Kyrie Irving
Toronto Raptors Los Angeles Lakers November 6, 2011 Kobe's Iron Will

The Game Thread in the RR Forums

Every year, this team has some sort of built in excuse that stirs debate among us about what to really expect/feel about this team. Taking care of business has been a big problem for the Raptors over the last couple seasons. Had they beaten the Knicks and Kings heading into to this rough stretch of games, they might have been able to come out on the other side much more intact. Instead, they are 1-3 heading into a 6 game stretch where the only winnable games are the Warriors (on the road) and the Bobcats; 2-8 seems about right to me.

Last year, the Raptors were able to stun the Lakers and steal the rug right out from under them; this year, not so much. If you thought the Jazz were badass, the Lakers are the most offensively efficient, as well as being the second best rebounding team in the league; all without Andrew Bynum. They’re also winning games with by an average margin of 13. Needless to say, the goal tonight will be to compete, work hard, build some momentum for when the schedule lightens up a bit…and not lose by 20.

I had a chance to speak with Phillip Barnett of Forum Blue & Gold about the Lakers:

The Lakers added Steve Blake and Matt Barnes (who was almost a raptor) over the summer. Can you talk about the impact that both these players are having on this team? I’m especially interested in Barnes, who I think was a perfect addition on the wing (in the mold of Ariza, but better defensively).
I think the addition of Steve Blake (to shore up the back up point guard spot) and Matt Barnes (adding even depth to the small forward spot) were two very good pick-ups for the Lakers this off-season. Steve Blake came in and picked up the Triangle Offense right away and has already developed some very good on-court chemistry with Lamar Odom. While I didn’t hate Jordan Farmar, I do love that his often push-the-pace, frantic style of basketball was replaced by the steady handed, better-shooting Steve Blake. He’s already knocked down a huge three pointer with 18 seconds left on the road against Phoenix and has helped to keep the bench’s turnover rate down.

As for Matt Barnes, I think his signing was about as underrated a signing there was this off-season. The Lakers spent a lot of last season trying to figure out how to back up the small forward position. Lamar Odom and Kobe got a lot of run at the three spot, increasing their respective minutes. Although he isn’t the full reason, Matt Barnes coming off the bench has reduced the number of Kobe’s minutes, and has made the minutes that he’s played a lot less effortless than what he was accustomed to last season. One of the things about Barnes that often goes unnoticed is the fact that he is a fantastic passer. Playing with so many run-and-gun teams throughout his journeyman career, he’s developed a “make the extra pass” mentality — something that has stood out to me more than anything else in his game. Then, of course, there is his ability to play tough perimeter defense — adding to what the Lakers already had in Ron Artest and Kobe. I think he’s still finding his way on the offensive side of the floor, but you can definitely see the upside of having a guy like Barnes on your side.

How do you see this team matching up against the Thunder come playoff time? I look at the West, and while the teams are still strong, OKC seems to be the only crew who can give the Lakers a real test come the post-season.
It’s hard for me to say at this point because this is a different Lakers team from what we saw last season. I know that we’re only 4-5 games into the season, but the Lakers do look like they’re heads and heels above what the Thunder are going to have to offer. OKC is in the middle of the pack of a lot of statistical categories, most notably offensive and defensive efficiency, hence their .500 record. But then again, we’re looking at such a small sample and completely ignoring all of the things that gave the Lakers problems last season. The Thunder are young, athletic and long. Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison gave the Lakers problems defensively and on the boards, Russell Westbrook is by far the fastest species either team has to offer and Kevin Durant is, well, Kevin Durant. The Lakers no longer have that glaring problem with their bench and now have one more defender they can throw at Durant in Matt Barnes. It’s a tough one to call with the season being so early, but as of right now, I think the Lakers don’t struggle as much this time around. If the playoff started with every team in the West healthy, I think the Lakers would have the most problems with Portland, Dallas and Houston because of their comparable size and veteran presences.

What happens with Bynum? Is it time to trade him before his injury problems totally ruin his value? Let me qualify: the kid has talent, moves well and is a beast; but at what point do you make the decision to not bet the future of the franchise on a guy who’s only played 82 games once in five seasons?
Ahh, the ubiquitous Andrew Bynum question. Here is what I believe the Lakers’ brain trust is thinking on this one: They have been to three straight NBA Finals, won the last two and are the favorites for this current season, even with Bynum’s injury. They’re going to take their time with him simply because they don’t need him right now. He’ll come back late in this calendar year, have some time to play himself back into shape through the second trimester of the season and will be healthy for the last stretch into the playoffs. Last year, they beat the Celtics with ‘Drew AND Kobe limping around on one leg. If they can have both of them healthy for this year’s postseason, it’s hard to imagine any team in the league beating them in a best of seven.

However, that is a huge if. Keeping Bynum is a huge franchise risk, simply because we don’t know what is to happen to his knees — or anything else for that matter — in the future. I think it’s a risk they’re willing to take because this is still a team that will contend with or without Bynum. Having him on the floor only helps their cause, and there aren’t too many other centers in the league capable of putting up the kind of numbers a healthy Andrew Bynum can on a night-to-night basis. Also, he gained a lot of trust from the organization when he went out there and battled through his injury. He didn’t always have the best of nights, but he finally, after five years, showed signs of being a warrior. Everyone had battled through some injury during last season, and seeing Andrew Bynum risk the future of his knee by banging bodies with the likes of Kendrick Perkins and Kevin Garnett really left a lasting impression on the Lakers.

We saw how sad it was for Jordan during the second comeback, and Kobe has that same manic drive. How many more years of elite play does Kobe Bryant have left in him?
Yes, Kobe does have a manic drive, but no, it isn’t the same as Jordan’s during his second comeback. Jordan’s was the manic-est of drives of all time. Not only did he come back, but he came back from running the team in the front office to running the team on the floor. He felt that Wizards team was so pathetic that only his presence could save them. Kobe’s is of the “I want to win, win every time, and win convincingly” variety — and he’s decided that he’s going to win by any means necessary. He’s trusting his teammates, hitting the glass, taking better shots and teaching the younger players. The Lakers are winning, and he seems to be enjoying these victories that what he had in the past. As for your actual question, I still think he has at least two more elite years left in him. I noted earlier that he’s playing fewer minutes, and in those minutes, he isn’t working as hard. This season, he’s using fewer dribbles, making quicker decisions and letting the bigs establish themselves. Considering the core of this team will be intact for the next few years, I think this is a trend we’ll likely see as long as they’re together. Kobe can still go out and get his 25-30 a game, but it’s going to be a relatively easy 25-30 points compared to the effort he had to put into scoring in the past. I’m not saying every night is going to be as easy as the first five games have been for him, but when was the last time he’s had a five game stretch where he averaged fewer than 35 minutes per game? You’d have to go back a long ways for that.

By all accounts, this is Phil Jackson’s last year on the bench; who takes over, Brian Shaw, or do they bring in an outsider?
I’m a firm believer in keeping the system intact. This Lakers team is a tight knit group with an offense that suits this collection of talent really well. With that said, I’d like to see them give Brian Shaw his first head coaching opportunity. He played for Phil Jackson during the early millennium three-peat team and has been on Phil’s bench for quite a while now. He’s as respected by the Lakers players as much as any assistant coach in the NBA. I think Jerry Buss would like to see more of a Showtime Era style of basketball, but I think he has to take into consideration that the Lakers, during Kobe’s regime, have not won a title running any other system.

Regardless of what happens, you just cannot replace a Phil Jackson. Whoever comes succeeds him as the Lakers head coach will have some Shaq-sized shoes to fill. Guys who we felt might have had a shot at this job in the past (Kurt Rambis now in Minnesota, Byron Scott who is now in Cleveland) are now head coaching for other NBA teams, making the coaching candidates narrowed down to Brian Shaw and everyone else. Shaw definitely has a leg up on the competition, but I wouldn’t necessarily say that anything is set in stone. It’ll be interesting to watch how this plays out, but if I had a vote, it would be Shaw.

Injury Report

Toronto
Niente

Los Angeles
Andrew Bynum – Knee
Luke Walton – Hamstring

Match-ups

PG – Jack vs Fisher
This is the only match-up where the Raptors have a legitimate shot at winning. You think Jack and Calderon play bad defense? Fisher just turned 36 and was being blown by off the dribble two years ago. Sadly, the guy is able to think the game, and will make some quality decisions throughout to account for his terrible defense. He doesn’t get into the lane much, so Jack should know that he will be camped out on the 3-point line waiting for the triangle to get him the ball (Hint: don’t leave him to double on someone, it wont help and you will get burned). Needs to be mentioned Blake will get some nice run at point, and he is a guy who’s young, in shape and has killed the Raptors in the past. Jack picked it up against the Jazz, posting 14pts 5ast, but he was doodoo against the Cavs and Kings.

Derek

Edge: Jack

SG – DeRozan vs Kobe
DeMar is on his way to being a legit 15-point a night scorer. However, to get to the 20 point plateau, he’ll need to get to the line more, and hit from beyond the arc once or twice a game. That’s how I see it, and I stand by it. Kobe is going to do whatever he feels like, from whatever point on the floor he wants too, and there is nothing DeRozan can do about it, sadly. I’m of the opinion that these sorts of games are good for DeMar since he can learn from Kobe via osmosis, at least I hope he does. Playing in front of a ‘home’ crowd with friends and family in the stands might prove to be distracting.

Kobe

Edge: Kobe

SF – Kleiza vs Artest
Kleiza had some trouble getting off against Kirilenko; Artest is the bigger stronger version. It will be tough taking it to him head on, so it will be best to keep Ron-Ron on his toes and mix it up some. I really have nothing to say other than Artest is more of a perimeter player on offense; he likes to pop long jumpers. Those are easy to defend, just stay up on him and get him to put it on the floor. I don’t know, I got nothing on this match-up, I think Kleiza will score some, grab a couple boards and dish a few dimes, and I think Artest will do the same.

Ron

Edge: Even

PF – Evans vs Odom
Full Disclosure: I have Odom and Evans in my fantasy pool.

While he was grabbing a ridiculous amount of rebounds, the lingering question in my head was always “did something change, or was it a benefit of the match-ups that Evans was able to average 16.3 rebounds during the first 3 games of the year. Not trying to hate, but that rate was ridiculous for a guy who’s never averaged more than 9.3 (which came 7 years ago) a night. Last game against the Jazz, the first game against a real front line, we saw him fall back down to earth with the rebounding. Battling alongside Bargnani against Millsap and Jefferson is daunting for anyone in the league, and the two put in a pretty decent effort all things considered. Tonight it doesn’t get any easier as he gets to check Khloe Odom who is bigger, stronger, faster, longer and more gifted overall. I’e got Evans on the bench tonight, lets just put that way.

Lamar

Edge: Odom

C – Bargnani vs Gasol
Bargnani’s offensive improvement has been more than incremental this season; figure about a 41% jump early in the season – nothing to shake a stick at. We saw that he stepped up to Jefferson and really delivered a solid performance against a quality opponent; even grabbed a couple rebounds. There was also some improvement on his boxing out, which is all I really want from the guy. Gasol is the best big man in the league, period. The only positive here is that when Gasol gets a breather, Bargnani wont have to contend with Bynum in the low block.

Pau

Edge: Gasol

Lakers are 13.5 point favourites…it’s not going to be a pretty outcome, but we should see a nice pace to the game; I’m going with the gamblers, bet the kids trust fund.

For those in the Toronto area, we have our first Raptor Fan Fridays at Sports Center Cafe. For those who aren’t, Live Chat will be bumping.