Posts Tagged ‘Antawn Jamison’

Jamison And Clippers Play A Waiting Game

HANG TIME WEST – Asked if he expects Antawn Jamison to play anytime soon, Clippers coach Doc Rivers responded, “I hope not.”

This is a compliment.

Asked if he could have gone somewhere else with a bigger role – as in: any role – Jamison said, “Of course.”

This is a plan.

The Clippers signed Jamison for front-court depth, for his versatility to play power forward or small forward, as a positive locker-room presence and signed him for the dependability that comes with 15 seasons of experience. Most of all, though, they signed Jamison to not play him.

That was the blueprint from the beginning, when Rivers, also the head of basketball operations, all but told Jamison in August that this season would be life in semi-retirement. Jamison knew what he was getting into … or not getting into. He would not be getting into games.

The Clippers want Jamison fresh and able to contribute in April, May and June, so they rest him in October and November and probably for several months after that. He is healthy, but he is also 37. The blueprint will be followed: seven games into 2013-14, zero appearances.

“But I’ve accomplished just about everything I wanted to as an individual,” said Jamison, a two-time All-Star who also won a bronze in the world championships and won Sixth Man of the Year. “There’s nothing else for me to accomplish. For me, it’s all about winning a ring.

“With that comes sacrifice on my behalf and sacrifice for a lot of guys in this locker room as well. I knew what I was signing up for. From Day 1, whatever is asked of me to do I’m going to do it. This is the challenge – not a challenge. This is what’s asked of me to do right now. I don’t have a problem with it. As long as it’s for the sake of the team and as long as it puts us in a situation to still be playing in June, I’m definitely all for it.”

He thought he had a good shot at a championship as a starter with the Cavaliers in 2010, and that ended bad as part of what became the LeBron James farewell. Jamison thought, along with most everyone else, he had another choice opportunity as a key Lakers reserve in 2013, and it wasn’t just the ending that was bad. Now, the Clippers are his new best chance.

If sitting now leads to Jamison being the difference in a couple wins in the playoffs, the strange role will have been worth it. He will finally have the ring. With retirement on his mind anyway, the chance to celebrate his 38th birthday – June 12 – with a parade will probably nudge him to think about being able to go out on top.

“I’m still playing in practice,” Jamison said. “You’ve just got to see. My thing is, most importantly, I’m always going to stay in good shape. Mentally, just always stay in tune and make sure I’m ready when the opportunity comes. There’s little things I’m doing as far as talking to Blake [Griffifn] and [DeAndre Jordan] and those guys and making sure they see what I see out there on the court. But I’ve been waiting for this time for a long time, so whenever that opportunity comes I’m definitely going to be ready.”

Waiting for this time.

“The time to contend,” he said.

Life blanketed in bubble wrap means being healthy and sitting even with a bruised thigh costing Matt Barnes time in a hit to the front-court depth and with the Clippers keeping an eye out for another big man rather than have only Byron Mullens and Ryan Hollins in reserve behind Jordan. Jamison will get the occasional cameo to experience a game flow with teammates and stay in better shape, the difference between practicing as a Clipper and actually being one, as even Rivers and Jamison admit they aren’t sure where the fine line is between rest and rust. They’ll have to find out together how this works out. In the playoffs.

Jamison: Kobe-Dwight Friction Was Bad

The friction between former teammates Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard didn’t have the best working relationship. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images).

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – He called last season a waste of time, personally and, just in case it had not been obvious to the world long ago, for all the Lakers. It was worse than that, though. It was, Antawn Jamison said, much more tension between Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard than previously acknowledged.

“It was bad,” Jamison told NBA.com Friday night at Sleep Train Arena, where his new team, the Clippers, played the Kings.

The respected veteran forward echoed previous sentiments from Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni that Howard was committed to the team and not simply going through the motions in a season-long countdown to free agency that ultimately led to signing with the Rockets. And Jamison did not single out Bryant or Howard for causing the rift that contributed to championship aspirations turning into a 45-37 record and 4-0 loss in the first round against the Spurs. But he left no doubt the rumored friction was real and an undeniable factor in the underachieving season that also included Mike Brown being fired and replaced by D’Antoni.

“The writing’s on the wall,” Jamison said. “Whatever you say happened between the coaching staff, Kobe and Dwight – it was a combination of everything. Not understanding roles. Not being up front with roles. Our two superstars didn’t get along. Inside the organization as far as which coach to bring in. With that talent, that’s tough to deal with. But of course, championships and successful seasons don’t run because of what’s on the roster. You have to deal with injuries, you have to deal with certain situations that we just didn’t handle the situations at all.”

Asked what struck him most about the Howard-Bryant conflict, Jamison said: “That we couldn’t figure things out. That we couldn’t put the way we felt about certain situations to the side and just play basketball.”

Did Howard need to do something different? Did Bryant?

“I think we all needed to do something different. When I say that, I could have spoke up and said, ‘Let’s figure this out.’ It was a combination of everything. Everything that could have went wrong went wrong.”

If the two had been clicking, would the Lakers have been…?

Jamison didn’t wait for the end of the question.

“A lot better,” he said.

Is that what brought the season down?

“That’s just a small part of it,” Jamison said. “You’ve got to think about it. Not only that, but having Mike (Brown) there and Mike being fired, and D’Antoni coming in and not being able to have his stamp on the system, not being able to get us to play in that system. It was a lot of things. It wasn’t just the thing between Dwight and Kobe. Steve Nash got hurt. Pau Gasol went down. D’Antoni had to play with reserves that had to play a lot of minutes that probably wouldn’t have played that many minutes. Kobe, the injuries, fatigue and stuff like that. When I say anything that could have went wrong went wrong. On top of that, two guys not liking each other or all the stuff coming out in the media and stuff like that, it was just unnecessary stuff that took place with that much talent on the team.”

Jamison’s lone season with the Lakers resulted in 76 appearances at 21.5 minutes a game, primarily in a reserve role, but nothing close to the title he hoped to finally win. He stayed in Los Angeles and signed with the Clippers with the same championship aspirations, possibly with 2013-14 as the last run before retirement, but a different role. The 37-year-old Jamison has not played in the first three outings as the start to the plan by coach Doc Rivers to use him sparingly in the regular season with the intent of being healthy and fresh for the playoffs.

 

Clips’ Hopes Of Contending Depends On Defense Of Jordan, Griffin

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HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Los Angeles Clippers, a team that won 17 straight games and finished with the league’s fifth-best record last season, made some upgrades this summer in an effort to turn themselves into true title contenders.

On the bench, Vinny Del Negro was replaced by Doc Rivers. And in the starting lineup, Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler were replaced by J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley.

But if the Clippers are to compete for a championship this season, they will need improvement from within, specifically with starting big men Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, who will need to make up for some lost defense on the bench.

L.A.’s bench delivered

One thing that gets overlooked in the Clippers’ rehaul is that they had an excellent second unit last season. Their starters were terrific, but they suffered little drop-off when they went to their bench.

Clippers efficiency, 2012-13

Lineups MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
*Starting lineups 982 91.9 112.8 103.4 +9.5 +181
Other lineups 2,960 94.2 106.0 100.2 +5.8 +348
Total 3,942 93.7 107.7 101.0 +6.7 +529

* Paul, Butler, Griffin, Jordan and either Billups or Green
Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

The Clippers’ starting unit was ridiculously good offensively, but slightly below average defensively. And though their bench struggled to score (it basically depended on Jamal Crawford‘s one-on-one ability), it still built on leads because it was so good on D.

In general, bench units are going to be better defensively than starting units because they’re going against other reserves. But the Clippers’ second most used lineup in the regular season, comprised of all reserves, was the third-best defensive unit in the league (minimum of 200 minutes played).

Three members of that unit are gone. Eric Bledsoe is in Phoenix, Ronny Turiaf is in Minnesota, and Lamar Odom is in NBA limbo as he deals with whatever off-court issues he has.

The importance of Odom

Here’s the thing about Odom last season. He was a disaster offensively (and was the season before that), but was a big part of the Clippers’ defensive improvement. L.A. went from 20th in defensive efficiency in 2011-12 to ninth last season. Their bench — particularly the big men — provided the strongest D.

In 821 minutes with Odom on the floor with either Turiaf or Ryan Hollins, the Clips allowed less than 91 points per 100 possessions. That’s elite defense no matter who the opponent is. No two-man combination in the league that played at least 450 minutes together had a lower on-court DefRtg than Odom and Turiaf.

On-court efficiency, Clippers big man combinations (min. 100 minutes)

Combination GP MIN OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Griffin + Jordan 80 1,810 112.5 104.2 +8.3 +291
Griffin + Odom 66 502 105.7 97.9 +7.8 +114
Odom + Turiaf 53 479 100.0 91.0 +9.0 +56
Odom + Hollins 41 343 111.4 90.8 +20.6 +118
Odom + Jordan 34 166 99.3 104.6 -5.3 -16
Turiaf + Hollins 32 148 85.6 104.7 -19.1 -45
Griffin + Hollins 26 133 106.1 111.5 -5.4 -13

Why Jordan, Griffin must improve

The Clippers’ starting lineup — with Willie Green at the two — was one of the best offensive lineups in the league. Although Jordan can’t shoot at all and Griffin’s mid-range jumper still needs work, that unit scored at a rate better than the Heat’s No. 1 offense. No lineup that was on the floor for nearly as much time scored as efficiently, and great offense can make up for mediocre defense, especially in the regular season.

But there are reasons why Griffin and Jordan need to get better defensively …

1. In the postseason, it’s better to be a great defensive team than a great offensive team. Over the last 12 seasons, 23 of the 24 teams that have reached The Finals have ranked in the top 10 defensively and 15 of the 24 have ranked in the top five defensively. Only 17 of the 24 have ranked in the top 10 offensively and only eight of the 24 have ranked in the top five offensively.

2. Odom and Turiaf have been replaced by Antawn Jamison and Byron Mullens, two defensive liabilities (to put it lightly). The Clips’ bench won’t be nearly as good defensively as it was last season. If L.A. wants to remain in the top 10 on that end of the floor, the starters must make up for the drop-off.

3. The Clippers were just awful defensively in the playoffs, allowing the Grizzlies — who ranked 18th offensively in the regular season — to score almost 110 points per 100 possessions over six games. The only team that was worse defensively last postseason was the short-handed Lakers, who got trounced by San Antonio.

How Memphis exposed L.A.’s bigs

The problems in that series started with the Clippers’ inability to force turnovers and continued with their inability to keep the Grizzlies off the foul line.

Clippers defense, 2012-13

Season Opp2PT% Rank Opp3PT% Rank DREB% Rank OppTOV% Rank OppFTA Rate Rank
Reg. sea. 46.8% 6 37.3% 26 73.5% 15 17.2% 1 .306 29
Playoffs 48.5% 9 32.5% 5 73.3% 12 11.3% 15 .451 16

DREB% = Percentage of defensive rebounds obtained
OppTOV% = Opponent turnovers per 100 possessions
OppFTA Rate = Opponent FTA/FGA

Though it was a slow-paced series, the Grizzlies — a team not known for getting to the line — attempted over 34 free throws per game, 13 more than they averaged in the regular season. They shot better than 50 percent from the field in two of their wins, but 38 trips to the line in allowed them to be nearly as efficient in Game 3, when they shot just 39 percent.

All five L.A. bigs averaged at least six fouls per 48 minutes in the series, with Hollins and Turiaf totaling an incredible 24 fouls in just 96 minutes. Griffin fouled out of Game 1 and committed five fouls in Game 3. Jordan had three fouls in just 17 minutes in that same Game 3.

The combination of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol is a tough matchup for any frontline. But the Clipper bigs got worked over, especially in the post …



Where Jordan and Griffin can improve

Griffin and Jordan aren’t terrible defenders. They both rank as “very good” on pick-and-rolls, according to Synergy Sports Technology. And when it came to rotations and team defense, Butler was a bigger liability in that starting lineup. L.A. was better defensively with Barnes at small forward with the other starters.

But the bigs aren’t great and their defensive focus and energy comes and goes. When guarding a big who faces up in the post, they often fail to contest his jumper or bite on his pump fake. And though they might contain an initial pick-and-roll, they don’t necessarily bring the second and third efforts needed against an offense that knows how to execute …


Both Odom and Turiaf ranked higher on pick-and-roll D and on post defense, where Griffin and Jordan rated as just “good” by Synergy in the regular season … and “poor” in the playoffs. The Grizzlies scored 69 points on 61 post-ups against the pair over the six games.

Overall, the Griffin-Jordan combo just didn’t measure up defensively to the big man pairings on other Western Conference contenders …

On-court efficiency, starting bigs, West playoff teams

Combination (Team) GP MIN OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Duncan + Splitter (SAS) 60 819 106.0 92.7 +13.3 +208
Randolph + Gasol (MEM) 74 1,923 102.6 95.5 +7.1 +322
Ibaka + Perkins (OKC) 76 1,721 109.8 98.0 +11.8 +349
Faried + Koufos (DEN) 79 1,235 106.7 101.9 +4.8 +126
Bogut + Lee (GSW) 31 720 106.7 103.0 +3.7 +50
Griffin + Jordan (LAC) 80 1,810 112.5 104.2 +8.3 +291
Gasol + Howard (LAL) 46 994 103.5 104.2 -0.7 -19
Patterson + Asik (HOU) 46 797 108.3 104.8 +3.6 +78

The Clippers will again be competing with the Spurs, Thunder and Grizzlies, three teams with bigs they can count on defensively. The Rockets have (a healthier) Dwight Howard and the Warriors could have a healthy Andrew Bogut.

Rivers was the coach of the league’s best defensive team of the last six seasons, and this team will likely be the best offensive one he’s ever led. But he’s not bringing Kevin Garnett with him from Boston.

The tools are there for Griffin and Jordan to improve. They have as much athleticism and mobility as any frontline in the league. But it takes a lot more than that to be an elite defender.

Jordan spoke about being a better communicator earlier this summer, and that’s a step in the right direction. But discipline, focus and sustained effort must also be priorities.

The Clips don’t need either guy to turn into Garnett. But if they’re to be included as one of the West teams that could be in The Finals next June, their starting bigs need to go from good to great defensively … especially since they won’t have as much help from their back-ups.

Can Leftovers Make A Free-Agent Dish?

HANG TIME, Texas – OK, let’s say it’s the middle of August, we just won the entire Powerball lottery and, in a grand farewell gesture, outgoing commissioner David Stern says he’ll let us buy a new NBA franchise.

We can play our home games on Maui or Mars. We can have our team wear those tight-fitting jerseys with sleeves, just like the Golden State Warriors or even sprint up and down the court wearing Capri pants, if we choose.

There’s just one catch. The only players available to fill out our roster are those still dangling on the list of unsigned free agents. Now that Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Andre Iguodala, Andrei Kirilenko and even Greg Oden are long gone, is it too late to put together a respectable team? Or even one that could outperform the infamous 9-73 record of the 1972-73 Sixers or the 7-59 mark of the 2011-12 Bobcats?

So for all those last-minute bargain hunters who don’t start their holiday shopping until Christmas Eve, here are the Leftovers:

Antawn Jamison, Forward – The 37-year-old veteran is coming out of the lost season with the Lakers where he played 21.5 minutes per game and showed that he can still shoot enough from the wings to score in double figures. After 15 years in the league, he’s still a reliable enough producer and ranks higher in efficiency rating than even two regular members of the starting lineup for the two-time champion Heat (Udonis Haslem and Shane Battier). The Leftovers will have to put points on the board somehow.

Lamar Odom, Forward – You’ve got to have faith that Odom hasn’t simply lost the spark and lost interest after his past two dismal years. Following the horrible flameout in Dallas, last season was supposed to be a shot at redemption as a key role player and solid influence in the locker room with the Clippers. Odom was particularly ineffective in the first-round playoff loss to Memphis. The birth certificate says he won’t turn 34 until the start of next season, but the odometer has racked up more miles than an old pickup truck. The Leftovers will keep believing that you don’t simply forget how to pass, rebound and do the little things and give Odom another chance.

Cole Aldrich, Center – After being taken with the 11th pick by New Orleans in 2010 and traded to OKC on draft night, Aldrich has never been able to establish himself as anything more than a space eater at the end of the bench for the Thunder, Rockets and most recently the Kings. Aldrich finally got onto the floor for 15 games in Sacramento at the end of last season and pulled down a respectable four rebounds in 11 minutes of playing time per night. He’s the epitome of the old adage: “You can’t teach height.” That’s why he’ll keep getting chances and the Leftovers are hoping that this is the one that will pay off.

Mikael Pietrus, Guard – We’re going to plug the swingman into our lineup in the backcourt and hope to ride that streaky outside shooting and penchant for playing in-your-face defense for production at both ends of the court. He played just 19 games last season with the Raptors before tendinitis in his knee forced him to the sidelines for good in the middle of March. But he’s too young (31), too athletic, too active, too disruptive on defense and potentially still too good not to have him on our side.

Sebastian Telfair, Guard – In a league where it has become increasingly critical to have an elite level point guard running the offense, you don’t simply find them in the discount bin. There’s a reason why the Clippers have gone from pretender to contender and his name is Chris Paul. From a free agent list that ranges from 35-year-old Jamaal Tinsley to 25-year-old Rodrigue Beaubois, we’ll split the difference and take the 28-year-old Telfair. He’s never lived up to the advance hype because though he’s quick and small, he can’t finish at the rim and has only recently become dependable as a mid-range shooter. His size hurts on defense, but he puts out the effort and when you’re a Leftover that’s good enough.

Who’s Left? A Look At The Numbers

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – It’s been 15 days since teams could start talking to free agents and six days since contracts could be signed. And at this point, pickings are slim. If you want an impact player, you’re probably going to have to settle for a guy that makes an impact only some of the time.

Here’s what’s left on the free-agent market as of Tuesday morning, according to the numbers guys put up last season.

There were 30 free agents available on July 1 (or who became available afterward) who had played at least 2,000 minutes last season. Only three remain …

Most minutes played, remaining free agents

Player Old team GP GS MIN MIN/G
Brandon Jennings MIL (R) 80 80 2,896 36.2
Gerald Henderson CHA (R) 68 58 2,133 31.4
Nate Robinson CHI 82 23 2,086 25.4
Nikola Pekovic MIN (R) 62 62 1,959 31.6
Jason Maxiell DET 72 71 1,789 24.8
Antawn Jamison LAL 76 6 1,636 21.5
Lamar Odom LAC 82 2 1,616 19.7
Alan Anderson TOR 65 2 1,495 23.0
Gary Neal SAS 68 17 1,484 21.8
Beno Udrih ORL 66 9 1,457 22.1

(R) = Restricted free agent

There were 21 free agents who played at least 200 minutes in the playoffs, and six of those guys are still left …

Most playoff minutes played, remaining free agents

Player Old team GP GS MIN MIN/G
Nate Robinson CHI 12 8 404 33.7
Gary Neal SAS 21 0 390 18.6
D.J. Augustin IND 19 1 316 16.6
Derek Fisher OKC 11 0 261 23.7
Kenyon Martin NYK 12 1 253 21.1
Devin Harris ATL 6 6 225 37.5
Brandon Jennings MIL (R) 4 4 133 33.3
Sam Young IND 15 0 130 8.7
Keyon Dooling MEM 14 0 114 8.1
Ivan Johnson ATL 6 0 108 18.0

There were 31 free agents who scored at least 800 points last season, some more efficiently than others. Only four of those guys are left …

Most points scored, remaining free agents

Player Old team GP PTS PPG eFG% TS%
Brandon Jennings MIL (R) 80 1,397 17.5 46.8% 51.0%
Nate Robinson CHI 82 1,074 13.1 51.0% 54.0%
Gerald Henderson CHA (R) 68 1,055 15.5 46.6% 53.1%
Nikola Pekovic MIN (R) 62 1,011 16.3 52.0% 57.2%
Antawn Jamison LAL 76 712 9.4 53.7% 56.1%
Alan Anderson TOR 65 693 10.7 46.0% 50.9%
Gary Neal SAS 68 645 9.5 48.7% 51.2%
Mo Williams UTA 46 592 12.9 48.5% 51.9%
Devin Harris ATL 58 577 9.9 52.5% 56.5%
Byron Mullens CHA 53 564 10.6 44.4% 46.5%

EFG% = (FGM + (0.5*3PM)) / FGA
TS% = PTS / (2 * (FGA + (0.44*FTA)))

Of the 30 free agents who grabbed at least 300 rebounds, five remain …

Most total rebounds, remaining free agents

Player Old Team GP OREB DREB REB RPG OREB% DREB% REB%
Nikola Pekovic MIN (R) 62 230 315 545 8.8 13.1% 18.8% 15.9%
Lamar Odom LAC 82 117 363 480 5.9 8.6% 25.2% 17.2%
Jason Maxiell DET 72 135 274 409 5.7 8.6% 17.7% 13.2%
Antawn Jamison LAL 76 109 253 362 4.8 7.5% 16.7% 12.2%
Byron Mullens CHA 53 71 266 337 6.4 5.3% 21.9% 13.2%
Samuel Dalembert MIL 47 105 171 276 5.9 13.9% 26.6% 19.8%
Ivan Johnson ATL 69 76 190 266 3.9 8.4% 20.9% 14.7%
Brandan Wright DAL 64 85 175 260 4.1 8.5% 16.0% 12.4%
Gerald Henderson CHA (R) 68 55 195 250 3.7 2.9% 10.9% 6.8%
Brandon Jennings MIL (R) 80 59 187 246 3.1 2.1% 7.3% 4.6%

OREB% = Percentage of available offensive rebounds grabbed while on the floor
DREB% = Percentage of available defensive rebounds grabbed while on the floor
REB% = Percentage of available total rebounds grabbed while on the floor

Of the 24 free agents who dished out at least 200 assists last season, six remain …

Most assists, remaining free agents

Player Old Team GP AST APG TO AST/TO ASTRatio
Brandon Jennings MIL (R) 80 521 6.5 203 2.57 24.9
Nate Robinson CHI 82 358 4.4 144 2.49 23.9
Beno Udrih ORL 66 302 4.6 108 2.80 32.4
Jamaal Tinsley UTA 66 290 4.4 106 2.74 45.2
Mo Williams UTA 46 285 6.2 125 2.28 29.1
A.J. Price WAS 57 205 3.6 64 3.20 28.9
Devin Harris ATL 58 197 3.4 88 2.24 24.8
Gerald Henderson CHA (R) 68 177 2.6 108 1.64 13.9
D.J. Augustin IND 76 170 2.2 68 2.50 29.5
Luke Walton CLE 50 166 3.3 60 2.77 39.9

ASTRatio = Percentage of possessions resulting in an assist

There were 49 free agents who recorded a positive plus-minus last season, and 18 of them – including a pair who made a strong impact – remain.

Highest plus-minus, remaining free agents

Player Old Team GP +/- OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg
Lamar Odom LAC 82 +296 104.9 95.4 +9.5
Devin Harris ATL 58 +155 105.2 97.9 +7.3
Gary Neal SAS 68 +101 105.4 101.4 +4.0
Brandan Wright DAL 64 +100 107.9 102.8 +5.1
Derek Fisher OKC 33 +64 107.2 100.7 +6.5
Kenyon Martin NYK 18 +58 109.8 101.4 +8.4
Rodrigue Beaubois DAL 45 +36 102.8 99.3 +3.5
Nate Robinson CHI 82 +32 101.9 101.9 +0.0
Mike James DAL 45 +30 106.8 103.8 +3.0
Jerry Stackhouse BKN 37 +27 103.0 104.6 -1.7

OffRtg = Team points scored per 100 possessions with player on floor
DefRtg = Team points allowed per 100 possessions with player on floor
NetRtg = Team point differential per 100 possessions with player on floor

Steve Nash Is Done — For Now

LOS ANGELES – Steve Nash is focused on 2013-14.

“Put it this way,” Nash said, “I am optimistic and I feel like I’ll be great next year.”

This year, however, is over. The 39-year-old point guard will end his first season with the Los Angeles Lakers essentially the way it began — in pain.

Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni officially ruled out Nash for Sunday’s Game 4 (7 p.m. ET, TNT), a must-win for L.A. to force an improbable, seemingly impossible, Game 5 in San Antonio. For the first time during this lopsided series that the Spurs lead 3-0, Nash was not in practice gear and was not available following a Lakers workout.

“It’s the worst,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, whose San Antonio teams have long and colorful playoff history against Nash and his old Phoenix Suns. “It’s not just that he’s a good player, a great player, he’s a competitor. He’s one of the all-time competitors. To see him sitting on the sideline, you got to know that it’s killing him, it’s just killing him. I feel bad in the regard.”

Nash is dealing with back, hip and hamstring problems that are all related. He tweaked the injuries on the final play of Game 2, tried a cortisone shot to his hip and two epidural shots to his back in hopes of taking the court in Game 3, but he couldn’t do it.

“The irony, I guess, is that the back doesn’t affect me functionally, but the back is probably the root of all the problems,” said Nash, who has dealt with back issues for years. “It’s the hamstring and the hip that really prevented me, and I tweaked the whole system there on the last play of the half and it all went downhill from there.”

The Lakers’ ridiculously long injury list grew by one — and why not? — with Metta World Peace removing himself from Game 4 after sitting out the second half of Game 3. He irritated the right knee that he had surgically repaired just a month ago. Also out for what will will be Steve Blake, Jodie Meeks and, obviously, Kobe Bryant.

“It’s just been a crazy year. You can point back to the very start,” Nash said on Friday. “The bottom line is there’s no one reason, it’s just bad luck and a bunch of circumstances and, you know, it’s a shame.”

But Nash, as physically fit and nutritionally conscious as any player in the league, is planning for big things next season when the Lakers could well put essentially the same roster back on the floor if they re-sign Dwight Howard this summer. Pau Gasol could be gone, and Antawn Jamison and Earl Clark are free agents along with Howard.

Nash has two more seasons on his contract at $19 million. When training camp opens next October, speculation will be if Nash’s body can hold up. This season started with a freak incident, a broken leg and nerve damage in the second game of the season at Portland. Nash will turn 40 before the next All-Star Game.

Nash said he doesn’t discount the destructive forces of time on the body, but he said it’s unfair to blame this season’s series of ailments strictly on his age. His durability over 17 seasons is nothing short of remarkable. He missed 32 games this season, four times as many as in any recent season. He sat out eight in 2008-09, and you have to go back to 1999-2000 to find a season when he missed more.

“It’d be foolish not to say that it [age] could play some part, but I also think it’s really myopic to say that because I finally had an injury bug it’s age,” Nash said. “I think the biggest scenario is that everybody gets hurt at some point. The fact that I’m getting hurt now and haven’t been hurt before, it’s easy for everyone to say he’s getting old. I mean look around the room, what about the other guys? Is it because they’re getting old?”

Look beyond the Lakers. Look at the unfortunate injury list across the league: Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook (meniscus tear) is 24. Denver’s Danilo Gallinari (ACL) is 24. Golden State’s David Lee is 29. Boston’s Rajon Rondo is 27. Chicago’s Derrick Rose is 24.

Barring a miraculous comeback by the Lakers starting with Sunday’s Game 4, we have seen the last of Nash for this season.

But he’ll be back, and D’Antoni, whose greatest success came with Nash in Phoenix, believes he’ll have plenty left.

“I mean he’s dying inside,” D’Antoni said of Nash missing playoff games. “Then again, I think he’s excited about trying to get his body straight and coming back and having a great year. They’re on a mission, he, Kobe, Steve Blake, all of them are getting ready for another year.

“That’s them. We’re trying to lengthen this [series] and trying to win a game on Sunday.”

Series Hub: Spurs vs. Lakers

Give L.A. Its Due Starting With Dwight

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Let the singing of the praises begin. The Los Angeles Lakers are in the playoffs and in this strange season, that’s no small feat.

May it start with Dwight Howard. He was demanded to be dominant without Kobe Bryant by analysts such as Magic Johnson and more, and for those two must-have games he delivered: 42 points, 35 rebounds and seven blocks while playing 82 of 96 minutes.

“Everybody counted us out, but one thing that I told the guys tonight was that we’ve been through so much as a team this year, from the injuries to the rumors and everything that has happened,” Howard said after the Lakers rallied to defeat Houston 99-95 in overtime and pass the Rockets for the seventh seed. “It could have made us separate from each other, but we stayed strong, stayed together and we won for each other tonight. So we’re happy that we’re in the playoffs, but we’re not done yet.”

Next up for a golf clap is coach Mike D’Antoni. He’s absorbed tidal waves of criticism since taking over — including from right here — as the fans’ distant second choice to jilted Phil Jackson. Sure, Kobe’s season-ending Achilles injury might have finally forced D’Antoni to bend and feed his two bigs, Dwight and Pau Gasol, as so many have screamed for months, but he did.

Dwight’s 30 shot attempts over the last two games are his highest two-game total since March 6-8. At the other end, he reminded us why he was the three-time Defensive Player of the Year in Orlando before the back injury last season derailed a shot at four in a row. His two defensive gems against a driving James Harden late in the game were marvelous.

Gasol, dogged by injuries and an intellectual basketball divide with D’Antoni, came through in the last two games with 24 points, 36 rebounds and 13 assists, with a number of nifty passes going to Dwight.

The bottom line is the Lakers were written off and easily ridiculed. On Jan. 2 they were 15-16 and in 11th place. On Jan. 24 the Lakers hit rock-bottom, in 12th place at 17-25. Since then, through the death of beloved owner Jerry Buss and injuries to Gasol and Nash and Metta World Peace and now Kobe, they finished 28-12.

With the season on the line every single day in April, the Lakers won eight of nine.

“Obviously I’m really proud the way for just a month they had to just play in elimination-like games every night, and I think Steve Nash said it best, or Dwight, I forget which one said it, but after they [Houston's Chandler Parsons] threw in the 3 to tie the game and it went into overtime, he said, ‘It’s been hard all year, this stuff’s happened all year, so why was this any different, and it’s not going to be easy and let’s go out and win it,’ and they did.

“The great thing about it was everybody contributed, somebody did something that we got the win, because you can’t shoot 36 percent and make it easy, it’s going to be tough. So we didn’t shoot the ball well, but other than that I thought we had good shots and I thought the guys obviously played hard and we played well defensively again.”

It has been a team thing. Steve Blake has been off the charts with back-to-back 20-plus-point games. Antawn Jamison had 31 points and 10 rebounds, and shot 5-for-10 from beyond the arc.

While Utah’s loss at Memphis just before the Lakers tipped off against the Rockets got them in the playoffs, the gutsy win made sure they’d snag the unforeseen seventh seed and avoid Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round.

“I don’t even know what to say,” Blake said. “I’m just proud to be a Laker.”

Now these Lakers will take their cuts, with the pressure eased and nothing to lose with Kobe on crutches, against a disciplined and proficient San Antonio Spurs team. However, it is a Spurs team that limps into the postseason and isn’t immune to an early postseason upset.

In this strange season, anything, it seems, is possible.

All That Jazz Puts Heat on Lakers

HANG TIME, Texas — As Dean Wormer might have once said to Flounder in “Animal House”: “Losing nine out of 11 games is no way to make the playoffs, son.”

But here are the Jazz, back up and dancing like Otis Day & The Knights are playing at a toga party, suddenly the owners of a three-game winning streak and… wait for it… a road win.

When Utah won at Portland for its first victory on the road since Feb. 13, it jumped the Jazz over the Lakers and back into the last playoff spot in the Western Conference.

According to Bill Oram of the Salt Lake Tribune, the chatter was back in the Jazz locker room after they rallied from nine, 14 and nine down again in the fourth quarter on Friday night.

“Winning does that,” Mo Williams said. “Winning puts you in a good mood, especially when you care. Top to bottom, people care here, when you lose you feel down. It’s not so jolly, it’s not so loose.”

Earlier in the evening, Williams was far from happy. The 30-year-old point guard, in his second stint with the Jazz, was benched by coach Tyrone Corbin in the second quarter. In the final minutes of the game, Williams carried the Jazz to the win, scoring 14 of his game-high 28 points in the fourth quarter and spearheading a 25-6 run in the final six minutes.

“You get pissed off,” Williams said. “Instead of feeling sorry for yourself, you come out and be aggressive.”

The Jazz come home to close out a back-to-back tonight against the Nets and there is light again after it had appeared for weeks that Utah was going to do everything except lift the Lakers up onto their shoulders and carry Kobe Bryant & Co. into the postseason.

Now the two teams are in the stretch run and for the first time in a while, the Jazz might have a leg up in getting to the finish.

Let’s break it down for final nine games:

Jazz

Home — 6

Road — 3

Vs. playoff teams — 5

Back-to-backs remaining: 0

Tonight — vs. Nets

Mon. — vs. Blazers

Wed. — vs. Nuggets

Apr. 7 — at Golden State

Apr. 9 — vs. Thunder

Apr. 12 — vs. Timberwolves

Apr. 15 — at Minnesota

Apr. 17 — at Memphis

The Jazz hold the tiebreaker over the Lakers and if they can take care of business at home, where they’re 26-9 on the season, will be tough for the Lakers to beat out.

Lakers

Home — 6

Road — 3

Vs. playoff teams — 5

Back-to-backs remaining — 1

Tonight — at Sacramento

Tues. — vs. Mavericks

Fri. — vs. Grizzlies

Apr. 7 — at L.A. Clippers

Apr. 9 — vs. Hornets

Apr. 10 — at Portland

Apr. 12 — vs. Warriors

Apr. 14 — vs. Spurs

Apr. 17 — vs. Rockets

Of the 14 players on the Lakers roster, seven are listed on the injury report for tonight at Sacramento, though Bryant, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Antawn Jamison are probable, with Steve Nash questionable and Metta World Peace and Jordan Hill out. Of the Lakers’ three remaining road games, they won’t have to leave their own building to play the Clippers and that next-to-last game against San Antonio could catch them another break if the mercurial Gregg Popovich decides to rest up his veterans for the playoffs.

Lakers Still Look Like An 8 Seed … At Best

 

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – There’s been some talk of late that the Los Angeles Lakers, now that they’ve finally surged into the top eight of the Western Conference, can get as high as the No. 6 seed.

Well, the Lakers made the point on Friday night that just making the playoffs still isn’t guaranteed.

In Pau Gasol‘s first game back from a 20-game absence, L.A. blew an 18-point, second-half lead to the Washington Wizards, a team that was previously 6-26 on the road.

Afterward, Mike D’Antoni ripped into his team, and Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register basically joined in on the criticism

Wizards speedy point guard John Wall gave a preview of what could await the Lakers in a possible first-round playoff series against Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, San Antonio’s Tony Parker or Denver’s Ty Lawson by rushing the ball into a backpedaling Lakers defense and establishing which team had the truer aggression.

Wall had 24 points and 16 assists, and his efforts held up with Bryant missing would-be tying shots from the open elbow with 5.9 seconds left and from a difficult 3-point circumstance at the buzzer. After a two-game layoff to heal a sprained left ankle, Bryant looked fatigued – and surely not from defensive diligence – but kept firing away late in the game.

Trevor Ariza, whom Bryant gave his summer shooting program to help the Lakers en route to their 2009 NBA title, had a dynamic second half – often against Bryant. Ariza had 25 points and hit a career-high seven 3-pointers; Bryant had 21 points on 8-of-18 shooting with 11 assists.

About Ariza’s open looks, D’Antoni said it was “inexcusable … lapses, gambling or ‘I’m not gonna play hard tonight.’”

To add injury to insult, Antawn Jamison sprained his right wrist in the third quarter. He’ll have an MRI on Saturday to determine the extent of the damage, but without him, the Lakers’ offense could be compromised. Gasol shot just 2-for-10 in his return and has shot just 42 percent when playing alongside Dwight Howard.

If the Lakers aren’t potent offensively, they may struggle down the stretch, because their defense hasn’t been reliable at all. Though they’re 11-5 since the All-Star break, they have just the 15th best post-break defense.

The good news for the Lakers is that the Jazz also lost on Friday, falling in overtime in San Antonio. Utah has now lost 11 of its last 14 games, and L.A. is still very much in control of its own destiny, up a game and a half for that eighth spot.

But the lead is just one game in the loss column and Utah does have the tiebreaker, having won the season series 2-1. And while the Lakers are about to embark on a four-game road trip, the Jazz have a little bit of a soft stretch of schedule coming up. They visit Dallas on Sunday and then play six of their next seven games at home. Overall, Utah has the easier remaining schedule.

Still, the Jazz will need to start playing better than they have over the last month if they’re going to really threaten L.A. Taking the Spurs to overtime in San Antonio is somewhat encouraging, but their offense has been held under a point per possession in seven of their last 10 games.

Lakers and Jazz, remaining schedules

Team Home Away B2B Opp B2B vs. .500+ Opp PCT
L.A. Lakers 6 6 1 3 7 0.526
Utah 8 5 2 2 5 0.496

B2B = Back-to-backs
Opp B2B = Opponents on the second night of a back-to-back
vs. .500+ = Games against teams with a .500 or better record
Opp PCT = Cumulative opponent winning percentage

What’s Behind The Lakers’ Run?

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Los Angeles Lakers are making a charge. They’ve won 13 of their last 18 games and are now just two games behind the Utah Jazz for the eighth spot in the Western Conference.

But are the Lakers a much better team right now than they were six weeks ago? Not really.

A look at the numbers shows only minimal improvement from the Lakers’ first 42 games.

Lakers efficiency

Games W L OffRtg Rank DefRtg Rank NetRtg Rank
First 42 17 25 105.5 6 103.7 20 +1.7 11
Last 18 13 5 105.4 10 102.9 13 +2.5 11

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

So, the Lakers have been been a hair worse offensively over the last 18 games, and less than a point per 100 possessions better defensively. That’s not much of a difference. The real difference has been how they’ve performed in close games.

When you’re below .500 with a positive point differential, as the Lakers were after 42 games, you’re typically winning big and losing small. And through Jan. 23, the Lakers were 3-7 in games decided by five points or less. Since then, they’re 5-0.

The final margin of a game is kind of arbitrary, though. And if you look at games that were within five points in the last five minutes, the difference between the Lakers’ first 42 games and their last 18 is even bigger.

Lakers games within five points in the last five minutes

Games W L Clutch OffRtg Clutch DefRtg
First 42 5 16 99.3 117.6
Last 18 9 2 123.0 87.9

*Clutch OffRtg & DefRtg = for possessions in the last five minutes with a point differential of five or less

Though the Lakers’ defense hasn’t been that much better overall, it has been down the stretch of close games. And offensively, the shots are going in. In fact, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Antawn Jamison, Metta World Peace and Earl Clark have combined to shoot 31-for-49 (63 percent) from the field in clutch time since Jan. 25.

Lakers clutch shooting, last 18 games

Player FGM FGA FG% 3PM 3PA 3PT% FTM FTA FT%
Kobe Bryant 15 29 51.7% 0 1 .0% 21 22 95.5%
Steve Nash 8 10 80.0% 3 4 75.0% 2 5 40.0%
Antawn Jamison 4 4 100.0% 0 0 0 0
Metta World Peace 2 3 66.7% 1 2 50.0% 2 3 66.7%
Earl Clark 2 3 66.7% 0 1 .0% 2 4 50.0%
Pau Gasol 2 6 33.3% 0 0 2 2 100.0%
Jodie Meeks 1 3 33.3% 1 3 33.3% 0 0
Dwight Howard 0 1 .0% 0 0 1 2 50.0%
Total 34 59 57.6% 5 11 45.5% 30 38 78.9%

You can look at this in two ways. If the glass is half full, you can say that the Lakers were much better than their record when they were 17-25. If it’s half empty, you can say that this 13-5 stretch isn’t as impressive as it may seem. Furthermore, real quality wins have been few and far between. They’re just 3-16 against the eight teams with a winning percentage better than .600.

The last win over one of those teams was a 105-96 victory over the Thunder, who the Lakers visit on TNT at 9:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday. They’re 0-9 on the road against teams above .600 thus far.

Still, overall, the Lakers have been a better team on both ends of the floor than the Jazz, the team they’re trying to catch.

When it comes to future schedule, the Lakers play slightly easier opponents, but the Jazz have one fewer road game (11 vs. 12) and one fewer back-to-back (3 vs. 4).

Stay tuned…