Archives For December 2005

Fast Break

Kurt —  December 8, 2005

Three in a row and back to .500, small victories in the grand scheme but you have to feel a little more optimistic about this team than you did 10 days ago. However, don’t get too high off of beating Toronto, regardless of how good the offense looked and all the assists. The Raptors are worse than I had pictured, their perimeter defense is abysmal.

Let me go to a Phil Jackson quote from the Press Enterprise this week: “I expect this team to catch fire and start playing (good) basketball sometime around the New Year … and have some strength at the end of the year.” As I and others have said since the start of the season: If the Lakers can hang around .500 and stay within reach of the playoffs as they get (then stay) healthy and become more proficient in the offense, the schedule the last 20 games of the season favors them. Then, as they make the playoffs, pundits nationwide who have said “Phil Jackson just did this for the money” or “Jackson is whipped” will start praising him as a genius. And say they knew it all along.

A few other thoughts to clear out my inbox:

• I mentioned this in a comment the other day, but one of my favorite things I’ve read this season comes from and Kevin Pelton — a detailed breakdown of how Detroit dealt with the Phoenix pick and roll. With that, Kevin put himself in the middle of the TNT crew/Mark Cuban rift. If you’re going to pick a side in that fight, go with the smart billionaire.

• The latest blog poll rankings are up at Detroit is number one and San Antonio number two (I had them flopped). The Lakers are 22nd (I had them 20th, and the voting was Monday before the Lakers looked good two nights in a row).

• Speaking of yaysports NBA coverage, interesting piece on Kobe’s tights: Are they more about keeping his legs warm or pleasing the bosses at Nike?

• Grady Little? I have a Red Sox fan as a wife so I watched more of him than I would have cared to. He was a conservative manager who chose odd times to be aggressive. His biggest weakness — leaving in pitchers. Part of that was a poor pen, but Grady was slow to remove struggling starters, and not just in The Pedro Incident.

I have a thing against Grady — he has made me more scared for the live of my child than at any moment before or after. During the 2003 ALCS Red Sox/Yankee series my wife was pregnant, she had already ordered Red Sox PJs for the child. We were watching The Pedro Incident and she became increasingly incensed as only a passionate person whose body is surging with extra hormones can. She screamed at the television for Grady to take Pedro out. She screamed at me for not screaming at the television to take Pedro out. She paced the living room like a wild cat and just yelled random swear words. I thought Nurse Ratchet was going to have to be called in. Honestly, I was genuinely concerned for our unborn child’s welfare, but knew the sentence, “Honey, you need to calm down” would not have the hoped for result. So I sat there and repeated the same answer to the same question 100 times: “I don’t know why. It was stupid.”

So, I’m not really excited about this hire.

On Tap: The Toronto Raptors

Kurt —  December 7, 2005

If the Lakers are ever going to win the second game of a back-to-back, if they are going to get back to .500, this seems like the best chance they’ve got.

The Lakers are coming off what, by all accounts, was one of their best games of the season. (What a game to be the first one for me to miss, “watching” only on the ESPN Gamecast. Which, by the way, has been dramatically improved.) The Lakers shot well from the field — both Kobe at 58.3% and the rest of the team at 47.7% eFG% (it was Mihm and Cook who dragged that down, not a big surprise considering the strong Buck front line). Odom was aggressive (he had his best game according to commenter John). More importantly, Odom, Mihm and the rest f the Lakers hit the boards hard and out rebounded one of the league’s better on the glass.

Buck coach Terry Stotts said after the game he and his team focused too much on Kobe in the first half. This is what can happen when the Lakers run the offense and the other Lakers hit their shots — you can chose to let Kobe kill you or everyone else. For a change, the other team is faced with a Catch-22.

Which would be a nice place to put Toronto tonight. But for these Lakers there are no pushovers, no one they can look past. The good news is not only are the Lakers in the second game of a back-to-back, so are the Raptors, who had to play into overtime before falling to the Wizards.

Don’t be surprised if the Lakers again start Sasha and Smush as Toronto tends to be small, starting two point guards, Mike James and Jose Calderon, with Morris Peterson as a guard/forward at the three. James and Peterson are efficient shooters (51.4% and 53.6%, eFG%, respectively) so they need to be watched.

The real driving force for Toronto is at the four — Chris Bosh. He’s a young player that GMs everywhere are drooling over and hoping he wants to get out of the Great White North like just about every other good players the Raptors have had. Bosh is averaging 21.9 points and 10.3 rebounds per 40, both very good numbers, shooting just 48.9% from the field but he gets to the free throw line a lot and has hit 85% of his attempts from there so far.

But, like the Raptors as a team, Bosh is not a great defender. Take this note from the great Raptorsblog recently: The Raptors defend the three-point line well (opponents shoot just 32.7%) but as a team they are second to last in the league in opponent eFG%. The Raptors are getting destroyed in the midrange and inside.

That should play into the hands of Kobe and the Lakers — if they play like they did last night.

Off topic for a second: Here’s my favorite recent line from Scott at Raptorblog:

I expected last night’s Raptors-Hawks game to be uglier than two bums fighting over a 40 of Maximum Ice, and I wasn’t disappointed.

One other Raptor player I want to mention is rookie Charlie Villanueva, who comes off the bench to play center and has posted a good PER so far of 15.7. After his draft stock fell everywhere but Toronto, he has been talking about how he is out to prove his detractors were idiots.

Well, I was one of those detractors, and I hope he proves me wrong. The question was never his body or skills, it was his heart and mind. I watched him closely as he sleepwalked through a game against Vermont in the NCAA Tournament and another late-season game, he showed life only when it was time for him to score. That turned me off.

Then I saw him at the Summer Pro League out here and he was a force — he played with a chip on his shoulder the two games I watched. He showed all the skills that made him so highly touted. So far this season he has continued to play with that chip and has been very good for the Raptors. I still want to see him be able to do this for full season, maybe two, before I say he won’t revert to his UConn form. But maybe the pre-draft criticism lit the fire that was out in him, and if so he’s going to be a good to very good player for years.

Hopefully, just not tonight.

On Tap: The Milwaukee Bucks

Kurt —  December 6, 2005

As every coach in every sport will tell you, it’s about getting your own house in order before you start to worry about what the other team will do. So, before we talk Bucks let’s talk Laker defense.

For the first 14 games, the Lakers were giving up 102 points per 100 opponent possessions, good for fifth best in the league.

In the last two games, that number is 123.3.

That’s bad. Battlefield Earth bad. Those two games alone plummeted the Lakers from fifth in the league for the season to 16th.

The more important question, heading into a six-game road trip, is: How do you fix it?

Part of this is getting back to basics and working on the rotations — the Lakers have just looked lethargic on defense the last couple of games (Rudy T. era lethargic). Phil Jackson needs to crack the whip, or some skulls, or whatever he needs to do to get the team to refocus its defense. But I am going to throw out two more radical suggestions that may help.

1) Start Sasha. Smush has been a great story so far this year, but he has not been playing the same quality of defense in the half court set of late. Teams have figured out he is weak on the high pick and roll (almost always going under) and are now exploiting that. Statistically, when Smush is on the floor other point guards are playing just as well as they did last year against Chucky Atkins, both have an opponents PER of 19.1. To Smush’s credit, PGs are not shooting as well this season (49.6% against Atkins compared to 45.9% against Smush) but compare that to what Sasha has done when matched against PGs — an opponents PER of 13.3 and a shooting percentage of 42.4%. I’m not sure if this works well long term, but the defense needs to be shaken up, and Sasha is shooting the ball well right now so the offense won’t suffer. If nothing else, it should light a fire under Smush.

2) Play Chris Mihm and Andrew Bynum together some. One thing we can say about when Kwame Brown was in the starting lineup is that having two 7-footers along the baseline helped slow penetration. Not so much anymore, even with Cook getting big minutes. As best I can tell, Bynum and Mihm spent a few minutes together on the floor for the first time last game (they were a total of -3 in that short time). This combo is not going to be great on offense (Kobe and Lamar are going to really have to carry the load) but this should be a good defensive and rebounding pair. And you might want to keep doing it even when Kwame comes back.

If you’re going to pair Mihm and Bynum at all, Milwaukee may be a good place because the Bucks are such a good rebounding team. Four Buck players — Jamaal Magloire, Andrew Bogut, Joe Smith and Dan Gadzuric — all pull down at least 11.8 rebounds per 40 minutes (each grabbing at least 16% of the available rebounds when he is on the floor), the best rate for a Laker is Bynum at 10.3 (and 14.9%). The Lakers need to crash the boards.

The Lakers suddenly resurgent offense should again find room to work against a team that is 27th in the league in defensive rating (109.6 points per 100 possessions) and allows teams to shoot 49.5% (eFG%) against them. This could be a good game for Smush and Sasha as point guard has been the Bucks weakest defensive position this season.

But the Laker defense will be the key. The Bucks have a pretty average offense (a rating of 106,8, 12th in the league) although, not surprisingly, they do get a lot of offensive rebounds and put backs. They also have Michael Redd, who is leading the team in scoring and shooting a very good 52.5% (eFG%) from the field. Also watch out for point guard Maurice Williams, who is second on the team in scoring and shooting just as well as Redd percentage wise, and is a +11.2 per 48 minutes (the other guy to watch is UCLA guy Gadzuric, who is +12.7).

The Lakers have the Bucks tonight then head to even colder climates for a game against Toronto tomorrow. They need to get at least a split to start the road trip, and I think we know it’s a lot easier to win at the start (particularly since the Lakers have beaten the Bucks eight straight times). Count me in the group that thinks the Bucks are not as good as their 9-6 record, this is a game the Lakers can win. If they play defense.

First things first, the latest Carnival of the NBA (now #20) is up over at Attack of the Supersonics (the blog with the best logo out there). This carnival is very well written, with lots of good links to click on as well.

As for FB&G, we’re going to look mostly at the offense today, even though the defense has been the bigger problem the last couple of games (we’ll get to that tomorrow, promise). But that’s not all — keep reading and I’ll throw in some other stuff, at no additional cost. The perfect holiday stocking stuffer.

• For the last two games, the rest of the Lakers — they guys other than Kobe and Lamar — have stepped up and made shots. Because of that Kobe has just started to adjust his game and needs to do more.

I have argued that Kobe was shooting so much because the rest of the team could not be trusted. Look at the eight games from Nov. 14 (Memphis) to the Utah game last Monday — Kobe took 36.7% of the Lakers shots and shot 41.3% (eFG%), throw in Lamar Odom and you get 48.5% the team’s shots and the pair shooting 42.2%. The rest of the team after those two fared no better, shooting an even 42%. What was Kobe’s motivation to pass, the offense was just as good in his hands?

That changed dramatically in the last two games — outside of Kobe and Lamar the rest of the Lakers are shooting 60.2%. Through that Kobe has shot just 40.2% (the Bobcats were very quick with the double teams). add Lamar and it’s just 40.5%.

Together, Kobe and Lamar still took 44% of the Lakers shots in the last two games. They have to recognize when other players are hot and take advantage of that. They did to a degree last game, but Kobe still put up 30 shots and could have given it up quicker, particularly out of the doubles off the high pick and roll (the Bobcats went to trap Kobe with both players off the pick).

• Some other notes from shot charting the last few games:

Lamar Odom needs to drive to the hole — when he pulls up short and shoots in the paint his shooting percentage plummets to the low 20s, but when he goes for the layup/dunk he scores or is fouled on almost every attempt.

Kobe’s midrange game still has not been what it was the first couple of weeks; he is shooting in the mid-30s percent wise. He takes nearly 50% of his midrange shots from the right of the key, but a vast majority of his threes from the left side. Not sure if that’s a personal preference or offensive design.

Smush is shooting the three ball well, and can penetrate to the basket, but his midrange game is still very weak.

Luke Walton, on the other hand, has clearly worked on his midrange and is shooting just over 50% — and he hits about 75% from straight on, above the free throw line.

Mihm doesn’t go to the midrange game much, but what he does isn’t bad (just under 50%).

• I’m curious what people think of the new broadcast team for the Lakers, so I put a poll up at the right. Let me know what the rest of you think.

• We’ll be wondering about all this stuff later, so let me tell you now: Larry Croon’s great NBA Salary cap FAQ is now updated to include the new collective bargaining agreement.

• If you’re a college football fan, you should be reading Every Day Should Be Saturday. Great site, very clever writing. My most recent favorite — 52 Reasons ESPN/ABC/Disney Sucks (this goes beyond just basketball, but they didn’t even have to mention NBA Shootaround to get to 52, that could have been another 10 right there).

• If you have Sirius Satellite Radio, check out the new Phil Jackson show that starts Jan. 9. I’m not kidding. I’m curious to check it out, but not enough to fork over the cash for the system, especially since everyone will just assume I’m doing it to get Howard Stern.

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.