Archives For January 2006

On Tap: The Cleveland Cavaliers

Kurt —  January 12, 2006

Record: 20-12 (Pythagorean 21-11), 4th seed in the East
Record last 10 games: 7-3
Offensive Rating: 111.9 (2nd in league)
Defensive Rating: 105.8 (13th in league)

The Lakers coming in: I’d love to provide some brilliant, subtle insight into last night’s loss in Portland, but what went wrong was painfully obvious — even Joel Meyers figured it out and didn’t blame it on the refs. How do you let a team that shoots 46.5% (eFG%) for the season shoot 55.5%?

In the big picture, this is what you get with a young team, a lack of focus from game to game, sometimes from quarter to quarter. For whatever reason, this Laker team showed no intensity on defense last night, it manifested itself in slow rotations and guys getting beat one-on-one. And the Lakers get crushed by a bad team.

Phil needs to walk into the team shower, call them all a bunch of lollygaggers, and scare the kids a little. It will work for a while, they’ll bounce back with energy for a few games, then out of the blue there will be another unfocused game. I don’t expect mature play from this team.

One thing I have to get to:
Bill Simmons took a riding crop to Secretariat in his latest ESPN the magazine piece.

And what disappoints me is that I like Simmons and he usually gets it, but here he misses the big point — Kobe couldn’t win. Exit that Mav’s game with 62 points and don’t play the fourth quarter and Simmons, along with other media members, jump on him for not going for 80. Play the fourth, go for some records and he gets ripped up and down on talk radio and in the papers for being selfish.

We could get into more detail about the article— like why comparing the classic Jordan teams to this Laker team as he wants to do is idiotic because of the talent level of the surrounding cast, a better comparison is the early Jordan years, when everyone called Jordan selfish — but instead, I’m going to say he had a bad column and just let it go. Everyone’s entitled to a mulligan.

About the Cavaliers: We’re going to talk about LeBron, but the big news in Cavs land is that Larry Hughes is out with a broken finger. He was an athletic player to put out on the perimeter with LeBron, and gave them 17.3 points and 4.1 assists per 40 minutes, while shooting 44.6% (eFG%). Without Hughes, it appears to be the LeBron show with little else (sound familiar?).

The other night against the Knicks, LeBron had 36 points, 7 boards and 7 assists — with just one turnover. In just his third year in the league, LeBron is in the middle of the MVP mix, he has the highest PER in the league, 29.2. He leads the team as a +12.3. LeBron James has an incredible true shooting percentage of 59.2%, scoring 29.3 points, grabbing 6.5 rebounds and dishing out 5.6 assists per 40 minutes. He leads the league in the number of “and one” attempts and conversions — he’s so strong that the fouls don’t seem to affect his shot. LeBron James lost his virginity before his father did. LeBron James does not sleep — he waits. LeBron James’ tears cure cancer — too bad he has never cried.

Another guy to watch for on the Cavs — although he is no LeBron James — is Zydrunas Ilgauskas. He has a true shooting percentage of 56.5% and is pulling down 15.1% of the available rebounds while on the floor, leding to a +7.3. Donyell Marshall has fallen in love with the three ball, but if the Lakers don’t get out in his face he’ll hit a lot of them. Marshall is also +7.3.

Key’s to a Laker win: Defensive effort. They didn’t expend a lot of energy last night so they should have plenty left. That said, the Cavs have LeBron James so do the Lakers really stand a chance? (In all seriousness, the Cavs are damn good; the Lakers are going to need one of their best efforts.)

On Tap: The Portland Trailblazers

Kurt —  January 11, 2006

I’ve been swamped with work the last 48 hours, so I’ve had no time to do a preview (or even read my email). But consider this — in the last two blog polls ranking NBA teams, I’ve had Portland dead last. Portland is 30th in offensive efficiency in the league, 28th in defense. Not a good combo.

What we really want to know is can Kobe continue the streak of 45+ points to a fifth game? Well, the starting backcourt in Portland is Juan Dixon and Steve Blake, so what do you think? This is a road game the Lakers should win.

I’ll post more tomorrow, talking about this game and the showdown with Cleveland.

Fast Break

Kurt —  January 10, 2006

Lately there has been a lot of preview and not enough review on this site, I’ll try to get more done (I do get some in the previews in the “Lakers Coming In” section). Just a reminder, if there are things you’d like to see on the site, suggest it in the comments or drop me an email.

• Here’s the best part about Kobe’s hot streak (45+ points in four games, the first to do it since Chamberlain in 1964) — he’s shooting very efficiently. In the last four games he has taken 41% of the Laker attempts and is shooting 52.5% (eFG%) in doing so. Take into account all the times he gets to the free throw line, his true shooting percentage is an impressive 57.7% in those games.

The other good thing, as mentioned by Derek in the comments under the Indiana preview, the Lakers are doing this more and more within the offense. The other players are learning how to get Kobe his shots within the triangle, then when defenses start to overplay him, how to get open or their own shots because of it.

• By the way, last night it was good to see Odom take — and knock down — a key shot in the stretch. Also, props to D. George, who came off the bench and played good defense (and was +14). He played the whole fourth quarter for a reason.

• Odom’s consistency is just troubling. The Clipper game was a disaster, Mobley just torched him and Odom did nothing to redeem himself on offense. Against Indiana, he has a good game and hits key shots. Do you have any idea what he’ll do in the next game? That said, I still wouldn’t trade him for Artest.

• By tomorrow (Wednesday), non-guaranteed contracts need to be picked up for the full year. For example, Smush Parker has not had his contract picked up yet, but it’s a very safe bet it will be.

But what about Devin Green and Von Wafer? Will one of them be cut loose, or the injured Laron Profit bought out, to make room for Turiaf? If Profit can make it back I’d want him and have to consider cutting Green, but if he can’t I’d just buy him out and try to develop Green and Wafer. And I’d sign Turiaf, even if he has to go to the NDBL for some more conditioning at first.

Update: The Daily News is reporting that Green, Wafer and Smush have been picked up (thanks to gatinho in the comments for the note). So, that means one of three people will be on the outside looking in: Turiaf, Profit or Slava. The latter two would need to be bought out.

• Chris Mihm has quietly become a very solid player inside. He is +6.1 per 48 minutes (the team is that much better with him on the court), the second best +/- on the team of guys who will play again this season (Slava actually leads the team, Kobe is next). Mihm has become the team’s best rebounder (he grabs 14.6% of missed shots while on the floor, the highest percentage of any Laker) and is shooting 51% from the floor. He’s also getting 1.9 blocks per 40 minutes, the most of anyone playing nightly. He’s grown comfortable in the triangle. There is still the foul issue (he is averaging 5.8 fouls per 40 minutes played, right at his career average but up from 5.1 last season) but his contributions to this team can’t be overlooked.

On Tap: The Indiana Pacers

Kurt —  January 9, 2006

Record: 18-13 (Pythagorean 19-12), 5th seed in the East
Record last 10 games: 5-5
Offensive Rating: 105.7 (21st in league)
Defensive Rating: 102.2 (3rd in league)

About the Pacers: With Ron Artest, the Pacers were 11-7, without him 7-6, which includes a win last night in Sacramento (a blowout that allowed some key guys to get rest). Due to injury and illness (in the case of Artest, mental illness), this is the starting lineup the Pacers had to go with: Stephen Jackson, Anthony Johnson, Danny Granger, Austin Croshere and David Harrison. Not the title-contending lineup pictured before the season.

The best guys had to come off the bench. That starts with Jermaine O’Neal, who had missed the previous three games with a bout of pneumonia. He was still +20 last night, not bad for a sick guy. Not sure how much energy he’ll have for tonight, but he is still dangerous — shooting 47.9% (eFG%) from the field, scoring 24 points per 40 minutes and pulling down 10.9 rebounds in that same time (15.9% of the available boards).

Two other guys to watch are Austin Croshere — who can fill it up (a true shooting percentage of 61.9%), grabs 14.4% of the available rebounds when he is on the floor, and is +9.3 per 48 minutes — and Stephen Jackson, who is second on the team averaging 17.4 points per 40 minutes (he had 31 last night in Sacramento).

There’s a couple of rookies I’m really looking forward to seeing — Sarunas Jasikevicius and Danny Granger. Jasikevicius, who for three straight years led Maccabi Tel Aviv to the Euroleague title before coming to Indiana, has a true shooting percentage of 62.4% (third best in the NBA), is shooting 40.5% from three point range, is +7.3 per 48 and is averaging 15.4 points and 4.9 assists per 40 minutes. What I have seen of him so far has impressed me, he makes good decisions with the ball. With Granger, I really liked the stuff I saw before the draft, he was very athletic, and he is averaging a solid 11.4 points and 7.7 rebounds per 40 minutes.

One thing you should see: Yesterday my wife and I went to see the Cezanne & Pissarro exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Having lived with an artist all through college, I’ve been told and shown more than my share of art history stuff before, but this exhibit was set up in a way that really made the points they were getting at clear and enjoyable. It’s not there much longer but go if you can

One thing I hope not to hear tonight: Too much Artest-to-the-Lakers talk. Just because they are playing the Lakers doesn’t mean the trade is going to happen right after the game. By the way, I think the Pacers are doing the right thing being patient, some team will eventually panic and give them a deal they can live with. If you want more Artest talk, check out the Hoopsanalyst breakdown.

The Lakers coming in: How about that Kobe Bryant? He is a marvel and just fun to watch, wherever he is stealing his moves from. (Michael Vick? Well, it’s better than stealing a move from Marcus Vick and getting another suspension.)

Today though, Phil Jackson and Kobe both say what is has been bothering me more lately — the other Lakers are looking to Kobe too much to bail them out. During the winning streak, other players were stepping up, taking and hitting their shots, they need to do that again, and Kobe has to let them. There are times for Kobe to take over, but that can’t be every night.

What I am liking — Kobe and Cook on the pick and pop. (Again the Times beat me too this note, nice to see some good stuff out of them.) Cook was 6 of 9 against the Clippers, 2 of 3 from beyond the arc, and led the team as a +9.

Key’s to a Laker win: Again the Lakers get good timing — this is the last game of the road trip for Indiana, they are in the second game of a back-to-back, no Artest and O’Neal is just starting to get healthy.

This is a night that Odom should step up, defending the four is a weakness of Indiana and Croshere can’t hang with Odom, he needs to be aggressive. Smush (or Sasha) also should have a big night, the Pacers have had trouble defending the point this season.

That said, even without Artest and a full-strength O’Neal, the Pacers are a good defensive team. The Lakers are going to need to match that and play good defense to win, this is a Pacer lineup that can be slowed. Before the season this was a game you may have thought the Lakers would struggle in, but timing is everything — this is a chance for the Lakers to pick up a win against a good team that is in a tough spot.

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.