Archives For March 2006

Fast Break

Kurt —  March 13, 2006

Got back last night and passed up watching the Soprano’s return (which I will watch tonight, while eating some baked ziti) to catch the Laker game against the Sonics (on Tivo). I was saying ouch before the final minute, but I was in a lot of pain afterward. So let’s talk about those issues, the great win against San Antonio (which I did watch half of on cable) and more.

• First things first: Thanks to Gatinho for doing a great job filling in over the weekend while I watched ball boys/girls squeegee the water off of tennis courts live. It’s much better than watching squeegeeing on television.

• Last offseason, Mitch went out and got Kwame Brown — I said then overpaid for Kwame Brown — to give the Lakers some depth inside. Well, now this pickup may be the key to the Lakers making the playoffs because Chris Mihm’s injury is being described as a severe ankle sprain. Remember, that’s exactly the injury that put Kobe on the sideline so long last season, and Kobe has a high pain threshold. I’d be shocked if we saw Mihm any more in March, at best.

So the Lakers chances to make the playoffs rests on the two big-man projects they took on this offseason — Kwame and Bynum. Kwame will start and needs to play the good man defense we’ve seen from him at times, and Bynum is going to have to deliver good minutes nightly off the bench. Both need to play good defense, something they have done at spots this season.

• About the playoff chase: The Lakers currently sit as the seven seed, half a game ahead of 8th seed Sacramento and one game up on ninth-seed New Orleans. If you want to see a great breakdown of the teams out west and what they have left on the schedule, check out this post (it is a few days old but relevant). The thing I look at and see here is I’m not as worried about Utah, what really affects the Lakers is how the Hornets do — their schedule is not that bad but they have been fading. Also, the next two games — against Sacramento and Minnesota — loom large.

• You all were saying it in the comments after the Seattle game — It’s the Defense, stupid. Seattle shot 64% in the first half, for the game they shot 63.1% (eFG%). They shot 50% from beyond the arc. I don’t care how poorly Kobe shot, the Lakers as a team shot 52.1% from the floor, better than their season average of 48.9%. But you can’t let your opponent shoot lights out like that and win.

• Look at the game flow and you see the Laker starting 5 held its own, Seattle made its runs when the Lakers bench players were in.

• My nomination for best driving CD ever: The Essential Clash (two CD-set).

• Lost if the frustration of the Seattle game is the fact the Lakers played a very good game against San Antonio. Yes, it was a back-to-back for them, but beating a quality team that others are losing too is big.

• The other thing we’re all doing today is starting to fill out our NCAA brackets. I’m one of those people who does consistently well but ends up coming in third in the office to some person who picks teams by going, “ohh, Virgina is pretty, I’ll pick them.” If you like the efficiency stats I use here, or you’re just looking for more information, I suggest checking out Ken Pomeroy’s Web site, which is the best college blog/state page out there and has loads of great information (it convinced me to take UNC to win it all last year).

On Tap: Seattle SuperSonics

Gatinho —  March 12, 2006

Record: 24-38
PF: 101.4
PA: 105.9
Road: 9-22
Last 10: 4-6
What Vegas says: Lakers -8

Seattle will be trying to win consecutive games for the first time since January 22-25.

Smush Parker headband watch: This could be a new stat. If it stays on, like it did in San Antonio, the Lakers win. Parker’s headband actually stayed in place all night when it usually gets discarded whenever his first fit of frustration comes.

Dear Editor: Ever wonder what the criteria is for getting a letter published in Sports section of the Times? I’m guessing a mild case of dementia qualifies you.

Road Dogs: Seeing Lamar and Kobe both hold up their USA jerseys the other night makes one realize that these two will be spending a lot of time playing together over the duration of their 3 year commitment to Team USA, and that can only be a good thing.

Queen for a day: The surging Kings have won 3 in a row and have reached the long awaited .500 mark. Their stay there could be short after hosting Dallas tonight. Fire up the League Pass, that could be a good one. Ron Artest had 19 in the fourth quarter in their win over Memphis.

Five man Tai Chi: Parker has taken to pausing after each timeout, trying to center himself the way Jackson has become famous (and mocked) for. Parker was particularly diligent about it Friday night, stopping at the scorer’s table at the end of each break, putting two fists down to support his body, taking one deep breath to clear his mind. “It’s getting my mind right for what I have to do on the court,” he said.

-Gatinho

Playing Right

Gatinho —  March 11, 2006

Kurt’s in the desert, and I’m sure he will return with a story to tell about missing this one. If indeed he did.

Fourth game in five days, played the runnin’ Suns last night, got in at 3:30 AM…

“I can’t understand it’s just because it’s a back-to-back,” Manu Ginobili said. “Every team does them, and probably nobody is as bad as us. One guy can be tired. Two, maybe. But the whole team didn’t play well today.”

“A lot of guys didn’t play a lot of minutes last night, so just give L.A. credit,” Bowen said. “They kicked our tails.”

“The Spurs are a strong team, with a deep bench,” Phil Jackson said, ” so this is still a good win for us and probably tough for them to digest.” Only Bowen played more than 30 minutes in the Suns win, and Steve Nash played zero.

11 offensive rebounds, Lamar Odom with a 27 eff. rating, 18 assists to 8 turnovers. No turnovers for Kwame, who added 10 and helped hold Duncan to 12 points and 4 rebounds. No Devean George and a sub par 3 and half quarters from employee #8. (Behind the backboard? The English on that lay up?)

So, go ahead, get a little giddy. It’s okay.

-Gatinho

On Tap: The Spurs. Again.

Kurt —  March 10, 2006

Didn’t we just see this movie? And we didn’t like the ending?

On the optimistic side, if you look at the game flow the Lakers played the Spurs pretty evenly except for a stretch at the start of the third quarter. Of course, that part of the game counts too. That’s just one of the differences between teams like the current Lakers and Spurs — we have lapses, they don’t and pounce on them. Still, that was not a bad Laker outing, they just lost to a better team.

While he scored 21, the Lakers did a fairly good job on Tony Parker. The bigger problems were what Tim Duncan brought, particularly on defense (which is why he was a game-high +28) and Ginobli, who was 5 of 6 from beyond the arc and finished with 21 points and a +19.

The Lakers need to steal a game from one of the top two (seeded anyway) teams in the West, San Antonio and Phoenix — they account for 20% of the Lakers last 20 games. The good news is the Lakers are now tied for the seventh seed and it is the Hornets that look to be falling back to Sacramento.

One more bit of optimism — last night the Spurs played a track meet against a Nashless Suns team (and won), so this is a back-to-back for them and we are certainly the half of it they could be looking past.

I imagine much to KD’s envy, I’m gone for a couple days again, out to watch tennis in the desert. I’ll be back Monday.

Know Thyself

Kurt —  March 9, 2006

It dawned on me that I put up information about other team’s offenses and defenses in previews, but I haven’t done that for the Lakers. So:

Record: 32-30 (27-35 Pythagorean), 8th seed in the West
Record last 10 games: 6-4
Offensive Rating: 109.3 (9th in the NBA)
Defensive Rating: 107.2 (17th in the NBA)

—————————————————-

About last night….. that game reminded me why I don’t really like Byron Scott as a game coach. Speedy Claxton on Kobe in the fourth quarter? With slow doubles coming? If there is one rule in playing the Lakers, it’s make Kobe give up the ball in the fourth quarter and force someone else beat you — he’s still going to get his points but do everything within your power to slow him. Unless you’re the Hornets, apparently.

Not that Odom couldn’t have beaten them if Kobe had been forced to pass. Missed a few easy ones (he was 6 of 14 from the floor) but he was a beast on the boards and had a good game.

While we’re throwing out praise, Luke Walton has now played several of his better games in a row. When the Lakers took charge in the fourth quarter last night the lineup was the starters save for Walton taking Cooks place. Cook’s defense was killing the Lakers last night.

Commenter Kwame a. mentioned it before the game was played, and the Lakers listened — good job using Kobe and Odom in the post to take advantage of mismatches.

Kobe and Mihm were tied for the team high with +7s last night. Smush and Walton were +6.

I love, by the way, the Byron Scott got booed in the introductions by the Hornets fans (he has suggested the team stay in Oklahoma City).

On Tap: The New Orleans Hornets

Kurt —  March 8, 2006

Record: 31-28 (27-32 Pythagorean), 7th seed in the West
Record last 10 games: 5-5 (but have dropped 5 of the last 7)
Offensive Rating: 104.2 (26th in the NBA)
Defensive Rating: 106.1 (14th in the NBA)

Playoff Implications: While they are all big now, this one is huge, and not just for the city of New Orleans. The Lakers are precariously balanced in the eighth playoff spot, with Sacramento and Utah both 1.5 games back. New Orleans is just one game ahead of the Lakers.

Paul vs. Smush: This is the biggest match up of the night. Soon to be anointed Rookie of the Year Chris Paul is the offensive catalyst for the Hornets, starting with his 18.2 points per 40 minutes (second on the team) with a true shooting percentage of 54.8% (remember, the league average is close to 53%). What’s more impressive is he is dishing out 8.9 assists per 40 minutes with just 2.9 turnovers. As a rookie.

You would think he should be hitting the “rookie wall” since he’s never had to play this many games in a season before, but in the last 10 games he has been the team’s best player, by a wide margin.

When the Lakers and Hornets played last month, Paul was 6 of 10 from the field and finished with 19 points and 13 assists. Smush (and Sasha) will need to make sure he is not that efficient tonight if the Lakers are going to win

The rest of the Hornets: Despite Paul, the Hornets are one of the worst offensive teams in the league. David West has been solid at the four and leads the team with 19.5 points per 40 minutes. Speedy Claxton is always dangerous. Last time these two played, Desmond Mason led the Hornets with 21. But these are guys the Lakers can stop if they play focused defense.

This is a game Kobe, Cook and Odom should do well — the Hornets are an average defensive team but they have trouble with athletic people at the three and the four. For the season, threes (where Kobe essentially plays) are shooting 51% (eFG%) against the Hornets. He had 35 points last time, but the Lakers got their ass handed to them.

Lakers notes: Devean George is questionable tonight due to a sprained right wrist. Look for Jim Jackson to get a few of his minutes.

That last game where the Lakers lost big to New Orleans, Lamar Odom did not play.

Key’s to a Laker win: First, withstand the early run. New Orleans should come out fired up for the first game back in the Big Easy (although apparently the players really are fond of Oklahoma City). If New Orleans comes out hot, the Lakers just need to keep it close.

If they play the solid man-defense we’ve seen the last couple of games tonight, they should be able to slow down an unimpressive Hornet attack. The key is out top, and making sure Paul doesn’t get loose then start setting up teammates.

I’m not a big fan of saying a game is “must win” with 20+ games remaining, but this is about as close as it gets. The Hornets have stumbled in the last few games, coach Byron Scott blames it on the first time is young squad has been under playoff pressure, and a loss here would further erode their confidence. Let them try to hold off Sacramento and let’s get into the seventh spot.

Suggested Reading

Kurt —  March 7, 2006

Swamped with work today, so let me point you to some people doing some good writing, and throw in a couple comments.

• If you had offered me a deal beforehand to split the games against Detroit and San Antonio, I would have taken it. So I’m not too frustrated with the loss last night. Yes Utah and Sactown are 1.5 games back, but they could be closer.

• Tomorrow the Lakers take part in the first professional sporting event in New Orleans since the devastation of hurricane Katrina. I think we all hope that the city can bounce back, but it’s fair to question how good a basketball city it was even prior to recent events. Henry at True Hoop takes a look at this.

• With all the talk about the future Olympic team, Hoopsanaylist does a great breakdown of past squads, including the percentage of a team’s shots taken by a player.

• It pains you a little more when your idols let you down. Like when John Hollinger said in his chat yesterday

I still don’t have those guys on my MVP ballot — I don’t think Pierce and Bosh have quite been good enough, and it’s hard to vote for Kobe after he forced out Shaq…

I don’t want to rehash this whole thing again, but it takes two big egos not to dance. If it had been Shaq with the free agency hammer, he would have forced Kobe out of town. I suggest Hollinger read Roland Lazenby’s “The Show” to get the insider perspective of what Tex Winter thought:

“Phil was dealing with two mighty big egos. But in my mind I blamed Shaq more than Kobe. Kobe tried to sacrifice. Kobe tried to please Shaq, because Kobe realized the team’s effectiveness began with Shaq. But if you look at Shaq’s quotes in the paper, it was always me, me, me. Give me the ball. It’s my team, my city. Shaq is a wonderful person in a lot of ways. He’s very compassionate, very generous. He has a great sense of humor. But he’s moody; he’s unpredictable. And he’s very self-centered.”

On Tap: The San Antonio Spurs

Kurt —  March 6, 2006

Record: 46-12 (44-14 Pythagorean), top seed in the West
Record last 10 games: 8-2
Offensive Rating: 108.6 (11th in the NBA)
Defensive Rating: 99.2 (best in the NBA)

Jim Jackson a Laker: The Lakers bought out Slava Medvedenko’s contract and have signed Jim Jackson, who was cut loose by the Suns recently. I like the pickup — I have no idea how much he can bring to the backcourt, but it can’t be less than the injured Slava.

Jackson is the kind of tall guard (6-6) that Phil likes and he can do a few things that the Lakers need — or at least he could before this season started. He can shoot the three, where he has hit 41.4% last season and has hit over 40% four of the last five seasons. He’s been a fairly effective overall shooter during that time, hitting 53.1% (eFG%) last season. He was an average defender (which would be a boost for the Laker backcourt most nights).

But this season he’s been off, shooting just 34.9%, averaging the same number of turnovers and assists per 40 minutes. This is Jackson’s 14th season, has time passed him by? Was it just not fitting in with Phoenix and its style? We’ve got some games to find out.

Can lightening strike twice: One top seed down, one to go. With some good teams ahead on the schedule (not just tonight) we’ll need to see more games like that.

The key was defensive effort and good play from the supporting cast (as always, Kobe was an MVP-like amazing). Kwame Brown had his best game as a Laker, with a Ben Wallace like game of 12 boards and good defense, which is why he led the team with a +20 for the night. Odom stepped up and had 10 assists with no turnovers. Cook, Walton, D. George were all good.

The Lakers and the playoffs: Heading into tonight, the Lakers are 2.5 games up on both Utah and Sacramento. The Lakers are one game back of New Orleans and the seventh seed.

Kobe vs. Bruce Bowen: Should be the most entertaining match up of the night. In case you missed it, the 6-7 Bowen (listed, but that might be generous) did an amazing job on the 7-foot Dirk Nowitzki the other night, forcing him into 6 of 15 shooting in the Spurs win. Nobody stops Kobe, but Bruce can crimp his efficiency, so other guys are going to have to stop up.

About the Spurs: It’s all about the defense. Like Detroit, the Spurs are pretty traditional on defense — Bowen will be asked to slow Kobe and the goal will be to make sure no other Laker gets hot.

The Spurs also have the best defense in the league by a huge 3 points per 100 possessions and they are the only team holding opponents to less than a point per possession. At the heart of that is that teams only shoot 44.6% (eFG%) against them, the lowest percentage in the league. Bowen can lock down good outside shooters and they don’t give up a lot of second chances — Duncan has pulled down 19.1% of the available rebounds when he’s been on the floor this season. The Spurs don’t create a lot of turnovers, but they don’t need to.

To a degree it always was about the D with the Spurs, but that has been more important this season with Tim Duncan slowed with plantar fascia (what slowed Kobe at points last season). Duncan hasn’t been the same on offense. Not only is his shooting percentage of 48.1% the lowest in his career (and it’s just 42% the last 10 games), but 58% of his attempts are jump shots (again a career high), meaning he’s not getting close to the basked like he has in the past.

Tony Parker has taken up most of the slack on offense, shooting 55.4% (eFG%) on the season and leading the team with 6.7 assists and 22.2 points per 40 minutes. Manu Ginobili has been slowed by injuries as well but continues to be efficient, with a true shooting percentage of 58.2% (he gets to the line a lot). They still have probably the best bench in the league: Nazr Mohammed, Robert Horry, Michael Finley, Rasho Nesterovic and Brent Barry.

Key’s to a Laker win: If the Lakers are going to knock off another top seed they are going to need a few things: A good defensive effort from Smush and Sasha on Parker, who has to be slowed; big games inside from Mihm, Kwame and others as you have to balance the strength and depth inside of the Spurs; someone else besides Kobe to step up on offense — specifically Lamar Odom, who can create match up problems for the Spurs.

Obviously, it can happen. But it’s going to need another big night on both ends.