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Lakers dominate struggling Bobcats, 106-73

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Lakers 106, Bobcats 73 (final)

Kobe Bryant took a rare fourth-quarter breather, sitting out the entire final 12 minutes as the Lakers let a contingent of mostly reserves help the team reach triple digits for a second consecutive game and only the third time this season.

Bryant finished with 24 points, making nine of 21 shots in only 28 minutes, after it looked earlier as if he was headed to much greater things; he had 18 points after the first quarter. But it was a welcome departure from Sunday, when Bryant had to play all 24 second-half minutes in a narrow victory over Minnesota.

Center Andrew Bynum added 20 points and 11 rebounds and power forward Pau Gasol had 10 points and nine rebounds for the Lakers, who got a big boost from their underperforming bench.

PHOTOS: Lakers vs. Bobcats

Back-to-back three-pointers by reserves Troy Murphy and Andrew Goudelock early in the fourth quarter gave the Lakers an 83-62 lead, essentially putting the game out of reach. Murphy would follow with another three-pointer and finish with 12 points as part of a strong output from a Lakers bench that combined for 48 points.

The Lakers' lead was so comfortable in the final minutes that they were able to finish the game with a lineup of reserves Darius Morris, Devin Ebanks, Josh McRoberts, Jason Kapono and Luke Walton.

Lakers small forward Metta World Peace, making a second consecutive start, finished with two points in 23 minutes in a foul-plagued performance. Displaced small forward Matt Barnes had 12 points in 27 minutes off the bench, perhaps giving Lakers Coach Mike Brown reason to think about putting him back in the starting lineup.

Next up for the Lakers is a season-long six-game road trip that starts Friday in Denver. The Lakers are only 2-7 away from Staples Center and need to start picking up road victories more consistently if they intend to secure a decent seeding in the playoffs.

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Ramon Sessions better option for Lakers than Gilbert Arenas

 

Cleveland's Ramon Sessions guards the Lakers' Darius Morris.

 The Lakers' backcourt remains so depleted that  Coach Mike Brown has rotated two second-round picks in the team's backup slot.

It remains unclear whether they'll solve those issues by acquiring Deron Williams. Or they'll just rely on reserve Steve Blake continuing his improved play when he returns from a rib injury and hope Derek Fisher's experience and leadership will be good enough. That's why it's encouraging for Laker fans to hear that the team's front office has considered various ways to enhance the team's backcourt beyond pursuing Williams. But of the two latest possibilities, only one of those choices would actually help the Lakers.

Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Lakers view Cleveland guard Ramon Sessions as someone who can help. Yet multiple reports, including from The Times' Mike Bresnahan, indicate that the Lakers are also mulling over signing Gilbert Arenas. It's a good thing some within the organization remain wary of Arenas' signing for two reasons. It's  unclear whether Arenas can ever restore his All-Star numbers in any capacity. Sessions, meanwhile, has all the skills needed to help the Lakers' backcourt.

Sessions may have struggled this season, playing limited minutes and averaging 9.1 points and shooting 34%. But he's playing behind rookie prospect Kyrie Irving, and the Lakers don't really need their point guard to dominate in the scoring column. Leave that to Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. The Lakers instead need a point guard who's quick, can organize the offense, ensure balanced spacing and throw quality entry passes.

Sessions fits all of those needs. According to Synergy Sports Technology, Sessions has handled 43.5% of his possessions on pick-and-roll sets. Having such a skill set would free up Bryant from handling the ball, which relieves both his energy output and the pain in the torn ligament in his right wrist. Sessions' assist-to-turnover ratio at 2:1. That would reduce the Lakers tendency toward a stagnant offense. Sessions also hardly cares about scoring. Not only will that require less of an adjustment for his teammates to make, it will also ensure a quick acclimation period.

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Five things to take from Lakers' 106-101 win over Timberwolves

Kobe Bryant

1. The Lakers made the game harder than it should've been in their 106-101 victory Sunday over the Minnesota Timberwolves. They had all the ingredients for an easy win. The Lakers' inside presence in Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum remained efficient. The Lakers surprisingly shot well from three-point range. They led by as many as 18 points with 4:53 left in the third quarter.

The moment the Timberwolves put in a zone defense late in the third quarter, however, things fell apart. The Lakers kept hoisting shots instead of forcing it inside. They couldn't get back on defense, as Minnesota guard Ricky Rubio helped run the Timberwolves offense. Suddenly, a 13-2 third-quarter run and a 17-10 fourth-quarter run gave the Timberwolves a 91-89 lead with 5:09 remaining.

From a result standpoint, at least the Lakers improved their road record to 2-7 and scored 100 points for the first time in 14 games. But this game shouldn't have been close at all.

2. The Lakers secured the win because of crucial late-game plays. Gasol fed Bynum for two easy dunks. Derek Fisher found Gasol open for a 20-footer. Bryant made a 13-footer and a nifty runner. The Lakers don't deserve much praise for this game. It's not a good thing Bryant and Gasol each logged 42 minutes and played the entire second half. But at least the Lakers changed their offense effectively to secure the win. They first went inside. Then, when the frontline met double teams, Bryant went to work. It's an easy formula, but the Lakers mysteriously went away from it when Minnesota first switched to its zone defense. 

3. Bryant played a complete game. His 35 points and 14 rebounds tell the whole story. It's also noteworthy that Bryant surpassed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for most field goals made in Lakers franchise history. But it's the way Bryant played that remained so impressive. Bryant's high scoring didn't come at the expense of a flourishing inside game. In fact, Bryant allowed Gasol and Bynum to establish that presence first.

But Bryant shot surprisingly well from three-point range (five for nine) by catching the ball in rhythm. He thrived on catch-and-shoot touches. With Minnesota dominating the Lakers on the offensive boards (24-7) because of poor awareness by Gasol and Bynum, Bryant filled that void and didn't allow that weakness to hurt them enough to lose the game. It's a hard balance to strike, but Bryant's managing to carry the team while trying to force as much as he can for Gasol and Bynum to hold their own too.

 

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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 take from Lakers' 100-89 loss to Milwaukee Bucks

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1. The Lakers' 100-89 loss Saturday to the Milwaukee Bucks revealed their defensive inconsistency. In what appeared to be a severe mismatch, the Bucks still kept pace with the Lakers by constantly pushing the ball in transition even after made baskets. The Lakers couldn't keep up, as Milwaukee scored 15 fastbreak points. They hardly looked settled as the Bucks shot 40 of 80 from the field, thanks to delayed perimeter rotations and weakside help on double teams. And any time the Lakers appeared to make a comeback, the Lakers allowed either Mike Dunleavy (15 points on six-for-eight shooting) to hit perimeter shots or Drew Gooden (23 points on nine-for-15 shooting) to make mid-range jumpers and drive the lane without much resistance.

This remains most troubling because the Lakers usually have been reliable on defense. But they've shown they lack enough discipline to prevent quick ball movement from throwing their rotations out of whack.

2. The Lakers' initially efficient strong offense quickly became a mess. The Lakers had the most favorable circumstances handed to them. The Bucks were coming off a loss the previous night at Chicago. Center Andrew Bogut is sidelined because of a broken left ankle. Guard Stephen Jackson was serving a one-game suspension for verbally abusing an official against the Bulls.

Even with the Lakers shooting only 39% of from the field in the first quarter, they ran their offense with efficiency. Kobe Bryant immediately set up Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol in the low post. Bynum remained balanced in the lane. When Gasol received touches in the high post, he immediately drove to the basket. And all that movement allowed Bryant to move off the ball and score with ease. Both Gasol and Bynum missed bunnies, but the purposeful execution proved beneficial.

That is, until the Bucks made adjustments. They forced 14 turnovers. Gasol and Bynum combined for only 27 points on 12-for-28 shooting. And the Lakers hardly had enough players dribbling effectively in penetration to offset Milwaukee's aggressiveness.

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Five reasons Lakers struggle in road games

As the Lakers gear up for a back-to-back trip this weekend with games against Milwaukee and Minnesota, there are a few lingering reasons why they enter those games with a 1-6 road record.

1. Offensive inconsistency. The Lakers hardly boast a high-powered offense to begin with, currently going through a 12-game stretch in which they haven't scored at least 100 points. The Lakers have showed that lack of chemistry even more on the road. Consider the home-road discrepancy in points (94.1, 89.7) and assists (23.3, 19.1). 

2. Tougher opponents. Don't be incredibly deceived by the Lakers' 10-2 home record. Seven of the 12 home games featured teams that wouldn't make the playoffs if the season ended today. Meanwhile, the Lakers' seven road games featured six playoff-caliber teams. 

3. Back-to-backs. Fatigue has quickly set in because of the Lakers' veteran-laden roster and Mike Brown's prolonged practices. That's why it shouldn't be surprising that four of the Lakers' road losses came on the second night of a back-to-back.

4. Lakers have closed out better at home. The Lakers hardly look like a finished product, even at home. Yet, even if the games have looked ugly, they've managed to close out home games in better fashion.

The Lakers' 92-89 victory New Year's Eve against Denver featured Derek Fisher diving for a loose ball and Steve Blake forcing Danilo Gallinari from converting on a late-game layup. Fisher secured the Lakers' 73-70 win Jan. 16 against Dallas, thanks to a game-winning three-pointer and two fourth-quarter steals. And Lakers forward Metta World Peace, of all people, made hustle plays and a timely three-pointer to fend off the Clippers this week.

5. Andrew Bynum and Matt Barnes remain inconsistent. The numbers speak for themselves. Consider Bynum's discrepancy in home and road games in both points (17, 14.7) and field-goal percentage (55%, 50.7%). The same applies to Barnes, whose 9.7 points on 50% shooting in home games takes a dip to 5 points on 35.3% shooting in road games. The explanations vary. Bynum began seeing more double teams in the Lakers' game at Portland and he fell into foul trouble against Miami and Orlando. Although Barnes constantly hustles and moves off the ball fairly well, he's lacks consistency in finishing his looks at the basket.

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Lakers would beat Clippers in the playoffs

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-- Mark Medina

E-mail the Lakers blog at mgmedin@gmail.com.

Lakers would beat Clippers in the playoffs

Why the Clippers are a threat to the Lakers: If the Lakers think it's difficult keeping pace with the Clippers' speed, multiply that up to seven games. The Lakers may have the experience, but they can't match the team's energy, Chris Paul's pick-and-rolls and the lobs thrown to Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.

Besides, it remains to be seen whether the Lakers will truly form into a consistent identity with Mike Brown's offense. Kobe Bryant's league-leading 30.2 points per game remains the team's only constant, while Andrew Bynum's adapting to double teams, Pau Gasol is trying to increase his aggressiveness, Metta World Peace remains in flux with his bench role and the Lakers' three-point shooting leaves a lot to be desired. The Lakers have shown glimpses of this coming together, but it remains to be seen if they can replicate that on a consistent basis.

Why the Lakers are a threat to the Clippers: If the Lakers' 96-91 victory Wednesday over the Clippers taught us anything, it's this. The Clippers remain way too consumed with playing with emotion than under control. Overall, it's a good thing the Clippers bring more toughness, but the Lakers' equally matched that with measured physical play. That will prove crucial in a possible seven-game series that would inevitably feature heightened animosity.

It's also safe to presume that the Lakers' currently scattered offense will appear way more organized by April. By then, Bynum will be more suited playing through double teams, Gasol will adjust better to his third spot in the team's pecking order and Brown will have a more consistent rotation. Add in Bryant's prolific play. Count on Metta World Peace and Matt Barnes to match the Clippers' chippy play. And assume the Lakers will sustain their strong defensive awareness.

Verdict: The Clippers may have the buzz, but the Lakers have the rings. It will be a competitive and exhausting seven-game series, but the Lakers' experience will prevail.

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--Mark Medina

E-mail the Lakers blog at mgmedin@gmail.com

Breaking down Lakers-Clippers' chippy play

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1st quarter, 9:40-9:33

Just as Pau Gasol established post position, Clippers forward Blake Griffin pushed him out of the block. But that only threw Griffin off-balance and gave Gasol a clearer path to the lane. Paul crept in on a double team but Gasol spun around both Griffin and Paul for a fadeaway jumper. As soon as Gasol sank the shot, he raised his elbow up, suggesting Griffin had fouled him. Instead, Gasol received a technical.

2nd quarter, 9:16 - 9:14

After Caron Butler's missed three-pointer hit the back rim and went over the basket, Gasol pushed Reggie Evans to create more leverage on the box-out. Gasol then tossed him to the ground. That prompted Clippers forward Solomon Jones to push Gasol from behind, resulting in a near skirmish.

"If Pau's involved, it's definitely verbal," Fox Sports West's Stu Lantz said.

Ouch.

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Mark Medina and Melissa Rohlin preview the Lakers-Clippers game

The Lakers and Clippers are about to play their second regular-season game.

The teams only meet three times this season and if the Clippers are the victorious, they will win their season series against the Lakers for the first time since the 1992-1993 season.

The Clippers won the first regular-season meeting, 102-94, on Jan. 14. It was a chippy affair in which five technical fouls were assessed.

Since then, some trash talking has ensued. Despite the fact that players from both teams deny that there's rivalry, Matt Barnes has publicly accused Blake Griffin of being a flopper. At practice Tuesday, Griffin smiled that statement off.

The Lakers have lost three games in a row while the Clippers have recently beaten Miami and Dallas, both high-caliber teams.

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-- Melissa Rohlin

Lakers remain unsure about team's identity

The Lakers enthusiastically enjoyed their time off, as Andrew Bynum slept in, Matt Barnes spent time with his twin sons and everyone on the team finally rested their tired legs.

But once the Lakers set foot in the team's practice facility in El Segundo on Tuesday morning, reality awaited them. The Lakers (10-8) enter Wednesday's game against the Clippers (9-5) with a three-game losing streak. They haven't scored 100 points for 11 consecutive games. And most important, the Lakers have no sense of their identity nearly a quarter of the way through a compacted 66-game season.

"The biggest thing is I'm still searching and looking on both ends of the floor," Coach Mike Brown said."I understand it's a process. The process has taken a little longer than you would hope. But this is a long-term thing for me. It's not a short-term thing."

But no one on the Lakers says he knows what the short term entails. Brown shot down any notion of making any lineup changes but said he "always has to keep that into consideration." Brown mostly lamented the team's inconsistent defense that allowed Indiana to rally Sunday from a double-digit deficit, but Bynum, Barnes and Pau Gasol alike argued the team's problems point more to their offense.

"It comes down to the little things and not just relying on our defense to win," Gasol said. "But also to do enough offensively with the weapons that we do have to win ballgames."

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