Archives For December 2006

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.

Third quarter D steps up

Gatinho —  December 11, 2006

Getting statted up: Ginobili had 4 third quarter turnovers, Parker 2 as the Lakers for the first time this season showed signs that they can play lockdown defense against a contender in a crucial part of the game. It is a Phil jackson signature to finish quarters strong, especially third quarters, and the Lakers did that. The run was initiated with 5 consecutive offensive possessions going to the cup, 3 by Kobe, one by Smush, one by Kwame.

Odom and Walton were both +9 to lead the team.

The Lakers out-rebounded the Spurs 9-4 in the third quarter, and 41-33 for the game, 13-5 on the offensive boards.

Robert Horry was -22 and Tony Parker a -14.

The Spurs were in the penalty with 6:46 left in the 3rd quarter.

So much for that sprained ankle: What can I say? I guess he’s healthy. His frequent forays to the basket set the tone for the rest of the offense. Smush followed suit. The ball went frequently into the post and the bail out threes were dropping. And even Pop was impressed:

“The Lakers’ pressure was great in the second half and I thought we folded under that pressure,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “Absolutely folded. End of story.”

A SA writer sees the light:

“But when the Lakers pulled away with a 22-3 third-quarter run, he wasn’t carrying them. He was enabling them. Bryant’s energy was infectious, and seemingly everyone in a Lakers uniform benefited from it. Lamar Odom found his shooting stroke. Luke Walton forced turnovers and ran the floor. Kwame Brown crashed the boards. And when it was over, you could tell why people in Los Angeles are saying this is a different Bryant and a different Lakers team than the one that flamed out in the second round of the playoffs last season against Phoenix.”

Random observations: NBA’s Greatest Moments was a 1984 Finals recap and then David Robinson was interviewed? Yuck PTFSW… Cracked fingers and lotto bounces? “How many leather balls does your team have in storage?” asked Mr. Stern… Kwame, one alligator, two alligator, three alligator, and get out of the paint!

-Gatinho

Preview and Chat: San Antonio Spurs

Gatinho —  December 10, 2006

Spurs Point differential: +9.2

The Lakers are going to have to keep these guys under 100 points if they are going to give themselves a chance.

The Spurs and the Lakers have almost identical offensive ratings, so this one comes down to the Lakers playing above board defense and the Bynum/Brown duo showing up enough to slow Duncan and more importantly making the Spurs bigs play defense and possibly get into some foul trouble. The Spurs are +11.9 with Duncan on the floor and -6.5 with him off.

Lamar Odom will be an integral factor in this game and must be an aggressor on the offensive end whether Kobe is in the line up or not.

The penetration of Ginobli and Parker will need to be limited, as that is the modus operandi of this offense. If those guys can’t get into the paint then you have a shot. Unfortunately when Thetis dipped the Lakers in the river Styx, she was holding them by the perimeter defense.

This is a test:

“We’re not in competition with San Antonio yet,” Jackson said. “This team isn’t at that level. We haven’t shown that we can play at that level in a game. So those games, we just have to play above our experience and our precision that we normally do.”

Pounding the Rock to perfection: Hop over to this FB and G counterpart for some more insight into this match up. Needless to say, they are feeling pretty good about their team, especially after exacting revenge on their two previous tough losses to the Warriors and Bobcats. Here’s a taste:

“It is not the rampant winning or remarkable feats of athleticism (traits common to all successful sport franchises). It is the unshakeable notion that the Spurs are not truly playing a game. The Spurs goal is perfection; 48 minutes of flawless execution, seamless integration, unbreakable cohesion. The evolution of Five into One.”

Roll over Shakespeare: “Kobe, or not Kobe” is one of the most awful Bard inspired headlines and sadly I’ve seen it more than once. My guess is that he won’t play in an effort to get himself healthy for the upcoming turn through Texas. In today’s Times Kobe seems to have “gotten it” as to whether or not he should play,

“If it gets progressively worse as the game goes on where I start limping and stuff, then that’s no good,” Bryant said. “That will set us back.”

It seems he will again be a game time decision. Updates as information is available.

Finally: DrRayEye asks, “Smushaphobe or Smushaholic?

-Gatinho

Entry Pass

Gatinho —  December 9, 2006

“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall”

-Confucius

The uneven play of a young but talented team is a frustration that can sometimes be hard to bear. You see the potential and the flashes of continuity. Sometimes, as happened last Wednesday, you see that potential manifest itself throughout the course of a ball game. But losses to teams like the Bucks and Hornets are gut punches that can be tough to recover from.

The sign of maturity that can be a help in that recovery is the Lakers 5-1 record after losses. The next step would be to avoid losses to lower echelon teams altogether, but even the Spurs have losses to Golden State and Charlotte. More on that tomorrow.

Zoned out: When the Hawks finally went zone in the third quarter, someone forgot to tell Lorenzen Wright, who followed Kwame through the paint leaving Mo Evans to run to the open spot, and causing Josh Smith to have to run over and commit a foul. Camera close ups and courtside microphones caught Smith saying to Wright what we all already knew, “It’s a zone. It’s a zone.”

Ewing effect in effect: Don’t tell me that career highs for Mo Evans, Luke Walton, and Jordan Farmar would have happened if Kobe had dragged his leg out onto the court last night. More distressing was hearing from Jack Haley, who usually causes me to dive for the mute button, that Kobe said he “wished he hadn’t played” against NO/OKC because it “did more damage” to his ankle. A Kobe-less win, and there have been three of them now, does more for the development of this team then what happened against the Hornets.

Westphal said it best when he commented that it doesn’t do the team any good “if Kobe drags his leg out there just to show how tough he is.” Maybe that wasn’t his sole motivation, but there was definitely some machismo involved in his decision to play.

Smush v. Farmar debate: …can end when Phil explains in the postgame news conference that he has:

“…had a number of teams in which guards have split minutes, and I’ve been very happy with it. It gives us an opportunity to play with more momentum and energy out there, particularly in that position, which has to be real active, and we like to get up and put some pressure on the ball.”

Trust the LA media?: Last week Roland Lazenby was kind enough to respond to a comment I made concerning his coverage of the Lakers being an alternate and more insightful source than the LA media. He responded by defending the competence of the LA media, which you can imagine sparked some lively comments. The ensuing discussion is worth a read

-Gatinho

Preview and Chat: The Atlanta Hawks

Kurt —  December 8, 2006

The Reverse Ewing. Most of you are probably familiar with ESPN.com’s Bill “The Sports Guy” Simmons, who coined the phrase “the Ewing theory” for when a team overachieves without its star. He based it on those Riley-coached Knicks of the 90s, who had some good games sans Ewing. And while the evidence is anecdotal, I think we’ve all seen teams for a short while rise up and play well with their star out, the Lakers did it the first few games of this season.

Others have suggested it but I agree, part what I think happened to the Lakers against the Hornets was the “reverse Ewing” — Kobe wasn’t expected to play but then decided to, and the team saw him on the court and the Hornets without three starters and just relaxed.

We’ll see if they can bounce back tonight.

Kobe is expected to play. However, his ankle was more swollen on Thursday than before the last game.

Suggested reading. Got a couple of links sent to me you may want to check out. Over at 3-man lift they have listed the top shooting guards in the NBA right now (shockingly, a Laker made that list). Then there is the new blog Bandwagon LA which is higher on this year’s Lakers than I, but he makes a great point about why this is a fun team to root for:

And it’s because these are OUR guys. Not a bunch of hired guns and accomplished transplants. The core of this team are known as Lakers or not at all. Think about it. We have four draft picks making solid contributions in Luke, Bynum, Farmar, and Turiaf and two more getting decent minutes in Sasha and Cook (when he’s not battling vertigo… man, 6’9″ with vertigo…). Also, we have two starters who were essentially NBA castoffs before they arrived in L.A. in Smush and Kwame; for Smush, I’d go so far as to say he was in the NBA dog pound waiting to be put down before we adopted him and gave him a home.

That would be your sixth-seed Atlanta Hawks. Sure they are 8-9 and in the East that’s still 1.5 games ahead of the 9 seed, but did you really think the Hawks would be this good?

Leading the way is a guy I thought was overpaid but is proving to be a good pick up: Joe Johnson. He’s shooting 56.7% (eFG%) and 39% from beyond the arc. Normally I’d say put Kobe on him, but with the bum ankle that will not work, so it will be interesting to see what Phil chooses to do (Odom? Extra minutes for Mo Evans? Smush?).

Curse of the underachieving former Laker point guards.
Last game it was Pargo having us all saying, “wait, he’s not that good” and with the Hawks that role falls to Tyronn Lue. Lue has a PER of 18.14, and is averaging 19.8 points and 5.2 assists per 40 minutes. He’s the Hawks second scoring option right now. If he can keep that up he’ll be proving me wrong, too.

Lue, however, is not a great defender (Laker fans often remember that wrong because he had the one good series against Iverson in the NBA Finals), opponents are averaging a PER of 19.8 against him. So, this is a night Smush should step up.

Vegas, baby. I am out of town for the next few days, in Vegas visiting the in-laws (trust me, not that much fun, having in-laws in Vegas turns the town into Fresno because you don’t get to go near the casinos). The good news is I’ll be watching the San Antonio game Sunday on their new 60-inch high-def plasma television, although I’m not sure I want to see what Smush looks like up close on that thing.

While I’m away the site will be in the more than capable hands of Gatinho.

Things to look for:
The Hawks mirror the Hornets in that they are not a very good offensive team (24th in the league in offensive efficiency) but they play decent defense. The Lakers need to play better defense to keep the Hawks down and not let them up.

The good news, the two positions the Hawks have struggled to defend the most this year are shooting guard and power forward. So, the Laker big guns should be able to have a big game.

Josh Smith is having an off year, shooting just 25.2% (eFG%) on jump shots and 41.9% overall and is turning the ball over on 15.7% of his possessions, He is, however, athletic and if you let him lose inside can be a force. So, it’s pretty simple, make sure he is shooting jumpers and pressure him defensively.

Josh Childress has been out with a hairline fracture in his foot and Speedy Claxton’s knee has forced him to sit, but Marvin Williams has been cleared to play his first game of the season against the Lakers.

He comes off the bench, but Salim Stoudamire appears to be a spark plug for this team and plays a lot of minutes. The good news is he is turning the ball over on 8.8% of his possessions, so the Lakers should try to pressure him defensively.

The Hawks are coming off a thrilling come-from-behind win against the Nuggets and are feeling pretty good about themselves. The Lakers, if they play like they did against the Hornets, will lose this one too. Hopefully Phil lit a fire under the team – or better yet they did it themselves – and will come out and secure the win.