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Breaking down the Lakers roster entering the playoffs

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Forward Ron Artest

When he wasn't celebrating the 2010 NBA championship, Artest spent plenty of time this off-season slimming down to 250 pounds and limiting his alcohol consumption in the hopes he could keep up with speedy players such as Kevin Durant. That effort has proven to be a mixed bag, but the way he defends the opposing team's best player will likely prove to be the X factor in a series.

It's crucial that Artest play the game the right way. When he doesn't have a superstar player to defend, Artest sometimes appears bored on team defense. When he is defending a top scorer, sometimes the matchup distracts him from basic duties, such as help defense. Then there's of course the offense, where running a fast break and any shot attempt immediately prompts Staples Center to let out a collective gasp.

But there have been spurts, particularly since the All-Star break where Artest has played the right way. Aside from his tenacious and aggressive defense, he's become a more reliable option offensively since the All-Star break with his points per game and shooting percentage eclipsing his season average. It all points to Artest becoming more aware and appearing more engaged. Strangely enough, Artest thrives more when he's not over-thinking what he has to do on the court. As everyone knows with Artest, he's a wild card and it'll be hard to gauge what he'll truly bring. There's no point in unraveling the enigma that is Ron Artest, but for better and/or worse, his playoff performances will surely be memorable.

Forward Matt Barnes

Barnes is expected to return to the lineup in time to appear in Game 1 of the Lakers-Hornets first round matchup on Sunday after experiencing soreness in his right knee. Barnes is a good player to have as an enforcer, acting as protection to a teammate getting picked on to the one delivering the hard fouls on the other end. Barnes never fails to disappoint in that department, and it will be entertaining to see how he responds to Jason Terry should the Lakers meet the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference semifinals after he earned an ejection two weeks ago for getting in a shoving match with Terry after he pushed Steve Blake to the ground.

It remains uncertain whether Barnes will be able to fill the role he provided before suffering a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee in the Lakers' 101-97 victory Jan. 7 against New Orleans. Before that, Barnes remained a consistent option on the bench by providing hustle plays, making easy putbacks and cutting effectively so that he received open looks. Ever since Barnes returned to the lineup in early March, he hasn't shown that same adaptability. He's appeared extremely tentative. Part of that surely points to his concern about his knee, but he can still find ways to remain aggressive and find close-range shots without sacrificing his health.

Guard Steve Blake

He's considered questionable for the Lakers' first-round series because of chicken pox, something the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases says is more serious for adults than children. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported just two adult deaths from chicken pox in the last decade, but the rash usually appears 10 to 21 days after infection.

The most pressing concerns obviously point to Blake's health. Should he recover in time to return, there will be an inevitable adjustment period in getting acclimated in the lineup. Blake has a basketball IQ so that shouldn't take very long. But where he left off before getting sick remains troubling. As well as he's run the offense, particularly for a newcomer, he's been extremely tentative in shooting. Blake has had great intentions. He's usually the first to come out during pre-game warmups to work on his shooting, and he looks great during those sessions. But that hasn't translated on the court.

Considering the bench's inconsistency, it'd be counterproductive for Blake to shoot his way out of a slump, something he's largely avoided doing. But there's no reason why he should play as if he's unsure of his role. The Lakers universally like his presence and team-first mentality and they have given him the green light to make plays. He just needs more confidence in doing that.

Guard Shannon Brown

Whenever Brown sees an open shot, he should think twice before taking it. Brown's shooting has been downright awful, and his shot selection, inability to create open looks and constant dribbling hasn't helped matters either. Brown entered the 2010-2011 season very aware that he's strictly seen as a dunker and that he wanted to mold his game into a complete player. The constant hours in the gym seemed to have paid off with a strong shooting stroke at the beginning of the season. Ever since defenses have keyed on him, he hasn't been the same. Brown shouldn't shoot himself out of those struggles during the playoffs because Lakers Coach Phil Jackson won't let him.

I understand Brown doesn't want to be just a dunker. But there's no reason he needs to shy away from that when he's open on the fast break, and he surely hasn't. He can use his energy defensively instead of worrying more about his offensive production. It'll help his cause in becoming a complete player and provide more value in a department that often points to effort.

59227402-1Guard Kobe Bryant

Bryant is entering the 2011 postseason under much better circumstances than last year's playoffs. Sure, he has plenty of injuries to worry about, ranging from his surgically repaired right knee, sprained left ankle and arthritis on his right index finger, among others. But they're at least not as painful as they were last year. Bryant's surely going to crank up the intensity, no longer needing to worry to pace his body so it doesn't break down. So expect many game-winners, amazing shots and a competitive streak no one else can match. It's crucial, though, that when opposing teams goad him into shooting the entire time, he makes the defense pay by getting others involved. The Lakers are a much better team when he initially takes charge because it helps set the tone, but he has to be true to his word that he'll take what the defense gives him because there are too many times he hasn't lived up to that mantra.

Center Andrew Bynum

Sure, Bryant's the most talented player, but Bynum will be the main variable that will determine whether the Lakers three-peat. That could be a good thing or a bad thing, considering Bynum has a bone bruise on his surgically repaired right knee and Jackson expressed uncertainty on what he could expect out of him. We'll have a much clearer idea Friday since Bynum tweeted "he's looking forward to a hard practice." Bynum's value can't be overstated enough. He's the lynch pin behind the Lakers' defensive resurgence during their 17-1 start after the All-Star break, which consisted of per-game averages of 11.2 points, 12.3 rebounds (trailing only Dwight Howard's 14.7) and 2.36 blocks (trailing Howard's three and JaVale McGee's 2.57).

The Lakers will flourish more with Bynum fully healthy, considering that will allow him to be fully aggressive, while his presence will relieve Pau Gasol's minutes and have Lamar Odom lead the bench. Should Bynum's injury be more serious than indicated or should he suffer even another injury, a limited Bynum will still prove valuable. One only has to look back at the 2010 NBA Finals to know why. Despite needing to get his knees drained, Bynum's presence alone caused matchup problems, discouraged opponents from driving to the basket and provided another option for easy rebounds and putbacks, resulting in an of average of 7.4 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in 25 minutes against Boston. It's a formula that will work again this time around, so long as Bynum remains healthy enough to play.

Forward-Center Derrick Caracter

Sorry, Derrick. Your time on the floor will be little to none. But soak in the atmosphere. Observe and ask for advice. Give Bynum a good challenge in practice. Just make sure you don't cause any more injuries. And most importantly, be sure the water bottles and towels are removed from the practice floor.

60807857Guard Derek Fisher

Get ready for clutch shots, pre-game and halftime speeches, fans saying they were wrong all along about Fisher and people like me writing that I've preached this all along. The playoffs are Fisher's moment to shine and there's no reason the 2011 NBA postseason should be any different. The Lakers' first-round meeting with New Orleans will feature Fisher having the daunting task of guarding Chris Paul, but he's actually shown enough tenacity in fighting through the Hornets' pick-and-rolls to at least minimize the damage. Besides, this matchup will mostly put the onus on the Lakers' defensive scheme that funnels drivers to the basket to make sure Paul doesn't get easy looks in the lane.

Forward Devin Ebanks

He's following Caracter's fate, so there's no use repeating. But here's a few additional things. He can use the practice time to help strengthen his left tibia, a much better alternative than remaining on the sidelines in street clothes. Ebanks also needs to step his game up on the rookie duties. Caracter accused him of ducking out of them and citing his injury as a convenient excuse. He needs to put that immediate perception to bed or else the veterans will only add more tasks for him.

Forward Pau Gasol

The chemistry between Bryant and Gasol will be crucial to how effective they display the balance between nurturing Bryant's scoring mentality and Gasol's sizable advantage inside. They have a good relationship, but Bryant occasionally shies away from him when he wants to score and Gasol occasionally doesn't establish enough post position. Gasol will knock down midrange jumpers and hook shots with ease, using his effective footwork to draw defenders off balance. But Gasol will also be needed defensively, particularly if Bynum is limited. He's displayed that effort on an inconsistent basis, often delegating to Bynum to make defensive stops and taking his time in getting back on transition defense.

Guard Trey Johnson

Clearly, Johnson is needed to carry the Lakers on his back, make game winners and become the team's spokesman. There's really no telling what an NBA championship will do to his legacy. Actually, Johnson should just enjoy the ride. After the Lakers acquired him from the Bakersfield Jam because of Blake's absence, Johnson displayed a tremendous amount of aggressiveness and athleticism, scoring six points in the season finale against Sacramento. This is a chance to impress the Lakers with his attitude and hustle in practice. Plus, he can stock up on free Kobe shoes. But Johnson can't just be freeloading off the Black Mamba. He's got to bring something in return, such as taking care of Bryant's errands while he gets into playoff mode.

Forward Lamar Odom

Odom's been the most consistent player and there's no reason why that shouldn't continue. He stayed remarkably focused and hungry even when the reality television camera crews were around. There's no doubt Odom will provide that versatile presence off the bench. He'll likely be called to fill in various spots, considering Bynum's possible limitation. But he's also going to need to be more assertive as a reserve. This isn't a knock on his game whatsover, but with the bench's inconsistency Odom will sometimes need to take over. Odom prides himself on being part of what he calls momentum plays, whether it be a key defensive stop, outlet pass or running the break. He should still perfect those sequences, but there will be times Odom needs to simply take over because of Jackson's tightened rotation on the reserves during the postseason.

Center Theo Ratliff

Ratliff has been extremely limited because of his surgically repaired left knee, poor conditioning and mobility. But he's a smart basketball player. If he's able to provide five minutes per game, that'll be good enough in the Lakers' eyes. It'll give Bynum and Gasol a breather and help them keep sharp late in the game.

Forward Joe Smith

Smith provides a similar role to Ratliff, but he also has another important function. Smith greets the starters during pre-game introductions and often provides encouraging words. It's a small role that goes a long way.  Smith seems to be the most up-to-date on hip hop music so he needs to make sure everyone's iPod has all the latest songs.

Forward Luke Walton

Walton needs to minimize mistakes so the live chat and comment threads don't become flooded with jabs about his worth to the team. But contrary to popular belief, Walton actually serves a valuable role. I'm not a fan of his shot selection or his athleticism, but Walton runs the system well and always makes the extra pass. It'd be best to pair him up with some starters since they're more likely to hit the shots off of his passes than the inconsistent reserves. 

--Mark Medina

[email protected]

Photos, from top: Lakers forward Lamar Odom has the ball knocked from his grasp by the defense of Hornets big men DJ Mbenga and David Andersen February in New Orleans. Credit: Derick E. Hingle / US Presswire; Kobe Bryant pulls up for a jumper over the double-team defense of Hornets center DJ Mbenga and guard Willie Green in a regular-season game this year in New Orleans Credit: Misty McElroy / Reuters; Lakers guard Derek Fisher fouls Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook after he made a steal earlier this season at Staples Center. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times / April 10, 2011.

 
Comments () | Archives (22)

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LET'S GO! ENJOY THE RIDE!!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ugxFcmZXDyc

I will say this...

I'd love it if some day the TV cameras would catch David Stern cursing, and if ESPN would just play it over and over and over and over.

If it ever happens, he should be required to pay each NBA player $100.

It will be interesting to see how PJ will rotate our GUARDS with Blake out for a while. The Lakers will have hands full playing against Chris Paul.

I am hoping that we get the concrete report about Bynum's status when the Lakers players show up for the practice today.

One more playoff prediction.

Go ahead, bet the house on these.

Here goes:

=======

First Round Playoff Results

=======

WESTERN CONFERENCE MATCHUPS

(1) San Antonio Spurs vs. Memphis Grizzlies

- Spurs struggle a bit not at full strength but still have enough to tame the Grizzlies in 5 or 6.

(2) Los Angeles Lakers (57-25) vs. (7) New Orleans Hornets (46-36)

- Stingless Hornets no match for schizo Lakers team that swept them during the season but the Lakers aren't going to beat them 8 times in a row and N.O. steals a win, over and out in 5.

(3) Dallas Mavericks (57-25) vs. (6) Portland Trail Blazers (48-34)

- Best west match up this round, could go 7 but Mavs will knock Blazers off the playoff trail.

(4) Oklahoma City Thunder (55-27) vs. (5) Denver Nuggets (50-32)

-While the games may be close and fun to watch, the Thunder will rain on Nuggs parade and wash them away them in 5.

---------------------------

EASTERN CONFERENCE MATCHUPS

(1) Chicago Bulls (62-20) vs. (8) Indiana Pacers (37-45)

- Thib has been to the Finals 2 of the last 3 yrs, he'll have Bulls prepped and they will stampede through the first round as the only team to sweep, 4-zip.

(2) Miami Heat (58-24) vs. (7) Philadelphia 76ers (41-41)

- While Riles isn't the coach, he will make sure Miami is ready. Heat burn Philly 4-1.

(3) Boston Celtics (56-26) vs. (6) New York Knicks (42-40)

- Another mismatch as Celts use experience to Trump NY. Celts in 5.

(4) Orlando Magic (52-30) vs. (5) Atlanta Hawks (44-38)

- First round upset special, Magic went from a FInals appearance in '09 to a second round exit last year.

The downward spiral continues as Hawks finally advance to the second round where their joy will be short-lived.

After the curtain is lowered on this Magic act, Dwight puts house up for sale.

Some improvements from last years Championship team that puts us over the top....

Lamar should be the 6th man guy for the NBA, but I also feel he should get some points for the most improved in the NBA, certainly for the Lakers.

He has always been tagged with being inconsistent, but now its just the opposite. He has a new reputation in my book. I expect his shots to go in. He also has some great chemistry with Gasol.

Bynum will be this years difference maker in the key, that we never had before in the playoffs. Barnes will add quickness on the peremiter. But our new, 'Mr. Consistency' can carry this team through each round.

With "the Brick" out for this series, Shannon Brown will get his chance to shine. His playoff experience should really help...now is his time! I'd like to see a sweep to get our swagger back for the next series...

Looks like the world has jumped on the Bulls bandwagon...

The Chowds hopes rests on Shaq...lol...Chowder Nation is in for a huge surprise...

If Manu is not 100%, Spurs are in big trouble...

At this point...The Thunder is our biggest obstacle in the 3Peat...

Lakers Dynasty - The Next Generation...

#17 Coming Up!!!

Nicely stated Art. I liked all those cutsy things you said. lol....You can see that Chicago won't be tested until the Eastern (still leastern) Finals where they will lose.

We had an assault happen to us after the Laker-Warrior Game of April 6th. My son was sucker punched from behind and had his jaw broken. Warrior sucurity was NOWHERE to be found... They issued an official report that just tried to cover their asses....
The attack happened just outside Oracle Arena... Their security never returned my phone calls.....

If anyone witnessed the attack please contact Sgt. Espinoza of the Oakland Police Dept. @ 510-777-8525

Go Lakers!

Wow Barry, that's incredible. I hope your son is healing fine. My best thoughts for you and him.

Alrightee... it's about time... time to break out the Bio-Chrono readings.

It must be done.

I'm on a Mac right now so I can't do them until later.

What do we play for? RINGS!!!

Lakers Today... Lakers Tomorrow... Lakers Forever.

GO LAKERS!!!

Hey, thanks Fatty.

I think Thib is the best coach in the east, we'll see how much difference it makes.

It is really unfortunate what happened to the son of Barry Cass. It is just a sports, a leisure outlet for everyone why turn into violence? Adults in this blog should restrain themselves from being too emotional, feisty and in a fighting mood in their posts because when youth readers could perceive it that it is OK to take revenge against fans of other teams. I saw this during the Laker Championship parade fans become so delirious and out of control. If we want to be competitive in cheer leading just inject light humor like what my friend FAtty is doing, after all we are in the same boat as fans of the basketball focus on enjoying the moment than changing the outcome by being violent.

I hope some witnesses or a security camera caught the action at the parking lot. This is similar to what happened to the Giants fan at Dodger Stadium, the perpetrators are still on the loose.

Art,

I think the favorites are going to win in the 1st round series except for 4th match-up in the West between Thunder and Nuggets. This is a toss-up because Nuggets are a better team in this playoffs compared to last time when they have Melo and Chauncey. On part of Thunder, they have new names and this is the trial whether the trade improved the Thunder's standing.

Lakers are going to win against NO either 5 or 6 games. It is better to have more games in order to fine tune their playoff tempo. So far I'm not satisfied how they ended the season. I hope it just a ploy and not the real Laker show.

blacksportsonline.com/home/2011/04/‚Äčlakers-fan-shaun-cass

Thanks Fatty,

Shaun is a BIG Laker fan! Hopefully the link came thru this time with the TV News interview.. If it didn't, you can go to ktvu.com and search Shaun Cass.
Or Google search Shaun Cass and the 4-5 sites that picked it up will have a replay..
The Lakers should play it before the 1st game of the Playoffs! The crowd would go nuts!
He got hit wearing Kobe's #24. He did not back down and would do it again!

I think that was a very unfair take on Trey Johnson. The guy, in very limited practice time with the Lakers, showed more understanding of the triangle than Shannon or Artest. Plus the guy can shoot! He should be a part of the playoff rotation, especially if Blake is out. He has shown quickness too, something the Lakers can use against all the quick guards they will see all the way to the NBA Finals. Walton should have no part of this roster. Any monkey can pass the ball around and that is all he does. He cannot shoot, defend, or make his own plays. Even when he passes, it usually leads to a turnover, so a monkey would actually do better than Luke. Absolutely useless!

I would love to see Trey get wet in the first series to see if he can be a small guard defensive stopper while Blake gets back into shape and Barnes re-habs his knee. It might be the diamond in the rough we needed.

I vote for Trey also -- he's a calming stabilizer out there and plays the game with ease.He can def help.

>>> The guy, in very limited practice time with the Lakers, showed more
>>>understanding of the triangle than Shannon or Artest

If I remember correctly, the Jam play the triangle.

Puleezeee!!!!! Luke Walton is just terrible. At $5 million a year, the Lakers could of had a reliable backup guard or forward. Instead we have Luke?

Medina your article is terribly written by journalistic standards. Amazing to me that the L.A. Timers would publish your coffeetable talk analysis.

Might be a good idea to mention that the Lakers are the only team in the playoffs that have two starters shooting under 40% on the year. Throw in Blake at 36% and Walton at 32% and this is this is by far the worst outside shooting team in the playoffs . Bynam, Pau and LO hide the gang who couldn't shoot straight with their over 50% inside game. Also the media helps by not being able to read stats.

Can't see Lakers getting by OKC when 40% of your starting lineup can't shoot, pass, run down court and in Ron's case dribble the basketball. Funny how one good game in 2 years can make people forget that Ron Artest is a horrible offensive player who spends way more time partying then practicing.


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