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.

Sleeping Well

Kurt —  April 25, 2006

There are a lot of things keeping me up at night right now – from my new daughter’s crying to thoughts of the cost of college when she is old enough to go – but the Laker loss in game one of the first-round playoff series against the Suns isn’t one of them.

Here’s the key thing I came away with Sunday: The Lakers can play a few notches better than that, but I’m not sure the Suns can.

So, befitting my optimistic mood (maybe it’s the rush of a new child, maybe it’s the rush of all the caffeine coursing through my veins to keep me going), here are a list of reasons Laker fans should feel optimistic going into Wednesday night.

• The most obvious one, Kobe is going to play better. Despite what Bill Plaschke thinks, Kobe did the right thing in the game sticking with the game plan and pounding the ball inside, and in the later stages all the pounding got Kobe some isolation coverage and good looks. He just didn’t hit them. And he didn’t take too few shots, he took 21 for God’s sake, they just weren’t falling. Phil Jackson’s game plan of exploiting the inside weakness of the Suns is the right one for several reasons (a weakness of theirs defensively, it slows their break) and Kobe can get his shots within that. And they will fall.

• The Lakers showed they can slow the Suns – all that pounding the ball inside did its job, the Suns had 91 possessions against the Lakers, 7 fewer than they averaged on the season. That’s a lot and helped take them out of their game. Look for the Suns to press harder, meaning getting the ball inside and hitting shots down there will be a bigger key Wednesday.

• The Lakers can play defense against the Suns. I will give Phoenix this, I said before the series the key was to get the Suns to shoot from the midrange, but I charted as much of the game as ESPN’s midnight replay, shortened version to fit their time slot would let me and the Suns never left what they wanted to do – get lay-ups or shoot threes. What the Lakers did well in the second and third quarters was play better perimeter defense, they didn’t give up the three or if they did it was contested. The Suns went 0-6 from beyond the arc in the second and third quarters, but they were 9 of 15 the rest of the game. The Lakers know what they need to do.

• Tim Thomas isn’t that good. Or, to phrase it better, Tim Thomas isn’t that good consistently. Kwame needs to play better defense on him and keep him off the boards, but Thomas is no longer the guy who can put up numbers like that night in and night out (and he never really did it that consistently anyway, just ask a Bulls fan). I would bet the farm he is not a game high +12 again.

• Lamar Odom can play that consistently. The Suns are going to have to adjust to him in the post, which should be one of the more interesting things to see Wednesday night. The thing is, double him in the post and he can pass out of it so well. Which leads to….

• The Lakers can shoot the three-ball better. They were just 5 of 21 as a team, with Smush 1 of 5 and Kobe 1 of 6. Those percentages will improve.

• Luke walton was team-best +6 and can do that again, and Devean George can play better (he was -7). I still think he’ll be a big factor in this series.

• The Lakers can make better passes into the post. The Suns fronted the post players and were aggressive, and the Lakers seemed confused by this. They made several weak passes over the top that were picked off. You know how to correct this came up in practice, because it was part of the problem with….

• They can’t blow that many lay ups and chances inside again. Can they?

• Kwame has played better than that. The last few weeks leading into the post season, Kwame seemed to have slowed down a little and let the game come to him some. But, whether it was playoff nerves or the swarming Suns defense, he was back to rushing again Sunday. We now he can slow it down, we’ve seen it.

• My wife and daughter are out of the hospital. This is not just a cause of optimism for me – as I had said before, our last daughter was born during the 2004 NBA Finals where the Lakers fell to the Pistons. While we’re watching games at the Torrance Memorial Medical Center, the Lakers are 0-3. This one I’ll watch from the favorite spot on the couch, wearing our lucky hat.

101-97, 22 seconds left, Bryant should be exchanging an Easter egg on his dome for a trip to the charity stripe, but…

As the title of the post suggests, the pivotal moments in the game occurred in the opening stanza with Nash getting the bulk of his points there. Because of the slow start, the mental toughness of this Suns team wasn’t truly tested Sunday. An early lead may (and no 15-14 doesn’t count) put just enough doubt into this Phoenix squad to get the Lakers a more favorable outcome.

The Lakers must also capitalize on the Suns getting into foul trouble, consequently staying out of foul trouble themselves. The Lakers went on their run (19-9) in the third when Bell picked up his third and fourth fouls.

Both coaches kept rotations tight which is typical of playoff basketball. Nash, however, logged only 38 minutes (compared to Kobe’s 47). This could become significant if this series becomes a war of attrition.

Look for Kobe to shoot only slightly more in the next game for the purpose of keeping himself in a scoring rhythm. This should allow the game to stay closer and allow Kobe to get the late baskets the Lakers needed. Other than that, this game plan seems to be one that will work. It is now a matter of execution.

You never forget your first time: Parker in his playoff debut was a decent -3, but his shot was not falling. Smush must continue to go at Nash offensively.

From Kelly Dwyer:

“I’ll predict that it will take Thomas another two weeks to harvest 15 more rebounds. The one advantage L.A. has is that they have a system (five parts moving in sync) to fall back on, whereas the Suns have more of a philosophy or ideal (with Nash as its principal avatar) to lead them. When things get rough, the Lakers can still boast perfect spacing, make a few passes and get an open look. But if Nash has an off day for Phoenix? Look out.”

Let the melting down begin: Artest suspended for one game for an elbow to the head of Manu Ginobli. Udonis Haslem also suspended for throwing his mouthpiece.

To look for on Wednesday: 21 three’s (look for that to get closer to the season avg of 13), 32 free throws for the Suns (look for this number to drop as the Lakers play a more disciplined defensive game early on).

Kurt will, baby duties permitting, drop some of his keen insight for us either later today or tomorrow. His immediate reaction, “I’m not a big fan of moral victories, but that has to boost some confidence.”

-Gatinho

We’ll see who blinks first

Gatinho —  April 23, 2006

“Something has gotten into him”: Phil has anointed Kwame as the Golden Child in this series. A “featured player”, if you will. This could have a couple of corollary effects. One making Kwame aware that Phil values him. The master manipulator has by this time learned to nurture Kwame’s fragile self perception. Phil wants confident Kwame to show up today, not timid Kwame. Also, in true Spin master style, he could be sending a message to employee number 8. Harness his fierce competitiveness and will to win, so that it doesn’t consume the team concept. Kobe will be looking to make some folks eat crow in these playoffs, especially against the guy that might be going home with his MVP trophy.

Not bird nor plane nor even frog, just plain old me, Underdog: So who is it? Every prediction from Suns in 4 to Lakers in 6 has been written. My underdogs are Phoenix’s playing style, Smush’s shot, Raja Bell’s perimeter D, and anyone off the Laker bench.

No. 7 beating No. 2 in NBA history:
A Ewing-less New York def. Miami, 3-2, 1998 Eastern Conference first round

Rookie Tim Hardaway and Dinka tribesman Manute Bol-led Golden State def. Utah, 3-0, 1989 Western Conference first round

The Run-TMC Golden State Warriors def. San Antonio, 3-1,1991 Western Conference first round

Dallas won the first game 151-129. Seattle def. Dallas, 3-1, 1987 Western Conference first round

Michael Cooper, a champion again: The D league champion that is.
Former Laker Draft pick Marcus Douthit: 11 points, 15 rebounds.
Ex-Laker Tierre Brown: 21 points, 10 assists.
Current Laker Von Wafer: 7 minutes, 5 shots,4 points.

Bulletin Board Material:

Steve Nash on being guarded by Kobe: “That’s great. It would be a great challenge. He can do as good a job as anybody, but I’ve seemed to survive so far.”

Phil Jackson: “I think we have the experience in the key spots to do it. I think that Phoenix is a team that’s perhaps not as strong as they were last year and I think once we adjust to what they provide or present to us as an opponent every night, we can start gathering them in. But that’s yet to be seen. That’s just our belief.”

A potty-mouthed Hubie Brown: “Last year was miraculous. This year is a testimony to the style. Our society is negative, so we don’t want to give credence to that. The fact that you’ve done this without Thomas and Stoudemire was questionable to begin with. What the (expletive) is anybody complaining about? Are they crazy?”

Smush Parker: “There’s definitely going to be an upset. The Lakers will beat Phoenix. We just feel confident going up against Phoenix. We know what we’ve got to do. We’ve got Chris Mihm back. Kwame’s playing the best basketball he has all season. We just feel good going into this series. We just have confidence in ourselves.”

Tri-tricks: If you haven’t listened to Kurt on the Basketball Jones Western Conference preview, check it out. (Link Below) Kurt makes some great points about how the Lakers can have some success. (Smush must have a “tremendous series” and the inside out game is a must to keep the “classic ’80’s” Suns team from leaking out) He also touches on something we all have pondered. What are the wrinkles that Phil will employ to keep the Suns off balance?

Add the LA Daily News to the list of beat writers turned bloggers.

The upcoming draft: Lakers will have the 26th and 51st picks.

-Gatinho