Byron Scott Facing New Reality of Coaching Los Angeles Lakers

With another dreadful season underway, Byron Scott is getting a taste of what it’s like to helm the sinking ship known as today’s Los Angeles Lakers.

The longtime NBA operative has had his successes—two NBA Finals appearances with the New Jersey Nets and Coach of the Year honors in 2008 with the New Orleans Hornets.

But he has also had down years at each stop along the way, including most recently with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Now ensconced in his dream job—coaching the same purple and gold colors he wore on the floor during three Showtime championship runs—Scott searches for answers as the Lakers fall to 3-11 in the Western Conference.

The coach has endless trust in one of the league’s fiercest competitors. But Kobe Bryant is entering his twilight chapter, and there’s simply not enough talent amongst the Mamba’s supporting cast to win with any consistency.

 

Injuries played their part in the bobbled start, with Steve Nash and rookie Julius Randle out for the season. Adding to the woes, Nick “Swaggy P” Young missed the first 10 games of the season, nine of which were losses.

Games lost to injury are a part of every team’s narrative, however. And Scott, who was brought in to shore up a team who skidded to a 27-55 record last season, is plunging even faster than predecessors Mike D’Antoni and Mike Brown.

It’s enough to cause a lack of conviction among pundits, fans and even players.

As reported by Baxter Holmes for ESPN.com, the new Lakers coach is trying to keep the team’s competitive fires burning through motivational messages, including future title hopes: “I told them that I have no doubt that we will win a championship in my tenure here as head coach, because I know this organization. But I do know it’s going to take some patience. It’s a process.”

The current process includes a heavy reliance on Bryant, the last player remaining from the recent championship era.

Sometimes the team’s enduring star is brilliant, and sometimes you just have to scratch your head as he chucks up a long-distance prayer light years from home.

During a recent game preview, Darius Soriano for Forum Blue and Gold wrote about the difficult balance facing Scott:

With all the perks that come with coaching the Lakers and Kobe Bryant, what Scott must manage now is clearly one of the hard aspects. Getting all the players on the same page and effectively building a cohesiveness from a roster that isn’t familiar with each other, nor familiar with how Kobe responds in any given moment, is difficult.

Add a bunch of losing to the equation and things only get harder. But this is the job he signed up for. It’s time for him to put in the work or fail trying.

The Lakers’ coach is also dealing with a team that seems diametrically suited to his most fundamental precept—limiting easy baskets. Even if the team wasn’t loaded with stoppers, they were expected to show a consistent effort of trapping and corralling pick-and-roll penetration.

Speaking to Lakers.com’s Mike Trudell this summer, Scott said, “You want to clog up the paint as much as possible and make the opponent take contested jump shots.”

Unfortunately, that most elemental of responsibilities has headed resolutely in the wrong direction. In fact, Zach Harper for CBS Sports points out that the Lakers are on pace to become the worst defensive team in history:

Looking at their latest loss to the Mavericks, Basketball-Reference has the Lakers’ defensive rating for that game at a staggering 155.6 points per 100 possessions. It can also lead you to believe the Lakers’ one possibly historically bad game could have skewed the numbers to all-time futility. Unfortunately for the Lakers, that’s not true.

Nine of their 13 games have resulted in a defensive rating that would put them as the worst defense in NBA history. And three of those other games resulted in defensive efforts worse than the current 106.1 league average.

After being shelled in Dallas, Scott said, per Joey Ramirez for Lakers.com, “Sometimes I do feel like I’m talking to myself when I’m talking about the defensive end of the floor and just trying to stress how important it is to our guys each and every night.”

If so many things are going wrong, there are at least a few silver linings. The return of Young is adding much-needed firing power off the bench, backup big man Ed Davis is swatting opponents’ shots with abandon, and starting center Jordan Hill is leading the league in offensive rebounds.

And while Bryant’s field-goal percentage is his lowest in 19 years, he’s still averaging more points than anyone else in the NBA. That counts for something.

The temptation when things are going wrong is to try different methodologies on the fly. But it may not be as much a matter of Scott’s flawed fundamental philosophies as it is getting players to buy in.

After all, the Memphis Grizzlies are grinding out the best record in the West through defense, while the Toronto Raptors’ lead in the East is accompanied by that conference’s best team scoring.

It’s a sense of consistency and a readily identifiable style that often defines a team’s success.

The Lakers’ record is not due to any singular factor; however, their vessel is leaking like a sieve.

The upside is the potential to head back to the draft lottery for the second time in two years. The 2015 pick the team gave to the Phoenix Suns for the Nash trade is top-five protected.

There should also be enough cap space next summer to be active in the free-agent market.

Barely into a four-year contract, Scott will have to put championship dreams on hold for now and look toward the future. That means lessening his reliance on Bryant, building team chemistry, establishing a cohesive system and developing players.

Things will probably get worse before they get better—that’s the reality of coaching today’s Lakers.

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Los Angeles Clippers vs. Memphis Grizzlies 11/23/14: Video Highlights and Recap

A potential Western Conference playoff matchup took place on Sunday as the conference-leading Memphis Grizzlies took on the Los Angeles Clippers.

The Grizzlies looked to continue their red-hot start against a Clippers group that has yet to truly find its stride at 7-4 on the campaign.

Watch the video for full highlights.

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Los Angeles Clippers Looking Like Title Pretenders, and Sunday NBA Takeaways

The focus of the Memphis Grizzlies’ 107-91 mauling of the visiting Los Angeles Clippers would normally be on the victor.

But the Grizzlies’ dominant win didn’t teach us anything new about the team that has been tearing up the Western Conference for the first month of the season. The contest did, however, offer another piece of damning evidence in the case against the Clippers.

Los Angeles might not be a contender.

Marc Gasol continued his season-long demolition tour, hanging 30 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks on the Clippers. It was a brilliant performance on both ends from the man who’s played the center position as well as anyone (defense counts, DeMarcus Cousins supporters) this season.

Gasol, even in his newly trimmed-down form was perfectly happy to mix it up in an ultra-physical affair. Despite his terrific line, the big Spaniard still saw room for improvement, per Matt Moore of CBSSports.com:

And that’s where we shift the focus away from Memphis and onto Los Angeles, which put forth yet another disjointed defensive effort. Gasol’s comments served a dual purpose.

He was trying to keep his team, which has every reason to be full of itself, from getting too content. Even big wins like this one could have been bigger, he’s trying to say.

Secondly, Gasol was calling attention to the Clippers’ woeful help defense, which has been a major disappointment this season. Memphis knows it could have gotten even easier looks by moving the ball more efficiently. Somehow, its 20 assists felt like an underachievement.

It’s a perplexing problem, as this same L.A. core posted a 102.1 defensive rating a year ago, good enough to finish in a seventh-place tie with the Grizzlies, per NBA.com. This season, the Clippers check in at No. 20 with a 104.7 rating.

It’s hard to know the exact cause for this, and there’s almost certainly more than just one. Matt Barnes’ broken perimeter stroke has resulted in more minutes for Jamal Crawford, which essentially amounts to four-on-five basketball on defense. In addition, Blake Griffin hasn’t looked nearly as alert or mobile on either end this season.

Communication has been poor, as has been the team’s general effort level. For evidence of that, look no further than the historically poor offensive rebounding numbers, as noted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Arnovitz:

After being out-rebounded by 20 on the night (including a minus-seven margin on the offensive boards), L.A. now ranks dead last in the NBA with an offensive-rebound rate of 16.7 percent, per NBA.com.

To be fair, teams often punt on the offensive glass in the interest of getting back in transition. But the Clips clearly aren’t defending this season, so it’s hard to believe giving up on offensive boards is part of some grand plan.

If it is, the plan’s not working.

Something just feels wrong about the Clippers, and playing against a Grizzlies team for whom everything looked so very right was a study in serious contrast.

The Clippers won 57 games last season, and it’s difficult to believe a 7-5 start means imminent doom. But the Clips fancy themselves a title contender, and it doesn’t take much slippage to make that belief unrealistic.

Less than halfway through a rough seven-game road trip, Los Angeles needs to either find a spark or risk returning home under .500. We’ll soon see whether the Grizzlies’ thorough beatdown serves as motivation or accelerates a tailspin.

The Clippers had better find their edge in a hurry. The West isn’t getting softer anytime soon.

 

Around the Association

Game of Inches

The Charlotte Hornets fell short against the Miami Heat by the slimmest of margins on Sunday, dropping a 94-93 decision that would have gone their way if an Al Jefferson tip-in at point-blank range had stayed down at the buzzer.

Mario Chalmers had a dozen of his 20 points in the fourth, and Chris Bosh‘s slick, fading left-shoulder turnaround from the right baseline gave the Heat a lead that would hold up through a costly turnover on their next possession. When Jefferson couldn’t clean up Kemba Walker’s shot at the buzzer, it was all over.

Devastation was the prevailing mood for a Hornets team that played well enough to win but couldn’t close the deal against a Heat squad missing Dwyane Wade (hamstring) for the sixth straight game.

Oh, and there may be trouble a-brewin’ in Charlotte:

It’s something to keep an eye on as the Hornets, losers of five in a row, try to keep it together.

 

Mo Speights, No Problems

The Golden State Warriors let a physical, scrappy Oklahoma City Thunder team hang around all game long, lost Andrew Bogut (orbital contusion) and Leandro Barbosa (knee sprain) to injuries (neither of which are expected to linger long term) and saw the Splash Brothers combine for just 11 made field goals on 35 attempts.

That’s not a recipe for a win under normal circumstances, but normal circumstances don’t include Marreese Speights getting loose for a game-high 28 points off the bench.

This was the continuation of a trend for Speights, who has averaged 17.4 points and 6.2 rebounds on 63.5 shooting over his past five contests. Golden State will need its most impactful reserve to keep producing with Bogut potentially limited (but very enthusiastic) as the Warriors embark on a five-game road trip, the next four of which are in the East.

Thanks to Speights, the Dubs emerged with a 91-86 win to start their travels.

 

Blake and Bake

Evan Turner was just trying to anticipate the Chris Kaman screen, and part of his job as a defender on the pick-and-roll is to make sure the guard—Steve Blake in this case—doesn’t get to the middle of the floor. It’s called “icing,” appropriately, as Turner looked very much like he was on skates.

Unfortunately, Turner’s anticipatory lunge combined with Blake’s quick right-to-left crossover to produce a highlight the Boston Celtics wing will be hearing plenty about in the coming days.

Turner’s defensive uh-oh was a micro example of the macro problem that sank the Boston Celtics. After defending capably for three quarters, Boston stumbled through a 10-0 Portland Trail Blazers run to start the fourth quarter—a surge that ultimately decided the game.

Summation: Blake 1, Turner 0. Blazers 94, Celtics 88.

 

Lakers Highlights!

Wesley Johnson got to work on both ends in the Los Angeles Lakers’ 101-94 loss to the Denver Nuggets, soaring for a hurt-your-feelings two-handed stuff on Arron Afflalo:

And then rising for the spectacular slam on Danilo Gallinari in the fourth quarter:

On a night when many Lakers fans were ecstatic to see Ed Davis get the start over the injured Carlos Boozer (finally!) and then disappointed when Davis fouled out after 22 minutes, Johnson stepped in to fill the excitement void.

Unfortunately, Johnson’s moments of heroism were the only positives in a game the Lakers gave away at the foul line and on the offensive glass.

 

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5 Potential Solutions to Los Angeles Lakers’ Obvious Small Forward Problem

The Los Angeles Lakers face a number of problems this season, not the least of which is a lack of quality depth at nearly every position.

Minus a quality starting center, Lakers management loaded up on power forwards with the hope that Jordan Hill, Julius Randle, Ryan Kelly, Carlos Boozer, Ed Davis and Robert Sacre would address that deficiency. Teams are still destroying the Lakers in the paint.

That left a gaping hole at small forward, despite the presence of starter Wesley Johnson and super sub Nick Young. In Johnson, the Lakers have a 27-year-old former first-round draft pick who continues to underperform, most notably on offense.

So far in 13 games, Johnson has spent 32 minutes on the court, scoring less than eight points per game. His 26.5 percent shooting from beyond the arc is the worst of his five-year career.

Having Nick Young back has helped strengthen the bench, especially on offense. In his first two games following rehab on his injured thumb, Swaggy P averaged 16.5 points on 48 percent shooting in 28 minutes.

By his third game, however, Young disappeared, scoring just five points in 19 minutes against the Mavs.

After Johnson and Young, the small forward cupboard looks pretty bare. The Lakers do have Xavier Henry, but he’s been a non-factor who was injured to start the year and has offered little.

In fact, there is reason to believe if and when the Lakers make a roster move, it will be Henry who gets the pink slip.

Bleacher Report’s Kevin Ding wrote earlier this week:

No massive talent upgrade is coming, though if 6’9″ forward Quincy Miller fares well in a tryout this week, expect to see him replace Xavier Henry on the team. Miller, who turns 22 on Tuesday and has rare upside despite no sense of how to reach it after two years with the Denver Nuggets, would at least give the Lakers a little more youth and hope in Julius Randle’s absence.

With a recently awarded $1.5 million Disabled Player Exception (DPE) as compensation for Randle’s broken leg, the Lakers have until March 10 to sign or trade for someone to fill that roster spot. 

The pickings are slim, but the Lakers are mining for any help they can get.

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Los Angeles Clippers vs. Miami Heat 11/20/14: Video Highlights and Recap

The Los Angeles Clippers looked to build a bit of momentum on Thursday night when they took on the Miami Heat. The Clippers were searching for their first back-to-back wins since October, but they faced a tough test from a Heat squad that had snapped a three-game skid in its last game.

L.A. came out firing as it surged to a 39-15 lead after the opening frame. That early 24-point deficit ultimately proved insurmountable for the Heat, as they fell to the Clippers, 110-93.

In a battle of big men, Chris Bosh scored 28 to go with seven boards, while Blake Griffin went for 26 and seven. Point guard Chris Paul matched Griffin with 26 points of his own and tallied 12 assists.

With the win, the Clippers improved to 7-4 and the Heat are back to .500 at 6-6.

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Los Angeles Clippers vs. Miami Heat: Postgame Grades and Analysis

The Miami Heat were without Dwyane Wade (hamstring injury) for the fourth consecutive game on Thursday night. Without his services, the defending Eastern Conference champions found themselves down early against the visiting Los Angeles Clippers, eventually losing 110-93.

Los Angeles set the tone early, jumping out to a 39-15 lead after a dominant first quarter in which it shot just south of 70 percent from the floor.

With pristine ball movement and control, the Clippers exploited a weak defensive effort from Miami. Despite tightening their effort as the game progressed, the Heat were unable to ever cut the deficit to single digits.

 

Los Angeles Clippers

Chris Paul: A

As far as point guards go, the Los Angeles Clippers can confidently claim that theirs is the best. Chris Paul has always been one of the league’s most dominant floor generals, and Thursday night was a classic instance of the veteran leading an offense both as a scorer and orchestrator.

Responsible for a good chunk of the team’s points, Paul posted 26 points (8-of-13 shooting), 12 assists and just one turnover.

His leadership on both ends gave rise to a dominant two-way effort by the entire team, and with an abundance of individual and team success, Paul remains one of the league’s best players.

 

Blake Griffin: A

Perhaps more so than any other NBA player in the past few years, Blake Griffin has expanded his game annually, continually introducing new elements to make him more versatile and dominant.

On Thursday, that arsenal of weapons was featured prominently as the All-Star forward finished with 26 points, seven rebounds and four assists.

Along with his frontcourt partner, Griffin used his size and athleticism to dominate a weak Miami interior, playing his patented role above the rim while displaying his improved mid-range shot on numerous occasions.

Though there’s still plenty of room for improvement as far as shooting goes, his confidence from the elbow offers insight regarding the direction of Griffin’s continued evolution.

 

DeAndre Jordan: A-

DeAndre Jordan entered the night as the league’s leading rebounder, and after grabbing 11 boards in 31 minutes, he’ll be able to boast that title going forward. On the night, he also added a dozen points.

Though Los Angeles’ dominance ran deeper than its dunking prowess, Jordan’s unrivaled finishing ability above the rim was on full display, as the big man cleaned up the scraps of his teammates and served as a dynamic force in the paint.

Efficient and productive, Jordan made his presence known on the offensive end. Without a true defensive anchor in Miami’s frontcourt, the Clippers’ man in the middle ran wild, connecting on all six of his attempts.

 

J.J. Redick: B 

J.J. Redick was mostly a factor in the game’s opening quarter, but in that period, he played a vital role in ensuring the Clippers’ unabridged dominance. He led the way from beyond the arc, connecting on half of his eight attempts.

After the first, his contributions came sporadically, but his ability to spread the floor allowed for the Clippers to control the paint throughout the night.

 

Rest of Team: D

Surprisingly, the Clippers failed to find much success in their second unit. Jamal Crawford did nothing, hitting just one of his six shot attempts in 25 minutes of action.

Despite 20 minutes of playing time, Spencer Hawes was quiet as well, scoring six points and grabbing five boards as the best player off the bench.

In the starting lineup, Matt Barnes was serviceable, but as a whole it was the Clippers’ stars who can be credited with Thursday night’s victory.

 

Miami Heat

Chris Bosh: A

LeBron James took his talents away from South Beach this summer and Wade has been unable to play with a hamstring injury, leaving Chris Bosh as the Heat’s lone star during Thursday’s duel with L.A.

Despite being the primary focus of the Clippers defense, Bosh contributed a strong offensive outing, finishing the contest with 28 points on 9-of-17 shooting. 

Though he failed to lead his team to victory, the lack of weapons around him makes it difficult to cast Bosh in a negative light. All in all, his play was a reminder of his superstar status and the silver lining in an otherwise dim contest for the Heat.

 

Luol Deng: C+

Luol Deng finished with a respectable stat line of 13 points (50 percent from the floor) and five rebounds. However, with Wade watching from the sidelines, the stage was set for Deng to play a larger role in the offense. In that respect, he failed miserably.

Quite simply, Deng’s inability to rise to the occasion left Bosh as Miami’s lone weapon, a reality that resulted in the 17-point rout.

Deng was a zero in the passing game and set the tone for Miami’s awful evening from three-point land, as the former Chicago Bulls star finished 0-of-4 from deep.

 

Shabazz Napier: B+

Aside from Bosh, Shabazz Napier was probably Miami’s brightest spark.

Though guards Norris Cole and Mario Chalmers got the starting nods and Shannon Brown filled Cole’s slot once the point guard exited with injury, Napier was undoubtedly the best floor general in white against the Clippers.

Well on his way to capturing the starting job, the rookie posted a balanced line of 17 points, five rebounds and three assists, showing his ability to contribute in a variety of ways. He was a presence on both ends, and despite receiving plenty of pressure as the Heat’s most dynamic backcourt talent, he fared well.

Seemingly the only capable contributor on the second unit, Napier succeeded in leaving his mark and taking advantage of Wade and Cole’s absences.

 

Mario Chalmers: B-

For Mario Chalmers, the 2014-15 season has seen its fair share of highs and lows, though the general trend has been in a positive direction. For the most part, Chalmers stepped up to the plate against L.A., taking advantage of his insertion into the starting lineup with 13 points on 4-of-6 shooting.

Howeverlike Denghe was not nearly as effective as Miami needed him to be, despite a performance that would normally be good enough.

He was also noticeably absent on the defensive end and was unable to get the ball moving around the perimeter, finishing with just three assists.

Overall, it was a solid night for Chalmers, but after posting 18 and 22 points in his previous two contests, his 13-point outing was slightly disappointing given the need for another stellar night.

 

Rest of Team: D+

Outside of those named, the Heat were awful.

Cole posted just one assist and no scores in the 10 minutes he played before falling victim to the injury bug, while Shawne Williams’ 1-5 shooting only scratched the surface of a terrible night on both ends of the court.

Only Shannon Brown seemed to make any positive contributions, filling in for Cole with nine points. Though he served as a nice bench spark for the Heat, the second unit was otherwise silent and a major reason as to why Miami was unable to put forth a respectable effort.

 

Coming Up…

The Clippers, now 7-4, will face the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday in the second contest of their seven-game road trip. Miami, 6-6, will take on the Orlando Magic this Saturday as they look to bounce back after this loss.

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Los Angeles Clippers vs. Miami Heat: Live Score, Highlights and Reaction

The Miami Heat (6-5) and Los Angeles Clippers (6-4) will both look to earn consecutive victories when they clash at American Airlines Arena Thursday night.

Los Angeles may catch a break, though, considering Heat guard Dwyane Wade has missed three straight games with a left hamstring strain and is questionable for Thursday’s contest. The status of swingman Luol Deng (wrist) is also uncertain, although he did participate in the team’s morning shootaround, according to the Heat’s official Twitter account

In order to combat the Clippers’ ninth-ranked offense, Miami will need to rely on the hot-and-cold stylings of Chris Bosh. Despite averaging 19.9 points and 8.7 rebounds, Bosh is shooting a paltry 41.5 percent from the field, including 30.8 percent from three, through 11 games.

As for the Clippers, they’ll lean on Blake Griffin and Chris Paul to lead the way. To date, Griffin is averaging 22.8 points, seven rebounds and three assists, the only player in the NBA to meet those nightly standards, according to Basketball-Reference.com

Paul, meanwhile, is averaging 17.2 points, 9.7 dimes and 2.2 steals while shooting 49.3 percent from the field. 

Thursday’s contest will also pit the league’s two-worst rebounding clubs against one another. Thus far, the Clippers and Heat rank 29th (37.6) and 30th (37.4), respectively, in rebounds per game, although Los Angeles center DeAndre Jordan leads all players with a rebounding average of 12.3.

You can catch all the action at 8 p.m. ET on TNT.

Keep it locked here on Bleacher Report throughout the night for real-time updates, highlights and analysis of all things Clippers-Heat.

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Los Angeles Clippers vs. Orlando Magic 11/19/14: Video Highlights and Recap

The Los Angeles Clippers looked to get themselves on track on Wednesday night, when they squared off against the Orlando Magic. The Clippers had alternated losses and wins in their last seven games, and were looking to avoid their first two-game skid of the season, but faced a tough test from the athletic young Magic, who had won three of their last four games. 

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Los Angeles Lakers: The importance of Swaggy P’s return

After sitting out six weeks as the result of a torn ligament in his right thumb that he sustained this offseason, Los Angeles Lakers guard Nick Young returned to action last night against the Atlanta Hawks. So far without Swaggy P, the Lakers have struggled mightily finding options for offensive production outside of the NBA’s leading scorer, Kobe Bryant.  Although the team ranks 12th in the league in points per game, the Lakers are at the bottom of the league in field goal percentage (23rd), field goals made (17th) and 3-point percentage (28th). These numbers are not good enough to account for the team’s pitiful defense, which ranks last in the league in points allowed with a whopping 112.1 points per game. In other words, Young couldn’t have picked a better time to come back.
Nick Young returns to the Lakers at a time when his scoring and overall energy are desperately needed.
Young offers the team another player with the ability to create his own shot, which should immediately alleviate some press

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Should the Los Angeles Clippers shop DeAndre Jordan?

With a record of 5-4 so far this season, it’s becoming increasingly clear with each game that the Los Angeles Clippers are further away from winning the Western Conference than initially thought. With Houston, Memphis, San Antonio, and Golden State all proving to be stronger teams than the Clippers to date, at some point Clips management is going to have to begin asking some tough questions in regards to the construction of the current player roster.
The Clippers are essentially one player away from winning a title. Frustratingly though, they don’t have the salary cap flexibility or have a juicy expiring contract that might entice another team into trading such a player onto the Clippers roster. Nevertheless, they do have one asset on their team which they could potentially move in order to acquire the few remaining pieces of the puzzle: DeAndre Jordan. Granted, even as I type these words, I just can’t see the Clippers trading away their star center. Jordan is an athletic freak, monster on the boards, a

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