Archives For March 2006

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.

Treyaholics

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.