Archives For January 2007

Preview and Chat: The Orlando Magic

Kurt —  January 12, 2007

Kobe? He’s listed as probably and a game-time decision after the groin strain the other night. Yes, it would leave the Lakers incredibly short handed if he sat, but it’s a long season so I lean toward rest rather than pushing it if there is any pain or concerns.

Orlando is hot. They come in winning five straight, and they are doing it with defense. Their offense hasn’t been spectacular — only Dwight Howard and Trevor Ariza are shooting over 50% in the last 10 games. Howard has been spectacular, he comes in off a 30 point, 25 rebound game (against the lacking inside game of Golden State).

What is fueling the Magic is teams are shooting just 44.5% (eFG%) against them in the last 10 games. The Lakers are shooting 52.3% on the season. It’s always easy to say “the team that shoots better will win” but tonight the Lakers field goal percentage is something to watch.

Last meeting with Orlando. The Lakers won handily, by 13, in the game where Smush had the big third quarter (coincidentally after Sasha had a good second quarter). The Lakers pulled away at the end of the third and never looked back. Kobe had 27 and Smush 20. For the Magic, Grant Hill had 20 but Kwame Brown held Howard to 12 points and 8 boards.

The Magic spread their possessions out fairly well between Jameer Nelson, Hill, Howard, Darko and Carlos Arroyo. Trevor Ariza had a nice game as well, shooting 62.5%. The Magic ran their offense often through the high pick and roll, but the Lakers were sagging then. One of the positives the last couple games is that Bynum seems to have gotten the message and was out hedging on the ball handler coming off the pick, that could help the Lakers tonight. Last game the Lakers switch on the pick a lot, but the Magic did a poor job of exploiting the mismatches.

For the Lakers, it was a hot shooting night for basically every Laker save Kobe (who, of course, took the most shots). Smush shot 75%, Waton 64% and Cook 87%. Of late Kobe has been better about making sure those guys get shots when hot, so I expect more out of them — and if Kobe sits they are going to have to be huge.

Battle of the future. Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum. It’s going to be fun to watch these two match up for the game. No predictions, although it’s safe to say that Howard’s game is a little more polished than Drew’s right now. Last meeting Kwame was able to be physical with Howard and kept him in check, we’ll see what Drew can do.

I expect teams are going to try to establish their bigs so this will be a fun matchup to watch in the first quarter.

As a side note, I wonder if we coming into a little “golden age” of talented bigs again, with these two plus guys like Oden and Durant coming in next season, Love and his Bill Walton style below the rim game going to UCLA then likely the NBA. Yao is still pretty young (even though it seems he’s been around forever). That’s a lot of talent.

Thing to look for: Chris Webber in the stands.

Whither Webber?

Kurt —  January 12, 2007

It’s been the hot topic in the comments, but I wanted to wait until there was proven interest from the club before really delving into it. Apparently the Laker front office is interested.

The Times reported that the Lakers are one of five teams on Webber’s short list, according to his agent. Last night David Aldridge (who broke the Iverson trade story) said on the TNT broadcast the Pistons were a done deal, but then Webber himself said no deal was set.

First, lets look at the money and the roster spot. If the Lakers buy-out McKie, nobody weeps. The Lakers can offer Webber $1,178,348 according to Eric Pincus, the same amount as the Pistons. Big money offers will not be rolling in for Webber and what’s left of his knees, but my guess is someone else will offer more; Miami has its full mid-level exemption left to offer.

The bigger question, how well does Webber fit in with these Lakers?

First, how important is playing time to Webber? Because in LA he would be coming off the bench, one of the backups for Lamar Odom. That’s a crowded spot of guys who can hit the jumper, with Radmanovic and Cook getting time as well. If playing time is a priority for Webber, I doubt he’ll be a Laker.

On the floor, it’s pretty easy to picture Webber in the high post of the triangle, making smart passes to cutters and hitting the 15-foot jumper, generally being a good fit with the offense. And he is still a good passer — 18.1% of his possessions end in an assist (only Luke, Odom and Farmar have a higher percentage on the Lakers). And he can still grab rebounds, with the Sixers he grabbed 16.5% of the available boards (only Bynum at 17.6% is higher on the Lakers).

But Webber’s shot is fading — he’s shooting just 38.7% (eFG%) overall this season and 28.5% from the outside. For comparison, Radmanovic is has been off his game and is shooting 47.9%.

Then there is his defense, which is not good — opposing fours have a PER pf 17.9 and shoot 51.5% against him. Of course, those numbers are basically identical to Cook’s, and as Webber spent much of the season as a starter he likely faced a little stiffer competition. Surprisingly, Radmanovic is a little better than both of them on the season against fours (PER of 15.9, close to the league average, and opponents shoot 49.7%).

Bottom line for me — right now with all the injuries Webber sounds like a panacea, a guy who can give the team a boost. But how does he fit in longer-term with this team? Odom will be back in the next couple weeks, Kwame next month. Webber would be fighting for minutes in a crowded position, fighting with guys who are younger and, in the case of Radman, is just starting to figure out the offense.

I don’t think signing Webber is a bad move, but it’s a short-term answer. And I think if the Lakers are making moves it should be for the longer term, guys who will still be players in three years.

Tickets Wanted

Kurt —  January 11, 2007

Regular readers and commenters here may recognize Xavier, a Laker and hoops fan living in Barcelona.

He’s using his spring break to come to Los Angeles and is going to try to catch a couple of Laker games — but buying tickets while overseas has proved problematic for him. Most of the ticket exchange places won’t ship outside the United States.

So, he’s looking for a little help — if you have tickets to the April 1 game against Sacramento that you are willing to sell, Xavier will buy them off you. (He already has tickets to Memphis the previous week.) If you want to help, send him an email.

Thanks for helping out. And by the way, if you’re still wondering who Xavier is, maybe you remember over the summer when he wrote this:

please, DON’T SING SHAMOND WILLIAMS.

the 2 teams of my city are Joventud ( rudy fernandez’s team) and Barcelona ( JC Navarro, Pau Gasol ex-team… and Shamond Williams last team)

ACB (spanish league) is the strongest domestic league in europe and it’s doubtful that if a player can’t play great basketball or to show potential there, he wont contribute in the NBA. and shammond was just above average playing the PG. Sergio Rodriguez played better than him, he’s younger and was drafted 1 spot after Farmar.
This season Shammond was a shoot first player who wasn’t a great defender and who had some important turnovers… i think that Wafer will play a better basketball for the lakers than Williams, and Wafer it’s not the answer so imagine.

So much I’d like to write about, so little time because work is really hectic for me. So here are a couple conversation starters, and in the comments add your own thoughts about last night and tonight.

• Kobe Bryant, best selling jersey in the NBA.

• It bothers me to lose to teams the Lakers are better than, such as Memphis. This team has the annoying habit of playing to the level of its competition. But step back and look at the big picture — Odom is out, Kwame is out, and the Lakers are 7-3 in their last 10. I can’t get that worked up over this one misstep.

• Smart move by Phil last night to bench key players in a losing cause, saving a little something for tonight.

• No Yao tonight, but in his eight games back McGrady is averaging 30 points while shooting 51.3% (eFG%), 40.4% from three, The Rockets have been getting solid play also out of Howard, Battier and Mutombo. They are 7-3 in their last 10.

• Win tonight and the Lakers win the season series with the Rockets, giving them the tiebreaker for payoff seeding, if it comes to that.

Lace up the track shoes. Under Mike Fratello, the Grizzlies averaged 88.2 possessions per game, third slowest pace in the league. They also had the worst record in the NBA.

Under coach Tony Barone, things are different. I’ll let Kevin Pelton explain, in an article from Courtside Times:

In case you’re curious, the Grizzlies have averaged 97.2 possessions per 48 minutes in five games under Barone, up 10.2% from the 88.2 they averaged under Fratello. Their Offensive Rating (points per 100 possessions) has gone from 105.0 to 118.7, their Defensive Rating from 109.6 to 121.2. If maintained over a full season, the Barone Grizzlies would have far and away the league’s best offense and worst defense.

Whatever happened to… Dancing Barry. Ever wonder what happened to the guy in the white tux who danced his way through the Showtime era at the Forum. We’ll, he’s doing well, if a little bitter.

In case you missed it. After the Lakers beat the Nuggets Friday night, George Karl called the Lakers the best passing team in the NBA.

For what it’s worth. These two met way back in the eighth game of the Lakers season, the Lakers winning a grind-it-out game 91-81. Lamar Odom had 20 points on 57.7% (eFG%) shooting, pulled down 16 rebounds and had seven assists. Kobe added 21. Pau Gasol didn’t play.

Because of all the changes, I’m not sure that game means squat tonight.

What to expect tonight. Honestly, I don’t know. I haven’t seen the new-look Grizzlies. On paper, guys like Hakim Warrick and Stromile Swift and Rudy Gay should thrive in the more open, up-tempo system. The Griz have some athletes to start building around (the question is will they change team philosophies again next summer, or in two years).

Memphis is 2-3 since the coaching changeover, with wins over we’ll-run-with-you Toronto and Golden State. The Lakers did a good job slowing the Nuggets in transition (by making shots, pounding the offensive glass then getting back) and they need to do that again tonight.

Pau Gasol is back and in his lat 10 is shooting 60% and is pulling down 6.8 rebounds per game. This will be a good challenge for Bynum defensively, here is a guy who can hit the outside shot (shooting 50% on jumpers) or get some points inside (74.3% close to the basket).

Last meeting between these two Mike Miller led Memphis with 21 points, shooting 71% (eFG%). He’s been a thorn in the Lakers side for a while, so slowing him would be nice.

Luke Walton said it after the Dallas game — the Lakers can beat the Mavs, Suns and Jazz of the world, but to be considered elite they have to stop losing to the Charlottes of the world. This is one of those game, the Lakers can and should win this one.

Just Be A Fan

Kurt —  January 8, 2007

We’ll stay cautious and level-headed, right?

DrRayEye asked that after the Lakers best win of the season last night, and it’s a fair question.

On one hand, my head keeps reminding me that they don’t award any NBA hardware in January; that beating Dallas in one game and in a seven-game series are two very different things; and that the Lakers still have the 21st-ranked defense in the league (in terms of defensive efficiency) and that could well come back to bite them; that based on point differential the Lakers look more like a 48-49 win team.

But I’m a fan — I want my team to win and by extension am naturally optimistic about their chances. Rose-colored glasses look good on me. And it’s hard not to be excited about this Laker team today.

This is what being a fan is about, enjoying wins like the one over Dallas. It’s about seeing a team come together before your eyes. It’s about seeing guys you’ve watched struggle — like Sasha — blossom when you least expect it. It’s about guys with great stories — like Ronny Turaif — stepping up and making big plays when maybe they shouldn’t even be in the league. It’s about watching your biggest star grow and mature.

…This team has been a joy to watch this season. Seeing the ball work its way around on a set has been fun instead of excruciating (see 2004-2005).

Rob L. said that and he’s right. We can break down all the numbers and plays (and we will), but there are times to just sit back, watch it all unfold and be a happy fan. Today is one of those days.

I’ve been a Lakers fan since the ’60’s; Baylor was my one of my role models as a kid. But I haven’t liked them much in the post-Magic era, though I tried when Phil came to LA a year after I did. But early on this year, I saw a huge change in Kobe, and started tuning in. Even bought a Laker’s jersey last month. Loved what I saw Friday night; great camaraderie and everyone having a ball.

The comparisons to the first Bulls’ 3peat squad are obvious. Nobody’s getting in the way of the team so they can show up on ESPN. They’re playing the game, and I’m lovin it!
—Chicago Al

It was 35 years ago today. Dallas comes to town winners of 13 in a row, the most recent one an impressive win against San Antonio Friday. This would be an appropriate day for that streak to end — it is the 35th anniversary of the end of the Lakers record 33-game win streak. That team (led by Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain) started the season 6-3 then got hot and won every game from mid-November through their fourth game in January.

That Laker team went on to win the title, this Mavs team might yet.

I must have had too much single malt Friday night. I could have sworn I saw Shammond Williams and Aaron McKie on the floor at the same time.

Kobe does his best John Stockton impression. Kobe was dishing and every other Laker starter shot 70% (eFG%) and ended up with an offensive rating (points per 100 possessions used) of 136 or higher. That will win you a lot of games. Also in that game, as was mentioned the comments, it was good to see Bynum have two good games in a row – especially since he’ll have to have a third for the Lakers to have a chance tonight, he needs to ready to rotate and stop Terry, Harris and Howard from winning the game in the paint.

Last meeting.
When the Lakers and Mavs got together last month, Dallas won because their starters dramatically outplayed the Laker starters. There were a couple of mitigating factors – it was the second game of a back-to-back and the Lakers first without Lamar Odom.

The Lakers forwards that night – Walton and Radmanovic – had bad nights. Meanwhile, the Mavs got big nights out of Josh Howard (29 points, 60.5% shooting), Jason Terry (26 points on 60% shooting and a crazy offensive rating of 143), and of course Dirk Nowitzki (23 points on 57% shooting, 14 rebounds and 8 assists). Then off the bench there was speedy Devin Harris, with 14 points on 83.3% (eFG%) shooting,

The Mavs took the lead early and that game, but late in the third and into the start of the fourth – when the Lakers subs got minutes – they tied the game up. Then Dallas put its starters back in and, well, that was that.

About this game: I’m not worried about the Lakers scoring, they were the last team to break 100 on the Mavs and the Laker offense has not been the problem.

But this needs to be the team’s best defensive game of the year for them to have a chance. Cook and Radman have to play well on Dirk (this is a game we really miss Lamar), Bynum needs to intimidate Terry, Harris and Howard in the paint and still keep Dampier off the boards. Smush/Farmar/Sasha have to step up on the Dallas points. It will have to be a team effort.

About Last Night. Well, I really liked the first quarter. It helped that apparently the Kings’ defense strategy involved doubling Kobe and Bynum and ignoring Brian Cook. Kobe, when he started scoring on the night, got to the line a lot and was very efficient overall (70.5% true shooting percentage, which is like points per shot attempt, and he did it while using a healthy 28% of the Laker possessions). Good nights shooting for Cook, Walton (team high +18) and Bynum (although Sir Charles is right that he needs to be more aggressive in the post with a smaller guy on him).

As the game wore on the Lakers got away from what they did early and didn’t make adjustments – when the Kings started fronting Bynum in the post the Lakers didn’t burn it with lobs. Oh, and then the Kings broke out that fancy new offensive play — the pick and roll — which clearly Smush and Bynum had never seen before.

All that frustration aside, with Kwame and Odom out, playing a hot team on the road, gutting out a win like that is just fine by me. Every win right now is a thing of beauty,

Dealing with AI. Since Iverson was traded to Denver (lately known as the “coldest place on earth”) there have been a lot of scouting reports on the Web, from smart people such as David Thorpe at ESPN.com, and their notes gave me some stuff to look for when I watched them recently. So, with me cribbing them, here are some thoughts:

First, the Nuggets play at the fastest pace in the league (98.5 possessions per game, three more a game than Phoenix) and that is really best for Iverson, who is better suited to playing in the open court than the slow-it-down system coaches seemed to try to force on him. Honestly, there is no good way to defend him in space. Make your shots, try to get back and just limit the fast break opportunities as much as you can.

In the half court, AI will be running the pick-and-roll all night, and the book on Iverson is to go under those (that should make Smush happy). The goal is to make Iverson a jump shooter, he has shot just 38% [eFG%] on jumpers this season. (To be fair, he has been hot since coming West, shooting 73% on jumpers, but that won’t last.) The other thing is the Nuggets tend to do the pick-and-roll with Marcus Camby, which is good because your big can come out to slow AI — Camby won’t hurt you until he’s within two feet of the basket.

What about when Melo gets back? Great thoughts from ESPN’s Thorpe:

When Anthony returns, it is fair to assume that A.I.-Melo two-man games are going to be a common part of Denver’s half-court set. If Anthony’s man hedges hard to control Iverson’s drive, A.I. will simply pass to Melo in open space — a scary thought to any defense.

Paging DrRayEye. If want to see a playground starting lineup, how about this for the Nuggets next year: AI, Melo, K-Mart, Smith and Camby.

Things to look for:
Second game of a back-to-back, with the first game going into overtime, against a team that wants to run. That is a bad set up for the Lakers.

Bynum (and Turiaf and Cook) MUST come out and hedge or show on Iverson coming off the pick in the pick-and-roll. If they lay back, as has been the Laker tendency of late, it is going to be a long night.

Bottom line, Kobe and AI will be the leading scorers and grab the headlines tonight, but the team that has the other players step up will win the game.