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.

Kurt

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18 responses to Staying Positive

  1. I’ll add, quickly, that in my assessment of the NBA right now that both the Clippers and Denver may be capable of moving up to that second tier of teams. The West is amazingly deep.

  2. I’d just been thinking how the Lakers-Clippers seasons are reversed from last year. One team taking a surprise lead on the other early, then the other team slowly figuring it out and climbing into playoff contention. Of course, with the rule change, we won’t be tanking it in order to play the Nuggs.

  3. It’s hard to judge this Laker team until they have everyone healthy. Lamar, Luke, and UPS are all big parts of what the Lakers do. So until they have everyone back, I’ll try to reserve judgement.

    Kobe was amazing in 4th quarter and OT yesterday.

    It’s obvious that Radmonovic can play, he just needs minutes and to be out there when Kobe and Lamar are on the floor. I don’t like him so much with the second tier guys.

    Bynum is still very slow off of the ground. That really is the only thing at this momment that is holding him back. Put Dwight Howard’s jumping ability with Andrew’s Fundamentals and you have a pretty much unstoppable force. I don’t think Andrew will ever be that kind of athlete, but I do think that he can become much better at getting off of the ground and moving his feet than he is. He’s already shown a ton of improvement. I checked him out during the summer league, and he was barely getting off of the ground there, so there has definitely been improvement since then.

    Of course, I am a little biased, but they have to also find a way to play Farmar more. Yes he’s going to make mistakes, but I think he is ready for the big time. Can’t they squeeze in 20 minutes for him?

    Lastly, someone tell Maurice Evans not to shoot beyond 15-17 feet. He’s not a three point shooter (at least not yet), and I think he would be better off not settling for outside shots. I think Mo can become a better shooter (he almost has to if he plans to play in this system), but it probably won’t happen until next season when he has time to work on his game. If D-Fish could do it, anyone can. Remember how bad of an outside shot he had his first 3 years in the league?

    Last thing: Remember that Phil Jackson teams always peak going into the playoffs. Somehow everything usually comes together for his teams at that time. I think we’ll see the same thing with this Laker team again this year. The goal for the Lakers should be to catch Utah Record wise. Although Utah will be guaranteed a fourth seed (because division winners have to be in the top four), the Lakers could still have home court as a fifth seed in the first round if they have a better record than them (kind of like the clippers and nuggets series last year where the clippers were a 6th seed and the nuggets were a third, but the clippers still had home court due to their better record). I think this is a feasible goal and one that will make it easier for them to advance out of the first round.

  4. Jones, I totally agree on Farmar getting more time. I didn’t get into it in this piece because it was off topic, but Farmar needs and deserves more than 12 minutes a night. I’m with you, 20+.

    And, honestly, I think a healthy Laker team could take anyone in the West except the top two, so unless we fall way back I expect a first round playoff win

  5. I think the Suns are a bloated regular season team that the Lakers could hang with in a seven game series. As Mark Heisler said in his column last sunday, the Pistons were 32-5 at this time last year and pretty much everyone expected them to win the championship. It’s a long season, and post Michael Jordan, the most dominant regular season teams have not been the one’s succeeding the most in the playoffs. Since 2000, the only champions to have homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs have been the 2000 Lakers and the 2003 Spurs. Basically the regular season is overrated. Don’t discout the heat or the spurs…they both have the formulas that have pretty much won championships throughout the decade: veteran/dominant low post players, veteran playoff experience, and veteran coaches.

  6. I was fortunate enough to watch some of the last two games, and I get to see tomorrow’s game as well. I’m not pushing any panic buttons at all; it’s just tough to see your team lose these games when things were supposed to be coming together.

    I know it’s been said over and over again but it seems the majority of our defensive problems begin and end with Smush; if he was a better spot up shooter I would encourage Kobe to move to the point, but he just isn’t good enough for that role either.

    Hopefully we see some better play when we take on the Knicks.

  7. Smush’s problem is his head. He can do well if he plays within his skill set. However, he thinks he has the makings of a very good player and trys to act accordingly.
    I don’t know how Phil can address this. It is like the free-throw problems — the players have to decide to practice for themselves. Smush has this year to fit within the system, then he will either be 2nd/3rd string here or he will go elsewhere.
    Whether we like it or not, he is our starting PG this year. Now we find out if he can realize what it takes to remain past this year.

  8. I’ll be at the Knicks v. Lakers game tomorrow night, repping the Lake Show. My wife bought me tix to the game for my b-day, especially since I moved out from LA to NJ for her!

    What do you think will be a feasible long-term solution at the point? Jordan Farmar? Is there even a chance at all, for the Lakers to make some sort of run for Andre Miller?

  9. I’ll take Farmar over miller any day. He is a winner and has WAY more upside. He will be our Tony Parker. Maybe better because he has a higher basketball I.Q.
    Just my opinion.

  10. Farmar could start now. I think they are haulting his development by not letting him start. Take Deron Williams with the Jazz last year. He started off terribly while starting but then finished the year great. If Farmar doesn’t play more minutes now, next year is going to be the year he takes his lumps, which is crazy when he can be doing the same thing this year. Just like this year has been the year that Bynum has been taking his lumps, let this be the year that Farmar takes. Throw him out there and let him do his thing. Smush most likely won’t be here next year, so I really don’t get their logic…

  11. I don’t know that i agree that Farmar is ready to start, but I don’t think trading for someone like Miller is the answer either.

    Miller is smallish (only 6’2”) and has no outside shot whatsoever. He has nice post-up moves for someone his size, but that’s not necessarily a valuable skill set in the triangle. He’s definitely crafty and works great in a team with an up-and-down offense.

    As for our PG problem, I agree w/ Kurt that Smush is at best a backup PG. Great player for the contract value, but not enough defensively IMO to get us over the top in the west.

  12. Stupid suns lost. KG killed em.

  13. Farmar should get 20 minutes a game but shouldn’t start. Smush is a back-up but right now should still be starting. I think that’s fair enough.

  14. As Kurt pointed out, Smush is now compounding his defensive lapses by taking ill advised shots out of the offense. I know that he is instructed by the coaching staff to be aggressive offensivley, esp early, but his decision making difficulties have been bleeding into his shot selction.

    Nice work Suns, but 33 games in a row might be untouchable. The next closest streak is 20, 13 games less!

  15. 10. Bynum has gotten to take his lumps largely because Kwame has been injured. Without Kwame, Phil had no choice but to leave him in when he made a mistake. Farmar has not had that luxury, Smush and even Sasha have always been right there.

    Right now I think the offense is better when Smush is in, simply because he is a more consistent shooter despite his decision errors, Farmar is the the better defender. I’d like to see what the first team looks like with Farmar running it, but we haven’t really seen that.

    Another thing, notice how Phil rarely takes pokes at Smush the way he does Radman or Bynum or others. I think he realizes how fragile Smush’s confidence can be.

  16. What’s Smush’s contract status? If and when he becomes a free-agent, what will his value be and will the Lakers move on or accept him?

    According to much of the chatter here, Farmar, while not completely ready now, seems to be the Lakers’s future PG. With Smush’s known propensity to pout and complain about PT, I wonder what the team chemistry impact will be once Farmar’s PT rises and Smush’s diminshes.

    I thought that a Steve Blake type of player would be a good fit for the Lakers, decent shooter, DEFENDER, just a solid player. But I bet Denver will lock him up come the off-season…but I would like to see the Lakers make a run for him.

  17. Those two games were bitter, bitter pills to swallow, welcome back kurt, hopefully this re-aligns the stars in favor of the Lake Show

  18. someone explain to me why kobe was given a game suspension. The league must have thought that was intentional?