Archives For December 2005

On Tap: The Charlotte Bobcats

Kurt —  December 3, 2005

After losing a game that seemed in the bag before the fourth quarter, the Lakers get a Charlotte team they had better not look past.

Quick thoughts on the loss to Minnesota: The Lakers tired legs showed in the fourth quarter when they were slow to get out in the face of Szczerbiak and Hudson. Mihm can’t handle Garnett one-on-one (no one can) and once the outside shooters got going for the T-Wolves they had an inside/outside game that was almost impossible to stop. The key would have been keeping Szczerbiak from getting hot in the first place, and part of that falls on Odom who played off him for parts of the game.

The good news is, the Laker offense looked better (although it fell apart a couple times when Kobe was out). With the triangle we need to be patient, and having Walton back (and D. George expected tonight) will help. More on this is a few days (I watched much of the game with friends in a bar and have yet to do any charting), but the Lakers just need to get a game where they get the offense and defense going at the same time.

Tonight would be a good time — it would be foolish to take Charlotte lightly. The Bobcats are like Utah in the sense they are weak on offense but pretty solid on defense. They are ninth in the league with a defensive rating of 103.6 (points per 100 opponent possessions) and that should bring some respect that they are better than their 5-12 record indicates (their Pythagorean is 8-9).

After a weak defensive outing late against Minnesota, this is a team the Lakers can shut down. The Bobcats are not strong offensively in large part because they are the second worst shooting team in the league (43.8%, eFG%). They are especially weak on the perimeter, shooting just 37.8% on jump shots. They had hoped to make that up on the inside but Rookie of the Year Emeka Okafor is in a sophomore slump, shooting just 39.9% from the field and scoring just 15.7 per 40. Kareem Rush can fill it up but his defense is still sad, which is why is a -6.3 per 48 minutes this season. The guy to watch is Gerald Wallace, who is shooting an impressive 57.5% from the field this year with a true shooting percentage (which includes free throws) of 59.2% (higher than any Laker).

The Bobcats are a good rebounding team with Okafor pulling down 17.4% of available rebounds and Sean May coming off the bench and getting 16.3% (the best Laker by this measure is Odom at 14.3%). May has the best +/- on the team of any guy getting regular minutes (+13.6) and former UNC guy Raymond Felton is right behind him (+9.7) — the Bobcat bench is pretty good and the Laker need to get good play from their bench to match.

This could be another great game for Odom, allowing him to continue asserting himself — the weakest spot defensively for the Bobcats, by a wide margin, is against the four. Odom should get some post up opportunities plus get chances on the perimeter.

With a long road trip starting Tuesday, the Lakers need a win here. Nothing more needs be said.

On Tap: The Minnesota Timberwolves

Kurt —  December 2, 2005

If the Lakers are going to do something rare and win the second game of a back-to-back (they are 5-16 in the last 21), the game at Staples tonight is going to need to resemble the first half of the win in Utah.

Specifically, Kobe was not the sole offensive focus and his teammates knocked down shots (for the game, Kobe and Odom combined to shoot an unimpressive 36.4% eFG%). You knew the 6 of 6 three-point shooting would decline, but the fact remains that for one night Smush and other players stepped up. Same in overtime — Sasha is showing signs of maturing into a solid NBA player (and not just because of that shot but in the last couple of games overall).

Luke Walton started the second half against Utah and I think he should remain in the first five for a while — the offense just flows better with him in the game (he is a +11 total in the last two games and now has a Roland Rating of +9). That said, the Lakers are not a better defensive team when he is on the floor and other guys (Smush, Kobe, Mihm) will have to pick up some of the slack at that end. Mihm seemed to against Utah, which is why he led the team with a +19.

And no, Kobe was not fouled on that last shot, but that’s the advantage of having a superstar on your team, sometimes you get those calls.

That brings us to tonight. Did you know if the playoffs started today the 7-6 T-Wolves would be the three seed?

The Timberwolves continue to play good overall defense this season, with a defensive rating of 102 (points per 100 possessions), tied with the Lakers for fifth in the league. Teams are shooting just 44.7% on them. That is a dramatic improvement from last year when Flip Saunders was the coach (by the way, Flip’s Pistons are 19th in the league in defense right now — the man does not appear to be a good defensive coach).

Trenton Hassell slowed Kobe to a 12 of 26 night when these two played last month and the Lakers as a team shot just 42.3%. Outside of Kobe and Odom the Lakers shot just 40.3%, which brings us back to the fact the rest of the Lakers need to step up like they did last night. Also, the T-Wolves stymied the Lakers with a zone defense late in that last game that the Lakers will see more of and need to execute better against.

Minnesota is shooting the ball well so far this season, with a team eFG% of 49.8%, fifth best in the league (compared to the Lakers 44.9%). What hurts them offensively is they are the worst offensive rebounding team in the league (just 21.9% of their misses) — for the Lakers to win they need to keep that T-Wolves off that glass.

While the media just talks about him allegedly being unhappy and trade rumors, Kevin Garnett continues to play like an MVP — he has a PER of 27.2, fifth best in the league. He is averaging 22.2 points and 10.7 rebounds per 40 minutes, while shooting 56.7% (EFG%). Crazy good numbers.

This is a team that the Lakers should see as a peer — right about their talent level and a team that needs to play its best every night if they are going to make the playoffs. Sure it’s the second game in as many nights, but these are the kind of games playoff teams find a way to win.

On Tap: The Utah Jazz

Kurt —  December 1, 2005

My biggest concern is about this game is the Lakers catch whatever injury bug Utah has.

Not that plenty of Lakers haven’t missed games (George, Walton, Kwame, etc.), but key Jazz cog Carlos Boozer has yet to step on the court, while Andrei Kirilenko has played only eight of the team’s 15 games so far (he should be in the lineup tonight). The result is a 6-9 Utah team that has had rookie Deron Williams as the leading scorer the last two games, which is bad news, according to the Salt Lake Tribune:

Utah is 5-2 when (Mehmet) Okur is its leading scorer, and 1-7 when it is someone else. More intriguing, the Jazz are 6-2 when Okur attempts 15 or more shots, and 0-7 when he does not.

The Jazz are dead last in the league in offense this season, averaging 98.4 points per 100 possessions (2.4 points worse than the Lakers, and we know how ugly their offense has been). As a team, the Jazz are shooting just 44% eFG% (Laker fans, don’t laugh, your team is at 44.7%). If AK-47 gets back into form Utah may improve, but so far their best player has been Okur, who is averaging 21 points per 40 minutes while shooting 53.7% from the field. Williams has been solid as the rookie point guard, averaging 17.5 points and 6.3 assists per 40 minutes. After that, the offensive options are limited.

What is keeping the Jazz respectable is their defense — it’s 10th in the league, however the Lakers are fifth. (Note to you betters out there, two teams with questionable offenses and good defenses, take the under.)

Neither team has played great of late, both are 3-7 in their last 10. The Jazz are coming off losses to Indiana and Golden State, the Lakers to San Antonio and New Jersey.

One team is going to get enough offense tonight from their star to get the win and come out optimistic. The thing is the Lakers fans have reason for optimism because, despite all the problems, the Lakers are playing better than their record indicates— their Pythagorean record is 7-6 (based on points scored versus points given up). The Jazz are playing at their level, 6-9. This would be a nice win for the Lakers, starting a tough stretch with a lot of games away from home with a win.