Archives For May 2006

Kentucky Derby Picks

Kurt —  May 6, 2006

A quick break on the day of game seven (keep talking Lakers in the comments of the previous post) for one of my other favorite things — the Kentucky Derby. My wife and I have been to a couple (actually, she’s been to six, we’ve gone to two together) and we’ve thrown killer Derby parties (but not this year). It’s a piece of Americana in a great city. Plus, we love the ponies.

Two years ago, on my old blog, I nailed the exacta (if you boxed my three picks, which is what I suggested and always do). I also hit the exacta two years ago. However, last year was the fluke Giacomo win, which I and nobody in their right mind had. Today, the good karma starts early.

This year was one of the hardest races to handicap in a while. Count me in with the vast majority that thinks the pace is going to be crazy fast (expect the first quarter in at least 22and5, or faster) and that, at closer-favored Churchill, means someone is going to come from the back to win. But who? Well, rather than my usual three, I’m boxing four for the exact this year, and it still doesn’t cover all the horses I think could sneak into trifectas. But here are my four.

1. Sweetnorthernsaint. Yes, they are asking him to rate rather than run out front, and you don’t know how he’ll react to dirt in his face. But, if he gets the right ride, he is the best come-from-the-pack horse in this race.

2. Point Determined. I think this horse can close as well, and this is the one I’ll be rooting for to win. I was fortunate to meet Bob and Beverly Lewis on a couple of occasions, and there have never been more gracious people. Win or lose, they were upbeat and friendly. I want to see Beverly in the winner’s circle.

3. Barbaro. Has won on every surface. Plus, our horse-knowledgeable friend in Louisville said this is the horse that has been the most impressive in workouts this week and seems to love the track. So I’m putting him in over AP Warrior.

4 Brother Derek. I tend to think he’ll go to the front and burn out from the pace, but he may have the class to hang in there. This is a good horse that would be my pick in many years, but this race doesn’t set up well for him. Still, can’t throw him out.

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.