Archives For April 2006

On Tap: The Portland Trailblazers

Kurt —  April 14, 2006

First Round: Who do you want? I posed that question in a poll recently and 75% of you said Dallas, and I was with you because the Lakers match up best against Dallas (basically, the Mavs can’t slow Kobe). However, with Phoenix stumbling of late and not playing good defense, I’m having some second thoughts. (And yes, I know Phoenix crushed Dallas last night, Gatinho and I caught a little of it between beers, but that was the second game of a back-to-back for Dallas). I’d probably still lean Dallas, but Phoenix doesn’t look quite as daunting.

The “race” between the Lakers and Kings for the “privilege” of playing San Antonio/Dallas and or Phoenix in the first round stands like this: Currently the Lakers are one game up on the Kings with three to play (thanks to that Kings’ collapse against Phoenix a few nights back). If the two teams finish tied, the Kings have the tiebreaker. The Lakers have three games left — two very winnable ones (Portland tonight and New Orleans) and one against the Suns. If the Lakers go 2-1 than the Kings need to go 3-0. The game they are most likely to lose is Saturday at Denver, so watch that score with interest.

Win and your in: A Laker win tonight makes a playoff spot official. Don’t take that for granted though, the Lakers have already dropped two of three to the Blazers.

It has been the backcourt duo of Steve Blake and Juan Dixon that has given the Lakers fits, although Dixon did not suit up against the Clippers two nights ago and may not play today. Expect to see a little more Jarrett Jack. Last time the Lakers and Blazers played, Blake had 19 points — and the Lakers need to stay with him beyond the arc, he’s shooting 44.4% from three point range in the last 10 games.

Let’s say something nice about the Blazers: This is not as easy as it sounds — they have a $60 million payroll that bought them the worst record in the league; Darius Miles was suspended for tonight’s game after he took off his uniform and changed into street clothes at halftime against the Clippers two nights ago; their owner screwed himself in a stadium deal then went public to complain about it, and is now trying to sell the team; they haven’t been good for a few years and it may be a few more before they are.

But they do have the best group of bloggers out there. Henry at True Hoop is a Blazers fan. Lance Uppercut of Blazers Edge is one of the best writers in the NBA blogsphere. Rip City 24/7 does good work. So at least there are plenty of places for Blazer fan to commiserate.

Key to a Laker win:
Defense. Portland is dead last in the league in offense in just about any measure you choose — efficiency (98 points per 100 possessions, 7 points back of the Lakers), points scored, free throw shooting percentage. The good news is they are second to last in team true shooting percentage (51%), Charlotte is worse. In the last 10 games Zach Randolph is leading the team in scoring, 14.1 per game, but is shooting just 36.3%.

The Lakers should, should, be able to shut down the Blazers. They also should, should, be able to score plenty. Portland is second to last in the league in defensive efficency (109.5 points per 100 opponent possessions), ahead of only historically bad Seattle. Plus, Patterson is gone, but he didn’t really stop Kobe anyway.

Also Odom is a huge match up problem for the Blazers. But maybe we should ask commenter Kwame a., since he called Odom’s triple double the other night.

Suggested Reading

Kurt —  April 13, 2006

Consider this my attempt at being AOL — so much great hoops stuff on the Web, let me choose what you should read. Starting with something from FB&G’s comments (I can’t really say often enough just how smart and witty the commenters here are, it makes this site 10 times better):

WorthyTomahawk posted this prior to the Golden State win, but facts and analysis remain pertinent:

The Lakers defense seems to be really clicking that last 10 games. My periodic crunching of doug’s stats shows…

– FTAs given up down to 18.5, best in league (league avg 26.5)
– Turnover differential -1.5
– Steal differential +1.5
– TS% differential 3.5%

Only thing down for Lakers is the OR% differential, but that probably goes hand in hand with improved shooting.

If the Lakers could stay this defensively consistent going into next year then I would call this season a big success. We can always add offense with a trade or MLE, but defense is a team effort.

• If you want take a quick spin around the NBA, the latest Carnival of the NBA blogs is up, and J.E. Skeets at The Basketball Jones not only did it well but also had to do it twice.

• Kelly Dwyer is one of the few national basketball columnists I’m sure to read everything from — including his grades for all the NBA announcing teams. I think those of you with the League Pass will really appreciate this.

By the way, he gives the Joel Meyers/Stu Lantz combo an “A-“ and that sounds about right. They are good together, not Chick, but good. However, to my untrained ear I still don’t see (or hear) how they are better than the Sunderland/Lantz combo, or why Sundy was canned.

• You should be reading True Hoop everyday anyway, but in case you missed yesterday, check it out as Henry actually suits up with an And1 style streetball team, bringing his Bobby Jones-like game with him, and comes away with a great experince and stories.

As we enter the gym, a man who later proved to be a hilarious PA announcer calls out to the group:
“Clay Johnson? Which one of you is Clay Johnson?”
“Hey, how are you doing,” says Clay, mild-mannered and approachable as ever.
“I am a HUGE L.A. Lakers fan. Like the biggest ever, from way back, and… I don’t remember you. Did you really play for the Lakers?”
Clay extends his hand, showing his championship ring. “How about that?”
“Yeah, but you could have bought that on Ebay.”
“Not with my name engraved on it…”

• Speaking of things we saw on True Hoop: Steve Nash isn’t concerned about how many points Kobe scores against the Suns. And he’s right, as long as the Suns win why would he?

The D-League Is Coming To Town

Kurt —  April 12, 2006

They do it in Long Beach all the time, but it never really works — minor league sports trying to thrive under the radar of Los Angeles and its established major league teams. They all try to sell the advantages — it’s less expensive and the setting more intimate — but minor league sports (from several baseball teams to the still around but losing money Long Beach Ice Dogs) have traditionally withered in the shadow of the big regional professional teams. Why see the little guys when the big guys are just up the road?

Despite the fact everyone seems to lose money, they keep coming back because they see potential. (Baseball, way out in the Inland Empire, has done fairly well, but there are solid reasons for that — it’s a long way from Dodger or Angel Stadium and in an area that has fewer other entertainment options than the city.)

The Lakers think they can change that dynamic — they got approval from the NBA and the D-League to start their own D-League team next season. And it not only might work, it might be a major step in the creation of a real NBA minor league.

The on-the-court reasons make a lot of sense — the Buss family will essentially own a minor league team, as has been done in baseball for decades. Not only would would this team have the players the Lakers have signed that they send down, they can essentially give guys just on the outside a D-League contract, like being on a scout team, and tell them “play well and you come back to camp with a better chance next year.” What’s more, with the current Lakers running the triangle, they could set up a minor league team to do the same, allowing players like Wafer to still grow in the offense while getting playing time.

The bigger question is will it make money? One of the struggles for the funky-little ABA when it had three-teams in the area (one in Los Angeles, one in Long Beach and one in the OC) was having the star power to draw fans. Why do you think they kept giving Dennis Rodman three-game contracts? Not his play, he was barely an ABA starter anymore. But he put butts in the seats. Same is true of the Summer Pro League in Long Beach — when they have someone like Andrew Bynum, who fans wanted to see, the Pyramid is packed. But other years it has been scouts, family, other players and some crickets in Long Beach.

If this Laker D-League team had Von Wafer and, hypothetically, a Devin Green and/or some young daft pick, it would draw some people. Next season (starting in November), the team will likely play its 25 home games at Staples, maybe some prior to Laker games. But the plan is to move them the year after, maybe to another Southern California market, with the LA Times floating an Inland Empire possibility.

Of course, there is the possibility the Lakers don’t care if it makes money. First, it would boost the overall value of the franchise, possibly offsetting any losses. Also, if it breaks even or looses a little money, but is a boost to the basketball side of the franchise, it may be worth it.

The Laker team won’t be alone, another D-League team will be in Anaheim next year. No name, team coach or affiliation has been announced, but it will play in the Anaheim Convention Center (which hosts the Big West basketball tournament and other events).

While other minor leagues have not gotten enough sunlight to survive in LA due to the big shadows cast by the NBA (or NHL, or MBL), this could be different because the Lakers own it. Maybe with your Laker season seats you get 10 (or 25) D-League tickets. They can cross-promote at Laker games and on Laker broadcasts. They are the ones casting the shadow, so they can let a little sunshine through.

On Tap: The Golden State Warriors

Kurt —  April 11, 2006

Cook or Walton? A few more stats in the “who to start?” debate. Looking at the current starting four (Smush, Kobe, Odom and Kwame) and seeing how they do with Cook or Walton, here’s what 82games.com has found:

With Cook, the Lakers five has beaten the opposing five 50% of the time, but are a +7.8 per 48 minutes. This Laker five shoots an impressive 55.3% and allows opponents to shoot 49.1%.

With Walton (who has played less than half the minutes of Cook with this group), the Laker five has bested their opponents just 30.4% of the time and are a -5.8 per 48 minutes. This Laker five shoots 50.2% but allows opponents to shoot exactly the same percentage.

What do I take from this? Not a ton, small sample sizes at play here, but it makes me think that choosing between Cook and Walton should be tied to match ups more than anything else.

Who’s Left? One reason others and I mistakenly bought into the “Golden State as the poor-man’s Phoenix Suns” theory before the season was the backcourt of Baron Davis and Jason Richardson.

Tonight, neither of those two is expected to play. Davis is out for sure with an ankle injury and Richardson is questionable with a knee problem. Also, rookie Chris Taft will be out.

Injuries are part of the reason Golden State is 2-8 in their last 10 — if Richardson doesn’t play the best guy on the court for Golden State will be Derek Fisher. I have a soft spot for Fish too, but if he’s your best player — and he’s shooting just 48.3% (eFG%) in the last 10 — then you’re in trouble. And Mike Dunleavy can’t bail you out.

Off Topic: Note to Joanne C. Gerstner of The Detroit News and her comments on the scoring title race — for Kobe to win another scoring title he would have had to have won his first. This will be number one.

Key to a Lakers win: This is a game the Lakers should win on defense — the Warriors are 21st in the league in offensive efficiency (101.6 points per 100 possessions, 3.3 points behind the 10th-in-the-league Lakers) and they are without their two best players. Well, I suppose Richardson may play but he won’t be at 100%. Whoever is on the floor, Golden State will try to pick up the pace (4th fastest team in the league) but they can be made inefficient on the break — get back and they’ll settle for a three (they attempt 22.6 a game, second only to the Suns, but Golden State hits just 34.3% of them, well behind the Suns nearly 40%).

This can also be a big game offensively for Odom, Kwame and other guys who should be able to post up — Golden State has struggled to stop fours and fives this season. Get the ball inside to start the triangle tonight — it slows them down and the Lakers can get good looks going inside out.

Fast Break Thoughts

Kurt —  April 10, 2006

A few thoughts from last night’s win against the Clippers, plus some other stuff.

• Chalk that game up to Lamar Odom, who basically played Brand to a standstill — both got 20+ points but Odom had more rebounds and had one of his best defensive games of the season. Nobody stops Brand, but he wasn’t the hyper-efficient player he can be. The Lakers second-quarter 14-1 run that gave them the lead for good basically started when Odom came back in the game. In the end, Odom was +15 and Brand -15.

• Count me in the group that liked the “courtside” experiment on Prime Ticket (or Fox Sports 2 or whatever they want to call it). For those outside So Cal, the game was simulcast on both Fox Sports, but on 2 there was no commentary and all the camera angles were from basically courtside levels. I caught myself flipping back and forth between the two — it’s hard to see all the player movement from the lower angles — but I enjoyed the different looks (plus it was fun and different). One suggestion, next time still run the little score and time box in the corner of courtside.

• Luke Walton starting instead of Cook, this is all about defense. When Walton is playing the Lakers have a defensive rating of 105.7 (opponent points per 100 possessions), when Cook is on the floor it is 108.1. There are times I would play Cook more than Walton — I think for a team that likes to keep its bigs close to the basket Cook and Kobe on the high pick and roll can be devastating, it worked some last night. But while Cook is the better scorer, the offense still runs well with Walton in the game, there is better ball movement, and the defense gets better.

Remember, Walton was talked about seriously as a starter before the season started, but an injury slowed him. I’d stick with this for a while.

• Along those same lines, I like that Phil tends to go with Smush or Sasha, whichever one is playing better on a given night. Last night, that was Sasha, he finished a team-high +26.

• Other props last night to Kwame, who took Kaman right out of his game. The Lakers did a good job of making the Clippers a perimeter team last night — when teams do that to the Lakers Kobe can still slash to the basket, the Clips count on Maggette for that.

• Finally, the Lakers seemed to settle for a few more threes and not get the ball inside enough for my taste last night, but I’ll let it slide and just say the Kaman/Brand combo was part of that.

• Glad to hear Julius Hodge of the Nuggets was not seriously hurt in that motiveless drive-by he got shot in the other night. In fact, Henry at True Hoop had the same reaction I did — how do you get shot three times in the leg and be ready to come back to play in two to three weeks.

I bet Marcus Camby could just look at Julius Hodge’s wounds and be out for a month

• Headline of the day comes from the New York Times about the Angels/Yanks:

‘Yankees Rough Up Angels’ Colon.’

The journalism axiom I was taught was “dirty minds = clean copy.” No way that would have got past me onto the page.