Preview and Chat: The Houston Rockets

Kurt —  December 12, 2006

14-6. It was the record we hoped the Lakers would come out of that heavy home schedule with, and even with the toughest tests ahead I think we’ve learned a lot about this team through 20 games. And there are a lot of reasons to be excited. Due to a couple of big games I’ll wait a few days before any attempt at detailed first-quarter thoughts.

Here’s my bottom line – we’ve learned this is a team with a lot of potential, but in part because of its youth it doesn’t live up to that every night. They tend to play to the level of their competition. These Lakers are far from alone, some very good teams have done that too — the three-pete Lakers did, but then in the fourth quarter they’d turn it on and pull away. The current Lakers lack the maturity to win on an off night, or at least do it consistently.

But this team is deeper and more comfortable in the triangle than last season, they are growing, and guys like Bynum and Farmar are only going to get better. Then there is Radmanovic, who was set back with the hand injury and is behind on the offense learning curve, but who will come around. This is a team with a bright future, and in the first 20 games this season we have just started to see glimpses of it – like that amazing second half against San Antonio. We should be excited.

Thanks. Quick thank you to Gatinho for filling in for a few days while I spent time with the in-laws. And for all my concerns, Smush on the big screen looked good in that third quarter Sunday.

Iverson. No, he is not coming to the Lakers, nor should he. Iverson and Kobe’s games would mesh like acid and base. And while I generally don’t like to comment on rumors, it’s no rumor that Iverson will be traded. Personally, of all the places mentioned as a destination the one I think makes the most sense is Boston – in the East right now a combo of Pierce and Iverson might be an assault on shooting efficiency but the team would be a threat to make the Finals. What doesn’t make sense to me is Minnesota. Granted, they’ve failed at building around KG the last few years, and this would likely be seen by fans and many in the media as an attempt to right the ship and make them contenders. But while the team would sell tickets and would likely make the playoffs in the West, they are still just a 6-8 seed that would lose in the first round. Minnesota is in a tough spot: it’s going to be very difficult to build a champion around KG any more, but trade him and you alienate the fan base.

By the way, I think Henry at True Hoop’s random thought is not far fetched. I’ve just about finished reading Freakonomics, a book that among other things makes you think about peoples’ and organizations’ incentives for doing whatever they are doing. There are good incentives for the 76ers to bench Iverson then drag this out.

You’re with me, leather. The old leather NBA ball will be new again come January 1. Shocking that once a couple of stars like Steve Nash and Jason Kidd started talking about injuries due to chafing with the new ball, things change.

McGrady Out. The Lakers catch a break as the oft-injured Tracy McGrady is not expected to play against the Lakers as back spasms are slowing him again. It’s a big blow to the Rockets’ offense — McGrady handled 28.9% of the team’s shots when he was on the floor, that’s a lot to make up for.

Yao vs. Kwame. This will be the match up of the night, and I like the Lakers in this one (to a degree). Kwame has always been best when he can use his strength to root guys out of the post. He has his best defensive games against traditional centers like Shaq or Yao. Not that you can stop Yao — he is shooting 52.9% from the floor while using a whopping 30.1% of his teams shots when on the floor (7th highest in the league). That works out to 25.5 points (along with 9.4 rebounds and 2 blocks) per game. Also, Kwame (and Bynum) must keep Yao off the boards, he is grabbing 15.1% of the available rebounds.

It’s all about the defense. The Rockets are the best defensive team in the NBA right now, giving up just 98.8 points per 100 possessions (compare that to the Lakers at 106.8, 13th in the league). They do it the old fashioned way, by keeping the other team from shooting well — opponents shoot just 44.9% eFG% against them. It helps to have a big shot blocker like Yao in the paint, it also helps that his replacement is defensive force Dikembe Mutombo.

Things to look for: Pace will be a key. The Rockets want it slow, they average 88.7 possessions per game, fourth slowest in the league. The Lakers are at 92.4, seventh fastest (and as Rob has said before, when the Lakers are above that number they do well). Whichever team can control the pace of the game will have a big advantage.

Battier was a great pick up for the Rockets, they are +14.2 per 48 minutes when he is on the floor. Oddly, however, the position that has had the most success against the Rockets is the four. Odom needs to step up.

Outside of McGrady the Rockets have gotten spotty (at best) perimeter play. The Lakers need to make sure that trend continues and try to turn this into a Yao vs. Lakers game, then count on Kwame and Bynum (who seems to play his best against the best) to get the Lakers a win with their defense.



29 responses to Preview and Chat: The Houston Rockets

  1. Does TV coverage of the game start at 5:30 or are they going to have a delay?

  2. Forgot about that Michael, should have mentioned it: 5:30 on KCAL. No delay.

  3. Let me tell you – Yao is a beast. I hope UPS and Bynum have their “beat-the-world” shoes on tonight because they are going to need them. This year Yao has just been tearing up people – the two games I was able to catch of the Rockets I saw how aggressive he’s being, how different he is playing compared to even last year, much less when he first came in the league.

    He’s half a step away from getting a Jet Li mean streak and dunking on some white boys himself.

  4. That center matchup will be fun to watch esp. because Phil will limit the double teams on Yao and let Brown and Bynum go at it alone. Kwame should be able do exploit that mathup on the offensive end with his quickness and get Yao into foul trouble.

  5. I’m expecting Yao to fold under pressure from Brown and Bynum and not the other way around. This being the first year Yao has really been aggressive he’s yet to go against our young upstarts (who lke mentioned before like going against the best) he’s probably going to get a little intimitated. They did it to Duncan, they can do it to Yao (who has arguably a weaker mindset than Duncan)

    Course it can always go the other way. Yao is probably the best center in the game now and really coming into the player people thought he would be around the time he was picked #1. I’m a big fan of the nitty gritty of atheletes’ psyche more than there numbers so we’ll have to see what Yao (and our guys too) are made of when the heat gets turned up.

  6. I’m very happy with the Lakers fast start and would strongly advise against any trades. Best of all the team is young and will only get better, as Phil Jackson teams do after the all-star break. With a core bench of Evans, Farmar and Bynum, Phil has the option to utilize the rest of the bench according to match-ups, with Vlad, Ronny, Sasha and Cook still carving out their roles on this team.

  7. A road game, I almost forgot what those were like. We’re on the road, but had a day in between games, so travel fatigue shouldn’t be an issue. The second game of the Lakers back-to-back road trip will be at Dallas. If we don’t look ahead to the next one, and don’t feel too good about the last one (SA, we can just go out, take care of business, and win this one.

    The Rockets, meanwhile, just got back from a 3 games in 4 days road trip, going 2-1. They’ve had two days off, and are at home, so should be well rested. BUT, no McGrady means we have to win this one. Next time we play Houston, they’ll be on the second game of road back-to-backs, having spent the first game running to keep up with a Don Nelson team. So we should beat them then, too.

  8. Here it comes. We’re about to find out exactly what this Laker squad is made of while on the road. I have butterflies in my stomach. Why? I’ve tried to be a sensible fan. When the Lakers won a couple without Kobe, I got out the Kool-Aid packet. When they beat the Clippers, I got out the sugar. When they beat Utah, I got out the pitcher. Now that they’ve beat the Spurs, I mixed up a batch. Red. It’s chilling in the fridge. I refuse to drink it until the Lakers get some road wins. But I’m getting awfully thirsty.

  9. Rob, let’s hope that doesn’t turn out to be a Hawaiian Punch.

  10. There’s a question for you….which one tastes better? Koo-aid or Hawaiian Punch?

  11. I’m sorry for my ignorance, but can some one please explain what is going on with this kool-aid stuff?

  12. It is dark humor. “Drinking the Koo-Aid” refers to the Jim Jones cult a few decades back. It was a peace and love kind of deal, right up until they all drank poison-laced Kool-Aid to go to the great beyond together. Now the phrase “drinking the Kool-Aid” is used to describe when a person believes in something fanatically that others do not.

  13. Jim Jones

    I guess they actually used something called Flavor-Aid, but everyone says Kool-Aid. Interesting, sort of like “play it again, Sam”.

  14. On an actual game note: it’s up to Ronny now. Kwame and Andrew should be sitting the rest of this half.

    Here’s hoping Lamar’s MRI comes back negative.

  15. I’m stuck at work tonight, “watching” on gamecast right now, so any news and updates are appriciated.

  16. Lamar came down hard and sprained his knee in the first minutes of the game. He’s done for the night and headed to a hospital for an MRI.

    The Lakers are still in this one. It seems like this game has been a series of 10-2 runs by the two teams.

  17. It’s halftime. I must say, I wasn’t super happy at first with the plan to use Brown and Bynum to bang Yao. They got in foul trouble early, and Yao was scoring big time. But at that point the Lakers seemed to really go after Yao on the offensive end. He became a little flummoxed and seemed to lose his rhythm. Kwame’s defense of Yao got a lot better at the same time. If the Lakers can keep this up, things look good.

  18. The third is almost over. The Lakers defense is stifling. Kwame is making Yao look silly. Luke looks like he wants to personally make up for Lamar’s absence on the court. Smush is floating pretty lay ups after blazing around the statues in white and red. Kobe is, well, Kobe.

  19. 17. For the most part, Kwame’s defense follows his offense, if he’s aggressive on one end it translates to the other

  20. Wow. The Lakers slept walk through the fourth. Lucky that the initial lead was so great that they held on for the win. But the rest of the game was the epitome of team ball. The Lakers had the angles on the court. In the offensive sets the team made their decisions quickly, in line with Tex’s two second rule. This allowed them to create mismatches. The defense looked great, for three quarters. The team seemed to be successful with the trapping strategy on picks that Kurt had mentioned earlier.

  21. To be honest, Kurt, I was surprised to hear you were stuck at work. Not just that you had to stay at work late. I was surprised you had a job outside of this blog!

  22. Yao failed his test. Our bigs did not.

    I’d like to take credit for calling it.

  23. Good win, one we should have gotten, with or without Lamar. But now what? Look for Walton to step up big, as the Laker with the most experience in the triangle not named Kobe. Phil trusts Luke. I’m just worried about our second unit now, with Odom out. They were devastatingly bad in the 4th quarter tonight, and now they’re a man short (assuming somone steps in for Odom).

    Am I the only one who yelled at the tv: What couldn’t it have been Smush?!

  24. Phil said Odom would be lucky to play before the end of January. That’s gonna hurt.

  25. Do not bring lamar back too soon, the last thing we want is a freaking karl malone situation. rest it, rehab it, see you on MLK day.

    Luke will aptly fill in on offense from the wing spot, and a combination of cook, vlad and turiaf will make up for the defense,rebounding and shooting, but of course the team will suffer without lamar, hopefully they can continue to rely on eachothers strengths, good things have come from that

  26. Devastating. Lamar gone for a month during a huge span of road games will be a daunting task. This came at a time that is early enough to recover from but sacrifices some of the strides Lamar was making in this more defined role. I hope the team can step up in his place. I imagine it’s time for the Vlad Man to start earning that coveted mid-level exception. We’ll need that high-arching shot to start dropping if we are gonna win as many road games as we lose. Here we go!!!

  27. Vlad will get more minutes now. Now would be a good time for him to come out of his shooting slump. I think the thing that will be missed most is Lamar’s rebounding.

  28. On the drive home the Laker broadcasters were saying closer to three weeks. We’ll see what the MRI says, but he can’t be rushed back. It’s a long season, and this can’t be lingering in March.

  29. I have heard it could be anywhere from a week to a month. I think everyone should wait until tomorrow with more reports and updated information, and seeing how LO feels before an conclusions are reached. I mean, I feel Phil’s comment was somewhat off the cuff..

    In a sorta good news, according to a Doctor I spoke with, he said that the sprain lamar had (MCL) was not as serious a more interior ligament, and if there is only limited tearing or no tearing it shouldn’t theoretically take a long time to heal. Since they said it was moderate, he was saying that is normally just a week or two. He doesn’t work with professional athletes, but I think that is promising. Lamar said afterwards he had never had a knee injury, so perhaps it isn’t as bad… also, he played until the clock stopped at the next timeout to come out… so, that is good.