Archives For March 2007

Talking Spanish basketball. Got to meet and hang out with regular commenter Xavier last night, who is in town from Barcelona on spring break. The guy knows his hoops — and he’s dedicated. How many games would you watch if the only one a day was at 4 a.m.? (Granted, in Barcelona some of us would just be getting home at 4 a.m.).

Comparing Waltons. Heard an interview with Bill Raftery, the long-time college and NBA television basketball analyst this morning. The conversation had drifted to Bill Walton and Raftery said something interesting (and I paraphrase here): “Luke’s game is just like his father’s but facing the basket. They both see the court and make passes the same way.”

Scouting The Rockets. I watched the streaking Rockets take on the Clippers the other night, and made a few notes on how they may attack the Lakers.

Two plays they run could be big trouble. The first is they bring Yao Ming out to the three-point line straight away, then run the pick-and-roll with him and McGrady. The other guys on the floor try to space out so that if McGrady kicks out Rafer Alston or Shane Battier can drain the three. Houston only ran it a handful of times against the Clips because it was defended pretty well, but history suggests the Lakers will not play it as well.

The other play they like to run is just posting up Yao on the low block. Because he is so hard to stop one-on-one the double usually comes, and when it does Yao shows he’s also a good passer out of the post. Cutters come to the basket and other players space out for the three. The Lakers need Kwame back for this tonight, his strength can root Yao out of the block a little (he shoots 55% right around the basket but force him five feet out and that falls to 47%).

Other plays include the “Afflalo play” where they run McGrady off a couple screens along the baseline, then he curls up to the wing and gets the ball, ideally with enough room created for him to have options, If the Lakers don’t make smart switches here, well, McGrady will have options and that’s not good.

The Rockets second unit will run the pick and roll as well, with Head and Howard, and they run it well. Also, when Yao goes out Battier took on more of the offense against the Clippers.

Then there’s the defense.
Rather than explain it myself, I’ll let the always-insightful Kevin from Clipperblog do so (from his post game thoughts on their loss to the Rockets):

All three members of Houston’s frontcourt — Battier, Hayes, and Yao — are probably among the 15-20 best defensive players in the league. Not surprisingly, their halfcourt defense is ferocious. You saw it all night, particularly in the latter half of the third quarter, when the Clippers could get absolutely nothing, scoring all of four points in the final 7:40 of the period.

Things To Look For: I think we’re going to see how the Lakers look against a team playing well (8-2 in the last 10) gearing up for the playoffs tonight. The question is whether the Jekyll or Hyde Lakers show up. I expect a big effort, but then I expected to beat Memphis. You never know what you’ll get from the Lakers night to night.

Say a little prayer that Steve Javie isn’t one of the refs tonight.

The Clippers had success going right at Yao to get him in foul trouble. They had Brand in a good spot and when Yao came over to help on the drive Brand went right into his chest to draw the foul. Maggette did the same thing. Kobe and Odom can do that, and less Yao is good. Of course, Dikembe did pretty well against the Lakers last meeting.

Houston is not scoring a lot — Yao is shooting just 47% in the last 10, McGrady just 43.2% (eFG%). The thing is, with their defense that is good enough. The Lakers need a big offensive night as a team — and to play defense as a team — to get the win tonight.

One Step Up And Two Steps Back

Kurt —  March 28, 2007

Honestly, I’m of two minds on last night’s ugly loss to Memphis.

If this were December I’d tend to write it off as just a bad shooting night. Every team throws up a couple dud games over the course of a season, this could be just one of those. Just forget it and move on.

But it was the way they lost it, and when they lost it, which makes it hard to do so in this case. They actually played decent defense against everyone not named Kinsey on Memphis and held the Griz to 45.8% (eFG%) shooting and 20% from three as a team.

What grated me was best summed up by the Daily News’ beat guy Ross “not the one from Heroes” Siler in his blog:

It takes a discipline to break a zone that the Lakers don’t have. They missed Brown’s interior passing, as Jackson cited after the game. They also missed having Vladimir Radmanovic to rain 3-pointers and force the Grizzlies out of that zone.

At one point this season the Lakers were disciplined on offense and had George Karl and others calling them the best passing team in the NBA. Guys moved without the ball and made the extra pass for the easy basket. The injuries tripped up that momentum, and the Lakers appear nowhere close to getting it back — there was so little movement off the ball last night it didn’t look like the triangle.

Maybe Kobe’s streak blinded me and other fans a little — I thought he was dragging this team back into the light. As the streak went on the defense improved a little and other guys started to step up on offense. Then Memphis goes into a zone, Kobe goes cold and rather than step up everyone else went into hibernation. You beat the zone by attacking its soft underbelly, and Bynum is the best offensive big the Lakers have, yet he was a non-factor. And Odom, ugh. Really I could go into a long list of players, or break down the patheticness of specific possessions, but I couldn’t stomach rewinding the TiVo to do it. I just wanted to push “erase.”

I hate to put a lot of stock in any one regular season game, but I think the Houston contest Friday night will be a very good measuring stick for this team. I’m not near saying this team can’t find its stride heading into the playoffs, but Friday night we’re going to see what the Lakers look like against a team playing at a playoff caliber right now, with its pieces healthy and starting to make a push. After that we’ll have a pretty good idea of what lies ahead in April and May.

Looking back at Elgin Baylor. I think a lot of younger fans have no idea that the guy who is now the Clipper GM is really one of the all-time great offensive forces, a guy whose game paved the way for Jordan, Kobe and many more. Thanks to a find by one of my favorite bloggers, Bethlehem Shoals, you can catch the highlight video of when Baylor dropped 61 on the Celtics in the NBA finals. Watch his game — defenders fear his drives to the basket so they play back, and he just elevates and hits the jumper over them. Sound familiar?

Déjà vu. Didn’t we just see the Lakers take on Memphis…. ah, yes, I remember. I remember that Kobe scored 60, the Lakers torched the worst defense in the league for 121 points, and they still only won by 2.

Two keys from that game. First, the Lakers got good play from their bench — Kobe and Odom were paired with Bynum, Sasha and Shammond for the little run the Lakers made at the start of the fourth quarter to cement the lead they never relinquished (but boy did they try). Not so coincidentally, those were the only Lakers in the positive for +/- for the game (for the new people to this site, +/- is how the team does while a player is on the floor; for example if you play just 10 minutes but your team outscores the opponent by five in that stretch, you are +5). The Lakers should get another good night from their subs.

Second, the Lakers played terrible defense — as a team Memphis shot 60% (eFG%), they shot 36.4% from three. Of particular trouble were Pau Gasol (35 points on 17 of 23 shooting) and Mike Miller (33 points and 6 of 8 from three). But the Lakers wanted to be fair so they played bad defense against everyone.

Two things to see if the Lakers carry over from Sunday. First is defense, the Lakers only played it in flashes in the win against Golden State but that was an improvement. Will they build on that, or is the Pau Gasol show back in town? Remember, the Lakers have given up 100 points or more for 10 straight games.

Second, as the Warriors did Sunday, look for Memphis to try to deny Kobe the ball and run doubles and triples at him. He’ll give the ball up if other guys hit the shots, will Odom/Walton/anyone step up again to that challenge as they did Sunday?

What struck me as odd on Monday, in the wake of Kobe only being able to muster 43 points while being triple teamed and denied the ball, was the debate in some of the media about whether Kobe’s streak was good for the team.

The argument goes like this: Kobe has been shooting and not been getting his teammates involved, not doing the things that made the Lakers a dangerous team early in the season. He has stifled team play and growth, things that will come back to haunt the Lakers as the playoffs roll around.

My reaction — are you kidding me? The streak was not going to last forever, everyone knew that, but what it did was jumpstart a moribund team.

Let’s start with the very basic bottom line — the Lakers had lost seven in a row before the streak and had played like crap for a month. Now, they have won five in a row, solidifying a playoff spot just a week after people were whispering that the team would drop out of the postseason all together.

And what about those “other players” who have been left out in the cold. Since he came back from injury (six games ago), Lamar Odom has shot 58% from the floor and averaged 16.5 points and 11.5 rebounds per game, including 24 and 19 against Golden State. Luke Walton came back five games ago (timed with the winning streak — coincidence?) and is shooting 50% (eFG%) while averaging 9.4 points, 7.4 assists and 5.6 rebounds a game. They are doing just fine with Kobe scoring a ton, thank you.

Then there are the other guys getting room to step up as Kobe has drawn the double and triple teams. Shammond Williams is coming off the bench, shooting 53.8% from beyond the arc and taking care of the ball, which is why he and not Smush closed out the game against Golden State. Ronny Turiaf had 7 points, 4 rebounds and 2 blocks in the fourth quarter against Golden State off the bench. Against the Nooch, Kwame Brown stepped up with 10 points on 5-7 shooting. Each of the last five games has other examples.

Kobe’s points have come at the expense of some — like the slumping Smush Parker (shooting just 45% [eFG%] and 23% from three in his last 10 games) and the injured Brian Cook. But is it really bad when you best shooter takes shots that would have gone to slumping or injured players?

The bottom line is this team needed someone to take over and get them winning again, and Kobe has done that. He’s done that in spite of the team playing some of its worst defense of the year. He’s done it without passing much but now his teammates have started to respond and step up to help him.

He’s brought the team back to doing what it did early in the season, when the offense was so good it won in spite of the weak defense. With some confidence building, players getting healthy, normal player rotations returning and the energy of a playoff drive building, maybe the defense will start to come around. Maybe not. And if not it is that long-porous defense that will stymie the team come playoff time, not the fact Kobe went on a scoring binge.

What Kobe did was get his team back on a winning track. And that’s what you ask a superstar to do.

Going for five. Really, it’s becoming hard to keep coming up with ways to describe Kobe’s brilliance the last four games. Today I get a little help from Rob L., who has been keeping a lot of Laker stats on the season.

When Kobe has been on the floor this season, he’s averaged using 24.6% of the team’s possessions (meaning when he was on the floor basically one in four Laker possessions ended with a Kobe shot, him getting fouled, or a turnover; that would put him in the top10 in the league). He scored 114.3 points on every 100 possessions he used (called his offensive rating), a very good number considering how much he has the ball in his hands (for comparison, as a team the Lakers score about 105 points per 100 possessions).

Then came the last four games: Portland he used 38.5% of the possessions with an offensive rating of 144.3; Minnesota he used 37% of the offense and had an offensive rating of 113.9; Memphis was 38.9% of the offense with a rating of 134.4; then against the Hornets it was 32.8% of the offense and a rating of 136.1%.

As Rob pointed out, only against Minnesota did he play “down” to his average and he did that carrying a crazy amount of the offense.

We Got KG. In the hypothetical world of True Hoop’s Kevin Garnett derby, the Forum Blue & Gold submission won the public voting. If only the real world worked this way….

Getting team play. While Kobe has been amazing, there has been good play from the other Lakers. Since his return, Lamar Odom is shooting 55.2% (but has yet to hit a three, the shoulder clearly giving him some problems), plus he is pulling down 10 boards a game. Luke Walton is shooting 51.4% (eFG%) and is averaging 7 assists per game. There was even some good off the bench play from the “hope for the future” combo of Bynum and Farmar.

Ready to run. Golden State plays at the fastest pace in the league, averaging 97.2 possessions per game — that is three more possessions per game than Phoenix (and almost six more than the Lakers, and they are eighth in the league.

That’s a lot of chances for Kobe…

Hot and fast. Not only is Golden State fast they are hot, having won seven of their last 10. They are just one game back of the Clippers for the chance to be the first Golden State team to make the playoffs in more than a decade.

Great guard play. Leading the charge for Nellie’s Warriors is the two guards that are finally healthy at the same time, Baron Davis and Jason Richardson.

In the last 10 games, Davis is shooting 60.5% (eFG%) and 28% from three, averaging 20 points, seven assists and five boards a game during that stretch. At the same time Richardson is shooting 52.4%, 39.4% from three.

Great team play. The other thing that has driven the Warriors is quality contributions from other guys. Al Harrington is scoring 17 a game shooting 59.5%, 52.5% from three in the last 10 games. Monta Ellis is shooting 52% and chipping in 13 a game in that spann. Andris Biedrins is shooting 63% and is giving them 11 points and 11 boards a game of late.

Worth reading. Golden State has one of the better NBA team blogs out there in Golden State of Mind, which drew 350 people to a game last week the promise of the chance to hang out with other like-minded geeks to watch some hoop.

What to look for tonight: Bet the over (which is at a whopping 222,so maybe not).

Can the Lakers defend enough tonight. There were flashes of defense in recent games, even from Smush, but flashes will not be enough against the streaking Warriors. I’m not sure this is a game where the Laker offense can bail out the defense.

A Wonder to Watch

Kurt —  March 24, 2007

Kobe’s streak hits four, and (as ESPN’s Marc Stein said [insider]) with Golden State and Memphis up next, the streak could reach six.Forget the defense (the Lakers have), Kobe’s amazing play is simply one of those times we should sit back and be amazed. This is fun to watch.

Preview & Chat: NOOCH

Kurt —  March 23, 2007

Kobe is amazing. Here’s the thing, while he’s scored 175 points in three games (which is just crazy) he’s doing it efficiently. He’s shooting 60.8% (eFG%), or if you just want to go old-school field goal percentage you still get 54%. He’s shooting 53.6% from three-point range.

It’s one thing to take a lot of shots, but to score this efficiently while taking on that much of the offense is all the more incredible.

Understanding Kobe’s drive. Roland Lazenby, from a perspective that only he can provide, talks about Kobe’s psychology:

His ambition has been blamed for wrecking a Lakers dynasty. He has battled himself, his teammates, his coaches, the game itself. He has done so fearlessly, relentlessly, with little sign of regret or doubt, only the dogged pursuit of his vision of what he is supposed to be.

There was no question that Bryant could on any given night be blinded by his own brilliance, just as his teammates could be mesmerized by it.

Soon many fans came to equate his every action with selfishness, so that no matter what he did, or how brilliantly he did it, his accomplishments were met with derision.
The realization of this first drove Bryant to despair; then it drove him to compromise.

I like to hammer Phil Jackson in this column, almost as much as I like to extol the virtues of Tex Winter. Both men deserve much credit for their work with Bryant. Winter guided and nurtured him through the harsh phases of his career.

And after being Bryant’s uncommunicative enemy for several seasons, Jackson has become his ally, the man responsible for guiding him toward a team mind-set.

Often Jackson and Winter have differed in their opinions on how to handle Bryant. Now, though, they seem to agree that the Lakers absolutely need Bryant and the full firepower of his arsenal to push the team out of its doldrums and back on track toward the playoffs.

As a result, Bryant is now realizing his vision of 50-point games, of dominating, of “being the man.”

The latest elbow. You can see the video here. To me, Jones is running at Kobe, who puts his arm up to create a little space and inadvertently caught him in the face. I can see calling the foul there, although Jones embellished to draw the foul, but it’s not a suspendable act. Or you wouldn’t think so.

An item for us stats guys. If you stat friendly types have not been following the most recent thread of discussion on Dave Barri’s work over at APBR, you should be. Non-stat types, Henry at True Hoop did a quality wrap up.

I do not believe there is a “holy grail” stat out there that can summarize a player. I use Hollinger’s PER, but to me it is a snapshot stat, one that gives you the big picture. The real info is in the details.

The value of an assist. In the comments a few posts back, Ian started a little talk about the value of an assist, with of course Nash taking center stage. But as I said there, sometimes people ignore there are two parts to the assist — the pass and the guy who made the shot.

What would happen if you took Steve Nash and put him on New Orleans? The only two guys on the Hornets who play significant minutes and shoot over 50% (eFG%) are Peja and Tyson Chandler. And you don’t want Chandler to shoot a lot. (Compare that to the Lakers, where 8 guys are over 50% and Odom is at 49.5%.) While Chris Paul is no Nash, our Canadian friend’s assist total would drop if he needed David West and Desmond Mason to drain shots and not Stoudemire, Marion and Bell. Chirs Paul gets a lot of assists but he’d get a lot more if he had guys around him who could finish.

The only two things to watch tonight:
1) Will Kobe continue on his torrid pace? (To answer a common question [via Skigi and old friend Dan Reines— and I mean OLD — in the comments] Wilt scored 50+ in 7 straight, then did 5 straight another time. He was a true man among boys.)

Will the Lakers play any defense? While the Lakers have won three straight it’s because the offense has bailed the defense out, or maybe it is more accurate to say Kobe has. Last time the Lakers played NOOCH they lost, giving up 113 points — and that was without Chris Paul in the lineup (David West had 26 and Rasual Butler had 20 and was 4 of 7 from beyond the arc). The Lakers need to play better than that, better than the last three games.

I’m happy Memphis is so bad. For purely selfish reasons, I’m glad they picked this season to go from the playoffs to the worst team in the NBA — it means I may get a close-up look at Durant or Oden. Memphis is one of two teams (the Lakers the other) already committed to the 2007 Summer Pro League in Long Beach. They also are going to have a lot of ping-pong balls in the draft lottery hopper. So the chances are good I should get to see one of the two up close at the Pyramid come July.

And maybe Kobe will swing by the Pyramid and talk to Durant. For the first time.

The Lakers miss the synthetic ball.
Injuries, sminjuries. The ball is the problem. (Good work Nate and Goo.)

Offense shouldn’t be a problem.
The Lakers should be able to score plenty tonight — Memphis is the worst defensive team in the NBA. They give up 109.3 points per 100 possessions, and as bad as we think (or know) the Lakers are defensively this season the Griz are 4 points worse per 100 possessions. They allow teams to shoot 52% (eFG%) against them. They don’t defend any position on the floor well. Or look at it this way: last meeting between these two teams the Lakers put up 118 points, without Lamar Odom.

This is one team Kobe could get 50 on fairly easily, but it’s also a team where he may not have to.

But will the Lakers play any defense? The Lakers lost that last meeting because they let the new up-tempo Grizzlies score 128. Seven Memphis players scored in double digits, led by Mike Miller and Pau Gasol with 25. As a team Memphis shot 53% in that game and took control in the third quarter never to look back.

In the last two Laker wins, they have done it in spite of allowing opponents to average 122 points per 100 possessions. Think about that — the Griz are last in the NBA this season at 109. The Lakers need to shore up the defense starting tonight and stop counting on Kobe to bail them out with offensive fireworks.

Other Grizzlies to watch. Outside of Gasol and Miller there are really only a few Griz playing well this season — super rookie Rudy Gay (who has moved into the starting lineup), Hakim Warrick and, on offense at least, Chucky Atkins. Now, they are all starters, after them the drop off is pretty dramatic.

No Brian Cook. His ankle isn’t right, so he will sit. Because if every Laker was healthy at the same time it would be the seventh sign of the apocalypse.

Things to look for: Odom had 21 against the Griz earlier in the season, but was injured for the last game. Look for him to bounce back. He also should get plenty of minutes with Cook out.

Defense is a team thing, but a couple things we should hope to see: 1) Don’t let Miller shoot uncontested threes, he is pretty mediocre from the midrange but deadly from the three, in the last 10 games shooing 34.7% from three (40% for the season); 2) There isn’t a lot of spots to push Gasol to where he can’t score and he’s hot lately shooting 55.6% in the last 10 games, but he shoots a lower percentage from the right block/baseline side than the left.

This should be a night the Laker bench, the depth that was so key earlier in the season, starts to make resurgence.

It would be nice to get an early lead and get some key guys rest with another game tomorrow. But a win is the key.