Archives For December 2006

Bad Charlotte. It was maybe the ugliest Laker game of the season. On offense, it was a game where Kobe was hot early, so everyone else seemed to spend the rest of the game (and particularly the overtimes) just throwing him the ball, clearing out and letting him go one-on-one. Kobe clearly got tired as the Bobcats turned their focus to him (as noted in the LA Times today, Kobe Bryant made 16 of his first 27 shots but only six of his last 18). Commenter skigi said it well — the triangle offense can get everyone good looks if you just run it properly.

Then there is the pick and roll defense. This really is a team failing. Smush gets easily rubbed off picks, always has, and can be slow to recover. Phil was right in his comments about Kwame – last game was not the first time that he laid back off the pick and roll, both Wade and Arenas took great advantage of it. Last season, the majority of time (65% in a short study I did) the Lakers “showed” on the pick-and-roll, meaning Kwame or Mihm would step out on the ball carrier and not let him run right at the basket until Smush could recover. This season Kwame seems not to want to go much above the free throw line, I had thought that was by design but apparently it is Kwame not feeling comfortable out that far. And finally, Kwame’s complaints were right that the rotations behind him were often late. I’m sure we’re going to be dissecting and discussing this again, but there is room for improvement all over the place.

But here are the important things – the Lakers were still 3-3 on the trip, they are 5-5 since Lamar went down (I count the Houston win where Odom played 3 minutes). That is not great, but it’s not bad. Phil’s big picture philosophy can be frustrating, but he’s right that this team needs to grow and improve over the course of the season. This was an ugly bump in that road, but it’s one game. There are things to learn from, but the team also needs to move on.

Goodbye ball. Tonight will be the Lakers (and the league’s) last game with the “new” composite ball. It will be interesting to see if there are any dramatic changes in shooting with the new/old ball.

Green to Germany. Devin Green has decided the NDLB, and waiting for a guard spot to open up on the Lakers, is not for him. He is off to play for Rhein Energie in Germany. Some media have questioned why he would do this, but for the most part the pay for a top European team (and apparently this is one) is way better than the D-League. And while the team has just four Euroleague games left, it has a 20-game league schedule remaining.

The point guard for Philly. Gone is the guy who can score on anyone, in is the underrated Andre Miller. In his four games with the Sixers Miller is averaging +45 per 48 minutes, and he’s is doing it by setting up teammates (31% of his possessions have ended in an assist). The current configuration of the Sixers is much better with him on the floor and his 15.5 points and 8 assists per game.

By the way, the book on Miller is similar to the one on Steve Nash – make him a shooter. Miller is shooting just 45.5% in his last four games, and a pedestrian 47.5% on the season.

Who is benefiting from the change?
Andre Iguodala is having a good year, with a PER of 18.25, but he’s been playing better of late. In his last 10 games he is shooting 54.2% (eFG%) and 38.9% on threes – all of his numbers have been a little since AI was benched, and Iguodala said that the reason for his improved play the last four is Miller is getting him good shots.

Also playing well is Samuel Dalembert, who is shooting 57.6% and grabbing 17.1% of the available rebounds when he is on the floor this season. The Lakers also need to keep an eye on Kyle Korver, who is shooting 44.3% on threes for the season, but has been cold since AI left and is shooting just 30.6% from beyond the arc in his last 10.

Things to look for:
Drunk drivers. If you are going out for NewYear’s Eve tonight, don’t drink and drive. And be careful on the roads, too many people don’t follow that advice.

As for the Laker/Sixers game, this is one the Lakers should win, and I expect that they will bounce back with a lot of energy, particularly on defense. I have a gut feel this could be blowout win,

Defensively, the Sixers have struggled most to defend the small forward spot, although the entire front line has been a weak spot this season. So, good chance for Kwame, Luke and the gang to bounce back and show they can contribute.

Iguodala is going to be matched up on Kobe, which should make for an interesting match up. However, having one of the Sixers’ best scorers (he had a career high 32 in Portland Friday) expending that much energy on the defensive end should be a plus for the Lakers.

Have a happy New Year!!

American Express and Spinal Tap? Has anyone else noticed that the background music for the latest series of American Express business card ads is Spinal Tap? Seriously, you can view it here. The song is “Give me some money” from the band’s 50s incarnation (before becoming the heavy metal powerhouse and star of its own mocumentary). Spinal Tap is a sell out, guitarist Nigel Tufnil also appeared in an ad for a Volkswagen (“This amplifier has air bags!”).

The Greg Oden Sweepstakes. The Bobcats not only have one the worst records in the NBA at 7-21, but if you look at point differential and expected wins, they are actually the worst team in the NBA. They should be winning just 26.4% of their games (instead of the 25% clip they are on), the next worst team in the league is the Hornets are at 30.8%.

Rookie of the Year? Sure he leads in points per game among rookies, but Adam Morrison and his 70s haircut and moustache have not impressed much of anyone in the NBA so far. Look at it this way, he’s not even starting on a weak team. He has an NDBL-level PER of 8.04. David Thorpe, the hoops skills trainer who may be the best thing ESPN.com (and True Hoop) has going, broke down his game recently(insider $ required) – and things were not pretty.

His size (6-8) prevented most college defenders from challenging his shot effectively, which gave Morrison the calm to focus without worrying about whether his shot would be blocked. That calm is deeply important for shooters. In a sense, almost every jump shot he took was uncontested.

In the NBA, he is often seeing the hand of a tall, quick, capable defender. This is one reason his field goal percentage on 2-point shots is 37.3, barely above his 3-point percentage of 35.4. On 3-pointers, the defender has more ground to cover to get to Morrison and thus is often not close enough to distract him as the shot is launched, whereas inside the line the spacing is tighter.

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If Morrison is a disaster as an offensive rebounder, the best word to describe his defense is pathetic. Both his effort and his effectiveness are truly subpar.

People often say that Morrison “plays no defense.” They are right.

I call it a “disinclination to defend.” Here’s what I mean:

Morrison rarely denies his man important spots on the floor; in fact, he does not even attempt to most of the time.

Who is playing well? A few guys. We’ll start with the steady Emeka Okafor, who is shooting 50.6% on the season and he is grabbing 17.8% of the available rebounds. Also there is Gerald Wallace, who dropped 40 on Washington two nights ago (in a losing effort).

Then there is Raymond Felton, who is the kind of quick guard who normally gives the Lakers problems. In this case, the trick may be to let him get into the lane — Felton is shooting 35.8% on threes, a solid 43.1% on jumpers but just 43.7% close to the basket.

Worst team, worst offense. The Bobcats are the worst offensive team in the NBA right now, averaging just 99.4 points per 100 possessions (10.6 worse than the Lakers). The reason is pretty simple — they don’t shoot well. As a team the Bobcats are shooting a league worst 45.2% (eFG%), 7.4% worse than the Lakers.

Pound the ball inside. While the Bobcats are a decent defensive team (11th in the NBA in defensive efficiency, better than the 18th-ranked Lakers), they have struggled to stop teams along the front line, particularly at the four. Without Odom, we again will be counting on the Cook/Radmanovic combo to provide some offensive punch.

Things to look for: Often teams on long road trips take the last game off, but for the Lakers there is a real opportunity. Tonight they get the Bobcats, and then on Sunday it is another weak team in Philadelphia. Those are two wins you just don’t want to leave on the table in the loaded Western conference.

The Lakers catch a break in that Brevin Knight is out with a bum ankle. On the down side Sasha Vujacic may sit out for the Lakers after twisting his ankle in practice yesterday.

This should be another good night for the Laker bench; the Bobcats are not a deep team. The first player off the bench is Morrison, after that it is Jake Voskuhl, Walter Herrmann and Derek Anderson, all with single-digit PERs (the league average is 15, only one healthy Bobcat is above that number).

Thoughts watching Orlando

Kurt —  December 28, 2006

Just a collection of thoughts typed while watching the game, and a few afterward thanks to stats sent by Rob L.

• All credit to Kwame, who held phenom Dwight Howard to 40% shooting (eFG%), 17% off his season average, just 8 rebounds and an offensive rating of 91.04.

• Smush just seems to play better when pushed. He had maybe his best quarter of the season in the third quarter last night, right after Sasha had a good first half. Before, we have seen something similar when Farmar has had a good half or game. Smush seems to need to be pushed,

• The Laker offense centered around Kobe, he used 30% of the Laker possessions last night and still had a solid offensive rating of 105.28 (in large part because he got to the line). But the big key was seeing great shooting from Smush (75% [eFG%]), Cook (87.5%) and Walton (65.4%).

• Against the high pick-and-roll where an opposing center sets the pick, the Laker bigs still tend to sag off. Against Miami that allowed Wade to turn the corner without a problem and get into the lane. Against Orlando, who ran that a lot more from the elbow extended, Kobe got picked off Hill (and Smush of Nelson) a number of times and Kwame and Bynum were back, allowing penetration into the lane. I’m not really in love with this strategy,

• Rob made this point to me in his email — you don’t think much about Bynum on one level but he is almost always efficient. That bodes well for the future.

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Now, with a nod to the master of this (Kevin at Clipperblog), here is a breakdown of what I think was the key stretch, the last couple minutes of the third quarter,

• Score is 70-70, 2:21 left in third, the Magic have the ball: The Lakers double Howard on the box with Kobe and Kwame while the ball in on the wing, preventing a pass inside. The Magic keep working ball around outside looking for way to get the ball to Howard, but the result is Dooling is forced to take three as clock runs out, a shot he airballs.

• Kobe grabs Dooling’s miss and pushes the other way but Magic are back and triple team him in transition, Kobe hesitates then tries to go left on Ariza, who tracks him to the free throw line and knocks it free. In the scramble for the loose ball, Ariza kicks it the length of the court (somehow not called), and he and Nelson race after it, Ariza makes a nice play to dive and keep it in play at the other free-throw line, but Cook picks up the loose ball, whips it past half court to Smush in what now is a 4-on-3 drill, he drives the lane, Milicic is slow to leave Kwame giving Smush the easy two.

• 72-70 Lakers: Next Magic trip down Nelson throws a sharp bounce pass from the top of the key to Ariza, who is flashing though the lane coming off a Howard pick. Walton sees the play develop but goes for the steal and gets burned, leaving Ariza free to attack the rim. Cook has a quick defensive rotation off Milicic and gives Ariza a hard foul. Ariza hits on of two from the stripe.

• 72-71: Lakers play a two man game, Kobe sets a high pick for Smush and gives him the ball on a handoff, Nelson quickly slides under and forces Smush toward the right corner, so Kobe and Smush run the same thing coming out of the corner. Again Nelson goes under but this time Smush pulls up for the long two and drains it. 74-71. That forces Orlando to call a time out.

• Out of the TO Lakers come out in a rare zone, but Dooling is able to penetrate left baseline, makes a nice interior pass to Milicic just a couple feet from the front of the rim, but Walton blocks his shot from behind.

• The loose ball is volleyed by Kwame to Kobe who pushes it but pulls up with nothing there. Kobe keeps his dribble and ends up with Nelson on him 18 feet out along the right side, backs him down a little, goes for the fade away and gets fouled, then hits two freebies.

• 76-71: Nelson comes off a very high Howard pick and gets into the lane, but the Lakers are still in a zone so Kwame is waiting, forcing a kick-out pass to Darko just off the elbow, who seems surprised and hesitates on the pass. Smush drops on to Darko, who quickly hooks him and drives past him to the right and makes a nice running jumper/finger role in the lane.

76-73: Just about 11 seconds left on the clock, Kobe dribbles out high with Dooling on him, as he starts his drive to the right with 6 seconds Nelson is quick to double, Kobe recognizes and makes a quick kick to Smush, who just as quickly rotates the ball to Cook in the left corner for the open three as time expires. Suddenly the Lakers lead 79-73 and never look back.

Preview and Chat: The Orlando Magic

Kurt —  December 27, 2006

Big Test. Great new blog post by Roland Lazenby this morning, which is a must read for you Derek Fisher fans out there. But for my purposes I’ll just excerpt the part about tonight’s game:

Now the Lakers face a huge test, a moment of truth, in their efforts to rebuild into a championship contender. Are they going to fall apart? Or will they find the toughness and leadership to hang together during hard times?

“What happens in these next two games is pretty important,” Winter told me Tuesday, the day after L.A.’s fiasco against the Miami Heat. “You have to see how they respond, how they come back.”

If Dwyane Wade is a god… What does that make Dwight Howard? Rather than my feeble attempts to wax poetic about him, I’ll let a much better writer than myself, Eric Neel, heap on the praise:

“You think he knows how good he is?” I asked a friend sitting next to me (at a Magic/Sonics game). “You think he has any idea how good he can be?”

He’s just a baby, barely 21, so maybe he doesn’t realize it. He’s quiet and unassuming, so maybe it hasn’t occurred to him. He has all the respect in the world for the esteemed Mr. Grant Hill, so perhaps he defers.

But if it’s starting to dawn on him … if, at 17.1 points and 12.7 rebounds a night, Dwight Howard is getting an inkling, the league had better look out. Because with all the ink we’ve been spilling on LeBron, Carmelo and Dwyane Wade, this is the guy who can truly dominate. This is the guy who can shred the scenery. This is the unstoppable force. This is the man.

Pound it inside? Against Miami the Lakers decided early to take the ball right at Alonzo Mourning, to pound the aging center inside. The results were a lot of blocks, changed shots and foul trouble for the Lakers.

Tonight they get Howard. Do the Lakers challenge him inside or try to go after weaker spots on the perimeter first? I’d say you’ve still got to get Kwame some early touches, but this will be a key game for Cook and Radmanovic to get theirs by dragging the Battie and Darko away from their comfort zone near the rim. That would also help create driving lanes for a hopefully healthier Kobe.

Orlando has cooled off. The Magic are the two seed in the East right now but are just 3-7 in their last 10.

The reason for the cooling is the quick guard combo of Jameer Nelson and Carlos Arroyo has gone cold. For the season Nelson is shooting 51.1% (eFG%) but in the last 10 that has fallen to 36.7%, his three point shooting has fallen from a not-good 31.5% to an abysmal 17.6%.

Arroyo’s shooting has fallen to 39.4% in the last 10 — and just 10% from beyond the arc — but he continues to shoot the ball like he has the hot hand. The only two players on the Magic who have taken more shots in the last 10 games are named Hill and Howard (and they both play 10 more minutes a game).

It’s not just the guards. Orlando has been a poor offensive team all season, with the 24th-ranked offensive rating in the league (104.2 points per 100 possessions, 5.6 behind the Lakers). What hurts them is they turn the ball over more than any other team in the league — yes, even the Lakers. Hard to believe but it’s true. The Magic turn the ball over on 19.8% of their possessions, worse than the Lakers 18.4 (that makes the Lakers 27th in the league).

Former Bruin looking good. While the guards have slumped, Trevor Ariza has looked good in his last 10 games, shooting 57.1% and averaging double digit scoring per game. He also can grab some rebounds, if Howard lets him.

Things to look for: Who controls the glass? Dwight Howard is a rebounding machine, leading the league grabbing 21.4% of all available rebounds when he is on the floor. And a lot of those are on the offensive end, which is why the Magic are the fifth-best offensive rebounding team in the league right now grabbing 29.8% of their missed shots (the Lakers grab 26.8%, which is middle of the pack). Turaif has spark but the Lakers need UPS and Bynum to put a body on Howard and somehow keep him from dominating the glass. More than just the bigs, the rebounding must be a team focus for the Lakers.

Two turnover prone teams, if one of them can curb that nasty habit for a night they take a big step forward.

Nelson and Arroyo are off their games right now, but also are the kind of quick guards that have given the Lakers fits. Good perimeter defense, and smart rotations by the bigs are needed so they don’t heat up.

Besides Howard, the bulk of the scoring comes from the rejuvenated Grant Hill, who is driving into the lane for 40% of his shots and still shooting 42.6% on his jumpers. Kobe and Evans will get the task, and making him less efficient will be key.

The Laker defense needs to step up tonight, this is a team that can be slowed down if the Lakers come out with more defensive energy than we saw on Christmas. On offense, cutters in the lane and sharp inside passing can at least limit the damage the long arms of Howard can do — go right at him and it may be a repeat of Christmas day. Plus, the Lakers need a healthy and sharper Kobe in this one.

Preview and Chat: The Miami Heat

Kurt —  December 25, 2006

A game that has become a holiday tradition. Well, at least that is how ABC is selling this one, Personally, I can think of a dozen of matchups I’d rather see that don’t even involve the Lakers. And what does it say about the marketing suits at NBA headquarters that the Shaq/Kobe rivalry (and you know that is why they chose this game, not Wade) is still their premiere match up three years after the trade?

Champs to…. If the playoffs started today, the Heat at 12-14 would be on the outside looking in. And frighteningly, they aren’t playing as good as their record (if you use point differential they should be more like 9-16). Not that you can expect that to last, even with whatever Shaq can give when he returns they should be good enough to make the playoffs in the East.

Dwyane Wade is a god.
Right now, Wade might be the MVP of the league. He has the best PER in the league (27.49) while carrying the second highest percentage of his team’s offense in the league (32% when on the floor). He is the classic slasher guard with both quickness and hesitation moves. He’s only shooting 48.9% (eFG%) and 23.7% from three, but he gets to the line a lot and that bumps his true shooting percentage (think points per shot attempt) up to 56.9%, a very good number considering how much of the offense he has to carry.

Wade against the world.
Problem is, outside of Wade (and with Shaq sitting on the sideline in his $3,000 suit) the Heat are cold.

Alonzo Mourning is the starting center but any more than 20 minutes a night is too much for him at his age (that said, the man is still a good defender). Udonis Haslem has been solid on offense and is pulling down a team-best 15.6% of the available rebounds.

But after that, well, the Heat are counting on key production from Jason Kapono. Now, the former UCLA star can shoot the three — hitting 49.1% so far this year — but if you need him to be a key cog… that’s why the Heat are 28th in the league in offensive efficiency (103.1 points per 100 possessions, for some comparison the Lakers are at 110.4).

Things to look for: Just like Kobe, you are not going to stop Wade. But maybe the Lakers can make him less efficient. The two things to do are force him left (he used to be weak going left, now he’s human, but it’s better than his superhuman stats to the right) and to force him to take jump shots (shooting juts 39.4% [eFG%] on jumpers this season). Of course, that’s all easier said than done.

This could be another big night for Mo Evans off the bench. Along with Kobe, look for Evans to get some key minutes on Wade to see if he can do to him what he did to Vince Carter in the fourth quarter Friday (1 for 6).

This should be another big night for the Laker bench — they are hot and the Heat are not a deep team. The Lakers should be able to extend with guys like Farmar, Bynum and Vlad Rad (doing his little Borat dance).

Because there is no Shaq, the Heat tend to go small, bringing in guys like James Posey when Mourning goes off.

Smushaholics and UPS? The Heat have been torched most this season by opposing point guards (opponent PER of 18.2) and at the center spot (17.5). What this means is that Smush Parker could have a big game, as can UPS (Kwame “what can Brown do for you?). Although, I think Bynum may also go big against Michael Doleac and whoever else the Heat have on the bench to throw at him while Mourning rests.

Have yourself a Merry Christmas (or whatever and wherever you choose to celebrate), and take some time today (and then throughout the year) to enjoy time with your family and the things that really matter.