Archives For March 2005

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.

Welcome

 —  March 18, 2005

When the Lakers moved to Staples, I knew I’d miss the intimacy of the Forum, even though I understood the economic necessity of the move.

Well, this move from Blogger’s hosting service to my own URL is sort of like that, except that I plan to keep the intimacy and there were no economic forces at work. So really, it was nothing like that, but it was time for the move anyway. While the site has only been up for a little over four months, people are finding it — the volume of readers here has steadily picked up over time (and to answer gatinho’s question, the big spike was around the trade deadline but readership has been on a steady rise while the team has been on a steady fall).

There’s a lot of fun ahead of us — the draft, summer pro league in Long Beach (which I will attend) and more. I really appreciate those of you who come here and are part of the community. Thanks. I look forward to the future.

On Tap: The Indiana Pacers

 —  March 18, 2005

Have the Lakers’ luck run out?

John Hollinger talks about it on his ESPN Insider column today (his columns are still the best thing about the Insider), so far this season the Lakers are the second luckiest team in the NBA. Their Pythagorean record (based on scoring and defense) so far is 28-35, four games back of their actual 32-32 record. (The Nets are the luckiest, they are seven games above where they should be.) The Lakers are winning the close games, Hollinger notes, pointing to the Lakers 13-8 record in games decided by five or fewer points, while in games decided by 10 or more they are 8-17.

Has Kobe’s battery run out?

In the second half of the last three games, Kobe Bryant is 3 of 29 shooting, a sign that he is wearing down. He is playing an average of 42 minutes per game, second highest average in the league. He told the LA Times that his ankle is bothering him again. It’s starting to show.

Has the long season caught up with the Lakers and are they about to be out?

We’re going to learn that in the next week. Tonight they have a key game, a winnable game in Indiana, but they need to play better than the last three games. Next Friday, they play Denver in Denver. By the end of that game, we’ll know whether the luck has run out on these Lakers.

As bad as the Lakers luck has been, it’s been worse for the Pacers. They coulda had class. They coulda been a contender. They coulda been somebody. Instead, they are struggling to stay in the playoff hunt in the east. They lost Ron Artest to suspension and now Jermaine O’Neal to injury. Point guard Jamaal Tinsley is considered day-to-day heading into tonight.

Without those key players for long stretches the Pacers have been pretty average, 12th in the league in defensive efficiency and 20th in offensive efficiency.

When these two teams faced off 12 days ago it was one of the Lakers easiest wins of the season — they played great defense in the first quarter, holding the Pacers to 37.5% (eFG%) as they built a lead they never gave up. All five starters scored in double digits. The Lakers packed it in early and while the Pacers got closer, they never really threatened.

The last game of the road trip is always the toughest to win, but if the Lakers lose they fall below .500 and will fall 2.5 games back of Denver (unless the Clippers help out with a win). I really don’t like the phrase “must win” for the NBA regular season — the NCAA tournament is must win — but tonight’s Laker game is about as close to it as you can get.

On Tap: The Miami Heat

 —  March 17, 2005

On all-hype-all-the-time television we’ve been hearing about Shaq vs. Kobe tonight and how Kobe is wearing the black hat for forcing Shaq out. Talk radio guys can’t shut up about how Jerry Buss made the wrong decision and Kobe got what he wanted. Rather than make the retort myself, I turn to Chris Monjoy of Hoopsworld, who said it beautifully in a piece today about the Lakers not making the playoffs:

And To Kobe Bryant who critics will say “Got exactly what he wanted.” But do you really think Kobe wanted a dreadfully unbalanced roster, a clueless coach, no defense at the point, and no real interior presence? Anyone who’s watched the Lakers this year knows Kobe played his heart out every game, and did everything he could to be a team player.

Last night on the Southern California Sports Report, the host dé jour (I’m not going to take the effort to look up her name as fast as they change anchors around on that show) asked Brad Turner, the Laker beat writer for the Press-Enterprise, a question about the Lakers being in “disarray.” His response was that they were not in disarray, they were just “disjointed.”

This led to a conversation between my grammarian wife and I about just how far apart disarray and disjointed are. (That gives you just a little window into the wild life I have at home.)

But it does lead to a bigger question: Just how far are the Lakers away from being good? Right now I would describe them as an “average” NBA team, hovering just above .500 (for at least another 48 hours). How far away are they from being talked about being on par with, if not San Antonio, teams like Seattle and Dallas?

My gut instinct is they are really just a couple of affordable guys and a good coach away from being good. They need a guard who can defend the point and a real four inside. They need a coach who has a philosophy of what kind of team he wants (triangle or fast break) and who preaches a defensive system from day one.

Get those three things and I think this would be a good Laker team. Get there and then we’ll talk about the tweaks needed to become a championship team.

We’ll get a pretty good picture of how far the Lakers are from good right now when they face a legitimately good team in the Heat.

While the media focuses on Shaq vs. Kobe, the real issue tonight is who is going to stop Dwayne Wade. Back on Christmas day Wade had 29 points (the Heat team high) and 10 assists. Tonight I expect to see Kobe on him until Kobe picks up a couple of fouls. Other guys — Caron Butler, Jumaine Jones and even the Matador defender Chucky Atkins (Ole!) — will get their chance and have to step up. And it’s not just those guys, the Heat have the third most efficient offense in the league (109 points per 100 possessions and an eFG% of 52.6% for the season) and it’s going to take a team effort to stop them. Chris Mihm and his sore back are going to have to keep Shaq from dominating.

Last time these two teams met the Lakers took it to overtime by shooting 52.4% (eFG%) and leading the way was Lamar Odom who had 24 points on 9 of 15 shooting (the four is the weakest spot defensively for the Heat, according to 82games.com). Kobe had 42 points. Both of them will need big nights again and someone else will have to pitch in to get the team into the win column.

The Heat are good. Tonight a disjointed Laker team will get to measure themselves against that standard.

NCAA Tournament Predictions.

 —  March 17, 2005

I posted mine below (I’ll take North Carolina to beat Wake Forest in the finals, with Oklahoma State and Duke rounding out the Final Four). Hoops Analyst now has theirs up, a Final Four of Florida, Illinois, Duke and Louisville, with Duke taking it all.

Who does everyone else have in their brackets?