ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 Preview: Los Angeles Lakers

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Last season: The Lakers finished with a record of just 27 wins against 55 losses, and the primary reason for that can be summed up with one word: injuries. L.A. was decimated by them at all positions for most of the year, and saw its players miss an absurd total of 319 games due to them — among the highest recorded in the past 30 years. The team wasn’t going to contend for a title with a roster that dropped off significantly from a talent perspective once you got past Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash. But contending for a spot in the playoffs might have been a possibility, had Bryant and Nash managed to appear in more than 21 combined games.

Signature highlight from last season: It was tempting to run this one of Nick Young prematurely celebrating a three-pointer that he ultimately missed, because that’s really the kind of season it was in Los Angeles — embarrassing by the franchise’s lofty standards. But early in the year, before the injuries spun out of control and as the pieces began to fit into place, the Lakers came away with a victory in Houston over a much more talented Rockets team on a three-pointer near the end of regulation from Steve Blake — who was traded to the Warriors later in the season.

Key offseason moves:

Keys to the Lakers season:

Kobe Bryant: It isn’t only the health of Kobe Bryant, who appeared in just six games for the Lakers last season, that will determine the team’s fate in the upcoming campaign. Merely staying on the court won’t be enough, as the roster construction faces severe challenges on both ends of the floor. In order for L.A. to compete most nights, it will need Bryant to return to an All-Star level, scoring on a consistent yet efficient basis, while being a focal point offensively who can facilitate things on the possessions where he isn’t the one taking the shots. It may be too much to ask at this stage of Bryant’s career to do so much, and once again, the health concern is real after the two major injuries he’s suffered in the last two seasons. But if he can simply be the one who holds it all together, there’s a slim chance this team could exceed expectations.

Byron Scott: L.A. hired Scott as head coach this offseason, after an extensive search that included interviews with candidates that seemed far better suited to lead the team into its long-term future. The reasons given were dubious at best, especially the one about wanting a head coach with a defensive-minded reputation. Scott’s Cavaliers teams, where he coached most recently, were historically bad on the defensive end of the floor, and improved immediately the season after he was gone with Mike Brown hired as his replacement in Cleveland — an uninspiring fact, to say the least. Scott was hired for his ties to the organization, to be someone who understands the championship culture and to remind fans of the team’s storied past. But his decisions thus far have been cause for concern, and coaching as much as anything could be the team’s downfall if the thin level of talent in place isn’t properly utilized.

Defense: The Lakers were 28th in defensive efficiency last season, and despite Scott’s wishes, there isn’t much hope that the team is in a position to greatly improve its ranking. Boozer’s defense has been the biggest weakness in his game, and was exposed even more playing alongside such committed defenders while with the Bulls. Nash has always struggled to contain the other team’s guards, and Bryant, who has historically been able to defend extremely well when focusing his attention there, has been less interested in doing so in recent seasons. With an offense expected to struggle (especially if L.A. chases inefficient midrange shots more than it does three-pointers and shots at the basket), the Lakers aren’t going to be able to outscore very many opponents. Defense will be an important determining factor in the team’s quest for victories, and given the personnel in place, that shouldn’t exactly inspire an outlook here that’s overly-optimistic.

Why you should watch: Kobe Bryant essentially missed all of last season, and is one of the game’s all-time greatest players. He has two years remaining on his contract with the Lakers, and then will likely disappear from the NBA landscape forever. It’s worth tuning in to see the highlights he can still provide, even on a Lakers team that isn’t expected to be very good this season. Oh, and the same goes for Steve Nash, who is similarly in the twilight of his career, and is likely done after this season.

Prediction: If everything were to go perfectly for the Lakers this season, it would still be tough to envision a win total of more than 45 games — and even then, that probably wouldn’t be enough to reach the postseason in a traditionally loaded Western Conference. What’s far more likely is that Bryant and Nash miss time at some point due to injury (whether major or minor), and that the roster simply doesn’t have enough from a talent perspective to be able to compete on a nightly basis. A total of 35 wins and another trip to the Draft Lottery feels about right.

LeBron James on fan throwing item at Bronny during game: ‘Just disrespectful’

Bronny James
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LeBron James‘ son, Bronny, has an incredible amount of attention on him for a high schooler.

Unfortunately, someone took it too far while Bronny was playing a game in Massachusetts yesterday. A young-looking fan threw something at Bronny during a game.

LeBron:

LeBron, via ESPN:

“I didn’t see it or hear it, actually. While I was on the opposite side of the floor, I did see the referee stop the game or stop the inbound, and the cop came up there,” he said. “I didn’t even know what happened until the video evidence showed me when I got here.

“It’s just disrespectful, and it was a little kid too. I don’t know how old that little kid was, so I don’t know if he learned that on his own or if he learned it at home. Whatever the case may be, it’s disrespectful. I wonder how old that kid is, if he is the age around Bronny’s age [15] or [James’ son] Bryce’s age [12]. I’d like to see them try that while they’re paying attention.”

You can hear LeBron as a parent in these words, wondering the age of the thrower and where he learned the behavior.

It’s a shame the fan acted this way. Hopefully, someone teaches him a lesson about why this was wrong.

Three Things to Know: Don’t take Damian Lillard for granted, he explodes for 61 points

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Damian Lillard explodes for 61, reminds everyone he is elite. It’s not so much that Damian Lillard is forgotten by fans around the nation as much as just taken for granted. Because he plays in the Pacific Northwest and doesn’t end up on national television all that often, and because he’s been consistently so good for so long (but without the Trail Blazers being seen as a real threat to win a ring), fans sleep on him being one of the best and most entertaining guards in the NBA.

Not on Monday.

On Martin Luther King Day, Lillard reminded everyone just how special he can be scoring 61 points, knocking down 11 threes, and scoring seven in overtime to make sure Portland beat Golden State in a showcase TNT game.

The Warriors threw every defense they could find at Lillard: Double teams, a few triple teams, and most of the night Warriors players would pick him up full court. It didn’t matter. Lillard looked every bit the guy who finished top six in MVP voting the past two seasons, the All-NBA guard the last two seasons (and likely a third in a row this season), the guy who just can’t be stopped when he is on. Lillard scored 42 through the first three quarters, added a dozen more — including some clutch threes — in the fourth, then had seven more in OT. It was a virtuoso performance.

Lillard will likely get taken for granted again by fans this season, especially on a Portland team that is 19-26 and made a trade over the weekend — sending Kent Bazemore, Anthony Tolliver, and two second-round picks to Sacramento for Trevor Ariza, Wenyen Gabriel, and Caleb Swanigan — that was about cutting the team’s luxury tax bill in half. It also signaled to the league the Blazers would be sellers at the trade deadline, looking to get out of the tax entirely. (Expect for Portland to try and ship out Hassan Whiteside in a money-saving trade next.)

It’s a trade that largely waved the white flag on the season. Maybe things go right, Jusuf Nurkic comes back and Portland makes a push up to the final playoff slot in the West — and that’s a big maybe — but they are not a postseason threat this year.

Just don’t wave the white flag on Lillard, he’s still one of the game’s elite guards.

2) Kemba Walker owns LeBron James (at least once in the last 29 games, but he’ll take it). Kemba Walker, toiling away his career in Charlotte on teams where the dream was just making the playoffs, never seemed a threat to the LeBron James juggernauts in Miami and Cleveland. LeBron had beaten Walker 28 consecutive times.

Monday it was Walker’s turn.

Boston crushed the Lakers in a game that had fans flipping over to America’s Got Talent because there was more drama on that stage than the TD Garden. The Celtics took charge with a 12-1 run in the second, grabbed the offensive rebound on 41.7 percent of their missed shots for the game (led by Ennis Kanter), got 20 points from Walker and 27 from Jayson Tatum in a “don’t you dare leave me out of the All-Star Game” performance, and cruised to a 139-107 thumping of the Lakers. Boston led by 14 at half and the entire fourth quarter was basically garbage time.

Jaylen Brown dunking on LeBron pretty much sums up the night.

After that play, Brown stared down LeBron and got a technical — I hate that tech. Let the players show some emotion, let a little trash talk go down. If we wanted emotionless performances we’d put on a Keanu Reeves movie.

“I ain’t going to lie, that was pretty nice, pretty awesome,” Brown said after the game (via the AP). “LeBron, he’s gotten so many other guys. Just to be out there against one of the best players to ever play the game is an honor. I always like that matchup and it gives me a little extra boost.”

For the Lakers, this is a was a “flush it and move on” game that happens to every team over the course of a season. I’d be careful reading too much into this one game. Anthony Davis returned from his bruised tailbone but looked rusty. LeBron was just off, the Boston defense took Los Angeles out of their flow, and the Lakers stood around a lot and didn’t move off the ball. Marcus Smart had a good defensive game, Tatum’s length helped on that end, but mostly this was just an off night for the Lakers. There are questions about this Los Angeles roster, but one night in Boston didn’t tell us much about them.

3) Russell Westbrook now has a triple-double against every team in the NBA. Before MLK Day, only LeBron James had recorded a triple-double against every franchise in the NBA.

Russell Westbrook, welcome to that club. Monday he scored 32 points, 12 assists, and 11 rebounds against the one team still on his list — the Oklahoma City Thunder, for whom he had played up until this season.

Much like Lillard (mentioned above), we tend to take for granted just how impressive a player Westbrook is — triple-doubles are hard to come by and he just racks them up like they’re his birthright. We need to take a step back and admire what Westbrook does. we’re not going to see the likes of him for a while.

Westbrook’s play didn’t turn around Houston’s slump. The Rockets fell to the Thunder 112-107, that’s four losses in a row and 5-of-6 for the Rockets. In a tight West, these kinds of streaks can damage playoff seeding and Houston needs to right the ship quickly.

Friends reach out offering help after disturbing video of Delonte West surfaces

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Delonte West battled bipolar disorder during his eight NBA seasons, a career that was cut short in part by a series of actions likely tied to his condition.

He’s been out of the league since 2012, but his challenges have not changed. Over the weekend, a disturbing video of West being attacked and beaten on a Washington D.C. street surfaced. It was followed by a second video showing West handcuffed and apparently talking to the police (or waiting to talk to them), where West used graphic and disturbing language to accuse another man of pulling a gun on him.

In the wake of that, West’s former St. Joseph’s teammate Jameer Nelson posted this on Twitter:

West’s former coach at St. Joseph’s Phil Martelli followed that us, as did others on social media.

Others who knew West also chimed in:

Let’s hope West gets the help he needs.

Kemba Walker stops personal losing streak to LeBron James at 28, Celtics top Lakers

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BOSTON (AP) — Kemba Walker finally beat LeBron James, and he did it by helping the Boston Celtics send the Los Angeles Lakers to their biggest loss of the season.

Walker ended a career-long losing streak against James, scoring 20 points to beat him for the first time in 29 tries and lead the Celtics past the rival Lakers 139-107 on Monday night.

“I’m happy I got one at least, before he goes,” Walker said with a laugh after the Celtics snapped their three-game losing streak. “Who knows how long he can play, because he’s just incredible. But you know, it’s only one. One and 28.”

Jaylen Brown scored 20 points, drawing a taunting technical after dunking over James, and Enes Kanter had 18 points and 11 rebounds for Boston.

“I ain’t going to lie, that was pretty nice, pretty awesome,” Brown said. “LeBron, he’s gotten so many other guys. Just to be out there against one of the best players to ever play the game is an honor. I always like that matchup and it gives me a little extra boost.”

James said there was no shame in getting beaten — this time.

“Why would I take it personally? It’s part of basketball,” he said. “It’s not the first time I got dunked on. It might not be the last time I get dunked on. But Jaylen’s been playing exceptionally well this year. It was a good play.”

The Celtics gave up the first eight points of the game but turned things around when Anthony Davis, playing for the first time in almost two weeks, went to the bench with a pair of fouls 49 seconds apart early in the first quarter.

“The less he plays, the better for everybody else,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said.

James had 15 points and 13 assists for the Lakers, who had won 10 of their previous 11 games. But the Celtics made 13 of their first 22 3-point attempts to open a 103-75 lead in the third quarter — the biggest against Los Angeles all season until Boston made it a 34-point game in the fourth.

“We were fortunate to put the ball in the basket quite a bit,” said Stevens, whose team shot 56% overall. “The ball going in masks some things.”

Walker’s 28 games without a win against James was second in NBA history only to Sherman Douglas’ 0-30 head-to-head record against Michael Jordan.

“If anybody: him. The guy I couldn’t beat, it’d be him. He’s such a great player, he’s done so much in this league,” said Walker, who spent the first eight years of his career in Charlotte. “He’s beaten a lot of guys. I bet you there’s a lot of people who don’t have a winning record against LeBron James.”