Posts Tagged ‘Robert Sacre’

L.A.’s Stunning Role Reversal


VIDEO: Lakers at Bucks, Dec. 31, 2013

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Happy New Year, Mike D’Antoni. A”We Want Phil” chant, however silly, percolated through Staples Center in L.A. on Tuesday as the glamorous-turned-anonymous Lakers faded to black again in an ugly loss to the now seven-win Milwaukee Bucks.

Total bummer of a New Year’s Eve party.

Former Lakers coach Phil Jackson, of course, wouldn’t touch this sinking M*A*S*H unit with a bionic-kneed Andrew Bynum. At this point, any talk of the league’s worst teams has to include the purple and gold, who are 13-19, have lost six in a row (half of those by an average of 17 points) and show no sign of snapping back any time soon.

How could they snap back? Consider D’Antoni’s starting five in the 94-79 loss to Milwaukee: Jordan Farmar (who tore his left hamstring in the game and will miss a month), Jodie Meeks, Nick Young, Shawne Williams and Pau Gasol. His available bench was limited to: Jordan Hill, Ryan Kelly, Kendall Marshall, Robert Sacre and Chris Kaman (who has fallen so far he couldn’t even get in the game).

Look at it this way: These unidentifiable Lakers are closer to last-place Utah than to eighth-place Dallas in the Western Conference standings. That gap will either shrink or grow Friday night when the Lakers welcome the Jazz (10:30 p.m. ET, League Pass) – who, ahem, just beat L.A. in Salt Lake City a week ago.

When these two teams meet Friday, the most exciting player on the floor just might be Utah rookie point guard Trey Burke, who’s quietly making a major move in the Rookie of the Year race. No offense to the impressive Burke, but that’s how far the mighty Lakers have plummeted: A rookie on the opposing team — a team with 10 wins — is the most exciting player on the floor.

With Dwight Howard in Houston after turning his back on the Lakers in free agency, Kobe Bryant on the sidelines again with a fractured knee, Steve Nash still plotting some way to get back on the floor and Pau Gasol sniffling through recurring physical and emotional trauma, the Lakers’ star power is flickering like a faulty neon sign.

The Clippers, once known as the “other” L.A. team, are another story altogether.

We may never truly understand all the reasons that prompted outgoing commissioner David Stern, acting as the de facto head of the league-owned New Orleans Hornets two years ago, to veto the Chris Paul-to-the-Lakers trade.

(Stern said in a statement shortly after the December 2011 trade that he nixed it “in the best interests of the Hornets” and that he decided, without influence from other owners, that “the team was better served with Chris in a Hornets uniform than by the outcome of the terms of that trade.”)

But by now, we certainly grasp how drastically that decision altered both franchises’ outlooks. Remember, the Lakers thought they had Kobe’s future sewn up: CP3 in a deal that shipped out Gasol and Lamar Odom, followed by getting Dwight in a deal for Bynum. It’s hard to imagine a Kobe-CP3-D12 trio going up in flames like last season’s Howard-Kobe-Nash gathering did. Or like this season’s team has. The Lakers were 10-9 without Kobe to start this season and have gone 3-10 since his brief return and subsequent exit.

The Clippers (22-12) haven’t been nearly as consistent as coach Doc Rivers would like. But they are fourth in the West playing without injured sharpshooter J.J. Redick. They have won seven of their last 10. They’ll try to move 11 games over .500 Friday night at Dallas (8:30 p.m. ET, League Pass).

Off the court, the Clippers have been even better. Every second commercial on TV has Paul selling insurance with his equally assisting faux-twin brother Cliff, or a white-caped Blake Griffin saving us all from buying a lame automobile.

Meanwhile, the best news about the Lakers, off the court, is what they’re trying to do to fix their on-court woes. They are paying about $6 million more in payroll this season than their co-tenants, with close to $50 million wrapped up in Kobe and Gasol. The rest of the roster accounts for nearly $30 million. It’s why a rumored Gasol-for-Bynum swap with the Cleveland Cavaliers — followed by waiving Bynum — would be so attractive to Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak. It would wipe out millions in salary and costly luxury tax from the Lakers’ 2013-14 slate.

Whether that happens or not won’t change the Lakers’s fortunes any time soon. They’ll still be the talk of L.A. They are, after all, still the Lakers.

But until further notice, the star-studded Clips carry the bigger stick.


VIDEO: Bobcats at Clippers, Jan. 1, 2014

Kobe, Lakers Still Need Plenty Of Work




VIDEO: The Lakers cannot find the mark and get worked by the Hawks

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – You don’t need a CSI kit to figure out that these aren’t the Los Angeles Lakers of old. They look more like the old beat up Lakers right now, a team totally incapable of mustering enough healthy bodies, energy or effort to fight off an elite team, let alone a decent team like the Atlanta Hawks.

The mirage that has been the Lakers’ season thus far, with and without Kobe Bryant, is coming into focus now and it’s not nearly as inspiring as it might have seemed as recently as three weeks ago, when Mike D’Antoni was pushing buttons on a feisty crew of underdogs, yes underdogs, as they awaited Kobe’s return from Achilles surgery and the months of rehab that followed.

These Lakers aren’t big enough, strong enough and don’t have enough of the star power they are used to (at least not healthy) to even utter the words “championship contender” right now. And it was all on display Monday night at Philips Arena, when the Hawks pawed at a listless and defenseless Lakers team early and then slapped them around after halftime before finishing with a season-high 114 points in the win.

They need work, and plenty of it, before anyone starts talking about them being anything but what they are at this moment, and that’s a flawed crew on the far side of the playoff bubble in the rugged Western Conference.

“That’s you guys talking about June,” D’Antoni said. “Right now we’re just trying to win a game.”

When Elton Brand swats three shots, before halftime mind you, as the Hawks’ frontcourt crew of Al Horford (19 points, 11 rebounds, five assists), Paul Millsap (18, nine and four steals) and Brand (eight points and seven rebounds to go along with his blocks) stalemate your frontcourt of Pau Gasol, Robert Sacre and Jordan Hill the way they did, it makes Kobe’s and hence the Lakers’ struggles understandable.

Sure, Bryant shot just 4-for-14 from the floor, turned the ball over way too much (five) and didn’t make up for it with another double-digit assist night, not with the Hawks’ energetic DeMarre Carroll doing his best Raja Bell impersonation for much of the night. But it’s also clear that he doesn’t have the sort of help that will allow him to work his way through these tough nights as he gets his body back into the type of shape he’s used to. He’s playing out of position at point guard, while Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar all nurse injuries.

The Hawks didn’t have to say it but it was obvious, with Kobe as their point guard the Lakers are much easier to figure out than when he’s in his normal role at shooting guard. Kobe cannot take advantage of defenders in the post and work them around screens when he’s running the show, when he’s responsible for making sure Gasol, Hill, Jodie Meeks and others get into the flow of games.

“They were picking Kobe up full court and making him work,” D’Antoni said, “so we didn’t create any motion or movement or energy for ourselves. we have to make sure we continue to get motion.”

Bryant will be back at the controls Tuesday night in Memphis. He’ll have to drag his tired body back out on the floor on just a few hours’ rest and then chase Mike Conley around as best he can.

“The back-to-backs are always tough,” Bryant said. “I just have to get ready, I have to do whatever is necessary to get ready for the next night and get right back out there.”

That’s much easier said than done when your body betrays your natural instincts and the things you have conditioned it to do the past two decades. As Bryant admitted, this is a new process for him, trying to find his way back to normal from his injury. It’s not like anything he has dealt with before.

“Every night is like a different puzzle,” Bryant said. “So every night you have to try and problem solve.”

He also has to take mental notes of his own, as he’s learning what does and does not work for him on this journey back to the Kobe Bean Bryant everyone is used to seeing.

“It’s tough to say,” he said, “because there are certain things I feel like I can do and there are other things I can’t do, but I feel like they are coming. You have to be patient and keep your eye on the big picture and continue to work and get stronger.”

Kobe’s foot and ankle were immobile for so long that there is still some physical discomfort that he’ll have to endure until those issues dissipate.

“The next level of progression is playing these games when you sit back out, get back in, is keeping it loose,” he said. “It’s just a matter of time. You increase the activity, the ankle gets used to it a little more.

“I’ve just got to keep my eye on the big picture and focus on getting better.”

That’s also why he’s not ready to panic about the Lakers’ 11-13 record nine days before Christmas. This is not the same train ride the Lakers were on last year, when D’Antoni, Gasol, Dwight Howard, Nash and Bryant couldn’t steer clear of the mess as they careened on and off the tracks nearly all season long.

Any rumblings about the Lakers’ front office pressing the reset button and making a trade to shake things up are things Kobe does not plan on worrying  about right now.

“That call is completely up to them (the front office),” he said of making a call on any potential moves that could be made. “As a player, you rely on experience and the years that we’ve had slow starts. I just try to stay focused on that. Last year, it was really, really dire straits. And this doesn’t feel like this is that type of situation. You know, I don’t really sweat it too much. There are certain things we can correct and fix and a lot of it starts with me and getting healthy. And I’ll get there. And I’ll be able to control things a lot more. But I don’t really trip over it much. As players we’ve got to stay focused on what we do, and management obviously has to do the same thing on their end.”

In the meantime, the Lakers would be wise to keep their heads down, keep working and pray for some good fortune on the health front. Who knows what else the next few weeks might bring?

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.

Sacre Bleu! From D-League To Lakers

RENO, Nev.Michael Jordan’s Bulls winning 72 games in the 1995-96 season was unprecedented. The 33-game winning streak by the Lakers in 1971-72 was unexpected. Wilt Chamberlain scoring 100 in a single game in 1962 was unbelievable.

But when it came to the absolutely unthinkable on the eve of this season, it had to be a Lakers team with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash missing the playoffs.

You could see it on the faces recoiling in shock as NBA coaches, general managers and scouts checked their email and news feeds from courtside at the NBA D-League Showcase.

One minute they were watching Robert Sacre of the L.A. D-Fenders get pushed around in the low post by Hassan Whiteside of the Rio Grande Valley Vipers and in the next moment it hit them that they were watching the Lakers starting center for Tuesday night’s game in Houston.

With Howard (shoulder), Gasol (concussion) and Jordan Hill (hip) all sidelined, Sacre will be called up from the D-League and in the middle when the Lakers play the opener of a back-to-back set against the Rockets and Spurs.

Talk about being thrown into the deep end of the pool. Sacre will get his starter’s baptism against Omer Asik, who has been a virtual double-double machine in the middle.

“Who could possibly have seen this?” asked one NBA executive. “Over the past few weeks you kept expecting the Lakers to get their act together and kept being shocked when more time went by and they didn’t.”

“With this latest news right now,” said another, “we’re probably looking at the best 15-18 team in NBA history that doesn’t even make the playoffs. Where do they go from here?”

For the short term, at least, to Sacre, the 7-foot rookie out of Gonzaga, who has played sparingly — 55 minutes in 13 games — while scoring a total of seven points and grabbing 10 rebounds.

Sacre had 15 points and nine rebounds in a 127-104 loss to the Vipers, but gave up most of the 19 and 16 at the other end to Whiteside.

“Robert understands defense, but still has work to do,” said D-Fenders coach Reggie Theus. “He’s not super athletic. He might get his shot blocked a few times and that causes problems. But he does the little things.

“He knows how to play. He can knock down the 15-footer. He can take the ball to the basket. But what he really does is move the ball so well. I think he’s a very solid player who is going to be around the NBA level for a long time.”

First he’s got to stay afloat in the deep water that’s on the verge of washing the Lakers away.

The Lakers, The Injuries, The Playoffs…The Math


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HANG TIME WEST – And now comes word the Lakers will be without pretty much anyone tall for at least the next couple games, with Pau Gasol (concussion) and Jordan Hill (hip) scheduled to miss the quick Texas back-to-back and Dwight Howard expected to be sidelined at least the next because of a torn shoulder muscle.

Good, because life had been much too dull around the Lakers this season. Now, they are down to rookie Robert Sacre, the No. 60 pick in the draft, as the probable starting center Tuesday in Houston and, depending on his level of success, or survival, Wednesday in San Antonio. Coach Mike D’Antoni said after practice Monday that 6-foot-7 Metta World Peace might play there as well in a small lineup, which, come to think of it, is about all they have anyway.

These are strange days, indeed, for the Lakers, with desperation not far in the distance.

They’re not there yet, with the Trail Blazers a very-reachable three games ahead for the eighth and final playoff spot, but the view over the falls is becoming clearer. It’s the continued losing, especially when the return of Steve Nash didn’t cure everything as Los Angeles fanatics had hoped while heading to the basement with canned goods and water, plus the new developments of the injuries just as the Lakers head into a difficult stretch of schedule.

Of the next 11 games, two are against the Thunder with one each against the Rockets, Spurs, Cavaliers, Bucks, Heat, Raptors, Bulls, Grizzlies and Jazz. Good luck with that at full strength. The Lakers get the obstacle course with Howard out indefinitely, the only timeline being that he will be re-examined in a week, and needing time to work his way back once he does return to the lineup, in addition to still trying to work his way back from April back surgery.

If the problems were about health, that would be one thing. But they are not, of course, leaving the Lakers with a series of issues to sort through when/if they ever get close to 100 percent. They can work on the sorting out during all their free time as the opponent pushes the ball to the rim, since the energy obviously isn’t being spent on transition defense.

The longer the Lakers stay in the haze, the greater the chances of reaching for a trade they wouldn’t ordinarily make. They wanted to see the preferred lineup in action for an extended stretch before making any bold decisions – you know, the one without Sacre or World Peace at center – and now just got another setback in that plan as the volume increases on the ticking clock. They simply may not be able to wait another several weeks, which is what it could be given the uncertainty on the Howard injury calendar.

Just being upright after the 11 games, before the schedule turns more favorable at the end of the month and toward the All-Star break, will be an accomplishment. Here’s looking forward, then.

The win totals of the last five No. 8s in the Western Conference in seasons with an 82-game schedule: 46 (Grizzlies in 2010-11), 50 (Thunder in 2009-10), 48 (Jazz in 2008-09), 50 (Nuggets in 2007-08) and 42 (Warriors in 2006-07). The Jazz had 36 in the lockout-shortened 2011-12, which projects to 45 victories in a full schedule.

The Trail Blazers of 2012-13, at 18-15 as the midpoint of the season approaches, are on pace for 45.

The Lakers, at 15-18 after four losses in the last five games, are on pace for 37, with another update due in late-January. Maybe on Howard’s condition as well.

L..A. has 49 games remaining against 27 opponents with a combined winning percentage of .497 heading into Monday’s games. It needs to go 30-19 (.612) to get to 45 wins, 33-16 (.673) to reach 48 and 35-14 (.714) for what seems like the impossible dream of seeing 50, especially now, with more injury problems and the schedule turning ugly.