If/When Do The Lakers Slide Into The Eighth Spot In The West?

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I listened to this man, Kurt Rambis, speaking about the Lakers on SportsCenter this afternoon. When he explained what he felt Los Angeles needed to do to make the playoffs, I was kind of confused. When he was talking, he made it seem like there was an incredible and almost insurmountable gap between the Lakers and the eighth spot.

The gap, as we speak, is a game and a half. Mr. Rambis, you’re wrong.

I no longer believe that there is a question in regards to if the Lakers will get into the eighth spot, but when the Lakers will make the move. Will the Lakers stay there? That remains to be seen. But, mark my words, the Lakers will get into the eighth spot in the Western Conference. 

The next question is, who falls? Well, right now, there are three teams that are somewhat within reach. Golden State is currently in the sixth spot and four games ahead of the Lakers. Right now, I am ruling them out. They are 20-7 at home this season behind one of the best, if not the best, home crowds in all of the association. Even better for the Warriors, they play 14 out of their final 20 games at home. How can Los Angeles compete with that? They can’t.

The next team in sight is the Houston Rockets. Houston is the current holder of the seventh spot in the West and two games ahead of the Lakers. There is a possibility that the Lakers could catch the Rockets. If it were to happen, would I be surprised? No.  I don’t see it happening though. First of all, the Rockets are the highest-scoring offense in the NBA. In one season, James Harden has gone from Sixth Man of the Year to superstar in just one year. Chandler Parsons is having a very strong sophomore campaign, scoring 15 points and shooting about 39 percent from beyond the arc and Jeremy Lin is quietly having a solid season, averaging 13 points and six rebounds a game. In addition, Houston is ninth in the league in point differential. Are they better-suited to win a playoff series than the Lakers? Probably not, but they will hold on over the last 19 games.

That leaves one team, the eighth seed, the Utah Jazz. This, to me, seems like the team most likely to falter down the stretch. Over their last 10 games, Utah is just 5-5, losing to teams like Sacramento, Milwaukee and Cleveland in the process. Over the Lakers’ last 10 games, Los Angeles is 7-3. So, in the last 10 games, the Lakers gained two games. In theory, The Lakers will have the lead in the next 10 games. I am going to be a little bit more ambitious though. Kurt Rambis says that the Lakers will need to scratch and claw to get in, but I believe that the Lakers sneak into that eighth spot in the next five games. Here’s each team’s schedule over the next five games:

Utah: @ Chicago, @ NY Knicks, vs. Detroit, @ Oklahoma City, vs. Memphis. My Prediction: 1-4 after five games, 33-34 overall.

Los Angeles: vs. Toronto, vs. Chicago, @ Orlando, @ Atlanta, @ Indiana. My Prediction: 3-2 after five games, 34-33 overall.

The way I see it, Utah only beats Detroit in that rough stretch of games. Los Angeles takes care of Toronto, Orlando and Atlanta and finishes their next five games two games better than Utah. So, I think that Rambis will be surprised to see that in just eight days, the Lakers will have a one game lead over the Jazz in the West.  

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Bryant Leads Furious Lakers Comeback Victory Over Hornets

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An alley-oop thrown down by the Hornets’ Al-Farouq Aminu with just under nine minutes to play in the fourth quarter put the final nail in the Lakers’ coffin. Luckily, for Lakers fans, Kobe Bryant doesn’t give up. The Lakers were able to demolish New Orleans and their 17 point lead in under nine minutes, winning the game 108-102.

It was amazing to see the Lakers show so much fight in the game, yet, at the same time, Los Angeles should have never been in that predicament in the first place. There were definitely some negatives in last night’s contest, but we can start with the positives.

Kobe Bryant: Vino. Mamba. King Kobe. This man is just an absolute beast. In his 17th season in the NBA, he played 42 of the 48 minutes in the 62nd game of the season while playing the entire second half. Just being out on the court that much and that late in the season is a feat in itself. Here’s the stat line from ESPN:

MIN FG’s 3P’s FT’s OREB DREB REB AST STL BLK TO PF +/- PTS
42 14-21 3-7 11-14 0 7 7 12 0 1 6 0 +16 42

Sure, the six turnovers in the game looks bad, but the man also played 42 minutes. Outside of that, his numbers are astounding. He scored 42 points while shooting 67 percent. He shot close to 50 percent from beyond the arc and shot around 80 percent from the line. In addition, he added seven rebounds and 12 assists. There aren’t even a handful of guys in the league capable of doing this, nevermind when you add in the age factor. He’s all alone. He was clutch down the stretch, hitting shot after shot, including a go-ahead jumper with under 40 seconds left and a breakaway dunk, which was the real final nail in the coffin.

Dwight Howard: Finally. Sure, Howard pulled down his fair share of rebounds over the last two games (31 to be exact), but the scoring was nowhere to be found. Against both Oklahoma City and Atlanta, Howard scored a combined 17 points on 6-of-19 shooting. For a man who claimed recently that he was still the best center in the game, he was not showing it on the offensive end. Last night was different. Despite playing most of the game with foul trouble, Howard still managed to play 35 minutes. In that time, Howard had one of his best all-around performances of the season, scoring 20 points on 9-of-16 shooting on the offensive end and pulling down 15 rebounds, adding three steals and blocking four shots on the defensive end, including a clutch, left-handed block on Robin Lopez. It was nice to see Howard play a solid game on both sides of the ball.

Jodie Meeks: He is not always the most consistent player off the bench for the Lakers. They brought him in this year knowing that he could really shoot the basketball, and he showed that last night. He saw 26 minutes of playing time and made the most of it, knocking down five three’s en route to a clutch, 19-point performance. He was the only member of the Los Angeles bench to have a positive plus/minus, and in his time on the court, the Lakers outscored the Hornets by 19 points, a total higher than any other Laker player. I’m not saying that I expect performances like this every night from him, but Los Angeles does need to see more of this if they want to be a serious playoff contender down the stretch.

33-9: That was the score of the fourth quarter; Lakers 33, Hornets 9. Going into the fourth, the Lakers were down 18 points. Three minutes in, the outlook was bleak, as the Hornets still had a controlling 17-point lead. But, for the second night in a row, Los Angeles mounted a furious rally, this time a successful one. New Orleans only made four shots the entire quarter, and none in the final half of the fourth. In the final 6:30 of the contest, Los Angeles went 7-of-10 from the field while scoring 20 points. The Hornets shot 0-of-12 from the field and scored zero points. That, my friends, is how you finish a basketball game.

This game wasn’t all beautiful though, as I can really only glorify one quarter. Here are some numbers that the Lakers need to improve on.

67: That’s the number of points that New Orleans scored in the first half. Really, Lakers? Just one night before, Oklahoma City put up 71 points in the first half. Being that it is the Thunder, at least it makes sense. But, the now 21-41 Hornets? No. Unacceptable. If the Lakers had played just about any other team last night, they would have gotten run out of the gym for the second straight night.

36: The Lakers were out-rebounded last night 36 to 52. I know that without Pau Gasol, the Lakers are not quite as big as they once were. But, Los Angeles has been without Gasol for over a month now and they still rank fourth in the Association at 44.5 rebounds per game. New Orleans ranks 22nd in the NBA. With a discrepancy like that, not many teams could win a game, but I guess the “W” is all that matters.

2: In 48 minutes of play, Los Angeles was only able to score two fast break points, which came from Kobe’s dunk with under 30 seconds to go in the game. The Lakers are not a young and fast team. I get that. Two points though? How are the Lakers supposed to match up with other teams in the West like Denver, who averages 19.7 fast break points per game? Or Oklahoma City, who puts up 17.1 points per game on the fast break? This is probably the most worrisome stat for me because this is going to be the hardest issue to fix.

The Lakers won, which is good news. There is even better news, though. Last night, Utah squandered a lead on the road and lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers, 104-101. After last night’s games, Los Angeles has now moved to within a game-and-a-half of the Jazz for the eighth spot in the West with 20 games left to play. Things are looking up in Lakerland!

Lakers Lose in Oklahoma City

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This face pretty much describes last night’s game against the Thunder. For the third time in four game against Oklahoma City, the Lakers’ defense took a night off and let the Thunder offense put on a show. Although the Lakers made a strong second half comeback, they could not handle the 71 first-half points from the Thunder. Oklahoma City pulled away late and won 122-105, winning the season series three games to one.

Despite a disgusting loss, there were a few positives in last night’s game. For starters, Kobe Bryant scored 30 points once again, and he now leads the NBA in 30-point games. He left the court in the first quarter after injuring his arm, so him dropping 30 was impressive. Also, Metta World Peace had a solid second half that got the Lakers back into the game. He ended the contest with 16 points on five-of-eleven shooting. Like World Peace, Steve Nash also had a solid second half and finished the game with 20 points.

For the fifth night in a row, the Lakers were able to shoot over 40 percent from long range. They made 12 out of their 29 attempts, with seven different players adding to the total. This recent surge of impressive three-point shooting gives Lakers fans something to be optimistic about. Not many teams are going to be able to keep up with the Lakers if they are able to shoot well from beyond the arc.

Los Angeles was also able to take 40 free throws last night while forcing 27 fouls. Although they were on the road, they were still able to take 16 more free throws than the Thunder (granted Oklahoma City did shoot better from the field). Of those 30 attempts, the Lakers were able to make over 75 percent of them despite Dwight Howard only shooting four-of-eight form the line.

That’s about it for the positives…there were plenty more negatives.

First of all, the first half from the Lakers was absolutely deplorable. As I stated earlier, the Thunder were able to score a whopping 71 points. I understand that Los Angeles does not hang their hat on their defense, but there has to be a point where pride steps in and stops the bleeding. The Lakers were able to score 55 points themselves, which should be enough to hang with anybody, but, as Bart Scott would say, they couldn’t stop a nosebleed. 

Giving up 71 points is quite a feat, but how they did it was equally, if not more, awful. The Thunder took 13 more shot attempts in the first two quarters, shooting 26-of-50 from the field. In addition, the Lakers were outscored 28-to-10 in the paint in the first half. With Dwight Howard down low, there should never be a discrepancy that large. The worst stat of the first half though was by far the turnover differential. While the Lakers turned the ball over 11 times, Oklahoma City only had one turnover in 24 minutes. 

The third quarter was a good one for the Lakers, as they outscored the Thunder by eight, but the fourth quarter was a let-down. Los Angeles made a push and cut the deficit to just five, but it went down quickly from there. The Lakers simply just ran out of gas. In the last five-and-a-half minutes, the Lakers did not score once and Oklahoma finished the game on a 12-0 run.

If the Lakers were to make the playoffs, there would be a good chance of them having to play Oklahoma City. I really do not hope this is the case because I do not think the Lakers match up well against them, especially against Russell Westbrook. The Lakers do not have a guard that can shut him down; not many teams do, but Los Angeles definitely does not. If the Lakers have a few more nights like this though, they won’t have to worry about the playoffs.

 

Lakers Beat Hawks, Reach .500 Mark

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This season has not been an easy one for the Lakers, and neither was last night’s game against Atlanta. Los Angeles had to score with less than 10 seconds left to come away with the win, but they held on for the 99-98 victory while returning to .500 for the first time since December 28th.

Kobe Bryant shined once again last night, scoring 34 points for the fourth time in the last five games. This season, Kobe has somehow been able to turn back the hands of time and play better than he has in recent years, and last night was no exception. He also pulled down six rebounds and added four assists in 39 minutes of play to add to his 34 points, including a go-ahead lay-up with nine seconds remaining and this mammoth of a dunk:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BN8h_LiEzIA

For a second consecutive game, besides Kobe Bryant playing at an insane level, the other key to victory was the three-point shooting of the team. Six different players added to the team’s 10 total threes, and the Lakers shot close to 50 percent. Last night was the fourth consecutive game that the Lakers have shot over 42 percent from three-point land.

As the Lakers begin to venture into the final quarter of the season, there is finally some more comfort on their bench. Steve Blake has been back for a little over a month after missing almost three months with an injury in his abdomen, but is now beginning to find his rhythm. In the last three games, Blake has averaged eight points, three rebounds and five assists in 23 minutes of play. This is not big only for himself, but this is also big for Steve Nash, who, at 39 years old, will be able to get more breaks.

Los Angeles is currently two-and-a-half games behind both the Utah Jazz and Houston Rockets and it seems as though one of those teams is going to fall off, given the way things have unfolded over the last month. Since January 25th, the Lakers have a 13-5 record, which is the fourth best record in the NBA. I need not say anymore besides look out, Utah and Houston.

Dwight Howard Opens Up To CBS2/KCAL9’s Kristine Leahy About Criticism, Future With Lakers

CBS Los Angeles

Part 1:

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LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — When the Lakers acquired Dwight Howard over the summer, L.A. was elated and the purple and gold immediately rejoined the ranks of NBA contenders.

But all that quickly changed as injuries limited Howard’s production and dominance on the court. Howard said he hit “rock bottom” when he had to undergo surgery and people questioned his injuries.

“I played through some tough games, but this wasn’t something that was going to stop playing basketball,” he said. “When people questioned that, that was the one thing that got me really upset.”

Off the court, he struggled to co-exist with Kobe Bryant and find comfort in the big market spotlight.

“I don’t have a bad bone in my body. So when I hear these things like, ‘Coach killers’ and ‘Doesn’t really love basketball,’ all this crazy stuff, I just laugh at it,” Howard said. “People…

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Lakers Dismantle Wolves, Gain on Utah and Houston

The Lakers began February with a big win at Minnesota, so it was only fitting that they ended the month with yet another big win against the Wolves. The Lakers doubled the win margin this time though, beating them 116-94 at the Staples Center while moving within two games of the eighth seed in the Western Conference. The Lakers have now beaten Minnesota an astounding 21 games in a row.

In their last meeting, Pau Gasol led the team in scoring while Kobe Bryant scored 17 points,grabbed 12 boards and added eight dimes. The Lakers did not have Gasol this time – he went down just four days after that performance – but Kobe picked up the slack, scoring 33 points on 59 percent shooting (also shooting 50 percent from behind the arc) in just three quarters.

Kobe was not the only one producing for Los Angeles though. Six Lakers scored in double figures Thursday night, including Jodie Meeks and Steve Blake, who added a combined 29 points on 7-14 shooting from three point range. Including Antawn Jamison, these three combined for 46 points off the bench, which is a rarity for the Lakers.

The biggest key for the Lakers though was their ability to score from both inside and out. The Lakers scored 46 points from inside the paint, including 10 from Dwight Howard, who shot an efficient 5-of-6 from the field. Their success on the inside translated to success from long range, as the Lakers scored 48 points on 16-32 shooting. Los Angeles scored 94 of their 116 points from either in the paint or beyond the three-point line. Add the twelve points from free throws, and the Lakers only scored 10 points from mid-range jumpers. Games like this do not happen very often, but with the way that they have been playing lately, numbers like this are promising.

With the win, the Lakers moved within two games of the Houston Rockets and within two-and-a-half games of the Utah Jazz.

Call me an optimist because I am a Lakers fan, but the task of making the playoffs is a feasible one for Los Angeles. Of these 23 games, 11 of them are at home and they play 12 games against teams that are non-playoff teams. The Rockets also have 23 games remaining, and play 12 home games and also play 12 games against non-playoff teams. Utah plays 12 home games and 11 games against non-playoff teams. This race is going to be close, but the Lakers definitely have a shot to make the playoffs with the way that they’re playing.

Lakers fans, and basketball fans for that matter, should keep April 17th in the back of their heads, as the Lakers host the Rockets on the last day of the season. The race will be close, so it may come down to the last game of the season. Keep your eyes peeled, folks.

Kobe, Lakers Win Third In A Row

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Everybody who watches basketball knows what this face means. For those who don’t, it means that it’s time for Kobe Bryant to do work. The game face was on display today, and needless to say, Kobe did work. The Lakers won their third consecutive game this afternoon after edging the Mavericks 103-99.

Despite Dirk Nowitzki playing his best game of the season, scoring 30 points and adding 13 rebounds on 58 percent shooting, Kobe played better. In 38 minutes, Bryant dropped 38 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists on 62 percent shooting. After scoring 40 points on Friday while shooting 60+ percent, Bryant became the oldest player in NBA history to put up these numbers on back-to-back nights.

With the Lakers and Mavericks both scrapping for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, both teams fought as if this was a playoff game. There were 39 total fouls, three technical fouls, and 21 lead changes during the game. With these circumstances, and Dwight Howard staying in foul trouble throughout the entire game, Bryant needed to have a huge game.

Bryant also had to let his play quiet the loudmouth known as Mark Cuban, who claimed just a couple days before that the Lakers should amnesty Bryant when the season was done. After getting the last laugh, Bryant was able to further bury Cuban in a tweet that read simply, “Amnesty THAT.” 

Besides Bryant’s phenomenal game, there were not many other story lines to this game. But there were a few positives for the Lakers.

Steve Nash had his highest-scoring game of the season. Not only did Steve Nash shoot 7-of-12 from the field, but he was also able to shoot four out of five from beyond the arc, including clutch threes when the game was tight.

The three point shooting was key for the Lakers. The Mavericks forced more turnovers, shot pretty much the same percentage from the field and had almost the same amount of rebounds and assists, but Los Angeles had the advantage in three-point shooting. Dallas was able to make eight threes on 44 percent shooting, but the Lakers were able to make 13 three-pointers on 52 percent shooting. Whenever the Lakers needed a big shot, either Bryant, Nash, Antawn Jamison or Jodie Meeks was able to hit a big three for the Lake Show. This proved to be more than important down the stretch.

Although it is great to see the Lakers creep to within one game of .500, they will be tested tomorrow night when they take on the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center. Let’s just hope that Kobe has some gas left in the tank, but at this point, should we even worry?