Archives For May 2007

Kentucky Derby Picks

Kurt —  May 5, 2007

It’s time for my one annual non-Lakers post making horseracing picks. (A longer-look at restructuring the Lakers is coming in the next day or so.) My wife and I have been to the Derby a couple times, love horse racing and throw a mean Derby party.

This race is always a little hard to pick because there are 20 horses in the field, which can lead to a lot of traffic and difficult trips for good horses. Specifically, Curlin jockey Albarado is going to have a great ride to keep a very good horse out of trouble coming out of the two hole. It’s also hard because so many prep races are now run on the new poly-track, while this race is on dirt.

It rained pretty hard yesterday in Kentucky, and there is a chance of rain today, but since it looked sunny at the morning “Breakfast at Churchill” broadcast I’m going to base these picks on a fast and dry track. But my favorite stays on top if there is slop.

1) Hard Spun. I think this horse has been building and building, and his amazing workout Monday shows that, and that he loves the dirt track at Churchill. My biggest concern is that the big work Monday took too much out of him, but I think that’s long enough to recover. Also, if it rains, this is my big choice; I think he wins handily in the slop.

2) Street Sense. Another horse that has great numbers over the dirt, and has dealt well in the past in races with a fast pace (this race likely will have one, most Derbys tend to start fast). He won the Breeders Cup Juvenile over this course last year, and I don’t by the fact that no BC Juvenile winner has won the derby means that much. He had an off-race in the Blue Grass (beaten by Dominican) but I think he will bounce back big.

3) Curlin. How can you ignore those last three races? Big, easy wins, albeit against lesser competition (the only other Derby horse he’s faced is long-shot Storm in May). If there is one “superhorse” in this field, Curlin is it. Plus, it’s a great name (he’s named after a former slave who fought for the Union in the Civil War).

If I were a betting man (and, ironically, I am) I’d put those three in an exacta box. If you’re going for exotics I’d probably put Tiago and Any Given Saturday in the mix on the back end.

Enjoy the race! And the big fight tonight. We’ll get back to the Lakers and the NBA tomorrow.

Positives To Look Back On

Kurt —  May 3, 2007

There’s a long off-season ahead, one that should prove to be interesting. But I’m going to take a few days before delving into it, and writing season wrap-ups, and reflect back on some of the positives from the past season. The things from the Lakers worth remembering and enjoying.

The emergence of Ronny Turiaf as the ultimate energy guy off the bench. Plus his dancing.

Lamar Odom’s heart.

Kobe, a guy I’ve seen play countless games and yet never ceases to make my jaw drop two or three times a game.

The flashes of what could be with Bynum and Farmar.

The way this team passed the ball and moved without it back in December — that is what basketball should look like.

Luke Walton’s emergence.

Kobe’s scoring streak.

Please add to the list.

Laker/Suns Chat: Game 5

Kurt —  May 2, 2007

Let’s talk about the technical stuff the Lakers need to do tonight.

In game three the Lakers started switching on the screen-and-roll the Suns ran, and also did some trapping (having both the center and the guard try to stop Nash from making a play). It worked pretty well for three quarters, as Jackson said Nash either turned his back to the play (the trap) or had an aggressive Odom or Kwame blocking his path.

For game four the Suns made a couple of key adjustments: 1) they pushed the tempo of the play up so the Lakers had to make their decisions faster; 2) they started “slipping” the pick-and-roll, meaning Amare (or Marion) faked setting a screen and then quickly slipped behind the defender to accept the pass. The Lakers would both be ready to trap but then there was no pick and the “picker” was running free. Often for a dunk.

Kwame a. did a nice job laying out the Laker options:

1. Continue to try to trap the screen and roll. They primarily utilize the Nash/Marion or Nash/Stoudemire screen roll. This leaves our sf or Kobe as the weakside perimeter help, and our center on the block. Last game when we tried to trap the screener rolled to the hoop, the c had to help, dunks ensued. To adjust the Lakers can have the perimeter player on the weakside sag into the pain to allow our c to rotate to the screener who slips the screen. This would still lead to some scrambling, and would open up the 3 ball for them, not sure if that’s the best thing for us.

2. Go back to switching the screen. This would probably be best for Lamar when he’s involved, maybe even Ronny, but not good for Bynum, Kwame or Cook.

3. Mix up our Defenses. We should trap when our Center is involved in the play and make sure we are disciplined in our rotations. When Lamar is involved we should switch.

As we have said before, a key part of the Laker defense is on offense. The Lakers must get the ball in the paint, they must pound the offensive boards hard. They must make the Suns pack in on defense some rather than be spread out and ready to run. And, the Lakers must hit a high percentage of shots.

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The Lakers may have a new starting point guard (Shammond?). But really, what matters is the energy the Lakers play with, the intensity and the passion. And I’ll throw in execution. If the Lakers can’t bring 48 minutes of high intensity play tonight, I don’t know what to say. Win or start scheduling all those off-season surgeries.

True Hoop Talks Lakers

Kurt —  May 2, 2007

Henry Abbot, the Godfather of basketball bloggers (don’t ask me about the horse head incident) has a long Laker post today, talking mostly about the future. A lot of smart people are quoted (plus me) and it makes a good read. Below is my part, but you really need to read the whole thing:

Under the very best of circumstances — everyone healthy and playing well as a team — the Lakers as constructed are a second-tier team in the West, maybe a four seed. I’d compare it to Houston (or maybe Denver), a team that none of the contenders really want to face, but a team that likely couldn’t beat them in a seven game series. Just about everyone in the organization has said they are “one player” away, and that’s fairly accurate, if that is a high-quality player.

The other thing the Lakers have had exposed in the playoffs is a lack of the confidence and composure a couple of battle-tested veterans can bring. You see it in San Antonio, Detroit, in other teams moving on. They are unflappable. The string of injuries created a lot of adversity for this team — and still does — but how the Lakers responded to that adversity has raised a lot of chemistry questions. In addition to the “one player” some more veteran stability is needed on this squad.

Also (and this strays a little from the question), the big off-season question becomes point guard. The spot has been at the root of the Lakers perimeter defense problems for two seasons now. It’s safe to say Smush is gone (and will make a fine back-up PG somewhere else, in a less structured offense, if he can accept the backup role). Farmar will be solid someday, but right now he needs someone to share that role with. The Lakers don’t have the money to get a Billups or Mo Williams in free agency. So this will be the most important, and hardest question, for management to deal with this off-season.

Fast Break Thoughts

Kurt —  May 2, 2007

So many things I wanted to write about the last couple days, but the real world keeps getting in the way. Basically, despite my frustration with the Lakers, there are some positives to write about.

• I don’t think enough praise can be heaped on Lamar Odom for his effort in this series. Torn labrum needing surgery, hyper-extended elbow and he is still one of he few Lakers hustling every game. His play his in the third quarter of game four was inspiring – one of the few Lakers trying to reverse the tide, and he’s doing it while barely able to shoot free throws.

So far in the playoffs he’s getting 48% of his shots inside, close to the basket, and is shooting 55% on those.

• The Dallas/Golden State series has been what playoff basketball is about. The energy of the fans, and the energy of the players, has been completely captivating. And I can’t wait for game six.

I’ve long had a soft spot for Baron Davis, ever since his UCLA days, I just love to watch the way he plays the game. So I love seeing him excel on the big stage. On the flip side, I thought it somewhat unfair that people are laying the Mavs problems at the feet of Dirk Nowitzki (as Kelly Dwyer said at SI.com, why is it so hard for Jason Terry to make a clean entry pass?), so it was great to see him almost single-handedly save the game for them last night.

Dallas has not solved its biggest problem from the last couple years – guards that can penetrate from the wing. Kobe killed them; remember the 62 in three quarters? Then there was Wade in the finals last year. Now Davis. When they face a team that can drive and hit outside shots, the Mavs are at a loss. And that hasn’t changed.

• Apparently there’s just something about the way Stephen Jackson claps his hands that grates on refs.

• The Heat are gone, and I’m not sad. I really don’t see how so many people picked them to beat Chicago in the first round. Although, as I’ve said here before, Chicago is one of my favorite teams to watch right now, I love their energy, I love (and envy) their defense. And how about that Loul Deng?

The series against Detroit should be another good one.

• There has been a lot of talk about flopping in the NBA playoffs, but I thought Kevin at Clipperblog made a great point.

But you know what’s been just as widespread as the flop? This: A wing player gets a high screen from his big men who, rather than rolling toward the basket, steps out on the perimeter. Meanwhile, the guys set up on the weak side hang back, clearing the lane for the penetrator. When the defense collapses on him, the slasher throws his body into the primary help defender, earning two shots from the stripe. Does the shot fall? Who cares? That was never the driver’s primary concern.

Kobe gets away with this at times. And it bugs me when other teams do it to our bigs.

• LeBron James is +50.1 points per 48 minutes so far in the playoffs. Not bad.

• Mayweather is going to destroy Oscar.