Superman

29 Apr

Coming this summer in theaters near you…

We’re not sure when, but sometime this summer.

Could be three weeks from now, could be in August.

We’re not sure yet.

But, we’ll let you know.

Because it’s the biggest blockbuster of the year!

A film that was so horrendous the first time, we had to give you a sequel.

Superman 2: Am I My Own Kryptonite?

“Dwight was incredible. If you thought ‘The Decision’ was narcisstic, wait until you see this”!–LeBron James

“Dwight really carried this film. The supporting actors were a bunch a sideshow clowns that nobody wanted. Give him all the credit in the world.” –J.J. Redick

“Young fella, you aren’t the original Superman. Or me.”–Shaq

“You all love me, right?”–Dwight Howard

 

Dwight Howard walked off the Staples Center on Sunday evening in what may have been his last game sporting the purple and gold. He was ejected early in the third quarter after receving his second technical foul after arguing with an official. Howard left the game on similar terms than the last center who played for the Lakers who got ejected in the final game of a series-sweep at home. Remember this?

Although Howard didn’t take the extreme measure Bynum did, he confirmed what a lot of NBA fans and basketball personnel have thought for some time. Howard still doesn’t “get it”. Sunday’s ejection was just one of many examples. After being fouled early, often and hard by San Antonio, Howard showed signs of frustration. After getting mugged in the post by DeJuan Blair and company, Howard wildly swung his elbows after the whistle had been blown in his favor. He was quickly given a technical foul and proceeded to miss both of his free throws. No surprise there.

I can only imagine Gregg Popovich on the sideline ecstatic (well, as ecstatic as Gregg Popovich can get) over Howard’s misery. He knew he was in Howard’s head. It was obvious Howard felt out of his comfort zone. The Spurs played even more physical after the technical foul, smacking him anytime he had a good look at the basket. He became increasingly frustrated and the rest is history.

Despite his obvious shortcomings, on and off the court, Howard will get a maximum contract and most likely stay in Los Angeles. The $118 million he would receive as a Laker is far greater than any other team can offer him.

Unfortunately, we’ll be forced to tune in to every scene and twist of this saga. I don’t think I’m ready for another whole summer talking about Dwight Howard and where he might be taking his slowly-deteriorating talents. As a Lakers fan, I hope Dwight Howard makes this summer different than every other summer since he’s been in the NBA. Will he look into the mirror and realize that he might be the problem? Realize that his game has more holes than Pebble Beach? When will he see that he is his own kryptonite?

 

The Key to Dwight Howard’s Game

28 Feb

After the exciting additions of the elderly 2-time NBA MVP Steve Nash and the 3-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard, the Lakers were supposed to challenge the Heat for the championship. Yes, the hype was that strong where the thought was the Lakers would just bypass the reigning western conference champion Thunder, the dynamic Chris Paul-led Clippers, the seasoned Spurs, and anyone else who would stand in their way. Fast-forward 58 games, four months, a head coaching change, a countless number of injuries, drama between the team’s two marquee players, the arrival of Kobe Bryant on twitter, the passing of arguably the NBA’s greatest owner ever, and the Lakers are a pedestrian 28-30, 2 1/2 games back of the eighth seed in the playoffs.

How the hell did we get to this point? We were supposed to challenge the top teams in the league but have now had to resort to rooting for the Rockets and Jazz to lose every night hoping that if they suck just a little more than we do, we might be able to sneak into the playoffs and somewhat salvage this abominable season.  The Lakers have been playing better as of late winning 11 of their last 16 and 5 of their last 9  without Gasol against teams they had to beat also competing for that last spot in the west, the Trail Blazers and Mavericks as well as their eastern conference rival Celtics who beat them down a few weeks before.

While the injury to Gasol came at a time where the Lakers were catching steam, it looks like the offense has operated a lot better without him on the floor. How can that be though? Why would the Lakers improve without one of the best big men in the league? Most offensive problems can be solved by spacing. Not all, but most. Howard’s game does not allow for another big man to co-operate inside the paint. His game does not stretch out far enough to  let Gasol have space in the key. Bynum’s game worked much better compatibility-wise with Gasol’s than Howard’s because Bynum could consistently hit short to mid-range shots so he was able to keep the defenses honest or make them pay . Yes, that is a video of him at practice shooting with no defenders, but you look at his form and the consistency in his release along with game footage  the last couple of years and it is obvious he isn’t purely a back-to-the basket center. He could slide out of the key and allow Gasol to make moves in the paint without dragging  his defender to Gasol.

The video below, starting at :17 seconds shows Howard (who is still with the Magic in this video) with the ball taking one dribble then two steps into the key right before he releases the left-handed hook. The terrible part is that he acts like its a big deal he made a shot with his left-hand, something that an elite center should learn how to do after five or six years in the league.

As Laker fans, we see this move all the time. Howard catches the ball then takes two huge steps through the key and ends almost on the other side of the key. How is Gasol supposed to set-up on the other side of the key, or anywhere near the paint for that matter, if Howard runs across the key like that? That is why so many times you will see him either get hit and fouled as he is going across the lane, or stripped because he has dragged a number of defenders to him. Either way, it limits where Gasol can set up and forces him to essentially evacuate anywhere within ten feet of the hoop knowing that when Howard gets the ball he wants to do that one move because his offensive game is so limited. That is why Gasol has been pushed out of the key for most of the season marginalized to low-percentage, out-of-rhythm long two’s. Simply, there is just not enough key for both of them to co-exist.

I’m not saying this is a completely ineffective move by Howard. It worked for him in Orlando. Look at that team that beat LeBron and went on to play the Lakers and it’s easy to see why. He was surrounded by slashers and shooters galore: Hedo Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis, Courtney Lee, Raefer Alston, J.J. Redick, Jameer Nelson, and Mickael Pietrus. It was his team and his key.

With Gasol out, Howard can do what he does best knowing that most guys are floating around the perimeter anyway and he has more space to operate because the next biggest guy is Jamison or Clark, guys who don’t make their living exclusively in the paint. With only 24 games remaining, the Lakers will have to figure out a way to get some big win’s and it starts tonight against Minnesota.

The saga continues.

Why Steve Blake is the Worst Player in the NBA

8 Nov

 

Steve Blake is the worst player in the NBA.

You wouldn’t know it by hearing announcers gush over his veteran savvy or deadly three-point shooting, but his atrocious numbers in context provide solid evidence on anyone making that case. Maybe worst is the wrong word. Useless? That is probably more fitting of a word to describe good ole’ Stevie Blake.

First off, what does Steve Blake do well?

He can shoot?! That is a valid argument, although it is completely false. Don’t worry, it’s a common misconception. Blake shot just over 33% last year from beyond the arc. It’s better than Kobe’s, Dwyane Wade’s, Monte Ellis, and Brandon Jennings among others, but what does that 33.5% really mean in context? The 2011-12 Lakers offense had three elite scoring threats, including two legitimate post players. As a result of those dynamic playmakers, there are going to be plenty of open looks for shooters who are ready to catch-and-shoot. Outside shooting was the Lakers kryptonite last season evident by their 32.6% three-point percentage which was 26th in the league. As great as Bynum and Gasol were on the inside, there became a point when they would  face constant double teams with defenses basically double-dog-daring them to kick it out of the post. Despite that unique advantage in size and skill, there were no perimeter players with the consistent ability to knock down the open three-ball. In a lot of ways that weakness completely negated the advantage Bynum and Gasol gave the Lakers. That is where Steve Blake fits in. Steve Blake is constantly praised as a “shooter”, but at this point in his career, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Blake has been the beneficiary of wide-open three-point shots for the last two-plus years and has failed miserably at doing the one thing where he supposedly excels. This goes unnoticed for whatever reason. At one time, granted, Steve Blake had successful back-to-back years eclipsing 40% from the three-point line. But, ladies and gentleman and Hubie Brown, this isn’t 2008. Not only are his percentages awful in context, but Blake needs too much room to shoot because of his awkward release.

We all know that even if a point guard can’t shoot, he can contribute in other ways. In today’s NBA, the point guard can control the pace of the game and dictate the flow of an offense without being a great shooter. With the emergence of the pick-and-roll on almost every possession down the floor, the point guard can create mismatches and use his quickness and body control to create open looks for the offense while also being a scoring threat. Again, this is where Steve Blake fits in. If you watch Steve Blake run the pick-and-roll, he uses the screen to make a pass to the wing–I repeat, a pass to the wing. He does not use it to penetrate to the hoop and draw attention from the defense, he uses it to make a simple pass that can be done without a screen making the pick-and-roll useless. And we know from playing the Clippers and Spurs that the pick-and-roll can be extremely difficult to defend when ran the right way.

So our point guard can’t make open threes, doesn’t attack the basket, is nothing more than an average defender, nor does he run one of the most effective plays in the NBA correctly. What am I missing?

On a team where a fundamentally sound player can be so effective, it is a shame that Steve Blake consistently plays 20-plus minutes a night. Wouldn’t we be better served using a younger point guard like Darius Morris who has a ton of potential? What do we have to lose, seriously? We’re 1-4 with ugly losses in games that weren’t even close.

So while the pundits talk and talk about how important Steve Blake is to this team, watch the game when Steve Blake is in and you will see what I see. You will see how useless he is on offense when he isn’t making shots (which is very often!).

What are your thoughts readers–I want to know!

Earth to Phil: Where Art Thou?

14 May

Mike Brown has lost control of this team.

If it isn’t evident by the three blowout losses in ten days, it certainly can’t be disputed by the overall body language of this team. Devin Ebanks, who’s known around the Lakers locker room as a very calm and composed fella, pulled a “Bynum” as he exited the hardwood after getting ejected (which wasn’t warranted in the first place).

I don’t blame him either. Ebanks had a solid role in the previous series and showed glimpses of playoff savvy, scoring 12 points on 5-6 shooting in Game 1. At the very least, he didn’t do anything in the series that would justify him going from a starter to a bench warmer just because MWP returned from his suspension. Ebanks is a solid player, one the Lakers could use this series. He plays hard, hits the occasional jump shot, and plays decent enough defense to deserve minutes. But Brown pulled the rug from under him and sat him right next to the rookies. I don’t think Brown has any understanding of the word ‘confidence’. In young players especially, it’s something that wavers quite easily. Even a missed shot can completely take the wind out of their sails. So to go from giving Ebanks significant minutes in the first series to benching him and not even putting him in the rotation, it’s easy to understand why he would be so flustered.

I am glad we got blown out for a couple of reasons though. Brown was forced to flush out his bench and give minutes to his rookies. I said it once, and I’ll say it again, Andrew Goudelock needs to play at least 20 minutes a game. The guy can flat out shoot. And the way Sessions has played this postseason and Blake with the exception of Game 7, we need that dynamic element of our offensive that spreads the floor and puts points on the board. Our Big Three attract way too much attention for the other two guys on the floor to not make a huge difference. I can’t overstate how significant his impact in this series would be if Brown got his head out of his ass.

I’m also very impressed with Darius Morris, again. That 3-pointer he hit was a rarity so I wouldn’t expect him to knock that down very often, but he has the playmaking ability to keep the defense honest. Seriously, Steve Blake–what is the point of running the pick and roll when you are not a threat to pull up and shoot a jumper, or attack the rim and score? If you aren’t a threat to do either, the defense can afford not to keep tabs on you. Morris did an awesome job at Michigan running the pick and roll so I have no doubt in my mind he could run it better than the way Sessions or Blake are running it now. The kid is also a terrific passer, (please watch that link) just excellent.  I hope Brown realizes this and uses the youth on our bench to bring energy and speed, something that we desperately need to contain OKC. Give these young guys some confidence and let them get their feet wet because our championship experience is lacking some serious energy.

For a team as talented and experienced as this Lakers team, it’s embarrassing that we don’t just lose games anymore; we get blown out of the water. A lot of it comes down to whether Bynum shows up or not, but he’s about as predictable as a hormone-raged 15 year old girl. Even on a night where Bynum played well, we still got cruhed. Brown can’t seem to stabilize one of his best player’s mood, something that other championship coaches have done historically. Phil Jackson managed to keep the insanity of MWP and Rodman at manageable levels and both those guys were key pieces to NBA titles. But Andrew Bynum isn’t Ron Artest, and he isn’t Dennis Rodman. He’s a pretty normal guy it seems. If Brown can’t push the right buttons, more blowouts in the future await.

I don’t think we’ll win in OKC on Wednesday, but come Friday in Staples Center, Brown better have this team ready to go.

Lakers v. Thunder Preview

14 May

After a demoralizing series against the fast-paced Nuggets, the road to a championship has just begun for the Lakers. Tonight, at 6:30 PT on TNT in Oklahoma City, the Lakers will square off against the Thunder. The Thunder will be a much more difficult task than the Nuggets. In many ways though, the Thunder are the 2.0 version of the Nuggets; a fast-paced, high-scoring team with slashers who attack the hoop and shooters to space the floor, only more consistent.  Just as we had problems containing the Nuggets rapid pace, those problems will continue this series as both teams are built similarily in that respect. But no matter how similar those two teams play, this series will be a lot more intense than the first series. This series is loaded with subplots.

Here are a couple things I’ll be for watching specifically.

  • If Nick Collison has a good game, the Lakers cannot win. His productivity is an indication of sloppy rebounding and lazy defense. There is no way he should be competing for rebounds with Bynum and Gasol on paper, but if he does, we’ll know that it was because of a lack of effort. His contribution will be similar to Faried’s was last series, although to a lesser extent.
  • I’m worried about Daequan Cook. The Lakers have trouble closing out on shooters so I would not be surprised if he has a couple big games this series, specifically in transition where he will get plenty of open looks from beyond the arc.
  • Who will step up from the Lakers bench? Blake’s confidence has to be sky high because of his stellar performance in Game 7, but I’m not sure how much that will carry over to this series. Either him or Barnes have to come off the bench and make significant offensive contributions.

Subplots

  1. At this point, we’re all familiar with the infamous chest-pounding turned elbow flinging by The Metta World Peace. In a recent interview, Metta said he wouldn’t be shaking hands with Harden because  he, “doesn’t shake hands with substitutes.” From Harden’s response, it doesn’t seem as if those words bother him at all. And, honestly, why should they? Harden is the best 6th man in the league. Despite Metta’s rift at Harden, I can’t see either one taking a shot at each other. Metta knows he ‘s on a shorter leash than an enraged pitbull at a park filled with children and the Lakers can’t afford to not have him for this series. As for Harden, he just doesn’t seem like the type to pick a fight with someone. That’s just my impression.
  2. THERE WILL BE A SCUFFLE between Andrew Bynum/Pau Gasol and Kendrick Perkins at some point this series that is one grey pube on Bynum’s head away from escalating into a full blown fist fight. Perkins has been dishing smack about Pau for years now. The two flat out do not like each other but I don’t see Pau boldly confronting Perkins the way Bynum would. Perkins aggressive play will undoubtedly frustrate Bynum which WILL result in a shoving match at the very least.
  3. The return of Derek Fisher will be a tough pill for Laker fans to swallow. We love him. Now the last few years he was a zombie throughout the regular season, but in the playoffs we knew Fisher would come up clutch in crunch time. He’s done it for years and has the hardware to prove it. So when Kevin Durant is being double teamed while you play doo-doo jump, we can only hope that the one guy we leave open is not Derek Fisher. I rather have Westbrook take the shot rather than Fish.
  4. Because the Thunder have inherited the history of the Seattle Supersonics since 2008, if the Lakers do win the series, Ice Cube’s bold prediction 19 years ago would still apply stat nerds.
  5. We’ll finally get to see if the Thunder have the kahunas to sit at Kobe’s lunch table.

The Blake Awakening

13 May

Two seasons. Hundreds of games. Epic disappointment. These are things that have described Steve Blake in his tenure with the Lakers since joining the team before the start of the 2010 season. He was supposed to be a seasoned veteran with a deadly three-point shot and a terrific eye for passing.

But for the last two seasons, Blake has been nothing more than a disaster at point guard. His 3PT% this year is a mere 33%, an atrocious number when you consider a couple of factors. One, Blake gets wide open looks most of the time because of how much defenses double team Kobe and Bynum to go along with his already cautious shot selection. Secondly, Blake’s offensive capacity stems from his ability to be a 3-point sharpshooter, so if he isn’t knocking that down, his contributions to the offense are minimal at best.

For two seasons, Lakers fans have miserably witnessed Blake’s inconsistency from beyond the arc. In his 148 regular season and postseason games as a Laker, Blake has had only 14 double-digit scoring games, none more than 17 points. But today, none of that matters. Today, Steve Blake is a living legend.

Blake seized the biggest game in his NBA career with 19 points off the bench. He sunk 5 timely 3-point shots in only 6 attempts, a deadly efficient game. Blake also showed life inside the 3-point line, draining two mid-range jumpers off decent ball fakes that got his defender in the air.

As much crap as I’ve given Blake over the course of the season, Blake was Game 7′s MVP.

(I can’t believe I just wrote that.)

His streaky shooting was the difference. In a game where nobody shot particularly well for the Lakers, Blake was the catalyst of the Lakers offense.  His, along with MWP newly found confidence, were crucial for the Lakers success offensively. Their shooting spaced the floor and allowed for Gasol to operate in less traffic which resulted in his best game of the series, an impressive 23-17 stat line with 11, count it, 11, offensive rebounds.

So while Bynum and Gasol controlled the paint as they should, let’s not forget the Black Mamba and his sneaky good game. Bryant had, in my opinion, his best game of the series. He made a concentrated effort to get his teammates open shots and facilitated the offense to perfection in the fourth quarter. We were just waiting for Kobe to take over the game and start shooting, but it never happened. The Lakers isolated Kobe on the wing with his back to the basket almost every offensive possession down the stretch. Shortly after he received the ball, the double team rushed over and Bryant would quickly swing the ball around the perimeter. This was a recipe for success as the ball movement was fluid enough to get open looks.

This stretched the lead to 8 points with about a minute left in regulation. Just as it looked like the Lakers were about to close out the game handily, Lawson zoomed down the court on a fast break and made an unscripted jump pass to Afflalo who made the wide open transition 3-pointer.

After waiting for more than 11 minutes of fourth quarter action to watch the Mamba strike, with a score of 89-84, Bryant sized up Afflalo just outside the 3-point line in triple threat position. He took half a step back, lifted, and stroked the final dagger with a hand in his face. It was the perfect way to cap off a stressful series that exposed every vulnerability this team has. Regardless, the Lakers playoff experience certainly paid off down the stretch and it showed.

Next up, OKC.

Legacies on the Line

11 May

Even after a disappointing loss by the Lakers in Game 5, there was still plenty of reason for optimism. The Lakers only lost by 3 in a game where Bynum got only 8 shots, Gasol had only 9 points, and Sessions shot 25%. We had hope.

But, after tonight’s embarrassing blowout, hope is nowhere to be found on this page. The Lakers seem gutless. And cowardly. As the Nuggets fans rattled the Pepsi Center with chants like “Ko-be Sucks”, everyone but Kobe stunk up the building. Kobe rose to the occasion on a night he was ill-stricken and still scored 31 points on an efficient 23 shots. Still, it was not enough.

On a team that has one distinct advantage–two legit 7-footers–the 2012 Lakers look like the 2005 Lakers when Gasol and Bynum don’t control the pace of the game; it’s four other guys standing around watching Kobe toss up fade away jumpers. That’s what tonight’s game reminded me of. It’s almost like the Lakers had no intention of closing out the series tonight. With an opportunity to close out a series on the road, against a team that more or less embarrassed you the other night on your home floor, you would think the Lakers would come out with a lot of intensity and resolve.

But, this team does not resemble anything of what a team with 2 notches under their championship belt is supposed to look like. Gasol lived up to his reputation of being soft and unclutch as any player in the league. It’s disappointing to see Gasol fold at the face of pressure when earlier this year it appeared he was not going to back down to anybody. Today though, he got punk’d. His 3 points and 3 rebounds in 29 minutes of action closely resemble the stat line of Troy Murphy; 3 points, 2 rebounds in 6 minutes. And that was not meant to compliment Murphy’s contributions.

Today’s game though was more than an embarrassing loss. It was the preamble to a franchise turning moment. Game 7 will have significant ramifications if the Lakers lose in the Staples Center. For one, it may be the last game Andrew Bynum plays in a Lakers uniform. Although I am a huge fan of Bynum’s game, his body language and effort this series has been absolutely abysmal. It’s a damn shame someone as young and talented as him is rotting away in a self-indulged hurricane of selfishness.

Game 7 is a chance for him to change. His reputation is on the line now more than ever. Not just his, but Gasol’s as well. Although they have 2 championship rings each, those rings will mean nothing to the Nuggets and George Karl on Saturday. Because if the Lakers do squander their 3-1 series lead, management will make a giant splash in the off-season by moving one of them. And if he isn’t already, Mike Brown should certainly be on the hot seat.

I didn’t fully appreciate Phil Jackson’s coaching abilities until Mike Brown took over this year. Besides his inability to develop any sort of bench depth at all, his rotation has been out of sync all year. Every single game he gives Steve Blake 20+ minutes. What is one thing Blake gives you off the bench? Three-point shooting? Rarely. Good defense? Nope. Teams attack him relentlessly and successfully. So why not give those minutes to someone with actual potential?

Brown’s impatience with his rookies is coming to bite us in the ass right now. Do you know who the perfect defender for the unstoppable Jake Shuttlesworth, excuse me, Andre Miller, would be? Darius Morris. He has the big body to absorb Miller’s frequent contact and would defend the pick and roll better than anybody else on the team not named Kobe Bryant. But, of course, you can’t throw a rookie to the wolves (or Nuggets for that matter) in the playoffs after not playing him for four weeks. That’s Mike Brown’s fault. With such a thin bench, we really should have developed either him or Goudelock and gotten them ready to contribute in these playoffs.

Goudelock is a stone-cold gunner, something the Lakers could use at this point. Sessions, Barnes, and Ebanks were all hesitant to shoot jumpers that they’re capable of making. Denver was smart enough to realize this and almost dared them to shoot knowing that anything was better than Gasol or Bynum getting it on the block. When Gasol or Bynum did get it on the block, the Denver defense just collapsed on them knowing that no one on the perimeter besides Kobe had the kahunas to knock down the open shot. That is where having a pure shooter like Goudelock would come in handy. He is very streaky from the outside, but at least has the confidence to take the open three-pointer. The defense has to respect a threat like him. Even if he is a defensive liability, the emergence of Steve Novak for the New York Knickerbockers has proven that their can be three-point specialists who make a large impact on the game, even when they aren’t shooting. Mike Brown did not give either him or Morris enough of a chance to compete for the back-up point guard position behind Sessions, so he is stuck with the worthless Blake.

The Lakers are desperate for a win on Saturday night. I can’t help but think this season wouldn’t be unraveling the way it is now if we traded Blake instead of Fisher. His leadership skills and poise are unrivaled in the NBA. But, the show goes on.

 

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