Posts Tagged ‘Jodie Meeks’

Suspense Runs High As Kobe Returns


VIDEO: Rick Fox analyzes the impact of Kobe’s return

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – As the great Kobe Bryant rescues his flapping No. 24 jersey from all manner of inclement weather with tonight’s triumphant return, are his surprisingly buoyant Los Angeles Lakers really in need of a rescue mission? Or more a celebrated captain to take the wheel?

Staples Center will go goo-goo tonight as Bryant officially begins his 18th season against the wrong-place, wrong-time Toronto Raptors (pregame, 9 E.T., NBA TV). Kobe will be announced to the sell-out crowd and the roof will blow like Mt. Vesuvius. He’ll take his spot around the jump circle and it’ll be so electric in there it’ll feel like the Lakers are back in the NBA Finals, where so many predicted they would be last season before that star-studded roster quickly became as unhinged as characters in a Quentin Tarantino film.

Once the ball is in the air, once the juices start coursing through Kobe’s veins, what happens tonight and over the next 62 games that follow will be as riveting to watch as a Stephen King novel is to read. After all, the king of suspense joined Twitter (@StephenKing) the same day as the Lakers’ dramatic flapping-jersey video revealed Kobe’s return. Nothing in Hollywood is by coincidence, right?

Here’s the thing with Kobe’s return essentially one quarter into the season: For the first time in his career he starts a season a month late, on a team with multiple unfamiliar parts and, most notably, has established something of an identity and definitely a working chemistry without him.

Don’t get that confused with suggesting this team doesn’t need Kobe. That’s preposterous. Kobe’s capabilities coming off a torn Achilles tendon last April, and his adaptation to the team’s style of play, will dictate the level at which this otherwise off-rack roster can truly compete. Without him, as intriguing as they’ve been, the playoffs are as unlikely as Jack Nicholson gifting tonight’s courtside seat to Justin Bieber.

How Kobe chooses to assert himself will be fascinating to watch. Does he acknowledge this season’s progress and work to get his from within the framework and flow of the system, or does he try to strong-arm it?

The Lakers enter tonight’s game against a team Kobe once dropped 81 points on with a 10-9 record compared to 9-10 a year ago with he and Dwight Howard and the once-twinkling images of 70 wins and a championship already extinguished. Collective optimism has replaced pessimism this season as guys named Meeks and Young and Hill and Henry and Farmar have played hard and embraced camaraderie in a way last season’s Lakers team never could — or would.

What have the Lakers become without Kobe?

Surprisingly, an entertaining team whose performances can fluctuate wildly, and, stunningly, a team that is hard to hate, even for the most ardent Lakers haters. They’re playing in the mold of Mike D’Antoni – himself suddenly elevated from the echoes of “We want Phil” chants to early coach of the year consideration. They’re sharing the ball, quickening the pace, hustling and mostly having fun and enjoying each other. They’ve managed to be OK on the road — 4-5 — and hang in enough games to hold up their end of the bargain of hanging near .500 without Kobe despite scoring fewer points than they allow.

No other team in the league has a negative differential and a winning record.

Here’s two key stats that demonstrate D’Antoni’s system at work: The Lakers rank fourth in assists at 24.1 a game (they were 17th last season at 22.2); and they’re third in 3-point percentage at 40.7 (a significant upturn from last season — 35.5 percent to rank 19th) while putting up 26.3 attempts a game, third-most in the league.

Kobe’s buddy Pau Gasol is averaging 3.1 apg along with team highs of 14.5 ppg and 9.8 rpg. Jodie Meeks is shooting 47.3 percent from beyond the arc and averaging 13.5 ppg. Steve Blake is averaging 7.8 apg with 10.2 ppg. Before his injury, bench spark plug Jordan Farmar was dishing out 4.4 apg in 18.9 mpg. Xavier Henry provided an early season boost. Jordan Hill is bringing down 8.5 rpg in 21.6 mpg, including 3.3 on the offensive glass. Nick Young is as swaggy as ever, launching a high rate of bricks in Friday night’s comeback win at Sacramento until tossing in the dagger — a crunch-time scenario he might not see again with the Black Mamba’s return.

No Laker is averaging more than Blake’s 31.8 mpg and 10 are logging at least 17.3 mpg (excluding Steve Nash, who has played in just six games). Last season, Kobe averaged 38.6 mpg, a red-flag number some blamed for his Achilles blowout in his 78th game of the season, but also a number that Kobe, now 35, insisted on playing as the Lakers fought for a playoff spot.

Basically a lot of players are doing a lot of different things pretty well.

So what does Kobe do to make this team, one many pundits predicted would fail to make the playoffs, better? This is truly new — and fascinating — territory for Mr. Bryant.

Apologies, Mr. King, but the suspense is already killing me.

Lakers May Have Something In Reserve

VIDEO: The Lakers hold off the Hawks in Los Angeles.

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HANG TIME WEST – Sunday night, it was five Lakers reserves logging at least 16 minutes, three of them starting the fourth quarter and another, Jordan Hill, playing the last 9:42 of a close win over the Hawks.

That came about after Wesley Johnson, Jodie Meeks and Hill kept L.A. in the game with prominent roles in the final period of a six-point loss to the Spurs, and after almost every sub got some run in the blowout defeat at the hands of the Warriors.

And that came after the opening-night statement during the victory over the Clippers. All of which came after everything.

Johnson is with his third team in as many seasons. Jordan Farmar played 39 NBA games the previous two seasons and spent 2012-13 in Turkey. Hill had 68 appearances the same two years and is coming off a torn hip muscle that cost him 49 games. Chris Kaman is on his fourth team in four years. Jodie Meeks is the shooting specialist who shot 38.7 percent last season. Xavier Henry was a training-camp invitee, Nick Young a guy trying to show he has more than swag.

This is a second unit inspired to prove a lot of people wrong, and this is a good start. What the Lakers exactly have won’t be known for a while, until Kobe Bryant returns from the torn Achilles’ tendon and the rotation settles, but even that blow to the depth does not change the encouraging impact from the first week. It also adds to the credibility to the preseason claim from coach Mike D’Antoni that the bench would be improved.

D’Antoni wasn’t exactly far out on the shaky branch when he said it — it would be difficult for the Lakers’ reserves to not be better than 2012-13. But point taken. Given the chance to immediately showcase the gains, D’Antoni’s all-reserve lineup — Meeks, Farmar, Henry, Johnson, Hill — played the entire fourth quarter of opening night, delivering a 41-24 scoring advantage those 12 minutes and a 116-103 victory over the Clippers. In all, 76 of the 116 points came from the bench, including each of the final 48.

“Hungry,” Farmar said of the personality of the subs. “I think passionate and together. We really believe in each other and we really lift each other up. We’ve got each others back. Move the ball, let everybody do what they do well. It’s working so far. Hopefully we can keep this energy up and stick to it.”

This group had been discarded and disregarded, overlooked and underappreciated. They had been playing on different continents and just trying to stay on the NBA map.

“We hear things,” said Johnson, the No. 4 pick by the Timberwolves in the 2010 draft who spent two seasons there and one in Phoenix before signing with the Lakers in July. “People are going to talk. They’re going to say whatever they want. But we’re not worried about it too much. We just have to continue to do what we do, be productive and show what we have.

“It fuels us. But we figured it’s going to be like that because the man is injured and the stuff that they went through last year is going to reflect on this year. They’re going to say stuff about us. Other than that, we’re just going to continue to play ball. We’re not really going to worry about it.”

The Lakers have started Pau Gasol, Shawne Williams and Steve Blake in each of the first four games, and Steve Nash in three of the four while holding him out of the other for rest. When Nash sat, Meeks started. Young was in the opening lineup the first three games before being replaced by Henry on Sunday against the Hawks, and Young responded with 13 points in 21 minutes.

McGrady Not Feeling It For Kobe, Lakers

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Tracy McGrady had to settle for a shotgun seat on the San Antonio Spurs Express to The NBA Finals last season to end his career with a lone trip out of the first round. Who knows, had McGrady ever had Spurs-like talent around him, things might have turned out differently for him.

At any rate, the borderline Hall of Famer can spot a lacking supporting cast when he sees one. He spotted just that Tuesday night while taking in some Jazz vs. Lakers preseason action. What he witnessed was so disturbing he felt compelled to take it to Twitter:

Jellybean is, of course, Kobe Bean Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers superstar and son of former ball player Joe “Jellybean” Bryant.

Kobe is working his way back from an awful Achilles tear in April and his return date remains uncertain. McGrady would apparently tell him to take his time getting back. No need to rush.

The 2013-14 Lakers, with or without Kobe, aren’t exactly high on anyone’s predictions chart. Check any Vegas sports book and this bunch is basically sitting at 75-to-1 odds to get Kobe that elusive sixth championship ring and knot him up with Michael Jordan.

Compared to all those souped-up Lakers squads through the decades, this one’s feeling like a stripped-down Vette with a leaky transmission. The horses under the hood buck instead of gallop and the suspension is all out of whack. You swear every time you turn the key it gives off that rotten egg odor.

Recently coach Mike D’Antoni said he was on drugs a year ago when he took over and proclaimed that team could average 110 ppg. And he was medicated on painkillers following knee replacement surgery. The disastrous 2012-13 team, with Bryant playing ungodly minutes night after night, averaged 102.2 ppg, which would have been pretty good if they had played any defense.

Without Bryant this preseason and with Steve Nash approaching 40 years of age by unfortunately grinding through seemingly just as many body ailments, scoring is down to 94.3 ppg. Only the Mavericks and Jazz have averaged less.

Speaking of the Mavs, everybody’s always quick to point to Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion as the only remaining members of the 2011 title team. The remnants from L.A.’s back-to-back title teams in 2009 and 2010? A rehabbing Kobe, a fragile-kneed Pau Gasol and a back-from-Europe Jordan Farmar.

To McGrady’s tweet, this is no Lamborghini waiting to be valet parked at Staples.

Assuming Nash is healthy enough to play (and start) on Oct. 29 when the Lakers open at home, to their misfortune against Doc Rivers‘ new team that shares the building, he’ll be joined by — and please don’t write this in ink — Steve Blake, Nick Young, Gasol and Chris Kaman, assuming the center has recovered from a bout of gastroenteritis.

As for Lakers depth? Among the newcomers are Xavier Henry in the backcourt and Shawne Williams in the frontcourt. The return of power forward Jordan Hill is a positive. Then there’s Farmar, Jodie Meeks, Wesley Johnson, Ryan Kelly, Marcus Landry, Elias Harris and fan favorite Robert Sacre. One will have to go to get the roster down to the maximum 15.

Pedal to the metal? McGrady isn’t feeling it, apparently even after Kobe takes the wheel.

Lakers Know Painful End Is Upon Them

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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol seemed to be reading the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers their inevitable last rites on the eve of Game 4 of their first-round series against the overpowering San Antonio Spurs.

“I’m proud of the team because we’ve been fighting so much,” the proud Gasol said following what most likely was the Lakers’ final practice of the season Saturday. “We earned the right to be in the playoffs. We competed really hard the first two games in San Antonio. We gave ourselves a chance against a a very tough team and deep team. So I’m happy and proud of how the guys have fought through what we’ve been through and what we’re going through, and that’s what I like to see, that’s what I’ll keep in my mind and in my heart.”

A subdued Howard expressed a similar sentiment the day after the most disappointing team in franchise history experienced its worst home playoff loss ever.

“Despite all the injuries, as a team we’ve stayed together,” Howard said. “When most teams fall apart and blame each other, point the finger, we stayed together. We’ve become a closer team throughout all the adversity.”

Does such a statement signal that the chronically indecisive Howard sees his future in purple and gold?

“I haven’t thought about it,” Howard said.

Gasol or Howard or both might be playing their final game as a Laker. Howard, as a free agent come July 1, controls his future. Gasol, owed $19.3 million next season as part of an $83.1 million Laker payroll before potentially re-signing Howard, does not. Gasol could be traded or set free via the amnesty clause.

“What happens next,” Gasol said, “is totally up to the team and management.”

Gasol has seen it all during this often torturous season. He was benched in the fourth quarter by coach Mike D’Antoni in just the coach’s third game at helm, and then embarrassed by D’Antoni after the loss at Memphis. D’Antoni explained his decision to sit Gasol with this infamous statement: “I was thinking ‘Oh, I’d like to win this game.'”

Gasol played in just 49 games this season, knocked out by a concussion, by plantar fasciitis and by degenerative tendinosis in both knees that he said he’ll tackle this summer. Still, Gasol, along with Howard, is the last of the Lakers starters still standing heading into Sunday’s closing act against a Spurs team determined to put L.A. out of its misery if only to assure itself an extended rest before beginning round two.

Gasol has soldiered on, averaging 13.3 ppg, 10.7 rpg and 6.7 apg in the Lakers’ three opening losses in this series.

“It’s been an emotional roller coaster this year,” Gasol said. “It’s been a very challenging season in different ways. Injuries, ups and downs, just a lot of things that had an effect on our team. We can’t really think about all that right now. It’s something that we’ll probably go back and go, ‘Wow all those things really happened,’ and those things happened for a reason. But again, it has been a difficult, challenging season.”

D’Antoni on Saturday acknowledged that he has regrets from his early, defiant takeover of the Lakers, likely the way he humiliated Gasol and tried to force his run-and-gun system on a club better suited for slow-it-down. He wasn’t ready to talk about those with faint hope for a miraculous comeback just 24 hours away.

“There’s a lot of regrets right now,” D’Antoni said. “But let’s talk about that later. Let’s try to win.”

That’s not likely considering Howard and Gasol will be the only starters in Game 4 that the Lakers figured to have in the playoffs. Joining Kobe Bryant on the injured list Sunday will be Steve Nash and Metta World Peace from the starting five, plus backcourt reserves Jodie Meeks and Steve Blake.

RIP, 2012-13 Lakers.

Lakers Need Goudelock To Back Up Talk

 

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – As two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash walked away from Friday morning’s shootaround sharing very little confidence of being able to play in tonight’s Game 3 against the San Antonio Spurs, newly crowned D-League MVP Andrew Goudelock strode in high-stepping over his own swagger.

Goudelock said the plan is for him to start tonight at point guard if Nash is unable to go. Nash said he’s feeling better, but is a “long way from being NBA-ready.” With Steve Blake out indefinitely, Jodie Meeks doubtful and Kobe Bryant on crutches, L.A. will likely be without its top four guards. Goudelock and Darius Morris would run the backcourt.

That means the 6-foot-3 Goudelock will draw San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker on the defensive end. How does Goudelocke, with 425 minutes of NBA action under his belt, plan to do that?

“Just stay in front of him,” Goudelock said, matter-of-factly. “He’s a really quick guy, don’t let him get anything in transition, stay up on the pick-and-rolls. He’s got to guard me too, so I’m not really worried about Tony Parker.”

Goudelock averaged 21.4 ppg in the D-League and he has 175 total points in 41 career NBA games, or the amount Parker has scored in his last games — and that was playing through nagging injuries.

“I’ve always been a scorer, put the ball in the basket,” Goudelock said. “I lost a lot of weight so I’m a lot quicker. I just bring a lot of energy. Those guys don’t really know me, so I can bring something unexpected. With my scoring ability I think I can help a lot.”

The Lakers could certainly use it. They’ve scored 79 and 91 points and shot 43.2 percent in falling in a 2-0 hole

As the point guard, Goudelock said he can pass the ball, too, and find Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol for looks inside. He had never played the point until this season, but he says he’s a greatly improved passer. The Lakers players, although they haven’t seen much of him this season, expressed confidence in Goudelock’s game.

Kobe had already nicknamed him “Mini Mamba” for his scoring ability and attack mentality.

“People have to always honor my scoring, so it makes it easier to pass the ball because I get so much attention because they know that I can score and they probably don’t think I’m gonna pass it,” Goudelock said. “I’ve seen scouting reports from other teams that will be like ‘he’s not going to pass it.’ So it makes it that much easier for me to get 10 or 11 assists in the D-League because I’m getting double-teamed, getting so much attention, they know I can score, so it makes it easier for a guy like me, whether if I wasn’t a scorer as much it might be a little bit tougher because guys might be able to sag off me or do some other things.

“But being able to score and add that scoring punch takes a lot of load off my shoulders.”

That will be Parker’s problem, apparently. But one thing Goudelock will have to watch when he’s guarding the shifty Parker is the ticky-tack-type foul that he picked up during his brief appearance in Game 2.

“It’s going to happen. I’m a young guy, they don’t know me, they’re going to call that,” Goudelock said. “I’m ready for it. I’m ready for all of this. It doesn’t matter. I’ve been doing this since I was about 5 years old. It’s no different from if it’s Tony Parker or a guy in the D-League. They’re going to have to guard me, I’m going to have to guard them, it’s all basketball.”

Goudelock certainly talks the talk. The Lakers now need him to walk the walk.

L.A. Pressure Falls On Howard, Gasol

 

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – Dwight Howard believes.

No Kobe Bryant. No Steve Blake. Almost assuredly no Jodie Meeks. And most likely no Steve Nash.

No matter. Howard says he still believes.

“We have total confidence that we can come back and win this series, and we believe in each other,” Howard said following Friday’s workout when the Los Angeles Lakers learned of their worsening injury woes. “We worked too hard to get in the playoffs. We had to fight to get in and we’re not going to give up just because we’re down and have a lot of guys that are injured.”

The Lakers’ rickety season is once again on the brink Friday night as their first-round playoff series with the San Antonio Spurs moves to the Staples Center. With the Spurs up 2-0, it’s do-or-die for a limping Lakers team that could be forced to start a backcourt of two third-team, 2011 second-round draft picks in Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock.

While Nash told reporters Thursday that his fingers are crossed that two epidural shots to his back will work in time to allow him to play in Game 3 (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), Howard was working overtime with assistant coach Chuck Person with a helping hand from general manager Mitch Kupchak, a pretty good post player in his day with the Showtime Lakers.

It’ll be curtains for these slow-time Lakers unless the 6-foot-11, 265-pound Howard, once upon a time referred to as Superman, and his 7-foot frontcourt mate Pau Gasol, can assert their will on the Spurs and lift their less well-known teammates back into the series.

“Again, it is what it is,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said of the bleak injury situation. “It’s not what anybody wishes for, but at the same time we need to dominate inside and that’s Pau and Dwight. So it’s a big load for Pau and Dwight. At the same time, that’s how we’re going to have to do it.”

Howard, praised for his dominant play in the final two games of the regular season after Kobe went down to get the Lakers in the playoffs, has taken critical shots for not getting it done in the opening two games in San Antonio. He’s averaged 18.0 ppg, 12.0 rpg and five fouls per game.

Everybody wants to see Howard rise to the occasion, to be a force that takes games away from the opponent. He took criticism for not being that dominant force in Game 2, scoring 16 points — same as Blake as well as the Spurs’ Kahwi Leonard and Tim Duncan — with nine rebounds, four blocks and five fouls when the Lakers had chances to keep the game close.

For Gasol, just 5-for-14 from the floor in Game 2, these could be his final games as a Laker. Well into the luxury tax next season, the organization will have to decide what to do with the player who is due $19.3 million next season and was all but traded to New Orleans last offseason before the blockbuster deal for Chris Paul was vetoed by commissioner David Stern.

Of course, Howard’s future is just as unsettled, although his future is at least in his own hands. The Lakers are desperate to sign him to a max deal this summer and make him the cornerstone of the franchise upon Bryant’s eventual retirement.

For now, it’s all about Game 3 and if Howard, reduced to 14th in this season’s voting for Defensive Player of the Year, and Gasol can play like the superstars their salaries say they are, and get L.A. a win.

“We just got to play,” Howard said. “We can’t control anybody’s injuries. We can’t control nothing but how hard we go out there and play. Me and Pau are going to do the best we can for this team.”

Limping Nash Tells Lakers’ Youngsters To ‘Let It Rip’

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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. –
 With the number of walking wounded around here it was half surprising that the Lakers’ training facility hadn’t been painted green with a giant red cross on the entry doors.

Or that Corporal Klinger wasn’t running Thursday’s light practice for the few Lakers left standing.

Of course Klinger, the old M*A*S*H* character, might still have more name recognition in this town than the two players that very well could make up L.A.’s starting backcourt Friday night in virtual must-win Game 3 against the San Antonio Spurs at Staples Center.

Get ready for Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock.

“Well, yeah,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said, accompanied by a hearty chuckle, when asked if those two 2011 second-round picks will likely be thrust into heavy minutes. “And [Chris] Duhon. Go look at the rest we’ve got there.”

It ain’t much. The Lakers received  more depressing news on Thursday that will make the task of clawing out of a 2-0 hole excruciatingly difficult. Guard Steve Blake, who has played so well since Kobe Bryant went down with an Achilles tear two games before the end of the regular season, got the results of his ultrasound back and he’s out indefinitely with a moderate strain of his right hamstring.

Point guard Steve Nash had two epidural injections in his back Thursday and his chances of playing Friday night have come to this: “I have fingers crossed.”

And not to be forgotten is shooting guard Jodie Meeks. The Lakers’ best long-distance scoring threat is likely out, too, with a sprained ankle. D’Antoni, in fact, considers Meeks to be more doubtful than Nash, who said Thursday that he’s still in quite a bit of discomfort from both tweaking his hip-hamstring injury in the final seconds of the first half of Game 2 as well as “from getting a bunch of darts stuck in me” on Thursday.

He characterized his state of concern for not being ready to play Friday as “very concerned.”

“It’s really frustrating, very, very frustrating, especially because I was at the point where I was actually excited with the way I felt to start the last two games,” Nash said. “Even though I couldn’t sprint completely and I wasn’t moving as well as I’d like, I could still be effective and find a way to help the team and impact the game. And obviously, to tweak it before the half and for it to deteriorate set me back. So it’s another set of highs and lows.”

Metta World Peace, having coming back from knee surgery in record time, amazingly, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol – no strangers to pain this season — are the healthiest key cogs that the Lakers have got.

D’Antoni said his big men will have to get the job done in the post, but that means that Goudelock, named the D-League’s MVP on Thursday, and Morris, who at least started 17 games filling in for the two injured Steves early in the season, will have to get them ball.

Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, the Spurs’ sensational guards that are just now feeling healthy themselves, and the rest of the Spurs will try to make sure they can’t and put a stranglehold on the series.

After Game 2, D’Antoni sought refuge in that old NBA playoff adage that a series doesn’t really begin until the road team wins. Well, if the Spurs win Game 3, it will all but end this series.

Nash, ever the optimist and always equipped with an encouraging word, had such a message for Goudelock and Morris, who’d be wise to listen to the limping two-time MVP as they approach the toughest spot of their young careers.

“I don’t think those guys should approach it as a tough spot,” Nash said. “I think they should approach it like they’ve got nothing to lose and they should go out there and let it rip. If they have a tough night, what would you expect in their first NBA start out of nowhere? So they should play free and loose and use their youth and energy and the skills that they possess to go out and have fun with it and take a free cut.”

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

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.

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