Archives For December 2004

On Tap: The Miami Heat

 —  December 25, 2004

Near the end of the Christmas Day game, I expect to hear Al Michaels utter this sentence:

“Our Chevrolet player of the game is Dwyane Wade, who opened a lot of eyes with his 38-point performance today.”

Shaq is going to have some 5.0 on the Richter Scale dunks. Kobe is going to make moves and hit shots where you can’t help but think of MJ. But if you’ve been following the Lakers all season, you know that penetrating point guards rip them apart, and that — or the Lakers sudden ability to defense it — will be the difference.

Right now, there is no better penetrating point guard in the league than Wade. His PER is 25.7 (better than Kobe’s 23.8). More impressively, there’s this stat from 82games.com: Only 52% of Wade’s shots are jump shots — that means 48% of the time he shoots he has driven past everyone for a layup or dunk. For comparison, 72% of Kobe’s shots this season have been jump shots. Wade’s quickness is unbelievable.

Chucky Atkins can’t cover Wade (unless the Lakers want to watch him to put up Wilt Chamberlain against the Knicks numbers), so expect Kobe to cover him for long stretches. Kobe has an impressive oPER of 12.0, but quick guards still give him some problems. Now, if I were Stan Van Gundy (and I thank God daily that I am not), I’d have Wade penetrate right at Kobe and try to draw a couple of early fouls. I’d gladly sacrifice a couple of points to get Kobe in foul trouble. And if Kobe is on Wade, one of the other Jones on the Heat roster will have the chance to embarrass Chucky.

Wade benefits from what Kobe benefited from for the past eight years — Shaq’s mere presence forces defensive spacing, and when he has the ball a double team, creating space for slashing guards. Shaq and Wade’s chemistry also is why the Heat have won 10 in a row.

Shaq also is going to get his — the Lakers’ oPER against centers is 15.9. (It’s 16 against point guards.) The Lakers will throw Mihm, Grant, and probably some Cook, Slava and Jones at Shaq to absorb fouls. Ironically — because of all the times it was booed at Staples — the Lakers should go to hack-a-Shaq. Shaq leads the NBA in field goal percentage at 60.6%, but his free throw percentage is 45%. The math is easy — I just wish the Lakers still had Vlade healthy to give up even more fouls.

Kobe is also going to get his. Regular readers of this site know Kobe leads the Lakers not only in scoring but in assists as well — he is, for all intents and purposes, the point guard and the scoring guard. And he is motivated. Stats be damned, when Kobe is motivated he raises the level of his play. This should be his best game of the year.

That said, statistically the best place to attack the Heat is the three and the four, where the oPERs are 15.8 and 15.9, respectively. This is where the Lakers are going to miss Caron Butler and his ability to drive and hit open shots. The Lakers have no shortage of threes sitting on the bench — Jumaine Jones and Luke Walton should get quality minutes — but neither of them are as athletic as Butler. Jones is second on the team in Roland Rating, we’ll see if he can provide more than just a spark off the bench.

If the Lakers are going to win, Lamar Odom is going to have to come up with a huge game. We all know he has the talent, but two big questions linger: Will we see the aggressive or the “wait for the game to come to me” Odom? And will Kobe get him the ball is good positions or will Kobe dish it out and the Lakers continue their recent love affair with the three-point shot and ignore the paint?

Style wise, this is going to be a walk-it-up game between two teams that play pretty well in the half-court. Miami’s team eFG% is an impressive 51.7% and the Lakers are a solid 48.7%, and both teams play good defense.

Bottom Line: All they hype going into this game has been on the Shaq/Kobe meeting, and they’ll both get their points and make plays that will have their backers saying “I told you so.” But, in the end, unless the Lakers play the best defensive game of the season, Wade will be the difference.

Merry Christmas

 —  December 25, 2004

Whether you came here as a regular reader or just wanted to find out more about Kobe’s shoes, I hope you and yours have a wonderful holiday. Enjoy the food, family, gifts and the game today.

I just want to take this chance to say thank you to the loyal readers I’ve picked up — and the ones who are becoming regulars — you make this more enjoyable and thoughtful than I expected. You all have been a gift to me, and I appreciate it.

Have fun watching the game.

Kurt

Christmas Reading List

 —  December 24, 2004

Two things, from different coasts, worth reading out there this morning:

First, from the Los Angeles Times, there is a great piece about the marketing of the NBA and the fine-line it walks trying to court the youth hip-hop generation and the white-bread suits that purchase the luxury boxes and $200 seats on the floor. It’s a dichotomy the league is balancing well now, but may come back to bite them.

For those of you who want to read a very-good preview of the Laker/Heat Christmas Day present, all the way from New York City (New York City!?!) and Knickerblogger comes the best preview of the game I have read so far. Check it out.

The Butler Did It

 —  December 23, 2004

Not only was Caron Butler ejected for his punching foul against New Orleans guard Dan Dickau (great porn stage name, by the way), but with that will come a one game suspension.

There’s a very good case to make that Butler did nothing to earn a suspension — Dickau took Caron down from behind, intentionally roll-up Butler’s legs (that’s messing with an NBA player’s paycheck), he wouldn’t get off so what Butler did was essentially throw him off, Dickau had been involved with Chris Mihm the play before showing a pattern of frustration, and there were Dickau’s comments afterwards that he didn’t feel a punch if one was thrown.

However, in the wake of the stupidity in Detriot, there is almost no way Butler is getting off. There will be a one-game suspension.

What the Lakers need to do is appeal the suspension when it comes down later today or tomorrow. The required review will delay the suspension until after the Christmas Day game against Butler’s former team from Miami. That’s a game where the Lakers need him.

Update: Butler was suspended for the Miami game, but it is not something the Lakers can appeal. (Sorry for the bad info, but it was Laker broadcaster Joel Meyers who first suggested the appeal, so I didn’t look up whether or not it could be done.) Butler is really going to be missed against the Heat — my preview for that game should be up the afternoon of Christmas Eve.

On Tap: The New Orleans Hornets

 —  December 22, 2004

We know two things for sure heading into tonight’s game:

1) The Hornets are the worst team in the NBA, and very likely will be without their best player.

2) The Lakers can’t afford to look past anyone.

The Lakers are 2-0 against the Hornets this year and this will be the final meeting between the two this season (unfortunately). Last time around it was Chucky Atkins who sparked the win, scoring all 17 of his points in the second half to turn a two-point halftime deficit into a 13-point win. The other game between these two was the one where the Lakers led by 33 then fell apart, gave up 42 points in the fourth quarter and barely hung on for the win. While the Lakers have the two wins, neither were impressive games by the victors.

What has killed the Hornets this season is offensive inefficiency — they score just .95 points per possession while giving up 1.05 (for comparison, the Lakers score and give up 1.07 per possession). Look at that stat this way: with the Hornets averaging 89 possessions per game, that translates to 9 points given away. The Hornets have only one position where their PER is above the league average of 15, and that is center (15.6) where P.J. Brown has been solid. Brown also leads the non-injured players on the Hornets in Roland Rating with a +11.1.

Of course, all those offensive woes are in part because Baron Davis has been on the injured list since Nov. 17 (he came off last night but didn’t play) along with Jamaal Magloire and Jamal Mashburn. Coach, and former Laker, Byron Scott is in a chess match but without his queen or two knights and is forced to play with a bunch of pawns.

Offensively, the Lakers should be able to attack the Hornets effectively from all five spots on the floor (the Hornets oPER for every position is above the league average, except for shooting guard, but they can’t stop Kobe). The weakest link is at the four, so once again this is a game where Lamar Odom should be able to establish himself (he had 14 points and 14 rebounds last game against New Orleans). In the past several games the Lakers have tried to run plays to get Odom involved early, it was worked sometimes (Sacramento) and failed others (Memphis). We’ll see what happens tonight.

What I’d also like to see tonight is Chris Mihm getting key minutes in the fourth quarter, rather than seemingly being forgotten by Rudy T. While we’re at it, some good play from the bench would be nice, too.

The Lakers are 0-2 on this homestand and need an easy, confidence-building win before the media storm Saturday. They get the worst team in the NBA playing its second game in as many nights. This should — should — be an easy win, but after the last two games I’m not making any guarantees.

To Boo Not to Boo, That Is The Question

 —  December 21, 2004

Starting at center for the Miami Heat, out of Louisiana State University, Shaquille O’Neal…..

And your reaction is?

Assuming he plays (and after all his hype I’m sure he will), I’m curious to see what we will hear when Shaq is introduced in Staples Center just after noon Christmas Day, and what happens when he touches the ball. I’m sure there will be some boos rained down on him, but I wonder whether or not that will grow as the game wears on.

The Lakers have a divided red state/blue state fan base right now: Those that think Kobe, like Danny Manning in Kansas, will carry this team to a title in the coming years and Shaq is a traitor for asking for a trade; and those that think Buss made the wrong choice in the Shaq/Kobe divorce, going with someone who will drive away free agents while letting the best center of all time go. With this showdown looming and the Lakers looking pathetic their last two games, that divide has widened, and I’m sure the pro-Kobe fans at the game will let Shaq hear it. I never remember Laker fans this split on an issue.

Personally, if I was willing to spend the money set aside for a house down payment so I could get tickets to this game, I wouldn’t boo him — Shaq meant a lot to this city and this team. When he retires in a few years, his jersey should be up on the walls next to Wilt and Kareem. That said, I’m not going to cheer for him either.

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Did you hear what Oakland Raiders wide receiver Jerry Porter said in a radio interview this weekend? He’s not thrilled about playing on Christmas Day:

”Thank you very much, my daughter really appreciates that her dad has to be away on Christmas. Thank you NFL. This is bullshit. This is bullshit. You are going to take us away from our family on Christmas day and make us play on a Saturday. We can play on Sunday and make it a multiple Monday night game. That’s bull. Then, the fact that the Lakers are playing the Heat, no one is even going to watch our game.”

Update: The Boston Celtic players, who got to play against a Shaq-less Heat last night, are obviously Oliver Stone fans when it comes to Shaq’s calf injury:

“Oh, he wants to be ready for Saturday,” said Paul Pierce, referring to Miami’s mega-hyped game against the Lakers – and the reunion of O’Neal and Kobe Bryant – on Christmas Day. Though it was pointed out that the Heat have an even tougher date on tap in Sacramento Thursday, Gary Payton shook his head. “He won’t even be going in Sacramento,” the Celtics point guard predicted.

0 for 2

 —  December 21, 2004

Big six-game home stand and the Lakers are now 0-2. And a painful 0-2 because both games were teams the Lakers need to beat. As I am really swamped at work today (maybe it slows down in your office for Christmas, but not around here), today’s post is a collection of notes and observations. Please feel free to add your own, I’m running out of synonyms for disgusted.

• In the November game against the Lakers, the Grizzlies were allowed open looks at threes and shot 44% from long range — last night it was 43%. In November the Griz had 17 offensive rebounds, last night it was 18.

What did George Santayana say about history?

• Rudy T. said recently he is comfortable with the Lakers current incarnation as a three-point shooting team (they are third in the league in attempts and makes), but he wants the threes to come off dish-outs on penetration. The problem with that was shown last night, rather than a motion offense you have one guy — usually Kobe — driving into the teeth of the defense and everyone else standing around at the three point line hoping to get a shot.

When you face a team, such as Memphis, with two big guys down low to shut off that penetration, this system falls apart. Fortunately, the Lakers don’t face any teams in the near future who have that kind of post presence. Oh, wait…..

• Before I rip too much, there are nights a team is just cold shooting, and last night was one for the Lakers. Their eFG% was 35.4%, and for Kobe Bryant it was 12.5%. Not that Memphis was shooting lights out, its eFG% was an unimpressive 42.3%. But, thanks to the offensive rebounds, they had 12 more shots than the Lakers.

• When teams are cold shooting its nice to have that fall-back option — particularly one in the paint — where you can throw the ball and know something good will happen. The problem for the Lakers is their fall-back option is the one they use virtually every time down the floor — Kobe driving off the dribble.

• The Lakers need to find another way to get into the offense and do it more quickly. Right now they walk the ball up, then the other team tries to deny Kobe the ball. When he finally gets it there are 8 to 10 seconds left to run the offense, leading to awkward shots.

• Why was Chris Mihm sitting in the fourth quarter? He was playing good defense (six blocks), scoring points and wasn’t in foul trouble. There are times that I really am starting to question Rudy T.’s rotation.

• Actually, there are times I’m really starting to question Rudy T. on a lot of things.

• I was going to do an entire post about who should go on the IR when Brian Grant came off for the New Orleans game. Vlade took care of that for me. But in a couple of weeks we can ask the same question about Deavon George.

• The off-season shakeup of the Lakers has hurt more than just the win-loss record, it’s hurt Dr. Buss where it counts: Last season the Lakers sold out their first 18 games at home, so far this season they have sold out just 5 of their first 13.

On Tap: The Memphis Grizzlies

 —  December 20, 2004

Back in November, the Lakers went into Memphis for the second half of a back-to-back and produced one of those complete dud games that leave us all shaking our heads. Much like Friday night.

Tonight, they catch Memphis in a back-to-back, but that’s not necessarily good news — Memphis is 4-2 in those second games. That said, this is the kind of game the Lakers should win (they are 6-1 in recent games after giving up 105 points), but we can only hope that the Dr. Jekyll and not the Mr. Hyde Lakers show up.

That early season win against the Lakers was one of the few bright spots for Memphis in the first month of the season, and less than two weeks after that game coach Hubie Brown was gone, with Mike Fratello taking his spot pacing the sidelines. In December, the Griz are 6-5 (the Lakers are 4-4).

Last time around, Memphis took advantage of two things that have become a recurring problem for the Lakers: 1) Poor defensive rotation on the perimeter that left a lot of open three pointers (Memphis shot 44% from behind the arch for the game); 2) They grabbed 17 offensive rebounds.

Memphis has another strength playing to a Laker weakness — their leading scorer is Pau Gasol playing the four (a very good PER of 25.0), a spot where the Lakes oPER is a high 18 (remember the league-wide PER average is 15). Gasol led the Griz with 22 the last time they played the Lakers. They did plenty more damage inside — Memphis scored 50 points in the paint in that game, compared to 32 for the Lakers. The Griz also had 15 more fast break points.

This may be a slow-paced game — the Griz average fewer possessions per game (89) than the Lakers (who have upped their possessions from 90 to 95 per game after playing Phoenix and Seattle). The keys for tonight starts with consistent defense for the Lakers (as it will every game until they start doing it). If the Griz starting guards Mike Miller and Jason Williams start the game getting open looks at threes and penetrating at will — ala Gilbert Arenas and Larry Hughes — it is going to be a long night at Staples.

The Lakers need a big game from Lamar Odom — the Griz’s weakest point defensively is the four (17.7 oPER). Last game he had 14 points and 11 rebounds, this time if he can get involved early — like in Sacramento — it would pave the way for the Laker offense and, maybe, get Gasol in foul trouble.

The Lakers also need to get good bench play — the two leading Roland Rating players for the Griz are Earl Watson and Shane Battier, the first two guys off the Memphis bench. (Battier started the last game against the Lakers and scored 18.) The Lakers need to be able to match that intensity off the pine — Jumaine Jones missed that last Memphis game and may play a big role playing at the four.

While I talked a lot about the last game between these two, in a lot of ways you can throw that game out — if Dr. Jekyll shows up this is a completely different Laker team. After the stunningly sad performance against Washington a couple nights ago, I expect the Lakers to come out with something to prove tonight.