NBA AM: Lakers Still Struggling Under D’Antoni
Senior NBA & College Basketball Editor
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On Friday night the Los Angeles Lakers looked just like a Mike D’Antoni coached team as they topped the Denver Nuggets 122-103. Five players were in double figures, including reserves Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks dropping a combined 61, and as a team they made 17 threes. Even Dwight Howard got in on the long-ball action with a triple of his own near the end of regulation. It was as promising as they looked all season long.
On Sunday night, though, they received another reminder of just how far they have to go as the young and feisty Orlando Magic surprised them with a convincing 113-103 defeat. The Magic utilized the hack-a-Dwight strategy extensively in the fourth quarter with great success. Howard finished the game 9-21 from the charity stripe in a game that was more emotional than the typical regular season contest for his former teammates.
“It means a lot to me,” Magic guard Jameer Nelson admitted after the game. “We can all say it was just a basketball game, but we know (it wasn’t).”
Howard confessed to wishing his time in Orlando came to an end in a more civil manner before the game, but both sides have moved on now and the Magic aren’t in that bad of a position all things considered. Their new starting center Nikola Vucevic more than held his own against Howard, putting up 17 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks to Howard’s 21 points and 15 rebounds. Aaron Afflalo, another centerpiece in the Magic deal, had 30 points, five rebounds and five assists. While there still may be a void in star power with Howard gone, the Magic have a promising team that is competing on a nightly basis.
For the Lakers life is only going to get more difficult as there is still no set return date for Steve Nash or Steve Blake. They could both be out for at least another two weeks as the 8-9 Lakers get ready to hit the road, where they are just 1-4 so far this season, for six of their next seven and eight of their next 12 overall.
Absent down the stretch once again against the Magic was Pau Gasol. Gasol’s ability to fit into D’Antoni’s up tempo system has been one of the hot topics in recent weeks and his diminishing role is only increasing trade talks and speculation. Gasol didn’t play in the final six minutes of Sunday night’s contest in favor of Jamison.
Thanks to his quickness and being more comfortable out on the perimeter, Jamison has thrived under D’Antoni whereas Gasol hasn’t. What appears to also be holding Gasol back is his health. He has tendinitis in his knees and there are times where you can see that he clearly lacks explosiveness as a result.
All preseason long the Lakers preached about how coming together was going to be a long process. The hope was that firing Mike Brown and bringing in the more player-friendly D’Antoni would help speed up that process, but that has not been the case yet. They’re still wildly inconsistent and surprisingly lethargic offensively at times. The return of Blake and Nash will undoubtedly help a great deal, but the more time they miss the more it looks like the Lakers have deeper issues they may not be able to solve by themselves.
Varejao In Demand: The Cleveland Cavaliers are receiving a lot of interest in starting center Anderson Varejao, who many feel has been the best center in basketball this season. Varejao is putting up career numbers across the board with 15 points, 15 rebounds a three assists a contest. While the Cavaliers are not actively looking to trade him, at 4-13 and as a rebuilding team they have to consider all options. Teams are already lining up in hopes of being able to make them an offer they can’t refuse for Varejao.
“They could be they key this year,” a league executive said to Jason Lloyd of the Beacon Journal. “If he’s available, it goes without saying a lot of teams will want in. He would be the top target.”
Varejao’s emergence is coming after playing a combined 56 games over the last two seasons. The last time he was healthy enough to play in more than 70 games LeBron James was still with the Cavaliers and Varejao was just a role player.
“Our team is a lot different than it was before,” Varejao said. “Before we had LeBron and everything was through him. Now I’ve got the ball in my hands, which makes me feel more comfortable. Plus, [Scott] gives me the green light and tells me to do whatever I want to do, which helps.”
According to Llloyd, the Cavaliers will not be willing to give up Varejao unless it’s for more promising young talent or an elite-level player. They have plenty of first-round draft picks that they can pair with Varejao if they need to.
Varejao recently turned 30 and has a very reasonable contract with two years remaining. He’s owed $9.1 million next season and $9.8 million in 2014-2015 if the team option is picked up.
Up Close With John Jenkins: Atlanta Hawks rookie guard John Jenkins is having to bide his time and wait for an opportunity to crack head coach Larry Drew’s rotation. He’s played in just four games so far this season and HOOPSWORLD recently caught up with him to talk to him about life as a rookie and being patient for that opportunity in this video interview.
NBA Chats: There are two NBA chats on tap for today, starting with Bill Ingram in the AM. Ingram covers the Dallas Mavericks and his chats always fill up fast, so get your questions in early here. Stephen Brotherston will take the stage at 3 pm est. Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors; you can get your questions into him here. As always you can also checkout our entire upcoming chat schedule and previous chats list.