Archives For April 2006

One question

Kurt —  April 30, 2006

Laker fans, when was the last time you were this excited about the team?

For me, 2001, the second title. While they made it to the finals in 2004, in the later years of the Shaq/Kobe era, I started to fear opening the paper to read about the soap opera, I grew weary of the “flip the switch” effort.

This team is an underdog, winning on smart hoops, guile and one great player. They play with passion. The games are thrilling, And hope for the future is back.

Update: Relive the glory right here (God bless You Tube).

Open Thread – game 4

Kurt —  April 30, 2006

Rather than me providing more comments on game three, look for a comment this morning from Gatinho, who was in Staples Center Friday night.

Today may not be a classic must win but it can define this series – win and we can almost start printing “hallway series” tickets.

The last two wins certainly have brought a lot of mainstream media attention to the Lakers. The one theme you keep hearing over and over is along the lines of, “look how Kobe is sharing the ball now and the Lakers are winning, this is how they should have played all year.”

For those just coming to the Laker bandwagon, or just starting to get a good look at this team, know that said line of thinking is not a very accurate reflection of this season. The Lakers challenge of getting teammates involved in the offense was really a chicken-or-the-egg problem – Kobe didn’t fully trust them but they did little to earn that trust.

The rest of the Lakers were still learning the triangle and they weren’t confident, and the team’s execution of the triangle reflected that. Their spacing would be bad, their shots poor ones – or just missed despite a good look and when they got in trouble they’d throw the ball to Kobe with six seconds left on the shot clock and expect him to bail them out. Plus, during the grind of the regular season, they took quarters and nights off defensively.

Kobe, for his part, was willing to take on whatever load his teammates would not. His confidence can and did carry the team at times, but it also could get in the way of growth some nights. Ultimately, Kobe wanted to win more than anything, and for much of the season the best way to do that was for him to take over games and hope one other player would add some support. The perfect example of this is the 81-point game against Toronto – the Lakers were down 16 when Kobe took over that game. They ended up winning.

They needed to win those games, to get to the playoffs, but as the season progressed we saw more and more signs that the team was starting to get the offense, they became more confident. By the last dozen games of the season, the team had started to really hit its stride.

And that’s what we’re seeing against Phoenix, the more mature, confident Lakers that bring their defensive focus every night and are using the triangle offense to exploit the opponent’s weakness. Kobe is playing within that system. But to say they are doing because he is now sharing the ball is the overly simplistic and basically wrong answer.

As for game four, I’m curious to see what the Suns will try – they’ve tried to run, and the Lakers made the mistake of occasionally running with them in game three, but it was not enough. They’ve tried doubling in the post and on Kobe, but he’s passing out and the other Lakers are now hitting their shots. With the current Suns roster, I’m not sure what other bullets are left in D’Antoni’s gun.

Again, I’d say the two keys for a Laker win are not to run with the Suns – 94 remains the under/over for possessions in my mind. (So far, all three games have been under but the last one was 92 and the Lakers let the tempo pick up at times, something they can’t allow.) Also, they must continue to defend the three-ball, making sure those shots for the Suns are not clean looks.

The comments will be flowing; I’ll be in as much as I can (although I’ll be getting back to the house right about tip off). It is a Sunday, so fewer people may be online, but this has been fun and today could be one of the best Laker experiences in a while.

Open Thread – game 3

Kurt —  April 28, 2006

The playoffs are about adjustments. In the regular season, the daily grind and travel makes altering your basic strategy from night-to-night difficult, the changes you do make tend to be minor tweaks. That gives a team like Phoenix, with it’s very different style than everyone else, and advantage. Then, add to it that three of the four games the Lakers had against the Suns this season were back-to-backs and basically they went in and hoped the triangle would top the run-and-gun.

But in the playoffs, there is time to focus, time to make changes. Phil Jackson has won that battle so far, slowing the pace and taking the Suns out of their game. The ball is now in Mike D’Antoni’s court, and here are a few guesses as to what we might see tonight.

• To quote Christopher Cross (for the first and only time ever on this blog) — run like the wind. D’Antoni focuses on this in his comments in the LA Times. They have to up the tempo, even if that means taking a less-than-ideal shot on their own end just to get one off quickly. Ideally, better defense from the Suns would create turnovers and misses that can lead to breaks.

• Faster doubles on Odom in the post. He has had the upper hand against Marion, so look for fast help. The goal is not only to limit scoring but also to make Kwame — who has played well but is prone to turnovers — the primary option on the block.

• Stop looking for the kickout three and go to the rim hard. The Lakers have defended the perimeter well (for the most part) so look for the Suns to do what they can inside.

Off topic for just a second: I watched the local broadcast, not the TNT one, of game 2, but great bit from Suns fan at The End of the Bench blog from that broadcast:

Doug Collins: “This MVP has got heart. I’d go into a foxhole with him any day.” Anyone want to bet that if Doug Collins stepped into Steve Nash’s foxhole, Nash would say, “What the hell are you doing in my foxhole?”

Let the commenting-in-game begin. Being a Friday and all I figure more of you than usual will be watching this game at a bar, but we’ll keep the comment couch open anyway (bedside’s we’re 1-0 with this thread, you think I’m going to jinx it?).

It’s a best-of-five

Kurt —  April 27, 2006

If before the first two games in this series you had offered me, or just about any other Laker fan, a split on the road we would have taken it. What’s more, after the win last night, the template is there.

It’s all about tempo, about imposing your style on the other team. Before last night I suggested if the Lakers could keep the Suns under 94 possessions they would win the game, and it ended at 90. It was 88 in game one and required a huge night from Tim Thomas and an off night for Kobe for the Suns to eek out the win.

Keep playing at this speed and the Lakers win the series — so expect the Suns to play more like they did right out of halftime in game two, pushing and taking quick shots just to pick up the pace. It’s almost like the old Paul Westhead Loyola Marymount teams, the Suns would be willing to give up a basket or two, or take an ill-advised shot or two, just to get the tempo up. The Lakers can’t get sucked into that trap.

Some other thoughts from last night and the series:

• You probably read or heard it this morning — see what happened when Kobe was aggressive and shot more. Really? In the game one loss Kobe took 21 shots and got to the line for 8 free throws, so figure that was 25 attempts. In game two, it was 24 shots and 6 free throws, so figure 27 attempts. Just two more shots. The difference was in game one his true shooting percentage (basically points per shot attempt) was 44.9%, in game two it was 54.4% (still below his 55.9% season average). Things look better when your shots fall, Kobe just had an off night.

• By the way, Deadspin has a pretty interesting theory on Kobe’s switch to number 24.

• Play of the game: I’d have to go with Odom diving to the floor for the loose ball then having the presence of mind to make the pass to Kobe for the MONSTER dunk. It sealed the game. I think Jon pointed to that play last night (and I never want to disagree with him, he went to Stanford and all so he’s far smarter than us state school guys).

And if you want to relive the moment of Kobe dunking over Nash, here you go. (Trust me, follow this link.)

• The Laker defense has been good, especially in rotations, which have been a weak spot at times this year. For the two games, Nash is shooting 58.6% (eFG%), but the rest of the Suns just 47.9%. Those other players count on the easy looks from the fast break and penetration of Nash, and they just aren’t getting them.

• The Laker bench is another strength in this series, and it showed in game two. Devean George finished a team high +13 and Cook gave us key minutes and was +12.

• In the comments, Worthytomahawk suggested we need to see more of Chris Mihm because he is better offensively and could really punish Thomas and Marion inside. I’d agree, save for the ankle injury, which kept Mihm from even suiting up last night. With the way Kwame was playing — going to the hole hard for early dunks — Mihm would have to be at 100% to be any improvement.

• A few +/- numbers through two games: Luke Walton, +12, Smush Parker +2 (while covering Steve Nash), while the rest of the Laker starters are still in the negative (their game two numbers were not stellar because of the number of bench players on the floor during key runs, like at the start of the second quarter). For the Suns, Nash is +6, Marion +2 and T. Thomas +4 (but a +12 and a -8). Raja Bell leads the Suns as a +12 through two.

• A note to Joel Meyers (not that he reads this, but I had to get this off my chest): You and Stu Lantz have been saying lately during broadcasts that when look at players like Luke Walton stats can’t tell the whole story. I think you’re using the wrong stats. Use more modern ones and his value is very apparent.

• Just so we all remember that this was just one win and we’ve got a ways to go before “The Hallway Series” — seven seeds have lost in the first round almost as frequently as the eight seeds. Only the 1986-87 Sonics (who reached the Conference Finals), 1988-89 Warriors, 1990-91 Warriors, and 1997-98 Knicks defeated #2 seeds in the first round. Got that from the very good lowpost.

Open Thread — Game 2

Kurt —  April 26, 2006

Trying something new to this blog, although I bet most of you are familiar with the concept. During tonight’s game, I (and hopefully some of you) will be watching and logging in with comments. (For the record, I had wanted to do some liveblogging during the playoffs, but the changes in my home make that basically impossible. I think this should work well.)

Here’s a few quick thoughts to get us started, and be sure to come back at 7:30 (or whenever TNT allows the game to start, we may have to wait half and hour while Barkley blathers):

• Apparently Steve Nash is the MVP. Kobe comes out motivated every game anyway, but did the Suns really want to see fuel added to that fire?

• No prediction for tonight’s game save this — the key number is 94. That’s my guess for the over/under on possessions in the game (for the record, the Suns averaged 98.4 for the season but had just 88 in game one). If it stays under 94, the Lakers win, over 94 and it’s the Suns. They will push the tempo, the Lakers must be diciplined and still post up everyone — Kwame, Lamar, Walton, Kobe and even Smush if Nash is on him. Getting the ball inside slows down the Suns.