Posts Tagged ‘Antawn Jamison’

Jordan At 50: Could He Just Do It?


HANG TIME, Texas — It starts out like the beginning of an old joke.

You know, somebody says that as great as Bill Russell was in winning 11 championships with the Celtics, he’d have difficulty winning even one against today’s class of NBA athletes.

Of course, goes the punchline, Russell will turn 79 on Tuesday.

But Antawn Jamison wasn’t kidding when he told Dave McMenamin of that Michael Jordan could still play effectively in the league right now.

Jordan turns 50 on Feb. 17, coincidentally the day of the NBA All-Star Game.

“I wouldn’t doubt that in the right situation with a LeBron (James) on his team or with a Kobe (Bryant) on this team, he could get you about 10 or 11 points, come in and play 15-20 minutes,” said Antawn Jamison before the Lakers played the Bobcats on Friday. “I wouldn’t doubt that at all, especially if he was in shape and injuries were prevented and things of that nature.”

That’s saying a lot, considering Jamison has Bryant on his team, and only averages 8.1 points per game in 20.5 minutes per game and he’s “only” 36 years old.

Jordan averaged 20 points in 37 minutes per game in his 15th and final season in the league before retiring for good at age 40.

Would it ever happen? Could it ever happen? Other than Larry Bird actually sprouting real wings, is there anything you might imagine that is more preposterous?

Remember, it was Jordan himself who raised the possibility near the end of his challenging, often vitriolic speech at the 2009 Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

“One day you might look up and see me playing the game at 50,” Jordan said. “Oh, don’t laugh. Never say never. Because limits, like fears, are often just an illusion.”

We know that on the court there were never any limits or fears to Jordan, only challenges — some real, some imagined — that he used to constantly lift himself to a higher plane.

That is precisely the reason I have a standing bet with my good friend Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle that was made when Jordan hung up his Wizards jersey. I said then I didn’t believe His Airness was finished and one day we’d see him back on the court in an NBA game. At the start of each new season, Jonathan tries to get me to surrender. Then along comes word that the owner of the Bobcats showed up at practice one day in December to show them how it’s done. Or maybe just to feed his ego.

But after taking on some of his kids — Gerald Henderson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bismack Biyombo — in a little one-on-one, it’s always clear that the competitive spark is just below the surface and the skills are still there.

“He’s still got it. He can still shoot,” Henderson said. “I don’t know about his defense, but he can still score.”

Biyombo: “He’s pretty good.”

So we mark down Biyombo for understatement of the year, consider the opinion of Jamison and ponder the possibilities.

I once asked Hakeem Olajuwon, who just turned 50, if he thought he could still play in the league.

“Not full-time. But for a few minutes, yes,” he insisted. “ I’m in shape.”

When a 50-year-old Clyde Drexler was asked the same question, he nodded his head. “Absolutely. I could go out there and run up and down the floor with those guys one night,” he said laughing. “Then the next day I’d be in traction.”

So what do we do with the Jordan question? Could he? Would he? Should he, as the old Nike slogan said, just do it?

I’ll tell you one thing I’m not doing: Paying off Jonathan. Yet.

More History Awaits As Lakers Visit Celts


HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The craziest thing about the Los Angeles Lakers’ struggles this season is that the Boston Celtics have been dealing with very similar issues. The two franchises with the most NBA championships have been this season’s two most disappointing teams.

At this point in the season, both the Celtics and Lakers are going through what may be the most adversity they’ve faced yet. Boston has lost Rajon Rondo and Jared Sullinger for the season. L.A. has been without Dwight Howard for the last three games and just lost Pau Gasol for an extended period with a torn plantar fascia.

Yet, both teams are playing their best basketball of the season. The Celtics have gone 5-0 without their point guard, while the Lakers have won six of their last seven.

So it’s a great time for these two teams to meet tonight (8 ET, TNT) for the first time. The Lakers, still three games out of a playoff spot, have more on the line. But the Celtics can move up a spot to seventh (avoiding the Heat in the first round would probably be a good thing) in the Eastern Conference standings and surely would love to knock off their cross-country rivals.

When these two teams met in Boston two seasons ago on TNT, Ray Allen made history by passing Reggie Miller for the most 3-pointers in NBA history. And on Thursday, we’re going to see another milestone for a man in green.

Kevin Garnett is six points away from being the 16th player in league history to score 25,000 career points. Garnett’s scoring average has dipped quite a bit over the last five years, but he still ranks second on the all-time list among active players.

Most career points, active players

Rank Player G PTS PPG
5 Kobe Bryant 1,210 30,834 25.5
16 Kevin Garnett 1,303 24,994 19.2
18 Dirk Nowitzki 1,075 24,427 22.7
21 Paul Pierce 1,073 23,479 21.9
22 Ray Allen 1,193 23,424 19.6
24 Tim Duncan 1,154 23,300 20.2
30 Vince Carter 1,034 21,750 21.0
37 LeBron James 735 20,279 27.6
42 Antawn Jamison 1,028 19,590 19.1
71 Jason Kidd 1,357 17,385 12.8

The 10 guys listed above have all scored in different ways. Garnett has been Mr. Mid-range, attempting 52 percent of his shots from between the paint and the 3-point line, the highest rate of the group.

Garnett has never been a traditional big man and has always attempted about half of his shots from mid-range. But over the last two seasons (strangely coinciding with his move from power forward to center), that number has been at 58 percent.

Of the group above, only Antawn Jamison has had a higher percentage of his shots assisted. Since the 1996-97 season (his second year), Garnett has been assisted on more than 68 percent of his buckets, by 101 different teammates.

Most assists to Garnett since 1996-97

Player FGM
Rajon Rondo 878
Terrell Brandon 485
Paul Pierce 454
Sam Cassell 372
Wally Szczerbiak 370

Among the players with exactly one assist to Garnett are former Celtics Rasheed Wallace and Brian Scalabrine. TNT analyst Shaquille O’Neal had exactly four assists to KG.

Because he spent 12 seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Garnett has scored his most points against Western Conference opponents. The Lakers are currently fifth on the list, but could be third by the end of the night.

Kevin Garnett, most points by opponent

Opponent GP PTS PPG
Sacramento 57 1,184 20.8
Golden State 55 1,137 20.7
L.A. Clippers 55 1,088 19.8
Houston 54 1,073 19.9
L.A. Lakers 55 1,072 19.5


Underachieving Lakers Join List Of Recent Disappointments


HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Los Angeles Lakers have won two straight games in impressive fashion and host the New Orleans Hornets tonight (10:30 ET, NBA TV). They’re still six games under .500 and they still look like a real long shot to win a playoff series.

That would make these Lakers one of the biggest disappointments in NBA history. They brought together one of the best players of his generation, one of the best point guards in recent memory, one of the best international players in NBA history and the most impactful defender of the last several seasons. Yet here they are at 19-25, standing in 10th place in the Western Conference.

Injuries have played a role, and so has a coaching change. But there’s just too much top-line talent on the Lakers’ roster for them to have the record that they are. And it isn’t hard to see examples — mostly on the defensive end of the floor — of where they aren’t playing up to their ability on a nightly basis.

If the Lakers don’t make the playoffs, it will be difficult to find a more disappointing team in NBA history. But here are a few examples of recent teams to haven’t lived up to expectations. The list features current Lakers Steve Nash, Antawn Jamison and Pau Gasol, as well as head coach Mike D’Antoni

2010-11 Utah Jazz (39-43)
A case of a perennial playoff team falling apart in less than two weeks.

The Jazz were coming off a trip to the Western Conference semifinals. They lost Carlos Boozer, Wesley Matthews and Ronnie Brewer in free agency, but added Al Jefferson via trade. And they still had Deron Williams, Andrei Kirilenko and Paul Millsap, though Mehmet Okur missed 69 games with various injuries.

On the morning of Feb. 10, the Jazz were 31-23, but they ranked 18th defensively and had outscored their opponents by just two points over their 54 games. And at that point, Jerry Sloan decided he had enough. He resigned and then Williams was traded after the All-Star break. The Jazz went 8-20 under Tyrone Corbin, falling from sixth in the West to 11th.

2009-10 Washington Wizards (26-56)
Maybe the biggest train wreck season in NBA history.

The Wizards had Gilbert Arenas (returning from a knee injury that limited him to just 15 games in the previous two seasons), Caron Butler and Jamison back together. And they added Randy Foye and Mike Miller in a trade with Minnesota. The idea was that they would get back to where they were three seasons earlier, when they led the Eastern Conference through January.

But after a mid-December west coast trip, the Wizards were just 8-17. And on the plane ride back from Phoenix, Arenas and Javaris Crittenton reportedly got in a dispute about a card game. Two days later, Arenas brought guns to the Verizon Center locker room, and the rest is history.

Though they won the No. 1 pick the following summer, the Wizards still haven’t recovered. Since the start the 2008-09 season, Washington has a 99-256 (.279) record, worst in the league.

2008-09 Phoenix Suns (46-36)
We tend to think of Shaquille O’Neal being a bad fit in D’Antoni’s system. But the Suns actually ranked No. 1 in offensive efficiency in his one full season in Phoenix. The problem was that they ranked 25th defensively.

Maybe that was when we really started to appreciate Shawn Marion — who the Suns traded to Miami for O’Neal the previous season — for his defense. The Suns’ defense was hurt even more when they traded Raja Bell and Boris Diaw to Charlotte in December of ’08.

Right after the All-Star break, with the Suns holding a 30-23 record, Amar’e Stoudemire was lost for the season with a detached retina. But O’Neal and Nash missed only 15 games between them that season. And despite the presence of two future Hall of Famers (and past MVPs), the Suns finished two games out of the playoffs in a tough Western Conference.

The ’08-09 Suns were one of only two teams in the last 35 years to win at least 46 games and not make the playoffs. The other was the 2007-08 Golden State Warriors, who were 48-34.

2006-07 Memphis Grizzlies (22-60)
The Pau Gasol Grizzlies probably don’t come to mind when thinking about disappointing teams of the past, but only *five teams suffered a bigger drop-off in winning percentage over the last 35 years. And the Grizzlies didn’t have the personnel changes nor the injury issues that easily explain the regression with those five.

They did trade Shane Battier to Houston that summer for the draft rights to Rudy Gay. And Gasol did miss the first 22 games of the season, putting the Grizz in a 5-17 hole. But they weren’t much better when Gasol returned. Coach Mike Fratello was fired at 6-24 and they finished with the worst record in the league.

The 2005-06 Grizzlies went 49-33 under Mike Fratello, made the franchise’s third straight trip to the playoffs, and ranked second in the league defensively. Then Battier left, Eddie Jones wasn’t the same player anymore and the ’06-07 Grizzlies ranked dead last defensively.

*The five teams were the 2010-11 Cavs (departure of LeBron James), the 1998-99 Bulls (departures of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Phil Jackson), the 1996-97 Spurs (David Robinson played just six games), the 1982-83 Houston Rockets (departure of Moses Malone), and the 2007-08 Heat (injuries to Dwyane Wade and O’Neal, who was eventually traded).

2006-07 Miami Heat (44-38)
The defending champs lost O’Neal for more than two months to knee surgery and Dwyane Wade for six weeks to a shoulder injury.

But both were in the lineup when the Heat got swept in the 4-5 matchup in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Along with the 2011 Mavericks, they’re one of two defending champs since the 1998 Bulls that didn’t win a playoff game the following season.

Note To Lakers: Feed The Bigs!


HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — The Los Angeles Lakers have two 7-footers and the Miami Heat have none, so how do the Heat incredibly outscore L.A. 68-28 in the paint?

Um, Coach Mike D’Antoni?

It’s really two separate, but equally head-scratching questions. The Lakers, 99-90 losers at home to the Heat Thursday night, better figure out how defensively they can allow an opponent — even one with the unguardable LeBron James — to score 68.7 percent of its total points in the paint.

The other end was just as perplexing. The Lakers employ Dwight Howard, a physical beast like none other in the league down low, and Pau Gasol, a terrific finesse post man, and the Lakers score 28 points in the paint — an appallingly low number for any team against any opponent — and take 18 fewer shot attempts in there than the Heat?

Is that fact mind-boggling or simply mind-numbing?

This stuff can’t be brain surgery: If D’Antoni bends and puts Howard and Gasol in position to succeed — on the low block where both have practically begged to be utilized — then D’Antonio will succeed. If not, he won’t.

Howard played 38 minutes against Miami and was 4-for-7 from the floor for 13 points. Say that again: Howard was 4-for-7 from the floor in 38 minutes — SEVEN shots in 38 minutes! Now, Howard did shoot 13 free throws — making just five — possessions that could have been shot attempts, and even baskets, if not for getting fouled, which every smart team will do.

Gasol, in his first game back since a concussion, also managed a whopping seven shot attempts in 25 minutes.

To put that in a bit more perspective, Metta World Peace put up 11 shots, Antawn Jamison took seven and Earl Clark had five in 22 minutes.

Of course Kobe Bryant shot it 25 times (same as LeBron) — making just eight — and finally got hot in the fourth quarter to keep L.A. from getting blown out in another bomb of a final quarter. After the game Kobe told reporters that he needs help on the offensive end if he’s going to be asked to defend the opponent’s best player these days. His man, Dwyane Wade, went off for 27 points on 11-for-20 shooting.

Here’s what Kobe said after the game:

“We talked about it going into the fourth quarter. I said, ‘Coach D man, [expletive]. Come on, man. Come on, man. I can’t be standing out here like this all night long now,'” Bryant told, recalling a conversation with Lakers coach D’Antoni. “We did a much better job of that. My teammates know. We got to pick each other up. I’m going to go out there and do what I got to do defensively, and then on the offensive end of the floor we’ll pick each other up.”

Steve Nash said: “Ideally, we should be able to make them pay in other areas of the court. We should make problems for people with Dwight on the block, Pau on the block. When they’re doubling my pick and rolls, the game should open up because it should be a 3-on-2 or 2-on-1 on the weakside. I just don’t think we were efficient enough elsewhere tonight.”

Kobe has also made statements throughout D’Antoni’s bumpy stay that the ball needs to find the big men where they like to operate on the block.

It might not be the way D’Antoni engineered Nash’s old Phoenix Suns into an offensive marvel, but these are the old-and-slow Lakers, and they have two premiere low post players who need to be fed where they can eat.

This is an unnecessarily recurring story line with D’Antoni and the Lakers, and one the TNT crews, the guys calling the game and the guys in the studio, continually attacked.

Four-for-7 from both 7-footers — against a defense with no size — just won’t get it done.

D’Antoni Must Bend If Lakers Are To Mend

HANGTIME SOUTHWEST — Most disappointing about Mike D’Antoni‘s 10-13 start with the Los Angeles Lakers is the smug realization that he took seven seconds or less to contemplate his stubborn, unbending tactics. Rather than modify the ideas that suffocated the New York Knicks and sent him packing, D’Antoni instead shoved that baggage into the overhead compartment and set out for sunny L.A., where the skies have quickly darkened to a shade of misery and contempt.

His Lakers are in a deeper hole today at 15-18 — with Steve Nash back for the last seven games — than the day D’Antoni limped into Tinseltown on a freshly implanted, still-stiff and achy knee. Phil Jackson, rejected by a surprise midnight phone call, was the favorite to take over by many. But he was left to blissfully carry on his shopping for a rock to slip on the waiting finger of the daughter of D’Antoni’s new boss.

Perhaps D’Antoni — arms crossed, lips pursed and eyes vacant sitting while on the Lakers bench — simply tuned out the “We want Phil” chant in the Staples Center during Sunday’s most recent implosion, just as he has dialed down his interest level in his veteran players. As the Lakers were again being pulverized at home in the fourth quarter by the Denver Nuggets, the 112-105 loss their third straight loss, the cry of the fandom began to swirl.

The “We want Phil” chorus didn’t rock the house as it did two months ago, but it did rise up for the first time since the glorious interim era of Bernie Bickerstaff, the only coach of this season’s trio (including Chick-Fil-A-loving Mike Brown) to post a winning record. Bickerstaff took four of five just as it seemed Jackson was saddling up his white stallion.

Now, D’Antoni’s lifeless Lakers have lost four of five, and the suffering promises to deepen considering Monday’s catastrophic injury news: Dwight Howard (torn labrum), Pau Gasol (concussion) and Jordan Hill (hip) will be sidelined indefinitely.

With L.A.’s front line out of commission, winning at red-hot Houston on Tuesday night, at San Antonio on Wednesday and then Friday at home against Oklahoma City just got harder than quieting former Lakers great Magic Johnson’s criticism on Twitter.

In his most recent social-media monologue, Johnson, unabashedly critical of D’Antoni’s hiring and over the weeks his failure to tailor his system to his talent, says he’s tired of blaming the coach. It’s time, he tweeted, to expect more from the players if this wreck is to be yanked from the ditch.

But lumping all this on the Lakers’ luxury-tax-blasting roster of All-Stars would be to allow a perplexingly defiant D’Antoni to wiggle off the hook. Through 23 games, more than one-quarter of a regular season, D’Antoni has only provided his critics with ammunition.

His teams will never defend at a championship level because there is no foundation for defending. Offensively, he’ll jam his genius, guard-heavy system down his players’ throats, fit be damned, forcing square pegs into round holes with Gasol being the biggest square of all.

In Friday’s loss to the Clippers, Gasol wandered aimlessly around the arc where D’Antoni wants him, ineffective as a jump shooter, appearing terribly uncomfortable mechanically, forcibly bending his knees and flicking his wrist like some ill-formed shooting guard, all the while out of position to snare offensive rebounds, a category in which he is averaging a career low.

Two nights later against Denver, Gasol was far more active in the first half, backing down on the block, rolling to the basket for an alley-oop pass from Kobe Bryant, who has consistently championed his championship-winning big man’s need for the ball on the block to little avail. And then in the second half, Gasol disappeared, a non-factor, a figment of D’Antoni’s imagination until a blow bloodied Gasol’s nose and jarred his brain.

If D’Antoni is too entrenched in his beliefs to use Gasol in his rightful place, then what’s the use? Trade him already for shooters and legs better suited for the system.

Meanwhile, Antawn Jamison, a member of L.A.’s shallow bench who is capable of fulfilling the stretch-4 role and stands to see increased playing time in wake of the injury explosion, is now a walking ball of confusion. The coaching staff told him more than a month ago that he could be this team’s equivalent to Shawn Marion on D’Antoni and Nash’s old blazing Suns teams. Only Jamison is 36, not 27, and has never defended quite the way Marion still can.

Still, Jamison expressed school-boy giddiness in early December about playing in D’Antoni’s system and he nearly burst with exuberance about Nash’s impending return. And then, without explanation, the 15-year vet fell out of the rotation. After five consecutive DNP-Coach’s Decision, he vented to the media over D’Antoni’s inexplicable lack of communication.

For these Lakers, who one-by-one have taken turns being agitated, everything looks to be a struggle. The offense shifts from Howard fighting off collapsing defenses with teammates hopelessly standing around the arc, to Kobe going full-on Black Mamba as his teammates watch. Turnovers, even with Nash, are prevalent. The defense is atrocious.

Trust on the most basic level — between players, and between players and the head coach — appears nonexistent.

If D’Antoni wants to prove he is a great leader then he must bend, prove his system to be pliable, reveal a human touch. Or, with that stiff upper lip, he will continue to defy the obvious and arrogantly self-destruct, taking this team with him.

With Pau Or Not, L.A. Has PF Problems

HANGTIME SOUTHWEST — Even the Lakers’ problems have problems.

That laundry list for a slip-sliding-away 9-14 ballclub start in a number of places (like half-court and transition defense), but one mounting issue that must be addressed is the power forward position. There’s the post-4 in Pau Gasol, who had become increasingly benched and depressed, not to mention awkwardly vocal about the volume of jump shots he was being asked to hoist working off the elbow in Mike D’Antoni‘s offense. The 7-footer is far more comfortable, as he has made it known and has shown throughout his career, working out of the block.

Then there’s the stretch-4 in Antawn Jamison, a more prototypical D’Antoni 4 if not for being 36 and a loose defender. Jamison acknowledged having to think through the previous regime’s Princeton offense, and he was giddy as a school kid at recess thinking about not having to think and just flow under D’Antoni.

“They [Lakers coaches] sat down and told me, like, you can almost be like Shawn Marion was to the offense [in Phoenix],” Jamison said last week before the Lakers lost to the Oklahoma City Thunder, the start of the four-game skid they drag into woeful Washington on Friday night. “He was a guy who was able to knock down open jump shots and also pick-and-roll, slipping to the basket, find his way around the basket and getting shots there, and those are types of things that I do.”

Jamison went about his business of channeling Marion when Gasol first was sitting out with knee tendinitis, scoring at least 15 points in five of seven games. He put up 16 points and seven rebounds against Memphis, 19 and 15 at Dallas, 33 and 12 against Denver and 15 and 10 at Houston.

That made Jamison itch with anticipation of getting Steve Nash back.

“I can’t wait,” Jamison said. “As an opponent, it killed me to see him in that pick-and-roll action. You’re going to pick-and-roll with Dwight [Howard] and what are defenses going to do? They help on Dwight; I’ve just go to sit there and lace ‘em up and be comfortable.”

Since that first burst, though, Jamison has again become less Marion and more mediocre. Over the last four losses, he has a total of 24 points and 15 rebounds. Jordan Hill got a surprise start over Jamison two games ago in the disgraceful loss at Cleveland. Hill laid an egg in Cleveland, though, so Jamison returned to the starting unit Thursday night at New York.

He finished with three points and six rebounds in 22 minutes.

Gasol’s return is still uncertain, but when he comes back, D’Antoni would be wise to cater to the cerebral big fella. And Gasol will have to accept his evolving role as more of a jump shooter, particularly when he shares the floor with Howard. The new system already has messed with Gasol’s head. D’Antoni piled on his insecurities by benching the easily distracted Gasol twice in fourth quarters.

“He’s got to adapt a little bit in his game because we’ve got a different system, but he’s able to,”  D’Antoni said last week of Gasol. “The guy’s so talented, I just don’t think he felt real well to be able to play as well …  He’ll feel better, he’ll play better, we’ll play better for him, but again somebody that big, that talented, that good, has won two titles, so it shouldn’t be any question about his character or how he plays. I won’t question that, that’s for sure.

“It’s just we need to integrate him a little bit better.”

That means allowing Gasol and Howard to operate out of their comfort zones down low.

“We know how to post-up,” Howard said. “We have to run to the block to get the ball on the post and we do that. But we have to initiate whatever we want.”

At some point, perhaps in the next week or two, Nash will return, and so will Gasol, and the Lakers might look a whole lot different. But nothing will change if a player believes the system is squeezing out his strengths, and if the coach seems only to be playing up his weaknesses.

“All of us can co-exist on this team. We just have to find a way to make it work,” Howard said last week. “It’s still early in the season, we have a lot of games to play. We can’t lose focus, we can’t get off track with what our goal is.

“Whatever we have to do for our team to win a championship, we have to do it, and we will. We just have to figure it out. It’s basketball.”

Offensive Breakthrough For L.A.?


HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — It’s a new day in L.A.

The Los Angeles Lakers scored 122 points in their win over the Denver Nuggets on Friday, finally breaking through offensively under Mike D’Antoni. The key was reserves Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks, who combined for 54 points, shooting 12-for-18 from beyond the arc.

Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles has the story from Staples Center

It’s only been six games, so the jury is still out on Mike D’Antoni’s ultimate impact. But give the coach credit for this if nothing else: His system has transformed the Los Angeles Lakers’ bench from a bunch of sorry substitutes to the Jodie & Jamison Show.

Antawn Jamison scored a game-high 33 points and Jodie Meeks scored 21 on 7-for-8 shooting from 3-point land as the reserve duo nearly matched the 56 points scored by the Denver Nuggets’ starting five in the Lakers’ 122-103 win Friday.

The Lakers have been up-and-down as their 3-3 record suggests since D’Antoni took over, but it only has been up for Jamison (who’s putting up 17.8 points in the last four games) and Meeks (who is 15-for-29 on 3-pointers since D’Antoni first assumed his seat on the sidelines).

“Me and him, we’ve been kind of like roommates here lately,” Jamison said of his relationship with Meeks since joining the team as free agents this offseason. “We know we were brought here for a certain role, and we’ve been struggling together, as well.”

Jamison and Meeks are the two Lakers beyond Steve Nash who best fit in D’Antoni’s offense. Meeks is one of the best 3-point shooters in the league, while Jamison is the stretch four needed to really spread the floor for the pick-and-roll game.

Of course, you can’t discuss a Lakers game without dissecting Pau Gasol‘s role in the offense. Gasol took just seven shots and scored just six points, but he did have eight assists to six different teammates.

More interesting is that the Lakers had their best offensive game of the season on a night in which Gasol and Dwight Howard played just 12 minutes together on Friday, easily the fewest they’ve played all season. Jamison and Howard played 20 minutes together, while Jamison and Gasol played 13 minutes together. So basically, Gasol played more as a center than as a power forward.

Now, the question is whether the offensive explosion was a result of the lack of Gasol-Howard playing time or vice versa. It may be the latter, because Jamison was productive from the start, scoring eight points in the first quarter and another six in the second. And since his stretch four was playing so well, it was easy for D’Antoni to go back to him for extended minutes in the second half.

So you could argue that Jamison, a 14-year veteran, is the biggest X-factor in the league this season. If he can consistently make shots, D’Antoni can continue to stagger Gasol’s and Howard’s minutes, and the Lakers can really spread the floor.

Thus far this season, Jamison-Gasol has been the best combination of the three (see table below), while Jamison-Howard has been the worst. But Jamison and Howard are actually a plus-40 in 68 minutes together over the last four games. As the team gets comfortable with their new coach, Jamison continues to emerge as a vital cog.

“I’ll ride him,” D’Antoni said of Jamison. “I’ll probably have to kill him. But he can do it. He said he can do it, so we’ll see.”

Yes, we will.

Lakers efficiency with Gasol, Howard and Jamison combinations

Combination GP MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Gasol + Howard 16 395 96.2 104.4 99.5 +4.9 +34
Jamison + Howard 16 180 92.3 97.6 98.5 -.9 -20
Jamison + Gasol 15 124 97.1 111.7 95.5 +16.2 +31

Through Friday, 11/30
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Rick’s Tips: Don’t Sell Pau Short

Boy, the criticism sure is mounting on Pau Gasol, isn’t it? To some it sounds like hate. To others it sounds like the “noise” Erik Spoelstra always talks about. To me, it sounds like a perfect time to buy-low.

And that’s exactly what I did in League Freak (12-team, HTH, 8-cat). Check this out. I’m driving to work this morning and my dear friend Paul Allen (radio voice of our Minnesota Vikings) e-mails me an offer of Pau Gasol and Andre Miller for DeAndre Jordan and Tristan Thompson.

Two words: all day!

I hustled into work so I could log on and pull the trigger before P.A. came to his senses. Understand that I have not lost faith in Jordan; quite the contrary, as I still start him in two of my four leagues. But the chance to get Pau, historically a top-20 player across 8 categories, for Jordan and Thompson (who has been a disappointment through one month, especially the lack of shot blocking) was too good to pass up.

As I type this blog on Monday afternoon, Pau is averaging 13.4 points, 9.1 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 1.3 blocks. The boards, dimes, and swats are at or near his career averages, so he’s a medium improvement in scoring away from reclaiming his lofty fantasy status. All he needs is one more basket per half — or four more points per game — to get that scoring average from the 13s to the 17s.

Keep in mind that once Steve Nash returns from his broken leg, whenever that may be, the L.A. Lakers are going to be painting offensive masterpieces nightly. Run-and-gun head coach Mike D’Antoni had major talent in Phoenix, but he didn’t have four future-Hall-of-Famers in the same starting 5.

Nash will make sure that Pau is not only involved, but involved in ways that will maximize his strengths. Pau complained after Friday’s loss to the Grizzlies that his touches are coming too far from the basket and that all he’s getting these days are jump shots. Well, that’s because second-year point guard Darius Morris isn’t quite ready and Kobe Bryant is serving as the most trigger-happy PG in the league until Nash returns.

For the time being, it’s safe to expect around 15-9-3 from Pau with blocks and solid percentages, which is easily better than Jordan. But when Nash comes back — and Pau is actually smiling while playing the game he loves — you’ll be very happy that you went bargain-shopping.

Antawn Jamison was finally spotted Friday in Memphis (16 points and seven rebounds in 27 minutes) and Saturday in Dallas (19 points and 15 rebounds in 30 minutes). Many of those minutes came at the expense of Gasol, who was benched toward the end of the Memphis game because the Lakers needed 3s for their comeback attempt. The next night in Dallas, Pau had 13 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1 block in 28 minutes, and his minutes were limited because the game was a blowout.

I am not worried about Jamison turning the Lakers’ power forward position into a timeshare. Furthermore, I fully expect Pau to hover around 32 minutes a night, which should be plenty of time to hit the aforementioned 17-9-3.

Lastly, I am not overly concerned with the knee tendinitis that Pau is currently overcoming. He clearly needs to get in better shape, and I’m confident that he will because he’s always been one of the most dedicated and diligent players in the league.

Listen, this isn’t the first time it’s taken an elite big man a month or so to get in shape — and it won’t be the last. So buy low now and reap the fantasy rewards now and later.

Rick Kamla is an anchor on NBA TV. You can follow him on Twitter at @NBATVRick.

Lakers Still Have Issues to Address

Now to see if Mike D’Antoni can play backup point guard, because if not, his arrival only solves part of the problem.

In the greatest of truths, the one the Lakers may not confront in the transition of the quick-trigger coaching change and the D’Antoni hire, Mike Brown may not deserve the blame for the 1-4 start. If he does, interim Bernie Bickerstaff deserves Coach of the Year and a lifetime contract to stay on the job for going 2-0. Instant analysis is instant analysis – unless, as is apparent, management had doubts about Brown long before this week amid a new roster and injured stars.

The D’Antoni hiring is encouraging for the Lakers on several fronts. Phil Jackson would have been respected in that locker room like no one else, but D’Antoni is a pretty close second, probably ahead of Brian Shaw, the current Pacers assistant who was the consensus choice among players to succeed Jackson in summer 2011. D’Antoni can handle life under the heat lamp, will play the entertaining style owner Jerry Buss loves, and has a very good relationship with Kobe Bryant, from their Team USA days, and Steve Nash, from their Phoenix days playing Mach I. The rest of the roster will follow.

D’Antoni also brings the one thing Jackson can’t: potential closure on the sideline. If the new guy does well, he will be around a while. Jackson had already left the Lakers twice, once setting fire to the place on his way out the door by holding Bryant up for humiliation and the other time, about 18 months ago, by being relieved when the season ended in playoff embarrassment. Jackson almost certainly wouldn’t stick around for the next generation, after Bryant and Pau Gasol are gone and Dwight Howard is the unquestionable centerpiece. D’Antoni can walk across that bridge.

It’s just that the hire doesn’t come close to ensuring the Lakers are back on the path of clear Western Conference favorites. They’re still not as young and athletic as the Thunder, still not as cohesive and grounded as the Spurs, and still not as deep as the Clippers. Plus, there is no way to know when Nash will be back after missing five of the seven games with a fractured leg and how much time he will need to get into rhythm once he does return.

The bench is the major concern, but then again, it was from the beginning. Each of the four full-time starters – Bryant, Howard, Gasol, Metta World Peace – is averaging at least 34.7 minutes per. Taking Steve Blake, Nash’s replacement at point guard, out of consideration, three reserves were trusted enough to play at least one-fourth of the games: Antawn Jamison, Jordan Hill and Darius Morris.

Morris got there only because he moved up the depth chart, from third-stringer, at the point thanks to the Nash injury. Jamison is at 34.8 percent from the field and averaging 3.7 rebounds in 16.1 minutes. (Hill in 16 minutes: 5.7 boards.) And Brown got so desperate for help behind Bryant at shooting guard that he turned to World Peace, the starting small forward and not exactly known for his dependable offense, or dependable anything, come to think of it.

Jodie Meeks is making 28.6 percent of his attempts overall and 21.4 percent from behind the arc, cutting his playing time down to 10.6 minutes. Maybe Brown didn’t give Meeks time to break out of the slump. Or maybe, just maybe, the guy signed to be the shooting specialist off the bench needs to produce to get the minutes when the coach is dangling and playing for wins now. If the chance comes now but the baskets don’t, at some point it won’t be Brown’s fault anymore.

The second unit was always a primary concern, and it will continue to be until proven otherwise. There is still time, though, for Nash to heal and Meeks and Jamison to improve. The season can be saved, which was always the case as Lakers fans acted as if the ground was opening beneath them. It is still early, at least for everyone except Brown.

Lakers Say No Rush On Nash, Team’s Depth Will Be Tested In His Absence

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — A small fracture to his left leg will force us to admire more of Steve Nash‘s colorful wardrobe than is necessary. But with the Los Angeles Lakers announcing that there will be no rush on Nash’s return (which makes their timetable of him missing for a week seem a bit sketchy), we’ll spend the next few games familiarizing ourselves with Steve Blake and Darius Morris.

With those two backups playing the bulk of the minutes at point guard, the Lakers’ already questionable depth will be tested ever more. For a team that doesn’t need any more hurdles to clear to start the season, this might be the one that gives us the best gauge of their championship timber.

Surviving the preseason with both Dwight Howard (recovering from back surgery) and Kobe Bryant (nursing a sore foot) at less than full strength is one thing. But an extended period without Nash in the lineup at all … that’s the one injury hiccup the Lakers weren’t exactly prepared for.

Mike Bresnahan of The Los Angeles Times told us yesterday on The Beat on NBA TV that Nash could very well be out for a month. A MONTH!

“You obviously hope he’s back as soon as possible,” Lakers coach Mike Brown told reporters Sunday before the Lakers trounced the Detroit Pistons Sunday. “But the one thing you don’t want to do, you don’t want to compromise his long-term health for him coming back quicker than he should. So, (trainer) Gary Vitti and the staff are on top of it. We’ll just wait and play it out from there.”

We knew it would take them a while to get it together. But spending the next four weeks without Nash in the mix as they try and perfect their Princeton offense (and doing so seemingly against the wishes of anyone that knows anything about the Lakers’ personnel) is a challenge they didn’t need.