Lakers Face Another Summer Of Turmoil

Being ousted in the Conference Semifinals for the second consecutive season has thrust Lakers Nation into a state of turmoil.

“Sitting here at this point in the year is definitely not satisfying,” Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike Brown admitted to the media. “Under the circumstances, I feel like we got a lot accomplished and feel we learned a lot… but we can be better.”

One of the main ways the Lakers can get better is clarifying the roles of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum moving forward. With a new head coach added to the mix this season, Gasol struggled adapting and then he had problems getting used to being the third option on offence.

Sure, part of that is due to a compressed training camp, but the reality of the situation is Brown would like to see Kobe Bryant and Bynum get the majority of the touches on offence next season.

“With Andrew (Bynum) having a bigger role within what we do especially offensively, it made it a little tougher for Pau (Gasol), ” Brown explained. “With Andrew on one block and Kobe (Bryant) on the other, and Metta (World Peace), it was (tough to get opportunities at times). But I thought he adjusted really well.”

As great as Gasol has been for the Lakers the past few seasons, there is currently a shift in place to have Bynum become the focus of the teams offence in the low post instead of Gasol.

“I think (Andrew Bynum) can be a cornerstone to an organization,” Brown boasted. “But you have to remember that Andrew is still learning what he’s (eventually) going to be. He didn’t play near the minutes (as he did in 2011-12). He needs time and the commitment to want to get better every time he steps onto the floor. The sky really is the limit on how good he wants to be.”

This shift in focus by the coaching staff and touches for Gasol has resulted in him being unsure where that leaves his future with the Lakers.

“I wish I could have clarification (about his future with the team) but they can’t give it to me right now,” Gasol lamented. “I think management still has to talk to ownership to see what direction this team will be going next year. We really didn’t talk much about the future. We talked about this year, how things have gone. Everything was really positive and encouraging for (the) potential (of) next season.”

Hearing Gasol talk about the potential of playing for a team besides the Lakers next season can’t be what he or fans of the team want to hear. However, the Spaniard will be 32-years-old when training camp kicks off and he will have a lot of wear due to playing heavy minutes in the NBA and playing for the Spanish national team during the summer.

Plus, besides getting up in age, Gasol was confused at times this season as to what Brown and his teammates needed or expected from him on the court.

“It’s a little difficult,” Gasol admitted. “ I’ve always been a good passer and I facilitated from the most part from the post, which I’m very good at. It has been an adjustment for me, it has been difficult to be pretty much a third option, because I’ve never experienced that in my career since I was very young. I still gave it my best, but that was challenging at times.”

Regardless of the reason why the Lakers flamed out in the second round of the playoffs, it’s clear their general manager, Mitch Kupchak, isn’t content with standing pat with the roster as currently constructed.

“When you lose before you think you should have lost, you have to open up all opportunities,” Kupchak told the media during exit interviews.

One of the players being mentioned in a lot of trade talk, Pau Gasol, seems to be aware of this and the topic was brought up during exit interviews between himself and Kupchak.

“He’s the consummate teammate, consummate professional, but what took place is hard for a player to deal with,” Kupchak admitted. “I’m sure there’s a little bit of trust that’s not quite the same. But he understands … our exit meeting was really good. I think he and I are on the same page.”

Complimentary, sure, but not exactly a ringing endorsement for the Spaniard sticking around for next season in Los Angeles.

Despite the fact the Lakers failed to advance as far as the team or its fans would have liked, it’s clear there is still a lot of faith in the players currently on the roster.

“I just didn’t feel we really hit our stride,” Barnes explained. “I think at times we showed flashes of how dominant we could be, but we really didn’t reel off six, seven, eight or nine consistent, convincing wins that you kind of need to really feel good about yourself. Any time you have a big three like we have, you’re always going to have a chance, but it takes more than three guys to win and there wasn’t really that consistency.”

Steve Blake echoed those sentiments and pointed back to the lack of a true training camp after adding a new head coach as being the culprit for the team failing to live up to expectations.

“More time definitely would have helped us out, maybe (allowed us to) figure out certain areas of the game to make us better,” said Blake. “But you can’t blame (our not winning) on that. I do think having a longer camp next year, us being with this coaching staff and getting more comfortable with them, always will help you.”

Even though the players want the same crew back, they don’t have a vote in the process. The man in charge, Kupchak, talked openly with the media this week about being disappointed and it sounds like he’s ready to make some moves this summer.

“We’re disappointed,” Kupchak admitted. “We don’t grade ourselves on getting into the second round. We thought going into the season that we were one of three or four or five teams that could contend for a championship. It’s hard to get in that position with 30 owners that are very competitive, having to operate under (now different) rules. We felt we had a shot at it, so to watch the conference semifinals was a disappointing feeling.”

Still, despite some harsh words, the embattled general manager left the door open for the current roster returning.

“If we were just able to bring the players back next year and have a full training camp, we’d be one of those five or six teams with a chance to (win a championship),” Kupchak boasted. “ I can’t tell you if that’s going to happen. It’s not like we don’t have a group that’s talented, and that’s all you can really hope for.”

It remains to be seen if the Lakers stick with their currently roster of player, but, if I were a gambling man, I’d put money on the Lakers rolling the dice and making a deal involving Gasol.

Blake Griffin Needed Some Adversity

Blake Griffin is on the cusp of something tremendous, and it’s all thanks to an embarrassing sweep by the San Antonio Spurs.

Perhaps the most explosive player in the league, he plays the game with the sort of captured chaos that rewards the I’ll-wait-to-go-to-the-bathroom anticipation of crowds in every arena. He possesses the natural talent to put up a 22-11-4 every night and the personality to turn himself into one of the most marketable athletes in the country.

And yet, getting swept by the Spurs in the second round of the NBA Playoffs might be the best thing that ever happened to Griffin. For all his high-flying prowess, his ability to fill out a box score, his wry smile that makes us think maybe we should consider a Kia, Blake Griffin is a liability to his team. And Chris Paul can fix that.

Paul’s descriptors say it all: architect, magician, maestro. But above all, he is a mean-streak competitor who doesn’t tolerate losing. And although Paul has done many things to enhance Griffin’s game and confidence—including his allowing Griffin to be the final player announced at home games—this summer will say even more about their relationship and Griffin’s commitment to improving his game.

Had the Clippers advanced further, had they played a lesser team, had they squeaked out win after win on Paul’s “I got this” confidence alone, Griffin might not have seen that his offensive game needs to evolve quickly. He might not have been so easily convinced that his 6.9 boards-per-game average in the postseason is indicative of a player who needs to develop playoff physicality. And he might not have appreciated that he needs to spend the summer on the charity stripe, fixing the hitch in his motion.

A player of Griffin’s caliber needs to be dominant throughout the game. But Griffin, with his poor free throw shooting, predictable set of offensive moves and suspect defense, sometimes finds himself hindering his team during the most critical moments of close games.

According to 82games.com, Griffin was 85th among qualifiers in crunch time scoring this season, placing him behind such round-ball luminaries as Gordon Hayward, Mike Dunleavy and Gustavo Ayón. (82games.com defines “crunch time” as the fourth quarter or overtime, less than five minutes left, neither team ahead by more than five points.) He shot just 43% from the field and 58% from the line, and was among the top 10 in turnovers per 48 minutes—all numbers that, with Paul’s guidance and competitive push, can be improved upon.

Of course, Griffin is still a 23-year-old in his second year in the league. He might still be considering what the hell just happened in his first postseason. And he hasn’t yet begun to reach his mental prime. There’s plenty of time for him to develop on both ends of the court, but if he’s willing to learn immediately from this series, he’ll get there that much sooner.

Thunder Capitalize On Gift-Wrapped Victory

With 2:08 left on the clock, Game 2 between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Los Angeles Lakers was all but over.

That is until Kobe Bryant giftwrapped the game and handed it to the Thunder.

The Lakers owned a 75-68 lead and the Thunder were in the midst of one of the most miserable halves of their season. Kevin Durant wasn’t shooting enough, Serge Ibaka shot too much and Kobe started to turn on the Kobe.

It was over and the Thunder had all but handed the Lakers their first win of the series. Then, Bryant turned around and gave Oklahoma City the best thing they could have ever asked for: a chance.

With 1:48 remaining and the game all but sewed up, Bryant looked to pass the ball into the post. Durant, Thunder coach Scott Brook’s defensive secret weapon at the end of games, reached up with every inch of his nine-foot wingspan and plucked his pass straight out of the air, drove to the basket and cut the Lakers’ lead to three.

“He’s (Durant) guarding the best player in basketball,” Brooks said after the game. “It takes a team to stop him (Bryant). There was a moment when I thought Kobe was really starting to feel it and I thought Kevin’s length could bother him.”

“It was a great play,” Bryant said. “He just jumped the passing lane and got a good steal. Other than that, I was just too far away from the basket.”

The Lakers kept the Thunder from scoring after another turnover, but with 1:01 left on the clock, Bryant, so used to the late game drama, missed a fade-away that would have ultimately sealed the deal and sent the Lakers home with a huge win. Instead, Kendrick Perkins grabbed the rebound, Harden drove to the basket and with 56 seconds left, the Thunder was down by one.

Los Angeles still had the lead. With under a minute, they were still in the driver’s seat. All they had to do was milk the clock and get to the basket for a layup or a foul.

Easier said than done, even with Bryant.

Bryant had already helped get Oklahoma City back in the game with his turnover two possessions prior and wasn’t exactly feeling it after missing a fade-away. So, after draining the clock with the lead in hand, what did he do? He launched a three that clanked and landed in the hands of Russell Westbrook.

Westbrook got the ball to Durant and with 18.6 seconds left, the NBA’s leading scorer put the Thunder up by one with a seven-foot floater reminiscent of his game winner against Dallas in Game 1 of the first round.

Los Angeles tried to respond with a flare out to Bryant, but Metta World Peace instead passed to Steve Blake who launched a desperation-three, missed and gave Oklahoma City a 2-0 series advantage.

“I got open,” Bryant said. “I don’t know what Metta (World Peace) saw, but he kicked it to Steve (Blake) and I got in position for the rebound. I couldn’t pull it down.”

The Lakers will now head home disappointed. They can’t be disappointed that they lost two games in one of the loudest arenas in the league, but in the fact that their star player couldn’t lockup the game like he’s so used to doing.

Bryant is one of the game’s greatest players of all time, as professed by Brooks after Game 1 Monday night. However, in the clutch Wednesday, he looked more like an aging veteran than the assassin he has been over 16 years.

Kobe just wasn’t Kobe.

Give all the credit in the world to Oklahoma City. They got the job done. Their superstar (Durant) came up big in the clutch and L.A.’s star didn’t. For 46 minutes it was the Lakers’ game to win, but in the final minutes the Thunder capitalized on costly Laker mistakes and ultimately stole the victory.

“This is what the series is going to be about,” Brooks said after the game. “Each game is going to be a one or two possession game going forward. Each game is going to be physical, but we feel we can win that way.”

Instead of taking the game from the Thunder, Kobe gave it to them. It’s a mistake he has so rarely surrendered over the course of his career, but it could end up being the demise of this year’s Lakers.

It could also be a boost for Oklahoma City, a boost that could lead them to the Western Conference Finals and ultimately an NBA championship.

Evans Is Leaving His Mark In Los Angeles

Every year there is a player or two that step out of obscurity to become a big part of their teams’ success in the playoffs.

For every Michael Jordan there is a Steve Kerr, for every Dirk Nowitzki there is a Tyson Chandler or Ian Mahimi, for every Kobe Bryant there is a Sasha Vujacic. A player that contributes more in a playoff setting then they may have during the regular season.

For the Clippers this year that player appears to be Reggie Evans.

He’s a banger.  He grabs rebounds he has no business getting, makes himself a pain in the rear on the defensive end and moves around the floor grabbing loose balls and missed shots like he isn’t 250 pounds.

Raptor fans know how valuable Reggie Evans can be to a team, and now the rest of the NBA is now getting a chance to see it as well as he has been a difference maker so far in the playoffs.

Evans is a game changer, an X-factor and in a series as evenly matched as Memphis Grizzlies and the Los Angeles Clippers, he might just be the difference maker in this series. A player that tips the scales in his Clippers favor.

Evans has been putting together a nice run in the postseason.  He’s increased his minutes to 22.6 per game and he’s chipping in with 8.7 boards while shooting 50% from the field.  This from a player that averaged 5 rebounds in 13 minutes during the regular season.

His sudden playoff turnaround has come as a major shock south of the border.

Of course, while the rest of the US have been amazed with Evans’ sudden good play, the Raptor faithful in Toronto aren’t surprised at all.  That’s just how he always played the game while he was here. During his two years in Toronto he made himself a fan favorite with his endless effort.  Raptor fans weren’t used to seeing a player haul down rebounds on a regular and consistent basis.  He did.  He earned himself a starting spot during the 2010-11 season mainly because of his rebounding prowess.

Fans here couldn’t get enough of his effort.  He wasn’t a shooter or a flashy player , by any stretch of the imagination, but no player endeared himself to the fans more than Evans.

In fact, on a number of occasions during his time playing on the court and before he came back from injury in 2009 the fans at the ACC regularly chanted “Reg-gie, Reg-gie.” It now seems to be catching on in Los Angeles.

This year he found himself in LA playing a much less important role.  He didn’t get much time and was only able to make a marginal difference with 4.5 rebounds in limited minutes. He played off the bench behind Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan and eventually Kenyon Martin, too.  He had to make the most of his minutes and, for the most part, he did.  He was the same hardworking player he was in Toronto but the results weren’t as noticeable on the court as they were the year before.

That is, until now.

The playoffs have been a totally different story and it seems like Reggie Evans was built for this time of year.  In the NBA playoffs players with his skill set become king.  Look at how Tyson Chandler exploded last year or how important Joel Anthony was during the Heats’ run last year.  Reggie Evans can be a difference maker in this series.  He may even become a difference maker in the playoffs in general if the Clippers are fortunate to make it beyond Game 7 in Memphis on Sunday.

Then again, Raptor fans already know how valuable Evans can be.  We had him for two years and were fortunate to watch him beat up opposing offenses.  Now while the Raptors prepare for an important offseason fans can sit back and enjoy watching Reggie get up to his old antics.

Hopefully we will get to see a little more after Sunday.

Pivotal Game 7 For Lakers, Bryant

Tonight the 16-time NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers will seek to avoid a first round playoff exit at the hand of the Denver Nuggets.

After a Game 6 loss in which Kobe Bryant (playing with stomach ailment) couldn’t pull a Michael Jordan, the boys in yellow and purple have their back against the wall and are going up against a very confident Denver team.

Denver had all the momentum in this series, but after being down 3-1, the Nuggets have come roaring back into this series.

This has been one of the better playoff series in recent memory and everyone seems a bit anxious for this highly anticipated Game 7, even George Karl, the Nuggets veteran head coach.

“I’m nervous already,” Karl said Friday before the Nuggets caught another flight to Los Angeles. “I am 61-years-old and I haven’t been nervous for a game this early in a long time.”

Denver’s Ty Lawson has been the key in this series. The former North Carolina Tar Heel has been using his immense quickness to drive into the lane and get the Lakers’ big men in foul trouble. Lawson had 32 points and six assists in the Nuggets Game 6 win on Thursday night.

Danilo Gallinari has been a nightmare for the Lakers once vaunted defense. Look for Lawson and Gallinari to step their games up to a whole new level tonight.

Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol can’t stop Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee. These are facts that are hard to dispute. As long as McGee learns to use his head once in awhile, it shouldn’t be any different in Game 7. Gasol is soft and he doesn’t take to contact well. For the Nuggets to be successful in this game they will need exploit the Lakers every weakness.

If the Lakers two big men do decide to stand their ground then the Lake show should have no trouble advancing. However, if the rest of this series is any indication, that is a very big if.

Some good news for the Lakers, however, as Metta World Peace, formerly known as Ron Artest, will be starting tonight. World Peace missed the first six games of this series due to a suspension for an elbow to the head of Thunder guard James Harden.

That’s the good news, the great news is that they still have a man on their team named Kobe Bryant. Arguably the most clutch player in NBA history, a five time NBA champion. If anybody knows how to win it’s Bryant as he is 4 and 1 in his illustrious career in Game 7’s.

Clippers Playing With Mental Toughness, Grit

The Los Angeles Clippers rose to prominence this year due to a flashy style of play which earned them the team the nickname Lob City. With Chris Paul throwing alley-oops to Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, the team was constantly being featured on highlights reels and endeared themselves to fans.

That style of play, while flashy and exciting, isn’t one that normally allows a team to win a playoff series. With the Clippers playing the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round, it was expected that injuries, inexperience and lack of toughness would result in a quick exit from the playoffs.

Los Angeles appeared to be in over their heads in Game 1 until they orchestrated one of the classic rallies in the history of the NBA playoffs. With only eight minutes left in the game, the Clippers rallied from a 27-point deficit to steal a win from the claws of the Grizzlies.

Adding to the intrigue is the fact Paul had to beg his head coach, Vinny Del Negro, to stay in the game. The all-star point guard and MVP candidate showed a ton of intestinal fortitude by wanting to fight in a fourth quarter that many people had stopped watching.

“Unfortunately, that’s how we play,” Paul lamented to the media. “We get killed in the first three quarters and in the fourth quarter we like to try to stand up for ourselves, and we found a way to win tonight.”

Memphis was able to recover to win Game 2 at home and appeared ready to steal home-court advantage back in Game 3. However, once again the Clippers showed a lot of resiliency and toughness as the Grizzlies offence went nearly 10 minutes with only one field goal to start the fourth quarter.

The Grizzlies had gone on a 25-14 run to take a 71-64 lead late in the third quarter when then the Grizzlies fell into a nasty shooting funk that extended into the fourth quarter. All-Star big man Marc Gasol made a field goal with 7:10 left to push the Grizzlies lead to 77-71, but that was Memphis’ last basket until the first of Gay’s two three-pointers in the closing seconds that added a bit of drama to the end of the game.

“We shut down and only scored 15 points in the fourth quarter,” Memphis coach Lionel Hollins vented. “We took too many quick shots and gave up second-chance points. We gave them the back door and Blake (Griffin) took advantage of it.”

If you take out those six points by Gay in the final seconds then Memphis would have only had one field goal in the entire fourth quarter.

The reason Memphis was shut down in the fourth quarter is because the Clippers used a physical style of play that caught the Grizzlies off guard and put them on their heels.

That physical style of play has originated from a couple of the team’s veterans setting a painful example by playing through an assortment of injuries while still playing with reckless abandon on the court.

Caron Butler played through a broken hand on Saturday afternoon. When he injured it less than a week ago, the team’s medical staff thought he would be out four to six weeks, not four to six days. Butler played through the pain on Saturday, and while he didn’t contribute a lot to the final box score, just being on the court seemed to inspire his teammates.

Chris Paul has been playing through a groin injury this entire series that has slowed him down. He broke through in Game 3 for a double-double by scoring 24 points and dropping 11 dimes.

Reggie Evans, while not injured, has been a complete beast on the glass this series and he did a great job in Game 3 with 11 rebounds.

Heading into this series, Memphis was supposed to be the franchise which would thrive on their toughness and grit. But, three games into this series it’s Los Angeles who has a 2-1 advantage thanks to their grit and mental toughness.

If this gritty style of play keeps up then the Clippers may be on their way to shedding the Lob City nickname moniker that they despise.