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Lakers Battling For Third Seed In West: Q & A With Rey Moralde

Omar Shamout |
April 19, 2012 | 12:32 a.m. PDT

Senior Staff Writer

Believe it or not, the NBA playoffs are about a week away. While an abbreviated season means fewer games overall, it also means we get to see exciting postseason action that much sooner. 

Kobe Bryant should be well-rested as the Lakers begin their playoff push. (Keith Allison/Wikimedia Commons)
Kobe Bryant should be well-rested as the Lakers begin their playoff push. (Keith Allison/Wikimedia Commons)
The Lakers have had a roller-coaster of a season. First, there was the trade that almost was. Then came the loss of Lamar Odom, immediately followed by being written off as LA's second-best team before ever stepping foot on the court. After some early season struggles, the Lakers end the year with a slender lead in the standings over their neighbors, a revamped roster and a healthy Kobe Bryant ready to scale the Western Conference mountain once more.

With all this buzz in the air, we brought in Rey Moralde of Lakers ESPN TrueHoop blog Forum Blue and Gold and TheNoLookPass.com to discuss the major issues facing the Lakers as they enter the playoffs.

Shamout: If the Lakers stay the 3rd seed, their two most likely first-round opponents would be Dallas and Memphis. Who do the Lakers match up better against?

Moralde: Dallas absolutely. No more waterbug guards like J.J. Barea. No more imposing force in the middle in Tyson Chandler, who was a big part of their defensive scheme. This team is just not as talented as it was last year when they seemed destined to win.

Memphis is a team that nobody wants to face. They're young, they're hungry, and they're physical. They can play any style and they may be peaking at the right time, especially with Zach Randolph coming back. Remember that this team was one win away from the Conference Finals last year WITHOUT Rudy Gay. Now they have more experience together and they have a more complete team. I'd argue that they're the most dangerous team in the West and could very well be a favorite in the conference in many people's eyes.

Shamout: We all know Ramon Sessions has contributed offensively since joining the team, but do you think his defense will be good enough to guard top point guards in the west like Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook or Tony Parker in the playoffs?

Moralde: This is going to be a problem all playoffs long because while Sessions has a reputation as a very good pick-and-roll point guard, he is NOT a very good defensive player. At the very least, you hope that he can try to match the opposing point guard's production on the offensive end. Sessions has trouble fighting screens on defending the pick-and-roll, which jacks up the situation and leaves the Laker bigs in vulnerable positions. But this is a far better situation than having Derek Fisher getting burned all game long. Fisher wouldn't have provided the offense Sessions would have. At the very least, I want to see Sessions, with his quick feet, stay in front of his man.

Shamout: Consistent bench scoring has been a problem for the Lakers this season. Do you feel they have a deep enough bench to make a long playoff run?  Or do they even need one?

Moralde: The bench is going to be a disadvantage so anything that comes from them will be a bonus. The only one that seems to give good production from the pine consistently is Matt Barnes. Barnes is one of the more elite rebounders in the small forward position (averaging 5.4 this season in nearly 23 minutes of play) and he is constantly in motion in both ends. The others are pretty much hit or miss. You just hope that they provide enough with whatever Mike Brown goes with. I have a feeling he's going to have a really small rotation (8-man?) in the playoffs.

Shamout: Do you trust Andrew Bynum to keep his focus and cool throughout the playoffs and take the next step in becoming a superstar, or does he still have some ways to go in the character department?

Andrew Bynum is averaging a career-best 18.9 points and 12.1 rebounds. (Creative Commons)
Andrew Bynum is averaging a career-best 18.9 points and 12.1 rebounds. (Creative Commons)
Moralde: I think that was just a phase for Andrew... and he hasn't done anything outlandish as of late. He knows what's at stake in the playoffs and I'll be very surprised if he does anything crazy. Well, unless the Lakers are basically out of the postseason and he shoves a back-up point guard out of the air...

Shamout: What's your verdict on Mike Brown? Are you impressed by the progress he's made with the team since the start of the season or are there still questions to be answered?

Moralde: He's good. Not great. There are definitely questions to be answered but there are still some bad habits that had plagued him in Cleveland. He's not the best at in-game adjustments and you might accuse him of overcoaching. But at the same time, the Lakers have had so much turnover from last year... and he's only had Ramon Sessions for a month. With hardly any practices and days off, they're all going on the fly here and in this situation where they're rushing everything, Mike Brown's done a good job of keeping it together. Whether he'll be better or worse will really be judged after next season.

Shamout: What do you think worries opponents more about the Lakers - the Gasol/Bynum combo or Kobe Bryant?

Moralde: This is a no-brainer; Kobe's just one guy. The Gasol/Bynum combo will give teams more fits than anything. If I were the opponent, I'd rather let Kobe go for 40 and shut down everyone else. if you force Kobe to go 1-on-5, chances are that you're going to win. Of course, when it comes to crunch time, I'd rather have someone other than Kobe taking the shots.  

Shamout: What is Metta World Peace's role with the team once Bryant returns? Is it purely as a shut-down defender?

Moralde: Well, I would hope that he'd continue to be a reliable third or fourth scorer. You need more than five or six points from your starting small forward, particularly from a team that relies on their starters so much. He'll always do his job at the defensive end but I think he has to score in double digits for the Lakers to be a threatening squad. Ron also seems to come up big in the clutch this year, so you might want to watch out for him in those moments.

Shamout: Prediction time. How far will this Lakers team go and who will they ultimately defeat or fall to in the playoffs?

Moralde: I'm going to stick with my second-round prediction and say... lose to the #2 Thunder in six. But this sounds like a wild guess more than anything. Five or six teams have legitimate arguments for the Western crown this season and I have not seen the West up for grabs like this since maybe 2006 (Dallas won the West that year). It really all comes down to match-ups. Lakers would probably want to face the Clippers or the Spurs but they don't want to face the Grizzlies or the Thunder. Bottom line, we're going to get a fantastic postseason in the Western Conference this season and I can hardly wait to see all the action go down.

If you enjoyed Moralde's insight, you can follow him on Twitter

Reach Omar via email or follow him on Twitter.



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