Los Angeles Lakers' Howard, Bryant, Nash and World Peace talk during a timeout in their NBA basketball game against Miami Heat in Los Angeles

Lakers are a perfect storm of bad, with no easy way to port

45 Comments

The Lakers have been bad all season.

Frustration with the team — among players and fans — is coming to a head as the Lakers head into a seeming death spiral and it becomes more and more clear that their $100 million roster of superstars isn’t even going to make the playoffs. (It’s not impossible the Lakers still make the postseason, but it’s standing right next to impossible with his arm around it.)

There is a lot of blame to go around — injuries, lack of depth exposed by said injuries, Kobe Bryant’s shot selection, all the team’s stars, the entire team’s attitude about defense, Mike Brown, Mike D’Antoni and so on. Basically everyone but Lawrence Tanter deserves a slice of blame. The worst part is it has been a perfect storm of problems — every problem seems to exacerbate the next one.

But two targets should be singled out for the biggest slices of the blame pie — Lakers management and Dwight Howard.

And if the Lakers are going to turn this around — even by next season — it will be up to those two to fix the issues.

What to do right is something they can learn by watching what the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat did right (and wrong) in the past five years since they assembled powerhouse teams. Both of them figured it out well enough to win a ring, which is far more than it looks like the Lakers will do right now.

Management issues

Lakers management — Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak and the guy making the ultimate calls in Jim Buss — earned a lot of plaudits when they went out last summer and got Steve Nash and Dwight Howard to pair with Kobe and Pau Gasol forming a new super team. And deservedly so, it’s not easy to acquire that kind of talent and ownership was willing to pony up the taxes to pay for it.

But there seemed to be little thought to real team building — what kind of system the team would play, what would work best for the roster, and then being committed to it and getting role players to fit said system.

Instead the Lakers (at the request of Kobe) worked to bring in a Princeton-hybrid offense — something without play calls and the micromanaging Brown brought as coach. The idea was to make Steve Nash the point god and when he got the ball he could decide to fast break, or come up and call for some pick-and-roll action, or he could go into one of the Princeton sets.

When you have that many options at the top of the offense it’s going to take a long time for get guys on the same page and acting seamlessly. The Lakers never came close to that. Guys were clearly thinking and not reacting, combine that with the return just at the start of the season of Howard and other injuries and you kill any chance of the group jelling.  The offense was a mess. And the defense was still worse (and supposed to be Brown’s specialty).

So the Lakers fired Mike Brown.

And went 180 degrees with Mike D’Antoni — a guy who won playing Amar’e Stoudemire at the five, flooding the floor with shooters and letting Steve Nash run the show as fast as he wanted. That was absolutely nothing like the Lakers roster, even Steve Nash is older and slower. The Lakers had two big men who want the ball in the post, plus Kobe and Metta World Peace like the post, also. “Young” and “athletic” are not words used to describe the Lakers roster.

If you learned one thing from watching Mike D’Antoni operate in New York is that the players must fit the system because the system isn’t changing to fit the players. The Lakers knew that and knew they had a mismatched roster for what D’Antoni wanted to do when they hired them — fans want to blame D’Antoni for not modifying what he does but this goes back to management hiring him knowing he was a system guy. Or at least Lakers fans need to hope management knew that.

And how you fix it is two-fold — D’Antoni somehow needs to learn from what Erik Spoelstra did in Miami tweaking his system until he figured out what worked. We can question if D’Antoni is willing to do it, but he has to be unless the Lakers want to totally overhaul the roster. It took more than a season for Spoelstra to figure out his Heat roster could win best with small ball and pressure, but he did, he adjusted and they had a ring ceremony because of it (and while they have struggled at points this season it is more about focus than system).

Also, the Lakers need to move one of their two tradable assets — Gasol or Howard — to get shooters and players that fit the system. If they don’t think Howard will re-sign with them next summer they have to change their stance to consider offers. It’s all on management, they built the roster and they need to get younger and more athletic (see Earl Clark) to make it work.

Dwight Howard’s pivotal role in the pivot

Howard is clearly not 100 percent after his off-season back injury and that is slowing him — he’s not nearly as explosive and he doesn’t cover ground on defense like he did in Orlando. And with Nash at the point and the Lakers bench the team needed the old Howard to shore up their defense and make it respectable.

Instead in recent games he has looked disinterested and disengaged. Rather than learning from Kobe about the fight needed to be a title contender, Howard has gone to blaming teammates and seeming not to get why what is best for him might not be best for Gasol or Nash. Howard is a great pick-and-roll big but he complains he wants the ball in the post more despite Nash. There seems to be little consideration.

Go read Kevin Ding’s fantastic piece on Howard at the Orange County Register. Do it, we’ll wait for you. He lays it right out there. While no player is blameless for the Lakers woes, Howard and his lack of play at the defensive end is the biggest issue on the court.

Howard seems to think he’s in a competition with Kobe rather than really being willing to sacrifice for the team.

Howard needs to look at the players on the 2008 Celtics, who willingly sacrificed stats and changed their role to do what was best for the team.

Howard needs to look at Dwyane Wade and how he learned to play with LeBron James, even if that means deferring to him, to make it better for the team. Howard can be the co-leader of the Lakers with Kobe if he wants to be. But to do that he needs to give not just take.

He can’t just demand the ball more, he has to earn it. Kobe will pass if Howard steps up and demands the rock — and then does something with it. If you watched Howard’s last three games you can’t blame Kobe and Nash for not passing him the rock — he hurts the offense when he gets it and goes half-speed. He has to play fast and hard. And if you’re not doing something positive with the ball, Kobe will be more than happy to shoot it for you.

The things that got the Lakers into this mess were not simple or singular, and with that the fix is not simple. There is no magic bullet. It’s going to take a lot of guys from the front office to the floor making adjustments.

And after 41 games, its time to seriously question if they can.

Draymond Green tells Trail Blazers to call timeout during Warriors run (video)

Leave a comment

Klay Thompson capped a 9-0 game-tying fourth-quarter run with a 3-pointer, and Draymond Green had a message for the Trail Blazers:

Call timeout.

Terry Stotts did, but that didn’t stop the bleeding. Their swagger running high, the Warriors pulled away for a 110-99 win.

Three Things to Watch in Hawks/Cavaliers Game 2: Atlanta needs more Kyle Korver

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 2: Kyle Korver #26 of the Atlanta Hawks drives around LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during the second half of the NBA Eastern Conference semifinals at Quicken Loans Arena on May 2, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Cavaliers defeated the Hawks 104-93. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Cavaliers held serve in Game 1 thanks to some late game LeBron James heroics, but they blew a big lead and the Hawks didn’t make it easy. What did we see in Game 1 we should keep and eye on in Game 2? Here are three questions that will get answers this game:

1) Can Atlanta get Kyle Korver open for some shots? Here’s a sentence I never thought I’d type: J.R. Smith did a fantastic defensive job shutting down Kyle Korver. He had plenty of help, for example, they switched pick-and-rolls which sometimes meant LeBron was on him. However, the idea didn’t change — the Cavaliers made shutting down Kover a top priority. One of the best three-point shooters in the game and a master at quietly finding space, Korver had just one attempt from beyond the arc in Game 1 (a miss from the top of the key). They need his spacing to make their offense flow.

For Atlanta, if Korver is getting that much attention other Hawks to hit their threes — Atlanta took 34 but hit just 11 (32.4 percent) in Game 1. The Hawks entire offense is to score at the rim and from three, and if one of those isn’t clicking they are in trouble. The Hawks moved the ball well and got some clean looks from three, but missed them. Those need to fall to win Game 2.

2) How quickly will Hawks go to Kent Bazemore on Kevin Love, meaning Paul Millsap/Thabo Sefolosha on LeBron James? Atlanta started Game 2 with Bazemore on LeBron, and the Cavaliers quickly tried to exploit that in the post — LeBron is too big and too strong and will get the shots he wants (the Hawks don’t have a great one-on-one option to go against LeBron). Mike Budenholzer made a smart switch putting Bazemore on Love, who prefers to live on the perimeter, and let Millsap handle LeBron. Millsap is a quality defender, and LeBron doesn’t take guys off the dribble like he used to, this matchup worked for a while, expect the Hawks to go to it quickly in Game 2.

The converse of that matchup question is can the Cavaliers keep Al Horford and Paul Millsap in check again? The All-Star front line of the Atlanta Hawks was 10-of-32 shooting and were not the forces the Hawks need on that end of the floor, the Hawks need better efficiency from their starting bigs.

3) Can the combo of Dennis Schroder and Jeff Teague balance out Kyrie Irving? If there was an unexpected star of Game 1, it was Schroder, the German bench point guard of the Hawks who supplanted Jeff Teague for key minutes late in the game. Schroder — Boston fans’ favorite villain in the first round (he was booed every time he touched the ball after some run-ins with Isaiah Thomas) — had 27 points and six assists in Game 1. The problem for the Hawks is Schroder is just not that consistent, he hit 5-of-10 from three in Game 1 and it’s unlikely he’s going to replicate that effort in Game 2. Look for Budenholzer to play Teague and Schroder together for stretches in this team and see if the combo can unlock the Atlanta offense.

The Hawks need a lot from their guards because we know Irving will have a good game. Irving had 21 points and eight assists in Game 1, plus a key block on Schroder late, and it feels like he can do much better. The combination of Teague and Schroder need to keep him in check to keep the Hawks within striking distance.

Watch Dwyane Wade’s game sealing steal, lay-up in overtime

2 Comments

Of course it was Dwyane Wade.

He can summon up the athletic, play-making younger version of himself for a game here or a stretch there, and he did that again in Game 1 against the Raptors Tuesday. He had 24 points on the night, and along with Goran Dragic helped lead the Heat to a road win to start the series.

That includes making the steal on DeMar DeRozan and getting the bucket that sealed the win. Wade was determined in this one.

Warriors’ defense, Klay Thompson take over fourth quarter, earn Game 2 win

2 Comments

Only one team in this series can crank up their defense enough to  win them games.

The Warriors’ offense feeds off that stingy defense — with or without Stephen Curry in the lineup, again Tuesday it was without — and the combination can lead to big runs.

Such as a 34-12 fourth quarter. It was historic, as our own Dan Feldman pointed out on twitter.

Golden State trailed by 17 at one point but came on in the fourth with a defensive energy that held Damian Lillard to 0-of-3 shooting and his entire Portland team to 26.5 percent shooting. Those miss shots fueled transition buckets and opportunities — Klay Thompson had 10 of his 27 points on the night in the fourth — and the Warriors roared back for a 110-99 victory.

Golden State now leads the series 2-0 as it heads to Portland, with Game 3 not until Saturday. The biggest question is whether Curry will play in that game, or will the Warriors use their position of strength to get him more rest (as they did in the Houston series up 2-0)?

The best player on the floor in Game 2 was Draymond Green, who finished with 17 points (on 20 shots), 14 rebound and seven assists. But that’s not where the damage he does starts — it’s on defense. His ability to defend the five, then show out high on pick-and-rolls to cut off Lillard or C.J. McCollum and take away their shots from three. With Curry out, Green also spends a lot of time as the guy initiating the Warriors offense. He crashes the boards. He protects the paint, including a key block late on Mason Plumlee. Green did it all.

Portland raced out to a lead using their vintage style — their defense wasn’t that good, but it was good enough (especially with a cold Thompson who kept missing open looks), and their offense was hitting everything. With the Warriors missing shots it was Portland using the opportunity to run — and it was the Warriors defenders doing a poor job of recognizing the shooters and closing them out. So the opposite of Game 1.

Portland was also getting buckets from Al-Farouq Aminu — 10 first quarter points — and that’s always a good sign because he’s the guy (well, him and Maurice Harkless) that the Warriors will live with shooting.

Still, you knew the run was coming. The Warriors went on a 14-2 run to make it close as the second half started to wind down. But then Portland responded with some real poise and an 8-0 run of their own. Portland was getting their buckets and had a 59-51 run at the half. They continued to hold that lead through the third quarter thanks to a red-hot Damian Lillard, who had 16 points in the quarter.

But again, you knew the run was coming — and this time it was fueled by the Warriors defense. Festus Ezeli was a big part of that, his defensive presence in the paint helped turn things around, he was setting big screens to free up Thompson and others, plus he had eight points of his own in the quarter.

When the game got tight Portland missed seven in a row down the stretch, and that sealed the Blazers fate. Meanwhile, the Warriors kept hitting shots, and the Blazers have no great options to change up the defense and alter that dynamic. Even without Curry, the versatility of the Warriors makes them tough to slow, let alone stop. 

Going home, maybe the Trial Blazers can hit some difficult shots and hold off a Warriors charge in the fourth quarter.

Or, maybe Stephen Curry is back, and the Warriors just get better.