With the Golden State Warriors (3-2) set to take on the Los Angeles Lakers (1-4) tonight at Staples Center, Andrew Kamenetzky of ESPNLA’s Lakers blog reached out to Warriors World for a quick Q&A session, you can find my answers about what to expect from the Warriors against the Lakers here. We also took the time to ask Andy some questions about the Lakers, and you can find them below. It’s worth noting that the Q&A was conducted prior to the dismissal of Mike Brown today.
1. Dwight Howard is often flanked by bench players when the starters are resting, but it hardly looks like a good formula given the players that Brown plays him with. Should the Lakers try to play small ball when Howard is playing with the second unit?
AK: I don’t know if the second unit issues would necessarily be solved by going smaller, but an argument can be made going big has created problems. Metta World Peace, for example, is now picking up big minutes as the backup shooting guard (in addition to starting at small forward), and the small sample size hasn’t produced huge dividends. Antawn Jamison is playing small forward, where he’s even a bigger liability on defense and, in the meantime, isn’t in the flow of the offense. (This, by the way, is a major problem for the second unit, regardless of personnel. If Jamison isn’t a primary scorer, there’s arguably no reason to play him. I understand why Brown wants Hill on the floor, which pushes Jamison to the 3, but the overall returns are diminished.)
Lately, I’ve actually been wondering if the Lakers would benefit more from Pau Gasol as the primary center for the second unit rather than Howard. He spaces the floor better alongside Hill, and more importantly, is a much better play-maker. This group lacks for natural scorers, which means they mostly need help manufacturing shots possible. Gasol greasing the wheels could go a long way.
In any event, the reserves remain a mess, a major letdown considering the offseason moves. For that matter, so is Brown’s inability to discover the proper mix, or to simply make up his mind on who he wants to use and give them a reasonable chance to jell.
2. Kobe Bryant wore down last season given the heavy minutes he had to play and is once again playing along the same line in terms of minutes. Have there been any signs of him wearing down progressively as the game unfolds or has the diminished load he’s carried helped him be a fresher player down the stretch of games?
AK: Kobe’s shooting percentages, Wednesday’s loss to Utah notwithstanding, have been through the roof. He’s taking most shots from the elbows and free throw line inward, and relentlessly attacking the rim. As a result, he’s become a fixture at the line. Having said that, Kobe also got off an incredible start last season, and those percentages eventually entered a steep tailspin. At the risk of sounding like a cynic, that’s what I expect this season as well. There’s only so much pounding Kobe’s body, with the current foot/recent knee and shoulder problems, can take at this stage of his career. At some point, it stops cooperating, especially if he continues to log big minutes as you noted. Brown was reluctant last season to manufacture rest for Kobe, Pau and Andrew Bynum, and it came back to bite them in the hindquarters. He must do a better job the second time around.
If that means risking an occasional loss, so be it. The bigger picture is what matters most.
3. Is it me or has Metta World Peace’s defense slipped a bit?
AK: As a lockdown defender over the course of an entire game, sure. The guy’s 32-years old, with 15 seasons of NBA mileage under his belt, and often draws the toughest wing assignments to boot. There’s only so much that can be reasonably expected. But he’s also still pretty effective, because the tools and determination are still there. Metta’s feet and especially his hands remain incredibly quick, and the latter are vice grip-strong. The ball is never safe with him lurking about, and for a guy with a three-inch vertical leap, MWP has become a sneaky good shot blocker. He’s also an incredibly smart defender who knows every trick in the book and has (rightly) earned a lot of leeway with the refs, which allows him to remain a pretty physical defender. Plus, Metta plays incredibly hard on every possession, and that goes a long way towards success as a defender.
Is MWP the same guy who won Defensive Player of the Year in 2004? No. But he’s got a long way to go before being considered a liability.
4. Your prediction?
AK: It is exceptionally difficult to pick the Lakers right now, especially against a team that looks halfway decent, and the Warriors qualify. There’s a lot of palpable confusion and frustration, and it’s tough to get a bead on when that real breakthrough will take place. I hate to say it, but Friday doesn’t feel like the moment. I’m picturing a close but ultimately disappointing loss.