Don’t blame Princeton. If Lakers turn it around it’s all about turnovers.

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Don’t blame Princeton.

National pundits and Lakers fans are hammering Lakers coach Mike Brown and the Princeton offense — Charles Barkley said he wants his accountants from Princeton, not his offense. It’s to the point Brown’s job could be threatened if the Lakers don’t have a strong home stand. All this even though it was Kobe Bryant who urged Brown to consider the Princeton offense

But the thing is the Princeton offense has really worked when they run it right. Don’t believe me? There’s proof (in the admittedly small sample sizes).

So far this season, Kobe has taken 50 percent of his shots inside the restricted area, right at the rim — that is double last season’s percentage (a great post at Forum Blue & Gold breaks down Kobe’s scoring this season). As should be obvious, even Kobe scores more shooting at the rim than he does 20 feet away. Rather than setting up in isolation plays where he gets the ball 22 feet from the basket and the defense sets for him, he is cutting and working off the ball and the result is better shots. The result is Kobe is shooting 56 percent this season, up from 43 percent last season.

Then there is Dwight Howard. Still bothered by a back not fully recovered from off-season surgery, he is averaging 22.4 points a game on 67.8 percent shooting. He is getting good looks. And so it goes down the line — the Lakers are getting good shots and actually scoring plenty.

The Lakers are averaging 104.6 points per 100 possessions, sixth best in the NBA according to NBA.com’s official stats.

That despite turning the ball over like a junior high team.

Just watching them the Lakers clearly not comfortable yet with their new offense and the resulting miscommunications have led to the Lakers turning the ball over on a league-leading 20 percent of their possessions — one in five trips down the floor they cough it up.

The result — opposing teams are getting 14.1 percent of their offense against the Lakers in transition and they are shooting 65.5 percent in that mode (according to Synergy Sports). Transition is the second most common offensive attack against the Lakers and when teams do that and score at a high rate you are in trouble.

The Lakers are currently 23rd in the NBA in defense, giving up 103.1 points per 100 possessions.

Let’s be honest, it’s not just transition defense — the Lakers handling of the pick-and-roll has been ugly as well. Pick-and-roll ball handlers and roll men account for 20.4 percent of the shots against the Lakers and teams are shooting 48.4 percent against the Lakers on that play.

This was something Dwight Howard was supposed to help solve — when healthy he is the best pick-and-roll defending big man in the NBA. But he is not moving like that guy right now, Steve Nash can’t help much even when he gets on the court and the Lakers rotations have been nonexistent.

And yes, the Lakers bench has been a non-factor.

But it still comes back to the turnovers — cut those out and you both increase your offensive output and you take away some of that ugly transition defense the Lakers are playing. Los Angeles is older and they are not going to be a running team. They are going to slow it down most of the season (even with Nash back — did you see him push the pace the first couple games only to look up and see nobody ran with him?). When they turn the ball over it plays right into their greatest weakness.

Take care of the ball and Mike Brown’s job is safe.

Well, at least until next summer if they don’t win it all.

James Harden helped recruit Lou Williams to Houston

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The Lakers had been shopping Lou Williams around in the run-up to the trade deadline, the only question was would they get a first-round pick for him. Rumors around the league say that Houston had offered them one weeks before, it was on the table, but the Jim Buss/Mitch Kupchak front office held their cards close and hoped a better deal would come through.

While all that was going on James Harden decided to ease the process and did a little recruiting calling up Williams, the sixth-man guard told Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

“When James called, he asked me if I was interested in playing with them,” Williams told The Vertical. “I told him that I loved the Lakers, but James and them have a group that fit my personality, fit how I play. He said he was going to make it happen.”

Williams then laughed, sitting on the edge of a visiting court following a recent practice. “I’ve heard that before, so I didn’t really put stock into it,” Williams told The Vertical. “I guess James did put the word in, and the team made it happen.”

We all know what happened, Jeanie Buss removed her brother and Kupchak a few days before the trade deadline, Magic Johnston stepped in, called around, and quickly pulled the trigger on a trade that sent Williams to Houston (the Lakers also got Corey Brewer). Williams has averaged 14.5 points per game and had some strong performances with the Rockets, although he’s still finding his groove with the team on the court. Still, he’s been an upgrade for the Rockets’ bench.

Harden knew he would be, so he did his part to make sure it happened.

Take a look back at just how great Shaq was with the Lakers (VIDEO)

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Shaquille O’Neal was as dominant a force as the NBA has ever seen.

His peak years came with the Lakers, when paired with Kobe Bryant one the court — and Phil Jackson manipulating both of them — they won three titles (and arguably would have had more if they stayed together). Those Lakers teams were one of the NBA’s great teams.

Friday night, the Lakers unveil Shaq’s statue at Staples Center. Take a look back at some of Shaq’s Lakers highlights.

 

Warriors’ Matt Barnes on facing Kings: ‘I’m trying to kill ’em’

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The Kings were very good to Matt Barnes.

They signed him to a two-year contract worth more than $12.5 million when it seemed he wouldn’t come close to that on the market. Then they waived him, allowing him to receive all his salary and escape basketball hell for the Warriors, who make him much happier.

Yet, he’s going into tonight’s Golden State-Sacramento game with an edge.

Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle (hat tip: CSN Bay Area):

Matt Barnes holding a grudge? Why, I never.

Surging Heat have playoffs in sight after dreadful start

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MIAMI (AP) — They have won 24 times in their last 31 games. They put together the NBA’s longest winning streak this season, a 13-game run that was beyond surprising. They are on the cusp of doing something never accomplished in NBA history.

This Miami Heat comeback tale has been an epic one.

And now comes the toughest part – finishing the job.

None of the other 125 teams in NBA history who started 11-30 or worse made the NBA playoffs. The Heat, with 10 games left on their regular-season schedule, are in position to change that. They held the second-worst record in the league in mid-January, are tied with San Antonio for the best record since, and hold a one-game lead over Chicago and Detroit for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot entering Friday’s games.

“These guys want this so bad,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra – a reluctant coach of the year candidate who cringes when players lobby on his behalf – said Thursday after a loss to the Toronto Raptors. “They want this opportunity to be in the playoffs. We’ve fought, scratched, done everything we possibly can to put ourselves into a position to fight for it.”

More fighting and scratching awaits.

Of Miami’s final 10 games, a stretch that starts Sunday in Boston, eight are against teams still battling for either a playoff spot or playoff positioning. The only two exceptions are a home-and-home next week with New York, which earlier this season was seven games ahead of the Heat in the standings and now are eight games behind Miami (35-37).

“We’ve dug ourselves out of a deep ditch,” Heat center and NBA rebounding leader Hassan Whiteside said.

True, but they’re not on firm playoff footing yet.

Under normal circumstances, Whiteside almost certainly would not have played Thursday. He needed 13 stitches to repair a cut in his right (shooting) hand on Tuesday, and a similar injury two years ago left him sidelined for three games.

Not only did he start Thursday, he led the Heat with 16 points and 14 rebounds. Afterward, he had icepacks strapped to both of his knees, covered his right hand in a clear plastic bag so the stitches wouldn’t get wet in the shower, and had his newly sprained left ankle wrapped.

“He’s a tough dude,” Heat point guard Goran Dragic said.

He hasn’t been the only one.

Factoring in that Chris Bosh‘s on-court tenure with the Heat was declared over when he failed a physical in September, Miami has had at least two players unavailable to play in every game this season because of health reasons. Since Jan. 1, it’s been at least three every game – and often more.

A huge blow came last week when shooting guard Dion Waiters sprained his left ankle. He’s at three missed games and counting, and the Heat offense has struggled since.

“This is that time of the year,” Spoelstra said. “Everybody is feeling it, so this is the mental toughness we have to get to.”

The Heat have no practice Friday, though most players will be in the training room for treatments. Practice resumes Saturday, preceding the flight to Boston. And then Sunday, the 10-game sprint to the finish begins.

“I want our guys to enjoy this,” Spoelstra said. “I don’t feel that we’re putting any undue pressure, but everybody will feel like when they lose that the world is collapsing. This playoff race is still going on. And I think we need a day to get away from it, to decompress and to get back to work on Saturday.”