Archives For January 2006

On Tap: The Los Angeles Clippers

Kurt —  January 7, 2006

Record: 17-13 (Pythagorean 18-12), 6th seed in the West
Record last 10 games: 3-7
Laker Record against Clippers: 0-1
Offensive Rating: 105.2 (19th in league)
Defensive Rating: 105.0 (10th in league)

About the Clippers: After starting the season 14-5, the Clippers have been lost at sea. They are 3-8 in their last 11, including a loss last night in Sacramento.

The collapse has been on both sides of the ball. For the first 20 games of the season, the Clippers had an offensive rating of 104.3 (points per 100 opponent possessions), but in the last 10 that has fallen off the charts to 97.8. At least part of that can be blamed on the absence of Corey Maggette to injury, he was averaging 25.5 points per 40 minutes (he was +8.1 per 48 minutes). (Side note: You may notice my numbers here vary some from the numbers above in bolded ratings, that’s because those are from Knickerblogger’s stat page, these I whipped up using a different possession formula and Dougs Stats. They key is both are consistant with what they are being compared to and mine are just here to show the changes in the Clipper O and D.)

On defense, in the first 20 games, the Clips had a defensive rating of 100.1 (opponent points per 100 possessions). In the last 10 that is105.9. The weakest point defensively for the Clippers is at the point, which is not a surprise, Cassell has long been a good offensive player but questionable on the other end of the court.

Right now, I think you could make a good case for Elton Brand as the MVP, and certainly as an All-Star game starter. In the one game between these two teams this season Brand had 23 points and 14 rebounds. Another gut to watch for is Cuttino Mobley, who had 20 in that last game these two played against each other.

One thing I hope to see tonight:
A new haircut for Chris Kaman. Or at least that he gets in foul trouble so I can stop making Hulk Hogan jokes everytime he touches the ball.

Also, I want to hear Chris Mihm, former University of Texas star, talk about going to the Rose Bowl game with his USC alumni girlfriend.

The Lakers coming in: The Lakers come in off one of their best all around performances of the year. They shot an insane 67.7% (eFG%) while holding the Sixers to 44.1%. While Iverson shot 50% on the night the Lakers did a good job on the other keys — Webber was 5 of 15, Korver just 3 of 9. Kobe looked rested, Smush was hot and Chris Mihm was a big defensive presence (four blocks on the night). Most importantly, they got ahead and kept their foot on the gas.

Key’s to a Laker win: Sometimes it’s about when you catch teams. The Lakers got the Sixers at the end of a road trip, and they didn’t show much fight once they got down. Tonight they catch a slumping Clippers squad, and while both teams are in the second game of a back-to-back, the Clips had a close game then had to fly back down from Sacramento.

Kobe’s going to be Kobe, but this can be another big game for Smush (or Sasha), scoring on Cassell. I’m curious is Kwame gets another start, my guess is yes with the responsibility of slowing Elton Brand — that will be a key match up. The Lakers need to be aggressive on the offensive glass as well, the Clippers have been the best defensive rebounding team in the league this season (opponents grab 24.4% of missed shots, the league average is close to 28%).

Being tired is no good excuse tonight, this is the kind of game I think playoff teams find a way to win — taking advantage of when you get slumping teams.

On Tap: The Philadelphia 76ers

Kurt —  January 6, 2006

Record: 16-16 (Pythagorean 17-15), 7th seed in the East
Record last 10 games: 5-5
Offensive Rating: 111.2 (5th in league)
Defensive Rating: 107.6 (20th in league)

About the Sixers: For many seasons, Allen Iverson was the poster child for inefficient scoring — he got his points but took an inordinate amount of shots to do it.

He still takes a lot of shots (he and Kobe are battling for who uses the highest percentage of their team’s possessions, Kobe leads right now), but Iverson in the last couple of seasons has started to become efficient — not Richard Jefferson efficient, but not bad either. Iverson is shooting 47% (eFG%) from the field, and when you add in all the times he gets to the free throw line, he has an above average true shooting percentage of 53.7% (compare that to Kobe’s 46% eFG% and 52.8 ts%). Plus in the last two years Iverson’s assists per have gone up as well, 6.8 per 40 minutes now.

All that has sparked a very good Philadelphia offense. Chris Webber is the second leading scorer, 19.6 per 40 (Iverson is at 30.7), but Chris is only shooting 43.3% from the field. That said, he is grabbing 10.3 rebounds per 40 and is a +3.8 per 48, so the team plays better with him on the floor.

The guy that has really blossomed is Andre Iguodala — a true shooting % of 62.9% (second highest in the league) and he is a +10.4. Also, Kyle Korver can fill it up if you ignore him.

The problem is the defense — Philly just isn’t very good at it across the board. Iverson’s quickness tends to slow opposing point guards, but their defensive PER is below average at every other position.

One thing I hope to see tonight: Someone other than Kobe or Iverson be the game’s high scorer. Of course, I’d like to drive a Masarati too, and that’s about as likely to happen.

The Lakers coming in: Want to feel better after the recent Laker five-game losing streak? I’ve got two things that can help.

First, you know the first four losses were by a total of 13 points, right? Well, Justin, the guy behind the amazing basketball-reference.com, has written a piece looking at the age-old premise “good teams win close games.” Turns out, not so much. Rather, good teams blow out other teams. Read the story for all the details but look at it this way: Last season the top four teams in winning percentage of games decided by five or less points: Washington, Orlando, Denver and New Jersey. Not the league’s creme de la creme. (The top four by blowouts: San Antonio, Miami, Phoenix and Dallas — far more indicative of good teams.)

The other thing to cheer you up — Kobe’s back.

Bad news about Slava Medvedenko, who needs to have back surgery on his bulging disk and likely will miss the rest of the season. I wish him the best and hope he makes a full recovery. (That said, it does clear a roster spot for Ronny Turriaf.)

Key’s to a Laker win: The Lakers can score a lot of points tonight. Kobe, Odom, Mihm, anyone inside should — should — be able to get their shots tonight. Webber’s knees don’t let him defend much anymore, if he is on Odom the Lakers should exploit that all night.

Defensively, Smush and Sasha are not going to stop Iverson, but if they can use their length to make him less efficient it will be a big key. Also, the rest of the Lakers need to help out but not let Korver or Iguodala or Webber get loose for a big night — good defensive rotations after Iverson drives and draws help are a must. The Laker defense has been sloppy of late and this is a team that can exploit that.

I expect another close game — so for a change the Lakers need to execute down the stretch.

My All Star Ballot, Part II

Kurt —  January 5, 2006

Yesterday, I laid out my ballot for the East. Today, the conference I’m a little more familiar with, the West.

Western Conference

Guards: Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant. Just missed out, Tony Parker, Chris Paul, Sam Cassell. Yes, it’s a Laker blog, so you knew Kobe was going to get a vote, but I think it’s more than justified. Kobe has a PER of 26.3, eighth best in the NBA right now. Last year, a lot of writers made this their Steve Nash for MVP argument: “Look how bad they were without him.” Well, look at those two Laker games against lowly Utah without Kobe and tell me how valuable he is to this team. While we’ve mentioned Nash, it’s not easy to choose between him and Tony Parker, but I’m leaning to Nash because he is averaging 11.8 assists to 4.3 turnovers per 40 minutes, while Parker is at 7.3 assists and 3.5 turnovers. Yes, very different styles of play for those two, and Parker is a better defender, but the two are very close. So it comes down to this — I like watching Steve Nash play a little more. He should try to up the tempo in the All Star game, just because nobody is going to play defense.

Forwards: Elton Brand and Dirk Nowitzki. Just missed Tim Duncan, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Garnett, Pau Gasol, Tracy McGrady, Shawn Marion. By far this is the deepest area on the ballot, I’m leaving six legitimate All-Stars out, and there are a host of guys not mentioned you could make arguments for. So this is my idea to spice up next year’s All-Star game: The Western Conference forwards against the rest of the league. Your starting five: Lamar Odom at the point (he’s essentially playing that spot in LA), McGrady at the two, Nowitzki at the three, Garnett at the four and Duncan at the five. You still bring Brand, C. Anthony, Gasol and Marion off the bench, with Maggette, Peja and Kirilenko right behind them. Now tell me that wouldn’t be a better All-Star game.

In the first half of this season, Dirk and Elton have raised their games to new levels — and pulled their teams up along with them. Dirk has a PER of 28 (second in the league), a true shooting percentage of 57.5% and is pulling down 14.1% of the available rebounds when on the floor. Brand has a PER of 27.9 (third in the league), a ts% of 58.7% and is pulling down 15.2% of the available rebounds. Think the Bulls could use that right about now?

Center: Marcus Camby. Just missed, Yao Ming and Mehmet Okur. Yes, Camby is down with an injury — surprise, surprise, surprise — but I wanted to reward a breakout year for him. Until he broke something, anyway. He has averaged 19.4 points per 40 minutes shooting 54.3% (ts%), while grabbing 21.7% of the available rebounds while on the floor. Ming is having another solid year, and Okur is there to shoot a lot in a game when his defense will fit in with everyone else’s.

My All Star Ballot, Part I

Kurt —  January 4, 2006

We’ve seen enough of this NBA season that I felt there was enough information to sit down and decide who I would want to send to Houston.

My first thought was: I’ve been to Houston once, and think of returning as more punishment than reward. I could vote for a team of guys I want to castigate for letting me or the fans down — Joe Johnson deserves that kind of treatment, for example.

But no, I want to see an entertaining game on television, and plus, how am I really punishing a guy by sending him to a place where there will be hot and cold running groupies? So, here is the Eastern Conference part of my one All Star ballot (I don’t stuff the ballot box), with the reasons behind my choices. I’m using the NBA’s rules here — their definition of positions and only five votes per conference (two guards, two forwards, one center). I’ll post the West tomorrow.

Eastern Conference:

Guards: Allan Iverson and Chauncey Billups. Just missing out, Dwayne Wade and Vince Carter. This was very difficult, because good players like Gilbert Arenas and T.J. Ford don’t even get into the conversation. I went with Billups because he has been so efficient in the now freewheeling (well, compared to last year) Detroit offense — a true shooting percentage of 62.8%, and per 40 minutes he averages 22.2 points, 9.5 assists and just 2.2 turnovers. Wade and Iverson are almost identical statistically, look at their PER, Iverson 27.7, Wade 27.6. It goes like that down the line, one leads a little bit in one category, another is better somewhere else, but it basically balances out. I went with Iverson for two reasons: 1) He has less talent around him and takes on more of his team’s offense (3 points more usage rate); 2) I like watching Iverson more than Wade. Not by a lot, but it is my ballot after all.

Forwards: LeBron James and Jermaine O’Neal. Just missing out, Chris Bosh, Paul Pierce and Dwight Howard. LeBron was a gimme, he’s putting up MVP-type numbers — and this season James and Cleveland will become better known to the common fan during the playoffs, giving Detroit more trouble in the second round than whoever the Pistons get in the conference finals. So that leaves one forward spot and a lot of qualified guys. While Pierce has been great I decided the East needed an athletic, true four to try to match up with Duncan/Nowitzki et al, in the West. So it was down to Bosh and O’Neal, which is a tough call (Howard is good but a step back statistically). Bosh has had slightly better offensive numbers, but O’Neal is the better defender and he might block some shots (2.5 per 40 this season), so he gets the nod.

Center: Shaquille O’Neal. Just missed out, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Ben Wallace. First off, how does the Knicks Jerome James even get his name on the ballot? Are we that short of big men? Shaq has only played 14 games this season, but he is still the best center in the East, bar none. Shaq’s scoring more points, grabbing more rebounds and is playing a bigger role on his team than Ilgauskas (who is, however, having a good season). If a coach could get Wallace on the team as a defensive stopper, that would be fun in the last 10 minutes of the game. Not going to happen, but it would be fun.

Replay: The Utah Jazz

Kurt —  January 2, 2006

Rather than rewrite everything from the last preview, here are the three things the Lakers need to do the right the wrongs of the loss the other night. They had better, because another close loss with bad execution at the end is sending me into the Glenmorangie bottle.

1) Play better defense. Coming into the game, Utah was shooting 44.5% (eFG%) on the season, they shot 51.4% Sunday night. The Lakers need to play particular attention to Keith McLeod and Andrei Kirilenko, who stepped up against the Lakers. This step alone could win the game.

(By the way, is Kirilenko the most gaunt player in the NBA right now?)

2) Get better bench play. We knew the Lakers were thin, even before Kobe went down, but the bench did the Lakers in. The starters were fine, we got good play from Cook (8 of 10 from the field and +5) and solid outing from Lamar Odom, Smush and Chris Mihm. But Sasha was -10 and Kwame -5, and it was when bench player had to step up that the Lakers fell back.

While were talking bench players, let’s talk about the Von Wafer experiment. First, don’t play him and Sasha together again, that was a defensive disaster (Wafer was -6 in just 6 minutes of play). He drew a few fouls but missed the open looks he got. Personally, I’d play him a little in the second quarter again, kind of a heat check because he is the kind of player who could get hot for a night. But, when the roster gets closer to full again at the guard spot, I think Wafer could benefit from the D-League, getting used to the speed of the pro game and playing within a team structure.

3) As mentioned before, execute at the end of the game. And that is at both ends of the floor. The game Sunday was tied with 3:21 left (D. George’s jumper) and from there on in the Lakers were outscored 10-6 (but two of those were on a meaningless George dunk as time ran out). From that tied point on the Jazz has a true shooting percentage of 62.5%, the Lakers 33.3%. Mihm and Odom missed good inside looks, Walton threw the ball away, George was 2 of 4 from the free throw line. Those kind of things can’t all happen in three minutes.

This is a chance for this team to grow without Kobe’s shadow blocking out the sun — and taking all the shots away from them. They need to step up to the challenge. These are the games where you learn who should come back as this team builds for the future.

On Tap: The Utah Jazz

Kurt —  January 1, 2006

Happy New Year everyone!

Record: 14-16 (Pythagorean 14-16), 9th seed in the West
Record last 10 games: 6-4
Laker Record Against Jazz this season: 1-0 (in overtime)
Offensive Rating: 100.8 (29th in league)
Defensive Rating: 105.1 (12 in league)

About the Jazz: The Lakers catch the Jazz in the second game of a back-to-back (they beat the 76ers last night) and this is the start of a home-and-home.

What’s been holding the Jazz back this season is they have trouble scoring, shooting just 44.5% (eFG%)on the season. Their leading scorer is Mehmet Okur, who scores 20.2 points and grabs 10.2 rebounds per 40 minutes. And don’t ignore Matt Harpring, who is averaging 19.8 per 40. Last time these two hooked up, rookie Deron Williams torched Smush for 20.

Utah has been playing better of late, and the key reason is their defense — in the last 10 their defensive rating is 101.8, much better than their season average. Andrei Kirilenko and his shot blocking ability are a key reason for the improvement (he leads the team as a +13.3 per 48 so far this season).

The Jazz will be without Carlos Boozer — I know, shocking. Boozer should return soon, but, Boozer coming back creates some problems — where do you play him, AK-47 and Okur? Okur’s numbers drop off severely when he has to play the five, and you can’t play Boozer there. Logic would dictate the Jazz need to move somebody.

One thing I hope to see in the next two days: My Fighting Irish trounce the Buckeyes. This should be the best of the games on Monday.

The Lakers coming in: We know Kobe is out due to the suspension (was that really a two game foul?), but then Lamar Odom sprains his ankle in practice yesterday and Cook is still slowed by the flu. Cook and Odom are expected to play.

I was going to suggest Walton should get the start, but Phil Jackson hinted in the LA Times today it could be seldom-seen Von Wafer. At the least he will get minutes. So far this season he has shown moments of amazing athleticism, followed by equally amazing bad judgment. He is shooting 25% so far this season, but trust me from seeing him in the Summer League, he is a better shooter than that. My biggest concern, he has shown almost a distain for the triangle offense and has a quick trigger, and for the Lakers to win without Kobe they need to be efficient and run the offense.

Without Kobe they need to execute, they don’t have anyone to just throw the ball to bail them out latte in the shot clock.

Key’s to a Laker win: The Jazz should be tired and don’t shoot well anyway, the Lakers are rested. This is a game the Lakers can win at the defensive end of the floor by shutting down the Jazz, I’d prefer not to see another game that will come down to how the team executes at the end.

Odom has done this before when Kobe has been out — he needs to step up and be the leader.

The Lakers are going to have to run the offense every time down (for a change) to create shots. And they’ve got to hit them, especially out on the perimeter — Utah plays good defense inside but can be hurt at the two and the three. Smush, Walton, Cook, George, Odom all need to shoot efficiently today. A few easy transition baskets would be nice as well.

Right now the Lakers are the eighth seed in the West, Utah the ninth, 1.5 games behind them. It’s way, way to early for must wins, but just a split of this home-and-home without Kobe would be a boost now.