Archives For November 2006

Fast Break Thoughts

Kurt —  November 20, 2006

It was ugly, but there are two things I’ll add to that. First, there are some boxers that make a fighter look awkward, win or lose nobody looks good fighting them. The Bulls are like that — their defense and hustle can make a team look out of sorts. Second, and more important, a win is still a win.

UPDATE:
Fast moving up the list of books for me to read (maybe right after Freakonomics, which I start this weekend) is Seven Seconds or Less, the inside tale of the Suns last season. Henry from True Hoop has gone all Truman Capote Literary Critic and raved about it. And today he posts about notes from last season’s Lakers/Suns playoff matchup.

* When the Lakers were in Phoenix, McCallum reports, someone left a page of the Laker scouting report at the Ritz Carlton which found its way to the Suns. It reportedly read: “Everyone must contribute offensively. We can’t win this series if Kobe shoots over 30 shots a game. Balance our attack.”

* Meanwhile, most of the Suns’ coaching staff totally agrees. For instance, Marc Iavaroni is quoted saying ” …for every shot he makes, the other guys are saying, ‘Oh shit, Kobe’s doing it all again…'” On the other hand, Iavaroni says, the Lakers sometimes play with a team concept that’s tougher to handle. The Suns want to avoid that.

How would 14-6 sound? Halfway though the early home stretch and the Lakers are 7-3, meaning they are on that pace. This summer in a poll on this site I asked about what you wanted to see the record as after the first 20, and the winning vote getter was “at least 14-6.” With Kobe slowed I would say 13-7 is the low end, a pace the Lakers are better than so far.

Big Ben on Bynum. When Bynum is focused and rested he’s been very good, and he was both those things against Ben Wallace. He went all Nuke LaLoosh and “announced his presence with authority” with an early block of a Wallace shot and was a defensive force all night, plus he was great on the boards and picked his spots on offense. Here’s what Ben told the LA Times:

“He stays away from some of the things that he can’t do and he just does whatever he can do to help this team. That’s a sign of a great player to come, especially in this league.”

About that other center… Kwame Brown had a solid game as well and finished a team best +17 on the night. Overall the Lakers did a great job of pounding the ball in the paint and working inside on the Bulls — especially the couple times the Bulls went into a zone.

Good perimeter defense. It helps when the big guys are changing shots behind you, but my big concern coming in was shutting down the Bulls guards, and Smush, Evans and Kobe did a good job: Hinrich was in foul trouble and finished with 3 points and -1, Duhon was 0 points and -12, and Gordon was 9 points and +9.

Farmar not bad. According to the post game reports, it’s a sprain and he is on the bubble for Tuesday’s game but should be back to face Deron Williams on Friday. By the way, someone mentioned it in the comments, it looked to me like it started because he slipped on a wet spot on the floor.

The opposite of 7-3 is… Bulls fans are frustrated after last night’s loss, and I get that. But to be honest, every season there are teams I search out to watch (after the Lakers) because I like their style. Phoenix was that for a couple seasons, but the Bulls are that team for me right now.

I love that roster, Tyrus Thomas is going to be a beast and that motor will make him a fan favorite (Matt from Blog-a-Bull is right, he needs to slow down a little when he gets the ball, like Bynum is doing this year). Thabo Sefolosha is another who is going to be good, combine that with Hinrich, Gordon, Deng and man, that is a good roster and can be fore years to come.

And remember, they have both cap space and the Knick’s first round pick this year. They are only going to get better.

Preview & Chat: The Chicago Bulls

Kurt —  November 19, 2006

Test Time. The Lakers beat the Raptors Friday night because, well, they were the Raptors, not because the Lakers played well. This week they can’t do that, starting tonight they have four games against quality teams – the Bulls, the Clippers, the Jazz and the Nets. I’ve got more on it a LAist, but think about this: The Lakers got their 6-3 record against opponents with a 29-43 record so far, this week’s teams are 19-11.

Slumping? Expect to read/hear a lot about how the Bulls are off to just a 3-6 start – and losing three in a row — despite expecting to be Eastern Conference contenders, But they just lost their last three on the toughest road trip in the NBA this season – the Texas three step of Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, A lot of teams are going to lose three in a row going on that road trip.

All D, no O. The book on the Bulls coming into the season is they were going to be maybe the best defensive team in the league, the question was who was going to score. So far, fairly true, the Bulls are 7th in the league in defensive efficiency (giving up 103.2 points per 100 possessions), but are 24th on offense (103.2 per 100 possessions). For comparison, the Lakers are 8th in defense (108.8 per 100) but 21st in defense (107.9).

Makes for an interesting match up tonight. Whichever team’s weakness steps up – the Bulls offense or the Laker defense – will likely determine the game.

Speaking of D. The Lakers held the Raptors to 39.1% shooting in the first quarter, but it struck me as more of a fact that the Raptors missed decent looks rather than great defense. The Raptors shot 56% in the second quarter, and the Lakers played poor transition defense during the third quarter run by Toronto, but when the game was on the line in the fourth Toronto shot just 42% (again, missing good looks).

The Lakers, by the way, shot 61.1% in the first quarter then 73% in the second quarter, A team shooting that well should blow their opponent out, the fact they didn’t speaks to their defense.

Reserving judgment. Game two of Kobe up at the initiator role was a lot less impressive looking than the first game. Kobe looked better, so much so that Jackson sat him in the third quarter for just taking shots and not running the offense. A good and bad sign, but that isolation ball the Lakers got into against the Raptors was ugly.

Understanding Phil. Sometimes I don’t get his rotations. As the insightful Paul Westphaul said at the half, in the first nine minutes of the Raptor game, the Lakers had seven turnovers, when Farmar stepped on the floor the Lakers had none for the next seven minutes, and the team went on a 14-7 run. It may have been Farmar’s best game yet, and although Smush did not play poorly Farmar should have been rewarded. He wasn’t.
Farmar sits the entire third quarter, and plays the first half of the fourth quarter, but is subbed out after helping start an 11-2 run,

Fitting together as a team. First, Blog-a-Bull remains one of the best blogs out there, so I’m just going to steal from them: this is by a post put up by GWKD there.

The influx of this new talent has certainly destabilized the current “team” concept. While the Bulls may boast of the deepest bench in the league, it also must be giving Skiles fits as to who to play. Yes, we love Ben, Tyrus, Thabo, Griffin, Khryapa, P.J. and others, but how do they fit together? So we lack consistency.

Thing to look for. Much like the Lakers, the Bulls are still toying with a lot of lineups right now trying to find the right mix. We’ll see if either team can find one to exploit some matchups.

The Lakers need to hold on to the ball. So far this season the Lakers have turned the ball over on 20.2% of their possessions, do that tonight against a good defensive team and they will make you pay.

Watch for Luol Deng, who has been shooting 57.8%, scoring 21.2 points per 40 minutes played and has team best PER of 22.33. He’s also a place the Lakers can attack, with Walton or Odom, because he has been a weak point defensively.

What may decide the game is how well the Lakers defend the good Bulls guards: Kirk Hinrich (shooting 57.4% [eFG%] overall and 50% on threes for the season) and Ben Gordon off the bench (he can run hot and cold, but just ask the Rockets how good he is (34-point second half the other night). Defending the point has been the Lakers biggest weakness this season.

Looking forward to seeing how Bynum, who had one of his down games against the Raptors, deals with Big Ben Wallace in the middle.

Talking Lakers/Raptors

Kurt —  November 18, 2006

Friday night’s Laker win was certainly not a game they’ll want to keep a copy of at the basketball Hall of Fame, it was pretty ugly.

But there were things to talk about, such as Kobe reaching 17,000 points or Chris Bosh now with three-point range. So, Ryan at Hoops Addict and I did, you can listen to it in a podcast up on that site. Check it out.

Preview & Chat: The Toronto Raptors

Kurt —  November 17, 2006

81? Nah, not going to happen again, at least not tonight.

But the Raptors do struggle to defend the two (PER against of 18.3), so Kobe should do well even with the sore knee. They are also struggling to cover the opposing center, a PER of 19.3 against, so watch out for Bynum. Well, let’s just face facts — the Raptors haven’t been defending anyone well. They are giving up 109 points per 100 opponent possessions (21st in the league, just one spot worse than the Lakers).

Things that will make Rob happy. Rob did a great job pointing out that the Lakers have done better with the pace up, which is good news because the Raptors want to get out and run — they are averaging 95.8 possessions per game, the second fastest pace in the league. That’s more possessions per game than Phoenix (95.7).

The problem for the Raptors is T.J. Ford is no Steve Nash, Still, with Collangelo calling the shots, it’s safe to say that this is not just a fad, Toronto is going toward small ball.

Blogging Toronto. Must be something in the water in Toronto, because it has some great NBA bloggers for a city where you’d think they all have Maple Leaf blogs called “Sweet Dougy Gilmore” or something. There’s one of the originals in Scott from Raptorblog, the hysterical (and insightful) J.E. Skeets from The Basketball Jones and Ryan from Hoopsaddict.

Slow starts lead to slow starts.
I got a little scouting report from Hoopsaddict’s Ryan earlier this week, and he says the big problem has been slow starts.

They have been getting wide open looks but are shooting under 30% in the first quarter of games while allowing opponents to shoot over 50%. After being down 10-14 points in the fourth quarter they just haven’t been able to dig out of the holes they have created for themselves.

Coaching hot seat. Sam Mitchell may well be the odds-on first to be fired this season. Probably for doing things like starting Mo Peterson when it’s been clear Red Jones is the better guard. Although apparently that one’s been rectified.

They have at least one good player. Chris Bosh is a stud, and one of the first things I noticed in the highlights from the Raptors this season is he looks physically bigger and stronger. It translates to the court. He’s got a true shooting percentage of 56.7%, a very good PER of 23.37 so far.

Bosh and Lamar Odom are alike in one way, both much prefer to go left. Force Bosh right and the numbers likely will be lower.

A tale of two guys of note off the bench. Jose Calderon at the point, has a PER of 23.59, with an eFG% of 59.8%. Then there is the rookie top pick Andrea Bargnani, who has an unimpressive 42.6% (eFG%) and his defense has been questionable.

Things to look for.
After four days off I just want to watch a game, I’m sure the players are anxious to be back out there. And they should have a jump in their step, or at least three should be a few jumps in Kobe’s knee that look better than the ones from last week.

Both Kobe and Phil Jackson have said Kobe will be back at the initiator spot out top; let’s see how the team looks with a few days to practice the new formation.

Pick up the pace

Kurt —  November 15, 2006

Regular commenter here Rob has been keeping a close eye on the Lakers stats this season and sent along a few thoughts, which I’m posting for general consumption.

GENERAL

There is one very important stat that seems to predict whether the Lakers win or lose. You might be surprised to find out it has nothing to do with turnovers or how many points Lamar Odom scores. It’s the pace of the game, baby.

Pace was the only stat that matched up with Lakers wins and losses. Efficiency, turnovers, assists etc. bounce around depending on the team faced. A win against Golden State comes with 16.5 turnovers per 100 possessions. An embarrassing loss to Detroit comes with 17 turnovers per 100 possessions. Lakers win with their second worst offensive efficiency 96.37 versus Memphis. Lakers lose while gobbling up a gaudy 32% of the offensive boards to Seattle.

But their five wins came in fast paced games: 97.94, 95.77, 94.16, 96.06 and 91.58. Their three losses came in slower paced games: 90.82, 85.75 and 87.67. So essentially, if the Lakers were at or above their average pace of 92.47 they win. Below that, they lose.

Now what does this mean? My guess is that when the pace is up the Lakers are clicking on offense and getting transition buckets. Or perhaps when the pace is faster they exploit the depth of their bench, and their opponent’s lack of it. A deeper analysis of those individual games might yield the answer. Me, I’m lazy. I’ll look at the next eight games and see what the lay of the land looks like from there.

KOBE AT THE POINT

I hate to be the bad guy on this one, especially as The Forum seems intrigued by this development. But putting Kobe at the point KILLED his offensive efficiency. He had a rating of 93.37, almost 7 points worse than his first game back. And that’s while handling 24% of all Lakers possessions. Because of the amount of work the Lakers need Kobe to do, we cannot suffer any scheme that lowers his efficiency this severely. Now granted, it did raise Odom’s levels. But not nearly enough to justify Kobe at point if the Memphis game is any indication of what the Lakers efficiency will look like in that scheme. Yet the problem is that it’s undeniable Odom plays better from the wing. Hmmm…

SMUSH

Smush is indeed killing the Lakers right now. The numbers confirm what your eyes have been screaming at you for some time now. But it doesn’t look like Farmar is ready right this second. We know Smush can do it; he’s done it before. (By “it” I mean close to league average point guard.) It’s only been eight games. Smush can still pull out of this tailspin. As a matter of fact, it’s even likely Smush will pull out of this tailspin. Failing that, I have a clipping of Steve Nash’s hair that I’m embedding in a magic amulet for him.

CONCLUSION

Go Lakers!

Rob