Archives For April 2005

On Tap: The Phoenix Suns

 —  April 11, 2005

If I were watching this game in a bar with my friends tonight, here’s what we would be betting on: Can the out-of-shape Vlade Divac make it through a game with the Phoenix Suns without losing his lunch? My guess is no, but I’m not sure the cameras will catch it.

I enjoy watching the Suns play just because of the pace and athleticism — they take 48% of their shots in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock. Outside of that, there are only a few things of interest to Lakers fans.

First, will Caron Butler flourish in a fast-paced game? He scored 30 and added seven rebounds the last time these two met. What’s more, he is seemingly developing good on-court chemistry with Kobe. I wrote last week that while is points per game had increased his basic numbers were the same as he had all season (and they were) — he wasn’t playing better just getting more touches. But in the last few games that has started to change — his eFG% over the last 10 is 49.7%, well up from his season average. He is scoring 1.12 points per shot attempt, not only above his season average but also equal to Kobe’s season average. I’m not saying Caron still isn’t trade bait, but if he stayed and Lamar went — and the Lakers played a more wide-open system — he might be a good fit with Kobe.

Second, I think Sasha would flourish in a more wide-open setting, so I’d like to see him play 20 minutes tonight. He can use the minutes Vlade passes up while retching on the bench. I watched Sasha at the end of the disaster in Sacramento yesterday and thought it was one of his better defensive efforts — some things that looked like his fault were really Slava not sliding off picks. He may be a turnover machine against the Suns, but get the ball in his hands and let’s run.

As for the Suns, I think one question remains: Can they beat the Spurs in the Western Conference finals? We’ve got a long way before that plays itself out — and who knows who will be healthy by the times those games roll around — but let’s look at a couple of stats from 82games.com.

When the Spurs play the 10 fastest-paced teams in the NBA, their record is 20-8 (71%). When the Suns play one of the 10 slowest paced teams, they are 21-11 (66%). The Suns win 62% against the 10 teams that hold down shooting percentage, the Spurs win 64% against the best shooting teams. My early guess is if and when these two teams meet, and if San Antonio can limit the Suns fast break points (which every team has tried to do but San Antonio can do), they should win. But the Western Conference Finals are a lifetime from now.

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Two quick things worth reading. First, in the New York Times today, one of the better NBA stat guys out there, Dan Rosenbaum, has a story about +/-.

Over at Supersonics Soul, the latest Carnival of the NBA is up. See what other NBA bloggers around the nation are saying about teams actually going to the playoffs. Well, except for Knickerblogger.

On Tap: The Sacramento Kings

 —  April 10, 2005

The best Laker line of the week comes from former Eagle/overrated solo artist Joe Walsh, who on his current tour, according to the LA Times Steve Harvey, has changed some of the lyrics to his best-known song, “Life’s Been Good To Me (So Far):


I’ve got a limo
Ride in the back
I watch the Lakers
They suck without Shaq

Today is another of something we will see a lot less of next year, the Lakers on a national broadcast. This time it is against Sacramento. Following on my new trend of seeing what kind of starting five you can make from guys on the IR of the Lakers and whoever they are playing, we have a very good team putt together: Bobby Jackson at point, Tony Bobbit at the two (this is a problem), Lamar Odom at the three, Chris Mihm at the four and Brad Miller at the five. Not bad.

Sacramento has clinched a playoff spot, but unfortunately they get my favorite NBA title dark horse in the first round, Dallas. If they are to have any chance in that series or the playoffs at all, they are going to need to get healthy and have Miller near 100% (he’s expected back about the start of the playoffs).

The Kings still have good perimeter play with Mike Bibby, Peja and Cuttino Mobley. In fact, in the last 10 games it has been Mobley who has been the Kings’ second best player (behind Peja) — he’s been shooting 54.3% (eFG%) in that span.

With Miller out, we’ll see if the veteran (read: old) Laker frontcourt of Brian Grant and Vlade Divac can take advantage. Stopping the four and the five has been Sacramento’s defensive weakness this season already (opponents PER at the four is 17.9, at center 17.7, and that was mostly with Miller healthy).

The last Laker game against Seattle — even though the Sonics were shorthanded — showed flashes of what we had hoped to see from the team all season. I’m not sure we’ve seen it for two games in a row for a while, but it would be nice to know they can still do that.

On Tap: The Seattle Supersonics

 —  April 8, 2005

Note: This was supposed to post on Friday but apparently Blogger had other ideas. Here it is a day late, but be sure to read the Hoopsworld article linked in the first paragraph.

First, Eric Pincus has started looking forward to the lottery and the rest of the off-season in his new article on Hoopsworld. Good stuff, save that I think he gets to talking coaches too late. Who the Lakers draft/trade for/ bring in needs to fit with the coaching style of whomever gets hired. That is still priority one..

As for tonight’s game, you could put together a good starting five out of guys on the IR or not playing tonight for these two teams: Chris Mihm at center, Vladimir Radmanovic at the four, Lamar Odom at the three Rashard Lewis at the two and Antonio Daniels at point. Yes, Vlad/Lamar/Rashard are all basically threes with much the same length and style of game, but you could come up with a good offense to showcase them.

Of the players that are healthy, the Lakers will have one key task tonight — Keep Reggie Evans off the glass. That’s going to be a challenge with the Lakers two best rebounders, Odom and Mihm, watching from the sidelines.

Evans’ rebound rate this season is 24.3, meaning when he is on the floor he is grabbing 24.3% of the available rebounds. He gets one out of every four missed shots, which is incredible. Second in the NBA right now is Dan Gadzuric at 21.8 (he is a free agent this summer, by the way). John Hollinger did an entire story about this on ESPN.com — the only person to put up the kind of numbers Evans has this season is Dennis Rodman at his peak.

With Lewis and Daniels not playing for Seattle tonight, more pressure will fall on Ray “I’m in a contract year” Allen. Kobe, hobbled or not, needs to shut him down if the Lakers are going to win the battle of the MASH units.

Seattle remains the third most efficient offense in the NBA, averaging 108.3 (points per 100 possessions). By the way, the Lakers have fallen to ninth in the league with 104.5 (they haven’t fallen much, but as happens every year, other teams are getting better at scoring as the season goes on).

What has kept the Lakers out of the playoffs will be Seattle’s biggest problem in it — defense. Seattle is 24th in the league giving up 105.3. The Lakers are 28th at 107.2.

One thing I’d like to see is more Sahsa. He got just 7 minutes in the loss to Houston. I thought we were trying to get a look at this guy?

On Tap: The Houston Rockets

 —  April 7, 2005

Is ESPN going to even show highlights from this game, or are they just going to show a picture of Phil Jackson and Jerry Buss sitting next to each other in a luxury box?

So we can get this out of the way, this is my guess at the entire conversation those two will have about basketball tonight:

Jerry Buss: Look at that play by Kobe. This team still has some potential.
Phil Jackson (stuffing his mouth with nachos): Hmmmth.
JB: Kobe’s still young, with Odom and Butler and that Mihm guy turned out to be pretty good. Shouldn’t we be better with that lineup?
PJ (stuffing his mouth with nachos): Hmmmth.
JB: With the right coach and a couple new players, we could be right back in the playoff mix. Don’t you think so, we just need the right leadership from the bench?
PJ: I’m going to get more nachos. You want anything?

Tonight is a chance to watch one guy often mentioned as a potential Laker when cap space comes open in 2007 — Yao Ming. This is Ming’s third year in the league and he has put up better statistics this year than any previously: His points per 40 minutes jumped from 20 in his first two years to 24.7 this year; his shooting percentage is 54.9% this year, up from 51.1%; his points per shot attempt jumped from 1.16 to 1.22; his PER this season is 23.04, up from 21.3.

That said, Ming has some weaknesses. He is not a good passer out of the post, averaging just 1 assist per 40 minutes despite the double teams he sees. His rebound rate is 15.7 (percent of available rebounds he grabs when on the floor), not bad but far less than what you want out of a guy 7’6” — his rate is lower than Lamar Odom’s (15.9). Something else is that you can still be physical with Ming — when Chris Mihm played him tight this season Ming went to fade aways rather than getting close to the hoop on a guy still six inches shorter than him.

One other thing worries me about picking up Ming in a few years — I think his injury/aging curve is going to be shorter than the average players. What I mean is that because he doesn’t get an off-season — he returns to China where he plays a lot of national team games — he does not really get a chance for his body to heal. I fear he is due for a physical breakdown earlier than most big men.

That said, he is still one of the most dominant post players in the NBA and his play has gotten better each of the last three years. He might fit well with Kobe (the way he now fits with McGrady). However, he has a higher potential than most to be a big money bust.

This is all just idle speculation — Ming may not want to leave Houston, the Lakers may not want him by then. But with what has happened to the Lakers this season, idle speculation is all we’ve got left. Plus, we’re all going to be thinking about Ming in a Laker jersey tonight when he puts up big numbers on Vlade/Grant.

By the way, Kobe is expected to play tonight.

Fast Break

 —  April 6, 2005

Work is still kicking my a** this week, so today it’s fast break, collection of notes I’ve been compiling.

• I’m not a season ticket holder, but events I want to be a fly on a wall for include an exclusive event next Wednesday at Staples where season ticket holders get to hear from and ask questions of Mitch K. and other members of the Lakers front office. There should be some very interesting give and take here — well, mostly give with the frustration of Laker fans this season. I have a spy, er, friend going to that who is reporting back to me.

• How bad was the Laker defense against the Suns? In the first half the Suns shot 73.3% (eFG%) and put up 70 points by halftime. They cooled off in the second half and for the game only shot 65.3%.

• Injuries are making this collapse appear worse than it actually is (and it isn’t good). But injuries have been slowing this team for some time. My favorite example recently was the game against San Antonio: Kobe got the ball with time winding down for a last-second, potentially game-winning shot. The double team came followed by a switch off a pick, and Kobe was one-on-one with Robert Horry, a guy Kobe can take off the dribble. Hamblen was frustrated that he didn’t and said so afterwards, but the combination of Kobe’s shin, ankle and tired legs means he may not have been able to beat Horry, who is long and smart defensively. Just a little thing, but symbolic of all the little things contributing to one big, bad season.

• Last night at 2:30 a.m., up with a teething child, I replayed the end of the loss to the Suns again and focused on Sasha, who was playing the two. On offense he looks pretty good — he had a team-high seven rebounds and three of them were offensive. But in man-to-man defense he is lost. He went crashing into some screens hard, lost his man and never recovered several times, just got beat on others. He needs to play a lot this summer and get coached on that end of the floor, if he can improve to decent defensively he could come off the bench next year. But he’s got a long way to go.

My other thought while watching that garbage time: Vlade looks slow and old. First game back though, so he gets some slack.

• A ways back I used an unscientific system to predict the rest of the season and gave the estimation the Lakers would finish with 38 wins — and I thought that was pessimistic at the time. They need to go 5-3 the rest of the way just to do that.

• Interesting note posted by the Stats Pimp on the APBR boards recently. He figured out the number of ejections (of coaches or players) by each official from the 2001-02 season through last season and figured out the average is one 12.3 games. The ref with the most ejections was Steve Javie, who had 31 in 215 games, or an average of one each 6.9 games. The fewest ejections was Dick Bavetta with 7 in 239 games, or an average of one every 34.1 contests.

• I link and talk about other’s more often, but the best writer (and my favorite) at ESPN.com is Eric Neel.