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Category: Know Thy Enemy

Looking at the Lakers' playoff seedings

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As indicated by the Lakers' four-game losing streak, they clearly want the playoffs to begin today.

But that's not how it works. The NBA consists of 82 regular-season games and whether or not the Lakers actually show up to them, they at least have to be there for attendance purposes. There's a lot more riding on the team's remaining three games than the Lakers just wanting to get them out of the way and move on to the playoffs. There's seeding and home-court implications.

Because of the Lakers' poor play, here's a few things they can check off the list. The Lakers (55-24) are mathematically eliminated from catching the San Antonio Spurs (60-19) for the top seeding in the Western Conference. The Lakers also wouldn't have home-court advantage over the Eastern Conference leading Chicago Bulls (59-20) should they meet in the NBA Finals. That leaves the incentive in games against Oklahoma City on Sunday, San Antonio on Tuesday and Sacramento on Wednesday for jockeying against other teams.

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Pundits predict another title for Lakers, but team falls short in player rankings

Lebronmiamiheat It’s summer, and the pundits of hoops are busy.

ESPN recently asked 93 of them: Which team wins the NBA title next June?

The Lakers topped the list, with 52 votes, followed by the Heat with 34, and in the back of the bus were the Magic (five votes), plus the Celtics and Thunder (with one each).

ESPN’s panel didn’t include ex-Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy. But earlier this month he said the Heat, with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, is history-about-to-happen on the hardwood.

The Heat “will break the single-season win record” of 72 wins, set by Michael Jordan’s Bulls in 1995-96, Van Gundy said. “And I think they have a legit shot at the Lakers’ 33-game [winning] streak [in 1971-72] as well. And only the Lakers have even a remote shot at beating them in a playoff series. They will never lose two games in a row this year…

“There is now no good way to defend them. They are unguardable. They are indefensible. They are just too good and have added so much shooting and are so versatile that they will score at will.”

Meanwhile, Yahoo’s Kelly Dwyer ranked, from 1 to 30, the top NBA players at each position, and the Lakers didn’t fare particularly well.

His rankings of point guards start with No. 1. Chris Paul and 2. Deron Williams. His list continues to the bottom dwellers: Mike Conley, Jrue Holiday, Rodney Stuckey and Kyle Lowry (No. 30). But there’s no Derek Fisher anywhere.

Dwyer wanted to “rank players [who] will be more valuable to a hypothetical team in a vacuum. So while Derek Fisher might be more important to a triangle offense than someone like John Wall would be…come on, it’s Derek Fisher vs. John Wall.” Wall, the top pick in the NBA draft, is ranked 17th.

Other samples from his rankings:

Shooting guards: 1. Dwyane Wade. 2. Kobe Bryant.

Small forwards: 1. LeBron James. 2. Kevin Durant. No 15. Ron Artest.

Power forwards: 1. Pau Gasol. 2. Tim Duncan. 19. Lamar Odom.

Centers: 1. Dwight Howard. 2. Andrew Bogut. 5. Andrew Bynum.

Be calm; training camps start in four weeks.

--Barry Stavro

Photo: LeBron James is welcomed to Miami in July. Credit: El Nuevo Herald / MCT / Hector Gambino

Caught in the Web: Capturing reactions to Lakers' 118-109 Game 3 loss to the Phoenix Suns

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Game stories

--The Times' Mike Bresnahan highlights the Lakers' struggles with playing against Phoenix's zone defense as well as the team's small supporting cast in its 118-109 Game 3 loss to the Suns.

--The Riverside Press Enterprise's Matt Calkins suggests the Lakers are still in control of the series, but Phoenix just made it more competitive.

--The Arizona Republic's Paul Coro details Phoenix's improved play.

--The Orange County Register's Kevin Ding believes Phoenix's adjustments in Game 3 could prove successful again later in the series.

--Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix breaks down the factors of the Lakers-Suns Game 3 matchhup.

--The Daily News' Elliott Teaford explains why the Lakers had trouble stopping Phoenix forward Amare Stoudemire.

--NBA.com's Mike Tulumello features the Suns' depth.

--Lakers.com's Mike Trudell explains how the Suns' ended the Lakers' eight-game winning streak.

Notebooks

--The Times' Bresnahan details Kobe Bryant's strong performance as well as Lamar Odom's disappointment with ESPN.com's Bill Simmons.

--The Daily News' Teaford reports Lakers Coach Phil Jackson is considering resting Andrew Bynum for Game 4.

--The Arizona Republic's Bob Young reports Suns Coach Alvin Gentry initially felt reluctant for his team to play zone. Young also reports that Suns reserve forward Jared Dudley asked fans via Twitter for suggestions on how Phoenix should play the Lakers in Game 3.

--The Arizona Republic's Coro and Young highlight Steve Nash's contributions.

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Columns

--The Times' Bill Plaschke argues the Lakers need to sit Bynum until the NBA Finals.

--The Times' T.J. Simers remains perplexed with Lamar Odom's inconsistency.

--The Times' Mark Heisler says the Lakers' Game 3 loss suddenly makes this series competitive.

--ESPN.com's J.A. Adande points to the Lakers' inability to attack Phoenix's zone defense as the reason why they ended their eight-game winning streak.

--AOL Fanhouse's Sam Amick points to the Suns' grittiness as making the difference.

--Sports Illustrated's Chris Ballard labels center Robin Lopez as the Suns' unsung hero.

--The Arizona Republic's Dan Bickley argues the series is just getting started.

--NBA.com's Fran Blinebury says Stoudemire answered his critics.

--Fox Sports' Greg Boeck credits Phoenix's toughness.

--The Arizona Republic's Paola Boivin illustrates the transformation Stoudemire made in Game 3.

--The Daily News' Vincent Bonsignore argues the biggest adjustment the Lakers need to make in Game 4 involves attacking the Suns' zone.

--The Orange County Register's Ding explains why resting Bynum would do very little for his health. If anything, Ding believes Jackson's acknowledgement he'd rest Bynum in Game 4 just serves as a motivational tactic.

--ESPN Los Angeles' Arash Markazi believes the Lakers' Game 3 loss will actually prove more beneficial to their development than any blowout would have done.

--ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin chalks up the Lakers' loss to poor execution.

--The Orange County Register's Jeff Miller points to Bynum's injury as evidence to why Odom needs to remain consistent this postseason.

--The Riverside Press Enterprise's Gregg Patton demonstrates how the Lakers' performances in this series appear remarkably similar, with exception to Stoudemire's play in Game 3.

--Yahoo! Sports Marc Spears argues the Suns can contend with the Lakers so long as Stoudemire replicates his Game 3 performance.

--ESPN Los Angeles' Ramona Shelburne highlights how Lopez  is the "Screech Powers of the NBA."

Blogs

--ESPN Los Angeles' Andy and Brian Kamenetzky break down Phoenix's zone defense as well as the play from   Lopez.

--Bright Side of the Sun's Seth Pollack sums it all of Game 3 up in his headline, "Phoenix Suns Defense Zones It Up, Lakers Forget How To Move Ball"

--Forum Blue and Gold's Phillip credits Phoenix for making adjustments.

--NBA.com's Art Garcia details how Nash popped his nose back into place.

--Silver Screen and Roll's DexterFishmore hasn't liked the Lakers' defense all series.

Tweet of the Day:"29 days had passed since L.A.'s last playoff loss, in Game 4 at Oklahoma City." -- LakersReporter (Lakers.com's Mike Trudell)

Reader Comment of the Day: "Phoenix will play zone the entire way now and if the Lakers make it to the Finals, so will the Celtics. I'm surprised that other teams don't play zone against the Lakers since the Lakers don't have good outside shooting. I kept yelling at the Lakers to go into the POST to Gasol, but they just kept passing the ball around the perimeter and jacking up wild 3-pointers with time running out." -- dj855

--Mark Medina

Follow the L.A. Times Lakers blog on Twitter: twitter.com/latmedina. E-mail the Lakers blog at mgmedin@gmail.com

Top photo: Suns power forward Amare Stoudemire battles the Lakers' Pau Gasol, Kobe Bryant and Lamar Odom for a rebound in the first half of Game 3 on Sunday. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times.

Bottom photo: Stoudemire scores on a reverse layup against Pau Gasol in Game 3. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times.

Know thy enemy: Portland Trail Blazers

Last Season: 54-28, First in Northwest, Fourth in the Western Conference.
Key Additions: Andre Miller, Juwan Howard
Key Subtractions: Sergio Rodriguez, Channing Frye

During our most recent 710 ESPN PodKast, BK and I analyzed the Western Conference with ESPN The Magazine's Chris Palmer, and arrived at the same conclusion.  Of all the teams gunning to take out the Lakers, the best equipped, at least on paper, would be the Portland Trail Blazers.  No team has as much length to counter the Lakers' length.  No team has as much depth to match the Lakers' depth.  Had Kobe Bryant been traded to Chicago back in '07, Brandon Roy (one of my biggest NBA man crushes) would be the Western Conference's best shooting guard, hands down.  Throw in an arena that continually brings out the worst in the Lakers and Portland's fearless attitude while dueling the formidable champs, and you have a team theoretically ready to take a serious stand.  (For that matter, when it comes to being built to compete now and down the road, the Blazers also match up very well against the Lakers.  This could shape into quite the rivalry over the impending decade.)

Having said that, like most things in life, there are uncertainties.  The Blazers just wrapped up a middling preseason and Andre Miller, their "splash" acquisition of the summer, isn't immediately gelling with Roy and may be cool with a role off the bench, but he doesn't seem to like it.  And collectively, the squad is playing D that's making Coach Nate McMillan rather perturbed.  The only downside to big expectations is having to meet them.  Could the bar have been set too high?  The question is so daunting, it required not just a second but a third opinion, co-courtesy of co-writers/co-editors Steve Jones and Couper Moorhead of Rip City Project.  Check out the discussion below.  

Andrew Kamenetzky: I really liked the signing of Andre Miller, among the NBA's more underrated players.   However, it hasn't been very smooth sailing since arriving.  The failed conditioning test (of sorts).  Claiming to have been told he'd definitely start and if he knew that wasn't necessarily the case, he wouldn't have signed.  Not blending immediately with Roy.   It's still early, but this likely not what Kevin Pritchard had in mind.  A) Did you like the signing?  B) How concerned are you, if at all, and what do you see as the main on-court issues?



        Steve Jones: I was vehemently against signing Andre Miller. Numerous times I wrote that if that was "the move" Andre Miller passes of the summer I would be disappointed. It took me a long time to swallow it after the Hedo/Millsap mishaps (ha), but I've accepted that Andre Miller was a good move for this team. Whether he starts or he comes off  the bench, he's infinitely better than Sergio Rodriguez and I cannot stress that enough.  On paper he seems to be exactly what the Blazers need. He brings a veteran presence to a young team. His ability to create not only for himself and for others should be huge as he can take some of the offensive load off of Roy.



         All that said, I'm still concerned. It's going to take time for the chemistry to get there, but beyond that I'm worried. Andre Miller has tended to have success in a fast, up-tempo type game. If Miller can run, watch out. The problem is Coach Nate doesn't really run at that kind of pace. I cringe when I think of what happened when Mike Dunleavy and Baron Davis mismatched last year and pray this won't be the case this year. And sometimes I wonder, "Will he dribble too much?" Do we really want him taking the ball out of Roy's (our primary playmaker) hand that much? I just want to see it with my own eyes -- in the regular season -- before I declare any semblance of gloom and doom. 


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Know thy enemy: San Antonio Spurs

Last Season: 54-28.  First in the Southwest Division.  Third in the Western Conference.
Key Additions: Richard Jefferson, Antonio McDyess, Theo Ratliff, Keith Bogans.  Drafted DeJuan Blair.
Key Subtractions: Bruce Bowen, Fabricio Oberto, Kurt Thomas, Drew Gooden
, Ime Udoka
 
Adaptation-6 As a professional courtesy, whenever I ask a blogger to provide content for ours, I go out of my way to emphasize that my request shouldn't become a burden.  After all, that writer may be juggling a job or two beyond his blogging duties.  Believe me, I know that particular drill.  Thus, I don't want a favor for Lakers Blog to feel like some mammoth albatross of a writing assignment hanging around their neck.  Thus, when I tapped Pounding the Rock's Wayne Vore for some tidbits about the San Antonio Spurs, I offered very specific instructions: DO NOT feel obligated to give me 2000 words for each question.  Vore's response?   

"If you think you're aren't getting 2000 words for each of these, you don't understand how excited Spurs fans are for this season."

Very well, then.

Andrew Kamenetzky: The Spurs' pickup of Richard Jefferson is being labeled by some analysts as the offseason's best Richard Jefferson droves move.  How well do you see  RJ fitting in and how dangerous does he make the Spurs this season?  In particular, I think he's terrific insurance for what feels (unfortunately) like the inevitable Manu injury.  Do you anticipate any issues with the Big Three becoming a Big Four?  In terms of balance, egos, etc?  Or will everyone gladly co-exist?

        Wayne Vore: Immaculately.  I just don’t see an issues with touches and a Big Four.  I think a couple interesting things have happened that will help.  One, Manu (Ginobli) flat out stated at Media Day that Tony (Parker) was the offensive leader of the team.  He said it as the lead-in to answering a question about how much Tim (Duncan) has left in the tank.  Manu said it just naturally happened.  Two, RJ said right up front that when the Spurs acquired him that his role was to be defensive stopper.  I finally got to watch him play last Tuesday against the Thunder and he looked great.  You could tell that he was really focused on working hard against Durant. 

Lastly, I don’t think the Spurs would have brought him in if they thought it would be an issue in any way.  They don’t take those kind of gambles.

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Know thy enemy: Denver Nuggets

Last Season: 54-28, 1st Northwest Division, 2nd Western Conference

Key Additions: Arron Afflalo, Joey Graham. Drafted Ty Lawson.
Key losses: Linus Kleiza. Dahntay Jones.


The teams that dominated this offseason's headlines most were question the Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs, Cleveland Cavaliers, Orlando Magic, Boston Celtics and Portland Trailblazers.  The commonality between those squads?  Each added a big name to their roster, further cementing their status as NBA elites.  In the meantime, the Denver Nuggets, just one season removed from a Western Conference Finals trip, seem to have been removed from basketball's collective consciousness as a legit contender.  Conversely, they didn't add anybody of true note.  Coincidence?  I think not.  I also don't think it's accurate.

Personally, I think the Nugs are getting slept on too much.  Sure, Denver merely kept their team intact while others got richer, but let's not forget, "status quo" was pretty kind to Rocky Mountain wallets.  They also enter this season bearing the fruit of collective maturity (as opposed to learning to mature), which should help build on last season's mental breakthrough.  I never thought in a million years I'd say this, but I'm guessing gone the days of emotional meltdowns, locker room sniping, and laying down to adversity are gone, which is unfortunate for the rest of the league.

To take a closer look at the Nuggets, I enlisted the help of Nate Timmons of the great Denver Stiffs blog, who was kind enough to lend some quality insight.  Here's what he had to say. 

    Yoda "The Chauncey Billups Effect" was about as instant as imaginable last season, adding accountability and professionalism to a culture with roughly zilch previously.  The team seemed to learn a lot about what winning is really "about."  With that knowledge under their belt, how much further do you think they can grow forward mentally as a unit?  Do you consider the emotional meltdowns of the past truly in the past?

       “The Chauncey Billups Effect” … I like it! Billups deserves a lot of credit for becoming the vocal leader this team had been searching for since Carmelo Anthony’s arrival in the NBA. There were veterans who were looked upon to fill that role (i.e. Andre Miller andMarcus Camby), but the vocal personality Billups brought with him along with his resume really got the attention of the younger guys on the team.

        But even before Billups returned to Denver for his second stint with the team, there were signs that things were already changing for the better in a professional sense. Head coach George Karl brought a “we tried it your way (offense), now let’s try it my way (defense)” approach to training camp, Kenyon Martinstepped up and told his teammates and Karl that he was refocused and ready to be a leader, Nene was in the gym early and often, and Melo was helping Team USA capture the Gold Medal in Beijing, China. Even resident “knucklehead” J.R. Smithwas training with Team USA and attending Nuggets assistant coach Tim Grgurich’s point guard camp in Las Vegas. So, Billups came to a team that was eager to learn what he was ready to teach.

        As far as the Nuggets mental growth… this team learned a lot under Billups and learned a lot about themselves last season with their deep playoff run. Taking into consideration the age of Denver’s young core of Carmelo Anthony, 25, J.R. Smith, 24, Nene, 27, Arron Afflalo, 24, and Ty Lawson, 21 … these guys are still just kids, so their potential for growth is immeasurable.

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Know Thy Enemy: Dallas Mavericks

Dallas Mavericks

Last Season:50-32 (.610, 3rd in the Southwest Division, 6th in the Western Conference)

Key Additions: Traded for Shawn Marion and Kris Humphries, signedDrew Gooden, Tim Thomas and Quinton Ross, drafted Rodrigue Beubois
Key Losses: Brandon Bass, Jerry Stackhouse, Ryan Hollings, Antoine Wright, Devean GeorgeDirk

Generally speaking, folks who do this sort of thing for a living have tabbed three teams as primary threats to the Lakers in the Western Conference: Portland, San Antonio, and Denver (quibble about the order amongst yourselves, that's how I'd arrange them at least in terms of wins). If there's a fourth team capable of crashing the party, it's likely the Mavs. It's a big if. Capital I, capital F. (There would be more, but it's a short word.) Dallas will be good, but for them to crash the party at the top of the conference, a lot has to go right. But it's not beyond imagination.

The addition of Marion to the core of Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, and Josh Howard gives Rick Carlisle and Co. heaps of offensive versatility and a wide variety of dynamic players to help push the squad. There are plenty of questions. Marion's presence necessitates a bit of a lineup shuffle. They don't have much going on in the post after Erick Dampier, and he's not all that much himself. Gooden will play some center, but he's undersized there for sure. Plus, to say the Mavs are a veteran bunch would be an understatement. Some would call them old.

To help get some insight into the happenings in Big D, I hit up Philip Baggett over at MavsMoneyball.com with some questions. Click below for the answers, but only if you want the truth, and feel you can handle it.

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Know Thy Enemy: Houston Rockets

Houston Rockets

Last Season: 53-29 (.646, 2nd in Southwest Division, 5th in the Western Conference)

Key Additions: Signed Trevor Ariza, traded for David Andersen, drafted Chase Budinger, Jermaine Taylor
Key Subtractions: Ron Artest, Von Wafer, Brett Barry, plus Yao Ming is injured

I like this team.

I respect the work ethic, and how hard they'll compete. If my future children grow up to play basketball and I end up the coach, I'll fire up game film of the '09-'10 Rockets and use them as a model of determination and teamwork. (As an aside, I also wonder how much we'll win, given that our entire playbook is likely to consist of hoping one of those six year olds can dunk.) I think they'll win an ESPY for Best Scrappy Team. They will never mail it in. They won't even own postage. 

I just wonder how much they'll win.

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Know Thy Enemy: New Orleans Hornets

New Orleans Hornets

Last Season: 49-33 (.598, 4th in the Southwest Division- and when 49 wins is fourth, that's a good division- 7th in the Western Conference

Key Additions: Traded for Emeka Okafor, Darius Songaila, signed Ike Diogu, drafted Darren Collison, Marcus Thornton
Key Losses: Rasual Butler, Tyson Chandler, Antonio Daniels, Ryan Bowen

I have a well known (among the residents of my home, meaning my wife) prejudice against Wood veneer certain types of mainstream designer furniture. Different items from your Crate and Barrels, your Pottery Barns and so on. It's not that the stuff doesn't look nice. It does. Gangbusters, really. My issues instead are with build quality. Too much of the stuff uses veneers. Scratch it, bang it, or otherwise lose the kid gloves, and suddenly all you see is lesser quality wood below. Or (gasp!) some sort of particle board. In that sense, the New Orleans Hornets are very similar. The appointments make for a potentially stylish unit. Chris Paul is flat out sick. (Andy recently joked how at this point my man crush on CP3 may require changing my Facebook status from "married" to "it's complicated.") David West is a very solid player. Okafor represents an upgrade over Chandler. 

After that, though, things get dangerously close to particle board.

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Know thy enemy: Utah Jazz


Last season: 
48-34, third in the Northwest division, 8th in the Western conference.
Key additions:
Drafted Eric Maynor and Goran Suton.
Key losses: Unless you consider Morris Almond and Jarron Collins game changers, then nobody.  I do, 402237_Bruce-Springsteen however, reserve the right to change that "nobody" based on Matt Harpring's health.

For reasons I can't fully understand, I've never been a big Bruce Springsteen fan.  I totally respect his talent as a musician and lyricist.  I recognize his songs' craftsmanship.  His passion as a performer is undeniable.  He's obviously enjoyed staying power.  He's pure rock and roll.  And it's not like I hate the guy's music.  Springsteen's got a handful of songs I enjoy.  "Rosalita (Come out tonight)."  "Streets of Philadelphia."  "Badlands."  "Born to Run" is among the great rock anthems. And I absolutely love "Hungry Heart. " (Semi-little known fact: Springsteen originally wrote "Hungry Heart" for The Ramones, but his manager wisely advised him to keep it for himself.)  Springsteen just seems like an artist I'd really dig.

But for whatever reason, I've never truly bought in with The Boss.  Given my rep as a music geek (and, honestly, pretty much a music snob), people are typically surprised when I inform them I'm largely indifferent to Springsteen.  In particular, my buddies who are Springsteen fans, which, by definition, means they're passionate about Springsteen.  Without fail, Bruce fans LOVE them some Bruce.  They'll follow that cat to the end of the Earth.  It's serious business digging The Boss. 
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