Los Angeles Lakers - Sacramento Kings: No More Skin on Lakers’ Teeth

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Los Angeles Lakers - Sacramento Kings:  No More Skin on Lakers’ Teeth

An odd schedule to be sure, but the first time the Lakers play the Kings turns out to be in March.

Of their last 22 games, the Lakers play the Kings four times, which is more than a single-tiered blessing.

First off, playing a non-playoff team for conference games this late definitely can help the Lakers build up their win total (as long as they stay sharp every time).

And second, playing a team that doesn’t like the Lakers can give the Lakers a bit of edge that can hopefully be transferred to other games.

The No. 1 priority coming into this game—don’t take it for granted.

For as poor as the Kings are right now, they play tough at home, and it’s the Lakers, so there’s added intensity.

As the Lakers sleepwalked through the first half, that intensity from the Kings was showing. Luckily for the Lakers, they staggered into the second half only down by five.

But as the careless play continued, you wondered whether the Lakers would ever wake up.

That’s when having the MVP of the NBA on your side comes in handy.

Establishing an inside game against the Kings early is key.

Brad Miller isn’t a center (and is barely an NBA player at all) and Mikki Moore is anything but intimidating on the inside.

With that, the Lakers looked a bit sluggish at the start trying to get the ball to the post. Slow-footed movement with the ball and minimal movement off of it led the Lakers to sputter.

Once Lamar Odom began to dive in the middle as the ball swung to the side, the Lakers inside opened up. That’s a big benefit of Pau Gasol (and it’ll get bigger when Andrew Bynum comes back).

The attention paid to Gasol on the side of the paint and on the high post opens up the lane for dive after dive to anyone.

The Lakers' problem was an inconsistent half-court set. There was an effort to get in the middle, but it wasn’t concerted. The Lakers can’t only get the ball into the post to start plays against a soft underbelly team like the Kings.

Odom had some trouble defending Artest on the high post, as he did with Dirk Nowitzki.

Odom needs to stop pushing up so tight on his man as early as he is. With the early contact, he’s limiting his ability to move laterally, and the offender is using that to attack Odom, drawing the foul on occasion (as Artest did in the first and third quarters).

On the boards, Odom did well, staying in the mix on every loose ball. He was getting sandwiched pretty well in the low post, but stuck with most rebounds.

The Lakers have got to start sending another body down low on boards. There were too many times in this game and versus the Mavericks that Odom has been caught alone under the hoop.

Gasol was flat out getting murdered inside, as he did against Dallas.

Physicality is rising as teams realize that playing aggressively in the middle on both ends is occasionally lowering Gasol’s effectiveness.

It’s not killing it, but as the referees continue to let teams play tough in the middle against the Lakers, the points in the paint against are rising.

The only thing Gasol can do about this is come into games knowing that this is how it’s going to be as long as it’s working. If you can come in with a wider stance in the middle and be prepared to battle, maybe the effects of that style of play will diminish. They won’t completely go away until the Lakers get a shot-blocking presence back in the middle.

What was good about Gasol’s game tonight was his patience. His shot was not rushed, and he had a good sense of when the defense collapsed too much, allowing him to step through and draw fouls.

He played with impressive control while he was getting jumped on. The stoic play of Gasol went a long way to taking the Kings out of their packing-it-in play in the first half.

Also, every shot Luke Walton makes from outside is a big help. It sounds obvious, but not solely because of the box score.

With Walton making shots again from distance, it pulls pressure off the middle and opens up the game for Gasol or Odom on the block.

Now that Walton's ankle seems to be healing, his shot looks much softer. It’s not being thrown up in haste like it was earlier this year. There was a real nice spin-and-shoot move from the mid-post that showed the patience that Walton’s shot has regained.

Walton was, however, putting passes into Gasol when Gasol was in heavy traffic. He can’t be passing to guys who are already in trouble or in position for Walton’s shot rebound.

Walton’s been drawing the tough defensive assignments at small forward lately and tonight didn’t change much. The inherent athleticism beyond the arc is wreaking havoc with Walton’s foul column. The speed was never really a strong suit for Walton, and that’s holding true.

Kobe Bryant played a lackadaisical defensive game against Kevin Martin in the first quarter. For some unknown reason, Kobe didn’t look like he was keeping up with Martin off the ball or getting to him if he got the ball off a screen was a priority.

I have no idea why that happened, but you hope that Kobe wasn’t trying to play a dare kind of game with Martin. With Kobe being the pace setter on all fronts for the Lakers, he has to make sure he doesn’t come into games playing as sleepily as he was tonight on defense.

Offensively, Kobe was playing for the foul too much. There were too many shots thrown up in anticipation of the foul instead of looking for the shot first and foul second.

It's something Kobe struggles with when the team is having trouble getting going. In turn, Kobe’s offense just wasn’t as precise as it can be through three quarters.

And then—the fourth quarter came.

The guy has the will, strength, and desire to win/dominate like no other in the NBA. There are not enough words to describe exactly how Kobe's passion impacts a game, the team, and the NBA. It's just absolutely amazing to watch.

Derek Fisher’s offense has to wake up, and it did in spurts tonight.  The gaps in scoring from Fisher and Sasha Vujacic are starting to hurt the Lakers.

With Fisher being a starter and having the skills he does you look to him to step his game up first.

As the game wound down, Fisher stepped his defense up a bit, but that step has got to come earlier in a game. Right now, the Lakers' point guard core s struggling to get going on either end.

It's up to Fisher to lead the staggering back court back to the crisp offense and defense they were playing.

Aside from the obvious transition problems…

—Absent drive and kick game. Most inside shots in the first half were forced without any movement from the outside or look to the outside for a pass.

—No runs to the offensive boards. It was one and done for a good part of the game. With or without Odom running to the paint for boards, there’s got to be some kind of team effort to get offensive rebounds.

—Minimal to no help for anyone stuck in the post. If Kobe got trapped on the high post or Gasol got trapped in mid or low post, there was nobody moving to become a passing option. There weren’t a lot of turnovers from those spots, but what happened is the Lakers wound up shooting a terribly tough shot or a completely out-of-balance one. All sliding to pass option spots were completely gone.

—The Lakers can’t let teams like the Kings tonight (or the Blazers recently) get into early rhythm offensively. It’s far too dangerous to flirt with pacing like that. The worst part of games like this is that it's not overwhelming offense from the opposition, it's lazy and soft defense from the Lakers that’s killing things.They’ve got to come into every arena, home or away, looking to dictate the pace on both ends. Letting teams get into a groove like that makes it even tougher to pull them out of it when the game starts ticking down.

—Communication was at a minimum on the defensive end in the first quarter. Going with the pacing comment, that can’t happen versus any team, good or bad. There has to be communication and a constant effort to stop the easy bucket off of simple screens at all times. You can’t get on an offensive roll if the communication and ,subsequently, the defense can’t get in sync.

—The word is out: play physical with the Lakers. If teams are going into games with that in mind, the Lakers have got to begin to brace themselves for that style of play. You can counter that collapsing tough play in the middle with better ball movement and crisper movement off the ball (like they did during the winning streak). They can’t let the refs no-calls or the rough play take them out of the methodical style of play that got them in contention.

—There was an odd lack of emotion throughout most of the game from the Lakers. An occasional “Let’s go!” from Gasol, but, overall, the Lakers looked tired for no good reason.

Bynum’s absence is beginning to be felt. This is the second game in a row where you can see exactly how Bynum’s presence in the middle completely would change these sloppy, scrappy kinds of games.

WTF Of The Game: The new trend of not calling jersey pulling. It's been the season-long plague that isn’t being addressed league wide. In the fourth, when Martin pulled on Kobe’s jersey on the break, Walton getting a new customized jersey against Dallas and countless more. Alongside that, the refs have got to start calling plays on the body as flagrants, like they’re listed in the rulebook.

Well thank you, Kobe, for getting that win on a night when the Suns and Spurs both walked to easy W’s. This kind of game, this brand of lethargy, cannot rear its head again.

As mentioned, the lack of a big man on defense is hurting right now, but there’s still weeks to go before Bynum comes back. The Lakers have got to regain some of that fire they had on the road while the schedule continues to be soft.

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