Archives For February 2006

On Tap: The Portland Trailblazers

Kurt —  February 21, 2006

Record: 18-33 (17-34 Pythagorean), last in the West
Record last 10 games: 3-7 (same as the Lakers, sadly)
Offensive Rating: 102 (29th in the league)
Defensive Rating: 112.3 (28th in the league)

The goal: There are 30 games left in the regular season, and if the Lakers are going to get to 45 wins, they are going to have to go 19-11 to do it. They likely need to do that, or at least 18-12, to make the playoffs. They have some winnable games coming up that they need to capitalize on, then win most of the games against the teams they are fighting for a playoff spot with (Sacramento on Thursday is a start). If they could steal one of the three games against San Antonio they have left, or one of the games against a Cleveland or Phoenix, it would be a big boost. Basically, they need to get hot.

The good news is this is about the best team to start a run against.

Final All Star game thoughts: It goes to show you just how much the little-discussed guys can mean. Know who had the best +/- for the West? Elton Brand. Out East, it was the two guys on the floor for the second-half run of that side — Billups (+14) and Wallace (+19) from Detroit.

The Lakers coming in: Hopefully the long weekend let the bad taste of the team’s recent play get replaced with some enthusiasm for the rest of the season. Defense will be the key. The Lakers have been inconsistent at the defensive end of late, something more in their head and effort than their feet. How they have done defensively has determined recent games — play well and you blow out Houston, take the night off and Atlanta outscores you.

The good news, Chris Mihm is expected back tonight, playing with a pad but still giving the Lakers a stable inside presence. Apparently, we will see more of Bynum in the coming weeks as well, a good thing as he needs the experience (and usually plays fairly well). And Let’s hope Phil decides to start Cook at the four and bring Kwame off the bench.

Things I’m trying to do: Get through this preview without making a “Sebastian Telfair was just protecting himself from Dick Cheney” joke. Oops. Damn.

About the Trailblazers: With all due respect to Henry and other Blazer Fans out there — this team sucks. They have been weak on offense and on defense, their young guys have looked young. For a little while things looked better, but the week before the break things reverted to form.

That said, last time these two played the backcourt of Juan Dixon (27 points) and Steve Blake (19) torched the Lakers, plus Ruben Paterson came off the bench for another 21. The LA backcourt is going to have to be focused and play defense tonight. Smush, I’m looking at you.

On the season, Joel Przybilla has been solid at center, with a PER of 16 and a true shooting percentage of 58.1%, plus pulling down 16.3% of the rebounds when he is on the floor. In the last 10 games, Zach Randolf has been their best player, but his scoring continues to be inefficient (shooting just 44% [eFG%] this season).

By the way, expect to hear plenty of trade talk during the game. Ruben Paterson is on the block, and may try to be showcasing his defense against Kobe (he had 41 the last time these two hooked up). Theo Ratliff also could be on the move.

One thing I hope to see tonight: Kobe pass like he did to Tracy McGrady in the All Star game — and the other Lakers shoot like McGrady.

Key’s to a Laker win: Just play some damn defense, they should be able to score plenty against Portland. While the Lakers should beat the Trailblazers, they’ve already lost to them once this season. Just like Atlanta, the Lakers can’t afford to look past anyone.

Fast Break

Kurt —  February 20, 2006

Trades and All Stars and Olympics, oh my:

• Kobe, the Mona Lisa for a new generation? Check out this art exhibit. (Thanks to LAist for finding this.)

• The rumor seems to have gained some attention — even though everyone involved is denying it — so let’s talk about Steve Francis, or specifically Francis for Lamar Odom.

While they get there in very different manners, Odom and Francis are very similar in terms of production — both have a true shooting percentage of 53% (although Francis gets to the line more) and their PER is almost identical (16.3 to 16.4). Francis gives out more assists, Odom can grab you more rebounds. Francis is a solid defender at the point, but he lacks Odom’s versatility.

So that begs the question, straight up would Odom for Francis really an upgrade on the court? Francis is an All-Star level point guard, but would he be happy in the triangle, or would he go Gary Payton? My guess is that he would not like the initiator role much as most other traditional point guards have not. To his credit, Francis would provide another guy besides Kobe who will drive the lane every night.

Also, you’re actually spending more money — both are signed though 2009 and Francis actually makes a couple million more per year than Odom. Now, we’d have to assume that other players would be part of this deal, but outside of the untouchable on the Orlando roster (Dwight Howard) who else helps the Lakers build toward a title? Also, is Francis’ attitude what you want in a young Laker locker room?

Let’s say, for argument’s sake, Francis would adjust to life out West and in the triangle, and put up numbers similar to what he’s been doing in Orlando. Then, if you are the Lakers, you’ve traded a 6-10 guy for a 6-3 guy giving you basically the same level of production. And, all other things being equal, you take the taller guy in the NBA.

• That LeBron James guy is pretty good. They should give him some TV ads.

• And no, he’s not going to leave Cleveland as a free agent and come to LA (or NY for that matter), so don’t go there.

• Pabst Blue Ribbon is good beer, if served at below 30 degrees in a schooner in a dive bar.

• Kobe the playmaker made McGrady look good at the All-Star game.

• Curling is not a sport (but I like to watch it anyway).

• Great bit over at Deadspin, tracking things actually said by Charles Barkley on the air:

Kevin Harlan: “(Andre Iguodala) had 9 dunks, and 4 threes. He was on fire.”
Charles: “He wasn’t on fire, he was just excited he got to shoot in a game.”

• Speaking of Chucky, he’s up for induction in the Basketball Hall of Fame. What really frightens me is not his induction speech, but the one that would come from another nominee — Dick Vitale.

The Next 10

Kurt —  February 18, 2006

A decade after the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History list was released, TNT will unveil “The Next 10″ tonight. The idea is pretty simple — who are the next 10 on the list.

There are some easy ones, guys like Kobe and Duncan who were not in the league (or very young) when the first list came out but have to be on it now. But there should be some interesting picks.

A few of us over at CourtsideTimes.net made our own list. Check it out, watch tonight and let’s debate who got left off.

The Waiting Game

Kurt —  February 17, 2006

One moment of patience may ward off great disaster. One moment of impatience may ruin a whole life.
—Chinese proverb

Losses like the one to Atlanta remind Laker fans it’s a long way from here (a .500 basketball team) to there (back in the NBA finals while Kobe is still in his prime). It’s not going to happen this year, and the path back is not clear. There is no yellow brick road to follow, no great and powerful wizard with the answers, no quick-fix trade where we could click our collective heals three times and be where we want to be.

The team’s recent inconsistent and maddening play, along with the impending trade deadline, means there’s a natural desire to say the Lakers need to do something — anything — to improve this team Or at least light a fire under them.

But if the Lakers are going to get back to their own personal Kansas of the NBA Finals, we are all going to have to be patient. Both fans and management.

My goal when evaluating a trade or free agent pickup is to try to think of the long-term picture. ”Does this get us closer to competing for a championship?” For the Lakers right now, that needs to be qualified with a time window — the Lakers likely have about five or six more years before Kobe’s skills start to fade (or at least the number of minutes he can play at that level night in and night out start to fade). They can win after that, but Kobe may not be able to carry as much of the load (ala Kareem with Magic).

But while the window isn’t big, we still need to be patient. Look at the Laker needs right now. Personally, I think the biggest needs have not changed much from last season: 1) a more dominant scoring and defensive presence at the four or five; 2) better, more consistent play at the point. (There are other needs, but those two stand out to me.)

In regard to a big man, who can the Lakers affordably get that will be better in three years than Andrew Bynum? Sure, we’re not sure how good Bynum really will be, particularly in terms of scoring, but the early indications are he should be at least solid. There is a shortage of big men in the league right now — the cost for them is at a premium, both in terms of salary and what you have to give up in a trade. The Lakers could have two solid ones already in house. In three years, Mihm will still be in just his eighth year in the league — Bynum and Mihm of them would make a tall and potentially intimidating front line.

But we’re going to have to be patient for that to come around. The same is true out top — Smush was a good find, but he is best suited to be a back up. However, solid point guards can be found, veterans at reasonable prices or kids in the draft. You just have to be patient and make sure the one you end up with fits the system. And plays defense.

The Lakers don’t have the trade pieces to make an immediate big move (assuming Phil has not given up on Odom to play the initiator — I haven’t, I think he’ll get it by next season), they don’t have the cap space to get a big price free agent. But they will have some flexibility in a few years.

Being patient sucks. I know. But rash trades and not being patient or following a consistent rebuilding plan is how you end up like the Knicks. It’s going to take some shrewd moves to get the Lakers back, and I’m not sure any of us are completely convinced the current Laker front office is clever or creative enough to do it.

But there are no quick fixes, no ruby red slippers filled with the one player who will change everything for this team. As frustrating as it can be, the best move right now may be no move.

On Tap: The Atlanta Hawks

Kurt —  February 15, 2006

Record: 15-34 (15-34 Pythagorean), 13th seed in the East (ahead of the Knicks and Bobcats)
Record last 10 games: 4-6 (including a win over Detroit)
Offensive Rating: 106.5 (16th in league)
Defensive Rating: 111.8 (27th in league)

The Lakers coming in: They played defense against Utah and they got the win. Oh, sure, they didn’t make it easy on themselves (although part of that falls on Phil Jackson for some early and interesting lineup experimentation), but they got the win.

While I tend to focus on the tangible here, tonight’s game for the Lakers is about professionalism and focus. They play a lower-tier team on the last night before the long All-Star break, it’s the kind of game the Lakers could look past. And they are not good enough to look past anyone. Nor can they afford to with the tight playoff chase.

About the Hawks: Last off-season the Hawks brought in Joe Johnson to be there best player. The good news is he is their best player. That’s also the bad news.

Johnson leads the Hawks (among regular players) with a +/- (per 48 minutes) of +2.4 — making him the only regular Hawk player with a raw +/- in the positive. He leads the team with a PER of 18 and has been playing well of late, shooting 54.6% (eFG%) in the last 10 games. But Johnson’s numbers are off from his breakout season in Phoenix, for example last year he shot an insane 47.8% from three-point range, this season that number is 35.5%.

The Hawks have some other athletic and talented young players. Al Harrington leads the team scoring 20.1 per 40 minutes, Josh Childress has a true shooting percentage of 61%. They are even getting a decent offensive season out of Tyronn Lue.

But Lue is not much of a defender (despite Laker fans memories of a few good games in the Finals) and point guards are shredding Atlanta. It’s not all on Lue — Johnson has never been a good defender and so far really none of the Hawks have.

Easy Laker Buckets: While we’re talking defense, Atlanta’s Josh Smith is third in the league with 13 goaltending calls (on defense) this season. Just so you know if you see him knocking the ball off the cylinder.

Draw the charge: Brian Cook has become very good at drawing the charge and he is second on the Lakers with 15 so far this year (Sasha has 16). He could pick a few more tonight with Zaza Pachulia on the other team — he is fourth in the league in the number of charging fouls he has gotten. Pachulia actually gets called for a charge on 5.7% of his possessions. Just something to look for.

(By the way, if you follow the above link you’ll see Kobe third in the league in the number of charging calls he’s earned — but the important thing to note is it is only 2.1% of his possessions, which is a reasonable percentage considering how much he has the ball and how much he drives to the basket.)

Apropos of nothing: If you’ve never seen the video of Vince Carter dunking over Frederic Weis in the 2000 Olympics, you need to see this. Thanks to Henry at True Hoop not only for the posting, but also for the reminder at the bottom of how long the Knicks GMs have been making horrific mistakes.

Key’s to a Laker win: This is certainly a winnable game — but ask the Pistons about looking past the Hawks.

The weakest spots defensively this season for the Hawks have been the point and the three — or Smush/Odom (depending on how the Hawks match up) and Kobe. They should have big nights.

That said, the key again is playing good defense. The Hawks offense is average by NBA standards, but they can outscore the Lakers if the home team is not focused tonight. Kobe has been gambling more on defense lately, jumping into passing lanes and going for steals, and that could pay off tonight as the Hawks don’t have the passers and veterans that could exploit that.

On Tap: The Utah Jazz

Kurt —  February 13, 2006

Record: 25-26 (24-27 Pythagorean), 9th seed in the West
Record last 10 games: 5-5
Lakers record against Jazz: 1-2
Offensive Rating: 102.7 (28th in league)
Defensive Rating: 106.8 (13th in league)

Best thing I watched this weekend: Airplane!, which HBO was rerunning. I hadn’t watched it in a decade and I laughed like it was new.

What, you thought I was going to say that Laker loss to Memphis? That game had me looking for distraction and relief. Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue.

Last time these two faced off: It wasn’t a fair fight. The Lakers dropped both games of a home-and-home to the Jazz on Jan. 1 and 3, but Kobe was suspended for those two games.

Why Lakers should worry anyway:
In the last game between these two, Andrei Kirilenko had 14 points, 9 assists, 8 rebounds, 7 blocks and 6 steals. That had nothing to do with Kobe being gone. Odom/Cook/Kwame are going to have to have a big game defensively against him.

About the Jazz: They start a big and dangerous front line — the aforementioned Kirilenko (a very good player when healthy), Mehmet Okur (who leads the Jazz scoring 20.1 per 40 minutes and is their best rebounder, grabbing 15.8% of available boards) and the competent Jarron Collins. There’s also limited minutes from Carlos Boozer. That’s a lot of big bodies to throw at a Laker team that was thin in the frontcourt before Chris Mihm went down (he will not play tonight and likely not against Atlanta on Wednesday).

The other dangerous guy is Matt Harpring, who provides what little outside they have to go with their inside. In the last 10 games, he is shooting 56.1% (eFG%).

The starting guards for the Jazz are two guys named Milt Palacio and Devin Brown. That is where the Lakers have the advantage.

I don’t want to jinx it but: Kwame Brown has played two pretty good games in a row.

Key to a Laker win:
Defense.

That has been the inconsistent thing that has been the difference between winning and losing. Memphis, on the season, has a team eFG% of 48.4%. They shot 54.7% against the Lakers. Their team offensive rating coming in to Staples was 105.1 (points per 100 possessions), they had 119 against the Lakers.

Utah creates some match up challenges for the Lakers, but the reverse is true as well (Utah is better up front, the Lakers in the back court). It’s a cliché but it’s true — the team that plays better defensively will have the eighth playoff spot in the West at the end of the night.

On Tap: The Memphis Grizzlies

Kurt —  February 11, 2006

Record: 26-23 (21-28 Pythagorean), 7th seed in the West (tied for 6th)
Record last 10 games: 2-8 (lost five straight)
Laker record against Grizzlies: 1-2
Offensive Rating: 105.1 (21st in league)
Defensive Rating: 103.1 (3rd in league)

Where does Kobe get his points: Last time the Lakers played the Griz, Kobe had 45 points, almost 10 more than his current per-game average. But where is he getting those points on the floor? Well, 82games.com has broken it down (and for all the top players).

He gets an average of 13.7 points (39% of his points) on 2-point jump shots. Another 9.4 points come from the free throw line (a whopping 26%, and the highest number in the league). He also gets 6.1 per game on three point shots and 6.3 on dunks and lay-ups.

Why tonight’s game really matters: From the sixth seed Grizzlies/Hornets (a tie) to the 12th seeded Kings, the teams are separated by just 4.5 games in the Western Conference. That’s seven teams with a shot at one of the three bottom playoff spots in the West. If you want to get one of the three, you need to beat the teams fighting with you for those spots. (Same thing with the game Monday against Utah).

The Lakers coming in: I think all us Laker fans are trying to repress the recent road trip save their best game in a while, the win in Houston. That included a good game from Kwame Brown, something they are going to need against the powerful inside game of the Griz.

The last time these two met was a game we’d all like to have wiped from our mind like Kate Winslet — remember that Memphis never led in regulation but won in overtime. Paul Gasol had 24 but it was Damon Stoudamire’s 25 that was the kick in the gut (he will not play due to injury).

Some good news, the Lakers said they are hopeful Chris Mihm will play tonight.

About the Grizzlies: Let’s start with them as a team, and it’s really pretty simple — great defense, far from great on offense. This is a team that statistically has played over its head for most of the season, winning in spite of its offense, and now things are starting to catch up with them.

That said, Pau “Serpico” Gasol deserves to be All Star, he is one of the best big men in the game. By the way, he averages 19.6 points per game and (as per the way Kobe’s points were broken down above) he gets about 9 of those a game in close to the basket and another 5.5 from the line.

The guys who don’t get enough credit are Shane Battier, Eddie Jones and Mike Miller. This can be a balanced team, when healthy. They just aren’t healthy right now.

Key’s to a Laker win: Run them out of the building — Memphis likes to play at the slowest pace in the league (85.8 possessions per game, 5 less than the Lakers) and this is their second game in as many nights. There are fast break points to be had.

Last night, the Griz started Chucky Atkins over Bobby Jackson. We can only hope they do that again. Also, shooting guard Mike Miller missed the game with a sprained ankle, if he doesn’t play that’s another break for the Lakers.

Gasol will get his, the Lakers need to make sure that Battier or the always dangerous Eddie Jones don’ have a huge game. This is one where the Lakers can build a lead early and blow them out late.

That is, depending on what Laker team shows up.

Gary Payton Is An Ass

Kurt —  February 10, 2006

Things that are making me angry this morning (aside the lack of coffee): Remember how the original trade with Boston in 2004 that brought us Chris Mihm and Chucky Atkins was supposed to include point guard Marcus Banks (for Payton and Rick Fox)? But then Payton flipped out and threatened not to report, so the deal was reworked and Banks was left out?

Banks just was traded to Minnesota — a Laker-like team in the sense that there is one established star and a chance for other people to step up and prove themselves. Banks, in his six games for the T-Wolves: scoring 18.8 per 40 minutes and dishing out 5.4 assists in that time, with a true shooting percentage of 59% in just under 30 minutes a game. (For some comparison, Smush is averaging 13.4 points and 3.7 assists per 40, with a TS% of 55.1%.)

Think we couldn’t have used that? Thanks Gary.

Updated: Another thing pissing me off: Remember how Kwame Brown had a two year deal with the Laker option for the third. Eric Pincus is reporting at Hoops World that the Lakers have already guaranteed the third year of that deal. If true, I may need a drink or eight tonight. There’s some other speculation in there that may be of interest.

Some other links worth checking out:

Lakers I remember fondly: One of these days I was going to get around doing a post on Bob McAdoo, one of the guys who is most underappreciated in NBA history. Then David Friedman went and put up a great piece at Hoopshype.com. Check it out, it is well worth the read.

NBA “fiction”: Two Sports Illustrated regulars now have a “fiction” book out based on the NBA, with the goal of showing people what life is like behind the scenes without actually naming names. My reading list is too long to get to it in the near future (Gatinho turned me on to my current read) but if you want to find out more about it check out this interview at Gelf Magazine or read a couple chapters online.

Kobe Meter: Laker fan (and a good blogger) Hank at Broken Cowboy has set up a Kobe Meter to track his season scoring average in comparison to the legendary Jordan 86-87 season. Check it out (in the upper right corner).