Archives For March 2006

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 82games.com.

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:
NBAdraft.net 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 82games.com. 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 82games.com, 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.