The Lakers were definitely showing signs of exhaustion last night when they faced the Minnesota Timberwolves.
When you see so many shots fall short, you know the weariness has set in. Running up on offense, even the half court was sluggish at times.
Rotations and help on defense were also lagging in the first half, but picked up in the second. Luckily, the slack to be a tad slow in the first half was there, but it's something they should never count on—on the road or at home.
The Lakers played well in the third quarter in particular, putting the hurt on the Wolves without mercy, in turn making a “gimme game” exactly that. The instinct to put away teams when you have the chance to is going to be monstrously important the second half of the season on into the playoffs.
Aside from the obvious great result, there’s been very little one pass or no motion off the ball offense on this road trip. Everyone is getting to their spots early or working on getting to option spots before the clock becomes an issue.
It’s been a team game more than it has in a long, long time. Because of that, the Lakers came out looking like a team on the verge of something big.
Now onto midseason report cards:
Missed lay-ups mostly due to exhaustion were haunting him today. The post defense was a touch slow, but semi-effective.
Need to: Stop swiping so hard on blocks. Keep his swing under control a bit more, not coming down so far onto player’s hands. Don’t lose sight of the weak side rebounder sneaking in behind. Too many times Ronny’s gotten too far under the hoop to be mobile enough to defend both side of the block.
Keep on: Playing with that trademark energy that has now become the gold standard for the Laker bench. The jumper from the elbow needs more work. Help defense from mid-post on down has been great too.
That pass from Sasha off of his drive along the baseline in the second was just amazing to see. That’s what I was talking about—working off of drives about every third or fourth shot. Doing that opens up shots for everyone else, but it also opens up his shot.
Need to: Keep working on putting the ball on the floor. Anticipate screens a bit more. He’s been lagging off of his man and fading back on D too early and too often.
Keep on: Getting to the spots like he has been. There’s been quick movement to where he’s supposed to be. Take the shots that other defenses give you. Never be afraid to take the big shot down the stretch or in the meat of a game.
Radmanovic played his defense with real awareness from the beginning. Stepping out to steal and playing well, grounded footwork outside got the Lakers off to the races quickly and strongly. It looked like maybe Vladi is seeing the benefit of defense. Radmanovic put in some good inside to outside work the entire game too.
Need to: Remember that the game has two ends. Falling asleep on guys on the perimeter has been an Achilles heel for Radmanovic so far, but that can easily change with some focus. Vladi is a casual guy with an easy-going attitude, but he has to increase intensity on the defensive end if he expects to get significant minutes.
Keep on: Spotting up as well as he has on the arc. He looks like he knows the game a lot better, at least the triangle, and his shots are showing it. Just like Sasha, take that ball inside like he did in this one against Minny to open up your natural game more.
Man, Pau’s efficiency from any range is just beautiful to watch. Very deliberate style of shooting with spotting up like he’s been here all year put Gasol off to the start that I think every Laker fan can get used to really quick.
Need to: Continue wide stance he had against Jefferson on D tonight. As Andrew’s return gets closer Pau has to know that moving from the defensive high post to mid post is going to be key.
Keep on: Playing strong defense. The offense is easy as it can be right now (without Andrew) but without Pau staying rounded in the high post the Lakers have to depend on Andrew too much.
Odom did very well patrolling the court. Offensively he was diving down low with the ball then popping out up top to give pass options. Free motion from Lamar was the order of the day as it has been since Gasol’s arrival. Lamar has made the most of the room that Gasol has given him.
Need to: Work on getting some boards in traffic with two hands. He’s good at tipping the ball to himself on smaller guys, but he’s been tipping in tall traffic too. Look for open shots down the middle. With Gasol and the other Lakers pulling play out of the middle right now, the lane is wide open for Lamar to keep diving down for lay-ups, passes, or dunks.
Keep on: Playing loose and easy. The pressure is officially off of Lamar permanently now, so the free-flowing play should be easy to keep up for the rest of the year. He’s been doing great lately taking the shots that have been given to him and that has to continue to.
It was an unfair game tonight. From the passes off of drives to the cruel crossover he threw down on Brewer, it was a full-on cruise control game for him. It was a good way to end the road trip—relaxed play with a mind to drive and kick.
Need to: Not let the ease of offense let him slack on defense. He played really well in Miami and had spurts of the defensive stopping power he showed earlier this year. In the second half of the season he has to also keep his own scoring in mind. Odd to say, but with Bynum, Gasol, Odom, and everyone else out there, he can’t get share-happy.
Keep on: Being the team leader he’s become. The encouragement, motivation, and heart he’s given to the rest of the team has to keep going for the Lakers to be playoff successful.
He had a quiet game tonight. The shooting was still there and his spotting up was on the money, but all in all he was a small contributor.
Need to: Not leave his man as much distance on the perimeter. He had moments tonight against the Wolves and times this year when he’s split space too far in favor of the paint. With all the bigs in the middle now, he can move more to the outside on his splits and not give up so much room to shoot the three or long two.
Keep on: Shooting like he has never done before in his career. A lot has to do with the offense he knows so well, but Derek’s decision making has been spot on all year.
Need to: Move laterally on defense from weak to strong or back again without jumping. Having the ability to block shots is great, but Andrew has to stay grounded when play gets scrappy in the middle. The middle is his to give up or to protect, keep his mind as sharp as his timing has been.
Keep on: Showing the varied offensive attack he began to show before the injury. His spacing on defense has been great and for the Lakers to keep on a roll when he gets back he has to know that he still owns the low block with or without Gasol.
He showed signs of coming out of the injury-plagued, sloppy play. His defense on the perimeter was sharp tonight. There were times when he turned his head to move to a play before he had control of the ball, but mostly Luke had a good “coming out of the fog” kind of game.
Need to: Work more from the high post instead of getting into trouble in the low post where he doesn’t belong. Improve the mid-range to distance shot he had last year. With so many big guys here and coming back, shooters will become important. The post work he has been working in should take a backseat to the more active off ball play he does so well.
Keep on: Staying positive and playing tough-minded. It hasn’t been a smooth season for him, but he’s shown heart in playing hurt this long when the Lakers needed him.
Need to: Get healthy. Play under control on the defensive end. Don’t let the ability to jump through the roof take you out of position.
Keep on: Playing with smooth, quiet enthusiasm he has. The athleticism off the bench has been a welcome element to a Laker team that needs him to be as active as he can be.
There was a bit of a pick-up in his game tonight. He was playing more wake and aware of where he was on the court tonight. Spotting up well and breaking down the defense on drives in the middle were back to a small extent.
Need to: Stay sharp even though Crittenton isn’t breathing down his neck.
Keep on: Developing the consistent shot from outside. Don’t get lost underneath screens or multiple picks on the outside. Keep your eye on your man above the screens and don’t get pulled down low to leave them so open on the outside.
He played well tonight. The little hook he showed in the fourth was surprising, but a nice little peek at the control DJ can play with.
Need to: Stay ready at all times. With the big men of the Lakers being a thick and full rotation, minutes can be thrown your way at any time.
Keep on: Stay positive no matter how far down the bench he gets.
It was great to see the team really fight for him to get in the box score tonight. He had a great block late in the game and showed some good energy in off ball movement while he was in.
Need to: Shoot like he does in practice. Make adjustments to your shot in game rather than throwing up the same hitch in your shot.
Keep on: Play with energy when he’s in. Time will be tough to come by as the season wears on, but that's no excuse to grow complacent.
Lengthy article, I know, but we’re in the All-Star break now on a fantastic run. Let’s just enjoy the break and gather steam for the second half of the season that’s shaping up to be one of the most exciting, interesting, and fun to watch seasons we’ve had as Laker fans in a long time.