Archives For March 2005

On Tap: The Denver Nuggets

 —  March 24, 2005

When the Lakers season comes to an end — and without a win tonight that will be April 20th for sure — the first priority needs to be deciding on a team philosophy/hiring a coach that fits that mold.

This year’s Lakers have been rudderless on offense and apparently never had a plan defensively. They have had enough talent to overcome this on offense — they are still seventh in the league in offensive efficiency at 105.1 points per 100 possessions — although they have rarely looked smooth. However, on defense they are 27th in the NBA (106.1) and, after watching the last few games, it’s hard to believe they are ranked that high.

I keep saying the Lakers need a direction, a leader, a team philosophy coming from a powerful head coach first, then they can go get players to fit his system. The right head coach can turn a team around.

Case in point: The Denver Nuggets. When Jeff Bzdelik was fired in early January the Nuggets scored 98.6 points per 100 possessions. In the last 10 games under George Karl, that has been 111.1. Under the old regime the Nuggets were letting other teams shoot 49.3% (eFG%) against them (25th in the league at the time). In the last 10 games that is down to 44.8%.

The result is the Nuggets are 9-1 in their last 10 and 12-1 in the last 13. They are solidly entrenched as the eighth seed in the West and are more likely to move up to seventh than fall out.

For the Lakers to keep their slim playoff hopes alive and pick up a win on the road, a lot of things are going to have to happen. And those things are going to have to happen without Lamar Odom, who will sit out a third consecutive game and likely will be on the IR within a few days.

As you would expect from a lineup that includes Kenyon Martin, Carmelo Anthony and Marcus Camby, Denver gets a lot of its points inside — 39% of their shots come from inside 15 feet, a very high percentage (for comparison, the Miami Heat, with Shaq inside and Dwayne Wade penetrating, get 38% of their shots inside 15 feet). While all three are dangerous, in the last 10 the hottest of those three has been Camby (according to Doug’s Stats rankings) because not only is he scoring he’s blocking 3.4 shots a game and getting 1.5 steals per game. Camby’s 17.77 PER is the highest on the team this season.

What hurt the Nuggets early in the season is the loss of their only consistent outside scoring threat, Voshon Lenard. While Andre Miller has been solid at the point for them, watch for Earl Boykins (his PER of 17.54 is second on the team) and Wesley Person (who is shooting 58.5% eFG% in the last 10.

For the Lakers to hang in this they should play a lot of zone and pack it tight to help down low — force the guards to beat you from the outside. Also, Chris Mihm is going to have to overcome his sore back and have a big game — and stay out of foul trouble.

The reasonable among us don’t think the Lakers playoff chances are really a chance at all — they aren’t just 4.5 games back of Denver, they are really 5.5 games out of the playoffs because the Nuggets hold the tiebreaker — but some in the Laker organization are not ready to give up. If they lose tonight they should. Then we should start to see some lineup changes starting Sunday.

Fast Break

 —  March 23, 2005

So many interesting things to write about. So much work to force me to do it in bullet form.

• Stop me if you’ve heard this before: The Lakers let Utah shoot 62.5% (eFG%) in the first half and 64% for the game last night, when their season average is 47.3%. Gordan Giricek poured in a career 22 for Jazz — I’m a big NBA fan and I had to look up who this guy was. The reason the Lakers are not going to the playoffs is they can’t play defense. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

• Great note from the smart people at HoopsAnalyst:

No one has really noticed but for the first time in NBA history, three teams (Wolves, Lakers, and Pacers) that made the Conference Finals or higher will likely not make the playoffs. Only twice in the last 15 years has even one team not made the playoffs after making the NBA’s final four. In the history of the NBA, never has more than one team not returned to the playoffs after making the final four the previous year.

• Who do you think is the best clutch player in the NBA? Did you guess Manu Ginobili?

That’s what Roland Beech over at 82games.com found with a fascinating threepart breakdown of the best clutch players in the NBA. I know, you’re thinking Kobe should be above Ginobili, but we’ve discussed before that Kobe’s clutch numbers aren’t that great.

The 82games piece found Kobe takes more shots and scores more points in the clutch than any other player in the NBA. But this season Kobe has run hot and cold in the clutch — we remember the Charlotte game and forget games like last night when he disappeared down the stretch. Kobe has shot only 37.1% in the clutch this season.

Beech figured out players PER during clutch moments in the game, that player’s opponents PER (is our person all offense and no defense in the clutch?) and added +/- to the mix and came to a final answer. The result was Ginobili came out on top, with Stoudemire and Nash from Phoenix second and third. Kobe came in 21st overall.

Really interesting stuff. Take the time to read all three parts.

• I know Sports Guy beat me to this yesterday, but let me add to the chorus — I think Fever Pitch is going to be painful. And I hope it flops at the box office.

I read Fever Pitch last year and, while it may not be the most accessible of Hornby’s works (at least to an American audience not intimately familiar with English soccer) it is a great portrait of how fans feel their fortunes rise and fall with their favorite team. It speaks to the role sports can play in a person’s life. It talks of how bringing a significant other into your life changes your views but not your passion for a team. Like all his books, it is a classic male confessional and very funny.

The movie — based only on seeing the commercial — looks like a “chick flick” with the story told though the eyes of the female character (Drew Barrymore). That is such a bastardization of Hornby’s basic premise they should change the movie’s name and not associate it with his book at all. It may not even make my Netflix queue at this point.

• Bad news for the Spurs without Duncan out, likely until the playoffs start. And it’s bad news for more reasons than just Duncan’s MVP chances (he was my first choice so far, too). The loss of Duncan almost assures that the Spurs will finish the season as the second seed in the West, not the top seed.

The road for the Spurs to the finals from the two seed is much tougher. First, there is a good chance that they will face the red-hot Denver Nuggets in the first round (two vs. seven seed). While the Spurs should still win, bringing Duncan back will take some adjusting and the Nuggets could exploit that inefficiency and make it an interesting series.

Then in the second round, rather than the winner of the Kings/Maverick’s series, the Spurs likely will get the Sonics. Of all the teams in the West, I think it is the Sonics that could give the Spurs trouble. The Sonics like the pace slow and shoot very well in the half-court offense — they play the game the way the Spurs like and play it well. Now, the Sonic’s defense is weak, so I’d still pick the Spurs, but that makes two rounds where the Spurs are going to have a real fight on their hands. And they haven’t even played the Suns yet.

Watching the playoffs is going to be an interesting experience this year, not having a rooting interest myself.

On Tap: The Utah Jazz

 —  March 22, 2005

Which team is in a faster freefall, the Lakers or Utah? The Lakers have lost five in a row for the first time in 11 years and are desperate not to completely fall out of the playoff picture. Utah has lost nine in a row and the only question remaining is how many ping-pong balls they get come lottery time.

The Lakers will be playing tonight without Lamar Odom. The Jazz will be without Carlos Boozer. Odom has not been placed on the IR yet as Laker officials hold out hope that he can play in Thursday’s must-win in Denver. If not — and the Lakers lose that game — look for Odom to go on the IR and either Devean George or Vlade Divac to come off in an effort to showcase trade bait.

Utah got off to a fast 7-3 start this season — including a season-opening win over the Lakers — but things have fallen apart since. The Jazz are 22nd in the league in offensive efficiency (101.3 points per 100 possessions) and next-to-last in defensive efficiency (107.1). In the last 10 games, even with Andrei Kirilenko back blocking shots in the middle, things have been worse, with the Jazz giving up 109.5 points per 100 possessions.

Not having Boozer and Kirilenko playing side-by-side has really hurt the team this season, but what has been a bigger problem for Utah is point guard. They came into this season thinking Olympics-star Carlos Arroyo gave them a good and solid back court. But Arroyo ended up in coach Sloan’s doghouse and was traded, and since then Raul Lopez has been injured.

The result has been a team PER of 11.3 at the point guard position for the season (remember the league average is 15 and if a player had a PER of 11.3 he should only be playing in garbage time). Right now at point Keith McLeod has been getting the start (PER of 11.07) and past-his-prime Howard Eisley is coming off the bench (9.69).

Because of that, it has been defending good backcourts that has been a big problem for the Jazz — meaning Kobe and Chucky Atkins should have big nights. Even Tierre Brown should have a big night.

On the other end of the court, the Lakers need to defend a few guys capable of having a big night. One is Kirilenko, who has hit 51.2% (eFG%) of his shots and has a PER of 24.68. Without Odom it likely will be a combination of Slava, Mihm and Grant who will need to stop the Russian. The other is Raja Bell, who almost single-handedly beat the Lakers once this season — the Lakers can stop him if they bother to play perimeter defense tonight.

The big game this week for the Lakers is Thursday in Denver, but this is the kind of game playoff teams wins. The Lakers can’t afford to look past the Jazz — we need every win we can get.

The Last Laker Lottery Party

 —  March 21, 2005

While Donald Sterling throws one seemingly every year, it’s been 11 years since Jerry Buss had occasion to throw a lottery party. That’s so long ago, many of you may not remember that draft and the season that led up to it. Heck, many of you may not remember 1994 period. (I was living is Silverlake at the time and spending a lot of time in bars, so it’s a bit fuzzy for me.) So, pretend this is the VH1 flashback show “I love 1994” and let’s take a look at that year that brought us a movie that really summed up the Lakers’ at that point, Reality Bites……

It was the end of a disappointing season, one that involved a dramatic mid-season coaching change — Randy Pfund was out and Magic Johnson was in. His vision and passion inspired the team to go 5-10. Together, the coaches could only pull a Vlade Divac-led Laker team to 33 wins, putting them just 30 games behind division-winning Seattle. All those losses meant that before the lottery the Lakers would pick 10th. Thanks to the lottery, they picked 10th.

I’m sure Jerry Buss threw a nice little party attended by beautiful people, but I wasn’t invited. I likely watched the draft on my 12-inch television screen with stolen cable (you think I remember where I watched it? I barely remember what I did yesterday let alone 11 years ago). But I’m sure that didn’t lessen the drama.

Gone with the first five picks were five quality players — Glenn Robinson, Jason Kidd, Grant Hill, Donyell Marshall and Juwan Howard. Laker GM Jerry West waited and looked at his draft board.

Then Philadelphia took Clemson power forward Sharone Wright. That worked out well for them. The Clippers passed over Brian Grant to get Lamond Murray. Laker GM Jerry West waited and looked at his draft board. Right in front of the Lakers, the Celtics drafted their center of the future to replace Robert Parish — Eric Montross.

When the time came for West to make a move he made what some considered a reach — a skinny guard out of Temple named Eddie Jones.

In retrospect West made the right call, there was not anyone else on the board that turned out better. The next best player was Jalen Rose who went with the 13th pick. Still on the board was the much-hyped Yinka Dare. Eric Piatkowski came later on. The real steal down the board was Voshon Lenard with the 46th pick (although he might have gone higher had he not been drafted by the Bucks in 1993 then decided to go back to college and re-enter the draft the next year).

Jones started contributing immediately. He averaged 31 minutes per game as a rookie and scored 14 points per game. He shot 52.1% eFG%, his PER was 16.3, and he scored 21.7 points per 48 minutes played. All very respectable numbers.

The Lakers that next year improved to 48 wins, good enough for the fifth seed in the West. In the first round they faced a Seattle team headed in the wrong direction and beat them three games to one. In the second round it was David Robinson-led Spurs, and the Lakers fell 4-2. Ironically, that year the NBA title went to Rudy Tomjanovich and his Houston Rockets.

But that draft, and the following season, started an upswing in the Laker franchise that, after a few years of being good, led to the next set of needed moves — signing Shaq and drafting Kobe — which soon brought more titles to town.

I can only hope that this year’s lottery party starts the same momentum.

Site Feed Working

 —  March 21, 2005

For those of you using feeds through My.Yahoo or Bloglines or a number of other places to follow this humble little site, the bugs have been worked out and you should be getting feeds just fine again. You’ll need to switch to the new URL, but it is working. Thanks again for following me over to the new location, sorry for the delay.

The Sasha Question

 —  March 21, 2005

The Lakers are 3.5 games out of a playoff spot with 17 games to play, which in and of itself is not an easy mountain to climb. But, really, it’s worse than that — Memphis has a tough schedule to close out the season and it’s very possible surging Denver will pass Memphis. Looked at that way, the Lakers are 6 games back with 17 to play, which borders on the impossible.

At some point, with the Lakers out of contention, Sasha Vujacic needs to get court time. The Lakers need to give him experience and allow more evaluation before the draft and free agency. The same could be said of Tony Bobbitt, if the Lakers have any intention of keeping him (my guess is they don’t). Slava Medvedenko and Luke Walton could be part of that equation too — can they fit into a system where Shaq does not anchor down the middle?

Another person who needs to play, but for completely different reasons, is Devean George. Next season Devean will be in the last year of his contract, making $4.95 million, making him a very tradable player this summer. However, no team is going to offer much for a guy who didn’t play a minute during the season — if the Lakers want to trade him he’s got to prove he’s healthy. The same is true of Vlade Divac, although he could be bought out for $2 million.

Where do you draw the line? When are the Lakers officially done and you give up and start playing the bench to see what you’ve got? My guess is we’ll know by this weekend — if the Lakers don’t beat a slumping Utah team and then beat Denver on Thursday, it’s officially garbage time. Even with those wins they may not catch up, but that would keep hope alive.

On Tap: The Seattle Supersonics

 —  March 20, 2005

One quick housekeeping note: For those of you who use RSS (and count me in your numbers), I know the feed is not working since the move. I’m trying to correct that, but it likely will be Monday before I have the time to finish it. Now, on with our regularly scheduled programming.

Sonics fans are looking ahead to the playoffs right now and fretting they could get Houston in the first round, while Laker fans, after a 2-4 road trip, are starting to take a hard look at the draft board.

Seattle’s still the second best offensive team in the NBA (109 points per 100 possessions) but they are 23rd in defense (104.9 per 100) and that is going to come back and bite them in the post season. Don’t think, by the way, that the slower pace of games in the playoffs will hurt them — they average just 91.8 possessions per game, the fifth slowest pace in the league. They are a rare team — a jump shooting half-court team (that’s not all bad, so were the 90 and 91 Chicago Bulls, who did pretty well if you recall).

For the Lakers to take advantage of Seattle’s defense they are going to need a big game inside, and do with without Lamar Odom, who is out with a strained shoulder (no word on the MRI as of this morning). Seattle has opponents PERs of above 17 at the two forward positions and center — Butler and Mihm are going to have to step up for the Lakers to have a chance against Seattle.

For the Lakers to win, Kobe is going to have to best Ray Allen by plenty in their head-to-head match up. Back in January when Seattle beat the Lakers, Radmanovic and Allen combined for 51 points. And Kobe’s going to have to get the best of him in the fourth quarter, where he has scoreed just nine points in the last three games.

The Lakers are also going to have to crash the boards — Odom has the highest rebounding rate on the team (percentage of rebounds grabbed while he is on the floor) and in his absence other players have to step up. The Sonics’ Reggie Evans leads the NBA pulling down in incredible 24.6% of the available rebounds while he’s on the floor — that’s one in four missed shots. For comparison, Odom leads the Lakers at 15.9%. Danny Fortson comes off the Seattle bench and grabs 20.4%. As a team, Seattle grabs 32.4% of its missed shots (second highest percentage in the league). Seattle knows how to rebound and if the Lakers don’t counter this strength it will be a long night.

I hope — no, I expect — the Lakers to come out tonight and play desperate basketball. And, they are going to need to play good team defense. They need to if they are going to keep their playoff hopes alive. It’s that simple.

Fast Break

 —  March 19, 2005

Thoughts I had in addition to wishing I’d picked Vermont to beat Syracuse like my wife did in her pool:

• 32-33. Below .500. I didn’t expect things to spectacular this year, but I figured we’d be above that line. It is painful to watch. And I’m not sure we can make up 2.5 games.

• Remind me not to write anything bad about Reggie Miller again. While Miller was in vintage form, the rest of the Pacers still shot 50% (eFG%). The Lakers lost four in a row by not playing good defense. (Man, I’m tired of typing a variation of that sentence.)

• Lamar will get an MRI today but the way the injury his shoulder is described I would think he’s going to miss a few games at least. Yes the Lakers will miss his scoring, but what they are going to miss more is his rebounding — he grabs 15.9% of the available rebounds when he is on the floor (called “rebounding rate”), the highest percentage on the Lakers.

• Kobe looks tired. A lot of the team looks tired.

• Magic Johnson is pushing for Pat Riley to be the Laker coach, just like he did last summer. I think he’d be good for the Lakers, he likes the up-tempo game, but I don’t get the impression he can’t wait to be back on the bench. And I’m not sure Magic is helping the coaching search any going public like this. Update: in response to this Riley told the Miami Herald there was no chance he was going to coach in Los Angeles or anywhere else.

• Former Laker coach and current Magic assistant coach Paul Westhead got passed over for the interim job in Orlando this week.

• Which Laker will have the bragging rights in the locker room when the NCAA tournament is over? Brian Cook (Illinois) may be the favorite but Caron Butler (UConn) may give him a run for his money. Luke Walton (Arizona) has a chance while Tony Bobbitt (Cincinnati) is a long shot. Chris Mihm (Texas) is already out of the running.