Archives For December 2004

Coop-a-Loop

 —  December 28, 2004

ESPN is reporting that the Denver Nuggets have fired coach Jeff Bdzelik and given the interim job to former Laker Michael Cooper.

I’m happy for Coop, the former Pasadena City College star, who in recent years coached the Sparks of the WNBA to two league titles and has been eager for an NBA head job for a while (he was a Laker assistant under Magic Johnson and Del Harris). This could be a good one if he can turn the Nuggets around — last year they were everyone’s darlings but this season they are 13-15 and would be out of the playoffs as the 10 seed (they are 2 games back of the Lakers, three in the loss column).

Coop’s got his work cut out for him. While Denver has Nene, Kenyon Martin and Carmelo Anthony, they have no scoring threat from the outside (an eFG% of 39.8% on jump shots, which accounts for 63% of their shots taken). Injuries have slowed them early, but that doesn’t explain why they can’t play defense — teams have an eFG% against them of 49.8%.

“This is tough, but my goal now is to get us playing a little better,” Cooper said. “We’ll concentrate on defense and just try to continue the winning ways this team ended last season and sort of started with at the beginning of the season.”

Maybe Coop can get them to play the kind of shutdown defense and outside shooting he was known for back in the day. I hope so; I’d love to see him succeed.

Christmas Day For Hoop Fans

 —  December 27, 2004

You know how on Christmas Day you open that one present that makes you ohh and ahh (and makes you wish you’d bought that person something better than a salad spinner), but three months later its another present that you use every day.

Well, while the Lakers and Heat provided the ohhs and ahhs on Christmas Day, Knickerblogger has given basketball fans — and those of us fans of who are fans of the new stats in basketball — something we (or at least I) will use almost daily.

Knickerblogger’s got a new statistics page — one that keeps track of all the new stats I mention often but can be hard to find, broken down by team and with league leaders. There are not only the basics like PER and eFG% but also things like statistical measures of a players ability to create his own shot, pure point guard ratings and more.

It’s a wealth of information compiled and crunched by one man — a yeoman’s amount of work. There’s a reason it’s the other NBA blog I think is a must read, even if you’re not a Knicks fan.

And, in the course of the long break between Tuesday’s game and the next one the following Sunday, we’ll look at the Lakers through 26 games in detail using this new information plus the info over at Stats Pimp.

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A couple of other quick notes today:

• Ah, what a little drama and conflict can bring. Did you see that the Lakers/Heat game drew the largest national television audience for a regular-season NBA game since 1998 (back in the Jordan era)? People in an estimated 8.5 million households tuned out the family and tuned in the game on Christmas. In Los Angeles it drew an insane 17.0 rating (meaning about 900,000 households tuned in) and 44% of the households in the city with the television on had the channel on the game.

• The bottom line out of Saturday’s game, the Heat players fit and know their roles better than the Lakers players do.

• Rudy T. needs to find a way to get more of the offense running through Lamar Odom, and Kobe needs to let it happen. Notice in the overtime Saturday Odom had eight points and Kobe none.

• Last week the L.A. Times weighed in on the NBA and hip-hop, today it’s Dallas owner Mark Cuban, who has some interesting thoughts.

My Christmas Day Diary

 —  December 26, 2004

In an absolute rip-off of the Sports Guy, here is my minute-by-minute diary from Christmas Day. (Well, not the entire day, unless you want to read about how many times you have to change a six-month-old’s diapers in an afternoon. This just covers game time, sparing you some ugly descriptions of smells.)

12:10: I sit down on the couch, granted a three-hour no-baby-care window by my wife so I can watch the game we’ve all been waiting for. The problem is we’re supposed to be at my brother’s condo in Hollywood — 40 minutes away from me in Redondo Beach — at 3 p.m., which is just about when this game should end. I’ve already got the reputation as the guy in the family who shows up late for everything, but I’d like not to be too late.

12:17: In his pre-game analyzation Hubie Brown says the Lakers need to “play their age.” I have no idea what that means, but he’s a basketball guru so they should do that.

12:19: Shaq gets a nice, if mixed, standing ovation. Glad to see it, he didn’t deserve to be booed. A minute later Mike Tirico chimes in to tell us it was a 37-second standing ovation. Would love to have been in on that production meeting. “So, Mike, you’ve got the stopwatch on Shaq’s ovation? Great! The fans need to know that.”

12:20: We get to watch the cameras focused huge pieces of cloth where the Laker highlights are being shown. It’s dark and bad television for 60 seconds. How about this in the production meetings — rather than worry about the stopwatch, try to get any videos the Lakers may show before the game.

12:24: Has there been anything as over-hyped since Al Capone’s Vaults as the pre-game handshake between Shaq and Kobe?

12:25: The first two trips down the court, Kobe drives right at Shaq, making one and missing one. So much for the recent trend of getting Odom involved early. I get the feeling today is going to “all Kobe, all the time” radio.

12:29: The Lakers have just hit three-pointers on their last three trips down the court, giving them the early lead. I’m not happy. When they hit early threes they stop penetrating or moving and spend the game just looking for them. They’ve done it all season. I was hoping that for this game the bad habits from the rest of the season would disappear, but apparently not.

12:30: The Lakers are now five of five from three point range. If they can shoot 100% for the game from out there, this strategy could work.

12:31: You know things are going well when Chris Mihm hits a running jumper over Shaq. 19-11 Lakers, who look fired up.

12:37: The first Coach Carter ad. I wonder how that movie ends?

12:40: Dwayne Wade gets his second foul on Kobe, with 4:25 in the first. If I had a bigger ego, I’d say somebody was listening to me. This, Laker fans, is the problem with Kobe at the point — he can’t defend really quick guards without getting fouls. (I still think they should use it, at least at times.) The Heat should keep going back to this well, the Lakers need to make a switch and get Kobe off Wade.

12:46: Kobe, and Shaq, go to the bench.

12:48: With Kobe on the bench, Lamar Odom becomes an aggressive floor leader. He needs to be more like this when Kobe is still on the floor.

12:53: Coming out of commercial is the funniest thing I’ve seen in a while: Luke Walton rips his father on national television, saying his fondest Christmas memory is how Bill would get free stuff over the course of the year — “Power Bars and NBA-logo T-shirts” — then wrap them and give them to the kids. As much as tickets to this game cost, it would have been worth it if you could have seen Bill’s face as that aired.

12:55: Kobe and Shaq are back and Kobe continues to drive right at him. At least this time he got a foul on the big guy.

12:58: Hubie Brown says, “Every time the Lakers drive into the paint good things happen, so you wish they’d stop settling for threes.” It took Hubie just a little over a quarter to get to the core problem with the Lakers offense right now. If he can see it so plainly, why can’t Rudy T. or the players? (Well, Hubie is a guru, but still.)

1:04: Sometimes you forget just how quick Shaq is for a big man. He just blew past Mihm.

1: 15: The crowd erupts on a high-flying, one arm dunk by none other than — Chris Mihm?!? He’s playing another better-than-I-expected game.

1:20: This is a really entertaining game. I expected to be let down, but this is fun.

1:22: Odom just abused Christian Laettner. The offense just looks smoother when it runs through him, everybody moves rather than just hovering around the three-point arch.

1:26: Kobe picks up his third foul. Miami should have whoever he is guarding (it’s not Wade anymore, mostly Eddie Jones) go right at him.

1:27: Laettner scores as time runs out in the half, and I can’t help but have Duke flashbacks. The good news for me is this game has been going pretty quickly, I’m not going to be too late to my brother’s.

1:40: ABC’s halftime interview is called “Access Amahad.” That is enough to drive me to the fridge for a beer, even though I said I wouldn’t drink today until I had to start dealing with my parents.

1:51: This is the kind of thing you can only see if you stop and rewind with TiVo. On a free-throw attempt by Eddie Jones, Odom and Jumaine Jones are on either side of Shaq and want to box him out. When the shot comes off the iron Shaq steps back and Jones and Odom just crash into each other. Great stuff.

1:55: ABC just flashed a stat that said Odom has 14 points on 6 of 8 shooting. So, what happens the next time down? Kobe shoots a three without trying to penetrate. And you wonder why the offense looks sad.

1:56: A hustle play by Mihm draws the third foul on Shaq.

1:57: ABC just went to commercial with “The Way We Were” as the background music. As a rule, Streisand should never be played at an NBA game. Never.

2:01: Jumaine Jones is doing a good job covering Dwyane Wade. Part of it may be that Wade’s leg is bothering him, but Jones is doing a better job than Kobe was.

2:03: Wade just hit an impressive reverse lay-up. I take back anything I said about his leg.

2:04: In an amazing coincidence, Samuel L. Jackson, star of the Disney movie “Coach Carter” has got courtside seats with the REAL coach Carter for this game shown on a Disney-owned network.

This kind of modern cross-promotion drives me nuts, but at least Jackson is a hoops fan and a Laker regular. It’s better than when the cast of “Malcolm in the Middle” shows up with great seats for a Yankees World Series game.

2:11: The quarter ends and that was one of the better quarters the Lakers have played overall this year. They’re up by 4. I’m feeling optimistic about getting a win and getting to my brother’s at a reasonable time.

2:16: Jumaine Jones hits a three to give the Lakers a 7-point lead. This seems a good time to mention that the Lakers got only 4 points from their bench in this game.

2:19: Shaq blocks an Atkins shot and I can see why Miami is doing so well this year — Shaq is playing defense like he did in 2000 and 2001.

2:30: This has been a fun game to watch — the Lakers are up by 4, 86-82, which helps I guess, but really this has been an entertaining match up. I know I’ve said this before, but it needed repeating.

2:31: Shaq gets foul number 4 because Mihm out-hustled him to a rebound.

2:35: That’s foul number 5 on Shaq as Kobe goes right at him. The Lakers need to exploit this, start driving and passing into the paint every time down.

2:37: It’s 89-89 now and any confidence I had before is gone because in crunch time the Heat have two options — three if you count Eddie Jones — and the Lakers will never leave option #1.

2:40: Great drive by Kobe to get the sixth foul on Shaq. That is a huge advantage for us — it’s 91-91 but my confidence in getting a win and getting to my brother’s at a reasonable time is back.

2:45: Kobe just picked up his fourth foul. He has to be careful, his loss to the Lakers would be bigger than Shaq’s to the Heat.

2:48: Tied at 94-94, one minute left, Lakers have the ball. Please, go into the lane, no fade-away threes. There’s no Shaq in there, go to the hole.

2:50: That may have been the worst single possession of the season. Laker after Laker drives into the lane but, rather than looking shot first, they are looking dish-out for the three first. The Heat don’t buy it and stay out on the perimeter players and dare the Lakers to shoot inside. They don’t — 24-second shot clock violation. I’m feeling sick to my stomach. And I haven’t even had my brother’s cooking yet.

2:51: Christian Laettner out hustles the taller Laker team on the floor, giving the Heat the last two shots of the game. I’m really feeling ill.

2:52: Wade misses, for once. We go to overtime.

2:55: Still no Shaq for OT. Will we get the ball to Odom in the low block and try to take advantage of this?

12:56: Eddie Jones and Odom trade quick baskets.

2:57: Wade scores on an impressive spin move. Then steals the ball and leads the break, dishing to Eddie Jones for a long two. The Lakers are down by four. Of all their weaknesses, I didn’t think transition defense would be the one that kills them today, but the Heat have gone small and we’re just watching them run the floor.

3:01: I’m now officially late for the family Christmas party, depriving the first-time grandparents of time with their favorite person. Plus, the Laker offense now consists of Kobe shooting fade-away threes while double-teamed. I’m not feeling good about anything right now.

3:03: Odom hits a three on penetration with a kick-out pass. How did the Heat not see that coming?

3:04: Lakers down by 2 with 45 seconds left in OT and the ball. Please get a good shot.

3:05: Shockingly, the Lakers drove the lane with the intent of kicking-out for the three. Nobody was buying it. We didn’t score.

3:06: The final Heat possession and the Lakers are playing good defense, although the Heat don’t appear to care if they score or not.

3:08: Last shot of the game time. Rudy T. is drawing up a play in the timeout. Three seconds left and down by two. My fervent prayer — there’s more than just one option. Kobe, don’t be afraid to pass.

3:10: Kobe misses a fade-away three over a double team. Chucky Atkins stands alone in the corner with an open look and can do nothing but watch it clank off the rim. Game over.

3:13: Can we move past the Kobe/Shaq thing and get on with our season now? That’s what I want for Christmas.

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