If you lived in Seattle, were forced to spend too much time indoors because of the rain, loved the Sonics, and had an unhealthy obsession with Legos, what would you do? Build a life-size Lego Ray Allan, of course.
I think the best chance for a Laker win tonight comes if the Lego Ray Allen is the one that shows up to Staples Center. Problem is, if they put Chucky Atkins on him, Lego Ray will still score 12.
(By the way, if you want one, you can get a life-size Lego Kobe as well â€” or Jason Kidd, or Shaq or other NBA players. Think how good that would look in your living room. You canâ€™t make up stuff this funny.)
Okay, time to get serious (well, as much as I ever do). There are two questions that come up when thinking about the run of wins the Lakers have had since Kobe went down: 1) What will happen when the Lakers take on a good team? 2) Will the improved team play continue when Kobe comes back, or will the Lakers revert to old habits?
Weâ€™ll find out the answer to question #1 tonight (question #2 is a topic for another post, probably next week, closer to when Kobe returns). The thing is, while these Sonics are good, they are not as good as the ones that got off to the fast start this season. So far in January, the Sonics are 6-5.
The reason for the slide is defense â€” the Sonics actually play less than the Lakers. Early in the season the Sonics were one of the top 10 defensive teams in the league, now that has fallen to 25th overall (giving up 104.5 points per 100 possessions, the Lakers are 22nd at 103.7). Teams shoot well against the Sonics (48.7% eFG%) and teams get to the free throw line 26.5 times per game against them (only five teams are worse).
While the defense may be poor, their offense is still a force â€” they have the second highest rated offense in the league (109.8 points per 100 possessions). Their team eFG% is an insane 50.7% (third best in the league) and, almost as importantly, they get rebounds on 33.2% of their misses (the highest percentage in league). Think about that, a good shooting team that on one-third of its misses gives itself a second chance â€” a tough combination to beat.
As you would imagine, Ray Allen (the real one) has the highest PER on the team at 20.17 and leads the team in Roland Rating at +13.5. But right behind him with a PER of 20.11 is Danny Fortson, who has come in and provided the rebound and defensive toughness inside Seattle lacked in recent years. Fortson leads the league in points per shot attempt at 1.39, in part because he gets to the free throw line on second chances. Also, obviously, donâ€™t forget about Rashard Lewis (19.69 PER), who scored 37 on the Lakers (8 of 12 from three point range) in the Sonics win in December against the Lakers.
For the Lakers to win they will need a big game out of their front line â€” Mihm, Odom and Butler. Those are the weakest defensive spots for Seattle, the Lakers should be able to score inside. Whatâ€™s more, that group (and Grant, Cook and Jones off the bench) needs to work hard to get defensive rebounds and not give up extra chances to the Sonics. If, for a change, the Lakers can get the front line of the Sonics in foul trouble, that would be a nice change of pace.
For the past two games, Chucky Atkins has been the point guard the Lakers have needed all season, the Lakers have moved the ball around and gotten good scoring chances. If they can do that tonight they can hang around, Seattle can’t stop them Kobe or no. However, to win will require perimeter defense, something that folded in the face of the Seattle offense the last time these two met. Weâ€™ll see what happens tonight.
Update: Kevin Pelton, the guy behind Supersonics.com and a guy who knows his stats, has posted a great preview of tonight’s game that is well worth the read. Also, he wants us to know that the people at Lego built Lego Ray, and “no actual Sonics fan hours were wasted on it.”