Crucifido's Corner

Postby crucifido on Mon Dec 17, 2007 1:29 am

Alright I'm back from the road trip for work and fresh off my trip home from this one.

Lakers vs. Clippers (Game 23 12/16/2007)


Over the course of the last 3 games we’ve learned a couple interesting/unexpected lessons and a couple obvious ones about this year’s Laker team.

The obvious lessons:
No matter how good the rest of the team is developing, they still need Kobe to show up with at least an average of 20 to 22 points per game. Despite the team becoming more of a team, Kobe is still vitally needed to lead this team both by example and verbally. Second, Lamar is not a go-to guy no matter who is on the court or what the situation is. Those two are no big surprise, but nonetheless they give you a decent anchor to jump off of to figure out what is making this Laker team tick along at an interesting pace.

The not-so-obvious lessons learned:
This Laker team is actually going out and beating teams they’re supposed to beat (sans Milwaukee). It’s a sure sign that this very young team is maturing at a quicker than average pace. Second, chemistry and camaraderie have replace uncertainty. And lastly, Andrew Bynum is officially the second best player on this Laker team (when he gets consistent time). As a side note to that, we’re beginning to see Bynum come into games with passion and determination.

The first sign was the technicals against San Antonio. On one side, control is important for Andrew to get in those kinds of situations. On the other, more positive side, seeing Andree get tossed affirmed that below the often mellow and subdued demeanor lies a fire that is slowly being tapped. In the game tonight for instance, when Andrew blocked a shot on the defensive end as he ran down the court to get into position, he strongly bumped Kaman at half court. It wasn’t an incidental bump. It was a get out of my way I need to get where I have to be” kind of bump. That is a great sign of things to come for Andrew and the Lakers.

At a lot of points in this game there was aggressive play by all players on the court. Granted, the Clippers are beyond depleted and struggling to get anything going, but it was gratifying to watch the Lakers not back off of what they had to do to win.

There was the requisite lapse in the 2nd quarter that got the Clippers within 6 (that and a completely bizarre half court hurl by Maggette), but aside from that it was a taking care of business type of game. That, again, is a positive sign. Not but a year ago this almost exact Laker team would come into games versus depleted or crippled or bad teams with a lax attitude and walked away with an instantly regrettable loss more times than not.

That isn’t so this season thus far.

Tonight, the Lakers came out running. They came into the game with a goal in mind, to get the Clippers down early and big and keep the foot on the gas. As the Clippers struggled to get anything going offensively, the Lakers were ardent in the 1st quarter. The ball was being swung from inside to outside, from weak to strong and threaded through the middle with off ball cuts. It was good to see the Lakers swoop in and cash in on the soft Clippers roster/play.

Complacency did settle in the second quarter, but as the game wore into the 3rd, the Lakers regained control of the game through set plays and control. Most of the bad moments of this young season have come when the Lakers sink into panic mode after having a run pulled on them. For the Lakers to make another stride towards the elite, they have to realize that teams will make a run, but that should never take you out of what gets you the biggest payoffs.

It’s a symptom, of a young team; finding a way to channel the energy for the game into productive play, not ragtag ball ala the Warriors. This team runs best when grounded in a structured offense and defense. The athleticism is there in spots and developing in others, but for the most part improvisation is a bit of an Achilles heel for the Lakers right now. In this game there were spurts of improve play, which of course is going to happen, but when the Lakers looked to be losing a grip a bit they sank back into plays and off ball movement without much of the lead lost.

The best part of the game for me was watching the Lakers push trhe lead back into the high double digits quickly into the 4th quarter. They didn’t let the Clippers get any momentum for the final stretch of the game.

A lot of that prevention came early on from the middle. Though LKaman had a decent game, Bynum dfidn’t let him walk into those stats. As Kaman banged into Andrew’s chest to get further into the paint there wasn’t one time that Andrew relinquished his ground. He stayed both grounded and firmly plan ted in his intention to keep Kaman out of his comfort zone. He gave no room for Kaman to get comfortable. Along with that there is a noticeable change in the Clippers offenses when they come up against Andrew in the middle. Shots are being changed by the mere presence of Bynum inside or along the paint. That kind of reputation does nothing but help Andrew and the rest of the team. The split second hesitation by a slasher or shooter allows the help defense a small window to move into position. Often that sealing off of a lane or second body coming into the opposition has resulted in a missed shot, bad pass or awkward toss to the bucket. It was no exception tonight; Bynum was changing the middle of the defensive end.

What allowed Andrew to stay grounded inside was a solid perimeter defense by the Lakers tonight. At the height of the perimeter was communication. You could both hear and see the Lakers adamantly helping each other outside. Jump switched were on the money and above all when someone did get around someone else there was a quick flash of help pushing the ball handler on his heels.

Offensively the team is obviously looking for Andrew more than they have before. Better yet, Kobe is looking for Andrew on almost every half court set. If he isn’t trying to get him the ball, he’s well aware of Andrew’s new found ability to get boards with authority and more importantly, regularity.

Speaking of Kobe, that was a smooth 32 points. The kind of 32 points where you didn’t have to see Kobe take the ball into the teeth of defense or work without pass options being given. The consistency of offense coming from the middle and the outside (via Fisher or Lamar) allowed Kobe the room to operate fairly freely in the mid range game. There really isn’t much to say about Kobe’s offensive game, as really, it was exactly how he should be getting his points. By his teammates taking some of the load off and not allowing teams to slack off of them to double or triple Kobe at all times. That single coverage being thrown Kobe’s way because of the team contributing will lead to more easy offense for everyone.

Defensively Kobe was tested a bit by Maggette’s overall strength. He was being screened off of Maggette quite often, but the middle was strong enough (without Brand in the mix) to make up for any freeing up of Kobe’s man. The Lateral motion hampered by the mild groin injury was slightly noticeable, but nothing to worry about in the long term.
You had to feel a bit bad for Mihm, as his feet and legs are not even close to strong enough to hold down the defensive post right now. He’s jumping off of one leg and tapping boards or loose balls with one hand rather than 2 handed grabs. That will only heal in time, as Chris still has a ways to go to get minutes behind Bynum once Kwame gets back.

Ariza has been a quick learner. Trevor was very good at recognizing seams in the Clippers’ defense. Even better, he was driving into those seams or jab stepping into them to collapse the defense to one side of the paint or another. His length in the 2 spot with Kobe on the court makes for a tough perimeter defense for other teams to get a grasp on. His recovery tonight was on the money. On the occasion he does get beat there was no quit in Trevor’s game. He was either on the ball or immediately into rebound or help stances once away from the ball. Though he didn’t have huge numbers tonight, Trevor’s impact off the bench is a good developing weapon to have.

What I liked about Lamar’s game tonight was that he was aggressive at getting to the paint tonight (whether with the ball or for position). IT wasn’t something he warmed up to, he came right into the 1stquarter looking to get inside. When he did get inside there was maybe 2 occasions where nothing came of it. Wither he was getting a shot for himself or he w3as forcing the Clippers D to come to him rather than stay between him and a help option. He made the Clippers move around him, rather than the other way around.

Defensively, he has to help out in the low post quicker. When Andrew, Chris or Ronny is being pulled away from the basket, Lamar has to seal off the back end of a board. He has to protect his big man’s off ball shoulder before they’re deep in the paint.

Farmar’s usual confident game was present yet again tonight. What he was doing particularly well in this one was rotating out to the pass option spots on offense when others would miss it. His knowledge of the triangle off ball motion was apparent tonight. His off ball cutting was right on the money as well. Defensively there was one moment when he saw a weak pass get to Kaman on the baseline, but instead of slowly getting over to help, he dashed over quickly as Kaman reached to get the ball and used the baseline as a help defender. It didn’t result in a n immediate turnover or miss, but it took the ball out of the high post just long enough to break the play. That kind of quick-minded defensive play is what Jordan’s biggest jump in play time has come from.

You had to love Sasha’s play tonight. I confess that I’ve never been a big believer in Sasha, but this season his energy on the court has been something to see. There is never a moment of rest in him tonight. He was in constant motion and getting teams distracted enough to get some mid range shots off for everyone that normally wouldn’t be there. As a result of getting more shots, the practice session shooter that everyone’s heard about for years is finally starting to emerge. He was excellent tonight and utterly tiring out the Clippers’ bench perimeter defense.

It’s good to see him get back to his no breathing room defense as well. He was in his man’s face, or within a foot of it, at all times tonight. Though his tweener kind of size allowed some Clippers to get around him with a quick flash of a pick, he was dropping down in to mid-range defense without waiting or releasing far too early. His 14 4th quarter points were well-deserved.

A couple things to work on for the road trip coming up…

Stop easing up on opponents at the end of quarters. We saw the worst possible outcome of it in Oakland, so there should be little to no more slacking off a team as the second wind down. The last seconds of a quarter count just as much as the first or middle. That first strike mentality the Lakers showed tonight on the Clippers needs to be there all game. If you lead by 5, make it 10, if it’s 10, make it 20 and so on.

Take advantage of turnovers as was done tonight. Reaping the dividends of the team’s defensive work should be automatic.

Rebound the ball with two hands - please. Tapping boards is fine, if you really have to, but other than that every board should be brought down with two hands – strongly.

Stop complaining about calls while the ball is going back into your defense. At one time tonight both Kobe and Lamar remained on the offensive end griping about a no call while the 3 remaining players were in transition to defense. Bad calls happen, but worse things will happen if you don’t get into transition. We’ve seen plenty of good things happen from transition defense (ala Fisher 1 on 3 steal in Oakland). The only thing that should slow you down from getting back on defense is getting knocked to the ground. And still then, your first thought should always be to get back on defense – always.

The best thing about this team right now is the chemistry. During a dead ball, timeout or free throw there is genuine communication on this team. Everyone is asking each other where they need to be or what they need to do to make things run better. At one point Kobe was talking to Sasha about offensive positioning, and then Crittenton was asking Sasha where to be on a defensive run. That kind of willing communication is something not every team comes across. That on court work and the further bonding of this Laker team while on the bench together (one time Kobe was jawing and cracking up Lamar, and Luke, then Ronny had Lamar rolling, then another time still Andrew, Luke, Farmar and Kobe were all pointing to the court and helping each other out about plays) is just plain huge.
"A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty." - Winston Churchill
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Postby Weezy on Mon Dec 17, 2007 2:01 am

Great read as always Cruc. That was a long one, welcome back. :mhihi: I liked the part at the end about the team chemistry, it is really standing out. This is a young team, but it's not young and inexperienced anymore, they all know what they're doing for the most part now and they talk a lot on offense and defense, good stuff.
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Postby crucifido on Tue Dec 18, 2007 10:22 pm

That was a deceivingly smooth win.

Cleveland coming up next, should be interesting to see the bench battle in that one. I'd expect the Lakers will have a big jump on the Cavs after rolling through this one with relative calm.

One Down, Three To Go

It was one of those games where it felt like every Laker bucket was worth 4 and every Bulls score was worth one. There wasn’t a point throughout the entire game that the slim lead held by the Lakers felt like it was in serious jeopardy. A good portion of that feeling was due to the Bulls being mysteriously (well aside from no inside presence on offense and sometimes defense as well) lethargic this season. Still another chunk of that feel came from this young Laker team playing with some serious poise and control tonight.

Another notable difference from this year’s squad to the past couple of year’s ones is that when this Laker team does something chronically bad in one or two games it doesn’t necessarily stick with them. Sure there are still some flaws and they do rear up from time to time. But for the most part it’s not a team made up of players who are constantly repeating bad habits without making some kind of adjustment.

I’m not saying this team doesn’t repeat mistakes, I guess what I’m trying to point out is that there is a conscious effort given to grow as a team. Whether it’s been chemistry on or off of the court or play in a game, this team is working as a unit to correct problems. That’s a sign of a team progressing.

One thing to support what I’m fumbling to say is that the Lakers did a good job spotting up on defense tonight against a team (that much like the Warriors) loves to drive and kick, or set things up for someone outside of the ball handler. The Lakers were seeing those plays develop tonight but instead of always collapsing on the slasher, they stayed within reach of the shooting spots. Of course some of that is directly due to faith in the middle.

Andrew played yet another game in this ever-interesting season for him. You can see the team trusting him to hold down the middle, to be the last line of defense without having to help out. The biggest way Andrew can contribute to this Laker team isn’t through his offense, but through his defense. Part of that defense is changed shots. Though it’s not a kept stat in the NBA, I had a total of 10 changed shots this game for Andrew. It’s something to take a note of when you watch the guy play. A lot of a center’s impact comes from other teams not wanting to get inside. If a center can hold the fort inside and at least intimidate others from driving to the hoop for easy buckets, then something big has been accomplished. It’s beyond great for Andrew to begin to get this reputation so early in his career.

Normally guys like Duhon, Deng, and to some extent Hinrich will look to get within 4 or 5 feet of the basket (if not closer for Deng), but tonight Andrew kept them from doing so. The intent was there, but when Andrew held his ground, all intentions went from slashing to passing it outside. That kick to a lower percentage shot and out of play rhythm went a long way to the Bulls never getting into any kind of groove tonight.

Speaking of the middle of the Laker defense – there’s a huge soft spot in it though. It was exposed quite a bit tonight. Right beneath the free throw line and about 2 feet in from there is a no man’s land the Lakers have created. It’s that area that’s letting other teams establish a presence inside. IF Andrew, Lamar, Ronny or actually anyone can simply step into that soft spot either for a flash or for position it would be a big help. It would either push people out of the paint or away from a direct shot to the basket.

It would still be good to see Andrew get some early touches in games. Sure tonight Kobe and the Lakers wanted to come out and get Kobe going to kind of put in their face a bit, but night after night Bynum has shown (via passing, like the drop pass to Ariza for the dunk, or to pull defenders off their assignments in mid-range) that frequent touches on the ball allow the offense to move more freely.

Player of the game again was Sasha Vujacic. Its one time that I’m glad to eat crow. I was as big of a detractor as anyone when Sasha came onto the team, but he’s growing into a vital bench role right now. He is a good example of how movement off the ball and getting to your spots early and always will make great use of the triangle.

No matter who was guarding him tonight, Sasha was doing his bets Rip Hamilton impression running along the baseline, popping out for a pass and if it wasn’t there then moving to the next spot he had to be in. Sure Gordon is no great defender, but the work Sasha made Ben put out on defense completely took him out of any energy for offense he could’ve mustered. Defensively Sasha is back to that motion defense that has frustrated more than one player in the NBA. A lot of his success tonight on defense came from his activity on offense, but still there was rarely a time in this game that Sasha’s assignment was more than 1 or 2 feet from him. Sasha taking out Gordon, or the 2 guard on the Bulls put the Bulls (a predominantly shooting team) at a big disadvantage, hence why the Lakers went on their bigger runs when Sasha was in the game.

Sasha was also doing really well probing the middle and baseline tonight. He made the Bulls defense scramble and get off step simply by pushing the ball into the middle. IT was never really a drive attempt tonight, but it was more exploratory to see the Bulls defense react, then move the ball accordingly. That kind of jab dribbling done by Farmar, Fisher and Sasha tonight was a big ol’ missing element to the back court’s offense last year.

Ariza has got to be one of the most intriguing prospects o this Laker team. The guy can seemingly do whatever he wants on the court. I have yet to see a game, this one included where you see him seriously hampered from getting to where he needs to be. Again, as in every game he’s played he excelled at finding the seams in the Bulls defense and exploiting them. He was very good tonight at coming up from the baseline to up top to grab a board or receive a pass as a middle man in a play.

On top of that he plays an energy smart game. There was little sweat broken tonight though he was moving in transition really well. There wasn’t a moment in transition offense or defense where you didn’t see Trevor be a part of the play tonight. Couple those with his smart play tonight (ala that pass to Odom on the break for the dunk in the 1st quarter) and you have, again, a heck of an interesting player.

Since I mentioned Lamar, this was a game where you saw what Lamar can do when he is the 3rd option on the team. Between Sasha and Bynum having good nights, Lamar was able to step back into the role where he can do the most damage. The off guy on breaks or underneath that can scoop up boards and give you 12 to 14 a night. He did a good job tonight of being in the mix on every loose ball or board and making himself available for passes. The aggression was spotty to the hoop (like the missed layup when throwing it down would’ve secured the bucket), but all in all he didn’t have to be overly assertive because, again, he was in his comfort zone tonight as the 3rd option on the team.

His length did well tonight making Deng move back and forth between weak and strong more often than he usually does. Odom did good holding his defensive ground and because of that fell into a load of boards. As long as someone else can step up and take the attention away from defenses, Lamar can be a vital piece to the puzzle still.

Luke did well tonight too. He was active defensively, getting into the Bulls faces often. For the lack of speed that Luke sometimes has, he did well tonight by using physicality and harassment to his advantage. The confidence in his shot is coming back a bit too, which is good to see. Like him or not, when he’s on the court as a starter this team plays games far more under control than when he comes off the bench.

The Lakers did a good job limiting second chances tonight. They rendered Wallace absolutely moot. Between the activity of the smaller guys on the mid range and the big guys (Andrew and Lamar) standing strong in the middle, there was no room for the Bulls to get position for boards.

The Lakers also showed great patience when the shots weren’t falling. IT was no scorching first half, but they didn’t let that take them out of what they needed to do to succeed.

Pacing also played a big role tonight. At no time in this game were the Laker pushed to run out of their range or beyond their capabilities. That can be furthered as the season wears on by more touches given to the middle, but if it can be done as it was tonight, without exploiting the middle, then that bodes well for when the Lakers do use the developing advantage in the middle to the utmost.

Again, more touches for Andrew would be great to see. Also, I’d like to see Andrew re-post a bit quicker when the post pass gets shut down.

Lastly, team wise, they played under veteran like control, which you have to love to see. There was never a moment of panicked ball handling that we’ve seen this year. The composure came from the team staying within the offense and being communicative on defense. If they can continue to do those two things, the winning streaks will come more often, at home or on the road.
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Postby jbiggs on Wed Dec 19, 2007 3:37 pm

i had never read your write ups before but now that i finally have ill be reading them from now on :jam2:
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Postby crucifido on Sun Dec 23, 2007 1:48 pm

Sorry the absence, tough time of year to keep upo with everything. Anyway, excuses aside, here's one article for the 4 game roadie just wrapped up.

Lakers vs. The East Part 1 (Games 24 - 27 12/17-23/2007)

Lessons From The Road

Being the second youngest team in the NBA you have to be at least semi-pleased with the way this Laker team is maturing. They’re on the fast track towards contention and looking like they actually absorb lessons rather than let them go in and fade out like years before. Going 3-1 on this mini trip right before Christmas is a good little gift for themselves and for us as fans.

However, despite the overall positive outcome of the road trip there are still hurdles yet to be overcome by this team. One of the hurdles, youth, is something that can only be overcome by time.

During the 4 games of this roadie, you saw the good and the bad qualities of this team come to fore. One of the great things to see was the poise and clam which the team generally played with in tough, pressure situations. That kind of ease of play comes from both the coaching staff and the demeanor of your veterans. Fortunately for the Lakers they came out on top of most of those situations.

The downside of keeping your cool in tight spots for a young team is learning how to temper with keeping your cool with playing lethargically. The Cleveland and New York games are shining examples of a team that while calm and collected in pressure, began to let that calm translate into lazy play.

No matter what the game, you can’t let a lead, the opponent or the time left in a game soften what has gotten you in front in the first place. The Lakers saw the short end of the stick with that in Cleveland, where they had the game well in hand but let complacency take them out of the simple act of running plays. The same thing almost happened in New York. The same complacency rears its head in three forms for the Lakers; as multiple second chances (like in Cleveland), as one pass offense driven by one on one play or by falling asleep at the end of quarters.

Such are the trappings of a young team.

What truly matters when the Lakers fall victim to this is what they bring into the next game. Progress is made when this team starts seeing their mistakes and move towards correcting them, rather than hoping they don’t happen again or ignoring that they have things to work on. For the most part, that’s been the joy of watching this team this year. They still make plenty of mistakes as all teams do, but this season the Lakers aren’t letting those mistakes compound. For the most part, those mistakes are not costing them streaks of losses like they have the last couple of years. That’s true progress.

Sure this New York game today could’ve been prettier – in fact it could have been a good warm up game to let the starters sit in preparation for tough battle Christmas Day. What matters most is two things – the Lakers finished the game out as a win and even more so, Phil Jackson let the young guys do the finishing. Kobe had a ton to do with keeping the Lakers alive, that’s obvious, but in crunch time you saw Phil throw Crittenton in, Farmar remained on the floor for the last couple of possessions and Bynum stayed in the middle on both ends. In years past Phil would’ve easily diverted play to his veteran core, but not in this one.

That again, is progress.

I’m well aware that a lot of keeping Farmar in was for speed in keeping up with the Knicks back court, and Andrew right now is the only viable big man that has an effect. The giant positive was that the youth of this team responded. The “Yeah but it’s the Knicks” argument can always be made, but what I contend is that not but one year ago, this Laker team would lose to any team. There were no games that felt safe. Though this Knicks game had to make you a bit nervous towards the end, there remained an air of calm about the team.

Bringing us back to the point I made earlier – don’t let poise placate you. Of all the hurdles this team has to jump, that’s a big one. In fact it’s one of the qualities that separate the big dogs from the rest. Developing that instinct to put teams away when you have them down. The only way for the Lakers to learn this lesson is by having these games like the Cavs and Knicks one. While they may be painful to watch sometimes and result in a loss here and there, it’s important that this team realizes that every night in the NBA is a fight. Whether it’s the Knicks today or the Suns on Christmas, there’s no NBA team that will lie down without a fight – none. So wins like this are important for both the win-loss record and to show this young team that you have to be on your game every second of every game.

A couple individual notes on the road trip…

Looks to me Like Andrew is slowly working his way into Phil Jackson’s good graces on the defensive end. With him standing his ground and holding down the middle without being pulled out of position too often, there’s nowhere to go but a consistent 35 to 40 minutes a game for Bynum. His use of his length in the offensive and defensive posts was remarkable this trip. Andrew got more rebounds from sheer size and reach than position in all 4 of these games. The team is looking for him on offense and they funnel to him on defense. That’s bound to make anyone happy with Andrew on this trip. Better yet, he’s showing consistency in play. It s been a good 5 games now where you come into a game knowing what to expect from Andrew. At this early stage in his career, that’s saying something.

Big surprise here, the Lakers also showed in these 4 games that Kobe is needed not only for stats but for calm on the court. By stepping onto the court Kobe changed the pace of both the Philly and New York games. He got back into games in the 4th after sitting for a bit but without even touching the ball, the confidence on the team resulted in crisper play. That’s a leader, like him or not. In all 4 games there was beyond a conscious effort for Kobe to look for his teammates and rely on them. Half of that battle has been won by the rest of the team stepping up, but you can’t ignore that the other half is coming right from Kobe’s looking out for his guys. Whether it’s calling huddles to get them together or whether it’s passing off when in years past he would’ve taken a shot, there has been a noticeable leap forward in Kobe’s ability to play with the team rather than alongside them.

I can’t remember when Fisher has been so forthright in getting into the lane. For this entire trip (and for the whole season so far) Derek has looked to break down his man off the dribble. His jab dribbling into the heart of the defense and his strength in stepping forward and back to create space for his shot are things Derek didn’t have in his last stint in L.A.. Now, his tougher defense (though still a bit slow and under screens more often than not) and his aggressive approach to offense have given the Laker point guard core more dimension than its had in a while. Not to mention that his leadership has already transferred a bit to Farmar and the rest of the Laker youth.

Farmar is officially coming into his own. The typical 3 year route of guards to convert from rookie to solid veteran is looking to be right on track. That steal at the end of the Knicks game today was an element of back court defense that the Lakers have been without for some time. Jordan’s ability to corral his speed and use it to his advantage is remarkable. Defensively, I would like to see Jordan get up into his man a bit more. He has the speed to keep up with his assignments around screens and off of picks and should refrain from giving as much room to operate up top to other guards as he has. It would cut off open passing lanes and prevent him from being knocked out of plays as easily off of those same picks.

Bench wise you’ve seen a bit of a dip in play from them as a whole. Some of it may be due to a touch of fatigue, but most of it is from the bench deciding to stop moving off the ball. We all saw what happens when guys like Sasha, Ronny and Jordan keep in motion as plays develop. They know the positive result from it too. But for those two games on this trip you saw the bench unit rely more on a stand still offensive set than the motion that got them where they are. That and a not bringing their selves in for every missed shot is causing other teams to have runs on the bench when before they weren’t. As much as the starters need to, the bench has also got to know that second chance points are the big thing losing the Lakers games. From Golden State to Milwaukee, to Cleveland, the bench has got to use their ability to keep in motion on the defensive boards as much as on offense.

All in all, it’s tough to be hummed about a 3-1 road trip. Sure it could’ve easily been 4-0, but you have to look at this team in terms of their growth. Right now, it looks to be right on track, if not a bit ahead of the curve. They have to know that as the wins keep coming in, that other teams will being to key into their weaknesses and start to know what to expect from them. To that end, it vitally important that the Lakers keep developing their game, don’t get settled into ruts and above all continue to hustle throughout the entirety of every game.
"A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty." - Winston Churchill
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Postby crucifido on Sun Dec 23, 2007 1:48 pm

Thanks biggs!!!!
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Postby crucifido on Wed Dec 26, 2007 4:29 am

That was a great extra present there!! I hope everyone had a good Christmas!!

Lakers vs. Suns (Game 28 12/25/2007)

A Very Merry Christmas

Another day, another game – another good team game. With all the individual matchups put aside, the Lakers found out the secret ingredient to taking down talented quick teams – solid switching defense, communicative offense and above all - team play.

What the Lakers did today was key – they played the Suns to their weakness. The inside of the Suns defense was exploited by a parade of dunks and alley-oops. The Lakers showed the league that despite Phoenix’s up-tempo speed and high scoring output, they have an overwhelmingly soft underbelly. The dominance that Stoudemire once showed has faded a bit when he plays against other big men.

Bynum’s stat line (11-13 FGM, 12 boards, 28 points and 3 assists) as opposed to Stoudemire’s underwhelming box score (6-11 FGM, 6 boards, 19 points and 2 assists) shows that the Lakers now have what it takes to put the Suns back on their heels in the paint. Better yet they have the tools and the know how to make Phoenix expend their energy on the defensive end. Between the Fisher pushing Nash into the high post, Bynum pulling Stoudemire from weak to strong and back again or moving Amare underneath the bucket too far to use his reach, or Kobe running the show from all points on the floor, the Lakers made the Suns work.

The more they stayed aggressive and focused on both running their plays and using their athleticism on the offensive end, the more they made Phoenix use equal if not more energy doing what they don’t do best – defense. That time spent keeping up with Kobe on the perimeter and middle, looking after Ariza running the baseline with smooth ease, trying to contest Bynum pushing the Suns to crowd the middle and leave the mid-range exposed made the game swing back into Lakers favor time and again. When any momentum was being stolen (largely from the Lakers beginning to slip back into slow rotation on the perimeter), it was the Lakers defense that got them back into the game.

Again, like the rest of this season, there’s a big difference for the Lakers this year - the ability to keep control on the offensive end and stick with their game plan. Rather than before when they would try to adapt to their opponent’s style of game, often resulting in jagged, lost play and avoidable losses. In other words, the Lakers stuck with what they can do best and didn’t lose sight of it.

Individually there were some great performances today.

Kobe played one of his best leadership games of the year. Sure he had the usual scoring output. It always seems odd that a 38 point game for Kobe kind of goes by the way side nowadays. Today’s game had the other elements in it though you like to see – assists and complete trust in his teammates. That trust is a two-way street, but it does get initialized by Kobe and that’s just what he did today. A good half of his drives into the paint or along the baseline today were to set up teammates with open shots. Using that attention from defenses to get others on the team going will eventually benefit Kobe too.

The more he passes off to teammates, increasing their confidence and getting their game going, the less defensives pressure gets thrown his way. For a good portion of this game the Suns were scrambling to either split space on the high post to double Kobe or his eventual moves or keep pace with the growing threat of other on the court. The one thing I’d like to see Kobe do is play his game the way he can and back off of stunting his play in anticipation of the whistle. Go about your business, the fouls will come.

By the way that dunk at the end of the 3rd quarter was a pretty definite answer to any question of Kobe’s spring in his step.

Slipping back down to the 3rd option today, Odom played a much smarter and solid game. His length and size coupled with Andrew in the middle kept the Suns from getting any kind of position on the defensive boards. Though his game wasn’t an offensive juggernaut, it was his size alongside the paint that kept the Suns looking for him. When Odom is put into the position of a role player on this team, his game flourishes. Though his shot was nowhere near as consistent as it needs to be, it was his run from screen up top into the mid post that pulled a lot of pressure off the mid-range.

His early positioning right outside the block was pulling his man off the baseline just enough to open position for Bynum in the low post, Ariza running the baseline or Kobe driving on the right side of the paint. It was another game that goes to prove that Odom’s best asset is playing the silent killer, the forgotten man in the offense. That silent role plays into Odom’s personality and talents on both ends of the court. His defensive rebounding was on the money again, keeping the Lakers with two viable rebounding options in the post against a Suns team that has few options on the backboards.

That was a well deserved career game for Andrew today. I think that this game played versus one of the NBA’s most athletic big men showed that Bynum does have what it takes to not only keep up with, but make the NBA’s big men work to keep up with him rather than vice versa. Andrew’s realization and subsequent use of his remarkable reach played a huge factor in this one. With a short Phoenix team, the advantage of Bynum’s reach and lift in the paint was finally used as it should be. The steady diet of alley-oops and high post passes into Bynum to set up motion off the post today was hopefully a preview of things to come. Bynum proved today that his newfound ( to this season) nose for rebounds and aggressive determination to get missed shots or first shot attempts put back with strength can be a big time weapon. Stoudemire was often pushed back out of the block on offense, relegating Amare to more of a help man on the3 mid post instead of the low post defensive presence he’s been in the past.

A couple back door plays escaped Bynum (and Odom for that matter) but the big thing today was that those mistakes were sealed up after only two major slips. It wasn’t a chronic defensive gap left by Andrew today. The problem was addressed quickly and assertively by the Lakers man in the middle.

One key play came in the third quarter where Bynum was given the ball on a small run to the hoop. Stoudemire was holding position firm in front of him, but instead of Andrew running in a straight line over Amare and getting the offensive foul, Bynum stopped, gathered himself and created space with a step back to get the foul. Those kind of quick witted aware plays are another thing that’s marking the improvement in Andrew from year 2 to 3.

Now onto the Lakers’ currently most intriguing player – Trevor Ariza. Apart from the monster dunk on hill that was simply astounding to see (although he’s been threatening a big throw down like that here and there) it was Trevor’s athletic defense that mad a big difference today. He did a great job ion sealing off the baseline runs that Phoenix loves to pull off. Barbosa or Nash will often take the ball alongside the paint and then along the baseline moving from one side to the other and looking to drag his man through a screen to open up the kick pass to the cutter in the middle or the spot up outside. Today Trevor was seeing that run early in the play and stepping in to cut it off. Taking that move away from Suns ball handlers pushed Phoenix to curl back out up top and break their play. Those broken plays were often leading missed rotations on the outside or out of rhythm shots.

That kind of heads up, aware defense does far more damage than any dunk could ever do – though that was an amazing one. In turn Trevor was taking those baseline runs back to the Suns on their end. Moving from weak to strong or back again then popping out to the 3 point line or to mid-range to get a pass or a run at a board was making the Suns work harder than they’ve had to in the past. That element of movement off the ball was creating room for both Ariza himself and everyone else on the court. In essence it was taking Phoenix out of their quick help style of defense and pushing them to a more one on one defensive stance.

It was an auspicious start for Trevor today, one start that resulted in a heck of a solid game for what could become a key player for the Lakers in the very near future.

Farmar’s decision making today was spot on. For a second year guard his decisions on the offensive end were on the money. Pulling back to wait for the team to get on the offensive end in the waning minutes though numbers favored a lay-up, looking for rolls into the post from Andrew or Kobe while keeping good space between him and Nash or Barbosa and taking shots in rhythm or the context of a play were things that Farmar excelled at.

After Derek’s incredibly hot first half, it’s a rare luxury to have a player of Jordan’s leadership and natural point guard skills come in off the bench. A big change from the sketchy point guard core of last year that would give up points and more importantly lanes to the Suns at every turn.

Speaking of Derek, the guy has become a reliable outside shooter. He was always a decent shooter that could sink a shot when you needed it, but this year the decision making of Derek has been fantastic. The ill-advised jumpers are all but vanished. Better yet, what he did today versus Nash was great. He was pushing Nash to play more defense than he’s had to in the past against the Lakers. In both of the games versus the Suns, Fisher has pushed Nash back onto his heels defensively. Exposing Nash’s less than adequate defense was key in getting the Lakers more room to move on both ends.

Derek made Nash work for what he had to get. Of course, the going under the screens thing was more than present as Nash began to heat up from the arc, but that won’t be changing any time soon. That’s Fisher’s hitch in his game and it doesn’t look to change by the time he retires. What balanced out the hot shooting of Nash there for a bit was what I mentioned, Fisher making Nash work on the defensive end harder than he has against the Lakers in recent years.

Hey it was a great game to finally break the Christmas Day Curse for the Lakers. It was another notch in the belt of both the team and a couple key players. Now just like every other game, the big thing is maintaining this level of commitment to team and defensive minded play. The more those things become habit, the easier the wins become.

Hopefully those wins continue with throughout the rest of this month.
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Postby crucifido on Mon Dec 31, 2007 12:27 am

Wow, not the best way to finish the year off. Hard to find a positive in that one, but its only one game - not the end of the world.

Have a good, safe and happy New Year's celebration everyone - I wanna see everyone around for the Lakers in 2008 and beyond!!

Lakers vs. Celtics (Game 30 December 30, 2007)

Blame It On The Shorts

As funny as it was maybe coming into the game in the short shorts put the Lakers in too playful of a mindset and took them out of just how tough the task of winning this game was.

There were of course a ton of other factors that led to the Lakers getting jumped on by the Celtics tonight, the least of which was the completely uninspired play of the entire team. You cannot come into this game with a ho-hum attitude. This is a Boston team that was looking to put the screws on every Western Conference team they can do show that their wins aren’t simply the result of feasting on the JV Conference of the NBA. You have to come into this one knowing that this Boston team was looking to pour it on – and fast.

Again, sure the shorts playful effect may have had some influence on that, but at some point you have to rise above that kind of thing and realize that you’re now playing against the elite of the NBA and to adjust your play accordingly.

Aside from the just plain stale offense of the Lakers, there was also the incredibly terrible and questionable refereeing of the game. It’s on e thing to make bad calls, it’s always going to happen ,but when a game is going to be called so tight and loose all at once, it gets players (and fans) frustrated. Fouls like the open field tackle Lamar threw on Allen (not bad form by the way) are going to happen. You can’t expect players to play within their game, if the refs are consistently changing what that game is going to be.

I understand that were high from the get-go, but to blow 7 technical fouls in a game smack of refs trying to take too much control of the game.

Once the ball got into the post, it was collapsed on. When the Lakers didn’t hit their pass option spots as quickly as they needed to, there was nowhere for the post man to go. Whether it was Lamar, Kwame or Andrew, the post was so quickly absorbed by Boston’s defense, that it made the Lakers either take a highly contested inside shot or kick it outside for a low percentage hurl. Plainly said it was good post defense. It was a defense that made the Lakers play to their weakness this game – shooting.

And it wasn’t just Kobe, or Sasha, or Fisher, it was everybody that for some reason or another couldn’t throw a pebble in the ocean tonight. Just as contagious as hustle and good play can be, ala the Jazz game, so can lost and disjointed play be as well.

Games with intensity like this one often lean to the side of the aggressor (the refs will play the game that way too by the way). Clearly from the first tip of the ball Boston was looking to take that role. The Lakers looked downright intimidated. Guys like Andrew were taking themselves out of the game by doing things like freezing in the post without moving. Things like getting rooted on the perimeter and not hitting the pass option spots that they all know so well looked to be a direct result of a team that was taken aback.

And that’s another frustrating part about this game, once you get by Boston’s big three, and no its not an easy task, but once you do, there’s really nothing to that team. Their inside presence goes from Garnett to Perkins, to Pollard – a pretty big jump down. The 2 guard and small forward spots run from Pierce and Allen to Posey, Tony Allen, House etc. is also another big jump down. So it would seem to me that if you can keep stride with the Celtics (say stay within 6-10 points) you have a good chance of beating them - if your bench can outplay theirs. In most cases, that wouldn’t be a tall order for the Lakers bench, but tonight, as with the starters, it just wasn’t there.

Yet again the Lakers allowed one of the side guys of the Celtics to do damage that shouldn’t have been there. Tony Allen had far too much to say in the first half of this game. Its one thing to let 1 or 2 of the big 3 get their points that can be handled. But what can’t be taken is guys like Perkins (in the first game) and now Allen getting points that they have no business in getting. A lot has to do with defensive attention being paid to the big 3 and others getting more open shots for sure. However, a lot of Allen’s shots were due to slow rotation. With a team like Boston your rotation on both ends must be on the money – the whole game.

Also, as it’s far from me to question Phil in general, I didn’t understand his rotations tonight. The one lineup of Ariza, Walton, Brown, Farmar, Crittenton and Vujacic was a mystery. Sure the game was tough to get back into in the 3rd and 4th quarters, but to put a lineup like that out there with no definite – anything – was mystifying. I thought Turiaf should’ve been in the game more as well. To give the Celtics more varied defensive looks certainly couldn’t have hurt. Instead there was a tendency to push Bynum on the floor, when he clearly was mentally out of it by halftime. It just seemed that the cycling of 4’s and 5’s in the game was rickety at best.

The several missed layups (I stopped marking them down after 7) also speak to a team that was just concentrating, a team that didn’t have their heads in the game.

Individually, I don’t blame Lamar. If you look at the game again, Odom was constantly being tugged on. His jersey was completely stretched out to attest to that. Letting Boston get away with that the entire game is bound to get any player angry. Add to that the usual smug words of Allen and something will erupt. I also look to it as a good sign. Just like with The Bynum tossing in the Spurs game, this showed some passion from a guy that often doesn’t look to have it. It showed that the will to excel is there. I like when the guys won’t take things lying down. There are always better ways to take it out (like making the gimmes or playing intense D) but in this game you have to take what you can get.

Kobe, well the guy is allowed to have an off game. The shot was just simply not there. The main thing that bothered me with Kobe’s (and the rest of the Lakers’) offense was that when long shots weren’t falling there was no attempt to get easier / lower percentage shots to get a rhythm going. There were no drive and kick plays. It was a one pass or no pass jump shot offense.

Granted, the inside defense of the Celtics was solid and stifling, but there was little to no attempt to push the Celtics off the post defense spots they got rooted in. If even for one or two times, iut would’ve been good to see the Lakers make the Celtics react to them, rather than the Lakers reacting to an otherwise still Celtic defense.

With Boston tonight you also see the benefit of limiting second chances. There were few put-backs, resets or clear boards for the Lakers.

Again there were a lot of factors leading to the Lakers’ downfall tonight. What’s most important to me is that the Lakers funnel this frustration of finishing an otherwise stellar month of December off with a disturbing loss into a positive. It’s easy to sulk on this game and let it take you away from what was working. However, when all is said and done, it was one loss in the last 5 games. If worse comes to worse I can take a 4:1 win/loss ratio.

Now is the time to reset for the new year. Take what you’ve learned makes you, the Lakers, one of the surprise success stories of this season and build on it. When the year turns from 2007 to 2008, turn the page on this game too and get back to the team play and drive to prove something that got you where you are.
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Postby BDG on Mon Dec 31, 2007 1:06 am

Very weird game ... I wish we could play Boston one more time without the shorts. :man10:

Slava laughed at the suggestion his skills might be affected by the down time. "Are you kidding?" he said. "Basketball is like ball. It's all a circle."

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Postby drxslam on Mon Dec 31, 2007 4:38 am

It'll be interesting to see how the team reacts to this loss.

If they manage to win the next three games convincingly I'll be pretty confident in their ability to grab a good playoff spot. Of course, our three next opponents' 36-55 record is a good start. :mhihi:

Thanks crucifido for the great read after every game.

Happy New Year, everyone!
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Postby revgen on Mon Dec 31, 2007 10:06 am

Frankly, I don't think the shorts had anything to do with this loss. Our best quarter that we played against Boston was the 2nd quarter in which we limited them to 21 points. We had our short-shorts on at the time. Basically, Boston beat us the same way they did at Boston. We're just not at their level yet.
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Revgen's response to Crucifido's Boston game article

Postby Killer on Mon Dec 31, 2007 10:47 am

Revgen: If you'll read Crucifido's article carefully, you'll see that he didn't literally men the shorts lost us the game. He was referring to the lightheartedness with which the Lakers came into the game. In their effort to make this "just another game" and not get too hyped the other way and overplay (often causing the same result), they needed to take this game a little more seriously and come in with a better focus. We'll see what happens as the season progresses and how the McHale/Ainge collusion pans out and where the Lakers land. All in all, as Crucifido said: not the end of the world - just another game.

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Postby BDG on Fri Jan 04, 2008 9:52 am

Whether or not the shorts affected the way they played is debatable, but . . .

I have to agree with the shorts allowing the Lakers to come in light-hearted. You could tell that they weren't focused to play the league's best team when they gathered for tip-off.

All I'll say is thank God we won't see those again. Glad there's a game today . . . finally.
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Postby crucifido on Fri Jan 04, 2008 11:34 pm

Alright, so washing away the Celtic game and the subsequent juvenile behavior of the team, their fans and their "journalists", the Lakers got a good solid team win.

Better yet, they got one versus a team they should get one against. I hope everyone had a fun New Year's celebration, now lets get back down to the business of winning.

Lakers vs. 76ers (Game 31 1/4/07)

Taking Care Of Business

It wasn’t too long ago, Laker fans feared games and upcoming stretches like this. The Lakers weren’t such a shoe in to take care of teams like the 76ers the way they should.

Luckily for the team and for us, those days look to be coming to a close.

With a run of games coming up as they are its vitally important the Lakers come to win every night. The February run is a brutal one. This is the stretch of games that can give you that 2 or 3 game pad come the end of the year that could mean the difference between a home court first round or having to start the run with another roadie. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves. What’s important is that the Lakers washed away the Boston game with a convincing and decisive win against Philly.

Alright then, let’s run through it and move onto the next win…

The best part of Andrew’s game was the concentration on the defensive end to get the blocks that he should have against teams like the 76ers. You forget the kind of slack defense and slow footwork that Andrew used to come into games with not but one year ago. Among other things, the most encouraging improvement is the defensive work Bynum’s putting in. At no point was Dalembert, Evans or anyone getting a post game either established or even started. That was due to the presence of Andrew.

Granted, the 76ers are no offensive juggernaut, but the focus was there for Andrew against an inferior team – that’s great to see.

Andrew’s second efforts were noticeable tonight. There weren’t many times it had to be done, but when it did there was no hesitation to get back up on the boards to corral a miscue. More impressive, on offense (besides the dunk from the dotted line in the paint – man was that a center?!) was Andrew’s hand strength. This season he’s been slapped at and hounded more often (a compliment to his growing skill set) but you don’t see the ball being stripped from his hands once he has it for the most part.

It was good to see Kobe get a night off basically. Think about it guys, this is another thing that simply was not even close to possibly happening not but a year ago. There were no restful games like this one for Kobe. Now though, the team is slowly seizing opportunities against weaker teams and allowing the starters some time to save up for tougher contests.
The best thing about the game tonight – Crittenton got some meaty time in the game. It was gratifying to see Phil throw Javaris out there in the heart of a game for some quality minutes. Again it was a testament to the team taking care of business, to be able to allow the lower guys on the bench some more time, but nonetheless, Crittenton took good advantage of it. Above all of Crittenton’s attributes, you can see the intensity in his face when he plays. There is a focus there that is unusual to see in a rookie (let alone one that has gotten virtually no time so far this season).

I like seeing his Farmar-esque fearlessness going into the trees in the paint. At no time when her got into traffic did he look out of control. Sure there were and will be times when he won’t make the perfect play, but the basic instincts of a point guard are there. I’d like to see him strengthen his passes off the drive and kick. He kicks it back out a bit soft once he opens up the passing lane.

Defensively, the guy was working. Overall, he was reaching and stepping off pressure a bit too quick, but it wasn’t detrimental tonight. There was one point in the 4th quarter though, when he jumped into the passing lane from the top of the key to the corner for three, completely shutting down a play. Its little chops like that that should get him some more time in this run of games versus weaker opponents.

The outside shot that usually needs a little developing from point guards, looks to be in pretty decent shape too. He definitely knows the gist of the offense as he was getting to his spots with regularity and crispness. Good game for Javaris and better yet good to see him get a chance to become involved in this tight-knit unit.

As far as the rest go, I’d still like to see Ariza only shoot from outside as an absolute last resort. Even with an open shot, Trevor should be looking to pass and cut. Defensively though, the guy really shores up the Lakers mid-range defense. Again tonight he was clogging passing lanes and getting himself involved on a big arc from the top of the key around to he corners. That perimeter hustle has allowed Ronny and Andrew to settle into the post a bit more for the kinds of blocks they were getting tonight.

Kwame was too lackadaisical in every aspect tonight for me. The lazy dribbling, the off-speed passes and the slow squirm into the post to start off plays is never excusable, even in a blow out like this.

Luke just didn’t look healthy out there. It was good to see him get back to his step back jumper a bit, but overall, it looks like Luke needs more time on the pine to get his ankle fully healed. The hindrance its putting on his lateral defensive motion (that was fairly slow to start with) was apparent.

Farmar p[played wit his usual energy. The guy continues to become more and more reliable from range. The shot he didn’t have at any point last year and rarely showed otherwise is becoming a big part of his game. When you couple that with his ability to cut inside like he did several times (along both side of the porous Philly D) tonight and it makes a lot for another team to handle from an off-the-bench point guard. What I love about Jordan’s game is the never say die attitude from offense to defense. When he made a silly turnover tonight on offense he immediately got his hand up in a pass and got the steal. When you watch for that kind of play from Jordan you’ll notice you see it quite a bit. Even if the steal isn’t gotten, Farmar did a good job tonight getting in transition.

Ronny was simply great to watch. The tenacity he crashed into the game with was not only contagious; it was stifling for the 76ers. At no point was Ronny not involved in a post or inside play. The movement from the weak side of the ball to the strong and back again on defense was lightning fast. That and a good use of his lower body tonight absolutely killed the 76ers in the mid-post. Before they could even be scared by Bynum Ronny was making the 76ers move the ball into 2 or 3 on 1 situations in the post.

Offensively, it’s good to see him stay confident I his shot. Though the one shot he sank from about 6 feet was bit out of the comfort zone for me, it’s a heck of a weapon for a guy that can dash into get his own board in a flash. I’d like to see him step into the 12 foot range at the most with it (ala a Horace Grant type of shot). Defensively, he still has to watch his downward motion on the blocks. The energy is great but coming down like he did tonight against a weak handed Philly team will get him fouls against a stronger handed team.

Team wise the offensive spacing was great (as attested to by the room for ball movement they showed). The team’s defensive reads in the post as a whole were really good. At no point were there less than 2 guys on the defensive boards when Philly stayed in the paint -that was great to see too. The second chance points were cut down big time. Cut down on the jump passing, but otherwise everything (including a marked improvement in unforced turnovers, mostly due to Philly’s highly questionable defense, but either way…) was in place tonight.

So begins the run fortunate run of January. Remember this isn’t an easy run of game, this is fortunate. They’re still NBA teams and at no point should anyone be taken lightly. Playing lower echelon teams was a struggle for this team in the past, there’s no reason to kill this encouraging growth as a team with sloppy or listless play just because a team’s record isn’t the best.

Let’s go out there and take care of what needs to be done.
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Postby crucifido on Mon Jan 07, 2008 12:59 am

Alright so out to the road the guys go. With two wins under their belt, the Grizzlies game should be a good ramp up to the Hornets.

Lakers vs. Pacers (Game 32 1/6/2007)

Not Too Pretty But The Job Got Done

Clunky starts to every quarter outside of the 3rd didn’t slow the Lakers down from getting a win that they, by all rights, should’ve gotten.

Slow on their rotations both offensively and defensively, it looked like the Lakers may make this game tougher on themselves than the Pacers would. It’s not often (or many teams) that you can go from not even scratching in the game until the 8.15 mark, to scoring 33 points in the first quarter. But such is the explosive offense of the Lakers this season. Mainly, it’s so explosive because the Lakers are slowly, but most surely getting back to the inside/outside offense (with a roundabout nod to an altered triangle offense) that got them so much success early in this decade.

And of course, as has been more often than not this year, the catalyst in it was Andrew Bynum. Playing against the guy you almost got dealt for (well semi-almost) will certainly spark up your motivation, but Andrew’s motivation has been to become a major part of the new engine of the Lakers. And I think its getting close to safe to say that Andrew is becoming more than most expected him to be. That would be the third best center in the NBA (behind Dwight Howard and Yao Ming).

With this game tonight (and others as well, but we’ll look at this one mostly) you saw a concerted effort from Indiana to collapse on Andrew as soon as possible. That just says that Andrew has now officially become part of the scouting process. He’s become part of what other coaching staffs have to plan countering. At no point in this game did Andrew get a one on none chance. As soon as the ball was passed into the post help came almost immediately. But due to Andrew’s patient footwork he either got around those double/triple teams or backed down his defender enough to get a pass off to the high post or back outside.

I think a good telling moment of Andrew’s game tonight was when he got obviously pushed in the back by O’Neal, but instead of quitting playing, he put the ball on the floor, dropped to the baseline and threw down a jam for the bucket and the foul. That fire right there, that willingness to play through a non-call and maintain control was great to see. Defensively he was getting pulled out of his comfort zone a bit too much. A lot has to do with the fact that O’Neal likes to shoot tho9se 10 to 12 foot jumpers to do just that. What Andrew has to do is trust in rotation to the low post from Lamar or Ronny (depending on the lineup) to cover him getting up into Jermaine a bit more.

It’s apparent that Luke’s legs aren’t yet under him like they have been before. The chronic Los Angeles sprained ankle curse has taken its toll on Luke’s off ball movement. But tonight there were twinges of the movement that makes Luke so successful in the triangle offense. The quickness on defense that is suspect anyway is nowhere near where it has to be for Luke to wrangle more minutes away from Ariza. But, again its Luke’s inherent understanding of the offense and his ability to keep in motion to his spots at all times that keeps him in games. The same happened tonight.

You saw the couple of open threes that Luke was getting last year from that same movement. With Andrew becoming a bona fide force in the middle, Luke should look to increase that movement and keep getting strength back in his ankle to become that piston for the extra pass (ala that pass top Lamar on the dive in the 3rd).

Crittenton got time, which was good to see, but his confidence in his outside shot and ability to see when he has an open shot is causing too many turnovers or telegraphed passes.

Back into that 3rd option kind of game, Lamar once again shows his value to the team. It’s a quiet consistency on the defensive boards that really proves Odom’s worth. The emergence of Bynum in the middle is paying off dividends all over the place, but mainly it’s taking pressure off of Lamar. What was good about Lamar’s game tonight was his movement from passing off the ball on the arc to making a dive into the post or straight down the middle for either a pass or rebound. Though he didn’t always get the tiny easy shot that was designed, his motion off the pass and through posts was moving the defense to crowd the middle, leaving the mid range and long range jumpers more open than most nights.

Lamar’s big weakness tonight was his flashing defense on shooters. Lamar, along with most of the Lakers have got to realize that they can’t throw an arm towards a shooter than dive back 2 or 3 footsteps. You have to commit to playing shooters in their face. Make Rush put the ball on the floor, make shooters play to their weakness. This is going to be huge come the New Orleans game. With Lamar being put in to the roving kind role on defense, he has got to use his height to push shooters into bad shots, to pass the ball or put the ball on the floor to drive into Andrew, Kobe, Ronny or anyone looking to clean up the middle.

Though he didn’t play close to the big role he played in the Philly game, its still a bonus to have a guy like Turiaf come into the game (even with limited minutes) with the same enthusiasm he ahs when he starts. That being said, I saw something defensively from Ronny tonight that may help him shore up his defensive game quite a bit. Ronny tends to body up far too early with his man. Once he does get tight up on his assignment he tends to back step with them. At the end of the backing up, either Ronny jumps up for a block or he tends to get called for the block. Along with keeping his downward motion of his swatting under control, Ronny would be well served to give a step or two of room to his man. Often he isn’t guarding someone who is going to [pull up from the outside (ala David Harrison tonight) . So having to tighten up that early in a defensive set is unnecessary.

The bench unit had their struggles tonight. Again, there was bit of stagnation once the starters sat down. I see this as the fault of two things primarily.

First, I don’t think there should be a time in a game (aside from absolute garbage time) that the team should have Lamar, Kobe and Andrew sitting all at once. At one point one of them has got to be on the floor. You can’t leave the bench unit out there (as good as they’ve been) without a definite offensive go to guy. Every time it’s been done, tonight as well, the bench has stuttered on offense and gotten really careless with the ball. That disjointed play without an anchor is also leading to miscommunication on defense.

Also, offensively when the ball goes into the post there’s a hesitation afterwards. The pass goes in and for about one to two seconds you can see the indecision from almost all fronts of the offense without one of the Lakers “big 3” on the floor.

So though the bench has been spectacular so far this year, I don’t think putting a completely starter-less unit on the floor against any team is the way to keep a game’s pace on track.

Derek continues to shoot better than he has in his career from the floor. I especially loved watching Derek really pushing the ball into the paint against an under-manned / weak Pacer point guard core. His use of strength tonight was really effective in pulling mid range defenders into the paint. He was out of control at times, letting his momentum carry him a bit too far underneath the hoop, but in general the aggressive drives he was pulling off all game was great. His shot selection is still on the money. Some of the long range bombs he was throwing down were picture perfect and certainly having someone of his ability on the arc to receive Kobe’s drive and kick passes is a monstrous improvement from the past couple of years.

Lastly, I guess when Kobe is an afterthought for team’s defenses and for the Lakers it’s a good thing. There’s a noticeable difference in Kobe’s aggressiveness lately. I think it’s a mix between his injuries not being fully healed yet and Kobe learning how to integrate his normal heroics within a team that actually is helping now.

That’s a tough balance to find right now. You can see Kobe force the action like he did tonight when his shot isn’t falling. However, Kobe is one of the rare players that commands so much attention even when his shot is off that he did a great job tonight of using that attention to free everything else up. A myriad of great passes around the court courtesy of Kobe kept the Lakers in the driver’s seat while he was on the court. Of course despite the below average shooting performance of Kobe for most of the first half he got his points anyway. But Kobe’s biggest effect tonight was keeping the Lakers moving by play away from the ball.

Kobe pushing the ball into tough situations because of frustration is no new thing. The new thing for Kobe this year is, like I said, finding how his incredible ability can best sink within the team context. He’s finding that groove far quicker than most players of his caliber usually do, and that’s why this Laker team is looking so well oiled while Kobe’s on the court.

His defensive performance is still spot on (even though his groin injury is still hampering his lateral movement here and there).

All in all, it was good night of getting done hat had to be done. Now the Lakers have a good warm-up game against a Grizzlies team that always plays the Lakers tough. The game versus the Hornets will be a good test of the Lakers mettle on the road.

If they continue to take a businesslike approach to games, along with using the inside threat of Bynum to spark quick movement to spots and quick ball movement, the Lakers should get along fine.
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Postby crucifido on Thu Jan 10, 2008 2:19 am

Keep the train rolling and get these next couple of wins before the big run of games comes up and the Lakers will be in great shape for the All-Star break.

Lakers vs. Grizzlies & Hornets (Games 33 & 34 1/9 & 1/10/2008)

Who Needs Home Cookin?!

When road trips big or small go as smoothly and according to plan as this little mini trip went, suddenly home court advantage holds no weight. What does hold weight, water and an impressive record with a tougher schedule than last year at this point are the Lakers.

The same Lakers that have since shored up a lot of problems that were keeping them from being this competitive last year and any year in the P.S. (Post-Shaq) era. The main thing that has changed (and sure there’s a ton from last year, but..) is the Lakers coming into these last two road games looking to take it the Grizzlies and Hornets out of the gate.

How many times last year did every Laker fan sit wondering why they came into games softly, looking for other team to establish pace before the Lakers found one of their own? It was too many times. But in these last two contests from the first tip the Lakers were the aggressor on both ends. One consistently great thing they did on defense on this road trip was not letting shooters have their way.

Starting Memphis, the Lakers turned Mike Miller, a normally dead-eye shooter, into a distributing guard. The ball was forced into his hands taking it up the court and once the ball circulated back to him, the Lakers immediately looked to crowd him into passing it off or taking an off-balance shot. When the Lakers slipped on this, you saw Miller being to pick up the pace. But, differently from years past, the L:akers sealed it back up again. Though there’s been plenty of times this season when the Lakers have let shooters have their way, it looked as if they learned their lesson.

It looked that way not only from the Grizzlies game, but also from the Hornets game where Stojakovic was all but sealed off from his comfort zone. Whether it was Walton, Kobe or Ariza, there was no room to operate off of screens or move along the baseline to pop out up top of the arc on a drive and kick at any point. The Lakers did a great job of once again, neutralizing a player that has and still can burn them. That was a big step forward for this trip. There are plenty of games left to be sure, but it’s a fantastic sign when you see the Lakers come into games with a defensive focus as strong as their offensive one.

Another giant step forward, points off turnovers. It’s been a problem for this Laker team to take advantage of the mistakes they create, but with these two games under their belt, hopefully that’s a thing of the past. Not only were the Lakers making the shots they needed to in transition off of turnovers, they were pushing the issue as well. There was no slow walk into the front court, it was a steal, or turnover, turned into a 3 man push into the paint or a clear drive and kick. There was no hesitation in doing what they knew they had to do.

Part three of the good changes made in these two games was the energy the Lakers came into the 3rd quarter with. In the most important quarter of the game, the Lakers have now begun to realize that setting the pace as strongly and willfully as they have in the 1st quarter plays a big factor in the outcome of the game. Despite losing momentum in both of the games due to a lack of defensive effort, the Lakers have cleaned up their act as quickly as they lost the grip on the large lead. Mostly, it has been a re-focusing of defensive efforts and game plans that put their lead back into order.

Yet another good thing to see being used on this trip was the perfect use of defensive attention on Kobe. It’s a two-fold element of the game, with Kobe looking to pass out of the double team, rather than force action and the other guys getting into clear passing angles to put sight lines where they need to be. When that double team was used to the advantage of the team (that is now producing off of the passes that have been there for a while) both the Grizzlies and the Hornets were thrown into a scrambling defense, more than the set man to man or zone schemes they threw at the Lakers. In other words, motion off the ball / the use of the offense as it’s been designed for this year’s team, has paid off in the form of 2 convincing wins on a back to back roadie.

It’s apparent that Luke’s ankle is rounding into shape. The off ball movement and constant use of low line screens has returned. The faltering motion in and out of the posts and key has disappeared, replaced by more confident use of the skills that have made Luke an interesting piece to the Laker success. It would still be good to see Luke use the post as more of a tool to set up passes rather than trying to take into the trees of Chandler, West or any other big man in the area.

Suddenly, the game of basketball has become more freewheeling and easy for Kobe too. How many times did you catch yourself remembering that, oh yeah, the Lakers still have the best player in the game to go to as well as everyone else. It’s been a long time since Kobe hasn’t had to carry the team in the second half of a game, let alone the entire thing. The game has become even easier for Kobe. With everyone staying at home more often on defense, it’s prevented the scrambling Kobe’s had to defensively before. With everyone pushing the ball into the front court without always having to follow Kobe’s lead, it’s allowed a more purposeful easier tempo for Kobe’s game to be either on or off. The having to be on all the time Kobe of the past couple years seems to be fading – and I’m sure Kobe is more than happy about it.

Better yet, with the Laker bench and other starters playing up to the levels they can play at, Kobe’s minutes have gone down. Not only is a smaller amount of shots good for the team’s health and confidence, so is being able to limit Kobe’s time on the court. This more casual substituting of Kobe will pay big dividends in the post-season. A well rested, confident in his teammates and healthy Kobe in the playoffs, coupled with the motivated and heady play of everyone else could lead to good things.

Lamar, settling into the 3rd option groove did a fantastic job of being the sweeper. In both of these games Lamar has been roving underneath on the offensive end, cleaning up missed shots with a board or an aggressive put-back. Keeping Lamar on the high post, able to go from weak to strong or otherwise and able to move in and out of the low post allows more room for Bynum to operate and more room for Lamar to do what he does best. Defensively, it was good to see Lamar physically push Ely, Gasol, West, Chandler, Gay, Milicic and Gasol out of the post. He was playing good body up defense in the thick of things down low. It looked to be a use of the energy he once expended on offense trying to be a 20 per game guy, channeled into a real good roving role in low block. Overall, I think Lamar limiting his three point shots even more will continue to force the action inside and open up the arc for more assured long distance shooters.

Ariza’s been playing really well too. He runs the offensive and defensive sets with smooth precision. His length along the arc on defense is becoming a real threat. Along with that good use of length, his anticipation of passes and of player positioning was uncanny in these two games.

Andrew was integral, once again. In the Hornets game particularly the arsenal of shots Andrew suddenly threw out there (the hook, the left handed hook off the glass, quick turnaround decisions) was more than impressive. He was falling asleep a bit on the high post, letting Chandler and others sneak past him without much motion to get back to them down low. He has to continue to track his assignment from the high to low post. If guys like Chandler are looking to run from high to low, than he has to get in front of them, allow a couple steps of space and make sure he seals off the sides of the paint. Andrew has also got to be quicker boxing out the off big man. Lastly, he’s got to be careful of not working himself underneath the hoop too deep. A couple times in the Grizzlies game he was caught one step too far underneath and got buried by a collapsing defense. Not so much in the Hornets game, but it did happen twice there as well.

Otherwise, Andrew was more than good this trip. His rebounding skills are becoming just nasty. Once he tracks a board, he doesn’t let it go. One, two, three guys, it hasn’t mattered, if Andrew extends and uses his strength of hand, there was barely a board within his reach he didn’t get. The passing was a great thing to see. Particularly, the game between him and Luke in New Orleans was great to watch. As long as defensive attention gets paid to him (much like Kobe) he has got to continue to look for dives and cuts from the open man. Andrew did that and so much more, the least of which was continue to make other team realize that guarding the low post of the Lakers isn’t something to be ignored any more.

Derek’s dead-eye shooting was more than impressive too. The running under screens penchant was there in full force in New Orleans. Sometimes he’d even go underneath a screen far before it was even pushed up on him. That defensive (and permanent) hitch aside, Derek was invaluable on this trip. More than anything else it was Derek’s constant pushing of the ball into the teeth of defenses, making them fall back off of the mid range game that was huge. His decision making was spot on this road trip too.

Kwame played these two games in half speed it seemed. Though he was defensively effective in both games, there’s too much sauntering in the post right now. He’s got to play with the same zip in his step that he flashed on offense here and there this time out.

The defensive front of Kwame and Ronny on this trip went a long way to solidifying one of the NBA’s strongest benches.

Farmar played really well too. In the Grizzlies game he followed suit with pushing the ball into the Grizzlies faces. The jab dribble he showed on the court that whole game was opening up space all over the mid-range game. Just like Fisher, it was great to see a point guard core come into a game looking to push the pace and take control of the tempo. Jordan’s shooting continues to improve as well. Defensively he had a hard time (as is to be expected) against Paul, but for the most part Jordan did a good job keeping his focus on where his assignments were in both games.

I could go on forever right now. I have a ton more notes, but I’ve rambled on long enough as it is. Suffice to say that the Hornets win was impressive and the Grizzlies win was gratifying. The Lakers are taking care of the team they should be taking care of and taking good team steps forward in the process.

Smart positioning has led to smart passing and more open shots for everyone. The transition defense has got to be quicker though. Everyone has got to come back at all times. When the Lakers have come back as a unit they slowed down the fast break opportunities of the Grizzlies and Hornets.

The big problem that needs to be shored up now is finishing quarters as strong as you start them. It’s not the be all end all of things that need to be cleaned up, but there’s no use in building quick strong leads if you’re going to let teams get a breath at the end of quarters.

Alright, so now it’s back home to take revenge on Milwaukee and continue this streak of confident, team, winning play.
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Postby crucifido on Sat Jan 12, 2008 1:00 am

Well the wins are starting to fall into place. Time to get 2 more before the tough run of 2008 starts.

Lakers vs. Bucks (Game 35 1/11/2008)


So I’m sitting on the couch during the game and now sitting in my office writing this with the same cold Kobe came into this game with. All I could think of was that I had trouble getting up to let the dogs out, yet here’s Kobe throwing down one of the more successful games of this season. My point is that its games like this that really make you sit back and realize that guarding, trying to stop or attempting to contain Kobe is a near impossible task. What makes it even harder to stop him is when the passes he’s been dishing to teammates for the past couple of years are starting to be converted.

With the rise of the desire to focus every game and play up to their athletic ability has come not only an easier road for Kobe, but more importantly, it’s made the Lakers a force to reckoned with in the West.

The most impressive part of Kobe’s game tonight was his defense. Despite being obviously winded early on, he did a fantastic job of keeping in front of his assignment at all times. I counted a total of 5 times when his man found room to get around him and screens to go baseline. But when that did happen Kobe popped out the other side of baseline runs sealing off his man from getting back to a shooting spot.

Speaking of sealing off on the defensive end – I suspect this game from Odom will go widely unnoticed. But if you sit back and watch again closely Lamar’s game went beyond the box score tonight. We all know that with Lamar settling into his natural position on the floor and his natural 3rd option spot his game has improved. But tonight Lamar did a better than average job of completely stifling the mid range game of the Bucks. It took about 5 minutes into the game for Lamar to begin pushing Jianlian to about a 13 to 15 foot shot and once he did there was no getting past the arc following the free throw line.

The problem Odom did have defensively was letting his man get the step around him to the middle. At no time did Lamar, once posted up on, shade his man to the baseline. Relying on Bynum to be the last line of defense is fine, but pushing all drives into him, increasing the likelihood of fouls isn’t helpful to anyone.

On the offensive end, I don’t think dunking or taking the ball to the rack with two hands would be such a terrible idea. Too many times did Lamar (and has he this season) take an otherwise easy chance up softly with one hand. Corralling the offensive boards the way he has is beyond helpful, but sometimes being able to take it back up with strength and determination rather than kicking it out would bolster everyone’s game.

The split between Luke and Trevor has become a “length and strength” type of game. It’s an unusual luxury to have at the small forward position. With Luke starting you get the activity off ball and through the post you don’t get with Trevor. With Trevor in the mix you get activity in the lane and on the sides of the paint that isn’t there with Luke.

Tonight Luke did what was needed the last couple of games. He set up his passing skills through his post play and minimized foolish drives into the trees of the defense. Luke is yet another Laker may not show up in the box score as most are used to ,but the movement off ball and the defenders Luke tends to bring out of position open up the post game for everyone on the court. There were some ill-advised shots from the mid-post again tonight. That’s something Luke needs to start recognizing better. But as in the Hornets and Grizzlies game you could see how Luke’s use of his lower body strength in the post makes seams for Andrew to get into position virtually every time in a half court set.

On the other hand you have Trevor coming into the game with length and athleticism. That length and defensive anticipation paid off yet again tonight against the Bucks. As Luke dives into the posts, Trevor does a great job of running the perimeter to baseline lanes. The no-look pass from Kobe to Trevor for the dunk showed that skill off to a T.

So between the two of them you have a good strong rotation of different players that can match-up against a heck of a lot of teams. You can usually see Phil flip flopping between the two throughout the whole game. Who starts isn’t really a matter of talent with these two more than it is a match-up situation.

Meanwhile, off the bench came Farmar and another good game to file away for Jordan. What was most impressive was that at no time in this game did Jordan look lost on an offensive play. He hit his spots tonight with remarkable crispness. It’s something he’s done very well this year, leading to a lot of his open shots, but tonight he was on the money every time down the court.

Better yet, Farmar did a more than decent job of keeping in front of a surging Williams. Though he still got some shots off while Jordan was on him, the frequency of open looks off screens he got were cut down to almost nothing. Jordan had another game of never quitting on any play at any time. Down to the blocked shot when the game was already decided, having a guy like Farmar come off the bench playing with the heart he has is great to have.

Crittenton got some time, which is good, but the guy has a ways to go. He’s dribbling far too high for his stature and getting himself into spots he doesn’t need to be in. Developing a shorter / mid-range shot should be something that Javaris looks to add in the off-season.

And so it’s onto Andrew and an amazing game. Consistency is the main thing everyone’s been looking for from Bynum. That and a knack for the defensive end were the main two goals for Andrew to take the next step in his career. Well those have been met and surpassed so far. Off the bat, Bynum came into this game looking to push Bogut out of his comfort zone. Andrew did a perfect job of doing that too. There were three possessions when Bogut got into the low post deep enough for an easy score. After that first quarter that position was completely shut off by Andrew.

Even better on Andrew did a better than average job of flash defense on the perimeter tonight. His recovery off of those flashes is still a step or two slow, but for a guy of Andrew’s size, he’s coming along nicely on that. There were a lot of changed shots by Bynum (a stat that should be kept for him just out of curiosity) that are becoming a regular part of his defensive arsenal. It shows that Andrew’s rep is growing.

Offensively, the repertoire of shots Bynum’s been showing has been remarkable. We know he’s being taught by one of the best big men of all time, but I doubt there is anyone that would’ve guessed that Andrew would show this much post versatility this early on. I especially loved seeing Andrew’s step to the middle and follow up step to the baseline for a dunk or quick mini-hook. He got into his post spots as crisply as he has all year. With each game it seems that Andrew is finding his spots in the offense easier and with more leg strength to hold the spot once he’s there.

Tonight the guy was just a vacuum on the defensive boards. Though he got a good chunk of offensive boards, it’s the D-boards that he did his damage on tonight. There was rarely a rebound that wasn’t gotten by Andrew once he tracked it. He’s taking a turn towards a natural rebounder.

It was Andrew’s most complete game tonight and from the looks of it, it may not be his last.

Any way you slice it, it was another win for a Laker team that’s turning more than a few heads right now. Though not as decisive as some of the recent victories (due to Milwaukee having the size to compete with the Lakers in the posts) it showed that the Lakers can pull out a game even when they’re not playing as well as they can.

Now it’s onto 2 more games before a tough little stretch of games. Pull out Sunday’s game and follow it up with a win in Seattle and the tune-up for the mini-run through the West’s best teams will be complete.

For now though, it’s great to see the Lakers play as if they’re starting to believe they do belong among the West’s elite sooner than anyone thought.
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Postby BDG on Sat Jan 12, 2008 1:20 am

Awesome stuff. A few days ago I was marveling at how Kobe never takes a game off unless he absolutely couldn't play ... and then he goes out and does this shortly after.

Nice perspective on the game seeing as how you have the same cold Kobe has. Get well soon.
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Postby LaLaKeRz4LiFe on Sun Jan 13, 2008 4:55 am

Cru... :bow: :bow:

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Postby crucifido on Tue Jan 15, 2008 11:35 pm

Sorry for the lateness of the write-ups everyone, trying to get over this stupid cold.

Lakers vs. Grizzlies & Sonics (Games 35 & 36 1/13 & 1/14/2008)

And Now The Test Begins

Well coming out of this dang cold that knocked me on my butt, I thought I wouldn’t get the energy to write an article about the last two games (Memphis and Seattle) and I’d just wait until the Phoenix contest on Wednesday (or today, since this posting is so late). However, I’m coming out of the fog and it looks like the Lakers may be doing the same.

The injury to Andrew is obviously a big blow to the NBA’s biggest surprise hit of the season. But, this is what the much lauded Laker depth has been waiting for in essence. No, they haven’t been waiting for an injury to a primary starter, but they’ve been looking for a way to contribute more, be an even bigger part of the Lakers success (if it’s possible due to the bench’s great play so far). At least that’s what this Laker fan is hoping.

I would hope that some of the guys that don’t get to put up big numbers, or play big minutes in meaningful arts of games are excited at the prospect of becoming a bigger cog in the quickly revving up engine of the Laker machine. The game in Seattle looked to be more of a transition game to me. They luckily came up against a poor team in Seattle to where they could flutter a bit but come out with a win.

Of course this is due to in no short words to Kobe’s heroic play. There’s been a ton of worry spewing out from everywhere about how Kobe took so many shots. Of course, the long term health of this team is far better off when Kobe shares the ball as he has all year. But in this game where, Lamar pulled an offensive no-show, Kwame was floundering and really the only offensive contribution outside of Kobe came from the bench, something had to be done.

This is what superstars do. They take over games that need to be taken over – and watching this one, it was obvious something had to be done.

You have to know full well that Phil and Kobe know that this Laker team has seen its greatest success in the post-Shaq era by sharing the ball. To assume that Kobe, Phil and the rest of the coaching staff will see Kobe shooting 40+_ shots a night is the way out of this divot is ridiculous. But now we’re back to where this team was before, if nobody does step up, somebody has to. Would you rather see Kobe sit back and watch the rest of the team stumble into needless losses? Of course you don’t, and the Lakers don’t want that either.

This is a big injury; it’s going to take more than one game and a half day of practice to get used to a different rhythm. You could see that at the end of the Grizzlies game. When you lose a big part of what has made you run so well, it’s not like losing the 15th man on the bench.

Obviously Kwame and Lamar will have to pick up their play. Kwame’s just going to have to play smarter out of the post. Flash defense and dive down, don’t jump out and stay there. Offensively, we’re back to telling Kwame to settle down, take things slow and deliberate. Too much rushing on the free throw line, in the post and to make a move that doesn’t have room to be made are all going to have to come to a quick stop if the Lakers are to stave off this lull in the middle.

As for Lamar, its simple – he has to show up. The 3rd option is his best spot, but as of the Grizzlies game, that’s changed. I know he won’t score 20 a game; I’m not looking for that. What Lamar has to do is play defense with more assertion than he has before. He must watch the man on the back side of boards, the Collison’s of the league will kill the Lakers if Lamar continues to play one way defense as he did in Seattle.

To some extent Fisher will also have to take up some of the offensive slack. It’s not like he’s been a slouch offensively, in fact his sharpshooting has been a welcome surprise from the point guard position. Derek must use his low center of gravity to push guards out on the perimeter. He can’t allow them easy runs around one screen. If (or rather when) he dives under a screen he can’t choose a side. He has to stay in front of his man now at all times. The shot blocker is gone from the middle. So the perimeter defense becomes a premium.

If the bench keeps up their play as they did in both games that should prove as no problem. The biggest struggle for the Lakers right now is keeping their heads up high, keeping their hustle off the ball on both ends at a maximum and most of all, know that every night now will be a grind it out game. There may be blowouts here and there, but the easy games of 2008 are now tougher – and so the Lakers must double that toughness by reaching deep down and showing that pride in winning that got them where they are tonight.

In Kobe’s post-game comments, I hope everyone heard what he said. “With Andrew in the lineup, we’re a championship caliber team”. Don’t know about you, but it sounds to me like Kobe is a believer – in this team. The real question now lies with the rest of the Lakers and whether or not they believe the same. Surely, losing Andrew changes the game plan of the Lakers in a big way. But it shouldn’t mean that the team falls apart. The whole season this team has built the West’s best record (as of tonight’s Suns loss to the Clippers) on just that – team. So now the Lakers must find a way to bring up their play to keep up with the lofty status they’ve given themselves this year.

Now is the time to prove to show just why you’re the #1 team in the West.
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Postby crucifido on Thu Jan 17, 2008 11:22 pm

Shake it off everyone. That first half of non-effort kind of spelled out how the game was going to go. Its important now to learn from the slow start and get ready for the next big game.

Lakers vs. Suns (Game 37 1/17/2008)

The (First) Most Important Game Of The Year

In what is to be a pretty dang important run of 5 games, this is a heck of a way to get it going. Playing Phoenix for temporary first place and for the season tiebreaker was a good test for the Lakers and where they can go without Bynum in the mix.

Though not indicative of what the Lakers can do, even without Bynum, it wasn’t very fun to watch them fumble their way through 3 quarters the way they did.

In the first games versus the Suns this year the Lakers did great job of neutralizing Stoudemire and Barbosa. Without Andrew you knew handling Stoudemire would be tougher, but it shouldn’t have been as much of a waltz for Amare as it was. As for Barbosa, it’s a matter of keeping up with his motion around picks. The Lakers didn’t even begin to try to stick with him until it was too late and he was in rhythm.

In regards to the slow start of the Lakers (leading to the sluggish pace through the first 3 quarters) …

It’s readily apparent that Luke is terribly out of place against an outside switching team like the Suns. He was forcing action in the post on plays that didn’t call for it. It isn’t a dig on Luke’s game as much as Luke is just flatly out of place starting against the Suns.

I’m all for Luke and his game but I think you have to adjust the starters between Ariza and him according to the match-ups. Luke on Marion with the likes of the Suns type of team just doesn’t feel like it’s going to be successful. Match athleticism with athleticism, not post strength.

The burst of offense from the bench play through Turiaf and Farmar proves (not like its tough to see) that matching up with Phoenix in particular is vitally important.

That brings me to Kwame. Being the kind of stand still strength defender he is, he’s another guy that just doesn’t have a place starting against this kind of team. Kwame has got to understand that there’s a difference between being calm and being lazy. He has to use his strength at all times under the hoop, not just when the ball’s in his hands. When Ronny came in with energy (to match the Suns style) there was an immediate, as in the first play on the court on both ends, difference.

Along with being mismatched on the outset, like it or not, Lamar has got to play with more assertion. I’m not saying he has to score like mad, but there can be no hesitation in his game. By this year in his tenure with the Lakers, he knows where to be and what to do once he’s there. There was far too much apprehension in Odom’s game in the first quarter. Its cool if Lamar looks to be a bigger rebounder than scorer, or whatever he chooses, but either way he has to play that choice with determination.

And that’s what Lamar did come the 2nd quarter. You can see the stark difference in the Lakers as a team when Lamar does something / anything with aggression. Like I said on the boards, to think he’s going to be a 20/10 guy is a dead issue. What you have to get from Lamar is a show of him wanting to be a part of the game in any facet, not only scoring. When he does, the whole team changes. In other words, as Lamar goes, so go the Lakers – big shocker there huh?

My main point is that with Andrew out I think the starting lineup has to have more fluidity than simply this or that guy starts all the time, no matter what.

Wow, was the inside defense an absolute sieve in the first half. It was beyond ugly, it was non-existent. The thing was that it was easy to either penetrate or get an open shot due to the Lakers almost walking to switches and hardly recognizing defensive mismatches until the ball was already through the hoop. That awareness doesn’t take hall of fame level talent, it takes paying attention.

For Crittenton – he has got to stop passing up open shots to get deeper in the paint and subsequently deeper into trouble. He doesn’t have the size or chops yet to make something in heavy big man traffic. He has got to start slow. In his effort to prove to everyone that he has a place on this year’s team, he’s causing turnover after turnover by trying to do too much when the easy play would get it done.

Without Bynum, you knew the middle would be softer, but the parade down the lane that Amare had tonight was ridiculous. There’s no reason the open lane can’t be at least seen by somebody. If it’s even halfway seen, you can get into it and cause phoenix to play in something other than an easy straight line to the basket all game. Kwame is big enough, Lamar is big enough, heck anyone that can move laterally should be big enough to at least fill space and make Phoenix dump the ball to an outside shot rather than the dunkfest the 2nd quarter became.

The Lakers know better than to let a team like Phoenix, or any team, get into such a fluid rhythm so early in a game that overcoming it becomes am monumental task. You can’t give teams that much confidence to start out a game. Then not only are you playing them as you normally do, you’re now playing them in rhythm, confident, loose and feeling they can’t be stopped.

Phoenix’s first half had less to do with them being on as much as it had to do with the Lakers playing scared. That first half was horrid.

Come the 3rd quarter and the Lakers implode. The lack of concentration showing in terrible ball handling on all fronts, missed lay-ups, a missed dunk by Kwame and seriously un-focused play on all fronts.

Thank you Sasha for gutting it out and coming into the game giving it your full effort. That’s what I’ve been talking about for a while. You can’t come into games looking to get by. Sasha did a great job coming in, looking to be aggressive from the outset and playing with that in mind.

The same goes for Farmar. The bench in spurts did their job. The turnovers were completely out of control, but the starters did no better in that department.

The sad thing was the Suns played just as poorly as the Lakers. It was no fantastic game

Remember that hustle play of Kobe’s, diving over the scorer’s table in the 2nd quarter? That effort can come from anyone, that doesn’t require great skill, just great determination. And as far as Kobe’s scoring, or taking over games with dominant shooting, dies everyone still think he has to defer to others first? Though its not the ideal way to play, the Laker fans, the media and the rest of the team has to know that the only way for the Lakers to compete with the upper echelon teams they face in this tough little run is for Kobe to be dominant at any time he feels he needs to.

As usual Kobe’s damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. Right now I’ll take the damned if he does since nobody is doing anything so far.

We’re right back to where the Lakers were the last couple of seasons – a team that looks to play around Kobe rather than alongside him. I don’t know what it takes for the rest of the team to realize that unless they show the capability of playing team ball like they have so far this season, Kobe will has to and must take over if the Lakers are to survive the schedule until Andrew’s return.

If the rest of the Lakers outside of Kobe want to be part of the game while Andrew is out and the focus goes back to Kobe, then they have to show it. They have to show it by not only making shots, but also by moving to help out when Kobe is handling the ball. I’m sure nobody; including Kobe himself wants Kobe to have to score 40 per game in this stretch – at least I hope so.

Like I said, its not the best way to play the rest of the year (and I don’t expect it to continue once Andrew comes back), but if nobody else wants to play like they want to win, you can’t expect Kobe to sink to that level as well.

I’ve always said that losing is semi-tolerable as long as the Lakers give it everything they have. But when they play at 20% capacity like they did tonight for the first 3 quarters, its absolutely unacceptable. That 4th quarter should show the Lakers exactly what playing with passion and decisive motion can do. If they had played that way from the beginning of the game, it would’ve been a totally different game. You can play short-handed, but you can never play short on desire – ever.

As usual though, it was one game. Every game without Bynum right now is a learning process of how to survive. What I hope to see is the Lakers internalize this and use it as motivation to not play that way again.

Before I wrap it up, my WTF?! moment of the game is the Staples crowd booing Kwame every time he touched the ball. Sure he played terribly, but booing your own players when they’re struggling doesn’t inspire, it drags them down. At no point is it cool, funny or O.K. for the crowd at the game to do that. Booing the team is one thing, but booing an individual is pointless.

As a general rule for the Lakers – when you play lazy physically, you play lazy mentally as well, and vice versa. Effort begets effort just as much as lethargy begets losing.
"A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty." - Winston Churchill
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Postby pound4pound1 on Fri Jan 18, 2008 11:17 am

another great read Crucifido!

although it was a clear cut loss, it wasnt that bad...this laker fan no longer has worries about the Suns...we played horrible in stretches, had Kwame and his problems and they still didnt put on a beatdown like a 'championship' team should against a depleted, still-in-shock, still-adjusting, team
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Postby crucifido on Mon Jan 21, 2008 11:32 pm

Lakers vs. Nuggets (Game 39 1/21/2008)

First Team To Play (Some Kind Of) Defense Wins

After the booing debacle, the bad game by everyone outside of a couple against Phoenix and these days off to let it all stew, its good to get back to the business of playing basketball.

How great was that to see the team come to play immediately in the first quarter. It was beyond gratifying to see the whole team play with positive motion. A little hesitation in the beginning of the game, but it faded quickly. Of course it faded faster once Ronny came into the game, but either way at least the tentativeness they showed in the Phoenix game thankfully disappeared.

Whether you believe it or not, the hop in the Lakers step has come from the defensive all year long and it really showed I this game. That first quarter, once it settled into a groove on defense completely altered the energy level on offense. That’s the way the game has and will always go though, defense first, offense follows.

You don’t expect 67 points in a half that much, but with Denver’s struggles against the Lakers, its not unheard of. What has to concern you is the Lakers finding a balance between the fast start and consistent hard play through the game. As this team has aged and gotten more used to playing with each other, its happened less and less, and maybe it’s the worrier in me, but nonetheless, I’d like to see a consistent game long run from the Lakers more often than a quick jump start and a slow go for the rest of the game. They had a god run in the 3rd to get them back on top, but you can’t lean on the possibility of good runs, you have to look to play hard at all times.

Another concern is when a player of Anthony’s magnitude goes down in a game. It tends to spark a team more than bring them down and that happened again tonight. Its important to not let up the pressure when something like this happens. There’s enough experience on this squad right now to know that. You can’t relax when a team is healthy or when they lose a piece. It’s a constant effort at all times on the court.

Good to have Derek back in the shooting form he’s shown more often than not. I mean, wow, 16 in the first quarter alone is unheard of. I mean, my god, that was simply insane to see Derek go off like that. Is it a pure point guard thing, no, but you can’t complain about Fisher’s amazing shooting. I especially love the aggressiveness all game. It wasn’t just hitting the shots, it was his shot selection that was not only on the money, it was the money. That smart, hot shooting got the team off to not only a good start in the scoring column but also eased up the inside game enough to let Kobe and Lamar get their selves inside with a lot more ease than they had in the past couple of games.

Good to see the team and Kwame himself get going quickly. After the bad game he had against Phoenix it was vitally important for him to get early easy looks to get his confidence up enough to play the best he can. His lackadaisical movement on both ends was a bit less. There was more activity moving through the paint tonight which was good to see. Above all, he looked to be part of the plays rather than just ride along like he had for a lot of his time back on the court.

Kwame’s confidence is his biggest hitch. The support of his team and active play like tonight wil lgo a long way to getting Kwame’s game back into the swing of things.

No surprise as soon as Ronny comes in the entire game takes a turn towards hustle. His looking for defensive stops first makes the whole team look for the same thing. When that happened everyone started picking up the collapse on the inside and looking to rotate faster on the mid-range. Sometimes it makes you wonder why Ronny doesn’t start more often, especially during this ridiculous injury run. Offensively, Ronny is knowing his spots on the dive and cut plays better with every passing game. His size seems to make other teams underestimate his effectiveness, but the majority of the battle for Ronny comes on the defensive end and his propensity for crazy swats that make refs call fouls that aren’t there.

It was a hidden player of the game performance for Ronny, but when all is said and done, its invaluable to have a total energy guy come off the bench with the contagious intensity he had tonight.

Kobe did a fantastic job in the first quarter getting the team going. He’s done it before, but it was really good to see the team cash in on opportunities. The way Kobe was setting the table up for everyone is usually there, but the difference in this one was the team making the easy open shots they were given. I would like to see Kobe try to get himself in the scoring column quicker than he has recently along with getting everyone going, but really Kobe scoring at any point is never a concern.

To the casual Laker watcher, it may seem that Kobe’s biggest help to this team is in the scoring, but his true boost to this team lies in his ability to make plays for both himself and others. This has been true for a while, what makes it show better is when the team plays with the same concentration he did tonight.

If you’re looking for an MVP caliber performance from Kobe in this injury laden month, this was a nice first step in that direction.

That run by the Lakers late in the 3rd to regain the double-digit lead was a thing of beauty. It was great to see that kind of heart show itself. Sparked by Derek’s ridiculous shooting, you saw the Lakers move off of it, rather than stay planted and watch him shoot. That kind of pro-active play will stave off the short-handed plague.

Luke played well in the first half as well, using his post strength on the defensive end rather than force the action like he was before on the offensive end. That’s where Luke’s success will come from, on the defensive end in the mid-range to high post. It was no stopper performance but using the majority of his energy on the post on defense will serve the team better. As opposed to the Phoenix game, it was good to see Luke stay mostly on the outside and mid-range offensively, acting as the passing pivot rather than pushing unnecessarily tough shots up against the trees. Also, he’s got get back to using his step back shot.

Javaris again getting himself into too much trouble for what the situation calls for. I appreciate the jab dribbling and probing, but too many times he’s getting himself buried in the paint. When he plays with relative control and stays out of the paint, he does some good things.

Farmar continues to play aggressively. His matching up with Iverson on defense isn’t a complete coup for the Lakers, but it does slow Iverson down somewhat. With Jordan its his intelligence that opened him up tonight. He was hitting his spots with brilliant crispness. When Kobe is doling out the ball as he was tonight and you get to where you’re supposed to be, good things will always come of it. Pair that with the all around persistent effort Farmar had from end to end and buzzer to buzzer and you have another good game for Jordan. It was hard to stand out as a point guard tonight with Derek going nuts, but Jordan did a good job of it.

Lamar played much better. The takes on the side of the key were back. Again, it’s a matter of Lamar looking for his own shot as much as he looks for the pass. What I loved to see was Lamar’s activity in the paint at all times. When Lamar began to fade out to the arc instead of keeping involved in the paint, the Lakers started sputtering offensively. He has got to set the pace inside like he did and continue to pound on it. Even if immediate success doesn’t come for him offensively that way, he has got to use his size on the inside more than staying out on the perimeter. Odom’s biggest help right now with Andrew out (and with him in too) is not out on the three-point line.

It was a really good all around game for Lamar. Of course we can talk about whether it will happen again or not, but you have to take it when it does happen and tonight it did.

Again, for the millionth time, it’s all about Kleiza with Nuggets game. Its one thing to give up points to the big guys, but the run the Nuggets had at the end of the first half was due mostly to Kleiza opening up the inside game and draining the outside game because for some reason or another the Lakers have trouble closing out on shooters. The Lakers showed that they know how to do that closeout against a shooter (ala the Grizzlies with Miller and to a lesser extent with Stojakovic), well the same applies here. The Lakers have got to close on shooters and make them pass the ball or change their role long before they get into any shooting groove.

It took a little longer to get it going, but it happened and that’s great.

As always sealing up the backdoor or weak side lob is key to beating Denver. This game was no different. In the first half the Lakers did decent job keeping passes from getting over the defense to either weak or back door plays. If you can minimize the easy dunks from martin and more importantly Camby like that, you’ve cut down a lot of Denver’s movement along the baseline and off the ball in general.

This kind of effort is what its going to take. So off the Lakers go to the Texas Two-Step. Both are tough arenas with tougher teams looking to gain ground on the Lakers. It’s a deadly combination to come up against (Dallas & San Antonio with motivation and at home) but so is determination, defensive hustle and team oriented play.
"A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty." - Winston Churchill
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Postby crucifido on Mon Jan 21, 2008 11:33 pm

Thanks pound for pound, I appreciate it!!!
"A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty." - Winston Churchill
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Postby revgen on Tue Jan 22, 2008 12:10 am

Good Job Cruc. I also agree that Ronny was a huge presence for us in the game. What he did is a bit overshadowed by Kobe's 11 assists, Derek's 28 points, and LO's all-around game, but Ronny was the glue for the team on both sides of the court. The blocks and altered shots were incredibly important for us, as well as his ability to finish in the paint.
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