Archives For March 2006


Kurt —  March 21, 2006

One of the best parts of having this humble little blog has been the smart and witty people who have become regular commenters here, not just adding to discussion but coming up with great insights and observations. Plus a few good questions.

That discussion had me watching the Laker execution of the triangle a little more closely last night. It started with a comment from a Clipper fan with a valid point (it can happen), John R., saying I should track how well the Lakers are running the triangle:

How often they enter it and how often they score within it. If they are still not executing the triangle then there are 2 ways that could go, either this squad is incapable or they could still get much better with proper execution. If they are already running the offense properly, then this is likely the max potential of this Laker team for the remainder of the Kwame Brown era. Unless the triangle is find Kobe 30′ from the basket with 6 on the shot clock, I don’t think the latter is true.

I don’t think there’s much question that the Lakers, if they are going to compete for titles again, need some talent upgrades. And, as they are a triangle team now, they need the talent that fits within that system.

But the question of how well they are running the triangle and the direction of the offense as a whole is a good one to look at. This deep into the season, the Lakers should be more proficient at the offense, but are they? And, are they becoming too reliant on the three ball (which led to an effort to come up with a good name for that disease, and the title for this post).

What follows is my two cents to start off the discussion, but of late family obligations – keeping an eight-month pregnant wife happy and making preparations for another child – have meant I haven’t had the time to watch games using TiVo to rewind and dissect as I would prefer. So, please jump in with your thoughts and observations.

I would say the Laker execution of the triangle tends to be like their commitment on defense – irregular. Even within games. They run the basic format of the offense but if feels like we see fewer back-door plays, cuts inside and the other things that lead to easy baskets in the offense, and instead there is more going through the motions of the offense until they throw the ball to Kobe and expect him to create. It’s a comfortable trap because Kobe will willingly taking on that burden and others are willing to relinquish it too quickly — although Odom has been better of late.

As for the threes, yes I think they take more than I would like, but it hasn’t been worse of late. For the record, in the last 10 games the Lakers are taking 18.1 per game, for the season it’s 18.7.

But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t shooting from the outside more. I don’t have the stats to back it up, but my impression is we are seeing more fadaways and less penetration (and kick-outs), which may be a symptom of Kobe’s tired legs.

All that said, the offense is still eighth in the league in efficiency, the problems are more at the other end of the court. And talent is an issue there as well.

On Tap: The Boston Celtics

Kurt —  March 20, 2006

Not the usual format today, but that’s due to other stuff crowding blogging time.

Collapse: First, let’s talk — as some of you have been doing in the comments below — about that loss to Cleveland. I certainly didn’t love that last shot, but the problem was that it ever came down to that last shot.

After a good start to the fourth quarter that kept the Lakers up comfortably in the double digits, things went south when the Cavs subbed back in Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Flip Murray and Phil Jackson countered with Kwame Brown, taking out Bynum. Bynum actually led the Lakers in +/- at +13 for the game, but that was because he only played a few minutes against Ilgauskas (and was -3 in that stint). Still, I might have given him another chance as Brown (-16 for the game) was not doing much better.

When the Cav’s starters came back in rested, the Lakers had no way to match that energy. Kobe never left the court in the second half, and Odom did for less than a minute, while they both put up good numbers for the game they couldn’t drive the offense late. The Lakers shot 29% in the fourth quarter, 33% in the third. Meanwhile, on the other end, the Cavs shot 56% in the fourth. The Lakers lacked the energy to get key stops (as they had earlier in the game) or consistently hit key shots. Cleveland is not a very deep team, but the Lakers are even thinner and it showed.

Now, the last shot — yes, ideally he should have passed it. But Kobe only tends to pass those shots when he gets penetration — remember the end of the New Jersey game, with about 30 seconds to go Kobe got inside then hit Smush for the open three. When he can’t get inside he wants to elevate and shoot. Yes, he should look for the open guy, but the time has come for Phil to run Kobe as a decoy out of this late play and let Odom take the last shot. Or someone else.

It has come to typify the Lakers’ season, needing Kobe to hit a three-point fadeaway over two or three defenders to get the win.

The Celtics again: Boston is 3.5 back in the playoff chase and have about a 6.1% chance of making the playoffs. Jeff at Celtics Blog is trying to pump up the base, but they need to go on run if they are going to make it.

Paul Pierce is doing his part, in the last 10 games he is shooting 52.3% (eFG%) with a true shooting percentage of 57.9% (think of TS% this way: if you scored two points every time you shot the ball, your TS% would be 100%. The league average is closer to 52%.). Old Laker nemesis Wally Szczerbiak and the less known but good Ryan Gomes have been playing well of late as well.

When these two played in February it was an entertaining game, but the Lakers lost a close one at the end. Shocking, I know. Pierce had 39 but you know he was going to get his, the damage came from the supporting cast. Delonte West had 19 and was a team-best +11, Gomes also had 19.

Reason I think the Lakes can win: Just one really, they are 34-34. Every time they fall to .500 they find a way to win and stay above the mark.

On Tap: The Cleveland Cavaliers

Kurt —  March 19, 2006

Record: 37-29, 4th seed in the East
Record last 10 games: 5-5
Offensive Rating: 108.8 (10th in the NBA)
Defensive Rating: 106.6 (14th in the NBA)

Laker’s playoff chase: The Lakers are up 1.5 games against fading New Orleans and 2 games on Utah. The Lakers, by the way, still play the Hornets twice, including the last game of the season. Let’s hope that it doesn‘t come to that.

How Tired is Kobe? Even Phil Jackson was commenting on Kobe’s legs looking a little tired last game, with the note he is playing more than 40 minutes every game now. How bad has he been lately? In his last 10 games he has a true shooting percentage (think points per shot attempt) of 51.5%, down from his season average of 55.4%. While he is still getting to the line (average of 8.8 free throws per game in the last 10, down from 10.3 on the season) his shooting when not at the line has dropped to 44.2% (eFG%), down from a season average of 48.4%.

The problem is, when can you rest him? This isn’t baseball, you can’t give him a day off. He has to play and has to be the focus for the Lakers to have a chance. You just hope he can fight through it and someone can relieve the burden, a little.

Hoops thought of the day: What helps your team win more, scoring 40 points or having a triple double? Well, in the last two years when a player has scored 40+, his team has won 64.2% of the time (with the Lakers, when Kobe has done it, 29 times, the Lakers win just 58.6% of the time). However, a triple double leads to a 73.2% winning percentage. Check that out and more at an interesting new piece up at

The Cavs: This is a team that really misses Larry Hughes, providing someone you had to respect on the perimeter besides LeBron James. While we’re talking LeBron, the franchise has been a little off his game of late, shooting 45.2% (eFG%) in the last 10 games, below his season average of 50.9%.

Last time these two played — a one-point Laker win in January — James had 28 but Zydrunas Ilgauskas was the Cav’s high scorer with 29 on 11 of 15. In that same game Drew Gooden added 15 and 11 boards, and he’s been playing better of late.

Key to a Lakers win: As always with this team, it starts with defensive effort. But there are some other things.

If you remember the end of the game the last time these two played, LeBron asked to cover Kobe in crunch time, and Kobe proceeded to hit his last three shots and secure the win. The last was a great shot over James and Ilgauskas. The Lakers need another big night from Kobe, no matter how tired he is, because the Cavs don’t have anyone who can stop him.

The Lakers also got a good offensive game but a weak defensive one from Chris Mihm last time. Kwame needs to reverse that — stop Ilgauskas and help out against a very good rebounding team. Points are just the cherry on top.

Two other Lakers who have been playing better of late also need to continue — Lamar Odom and Luke Walton. Both also played well when these two hooked up before.

On Tap: The New Jersey Nets

Kurt —  March 17, 2006

Record: 33-28 (30-31 Pythagorean) 3rd seed in the East
Record last 10 games: 5-5
Offensive Rating: 105.5 (21st in the NBA)
Defensive Rating: 105.6 (10th in the NBA)

As Jim Mora would say, “Playoffs?” The Lakers head out on a tough road trip with a slim cushion — basically one of those little pads you bring to sit on the bleachers with at a little league game. The Lakers are 1.5 games up on slumping New Orleans (losers of 7 straight), 3 games up on Utah and 4.5 on Houston and whoever is left on their roster.

The Lakers need to come back from New Jersey, Cleveland and Boston with at least one win to be sure they still have a lead (and two would be better). The Lakers need to take control of their playoff destiny rather than counting on the incompetence of those chasing them.

How hot is Lamar? In the last 10 games, he has an eFG% of 65.6%, while pulling down 8.4 rebounds per game.

March Madness Thoughts: Should he stay or should he go now? If you’re Jordan Farmar, do you come back to UCLA next year or do you go pro after this season? This is a weaker year in the draft and the league needs point guards, but there are also questions about the consistency of Farmar’s outside shot. Chad Ford said that while GMs think he needs polish, point guards are valuable enough that Farmar would be a late first-round pick if he came out. I expect he’ll stay one more year, but…

Someone to watch: currently has the Lakers taking, with the 26th pick in the draft, Kevin Pittsnogle, senior from West Virginia. He’s a big man with an outside touch but not much presence inside, or at least that’s the book. Well, that and he’s a bit nuts. Not that they’ll take him, but I’m curious. Something worth checking out around the tournament.

Let’s Talk Nets: The Nets have a dangerous trio in Vince Carter, Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson. In what could be a break for the Lakers, Carter and Kidd have been slowed by colds in recent days. When these two played in November Kidd torched Smush and the Lakers for 35 points. Five different Nets scored in double figures that day,

Jefferson likely will get the Kobe assignment and last time these two hooked up it worked, Kobe had 46 points but shot just 44.5% (eFG%) for the game, Jefferson finished a game-high +16. Despite the fact the game went to overtime, Brian Cook was the only other Laker to score in double figures.

After the big three for the Nets, they have gotten little from anyone else lately. The partial exception to that has been Nenad Krstic, the center who has been averaging 15 points and 7 rebounds a game the last 10 games.

Key’s to a Laker win: Good defense on the perimeter. Two-thirds of all the Nets shots are jump shots and they hit 43.8% of them (eFG%). By the way, those numbers are almost identical to the Lakers. The key for the Lakers tonight will be making sure the Nets big three are not efficient.

The Lakers need a big game out of Smush at both ends — not only must he slow Kidd (with some help from that cold virus) but point guard is also the weakest spot defensively for the Nets. He, along with Cook again, need to have big nights. Also, Odom needs to continue his play of late (he had just 8 points and 5 assists in the last meeting).

With an already thin Laker lineup seemingly getting thinner by the day without Chris Mihm and Devean George, Phil Jackson has had to get creative to find a group that works. For example, starting classic energy-off-the-bench-guy Ronnie Turiaf against Minnesota last night (that may also have been a lesson to Brian Cook about playing defense — and it seemed to work as Cook had a good third quarter and was a team-best +10).

That move got me thinking about what lineup works best without Mihm and George, so I did a little looking over at What follows is the results of lineups without those two, with comments.

(As a side note, their minutes played may seem low but I think there are two reasons for that: 1) early in the season guys like McKie and Profit got a decent amount of floor time, but I’m not counting them in this because they are not really playing now; 2) these stats are not current as of last night, I’m not sure when the last update on this was at, they tend to be a week or two behind because of the amazing volume of information they process)

Parker-Bryant-Odom-Cook-Brown, bested opposing five 42.1% of the time. This is the most used lineup without those two, having played 182 minutes. This group is like a microcosm of the Lakers this season when they lose — they shoot a very good 50.2% (eFG%) from the floor, but let opponents shoot an even better 51.3%.

Parker-Bryant-Walton-Odom-Brown, bested opposing five 41.6% of the time. I’d like to see more of this lineup — they shoot 54.9%, besting the (still good) 50% by opponents. This was the lineup on the floor at the last half of the fourth quarter against Minnesota and was +3. They played the last few minutes of the third quarter against Sacramento together and were +4. The fact they have lost to opponents on the season may be a factor of just small sample size — they haven’t been out together much and may have been matched up poorly a couple times. 82games has them playing 45 minutes.

Vujacic-Bryant-Walton-Odom-Brown, bested opposing five 45.4% of the time. Same lineup as above but with Sasha from Smush. My gut reaction is we would have seen more of this lineup than the 48 minutes they have played this season, but upon further thought it struck me as a weak defensive group, and Phil hates that. They allow opponents to shoot 53.5% while shooting 49.4% themselves. The upside is this is a good ball-handling lineup, which is why it wins the turnover battle by 8% against the other five.

Parker-Bryant-Walton-Odom-Cook, bested opposing five 66.6% of the time. The Lakers have had some success going small, although you have to pick your spots with that. Again, the success here may be a reflection of picking those sports well — in the 34 minutes this group has been on the court opponents have shot 57.1%. While this lineup has shot 52.3%, that is not a tradeoff that means long-term success.

Vujacic-Bryant-Odom-Cook-Brown, bested opposing five 57.1% of the time. Same lineup as the most-used five, but with Sasha for Smush, and it has had some success in the 29 minutes it has played together. They shoot an impressive 52.5%, but give up 53.3% to opponents. The reason for their success is winning the turnover battle by 18%.

My Bracket Is A Disaster

Kurt —  March 16, 2006

I’m posting this before the first game of the NCAA tournament, but that headline should be accurate within 24-48 hours.

Just for the record, I have a Final Four of Texas, Kansas, UConn and Villanova. (Yes, I have Texas beating Duke. Yes, I know Duke beat them by 31 this year.) I have Texas taking it all, becoming the first school to win the NCAA football and basketball title in the same year.

As for first round upsets, I’ve got San Diego State over Indiana and Winthrop knocking off Tennessee.

Who have you got?

Record: 26-36, 12th seed in the West, 5.5 games back of the Lakers
Record last 10 games: 3-7
Laker record against Wolves: 0-3
Offensive Rating: 104.6 (25th in the NBA)
Defensive Rating: 106 (12th in the NBA)

Always look on the bright side of life: After a loss like last night, then having to play a back-to-back against a team we have yet to beat this season, we can all use a pick-me-up. So today’s preview is all about optimism.

The Lakers odds of making the playoffs are 93.88%:
Seriously. Over at the stats-friendly APBRmetrics message board, a poster called 94by50 pulled a trick out of the old Baseball Prospectus bag and calculated the odds of teams to make the playoffs based on performance up to that point in the season compared to the upcoming schedule. (For those that haven’t seen it, BP starts doing this a couple weeks into the season, which is way to early but fairly amusing, but by the end of the season it’s pretty accurate. If you want to know the math, follow the link above.)

The bottom line is the West shakes out like this:

Team, expected record, playoff chance %
1. Spurs, 62.68-19.32, 100.00
2. Mavericks, 62.08-19.92, 100.00
3. Suns, 56.81-25.19, 100.00
4. Grizzlies, 46.76-35.24, 99.59
5. Clippers, 46.72-35.28, 99.56
6. Nuggets, 44.85-37.15, 96.89
7. Lakers, 44.11-37.89, 93.88
8. Kings, 41.25-40.75, 59.61
9. Hornets, 39.95-42.05, 31.48
10. Jazz, 38.03-43.97, 8.83
11. Rockets, 37.97-44.03, 8.59
12. Wolves, 35.62-46.38, 1.12
13. Warriors, 34.79-47.21, 0.46
14. Sonics, 30.93-51.07, 0.00
15. Blazers, 24.24-57.76, 0.00

Now, that list is a couple weeks old and doesn’t count for the Nuggets getting the third seed for winning their division (something that needs to be changed, by the way). Also, while it shows the Kings finishing behind the Lakers, that is because the math is based on how the Kings have played all season long, not since Artest arrived. I think they get the six seed, personally, then probably beat Denver in the first round.

The two teams the Lakers need to be concerned with are Utah and the Hornets. John asked in the comments why I don’t fear Utah, it’s because they have the toughest schedule coming in and they are actually more inconsistent than the Lakers. As of today they are two games back of LA and with their schedule and play I just don’t see them making a run.

The Hornets are fading, 2-8 in their last 10. Their defense has been slightly better than the Lakers this season, but the Lakers can overcome that some nights with a powerful offense (8th best in the league — thank you Kobe). The Hornets have little to no O. So, while things don’t look great I can see the Lakers getting the eighth seed with 43-44 wins. And just making the playoffs was a good goal for this season.

Aaron McKie is back: He was suited up last night but did not play. Not sure how much he can give down the stretch, but good to see him back and at least getting a shot in practice.

Trying to Keep it positive: Sasha can’t keep playing as poorly as he has lately long, can he? He’s due to turn it around. Good shooting game from Smush last night.

His absence shows just how much the Lakers miss D. George’s energy and defense off the bench. And just how thin that bench is. Odom played a great first quarter.

Who are these guys? This T-Wolves team is not the same one the Lakers lost to three times this season, all before 2006. Gone is Wally Szczerbiak (we’ll see him next week in Boston), which is good because he was a match up problem for the Lakers.

In the last 10 games, Kevin Garnett has continued to put up MVP-like numbers but he has less of a supporting cast than Kobe. Ricky Davis has been average since coming over (a PER of 14.2, the league average is 15) and he has been the second best player on the squad. Basically the same concepts can be applied to Marcus Banks, who started off hot in Minnesota but has slowed some of late.

Key’s to a Laker win: This is a gut-check game, short handed on the road in a back-to-back. Kobe needs to lead from the outset and, most importantly, the Lakers need to play hard at the defensive end — outside of Garnett this is a team the Lakers can stop.

Like every night, how much the Lakers are focused and work on the defensive end is really the key. Defense in the NBA is as much about effort as anything — guys aren’t at this level if they are inept, but you have to at least slow their efficiency. Do that tonight and the Lakers can win. If not, hello .500.

On Tap: The Sacramento Kings

Kurt —  March 14, 2006

What you need to know: The season records and offensive ratings are pretty meaningless with the Kings, they are a different team since Artest joined them. In the last 10 games they are 8-2 (14-7 since Artest arrived) and they are just half-a-game back of Lakers for the seventh seed. They are half a game ahead of New Orleans for the eighth spot.

Want to watch a repeat? Artest or no, the Lakers beat Sacramento handily at Staples last month in one of their best defensive games of the year. Mike Bibby had 25 points but was 9 of 24 from the field, Artest just 6 of 17. Plus, the Lakers had 10 steals. On the other end, Artest did a decent job on Kobe (he still had 36 points and 10 assists) but the key was Odom was driving the lane, finishing with 19 points, a true shooting percentage of 59.4% and was +21. D. George and Cook also had good outing offensively, knocking down open looks.

One good sign from that game was it was one of Kwame’s best of the year, he finished a +23. He’s going to have to do that again (and start doing it consistently) with Mihm out.

March Madness: Making sure Mike Bibby doesn’t have a throwback game tonight like it is 1997 and he is wearing an Arizona jersey will be a key.

March Madness Hypothetical: Andrew Bynum was committed to go to UConn before entering the draft and playing for the Lakers. We’ll see how Bynum looks tonight going against an Olympic team invitee in Miller, but can you imagine how good the Huskies would have been with Bynum getting minutes in the paint? They’re already the most talented team in the bracket.

The Other K-Mart: Maybe the most overlooked King player this year is Kevin Martin, but along with Artest he has been a key to turning this season around up in the Capital built on a swamp. (Or at least near one.)

Martin is scoring 16.2 points per 40 minutes at an incredible 62.3% true shooting percentage (think points per shot attempt). That is the second best TS% in the league. He has become a quintessential efficient shooter and a perfect compliment to Bibby in the backcourt.

What Ron-Ron Means To Me, Part II: From the brilliant Sactown Royalty blog yesterday:

Ron Artest Ron Artest Ron Artest. Everything is Artest. Can you blame us? We were staring at Portland Trailblazerdom in December and January. After two weeks of Artest, we still weren’t lighting the league on fire, but we saw the difference it made. We saw B-52 (Brad Miller) getting nasty. We saw Bibby getting open looks. We saw (gulp) K-9 getting loose inside. Kevin’s already growing confidence screamed to the sky. Francisco immediately became Doug Christie II. Rick Adelman showed signs of a pulse. ARCO seemed like someone pumped a couple of Red Bulls into the foundation. The whole city awoke, and the Kings mattered again.

Big Game, Big Keys: This is about as big as it gets in the race out West, and the Lakers go into ARCO where the Kings have won a dozen in a row.

As much as Kobe would like to redeem himself for a poor shooting night against the Sonics, he needs to get other players the ball early and they need to knock down shots. Odom needs to be aggressive and get in the paint. Do those things and Kobe starts to get better looks and the Lakers score plenty.

But it’s not the offense that’s in question. The Lakers need a big defensive night from Smush and Kwame (and Sasha and Bynum off the bench). They need to stop the penetration and keep Artest from easy post up shots. Play D like they did last time these two met and they can win, play like it is still the Seattle game and it will be ugly. They should be motivated to play a good game, but who knows with this group.