Archive for the 'Preview' Category

Lakers Draw Thunder, Again

Oklahoma City Thunder v Los Angeles LakersFresh off one of their best games of the season, a 114-110 victory over Oklahoma City at Staples Center, the Lakers draw … Oklahoma City.

It’s the rare home-road back-to-back contest against the same squad amidst the 82-game schedule, never an easy task for the team winning the first of the pair.

The difference in Sunday’s game was a career day for Jodie Meeks, who erupted for 42 points on only 18 field goal attempts. He outscored OKC 20-19 all by himself in a 36-19 edge for L.A. in the third quarter.

The Lakers also played the Thunder tough on Feb. 13 at Staples Center, leading Kevin Durant and Co. by 10 heading into the fourth quarter before ultimately falling 107-103 when Durant helped OKC outscore L.A. 35-21 in the fourth quarter. The MVP co-favorite with LeBron James scored 19 of his 43 in that final period (though Meeks can feel good that Durant needed 15 more shots to score one more point).

Earlier in the season, on Dec. 13, the Lakers were blown out 122-97 in Oklahoma City. That night, Kobe Bryant actually played point guard, as Steve Blake, Steve Nash and Jordan Farmar were all hurt, and Kendall Marshall was still in the D-League. Bryant managed to dish 13 assists in his 23 minutes, but OKC was in control from the beginning.

Below are some Thunder notes ahead of the fourth and final meeting between the two teams:

1) OKC entirely dominated the Lakers on the offensive glass on Sunday, grabbing 19 offensive boards to a single one for the Lakers, leading to 19 more field goal attempts. That edge was only five at 20-15 in the December loss. They were 38-6 when out-boarding an opponent overall until Sunday’s loss (59-36 advantage).
2) Typical starters Kendrick Perkins (left groin strain) and Thabo Sefolosha (left calf strain) remain out with injuries. Steven Adams and Perry Jones made the start on Sunday, but combined for only seven points with six boards and one steal. Reggie Jackson, Derek Fisher and Caron Butler all played more individual minutes than both Adams and Jones.
3) Despite consecutive road losses, OKC is tied with the Spurs and Pacers for the most wins in the NBA this season at 46 heading into its Tuesday night game against Houston.
4) Kevin Durant has posted 25 or more points in 28 consecutive games, one game shy of his career-best stretch (29 games from 12/22/2009 – 02/23/2010). He averaged 35.9 points per game on 54.9 percent shooting in January with Russell Westbrook out, and became the third player in the last 30 years to score 30+ points in 12 consecutive games, joining Kobe Bryant (16 straight games in Jan. and Feb. of 2003) and Tracy McGrady (14 straight in March/April of 2003). Bryant’s longest streak of at least 25 points was 19 (once in 2005-06, once in 2006-07).
Los Angeles Lakers v Oklahoma City Thunder5) If Durant maintains his 31.7 point per game average, it’d be the NBA’s highest mark since Bryant averaged 35.4 during the 2005-06 season. He’s also on pace to become the seventh player in NBA history to average at least 31 points, seven boards and five assists: Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain (twice), Oscar Robertson (twice), Jerry West, Michael Jordan and LeBron James. Durant also became the sixth player ever to reach the 40-50-90 club, of which Steve Nash is the president (four times), and Dirk Nowitzki is the only other player to reach it in the last 20 years.
6) OKC has limited its opponents to the fourth worst FG percentage in the NBA at 43.5 percent. The Thunder is currently 14-2 this season when holding the opposition to below 40 percent shooting.
7) Russell Westbrook has missed 30 of OKC’s 63 games this season due to three separate surgeries of his lateral meniscus, and is averaging 21.2 points, 7.1 assists and 5.8 boards with 1.9 steals. He’s shooting right at his career average of 43.2 percent, though his 33.8 percent from three is a career high (career 30.7 percent from three).
8) How improved is Serge Ibaka this season? He’s averaging career-highs with 15.2 points per game, 8.8 boards per game, 37.2 percent from three and 78.1 percent from the foul line and 32.7 minutes per game. He ranks second in the NBA (behind Anthony Davis) in blocks per game at 2.6.
9) Reggie Jackson’s proven himself a capable NBA scorer, averaging 13.3 points on 43.6 percent field goals, plus 4.0 assists and 3.7 boards with 1.1 steals per night. He started the 30 games Westbrook missed before moving back to his sixth man role. He matched a career high of 27 points in one of those starts (vs. SAS).
10) Derek Fisher’s been very good for the Thunder this season, hitting 40.4 percent of his three-pointers and playing his typically tough perimeter defense fighting through screens and making the proper rotations. Here’s what Durant had to say about Fish:

Q: On the time Derek Fisher has been with the team and what he’s gained from being around him and if there’s any extra appreciation from playing with him:
Durant: His toughness. He doesn’t take (stuff) from anybody, no matter who he’s guarding, no matter who’s in front of him, and it rubs off on everybody here. Of course people know about his veteran leadership, but it’s just his aura he brings to the team, just the aura of a winner. The guy has done so much in this league and he’s striving to do more. He could easily just hang them up and say: ‘I’ve won five championships, I’ve played with the best players ever to play this game.’ But he wants more. I love a player like that. I just love being around him. He’s a big brother to me and somebody I’ve enjoyed playing with him these past few years.

Q: On Fisher’s impact on the team with his shooting ability the last month:
Durant: He’s been knocking that thing down. He puts in so much work on his game. He makes big plays for us on offense and defense. When he’s not making shots, he impacts the game so much. But he knows one night he may get 10 or 11 shots, one night he may get two or three shots, but he’ll still be the same Fish with his intensity on defense, making winning basketball plays (that) a lot of people don’t see in the stat sheet or just from watching the game or people that don’t know the game can see the impact he has on our team, and I’m very grateful to have him.

Lakers – Kings Sideline Notes

Sacramento Kings v Los Angeles LakersHere’s a look at everything you need to know about the Lakers (6-7) and their Sunday evening opponent, the Sacramento Kings (4-8):

KINGS NOTES
- Carl Landry is out with a tear of the left hip flexor muscle; rookie Ray McCallum was assigned to the Reno Bighorns.
- DeMarcus Cousins has been terrific this season, and is the only player in the NBA to lead his team in scoring (21.5 ppg on 46.4% FG’s), rebounding (9.9), steals (1.8) and blocks (1.4). He went off for 23 points, 19 rebounds, 7 assists and a steal in the narrow loss to the Clippers last night.
- SAC turns the ball over the fewest number of times per game, surprisingly, at (12.8); LAL are 15th (15.6).
- Isaiah Thomas is ranked second in NBA in bench scoring (18.4 ppg), trailing only NOP’s Ryan Anderson (19.3). Nick Young is third at 17.1 ppg (4th). Thomas also ranks first in NBA in fourth-quarter scoring (8.8 ppg, including 14 in the 4th Q against the Clippers on Saturday afternoon). The next 3 in 4th Q scoring: 2) Ryan Anderson (8.3 ppg); 3. Kyrie Irving (8.3 ppg); 4. Kevin Durant (8.2 ppg).
- Luc Richard Mbah a Moute was a college teammate at UCLA with Jordan Farmar (2005-06).
- Patrick Patterson scored 21 points off the bench on Sunday, with starter Jason Thompson playing only 10 minutes to PP’s 32.
- Greivis Vasquez has struggled some this season after a breakout 2012-13, reaching a new low with just 2 points and 2 assists in 15 minutes against the Clips. He’s averaging 10.5 points and 5.4 assists on the season, down from 13.9 and 9.0 in New Orleans last season.

LAKERS ARE THE LAST TEAM TO GET AN OPPONENT ON A B2B
For the first time this season, the Lakers will draw an opposing team that’s on the second game of a back-to-back. Every other team has been in that situation at least one time, making the Lakers the last squad to gain what’s typically an advantage, as the Kings lost a tight one to the Clippers (103-102) on Saturday afternoon.

According to NBA.com’s John Schuhmann, the average team drew an opponent on a back to back 19 times. The Lakers tied with the Spurs for the fewest, with just 12. Why? Likely a combination of number of times on national TV and having most weekend games on Sunday instead of Saturday (since most teams play Friday).

WHY L.A.’s 6-7 RECORD (WITHOUT KOBE) LOOKS BETTER
The average winning percentage of teams the Lakers have faced thus far is 59.2%, which ranks behind only the Memphis Grizzlies (60.3%) for having the league’s toughest schedule. Thus far, 12 of L.A.’s 13 opponents have been .500 or better, the 4-8 Detroit Pistons serving as the exception.

YET AND STILL … LAKERS ARE 13th in the CRAZY DEEP WEST
Only Sacramento (4-8) and Utah (1-13) have worse records than LAL’s 6-7 in the West, with the Suns, Pelicans and Nuggets all at 6-6 and every other team above .500. If the Lakers were in the East, they’d be sitting in the 7th playoff spot.

DOUBLE-DOUBLING:
In the last 5 games, three Lakers are averaging double doubles:

Pau Gasol: 17.0 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 3.8 apg
Jordan Hill: 17.0 ppg, 11.4 rpg, 1.6 bpg
Steve Blake: 10.4 ppg, 10.4 apg, 3.4 rpg

THE LATEST KOBE BRYANT INFO
After going full speed at practice on consecutive days (Tuesday and Wednesday), Kobe Bryant took Thursday off to recover, before returning to the court on Saturday to work out on his own. Mike D’Antoni told me that Bryant went through his own workout at the team’s facility before heading to the training room to do some further rehabilitation and management with the training staff (head physical therapist Dr. Judy Seto in particular).

“(Bryant) will amp it up as much as he needs to,” 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.”

Bryant had previously acknowledged the possibility of returning in November, which leaves the 26th, 27th and 29th (a three-game trip through D.C., Brooklyn and Detroit), but that’s by no means a prediction as to his actual first game action.

LAKERS IMPROVEMENT ON DEFENSE CONTINUES
Since Jordan Hill and Wesley Johnson entered the starting line up, the Lakers are playing considerably better on the defensive end:

First eight games: 106.5 ppg, 46.4% FG’s, 40.2% 3-PT FG’s
Last five games: 97.8 ppg, 42.7% FG’s, 30.3% 3-PT FG’s

Here’s what Mike D’Antoni said: “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.”

RELATED: LAKERS ACTUALLY UP IN DEFENSIVE EFFICIENCY
LAL are up to 15th in defensive efficiency, not terrible considering their rough schedule. They were 18th last year with Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace. On the other hand, The Lakers were 8th in offensive efficiency last year thanks in no small part to Kobe’s outstanding offensive season. This year, they’re only 21st through 13 games.

LAKERS BOMBING THREES, MAKING 2nd MOST IN NBA W/5th BEST %
After draining 11 more triples against the Warriors, the Lakers are up to 5th in the NBA in 3-point percentage, hitting 41.0% on the young season, way up from their 35.2% mark in 2012-13 (20th in the NBA). They’re also making more than any other team but Golden State, connecting on 10.2 per game. Jodie Meeks ranks 10th in the NBA in 3-PT FGM (32), and Steve Blake ranks 15th (28). At 48.5%, Meeks ranks 14th in the NBA in accuracy, while Blake’s 47.5% puts him at No. 23. Below is a shot chart of the team’s efficiency from beyond the arc, courtesy of NBA.com/stats. blog_131124lakersthrees

JORDAN HILL EXCELLING AS A STARTER
In his five games as a starter Jordan Hill is averaging 17.0 points, 11.4 rebounds and 1.6 blocks on 59.6% FG’s and 89.5% FT’s, earning walk off interviews in two of the last three home games. His minutes increased from 16.1 (first eight games) to 31.2. He posted career-highs of 24 points and 17 boards in last Sunday’s win over Detroit. Hill ranks second behind only Detroit’s Andre Drummond in field goal percentage this season at 60.9%.

Here’s what Kobe Bryant said about Hill: “Tremendous. He really worked hard this summer and got himself into good shape, shed some weight; he’s extremely strong, (has) long arms, athletic. 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.”

YOUNG CONTINUES TO SHINE OFF THE PINE
When coming off the pine, Nick Young is averaging 17.1 points per game, which ranks third behind only SAC’s Isaiah Thomas (18.4 ppg) and NOP’s Ryan Anderson (19.3 in two games). As a reserve, Young is shooting 52.3%, compared with 33.3% as a reserve, and is hitting 40.0% from three compared with 23.5% as a starter:

STARTS (6): 21.5 mpg, 9.5 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 0.5 apg, 0.7 spg, 33.3% FG’s, 23.5% 3’s
BENCH (7): 26.9 mpg, 17.1 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 1.1 apg, 1.0 spg, 52.3% FG’s, 40.0% 3’s

Perhaps related: Young’s taking better shots, closer to the hoop, taking 6 percent more shots in the paint in his last five games. He also said he heard Rihanna shout “Swaggy P” during Friday’s win over GSW, which is nice.

Lakers – Nuggets Sideline Notes

Denver Nuggets v Los Angeles LakersHere’s a look at everything you need to know about the Lakers (4-5) and their Wednesday evening opponent, the Denver Nuggets (2-4):

NUGGETS NUGGETS
- Ty Lawson leads Denver in scoring (21.7 points, T-13th in NBA), assists (7.3, T-10th), minutes (36.9), three’s made (10 total, tied with Randy Foye), free throws made (34, 81.0 percent) and steals (1.3, also tied with Foye). No other Nugget is averaging more than 10.3 points per night (Jordan Hamilton).
- Wilson Chandler has not played this season, but is listed as a game-time decision with his hamstring strain and could make his debut. He was one of Denver’s three best players not named Ty Lawson last season who’s either been hurt (Danilo Gallinari, torn ACL) or changed teams (Andre Iguodala). If he doesn’t play, Jordan Hamilton should get more SF minutes (he started the last two games and had career highs of 19 points and nine boards at Phoenix on 11/8.)
- JaVale McGee is out indefinitely with a left tibia stress fracture; Timofey Mozgov is the likely starter in his place unless coach Brian Shaw goes with J.J. Hickson.
- The Nuggets rank just 11th in the NBA in fast break points (15.5 per game), and 13th in points in the paint (42.2). That’s quite a difference from last year, when they led the NBA in FB points (19.7 per game) and also points in the paint at 57.3 a contest. New coach Brian Shaw is trying to establish them as more of a balanced team that can post up, which is going to take some time.
- Denver owns the second best home court record in the NBA since 2007-08 at 191-49 (.796), trailing only San Antonio’s 187-47 (.799). The Lakers are third at 182-52 (77.8%).
- Kenneth Faried broke out of a slow start to the early-season (in part minutes related) with 15 points and 13 boards in Monday’s win at Utah.

THE (DREADED) SECOND NIGHT OF A BACK-TO-BACK IN DENVER:
The Lakers are 16-16 (.500) all-time when playing at Denver in the second of a back-to-back, which is actually pretty surprisingly good, because all-time, teams are just 160-376 (.299) when playing in the mile-high city in the second of a back-to-back.

This is less surprising: Since the 2003-04 season, the Lakers are 1-7 (.125) when playing at Denver in the second of a back-to-back. The combined league record since 2003-04 when playing at Denver in the second of a back-to-back is 27-118 (.186)

In related news: the Nuggets were a much better team, overall, after 2003-04 (when Carmelo was drafted) than prior to that time.

YOUR 2013-14 LAL LEADING SCORER IS … JODIE MEEKS?
Perhaps nobody has improved his game more this season from last than Jodie Meeks, who scored 15 more points on Tuesday on 5-of-7 FG’s (3-of-5 3’s) with three boards and a steal in LAL’s 116-95 W over New Orleans. As such, he improved to 13.0 ppg on the season, which leads the Lakers through nine games, thanks to 52.6% FG’s and 47.6% from three.

The Kentucky product is currently seventh in the NBA in adjusted field goal percentage (where three’s weigh more heavily than two’s) at 65.8% and eighth in true shooting percentage at 69.0%.

BLAKE CONTINUES STRONG PLAY
Steve Blake came into the game vs. New Orleans averaging 15.3 points, 6.0 assists and 3.0 rebounds on 50.0% FG’s (16/32), 61.1% 3-PT FG’s (11/18) in his previous three contests, and while he took only four shots (making one, a triple) against the Pelicans, he led the Lakers with 10 assists to just two turnovers in a solid floor game. He was consistently setting up Jordan Hill and Pau Gasol inside and Meeks outside, setting the tone for good ball movement all evening (33 assists on 44 field goals for the team).

Of Blake’s 29 field goals made this season, 22 have been 3-pointers. He ranks 5th in the NBA with the 22 makes, trailing only Damian Lillard (25), Kevin Martin (24), Steph Curry and Klay Thompson (24) apiece. Below is a shot chart of his efficiency from three-point range, courtesy of NBA.com/stats.
blog_131112blakethrees
“FLUCTUATION” THE OPERATIVE WORD FOR LAL’s LINE UPS
Through nine games, the Lakers have utilized six different starting lineups, and nine different players have started a game. With Nash out, we saw what may be a regular rotation for a few weeks:

Starters: Blake, Meeks, Johnson, Hill and Gasol
Bench: Farmar, Henry, Young, Williams and Kaman

Williams only played about 13 minutes against New Orleans, however, as Hill and Wesley Johnson may get some of those reserve minutes at the four spot.

D’Antoni would like to establish an identity ASAP, as he said at practice on Monday: “One thing we have to do is find our identity. 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.”

BOMBING FROM THREE CONTINUES:
For the second time this season, the Lakers hit over 50% of their three-pointers, sinking 11 of 20 against New Orleans to improve to 40.9% on the season, good for 7th in the NBA. They’re making 10.4 per game, good for 3rd in the league (Washington and Golden State rank 1st and 2nd, respectively). The Nuggets shoot the three well also. Though they make only 7.8 (13th), they’re hitting 40.5%, just behind the Lakers for 8th.

Steve Blake leads the Lakers at 48.9%, with Jodie Meeks close behind at 47.6%, the starting backcourt getting the job done. Xavier Henry is up to 44% after sinking all three of his triples against the Pelicans.

HENRY SNAPS HIS SLUMP IN STYLE
Tuesday night was a much-needed boost for Xavier Henry, who put up 15 points on 6-of-8 field goals and 3-of-3 three-pointers plus three steals to break out of a four-game slump. In the previous four, he’d really struggled, both by the eye test and the numbers: 4.0 PPG, 6-of-26 FG’s (23%), 0-for-4 threes, 11 rebounds (season-high 8 vs. MIN). Meanwhile, his monster jam over University of Kansas teammate Jeff Withey was ridiculous, and had Staples Center rocking.

Continue reading ‘Lakers – Nuggets Sideline Notes’

Lakers – Warriors Sideline Notes

Los Angeles Clippers v Los Angeles LakersBelow is a summary of the notes I put together in preparation for Time Warner Cable SportsNet and 710ESPN Radio sideline action for that evening’s Lakers game. L.A. plays the Warriors in Oakland at 7:30 p.m.

PRESEASON VS. GOLDEN STATE
The Lakers don’t need to spend a ton of time on a scouting report for the Warriors, since they saw Golden State three times in the preseason. First came a win in Ontario (104-95), then two losses in China, but in each game in the Far East, L.A.’s starters and initial subs mostly outplayed the Warriors. The Beijing game (95-100) saw Mark Jackson’s starters stay in for much of the fourth quarter against L.A.’s end of bench players, while GSW’s rotation players overwhelmed L.A.’s subs in Shanghai (89-115, though the Lakers led in the third quarter when the starters sat). Of course, preseason results don’t much matter, so the question is whether the Warriors simply weren’t playing very well collectively, or if the Lakers were offering a preview for the unity they showed in the season-opening win over the Clippers. Golden State has its eyes on a deep playoff run thanks to the addition of Andre Iguodala to a team that gave the Spurs some trouble in the playoffs last year. Some GSW notes:

- Stephen Curry oddly struggled with his shot in the preseason, hitting only 38 percent of his field goals … it’s hard to imagine that continuing much into the regular season.
- Harrison Barnes was (and remains) out with a foot injury in the China games.
- Lakers radio analyst Mychal Thompson’s son Klay looked great, averaging 21.3 points on 53.1% FG’s and 45.4 3-pt FG’s.
- David Lee/Andrew Bogut were pretty solid overall up front for the Warriors, Bogut on D and Lee on O.
- Draymond Green was a problem off the bench, canning 4 3′s in Shanghai, and hitting 7 of 13 overall in the preseason after making 14 his entire rookie year.
- Igoudala was second on team in assists during the preseason (4.6), including 14 against LAL in Shanghai.

COMPLETE LAKERS SEASON PREVIEW, WITH TWO PARAGRAPHS ON ALL 15 PLAYERS

LAKERS BENCH EXPLODES/BURSTS/GOES CRAZY VS. CLIPPERS
The Lakers’ bench unit of Jordan Farmar, Jodie Meeks, Xavier Henry, Wesley Johnson and Jordan Hill played very well in the final two preseason games together, but their collective performance on opening night against the Clippers was borderline ridiculous. How about 76 collective points, the third most in franchise history, including 41 in a fourth quarter they played the entire way while holding LAC to just 24, turning a four-point deficit heading into the final period into an emphatic 116-103 victory. The Clippers could do little against L.A.’s most athletic group, as Blake Griffin managed not a single point, rebound, assist or even field goal attempt in 8 minutes, notching only 2 turnovers for his final line. All five LAL bench players were excellent in the period, clearly, but it was Farmar driving the ship. He scored nine of his 16 points, plus three assists and a steal, repeatedly getting into the paint to break down LAC’s defense. Sixteen of the team’s 42 points in the paint came in the period. Said Farmar: “It felt good to me to be back home. Back in this building. It felt comfortable to me. Yeah it was really special and I look forward to it all season long.”

- The all-time most bench points came in 1985, when the Lakers’ bench scored 85 of their 144 total points against the Warriors (119). Mike McGee had 29 off the pine, Larry Spriggs 20, Bob McAdoo 14 and Mitch Kupchak eight amongst others.
-The 2nd most was in 1988, again against Golden State with 84 pine points in a 136-100 win, when Tony Campbell led the way with 28, and Mychal Thompson, A.C. Green, Michael Cooper and Milt Wagner combined for 50.

STARTERS GET (VERY) UNUSUAL EXTRA REST
When’s the last time that not one starting player played at least 30 minutes? Anybody? Bueller? One major positive for the Lakers off this usually really tricky/rare back-to-back (going into a team’s season-opener is never easy, especially if you played the night before): not one starter played more than 25 minutes, with Gasol’s 24:29 leading the way. Sub Jordan Farmar was the overall leader, with 27:16 off the pine. Steve Nash, who’s anything but 100% healthy, played only 20:44 and is a game-time decision for the Warriors (he said he’d try to go). Nick Young played 22:03, Steve Blake 22:25 and Shawne Williams just 12:50.

THE X MAN
Xavier Henry announced his presence in the preseason with 29 points in an opening win over Golden State, but doing what he did in a regular season game against the Clippers was a far larger statement. In 26 minutes off the pine, Henry scored 22 points – a career high – on 8 of 13 FG’s, including 3 of 4 three-pointers. And he missed five free throws (3 of 8), keeping his box score a bit less dramatic. Henry scored 12 of his 22 in the final quarter, grabbing half of his six boards plus both of his assists. The Belgian-born two guard/wing was an afterthought when being signed to the training camp roster, but with the preseason explosion became a lock to make the team, and eventually a likely receiver of legitimate rotation minutes. Clearly, that’s not going to change.

The knock on Henry coming into this season was his lack of shooting in his first three years, when he managed to hit only 40 percent from the field and 28 from three in limited minutes in Memphis and New Orleans. But player development coach Larry Lewis and assistant coach Kurt Rambis, amongst other LAL staffers, noticed a slight hitch in Henry’s jumper, the big athlete hanging a bit too long, and he worked it out quickly. The jumper was a spotlight, because his ability to get to the rim’s never been in question. The lefty, with a nice Euro-step move, looks a bit like Manu Ginobili or James Harden – hyperbolic as that might seem – getting to the bucket, and he repeatedly went right at DeAndre Jordan in the fourth quarter in particular. A postgame quote: “I have never changed my mind about what kind of player I am. How hard I work and what I can do on the court. So when I don’t get the opportunities maybe early on, it’s fine, I stayed faithful and stayed into it to where I have gotten hit and gotten opportunities and make the most of it.”

Los Angeles Clippers v Los Angeles LakersLAKERS STRONG ON THE GLASS
Despite playing a small line up for much of the game, L.A. finished plus 12 on the glass, grabbing 52 boards to the Clippers’ 40, including 18 offensive boards. Jordan Hill grabbed seven of those O boards in just 18 minutes, including five in the final quarter. Pau Gasol led all players with 13 rebounds in his 24 minutes, while Chris Kaman added eight in 19 minutes. In related news, LAL had 30 second chance points to LAC’s 19. Said Hill: “I’m going to do what I do. I’m going to hit the boards at all times, but everybody that came off the bench besides me, it was definitely the bench that fired everything up. We just went out there and we competed. We didn’t lie down and we weren’t afraid. We just had the heart to win and we did.”

TRIPLES FALLING:
The Lakers buried 14 triples in 29 attempts (48.3%), led by three apiece from Jodie Meeks (3 for 6) and Henry (3 for 4), with 6 of 8 falling in the fourth. Clearly, there’s going to be an emphasis on 3-point shooting for the Lakers this season, and they have many players capable of hitting the 40 percent bench mark that’s ideal for an NBA player: Nash, Blake and Farmar (who all hit over 40 in their last NBA season*), Meeks (36% last year), Nick Young, Shawne Williams (40% for D’Antoni in New York in 2010-11), Xavier Henry and Ryan Kelly (over 40% at Duke, albeit at the college 3 line). Last year, attempted and made the third most triples in the NBA, but ranked just 20th in percentage at 35.2 percent.
*Farmar’s was in 2011-12 for New Jersey, when he dropped 44% from 3.

Furthermore, according to Bloomberg Sports, 13/22 of L.A.’s threes came above the break (i.e. non-corner 3s), which is 59.1% (league average was 35.1% last season).

GIVE D’ANTONI SOME CREDIT?
Nobody got more blame for LAL’s dreadful 2012-13 start amidst injuries, no training camp, his own surgery and the lack of chemistry amongst certain players than Mike D’Antoni, and he got little of the credit for the 28-12 close to the season. But over the summer and in the preseason, D’Antoni facilitated a layer of confidence in several players that clearly leaked into the first game. The offensive spacing was very good, and the effort terrific on defense for most of the game. D’Antoni has been downright giddy throughout the preseason with all the basketball love going around in camp, with everybody full of effort and eagerness to play, and he’s always had somewhat of a touch with relatively unknown NBA players. One can argue that it’s not just a coincidence that the bench in particular played great tonight. Part of it’s coaching.

Said Farmar: “I like Coach D’Antoni a lot. He’s a great coach and he’s a great basketball mind and the way he deals with his players, I can’t say enough about him. I’m just happy. We’re 1-0 and we feel like we’re moving in the right direction.”

Gasol on win and team chemistry: “I think it’s a great indication of where we are at and how much we want to have a great year. So we were able to do tonight it was a really good team. It’s just one game it’s just the beginning but like I said it’s a good indicator. I think it’s a good time, a really good time and shows how together we are. How much we want to have a great season all together. I am proud of the guys. Now tomorrow we have another one.”

THE (UN)ANOINTED ONES
A quote from Doc Rivers could have been a Mike D’Antoni quote from any point of last season for the Lakers: “When you’re anointed, people are going to attack you, and we’re going to have to get used to that type of energy every night. People are going to play you like you’ve won something, even though you haven’t.”

That’s a potentially big deal for the Lakers this season, if the typical target they’ve had on their backs is lessened a bit, and they’re more of the aggressor, the attacker. That can result directly in regular season wins and losses within the grind of a long season.

Lakers – Thunder Preview

On Jan. 25, the Lakers were seven games under .500 at 18-25 and had lost 10 of their last 13 games.

Two days later on Jan. 27, L.A. bested Oklahoma City 105-96, who owned the second-best record in the NBA at the time.

“The game was obviously a big game to prove to us we could play with them and try to get out of this funk,” Kobe Bryant said post practice on Monday.

It was the first Lakers win over a top-four Western Conference opponent after the team lost its first eight to the Thunder, Spurs, Clippers and Grizzlies.

Much has changed in the last two months, though.

Now, the purple and gold sit at .500, having won 13 of their last 18 games, including four of five out of the All-Star break.

The turnaround has been keyed by numerous factors, including the second unit’s play, as well as the play of Bryant.

Over the last five games, the 16-year veteran is averaging 34.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, 5.8 assists, while shooting 56.9 percent from the floor and 50 percent from the 3-point line.

“He’s turned it up,” Steve Nash said. “He’s been scoring at a high efficiency rate, he’s shooting the ball, he’s attacking the basket and he looks as good as he’s ever looked.”

Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni echoed similar sentiments.

“He’s been very efficient,” D’Antoni said of Bryant’s recent play. “I don’t know if we’re trying to space for him or playing with Steve (Nash), but he’s been able to get to the rim, which is huge in what we’re trying to do.”

During this stretch, Bryant has attempted six shots per game at the rim, converting at a 74.2 percent clip.

The Philly native credits a changed diet – something he alluded to earlier in the year – as well as other factors as to why he is still able to perform so efficiently this late in his career.

“There’s a certain commitment, a lot of sacrifice, a lot of attention to detail that goes into playing at a high level for a long, long time,” Bryant said. “It’s a lot of sacrifice, but to me, it’s worth it.”

That attention to detail, not only from Bryant, but from the rest of the team will be tested on Tuesday as the Thunder boast a 26-4 home record (third-best in the NBA).

Kevin Durant (28.6, second in the NBA) and Russell Westbrook (23.4, sixth) average a combined 52.0 points per game, the highest scoring duo in the league this season.

When asked how to slow these two scorers down, Bryant was succinct in his response: “You got to try to take away the easy ones as much as possible.”

The easy ones include getting to the free-throw line as Durant (nine attempts per game, 90.7 percent) and Westbrook (seven attempts, 80.2 percent) not only get to the charity stripe with frequency, but also convert on those opportunities.

In all, though, the Lakers understand it won’t be just about slowing these two players down, as the Thunder rank near the top in multiple offensive categories. Turnovers and transition defense are two correlating factors the coaching staff stated will be key in Tuesday’s game.

“We can’t let teams get out in the open court,” D’Antoni said. “If we turn it over, we’re going to be in trouble. The way to reverse that is to execute, to make the easy play and make shots. You do that and you’ll be fine.”

Lakers – Clippers Preview

During the Lakers last meeting against the Clippers in early January, Chris Paul scored 18 of his 30 points during the second half – 11 coming in the fourth quarter – to help his team escape with a 107-102 victory.

“He’s very smart and very crafty,” Kobe Bryant said postgame. “To his credit, he made some pretty tough shots … Superstar players do that.”

Both L.A. squads, at that point, were headed in different directions. The Clippers were fresh off a franchise-record 17-game winning streak, while the Lakers were struggling to reach .500.

“It’s pretty frustrating,” Bryant acknowledged.

Much has changed in the last month-and-a-half, though.

The purple and gold have won eight of their last 11, while the Clippers have lost eight of their last 13. Paul, however, has been absent in nine of those games, sidelined with a bruised right kneecap.

“Without him, they’re a completely different team,” coach Mike D’Antoni said after Wednesday’s practice.

That much is evident, according to the statistics. In 12 games without their floor general, the Clippers are a .500 ballclub, boasting a 6-6 record. But their offense, more than anything, suffers without their starting point guard.

In 42 games with Paul in the starting lineup, the Clippers are averaging 101.4 points per game on 47.6 percent from the floor. In the 12 games without him, those numbers drop to 94.7 and 45.9, respectively.

“It starts with his competitive fire, his ability to engage guys, being a great teammate and all that,” D’Antoni said. “That’s one, and two, his unselfishness and he’s unbelievably skilled – his vision of the court, and defensively, he’s all over the ball. There are a lot of great things he does. He’s just an unbelievable basketball player.”

Not only is Paul key in the Clippers’ success, but their bench play has been an integral part in the team’s play this season.

Jamal Crawford, a candidate for the 6th Man of the Year award, is tied for the league’s lead among bench scorers at 17.1 points per game and spearheads a second unit that also boasts Eric Bledsoe (9.8 points, 3.3 assists), Matt Barnes (10.4 points, 4.8 rebounds) and Lamar Odom (3.8 points, 5.9 rebounds).

“(Their bench) is deep, but you can only play five at a time,” D’Antoni said. “The five guys we have on the floor are playing well, so we can matchup.”

Even after losing Jordan Hill to hip surgery and Pau Gasol to a tear in his plantar fascia, D’Antoni has rotated Steve Blake, Jodie Meeks and Antawn Jamison off the bench. All three have had particularly strong outings of late.

Jamison recorded 19 points and 10 rebounds against Phoenix on Tuesday night, Meeks has converted on 9 of his last 20 shots from the 3-point line and Blake has given the Lakers an edge on the defensive side of the ball.

“He’s played well the last three games after hitting a kind of rough spot on the road trip,” D’Antoni said of Blake. “His defense, his knowledge of the defense and being able to spearhead the second group (has been important). To me, him, Meeks and Jamison won the game for us (against Phoenix).”

Now with the Lakers starting to play better on both sides of the ball in the last couple weeks, the players understand the significance of Thursday’s nationally televised game against their co-tenants, who currently sit in third place in the Western Conference.

“It’ll be a great test for us,” Steve Nash said. “Obviously, they’re having a good year. With Chris back and healthy, they’re a different team. It will be a great challenge for us.”

Lakers – Hornets Preview

To get an idea of what the Lakers can expect in Tuesday evening’s contest against New Orleans, we enlisted Hornets.com beat writer Jim Eichenhofer, who went in depth to describe a Hornets team that’s playing much-improved basketball of late:

Q: New Orleans has won road games at Dallas, Philly, Boston and Memphis this month. What’s been the key to the road success?
Eichenhofer: A big chunk of the credit for the team’s recent turnaround – both at home and on the road – must be given to Eric Gordon, who made his season debut Dec. 29 at Charlotte after missing the first two months to injury. The Hornets entered that game with a 6-23 record and fell behind the Bobcats by 17 points at halftime, but in his first game since April, Gordon spearheaded a comeback that served as a turning point for New Orleans. The former Los Angeles Clipper is still trying to fully regain his rhythm and hasn’t shot well yet by his standards (39.9 percent from field, 31.5 percent from three-point range), but his presence has allowed other players to settle into roles more suited to their ability. Perhaps not coincidentally, during the same timeframe, role players including Al-Farouq Aminu, Jason Smith and Roger Mason have been outstanding. In the most telling example, Mason is shooting a ridiculous 69.2 percent (18-for-26) from three-point range since Dec. 29. Prior to that date, he was at 32.4 percent (23-for-71). Aminu, who like Gordon came to New Orleans from the Clippers in the Chris Paul trade, has gone from multiple DNPs due to coach’s decision in December to averaging 10.2 rebounds in his last 10 games.

Q: What’s the ideal mix of minutes for starters Robin Lopez and Anthony Davis and reserve Ryan Anderson? Should Anderson be playing more?
Eichenhofer: One of the interesting aspects of this team is that, unlike virtually every other club in the NBA (other than perhaps frontcourt-loaded Utah), the Hornets have a surplus of effective big men. In addition to the three players you mentioned, Smith also has played well and eats up about 18 minutes per game at center and/or power forward. As a result, Anderson is averaging “only” 31.7 minutes and comes off the bench. Though you might make a case that Anderson could be on the floor more, most of the fan complaints/suggestions I’ve seen regarding minutes have been about Davis (28.9 mpg). The “problem,” if you want to call it that, is that Smith has been arguably the team’s most efficient fourth-quarter player lately. There have been a few January games in which Davis has sat out crunch time, but Smith and Anderson were the two biggest reasons New Orleans won. They combined for 17 points in the fourth quarter in Sunday’s win at Memphis, part of NOLA’s 27-15 comeback.

Q: You mentioned how big a difference Gordon has made, and the 8-5 record in games he’s played shows it. What does he do well to help the team on a macro level?
Eichenhofer: The ball movement immediately improved in Gordon’s first game, a testament to Monty Williams’ notion that passing may be the most underrated aspect of Gordon’s skill set. Gordon also can create his own shot, something that was sorely lacking early in 2012-13. During the first two months of the season, New Orleans frequently had possessions that stagnated and resulted in a player having to take a difficult attempt to beat the shot clock. Anderson had virtually no room to operate against opposing defense prior to Gordon’s return to the court, but has gotten considerably better looks in the past month. Overall, Gordon has made life much easier for many of his teammates, particularly at the offensive end.

Q: Is Greivis Vasquez as good as his offensive numbers suggest? He’s averaging 9.2 assists with his 13.8 points per game this season.
Eichenhofer: I think Vasquez deserves major consideration for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award. His pass-first mentality has also helped foster the improvement of some of his teammates. The chemistry the native of Venezuela has developed in particular with Aminu has led to many of the forward’s highlight-reel alley-oop slams on fast breaks this season. Vasquez has also been part of Robin Lopez’s jump from an offensive afterthought with Phoenix to a jump in scoring average from 5.4 to 11.0 points per game. Vasquez has also become a much more dangerous perimeter shooter, at a career-best 37.6 percent on threes.

Q: Do you take exception with the seemingly common knowledge that Damian Lillard is the clear Rookie of the Year? Anthony Davis is putting up nice numbers, though he did miss 13 games…
Eichenhofer: You can’t argue much with the opinion that Lillard deserves the accolades he’s gotten at the midway point of the season. He’s been brilliant individually and made Portland a playoff contender, when few expected the Trail Blazers to be close to .500. However, it seems like there have been several instances over the years where people wanted to hand out a trophy in January, but by April they had a drastically altered opinion. Consider also that Lillard was able to get a nice “head start” on Davis when the No. 1 overall pick missed 13 early-season games to injury (the Hornets were 3-10 in those games, by the way). I’d be happy to see Davis get more consideration for the award, but to be honest, I’m not sure if it’s ultimately that critical in the grand scheme of things. The 19-year-old, who possesses freakish defensive timing and athleticism, has shown immense potential, but like many young bigs, he seems to be just scratching the surface in terms of his offensive repertoire. I’m more excited to see what he looks like after an offseason of working on his mid-range and low-post game than concerned about whether he makes a run at Lillard for ROY.

Lakers – Clippers Podcast Preview

With the Lakers and Clippers squaring off at Staples Center on Friday, we called Clippers beat writer for the Orange County Register Dan Woike to break everything down for us.

The Clippers come in having lost consecutive (tough) road games at Denver and Golden State, snapping an NBA-season-best 17-game winning streak, while the Lakers dropped a home game to Philly after winning six of seven contests.

We talked a bit about Friday’s matchup, but focused more on the big picture for both teams, as I repeatedly asked Woike about who LAC’s crunch time five will be in the playoffs, and if they can sustain what’s been a terrific start to the regular season.

To listen, click play below:

Podcast: LAL at DEN w/Hochman

A veteran of the NBA beat, Benjamin Hochman of the Denver Post, took our call to preview Wednesday evening’s contest in the Mile High City between the Lakers and Nuggets.

In the long run, Hochman thinks L.A.’s talent is undeniable, and especially with Steve Nash back, is sticking with his preseason pick that they’ll win the title. He also shared what he thinks we’ll see in tonight’s matchup, explains what’s been going on with underachieving Ty Lawson and Danilo Gallinari and debates with us what George Karl should do at center with starter Kosta Koufos and the talented, if mercurial JaVale McGee.

Take a listen:

LAL Magic Number for No. 3 Seed: 2

With the Lakers currently holding a .5 game lead over the Clippers for the Pacific Division title and No. 3 seed in the Western Conference, any combination of two Lakers wins or Clippers losses will do the job for the Purple and Gold.

LAL (40-26) finishes its regular season schedule with a home game at Oklahoma City (Sunday) and road game at Sacramento (Thursday), while the Clippers (39-26) face New Orleans at home before traveling to Atlanta and New York.

Should the teams end up with the same record, the Lakers will get the nod, as they defeated the Clippers 2-1 in the season series and therefore own the tiebreaker.

The scenarios:

- If the Clippers go 3-0, LAL must go 2-0 to clinch the No. 3 seed
- If the Clippers go 2-1, LAL can go 1-1 to clinch the No. 3 seed
- If the Clippers go 1-2, LAL can go 0-2 to win the Pacific*
- If the Clippers go 0-3, LAL automatically finishes ahead of LAC
*Stay tuned for how Memphis could sneak into the No. 3 seed.

It’s not out of the question for Memphis to leap ahead of the Lakers or the Clippers, however, as the 39-25 Grizzlies have two very winnable home games left against Cleveland and Orlando. That said, both the Lakers and Clippers have the tiebreaker over Memphis, so the Grizz would need the Lakers to lose both games while winning out, and the Clippers to lose two of three to move up.

In short: should the Lakers win one game and the Clippers win two, Memphis stays locked into the No. 5 seed.

Mavs/Nuggets Battle for No. 6 Seed
Whichever team clinches the No. 3 seed will face either Dallas (36-29) or Denver (35-28). Phoenix and Utah have no chance of grabbing the No. 6 seed, because even if the Mavericks lose their final game to match 30 losses of the Suns and Jazz, Dallas owns the tiebreaker over each. Alternatively, if Denver wins out and Dallas loses its final game, the Nuggets would have two fewer losses than Phoenix or Utah. Here are the remaining schedules in the push for the No. 6 slot:

Dallas: @ATL
Denver: ORL, @OKC, @MIN

Atlanta is essentially locked into the No. 5 seed with home court over Boston; the Celtics are the No. 4 having won the Atlantic Division, but have two more losses than Atlanta after their reserve-laden squad lost to Atlanta last night. In other words, the Hawks may not share the motivation of the Mavs in that final game.

If the Mavs do win in Atlanta, Denver would still have to go 3-0, since Dallas owns the tiebreak between the two. If Dallas should lose again, Denver can go 2-1. The Lakers could influence these proceedings as well, because if they beat OKC on Sunday, the Thunder have less incentive in their home game against Denver, since San Antonio will have a big edge for the top seed.

Should be fun … stay tuned!