Archives For December 2006

Quotable Lakers

Kurt —  December 24, 2006

One of my early Christmas gifts this year is a book called “Laker Glory,” a collection of quotes from and about the Lakers, compiled by freelance author Alan Ross. It’s not going to be confused with “The Show” anytime soon, but there are some interesting quotes I’ve found already, so I thought I’d pass them along.

We’ll start with two from Elizabeth Kaye, author of “Ain’t No Tomorrow: Kobe, Shaq, and the Making of a Lakers Dynasty,” talking about Kobe:

As a kid he played until he vomited, then he kept playing until he hit a wall. Still he played. And it taught him that you can push yourself beyond the point where your body shuts down, and from that he deduced that the tame was mental, that mind could win out over matter. Too much of the time the game was too easy for him…. For Kobe, there were no obstacles, only challenges.

And:

“I was like a computer,” he told Sports Illustrated’s Ian Thomsen early on. “I retrieved information to benefit my game. He didn’t play on a team or learn street moves like the crossover dribble until he came back to the United States for high school. This meant his path to the NBA was devoid of the usual gyms and playgrounds — even for the most part, teammates. Thomsen came to thing of Kobe as the NBA’s first test tube player.

Chick Hearn on Elgin Baylor:

He might just be the best player I ever saw. He was doing things that Dr. J. made famous 20 years later.

Nate Thurmond on Wilt Chamberlain:

Wilt liked records, so during the (record 33-game win) streak he played the best defense of his career.

Author Bill Libby on Wilt:

He always wore a rubber band around his right wrist to remind him of the days when he was too poor to replace his sagging sweat socks and had to hold them up with elastic.

Preview and chat: The New Jersey Nets

Kurt —  December 22, 2006

Those Super Subs: I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a game-flow chart (from the amazing popcornmachine.net) as definitive as the one from the Laker win in Minnesota. When the starters were on the floor the Lakers struggled, when the bench guys came on so did the Lakers.

Here’s why that matters tonight: when the Lakers met the Nets last month, it was the Laker bench that sparked the big runs. (To be clear, part of that was due to Kwame Brown, who was coming off the bench back then and was a team best +9.) After Wednesday night, you have to feel a little more confident about this one.

One other note about the subs big night. Give a little credit to Phil for just staying out of the way and letting it happen. Too many coaches would have either stuck with their standard rotations or brought Kobe back in the middle of the run because, well, he’s Kobe. Phil let it be and the Lakers got the win.

Cook starts. Brian Cook replaced Radmanovic in the starting lineup in Minnesota, and he earned that right — for the four previous games Cook had been in the positive when on the court, Radmanovic in the negative. That switched against Minnesota, but I wouldn’t change back — it appears that the second unit with RadMan, Evans, Farmar and Bynum have some chemistry, I’d like to see how that plays out over the next few games.

Iverson in Denver. My gut reaction is this is going to work (for them, it’s bad for the Lakers if the West gets even deeper). Iverson fits the system well, he likes to play at a fast pace and Denver is playing faster than the Suns so far this season. Also, while Iverson has a reputation as a ball hog, 17,7% of his possessions this season ends in an assist (for some comparison, Kobe is at 15.5, Odom at 20.6 and Walton at 25.4). He can pass, but in Philly he had no finishers around him, now he’s got a team full of them.

As for the egos, this could be like the earlier days of Kobe and Shaq – they will get along fine if they are winning. If they have a few years of big success that could fall apart, but I think Nuggets ownership and fans would accept that.

Better than their record indicates. Right now the Nets have an 11-14 record, but they are playing better than that – they should be 13-12, which actually be fourth best in the East.

Last meeting.
Last month, Vince Carter led the way for the Nets (like many times this season) with 21 points and 11 boards. However, the Lakers held him to 42.9% shooting on the night, if they can do that again it will be a good sign. Along those lines, Kobe’s knee is healthier this time around, but he is still going to need some help containing Carter.

Also, Kobe shot just 33% last time around, with Odom (an his 21 points from the first game) gone, he is going to have to be more efficient this time around.

The guys who were efficient for the Lakers were Kwame Brown, who was 5 of 6 from the floor and grabbed a team-high 9 rebounds, Walton (71.4% [eFG%] in getting 10 points, and Smush Parker (60%) in getting his 13. Those three need to step up again.

Things to look for: Can the Lakers slow Nenad Krstic? A few our you out there just laughed, but Kristic scored 20 last meeting on 9 of 15 shooting, and in his last 10 games is shooting 52.2% (best of the Nets starters) and is averaging 17.7 points and 7 rebounds. Kwame is going to need to step up defensively.

I just like watching Jason Kidd play, did even when he was at Cal. And, in the last 10 games, he’s averaging 10 assists per game.

The Nets don’t create a lot of turnovers (just 15% of opponent possessions end in a turnover, second worst in the league). If the Lakers can curb that problem on their end tonight, it would help.

The defensive weak spots this season for the Nets have been at the point guard (opposing points are shooting 53%) and at the four. This is a night Smush and Cook/VladRad can step up.

The Lakers should be fairly rested here considering this is a road trip: the starters got plenty of rest in Minnesota and after tonight no games until Monday. I like the Lakers in this spot (unless Tony, Silvio and Paulie Walnuts are sitting courtside, then the fix may be in).

You get what you pay for here at FB&G. I have no comments from last night’s game as I didn’t see it (blame the virus wiping me out). So, I’ll borrow some thoughts from yesterday’s comments:

From the always-insightful kwame a.:

Second half we lost our defensive intensity, we only gave up 42 pts in the first half. I’d say the low-point was when Kwame was out to begin the fourth quarter and the Bulls ran their offense through Mike Sweetney. Bynum looked completely lost, they got out ahead by 7 before Kobe could come back in and we never saw the lead again. At some point they have to put Andrew on the pine for his defensive lapses, it’ll let Ronny play and show Andrew that defense and defensive rotations are just as important as post touches

From Dr.RayEye

The Lakers began to take on the personality of the Smusher at his best–a brilliant offensive play followed by bozo defense–a brilliant defensive play followed by a bozo offensive move (maybe more bozo defense than offense). Frustrating, but fun to watch for Smushaholics.

And Muddywood expressed the frustration:

PUT A BODY ON SOMEONE!!! DO THEY TEACH THAT ANYMORE? Real rebounders assume that every shot is a miss and every rebound is theirs. Turiaf is the only one. He’s a real rebounder. Everyone else just gets rebounds that kind of just bounce their way.

Last meeting. The Lakers played the Timberwolves in just the fifth game of the season, and that may have been Andrew Bynum’s best game as a Laker. He had 20 points, 14 boards, three blocks, an eFG% of 67%, was a team best +14 ad had an offensive rating of 156. That was a bit of anomaly, usually it has been point guards doing the damage to the T-Wolves this season.

Also in that meeting, Kobe shot 71% but had “just” 17, Odom had 15 points and 9 boards.

For the T-Wolves, and try not to be shocked by this, Kevin Garnett was the force that kept the team close, or even in the building. He had 26 points on 55.6% shooting, and offensive rating of 126 and he used 20% of his team’s possessions. It’s been about the same of late, in the last 10 games KG has averaged 22.3 and 11.6.

(Quick shout out to Rob L. for providing game stat breakdowns for me.)

Things to look for: Last meeting, the Lakers played good perimeter defense (again in part because Bynum was a strong presence behind Smush, Kobe and the rest). In that game Mike James, Randy Foye and Ricky Davis all shot under 33%. It’s going to be tough to do that well again on all of them, but keeping any of them from getting hot and shooting over 50% (none average that on the season) will go a long way toward getting the win.

Rookie Craig Smith apparently has fallen a little out of favor, he is shooting well (59.2% in his last 10 games) but getting just 18 minutes and averaging 6.7 points per game.

Road back-to-backs are hard, but this is a winnable game — outside of KG the T-Wolves have no reliable offense (which is why they are 28th in the league in offensive efficiency). Of course, right now you could say the same thing about the Lakers and Kobe. It pretty easy to define this game — whichever team gets the better contributions outside their respective superstars will get the win.

Preview and chat: The Chicago Bulls

Kurt —  December 19, 2006

Hit the road, Jack. Six game road swing for the Lakers through the Midwest and East, starting tonight in Chicago. I’d say 3-3 is passable for this trip, 4-2 a good goal to shoot for.

About Kobe and Gil. Kobe got a lot of attention after saying Arenas’ 60-point performance against the Lakers was a player playing without a conscious. Bethlehem Shoals at Free Darko had a great post on all this.

As Brett’s noted, there’s a surface irony to Kobe questioning anyone else’s “conscience.” This supposes, however, that it was intended as a swipe at Gil. I think we can all agree that part of what makes Arenas such a joy to watch is that he does lack a basketball conscience. But rather than come off as stubborn or malicious, it’s responsible for his rapturous innocence.

On a personal note. I’m proud and honored to be Time Magazine’s man of the year.

The last meeting. The bad news: Odom led the Lakers with 23 points and used 25 possessions, more than any other Laker in their 10-point win. The Lakers are going to have to pick up that production from somewhere.

Bynum had a great game, sending back a Big Bad Ben Wallace shot early, he was an offensive and defensive force all night, finishing with 17 points and an offensive rating for the game of 103.5 (points per 100 possessions). But the Lakers also got a big game from Kwame Brown, who finished a team best +17 and played all the key minutes down the stretch.

Also, the Lakers pulled away with a fourth quarter run when the subs were on the floor (Odom, Kwame, VladRad, Evans and Shammond Williams back when he was getting minutes). Getting good play from the bench will again be key for the Lakers tonight, and on the road trip.

Defense. Last time these two played was one of the better defensive games for the Lakers as no Bull gave then trouble (save Nocioni, who was the only Bull with an offensive rating over 100 at 118.5).

But in the last three games the Lakers have let opponents shoot 55.7% (eFG%) and 42.3% from three. If they don’t start playing better defense, this is going to be a long road trip, simple as that. That last Bulls win is a model for how the Lakers need to play, both better defense on the perimeter and good defensive rotations in the middle with Bynum/Brown creating a strong inside presence. (That said, it’s easier to do that against the offensively-challenged Bulls.)

The Bulls are hot. They’ve won 11 of 12. How are they doing that? I went straight to the source out in Bears-crazy Chicago to see what has happened, and if anybody stopped complaining about Rex Grossman long enough to notice. Here’s what the always great Matt at Blog-a-Bull had to say:

I wish I could tell you what the difference has been, I’ve never been so unenthused over 11 wins out of 12 games before. It’s a hard thing to figure out, since the schedule has been so soft during that stretch: only 3 road games in that whole stretch, and the only win over a now-over-.500 team was Washington.

So yes, they’re playing better. Wallace has been incredible the past week, getting 62 rebounds in the 3 games. The scoring load has been coming from all places, most times from Deng and Nocioni, and Ben Gordon has been consistent and getting to the line. In case you missed my post last week, their defense has been transformed into a more aggressive one, yet still remains among the elite in the league ( http://blogabull.com/story/2006/12/15/111621/37)

But I can’t shake the feeling that they’re just playing better because of the schedule. I always thought that this team would absolutely beat up on the weaker teams in the league, since they’re deep, they always bring a defensive effort, and don’t play down to competition as a result. Especially when they play bad defensive teams, their movement and sharing within the offense is deadly, and their defense augments that by creating transition opportunities. However it’s still a question whether they can be effective against a team that challenges them defensively. One bright spot in that department is that lately Luol Deng has been a go-to guy late in games, complementing the every-so-often Gordon heroics.

AND, Wallace is a far better offensive player than Tyson Chandler. I’ve been pretty impressed with his passing ability. And even though he still bricks free-throws, fouling him still gets the other team in the penalty, which is nice for the usually FTA-deficient Bulls.

Things to look for. Last meeting the Lakers did a great job of pounding the ball in the paint and working inside on the Bulls and they need to do that again.

Last meeting the Lakers also had good perimeter defense, although the big guys blocking shots was a big part of that (and not so much against Washington). 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 had 9 points and +9. The Lakers need another night like that.

Phil Jackson rightly wants fewer threes taken. Look for the Lakers to pound the ball inside more.

Player Pairs (and some other stuff)

Kurt —  December 18, 2006

Now that we’re 23 games into the season — and Phil Jackson has seemingly tried every possible lineup combination in his search for a rotation — that an interesting thing to do is start looking at player pairs. Specifically, what players are playing well with each other (using +/- and other numbers).

For example, who is best paired with Kobe so far? How about Sasha Vujacic — they’ve only played 38 minutes together (not including Washington) and the team’s offensive rating during that time is 121.6 (points per 100 possessions) and during those times opponents have had an offensive rating of just 90.5. There must be something to this because Sasha’s overall numbers are not nearly that good, is it because a spot-up shooter plays well off Kobe?

That said, Kobe has played will with Lamar Odom (the two are +67 in their 533 minutes), Kwame Brown (+60 in 286 minutes), Luke Walton (+43 in 512 minutes) and Smush (+39 in 473 minutes).

One thing that jumps out at you is just how much better this team is with Kwame Brown on the floor. Kwame leads the team in +/- (he is +11.8 per 48 minutes, Kobe is second at +8.5) and every player on the team is in positive numbers (in terms of +/-) when he is playing. It’s pretty clear, right now he is the presence inside for this team, particularly on the defensive end.

Check out all the numbers for yourself, but here are a few more quick observations:

• There aren’t enough minutes to see how well Brown and Turiaf would work together (they have great numbers but just in a couple minutes), but I’d like to see how that combo works.

• Last season Smush was in the positive with every teammate, this season it is just four of them. And the pairing of Parker and Radmanovic has been weak (again, before the Washington numbers) with an offensive rating of 95.8 and a defensive rating of 113.1 — basically the Lakers are being outscored by 17.3 points per 100 possessions when these two play together. So far at least (it was just 50 minutes before Washington).

• Bynum is struggling with everyone except Mo Evans. That’s what Bynum’s inconsistent play gives you (I’m trying not to get too down on a 19 year old, but I agree with kwame a. in the comments that I’d like to see more Turiaf at the center spot on the night’s Bynum is slow on defensive rotations. For example, the Lakers needed to send a hard-foul message to the Wizards’ guards (not Mardy Collins hard, but a firm clean foul) and the only one I remember was Turiaf on Butler.

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Two other things to point you too worth reading. One is another, as always, brilliant bit of insight from Roland Lazenby on his blog:

The Lakers have a 27 point lead in the fourth quarter in Houston, then watch the Rockets furiously whittle it down to 2 and still the Lakers wind up winning on a series of missed Rockets free throws and a no-call (yes, Winter said it looked to him like Kwame Brown goal-tended on that late shot attempt).

Then, the Lakes are down by 21 in a rematch with the Rockets at home in Staples Center and somehow end up winning in double-overtime.

“Unbelievable,” Winter said.

So is the epiphany.

Which came at the tail end of all the fury. That’s when Winter saw the truth that had been sitting under his own nose for years now.

“In this coaching business, you have to be a Zen master,” he realized.

The other is a great interview with Jeff from Celtics Blog over at lowpost.net. I say that not just because Jeff says nice things about me (although that never hurts) but also because it is a great chance to learn a little about a pioneer and maybe the best NBA team blogger out there.

Oh, and David Stern brought out the iron first today. The Lakers will get one game against the depleted Nuggets (Jan. 5 at Staples).