Bonner – but he’s versatile. He can get it on the post or he can be that 4 man that spreads the court, so it makes them really, really dangerous and difficult to guard.”

- On what Stephen Jackson and Boris Diaw have added to the Spurs: “Stephen adds an edge. He’s a player that’s been here before, knows our team and our system and is real close to Timmy, Manu and Tony. I like his grit, his edge. It’s something we can use on our club. And Boris is one of those high intelligence, IQ guys. He understands the game really well and can help in a lot of different ways. It adds to the overall sense of the team.

LAL – LAC: Schedule Breakdown

The Lakers and Clippers play an important tie-breaking game on Wednesday night at STAPLES Center — the court in Clippers home red and blue — that will decide home court advantage should the teams finish the regular season with the same record.

Heading into the action, LAL (34-20) hold a 1.5 game lead over LAC (32-21) in the Pacific Division, good enough for the third overall seed in the Western Conference. We took a look at what the respective schedules look like for both Los Angeles squads in the final few weeks of the season.

HOME VS. AWAY:
Lakers: Five home (HOU, DEN, DAL, SAS, OKC), six away (PHX, NOH, SAS, GSW, SAS, SAC)
Clippers: Four home (SAC, GSW, OKC, NOH) eight away (SAC, MEM, OKC, MIN, DEN, PHX, ATL, NYK)

OPPONENT WINNING PERCENTAGE:
Lakers: 54.9 percent
Clippers: 50 percent

+.500 ROAD OPPONENTS
Lakers: Three
Clippers: Six

SUMMARY:
Thanks to a quirk in the schedule, the Lakers have three of their final 11 games against San Antonio (37-14), accounting for their more difficult overall schedule just in terms of opponent’s winning percentage. However, the Clippers have eight road games to LAL’s five, and six come against teams with winning records. Furthermore, four of the final five games for the Clips come away from Los Angeles, with a two-game Eastern trip to Atlanta and New York – battling for playoff position themselves – concluding the schedule.

Focal Point for LAL at MEM: Turnovers

When the Lakers beat the Grizzlies 90-82 at Staples Center on Jan. 8, it came in spite of a usually debilitating statistic: 27 turnovers committed.

The Lakers turned it over 16 times alone in the second half, yet managed to win for the first time while giving the ball away so often since Nov. 3, 1995 against Denver. L.A.’s own defense ended up carrying the day, as Memphis managed to hit only 40.9 percent from the field, compared to 47.3 percent for the Lakers, masking all the giveaways.

Needless to say, it won’t be so easy for L.A. to win at Memphis – where the Grizz have won six straight games – if they can’t take care of the basketball. Memphis does happen to be the league’s best team at creating turnovers, however,
using 10.0 steals per game (1st in the NBA) towards 17.6 forced turnovers (1st). On top of that, Memphis turns those mistakes into points, leading the league in points off turnovers (20.2) and ranking third in fast break points (17.1).

A key cog in the Grizz turnover machine, Rudy Gay, will not play against the Lakers due to a concussion. Gay averaged 1.65 steals per game, but his teammates Mike Conley (2.53, 1st in NBA) and Tony Allen (1.76) still pose a strong challenge.

Lakers Look for 18th Straight vs. Wolves

After tough back-to-back losses at Detroit and Washington snapped the momentum L.A. had built up with eight wins in 10 games, the Lakers will aim to bounce back at Minnesota on Friday evening.

Here are 10 things about the matchup you should – or at least could – know:

1) The Lakers have won 17 straight games against Minnesota, the longest active winning streak for any team over any other in the NBA, but the Wolves have been playing good basketball of late, enough to put them into the eighth spot in an ultra-competitive Western Conference.

2) Kobe Bryant is just 12 points away from 29,000 for his career. Only four players, of course, have scored 29,000 in the history of the game (Wilt, MJ, Malone and Kareem), and Kobe will be the youngest to get there.

3) Injury notes: JJ Barea is listed as doubtful for the game after spraining his left ankle against Portland. Nikola Pekovic is questionable, as he’s missed last two games due to a sore right foot, but he has hinted at returning on Friday. If not, Darko Milicic will start at center.

4) Minnesota has won five straight home games and a season-high tying three straight overall; the home streak is the team’s longest since Dec. 26, 2006 – Jan. 7, 2007, when Kevin Garnett was still running the show. You have to go back to 2004 for a 6-game winning streak at home. To put that in perspective, however, the Lakers are currently on an 8–game home winning streak.

5) Kevin Love missed LAL’s 104-85 beat down in Los Angeles as a last second scratch due to the flu. He’s one of two players that has more double-doubles than Bynum, and also bests Bynum, just a bit, on the glass, ranking 2nd to Dwight Howard with 13.8. Bynum is 3rd with 12.7.

6 and 7) Yet Bynum and Gasol dominate Love in two other key big man categories: blocks and field goal percentage. Bynum ranks 5th in the NBA in blocks (2.17), and Gasol 19th (1.36). Love has blocked only 17 shots all season (0.46 per game), and is not a defensive deterrent for opponents going to the rim. Meanwhile, Bynum ranks 3rd in the NBA in field goal percentage at 56.1 percent, and Gasol’s at 50.6 percent, while Love isn’t close, making only 44.8 percent (outside of top 50) as he shoots many more perimeter jump shots. Love does shoot pretty well from three-point range at 36.8 percent.

8) The Lakers managed only three bench points in the second half of Wednesday’s game at Washington, after an 18-point first half, and seven total points at Detroit.

9) No. 2 overall pick Derrick Williams is playing much better for Minnesota of late, averaging 13.6 points and 6.9 boards while shooting 50% over the last seven games.

10) Last time the Lakers were in Minny, Kobe (35), Gasol (28 on 11-of-15 FG’s) and Bynum (21) combined for 84 of L.A.’s 106 points. LAL held the Wolves to 38.5 percent from the field and won despite being out-boarded 52-41 (in part due to the field goal discrepancy) and having 12 turnovers to Minnesota’s four.