Archives For January 2007

I Think I’m Going To Boston

Kurt —  January 31, 2007

I Think I’m Just That Tired. Both teams come into this one a little tired, this is the second night of a back-to-back for both teams. Boston lost last night in Indiana, the Lakers lost in New York.

The one guy who shouldn’t be tired — but will be fired up — is Kobe. I’d put that in the plus column for the Lakers.

I Think I Need A New Town. That’s what Greg Oden and Kevin Durant are thinking, or at least Celtics fans are hoping so.

This season has been a disaster for a proud franchise, which is kind of hard to watch. I want the Lakers to crush Boston, every time, but I want to beat them when they are good. As of this morning the Celtics have lost 12 in a row and are 10 games behind the Raptors. Think about that.

I’ll add this — the Celtics may have the most prolific and dedicated group of bloggers out there. That really says something about the fan base considering this season. At the top of the list is Jeff and Celtics Blog, where there are smart commenters and a passionate readers on what I consider the best team blog in the NBA. But also worth noting are Celtics 17, Celtics Pride 24/7, Loy’s Place, I Heart Celtics, Can Danny and Red’s Army. And I’m probably acciedentally leaving someone off.

And when you read those blogs, the talk is often about the draft and getting a top pick — Oden or Durant. They are tired of losing but not angry with Paul Pierce sitting injured because their draft stock is going up (no PP tonight). The “Fire Doc Rivers” calls are put on hold because his coaching could lose them a few more games still.

Oden or Durant in Boston would be good for the NBA.

To Leave All This Behind. The Lakers need to leave behind the memories of the last three games. After two tough overtime losses the rest of the guys didn’t step up when Kobe was forced out. Last night struck me as the kind of game where, because others were off, Kobe might have taken on more of the scoring load and righted the ship. Without him, well, we get the ball in Smush’s hands (you commenters were right, the fourth quarter run died when Smush came in for Farmar).

Also, based on my previous comments about playing Radman now to get the benefits later — Cook was +10 (one of only two Lakers in the positive with Sasha) and Radmanovic was a team-worst -13. I’d like to say its just one game, but this is a pretty consistent pattern.

I Think I Need A Sunrise. The Celtics do have a few young players whose careers are just starting to shine.

At the top of the list is Al Jefferson, who in the past 10 games is averaging 16.4 points and 12.5 rebounds per game. He’s developed into a solid double-double guy in the paint nightly and is a beast on the boards, grabbing 19.3% of the available rebounds, the seventh best rate in the league (he’s in KG territory as a rebounder). In the last 10 games Jefferson is shooting 47.9% from the floor. I’m curious to see him and Bynum match up (and if Bynum can stay out of foul trouble).

Other guys who have been less impressive so far but I’m curious to see are Gerald Green (he was a team-best +6 last night in Indiana), Rajon Rondo and Ryan Gomes.

By the way, the other Celtic playing well of late is Delonte West, who is averaging 17.7 points per game on 54.5% (eFG%) shooing in his last seven games.

Boston, Where No One Knows My Name. Actually, I think everyone in Boston still knows the Lakers name, and still thinks of them as THE rival.

I should add though that the team basketball the Lakers are playing, the more mature game Kobe Bryant has displayed, is winning over some converts.

Check out what Henry at True Hoop was saying yesterday:

No, the only time I really feel uncomfortable about being a sports fan is when I run across a Laker fan. When I put my basketball fan hat on, I have always just hated the Lakers. They have been the architects of my pain. They have also always seemed to just have it easy. All those stars sprinkled all over the court, the sidelines, and the entire stadium for that matter.

When a casual basketball fan seems be becoming a Laker fan, especially if they are not even from L.A., I have to fight the knee-jerk urge to consider that person ignorant….

But, well, as I pointed out in the headline (when am I ever going to get to the point here?) something has been happening. Slowly, over the last few months, the Lakers have become a team I kind of find myself pulling for.

There, I said it….

And here’s why: they’re defying expectations through personal growth. If Kobe Bryant had always played like this, we’d all like him a lot. He is wiser, and more generous than ever, and it’s often beautiful. More importantly, gone are the pouty halves of games when he refuses to take a shot.

He’s also attempting to show that he can carry a good team solo. Jury is still out on that, and the struggle is the fun part to watch.

Lamar Odom is likable. Even if you don’t see it that way, you have to agree he’s very tough to hate after the tragedy of his infant dying last summer. Andrew Bynum is giving much where not much was expected. Jordan Farmar was clearly a good pick, although many doubted him. And guys like Smush Parker, Brian Cook, and Sasha Vujajic? They have to work their asses off to get the result the team needs. When they do? My hat’s off to them.

This post was done with all apologies to Augustana

On Tap: The New York Knicks

Kurt —  January 30, 2007

Breaking News — No Kobe Tonight. Apparently the league thought Kobe intentionally swept his elbow into Manu Ginobli’s face when Manu came at Kobe from the side with 2.7 left in regulation Sunday and blocked Kobe’s shot. Because of that, he’s suspended for tonight’s game
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I’d love to see a replay of that again, to me Manu made a good play and Kobe was simply trying to draw contact and get a foul, there was no malicious intent deserving a suspension. I don’t really get it. Doesn’t matter what I think, Kobe is out tonight. That means Odom will have to step up, and look for more from Bynum as well.

UPDATE: Apparently Kobe is asking for an immediate appeal hearing, and since he is in New York he can just drop on by the NBA league office right now for the meeting. It strikes me as a longshot the NBA would backtrack that fast, but it’s worth the effort.

UPDATE 2: No go, Kobe is out for sure tonight. You know, it’s all about the process.

Ask the expert. Despite trying to watch a lot of basketball, there are a few teams I have seen very little of outside of highlight clips. The Knicks are one of those squads, they are on wrong end of the country and don’t have many nationally televised games.

So for some insight on tonight’s opponent, I asked a few questions of the guy I think remains the gold standard of NBA bloggers — Mike at Knickerblogger.

First, since the media reports seem to say that the Knicks need to make the playoffs for Thomas to keep his coach/GM jobs, will they?

The Knicks aren’t making the playoffs this year unless they put together a great run. Yeah they’re only 3 games out, but they just don’t play any defense. The Boykins, Bell, and Bogut Bucks are tied with New York, and the healing-like-the-cheerleader-from-Heroes Miami Heat are looking up from the 9th seed. It’s certainly possible that New York could make it in as the 8th seed, but you have to figure they’d need help to do that. Either a devastating injury to Toronto and/or the Nets would help.

Okay. So, is Thomas gone at the end of the year?

The fans want Isiah out, but it’s not their decision. Knicks owner James Dolan has been vague on Isiah’s required goals on purpose. Dolan is usually loyal to the people that work under him, which is why Scott Layden was able to stick around so long. The Knicks are on pace to win about 34 games, which would be an 11 game improvement over last year. Eddy Curry is scoring more, and the trio of Frye, Lee, and Nate have made the Knicks a more exciting team to watch. So it looks like Isiah has done a good job.

On the other hand, New York won 37 games the year before Thomas arrived and 33 games just two years ago. The roster is void of strong defensive players, and Isiah has made some questionable coaching decisions at the tail end of games. So it all depends on your expectations. Or rather Dolan’s.

Just how good a young nucleus is there with Frye and Lee and Curry?

The first problem is that the named trio play only 2 positions. The Knicks had a good amount of success when they were forced to start all three (due to the suspensions), but I’m not sure if they can go an entire season with Lee at SF. The next problem is that none of the three are particularly good defenders. Curry is absolutely awful on the defensive end. He’s slow to rotate, doesn’t jump well, and his defensive intensity is sporadic. Curry’s ideal front court mate would be a strong defender, but neither Frye nor Lee fits that role.

Prior to the season I thought Frye was going to excel, and Lee was going to be a role player. Right now exactly the opposite is true. Even though Lee comes off the bench, he’s been absolutely dyno-mite! This guy cleans glass like a housewife on Memorial Day. And his ambidexterity makes him tough to defend down under the hoop. Meanwhile Frye seems to have a confidence problem, occasionally passing on open shots. I’m just praying he doesn’t go down Chuck Knoblauch Avenue, Mackey Sasser Street, or Steve Sax’s Boulevard. By next year I expect Lee to be the starter, and Frye to be the 6th man.

So what was the question again? Oh yeah. Individually each one can be pretty good. Curry is one of the most efficient scoring centers in the league. Lee is one of the league’s best rebounders. While Frye is a forward/center with a sharp eye from the outside. However I’m dubious on whether the combination can be successful.

Anything else to look for?

If Renaldo Balkman enters the game (imagine Plastic Man with dreads) keep your eye on him. He’s a treat to watch.

The Laker defense. During the Spurs game broadcast, Marc Jackson kept saying “the Spurs get open looks but they can’t get shots to fall.” And that was partially true; they did miss some open ones.

But when the Lakers make their rotations their length can cause problems – the Lakers are a long team and they got those long arms near the shooters, maybe closing a little faster than San Antonio expected.

That said, they don’t make good rotations on a regular basis.

Bet the over. The Lakers defense isn’t good, but neither is the Knicks. They give up 111.1 points per 100 possessions, the 26th worst in the league (the Lakers are 23rd at 109.4). What hurts the Knicks most is they do not create turnovers, just 14.8% of opponent possessions end in a turnover. The Lakers are middle of the pack creating turnovers on 16.4% of opponent possessions.

Things to look for. If the Lakers are going to win this one, it may be because they win the turnover battle in a big way, Not only do the Knicks not create turnovers, they cough the ball up a lot – 18.4% of their possessions end in a turnover, one of the highest rates in the NBA. If the Lakers win the turnover by 5 or more, that’s a lot of possessions in what should be a high-scoring game.

With Kobe out, the Lakers need some people to step up, and because he’ll be matched up on Eddy Curry this is a night Bynum can have a big game. Opposing centers are averaging 19.7 points and 12.7 boards per game on the Knicks, shooting 53%. Drew is capable of that kind of night.

The Knicks struggle to defend just about every position, the Lakers just need to keep passing the ball and making their shots tonight.

As for defending the Knicks — make them jump shooters. As a team they shoot just 40.1% (eFG%) on jumpers but get the ball inside and they shoot 57.9%. Curry has good offensive moves in the post and Lee gets offensive rebounds and putbacks. Maybe we’ll see some zone, but the Lakers need to pack it in a little tonight and make the Knicks a perimeter team.

Staying Positive

Kurt —  January 29, 2007

Some welcome home from vacation, watching the loss to the Bobcats on TiVo Sunday morning then the Spurs game right afterward — two painful overtime losses.

As much as we want to react to those two losses with some shakeup, we need to take a deep breath and look at the big picture. Right now the Lakers should be all about building toward the postseason. In the West (and the entire NBA, really) I see it this way: There are the Suns and Mavericks on one level, then on the next step down are the Spurs, Lakers, Rockets and Jazz (maybe a top team from the east fits in this tier, but I have a hard time putting top-seed Washington in this group).

So for the Lakers, it’s about growth with this team for this season, and then beyond. Which is why right now we have to put up with some things that are hard to watch.

That starts with Smush and his play in big games. It didn’t take me long after my vacation to get back into being frustrated with him — on the first Laker possession of the Spurs game he takes the ball to the hole 1-on-3 and gets his shot stuffed.

Defensively, if you look at the entire game you can say he did a good job on Parker (who shot just 6 of 17 and had a 0 +/- for the game). But when it mattered, in the fourth quarter and overtime, Tony Parker was 4 of 7, with 5 free throws, and was +12. He abused Smush on some crossovers and high screens, and at other points Smush just lost him in the half court defense (specifically on the overtime, Smush sleeps on Parker who slips backdoor for the quick reverse lay-up that ends in a foul).

But here’s what bothered me most — it clearly got to Smush and he lost his head. I had hoped he had matured, but when faced with adversity he felt the need to establish himself and prop up his ego rather than run the offense. At one point in the overtime that led to a nice pull-up jumper (the only shot Smush made in the fourth quarter or overtime) but a couple minutes later, after Tony Parker’s crossover on the fast break froze him, Smush tried to make up for it by ignoring the half court offense and driving to the hole despite good defense. The result was an ugly forced shot that nearly missed everything.

It’s hard to watch the Laker offense run through Smush late, particularly when it runs so much better through Kobe. But now is the time to do it, even if it costs us a game or two, because we’ll need him come playoff time. I still feel Smush is really best an NBA backup point guard, but right now he’s what we’ve got. (Farmar may get there, but he’s not there now.)

One thing that surprised me was the starting of Radmanovic instead of Cook. Radman shot a very good 61.1% (eFG%) for the game and had the key late three, but he was a team worst -12. Meanwhile, the Lakers made most of their big second quarter run with the starting five save for Cook in for Radman. Right now, the team plays better with Cook in the game.

But the Lakers will need Radman come the playoffs. Better to get his confidence and comfort in the offense up now.

For all the frustration of the last couple games there are a lot of positives — for one Odom looks good, and you can see the dimensions he brings to the game like the several times he grabbed the ball and took it the length for a lay-up.

And the Lakers made some good defensive decisions. On the game-winning shot by the Spurs, well, I’d rather take my chances with Finley shooting a deep three than with Duncan, Parker or Ginobli taking just about any shot. Finley hit it, more power to him.

Those last two games the kind of losses that can harden a team for the playoffs. Maybe some of the mistakes won’t be repeated next time — and the team will hit some free throws. Do that and we will pick up some wins when it matters more than January.

Thanks

Kurt —  January 29, 2007

Just wanted to say a quick thank you to Rob and Gatinho for filling in for me while I went to bask in the sun. They did a great job with interesting posts. I’m back now, complete with flip-flop tan lines on my feet, and eager to talk Lakers and discuss what NBA All-Star is most likely to grab headlines for an off the court incident in Vegas All-Star Weekend.

Last 5 games: 4-1
Spurs Point differential: +6.8
Vegas: Lakers +3

Similar problems, Different expectations: The Spurs are suffering from the same inability to play well without their backs being against the wall. That’s a bad habit and a hard one to break. The Spurs and their fan base continue to be concerned with the team’s age and lack of depth. Will they be able to wrestle a top seed away from the Mavericks or have a better record than the Suns? In San Antonio, the only suitable outcome of a season ends in a parade.

Look for Duncan to work at establishing his jump shot early to free himself up in the paint later in the game. He was introduced to Andrew Bynum’s shot blocking ability in the last meeting, so watch as he looks to get Socks (not so sure about this nickname) into foul trouble.

The Lakers: Losing to Stinkers for a Decade: Not exactly a slogan for a T-shirt, but an undeniable fact. The Magic Lakers did it, The Kobe-Shaq Lakers did it. And now this.

Dealing with Rejection: In the current SI issue, Chris Ballard discusses the intaginble, unteachable artistry and aptitude that is the shot block. Unforgivably, he relegates young Andrew Bynum to one sentence, even though he is averaging 1.6 on the season and 2.8 in January, including 6 against the Nuggets and 7 last night in the loss.

LOWEST PERCENTAGE of blocks OUT-OF-BOUNDS
Dikembe Mutombo, Rockets 5%
Andrew Bynum, Lakers 6%

Ballard aslo coins a new verb to replace the archaic “posterized”. Usage example: Last time the Lakers played the Spurs, Kobe “Youtubed” Tim Duncan twice.

Be Watching When: is the name of the campaign for the NBA on ABC. Kelly Dwyer sitting in for Henry at True Hoop, a personal fave on the blog roll, offers some advice on suffering through ABC’s Sunday NBA telecasts and links to articles chronicling its ratings decline. How much of that can be blamed on ABC’s production? My take: I guarantee at least one play (basket, foul, turnover) will not be seen because we are being shown another boring pre-recorded telling-us-something-we-already-knew athlete interview.

In Football it’s a Yellow Card: No, not that football, soccer. The flop, a move unmistakably connected in history to the Lakers. Magic taught Vlade how to do it, and he ended up using his powers for evil while donning a Kings’ uniform. But a technical for it? It is a deliberate attempt at deceiving the ref and shouldn’t that be punished?

Youtube find of the week: You didn’t know Mike Dunleavy was a part of the NBA’s new super slo-mo ad campaign? One involves old friend Ty Lue manhandling him, the other involves him throwing a tantrum and his jersey into the stands. Thanks to GSoM commenter and friend Jaynubs for the heads up.

On the Shoulder’s of Giants: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has penned a book about growing up in the midst of the Harlem Renaissance. Jazz and basketball have been relentlessly and metaphorically linked and Kareem, his love of Jazz history, and his heritage should deliver unique insights into both.

Update: Luke Walton’s sprain is “moderate”. Expect him to return halfway through the upcoming 8 game road trip. Radmanovic gets his first DNP-CD.

-Gatinho