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Matt Barnes and Devin Ebanks support each other

During a shooting drill, Lakers forwards Matt Barnes and Devin Ebanks stood on opposite sides of the same basket hoisting jumpers.

Each time one went in, they shouted encouragement to each other. Lakers basketball operations assistant Kyle Triggs stood by collecting the balls. But if one landed out of Triggs' reach, both Ebanks and Barnes willingly hustled for the loose ball and passed it back to his teammate.

With Lakers Coach Mike Brown "still searching" for the best lineup rotation, Barnes and Ebanks have separated their hope to win the starting small forward spot from their support for each other.

"Guys have to be on their P's and Q's," Brown said, and that includes Ebanks and Barnes holding any frustration about their minutes in check.

Barnes' 16-point effort and strong defense on Monta Ellis in the Lakers' 97-90 win over the Golden State Warriors made Brown concede that a string of similar performances would "help out" his cause in landing a permanent starting spot. Meanwhile, Ebanks took a rapid fall after starting in the first four games to remaining on the bench in four of the last five. But Ebanks still relishes competing with Barnes.

"We're very supportive of each other," Ebanks said. "We know the business of the game. Somebody has to sit down. That's pretty much what it is."

When Ebanks started the first four games of the season, Barnes remained seated at the far end of the bench, even attempted to check himself in during one game he didn't play and received zero minutes in two of those contests. But he tweeted a congratulatory message to Ebanks on the starting spot and helped him keep his confidence level up.

"I definitely think it's a competitive spirit, but we're all still friends," Barnes said. "We all hang out. It's not a rivalry. When the other is out there, you cheer for them."

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Matt Barnes earns elevated role

Without anyone trailing him in sight, Matt Barnes sprinted for a transition basket. Moments later, he found Kobe Bryant open for an easy jumper. And throughout the rest of the game, Barnes rarely gave much room for Golden State Warriors guard Monta Ellis to operate.

These plays epitomized what Barnes provided in an elevated role in the Lakers' 97-90 victory Friday against the Golden State Warriors. He posted a season-high 16 points on seven-of-nine shooting, six rebounds, five assists and two steals in 30 minutes. But it didn't come right away. Barnes spent the first four games of the season as the third small forward behind Devin Ebanks and Metta World Peace. He didn't even play in two games. And despite the public professionalism in handling the demotion, Barnes remained understandably frustrated with the lack of playing time.

That all changed against Golden State. 

"It felt good to actually get out be in there and get a rhythm," Barnes said. "I've been in and out a lot early in the season. It's been hard to catch a rhythm defensively or offensively. Tonight coach went with me and I was able to catch my second wind."

The result: Barnes provided the Lakers a needed scoring option at a vital time. Bryant scored 39 points on 13-of-28 shooting, but the Lakers hardly want him having to shoulder all of the load while playing with a torn ligament in his right wrist. Andrew Bynum might have moved up in the pecking order ahead of Pau Gasol, but his nine points on three-of-nine shooting illustrated his trouble with double teams. And don't even get started on the bench. Josh McRoberts missed the last three games because of a sprained big toe on his left foot. The unit played a large part in the Lakers' horrific three-of-11 clip from three-point range. And World Peace provided next to nothing with only two points on one-of-three shooting. 

Lakers Coach Mike Brown wouldn't pencil Barnes as the definitive starting small forward yet. But he acknowledged World Peace's zero minutes in the second half pointed directly to Barnes' play. 

"With the way Matt is playing and the way he stepped up tonight, he's doing a nice job on trying to hold onto that thing permanently," Brown said. "But there's some things I'm trying to figure out."

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Kobe Bryant maintains high scoring rate

Among the highlights of my breakdown on the Lakers' 97-90 victory Friday over the Golden State Warriors:

  • The Lakers played a horrific first half played out like another version of the Hangover. They shot 36% from the field, committed 12 turnovers and appeared fatigued from a back-to-back the previous night at Portland. Fortunately for the Lakers, the energy picked up in the third quarter and sparked more offense. 
  • We've seen Kobe Bryant score a lot of points despite the heavy injuries. But it still proves an amazing sight to see. His 39 points on 13 of 28 shooting punctuated his third consecutive game he scored at least 30. In this ongoing debate regarding his shots, it always matters where Bryant takes them. Against Golden State, they mostly came from baseline jumpers and from the mid-to-high post, both areas that play to Bryant's strength. In the locker room, Bryant wore what looked like a giant oven mitt to protect his right wrist. 
  • The pecking order between Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum have changed. Bryant told me after the game he considers Bynum as the No. 2 option, but that he's going to have to fight through double teams and that Gasol has to maintain aggressiveness. Bynum's nine points on three of nine shooting illustrates that struggle, but he's still giving a good effort with 16 rebounds. Meanwhile, Gasol establishing a good fine line between remaining fine with Bynum's quest for scoring, while ensuring he still capitalizes on his mid-range jumpers.        
  • Matt Barnes played his best game as a Laker, scoring 16 points on seven of nine shooting. He also defended Monta Ellis as well as the circumstances allowed, allowing 18 points on eight of 20 shooting. Barnes is a fiery player and overplays his aggressiveness at times. But he remained professional throughout Devin Ebanks' starts and also lended support. It's good he maintained that perspective because it remains clear Barnes is keeping this spot. Kudos for Metta World Peace for remaining diplomatic about playing only 10 minutes partly because of Barnes' strong play.                                                                                                                                 

RELATED:

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Lakers vs. Warriors: Live updates from the game

--Mark Medina

E-mail the Lakers blog at [email protected]

Matt Barnes insists he's healthy

Matt Barnes

A vocal section in Staples Center constantly chanted Matt Barnes' name in hopes he would enter the lineup. But the Lakers' forward remained seated.

The Lakers' 96-71 victory Tuesday over the Utah Jazz featured Lakers Coach Mike Brown giving Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol extra run since the team has a day off and it proved as an opportunity to learn the system. Still, many of the starters rested early, reserves played more and everyone had a good time. But Barnes could hardly feel good about his situation, despite many of the 18,997 fans at Staples Center pleading for him to enter the game.

Barnes didn't play at all, as the team has listed him with bursitis in his left hip. But after the game, Barnes made it clear in the locker room that he feels completely healthy.

He didn't publicly comment after that, perhaps not wanting to be seen as complaining about a lack of playing time. After all, Barnes showed immense professionalism while he remained sidelined. He high-fived all the starters during player introductions, and even pushed Pau Gasol to pump him up. Barnes constantly stood up and clapped after the Lakers scored. And when Lakers Coach Mike Brown formally named Devin Ebanks as the team's starting small forward last week, Barnes vowed to properly weigh his competitive frustration while accepting his role.

Barnes played in 14 minutes so far this season and was even passed for Luke Walton on the frontcourt depth chart. Barnes didn't help his cause in the Lakers' 100-91 loss Monday to the Sacramento Kings by collecting three fouls, but Brown maintained he still liked his energy as he posted four points, three blocks and three rebounds. 

Entering training camp, Brown considered Barnes to have the "advantage" for the starting small forward spot. But the Lakers remained impressed with Ebanks' improvement, while believing Metta World Peace will offer leadership as the first small forward off the bench. It remains to be seen to what degree Barnes' role will change. But one thing is clear: Barnes says he remains healthy. 

RELATED:

Devin Ebanks, Matt Barnes maintain professionalism for starting spot

Devin Ebanks to start at small forward

Matt Barnes deserves starting spot

--Mark Medina

E-mail the Lakers blog at [email protected]

Photo: Lakers forward Matt Barnes has only played 14 minutes through three regular-season games so far. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times / December 9, 2011

Things to watch in Lakers-Kings game

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Some things to keep an eye on when the Lakers play at Sacramento on the second day of a three-game stretch.

1. How will Kobe Bryant's wrist hold up? I hope to keep the Kobe wrist-watch analysis in perspective, so it doesn't sound redundant. Believe me, asking Bryant how his wrist is feeling becomes as annoying to him as the reporter asking it. But it's going to be inevitable, at least for the next couple of games. As Bryant showed Christmas Day with a 28-point performance on 11-of-23 shooting, his stroke is largely unaffected -- at least to the point that he only needs to wear athletic tape around the wrist, instead of a protective device. However, his eight turnovers can be at least partly attributed to his wrist problem. The lower that number drops, the more it will indicate that Bryant is making better adjustments on his handle. 

2. The Lakers need a pick-me-up. The Lakers definitely need this back-to-back to immediately rectify blowing an 11-point lead in the final minutes of the Christmas opener. In that game, they showed that hard work alone won't be enough to beat elite opponents, and certainly won't wipe out ridiculous mistakes. The game against Sacramento gives them an opportunity to correct those and errors and feel better after collecting a win.

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Things to take away from Lakers' 88-87 loss to Chicago Bulls

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1. The Lakers blew the game in the final two minutes. The Lakers 88-87 loss Sunday to the Chicago Bulls points to the horrible execution in the final minute. Pau Gasol and Josh McRoberts both missed two fre throws. Kobe Bryant was wrongfully called for a personal foul on Luol Deng. Bryant committed a costly turnover. Derrick Rose then blew past both Derek Fisher and Gasol for a running-hook shot that gave the Bulls a 88-87 lead with 4.8 seconds remaining. Bryant could'n't provide any heroics, as his game-winning shot was blocked by Deng as time expired.

2. The Lakers can't handle the ball. Despite his relentless optimism about his team, Lakers Coach Mike Brown acknowledged being uncertain about whether the Lakers can reduce the 21.5 turnovers they averaged in two preseason games. They cut it to 16 turnovers, but it was a few too many, particularly in the final minutes.

3. The Lakers' early season success hinges on effort. This game hardly looked pretty, but it was winnable. This shows that the Lakers will have to simply outwork teams while still mastering Brown's system. The Lakers have the talent to do that, but they often lacked a grinding mentality in previous seasons. 

4. Bryant maintained aggressiveness despite wrist injury. He didn't follow Fisher's prediction that he'd open the game by shooting a 22-footer to prove his right wrist is healthy. Despite not wearing any device to protect the torn lunotriquetral ligament, Bryant maintained his aggressiveness and showed that it wouldn't affect his play or shot.

Bryant finished with 28 points on 11-of-23 shooting shooting in 35 minutes, attacking the basket as he would in any other game. He drove in for a reverse layup past Bulls guard Ronnie Brewer and Noah. He ran high pick-and-roll sets with Pau Gasol. He looked comfortable shooting pull-up jumpers. He even stole a pass with his right hand and connected with Derek Fisher on a fast break. 

It's obvious that Bryant's wrist injury at least partly contributed to his eight turnovers. He often committed those when he ran isolation sets that required a lot of dribbling. Bryant can mitigate that by limiting shots through spot-ups and off-the-ball movement. Still, it was a good showing considering the circumstances Bryant faced. That's why it's fitting Bryant puncuated the night by making a fall-away jumper that gave the Lakers an 87-81 lead with 54.6 seconds remaining.

5. The Lakers' defense appeared in flashes. The Lakers rotated their frontcourt so effectively to ensure Rose stayed out of the paint that he remained scoreless in the first quarter. But that effort didn't hold up as Rose finished with 22 points on eight-of-12 shooting. The Lakers appeared to communicate frequently on closeouts, but Chicago still went seven of 15 from three-point range. The Lakers showed effort defensively. They executed well at times in limiting Rose's drives, Chicago's inside presence and its outside shooting. But it wasn't always consistent.

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Devin Ebanks, Matt Barnes maintain professionalism for starting spot

The Lakers gave him an early Christmas present, but Devin Ebanks wasn't about to flaunt it.

The Lakers gave him a lump of coal, but Matt Barnes hardly questioned it.

Ebanks' present: The second-year player will make his first career start at small forward in the Lakers' Christmas Day opener against the Chicago Bulls. This happened a season after averaging only 3.1 points in 5.9 minutes through 20 appearances.

Barnes' lump of coal: The feisty veteran will come off the bench and become the Lakers' third small forward behind Ebanks and Metta World Peace. This happened only a week after Lakers Coach Mike Brown said Barnes had the "advantage" for the starting position.

The performances starting Sunday will answer how this scenario turns out. But the initial professionalism from Ebanks and Barnes in handling the competition suggests they're approaching it the right way.

Ebanks responded to his promotion with the same stoic demeanor he's displayed while toiling endlessly this offseason and during training camp on sharpening his game. 

"I'm ready to play either way," said Ebanks, who spent the offseason taking at least 1,000 shots a day. "That was my focus going into training camp. And it's going to continue to be that way. I'm just going to do what I've been doing since training camp. I'm not going to let up on the hard work and things that they want me to do."

Barnes handled the demotion with a bit of honesty, but with well-reasoned perspective. 

"It's going to suck," Barnes said. "I'm not going to lie to you. It's going to be hard. But I'm here to win a championship. Whatever role that may be from me playing, I'll play to the best of my ability."

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Devin Ebanks to start at small forward

Devin Ebanks

The Lakers hardly feel settled as they approach their opener Sunday against the Chicago Bulls.

Kobe Bryant continues to monitor the torn ligament in his right wrist. Andrew Bynum acknowledged the team's confusion about Mike Brown's offense. And who knows how much of the roster will remain intact before the March 15 trade deadline?

But there is at least clarity to what the Lakers' starting lineup will look like beginning Christmas Day against the Chicago Bulls. One position wasn't surprising. Free-agent Josh McRoberts will start at power forward, while Pau Gasol plays center during Bynum's four-game suspension. Another position was. Devin Ebanks will start at small forward just four days after Lakers Coach Mike Brown believed Matt Barnes had the "edge."

It turns out Ebanks' 7.5-point average on 77.8% shooting through two exhibition games made quite an impression.

"He didn't turn the ball over," Brown said of Ebanks. "When the ball came his way, he didn't force anything and he knocked down shots. Then he was solid defensively and didn't make any mental mistakes on the defensive end of the floor."

Ebanks' elevated role contrasts his limited role as a rookie last season, when he averaged 3.1 points in 5.9 minutes through 20 appearances.

The Lakers' sending Lamar Odom to the Dallas Mavericks and Metta World Peace's demotion to the bench opened up that spot. But Ebanks' work ethic and off-season work on his shooting has already paid off.

"I'm ready to play either way," Ebanks said. "That was my focus going into training camp. And it's going to continue to be that way. I'm just going to do what I've been doing since training camp. I'm not going to let up on the hard work and things that they want me to do."

Still, Brown made it clear that Ebanks could lose his spot if he makes mistakes or if Barnes elevates his play. After all, Barnes started training camp as the front-runner, but averaged only 1.5 points on 25% shooting and committed a flagrant foul type 1 in the team's second exhibition against Clippers forward Blake Griffin. That's why Brown said he talked with Barnes personally about losing out on the spot and instructed him to remain ready.

"He feels Devin is what the team needs to win," Barnes said. "He's the coach. I'm not going to argue. My job as a veteran is to stay ready, continue to encourage Devin and help him with ins and outs of the game. When my number is called, I'll be ready."

"It's going to suck," Barnes said. "I'm not going to lie to you. It's going to be hard. But I'm here to win a championship. Whatever role that may be from me playing, I'll play to the best of my ability."

For Ebanks, that same approach is what landed him such an opportunity in the first place. 

"I just came out here and played every time I was out on the floor," Ebanks said. "The coaches noticed it. So I have the starting job now."

RELATED:

Mike Brown undecided about starting forward spot

Matt Barnes deserves starting spot

Devin Ebanks values Kobe Bryant's mentorship

--Mark Medina

Email the Lakers blog at [email protected]

Photo: Lakers forward Devin Ebanks will start at small forward. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times 

Derek Fisher, Matt Barnes, Steve Blake on stage with 50 Cent

The well-spoken Derek Fisher doesn't exactly jibe with 50 Cent's gangsta persona. But the Lakers guard apparently remains such close friends with the accomplished rapper that he introduced him on stage Thursday night on Fox's "X-Factor."

Darius Morris is just trying to fit into a veteran-laden squad. But just as it appeared he knew the words to 50 Cent's "In Da Club," Morris has looked quite comfortable with the Lakers.

Steve Blake has renewed confidence and swagger on the basketball court, but he couldn't have appeared more awkward on stage mingling with dancers.

And Matt Barnes? He's kind of used to this thing. He appears to don as many tattoos as 50 Cent himself. He's already appeared in a music video starring Snoop Dogg and Game rapping "Purp & Yellow."

There are simply too many things to like about this video, and it's not just because of 50 Cent belting out old classics and new hits. It's also because each Laker appearance appeared both unexpected and amusing. (H/T to Pro Basketball Talk's Kurt Helin.)

RELATED:

Ron Artest, Matt Barnes and Shannon Brown appear in 'Purp & Yellow' music video

Ron Artest on his mix tape

Some memorable Lakers rap performances

-- Mark Medina

E-mail the Lakers blog at [email protected]

Mike Brown undecided about starting forward spot

The Lakers' preseason games were supposed to add clarity on who would start at small forward. Instead, it's just brought more uncertainty for Coach Mike Brown.

Just days after claiming Matt Barnes had the edge over Devin Ebanks because of his experience and consistency, Brown maintained after Thursday's practice that the starting spot still remains up in the air.

"I'm jumping back and forth between Matt and Devin," Brown said. "Just looking at the practices in general will give me a little bit of a better idea."

Ebanks incredibly outplayed Barnes through two preseason games in points (7.5, 1.5) and field-goal percentage (77.8%, 25%) while playing similar minutes (12.5, 11). Kobe Bryant wasn't blowing smoke when he constantly praised Ebanks during training camp, but few expected he'd elevate his game to this degree. Meanwhile, Barnes hardly showcased any positive traits. He didn't close out on perimeter defense several times. In the second preseason game, Barnes shoved Clippers forward Blake Griffin to the ground, earning him a flagrant foul type 1.

But this competition goes beyond who plays better during preseason games, a misleading sign of how things will play out in the regular season. It also involves how Barnes and Ebanks mesh together in the starting and reserve units. 

"The one thing that I'm looking for from that spot with the particular guys that are out there is, I need that guy to be able to defend," Brown said. "I need that guy to be able to rebound. I need that guy to be able to run the floor every possession. I need him to make no mistakes if at all possible. And then when he's open, step in and knock that shot down, knowing that he may not get the ball all the time."

Mistakes for Barnes would likely include committing silly and often aggressive fouls. Mistakes for Ebanks could involve just the inevitable learning curve he's going through as a second-year player. It appeared to be a no-brainer at the beginning,with Barnes' experience level and willingness to contribute on hustle plays possibly giving him the advantage. But Ebanks' highly elevated play has brought further wrinkles to the debate. Fortunately for the Lakers, they finally have more depth at one position when they sorely lack that in most others. 

RELATED:

Matt Barnes accuses Blake Griffin of flopping

Matt Barnes deserves starting spot

Devin Ebanks values Kobe Bryant's mentorship

--Mark Medina

E-mail the Lakers blog at [email protected]

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