Archives For May 2006

Lakers/Suns Thoughts

Kurt —  May 5, 2006

Just a short collection of thoughts as we work our way toward game seven. My mood remains pretty sour about that loss.

• Early in this series we were all praising Phil Jackson for the job he did. Well, credit Mike D’Antoni, who made a few tweaks to what the Suns were doing that worked, and it is the Lakers who have been unable to counter them.

• One way to counter them, something I brought up and was echoed in the comments — we need to give Nash new looks on the pick-and-roll. The Lakers have done basically the same thing all series, and he and D’Antoni have made the adjustments. The Lakers need to trap him a few times, show once in a while, just change things up so he doesn’t automatically know what’s coming. The Lakers are acting afraid of his passing skills — they need to respect them but not play so much on their heels.

• Note to Luke Walton: When you have Steve Nash covering you in the post — take it to the hole! What was with shooting fade aways over him last night?

• Smush has been exposed in this series, as tends to happen in the playoffs. That possession in the last minute where he took the shot was one of the worst all game and completely out of the flow of what the Lakers had been doing. As Deen noted yesterday, he has a true shooting percentage of 42% in the series, his confidence is currently shaken and that is hurting the Lakers because they are now doubling off him and, when the passes come, daring him to shoot. Point guard remains this team’s most pressing off-season need.

• All the Lakers have become sloppy with the ball, reacting slowly to the doubles and making risky passes at times. Kobe was part of that, with 7 turnovers last night (what was with the long outlet over Odom’s head?). If one thing needs to change to win game seven, this is it.

• I had a casual conversation with Frank Burleson of the Press-Telegram today, the most basketball knowledgeable scribe in the area (scouts call him and ask his opinion). This, like I said, was a casual group conversation, but here were his two thoughts: 1) tempo is everything and the Lakers are not disrupting the Suns tempo now; 2) he’s amazed how much Kwame has improved this season. That’s just something to remember after a night where his Roberto Duran impression was hard to watch.

• Quick Eastern Confrence thought: While everyone is doing the “Shaq is back” thing today, I keep thinking that the Nets are really a better version of the Bulls, who gave the Heat some trouble. The Nets are far superior on the perimeter than the Heat (despite Wade) and the question is can Shaq counter that enough to win four games. I’m not sure he can.

• This series is not over, the Lakers have proven they can win in Phoenix. They played no defense and still almost won last night. Just like all season long the key is not Kobe but the rest of the players — they are the ones that need to step up, to prove they are ready for this stage. That is what will determine who plays the Clippers come Monday.

Open Thread — game six

Kurt —  May 4, 2006

Just what does the suspension of Raja Bell mean for game six?

When Bell has been on the floor in this series, the Suns have had a team defensive rating of 104.7 (points per 100 possessions). When Leandro Barbosa (his replacement as a starter) is on the court, it is 113.2. That’s a massive 8.5 points per 100 possessions difference (yes, there is some dirt in that number, but it is still too dramatic to ignore). Or think of it this way — even if the game is played at the Lakers pace of 90 possessions per team, that is more than 7 additional points for the Lakers.

Here is another way to look at it — when Barbosa is sitting the Suns defensive rating is 99.1, 14.1 points per 100 better than when he is playing. So far in the playoffs, the man Barbosa is matched up against has shot 50% eFG%.

Here’s still another way to look at it: The Suns’ regular starting five is averaging a +24 per 48 minutes in this series, but remove Bell and insert Barbosa in that lineup and that falls to +6.9.

The Lakers should — should — be able to break out of their offensive slump tonight. Look for a host of people to take their turns on Kobe (Barbosa, James, Marion) with the quick doubling continuing. However, no other Suns defender is as physical as Bell, so Kobe should have more room to operate.

Whatever Kobe does, for the Lakers to win they need to get back to the pound-it-inside style that got them three wins. Odom has to get the ball in the block. Kwame has got to become a force in the post, and getting him some early baskets and confidence would help. Post up Walton and Smush, too.

The tempo picked up last game because the Suns created turnovers and made it hard for the Lakers to establish the inside game that had worked so well. Getting the ball inside is the key because that is at the heart of slowing the Suns — force Diaw and Marion to defend the basket, don’t let them just get out and run. The Lakers need to make getting offensive rebounds a priority for the same reason.

The Lakers also need to return to the defensive efforts and rotations that slowed the Suns in the half court. Last game, Nash and the other Suns took their Laker counterparts off the dribble seemingly at will, and help rotations were tardy (or non-existent). The Suns drove the lane a lot last game, the Lakers need to make sure there is a price to pay for that.

This is must-win — we do not want to go back to Phoenix for a game seven. With Bell out and the team at home there will never be a better chance.

This game is going to be desperate and a lot of fun to watch. And I think at the end we’re all going to have a smile on our face.

Super Friends and the NBA

Kurt —  May 4, 2006

I’ve always had a fascination with the Super Friends. I have a classic old Super Friends T-shirt — old school Justice League style — that is the most worn-out thing in my wardrobe but I can’t bring myself to throw it out. My wife bought me the Super Friends DVD for Christmas, it was the first thing I watched that day.

That’s why the always impressive Low Post blog has posted my favorite Carnival of the NBA ever — comparing blogs to Super Heroes. This is worth a look, just to admire the effort if not to learn a little.

Notes at 3 am

Kurt —  May 3, 2006

Welcome to the newest feature here at FB&G, a column largely constructed, and typed one handed, in the middle of the night while up with my two-week-old daughter. There will be basketball notes plus thoughts on other stuff, including what’s on television in the middle of the night (Girls Gone Wild!). Expect to see this semi-regularly until my daughter starts sleeping through the night.

Update: Raja Bell has been suspended for game six.

• The line that keeps popping into my head is from Tripper Harrison: “It just doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t matter…”

The Lakers need to put that last game behind them and move on, including dwelling on the foul and whether or not Raja Bell is around for Thursday’s game. There are certainly lessons to be learned and adjustments to be made. However, a key problem was one we saw all season — when Kobe and Odom were slowed, other guys didn’t step up. Guys who stepped up early in the series wilted. Kwame became a non-factor defensively after the early calls. Smush suddenly had alligator arms on his shots (his eFG% in the last two games is 21.1%). The Suns have worked to take Kobe and Odom out as much as they can, which means everyone else needs to take advantage. Those guys need to put the off-games behind them — it just doesn’t matter.

I’m sure today, Phil is oh-so-gently reminding the team they need to get back to what they did in the first three games — pound the ball inside, pound the offensive glass, don’t turn the ball over, play smart, rotate on defense and slow the pace — and they can win.

Do that and what happened in Phoenix just won’t matter.

• Should Raja Bell be suspended? I think so, but I’m biased. The problem is Stu Jackson has not drawn a definitive line this postseason — how the hell was Reggie Evans only fined $10,000? What he did was far worse than the Artest elbow that got a suspension. So who knows. If the Lakers play their game it won’t matter anyway.

• Good point last night from Deen in the comments:

One last comment on turnovers this game …
Offensive fouls: Lakers=4, Suns=0.
Traveling calls: Lakers=5, Suns=0.
…that’s 9 possessions lost.

For some perspective TOTALS from first 4 games …
– offensive fouls: Lakers=11, Suns=11
– travels: Lakers=2, Suns=6

So the avg is 3 off fouls and 1 travel per game per team. Did the Suns defense get that much better this game?

• One interesting thing looking at the game flow — the Suns five starters all had positive +/- numbers, all the bench guys were negative. D’Antoni just leaned more on his starters, which why a few fouls (or a suspension) could be big next game. Back at Staples, the call pendulum should swing the other way again (it’s almost never in the middle).

• Damn I love Ronny Turiaf!

• Also, with all the talk about how well the Lakers did on the offensive glass in the first four games, the Lakers gave up 12 offensive boards last night.

• For a great breakdown of the series (prior to game 5), check out this piece from friend of the site Kevin Pelton (first posted in the comments last night).

• Just finished reading Bacchus and Me by Jay McInerney (he of Bright Lights, Big City fame), and if you are a wine lover I highly recommend it, otherwise it’s not for you. My only complaint was I read large chunks of it while in the hospital with my wife for a few days, and this book is about a guy drinking the world’s finest wines paired perfectly with the food from the best restaurants in Manhattan. I’d finish a chapter then have to go down to the hospital cafeteria and pick out the least objectionable meal for my dinner. That killed me.

• I’m pretty much set on my Kentucky Derby picks, which I will post Saturday morning (something of a tradition at my blog, at least in my mind). Two of the last three years, if you boxed an exacta with my three picks, you would have done well. Of course, just like the Bushwood Country Club, we do not encourage gambling.

• By the way, if you didn’t read Seabiscuit (you should) and think the life of a jockey is easy, check out this good piece on ESPN.com. Those guys are athletes of a high order, and totally fearless.

Open Thread — game 5

Kurt —  May 2, 2006

First off, congratulations to the Clippers, who won their first playoff series since Rick Monday saved an American flag. I really have been rooting for this, a Laker/Clipper match up in the next round will be the biggest basketball happening in this city in a long time. Hell, Bill Simmons is excited and he’s not even from here. And, whichever team wins and gets to face Dallas in the Western Conference Finals will do so rested, having not traveled for a couple of weeks.

But first, the Lakers still have to get there. And, as we had noticed and the always-contrarian Charlie Rosen points out, the Suns have started to do some things right (thanks to Henry at True Hoop for finding this).

While the Lakers have kept the tempo down (there were 96 possessions in the last game, including overtime), the Suns started to do a better job executing the half-court offense. Specifically, they are running their standard wing pick-and-roll, which the Lakers have mostly switched on all series, but now rather than have Steve Nash try to beat Odom (or Kwame or whomever), they are posting up Diaw or Thomas on Smush or Sasha. The smaller Laker guards acquitted themselves well, but the Lakers may need to switch up how they deal with picks just to keep the Suns a little more off balance.

At times in the last game, the Laker defensive rotations were late and Suns players got easy lay-ups. If they want to win another game they need to cut down on those.

The Suns worked harder in the last game to not let the Lakers have position, particularly on the wing and at the elbow — Odom, Kobe and others were fronted and bodied in an effort to disrupt the triangle in the same way you screw up a football timing pattern by bumping the receiver at the line of scrimmage. The Suns defensive doubling on Kobe and Odom also improved, with the three players not involved on the ball doing a better job of reading and anticipating passing lanes.

The triangle, with its read-and-react properties, has plenty of adjustments for all this, we’ll have to see what Phil Jackson and staff try. Personally, I like getting the ball to Walton and posting up Smush on Nash.

John Hollinger points out today that the Lakers offense in the playoffs actually has been less efficient than it was during the regular season — down 3.2 points per 100 possessions to 102.3. Part of that is taking the ball out of Kobe’s hands. But that pound-it-inside offense, which Hollinger thinks doesn’t work too well, is the key reason the Lakers are winning because they have taken the fast break away from the Suns. It’s part of the reason the Suns offense is off 7.9 per 100 possessions, down to 101.5. (By the way, Hollinger then goes on to say the key is what Josh pointed out here days ago — offensive boards).

So long as the Lakers continue to do execute their plan and play defense (Nash, the Suns best player, is shooting 53.7% eFG% in the series, well below the 58.4% he had in the regular season, and most of the Suns are in the same boat), I think they will win the series, either tonight or in game six.

Now, if you want to see the Kobe show, watch if the Clippers decide to put Mobley on him in the next series….

(By the way, I’ll be “watching” the first half tonight via ESPN’s gamecast, since I’ll still be at work. I’ll need you all to be my eyes and ears, but I’ll still try to post some comments. On the bright side, that’s 15 less times I have to see that Vince Carter commercial.)

Update: Well, not so much an update as an ommission: Last game, the two Lakers leading the way in +/- were Devean George and Sasha Vujacic (+12 and +11, respectively). Another game like that from them tonight, outplaying the Suns bench, and we’ll be playing the Clippers this weekend.

Yup, these are my readers

Kurt —  May 1, 2006

First things first, congratulations to Kobe on his new daughter, Gianna Maria-Onore Bryant. I can’t imagine the emotions of his day, winning that game then later that night having his second child born. I couldn’t be happier for him. And if he needs some extra newborn diapers, the wife and I have got plenty.

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In the last couple of weeks the always-impressive commenters on this site have been in playoff form themselves. From Gatinho’s review from courtside to some great breakdowns from people like Kwame a., this site has been filled with great stuff.

So, just to shine a light on some of it (and encourage posting during the open thread for game 4 tomorrow), here are a just a smattering of highlights (I couldn’t get to all the good stuff):

• From Josh before game 4:

I actually think shooting the three is one thing Phoenix has done fairly well this series (and the Lakers are still winning!). The Suns had one off game from 3 (game 2 where they shot 9 out 27) but overall they’re shooting their season average of 40% from behind the arc.

The Suns’ rebounding, on the other hand, is atrocious. I was fiddling around with numbers over lunch today & the Suns offensive rebounding percentage during this series is 12%. That’s a steep drop-off from their regular-season average of 22.1%, which already was the worst in the league. They’re like a team of reverse Dennis Rodmans.

He’s right, and that trend continued in game 4 — the Suns grabbed 14.3% of the available boards. The good news was their three point shooting has dropped off to 33% in the last two games, still pretty good but well below their season clip. The Lakers have not made it easy on them.

• Josh also pitched in with the answer to the question: Who is that guy next to Jack Nicholson: Lou Adler, longtime record executive and also the producer of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

• The general consensus of the commenters seems to be we want the Nets to lose as soon as possible so Vince Carter can film a new commercial so we can stop watching that Verizon one.

• Deen (aka Worthytomahawk) during game 4:

Kwame is playing like Tyson Chandler – too bad there is no low post scoring threat to be guarded.

• Then, when the game got close, Deen spoke for a lot of us trying to watch at home:

My wife and 1.5 year daughter are so scared of daddy jumping up and down that they retreated into the bedroom during overtime.

• John is watching the NBA playoffs from Vancouver (while figuring out how to scam free Olympics tickets in four years) and has had some good thoughts.

There’s so much you can say about what this series is showing. You can talk about Nash and the Sun’s inability to perform when it matters. You can talk about this young Laker team playing the best ball we’ve seen them play. You can talk about how Jackson is coaching circles are D’Antoni.

But it all comes down to one man who has lift over any defender in the league. One man who makes those shots every year now, whether it’s a three to send it into OT or the game winner.

The closer.
The Mamba.
In the 4th quarter, Melo WHO?

It’s all number 8 (24).

• Then, from game three, there was Craig:

People need to give Jackson a lot of credit for the ability to direct/teach/instruct his teams toward mental toughness. (What I mean by people I mean those who just say, “Anyone can win with Jordan/Pippen or Kobe/Shaq”) Back oh say 3 weeks ago, this team looked lost. I felt they lacked proper basketball IQ and they couldn’t close out games.

Somewhere between Mihm’s injury, the confidence of a good finish to the regular season and the confidence in the triangle, this team is COMPLETELY different from the March edition. They look relaxed and confident. Who would have ever thought that they would stick to the pound-it-inside on offense and stay-at-home when Nash drives on defense gameplan for two games?