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.

On Tap: Milwaukee Bucks

Kurt —  March 24, 2006

Record: 34-34. 7th seed in the East
Record last 10 games: 5-5
Offensive Rating: 102.3 (19th in the NBA)
Defensive Rating: 104.2 (21st in the NBA)

Un-Freakin-Believable: I was so frustrated with UCLA’s play last night, the mental errors (that are just part of the college game but still not easy to accept) that I almost turned off the game with four minutes to go. What a finish. If the Bruins advance that will be their Tyus Edney moment. Plus, as a guy who has Texas winning it all in his pool, that was a great ending.

Blogging and the Media: No, this is not another take on the Collin Cowherd incident.

Rather, Sports Illustrated this week takes a look at how the Internet is changing sports coverage, focusing on the rise of ESPN’s “Sports Guy” Bill Simmons, who makes sports pronouncements from a fans seat, not with a press credential (most of the time). You can’t get this SI article online (unless you are a magazine subscriber), but it’s worth the read I think there are some valid points.

However, Henry over at True Hoop makes better ones (this is almost a must read, if you care about this issue). If sports fans were getting what they thought was a complete picture of their teams from the credentialed media, sites like this one wouldn’t exist. While the Lakers have a number of beat writers and columnists who cover them regularly (and the beat guys do a good job), rarely is the coverage much different — not only the same news but often the same quotes and innuendos. Rarely is it outside of the box, or in this case outside the press box thinking. I started this blog because I wanted less soap opera and more on-the-court talk. Maybe that’s not what editors wanted, maybe the soap opera is better for ratings and readership numbers, but it’s not what I wanted to read. And at least a few of you seem to agree. Could I do this blog better with a credential? Probably, although the feel would change just by having the access. But insightfulness, understanding the game and effort isn’t handed out with the credential. Henry does a good job pointing out the stale media and reasons for the rise of blogs, in part they are an alternative to groupthink in the press box.

Enough soap box, what about the Lakers and the playoffs? The Lakers are currently the seventh seed out west, one game ahead of the eighth seed Kings, two games up on the number nine Hornets, and three up on the Jazz. In case you’re curious, the Lakers are four games back of six-seed Memphis, which is too bad because the six seed would mean Denver not Phoenix (or San Antonio, or Dallas) in the first round.

Injury Update: Chris Mihm is looking like he will be out until about the start of the playoffs. Meaning we all have to hope Kwame really is getting it.

As for tonight, Sasha is questionable with a turned ankle from practice. That means Smush all night on TJ Ford.

The Bucks Coming in: Michael Redd is good — we can debate whether he’s worth the contract he got, but he is good. He is shooting 49% (eFG%) from the field on the season (50.8% in the last 10 games) and leads the Bucks with a +/- of +9.6. He’s going to get his points, but the good news is he is not much of a defender, so Kobe should get his too.

Bobby Simmons got the big-money deal last off-season but took some time to adjust to the Bucks. Of late he has been on fire, shooting 57.6% in the last 10 games, scoring 17.6 points and grabbing 4.6 rebounds per game. And he can play defense. As I said before, the biggest match up of the night will be Smush Parker trying to slow TJ Ford. Ford has been scoring 11.3 points and dishing out 7.4 assists per game the last 10. I think the consensus is Smush needs to get up on his guy to play better defense.

The Lakers beat the Bucks once this season, but that was back in early December. Redd had 21 and Fold 16, but the Lakers led from the mid point of the first quarter and ran away with it in the second half. Smush, Kobe and Odom all had more than 20 points.

Key to a Laker win: Two things, the first is the obvious of play good defense. The Laker defense comes and goes, but the Bucks have won only 33% of their games against the top 10 defensive teams in the league, and the Lakers can be that good some nights. Second, pass the ball — the Bucks have lost 71% of their games against the top 10 teams in getting assists.

The Bucks struggle to defend every position except the two. Odom, and maybe Kwame again, can get some points inside on the block if the mismatches are there, or in Odom’s case on the outside as well. Kobe will get his, but if they focus on him the others just need to knock down the open chances they will get. This is a winnable game, the kind you expect the Lakers to win. But if they are looking ahead to New Orleans Sunday, well, we’ve seen that result before.

2006, 2008 and beyond

Kurt —  March 23, 2006

The win over Sacramento has me feeling a little more relaxed. The Lakers have been likely to make the playoffs for a while, but that win, along with another this Sunday over New Orleans, would likely be enough. That is, barring a last-season like collapse, and Phil Jackson wouldn’t let that happen. So, for a minute, let’s think about next season and beyond.

TJ Simers of the LA Times, in his own curmudgeonly style, sat down with Mitch Kupchak — or maybe interrupted his dinner is a better way of phrasing that — and talked about the coming off-season:

He said the Lakers will have the ability to sign a midlevel, $40-million player for five years this summer, a starter, a veteran with the ability to push the team to victory in the close games they’ve been losing, which would allow them to compete with Phoenix, San Antonio and Dallas.

First off, I think it’s going to take a little more than one mid-level exception player to compete with the big three in the West (and I think a five-year MLE is worth closer to $30 million), but the Lakers can continue to build the foundation of veterans and role players that compliment Kobe, Lamar, and eventually one other big-time guy needed to lead this team. The Lakers already have $67 million committed for next year, although only $52 million of that counts against the luxury tax (Brian Grant’s salary). Coming off the books will be Slava and Vlade (both gone already but being paid $5 million combined) and Devean George, who makes $5 million per year.

George is one of the big questions of the off-season — can you do better for $5 million per year? George is not headed to the Hall, but he plays solid defense, is decent on offense (PER of 11.9) and knows the system. My two cents: the Lakers don’t really need more guys that play the 2/3 swing spot, so I’d let him go and try to find a veteran point or another big (something hard to come by for just $5 million these days). There are some interesting names out there (note that this list is a bit dated, for example Caron Butler will not be available).

Other nuggets on the future from this sit down with Mitch includes conformation that the Lakers picked up the third year on Kwame Brown at $9 million and that the Lakers now are officially committed to the “2008 plan,” (which has its own set of questions and issues).

…he admitted the team had money earmarked for free agents, but those free agents had their contracts extended this season. So the Lakers spent that money elsewhere (Brown), pushing their free-agent plans back to 2008.

Kupchak called the possibility of trading for a franchise player was “probably remote.” Just for all you holding out Kevin Garnett fantasies.

I see the next off-season as a chance to bring in better defenders, fill in some weakness, add depth, just basically continue to build a team and bring in pieces for the sign-and-trade likely needed to secure the big time player that would fill out the roster — preferably a 4/5. But that I would think is a couple off-seasons away.

On Tap: The Sacramento Kings

Kurt —  March 22, 2006

Two out of Three Ain’t Bad: First off, I promise never, ever to quote Meat Loaf in a post again. But heading into three home games against Sacramento, Milwaukee and New Orleans, I think the Lakers need to go 2-1, with the game against New Orleans the must win. Yes, I’d like 3-0, but evidence suggests this team showing up focused for three straight games is a long shot. But two out of three ain’t bad.

As for the standings heading into tonight, the Lakers and Kings are in a tie, with the Hornets one game back (damn it Clips, help a guy out) and the Jazz two back (same to you, Suns).

Better music and Lamar Odom: Odom, who made a great cameo in HBO’s Entourage last year, continues his cameo run with a brief appearance in the latest Dilated Peoples video, “Back Again.” A nod to Henry at True Hoop for finding and posting this first.

Kobe gets the leading roles in his own commercials, but Odom is the Philip Seymour Hoffman of the Lakers, getting the great character roles.

(If you just had to Google Dilated Peoples to find out who they are, you are not hip. And welcome to that club.)

Rest in Peace, Ray Meyer: The legendary DePaul basketball coach, who passed away recently, also indirectly help shape the Laker reputation as one of the great NBA franchises of all time. It was Meyer that shaped George Mikan’s game in college, the man who went on to be cornerstone of the franchise’s first titles.

Artest v. Kobe, round three: This is one of two great defense versus offense matchups in the next two days, the other being Afflalo on Morrison in the UCLA/Gonzaga game.

As for the matchup at hand, judges’ scorecards gave the first round to Kobe but the second round to Artest. While there will be no knockouts — this is where you insert your own melee in Detroit joke — this will be the third and deciding game this season between the teams.

But Artest has not really slowed Kobe — in the two games they’ve been matched up, Kobe has shot 54.4% (eFG%, an increase of 6.2% over his season average) and a true shooting percentage of 56.8% (up 1.8%). Kobe also has hit 8 of 15 three pointers in those games. What Artest does not do is foul Kobe — he has just 7 free throws in the two games. Combined.

The Kings coming in: As Kwame a. mentioned in the comments, the Kings are not only in the second game of a back-to-back, they played a fast paced game last night in a win over the Sonics. All the better to wear their legs out, we can hope. Artest was the big offensive force for the Kings: 34 points on 10 of 18, plus getting to the line 15 times. He was the inside (although he hit two three pointers) to go with Bibby’s outside and quickness, plus the 30 he dropped.

On the season, the Kings shoot 46.9% (eFG%) on no days rest, down a little from their 48.6% season average.

The Kings, as we know, have been getting great play all around lately. Kenny Thomas is shooting 53.8% and pulling down 9.4 boards a game in the last 10, Brad Miller is shooting 47.6% and pulling down 8.6 rebounds. Kevin Martin is shooting 55.3% in that time.

More on the Kings: Sactown Royalty is one of the best blogs out there, despite being up in some cow town.

Things I want to see tonight: Part of the Heat/Pistons game. My gut still tells me Detroit destroys them in a seven-game series, but I have seen little of these teams lately and Detroit has wobbled a little while the Heat have beat up the inferior with little in terms of a big test. Should be interesting.

Key’s to a Laker win: Kwame plays great man defense on the block, but when his man moves away from the basket — like the Cleveland game — he is slow to follow. He better not do that against Brad Miller. Smush is also going to have to stay in front of Bibby and not let him carve up the Laker D.

Kobe and Artest will be entertaining, but it’s Odom who must make the Kings adjust to him, that will free up other guys to get good looks. He needs to drive the lane (as does Smush). This is a winnable game and would be a key bit of insurance in the drive to make the playoffs.