On Tap: The Houston Rockets

Kurt —  February 8, 2006

Record: 17-29 (Pythagorean 14-32), 14TH seed in the West
Record last 10 games: 6-4
Laker record against Rockets: 0-1
Offensive Rating: 103.3 (27th in league)
Defensive Rating: 105.3 (9th in league)

The Laker reserves suck: It showed in Dallas and it’s a surprise to nobody. Lakers starters are shooting 46% on the season, reserves 39.5%. The Laker starters have an offensive rating of 107.9 (points per 100 possessions), the reserves 99.1.

Kobe coming in: He has not completely adjusted to the intensity and speed of the double teams he has coming at him of late. Part of the problem is other players are not consistently stepping up to make the double teams pay, but part of it is Kobe gets frustrated and then tries to do too much. The Dallas game was a good example, Kobe had trouble getting dribble penetration consistently because of the defense, and so he tried to shoot over it. Some nights that has worked, but it didn’t in Dallas and he was 5 of 22, with half of his shots from three-point range. These nights he has to find the hot hand and give up the ball, plus push others to break their men down off the dribble. He has to lead, not just get pissed off.

We need some penetration, so to speak: Cook had a great shooting night against Dallas, but there was precious little dribble penetration from the rest of the Lakers. When Odom and Smush were doing that things went well against Dallas, when the Lakers shot from the outside they were playing into the Mavs hands. When Laker legs got a little tired, they settled on the perimeter.

Two Lakers who just plain sucked last night: Sasha Vujacic and Kwame Brown. Sasha was a painful -25 off the bench, adding little on offense and getting torched on defense. He has been the model of inconsistency this season.

Kwame has been consistent, but not in a good way. He was a -19 against Dallas and he is such a waste on the offensive end and an inconsistent rebounder it overshadows his solid man-defense (his rotations are still pathetic). I said in the mid-season report card I think he’s a backup center, and Phil Jackson hinted at that in the Times today. But, with Yao Ming and the Rockets tonight, it’s either start Brown or Bynum, and both are likely to get plenty of court time.

About the Rockets: For most of the season, the Rockets have been held back by an offense that, well, looked like Jeff Van Gundy designed it. There were injuries to Ming and Tracy McGrady — the two key cogs — and Stromile Swift was lost in space. Lately things have gotten better.

While McGrady is still one of the game’s most dangerous scoring threats, in the last 10 games he’s gotten a lot of help from everyone else. David Wesley is shooting 53.7% (eFG%) and 43.2% from beyond the arc in that span. Swift is shooting 56.7%. Juwan Howard is at 50%.

Every time the Lakers play Houston the “how good is Yao Ming” discussion starts. He has never lived up to the hype, but that shouldn’t take away from the fact he’s a good center. He’s shooting 50.1% from the floor and has a true shooting percentage of 57.2% (that counts his free throws), and he grabs 16.2% of the available rebounds when he is on the floor. A lot of the Rocket offense goes through him. He blocks 1.6 shots per 40 minutes. He is not the next Shaq or Wilt, but he’s still one of the top centers in the league right now.

One thing I hope to see tonight: I know we said Ronny Turaiff was set to play last night, but flight delays kept him from getting to the arena on time. Tonight he should play some, at least he brings energy to the court.

Key’s to a Laker win: One good thing for the Lakers, it may be the second game in as many nights Houston is not going to run the Lakers out of the building — Houston plays at the third slowest pace in the league.

The key really is to run the offense and have other guys besides Kobe get shots in the paint, particularly through dribble penetration. It will be a challenge with Ming in the paint, but the Lakers need to get inside and not just shoot over the top. If they do this is a winnable game, shoot 25+ three pointers and the Lakers have a punchers chance, at best.