Archives For January 2005

And You Thought the NBA Could Be Boring:

 —  January 18, 2005

Be glad you didn’t have to watch this.

(Thanks to Gorilla Mask for the link.)

On Tap: The Utah Jazz

 —  January 17, 2005

If you were going to play one team when you’re leading scorer will be watching the game with his ankle elevated and iced, the worst defensive team in the league would be your top choice.

Welcome to Los Angeles, Utah Jazz. Glad to see you.

The Jazz give it up so easily you’d think they worked for Heidi Fleiss. It’s the kind of confidence-boosting game the Lakers need before Minnesota and others come to town.

Tonight we also get a close look at the on the trading block point guard Carlos Arroyo. He got a big contract last off season and was considered the point guard of the future in Salt Lake, now he sits in coach Sloan’s dog house. If the Lakers do make a trade — and I think it’s still better than even money that they don’t — this may be the most likely option.

Utah’s defensive efficiency this season is dead last in the league — they are giving up 107.4 points per 100 possessions (the Lakers are 22nd at 103.6). Teams shoot well against them (49.5% eFG%) and get to the free throw line 33.3 times per game against them, more than any other squad in the league.

In fact, the only team that seems to have struggled scoring against Utah was the Lakers, but I think we can throw out the last game between these two — the second game of the season, when the Lakers’ eFG% was 33%. To quote Chick, “The Lakers couldn’t throw a pea in the ocean” that night. I doubt that sad an offensive performance will be repeated, plus Andrei Kirilenko blocked eight shots in that game, and he’s on the IR right now.

The Jazz miss Kirilenko badly — he was their most valuable player by far.

That said, the two guys who burned the Lakers last game will be the two starting forwards for the Jazz tonight — Carlos Boozer at the four and Matt Harpring at the three. Boozer hit 10 of 13 shots that game, Harpring hit 9 of 11 and was 2 of 2 from beyond the arc. This means that Lamar and Caron not only need to pick up the offensive production tonight, they need to play big on the defensive end as well.

The Lakers should be able to score from just about any position on the floor (the only place Utah’s oPER is below the league average is center). It will be interesting to see what kind of defensive adjustments Utah makes to playing the Lakers after the Golden State game.

Even without Kobe, this is a game the Lakers can win if they put in the effort on defense and they take care of the ball — the Lakers shoot better than Utah, they just can’t have a bunch of empty possessions.

Right now the Lakers are 1-0 with Kobe on the IR (2-0 if you count games they had to win without him). If they can stay above .500 with him on the bench, it will be a huge boost for the squad. Plus, don’t we all love the idea of the Lakers finally winning three in a row with Kobe just watching?

Perimeter Defense

 —  January 17, 2005

I kept asking it, poster gatinho asked it, I think everyone was asking it — where was Sasha in the second half of the Golden State game? Rudy T. gave him the start, and then never played our favorite rookie in the second half, opting instead for Tierre Brown.

I think the answer is defense. Where I think Rudy T. missed the boat is the problem is bigger than just Sahsa — without Kobe the Lakers could be in trouble on the perimeter.

Saturday night the Lakers faced (and beat) a Golden State team that is one of the worst shooting teams in the league, an eFG% of 44.8%. But against the Kobeless Lakers, their shooting improved to 48.9% and they really hurt the Lakers from the outside. The question is: Was that a one-night problem because Fisher was hot, or are we going to see the already-bad Laker perimeter defense get worse until Kobe returns? I think we start to find that out tonight.

But lets talk about Sasha, and Rudy’s rationale. For those that missed it, Sasha was given the start in Kobe’s two-guard spot, played 18 minutes in the first half but never saw the floor in the second half. His time went to Tierre.

My first question: If Sasha was good enough to start in Kobe’s place, why did he almost never get any run before that game?

On to Golden State. Sasha was better for the Lakers on offense. Tierre hit just 5 of 13 shots (eFG% of just 38.5%) while Sasha hit three of four (2 of 2 from beyond the arc). Using +/- for the game, the Lakers were -1 when Sasha was on the floor (or -2.6 if he played the full 48), while Tierre was -5 (-8 for the full game). A few more details: Sasha was taking one shot every 4.5 minutes, had an assist every nine minutes and a rebound every 6. Tierre was taking a shot every 2.3 minutes, had an assist every 10 minutes and a rebound every 5 minutes. Since Sasha was shooting so much better and the team played better with him on the floor, I think we can safely say Sasha outplayed Tierre on offense.

I think Rudy T. thought Sasha’s defense, particularly on Fisher, was inadequate. It was — I counted 14 of Fish’s points coming while Sasha was on him (Fish outmuscled Sasha a couple of times, the kid needs to put on a little weight). Also, Speedy Claxton would be too fast for Sasha, so a switch was not in order.

The problem with this line of logic is, Atkins didn’t slow down Fish either. Heck, everyone had trouble with Fish — he’s always been a streaky shooter and when he’s on he can hit anything. Just as San Antonio.

Without Kobe the Lakers are without a stopper on the defensive perimeter, the problem in Oakland was not just Sasha. There are times Rudy T. frustrates me to no end — this was one of those cases. Sasha deserved more time on the floor.

On Tap: The Golden State Warriors

 —  January 15, 2005

Bill Simmons calls it the Ewing Theory, and we’ll see if it applies to the Lakers starting tonight. The idea is simple — when a team’s superstar goes down everyone else steps up, without him to rely on they aren’t lazy and are more relaxed and creative. (Sorry about that link being subscription, but talk to the bean counters at ESPN).

Tonight should be interesting, with plenty of questions. The Laker offense is going to run through Lamar Odom, but will he get the ball down on the block — like he prefers — or out on the wing? How will Golden State defend him (and the Lakers)? Double Odom? Deny him the ball? Will the Laker offense keep the spacing and motion it had for much of the game against Cleveland? Will guys like Luke, Sasha and Slava get playing time? How bad is the Laker defense on the perimeter going to be without Kobe? Without Kobe playing, will any fans besides gatinho show up?

The good news for the Lakers is Warriors are in the second game of a back-to-back, having lost to Seattle last night. That makes it eight losses in a row for the Bay Area squad.

The bad news for the Lakers is the Warriors expect to get their best player and scorer, Jason Richardson (17.7 PER), back tonight. In a preview of what the Lakers may have to face, he missed the last eight games with a sprained left ankle. He was a big part of their offense. To use a crude stat: In a four-game win streak before Richardson went down the Warriors averaged 105.5 points per game, in the next seven they averaged 87.1. Last game against the Lakers, Richardson had 22.

The other guy the Lakers need to worry about is Speedy Claxton (16.27 PER). Last time they played he had just 9 points, but we know he’s better than that and we’ve seen our defense against point guards. That is especially true without Kobe being there to take him on key trips down the floor.

That said, the Warrior offense is the 26th most efficient in league, scoring 95.8 points per 100 possessions, and their shooting percentage is 28th at 44.8% eFG. What holds them back is the Warriors take a lot of jump shots, 71% of their shots (64% for Lakers, for comparison) and Golden State has an eFG% of just 39% on those jumpers.

(As a side not only I may find interesting, median eFG% for an entire team in league right now is 48%, with the Lakers shooting 48.4%. To provide some context, the median was 47% last year. I wonder if the new hand checking enforcement is the reason for the increase — teams are getting better penetration.)

The Warrior defense is solid, allowing 101.3 per 100 possessions, 11th in league. Teams shoot fairly well against them, 49% eFG%, but they are ninth in league in creating turnovers. This will be a key for the Lakers tonight (again) — taking care of the ball.

The last time these two hooked up, Dec. 3, Kobe was barely a factor in a Laker win. Butler led the way with 27, Kobe had just 10. This also could be big night for Odom, oPER of 17.1 against the four (but they can focus on him, so we shall see).

The Lakers luck out with a stretch of easier games — Utah, Clippers, Golden State coming up — while Kobe is out. If they can play .500 ball, the team will make a big step forward. That starts tonight.

Kobe Out Five Games, Maybe More

 —  January 14, 2005

Doing their best Matt Leinart imitation, Laker doctors asked for more time. The official word after the MRI is that Kobe did indeed suffer a severe ankle sprain and he will be re-evaluated in 72 hours.

The one move the Lakers did make was to put him on the IR, which means he will miss at least the next five games. No word on who takes his roster spot yet.

I’m no doctor, but I’ll play one on the Internet. According to what I have been able to read so far today, the MRI is really more to confirm what the doctor already suspects or knows through other manual tests. Problem is, the swelling/bruising that comes with a sprained ankle — and I think we’ve all been there — can interfere with a good diagnosis. I bet the doctors have a pretty good guess if there is a tear or not, but want the swelling to go down so they can be sure.

I’d love to hear from someone with more medical knowledge than myself or who can offer better medical suggestions than I ever got. The only advice my dad ever gave me for the countless sprained ankles I got playing basketball was “tape it up and get back out there.”

Update: Rudy T. confirms that Tony Bobbitt will be activated.

Update 2: According to Saturday’s Los Angeles Times the injury does not likely include tears — which is very good news. He will miss five, maybe more, but fears of 5 weeks or more on the sidelines seem to be gone.