Archives For April 2006

On Tap: The Los Angeles Clippers

Kurt —  April 9, 2006

Los Angeles Is Burning: Short preview for this game because: 1) I spent yesterday at the Long Beach Grand Prix, watching races and drinking Tecate, topped off by a Bad Religion concert (and really, one of the better ones I’ve seen, despite the fact it was still light out), so let’s just say this morning, I’m not at my sharpest mentally; 2) Still no home computer after last week’s literal meltdown, something being remedied this week.

About the Clippers: I didn’t catch their loss to Sacramento the other night, but I did catch what had to be one of their best games of the year, the win against Phoenix last week. The Clips create match up issues for the Mihm-less Lakers because you need to defend both Kaman and Brand on the low block – Brown can do a pretty good job on one of them, likely Kaman, but that leaves Odom, Cook and maybe Turiaf to defend the other strong guy on the block. The Clips would love the Lakers to double Brand off the point, because Cassell can still kill you from the outside if he gets a good look. Same goes with Radmanovic.

The one break for the Lakers is Maggette is not expected to play. Look for plenty of Ross on Kobe – he did a great job defensively against the Suns. The Clippers can be given trouble by penetrating point guards, which means some more offensive load may fall to Smush. Also, good interior passing and quick ball movement around the perimeter can get you looks against the Clips.

Laker’s thought: Phil Jackson said in the LA Times this morning he’s rather face Phoenix instead of San Antonio in the first round because the flight is shorter. I can think of a few other reasons too. But with the Lakers tied with the Kings, the way you get the seven seed is win games like this one.

On Tap: Phoenix Suns

Kurt —  April 7, 2006

Playoff Preview: If the playoffs started today, this would be your first-round match up. Turns out the playoffs don’t start for a few weeks. Right now, the Lakers are the seven seed, one game up on Sactown in eighth. The Lakers drop a few more like last night and Sacramento keeps beating the likes of San Antonio, the order could change.

But, for fun, let’s say it will be the Lakers and Suns in Round 1. I still don’t think tonight’s going to be the best playoff preview, with the Lakers in the second game of a back-to-back after an emotional loss.

Beating The Suns: Phoenix is not on the top of their game right now, they are just 4-6 in their last 10. And the Clippers the other night showed how a team can expose the holes in the Suns — the question is if the Lakers have the personnel to do it.

Kevin at Clipperblog put it very well — the Suns’ “offense” is really about having athletic guys who create match up problems because they are so quick (especially off the dribble). Combine that with a savvy point guard and you can jut let them improvise and run a bunch of pick and rolls and space the floor. But the Clippers and other teams have shown you can knock the Suns off rhythm.

First, the Clippers went tall and long. With Sam Cassell out, Shaun Livingston was at the point and his length disturbed both Nash and Raja Bell. Quinton Ross did the same thing as Livingston’s backcourt mate. Now, Smush is long, as is Kobe, but can they have that same impact? That long-on-defense thing also extended to the frontcourt — Odom, Kwame, Cook and George are going to have to deal with Boris Diaw and Marion. What the Clippers did well was limit dribble penetration — something basically every Sun player can do — and force them to beat them from the outside, with good rotations so those looks weren’t all clean (Nash is shooting 47.2% from beyond the arc in the last 10 games, so going under picks is unwise).

Second, on offense the Clippers pounded the ball inside, using Brand primarily but also Kamen and others. It forced the Suns to collapse their defense, slowing their break. More importantly, when the Suns defense did collapse, Clipper perimeter guys hit their threes.

It can be done. The question is can the Lakers do it? We’ll get into this a lot more as the playoffs near. (Of course, all that may end up having to be about how to beat the Spurs, a harder task if you ask me.)

In appreciation: Sometimes on this blog I’ve tended to focus on the play of the role players, the defense, and the other things needed to make this team good, and almost taken for granted what Kobe does.

We can’t. He’s been amazing, bringing energy and passion every night, while taking on a crazy amount of the offense (he has a usage rate of 35.5% this season, by far the highest in the league). Last night was a perfect example — people will look and say “he was just 13 of 32” and miss the 14 free throws he took or the 8 rebounds he grabbed, second highest on the team. Last night Kobe’s true shooting percentage was 55%, a great number considering the amount of offense he takes on (and has to some nights as the team just defers to him).

I don’t think he’ll win the MVP (honestly, there is no standout candidate, you can make a good case for Dirk, Wade, Nash, LeBron), but that shouldn’t take away from what may have been his best season ever.

On the other end of the spectrum: No matter how good a game he is having, there ends up being about two or three times a game I end up just yelling “damn it Kwame.”

About that loss last night: That hurt, but today I’m trying to look on the bright side of how they fought back. It would have been nice not to have had to come from way back, but that they did (using the big lineup) is a good sign.

That said, I will ask this question: On the final play in regulation, the 0.6 second shot, Kobe got a pretty good look. But Odom was wide open, alone in the corner. What would you rather have, that Kobe shot or Odom open? Walton never gave Odom (who ws waving his arms around) a glance. Should he? I think the Lakers need to get someone besides Kobe to take some of those last-second shots, and better an open Odom than Walton on a running three.

That said, Walton and Devean George gave the Lakers good minutes last night (Walton was a team high +11).

On Tap: The Denver Nuggets

Kurt —  April 6, 2006

Record: 41-34, 3rd seed in the West (but should be the sixth)
Record last 10 games: 5-5
Offensive Rating: 103.3 (15th in the NBA)
Defensive Rating: 102.1 (12th in the NBA)

Getting the split: Two games against two playoff teams in two nights. The Laker playoff position is safe, but as tonight and tomorrow (in Phoenix) are the last two road games of the season a split would be nice. And, I think a win in Denver is the easier of the two.

Expect To Run: The Nuggets play at the second fastest pace in the league, a smart strategy for a team that plays at altitude. Sure, this version of the Nuggets crawls compared to the Doug Moe squads in the 80s (this year’s Nuggets still average 11 less possessions per game than the 85 squad), but only Phoenix is faster in today’s NBA. It helps that they are deep at point guard, although Boykins is out with a broken hand right now.

Lakers versus Nuggets: The Lakers are 2-0 against Denver this year, but those two games were the first and third of the season. Not sure we can read much into those contests.

Since then the Nuggets have made trades that brought them Ruben Patterson and Reggie Evans, both of whom filled holes in the Nuggets roster. Patterson not only can play defense — although last time Kobe went against him he was 11 of 19 from the floor — but also is shooting 54.6% in the last 10 games. Patterson, along with a relatively healthy Marcus Camby, make Denver a much better defensive team.

He’s No LeBron: But Carmelo Anthony has come into his own this year. He’s got a true shooting percentage of 56.4% and a PER of 22.01, both very good numbers. He’s also started to gain the reputation as a clutch shooter (he is shooting 41.7% in the last five minutes of close games, but he gets fouled on nearly 25% of his shots and hits 81% of his clutch free throws).

Slowing him, a big man who likes to go outside but is strong as well, is a challenge. One word of advice to whatever Laker ends up on him: When Melo gets the ball in the corner he wants to take it baseline, push him the other way.

Stopping Melo plus finding someone to keep Kenyon Martin in check will be hard with Mihm and Bynum out with injuries. Kwame, Cook, Turiaf and the rest are going to have to have a good defensive game to get the win.

Inside/Outside: While Anthony has been playing better, of late Andre Miller also has given the Nuggets good play. His shooting hasn’t been great, just 47.7% (eFG%), still good enough to score 15.2 per game, but he’s also been dishing out 8.5 assists per game. Smush needs to not let Miller penetrate in the half-court and pressure him full court after a Laker miss to slow the break.

If the Lakers fall behind early:
Don’t worry, the Nuggets blew a 22-point lead, 20 at halftime, to the Clippers the other night. How do you score 77 points in the first half and lose?

Early Draft Thoughts

Kurt —  April 5, 2006

With a few days off for the team, and the NCAA tournament just concluded, I felt like looking ahead to the draft and what kind of players might be around for the Lakers to get.

My first thoughts: It’s not great. This is considered a weak draft, and after looking at what might be around when the Lakers draft 26th (the Miami pick), what I see are really second-round guys. Basically, we’re talking about someone whose contributions will be more Sasha or Turiaf level, not much immediate help.

Here’s a preliminary list of a few guys who may be around by then, focusing on the two needs the Lakers have, a triangle-style point guard and a big man. The names come from the current predictions on NBADraft.net, however I looked around the web to learn more about the ones I haven’t seen. Which is a lot of them. And the disclaimer is that players will move up and down the board between now and June, and the Lakers could too — plus who knows how trades could change our needs. This is just a starting point.

Richard Roby, 6-6 guard, Colorado: He was the offensive leader for the Buffs, and can shoot the ball from the outside (35.6% from three point range) plus had a true shooting percentage of 54.2%. He’s quick and he’s long. However, his defense has been a question mark, and do the Lakers need another guy who can shoot but not defend the perimeter?

Maurice Ager, 6-5 guard, Michigan State: Maybe even a better shooter than Roby — shot 37.6% from beyond the arc and had a true shooting percentage of 58.1%. He’s long, as well. The couple times I saw him play I liked him, but he’s not a great ball handler. I thought his defense was good, but scouts say he needs to work on it and I’ll trust their judgment over me watching in a bar.

Rudy Fernandez, 6-6 guard, Spain: A Chad Ford Euro special. Apparently he can shoot, ball handle and is athletic but is a little thin. Reading scouting reports on him reminds of the Sasha V. reports.

Josh Boone, 6-10 power forward/center, UConn: A beast on the boards, particularly the offensive ones — he grabbed 13% of the available offensive rebounds this season. Not shockingly, most of his points seem to come from put backs or inside passes he just has to dunk. Also a good shot blocker. The knock on him is desire, like much of the UConn team, he seems to take nights off. Of course, that was the knock last year on Charlie Villanueva, and he turned out to be a steal.

Hilton Armstrong, 6-11 center, UConn: Boone’s teammate, he is also a beast on the board — pulled down 16.8% of defensive rebounds, 8.1% of offensive ones — plus is a great shot blocker. But, like Boone, not considered polished on offense, although he did shoot 60% from the floor last season. Could he play alongside Bynum in a few years (or be his backup)? With few quality big men in this draft, he may not be around for the Lakers.

Paul Davis, 6-11 Center, Michigan State: I have to say I liked what I saw from him this season and think he will be a good backup center in the league. He shot a respectable 58% on the season, plus grabbed 24.5% of defensive rebounds and 11.3% of offensive ones. Not athletic enough to defend the best centers, but he isn’t bad. For the Lakers, a team that needs depth up front, he’s a solid option.

Kevin Pittsnogle, 6-10 power forward, West Virginia: NBADraft.net has the Lakers taking this guy, but after watching him in the tourney I don’t see it. I think he’s a poor man’s Brian Cook. Great outside jumper and range, but not much inside presence. And way less athletic than Cook — who is this guy going to defend?

Fast Break

Kurt —  April 4, 2006

Last night, I turned on my computer at home to hear my monitor make a large “pop”, followed by the smell of something burning. Not good. It pretty much went UCLA in the finals on me. So, pardon if posting is a little more sporadic while I figure out how to afford a new computer and a new baby within three weeks of each other.

Ahh, bullet points, an overworked blogger’s best friend….

• Some great sports day in LA Monday, huh? Just like I predicted. The Dodgers are clearly built like the classic Dodger teams of the past, to win with pitching and defense. Ugh. (To be fair, as of this posting Brad Penny is doing much better on Tuesday.)

And did someone pick UCLA to win? Florida was clearly the better team. And add me to the list (along with everyone else) who thinks that Noah can be a good pro. As it did Knickerblogger, Noah strikes me as a Marcus Camby in the NBA, which a lot of teams could use.

• The Phil Jackson/Bernie Bickerstaff jabs aside (but they are pretty amusing), the suggestion that the Lakers may want Rush back was floated by the LA Times.

Really? Yes, he knows the triangle and he’ll be cheap. But outside of hitting the three pointer fairly well (34.4% for his career, better the last few years) his overall shooting has never been great (47.1% true shooting percentage this year, and his carrer average is below 50%). And he’s not a good defender, he’s below average and often disinterested. I’m not Sasha’s biggest fan, but we’re already paying him for next year and he’ll basically give us the same production (very similar offensive numbers). Heck, I’d rather bring Profit back than add Rush.

• Interesting choice last Sunday by the non-porn star looking Van Gundy, choosing to use Luther Head to cover Kobe. As Kobe has shown both a great mid-range and beyond game plus a love of elevating to shooting over players his height or taller all season, covering Kobe with someone four-inches shorter and easy to shoot over was an interesting choice. Not a wise one, just interesting.

• There are some detailed breakdowns out there, but it looks more and more like the Lakers finish the season with 43 or 44 wins and get the seventh seed, which means Phoenix in the first round of the playoffs.

Coincidentally, the Lakers have two games left against the Suns. I’ll be watching and charting those to do some pre-playoff breakdowns, but I will add now that I think the one this Friday may be a poor example of what will come. It will the second game in two nights for the Lakers, traveling in to take on the fastest-paced team in the league. A good test, but not as good a measure of what could happen in the playoffs, especially the first round, when teams tend to get plenty of rest. Not that rest is all the Lakers need to beat the Suns…

• Just to amuse yourself, here is several minutes of Shawn Bradley getting dunked on.