Archives For December 2005

On Tap: The Dallas Mavericks

Kurt —  December 20, 2005

I’m altering these game previews a little, adding some structure to them and hopefully making it easier to find key facts and other things that may interest you. Let us know what you think, what you’d like to see added or subtracted (we’re all about customer service here at FB&G).

Record: 18-6 (Pythagorean 16-8), 4th seed in the West
Record last 10 games: 8-2
Offensive Rating: 112.5 (3rd in league)
Defensive Rating: 105.5 (16th in league)

About the Mavericks: When these two teams met last week, it led to one of the most entertaining games of the season (a 109-106 Laker win). In case you forgot, that’s the game Kobe played maybe his best game this year — including a fade-away three from 29 feet and a ridiculous move under the basket. Remember though, the key to that Laker win was that the rest of the Lakers outside Kobe and Lamar shot 55.6% (eFG%) that night in Dallas. Add to that Kwame played his best game of the season and was +14.

That kind of effort will need to be replicated — the Mavericks remain one of the few teams who can threaten the seeming destiny of San Antonio and Detroit’s meeting in the finals. Also consider that the Mavs just starting to get everyone healthy at one time.

Of course the leader is Dirk Nowizki, who scored 27 and grabbed 15 boards in that game against the Lakers. The Mavs are +16.3 (per 48 minutes) when he is on the floor. But what makes the Mavs dangerous is their depth — Jason Terry has a PER of 19.5 this season and dropped 20 on the Lakers last week. Devin Harris also has been good (PER of 18.7) and Marquis Daniels has been good all season and scored 23 against the Lakers.

Dallas also is very good on the offensive glass, grabbing 31.1% of their missed shots (fourth best in the league).

Daniels and Jerry Stackhouse are coming off injuries. Both are traveling with the team, Daniels is expected to play, Stackhouse is a game time decision.

One thing I hope to see tonight: Darrell Armstrong grabbing the mike before the game.

The Lakers coming in: Let’s talk about a mistake you keep seeing in the media — that the Laker defense has been dramatically better (and the key) during the recent run of good play. In the Houston game, FSW flashed a graphic showing that in the last 7 games the Laker have been giving up just 92 points per game, down from 97 earlier in the season.

The reason for that is they have slowed the game down. In the last 10 games the Laker opponents have averaged 88.6 possessions per game — prior to that it was 93.1, almost 5 fewer possessions per game. Considering the fact NBA teams score about a point per possession, the fact the points per game is down 5 shows you the Laker defense has been consistent.

Ronny Turaif has been cleared to play by team doctors, although it will be a while before he suits up for a game.

Right now the Lakers are on pace for a 44 win season, Dallas 61.

Key’s to a Laker win: A key part of the Lakers win against Dallas was Smush, Sasha and the other tall Laker guards caused problems for the Dallas’ smaller, quick guards (Jason Terry scored 20 but was 5 of 13 from the field). They will need to do that again, and maybe be used to post up.

Last game Kobe scored 43, Dallas players said that they “made the game too easy for him” last time. If Dallas looks to stop Kobe first, second and third, the key will be other guys stepping up, like they did last game. And Lamar Odom needs to show up tonight.

Plus there can be no defensive lapses — if you think Houston without Yao Ming can exploit the Laker “D” when they get lazy, imagine what Dallas will do.

Fast Break

Kurt —  December 19, 2005

Busy day, and I’m still a little frustrated with the loss from last night. so I’m going to some bullet points for discussion. (The previously mentioned pick-and-roll post needs polish but I should post that Wednesday.)

• Almost 25 games in is long enough to have formed opinions about off-season moves.

The Lakers biggest off-season acquisition — Phil Jackson — has paid off better than expected. This team had a lot of parts that didn’t seem to mesh well on paper, but Jackson is finding ways to do it. For example, bringing Kwame Brown off the bench and telling him to rebound like a madman (or Dennis Rodman, if you prefer). For the last three games (since returning from injury) Kwame has looked much better (despite some glaring defensive mistakes). He is never going to be a great NBA player, but he has more than enough skills to be a solid one and Jackson seems to be getting through to him. (Ask me about that again in a few weeks.) Combine that with guys like Walton, Cook and D. George finding places they can play in the triangle and the Lakers are starting to look like a playoff team most of the time.

But the biggest improvement is on defense, where the Lakers are 3.5 points per 100 possessions better — or look at it this way, last season they were 29th in the league, this season they are 12th. There are still lapses (see the Houston game) but overall, things are much better. Remember how last season we kept saying, “if the defense was just average this team would be so much better..” Well, that’s what we got.

• Also remember how many people said Larry Brown should be the Lakers coach? Ask Knickerblogger how that’s going.

• Sticking on the East Coast, Hoopsanalyst has a good piece on Net’s GM Rob Thorn.

• One of the keys to the Lakers success is the players are fitting in the system. A prime example of that gone wrong: Did you see Stromile Swift last night? One of the league’s most athletic players is in a stranglehold in the Van Gundy offense. Swift is a guy who would thrive in Phoenix, Golden State, Washington, Denver — the teams that run up and down the court looking to push the tempo. He looks like a caged tiger in Houston.

• If you’re not reading (and commenting) at CourtsideTimes.net I want to encourage you. Do you think Vince Carter is the toughest guy to guard in the NBA? Andre Iguodalda does. Also, the always popular “who should make the Hall of Fame” discussion goes on over there (and I’m still not convinced Reggie Miller deserves to be in).

• I’ll be watching the Christmas Day game against Miami on TiVo, as the entire family is coming over to my place so I’m spending the day in the kitchen (in my household, I am the main cook, not my wife). My biggest concern is what side dishes to serve, so I’m open to suggestions.

On Tap: The Houston Rockets

Kurt —  December 18, 2005

Post-Game Update: Losing to a team at the end of a road trip that is without one of its two stars stings, that was one the Lakers should have had. The Laker offense in the third quarter sputtered as they looked too much to find mismatches or to go at McGrady when he got his fourth foul, rather than just run the offense and execute it. That’s where they lost the game, not the last play. Some quick stats from the third quarter (by my count): Kobe and Lamar together were 3 out of 7, the rest of the Lakers were 1 for 7; the Lakers were 0 of 5 from three point range and just 1 of six from shots inside the key. Combine those numbers with some slow defensive rotations (leaving Howard and Wesley good looks) and the Lakers go from a game in hand to a tight contest. About that last play, the Lakers have been much better this year about help defense but it disappeared there — McGrady drove past D. George (can’t blame him, McGrady can’t be stopped by one guy) but Smush just waves at him and neither Odom (on Swift) or Brown (on Howard) rotate aggressively. And that’s the ballgame.

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First, let me say a couple things about the win against Washington: Good teams win when they don’t bring their “A” game. The Lakers were flat in the first half but in the second half they found some energy — Kobe providing much of it in the third quarter — and shot 50.7% (eFG%) from the field as a team to get the win. Besides the usual stellar performance from Kobe, good games from Chris Mihm (a team high +8 for the night, thanks to his defense) and Devean George (+7, and was rewarded by Phil with key minutes at the end).

Now they get the Rockets, who, back at the start of the season, were considered a team that could challenge San Antonio for the crown in the West (and count me among the people who thought that). But then they got off to a tough 3-11 start and media pundits — specifically Charles Barkley and the TNT crew — were quick to lay the blame at the feet of Yao Ming. But if there’s one thing Laker fans should know, and Barkley too of all commentators, it’s that you have to have a good team around your stars to win. And right now Houston does not.

Yao is not the problem, so far this season he has been himself — his numbers are pretty much at his career levels. He has a PER of 22.8, has a true shooting percentage of 57.9% and is pulling down 16% of the available rebounds when he is on the floor and thee team is +14.8 per 48 minutes when he is on the floor. The only center in the league with a higher PER right now is Marcus Camby. As a team, the Rockets have done a lot better since the outside part of their inside-outside game returned — Tracy McGrady. He is scoring 25.6 points per 40 and has a PER of 24.8 and is +15.5. He remains one of the best players in the game and doesn’t look like his sore back is slowing him much in the couple of games I’ve seen,

What has hurt the Rockets is that there is no support for the two stars. Bobby Sura was lost for the season and the Rockets offense has not run well without him the past two seasons. Stromile Swift was the big free agent acquisition but he is scoring just 16.8 points per 40 minutes, is +0.2 and has a PER of 15.3 — all average numbers for a guy who was going to put them over the top. Derek Anderson and David Wesley have not been impressive.

Look at the production by position and you see the only two positions the Rockets get above-average offensive production from is the three and the five — McGrady and Ming. On both offense and defense, it is the other three positions of the floor dragging the team down.

This year’s Rocket’s team is playing good defense, they are ninth in the NBA with a defensive rating of 104.2 (points per 100 possessions). What has lagged is their offense, even in the last 10 games (where they are 6-4) they have an offensive rating of 104.3, up just 1 point over their season average (which is 22nd in the league).

The Rockets come in hot, winners of 6 of their last 8, but the Lakers catch a break and get Houston in the back end of a back-to-back, the Rockets lost to the Clippers last night. Los Angeles need to come out and take advantage of this, try to run on a Rocket’s team that plays at the second slowest pace in the league. Do that and they can keep this hot streak going.

On Tap: The Washington Wizards

Kurt —  December 16, 2005

For old times sake, I think it would be nice tonight to see one of our point guards blow past Chucky Atkins at the top of the key and score on a lay-up. Ahhh, the memories.

The problem is the Wizards coaching staff has realized that Atkins is all hands, no feet on defense so he is playing a back up role (18 minutes a game) and that has pushed Atkins to ask for a trade.

No matter, the Lakers’ offense doesn’t revolve only around getting penetration and shooting threes anymore, the offense has become a lot more balanced — and that has led to wins.

In their last 10 games, the Lakers are 7-3, having won 6 of their last 7. While LA Times headlines talk about defense (and the Lakers had a pretty good defensive game against Memphis), the reason for the improvement been the offense has come together. In the last 10 games, the Lakers have had a defensive rating of 105.6 (points per 100 opponent possessions) and opponents have shot 48.3% (eFG%) against them — numbers basically near their season averages. It’s a big improvement over last year but not the reason they suddenly look better this season.

However, in the last 10 games the Laker offense has been working at a Phoenix Suns level of efficiency. In those games, the Lakers have an offensive rating of 109.2 (per 100 possessions), which would have them six in the league this season tied with Phoenix. In those 10, the Lakers are shooting 50% from the field, which would be fourth best in the NBA this season.

The big question is: How long can the Lakers keep this up? Right now they are on a bit of a hot streak, there will be ebbs and flows to the season. But as the rest of the players begin to find and fill their roles — something that was aided by the return of triangle-experienced players in Luke Walton and Devean George — this team is going to get smoother on offense as the year goes on.

Which is one way of saying — they can keep this up for a long while if they stay healthy.

The Wiz come in to LA wanting to run but the Lakers must not be eased on down that road (Washington has the fourth fastest pace in the league, 93.4 possessions per game). The Lakers are capable of running but, if the easy basket is not there, they need to slow it down and run the triangle — that has been the key to the win streak.

Gilbert Arenas has been having a career year for the Wizards, being a +9.8 (per 48 minutes), scoring 26.7 points per 40 minutes and with a true shooting percentage of 56% (remember TS% counts free throws in the mix, it’s basically points per shot attempt). For some comparison, Kobe is scoring more (30.9 per 40) but not shooting as well (51.2% TS%). When Arenas is not on the floor, the Wizards have trouble scoring, despite guys like Antawn Jamison on the roster.

The big let down has been a guy I and others said the Lakers should go after this past off-season — Antonio Daniels. He is a -8.3 and is shooting a horrid 31.8% (eFG%) from the field. CourtsideTimes.net’s Kevin Broom (who follows the Wizards) has said Daniels is lost in the Wizard offense and that his defense turned out to be a bit overrated.

Of course, a lot of the talk will be about the guys in the trade from this summer. Caron Butler has played very well for the Wiz, with a PER of 20.1 (up from 15.8 last season). His numbers are up across the board, not something shocking for a young player in his fourth season, but he seems to be more confident and is attempting almost 5 more shots per 40 minutes in the Wizards more up-and-down style of play.

Kwame Brown has put together a couple good games for the Lakers and now the team is wondering what they can expect out of him. I’ve liked him in the backup center role the last couple of games. That said, when Brown is motivated he’s the best front court player the Lakers have — and he should be motivated tonight to show his old team it was a mistake to let him go. I expect a big game out of him tonight.

Sometimes, after a long road trip teams tend to relax during their first game back home. The Lakers can’t do that tonight, they need to keep playing as they have the last seven games. Do so and this should be another win.

On Tap: The Memphis Grizzlies

Kurt —  December 14, 2005

Reader Steve (the brother of gatinho) has ruined watching Memphis for me — he pointed out Pau Gasol now looks like Serpico.

Now, every time I look at Gasol I think of a 1970s Al Pacino. I’ve added Serpico to my Netflix list. He’s ruined Gasol for me.

And Gasol is getting lots of pub because the Grizzlies are doing well (13-7) and he is their best player. Last game against the Lakers he scored 20, pulled down 10 boards and had 4 blocks to lead the Grizzlies to the win.

But here’s a little something to look for — see if the announcers say, “Gasol is having his best season as a pro.” In one respect he is, he is averaging 18.4 points and 9 rebounds per game (up from 17.8 and 7.3 last season). However, the reason Gasol’s per game numbers are up is he is playing almost 5.5 minutes more per game — he’s not doing anything else as well (except for growing facial hair). His shooting percentage has dropped from 51.4% to 46.8% (eFG%). Last season he had a true shooting percentage of 58.2% (basically points per shot attempt, so it includes free throws), this season it has fallen to 51.8%.

If you want to know a lot more about the Grizzlies, check out the piece I posted today over at CourtsideTimes.net.

But know this — the Grizzlies are the second best defensive team in the league so far this season and when they beat the Lakers earlier this season LA shot just 37.7% as a team. The Laker offense has been a lot better of late, but this will be a stiff test (especially for Kwame, who looked good in Dallas but was 3 of 14 in the last Memphis game).

The thing is, after that win in Dallas, don’t you think the Lakers could win any game right now? Isn’t that the fun part of being a fan?