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Category: Five Things to Watch

Five things to watch in Lakers-Suns game

68195301Some things to keep an eye on when the Lakers (18-12) visit the Phoenix Suns (12-19) on Sunday evening at U.S. Airways Center:

1. Can the Lakers shake their road woes? You'd think the Lakers would have no issues dismantling Phoenix, especially two days after doing so. But the Lakers' home (13-2) and road records (5-10) remain a strong disparity for a variety of reasons, most notably their offensive execution. So it's way too presumptuous to think the Lakers can replicate their 111-point effort Friday against Phoenix. 

2. Kobe Bryant will light it up again. ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin obtained the Suns' 52-page scouting report on the Lakers, and it provides fascinating details. The revelations aren't particularly surprising, but they are interesting to read considering many of them echo similar sentiments Laker fans express in this forum on a regular basis. The nugget on the Black Mamba: "Bryant is going to get his 30 points, almost no matter what. The key is to have him get 30 points on 30 shots."  

That didn't happen Friday. Bryant ended a seven-game shooting slump in which he shot 37% by dropping 36 points on 14-of-25 shooting, striking a great balance between driving to the basket, shooting from the post and threading the needle on double teams. No doubt, Bryant will score a lot of points in this game. He repeatedly expressed his hatred toward Phoenix for eliminating the Lakers in the first round of the 2006 and 2007 playoffs. That's not going to go away. The key is if the scoring comes within the context of the offense.

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Five things to watch in Lakers-Timberwolves matchup

Pau GasolSome things to keep an eye on when the Lakers (11-9) visit the Minnesota Timberwolves (9-10) on Sunday evening at the Target Center.

1. Can the Lakers solve their road woes? The Lakers have shown no signs of doing so, including Saturday night's no-excuses, 100-89 loss to Milwaukee. The Bucks were finishing a back-to-back, having just played Chicago, and were without center Andrew Bogut (ankle) and guard Stephen Jackson (suspension). The Lakers had an incredible size advantage with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. Yet, it didn't happen. Minnesota may be even more challenging.

2. How will the Lakers' energy level hold up? Common denominators in the Lakers' road losses have been poor starts and a lack of energy. Considering the Lakers are playing  a back-to-back, that could be a bigger worry. It's plausible that losing such a winnable game the night before may spark the Lakers, but the team remains unpredictable in nearly every facet of the game. 

3. Pau Gasol meets a challenge in Kevin Love. Minnesota fans had better enjoy the 24.9 points and 13.8 rebounds he's averaging in his fourth NBA season. With the Timberwolves' reluctant to offer him a max deal, it's possible Love will jet in three years. For now, Love provides consistency on the glass, in the post and on mid-range shots.

With Gasol, it's been the exact opposite. Other than his 23-point point outing Wednesday against the Clippers, Gasol has shown a lack of aggression and poor decision-making in the post. Against Milwaukee, Gasol got the ball enough but made only six of 18 shots. The discouraging part for Gasol: Love is much more talented than Bucks forward Drew Gooden. 

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Five things to watch in Lakers-Clippers game

Kobe Bryant

Some things to keep an eye on when the Lakers (10-8) host the Clippers (9-5) Wednesday at Staples Center:

1. There will be chippiness. Whether the Lakers and Clippers want to acknowledge a rivalry or not, it's indisputable that the animosity heightens when these two teams meet. So expect there to be plenty of hard fouls, technicals, elbows and animosity thrown all around. The key for the Lakers involves channeling that properly. If they get too consumed with it, it could result in too many Clipper free-throws and overall distract their focus. If they play physical for the sake of sharpening their defense and energy, that approach will give the Lakers an edge.

2. The Lakers meet challenges at point guard regardless of Chris Paul. The Times' Broderick Turner mentions it's likely Paul will play against the Lakers after missing the last five games because of a strained left hamstring. But it's not guaranteed. Surely Paul's presence even in limited form will give the Lakers fits. They frankly don't have the speed to keep up with him. With Steve Blake still sidelined because of a fracture of the cartilage connecting his rib and sternum, the Lakers don't have the depth, either. But the Lakers' problems at matching up with the Clippers at point guard hardly confines to Paul.

Clippers guard Mo Williams has averaged 25.66 points per game in the last three coming off the bench in Paul's absence, while Clippers guard Chauncey Billups nailed a game-winner against Dallas. While Derek Fisher matched Billups with a game winner against Dallas, rookie guard Darius Morris can hardly match Williams' play. Morris remains unpredictable with his excessive dribbling and decision-making. He has potential, but it's hardly a good thing at this point that he's playing more minutes during Blake's absence.

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Five things to watch in Lakers-Pacers matchup

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Some things to keep an eye on when the Lakers (10-7) return to Staples Center on Sunday and host the Indiana Pacers (10-4).

1. Can the Lakers bounce back at home? The disparity between the Lakers' home record (9-1) and road record (1-6) remains staggering. The difference between home and road games points to a number of areas. That includes points per game (93.8 at home, 89.7 on the road), shooting percentage (47.1%, 42.4%) and rebounds (46, 43.4). Individually the home-road disparity points mostly to Lakers center Andrew Bynum (16.9 points and 14.3 rebounds per game at home, 14.7 points and 12.8 rebounds per game on the road).

The Lakers mostly pointed to their opponents for the poor road record, which included losses to the Portland Trail Blazers, Miami Heat and Orlando Magic, all playoff-contending teams. But the team also acknowledged the energy at Staples Center giving them an extra boost. After losing a back-to-back at Miami and Orlando, it will be interesting to see to what degree the home crowd will help improve the Lakers' play.

2. The Lakers will face a tough test on offense. This points to the Lakers' most pressing need. But they can't expect to fill it right away for reasons going beyond the team's own personnel. Indiana boasts the third-best defense in the league, holding teams to 89.9 points per game and a league-best 40.1% shooting. Meanwhile, the Lakers have scored fewer than 100 points for nine consecutive games, have remained second to last in the NBA from three-point range (25.7%) and have shot 45.1% overall. It's critical the Lakers remain patient, while adopting the five ways proposed earlier on how to fix their offensive struggles.  

3. The Lakers may have to win with defense. That's become their calling-card all season, and it's probable they'll have to rely on that to secure a win against Indiana. That's because the Lakers have limited teams to 90.06 points per game (fifth in NBA) on 41.1% shooting (third best). Meanwhile, the Pacers have also struggled offensively, ranking 18th overall in points per game (92.9) and 26th in shooting percentage (41.5%). Perhaps that zone defense Lakers Coach Mike Brown has occasionally used will become useful against Indiana. After all, it worked for Sacramento.

 

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Things to watch in second Lakers-Clippers preseason game

Some things to keep an eye on when the Lakers and Clippers meet tonight for their second preseason matchup:

1. How much improvement will the Lakers make on defense? The Lakers' 114-95 loss to the Clippers on Monday highlighted plenty of reasons why Coach Mike Brown remains upset with the team's defensive effort -- including closing out on perimeter shooters, a huge factor in why the Clippers went 13 of 28 from three-point range. There's also the problem of getting back on transition defense, a large part of why the Clippers scored 29 points off the Lakers' 21 turnovers. And there's also the matter of the Lakers having little answer for Chris Paul's 17 points.

The Lakers' first preseason game was a potent reminder that they'll likely struggle for most of the season in defending against quick teams and stopping fast-break points. One practice session won't rectify that. But the Lakers and, most notably, Kobe Bryant can easily improve on closing out on shooters. Part of it is the team's learning curve, because most of the concepts last season centered on forcing drivers into the lane. Brown's defense has similar ideas in that department, but it also stresses keeping perimeter shooters honest.

2. Can the Lakers' offensive chemistry improve? Everyone -- Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum included -- acknowledged making reads and cuts that mirrored Phil Jackson's offense at different times during Monday's game. That led to confusion on how the Lakers should run Brown's "strong corner" offense, making the inside production from Gasol (16 points) and Bynum (15 points) pretty deceptive. Because the Lakers' offense hinges more on their production, such mishaps will significantly weaken their options.

3. How much should Kobe play? The Lakers diagnosed him with a sprained right wrist after taking a fall during Monday's game, but he practiced Tuesday and is expected to play in the rematch. But it'd be a good idea for Brown to minimize Bryant's minutes so he can heal and the Lakers can further figure out who should play behind him at shooting guard. 

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Five things Joe Smith needs for a successful season for the Lakers

Joe Smith

This is the 15th post in a series focusing on five things each Lakers player must do to have a successful 2011-12 season (assuming there is one, of course).

1. Get re-signed. Joe Smith and General Manager Mitch Kupchak each had their own way of showing their cards. Smith gushed in his exit interview about wanting to extend his nomadic 15-year NBA career, preferably with the Lakers. Kupchak raised doubts before the  draft on whether Smith still wants to play. So yes, Smith's return is highly unlikely. But out of fairness, it's hard to predict how anything will shake up after the NBA lockout. 

2. Show more interest fitting in with roster. Smith seemed content last season with lacking a definitive role, and the coaching staff appeared to feel the same. It's to some degree understandable because Smith has little to offer. But for all the hand-wringing over Pau Gasol's fatigue, Andrew Bynum's continuous monitoring of his surgically repaired right knee and Derrick Caracter's lack of preparation, the Lakers would've been better served in ensuring Smith can offer something. In turn, Smith appeared too willing in simply going along for the ride. He has limited mobility and post moves, but the Lakers need something to shave off some of the frontline's minutes so they remain fresh and healthy. 

3. Quickly understand concepts. Another reason Smith appeared tentative last season was his admitted lack of understanding the triangle offense. His own abilities aside, it's going to be easier to understand Mike Brown's system because it's a traditional open-court offense and everyone will also go through a similar learning process. 

4. Practice hard. All accounts say he provided the necessary practice intensity bench players need to provide to keep the starters honest. There's no reason that should change. 

5. Provide positive locker room presence. Smith has become dispensable because his abilities never quite matched the expectations that came with being the first pick in the 1995 draft. But he's remained in the NBA for so long partly because teams know he brings little risk in ruining locker room chemistry. For the Lakers, that meant shaking everyone's hands before player introductions and becoming one of the team's most educated hip-hop fans.

RELATED:

Joe Smith maintains positive attitude in limited role, indulges passion for rap music and collecting hats

Lakers Report Card: Joe Smith

Joe Smith shows eagerness fitting in with the Lakers

--Mark Medina

Email the Lakers blog at [email protected]

Five things Derrick Caracter needs for a successful season

Derrick Caracter

This is the 12th post in a series focusing on five things each Lakers player must do to have a successful 2011-12 season (assuming there is one, of course).

1. Get re-signed. Despite Derrick Caracter's optimism that the Lakers will exercise their $788,872 option to keep him next season, I remain doubtful. He averaged two points on 48.5% shooting in 5.2 minutes a game his rookie season. He was arrested during the playoffs at a New Orleans IHOP, accused of battery, public intoxication and resisting arrest. The Lakers' coaching staff appeared uncomfortable elevating Caracter's role despite Pau Gasol's needing more rest when Andrew Bynum rehabbed his surgically repaired right knee. It's possible Caracter could stay on the team, however, considering his inexpensive price tag.

2. Improve maturity. Caracter doesn't have the clout for the Lakers to tolerate his off-court arrest. This episode highlights the Lakers' contrasting views toward Caracter and Devin Ebanks. Despite Ebanks' limited playing time and raw abilities, the Lakers loved his attitude and work ethic. Meanwhile, Caracter's arrest only raised doubts about his maturity and seriousness toward the game. Ensuring he stays out of trouble will at least alleviate his standing on the team. 

3. Improve conditioning. Caracter said he's more concerned about becoming a better player than losing weight. The two go hand in hand, though. Dan Barto, the IMG Basketball Academy's pro/college training coordinator, said last month Caracter weighs 270 pounds, which he considers appropriate weight for a bruising center. Caracter needs to maintain that weight because his physical presence gives him a competitive advantage. But he needs to make sure that doesn't compromise his endurance and mobility. Barto believes a weight of 265 pounds would put Caracter in "optimal shape."

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Five things ensuring Devin Ebanks a successful season for Lakers

Devin Ebanks' work ethic and athleticism could make him valuable to the Lakers next season.

This is the 11th in a series of reports that focus on five things each Lakers player must do to have a successful 2011-12 season (assuming there is one, of course).

1. Get re-signed. Devin Ebanks' future isn't entirely secure considering the Lakers have a team option on him worth $788,872. Even though Ebanks' numbers in the 2010-2011 season were modest (3.1 points and 1.4 rebounds in 5.9 minutes a contest in only 20 games), the Lakers universally love his work ethic and high upside. Plus, Ebanks is the type of young, athletic and inexpensive player the Lakers actually need to bolster their veteran-laden roster. So it's a good chance he's returning. 

2. Successfully rehab. Ebanks didn't fully tap his potential last season because he spent the last two months rehabbing a fractured left tibia. Ebanks indicated in a phone interview last month that he's played basketball nonstop, including in a few Goodman League exhibition games. So it's safe to assume he'll be fine. But it's still critical he maintains that health.

3. Be prepared to play shooting guard. Ebanks spent most of this offseason working on his shooting because General Manager Mitch Kupchak envisions him playing more at shooting guard. Considering the Lakers have depth at small forward (Metta World Peace, Matt Barnes) and Shannon Brown likely won't return, this position gives Ebanks the best chance to play. Ebanks' offseason work on his shooting needs to pay off substantially because the Lakers simply don't have the funds to significantly upgrade their roster. Considering the Lakers' suffered in that department last season, any improved shooting marks from Ebanks would be a boost for the team and bolster his minutes. 

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Five things ensuring Shannon Brown a successful season for Lakers

Five things for Shannon Brown to ensure a successful Lakers season.

This is the 10th in a series of reports that focus on five things each Lakers player must do to have a successful 2011-12 season (assuming there is one, of course).

1. Get re-signed.Shannon Brown opted out of his $2.37-million contract to test the free agency market, but he won't spur much interest. He received lukewarm responses last season, and his 8.7 points per game on 42.5% shooting hardly impressed the Lakers' coaching staff. My hunch is the Lakers won't keep him as they tweak their roster. In Brown's case, sticking with the Lakers would be his best option.

2. Improve shooting. His 2010 off-season centered on his shooting. After a sizzling first month (10.83 points on 48.6% shooting in the first 18 games), Brown's production dipped the rest to a 8.1 points per game clip on 40.61% shooting. It clearly highlighted Brown's stubborness in wanting to be a shooter even if his shooting percentage didn't warrant it.

Brown wouldn't say whether he experienced mechanical issues or struggled against tighter defenses, but he refused to adjust his game as his shooting percentage plummeted. If his shot doesn't fall next season, Brown needs to take shots closer to the basket.

3. Become more committed on defense. As much as Brown wanted to become a more complete player last season, that hardly translated defensively. He was often caught sagging on his man or getting mixed up in rotations. Any defensive stops mostly attributed to his speed and less on his defensive discipline. 

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Five things Luke Walton needs for a successful season

Luke WaltonThis is the ninth in a series of reports that focus on five things each Lakers player must do to have a successful 2011-12 season (assuming there is one, of course).

1. Stay healthy. Nothing has saddled Luke Walton worse than falling to the injury bug. For a player that has already fallen on the Lakers' depth chart, hurting his back or any other body part will only exacerbate matters.

2. Improve shooting. Of course, staying healthy won't do much if he doesn't offer anything valuable on the basketball court. It's a telling sign that former coach Phil Jackson limited Walton's playing time as he averaged 1.7 points on 32.8% shooting despite his strong understanding of the triangle offense.

Walton can't bring any of that value in the 2011-2012 season because Coach Mike Brown will have a faster-paced offense. So it's important that Walton's apparent work this offseason on his shot actually translates on the court. After all, Kobe Bryant has often said Walton remains one of the team's most consistent shooters in practice, but those qualities haven't translated to the games.

3. Hustle in practice. Credit Walton for not allowing his frustration over lost playing time last season to affect his overall work ethic. He's often been considered one of the team's hardest workers in practice, and the 2011-2012 season shouldn't be any different. Walton might not bring anything to actual games, but at least he can help sharpen the starters' practice work habits.

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