Archives For March 2005

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.