Archives For November 2006

I suppose we should start with Kobe: He wasn’t the explosive Kobe that strikes fear into the hearts of mere mortals. There was certainly some rust. It appeared as if he looked to pass first and shoot second, feeling his way into the offense.

All that said, Kobe did a good job of blending in to a team that has been playing well, taking the ball to the hole when the opportunity presented itself and setting guys up other times. He finished solid stat line: 23 points on 8 of 15, a team best six assists and a +8 for the night.

The best news is Kobe practiced Saturday (although sat out a scrimmage) and his knee responded well.

Defense? Friday night certainly wasn’t the best four quarters of defense the Lakers have played, but they held the Sonics to 39% shooting in both the first and fourth quarters, and that was enough.

While he racked up 30 points, the Lakers actually did a decent job of keeping Ray Allen from being efficient in getting them — for the game Allen shot 47.9% (eFG%). The Lakers did a particularly good job in the fourth quarter, when Allen went 0-6 from the floor. Lamar and Kobe split time on him in the fourth, and both did well.

However, no Laker gave Rashard Lewis much trouble as he shot 57.1%.

Feed Me! Among the things I want to see more of in the second game of the home-and-home is the Lakers getting the ball inside to the post. The Sonics, like the Lakers, were down to their third string center but they finished with six more points in the paint than LA.

Particularly, get the ball more to Bynum on the block. When they did, Bynum made some nice plays and some crisp passes, but he didn’t get as many opportunities as the first two games. They need to feed the big man, and preferably early.

Things I don’t want to see again: One of the great things about all the depth on the Lakers is the coaches are playing around with lineup combos. They should, and they should take notes.

In the middle of the second quarter, the Lakers went with a lineup of Farmar at the one, Evans and Kobe at the two/three, Radman at the four and Cook at the five. Ugliness ensued. Farmar had trouble staying in front of Earl Watson (all the Lakers did) but the combo of Cook and RadMan along the baseline were slow to rotate and provided no shot blocking threat. That’s when the Sonics went on their run. Chris Wilcox and Damien Wilkins had some of their best play of the night. I’m sure the coaches made note.

By the way, while Farmar had his off moments he also had one play in the fourth quarter where got slowed by a Wilcox pick but recovered, caught up with Ridnour and blocked his shot. You remember Smush ever doing that (not to mention Atkins)? That hustle shows why he’ll be getting more minutes down the line.

Sonics that impressed: Damien Wilkins played well, 12 points on 6 of 8 shooting, and was +13 (best on the Sonics). Also I thought Earl Watson gave the Sonics a boost off the bench.

UPDATE II: Kobe is playing tonight, he says so himself on his Web site. (Thanks to Rob for the heads up.)

UPDATE: If you want to read a good preview, friend of the site Kevin Pelton has his up at the Sonics Web site.

Lights Out: It was such a big hit, that the throwback lighting will be there for the entire season – which is great news. I can’t wait to see what it’s like in person.

Kobe’s On: Kobe Bryant said he would make his decision on whether or not to play tonight based on how he feels today, but that his knee is feeling better. If he’s not back tonight, Sunday looks very likely.

Why Lamar Odom is hot: Look at his shot chart — in two games he has taken 26 shots right at the rim (dunks, layups or something in very close) and 12 from the rest of the field. You shoot better when you can get in that close. Let’s hope he keeps that up whether or not Kobe returns tonight.

Let me add that it’s amazing to me how well Lamar does considering he so strongly prefers to go left — he does it 60.3% of the time he drives (he gets to the basket on three-quarters of those attempts and shoots 63.8% on those). When he goes right he is average at best, shooting 42.1% overall and 55.3% even when he gets all the way to the basket. This is not news — every team in the NBA says “don’t let Lamar go left” and yet he does it nightly,

Passing Fancy: One thing that makes the triangle thrive is big men who can pass the ball — it’s why the offense ran better last season with Luke Walton getting the ball in the high post. But in two games both Andrew Bynum and Vladimir Radmanovic have shown very adept passing skills for bigs, and that is a large part of why the offense has looked better than expected without Kobe.

It also means that Kwame Brown and Chris Mihm need to learn from this when they return or risk losing some of their minutes.

Keep Your Friends Close: Devin Green was the first selection of the Lakers in the D-League draft last night, so he will be playing at Staples for the D-fenders. That’s great news as he is right there for the 10-day contract or if the Lakers make a two-for-one trade.

Also, look for him to be the best player on the D-fenders, at large part because while the rest of the guys are working to figure out the triangle offense Green will be well versed in it.

Swift Demise: Imagine having a promising young center who started to show flashes of his potential, so you give him a bigger role — and he instantly goes down with a season-ending knee injury. That’s what happened to the Sonics and Robert Swift, who was going to do some learning on the job this year but was showing signs of what he could be (and sporting a new look that is, um, well….). Now he’s out for the season. Wilcox and Collison will pick up the majority of his minutes, with Petro getting some as well.

Blogging with the Enemy:
Sonics Central and Supersonics Soul.

Things to look for: The Sonics present the Lakers with a problem that plagued them last year — a team with a good point guard. Luke Ridnour has played well in the opener and got to the rim for 9 of his 16 shots. The Lakers need to make him pull up.

But you have to watch when he (or Earl Watson) passes, because both Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis can fill it up. Lewis had a team high 25 points in the opener (with a 59% true shooting percentage) and Allen had 22 (52.3% TS%). Allen actually gets most of his shots off isolation plays, but shots off screens is a close second. The problem with defending these two is they are good at just about every type of shot. The Lakers are going to have to play good team defense — as they did in the first two games — to make sure the Sonics don’t get too hot.

The good news is, the Lakers face what should be a weak defensive squad — last season the Sonics were last in the league in defense, giving up 115,9 points per 100 opponent possessions (for comparison, the Lakers were 106.9). In the opening game this season they let the Trailblazers shoot 56.2% (eFG%). If LA continues to run the offense, move without the ball and pass they should be able to score plenty.

No Kobe, No problem

Kurt —  November 2, 2006

How could you not feel confident about this team after those two wins? What it’s shown me, more than anything, is that the Lakers have a depth this year that was certainly lacking last year. Oh, and that Lamar Odom is damn good — I love that when the Warriors made a little run late Odom came back in and just took charge of the game.

Now, let’s not go overboard — there are 80 games and five months of basketball before we even get to the playoffs, but things are looking good. Maybe a preseason for this team to find itself without Kobe turns out to be a blessing?

A few other thoughts:

• I said I thought defense was the key to beating Golden State, and while the Laker offense cooled some from game one they beat the Warriors because they held them to 43.3% shooting (eFG%), and 15.8% from beyond the arc. It was team defense for the second consecutive night.

• Radman has yet to find his shot, but I like the way he works the offense from the high post. He made a couple of great passes to guys cutting from the weak side. He’s a better passer than I thought.

• Mickael Pietrus and Monta Ellis may be keepers.

• The coaches need to guard against a letdown when Kobe returns (likely this Friday). You see this all the time, the team goes “Ewing Theory” with the star out but once he returns they go right back to their bad habits. The Lakers need to incorporate Kobe into what the offense is doing now, keeping the player movement going.

• Looks like lights out was a hit, so we may well see it all season. In cased you missed it, here’s the comments from sthomp625, who was there:

Got in just as Jeffery Osborne was finishing up the national anthem. The dim lights and the blinding bright court looked amazing as we took our student seats to watch Magic, Kareem, Scott, Worthy and Coop take floor at the For…Hey wait a minute!
This ain’t the Forum and I was fortunate enough to be in section 119, row 17 and Sasha was starting but I have to say as strange as it might sound for some, having the lights out over the crowd makes a world of difference. The game looks different, the crowd reacts differently it was really like being back at the Forum!

• One note on team discipline. Last night the Suns beat the Clippers because — based on the little bit I saw and what I read — the Clips got sucked into the Suns’ game. The Clippers have a better low-post game than the Lakers, but they didn’t get the ball to Brand much or in good spots. Then Dunleavy went small against the Suns, using Brand as the center and sitting Kaman for long stretches. The exact opposite of what the Lakers did with success the night before. I don’t put this up to bash the Clips as much as say it is another example of how well the Lakers are sticking with the game plan.

And one more for the road: If the Lakers are going to win tonight — going 2-0 without Kobe — we need to see some of the same things we saw against the Suns, because the Warriors are Suns-lite this season.

By my calculations last night, the Lakers took nearly 2/3 of their shots in the in the paint, including 24 lay-ups (and just 17% from beyond the arc). Like they did at the start of the playoff series last year the Lakers used their size inside to get good shots and it softened up the defense for good looks at the three later in the game. The Lakers should be able to do that tonight, the Suns should actually be better interior defenders that the Warriors.

The other key is the bench play (always big in back to backs). Last night the trio of Cook, Farmar and Radmanovic improved the Lakers defense — they were all double-digit positives in +/- (Cook 10, Radman 12 and Farmar 13, Odom was the only other Laker that did that well, with +14). You can’t read too much into those number but you can say those three clearly outplayed the Suns bench. They need to do the same thing to the Warriors.

How about that Bynum kid? Maybe the preseason wasn’t a fluke. Bynum had to be the highlight of the game for Laker fans — 18 points on 63.6% shooting, nine boards and five assists. Most importantly, he looked comfortable, pushing around former point guard Boris Diaw (what the heck were the Hawks thinking?). As I said before, there may be no two better teams for Bynum to face at the start of the season than the banged-up Suns (a healthy Amare makes things harder for Drew) followed by the “we’re going small even if the personnel is not quite right” Warriors.

I expect more of the same tonight.

Also from the how about that guy line, Maurice Evans looked great with 17 points (61.5% shooting), a +7 and good defense and play all around.

Who didn’t look good? Sasha was given a golden opportunity that I’m not sure he earned — Kobe’s spot in the starting lineup. In the first half he proceeded to go 0-4 (all threes), with two assists and one turnover, and is -6. Evans started in the second half, and I bet does tonight. It’s a new season, but Sasha shows the same old inconsistency.

Phil and Kobe? We don’t need no stinkin’ Phil and Kobe?
The Lakers two biggest names are staying home for tonight’s game. Kobe had some soreness in his knee so said he is sitting out the first couple of games (but is “optimistic about the home-and-home this weekend with the Sonics).

When he begged off going to Fresno in the preseason, I thought Phil Jackson was wisely using his surgery to avoid places he didn’t want to go. But tonight is a regular season game in the beautiful Bay Area, and Phil is staying home. So his hip must really be bothering him. I don’t expect big changes, but I’m curious how the substitution patterns and other things will be different with Rambis at the helm.

Two more years: In a move sure to have John Hollinger scratching his head, the Lakers picked up a two-year option for Brian Cook before the game yesterday. That’s nice, but I’m more concerned that Walton gets resigned for a few more years.

Jerry Buss is not going to get you a Rose:
It’s been brought up a few places, including TJ Simers asking Phil Jackson on the radio: Are the Lakers interested in now available Jalen Rose. Well, first off, in the afore mentioned interview, Phil basically shot the idea down. He said, and he’s right, that Rose is not the player he used to be. Now, the Knicks asked 26 minutes of him a game last season and if you cut that to 15 Rose might have more of a Robert Horry shelf life. But, do you think the Lakers are going to cut Aaron McKie and eat $2.5 mil to bring in Rose?

How much difference can a coach make? It made a big difference for the Lakers last season when Phil Jackson took the helm, and the Warriors are hoping to see the same thing from having Don Nelson come on board.

What Nelson has to work with is a great backcourt and some projects. Baron Davis should thrive in the more open system, he is a fun great open court player (when his body doesn’t betray him). Jason Richardson had a career best year last year (PER of 19.2) and this season should arrive on a more national scene.

But then there are the projects — Mickael Pietrus, Zarko Cabarkapa, Ike Diogu, Andris Biedrins, Monta Ellis and Dajuan Wagner. Nellie needs to see which of these guys can play in his system and who can’t, then start reshaping the roster. My guess is that means a slow start for the Warriors but they get better by next March. And then next season.

Coolest of the NBA Previews: You have to check out what did for Golden State — What would you do if you were running the franchise, an interactive game.

What to look for tonight: To me, this game is all about defense and defensive effort for the Lakers. Last night the Lakers used their length to frustrate the Suns after the first quarter — they shot 33% in the second, 41% in the third and 50% in the fourth. The Lakers can go big and do the same thing to the Warriors if they don’t get tired and lazy on rotations.

Another key is just how much defensive effort the Warriors put out – they weren’t a good defensive team before Don Nelson walked in the door. The Lakers should be able to establish themselves inside again, or at least force Nelli to go with guys like Diogu and Adonal Foyle that muck with the running style he’s trying to install.