Archives For December 2006

Last Season’s Lakers. Houston certainly gave “The Kobe Rules” a shot, trying a few different ways to force the ball out of Kobe’s hands. At one point late in the first half, when Kobe had been bringing the ball up the court, the Rockets started trapping him with two men as soon as he crossed half court. They tried that more later, along with other steps, all of which wasn’t terribly successful (Kobe shot 51.3% [eFG%] despite using 40% of the Laker possessions).

The Lakers won in double OT, but that game look like last season’s Lakers — a lot of Kobe and not much else. Odom being out is chance for the rest of the team to grow, to step up, So far, there’s been limited evidence of that. And for the most part, one player taking a lot of shots is not conducive to winning.

Cook or Radmanovic? Vlad got the start, but in crunch time against Houston it was Cook on the floor (Vlad went out three-quarters of the way through the third never to return). In the last two games Cook is +20 and Radmanovic -19. If I’m Phil, the thought of moving Cook into the starting lineup is starting to gain momentum in my mind, even if I’m not making the move yet.

Defensive Challenge. The Washington Wizards are the kind of team that presents a match up challenge for the Lakers, particularly without Odom. Playing point is the exciting (if a bit odd) Gilbert Arenas, old-friend Caron Butler is at the three and Antawn Jamison is at the four.

Arenas is the leader, with a PER of 25.8 (10th best in the NBA this season) and a crazy good +/- of +28.3 (per 48 minutes, meaning the team outscores its opponents by that much when he is on the floor). He is shooting 47.5% on jumpers, 39.9% on threes and is quick enough to get into the lane. Also 18% of his possessions are ending in an assist. That’s a tough match up for Smush and Farmar (or anyone in the league).

Butler is scoring 18.7 points per 40 minutes and is adding 8.2 rebounds in that time. Jamison is shooting 52.5% (eFG%) on the season and his scoring and rebounding numbers are very similar to Butler’s.

The Wizards are going to score, they have the sixth most efficient offense in the league at 110.5 points per 100 possessions (the Lakers are at 109.6, 10th in the league). To slow them down the Lakers are going to need to have good rotations and Kwame/Bynum are going to have to take over the paint, block some balls and generally do some intimidation. And do it without getting in foul trouble.

But the Lakers should score plenty. Bet the over, because the Wizards have the third-worst defense in the league. Team’s shoot well against them (50.6% eFG%) but also grab 30% of their missed shots, shots there are a lot of chance for offensive put backs.

Defensively the Wizards are weakest along the front line — opposing threes have a PER of 19.7 against them, and both fours and fives are above average. The Lakers should be able to get the ball inside today and score, and look for a big game from Walton.

Blogging with the enemy. If you want to know what’s in the Wizards’ heads — well, not Arenas, I’m not sure we want to know that — there’s a new Wizards blog, Bullets Forever, worth checking out.

Things to look for. While Arenas is driving the lane, two-guard DeShawn Stevenson is shooting 42.1% from beyond the three-point line, the Lakers can’t collapse and just ignore him.

The Wizards are not an abnormally good shooting team — they are 15th in the NBA — but they don’t turn the ball over much (14.7% of possessions, third best in the NBA) and they get to the line a lot (seventh most per shot in the league). So keys for the Lakers would be creating some turnovers and staying out of foul trouble.

To me, the key is Bynum/Kwame. If they can set a defensive tone, and if they can grab a bunch of offensive rebounds, the Lakers should be able to control the paint and get the win. Phil has been frustrated with the pair of late, they need to step up tonight.

If nothing else, the Wizards are one of the more entertaining teams in the league to watch.

Preview and Chat: The Houston Rockets

Kurt —  December 15, 2006

Don’t expect a long preview, it feels like we did this just a few days ago.

Double Yao. The one thing discussed after the last game here was that the Lakers waited until the second half to start doubling Yao Ming in the post. Not so coincidentally, that’s when the Lakers went on a big run. This time I would think the Lakers will start with the quick double right out of the gate (then vary what they do some from there). Make someone else beat you, if Rafer Alston and Shane Battier go 9 for 11 from three, so be it, the odds of that happening are a lot longer than those of Yao scoring single covered three feet from the hoop.

But, as we remember from the fourth quarter, we may want to stay close to Luther Head out beyond the arc.

Back-to-back. The Lakers catch a break as the slow-it-down Rockets were forced to run and gun up in the Bay Area last night, falling to the Warriors by 2. The Rockets led by double digits most of the third quarter but when the starters subbed out for the bench, the wheels came off and it was a close fourth. Baron Davis was the good Baron Davis, hitting the big three for the win.

About the Rocket bench, it was they that led the fourth quarter comeback against the Lakers last Tuesday. Heck, John Lucas was a team best +22. Padgett was +18. The Laker bench is better than them and need to prove it.

How do the Rockets defend Walton? Should be interesting, Luke had 18 points and was +20 in the last meeting stepping into Lamar’s role, you have to think the Rockets will try to adjust to that.

Along those lines, another start for Radmanovic and another chance for him to step up.

Pace. I mentioned last time this is key — the Lakers want to run, Jeff Van Gundy is likely to lobby for a 35-second shot clock. Especially catching the Rockets in a back-to-back, you should be able to wear them down by pushing the pace.

Hot topic last night. Tony “busblog” Pierce is a big hoops fan, and last night (at an LAist gathering) he was making the case for the Clippers to give up Livingston and to get Iverson. While they Clips would face luxury tax implications, if the window is open and their title chances are the next five years….. What do you think?

The Kobe Rules

Kurt —  December 14, 2006

It was mentioned by Ian yesterday in the comments, Dallas has developed its “Kobe Rules” — defensive rules that apply just to Kobe in an attempt to stop him from doing things like scoring 62 points in three quarters.

The rules are pretty logical: try to deny Kobe the ball, be physical with him, vary the double teams and looks you give him, use different guys on him to keep the defenders fresh, and make Kobe work on the defensive end of the floor.

These are obviously a take off of “The Jordan Rules,” the famous steps the Detroit Pistons coach Chuck Daly set up in 1988 to stop Michael Jordan from single-handedly beating his title contenders. What people need to remember is it worked — the Pistons beat the Bulls 4-1 in the Eastern Conference semis in 88, beat them 4-2 in the conference finals in 89, beat them in seven games in 90. It worked until there were good enough players around MJ (and some coach to channel the skills) that the Bulls could win without MJ scoring 50.

I bring that up because in Dallas last night the Kobe Rules were in effect, and with Odom out nobody else stepped up.

Radmanovic got the start and at times looked confused as to where to be in the offense, finishing with 5 of 9 from the floor but with just 3 rebounds and a -17. Kwame Brown was 2 of 7, just 4 rebounds and was -17. Luke Walton was 3 of 13 and -23.

Now I don’t think that alone caused the Lakers to lose — playing defense that allows the Mavs to shoot 63.1% (eFG%) was the big problem (the Lakers didn’t seem to fight through an off-the-ball pick all night). And I’ll also say that not many teams have the depth and athletes that the Mavs do to play the Kobe Rules.

But Kobe and the Lakers are going to see a lot more of this for the next month, or until Odom is back. And, unless other players step up, much like those 80s Bulls teams they are not going to win as much as they would like.

Preview and Chat: The Dallas Mavericks

Kurt —  December 13, 2006

Odom’s status. The official word has come down and it looks like the Lakers are without Odom for the next four weeks at least. Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Saving Kwame. Another great post at Lakernoise by Roland Lazenby, this one about the turnaround in Kwame Brown:

Yes, Kwame Brown is quite a reclamation project.

And he’s not Jackson’s first.

Bulls fans and old NBA hands will recall the raised eyebrows when Jackson’s Chicago team acquired 7-foot-2 Luc Longley from the Minnesota Timberwolves in February 1994. Longley had been considered pretty much a wasted draft pick after the T-Wolves took him with the seventh overall pick in 1991. The first Australian in the NBA, Longley had languished on Minnesota’s bench, watching what little self esteem he had as a player melt away.

Jackson, though, liked Longley’s big body (the better to counter Orlando’s Shaquille O’Neal) and his soft touch on a face up jumper.

“There are only so many dinosaurs,” Jackson said privately of the move.

Dinosaurs are those big NBA monsters, those 7-footers who can actually play, who can defend a little and can contribute on offense. Longley never became dominant with the Bulls. That wasn’t the plan. But he used his size well on defense. Shot his face-up jumper that worked well in Chicago’s scheme. And he worked well in the pinch post in the triangle offense.

Second-guessing Phil. I know Phil Jackson doesn’t like to double team on defense if he can help it, particularly in the post. I know that the post double can strain rotations and open up the perimeter, especially against a good passing center like Yao Ming.

But with McGrady out the Rockets had no other good scoring option on the perimeter, so I’m not sure why Phil waited until the second half — and foul trouble on both his bigs — before starting with the quick double on Yao. Once the Lakers did it the Rocket offense fell apart and the Laker jumped out to a big lead. At least until LA quit playing defense in the fourth all together.

The Year Without a Santa Claus. Off topic here but I just need to vent. The claymation Year without a Santa Claus from the 1970s — you know, the one with the Heat Miser and Snow Miser — is a personal holiday favorite. The Cold Miser theme was my answering machine’s outgoing holiday greeting for years. I have the movie on tape. Which is why I want to personally punch the NBC executive that thought that painful live-action remake/adaptation they aired Monday night was a good idea. It had no charm or subtlety, the dialogue was stiff and the added subplots were both predictable and tedious. This was the kind of swill usually seen only on the Lifetime Movie Network. I wanted to like it and could only watch 10 minutes.

Please people, leave the classics alone.

Hitting the glass. It’s pretty safe to say that the biggest concern with Odom out is rebounding. This is one area where the Lakers do have some depth and if guys focus on the task. Look at it this way, Odom was pulling down 9.2 assists per 40 minutes played (or 13.9% of the available rebounds when he was on the floor), but four other Lakers are doing that well or better. Bynum is grabbing 11.8 per 40 (17,8%), Kwame 9.8 (14.8), Brian Cook a surprising 10.1 (15.3%), and Turiaf has identical numbers to Odom.

The difference has been that Odom has played far more minutes and was racking up more per game rebounds. Now with the increased minutes, some focus from these players on the glass can make sure there is no big drop-off.

UPS vs. Dampier. This will be one of the more interesting matchups of the night, two much-maligned centers who are playing better than people think. Dampier seems to have found his comfort zone — he isn’t shooting much but is picking his spots well and his shooting 68.1%, then there is the fact he is pulling down 19.8% of the available rebounds when he is on the floor (tied for fifth highest percentage in the league). That said, the position that Dallas has had the most trouble defending this season is the center (opponent PER of 18.5) so the Lakers may want to try to take advantage inside. If either Kwame or Dampier can control the paint, it will be a big boost for his team.

Who steps up tonight? The smart money may be on Kobe — remember that the Mavs have a hard time slowing him. The most obvious example is the 62 in three quarters last season, but the Mavs have had a hard time slowing him for some time. With Odom out Kobe likely will get some extra attention from defenders, so someone else — or someones — need to step up.

Things to look for. There are a lot of good Mavs. When Jason Terry is on the floor the Mavs are +11.2 per 48 minutes, with Devin Harris it is +13.7. Josh Howard is shooting 51.1% (eFG%). And don’t forget that Jerry Stackhouse guy, although he is questionable for tonight.

The Lakers need to defend out at the arc — Nowitzki, Terry and Howard are all shooting better than 40% from three point range.

Besides center, the other position the Mavs have struggled to defend is the point guard spot (which is a bit of a surprise with Terry starting). Smush and/or Farmar could have a big night.

I’d say David Hasselhoff sucks, but I don’t want to piss of Dirk.

Life Without Lamar

Kurt —  December 13, 2006

Well, that sucks. If one guy deserved a season without misfortune it was Odom.

First things first, we’ll know more later today on just how long Odom will be out after the MRI is completed. Early guesses ranged from one to six weeks, depending on who you listen to. But as kwame a. said in the comments on the Rockets game, best not to rush him back and have it never get quite right. It’s a long season and the Lakers need Odom healthy.

Look for power-forward-by-committee trio of Radmanovic, Cook and Turiaf to fill in for Lamar. Also, Luke Walton will see time at the four with Kobe at the three and Mo Evans at the two — that’s the lineup that went +6 in the waning minutes in Houston to secure with win. My guess is that matchups will determine the playing time on a night-to-night basis, along with who gets the hot hand. Much like Phil has done late in games at the point guard spot.

For example, I would guess Turiaf (the best defender of the four) will get a good amount of time on Dirk Nowitzki tonight. But that is also a sign of just how everyone will have to step up — Turiaf can’t handle Dirk out on the wing (nor can Cook, Walton or Radman, they are all too slow) so he’s going to need rotation help from Kwame and Bynum to stop Dirk from driving for uncontested shots.

It’s going to take the entire team because Odom was bringing a lot to the table. His shooting numbers have been almost identical to Kobe: 53.2% (eFG%), 58.6% true shooting percentage, 35.8% on threes, he was +1.9 per 48 minutes (same as Kobe) and he was the only Laker besides Kobe using more than 20% of the offense while on the floor. We’re talking 18.5 points, 9.2 rebounds and 5.2 assists per 40 minutes played — and Odom has been playing more minutes per game than Kobe.

This is where the Lakers depth can be of use — last night Luke Walton stepped up, another night it may need to be Kwame, another night Smush, another night Cook. Then there may be a night it’s just the Kobe show again. And that’s just the scoring; the bigs are going to have to focus on rebounding because Odom may have been the team’s most consistent rebounder.

I think this team has what it takes. I just hope we don’t have to watch the Odomless Lakers for too long.