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Category: Five Things to Watch

Five things Matt Barnes needs for a successful season

Five things Matt Barnes needs for a successful seasonThis is the eighth part of a series that focuses on five things each Lakers player must do to have a successful 2011-12 season (assuming there is one, of course).

1. Successfully rehab the knee. On paper, it appears Matt Barnes' first season with the Lakers was little more than a bust. In reality, Barnes' 6.7-points-per-game average on 47% shooting pointed to his inability to fully heal and successfully play while dealing with his surgically repaired right knee. After the lateral meniscus tear in that knee against New Orleans on Jan.7, Barnes appeared more tentative than usual.

The prolonged lockout, Barnes has said, has given him time to fully heal. It's crucial that he returns to full health as that was the main variable that kept his 2010-2011 season from being successful.

2. Maintain interest in doing the little things. Last season, Barnes minimized his learning curve in understanding the triangle and fitting into a superstar-laden roster because of his willingness to do the little things. He became remarkably efficient because of his constant cutting, offensive put-backs and overall hustle for loose balls. With Coach Mike Brown's insistence on that mindset, continually playing with that attitude will immediately earn Barnes a key bench role. 

3. Bring toughness. Sometimes Barnes' chippiness can go overboard, and he'll have to channel that. But for the most part, his intensity rubs off on his teammates. The more players share Kobe Bryant's mentality the better, because there are many Lakers, mainly Pau Gasol, who don't play with enough aggression when it's necessary. 

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Five things that Steve Blake needs for a successful season

Steve Blake

This is the seventh part of a series that focuses on five things each Lakers player must do to have a successful 2011-12 season (assuming there is one, of course).

1. Show aggressiveness. When Steve Blake signed a four-year, $16-million deal before last season, many presumed he'd steal Derek Fisher's starting spot. That didn't happen for many reasons, but the main one was  his tentativeness. Blake proved to be a quick study in the triangle offense, but he never seemed comfortable with his role. Blake followed the pecking order almost to a fault, preventing him from showing the playmaking and shooting abilities he usually displayed in his eight-year NBA career.

2. Improve outside shooting. Blake's 35.9% clip from the field reflected a larger problem the Lakers exhibited last season. They lacked a definitive outside shooter, going 35.2% from the three-point range in the regular season, 28.9% in the postseason,  and 37.5% from shots from within 16-23 feet, according to Hoopdata. Credit Blake for showing up early to pregame warm-ups and for improving his arc this off-season. But Blake also needs to show more confidence and willingness to take those shots to establish rhythm.

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Five things Lamar Odom needs for a successful season

Lamar OdomThis is the sixth part of a series that focuses on five things each Lakers player must do to have a successful 2011-12 season (assuming there is one, of course).

1. Cut the reality shows. "Khloe & Lamar" will air on E! for at  at least two more seasons, so it looks as though that won't' happen. Even if Odom proved capable of handling the heavy workload last season, he needs to continually monitor his schedule.

2. Maintain strong conditioning from the 2010-2011 season. One reason for Odom's most consistent season last year, with 14.4 points and 8.7 rebounds a game, is the strong conditioning he gained from playing in the FIBA World Championship. Odom doesn't have that luxury this season, so it's important that he stay active this off-season to make sure he enters this season just as sharp.

3. Restore consistency. Odom proved that the Lakers could rely on him every game during the regular season, but then he reverted in the playoffs to his underachieving reputation. The reality television venture had nothing to do with it. Odom lacked the aggressiveness he displayed during the regular season that enabled him to establish a niche, even while playing with top-level talent.

4. Continue sharpening jack-of-all-trades role. Odom never fails in this category, but it's important that he maintain this role for varying reasons. Odom's two-year, $17-million deal could be the most attractive contract the Lakers could trade and they have a team option on him for the 2012-13 season. It's possible the Lakers will make tweaks to their bench, so it's necessary Odom provides leadership with that unit and fills in gaps wherever need be. Should Andrew Bynum fall to injury or Pau Gasol suffer more fatigue, Odom will need to be ready to assume more minutes.

5. Provide positive locker room presence. He's become the most popular Laker in the locker room because of his down-to-earth and likable personality. Because Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher are so serious as leaders, it's necessary Odom help keep the team loose and jovial.

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Five things to ensure a successful season for...

Kobe Bryant

Pau Gasol

Andrew Bynum

Derek Fisher

--Mark Medina

E-mail the Lakers blog at [email protected]

Photo: Lamar Odom. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times

Five things Derek Fisher needs for a successful season

Derek FisherThis is the fifth part of a series that focuses on five things each Lakers player must do to have a successful 2011-12 season (assuming there is one, of course).

1. Elevate his co-captain's role with Kobe Bryant. Derek Fisher's strong locker-room standing and relationship with Kobe Bryant becomes even more valuable this season. Mike Brown needs Fisher as a possible buffer toward Bryant and any other teammate who may resist the coach's philosophies. Bryant needs Fisher  since he's the only one who can keep him in check. Fisher needs to enhance this role because his on-court play might diminish.

2. Handle any reduced role in a professional manner. I've argued that as long as the Lakers don't make any significant upgrades at point guard, Fisher needs to keep the starting spot because of his leadership qualities and the lack of a better alternative. I'm not oblivious, however, to the possibility that Fisher might lose his starting job because Brown's offense centers more on speed and athleticism. Fisher's a consummate professional, but he's also a prideful guy. It's going to be important that he bites his tongue and simply uses any demotion as motivation should Steve Blake or Darius Morris take his starting job. 

3. Compensate for lacking speed. One way to assuage those concerns would be to improve his ability to defend quicker guards. Of course, Fisher's never at fault for not hustling. He's at fault for his abilities. But there are ways to compensate for it beyond enhancing his conditioning. Ensuring he receives enough help defense, getting deflections and taking timely charges will help offset that. 

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Five things Metta World Peace needs for a successful season

Metta World Peace

This is the fourth part of a series that focuses on five things each Lakers player must do to have a successful 2011-12 season (assuming there is one, of course).

1. Limit distractions. Criticism regarding Metta World Peace falling to distractions misses the point. That's because he has both thrived and failed while keeping a busy schedule. Even if World Peace's basketball abilities largely dictate whether he improves from last season, it's in his interests to temper his antics. It would ease any teammate frustration regarding his goofy behavior. It would also relieve him of any media and team criticisms that his outside ventures hurt his play. 

2. Have the right mindset on defense. Artest still proved pretty efficient on defense last season against Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant, Denver/New York's Carmelo Anthony, the Clippers' Eric Gordon and Portland's Brandon Roy. According to Synergy, Artest did well in isolation plays (26th overall) and spot-up sets (20th overall). Many times, however, Artest became so fixated on defending an opponent (LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki) that it actually hurt the Lakers' team defense. Case in point, Artest finished 248th overall in post-up plays, 96th in defending off the ball and 71st in stopping the ball handler on the pick and roll. 

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Five things that ensure Andrew Bynum a successful 2011-12 season

Andrew BynumThis is the third part of a series that focuses on five things each Lakers player must do to have a successful 2011-12 season (assuming there is one, of course).

1. Stay healthy.Duh. Injuries have shadowed Andrew Bynum's career. Even if Bynum made it through all of last season without suffering a major injury, he has yet to play a full season free of  rehab. But he showed a glimpse after the All-Star break of his promising potential. He and the training staff must work to keep him free of injury. Wearing the knee brace and remaining close to the basket will help. 

2. Accept offensive role. Bynum's eager to have a larger offensive role, but that growth will have to happen in increments. Kobe Bryant isn't going to give up his scoring role and, when assuming he'll return to normal, Pau Gasol has proved more efficient with the ball. Bynum will have to get his points by rebounding and establishing better post position.

3. Improve maturity. It's a sign that Bynum's seeking to take a more leadership role by being brutally honest, such as revealing the team had "trust issues" during the playoffs. But this veteran-laden roster doesn't really respect Bynum as a leader. Some other issues, such as committing dirty fouls and parking in handicap spots, show the 23-year-old still feels entitled. 

4. Embrace defensive role. Bynum grew as a player because of his willingness to take ownership of the team's defensive scheme that featured him staying close to the basket. Because Mike Brown's defensive system plans to be similar, there's no reason Bynum should change his approach. That proved instrumental in the team's 17-1 run following the All-Star break. 

5. Add more post moves. Besides getting baskets on close tip-ins or through sheer power, Bynum doesn't really have many tools that give him open shots. Based on his boxing lessons and revelation during his exit interview that he wants to add more to his game, it's likely Bynum has been working out. It'll be interesting to see how that translates onto the court. 

RELATED:

Five things that ensure Pau Gasol a successful 2011-12 season

Five things that ensure Kobe Bryant a successful 2011-12 season

--Mark Medina

Emailthe Lakers blog at [email protected]

Photo credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times / May 4, 2011

Five things that ensure Pau Gasol a successful 2011-12 season

Pau Gasol

This is the second part of a series that focuses on five things each Lakers player must do to have a successful 2011-12 season (assuming there is one, of course).

1. Keep conditioning sharp. Beyond wanting to win the 2010 FIBA World Championship for his native Spain, Pau Gasol saw the venture helping with maintaining his conditioning. Conditioning's going to be critical because he needs to anticipate the possible scenario of Andrew Bynum falling to injury once again. Absorbing Bynum's heavy minutes eventually took a toll on Gasol last season, and he never fully recovered from it. 

2. Maintain confidence. It's very unfair and reactionary for some Lakers fans to think Gasol's poor 2011 playoff showing would have big-picture implications. His track record in immediately helping the Lakers to three consecutive Finals appearances and two titles suggests otherwise. But he's going to face plenty of tests from opposing teams wondering if they can reopen the fragile psyche that hampered Gasol during last season's playoffs. It's essential that Gasol positively use his postseason shortcomings as motivation to ensure he remains the same efficient player that makes him one of the league's top power forwards. 

3. Sharpen communication with Kobe Bryant. They've always enjoyed a fruitful on-court relationship because of their basketball intelligence and opposite personalities. But Gasol needs to stop being passive-aggressive when he feels Bryant ball-hogs too much. Bryant has never publicly taken offense when Gasol calls him out, and Gasol has constructively embraced Bryant's criticisms when he feels he's not playing aggressively enough. There's no reason direct dialogue during those times would hurt given the nature of their relationship. 

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Five things that ensure Kobe Bryant a successful 2011-12 season

Kobe Bryant

This is the first part of a series that focuses on five things each Lakers player must do to have a successful 2011-12 season (assuming there is one, of course)

1. Have a solid relationship with Mike Brown.  The coach's relationship with Kobe Bryant will largely determine whether Brown can convince everyone else to buy into his system. Bryant must not allow his frustration with the front office's failure to consult him to interfere with whether he buys into Brown's ideas. 

2. Stay healthy. Regardless of whether his various procedures on his knee this summer will improve his health, Bryant must continue playing efficiently. He remains a dominant force, but he faces a limited shelf life. That's why it's critical that Bryant treat his shot selection, on- and off-ball movement and overall pacing more as though he's caring for a valuable classic car and less like he's driving a new one off the lot.

3. Iron out offensive disagreements with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. Bryant is correct that Bynum's going to need to "fall in line" on wanting a larger offensive role. Bryant and  Gasol still rightfully demand a larger portion of the offense's production. But the offense remained inconsistent last season, partly because of Bryant's tendency to do things on his own and partly because Gasol and Bynum didn't play aggressively enough to warrant touches. The three need to iron out their roles in a more precise fashion so the offense runs more fluidly. 

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Five things to watch in Lakers-Mavericks series

6a00d8341c506253ef0147e3a8ecd6970b-320wi1. Be ready for the war of words: It's the calm before the storm with the Lakers enjoying a day off Friday while they travel from New Orleans back to Los Angeles. But once preparation begins Saturday for the Lakers-Mavericks Western Conference semifinals matchup, plenty of soundbites will probably be thrown each other's way. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson and Mavericks owner Mark Cuban may want to save up room in their checking account for inevitable league-imposed fines when they criticize the referees, each other and the opposing team's players.

But that's not the only subplot that highlights Dallas' contentiousness with L.A. The Lakers are almost a month removed from their 110-82 victory March 31st where Mavericks guard Jason Terry pushed Steve Blake to the ground, prompting Blake to get in his face and Lakers forward Matt Barnes to intervene.

All in all, five players were ejected in that game, Terry accused Barnes of being "as soft as Charmin toilet paper," and Barnes released two T-shirts through his clothing line including one that reads, "Matt Barnes will kill you if Ron Artest doesn't first," joking that could offset the costs for his one-game, without-pay suspension. Yep, this should be a fun series, with Barnes saying this two days after the incident:

"In Golden State, we showed how to beat Dallas," said Barnes, referring to his role in helping the Warriors beat the Mavericks as an eighth seed in the first round of the 2007 playoffs. "You go in there and take it right to their chin and they back down. I don't see anything has changed since then, so hopefully we have a chance to see them again."

2. The Lakers need to maintain their aggressiveness: The Mavericks have changed, however, since the Lakers last played them. Dallas' first-round matchup with Portland featured plenty of momentum swings, including Brandon Roy largely slashing Dallas 23-point lead in Game 4 and then surviving two close contests in Games 5 and 6. The Blazers may not have the same skill set as the Lakers, but the Mavericks overcame a huge psychological hurdle in advancing past the first round, a feat they had failed to do in three of the last four seasons entering the 2011 playoffs. The Mavericks have also improved their toughness, with the Dallas Morning News' Eddie Sefko observing how Dallas went on a run following Chris Johnson's hard foul on DIrk Nowitzki. So the Lakers shouldn't exactly expect the Mavericks will fall over.

But with the Lakers showing an increased toughness of their own, they shouldn't hold anything back. In a span of one week, the Lakers went from being considered a soft team to a team that led Hornets Coach Monty Williams to complain about its hard fouls, including Kobe Bryant's flagrant foul type 1 on Emeka Okafor. The Lakers are never going to be an enforcer type team, but Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol showcased more grit in their Game 5 victory against New Orleans by going on the offense than simply playing reactive basketball. In the same way opponents test the Lakers on how they will respond to physical contact, the Lakers need to test the Mavericks on how they'll respond to theirs. 

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Five things to watch in Game 5 of the Lakers-Hornets series

611258211. How will the Lakers respond to pressure? As much as I believe the Lakers play roulette in making things more competitive than necessary, the team's 2-2 tie with New Orleans entering Game 5 Tuesday at Staples Center isn't anything out of the norm. Consider that many of the Lakers' championship seasons featured playoff series that pushed L.A. to the brink of elimination.

That included the 2000 championship team, which won in five games against Sacramento in the first round and defeated Portland in seven games in the Western Conference Finals. The 2002 title team featured a seven-game West Finals series against the Kings that ended in the Lakers winning at Arco Arena. Remember that 2009 championship when the Lakers went all seven games in the Western Conference semifinals against Houston despite the Rockets having Yao Ming, Dikembe Mutumbo and Tracy McGrady on the injured list? Yeah, Ron Artest does, seeing the Lakers finally eliminate his Rockets en route to an NBA title. And it was only last season when the Lakers went six games in the first round against Oklahoma City, only to finish as defending champions.

"They seem to play better when they're in a desperate mode," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. "There's no doubt about that. We've had times in the season where we do the job we're required to do."

The Lakers simply thrive in adverse situations. It's not a good attitude to have and the margin for error decreases every single season. The Lakers aren't at that point yet but Game 5 marks a time when it's safe to presume that the Lakers will bring fuller intensity. Seatgeek.com reports courtside seats are running as high as $1,069 and that tickets overall are averaging $210 a pop, while StubHub says the Lakers-Hornets game is the bestselling game of the week. So it's safe to presume the atmosphere will be more electric than normal. Besides, the Lakers are 26-7 in Game 5 when their best-of-seven series was tied at 2-2, and they even overcame two 3-2 deficits after losing Game 5, including the 2010 NBA Finals to Boston and the 2002 Western Conference Finals to Sacramento.

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