In preparation for the big tilt tonight between the Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Lakers I had the opportunity to exchange questions and Answers with Brian Kamenetzky, one half of the famous Kamenetzky brothers who have been covering the Lakers for years and who now run Land O’Lakers on ESPN Los Angeles. You can head on over to Land O’Lakers to read my answers to his questions including the three things Denver must do to win tonight.
Roundball Mining Company: The acquisition of Ramon Sessions at the trade deadline was obviously a very good trade for the Lakers. Sessions is known more for his offense than his defense, but will his presence help the Lakers handle opposing point guards better defensively, or will players like Ty Lawson continue to shred the Lakers defense when they have the ball?
Brian Kamenetzky: Sessions hasn’t really improved them defensively. Any benefit they get from his quickness is mitigated by the way he struggles to work through screens and hasn’t really figured out all his off ball responsibilities. He doesn’t rotate particularly well, and loses touch with his man a fair amount. So if I’m Ty Lawson, I’m licking my chops at the prospect of facing the Lakers as much as I ever did. The difference is that Sessions will make Lawson work at the other end a whole lot more than Derek Fisher or Steve Blake ever did. He’s so much better offensively than the guys he was replacing, that his defensive deficiencies just don’t matter all that much. They might in the playoffs when things tighten up and possessions grow more precious, but even then they’ll be demonstratively better with him on the floor.
RMC: The Lakers are 2-1 in their three recent games without Kobe including a win in San Antonio handing the Spurs only their second home loss of the season when Duncan, Parker and Manu all played thanks to Bynum’s 30 rebound effort (in case you are wondering, Denver is the only other team to do so). Is Andrew Bynum becoming the most valuable Laker?
BK: I actually wrote about that this morning. There’s no player on the roster who has more leverage over the team’s postseason potential than Bynum. When he’s engaged, particularly defensively like he was in San Antonio, grabbing every rebound, contesting every shot, and basically removing the paint as an option for the Spurs in the half court, the Lakers are capable of being an elite defensive team. When he’s not, they’re not. The problem with Bynum, for all the antics, is his effort hasn’t been consistent. A lot can be forgiven for a guy who works hard on the court all the time. If Drew brings the focus and energy he brought against the Spurs, the Lakers become very dangerous.
RMC: Mike Brown has been pushing the Lakers hard all regular season long. Much has been made of the heavy minutes Kobe, Gasol and Bynum have been logging. Is Brown making a huge mistake and threatening the Lakers playoff chances by trying too hard to win a few extra regular season games or is garnering the highest playoff seed possibly that important?
Basically, Brown has worked his top three too hard, I think, but at the same time has been hamstrung by serious depth problems with the roster. It’s not like he has a ton of good players at his disposal that might give the Big Three more of a break. They entered the season without a backup shooting guard. Still don’t really have one. Hard to rest Kobe when there’s no backup behind him. So some of it can be pinned to Brown, some to management for constructing a flawed roster.
RMC: Are the Nuggets a team the Lakers would gladly welcome as a first round opponent, or are there other teams L.A. would rather face?
BK: Depends, are they healthy? If so, the answer is no. The Lakers might have a size advantage down low, but the Nuggets would have the same incredible depth, floor stretching ability, and solid point guard play that typically gives the Lakers trouble. Plus, in Arron Afflalo they have someone who can match up with Kobe Bryant over seven games and make him work. Ultimately, I think superior high end talent plus home court advantage would be enough to push the Lakers through, but I wouldn’t welcome the matchup. If memory serves, this group won 14 of 19 before everything fell apart, health wise. That’s a good team.
I would like to offer a hearty thanks to Brian for taking the time to give us some insight on the state of the Lakers.
I find it interesting that despite the extra quickness and length that Sessions brings that Brian does not expect him to defend Lawson any better than Fisher has in the past, although we all remember how Fisher stymied Lawson at the close of the game in their first meeting this season. His comments on Bynum appear to be right on. He is a bit of a diva, but his play can be the difference between the Lakers in the finals and the Lakers getting bounced early again.
The latest on Kobe’s status is that he is a game time decision. You know it has been very difficult for Kobe to miss even a quarter of game action let alone the three games he has rested. He has not played in a week since L.A.’s contest with Houston last Friday. Kobe is having a very interesting season. He is still posting elite numbers, but his efficiency is horrifically bad. Nuggets fans get upset at Andre Miller for shooting threes every once in a while, but get a load of Kobe. He is even worse. Despite the fact he is converting on less than 30%, but is still shooting over five a game. Kobe still posses a threat and with plenty of rest Nuggets fans should be prepared to see a more effective version of Kobe, should he play tonight.