Archives For February 2006

Fast Break

Kurt —  February 9, 2006

Some thoughts from last night, including the Grammys:

• Is there a more confounding team in the NBA than the Lakers? They get crushed by the Hornets, a team they should beat. When you think they should fold in the second game of a back-to-back at the end of a long road trip, they come out with their best defensive performance in weeks and beat surging Houston. Don’t bet on this team, you just never know who will show up.

• That said, this win should be a springboard to a hot streak — the Lakers are coming home and only two of the next 10 games are against teams over .500. Using my stolen prediction system, they should go 7-3 in that span. Then again, see the paragraph above.

• Also, last night was a great example of the way the offense should work — Kobe saw a lot of early double-teams, he gave up the ball and other guys knocked down their shots. When the Rockets adjusted, Kobe had more room and took over in the third quarter. Defense was the key, but in terms of flow offense looked better as well.

• Brian Cook the last two games: shooting 75% (eFG%).

• The Grammys are the reason TiVo was invented. This is a three-and-a-half hour show of which you want to see 30-45 minutes. Basically, I just watched U2, Coldplay trying to be U2, a wild haired Bruce Springsteen trying to be Bob Dylan, and slowed down because it looked like Kanye West raided my wardrobe.

The thing that pissed me off, we had to sit through tons of performances — like Joss Stone singing Sly and the Family Stone, because, I guess, their names are the same — so they had to cut the Richard Pryor tribute due to running out of time. Thanks for that, way to honor the man.

Fast forwarding on TiVo is the key, I can’t imagine having to sit through that crap live.

• Kwame Brown was motivated against Houston and against Yao Ming — Kwame was a +12 and Ming -12, and that was a key part of the win. Chris in the comments questioned why Kwame is so inconsistent, and what I’ve seen this season confirms stories I was told “off the record” by people close to the Washington Wizards organization — I think it’s mental. When he’s really motivated and focused, as in Houston last night, he is a solid to good player. But that focus ebbs and flows, from game to game, week to week. He seems to lack a passion for the game so evident in not only Kobe and Turaif but also guys like Mihm (who has worked hard to improve his game) and Cook (same thing).

Kwame is the classic Ebby Calvin ‘Nuke’ LaLoosh “million dollar body and a five cent head” player.

• Best photo caption I’ve seen in a long time.

• Great to see Ronny Turiaf get on the court, even if it was a minute of garbage time.

• The Phil Jackson/Mark Cuban thing is a fun little mid-season distraction for everyone. Nothing more.

• While we’re way off topic, Kobe’s new Nike commercial debuts tonight. Don’t expect a review here, but I am curious to see it.

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.

On Tap: The Dallas Mavericks

Kurt —  February 7, 2006

Record: 37-10 (Pythagorean 37-10), top seed in the West (tied with the Spurs)
Record last 10 games: Freakin’ 10-0, they’ve won 11 straight
Laker record against Dallas: 2-0
Offensive Rating: 113.2 (2nd in league)
Defensive Rating: 105.5 (12th in league)

About the Mavericks: The best team in basketball the last couple of weeks, and they should be motivated because Kobe dropped 62 on them in three quarters last time these two met. All of which is really bad news for the banged up and slumping Lakers.

Dirk Nowitzki is on fire — he’s shooting 58.6% from three-point range in the last 10. In that time he’s also pulling down 7.4 rebounds per game and has a true shooting percentage of 59%. He gets overlooked in the MVP talk, but he shouldn’t be.

The thing is, he’s got help. In the last 10 games Josh Howard is shooting 48.9% (eFG%) while Jason Terry is the weak shooting link in the starting lineup at 45.8% overall and 35% from beyond the arc. Jerry Stackhouse is coming off the bench shooting 50.4% in the last 10.

Plus the Mavericks are playing defense — teams are shooting just 46.7% against them, fifth lowest percentage in the league. If you want a weakness, they do give up a lot of offensive rebounds (28.4% of opponent misses).

The Lakers coming in: Chris Mihm and Lamar Odom are considered “doubtful.” So who gets to cover Dirk? Cook if you look at last game’s starting five, although I think Devean George is the better defender and should get a lot of time on Dirk and even the start (as he did two games ago).

Defense? We don’t need no stinkin’ defense. Among the Laker problems of late, defense is at the top of the list. I mentioned this in the midseason report card and things have not gotten better. The Lakers have given up 100 points in seven of their last eight games, but part of that is they have picked up the pace of play recently. Their defensive rating in the last 10 games is 108.1 (points per 100 opponent possessions) — much worse than the 104.5 they had back when they were playing good defense up until mid December. They will need to play good defense tonight against one of the most efficient offensive teams in the league.

One thing I hope to see tonight: Ronny Turiaf is eligible and it would be great to see him get a few minutes and bring his energy to the game. Heck, let him try to cover Dirk for a while, he can’t be worse than Cook.

Another thing I hope to see tonight: Honestly, good effort and execution, that may be enough for the Lakers stay within 25.

Key’s to a Laker win (or at least to cover the 11-point spread): The Mavs had had trouble stopping Kobe this season, but you know he’s going to get some special attention tonight and the Mavs “D” has been better of late. For the Lakers to win Kobe will again have to score 60+ and someone else — Smush, Cook, even Kwame — is going to have to step up and have a career night. Maybe a couple of guys need to do that — there have to be other options. And I’m not even sure that would be enough for an outright win.

Exposed Weaknesses

Kurt —  February 6, 2006

I’m back, and for the record Maui doesn’t suck. We had to suffer though what the Hawaii local TV weathermen called a “cold front” — the high temperature dropped from 85 down to a bone chilling 81. But we survived. (As much as I’ve mocked LA weathermen in the past — see Steve Martin in LA Story for good satire — in Hawaii it’s even funnier. They’re really surf reporters.)

Thanks again to Gatinho, who put together great posts and previews in my absence (and KD, this is my last vacation for a while, unless I get to buy a ranch in Texas with brush to clear). Gatinho did much, much better than the Lakers while I was gone.

I didn’t see the games (our rented condo didn’t even have ESPN), but looking at the stats from the last three games it looks like the Lakers long-known weaknesses — no consistent scoring outside Kobe and a weak bench — have come back to bite them. Those that saw the games, does that sound about right?

In the last three games, Kobe has used 28% of the Laker shots and has a true shooting percentage of 59.4% (remember the league average is about 53%). The rest of the Lakers are at 42.1%. Nobody seems to have the skill to step up consistently, and other teams (based on newspaper reports and your comments on this site) seem to be trying extra hard to take the ball out of Kobe’s hands and dare everyone else to beat them. Eric Pincus (among others) points out that with Odom out it is easier to double Kobe because Kobe is now the initiator, the de facto point guard.

It’s logical, and, as Devean George said today in the LA Times, this is a copycat league. Once one team has success with something, you’re going to see it every game until you prove you can beat it.

Combine that strategy with the Lakers next two best players going down to injury — Lamar Odom and Chris Mihm are the only other two Lakers with a PER above the league average of 15 — and the lack of Laker depth is exposed.

By the way, I saw Phil Jackson lamenting in the Times about Jumaine Jones while using “interesting” grammer:

“He was a player that we had no idea how good a player he was.”

Really, because you had him all through training camp and it was you, Phil, not playing him that pushed him to be traded for less than fair value. A couple of your assistants, Frank Hamblin and Kurt Rambis, got a first-hand look at how good he was last year. I’m not Jumaine’s biggest fan, his game has flaws, but he would be much better coming off the bench than the players you kept (who got off to a faster start because they knew the triangle offense). Jumaine is the kind of guy you could use now, with injuries abounding.

In the short term the problem is the Lakers next two games are tough places to get well. Dallas is very good. Houston has won three in a row and presents some issues for the Lakers (if Mihm isn’t back the Lakers will need big games from Kwame on Yao and a host of people on McGrady). Sadly, at this point I’d take a 2-5 road trip.

In the long term, the questions are health and how the team and coaching staff adapt to their weaknesses being exposed.

For the record: I’m taking the Seahawks, and you can keep your four points.

(We’ll talk Lakers tomorrow, the Superbowl is basically a national holiday, so I’m considering it part of my vacation. Besides, it looks like the talk here has been lively, even if the Lakers haven’t been. Gatinho — well done!)

On Tap: NO/OKC Hornets

Gatinho —  February 4, 2006

Record: 23-22

Offense: 91.6
Defense: 92.8

Last 10: 7-3

What Vegas says: Lakers +4

Injury Update: Lamar Odom looks to be out until the All-Star break and is definitely sharing too much. “I can’t bathe properly. This morning I couldn’t put on deodorant.” Chris Mihm had a X-rays taken after the game and was diagnosed with “a mild to moderate right shoulder sprain.”

You wanted him to pass out of the double team: Brian Cook went 1 of 8, Devean George 2 of 9 and Luke Walton 1 of 6 as the Lakers not named Bryant shot a collective 35.7 percent.

“We know what kind of player Jumaine is.”: “We deserved that.” Phil Jackson lamenting the trade of Jumaine Jones is a little maddening, but he absolutely killed the Lakers last night. 30 points, 9 rebounds.

Marvin Williams or Chris Paul?: Rookie of the year candidate Chris Paul has John Hollinger pondering whether the Hawks made the correct choice in the last draft. Paul may be the ROY, but it is more common for guards to make an immediate impact before big men. Williams is raw and has only one double-double this year, but he could turn into a monster. Paul and teammate David West could give the Lakers fits tonight.

New faces and a flightless bird: The Hornets have acquired Steven Hunter from the Sixers and Aaron Williams from the Raptors, both for two second round draft picks. Chris Andersen has had his wings clipped for violating the league’s drug policy.

3 games left: Tonight’s game becomes pivotal in the face of the looming All-Star break and before that, dates in Houston and San Antonio. If they are to salvage this trip it begins tonight. Being patient and finding the positives in losses is territory Laker fans don’t like to visit.

I’m off like a Luke Walton 18 footer: Kurt will be back from the land of spam and pineapple tomorrow. Hopefully returning with the Laker’s mojo in tow. Thanks for continuing to stop by in his absence.


On Tap: Charlotte Bobcats

Gatinho —  February 3, 2006

Record: 11-36

What Vegas says: Lakers -9, Pittsburgh -4

Offense: 94.5
Defense: 100.0

Last 10: 0-10

Injury Update: Forward Lamar Odom said he would not play tonight against Charlotte because of slightly torn rib cartilage and a minor case of whiplash. (Insert watching Kobe go by joke here) Sasha or D George are likely candidates to replace him in the starting line up.

Young and Injured: Playing without injured leading scorer Gerald Wallace and leading rebounder Emeka Okafor, Charlotte has dropped a franchise-record 13 in a row. Ex-Laker Kareem Rush has just returned from a finger injury that caused him to miss 13 games. Rookie Sean May is out indefinitely after recently having knee surgery. Melvin Ely will be back in the starting line up.

Since the Big Night: Bryant has shot 34-91 over the last 4 with a shooting percentage of 37%. (If anyone knows how to calculate his TS% and has the time, help a brother out.)Have the defenses “learned” Bryant? Has he become predictable beyond the fact that we know he is going to shoot the ball? Doubtful, but obviously the backlash of scoring 81 points is that defenses will want to make sure, if possible, that they are not the next victims.

More familiar faces: Ex-Laker Jumaine Jones will start and be among the few who might be able to guard Bryant decently. Bernard Robinson should also get an opportunity after having done a serviceable job in their previous game in L.A. Kobe was 9 for 30, but Robinson commited the foul that sent him to the line to ice the game.

Desperate means dangerous: In their last meeting, the Lakers came out sluggish and almost handed the game over. Chris Mihm scored 21 and Sasha Vujacic scored a season high 12 points. You may remember it as the game that had the Staples Center crowd giving courtside seated Shaquille “It’s not easy to be me” O’Neal a warm round of applause accompanied by his familiar “Superman” theme song.

The Bard of Chick Hearn Court: Check out excerpts from the Kobe penned article in Dime Magazine:

“The only thing I truly worry about is that my drive and my will are sometimes too much for my teammates to handle. Do I expect too much from them? How can I elevate them to play with my same passion every night?”

More for the bulletin board from :

“Los Angeles has a different dynamic. Get rid of every teammate who will compete with Kobe for shots and headlines, and get Bryant a scoring championship. ”

A measure of respect or popularity?: Kobe Bryant was selected to the NBA All-Star game for an eighth consecutive season, receiving 450,000 more votes than he did last season.

Bynum inspired by snub?: Andrew Bynum will not be playing in the rookie game for now. The participants were selected by the NBA’s assistant coaches and the results were announced the day of the Knick game. Look for the Man-cub to get some run tonight if this one gets out of hand.

Micahel Jordan versus the Dallas Cowboys: Who doesn’t love the absurdity of Super Bowl prop bets? Oddly enough, the roots of these goofy bets can be traced to Jordan. “In the ’93 Super Bowl, The Cowboys were expected to score around 29 points, just about Jordan’s per game average, and you could take one against the other on that Sunday.”


Transition Game

Gatinho —  February 2, 2006

(Off) Key Stats: 30% from the field. 11 total assists. 3-7 on the tail end of back-to-backs. Two more back-to-backs left on this the longest road trip of the season.

Turiaf update: The Press-Enterprise reports that one of the representatives for Lakers rookie forward Ronny Turiaf said his client hopes to get his work visa from the United States government in the next couple of days.

Dunk you very little: Nate Robinson was reprimanded by the coaching staff for flexing his muscles and twirling around following his dunk in the final seconds against the Lakers, a jam that cut the deficit from 35 to 33. Brown had the score superimposed on the tape when the play was shown to the team. Bryant, who has three championship rings, burst out laughing at Robinson’s antics.