Kyrie shines in Cavs’ Wine & Gold scrimmage

October 6, 2013

Editor’s note: Yes, this is the first post on this blog in two months. Yes, I hope to post more now that the season’s around the corner. And I’ll also concentrate more efforts on covering the Cleveland Cavaliers. Thanks for reading.

Kyrie Irving’s 17 points led Team Wine to a 46-38 victory over Team Gold in today’s abbreviated Wine & Gold scrimmage for military members and their families. Mike Brown called the game midway through the third quarter after Tyler Zeller sustained what appears to be a minor hip strain, according to Cleveland.com’s Mary Schmitt Boyer.

THE TEAMS

Team Wine: Irving, Dion Waiters, Alonzo Gee, Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao. Bench: Sergey Karasev, Henry Sims, Kenny Kadji, Elliot Williams.

Team Gold: Zeller, Jarrett Jack, Earl Clark, C.J. Miles, Anthony Bennett. Bench: Carrick Felix, Michael Lee, Matthew Dellavedova, DeSagana Diop, Jermaine Taylor.

* Alonzo Gee and Earl Clark changed teams after halftime.

THE THREE STARS OF THE GAME

* Jarrett Jack. I’m already happy to eat some of my concerns re: the Jack signing — that a 4-year, $25.2-million deal was too hefty a financial commitment. Jack wasn’t sensational today; he finished with 9 points and 6 assists. But it was clear from the opening tap he was the glue on the inferior Gold team. His playmaking ability, as a passer and scorer, has to be a welcome reprieve for Irving (say goodbye to the days of Dion running point!). GM Chris Grant mentioned on the broadcast that Jack often leads this Gold squad to victories in practice game against the Wine team, aka the temporary starters.

You can already tell his competitiveness will bring out the best in Kyrie, and the Dukie expended some serious energy on the defensive end against Jack. The question is how will Brown split playing time between Jack and Dion in the backcourt — and where does that leave C.J. Miles. Right now, based on his play and leadership ability, I’d expect Jack to see heavy fourth quarter minutes.

** Tyler Zeller. I’m not sure there’s a Cleveland player I’ve personally been harder on since Drew Gooden, but Zeller impressed today. Perhaps not to the extent of Dion, but his physique has been one of the storylines of training camp. (I’m not sure of his listed weight now vs. last year, but he does look — and play — stronger.) Zeller was the most impressive of Cleveland’s bigs, finishing with 13 points.

One play stands out: Zeller caught the ball in the paint with Tristan and another defender standing in front of the hoop. Instead of trying to finesse around them, he went straight to the rim looking to dunk and drew a foul on Thompson. Zeller’s competing with Thompson, AV, Bennett, Clark and eventually Andrew Bynum (hopefully) for frontcourt minutes. The mid-range jumper is there; Zeller needs to continue to finish strong, rebound the basketball and defend.

*** Kyrie Irving. Head and shoulders the best player on the court. Irving says he wants to be the NBA’s best player in Year No. 3, and he’s at least on his way to joining the conversation. Mr. Fourth Quarter finished with 17 points, made four of his six 3-point attempts, including about a 30-footer before the halftime horn, and displayed those filthy handles that Brandon Knight still has nightmares about. Kyrie had no problem splitting defenders at the top and finding the open teammate near the hoop with passes nobody should be able to make.

Perhaps of most importance: I liked Kyrie’s commitment on the defensive end. He was active, in passing lanes and even chasing rebounds. (I’d pay just about anything to see he and Jarrett Jack go at it 1-on-1; those two guys have crazy competitive spirits that already seem to be mutually beneficial.) The bottom line: Kyrie’s in midseason form, and I fear for anyone in his way.

3 RANDOM OBSERVATIONS

* Anthony Bennett was up and down. The No. 1 overall pick air-balled his first two jumpers; both times, he appeared to looking down toward his feet to make sure he was beyond the NBA 3-point line. Carr noticed that he appeared to be fading on his shot — a concern Dion Waiters addressed this summer, and one frequently mentioned on the broadcast.

Bennett was involved, one for the better and another for the worse, in two of the game’s highlight plays. The latter: on a secondary break, Gee crossed up the rookie before a lefty lay-in; the former: a Bennett facial on Gee. After a rocky start, Bennett, like many of the other guys, appeared to settle into a rhythm. Important to note: MB’s not likely to ask much of the rookie early this year.

** You’ve got to love Carrick Felix’s energy. He plays at one speed and expends as much effort as anyone else on the floor. He finished with 2 points on 2-4 from the FT line, but his highlight play came on the defensive end, where he flashed quick recovery speed to block an Elliot Williams perimeter jumper. I love his effort and athleticism as an outside defensive specialist.

But Felix has to learn to play smart. He had an open, left-corner 3-ball that he passed up to recklessly drive on Gee and Henry Sims to no avail. I also have concerns about his ball-handling ability. That said, he looks to be a lock to make the team and will have ample time to develop in practice, or perhaps with the D-League club in Canton.

*** It was a fairly quiet day for Thompson and Varejao, but we did see Thompson’s new and improved right-handed foul shot. He missed both of his attempts, but his form definitely looks cleaner. TT shot 78% on 37 attempts in the FIBA Tournament of the Americas this offseason, a 20-point improvement over his career average.

Note: You can watch the full scrimmage on Cavs.com.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.

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Brooklyn: The East’s No. 2 Team?

July 13, 2013

Who needs long-term flexibility? The Brooklyn Nets are all in for 2013-14, with a collection of future Hall of Famers and a projected starting lineup that boasts a combined 35 All Star appearances. All 5 of those guys are poised to earn more than $11.5 million next season, and Brooklyn’s payroll will exceed $100 million, almost double the cap.

Look at this roster.

This summer, Brooklyn’s traded for Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry, all NBA champions; re-signed Andray Blatche, who rocked a 21.98 PER last season, for close to minimum dollars; signed 6-foot-7 backup point guard and former No. 4 overall pick Shaun Livingston for about the same; wooed Andrei Kirilenko, who declined a $10-million player option in Minnesota, for $3.1 million a year; and dumped one of the league’s worst contracts, one that pays Gerald Wallace $30.3 million over the next 3 years, on Boston.

That’s a haul.

Here’s your rotation, assuming full health.

  • PG: Deron Williams | Shaun Livingston
  • SG: Joe Johnson | Jason Terry
  • SF: Paul Pierce | Andrei Kirilenko
  • PF: Kevin Garnett | Reggie Evans
  • C: Brook Lopez | Andray Blatche

Now, add Mirza Teletovic and Mason Plumlee.

Some fortunate circumstances.

The Nets got lucky 4 times this offseason.

* The Celtics were anxious to rebuild and eager to dump Pierce’s $15.33 million this year and Garnett’s $23.5 the next 2 years. Danny Ainge had just traded his $7-million-per-year coach to Los Angeles for a first-round draft pick. For a few extra picks, take 2 of the league’s top 30 players.

* The Wizards infamously amnestied Andray Blatche not too long after signing him to a 3-year extension. So Blatche is collecting $7.8 million this season and $8.5 next, even if only $1.4 million of that’s coming from Brooklyn. Blatche has previously made clear his desire to not let Washington off cheap — the more he signed for with Brooklyn, the less of that $7.8 million the Wizards would have to pay.

Blatche is, from a straight numbers angle, at least a $5-million-a-year guy. Per 36 minutes last season, Blatche averaged 19.5 points and 9.7 rebounds on a team where he was, on a lucky night, the 4th option. His PER ranked No. 14 in the NBA and 2nd on his team behind Brook Lopez.

* Brooklyn also gets great value in Shaun Livingston, who will replace C.J. Watson as the team’s backup PG. Signed on Christmas Day by the Cavs, Livingston tallied 7.2 points, 3.6 assists and 2.5 rebounds in 23.2 minutes over 49 appearances. Not helped by Jarrett Jack’s deal with Cleveland, the market collapsed on Livingston, who’s stayed healthy and productive whenever he’s received an opportunity since 2008-09.

That horrific knee injury is well behind him, and Shaun’s still only 27. He’s not an elite defender, but he has enough length to disrupt passing lanes. On the other end, he’s a solid facilitator and very underrated back-to-the-basket scorer, particularly against smaller guards.

* And, the most mysterious of all, Andrei Kirilenko, who’s making $6.9 million less (plus cost-of-living increases in New York!) than had he accepted his player option in Minnesota. Perhaps the incentive was his relationship with Nets’ owner Mikhail Prokhorov, who, as owner of CSKA Moscow, employed AK-47 from 1998-01.

This deal seems so fishy, Yahoo! Sports ace Adrian Wojnarowski even reported some team executives are asking the NBA to investigate, wary of potential side deals between the two Russians. Unless something materializes, Brooklyn scored big-time, grabbing a former teammate of Deron’s in Utah and one of the league’s best perimeter defenders to guard the likes of LeBron James, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony.

Prokhorov may have said it best in a statement after the Pierce-KG trade became official. “Today, the basketball gods smiled on the Nets.”

How do they stack up?

There’s 5 frontrunners in the Eastern Conference: Miami, Chicago, New York, Indiana and Brooklyn. Miami, 2-time defending champs, return the same team and are atop the throne. But, then, all hell breaks loose.

Chicago adds Mike Dunleavy and returns a healthy Derrick Rose, but drops Marco Belinelli, Rip Hamilton and, most likely, Nate Robinson. Indiana returns David West and a healthy Danny Granger, adds C.J. Watson and Chris Copeland, and drops Tyler Hansbrough and D.J. Augustin. New York adds Andrea Bargnani and returns J.R. Smith and a healthy Amar’e Stoudemire, but loses Copeland, Steve Novak and Jason Kidd … to Brooklyn!

Those are not bad offseason, by any measure, but not on par with Brooklyn’s. With the Ak-47 move, the Nets boast the deepest bench in the Eastern Conference, maybe even the NBA. Of course 2 big questions remain: How will Kidd fare as a rookie head coach, and how will these guys mesh?

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.

Related: Semi-delayed thoughts on the KG, Pierce deal


Mavs lurking by No. 8 playoff seed.

March 27, 2013

In not-so-good news for any team chasing the Western Conference’s No. 8 playoff seed, namely the L.A. Lakers and Utah Jazz, the Dallas Mavericks refuse to surrender their season. Even after falling at home to the playoff-bound Clippers on Tuesday, Dallas sits only one game behind the Lakers, even with No. 9 seed Utah. Less than 2 years after winning an NBA championship, head coach Rick Carlisle’s team has fought its way back, winning 10 of their last 14.

In fact, Dallas, 35-36, is only 3 consecutive wins away from shaving some of their ridiculous beards, as part of a pledge many of them made in February to not trim their facial hair until the team reached .500. (Well, their next 4 and 6 of their last 11 are against likely playoff teams, including 2 vs. the streaking Denver Nuggets, so maybe Dirk & Co. should expected to keep the ‘Duck Dynasty’ look.)

Before we go further, a quick look at the West’s fight for the No. 8 seed:

LAL: 36-35, 1-2 vs. Utah (0 left, head-to-head), 2-1 vs. Dallas (1)

UTA: 35-36, 2-1 vs. LAL (0), 2-1 vs. Dallas (0)

DAL: 35-36, 1-2 vs. LAL (1), 1-2 vs. Utah (0)

And remaining schedules

LAL: at MIN, at MIL, at SAC, vs. DAL, vs. MEM, at LAC, vs. NO, at POR, vs. GS, vs. SA, vs. HOU

UTA: vs. PHO, at POR, vs. BK, vs. POR, vs. DEN, vs. NO, at GS, vs. OKC, vs. MIN, at MIN, at MEM

DAL: vs. IND, vs. CHI, at LAL, at DEN, at SAC, at POR, vs. PHO, vs. DEN, at NO, vs. MEM, vs. NO

Of those schedules, the Lakers’ scares me least. Utah sees the fewest likely playoff teams (5), compared to L.A. and Dallas (both 6), but L.A. catches the breaks in timing. Milwaukee’s lost 3 straight and 6 of 8, so that one doesn’t scare me, nor does playing a San Antonio or Houston team (in the last 2 games of the season) that may be locked into its playoff seeding by then. Utah has 3 games remaining — Brooklyn, Denver and Memphis — against team’s fighting for home-court in the 1st round, and Dallas has 5. (The Lakers have 2 — Memphis and the Clippers — but both games are in their friendly, Staples Center confines.)

But given all that’s happened to Dallas this season, I find it amazing they’re even still alive. Their best player, future-Hall-of-Fame forward Dirk Nowitzki, missed the season’s first 27 games due to knee surgery — in which the Mavs started the year 12-15 — and has been limited just about ever since. Chris Kaman’s missed 14 games, Brandan Wright 18 and Shawn Marion 15. A remarkable 15 guys have started at least a game for Dallas, and 21 have logged regular season minutes.

Poor health aside, the team’s 2 most consistent players have been O.J. Mayo and Vince Carter. The hole Tyson Chandler’s departure left last season has yet to be filled, and only been exacerbated by the hole the departure of point guards Jason Kidd and Jason Terry created. Darren Collison — 12.2 points, 5.2 assists and 47 starts — has been pushed out of the starting lineup for Mike James — yep that 37-year-old Mike James.

Think about it this way. According to 82games, their best 5-man unit, at least in terms of scoring differential, is James, 37; Carter, 36; Jae Crowder, 22; Nowitzki, 34; and Brand, 34. That unit’s scores 1.24 points per possession, the best of any Mavericks’ 5-man combination to log at least 30 minutes together, and yields only 0.97 points per possession to opponents, the best of any 5-man combination to play at least 40 minutes together. They’ve outscored opponents by 25 points in 49.2 minutes — again, a lack of shared time largely due to injuries. (Average age? 32.6.)

Of course this team’s not a threat to do anything in the postseason. Last year, OKC swept the defending champs in the 1st round, and that team drew core contributions from Kidd, Terry and Delonte West. So, unless Dirk were to go bonkers one night, Dallas would probably be swept again.

In the NBA, though, a stubborn lurker with a superstar is never someone to take lightly. And the fact they’re still hanging around, when everyone, myself included, wrote them off months ago, is really a testament to the guys in the locker room, starting with Carlisle.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.


News: SAVE THE KINGS!

March 25, 2013

As someone who’s seen a nearby professional sports franchise ripped out from under a city’s feet, I sympathize with the Sacramento Kings. (Of course, I’m speaking of the Montreal Expos, who relocated to Washington, D.C., prior to the 2005 season, in a move that made all the business sense in the world. But seeing the Expos leave, and the idea of a 1.5-hour Sunday drive north of the border to see professional baseball, hurt.)

Nostalgia aside, here’s the Kings news: On Saturday evening, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, himself a 3-time All Star PG in Phoenix, announced in a series of tweets that the city had reached a $448 million deal with a private equity firm to build a new downtown area, in one last effort to save the Kings from heading north to Seattle.

And, seven tweets later. (For more.)

Quick refresher: Two months ago, the NBA confirmed the sale of the Kings to a Seattle-based group headed by hedge fund guru Chris Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. By all accounts, the Kings appeared headed to Seattle, even by next season, with a name change to the SuperSonics apparently also imminent.

Then, Sacramento’s counter-bid, headlined by grocery tycoon (and Pittsburgh Penguins’ co-owner) Ron Burkle and 24 Hour Fitness founder Mark Mastrov, was deemed insufficient by NBA Commissioner David Stern. Now, there’s this, presumably a better offer.

Both sides, Seattle and Sacramento, will present their cases at a meeting in New York on April 3. The NBA Board of Governors convenes April 18, at which point a vote on the team’s sale and relocation is expected. According to ESPN reports, a franchise sale requires the approval of  three-fourths of NBA owners and relocation requires a majority.

In a February 2011 interview with ESPN’s Bill Simmons, Stern said he had ‘regrets’ about the way two franchise relocations, the Sonics from Seattle to Oklahoma City and the Grizzlies from Vancouver to Memphis, were handled, and even suggested Seattle was a suitable NBA city.

In the end, of course, this will come down to money. If the Sacramento group, now devoid of the Maloofs — the Kings’ owners who abandoned a handshake deal with Mayor Johnson to build a new arena at a downtown railyard, even after the City Council voted 7-2 in favor — can propose as good of a financial offer for a new arena to keep the team, it’s hard to imagine the NBA owners forcing a move to Seattle.

(This year’s deal is also considered a better one for the city in that it places much of the pressure — to complete the arena project and develop land contributed by the city, according to the Sacramento Bee — on the private group, not taxpayers.)

So, I say, in support of my Sacramento friends, SAVE THE KINGS!

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.


30 in 30: WASHINGTON WIZARDS

March 4, 2013

Editor’s note: This is the last of Armchair 3’s 30 in 30 series, where we’ve run you up to date on all 30 NBA teams over the course of the last 30 days. You can find links to each individual team’s analysis piece here. Now that this series has concluded, we’ll provide more day-to-day analysis of NBA news, rumors and playoff jockeying.

Washington doubled down on the present, not the future, this summer, with the veteran acquisitions of Trevor Ariza and former No. 2 overall pick Emeka Okafor. The price for these 2 was Rashard Lewis’s $13.7 million — itself still the largest deal on New Orleans’ cap, even though Lewis, since released, is playing spot minutes in Miami. Before the end of the 2012 season, Washington had already traded for Nene’s 5-year, $67 million deal.

Then, a few months later, Washington selected Bradley Beal with their No. 3 overall selection. Beal, 19, is Washington’s leading scorer, at 14.2 points per game, and arguably the league’s 2nd most impressive rookie after Blazers’ 1-guard Damian Lillard. Beal’s only 6’3″, but has unique ability as an outside scorer who can also create his own shot and score in isolation sets. Beal’s a 41% shooter, but is coming on strong late, averaging 18.8 points on 48% shooting in his last 10 games, as the Wizards have surged since Wall’s return from injury.

ALSO ON ARMCHAIR 3’S 30 IN 30: UTAH JAZZ

Diagnosed with that stress injury in his left kneecap, Wall did not make his season debut until Jan. 12. Without Wall, Washington started the year 0-12 and was 5-28 until his return; since, Washington’s improved to 19-39, winning 14 of 25 with the star point guard in the lineup headed into Sunday. The Wizards are 9-5 against likely playoff teams since Wall’s return, as well, and even won in Denver, who are tied atop the NBA with only 3 home losses.

With a lineup of Wall, Beal, Martell Webster, Nene and Okafor, Washington’s operating at a +60 points differential in 104 minutes together. Those 5 are, headed into Sunday, scoring 1.15 points per possession, while allowing opponents 0.86 points; those are the best outputs, on both ends, from any Wizards lineup to play at least 30 minutes together this season.

ALSO: 30 IN 30 — TORONTO RAPTORS

Through any other statistical prism, Washington stinks — they’re 30th in scoring offense, at 92 points per game; 29th in field goal percentage, at 43%; 24th in assist-to-turnover ratio, 1.41; and tied for 19th in rebound differential, -1.4. Defensively, though, Washington’s made strides, allowing a 6th-best 95.5 points per game, better than Boston, San Antonio, Miami and Oklahoma City. They’re 4th-best in opponent’s FG percentage, 43.7, and tied for 6th-best in opponent’s 3-point percentage, 34.3. (And, somehow, their opponents shoot a 3rd-worst 72.8% from the foul line.)

But then, of course, there’s Washington’s personnel issues. Head coach Randy Wittman assumed the responsibility after the team fired Flip Saunders mid-season in 2012 and is on through at least this year, but who knows after that. Wittman, though in stalwartly standing behind his franchise guy Wall, blasted the supposed stubbornness of his young players publicly in February. Injuries and consistency are also an issue; 16 different guys have started games for Washington this year, easily the most in the NBA. (And only 1 guy, Okafor, has appeared in all 57 games.)

ALSO: 30 IN 30 — SAN ANTONIO SPURS

Wall is one of the league’s top PGs in his 3rd year — he’s playing less than 30 minutes, but still posting 7.3 assists per on the NBA’s worst scoring offense. The game still needs to slow down for the super quick Wall, who’s also tallying 3.7 turnovers. And his 3-point game has never developed, dropping from 30% his rookie year to 7% this season.

Behind Wall and Beal, Washington’s best backcourt scorer, Jordan Crawford at 13.2 points per, has since been dealt to Boston for Jason Collins and Leandro Barbosa’s expiring deal (and torn ACL). Crawford was shooting a mediocre 41.5% from the field and 34.5% from 3, though good enough to be career-highs, and his shot selection reportedly did not endear him to the Wizards’ coaching staff.

ALSO: 30 IN 30 — SACRAMENTO KINGS

At the 3, Washington’s had a revolving door of Ariza, Webster and Jan Vesely. Webster, a lottery pick out of high school in 2005 and August signing, has been the most consistent, appearing in 56 games (42 starts) and averaging 10.7 points per game. Webster is also Washington’s primary deep threat, at 45% from 3. Ariza’s missed 17 games with a calf issue and is only shooting 41%. Vesely, the No. 6 overall pick in 2011, has struggled finding time in Wittman’s rotation, logging only 2.6 points per in 34 games. Even Chris Singleton, also a first-round selection in 2011, and his well-below-average 8.8 player-efficiency rating has played in 42 games.

In the frontcourt, Nene is one of the league’s most skilled players around the basket on both ends, when healthy. In 42 games this year, he’s tallying 12.6 points and 6.8 rebounds, and Okafor’s adding 9.5 points and a team-high 8.8 rebounds. The departure of Lewis was supposed to free up time for Kevin Seraphin, a 1st-round selection in 2010 Washington’s particularly high on. And Seraphin, the 6’9″ stretch forward, is averaging career-highs in points, 9.5, and minutes, 22.7, but shooting a career-low 44.5% from the field.

ALSO: 30 IN 30 — PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS

Washington’s long-term future is, even with some of those higher-profile acquisitions, predicated on its upcoming draft picks. The draft, obviously with Kwame Brown the staple in 2001, has not been kind to Washington, aside from Wall and Beal, as none of Washington’s 1st-round picks prior to 2010 are still with the team. And Washington’s limited in free agency, with $14.5 million owed to Okafor in 2013-14, $13 million to Nene and another $7.7 million to Ariza, who’s likely to pick up his player option.

I understand $13 million is a little high for Nene, but his leadership and offensive polish is crucial to this team’s continued development. And let’s remember this is a team still trying to overcome the immature label, particularly because of the gun incident involving the since-departed Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton in 2009. Washington also amnestied the controversial Andray Blatche, now in Brooklyn — but not before the Wizards gave him an extension in 2010 that pays, on average, $8 million per through 2015.

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Hypothetically speaking, say Ariza picks up his option for 2013-14, and so Washington would have about $56-57 million committed to 9 players, not counting the $7.8 million they’re paying Blatche off the cap. Webster’s the only guy coming off the books this summer Washington may want to extend; Okafor and Ariza’s deals expire next summer, meaning enough cap flexibility to ink up Wall long-term, who would be a restricted free agent.

As for next year, my bets are on Washington, if healthy, making a push for a lower-end playoff spot, as Milwaukee, Boston and Atlanta likely retool this offseason.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.

FULL SERIES: ARMCHAIR 3’S 30 IN 30


Launching a new series: Armchair 3’s 30 in 30!

February 2, 2013

We’re really excited to launch a new series, Armchair 3’s 30 in 30, beginning this Sunday! My vision for 30 in 30 is exactly like it sounds — we’ll examine in-depth all 30 NBA teams over the course of 30 days. We’ll tell you our biggest surprise and disappointment from that team this season, its MVP, its playoff chances and the organization’s future outlook, all rolled up in one post with (hopefully) insightful analysis.

The series will run alphabetically, so the first post Sunday will chronicle the Atlanta Hawks’ 2012-13 run and examine their future. Do the Hawks have attractive enough assets to make a run at Dwight Howard? How is Danny Ferry doing in his first year on the job? (Hint: I think really well.) And so on and so forth.

As for what this means for the rest of the blog’s content, we’ll still try to tackle the day’s biggest headlines and give you analysis as it happens, especially around the Feb. 21 trade deadline, but other posting will be limited, as we are, unfortunately, a small operation.

This is fortunately the first of many exciting developments we have coming your way in the near future, so please stay tuned. To all the NBA fans out there who continue to read along, we appreciate the support and hope you’ll stay with us moving forward.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.


News: Lakers have 99 problems, and Phoenix is one.

February 1, 2013

Jay-Z officially has nothing on the Los Angeles Lakers. L.A. kicked off a 7-game roadie last night with a terrible, terrible road loss to the Phoenix Suns in which they blew a 3-game winning streak and a 13-point fourth quarter lead. Unfortunately for Mike D’Antoni’s squad, this Suns team was probably the least intimidating opponent they’ll line up against before they return to Staples on Feb. 12 against, you guessed it, the Suns.

Here’s how the rest of the road trip looks:

  1. Friday, Feb. 1: at Minnesota, 17-25
  2. Sunday, Feb. 3: at Detroit, 17-29
  3. Tuesday, Feb. 5: at Brooklyn, 27-19
  4. Thursday, Feb. 7: at Boston, 22-23
  5. Friday, Feb. 8: at Charlotte, 11-34
  6. Sunday, Feb. 10: at Miami, 29-13

This was one the Lakers, now 20-26 and 4 games out of the No. 8 seed, needed to have with only 36 games left on their schedule. Sure, they’re far from out of it, but it only gets worse from here on out — other teams vying for that No. 8 seed out West, teams like Houston, Portland, Minnesota and Dallas, all have more home games remaining on the schedule than L.A., which is scary considering the Lakers’ 5-16 road mark is third-worst in the conference.

With a 10-point lead heading into the fourth and later a 13-point margin in that quarter, this one was there for the taking at U.S. Airways Center. But the Lakers lost that crucial fourth 29-13, letting Michael Beasley, clearly Phoenix’s only scoring option, torch them for 27 points. L.A. committed 20 turnovers to Phoenix’s 12, and Lakers players were guilty of watching Kobe Bryant go 1-on-5 at points late, rather than adopt the heavy-passing approach that was working for them the past few games (and earlier that night, as Bryant dished out 9 more assists).

RELATED: MAKING THE CASE FOR THE LAKERS TO DUMP D12

Dwight Howard’s shoulder is a problem I only expect to get worse throughout the season — he only played 29 minutes last night, less than Pau Gasol and Earl Clark. And with Howard’s woes at the FT line, teams are only going to continue to hack away. Gasol looks lost on both ends of the floor, his confidence clearly shaken by his no longer starting, though he did play 37 minutes Wednesday.

Where the Lakers can find bench scoring, outside of Gasol, is also an issue; Antawn Jamison did drop in 13 last night, but the only other bench player, minus Gasol, in D’Antoni’s 9-man rotation to register any points was Steve Blake with 2. And the 3-point struggles continue — the Lakers shot 8-29 from outside, with Metta World Peace missing 7 of 10.

Defensively, the Lakers are slow (and third-worst in the West in points allowed), and offensively, amazingly a team with 4 future Hall of Fame talents lacks an identity. Will Kobe dominate the ball or distribute? Well, last night, he did a little of both, but if the past week or so is any indication, he needs to assume a PG-like role, therefore counting on Nash, World Peace, Gasol, Howard, Clark and Jamison to translate easy opportunities into points.

I’m still not sure what to make of my preseason Finals representative out West. But if one thing’s certain, it’s becoming more and more clear this team will be watching the playoffs from home.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.


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