Just What Should We Expect?

Kurt —  March 19, 2007

Two fun-to-watch wins, a team getting healthy physically and psychologically (with a few softer games ahead to help gain some momentum).

The Lakers are starting to look like the team we saw earlier in the season — even if Kobe has to drag them back into the light with 50-point games. While he rightfully gets plenty of accolades, anyone who had watch the Lakers through the Dark Ages of the last month realized just how much better this team is with Walton and Odom back in the fold — heck, even Smush Parker had nine assists (and shot 8 of 10 from the floor, making smart decisions every time he had the ball).

But what are the realistic goals for this team right now? Back last summer Mitch Kupchak hinted the goal was 50 wins and reaching the second round of the playoffs. Well, unless the Lakers win out they aren’t reaching 50. A solid 10-5 last 15 games gives them some momentum and the same win total as last season (despite far more injuries). That seems realistic.

What about winning in the first round of the playoffs? Most likely that means knocking off San Antonio (yes, it could be Phoenix, we’ll see). It’s not impossible — they’ve taken two out of three from the Spurs, although that was when the Lakers were healthy and playing better in December and January, while the Spurs were playing worse.

But there is one thing the Lakers have to start doing if they are going to win a playoff series against anyone — play better defense. They can win a game or two with the offense carrying the load (much like they did the last two games, when Kobe took over), but to win a series they have to get more stops (because San Antonio will).

For the season the Lakers are allowing 106.2 points per 100 opponent possessions (which puts them 24th in the league), and opponents are shooting 50.2% (eFG%) against them. In the last two games, those thrilling Laker wins, they allowed 122 points per 100 possessions and allowed opponents to shoot 50% (eFG%) from the floor. And those are teams without a Duncan/Parker/Ginobli lineup (or, worse yet, Nash/Stoudemire/Marion).

That’s what I want to see as the season closes out — the Lakers to get better on defense. If they do it, they stand a chance of knocking off anyone.

But, more importantly, getting the defense right is what takes this team to another level next year. And while some of that will have to come with personnel changes, some of it has to come from better play from the guys on the roster. That’s what I expect to see from here on out.

Kurt

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33 responses to Just What Should We Expect?

  1. Want better defense? Get Smush to decide what he is going to when somebody lays a pick on him.

  2. I feel safe in saying the Laker staff has been trying to get Smush to do that for nearly two years now.

  3. I have been watching every Laker game as long as I remember, and one thing that I notice Kobe do every single year is step it up a notch after the all star break. Back when we had Shaq… right after the all star break they would both kick it into another gear and carry that extra gear into the playoffs. Kobe and Lamar did it last year (Lamar’s second half of last season was great) and I expect no less this year.

    Kobe, as we all saw the past two games, has switched from pass mode to attack mode. I don’t see him letting up on it the rest of the way. What we need now is for Lamar to also kick it up a notch and be in attack mode. That is the difference between regular season teams and playoff teams.

  4. Looking at playoff matchups, i’d say the Lakers have the best chance against Dallas. This is because they have nobody adequate enough to contain kobe. Lamar is a tough matchup for Dirk and Terry isn’t a ‘break the defense’ down guard. This all favors the Lakers and its concievable that we steal a series from them. After that I’d rather play San Anotinio becuase for all of Bowen’s accolades it’s far easier for Kobe to score on him than on Bell. Add in Nash and the Suns are by far the worst matchup for the Lakers

  5. Just a couple notes from Kevin Ding in the OC Register to continue the talk of our centers from the last comment thread:

    With the Bynum/Phil/Shaw incident, apparently the ball being lost was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. Phil had been pressuring Bynum to be more aggressive (Ding noted something I had seen, that at times Bynum had Mark Madsen on him and didn’t 1) demand the ball; 2) do anything with it when he got it; that is a mismatch that should be exploited). Apparently the jawing was just Phil’s frustration with Bynum boiling over.

    As for Kwame’s “hands” problem, Phil has told Laker passers to start throwing passes to Kwame’s head, figuring that his instinctive reaction to protect his face will improve his catching skills.

  6. I think as long as we stay #6, we are pretty much on a collision course with San Antonio in the 1st round who we have a great shot of beating, and then we would have to play the winner of the 2-7 matchup which would be either Phoenix or Denver. If we pass the 2nd round, we would meet the Mavs in the Conf Finals.

    Its not set in stone but highest possiblity that this will be our rout to glory

  7. Beating the 3 2 1 teams in order? Unfortunately not a chance..I can’t help but think the cosmos were in place for Lakers to steal a championship last year but instead we have gained massive amounts of negative karma for allowing Tim Thomas to hit that 3 in game 6 and facing the wrath of the basketball gods (evidenced by our injuries)…they would have faced a very beatable Clippers team (which would have been an awesome series to watch anyways) and last year’s Dallas team that the Lakers matched up well against (and played well against in the regular season)…and then could have had one of the most entertaining finals in history with the Heat vs LA…sigh

  8. Goo, don’t bring back those memories. I was in the second row right in front of where Tim Thomas shot that damn shot. I wanted to throw my coke at him after he hit that.

  9. 7 – I totally agree. If you want to talk about easy paths to the championship, they had it last year. They could’ve taken a Mavs team that hadn’t yet learned how to play D on Kobe (or didn’t have the personel to). I don’t know if they would’ve beat the Heat (or if the refs would’ve let Smush so much as look at DWade without getting a flagarant 1), but they had their easy route last year.

    This year, I don’t see it happeneing. You can’t put anything past this team after how we saw them come together in the playoffs last year, but I’m not putting my money on the Lakes.

    With regards to Kobe’s “reverting” to ballhog as some in the media like to think: that’s why the Lakers had a shot at beating the Suns last year. You think, after a year of Kobe averaging 35 ppg that they saw Kwame, Luke, Odom etc coming? No way. The Lakers have 2 game plans, and sometimes 1 works, sometimes it doesn’t. If the rest of the team is playing healthy, its hard to predict how the Lakes will play you, creating a matchup nightmare for any team but Dallas.

  10. Watching the game last night, my favorite moment was seeing the FT comparisons… 23 for Minny, 6 for the Lakers. Shut up, Phil. Kobe was getting mauled out there, and the refs were smiling as it happened. Another highlight? Kobe getting called for a palming violation, a blatant “make-up” call by the far-side ref to the prior play.

    Smush… I know he had a good game, but good gravy. Watch him on D after his man brings up the ball and passes. Smush TURNS HIS BACK TO HIM and loses him for the rest of the possession, causing everyone else to scramble. EVERY TIME.

    Trade Bynum for KG. You can’t coach passion. You can’t develop it. You either have it or you don’t. Bynum is another talented 18 year old (I know, 19 now) who’s getting paid and doesn’t care if he wins or loses. KG isn’t like that, and we need more players like him, both on the Lakers and in the NBA.

  11. Kurt,

    Your analysis couldn’t be more on target. I’m with you, but:

    Dream on.

    If there is a true commitment to defense, it will come from the top and be visible not only in play but substitutions.

    What if someone said that the Lakers only made 20 points in the first half?

    In March madness a few days ago, that was UCLA–except they were ahead by 7. Indiana only had 13 points in the whole first half!

    The Lakers don’t think defense–and it comes through loud and clear through substitution patterns. It was painful to watch all of Kwame’s hard defensive work and the Laker lead go up in smoke when Bynum came in against Minnesota yesterday to finish. One would think that the Lakers should protect a sizable lead with defensive players. Yesterday, they were closing with Smush and Bynum.

    The Lakers have Farmar, one of those magnificent UCLA defenders from last year’s team–and he doesn’t fit in. He makes a fool of himself by pushing through screens or switching fluidly or blocking the shots of big guys that he guards on a switch. The Laker’s have turned him from the example of “how to play” to the example of “how to sit on the bench.” They complain about his 3 but never brag about his preoccupation with defense, forgetting that Jason Kidd has similar problems even now. The big recent problem with Farmar is that he may be trying to be a bit like Smush to get playing time–not rookie mistakes.

  12. Kobe should be gunning. People are doubling him and then rotating, we aren’t getting the extra pass and putting up terrible shots. Kobe does as good of a job as he can finding an open man in the double team, but we need someone like Vlad/Cool Hand Luke in there who can just sit in the corner, wait for the rotation to leave him and pop a three when they do that.

    Granted, Kobe can do this to the weaker defensive teams, but I think the Spurs are not as fearsome as they were in years past for the Lakers. They don’t have the athleticism to stick with Odom or Kobe at all. Duncan has lost half a step on defense and Bowen has lost a step or more. Parker, Manu, Barry and the rest haven’t been known for their defense anyway.

    We aren’t a good matchup for Dallas at all this year. Dirk’s hungry and will gladly guard Odom for the challenge, and I don’t think Odom has developed the killer instinct to battle Dirk and win like he would have last year. Kobe can be negated by Dallas because they play defense so well on everyone else it will take a superhuman effort four nights out of seven; I just don’t see that happening.

    The Suns.. well, I think we can take them because honestly they are an injury away from losing everything. You take any of their top six pieces – Barbosa to spell Nash, Amare in the post, Diaw to spell the forwards, Marion who does everything for this team, etc etc. They have even less of a bench this year than they did last year. This rivalry will be pretty intense and definitely will be something to watch.

    This is all ignoring the fact that we still have Smush at the starting point and frankly, I see Parker, Terry, and Nash abusing him all night long.

  13. Bryan, you’re right about having a real passion for the game. Either you have it or you don’t. Bynum hasn’t truly shown it as of yet. He doesn’t seem to be an alpha male type of player. KG had “it” when he came into the league. Kobe had “it”. Shaq O’Neal had “it”. Jermaine O’neal didn’t back when he came in…and now he’s pretty good. Let’s hop that all we’re seeing is Bynum’s immaturity and that he developes some kind of killer instinct that people can actually see when he’s out there playing.

    Most big guys play the game because they’re supposed to.
    Most little guys play it because they love to.

  14. kwame a., I think Dallas would put Howard on Kobe and that would be fairly effective, and at the rate they score they only need to be fairly effective on him.

    John, the thing about the Spurs defense is that the sum is greater than the parts — they play very good team defense. They’ve been together a long time, have great rotations and know when and how to cover each other. That said, I thought before the season they would be ripe for an upset this season, maybe they still are. I’m just not sold we could pull it off.

  15. Besides not having home court advantage, the Lakers have another apparent defeciency. They don’t have the key veteran role players that other teams have that can really make a difference in playoff games.

    However, they potentially have a special strategy that Phil has been sneaking piecemeal into games quite regularly–the super big lineup:

    Kwame at power forward
    Bynum at center
    Walton at small forward,
    Lamar at point guard
    Kobe at shooting guard

    If Phil is going in that direction, but wishes to keep it somewhat concealed, it might explain some of the Smush inspired rotations in which the Laker bigs come way out. If it were Nash sailing by Odom on a high pick and roll, Odom could let Nash go to his rotating big, and pick up, say, Stoudemaire .

    They solve the point guard problem by not having one!

    Now the need for extra bigs this year might be clearer.

    The Laker super big strategy might address Kurt’s call for better defense in the playoffs.

  16. DrRayEye,

    You’re talking about Kwame at the power forward. We know how that’s worked in the past.

  17. Dallas has done nothing to merit the respect or fear of a playoff team. Anyone claiming the Lakers choked last year must follow that with the statement that Dallas suffocated itself, up 15 in the 4th qtr in game 3 and not winning that game, or another, that’s a choke job. The only championship vet on Dallas is D-George, nuff said. That team is still as soft as it’s last implosion and if anyone caught the dallas-pho game they would’ve seen Dallas having a ’06 finals flashback against the Suns.

    Howard and Buckner are a decent match for Kobe, but then that means they have harris on Walton or Harris not starting at all. When they put Harris on Walton back in december we punished them for that, and I think we would do that all series long to them. Gimmick’s like having a 6’1 pg on 6’7 Luke will be exposed during a 7 game series.

  18. We OWN the Mavericks. Always have. Always will. Just because they have a good record all of a sudden doesn’t mean that they are not the Dallas Mavericks. The same Mavs who we had no problem with during our crappy Rudy T year, the same team that Kobe outscored by himself last year through 3 quarters, and the same team that we beat already this year.

  19. I can’t believe I am saying this but you guys are really disrespecting the mavs. I’m not saying they are invincible by any means but they are clearly the team to beat this year.

    Also Kurt congrats on making Truehoop’s new and improved blogroll.

  20. While I think we match up better with Dallas than the other two powers in the West, I still can’t see us beating them in a seven game series, they are too deep and they play solid team defense.

  21. 19. Wow, I just saw True Hoop, he really hacked it down. I can tell you first hand that the blogroll thing is one of the harder parts of the site, this summer I did a major upgrade (trying to fit in everyone) but I still get an email a week asking to be added by some new guy. A year ago I could list every NBA blog, now I feel like you have to go really big and try to get everyone, or go small. I totally see why Henry did it.

    That said, he cut some great blogs. Like Blog A Bull.

  22. 16 Paul, it’s not my plan, but Phil has used Kwame and Bynum together with some success recently.

  23. Hey y’all, show me some love over at the fanhouse today. I’m arguing the merits of why Kobe should be considered an MVP. Comparing this season to that of Michael Jordan’s 1988 season (where he won the MVP despite not being on one of the top teams in the league).

    http://nba.aolsportsblog.com/2007/03/20/what-is-a-nba-mvp

  24. the only reason we used the kwame/bynum lineup is injuries, not choice. If we stay relativley healthy you will never see kwame at the 4, he looks visibly uncomfortable playing the 4. Lamar will see 40+ mins at the 4 in the playoffs, Bynum’s time is going down and will continue to do so until he realizes that defensvie and offensive position are his two biggest weaknesses. He seems like the type to not acknowlegdge or accept constructive criticsm (contrary to all the kareem hoopla) and that is hindering his improvment. It can be argued he’s regressed since the first 2 mo. of the season.

    kurt, do you think the espn conglomerate will dillute truehoop, would you ever go “mainstream” on us?

  25. I think the uncensored version of what Phil said about kwame was, “Throw it at his nose or his ‘juevos’.”

    Dallas has shown in last year’s playoffs a need to be stronger mentally. The recent PHO loss cemented in a lot of folk’s heads that the Mavs and Dirk were still prone to mental breakdowns.

    However, once a team has been to the Finals and lost, they hold an advantage over everyone but those who have been there and done that.

  26. you guys are beating me to the things I wanted to link to today (the day job is holding me down). Be sure to check out Nate’s MVP post at fanhouse — he’s doing great work over there. On a site of all stars Nate (along with Shoals) are the standouts, at least in my mind).

  27. 24. RE: True Hoop’s move; I don’t think I’m betraying any confidences in saying that in my personal emails with Henry he said one of the reasons he made the move was he gets to bring his blog over as is. He’s doing — he has with True Hoop — the kind of cutting edge stuff espn.com used to be known for but does no longer. I don’t think they are going to mess with that. This move was a year in the making, as ESPN.com’s NBA editor Royce Webb had a lot of “suits” to convince.

    Now, this also will open up a lot of doors for Henry (who had opened up a lot himself in the last year or so), it will be interesting to see how this new access changes things. But I don’t think he’ll change.

  28. I’m going to say that the synthetic ball is the cause of the laker’s woes..seriously!
    With the Synthetic Ball (Before Jan. 1): 20-11
    Without the Synthetic Ball (Post Jan. 1) 15-21

    Conspiracy! I demand the synthetic ball returns

  29. Off topic a little — Long Beach State let their coach Larry Reynolds go tonight. Yes, despite making the tournament. Two things I hear from good contacts there: 1) They will say its about recruiting violations but it’s really about money, and the fact the program is losing a lot of it; 2) The AD has a relatively big name in his back pocket.

  30. Goo…I’m going to steal that Idea for a fanhouse post…hope you don’t mind.

  31. Nate..you could write a column titled “25 reasons that Goo sucks” and I wouldn’t mind

  32. Hey Goo…here is what you inspired…

    http://nba.aolsportsblog.com/2007/03/22/the-lakers-obviously-miss-the-synthetic-ball/

    and read how the guys reading it actually thought I was serious. So many Laker haters!