Talking Point: What next for the Lakers?

Time to ponder: Tough times ahead for Mike D'Antoni?

Time to ponder: Tough times ahead for Mike D’Antoni?

No longer the best team in Los Angeles and no longer genuine Championship contenders.

Last season was far from satisfactory for the Lakers. Losing to their main rivals in February as the Clippers clinched their first ever Division title before being carried into the play-offs by Kobe Bryant only to lose their superstar to injury prior to a 4-0 first round defeat at the hands of San Antonio.

Dwight Howard was pleaded to stay but opted to join the Houston Rockets in search for a first ring before the Lakers decided to activate Metta World Peace’s amensty clause and release a key member of their 2010 winning roster. So who do they bring in?

Chris Kaman, Nick Young, Wes Johnson and the returning Jordan Farmar are the four players recruited by G.M Mitch Kupchak so far. Not exactly the caliber of players expected at a 17-time Championship winning franchise which speaks volume of the state of the Lakers especially given the fact that one of those joined the Purple & Gold of LA because of ‘no other options’.

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Lakers close on play-offs but must battle on without Kobe

Kobe winces in pain after tearing his achilles

Kobe winces in pain after tearing his achilles

Kobe Bryant has been ruled out for between 6-9 months after suffering a torn achilles in the Lakers’ close-fought win against Golden State on Wednesday.

The Lakers have the advantage in the battle for the final play-off spot with Utah Jazz a game behind in 9th spot. However, Bryant has been the driving force in his side’s charge for the post-season whilst playing 40+ minues in his last seven games which could have contributed to the injury.

Bryant said about his injury: “It was a move I make a million times and it just popped,”

“I can’t walk! I just have to look about coming back quicker and healthier and start from there.”

The 5x time NBA champion has been inspired form, helping the Lakers to five wins in their last six with some incredible performances including a triple-double against Dallas and a 47 point haul on the road in Portland. ‘Kobe‘ averages 27.6 points per game this season having scored 30+ points in a game on an impressive 35 occasions whilst reaching the 40 point mark eight times.

Head-coach Mike D’Antoni must find a way to ensure his team complete the job of making the play-offs. Winning their last two games against San Antonio and Houston will be enough to finish the season as the 8th seed while Utah will still fancy their chances of making the play-offs as they hold the tie-breaker over the Lakers.

Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard have strenghtened their partnership in recent weeks and will hope this will continue as the team looks to cope with the loss of Bryant. The Lakers were beaten 4-1 by Oklahoma in the second round of the play-offs last season and a repeat clash is on the cards with the Thunder currently leading the Western standings.

LAKERS: v San Antonio tonight; v Houston Wednesday (LIVE on ESPNUK)
UTAH: @ Minnesota tomorrow; @ Memphis Wednesday (LIVE on ESPNUK)

Game Night! San Antonio @ Detroit

SPURS & PACERS SEE THEIR STREAKS ENDS, MIAMI CRUSH CLIPPERS WHILE THE LAKERS ARE THE COMEBACK KINGS OF THE NIGHT

San Antonio (32-19) saw their ELEVEN match win streak end in Detroit (19-32) last night as the Pistons recorded a 119-108 victory. Tony Parker had 31 points and eight assists for the Spurs but it was Greg Monroe’s huge double-double of 26 points and 16 rebounds that helped get the victory for the hosts. Gregg Popovich opted not to play Manu Ginobilli once again while Tim Duncan remains sidelined and the Spurs found themselves trailing 65-52 at the half. The visitors launched a fightback in the final quarter to close within seven points but Brandon Knight had five points in quick succession to keep San Antonio at bay and seal the win.

Miami Heat (33-14) and the LA Lakers (24-27) recorded contrasting triumphs ahead of their anticipated clash on Sunday. Despite the return of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, the Clippers (35-17) were comfortably beaten by the Heat 111-89. Lebron James had a game-high 30 points on 9-11 shooting from the field while Dwayne Wade added 20 in the absence of Chris Bosh and Ray Allen. The Lakers found themselves 20 points down before outscoring the Charlotte Bobcats (11-38) 31-15 in the final quarter to bounce back from their defeat to Boston. Kobe Bryant led the Lakers with 20 points, a total matched by Byron Mullens and Gerald Henderson, who both posted double-doubles for the hosts.

STATS: Lebron James posted his fourth consecutive 30+ points game for the first time this season while all of Kobe Bryant’s points came in the second half.

Oklahoma City Thunder (38-12) and the New York Knicks (32-16) kept up the pressure on San Antonio and Miami with victories tonight as they remain second in their respected conferences. Thunder powered in 72 POINTS in the second half on their way to a 127-96 win against Phoenix (17-34) with five players in double-figures including Kevin Durant, who led the way with 21 points. Carmelo Anthony’s 36 point haul helped the Knicks to a 100-94 victory in Minnesota (18-29) despite a third quarter wobble for their 13th road win of the season (Eastern conference high)

STAT: Jason Kidd provided his 12,000th assist during the game while the Timberwolves’ Ricky Rubio dished out 11 dimes (third consecutive game w/ double figures in assists).

A 20-11 double-double from Marc Gasol helped the Memphis Grizzlies (31-18) to a 99-93 success against the Golden State Warriors (30-20) despite a 32 point haul from Steph Curry. The 24 year-old matched his season-high total he recorded earlier in the season against Sacramento, where he was on the losing team on that occasion too. Memphis remain fifth in the Western conference despite the recent trade of Rudy Gay to Toronto.

Gay showed Memphis what they’re missing with a clutch jumper in overtime to give the Raptors (18-32) a 100-98 win against Indiana (31-20). A frantic finish ensued in regulation time with Amir Johnson scoring twice in the final six seconds to tie the game at 90. David West had a game-high 30 points for the Pacers, who saw their FIFTEEN game win streak at home come to an end.

New Orleans (17-33) picked up a win on the road against Atlanta (27-22), winning 111-100 as they made it back-to-back victories. The Washington Wizards (14-35) made it three in a row with an 89-74 home win against the Brooklyn Nets (29-21) with Nene producing a 20 point, 11 rebound double-double. James Harden fired in 35 points and dished out 11 assists to give Houston (28-24) a 118-103 win against Portland (24-25), who were once again led by All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge (31p-6a).

Kyrie Irving (24-6-8) led the Cavaliers (16-34) in points, rebounds and assists to help Cleveland to a 119-108 victory over Orlando (14-36), who suffered a 12th straight defeat. The final game saw Chicago return to winning ways after a 93-89 success in Salt Lake City over Utah Jazz (28-23). Carlos Boozer led the Bulls with 19 points while Luol Deng (15p-10r) and Jaokim Noah (12p-11r) adding double-doubles to counter Al Jefferson’s season-high 32 points and 13 rebounds.

Check-out Rudy Gay as he gets the game-winner in Indiana:

Game Night! Lakers @ Brooklyn

Featured Game of the Night- LA Lakers @ Brooklyn Nets

The Lakers recorded an important win in their play-off push; beating the Nets 93-82 in Brooklyn. Brook Lopez had a game-high 30 points as well as 11 rebounds for the hosts but a 21 point haul from Kobe Bryant helped LA to the win. The Lakers were already without Dwight Howard (shoulder injury) and Metta World Peace (suspension) when Pau Gasol went off injured in the fourth quarter and was reported to have left the arena on crutches. The second quarter proved pivotal as the Lakers outscored their opponents 31-16 and managed to restrict Brooklyn to just 34.1 % from the field on the night. Lopez had given the Nets a one point lead with 2:33 to go but the visiting Lakers closed out the win with a 10-0 run containing 4/4 from the free throw line from Steve Nash– who finished with 17 points and 8 assists. Earl Clark has seen his playing time increase in 2013 and has justified the reward; adding a third straight double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds. LA improve to a 23-26 record after making it three consecutive victories while Brooklyn drop to 28-20 which leaves them fifth in the Eastern Conference standings.

The Rockets were on fire in Houston (27-23) with a blistering 23 3-pointers equalling an NBA record in a comprehensive 140-109 victory at home to the Golden State Warriors (30-18). The hosts had a total of EIGHT players in double-figures and were led by Jeremy Lin‘s 28 points whilst he also provided nine assists. Both teams set the tone for a high-scoring game in the opening quarter which was edged by Houston– 38-37. By the half, Houston maintained their high level of offence to lead 77-62 on their way to posting the highest score of the season.

In the three other matches; Denver (31-18) made it SEVEN consecutive wins with a 112-104 success against the Milwaukee Bucks (25-22). The Nuggets outscored their opponents 33-18 in the final quarter to get the victory despite a 35 point, 12 rebound double-double from Samuel Dalembert. Phoenix Suns (17-32) picked up a 96-90 win on the road at Memphis (30-17) with the GrizzliesAll-Star Zach Randolph posting 21 points and 13 boards. Finally, the Pacers (30-19) got the W again with a home 114-104 victory against the Atlanta Hawks (26-21). All of Indiana‘s starters had double-figures as well as D.J Augustin and Ian Mahinmi off the bench with Paul George leading the way with a 29 points personal.

In the Spotlight: Kyrie Irving

NBA Rookie to NBA All-Star in the space of a season.

At just 20 years of age, Kyrie Irving has been selected as an NBA All-Star in his second season as a pro.

Irving has now been touted as a possible starter following an injury to Rajon Rondo which will rule the Boston Celtics’ guard out for the season. Kobe Bryant was a year younger when he made his NBA All-Star debut in 1998 which shows how impressive Irving’s achievement is.

The Cavs’ guard is building his reputation as ‘Mr. Fourth Quarter’ as he continues to take the responsibility of key shots down the stretch. Most recently Irving scored 13 points of 35 in the last three minutes to inspire Cleveland to a 115-110 victory against Oklahoma.

On 10 occasions so far this season, Irving has posted 30+ points in a game including a career high night in New York when he dropped 41 on the Knicks. These notable statistics help place the young superstar in sixth position for the season’s leading scorers charts with 24ppg. Irving was forced out for three weeks with a finger injury prior to Christmas but has picked up where he left off in recent weeks.

In his first season in the NBA, Irving finished the season with a very respectable points average of 18.5 whilst providing 5.4 assists a game on average. He also earned the MVP honours in the Rising Stars Challenge in which he will compete in again in 2013. Irving‘s rookie season was marred with a broken hand which required during the summer of 2012

The #1 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft was named NBA Rookie of the Year for 2012 to follow in the footsteps of reigning MVP Lebron James, who also claimed the award in 2004 when he was playing in Cleveland. Since Lebron’s high profile departure, Cleveland have yet to reach the play-offs and will do very well to stop it from being three years in a row. The Cavs had made it beyond the regular season for five straight seasons during James‘ time with the club under Mike Brown.

LBJ moved to Miami and became an NBA Champion within two years and there will be plenty of teams interested in the services of Irving should the opportunity present itself in the future. Surely it’s a case of when and not if with Irving displaying signs of being a potential MVP within five years.

You can follow Kyrie Irving on Twitter: ( @KyrieIrving )