Archive for the 'Training Camp' Category

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.

Roundup: Lakers in China

2013 Global Games - BeijingIn case you’ve missed anything from L.A.’s preseason trek to the Far East, we put together a list of links and notes from Beijing to Shanghai:

TRAVELING TO CHINA
Check out some video footage of the team’s journey from the private terminal at LAX to Beijing’s international airport, highlighted by some pandemonium in China upon the team’s arrival.

THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA
Nobody could have captured the team’s visit to the Great Wall quite like Nick Young did in video form. CHECK IT. Young bought all kinds of souvenirs (including nunchucks and a hat that looks like Rayden’s from Mortal Kombat), fell off a toboggan on a descent from the Wall and generally improved USA-Chinese international relations with his good humor.

The section of the Great Wall we visited was about an hour and a half’s drive north of Beijing, in an area built up by the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) to help defend against Mongol raiders to the north and Manchurian tribes from the northeast.

IMG_9840TIAN’ANMEN SQUARE AND THE FORBIDDEN CITY
The largest square in the world, bigger even than Moscow’s famed Red Square, Tian’anmen Square was a historically interesting sight for many of the team’s staffers, taking in the sheer mass of the Chinese government buildings. Just beyond the borders of the square sits the entrance to the Forbidden City, where Chinese emperors were safeguarded for 500 years. Inside, massive castle-like structures seemed to go on endlessly, separated by once heavily-fortified squares that made getting anywhere near the Emperor a ridiculous proposition.
Pictured: Lakers.com’s Ty Nowell, Zac Murray and myself. Photo credit goes to radio play-by-play voice John Ireland.

JORDAN FARMAR 1-on-1
We spoke to Jordan Farmar at the team’s first practice in China, getting an update on the strained calf that’s kept him out since the opening preseason game, his thoughts on the Far East and who was better in high school between himself and buddy/fellow L.A. native Nick Young.

KOBE BRYANT 1-on-1
Hearing Kobe Bryant talk about his Achilles will be the most important information we’ll relay up until his return to the court. China’s most popular/worshipped NBA player also addressed why he thinks he’s caught on to such a remarkable degree in the country over the years.

kobe_beijing_crowdLAKERS VS. WARRIORS IN BEIJING
Through three quarters, the Lakers played perhaps their best game of the preseason, opening an 80-69 advantage on a nearly full healthy Warriors team (only Harrison Barnes missed the game), with Kobe Bryant of course watching in street clothes. The starters were particularly good for L.A., with Chris Kaman going a perfect 7 for 7 from the field for 14 points with his 10 boards and three assists in 22 minutes; Pau Gasol scoring 15 points with six boards and three dimes in 22 minutes; Steve Nash going for eight points and four assists in 18 minutes and moving much better than he did in the previous game (where he had to leave in the second quarter with a sore ankle); and Nick Young going off for 18 points on 7 of 10 shooting, including 3 of 4 triples, plus three assists in 23 minutes.

In the fourth quarter, Warriors coach Mark Jackson played his starters nearly the entire time against L.A.’s bench group consisting of Marcus Landry, Darius Johnson-Odom, Ryan Kelly, Shawne Williams and (eventually) Steve Blake. The result was a 31-15 fourth quarter advantage and a 100-95 Warriors win, with Stephen Curry playing 37 minutes, Andre Iguodala 39, David Lee 38 and Klay Thompson 35. Overall, coach Mike D’Antoni was pleased with his team twice outplaying a healthy Warriors team this preseason.

We followed along with the Running Diary and Postgame Numbers, noting that despite the entertaining game, nothing was more exciting to the fans than when Bryant was shown on the jumbotron.

NG2_7055THE BEST VIEW IN SHANGHAI
The team went directly from the game in Beijing to the airport to hop a late-night flight to Shanghai, where they’d finally arrive at the downtown hotel in the financial district at 4:30 a.m. Shanghai is the world’s most populous city, boasting 17+ million people in the city proper alone, and 23+ million when you including surrounding areas. We got as good a perspective of the city’s mass as is possible from a restaurant on the 58th floor of the team hotel that closed throughout the day, but was opened for us to interview and photograph Chris Kaman, Robert Sacre and Ryan Kelly on Wednesday afternoon.

Once on the roof, we checked in with both Sacre and Kaman:
1-on-1 with Chris Kaman
1-on-1 with Robert Sacre

Up next? An NBA Cares event in Shanghai on Thursday evening, and Friday night’s game at Mercedes-Benz arena.

How will Gasol, Hill and Kaman Fit Together?

Los Angeles Lakers Media DayA common question throughout training camp will be who starts alongside Pau Gasol. Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni has yet to delve into specifics, but noted how both Jordan Hill and Chris Kaman could complement the 7-foot Spaniard.

“Pau can play with anybody,” D’Antoni said. “He’s so skilled that he makes everybody look good with his passing. You can play Jordan who is more of a runner and slasher or you can play Kaman who is more of a catch-and-shoot kind of guy. They’ll all fit in real well together.”

Hill, who underwent surgery on his left hip and missed 53 games last year, noted he’s more confident in his jump shot from 15-17 feet now, but will largely focus on what he’s provided for the team in limited playing time.

“Pau and Chris are great, great big men,” Hill said. “They can score. I’m not looking to score as much as they are. I’m going to still do what I’ve been doing since I’ve been here – rebounding, defending, a lot of energy and running the floor.”

The focus hasn’t just been on the offensive side of the ball, but also on the other end. Looking ahead, the coaching staff believes it’ll be a collective effort this season, and Hill remains optimistic everybody is up for the challenge.

“We just have to help each other out,” Hill said. “That was our problem last season. Not everybody was on the same page last season. We just have to buckle down this year.”

As for Kaman, he’s a career 48.5 percent shooter, and someone who can space the floor. Last season in Dallas, Kaman converted on 51.4 percent of his shots from 15-19 feet. But with three practices under their belt, the Michigan native doesn’t foresee how the three bigs will mesh just yet and doesn’t want to get too ahead of himself.

“At this point, it’s still undetermined what the lineups are going to be,” Kaman said. “Who knows what the lineup will be, who knows if we’ll go big or small. For me, learning this offense is an adjustment. A lot of my stuff has been slow down and half court. This is more transition, open court, pick-and-roll, dives. There’s going to be an adjustment period for a lot of guys, but I feel pretty comfortable so far.”

D’Antoni Addresses Impact of Training Camp

blog_130929dantoniAt the conclusion of the Lakers morning practice session, coach Mike D’Antoni addressed several questions centered around the impact of what a full training camp will do for the team. D’Antoni has yet to determine who will start alongside Gasol and Nash (should Kobe Bryant not be ready for the season opener). But with a full training camp to implement the system he never was able to fully use last season, D’Antoni remains optimistic of what the team will be able to accomplish in the days leading to the season opener. Below are his comments:

Q: On the biggest thing he’s trying to accomplish during the preseason:
D’Antoni: The biggest thing is trying to put in everything we do. We try to teach them everything first and then we’ll break it down each day. Yesterday was just devoted to how we want to play offensively and defensively, and today we’ll start breaking down segments of it.

Q: On the two-a-day practices the Lakers will hold during training camp:
D’Antoni: The mornings are used to teach them and a lot of individual shooting. At night, we’ll do a lot of scrimmaging.

Q: On not having Gasol and Nash out on the floor considering what they’re trying to accomplish:
D’Antoni: Pau (Gasol) was out there yesterday. I just won’t let him and Steve Nash do two-a-days. They know what we’re trying to do. They were in the film room. I jus didn’t want them to push it early. They could have gone if they needed to.

Q: On how much of what he is implementing now repetition of last year and how much is new:
D’Antoni: Most of it we didn’t get to because we didn’t have any basics last year. We told them the whole course last year but we couldn’t break it down. These guys have been going 90 percent for the last month and a half of what the little things we’re doing now, so it’s pretty smooth and they’re pretty far along.

Q: On the similarities and differences of what he will be running with this team as opposed to what he did in Phoenix:
D’Antoni: Everything is going to be the same we did in Phoenix. We might do it a different speed. That speed is determined by the players, which is fine, but the basic principles are all the same. We’re moving the ball, getting wide-open shots, and hopefully we make it.

Q: On how difficult it is to implement everything with certain players out:
D’Antoni: We don’t. We don’t have them out. Pau and Steve are going to do everything. They’re only going to miss stuff they don’t need to do. Kobe is the only one out and we don’t know when he’ll be back.

Q: On monitoring Nash’s minutes:
D’Antoni: I don’t know if it’s him missing games every once in awhile instead of (limiting) minutes, so we’ll have to figure that out. But you can’t expect him to play 35 minutes for 82 games. We’ll start from there and we’ll see where we go. We’ll build him up and some games he’ll play more, and some games he’ll play less. Some games he’ll take a break so we’ll see.

Q: On playing Steve Blake alongside Nash at shooting guard:
D’Antoni: We’ll see. That’s what preseason is for, to determine who will start. There’s a lot of guys battling for time and positions. Steve is going to be a big part of it no matter what he does, and we’ll see if that means starting. But there’s no reason why he wouldn’t start, but there’s also some other guys who might have something to say about it.

Q: On who he sees playing alongside Pau Gasol this season:
D’Antoni: Pau can play anywhere. He can play with (Chris) Kaman, he can play with Jordan (Hill), he can play with Shawne Williams, he can play with a stretch four or big four. Whether it’s four or five, in our system, it doesn’t mean anything. Kaman can make 15-foot jump shots or Pau can post up. Pau can make 15-foot jump shots or Kaman can post up. They’re a pretty good complement.

Q: On if it’s harder to build a team concept with guys on one-year deals:
D’Antoni: Actually I think it’s easier because we have good guys that know they won’t have success without the help of the other guys. So they’re very attentive in what we’re doing and they’re trying to buy in. It’s really good. We have a bunch of good guys. Whether they’re on their last year or not, they’re coming to play because they love to play basketball, and you can see it in them. It’s a nice atmosphere.

Q: On the team chemistry/vibe of the guys around now:
D’Antoni: Oh yeah, you’d have to ask the guys. But Steve Nash told me it’s a little bit different. I said: “Yeah, it feels different.”

Q: On what has stood out to him the first two days of training camp:
D’Antoni: Our shooting is a lot better. Our shooting is much better. Steve Blake has been playing unbelievable, Wes Johnson’s length and athleticism and Nick Young’s ability to score. There’s been a lot of good stuff. We just have to put it all together.

Healthy Gasol, Nash to be Protected in Camp

nashPerhaps the biggest and most unfortunate storyline of the 2012-13 season in Los Angeles was the Murphy’s Law progression of injuries. Every key player, let alone the head coach, had a major injury that ultimately derailed L.A.’s late push when Kobe Bryant tore his Achilles on April 12.

Bryant remains on the shelf with no set timetable to return as he continues rehabilitation, but Pau Gasol and Steve Nash — L.A.’s other two key pieces — have started camp in better health than they were able to achieve last season.

Nash suffered a fracture in his leg in just the second game of the season, and wasn’t able to stay ahead of back/hamstring/nerve issues that emerged when he returned in late December and plagued him throughout the season.

Gasol had a plethora of problems, including a concussion, a tear of his plantar fascia and tendonosis in both knees that required an offseason procedure from which he’s been rehabilitating.

L.A.’s approach with both players will to be to limit their overall exertion in training camp while getting them enough reps to get in game shape and get integrated with their teammates. It’s way too early to tell how that will work for either player, but significantly, both are in solid shape thus far.

“Pau was out there (Saturday),” said Mike D’Antoni. “I just won’t let him and Steve Nash do two-a-days. They know what we’re trying to do. They were in the film room. I just didn’t want them to push it early. They could have gone if they needed to.”

That’s all well and good for Gasol and Nash.

“I feel good,” said Nash. “At this time of year, I need to play and get reps, but obviously find a balance between overdoing it as well … It obviously gets a little more difficult in that you have to be more thorough the older you get, and obviously, I don’t want to discount there’s a factor with age as much as I don’t want to indulge in that. I still feel really capable, positive and optimistic, especially at the start of the season.”

“I was cleared to (practice) and the doctors gave me the (OK) I was ready to do it,” added Gasol. “Now it’s just absorbing the load that I put myself through out there, and going day by day … I don’t think I’ll ever be 100 percent anymore, but I think I’ll be a lot better than I was last year and that will be a big improvement.”

Starting To Put In The System:
Installing a system of play on both ends of the court has been something Mike D’Antoni and his coaching staff have been very much looking forward to for months, particularly since last season didn’t afford the same opportunity.

Camp started on Saturday night and continued into Sunday morning’s session at the team’s practice facility, with an emphasis on general teaching as is consistent for most teams.

“The biggest thing is trying to put in everything we do,” said D’Antoni. “We try to teach them everything first and then we’ll break it down each day. Yesterday was just devoted to how we want to play offensively and defensively, and today we’ll start breaking down segments of it.”

In essence, the morning sessions are for film and the putting in of various sets and schemes. At night, the players scrimmage. The fact that nearly the entire roster has been at the facility playing games and working out for most of September has aided the process.

“These guys have been going 90 percent for the last month, so it’s pretty smooth and they’re pretty far along,” said the coach. “Everything is going to be the same we did in Phoenix. We might do it a different speed. That speed is determined by the players, which is fine, but the basic principles are all the same. We’re moving the ball, getting wide-open shots, and hopefully we make it.”

Lakers 92, Kings 99: Oct. 21 Preseason Diary

Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Sunday preseason contest against Sacramento, with Dwight Howard expected to make his debut, with some comments drawn from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, and a few more details in case you missed any of the action:

Starters
Lakers: Nash, Bryant, World Peace, Gasol and Howard
Kings: I. Thomas, M. Thornton, J. Johnson, T. Robinson, D. Cousins

FIRST QUARTER
10:40 Just over a minute into his debut in purple and gold, Dwight Howard had already thrown down an alley-oop dunk off Pau Gasol’s lob from the high post and kicked out a pass for Kobe Bryant’s three-pointer. Lakers fans were quite entertained. There was something special even from the starting line ups, just hearing “World Peace,” “Gasol,” “Howard,” “Nash” and “Bryant” from PA legend Lawrence Tanter.

0:00 With Howard (four points, two boards, two blocks) making his presence felt on both ends, L.A. led by as many as seven before the Kings’ bench unit trimmed six points off the lead, 29-28 after one. Gasol had six points and Bryant seven, the Spaniard dunking emphatically after beating Cousins off the dribble at one point, as the Lakers made 9 of 15 shots (60 percent). Also of note: the Kings committed nine fouls trying to deal with L.A.’s offense. Expect a lot of free throws this season, ladies and gents.

SECOND QUARTER
5:59 Halfway through the second half, the starters had all returned to try and reclaim the lead, with Nash converting a tough driving bank shot that tied it at 39. L.A. looked brilliant at times and disorganized at others, as we remember it’s the first time the starting five had played against a live opponent, and the bench rotation had been close to intact (Jordan Hill was still out while recovering from a herniated disc in his back). It’ll take a bit of time…

0:00 … Or not? LAL looked fantastic in the final six minutes of the period, pushing their lead up to as many as 11 (55-44) when World Peace hit a contested three-pointer. Howard was everywhere, hammering home his second alley-oop (this time from Kobe), blocking his third shot and putting back a Kobe miss for his sixth rebound before matching Bryant’s 11 points by making an and-1 free throw. Furthermore, Howard took a hard fall after being shoved from behind on that put-back (Cousins), but popped right up.

THIRD QUARTER
8:40 The first half magic from LAL’s starters vanished quickly, a 12-0 run capped by a Tyreke Evans and-1 that followed a ridiculous put-back dunk from rookie Thomas Robinson, catapulting himself over Howard. Bryant’s two free throws snapped the run, L.A.’s lead at 61-58. A few moments later, Nash got tangled up in the backcourt and tweaked his ankle, but he played on and ended up being fine (head trainer Gary Vitti re-taped him in the locker room and Nash returned to the floor).

0:32.4 After a Gasol dunk and Steve Blake three pushed L.A.’s lead back to seven, the Kings reeled off a quick 9-0 burst to take a 74-72 lead out of the third quarter. Here we remember that the Lakers are installing a new offense and still figuring out defensive rotations, the team looking pretty disorganized in the final moments. Regardless, the coaching staff won’t be happy with twice allowing Sacramento right back into the mix.

FOURTH QUARTER
8:25 With Nash and Howard checking back in (alongside Ebanks, Jamison and Meeks) and L.A. trailing 80-75, the first offensive action was a powerful Howard dunk, and his defensive board on the other end gave him a double-double (17 and 10 plus four blocks).

0:00 The starters got a three-point lead when Gasol hit two free throws with 1:43 to play, but quickly lost it when Cousins hit back-to-back shots, and Howard didn’t get a call going up to the rim on the previous play. Down one with 33 seconds left, Nash got a good look in the paint, but rimmed out. After two Jimmer Fredette free throws, Bryant then just missed a game-tying three, and Sacramento added free throws late to take a 99-92 victory out of the building. There were some good moments, but the Lakers clearly need a bit more time to gel, having just gotten Howard into the line up. But the big man did look excellent: 19 points, 12 boards, four blocks, two assists and five turnovers in 33 minutes. Up next are the Clippers on Wednesday. See you there.

Quote Round Up: Saturday Practice

Here’s a transcription of interviews from Jordan Hill*, Dwight Howard, Mike Brown and Steve Nash from Saturday’s Lakers practice. The team faces the Sacramento Kings at STAPLES Center tomorrow night at 6:30 p.m.

*Click on each name to watch the video.

JORDAN HILL
Q: On what he did in practice today:
Hill: I did everything – a full practice, stretched and did everything the team did. We’re still trying to watch out for the back, get my core stronger and see how it goes.

Q: On how the back feels:
Hill: It’s gotten lot better. Still trying to watch out for it, but it feels good right now. (I’ll) see what the trainer thinks, we’ll take a look at it and we’ll go from there.

Q: On if he’ll be ready for the opener:
Hill: There’s a possibility. Like I said, it’s up to the trainers – whatever they feel, however they think – but just got to keep working.

DWIGHT HOWARD
Q: On the team’s fourth preseason game:
Dwight: Everybody looked good in that last game and everybody played hard. It almost felt like a playoff game – the atmosphere was crazy in Vegas. Devin Ebanks came in and he had an excellent game. Pau (Gasol) did a great job all around. The game was pretty good. Our defense picked up, our offense picked up and I’m looking forward to the next couple games.

Q: On his excitement level to be playing soon:
Dwight: I’m very excited. I think everybody is excited just to see me play, which is a great honor. I just want to make sure I’m able to sustain everything that I do so I don’t have to play one game, sit out the next 20 (games) or something like that. I want to make sure that I’m being consistent with this team.

MIKE BROWN
Q: On Steve Blake’s play in the fourth quarter last night:
Brown: Steve Blake did some nice things; he did some nice things for us yesterday. I’m looking for a guy that’s going to keep us organized out there offensively that, at times, can put some pressure on the ball full court, make them work bringing the ball up the floor and be different than what the starters are bringing to the table. The biggest thing is I’m hoping to have a backup that doesn’t turn the ball over.

Q: On what Devin Ebanks needs to do to get more playing time:
Brown: He’s got to defend and defend consistently on a high level. Offensively, he’s got to be quick but not be in a hurry. Sometimes, you have a player a little out of sorts and you can start dribbling all over the place. When that happens, it gets everybody out of sync or out of rhythm. When you’re out of rhythm or our of sync like that, it can have a ripple down effect and affect the entire second unit for a few trips down the floor. So he has to stay composed offensively and play within the system and figure out how he’s going to get his looks within the system.

STEVE NASH
Q: On what Dwight will bring to the team:
Nash: Dwight is going to bring a lot to our team. He’s going to make the game a lot easier for all of us. Hopefully I can make the game easier for him, but he’s definitely going to make the game a lot easier for me. He’s going to draw a lot of attention; his roll to the basket gives me a great target, but he also is going to draw a lot of attention and open up a lot of teammates for open shots.

Q: On how he feels about playing with Dwight soon in a game situation:
Nash: I’m happy that we can get to another stage of development for our team. We’re learning the offense without Dwight and now we get to learn with him in a game situation. It’s just breaking down these barriers that’s important for us.

Thursday Practice Report

Here’s a round up from Thursday’s Lakers practice before the team headed to Las Vegas in advance of the team’s fifth preseason game.

Jordan Hill Returns To Practice:
Jordan Hill, who was diagnosed with a herniated disc in his back after the team’s first preseason game, went through non-contact drills for the first time since getting injured.

“He did everything that was non-contact, which was good, because it was the first time in awhile that he had a chance to go out there in script,” coach Mike Brown said. “For us, the way we’re playing, he’s got to know specific routes and reads, so there’s a lot that he still needs to do to play catch up. He didn’t do anything live.”

Brown was uncertain about when Hill will return to game action, but did note that it was a positive sign the 6-foot-10 power forward was out on the floor again.

“(The trainers) haven’t given a specific timetable yet, but I know they’re taking this one step at a time,” Brown noted. “The thing that surprised me – I knew he was going to be able to do non-contact stuff today – is we did a warm-up drill where you’re required to run and get out and go a little bit. He got out and ran and they let him do it, so that was a little surprising to me, but it was good to see.”

Gasol Wants More On Defense:
Pau Gasol wants to see more improvement from his teammates on that end of the floor in the next four preseason games, and in the regular season as well.

“I want us to be solid on the defensive end,” the 7-foot Spaniard explained. “That’s what I want to see us do. I want us to be consistent every single game. I want us to stop teams and choke them. That’s what I like to see. Offensively, we have enough talent on this team to be able to score, but if we defend like we’re supposed to do and want to, it’ll be very, very hard to beat us.

Brown echoed similar sentiments, citing transition defense as an area where the team collectively needs to improve, too.

“The one thing I’ve been disappointed in – if there is one thing – is in all four games our transition defense hasn’t been good,” he said. “Even in our last game, whether we’re winning or losing or we don’t have certain guys, we can still get back the right way and make them at least let them score over a contested defense or have the defensive presence and they got to many uncontested layups and/or shots in transition. I told our guys: ‘Let’s do a better job collectively as a group with our transition defense no matter who is on the floor.’”

Dwight Howard’s Return?
The Lakers center continues to make progress, he says, but his main concern – as has been said before – is getting his stamina back.

“It’s conditioning,” Howard stated. “That’s the main thing. 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.”

Howard continues to participate in full contact, 5-on-5 scrimmages during practice, and so far, he maintains there is no concern about having any setbacks.

“I came too far from where I was at to go backwards now,” he noted. “I want to continue to work hard as I can every day when I step on the court and make myself better and my teammates better.”

Metta World Peace Rounding Into Form

A year ago, Metta World Peace conceded he was out of shape. His shot was off, he seemed to be a step slow defensively and his entire game was affected.

“The lockout hurt me a lot, because last season going into the playoffs I had a nerve issue in my back,” he explained during his exit interview in May. “Once the lockout happened I wasn’t able to address it so all I could do was rest. It took me 2-3 months to get in shape.”

During the first half of last season, World Peace shot only 33.5 percent from the field and 23.9 percent from the 3-point line, while averaging just 4.9 points.

After he was able to lose weight and get himself back into game shape, though, those numbers jumped. In the second half of the season, World Peace shot 43 percent from the field, 33.1 percent from the 3-point line and averaged 10.7 points. On the defensive end, he looked quicker, more nimble and displayed that prowess he’s been known for his entire career.

Going into this season, the small forward knew what he needed to do to continue playing at that level.

“I gotta come back just how I left off,” he said last May. “I was playing at a high level and need to be able to stay there.”

Fast forward to now and the former St. John’s product appears to be performing at that same level fans saw during the latter half of last season. He’s noticeably slimmer and he’s quicker on both offense and defense.

“He’s been in the best shape that I’ve seen him since I’ve been here,” Kobe noted. “I haven’t seen him in this kind of shape since I faced him when he was in Indiana. He’s really in tip-top condition.”

The results are showing, too.

Through the team’s first three preseason games, he’s shooting 50 percent from the field and the 3-point line, while chipping in almost 12 points. And he’s doing all of it in less than 24 minutes per contest. World Peace noted how much of a difference it feels to have lost 17 pounds in the offseason.

“I feel good that I can get to the basket,” said World Peace, who notched 13 points, grabbed four rebounds and shot 3-of-4 from the 3-point line in the team’s third preseason game. “I can push it without getting tired. I can go right a little bit more this year and (the opponent) doesn’t really know what’s going on defense. And I can help my team more.”

With World Peace in peak condition and playing at a high level, fans can expect to see some of the old Ron Artest — a more dynamic player on both ends of the court.

Injury Update: Earl Clark

Lakers reserve forward Earl Clark strained his left groin and is out indefinitely.

Clark, acquired in the Dwight Howard trade with Orlando, has played solid defense in training camp but is not expected to be in the regular bench rotation. In the regular season, the Lakers will most likely have Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol play center for the second unit, with Jordan Hill and Antawn Jamison getting the power forward minutes.

Hill (herniated disc) has been out for a week and is expected to be reevaluated in the coming week.

Howard continues to progress from his own back injury. No date has been determined for his return, but he hopes to play in some preseason contests.