Archive for January, 2017

Why These Tough Lakers Times are Very Different Than the Previous Years (@SpectrumSN @lakersreporter)

January 26, 2017

I know. The Lakers are 17 games under .500 and suffered the worst loss of the season to the worst team in the Western Conference a few days ago. They have one of the worst defenses in the league and can’t seem to string together consistent effort on the court. 

This may lead some of the Lakers faithful and experts to go, “How is this any different than last year? Or the year before that and the one before that? We still stink!”

I’ll give you that. At 16-33, there is good reason to consider this another awful lottery year with no hope in sight. However, there are plenty of reasons to see this much differently and even more reason to believe that this team will only get better AND faster than you think.

Here are the differences between this year and previous years:

 1. Not Trying to Win with Declining Stars: The Lakers in years past were working with a declining post-Achilles injury Kobe, an ailing Steve Nash and a mashup supporting cast that featured other declining stars including Carlos Boozer. They possessed vets that were not game-changing and young players that would warm the bench on other teams. Mike D’antoni faced this issue following Dwight’s dismissal of the Lakers brass along with that injury bug. Byron tried to build with Randle and Clarkson, but there was still the glaring Kobe effect, Boozer was a disappointment and he outright did not know how to coach Jeremy Lin. Kobe’s final year was unanimously considered a full on circus with the farewell hoopla to add insult to injury. Now the Lakers possess a group that is centered around rising stars who will only get better. Players like Brandon Ingram, D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle, to name a few, have high ceilings. Growing into contenders is a united focus from top to bottom and nothing else. Therefore losses are expected and almost welcome as they become learning opportunities. Nobody likes losing, but it makes more sense now. 

2. The Coach of the Future: Long before a promising and eye-catching 10-10 start, Coach Luke Walton said that he would not measure this team’s success by wins and losses. It would be more measured by whether or not they buy into and implement what the coaching staff is trying to accomplish on the court. Therefore, even as they deal with losses piling up, this is still the right coach for the job. The team has developed a respect for Luke and staff as evidenced by their effort early in the season and in spurts as of late. It is also reflected in their attitudes towards him. D’Angelo Russell has not complained when benched in the 4th quarter. He’s gotten Nick Young to play defense and has the team together even as they face these losses. The biggest blows to the team were injuries, youth and actually, success. 

3. Chemistry with the Young Core Has Improved and Will Continue to Improve: The team that loses together will win together. The Lakers’ young core have all made substantial improvements in their numbers from last year to this year, and Brandon Ingram and Ivica Zubac have moved up the learning curve quickly during their rookie years. We know some players can have a softmore jinx or start to plateau too early, but many of the players like Larry Nance Jr. and D’Angelo Russell have high ceilings and as a collective unit, they will become even stronger. You have to consider that the rookie and youthful mistakes will begin to dwindle as time progresses. One would hope this happens sooner than later. Examples of this are the OKC Thunder and Golden State Warriors’ recent core that became dominant over a few years after forgettable playoff-less seasons.

So even as they get pummeled by some teams, get close and then can’t hit shots at the end, and surprise the top contenders and pull upsets, we have to look at this season differently. We also look at it with the same cautious optimism. Certain shots that miss will start to go in. Defensive breakdowns will occur less and less and focus will remain for more than a few quarters.

Get used to it, fans. This is a rebuild and the foundation has been laid quite nicely.

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Beating the Spurs: Keys for Tonight’s Lakers Game (@spectrumsn @espnnba @lakersnation)

January 12, 2017

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Tonight the Lakers square off against the championship contending San Antonio Spurs. Last time these teams went at it, D’Angelo Russell was sitting out with knee soreness and the Lakers made the veteran team sweat a little by getting within 5 before Tony Parker’s “vetranism” took over and sealed the game. Poppovich couldn’t help but admire Luke Walton’s coaching ability and the scrappiness of this young Lakers team.

Tonight the Lakers get their rematch. In the backdrop of this game is the nasty taste the Lakers have in their mouths after a hugely disappointing and head-scratching loss to the Portland Trailblazers. This was punctuated by a scuffle between D’Angelo Russell and Damian Lillard and a 3rd quarter that featured uninspired shooting and even more uninspired defense. Also in the backdrop of this game is the fact that, in spite of this hiccup, the Lakers have been playing much better basketball as of late, going .500 in the month of January and winning games by an average of 19 points. Lastly, D’Angelo Russell is healthy and returning to form.

So can the Lakers actually beat the Spurs? Yes! Here’s how.

1. Run them. Even though the Spurs have some young guns of their own, they still pride themselves on slow offense and moving the ball. They still possess an older and slightly slower Tony Parker and Pau Gasol in their starting lineup. D’Angelo Russell has to make Tony Parker work, break down that defense and get open looks for his team. He must attack early and often. The bench must no doubt do the same thing. This team needs to be kept on their heels. It can’t hurt to actually force turnovers and get out in transition as well, thus nullifying their imposing presence in the paint.

2. Compete with their bigs. San Antonio boasts one of the best frontcourts in the game with Gasol, Aldridge and Leonard. This means that Mozgov, Randle and Deng need to seriously step up. The benefit of Mozgov is that he can stand alone in the paint and guard Pau without a need for a double team. Randle may have his hands full with Aldridge, but if he’s up for the task, he can make things hard for him and try denying him the ball. Offensively, Randle needs to attack Aldridge and force him to play some defense and even get him in foul trouble, thus making him a non-factor. Deng definitely has his work cut out for him with Leonard, but perhaps Luke will put Nick Young and even Brandon Ingram on him instead.

3. Buckets! Buckets! Buckets! This is definitely a game where the Lakers need not miss as many wide open looks as they did against the Trailblazers and perhaps that game was a fluke and not a trend. Especially in the 3rd quarter, they need to move the ball and not miss easy layups, open looks and free throws.

4. Magic numbers. Lakers need to hold San Antonio to 105 points maximum. They need 20-25 assists and they must keep their turnovers down to 11 or less, especially in the second half.

5. Bench. Last but not least, the Lakers bench must beat the Spurs bench soundly. This game needs Clarkson, Williams, Ingram, Black and Robinson to have great games and be extremely active and disruptive on the defensive end.

This is one of those games where you have to play a clean, near perfect game for 48 minutes in order to compete with a veteran and well coached team like the Spurs. But if they can follow this list, they will win and pull the “upset”. Once again, the effort given by this “Jekell and Hyde” Lakers team will determine whether or not they are turning a corner.

State of the Lakers After 41 Games: Have the Young Lakers Turned a Corner? (@spectrumsn @lakersnation @lakers @nbaonespn)

January 10, 2017
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Nick Young celebrates after draining a three point shot.

The Los Angeles Lakers are in what basketball experts and analysts term, “rebuilding”. As always, we briefly reminisce on how the Lakers once were not known for patience and rebuilding as opposed to quick retooling and reloading by way of a mega-signing or blockbuster trade. Blame the new CBA rules or the David Stern veto, but the Lakers now are forced to do things the conventional way: put together a young core with a few supporting veterans and… be… PATIENT!

 

So the Lakers brass over the last couple years went that conventional way, picking up Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson in the 2014 draft. Then they picked up D’Angelo Russell and Larry Nance Jr. (Anthony Brown too but waived him during pre-season this year…) in the 2015 draft.They then picked up Brandon Ingram and Ivica Zubac in the 2016 draft.  They also nabbed young bruisers Thomas Robinson and Tarik Black via training camp invite and signing off waivers. They then nabbed a few free agents that appear to be possible keepers over the last couple years to include gunner Nick Young, former 6th man of the year Lou Williams, serviceable point guard and sharpshooter Jose Calderon, International star point guard Marcelo Huertas, NBA Champion big man Timofey Mozgov and former all-star Loul Deng. Lastly, but not least, former defensive player of the year and NBA Champion Metta World Peace rounds out the Lakers rebuilding roster. Charged with the task of making something from this young group is Luke Walton, assistant Brian Shaw and company.

This young group jumped out to a 10-10 start which surprised everybody. Then injuries and perhaps a lack of focus caused a December that featured only 2 wins out of 15. This included a new enemy that plagued the Lakers— blown leads. Blown HUGE leads. 19 against Miami, 19 against Charlotte and 11 against Dallas. The Lakers begin January in better fashion, however, jumping out to a 3-2 record featuring a 3 game home winning streak and a 2 game winning streak overall. Furthermore they’ve managed to beat their opponents by an average of 19 points. They get a second crack at their next opponent, the Portland Trailblazers, yet another team they could have beaten if not for another blown double digit lead. (Heck, they could be 5-0 if not for blowing another double digit lead to Toronto in January as well). Having said all that, the Lakers sit at 15-26 at the halfway point of the season.

With all that in the backdrop, the question is have the Lakers turned a corner?

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Rookie Brandon Ingram goes above the rim.

 

The team seems to have come to terms that they must defend, rebound and attack for 48 minutes and have seemed to figure that out for 3 or their last 5 games. Young players like D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Brandon Ingram are starting to find their groove. Nick Young has developed into a pretty good defender. They’ve seemed to have found something special in the rebounding, paint play and defensive prowess of the “Bruise Brothers” Tarik Black and Thomas Robinson in the absence of Larry Nance Jr. (they are doing this without Larry Nance Jr!). Furthermore, the starters have picked up their play to add to an already dangerous and NBA leading bench. This includes a resurgence of Luol Deng’s offensive output. In each of their wins, the Lakers are dishing out over 20 assists, they are holding opponents to an average of 99 points and they are also forcing turnovers and getting out in transition.

 

We may not be able to confidently say they’ve turned a corner until they can start racking up a few more consistent wins. Sitting just 3 games out of the 8th spot in the loss column, they have something to play for, in addition to Luke’s goal to simply focus on getting better and playing the way the coaching staff wants them to play. The Lakers have in fact developed an identity. Although they have failed to do it enough to close out games, the Lakers are one of the better teams in fast break points and points off turnovers. They are a quick team that relies on turnovers, transition and the 3 point shot. They are successful when they the move the ball and they get above the rim and dunk. The Lakers have earned the reputation of being “fun to watch”.

I’d like to see what they do in the next few games. If we’re looking at a team that can compete for that eight spot, we need to see a convincing win against Portland tonight. After that they will have another tough (but winnable) stretch that includes games against the Spurs, Clippers and Pistons. Following that stretch they have a potential 4 game winning streak against the Nuggets, Pacers, Mavericks and Blazers. If the Lakers can manage a minimum record of 5-3 over these next 8 games, we can talk turning a corner.

There are quite a few standouts over this January stretch and even throughout the latter part of December. This is by no means an exhaustive list. We saw Nick Young get record-setting white hot and then cool off. We saw Julius make his bid for the team leader with his triple double and inspired play on the defensive end. We’ve seen Larry Nance Jr. get the dunk of the year on Brooke Lopez. We’ve seen Clarkson get a little dog in him during his scuffle with Goran Dragic. We’ve seen Lou Williams take over games and shoot lights out. We’ve also seen the improbable quick maturation of Brandon Ingram, who at this pace, may actually overtake all the players for the star of this team.

I’ve said too much. I can be longwinded at times. However, it takes no rocket scientist or NBA expert to see that this Lakers team is far ahead of the schedule. With only 17 wins TOTAL last year. Lakers have 15 early in January. They are 3 games out of the playoff picture. They are good enough to take double digit leads on any team AND good enough to blowout any team (see Golden State and Memphis). Let’s enjoy this young exciting team and see where the month of January takes us.

Next up is payback against Portland!