Archives For December 2005

Suggested Reading

Kurt —  December 14, 2005

Two things to point you toward:

1) Part one of the latest Carinval of the NBA is up and the always clever Check it out see just how many bloggers think their team will get Artest.

2) Speaking of Artest, Eric Pincus has the latest over at Hoopsworld.

Marc Stein of ESPN is reporting that the Los Angeles Lakers, along with the Denver Nuggets, are the most active teams in pursuit of the former defensive player of the year.

Truth be told, the Lakers could have Artest on a plane to join the team within 24 hours . . . unfortunately the price tag would be Lamar Odom and the Lakers are not willing to consider such a move at this time.

Fast Break

Kurt —  December 13, 2005

I’m swamped with work but couldn’t go without commenting a little on the biggest win of the season (so far). So, a few quick thoughts:

• As much as we all see of Kobe you think we’d become desensitized to the plays he makes, but there still seems to be two or three times a game when I’m left just shaking my head at what he can do. Dallas saw some of the best of that — that was amazing stuff even by Kobe’s standards.

• I want to say something about Kwame Brown finally playing like the aggressive player we hoped to see, but I’m afraid I’ll jinx him. (Kwame was +14 against the Mavs, second best on the Lakers behind D. George at +16.)

• The Laker defense was better but the offense was the key. Kobe and Lamar combined shot 51.2% (eFG%), but the rest of the Lakers shot 55.6%. That’s what you need to do against top teams if you’re the Lakers, have a spectacular night at one end of the floor and a good one at the other.

• Against Dallas was a good example of the Lakers using the bigger guards Phil Jackson likes to take advantage of smaller ones.

• The official Dallas Maverick’s Web site does a great little breakdown of two of the Lakers favorite plays out of the triangle.

• So which Laker was the coach killer again, Kobe or Shaq?

• It is fitting that Riley should have to coach the defense-averse roster he created.

• In case you didn’t see this in the LA Times, Ronny Turiaf could be up with the Lakers this season. That’s good to see, not just because he’d bring some inside presence but more importantly because it’s good to see him playing again and healthy.

• Some Laker fans are working hard to figure out how Ron Artest can suit up in Forum Blue & Gold. Don’t expect it. There are a a couple of big problems with this: 1) Artest has played the vast majority of minutes this season at the three and is 6’6”. The Lakers are already overstocked with swingman, that’s why Caron Butler was traded. Now you think they’re going to bring in another one? Where does Artest fit in the triangle? He can’t play the facilitator role Odom does. 2) Artest is a premiere player and Indiana is going to want one back — specifically Lamar Odom. It would take a fool to think Indiana would take D. George and Slava for Artest — the Pacers are contenders and want to stay condenders and that would mean no less than Odom. And the Lakers are already short big men, so if you trade Odom you need to get a four or a five back from Indiana. So a trade that works financially is more like Artest and Jeff Foster for Odom and Slava (or McKie at the end of the week). You also could come up with Scott Pollard scearios, but the questions are the same: Does that really make the Lakers better? Does it make Indiana better? I’m not convinced in either case.

• Of course, the much discussed “2007 Plan” that Laker management has touted has some serious flaws, most recently pointed to by Eric Pinics at Hoopsworld:

The core would start as Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum. The expectation is that Bynum will be an integral part of the team, so assume the team picks up his third year option. Those three would account for just under $35 million in salary. Assuming the cap of $53 million, the Lakers will have $18 million to spend.

Unfortunately, to spend all of that salary in free agency, the Lakers would have to renounce the rights to the entire roster save the aforementioned core of three.

Using Bosh as the theoretical target, the maximum salary in 2007 would be $12 million . . . giving the Lakers $6 million to spend elswhere.

• As mentioned in comments before, I am working on a Lakers against the pick and roll post, but have not finished the research (blame the holidays for filling up my schedule — damn you Santa!). It should appear later in the week.

• Tracking those picks, you start to see who sets good ones and who doesn’t. Erik Dampier doesn’t.

On Tap: The Dallas Mavericks

Kurt —  December 12, 2005

Is it the chicken or the egg with the Laker offense?

Read the local papers after the loss to Minnesota and the comments follow these lines: The Lakers stopped getting assists, stopped passing the ball, and so the offense struggled. The subtext: Kobe is too selfish.

But here’s the thing — watch the game and you’ll see the role players who have been hot got good looks but missed their chances. As a team the Lakers shot 47.1% (eFG%) for the game, right at their season average. However, take out Kobe and Lamar and the rest of the Lakers shot 36.5%. To put not to fine a point on it, when the rest of the Lakers hit their shots, Kobe passes more and the offense flows (as it did during the win streak), but if they go cold Kobe (and, to a lesser degree, Lamar) take the game on themselves because even in coverage they can hit more shots than whoever they pass to.

The rest of the Lakers are going to need to be hot tonight.

Count me in the group that is high on Dallas — I was saying they were the second best team in the West from the start of the season.

I was saying that because while many in the media cling to the “Dallas doesn’t play defense” theory from their run-and-gun era, the fact is they finished ninth in the league last season in defensive rating. This season they are ranked 12th at 104.5 (points per 100 opponent possessions). That is basically tied with the Lakers (104.6), and while they are not defensive stoppers just an average defense paired with the Mavericks’ great offense is going to win a lot of games.

As a team the Mavericks are shooting 49.4% for the season and have an offensive rating of 111.9 (points per 100 possessions), the third best offense in the league. And don’t confuse these Mavericks with the run-and-gun era in another way — Dallas is one of the slowest playing teams in the league, averaging just 87.4 possessions per game (25th in the league).

The one thing the Lakers need to do is keep Dallas off the offensive glass, the Mavericks grab 31.8% of their missed shots, the second highest percentage in the league.

Obviously, the Lakers need to find a way to slow Dirk Nowitzki (although who is going to do it, Kwame? Odom? Some combination?). He is averaging 27.4 points per 40 minutes played (fifth best in the league) and adding 9.4 rebounds (grabbing 14% of available boards when he is on the floor). He is also a +16.8 (meaning Dallas is 16,8 points better per 48 minutes when he is on the floor), also in the top 10 in the league. Nowitzki needs to be in the MVP discussions this season.

But what has made Dallas a contender is that others have stepped up around Dirk. Jason Terry at the point is shooting 55.4% (eFG%) and running the offense smoothly. Josh Howard has a PER of 19.8 and Devin Harris 18.3, both well above the league averages. Erick Dampier takes a lot of flak for his play inside (and deserves to on the defensive end, the Mavs are much better defensively when he sits), but he does grab a lot of rebounds (17.9% of the available boards when he is on the floor). And watch out for DeSagana Diop (+11.3) and Marquis Daniels (+7.8), good things seem to happen when they are on the floor.

If the Lakers are going to win, it may depend on Smush and Lamar to play at their best. The best places to attack Dallas are at the point (an opponent PER of 18.2) and at the four (16.1) because while Dirk’s defense has improved he can’t hang with Odom on the perimeter.

The Lakers need the supporting cast tonight to get back to playing like they did during the four-game win streak, and Kobe is going to have to be very efficient. More importantly, the Lakers are going to have to have one of their best defensive showings of the season. And on the road in Dallas, all that will probably mean the Lakers will have a shot at the end in a close game. Which is about all you can ask.

On Tap: The Minnesota Timberwolves

Kurt —  December 10, 2005

Is it just me, or does it seem like we play these guys every third game? And, as Joel Meyers pointed out on the LA broadcast, how do they luck out and get us in the second game of a back-to-back when they are rested four times this season, two times in two weeks?

The Lakers come in to Minnesota above .500 thanks to one of their best defensive showings of the season in Chicago, holding the Bulls to 43.4% shooting (eFG%) and 2 of 14 from beyond the arc. Sweetney got his, and Hinrich scored but wasn’t much help on defense (and ended up -12), but Chandler (-16) and Deng (-15) were nonfactors. Let’s be fair here, part of Chicago’s trouble was they missed some good looks. Meanwhile, good games for the Lakers from Cook (+12, hit 8 of 11 shots), Sasha (+15) and Lamar Odom (+15). As long as other guys keep knocking down the shots Kobe needs to keep passing when the doubles and triples come.

It’s a good win but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves — winning four in a row is nice but it’s what good teams do. Teams that win 40% of their games (basically the Lakers last season) win four in a row 87% of the time, .500 teams do it 99.4% of the time. (Those stats come from Basketball on Paper.) What I’m saying is this is good, but the Lakers need to keep building in this and not have this as the season’s highpoint.

Building anything has not been easy for the Lakers in the second game of back-to-backs, it certainly wasn’t the last time these two met. It was those tired legs that seemed to kill the Lakers, they had a double-digit lead through the third quarter but watched it slip away when Minnesota shot 81% in the fourth quarter, led by Wally Szczerbiak and Troy Hudson going 4 of 5 from beyond the arc when the Lakers were slow to rotate on them (plus Garnett was Garnett). The Lakers are not the only team to fall victim to this, the T-Wolves needed a big fourth quarter comeback the other night to beat Portland.

It was the subs that did well against Minnesota last time, the five on the floor when the Lakers took over in the second quarter were Laron Profit, Luke Walton, Sasha, Chris Mihm and Lamar Odom (Kobe subbed out Odom during the 22-9 stretch where the Lakers took control). The second night of a back-to-back, the subs need to step up again.

The T-Wolves have won four straight and are doing it on both sides of the ball with good offense (ranked 10th in the league in efficiency) and defense (4th in the league). Like the Lakers, they seem to be coming together in a way many people thought they couldn’t. Which should make this an interesting game.

On Tap: The Chicago Bulls

Kurt —  December 9, 2005

The old gang is getting back together tonight. Michael, Phil and some other old Bulls are coming back to honor Scottie Pippen and retire his number 33.

I’m not going write an ode to Pippen, but if you want to read well done tributes to one of the top 50, Matt at Blog-a-Bull has done a couple of them. I will say this quickly: Saying Pippen just rode Jordan’s coattails is the same as telling me that James Worthy just rode Magic Johnson’s coattails. Just because you play along side a once-in-a-generation (maybe lifetime) player shouldn’t detract from your well-earned legacy.

The last time these two teams met the Lakers were in the middle of the “All Kobe Show,” with him getting 43 points and Chris Mihm being the only other Laker in double digits (it also was the game where Tyson Chandler had a key block on Andrew Bynum late). I’m curious to sees if the Lakers spread the ball and shoot better — last game between these two the rest of the Lakers shot 42.1% (eFG%) but they have been much better of late and need to be tonight. (By the way, Kobe shot 51.5% eFG that night, so expect the Bulls to focus more on him.)

The Bulls offense has been sluggish this season, in their last 10 games they have an offensive rating of 100 (points per opponent possessions), down from their season average of 102 (21st in the league). The biggest problem is they don’t get to the foul line — they are second to last in the league in the percentage of times they get to the line.

Last season it was the defense that led the Bulls to the playoffs, and that is something the Bulls have been getting back to. In the last 10 games their defensive rating is 101.9 (points per opponent possessions), 2.6 points better than their season average.

Last time these two hooked up it was Chris Duhon and Michael Sweetney who did the Lakers in, look for a little more defensive focus on them. Off the bench, Loul Deng has played well of late. Tyson Chandler, who has had shortness of breath issues lately, is expected to play. The other thing to watch, in the last 10 games the Bulls have shot 41.5% from beyond the three point arc.

I’m curious to see what Phil does with the starting lineup tonight — going smaller (with Odom at the four) has worked well the last two games, but doing that tonight could be more challenging. Essentially, you’d force a Sweetney/Odom matchup, giving Odom a big advantage on the perimeter but Sweetney is much stronger inside and could get good post shots and offensive rebounds.

The next two nights should be good tests for the Lakers, after winning three in a row they play pretty good but not great teams. We’ll learn something about just how much the Lakers have grown the on the rest of this road trip.