In preparation for today’s slug fest between the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets I had the chance to do a Q & A with Andy Kamenetzky from ESPN’s Land O’ Lakers blog and ESPN Los Angeles. You can read my responses to Andy’s intriguing questions over on Land O’ Lakers. You can also look for a 5-on-5 coming later today on ESPN.com where I weigh in on tonight’s doubleheader with the Celtics and Knicks playing before the Nuggets and Lakers.
1. The Lakers have vastly different home and road records. Experienced veteran teams are not typically so deficient away from home so why are the Lakers having such a difficult time winning on the road?
Well, it’s worth noting the Lakers’ early season road schedule has been very difficult. They’ve had games in Sacramento (always a tough venue), Utah (where they won), Denver (the second end of a back-to-back against the Nuggets), Portland, the Clippers, Miami and Orlando back-to-back, Milwaukee, and Minnesota (a win). The Bucks were an inexcusable loss with Andrew Bogut and Stephen Jackson out, but the rest of those games aren’t automatic gimmes. Factor in how the Lakers played a boatload of games in the first 3-4 weeks and the lack of practice time to learn a new system, and it’s not perhaps shocking they haven’t been good on the road.
Of course, the obvious response is that elite teams with championship aspirations will find ways to overcome these issues. Of course, the Lakers aren’t playing anywhere close to an elite level at the moment, and it’s debatable whether they’ll ever be capable of that on a regular basis. And therein lies the rub.
2. Pau Gasol, while still playing well overall, has slipped a bit from the stellar level we have come to expect from him. Is it a matter of the difficult schedule or is it possible the trade rumors are bothering him more than he has let on?
I don’t think rumors are a factor. Pau certainly wasn’t thrilled with being part of the scuttled CP3 deal, but he showed up to practice the next day, and rode out an awkward situation. I’ll give his ability to block out lingering whispers the benefit of the doubt. The schedule, however, has probably been an issue. Gasol hasn’t just played a lot of games, but a lot of minutes as well. Mike Brown’s defensive schemes demand bigs show hard and recover on pick-and-rolls, and nobody’s been pushed harder than Pau. Doing this for 37-ish minutes a night will take a toll.
There’s also a matter of Pau’s role, which hasn’t been fleshed out to his liking. There was a long stretch where he was basically parked at the elbow and used primarily as a facilitator and jump shooter, and he expressed displeasure about it. Since then, there’s an effort to get him more low post touches or just call his number, but the results have remained erratic. At times, the blame falls on teammates not looking enough for him. Others, the blame falls on Gasol’s indecisiveness and lack of unwillingness to occasionally force the issue himself.
This hasn’t been an easy season for Pau, who entered the year determined to rebound from an awful playoffs. If anything, fans are only more down on him.
3. Derek Fisher continues to wallow in his own mire on the court. Even with his horrific percentages, it still seems like he has hit a few big shots for them this season. Is he more important to the team than his numbers would indicate or does L.A. need to ditch him ASAP?
A little of both. Fisher’s importance as a leader can’t be overstated. He has everybody’s ear, including Kobe’s. Bryant’s said, without any hint of facetiousness, Fish is the only teammate he’ll always listen to. He also trusts Fisher unconditionally. Beyond success draining critical shots, Derek’s completely unafraid to step into those situations where someone other than Kobe needs to be clutch.
Of course, the Lakers might encounter fewer tight fourth quarters if their starting point guard produced more during the first three. Fisher’s dwindling percentages plays a role in the scoring issues this season. (To be fair, he’s also averaging about 4 assists a night, and has done a nice job initiating the early offense.) This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time to put Fisher out to pasture, but limited minutes would be helpful. And that had been the approach before Steve Blake went out with a rib injury. Until Blake returns, the PT will naturally increase, and the Lakers will have to make the best of it.
Either way, Fisher doesn’t kill the team quite as much as advertised, but less is typically more.
4. Ty Lawson has done quite well against L.A. in his career. Is he the player the Lakers must focus on, or is there someone else who poses a bigger threat?
The short answer is, “anybody who can operate in transition” is who the Lakers need to key on. And since that includes virtually every significant player on Denver’s roster, nobody can go unaccounted for. Plus, at the end of the day, the Nugs are a very deep, balanced team with plenty of legit threats. Lawson, as you mentioned, is certainly a potential issue for the Lakers, given how quick guards can provide fits. But Andre Miller can be just as tough backing down opponents in the post. Danillo Gallinari can be deadly from outside or on run-outs. Al Harrington was a dizzying cover for Gasol in space during the first meeting. Nene’s spin moves around the basket are ridiculous. Arron Afflalo, if playing like himself, is among the best “3 and D” players in the game, which means he can hurt the Lakers on both ends.
Bottom line, Lawson makes me nervous, but he’s hardly alone.
5. I will spare you the Dwight Howard question, but stick with a hypothetical trade scenario for my final question. If Mitch Kupchak could have a mulligan on the Lamar Odom trade, would he take it? At the time it seemed sending Odom to Dallas was part of a larger plan, but as of yet no such plan has come to fruition.
I’d certainly like to think so. On the court and in the locker room, LO’s absence has left gaping holes still unfilled. Even recognizing his struggles in Dallas (caused in part by an admitted lack of offseason conditioning) and emotional nature (exacerbated by legitimate offseason tragedies), the guy would help the Lakers a lot. Were a time machine — hot tub or otherwise — made available to Mitch Kupchak, I’d be stunned if he didn’t set it to “Dec 11, 2011,” then told Lamar to take a few extra days to cool off because he’s staying put.
Thanks to Andy for the time and I hope everyone enjoys tonight’s game!