Archives For April 2006

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

Thoughts on the Lakers and Suns

Kurt —  April 21, 2006

(This was going to be a longer, several part preview with some new research, but circumstances change. So here are my notes and thoughts put together over the last few weeks, and we’ll all be watching Sunday).

Traditionally, I’d like to separate out the offense and defensive ends of the floor when looking at a match up, but it doesn’t really work that way with the Suns if you want to slow their offense, you have to start with how you work your offense.

What the Suns do statistically makes a lot of sense: they have the most efficient offense in the NBA, so they want to get a lot of possessions for it because they don’t think your team can keep up. The Suns averaged 109.4 points per 100 possessions this season, by far the best in the NBA, 4 points higher than the number 9 Lakers (105.4). They also averaged the most possessions, 98.1 per game, 4.5 more than the middle of the pack Lakers.

The first key for the Lakers will be limiting the number of possessions the Suns get. They didn’t do that in their three losses to the Suns this year, they got caught up for long stretches at the Suns tempo, they must take their time.

Part of that is getting the ball inside meaning a big role for Kwame Brown. He will be mostly matched up with Diaw, someone Kwame can muscle and get inside on, forcing help and other players from the Suns to collapse, which is what you want because it means they have farther to go on the break, slowing the whole thing down. In the last Laker loss to the Suns, Kwame was bothered by the speed of the Suns and their help defense inside, he can’t be if the Lakers are going to have a chance. He needs to power in for points or recognize the coverage and make a pass out. When that happens, guys need to drain the outside looks.

Two other thoughts about the Laker need to establish an inside game to slow the Suns. First, if Kwame isn’t up to the task expect to see Chris Mihm, who has more offensive weapons. Second, the Lakers should also try to get Odom posted up on Shawn Marion, who traditionally covers him. Odom shot 53.6% (eFG%) against the Suns this season. Marion is shorter by three inches, but is quick. If the Lakers can get him (or other Suns starters) in foul trouble all the better, their bench is not great, especially at the four and five.

Of course, the other big weapon the Lakers have is Kobe, covered by Bell, who can’t really keep up with him. Kobe averaged 42.5 points per game against the Suns this season and shot 50%. He will, of course, need to do that and more in this series. Kobe needs to be Kobe.

One thing about the Suns, like the Lakers of the 1980s, they will still try to run after a Laker make. Like teams used against those Magic-led Lakers, let’s see if the Lakers assign someone to stop the outlet pass to Nash. There are other Suns who can handle the ball and lead the break, but they are not as dangerous as Nash. One thing the Lakers can’t do is give up a fast break basket then race back down court and quickly try to even the score, taking a long jumper with 17 left on the clock. Run the offense.

Make or miss, the Lakers need to get back on defense and force the Suns to run their half-court offense. Not that it’s bad.

The Suns, even in the half court, get a lot of lay-ups off penetration from Nash and either his shot or a pass to someone whose defender rotated. The other side of that sword is they are also the best three-point shooting team in the NBA, hitting 39.9% on the season.

What the Lakers need to do is make them shoot from the mid-range. When the Suns run the high pick-and-roll that is the staple of the offense, the Lakers can’t let Nash step back and take the three (he hit 42.7% this season) but if he drives make him pull up and shoot from 15 he’ll still hit a lot but it will be less than free throws and not as damaging as threes. Same with the other Suns, don’t give them the lay-up, dare them to take the 12 footer.

What does bother Nash is long guards, and Smush (and Sasha) have some of that. They will need to have their best series of games as Lakers for LA to get the win.

Two other Lakers to watch out for in this series:1) Devean George, he is long and athletic and can defend, so expect him to get big minutes, plus he can hit the three; 2) Luke Walton, whose D is better than Cook’s and he can help make the offense patient and smart.

The Suns are the favorites in this series and they earned that right. However, if the Lakers play smart and to their potential, they can win this. They have been hot of late, and if they follow Phil Jackson’s game plan this should be a fun series.

Good for two

Kurt —  April 21, 2006

Thanks for the warm wishes everyone, our newest baby daughter was born at 11:32 Thursday morning and was healthy. Mom and baby are doing well, as am I, or as well as can be expected without much sleep. But I should get used to that. Again.

As was mentioned in the comments, I still did The Basketball Jones podcast previewing the Western Conference playoffs. I’ve downloaded it and will be listening in soon, should be interesting stuff. I think I had some good points, but as tends to be the case came up with my best thoughts and phrasings about an hour later. I’ll blame it on being up 20 straight hours at the time of the interview. Check it out.

I’ll put up a preview post later today, hopefully.