Archives For February 2005

On Tap: The New York Knicks

 —  February 28, 2005

I had this great plan to ask the best NBA blogger living or dead — Knickerblogger — to write a preview telling us about his team (no, they’re aren’t a lot of dead NBA bloggers for him to compete with). Then, in the swirling vortex of a busy trade-deadline week and a busy last week at my office, I forgot. My bad. It’s a loss for all of us.

That said, if you want to know what it takes to beat the Knicks, Knickerblogger has already told us — through a post on Bulls Blog.

Talking about the Knicks should start with the recent playoff deadline moves, which have taken a beating in the mainstream media. However, Knickerblogger — as well as the new ESPN insider John Hollinger — don’t think the moves were bad. Their argument goes like this: The Knicks are already in cap hell until Houston’s salary comes off the books in 2007, so adding more salary before then is no big deal. After that the only contract they added was Malik Rose, and he’ll be in the last year of his deal. Getting the picks starts the rebuilding process for after 2007.

It’s an interesting theory if: 1) You think Isaiah Thomas is savvy enough to start planning for 2007 now; 2) You think Knicks ownership will let Thomas survive to 2007 as the team losses games and money.

I will say this — what the Knicks did at the trading deadline makes them a tough match up for the Lakers. Like the Lakers at the three, the Knicks are a team overloaded at the four — even their official starting center, Michael Sweetney, is a four. And, many would argue, some of those fours are really closer to threes. That doesn’t make for a balanced lineup and the Knicks offense is the 18th most efficient in the league at 102 points per 100 possessions. What it does make is a lineup the Lakers will have trouble defending — they have an opponents PER of 16.7 against power forwards and 18.8 against small forwards (remember the league average is 15).

The guy the Knicks offense runs through is Stephon Marbury — a shoot-first penetrating point guard (21.75 PER this season). Marbury is also fifth in the league in Roland Rating (+15.6). As we all know, Frank Hamblen could substitute an orange traffic cone for Chucky Atkins on defensive trips down and get the same result (Laker opponents PER against point guards is 18.2, just horrible). This is a game where Marbury could have a big night.

The good news for the Lakers is that Knicks are 27th in the league in defensive efficiency, giving up 105.7 points per 100 possessions. Teams shoot 49.8% (eFG%) against the Knicks this season. Despite the number of people they have playing the position, the Knicks have had trouble stopping fours this season, they have an incredibly high opponents PER of 19.2. The only position they’ve played good defense against is the shooting guard, and Kobe will still get his.

The Lakers have struggled on back-to-backs this season, but thanks to the day game yesterday this is at least a little longer break. The question is how intense the Laker defense will be — it has been missing except for spurts the last few games and if it doesn’t show up tonight the Lakers will be in serious danger of losing every game on this three-game road trip. Outside of that, my only advice is to consider betting the over because I’m not sure anyone will be playing defense tonight.

Post Based On Best-Selling Books

 —  February 28, 2005

Everything I ever wanted to know about the problems with the Lakers I learned in the last 1:10 of the game in Toronto.

Poor perimeter defense. With 1:02 left, the Raptors ran a high pick-and-pop with Rafer Alston going around Jalen Rose. Both Laker defenders — Chucky Atkins and Jumaine Jones — follow Alston. That allows Rose, the Raptors leading scorer, to slide off, get the pass from Alston and have an uncontested look from 18 feet. Lakers down by two.

Lack of cohesion on offense. With 58 seconds and ticking, the Lakers come down on offense and run, well…. really it’s hard to say what that was supposed to be. Whatever it was it didn’t work. That means, as always, the ball ends up in Kobe’s hands (this time out past the three point line) with the expectation he will create the opportunity. The result, with 50 seconds left and 15 still on the 24-second clock, is Kobe jacking up a fade-away three pointer.

Interesting substitution patterns. On the Raptors trip down the Lakers play pretty good defense and force Rose to take a tough shot, which he misses. Then Chris Bosh and Laker power-forward-forced-to-play-center Brian Grant battle for the rebound, which Bosh eventually tips to Donyell Marshall (who was quickly fouled and sinks both free throws). Meanwhile the Lakers best rebounder and interior defender, Chris Mihm sits on the bench. He got in early foul trouble then was banished by Frank Hamblen and played only 11 minutes.

Losing the turnover battle. Down by four the Lakers come down looking for a quick shot, and they turn to Kobe to create. He beats his man and as he drives towards the rim down the baseline Chris Bosh slides over to provide defensive help, leaving Lamar Odom under the basket. Lamar stands still and Kobe dribbles closer, jumps and then tries to make the pass to Odom. While that happens 11-year veteran Donyell Marshall recognizes what’s about to happen, steps in and steals Kobe’s pass. That was the Lakers’ 18th turnover, compared to 9 for the Raptors. Over the course of the game, the Raptors took six more shots than the Lakers.

On Tap: The Toronto Raptors

 —  February 26, 2005

Let me say up front who I’m rooting for today: Sideways. Much like rooting for this year’s edition of the Lakers, I know my choice is not going to get the big trophy in the end (well, maybe for adapted screenplay, but that’s about like making the playoffs in the NBA). That said, I like character driven movies and comedies that are unconventional, and this was both. It was subtle, a word rarely used in Hollywood. Now that I’ve said my piece, let the Aviator steamroll begin.

This morning it is breakfast with the Lakers (10 a.m. start on the West Coast). It’s hard to be optimistic about a three-game East Coast/Canada road swing after the way we were crushed by Detroit. That said, the fans of the Raptors aren’t that optimistic right now either. There’s this recent quote from one of the better NBA blogs, Raptor blog:

(Toronto GM) Rob Babcock didn’t make a deal (at the trading deadline). This is not really surprising since other GMs were likely trying to convince Rob to trade a quarter for two dimes after the Vince Carter trade. So we’re stuck with this subpar lineup for another 30 games and then Donyell Marshall will roll out of Toronto. Anyone else feeling nostalgic for the Glen Grunwald era?

The last time these two met was late December and the Lakers won handily in a game where they shot 52.7% (eFG%) as a team and Kobe scored 45 (shooting 61.5%). That shouldn’t come as a big surprise: Toronto is the 24th in the league in defensive efficiency, giving up 105 points per 100 possessions and letting teams shoot 49.4% against them on the season (23rd in the league). (Before you Laker fans get too cocky, remember we are 23rd in the league in defensive efficiency, giving up 104.8 points per 100 possessions.) This also is a game Lamar Odom and Chris Mihm could go big — the four and the five are the two places the Raptors have been weakest defensively (17.3 and 18.7 opponents PER, respectively). In addition, the Raptors give up a lot of offensive rebounds (they are 22nd in league in keeping opponents off the offensive glass).

Toronto is not a great offensive team (12th in the league in offensive efficiency) but they get a chunk of their offense from the places the Lakers have had trouble stopping. Jalen Rose is their top scorer (22.1 points per 40 minutes, PER of 16.45) but likely he will have Kobe on him for much of the game. The men the Lakers need to stop are point guard Rafer Alston (16.40 PER), power forward Chris Bosh (17.35 PER) and Donyell Marshal off the bench (18.85 PER). If the Lakers play defense against Toronto like they did against Detroit, the Raptors will pick up a second-straight win.

One potential positive for the Lakers is Devean George is expected to return to the lineup either today or on this road trip. The problem is who do you put on the DL to replace him? My guess is Sasha, even though a forward would make more sense (Slava?).

The Lakers need to win two out of three on this road trip (although Minnesota keeps losing so the Lakers have a 2.5 game playoff cushion), and a win in Toronto is a real possibility and gets us off to a good start.

And Playstation 2 predicts it. The Raptors continue to use PS2 to predict outcomes on their home page (I mentioned this last time they played), and in this match up Kobe hits a jumper with 1.8 seconds left for a 90-88 win. I’ll take that.

On Tap: The Detroit Pistons

 —  February 25, 2005

The Laker squad that takes the floor tonight at Staples Center will look like the one we have seen all season after the Lakers stood pat at the trading deadline. While Lakers fans calling talk shows wanted to see something — almost anything — I’ll say again I think Mitch make the right move for the long term. The Lakers need to figure out what kind of team they are going to be for the next five years before they go out and just get players. For example, adding Baron Davis is a great move if you want an up-tempo style (and he stays healthy), but if you bring back Phil next season and run the triangle having two guards who like to penetrate and create off the dribble is a terrible fit. The Lakers need a coach and team philosophy first, then add the players to fit.

While tonight’s Laker lineup may be the same one we’re used to seeing, it’s different than the one Detroit saw — and destroyed — a couple of weeks ago. First, that night the Lakers were in the second game of a back-to-back. More importantly, Kobe is back, which is not only good for the Laker offense but will really help defensively against a team that has gotten much of its offensive production this season from the guard spots — Chauncey Billups has a PER of 19.11 and Richard Hamilton has 16.83.

Also on the defensive end, the trio of Butler, Odom and Mihm need to come to play. In the last game Tayshaun Prince had 25 and Rasheed Wallace had 23, and the Pistons on the whole had 21 offensive rebounds. Also, the Lakers need to watch out for Antonio McDyess off the bench, he has a tPER of 18.54 and has a field goal percentage of 54.5% this season. The Lakers need to shut down that inside game.

Of course, with the Pistons the story is defense. This season the Pistons give up 96.2 points per 100 possessions (which is down 0.9 from the last time they played, showing that they are doing even better right now). Teams shoot just 45.7% eFG% against them, although the Lakers were nowhere near this last time, shooting 40.9% eFG%.

This is going to be a good measuring the stick for the Lakers and their three-game winning streak. Minnesota’s loss last night makes me feel a little less nervous about the potential of a Laker loss tonight. We’ll find out where we stand tonight.

In The Clutch

 —  February 24, 2005

The Lakers win in Portland was typical of the Lakers in one respect — the ball was in Kobe Bryant’s hands at the end. From the 8:00 mark of the fourth quarter on, Kobe scored 12 of the Lakers 16 points, and assisted on the other two baskets.

Kobe has a well-deserved reputation as a clutch player. However, this season, with no Shaq as another scoring threat and Lamar playing a bit passively, more has fallen on his shoulders.

And he’s the worse for it.

Before I get too far into this, let me define clutch for statistical purposes: It is the last five minutes of a game (or overtime) where neither team is ahead by more than five points. These stats are kept by 82games.com.

Last season, in those situations, Kobe had an eFG% of 44.5%, plus he got to the free throw line 61 times, or on 17.4% of the shots he attempted. He also had 10 assists and 8 offensive rebounds, but had 11 turnovers. Near the end of the season Roland Beech at 82games came up with his own rating system — which used even tighter restrictions on what was considered clutch — and rated Kobe the 19th best clutch player in the league.

This season in clutch situations Kobe’s eFG% is down to 29%, although he gets to the free throw line at about the same rate (17.3% of shots attempted). He already has 11 assists but with it 11 turnovers. He has just two offensive rebounds.

It’s safe to say that other teams know it’s going to be “The Kobe Show” late and they are overloading — did you notice at the end of the first half in Portland, Kobe had the ball just a few feet over the half court line and with about 8 seconds left Portland sent a double team way out there, forcing him to pass. The Lakers ended up with a poor three-point attempt by Chucky Atkins.

Other players need to get shots down the stretch — that falls on Kobe and the rest of the team. Kobe has to give up the ball earlier, others need to step up and make shots.

Lamar Odom has been good in the clutch when called upon this season. Odom has an eFG% of 56% and has gotten fouled on 24.2% of his shot attempts. He also has 3 assists, 6 offensive rebounds and 5 turnovers.

Another option is Atkins, who plays the role of spot-up shooter with Kobe or Lamar driving to the lane. In the clutch this season he is shooting 75% eFG% and has drawn fouls on 16.1% of his shot attempts, with 9 assists and 4 turnovers.

The point is not to say Kobe shouldn’t have the ball in his hands at the ends of games, he should. But the Lakers are going to see a number of close games the rest of this season — how well they do in those games may be the difference between making the playoffs and missing them — and when it gets to crunch time every other team is playing it as if Kobe is the first, second and third option.

If a couple of other Lakers become those other options, this team becomes much more difficult to stop.