Archives For November 2005

Suggested Reading

Kurt —  November 30, 2005

The first sports blog I started reading regularly was Dodger Thoughts. As a long-time Dodger fan frustrated (and still frustrated) by questionable moves by ownership, Jon’s site was a breath of fresh air compared to the mainstream Los Angeles media — a rational and measured discussion of baseball by fans that was smart and well written.

If you’re a Dodger fan, or a baseball fan, you need to check it out — I know many of you already have.

Now Dodger Thoughts is a multi-media empire — you can get Dodger Thoughts in old-fashioned book form, the Best of Dodger Thoughts. One of the best parts is not only do you get the great posts, what makes Dodger Thoughts special is the great community of commenters, and the best of those comments also are in the book.

I don’t throw out a lot of book recommendations (although I will say if your thinking of buying the new Nick Hornby, let me save you the time as I just finished it last night — it’s not that great), but this is one I’ve already ordered. Jon is the dean of LA sports bloggers, the best out there (and the guy that inspired the tone and tenor of this site) and it’s the one book where I’ve already read everything in it and still want to own it.

On Tap: The San Antonio Spurs

Kurt —  November 29, 2005

Looking for the advantages in this match up as a Laker fan is not easy.

But here’s one — the best place to attack the Spurs offensively is from the midrange. San Antonio is good at defending inside and at the arc, but their middle is softer. Dean Oliver of Seattle talks about noticing that statistically last season in a Sports Illustrated article (in this season’s basketball preview issue), and that info was good enough to get the overmatched Sonics two wins against the Spurs in the playoffs. Detroit, on top of playing good defense, also has one of the league’s better three point shooting teams, and they pushed the Spurs to seven games in the finals.

The triangle should get the Lakers good midrange looks — it did the first few games of the season. If they can do anything with them is another question all together. These Lakers should not be confused with last year’s Sonics on offense, maybe not even last season’s Pistons.

So far this season, only two Lakers who play regular large chunks of minutes can talk proudly of their Roland Rating (a +/- number for how a team does with a player on or off the court per 48 minutes): Kobe Bryant (+11.3) and Brian Cook (+12.9). Odom is at -3.1.

The Spurs on the other hand the Spurs have guys like Tony Parker (+19.1) and Tim Duncan (+14.6) looking strong. Even Manu Ginobili, who has been “off” this season, is +4.9.

The Spurs remain a defensive force, allowing just 100.4 points per 100 opponent possessions this season (second best in the league). Teams are only shooting 45.9% (eFG%) against them, which is low but would be a step up from what the Lakers did Sunday against New Jersey. The advantage San Antonio has is they can sick Bruce Bowen on Kobe with the occasional double team, maybe slowing Kobe some but shutting down everyone else (insert your own “how hard is that?” joke here). This is a simple but fundamentally sound defense played by San Antonio.

Offensively they are sixth in the league with a rating of 108.7. Of course there is Duncan (25 points per 40 minutes, shooting 53.6% eFG%). Tony Parker has stepped up his scoring this season, scoring 23.6 per 40 minutes and shooting 56.6%. As I said there was some early talk about Ginobili having taken a step back, but he is still averaging 19.7 per 40 while shooting 48.9% (down from 21.3 and 53.3% last season). He started slow with a couple injuries but now is healthy and back to form.

That said, the Chicago Bulls had some success the other night by collapsing the defense in and daring the Spurs in general (and Tony Parker in particular) to beat them with jump shots (according to Pounding the Rock, the Spurs blog). Chris Mihm is not Tyson Chandler, but this strategy might have some success.

Mihm and Odom need to hit the boards hard because the Spurs will. Duncan remains a rebounding force, but so are Rasho Nesterovic and Nazr Mohammed, and those two are each playing about 25 minutes per game.

The Spurs are the best team in the league, but they can lose on any given night. The Lakers, and Kobe, have a way of rising up to challenges. Whether that will be enough, well, um, we can hope. That’s what being a fan is about.

The Laker Offense

Kurt —  November 29, 2005

I’ve put up a post about the Laker offense over at CourtsideTimes.net, talking about the lack of options behind Kobe Bryant. Follow the link to check out the entire thing, but here’s a taste:

So far this season, when Kobe is on the court the Lakers shoot 46.7% (eFG%), when he is off the court it falls to 36%. When he is on the court the Lakers have an offensive rating of 106 (points per 100 possessions), when he is off it is 78.4 — a drop of 27.6.

Fast Break

Kurt —  November 28, 2005

Thoughts collected during a weekend of gluttony and watching the Nets/Lakers game (and some football):

• At the start of the season, I said I expected the Lakers to struggle the first month, so it’s a little to early to panic at the 5-7 record (likely to be 5-8 with a game at San Antonio next). Things are not that bleak — the Lakers Pythagorean record is 7-5 so far, meaning they are playing better than their record indicates. (The Pythagorean expected wins/loss system is common in baseball and uses points scored and given up as a measure of a teams record. This shows the Lakers are losing a lot of close games they could win.)

• That said, I thought the Laker defense would get better — it has — and the offense would still be solid. It isn’t. The Lakers are 25th in the league in offensive efficiency (101.4 points per 100 possessions, compare that to 107 last season).

Against the Nets, for the second game in a row, Kobe has a slow first half (1 of 8 from the field) and the entire offense sputters to just 28 points. He carries the load in the second half, the team scores more, Kobe gets noticed for his 46, and the Lakers force overtime (although as a team they still shot just 36.7% eFG%, a level that will win very few games).

I’m working on a longer, more detailed post about the Laker offense, but here’s the bottom line: Until the above scenario changes — until someone else can become a consistent scoring threat besides #8 — we are going to see a lot more games like last night. The Lakers are going to hang in games then hope Kobe is enough in the end no matter how many people are guarding him. That’s the recipe for an up and down season.

• Saw two good movies over the weekend: Walk the Line and the new Harry Potter (to maintain any shred of credibility I may have left on a sports blog after that admission, let me note that my wife is a huge fan of the Potter series so she dragged me to the theater — I had no choice). Joaquin Phoenix deserves the Oscar for his portrayal of Cash and that movie made me dig through my old cassette tape collection (remember those) and find my Live at Folsom Prison recording. Just classic stuff, and that coming from a guy who can’t stand “country music.”

• How do you grab 23 offensive rebounds and still shoot below 40% — and lose? Ask the Lakers.

• I thought the plan was to back off the pressure defense out top against the better point leagues, for example, Jason Kidd. How many times did he burn Smush? And those errors seemed to get Smush angry so he tried to prove his manhood and got in Kidd’s face more. How’d that work out for you? That was Smush’s worst game, by far.

• On the other hand Sasha was a +22 last night. His numbers weren’t impressive, but defensively he just tried to limit Kidd rather than get in his face.

• I will give Smush this, I love that he’s named his new SUV the “Smushcalade.” (Actually, the car is Devean George’s.)

• Good to see Luke Walton back, that should help the offensive flow some. I hope.

• Kevin Pelton, want to come down to LA and watch the Fiesta Bowl with me? I’ll buy the beer.

On Tap: The New Jersey Nets

Kurt —  November 25, 2005

I’m out of town for the weekend, going out to Palm Desert and hoisting a pint or two in honor of the passing of George Best (yes, that’s a bit ironic, but don’t you think it’s what he would want?). I’ll be back Monday.

This years version of the Nets reminds me of last season’s version of the Lakers: They score a lot of points but can’t stop anyone from scoring on them.

The Nets come into Staples Center Sunday night with the fifth best offense in the league with a rating of 110 (points per 100 possessions), but with a defensive rating of 109.5, fifth worst in the league. That gives them a “rating differential” of +0.5, which is pretty average and the reason they are hanging around .500. (In case you’re wondering, the Lakers rating differential is -0.1, also pretty average.)

The Lakers just came off a win against another bad defensive team, Seattle. That was an interesting game offensively, as Kobe set up teammates early then had to sit due to fouls (from chasing Ray Allen around screens), forcing Lamar Odom into the role as primary scorer and he responded with 23 points. Brian Cook and Smush also had nice offensive games, and Mihm took advantage of the weak centers for the Sonics early (until Reggie Evans entered the game, anyway).

That was the good news, the bad news remains that without Kobe taking charge the Lakers are weak offensively and they were down eight points at the half. In the second half Kobe took charge, Odom stood around again and watched him, and the Lakers won handily. The Laker offense is in a Catch-22 right now.

The Nets enter Staples Center with an impressive line up of names: Jason Kidd at the point, Vince Carter at the two and Richard Jefferson at the three. Jefferson and Carter handle most of the scoring (24.3 and 20.1 points per 40 minutes played, respectively). While Carter is now and always has been a scoring machine (and is using the most possessions on the team by a wide margin), Jefferson has a well-rounded game — he is pulling down 9.2 rebounds (13.6% of the available boards) and is dishing out 4.2 assists per 40 minutes while shooting 50.5% (efG%). Kidd is still Kidd, getting 7.5 assists per 40 minutes with just 1.5 turnovers.

One thing to look for — the Nets get to the free throw line a lot. Carter is averaging 6.1 free throws attempted per 40 minutes and Jefferson is at 8.8. The Lakers, with their injury-depleted bench, need to be sure not to get into foul trouble against New Jersey.

By the way, don’t laugh because the Nets are starting someone named Nenad Krstic at center (well, okay you can laugh at the name Nenad). The guy as a PER of 18 so far this season and has been solid on the defensive end.

Where New Jersey is weak defensively has been on the perimeter, where Kidd is not that fast anymore and Carter hasn’t cared about defense since the sixth grade (but he can play it well when he wants to). Jefferson has been a good defender for his career but the three is where the Nets have been weakest statistically this season.

The Nets let teams shoot well (48.9% eFG%), don’t create a lot of turnovers (16% of opponent possessions, 24th in the league) and they foul a lot (26th in the league in opponent free throws made per 100 possessions). All of which leads to other teams scoring a lot of points.

Which is what the Lakers are going to have to do to win — the question is will it be all Kobe or are other players going to pitch in enough to get the victory (like against Seattle)? The Nets may have been preseason favorites in the Atlantic, they may have some big names, but this is a winnable game for the Lakers. At home, this is the kind of games teams going to the playoffs do win.