Archives For March 2006

On Tap: The Seattle Supersonics

Kurt —  March 31, 2006

Just a head’s up, this preview may be shorter than normal but there will be two new posts over the weekend. For a change.

About Last Night: If you wonder why we need Mihm back and more depth along the front line long term, last night was the perfect example. Kwame did a respectable job man-up on Duncan, but that meant Cook on Nazr and Cook got destroyed. And I love Turiaf and what he brings off the bench, but he can’t cover Duncan. Of course, all the problems weren’t inside as Smush can’t cover Tony Parker and Bowen plus a sore back slowed Kobe.

Then there’s this — San Antonio may be the best team in the league, they are better than the Lakers. In the last two Spurs wins over LA the game was largely even save for one huge Spur run. That’s what they do to everyone, not overwhelm but as Steve Kerr put it last night, they just wear you down.

Kobe for MVP: The idea has merit, and at least a few smart people are pushing it.

Maybe my favorite NBA tidbit of the year: From the he’s-smarter-and-younger-than-me-so-I-
should-hate-him-but-I-like-him-anyway Kevin Pelton on the Sonics official site:

Seattle SuperSonics forward Chris Wilcox wears a tape wrap on his right thumb, and there’s a good explanation. Wilcox needs more protection because he was hurting his right hand when he dunked.

In the last 10 games, Wilcox has been scoring 15.8 points per game on 59.6% shooting and grabbing 7.7 boards. Overall, his numbers are basically equal to what they get out of Rashard Lewis.

The Sonics Look Better: Wilcox, Earl Watson and a the growth of Johan Petro are making the Sonics much better than their 29-42 record indicate. They are 6-4 in their last 10.

Last time the Lakers and Sonics hooked up, it was an up-and-down game and the Sonics shot 64% in the first half, and for the game shot 63.1% (eFG%) and 50% from beyond the arc. They simply outscored the Lakers for the win. Also, while the Laker starters played well the bench battle went to Seattle.

The Lakers tend not to play much defense on the second night of back-to-backs, and if they do that tonight the result may look a lot like the last game between these two.

On Tap: The San Antonio Spurs

Kurt —  March 30, 2006

Top reason you don’t want to live in San Antonio: Hard to beat this one.

Playoff preview? Maybe, not likely, but maybe. Right now the Lakers are the seven seed 2 games ahead of Sacramento, who has cooled faster than Schwarzenegger’s re-election chances. That means Phoenix is the odds-on choice for the Lakers first-round opponent, but it’s not impossible that the Lakers could slip to eighth and San Antonio could hang on to the one seed.

Tony Parker sits? Parker did not play Tuesday night when the Spurs beat the Clippers due to a bruised right shin. Former Pomona-Pitzer coach Greg Popovich said Parker may miss two or three games, but then again could play against the Lakers. What do you think matters more to him: Having Parker play a relatively-meaningless game against the Lakers or be as healthy as possible for the playoffs?

Somehow, I doubt we’ll see Parker. Hopefully, we’ll still see Eva Longoria.

Speaking of the Clippers: I know, we try to ignore that other team in Staples (especially when they have the better record, one of the signs of the apocalypse), but I did want to point out that there is a great new blog for the team out there, Clippersblog. Expect quality as it’s from Kevin Arnovitz, the Slate magazine Fray editor who is a season ticket holder. (One must assume because he can’t get Laker tickets.)

Not to ignore those who have been doing the work at Clippers Topbuzz for a while. And thanks to a personal favorite, LA Observed, for pointing us to the new blog.

If no Parker, how much do the Laker chances improve? No Tony Parker means more Nick Van Exel and Beno Udrih. Can Smush Parker stay in front of either of them?

Against the Clippers, Beno got the start but Nick the quick played more minutes. Both have torched the Lakers off the bench this year — Beno is shooting 71.4% (eFG%) and Van Exel 50%. The good news is those are some small sample sizes, so maybe things will be different when they start.

The bigger problem has been Manu Ginobili, who has averaged 18.4 points on 69.4% shooting in three games against the Lakers. Then there’s Michael Finley, who has averaged 16.3 points per game on 71.3% shooting in those same three games. Oh, and they have some guy named Duncan too that’s supposed to be pretty good.

That said, the Lakers beat the Spurs earlier this month in one of their better games of the season. The Lakers took control of that game in the second quarter when Kwame Brown was on the floor (just trying to come up with some positives here).

The Lakers coming in: The Lakers bothered to play 24 minutes of defense against the Hornets Sunday, but that was enough. They’ll have to do better against San Antonio.

The few days off couldn’t have come at a better time as the Lakers have an assortment of small injuries — not enough to keep guys out of games but enough to slow them. Kwame’s hamstring, Kobe’s back, Smush’s thumb, Bynum’s ankle, all needed a little time off.

Standing up to Kobe: The LA Times Laker blog (which is not so much a “blog” in my mind as just a couple other beat reporters posting online, but that’s a discussion for another day) had an interesting interview with assistant coach Brian Shaw yesterday. Read the whole thing, but the part I thought relevant was how the veteran team Lakers — Rick Fox, Robert Horry, Ron Harper — used to get in Kobe’s face when he did something wrong, but that this younger team just meekly defers to him:

Is that something that’s especially important now that there are younger guys on the team, to still have guys around who will say, “You’re wrong.”

BS: It is, and we don’t have any. I don’t think we have one guy on the team who will stand up to him and say, if they were open and he shot the ball with three guys on him, “Hey, pass me the ball.” You should have done this, or you should have done that. We don’t have those types of personalities on this team.

Key to a Laker win: Lamar Odom. Kobe will get his points but having Bruce Bowen shadow him slows Kobe’s efficiency — he is shooting 48.5% (eFG%) on the season but just 41.5% against the Spurs. Still, he’s averaging 32.3 points per game.

But Lamar Odom is averaging 17.7 points on 63.4% shooting plus 10.4 boards per game — he is the match up the Lakers need to exploit. Also, Kwame is going to have to have another good defensive and rebounding game, basically do what he has done recently but now against better opposition.

That, and they need to play defense. Especially on the perimeter, where the Spurs are both well spaced and pass the ball very well. Oh, and you might want to keep an eye on Bowen in the corner.

Fast Break Thoughts

Kurt —  March 28, 2006

A few little bullet points to get to before the potential first-round playoff match up on Thursday.

• The polls are open: After a hiatus, the polling feature has made a return. Unfortunately, due to a glitch I can’t figure out (I am useless at HTML, it’s quite sad), it got bumped to the bottom of the right-hand column of links. But it’s there and ready to go.

The question is: What team would be best for the Lakers to face in the first round of the playoffs?

My two cents: Dallas is the best match up for us. San Antonio has Bruce Bowen to slow Kobe and a really quick point guard, our biggest weakness defensively. Phoenix has a really quick point guard and the personnel to expose our second biggest weakness, defending athletic big men who can play away from the basket. To beat Phoenix the Lakers would need to play their slow-it-down, Phil Jackson style of the triangle and control the tempo. And nobody seems able to do that to Phoenix.

Dallas on the other hand, while better defensively this season and with a good point guard in their own right, has nobody who can slow Kobe. That means they are going to let Kobe get his and try to stop everyone else — risking another 62 — or they can focus more on Kobe and dare the other Lakers to step up. And Odom has been doing that better lately. Now, I wouldn’t bet the Lakers win a series from Dallas, they have a lot of firepower and balance, but the Lakers stand a better chance and would at least make a series of it. Plus, wouldn’t it be fun to make Mark Cuban sweat a little.

• Pump Up The Jam? Are the Lakers pumping in crowd noise at Staples Center? I know it’s a fairly common practice for sports teams these days, and the Boi from Troy (a good sports blog of LA that was early to the game and gives us the quality Sports Illustrated seems to think blogs can’t do) said he noticed it when he was at a recent Laker game. Personally, I get to a handful of games a year, taking a friend’s season seats above the luxury boxes (with the real fans) and I haven’t noticed it. Has anyone else?

(Not that you were wondering, but I don’t really talk about what I saw live at games as opposed to on television because the aforementioned seats don’t provide a ton more insight than watching the game on television. The view is different and you notice some things (like spacing), but you’ve got to be a lot closer to get the details. On the bright side, I always love to pay $8 for a beer.)

• Speaking of the games on television: Damn-it FSN — stop interviewing stars while the game is on. Those second-quarter interviews are distracting and useless (the James Worthy interview was the exception to the rule). I guess this comes down to basketball fans vs. casual fans who want entertainment, and Fox has decided the casual fan wins. The interview with Spike Lee the other night netted just one interesting thing (that he was at the legendary Willis Reed game seven) but was little more than a movie promo and a chance to watch James Woods eat nachos while seated next to him. Spike just wanted to watch the game, it was pretty clear. Same is true of us at home.

• If you want another look at possible Laker future options, the Orange County Register takes a look at future plans.

• I know Supersonics fans may have a little more time on their hands the way this season has unfolded, but enough time to start your own comic? Danny Fortson Cyborg Smasher, it’s pretty damn clever. And as I can’t draw a stick figure, I’m impressed.

Kwame and Lamar

Kurt —  March 27, 2006

As Kobe has shown some fatigue in the last few weeks (his true shooting percentage has dropped from 55.4% on the season to 51.7% the last 10 games), the Lakers have still played well thanks to Lamar Odom — finally coming around like Laker fans and front office had hoped — and Kwame Brown coming around like no one expected. As CTDeLude said in the comments yesterday, “Who is this Kwame and where is the body of the old one?”

It’s the improved play of those two that not only means the Lakers are going to the playoffs, but also poses questions about the future makeup of the team.

Here are the questions that must be plaguing the Laker front office, like it did the Wizards’ front office before: Has Kwame turned the corner? Can he keep up this play consistently?

In the last 10 games, the much-maligned Brown has played pretty well. He is shooting 68.3% over that span, exactly what you want from him in that he doesn’t shoot much (11.1 points per game) but is efficient when he does it. Also, his defensive rotations have seemed better. He was solid man-on-man in the block since the start of the season but struggled with rotations early, and while not perfect, it’s better. In the last 10 he has pulled down 13.5% of the available rebounds when he is on the floor, right at his season average (which would make him 20th in the league in rebounding among centers, and it’s a number better than Lamar Odom’s 11.6% rate in the last 10 games).

Here’s what has to be running through Mitch Kupchak’s mind: If you thought Kwame could do this night in and night out, and if you thought Andrew Bynum could be a steady backup every night next year, it allows you to consider dangling one of the few tradable assets the Lakers have in Chris Mihm.

I don’t think we can get carried away here and make that step. No way we can say after 10 games Kwame has become a quality center, or is better than Chris Mihm, who has been consistent for a couple of years now. Kwame played half a good season a few years back, only to flop the following year (he started with a broken foot but never fit back in the team, but I’ll just say that Wizard insiders told me plenty of stories that have led me to be suspicious of his mental strength). He’s got a long way to go to prove he can do it consistently. But a journey of a 1,000 miles begins with a few steps.

As for Odom, he finally seems to be comfortable in the initiator role. In the last 10 games he is shooting 68% (eFG%), he is driving to the hole and being more aggressive on the offensive end. You can argue he’s been a better all-around player the last 10 games than Kobe (statistically, if you use something like Tendex, a PER-like stat based on per-possession used at the wonderful dougsstats, it’s true). That you can even have that conversation shows how far he has come.

If he solidifies into the initiator role, it allows the Lakers to really focus this off-season on getting a defense-oriented point guard and another quality big for the baseline (plus add depth). While Odom’s name will get mentioned in trade deals, at this point I’d only give him up for the kind of player who makes the Lakers instant contenders.

—————————————————

On an unrelated topic, I made a few comments the other day about NBA blogs and the recent piece in Sports Illustrated. Then Tom over at Sactown Royalty went and said it far better, and also expressed the frustrations and admiration I have with and for Bill Simmons as well. If the topic interests you, it’s worth the read.

On Tap: The New Orleans Hornets

Kurt —  March 26, 2006

Lots of questions before a big game tonight.

Starting with, are there really a lot of Hornets in New Orleans? Oklahoma City? In case you didn’t know, the nickname Hornets fit in Charlotte because of a Civil War tie to that city. But New Orleans? Of course, there aren’t a lot of lakes in Los Angeles and Salt Lake City is not really a jazz hotbed….

Kwame Brown, how much does he play? In the last 10 games, the much-maligned Kwame Brown — I thought he was a disappointment, at best, for much of the season — has played pretty well. In the last 10 games, Kwame is shooting 64.8%, exactly what you want from him in that he doesn’t shoot much but is efficient when he does it. We’ll talk more about that tomorrow, it may not matter tonight.

Kwame tweaked his hamstring in the win against the Bucks and did not practice with the team Saturday. The report is his minutes may be limited tonight.

Win and we’re in? That’s not the mathematical reality, but it’s pretty close. The Lakers, the seventh seed, have a three-game lead over the Hornets with 11 to play. Win tonight and that is a four-game lead with 10 to play. Dandy Don can come in and sing at that point.

What’s the good and bad from the Buck’s game? The Lakers got good play out of the starting five but little out of their bench — Walton -14, Sasha -13, George -11. The Lakers jumped out to an early lead in the first quarter, then made the big run in the third quarter and both times it was the starters (with Walton subbing out Cook halfway through the third quarter run). It was enough to get the win, but the Lakers need better play from the bench.

That said, they beat a team they should beat. Can’t just take that for granted anymore.

What Lakers have played well agains the Hornets? Kobe has been Kobe against the Hornets this year, averaging 37.5 points per game in the two meetings. But what has really killed the Hornets is the Lakers big guys who can hit the spot up — Brian Cook is shooting 80.8% (eFG%) in the two games, Devean George 70% in the one game he played.

Much like the Bucks game the other night, when the Lakers beat the Hornets earlier this month, they made their big runs with the starters on the floor. The one difference was Walton played the fourth instead of Cook.

Keys to a Laker win: While the Hornets are 1-9 in their last 10 and the Lakers beat them the last time these two hooked up, the Lakers have yet to really slow them. And that will be the key.

Soon to be Rookie of the Year Chris Paul is averaging 20.5 points per game against the Lakers, shooting 57.5% (eFG%) — Smush Parker has to stay in front of him. David West has averaged 18 points of 50% shooting — the Lakers are going to need a strong defensive game inside, maybe from Bynum. And the list goes on: Speedy Claxton has averaged 15 points of 50% shooting, Desmond Mason has averaged 18 points on 63% shooting, Rasual Butler has shot 73%.

The Hornets are a team that can be stopped — they are 25th in the league in offensive efficiency, averaging just 100.2 points per 100 possessions (the Lakers are at 106). If the Lakers play defense like they are capable, the playoffs will be almost assured.