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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Pau Gasol praises brother Marc ahead of ‘tough challenge’

Brothers at war: Marc and Pau will go head-to-head

Brothers at war: Marc and Pau will go head-to-head

Pau Gasol admits that the Lakers are ‘fighting for their lives’ as they attempt to survive an enduring season and reach the end of season play-offs.

“Every game is a big deal and the next two will be very tough,” said the 32 year-old Spaniard.

The 16-time NBA champions take on Memphis and their rivals LA Clippers in their next two games as they look to hold on to 8th spot in the Western conference.

Memphis have already secured their place in the post-season and have already surpassed their previous season win total high with 51 victories so far. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol have combined well for the Grizzlies and the duo received praise from (Pau) Gasol.

“They both are very physical players and are great rebounders. They have found a good combination that works well for them.”

“My brother is a great passer and is making plays for the team all the time. It will be a big challenge!”
Pau on Marc

It’s all love and respect between Pau and Marc Gasol off the court, but they will go head-to-head in battle at the Staples Centre in an important game for the Lakers. Here’s how the brothers compare so far this campaign:

PAU GASOL: 42 games; 35 starts; 13.0 ppg; 45.5% FG; 69.5% FT; 8.0 rpg; 3.6 apg; 11 double-doubles; Most points- 25.

MARC GASOL:  73 games (all starts); 14.4 ppg; 49.8% FG; 85.6% FT; 7.6 rpg; 3.9 apg; 15 double-doubles; Most points- 27

LA’s Gasol has only recently returned from a foot injury that sidelined him for around 7 weeks and during his absence, the Lakers compiled a 13-7 record to overtake Utah in the race for the final play-off spot. The Lakers positive run of results has coincided with the return of Dwight Howard’s form.

Howard has been revitalised since the All-Star break and joining in on the current NBA streak craze, ‘Superman’ has recorded 12 straight double-doubles and is confident the Lakers can overcome the challenge of Memphis.

“If we play like we have the last two games then I believe we can win. When me and Pau (Gasol) are active it makes things tougher for the other teams.”

Speaking about his own form, Howard said: “I’m getting better, I’m not where I want to be but I’m happy with my progress.”

The 6’11” centre sustained an injured shoulder in the last meeting between the two sides when the Lakers suffered their second defeat in Memphis this season.

The Lakers are currently half a game ahead of Utah while Dallas loiter further behind and Mike D’Antoni’s side can still improve on eighth position with Golden State and Houston still to play in their seven remaining games. The Warriors and Rockets are not too far ahead but a first round clash with San Antonio or Oklahoma looks the most likely scenario should LA make the play-offs.

Game Night! ft. Portland @ LA Lakers

KOBE DROPS 40 ON THE TRAILBLAZERS; SAN ANTONIO PERISH IN OT WHILE THE KNICKS SUFFER 4TH DEFEAT ON THE BOUNCE

Kobe Bryant’s 40 point haul inspired a 111-107 success for the LA Lakers (27-29) as they hosted play-off rivals Portland (25-30), who suffered a seventh straight defeat. Dwight Howard contributed 19 points and 16 rebounds for the hosts while Nicolas Batum and J.J Hickson both had 22 point games for the Trail Blazers. In third, the visitors led 71-64 for the highest lead of the match as the Lakers‘ advantage never stretched beyond five points. Portland‘s last lead came at 103-102 with four minutes left although the teams were tied at 105 two minutes later. Steve Nash nailed a fadeaway jumper before Bryant sealed the win with 4/4 from the line in the final 13 seconds as Damon Lillard missed from long range. Bryant is adamant the Lakers will make the play-offs but they currently sit in NINTH in the standings.

STAT: This was the first time that Kobe Bryant had 40+ points in a single game this season and the Lakers won (5th occasion).

San Antonio (44-13) saw their winning streak come to an end as Golden State Warriors (32-23) prevailed 107-101 in overtime. The teams were evenly matched throughout and the visitors needed a late basket from Manu Ginobilli to force the extra period at 93. A triple from Spurs’ Danny Green (20p) cut the deficit to a single point in the final minute but the Warriors held on from the free throw line as Jarrett Jack took his tally to a season-high 30 points off the bench.

Oklahoma (40-15) bounced back from their defeat to Houston as they eased to a 127-111 win against the Minnesota Timberwolves (20-32) as Russell Westbrook posted a season-high 37 points. Thunder broke clear in the third quarter and became the second team to reach 40 wins for the season with conference rivals San Antonio being the first. Alexey Shved top scored with 19 points while Ricky Rubio (13p/5r/9a/5st) had a prominent night.

STAT: The Timberwolves had SEVEN players in double-figues while Westbrook and Kevin Durant (27p) combined for 64pts and 16 assists.

Toronto (23-33) inflcted a FOURTH straight defeat on the New York Knicks (32-20) with a 92-88 success on their home floor. Rudy Gay had nine points in the final four minutes on his way to 32 points, a total matched by Carmelo Anthony who sees his side slip to third in the Eastern conference. Indiana (34-21) took advantage of another Knicks loss by cruising past the Detroit Pistons (22-35) 114-88. The Pacers have now won 8 of their last 10 games and shot an impressive 71% from long range with all five starters plus Orlando Johnson in double figures.

Chicago Bulls (32-23) eased to a comfortable 105-75 win over the Charlotte Bobcats (13-42) as they attempt to lift themselves into the top four of the Eastern standings. Taj Gibson top scored with 17 points while Carlos Boozer had a 10p/10r double-double and Joakim Noah provided EIGHT assists to compliment a 13 point haul. Meanwhile, Washington (16-37) were forced to withstand a late fightback from the Denver Nuggets (34-22) to get the win. Ty Lawson had 27 points and 12 assists for the visitors who fell short attempting to overturn a SIXTEEN point deficit heading into the fourth as the Wizards were victorious 119-113.

STAT: Emeka Okafor (17p/13r), Bradley Beal (17p/12r) and John Wall (14p/10a) all had double-doubles for the Wizards as they halted the run of the Nuggets.

Boston Celtics (29-26) stormed away in the final quarter to collect a 113-88 win in Phoenix over the Suns (18-38). Jeff Green had a game-high 31 points for the Celtics in the absence of the rested Kevin Garnett while the hosts were led by a 19p/10a double-double from Goran Dragic. The Houston Rockets (31-26) continue to occup 8th spot in the Western conference following a 96-86 win against the Brooklyn Nets (33-23). The visitors outscored their opponents in every quarter and were led by 22 points each from Carlos Delfinho and James Harden.

Memphis (36-18) recored their sixth consecutive victory with an 88-82 win over Orlando Magic (15-40) with Marc Gasol (19p/13r) and Zach Randolph (16p/14r) contributing double-doubles for the Grizzlies. Dirk Nowitzki added 25 points to help Dallas (25-29) to a 104-100 win on the road against the New Orleans Hornets (19-37) while Atlanta (30-23) powered their way to a 122-108 victory over the Sacramento Kings (19-37).

CHECK-OUT Russell Westbrook in action for OKC as he goes to a season-high 37 points (NBA):

Game Night! ft. OKC @ Houston

MIAMI POWER PAST ATLANTA IN 4TH; KNICKS & OKC LOSE FURTHER GROUND ON CONFERENCE LEADERS

James Harden launched an avenged attack on his former-team with a career-high 46 points to inspire a 122-119 victory for the Houston Rockets (30-26) over the OKC Thunder (39-15). In support of Harden‘s incredible effort, Jeremy Lin (28p, 8a) and Chandler Parsons (17p) combined for a further 45 as the Rockets overturned a 107-93 deficit with seven minutes to go. Houston showed their intent early on as they fired in six triples to lead 23-16 which became 36-29 after the first. Oklahoma produced a strong second quarter to take the lead and stretched their advantage into double digits before Harden‘s half-court buzzer-beater made it 87-92 at the end of the third. Kevin Martin and Thabo Sefolosha netted 3-pointers to make it a 14 point lead in favour of the visitors before Houston launched their fightback. Harden and Lin instigated a pivotal 19-2 tear to swing the game’s momentum and when Kevin Durant missed a chance to tie the game from long range, Harden was on hand to seal the win from the foul line. Russell Westbrook top scored for Thunder with 28 points and 10 rebounds while Sefolosha also netted 28 points with 6-10 from 3-PT range.

STAT: Kevin Durant recorded a triple-double of 16 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists and was his second of the season with the last coming on 18/11/12 against Golden State.

Miami Heat (37-14) outscored the Atlanta Hawks (29-23) 40-17 in the final quarter to record a 103-90 victory. LeBron James‘ streak of 30 points in his last six games came to an end but the reigning NBA MVP still contributed 24 points, six rebounds and had 11 assists in Miami‘s seventh straight win. Josh Smith came close to a triple-double for the hosts with 10p, 9r & 9a while Al Horford top scored with a game high 27 points. Atlanta led 73-63 after three quarters but Miami opened the fourth with a 12-0 run to take the lead and powered on with a dominant 20-7 spell which included two triples from Ray Allen on his way to 15 points. A third straight defeat for the New York Knicks (32-19) moved them further behind Miami after the Indiana Pacers (33-21) stormed to an emphatic 125-101 triumph. Paul George had a game-high 27 points for the hosts who posted their highest points total in a half for the season with 74 POINTS.

LA Lakers (26-29) gained revenge on their recent heavy defeat at the hands of Boston (28-26) to beat their main rivals 113-99 at the Staples Centre. The home side got off to a fast start and didn’t look back as they moved ahead of Portland in the race for the play-offs. Dwight Howard top scored with 24 points and 12 rebounds as seven Lakers players reached double-figures while Earl Clark grabbed a career-high 16 boards to complement his 14 points. Dallas Mavericks (24-29) scored an impressive 42 points in the opening quarter to power them to a 111-96 win over Orlando Magic (15-39). Rudy Gay was unable to lead Toronto (22-33) to victory over his former side Memphis (35-18) as the Raptors fell to an 88-82 defeat. All-Star Zach Randolph led the Grizzlies with an 17-18 double-double.

STAT: Steve Nash moved ahead of Magic Johnson into fourth place on the all-time list for career assists with 10,144.

Nikola Pekovic had a huge 27 point, 18 rebound double-double to lead the Minnesota Timberwolves (20-31) to a 94-87 home win over the Philadelphia 76ers (22-30). Golden State Warriors (31-23) ended a six-game losing streak with a 108-98 win over the Phoenix Suns (18-37) as Klay Thompson (28) and Stephen Curry (20) starred for the hosts. Detroit Pistons (22-34) overturned a half-time deficit to defeat the Charlotte Bobcats (13-41) 105-99 on the road with Brandon Knight top scoring with a 21 point haul.

STAT: Nikola Pekovic matched his season-high total of 18 rebounds having also achieved the feat against Atlanta in January.

Kyrie Irving was in top form for the Cleveland Cavaliers (17-37) with 35 points in a 105-100 success against the New Orleans Hornets (19-36). The rising star scored TWENTY in the final quarter as the home side racked up 37 points to recover from a slender deficit heading into the fourth. In the final game, Brooklyn Nets (33-22) made it back-to-back wins over the Milwaukee Bucks (26-27) with a 97-94 victory despite 31 points and ELEVEN assists from Brandon Jennings. Deron Williams top scored for the Nets with 23 points for his highest total in nine games.

CHECK-OUT Michael Kidd-Gilchrist baptize Detroit’s Greg Monroe: (NBA)

Game Night! Miami @ Oklahoma

MIAMI LEAD FROM TIP TO BUZZER AGAINST OKC AS LBJ & KD DO BATTLE WHILE THE CLIPPERS WIN THE BATTLE OF LOS ANGELES

LeBron James dropped 39 points on Oklahoma (39-14) as Miami (36-14) recorded a 110-100 victory in a repeat of last year’s NBA Finals. Chris Bosh added 20 points and 12 boards while Kevin Durant produced a game-high 40 points for the Thunder despite missing his first seven attempts from the field. The teams were evenly matched early on before LeBron added six points after an Oklahoma time-out as the Heat embarked on a 11-0 run to take control in the first. Norris Cole completed a lay-up on the buzzer to give Miami a 32-17 advantage at the end of the opening quarter. Durant finally made a field goal drop in the second when he netted a triple although Miami‘s lead continued to rise. James scored ten points in a row for Miami while Russell Westbrook (24p, 10a) added nine for the hosts before Bosh finished the half with a dunk to make the score 63-46 in favour of the visiting Heat. The lead peaked at 73-50 on a Mario Chalmers 3-pointer before Reggie Jackson helped Oklahoma narrow the deficit with seven points. Shane Battier scored his first points of the night with a three to give Miami an 88-69 advantage after the third. Durant and Kevin Martin combined to make it 94-82 before LeBron nailed a dagger three. The home side managed to cut the gap into single figures after Dwayne Wade (13p, 8a) had fouled out but it proved too little too late as Ray Allen (13p) secured the win with a pair of free throws.

LA Clippers (39-17) defeated the Lakers (25-29) 125-101 for their fourth win in a row to match OKC‘s win tally for the season. The Clippers were led by their All-Stars as Chris Paul top scored with 24 points as well as 13 assists while Blake Griffin had a 22-10 double-double.  They were officially the visitors at Staples Centre and used a strong start once again to power away to victory. A 31-17 opening quarter was supported by a dominant third quarter as the Lakers struggled to compete. Kobe Bryant recovered from his blip against Phoenix to lead the ‘hosts’ with 20 points whilst providing 11 assists. The Lakers remain outside the play-off positions as it stands with Houston (29-26) currently occupying the eighth spot.

Check-out the duel between LeBron and KD in Oklahoma: (NBA)