Archive for the 'Pre-Game' Category

Page 4 of 34

Lakers Draw Kings in Sacramento

Thanks to Kobe Bryant’s game-tying three-pointer with 4.8 seconds left in regulation of last regular season’s final game (a 116-108 OT victory), the Lakers won last season’s series with Sacramento 3-1 a year after sweeping the 2009-10 season series.

At the time, it wasn’t known if that would be the last game at Power Balance Pavilion, questions abounding about a potential move to Orange County, but the Kings are back in the state’s capital with a young, athletic line up that poses a tough matchup for L.A.

Sacramento split its two preseason games with Golden State, getting most of its scoring on the perimeter with Marcus Thornton (21.0 ppg), rookie Jimmer Fredette (16.5) and Tyreke Evans (16.0), all expected to get significant minutes against Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Steve Blake and whoever Mike Brown plays behind Bryant (it was Andrew Goudelock on Sunday against Chicago; Jason Kapono is also available).

Up front, the Kings boast an enigmatic talent in DeMarcus Cousins, who’s skilled enough to average 20 points, 10 rebounds and a handful of assists, but also turns the ball over at a high rate (he had nine in his only preseason game) and has poor shot selection (43.2 FG% is extremely low for a big man). JJ Hickson, acquired from Cleveland for Omri Casspi, was solid after the All-Star break by averaging 16.8 points and 10.8 boards, but he struggled defensively with centers and is more of a natural power forward, where Cousins plays. Whether or not Hickson defends Pau Gasol or Josh McRoberts could make a major difference.

The Kings also use Jason Thompson, signed-through-the-amnesty-clause Travis Outlaw, Donte Greene and Tyler Honeycutt in the front court and rookie Isaiah Thomas and John Salmons in the backcourt.

Last season, the Lakers had remarkable success in home/road back-to-backs, going 7-1 on both ends for a 14-2 mark. With the narrow opening day loss to Chicago in the first B2B of 2011-12, L.A. will look to protect the back end of that mark against Sacramento.

Some additional notes on the matchup:
- The two franchises have met 277 times overall and 113 times since the Kings moved to Sacramento. The Lakers lead the all-time series 190-87 (82- 31 vs. Sacramento).
- The Lakers have won nine of their last 10 meetings with Sacramento, and are 9-1 in their last 10 games at Power Balance Pavilion.
- Kobe Bryant posted his 17th career triple-double early last season (11/3/10) while passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the franchise leader for career minutes in a 112-100 Lakers road victory. Bryant has a
career average of 26.7 points vs. the Kings with a high game of 51 points 1/19/06 at Sacramento.
- Kings forward J.J. Hickson played his first two seasons (2008-10) for L.A. Coach Mike Brown in Cleveland.

Opening Day Line Up

With Andrew Bynum serving a 4-game suspension and Metta World Peace moving to the bench to help spark the offense in Lamar Odom’s absence, here’s a look at Coach Mike Brown’s opening day line up:

PG: Derek Fisher
SG: Kobe Bryant
SF: Devin Ebanks
PF: Josh McRoberts
C: Pau Gasol

Bryant will play through a torn ligament in his wrist, while the rest of the starting Lakers are healthy. World Peace will be among the first players off the pine, joined by Steve Blake, Jason Kapono and Troy Murphy, while we should also see some time for Matt Barnes.

Chicago will counter with Derrick Rose, new Bull Richard Hamilton, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah. Look for Gasol to at times guard Boozer, letting McRoberts handle the lesser offensive threat in Noah.

Odom Likely to Start Game 3

Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, the three big men so crucial to L.A.’s consecutive championships, will likely find themselves starting together for the first time since Gasol came over in February of 2008.

While Phil Jackson declined to definitively state who would replace Ron Artest — suspended for one game after a blow to the head of J.J. Barea in L.A.’s Game 2 loss to Dallas — in the starting line up, Odom said he thinks it will be him after the team’s Friday morning shootaround.

This past season, the three bigs have played together for less than three minutes … total … but in a hugely important Game 3 with the Lakers trying to dig themselves out of a 2-0 hole, Jackson appears to be putting his best players on the floor for as much time as possible.

A major reason Jackson hasn’t tinkered with that (huge) lineup before is his preference to ensure that at least two of the three bigs remain on the floor at all times, which is more difficult from a rotation standpoint when the three start. But assistant coach Brian Shaw said in this game, the bench rotation may not be effected too much, as Odom could just play more minutes.

In other words, Odom can open the game with the starters in a bit more of a guard role with Bryant looking to attack more from a wing position, but still do his usual thing with the second unit once guys like Matt Barnes and Shannon Brown check in.

As if we needed any more intrigue heading into Game 3.

Lakers in Game 2′s

With Wednesday’s Game 2 against Dallas set to tip at 7:30 p.m., we took a look at how the Lakers have done in previous second games of playoff series:

- The Lakers are 60-42 all-time in Game 2′s of best-of-seven series (57-38 in Los Angeles)
- L.A. has gone 10-3 in the past three playoff seasons in Game 2′s, earning 3-1 records in 2007-08, 2008-09 and 2009-10, plus 1-0 this year (87-78 over New Orleans).
- All but one of those games came at home, as L.A. dropped Game 2 of the 2008 Finals at Boston.
- When splitting Games 1 and 2 in a best-of-seven series, the Lakers are 29-12 all-time (24-12 in Los Angeles, 5-0 in Minneapolis).
- L.A. split Games 1 and 2 three during their run to two consecutive NBA Finals victories, losing Game 1 to Houston in the 2009 Western Semi’s, and Game 2 to Denver (2009 Western Finals) and Boston (2010 Finals).
- When losing Game 1 in the past three playoff seasons, the Lakers are 2-0 in Game 2.
- The importance of Wednesday’s game can be shown historically through this stat: when losing Games 1 and 2 of a best-of-seven series (any round), the Lakers are 2-16 all-time. (2-15 Los Angeles, 0-1 Minneapolis).

Lakers Tough in Back-to-Backs

Back to backs aren’t always kind to veteran NBA teams like the Lakers, but for whatever reason, that absolutely hasn’t been the case in 2010-11.

L.A. has gone 9-4 in the first game and 11-2 in the second of back-to-backs, as well as an unbeaten 12-0 in the kind of home/road back-to-back they enter on Tuesday/Wednesday against Utah/Golden State.

There’s one remaining back-to-back on the schedule, also of the home/road variety, against San Antonio and Sacramento to close the regular season.

Last season, the Lakers went 6-6 in home/road back-to-backs, 3-1 in road/home and 16-8 in road/road contests.

Not the Same Old Jazz

L.A. has had the upper hand against Utah in recent years. More specifically, the Lakers have won four consecutive season series against the Jazz, going a combined 10-4 across that span, 7-3 in the last 10 and 19-3 all-time at STAPLES Center during the regular season, and that’s not to mention three straight playoff eliminations of Utah.

Not that many of those wins were easy.

The Jazz teams were all coached by Jerry Sloan (retired), anchored by Deron Williams (traded to New Jersey before the deadline) on the perimeter and a combination of Carlos Boozer (signed by Chicago in the offseason) and Mehmet Okur (out for the season). Paul Millsap and Andrei Kirilenko remain, but Kirilenko, Raja Bell, Devin Harris and Ronnie Price will all miss Friday night’s game due to respective injuries, according to the Jazz Twitter account. That leaves a probable starting line up that looks very little like what L.A. has seen in Salt Lake City:

PG: Earl Watson; SG: C.J. Miles; SF: Millsap; PF: Al Jefferson; C: Kyrylo Fesenko*
*Side note: We’re very pleased to have spelled Kyrylo’s name correctly before looking it up.

This leaves a short bench of youngsters Derrick Favors and Jeremy Evans, Gordon Hayward and Francisco Elson for Jazz Coach Tyrone Corbin. It will be the first time in the careers of Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher that Jerry Sloan* won’t be standing on the sideline for Utah, a unique factoid in its own right.
*Side note two: Sloan moved up from Jazz assistant to head coach on Dec. 9, 1988, just eight days before then Bulls assistant coach Phil Jackson filled in for an ejected Doug Collins on Dec. 17, 1988. Sloan wouldn’t leave until earlier this season, while Jackson became the Bulls head coach the following season.

And while the Lakers have lost only once since the All-Star break, Utah has won only five times, going 5-13 to fall out of the playoff race in the West. It’s been worse of late, with six straight losses coming at the hands of Houston, Memphis and Oklahoma City on the road and New Orleans (OT), Dallas and Washington (OT) at home.

Not that L.A.’s coaches are paying any attention to that. Assistant coach Jim Cleamons said that regardless of who’s in the starting line up or what’s happened recently, the Lakers are treating Utah as seriously as ever.

At 7:30 Pacific, we’ll see if the Lakers can win a ninth straight game and put more pressure on the San Antonio Spurs, 2.5 games up on L.A. heading into a tough Friday night contest at surging Houston.

Lakers Look to the Paint at Miami

A key element of L.A.’s offensive game plan against Miami in advance of Thursday evening’s game on TNT is to get the ball inside to Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol and let the seven footers go to work against the likes of Erick Dampier, Zydrunas Ilgauskus and Chris Bosh. Defensively, it’s about maintaining the post-All-Star-break level centered around Bynum’s paint presence that has forced all but two of the eight opponents to shoot under 40 percent while predominantly hoisting jump shots.

That, of course, ain’t breaking news.

“You have to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the team you’re playing against, but we as a team always try to establish our inside game against whoever,” said Gasol prior to Wednesday’s practice. “Hopefully we’ll try to do that tomorrow, because it’s something that should work in our favor and something we didn’t do (against Miami) on Christmas.”

Part of the reason L.A. failed to well-use its size in the 96-80 X-Mas loss is that Bynum had just returned from injury, and played only 17 minutes off the bench, scoring six points with five rebounds.

L.A. now has a much different Bynum.

The 23-year-old big man has been the defensive key in the Lakers’ 8-0 streak out of the break, grabbing an average of 12.1 boards (50 in the last three games) and 3.0 blocks in nearly 30 minutes per game while rotating effectively on the weak side and closing down the paint. On offense, he’s been less aggressive, content to move the ball along if he doesn’t have an easy shot while allowing Gasol or Kobe Bryant to initiate the offense. Bynum could be a primary beneficiary of ball movement on Thursday as he was in L.A.’s Tuesday win in Atlanta while making 8-of-10 field goals for 16 points, but his focus remains on defense.

“I think it’s a very mature thing for Andrew to understand,” said Gasol. “Just like when I got to this team, you have to understand, where can you contribute the most, what can you do to be the biggest contributor. What do we need out of a player the most?

“Andrew in the last few games has (focused) on rebounding, blocking shots and finishing at the rim, and if he does all of those things really well, it’s a huge plus for us.”

Offensively, L.A. is looking to move the ball as crisply as it has since the break against an aggressive Heat defense that currently ranks sixth in points against and second in opponent’s field goal percentage. As has long been customary for former Lakers coach and current Heat big boss Pat Riley, the Heat bigs show hard on screen and rolls or just trap the ball handler, a tactic they call “Blitz,” according to the team’s scouting report at Lakers Courtside Connection.

The Heat trapped Kobe Bryant aggressively in the Christmas game, and the Lakers didn’t take advantage of all the holes that were open in the defense by simply moving the ball. One way to do so is for the man setting the screen to slip to the basket with a cut, another is for the ball handler to split the double team with the dribble. But more than anything else, the Lakers just want to move the ball to the open man, and try to get the basketball inside for the kind of easy scoring opportunities their length can produce with proper execution.

Miami has lost a season-high five consecutive games, but to the Lakers, that only means they’re going to be all the more desperate for a win. As such, L.A. wants to stick to the blueprint, and win with execution.

“When we strap up and play D, it helps our offense move the basketball,” said Bynum. “When we move the basketball, everyone is going to get touches, everyone’s going to get involved in the game, and then it’s tough to beat us.”

Lakers Look For First Win in ATL Since 2007

In the first game out of the All-Star break, the Atlanta Hawks were the victim of a newly-focused, fully-refreshed Lakers team intent upon beginning a push towards the second season that has led to seven consecutive victories for the only team yet to lose since Kobe Bryant won A.S. MVP honors for the fourth time.

The Lakers held the Hawks to 15 first quarter points and 18 in the second, opening a 54-33 lead at the half that they would hold towards a 104-80 wire-to-wire victory. STAPLES Center has been good to the Lakers against the Hawks, as L.A. has won five straight and nine of 12 all-time in the building.

But at Philips Arena in Atlanta, it’s been a different story for the Purple and Gold. Pau Gasol has yet to win in Georgia since being acquired in February of 2008, L.A.’s last win coming in 2007. Three straight losses, and six in the past 10 games, included a 109-92 drubbing last March.

On Tuesday, the Lakers expect Atlanta to have a bit extra in the tank to avenge the Feb. 22 blowout, but intend to build upon Sunday’s win at San Antonio rather than regressing against a team featuring a new point guard, Kirk Hinrich, acquired from the Wizards for a package including former starter Mike Bibby. Hinrich is a better defensive player, helping the Hawks come from behind to defeat Chicago 83-80 at home before Atlanta dropped consecutive contests at Philips to Oklahoma City and New York.

Josh Smith missed the Bulls and Thunder games with a sore knee, but returned to face the Knicks, giving the Hawks their usual complement of players. He’s usually to be joined by Hinrich, Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams and Al Horford in the starting line up, though Jason Collins will sometimes start at center against larger teams like the Lakers.

On Monday, newly-returned Matt Barnes said the Lakers are focused upon continuing the defensive effort that has kept opponents to an average of 85 points* since the break, an approach anchored by bigs Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol.
*Portland scored 14 of its 101 points in overtime, so this figure was calculated based upon the Blazers’ 87 points in regulation.

“To have two seven footers in the middle on a team that’s already long makes it tough on opponents,” said Barnes. “You see our defense really coming into its own now heading down the home stretch, and that’s not to mention that Gasol and Bynum can both put up double figures on offense, so it’s a great one-two punch down there.”

Particularly when Smith and Horford are on the floor, the Lakers will again have a major edge in the paint. To see if L.A. can produce an eighth straight win out of the break and first in Atlanta in four years, tune into KCAL or 710 ESPN at 4 p.m.

Lakers Conclude Trip in Cleveland

The Lakers coaches know that their team’s final of seven consecutive road games, against the Cleveland Cavaliers, is likey to be far trickier than it appears on paper.

In fact, the first words of the team’s scouting report, which you can read in entirety over at Lakers Courtside Connection, are: “This is a dangerous game.”

Why, you wonder, should a team that has only nine wins on the season and two since December be such a threat?

1) The Lakers beat the Cavs 112-57 on Jan. 11 in Los Angeles, an embarrassment that will surely have Cleveland riled up even more so than they’d be to beat the twice defending champs.
2) Mo Williams has returned to the line up after playing in only 35 of Cleveland’s 55 games, giving the Cavs a legitimate threat in the backcourt.
3) JJ Hickson has emerged into a low post threat after struggling for much of the season, averaging 19.9 points and 11.1 rebounds in February after just 8.1 points and 4.3 rebounds in December.
4) Antawn Jamison, averaging 22 points per game in February to lead the Cavs, is the kind of stretch four that can annoy Pau Gasol by making him guard out to the three-point line.

The Lakers, naturally, still own dominant matchup advantages at most positions against Cleveland, but their fate in Wednesday’s contest will likely come down to whether or not they’re able to match the energy of the Cavs.

Bryant Under the Weather in Charlotte

Kobe Bryant missed his team’s Monday morning shootaround in Charlotte with “aches” and “chills,” according to the Lakers’ PR staff, and will be a game-time decision for a 4 p.m. Pacific tip against the Bobcats.

Phil Jackson said he’ll just have to wait and see how Bryant feels in advance of the game before determining his status. Of course, since he is the same Kobe Bryant who generally plays through everything, many of his teammates expect him to play.

The Bobcats (23-31) have played the Lakers extremely tough during their past two championship seasons, sweeping L.A. in 2008-09 and winning their home game last season in a 1-1 season split. In fact, Charlotte is one of only two teams in the NBA to post a winning all-time record against the Lakers (7-5), albeit with only six years of history.

Charlotte is a different team under Coach Paul Silas than it was over Larry Brown, who stepped down 28 games into the season. Silas has posted a 14-12 record since stepping in to coach for owner Michael Jordan.

“He has a very different personality (than Brown),” said Phil Jackson. “They all still have that toughness, they’ve always been a tough, defensive-minded team. Offensively I’m sure it’s simplified a little bit and probably a little (more free).”

One potential change the Lakers could see is at the point guard position, where D.J. Augustin — who was terrific when Silas first took over — has struggled markedly in recent games. Backup Shaun Livingston has been really good off the bench, meanwhile, and actually started the second half of the Bobcats’ come-from-behind victory at Atlanta on Saturday before finishing with 22 points, six boards and five assists.

Jackson said the Lakers went through the differences between the two point guards at shootaround, summarizing by likening Augustin to more of a screen/roll point guard and Livingston as one who has a nice midrange game to compliment a low post game and good all-around passing skills.

Finally, Jackson was asked the usual questions about his relationship with Michael Jordan — who often sits on the end of Charlotte’s bench — and shared that he usually spends between 20 and 30 minutes catching up with the focal point of Phil’s first six championships. Jackson quipped that Jordan may have practiced with his Bobcats’ team the other day because he needs to “lose some weight,” adding that he “might be able to” average 20 points in the NBA even to this day, as was suggested by Silas.