Playoff Push (Kobe Time)

                The Lakers have finally started to click and chemistry has developed. These are not the same roll over and kick me dead, diva, drama filled Lakers that started the season. The new and improved Lakers are all about just playing basketball and winning games. No more distractions and finger pointing. After the Memphis loss on January 23rd the team called a players only meeting, and since that point there has been a 180 degree turnaround. These were the same Lakers who were 7 games under .500 at 17-24 and looked like a beaten down dead horse. Well something sparked after that meeting, and everybody turned the focus and intensity up.

Since January 23rd the Lakers have gone 17-8 and currently hold the 8th and final playoff spot over the Utah Jazz by ½ a game. At the moment the Lakers are standing at 34-32 and they have reached above .500 for the first time since November 20th when they were 6-4. The Lakers now control their own destiny simply by winning games. It also has been a tremendous help to the Lakers that the Houston Rockets, Golden State Warriors, and Utah Jazz have all been struggling mightily and have been dropping games as well. If the Lakers keep winning and the Jazz, Warriors, and Rockets keep free falling then the Lakers could possibly earn a 6th spot in the Western Conference seeding.

            What is the reason that this ship we know as the Lakeshow has changed its course? Well I will spell it out for you with four letters, K-O-B-E. Kobe Bryant has singlehandedly sparked and led the Lakers to successive wins since the All-star game. Since the All-star break, Kobe has been scoring 30.8ppg, 7.3 apg, and 6.6 rpg while shooting near 50%. Kobe will do literally anything it takes to win. Whether that be the role of facilitating and dishing assists to teammates or taking the ball to the rack himself, Kobe taken it upon himself to will this Lakers squad to victory and has determined that this Lakers team will make the playoffs by any means necessary (insert Malcolm X quote here). The resiliency of Kobe has been imprinted onto his teammates and this Lakers team will not give up. The Lakers have had 2 back to back comeback wins in March vs. the New Orleans Hornets and Toronto Raptors. In both of those games the Lakers were down by 20 points or more and rallied back to win the game in the fourth quarter. Kobe scored 42 points 12 assists and 7 rebounds against the Hornets to overcome a 25 point deficit and win the game. The very next night Kobe put up almost identical numbers with 41, 12, and 6. In the Toronto game Kobe hit a game-tying fade-away three to send the game into overtime. From there Kobe displayed his dominance as the Lakers won 118-116 in overtime. Not only is scoring at such a high rate and efficiency but he is also guarding the elite opposing guards in the game, did I mention that Kobe is doing all this at age 34 in his 17th year. Hence the name Kobe has adopted is Vino because his game is like a fine wine that gets only better with age.

            The next reason the Lakers have been playing better basketball is that everyone has accepted their roles. Steve Nash has become a spot up and perimeter shooter, Dwight Howard has become a defensive anchor and rebounder, and Antwan Jamison and Jodie Meeks have been playing much better coming off the bench. Dwight Howard has been playing much better as of late and it looks like he is getting healthier as he is more active in the paint and on the glass. Since the allstar game Dwight Howard has flipped a switch. Not only does he look healthier and stronger but his play has undoubtedly improved. Post All-star break Dwight is averaging 17ppg, 15rpg, and 2.5 bpg. In his return to Orlando, Howard had a monster game with 39 points, and shot 25-39 from the free throw line, he also had 16 rebounds and 3 blocks. The only other player to put 39 points, 16 rebounds, and 3 blocks against the Magic is the Diesel Shaquille O’neal. The biggest improvement for Howard is that he is now contesting and altering shots as well as grabbing offensive and defensive rebounds more aggressively. Howard has stopped complaining like a whiny baby and he is now just focused on playing ball and winning. He says that his mindset shifted during the All-star break. Dwight realized that he was fortunate to play with one of the all-time greats in Kobe Bryant and this is his chance to compete for a championship. Howard also said that he has changed his diet and cut out all unnecessary sugars such as skittles and candy bars as well as getting better conditioning in the weight room to help with his improving back.

            With the team much improving and chemistry starting to flow it looks like the Lakers are making a nice run for a playoff push in the Western Conference. Injuries have really slowed this Lakers team down with all their stars missing time from Nash’s lengthy period of time out, to a recovering Dwight Howard playing with a surgically repaired back and torn labrum, and Pau Gasol who is expected to return after missing 6-8 weeks with Plantar Fascia. When everything seems to be going right, some sort of adversity happens again. Kobe last night in a close loss to the Atlanta Hawks, was undercut and suffered a sprained ankle by Dantay Jones which was a clear foul and a chance for the Lakers to tie the game at 94 and to send it into overtime. The X-rays were negative and Kobe is listed out as indefinitely with a severe ankle sprain. The Lakers are estimating that he will most likely not play at least the next 2 games. However we are taking about the Black Mamba who is the ultimate warrior and plays through every sort of pain and injury imaginable, so you never know. One thing that is for certain is that the Lakers must continue to control their own destiny from here on out by winning as many games as possible. These Lakers cannot afford to play under .500 ball. Every game matters from here. All Lakers fans everywhere are praying for a speedy and healthy recovery for Kobe Bryant so that the Lakers will make the playoffs and have at least a chance to compete for a title.

Not the personnel but the System (Mike D’less Antoni)

             Enough is enough. As a lifelong diehard Lakers fan I am utterly mortified and disappointed in this Lakers squad this season. With such a star studded cast of all stars, former MVPs and NBA Champions the Lakers have fallen flat on title aspirations and expectations. As a team the Lakers need to WAKE up. Flat is the perfect word to describe this team as it seems like almost every other game they come out lethargic and without any energy. A lot of people may say that the Lakers players themselves should be to blame, but I would disagree. The players are partially to blame for their losing record but the brunt (thanks Kobe for this word) of the blame should be toward the coaching staff and Lakers management. Mainly I would blame Jim Buss and Mike D’Antoni for this fiasco.

The problem for the Lakers the whole season has been defense. Mike Brown was supposedly a defensive genius but instead he focused all his intention on teaching them a read and react Princeton offense. So after merely 5 games at 1-4 Mike Brown got the boot. Here was the Lakers chance at a golden opportunity and a fresh start. Phil Jackson was handed to them on a silver platter and was ready to come back and coach the Lakers to another Championship Title. It would be the perfect fit for the Lakers and for the Zen Master. However the heir to the Lakers throne Jim Buss agreed with Mitch Kupchak that they would rather sign Mike D’Antoni instead of the 11x NBA Champion Phil Jackson. That would be fine but last time I checked Mike D’Antoni has never won a championship and his defensive philosophy is just that a philosophy. D’Antoni has never even been to the NBA Finals but apparently he must be a better choice the greatest coach who ever lived Phil Jackson. The Lakers personnel right now is even better suited for PJax and his Triangle Offense. With the 2 Big Men Gasol and Dwight Howard and the best passing point guard Steve Nash not to mention the BEST player in the NBA Kobe Bryant, this team was made for Phil Jackson to lead them to the NBA Finals Promised Land.  

                        Nothing personal against Mike D’Antoni, actually I like him as a guy he is quite easy going and funny in his interviews but he is not the right coach for this Lakers team. Mike D’Antoni will not adjust his system for his personnel and that has been a problem since he arrived in LA LA Land. How can you implement a run and gun offense with 2 7 footers and a bunch of veteran players. The personnel the Lakers have do not fit his system. A good coach would realize this and would adjust his system to fit with his players. Since joining the Lakers as head coach this season Mike D’Antoni is a measly 10-13 which is a .435 winning percentage. After winning 5 games in a row the Lakers are now on a 4 game losing skid. I have no idea what Mike D’Antoni is thinking when he feels that having Pau Gasol jack up long 3s is more useful than having one of the best post up big men in the POST. Gasol has played his whole career under the basket and has the best footwork and touch of any big man in the NBA. Instead D’Antoni has Howard in the paint and forcing contested hook shots. It is mind boggling that they call this guy an offensive genius. I think the person who gave the title of defensive guru to Mike Brown is the same one who called D’Antoni an offensive genius. If D’Antoni knew what he was doing he would put Gasol in the low post and Dwight Howard in the High Post up at the elbow and have D12 come off the screen and roll with Nash assisting. If the pick in roll is not there, then feed it down low to Gasol who has the skill and touch to finish down low. If the low post is defended then swing it to the wing and let the Black Mamba Kobe Bryant the Closer go to work. Also the Lakers need to let Steve Nash shoot the rock more. Yes he is the facilitator and gets everyone involved but he is a lethal knockdown shooter at 50% and 40% from 3 point land. Steve Nash must pull the trigger more for the Lakers to be effective because it certainly doesn’t look like we are getting any production from the bench and role players. Kobe is leading the league in scoring in his 17th season and is having his highest FG% efficiency of his career. The Lakers need to feed the Beast Dwight Howard more often as well but put him in winning situations. Dwight is most effective coming off the pick and pop with Nashty hitting him with the sweet dish. Mike D’Antoni needs to realize that it would be more effective to play a half court offense utilizing the Lakers size with their bigs rather than play a run and gun offense with older veteran players. Let the Lakers set up on offense and pound the ball down low or pick and roll with Nash to Howard. Even Iso for Kobe and good things will happen.

            The biggest problem for the Lakers has to be Defense. The Lakers rank 26th in points allowed giving up 100.6 points a game. That is a major problem. When you are handing out Free Tacos (Lakers home tradition joke) to the other team it is hard to win games. The transition defense of the Lakers is absolutely abysmal as other teams exploit the Lakers turnovers for easy fastbreak points with no Lakers getting back on defense. The Lakers are averaging 102.9 points a game which is 5th best overall but giving up 100 points means that it will be hard and almost impossible to win games on a nightly basis. The Lakers have the 3rd most turnovers a game with 15 and only force their opponents into 13 TOs. So with lack of defense the Lakers need to protect the basketball much better to limit transition points for their opponents. They say that defense wins championships well Mike D’Antoni has actually never heard this phrase or completely thrown it out the window altogether. For the Lakers to become a championship team let alone a playoff team they need to get COMMITTED to DEFENSE. A discipline to play team defense and rotating to help each other with take this team far. So far it looks like Mike D’less Antoni’s defensive strategy is paying off, that is not playing defense at all. This team needs to buckle down and bring the defensive intensity on every possession and let the defense create turnovers to enable the offense. If the Lakers could become a trapping defense and force contested shots consistently then this team could be really dangerous. Dwight Howard needs to be the anchor on defense by blocking and altering shots and switching for other teammates when in need. Kobe Bryant is the leader of this team and he needs to preach that defense is key and everything else will take care of itself. As long as the Lakers are committed to playing tough defense, rotating, creating contested shots, rebounding, and forcing turnovers then they can turn this season around and become a lethal contender. However if the Lakers remain with this nonchalant attitude when it comes to defense and not playing hard then the rest of the season will be an utter downfall.

            I still believe that the Lakers can turn this season around and become playoff contenders and hopefully a championship caliber team. The main focus has to be a commitment to defense and Mike D’Antoni adjusting his offense to cater to the players that he has. D’Antoni cannot force his players to adjust to his system but he needs to change his system to accommodate to his players. The Lakers must play every game from here on out as if it were Game 7 of the NBA Finals because they have dug such a hole for themselves that hunger, will, desperation, and intensity will only help to get them out of it. The Lakers are 15-19 right now and need roughly 48 wins to make the playoffs. Right now the Lakers need to go 34-15 in their last 49 games to play.  

                        Please pick up the intensity, will and desire-

 

-Signed a Concerned Lakers Fan!

             

One down 81 to go

The hype for the new look revamped Lakers was more anticipated than Godzilla hitting the streets of Japan. The Lakers have tons of pressure to not only make the 2013 NBA Finals but to win it. That is what happens when you sign Steve Nash and trade for Dwight Howard. Not only did the Lakers make a splash in the off-season with its new superstar acquisitions but they emptied out the whole Pacific Ocean. The Lakers now have the highest payroll in the NBA with 100 million and expectations are through the roof for this team.

Last night however the Lakers that we thought we would see did not show up. For the first 2 quarters we saw glimpses of the at times dominant high flying OOP universe Lakers, but that was merely a shadow. Am I saying that Lakers fans should already hit the panic button and jump ship? Hell no! I still believe that the Lakers are the most talented team and even the deepest team in the NBA. However there are many things that did concern me about the Lakers opening day lost to the Dirkless Mavs, led by the ancient Vince Carter, Elton Brand, and Shawn Marion (aka the 2006 allstar team).

The areas the Lakers need to tighten up and real quick are free throw shooting, defense, offensive tempo, Princeton offense, and running in transition. The Lakers were abysmal from the free throw line last night at 12-31 for 38%. 12 of 31 is completely unacceptable, it is called a free throw because that’s exactly what it is a FREE throw. This mostly has to do with Dwight Howard who was 3-14 from the line or 21%. The last Laker to shoot a lower free throw percentage (with a minimum of 10 attempts) was Shaq who in 2004 who went 2-13 for 15%. Jordan Hill was also horrendous from the free throw line at 1-6 for 16%. If Dwight Howard alone makes at least 75% of his free throws or better the Lakers win their home opener. I think that with proper coaching Dwight Howard’s free throw percentage will go up but we just have to be patient as fans. The focus for Dwight in practice should be 2-3 hours of repetitive free throw shooting. Once you practice something so long eventually you master it and it will become second nature to him. The reason why Dwight will improve his free throw shooting and not be the next Shaq all comes down to his release. Shaq had no follow through on his shot, he essentially pushed the ball like he was shot-putting a peach into the basket. I don’t think that was Dr Naismith’s original intent for the game of basketball by the way. If Dwight can improve his free throw percent to a mere 75% the Lakers will have a much easier time holding leads and closing out games because than you can’t hack a Dwight. So far it looks like Superman has found his kryptonite and that is Free throw shooting.

What is Mike Brown thinking with this so called Princeton Offense? I could coach this team to a perfect season with all that talent he has been given. Forget the Princeton offense and reacting to what the defense gives you and making your offensive reads off that. Instead keep it simple and run the pick and roll with Nash to Gasol and Howard. The Lakers have the best passing point guard in the game but yet he is limited to coming off ball screens and not handling the ball. I am baffled how Mike Brown thinks that Pau Gasol should run point forward and not Steve Nash. The Lakers should not be running a read and react offense but they should be running an attack pick and roll offense. When the Black Mamba Kobe Bryant is on your team you must know that you always need to attack. Attack the front of the rim and get easy oops and run on the fastbreak with Nash to Howard. I hope by June I am apologizing vehemently to Mike Brown regarding this Princeton offense but for now I think the Lakers should push the offensive tempo and get out on the run and use pick and roll often. For gosh sake even resurrect the Triangle at least Kobe, Metta, and Gasol know how to run that!

The biggest knock I have from last night’s game was the defense or lack of it. There was no ball pressure, no defensive tenacity at all. The Lakers seemed disinterested on that side of the ball and more concerned with trying to know where to be in the new Princeton offense. Defense leads to turnovers and fastbreaks. Mike Brown is acclaimed for being a defensive guru but he clearly hasn’t lived up to his acclaimed title. Last night the Lakers gave up 99 points to a Dirkless Mavs team who had 3 vintage stars in the Protozoa era. It is on the coach to mentally prepare the players to play and sustain defensive pressure and intensity for 48 minutes. Last year the Lakers gave up 95.9 ppg. That definitely does not sound like a defensive genius to me. The Lakers need to honker down on Defense and make sure they are protecting the rim, causing turnovers, and contesting jump shots. There was way too many easy layups and dunks that were just from a lack of defensive effort. Also the pick and roll defense was nonexistent as the Lakers need to do a better job of switching and covering the open man after the screen.

Do I still believe in my Lakers? Yes of course. This new Lakers squad has just been assembled and it will take awhile to gel. They are working out there kinks and it might take a while before there is complete chemistry happening. As Metta said “chemistry is a bad word because it blows things up, I like to use love or togetherness.” The only thing that matters is that the Lakers are clicking and firing on all cylinders in June. The postseason is when the real season begins, but that doesn’t mean you don’t try to perfect your craft in the regular season. Dwight also chimed in “just because we have a talented team it’s just not gonna click. It takes time. Just gotta continue to stay focused.”

The biggest focus for the Lakers is to improve on free throw shooting, make that a priority for Dwight and the bigs; also pick and roll frequently with Nash and the Towers, and to play with defensive intensity and create turnovers forcing bad shots, blocks and getting steals in the open court.

“We have 81 more games to play and Rome wasn’t built in a day. That’s what somebody told me.” –Superman