Archives For October 2007

Game One Thoughts

Kurt —  October 31, 2007

A bit of a frustrating loss because, even though they were outplayed for most of the game, that was one the Lakers could have stolen at the end. Plenty of room for improvement, but not a bad outing for the first game either.

I think there were two key areas that cost the Lakers the season opener against Houston:

1) The Laker second unit didn’t have the success it did in the preseason — all five Laker starters were positive in +/-, but every Laker off the bench was in the negative (except Coby Karl in his very short stint). A large part of that of that is that Houston is one of the few teams in the NBA as deep (or deeper) than the Lakers. To cut one other guy some slack, I think Bynum had a good second half off the bench, playing some good defense. . I think the preseason will be more typical, but this was not a great night for the bench guys.

2) Too much Kobe — he used 43% of the Laker possessions for the game. This isn’t all on him, for extended stretches the Lakers got away from really executing the offense and became “Kobe watchers.” Guys didn’t move without the ball, and when they got chances they missed (which leads Kobe to not make that pass the next time). But a lot of this is on Kobe — he didn’t look to pass and get other players involved, instead he’d just put his head down and drove into the lane. (Throw the ball to Bynum on the block once or twice.) Often the Lakers would push the ball up the court but when nothing materialized quickly they would make a couple passes around the perimeter then all but clear out for Kobe (or maybe give him a screen on the wing at best). Without the option of Odom as a second person who can create their own shot the Lakers can’t do that.

The lack of Odom hurt in another way — it meant extra minutes for Brian Cook, who was a team worst -14.

• A few other Lakers stats, courtesy Rob L. who sent me some spreadsheets right after the game.

Kobe shot pretty well, considering the volume, ending with a 51.3% True Shooting percentage (think of that like points per shot attempt, it includes free throws as well). A lot of that came because he got to the line so much, even if he had an off night there. Fisher had a great night shooting (79% TS%) and Turiaf continues to be efficient on the offensive end with a 63.3% TS%.

However, no other Laker was above 42%. That hurt.

A few other notes from the game.

• Kobe got boos during the pregame introductions, but the fans should have saved that sentiment for the first four minutes of play (from both teams).

• The Rockets did a good job of getting back on defense most of the night.

• The tempo off the game and the Lakers offense — even in the half court — picked up when Farmar entered.

• Rockets hit 4 of their first 20 shots, a sign they are just not comfortable with the new motion offense of Adelman. Yao just looked far better on the low block. That likely will change some as the season moves on.

• Yao has such a nice touch from 10 feet, including a beautiful fade away he used a few times, and that makes him so hard to defend in the low post.

• Interesting lineup the Lakers went with when Turiaf picked up his third foul with just under 5 minutes left in the second — Farmar, Fisher, Kobe, Walton and Kwame. Going a little small, and that unit was -1.

• At 5:30 in the third Lakers go with Mihm at the four and Kwame at the 5. That unit was -1, but it was because the Rockets were outworking the Lakers, tipping balls and getting offensive rebounds. Then LA went to Bynum/Mihm combo up front and that also was a -1. Still, I like the idea of giving Mihm a chance to see if he can be a backup four. Especially if it means fewer minutes for Cook.

• The three inactives for this game were interesting — Odom (expected), Crittenton (rather than Sasha?) and Radmanovic (huh?).

• Congrats to friends of the site Carter and the boys at Plisken at the Buzzer, who will be doing some subbing in over at Free Darko. That’s a great fit and well deserved. As a present, here’s a link to a good thesaurus.

Records: Lakers 0-0; Rockets 0-0
Offensive ratings: Lakers NA; Rockets NA
Defensive ratings: Lakers NA; Rockets NA
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Ronny Turiaf, Kwame Brown;
Rockets: Rafer Alston, Tracy McGrady, Shane Battier, Chuck Hayes and Yao Ming.
Lakers Notes: Finally, we can talk a little basketball and not soap opera. Well, one last note on the soap opera: There has been a lot of talk about Phil Jackson saying Kobe doesn’t have his heart in the preseason. People, this is what Phil does — over the last 18 years, how many times has Phil tweaked a player through the media to get said player to do what Phil wants? 100? 200? That is what we are talking about here, Phil was trying to make sure Kobe’s head was where it needed to be, nothing more. (UPDATE: For more insight on the Kobe/Phil relationship and more with the team, check out the latest from Roland Lazenby.)

Now to the real news. Yes, Kobe was put on the morning “inactive” roster for tonight’s game (with Odom and Chris Mihm) but the official Lakers site says he is expected to play tonight. Remember, that inactive list can be changed up to tip-off, basically. I think we can count on Kobe playing.

In other news, Coby Karl has made the team in the 15th roster spot, although I’d expect him to see a lot of D-League time this year (if everyone is healthy Crittenton may get time there as well).

But the Lakers are not healthy right now — no Lamar Odom tonight — and health is a key to this team. They also come in off a preseason where the starters were none-to impressive, but the reserves were. If the starters struggle again on offense, look for the Kobe we all know to take over more. And look for the second until to have a good night again.

The Rockets Coming In: First and foremost, this is a talented team that won 52 games last year and got better in the off-season. They should be good — but will they be good at the start of the season is another question.

After years of the stagnant Jeff Van Gundy offense, the Rockets struggled to adjust to the motion offense of Rick Adelman in the preseason (according to both reports out of Houston and commenter/Rockets fan Stephen). For example, Yao does not feel comfortable operating out of the high post (something he is asked to do about 1/3 of the time). Rick Adelman said that if the offense doesn’t flow tonight, he will fall back more on low-post plays and pick-and-rolls that he knows will get the team points.

In one way this Rockets squad reminds me of the championship Rockets of the 1990s — team makeup. There is the powerful inside game (Hakeem Olajuwon/Yao Ming), a slasher to the hoop (Clyde Drexler/Tracy McGrady) and a bunch of guys who can drain the three. In the preseason, Battier shot 50% from three, Luther Head 40%, Mike James was 50%, Aaron Brooks was at 41.7% and Bonzi Wells was a perfect 3 for 3.

All that means is that the Lakers need to close well on three-point shooters tonight. No uncontested looks allowed.

Notes That Would Interest Only Peter King: According to the LA Times, Kobe Bryant’s Halloween costume is Lord Voldemort from the “Harry Potter” series.

Just a couple of links: Nate Jones said it well — Shawn Marion is no James Worthy.

Have seen the new official Lakers blog over on the team’s site. There’s lots of great info from practice and behind the scenes stuff, plus links to other stories and more. Combine that with all the great video no being posted on the Lakers site and you have to say the team has really made a leap forward with its Web site this year. We as fans have a lot more unfiltered access, and that is good.

Keys To The Game: The big key to this game will be turnovers — both teams were turnover machines in the preseason (the Lakers averaged 20.1 per game, the Rockets 18.3). Whichever team can limit theirs — and by extension limit the easy baskets at the other end for their opponents — will have a huge advantage in this contest.

While the Rockets may be struggling to adjust to a new offense, they still have some weapons the Lakers need to neutralize. Such as Kwame slowing Yao on the low block, and Kobe (and others) staying with McGrady. I expect if the Rockets need a bucket the ball will go to Yao on the block, so this is a big night for Kwame.

Battier will be on Kobe and usually does a pretty good job on him, so without Odom other Lakers are going to have to step up and pick up some scoring slack.

Thoughts/Prediction: Predicting the first game of the season between two teams that looked awkward in the preseason is next to impossible. I feel safe in predicting some ugly basketball at times. If I have to choose, I think the Rocket staring five is better than the Lakers starting five (sans Odom) and they play better defense, so the Rockets hold on for a close win. Rockets 97-95.

Where you can watch my prediction go up in flames: Game time is 7:30 p.m. (Pacific) but as this is a TNT game the under/over on it starting on time is 15 minutes late. While we’re at it, what’s the under/over on Saving Grace promos? Take the over. No local broadcast in LA, but the good news is we get Kevin Harlan and Doug Collins, we don’t have to suffer Reggie Miller the “analyst.” To watch the game online check out the ESPN gamecast.

Lakers Season Preview

Kurt —  October 28, 2007

Last Years Record: 42-40
Key Additions: Derek Fisher; getting rid of Smush Parker (a clear case of addition by subtraction); Javaris Crittenton

Jean Dixon couldn’t predict what will happen to this year’s Lakers, so let’s just try to answer your questions.

Is it possible to go a few days without being bombarded with Kobe-centric headlines?
Good luck with that. Kobe sells. Kobe fills phone lines for talk shows. Kobe is an easy fallback for a columnist who doesn’t feel like being creative that day. Whether or not there is anything to report, Kobe will get headlines. Trust me, as sick as you may be of all the Kobe talk/columns, Lakers fans are more so. My advice — get used to it.

Still, we need to cover this ground, so let’s get out of the way the conversation about Kobe and the Summer Of Our Discontent. Kobe’s summer rants — in overarching theme — could have been good, prodding a very cautious front office that a needed reminder (or a kick in the ass) that his shelf-life is limited. But alas, Kobe went about this with the subtlety and class of a Dane Cook performance. He treated Andrew Bynum like Shaq used to treat him. He created his own firestorm. We don’t really need to rehash all this again, do we?

Is Kobe going to be traded this season?
Maybe. I don’t know, I doubt Mitch Kupchak or Jim Buss know, and Ric Bucher certainly doesn’t know. Nobody does, really. What we do know is Jerry Buss is not going to panic and trade Kobe for Troy Hudson and an expiring contract. He’s going to wait for the other guy to panic — a GM of a team that thought it was a contender but realizes now it isn’t; or a GM who realizes he needs to blow up his team and rebuild and will send a superstar to the Lakers.

So, the cloud of the Kobe summer thunderstorm will follow the Lakers this season like they were Joe Btfsplk. Kobe is too competitive to pull a Vince Carter in Toronto, but how he and the team deals with the constant questions and distraction will be a key to the season. Especially when the Lakers get off to a slow start (the first month schedule is brutal and the Lakers will be without Lamar Odom for much of it).

Despite all the drama, can the Lakers be any good?
Yes — if everything goes right for them. That means staying healthy (which they are not to start the season), showing a commitment to defense that was lacking last year, and the bench continuing to outplay other teams.

Defense really is at the heart of the Lakers problems. By any measure the Lakers scored plenty last season (they were fifth in points per game at 103.3 and seventh in the league in points scored per possession, 108.2 per 100 possessions). The problem was they gave up as many points as they scored (Los Angeles was 24th in points per game allowed at 103.4 and 25th in the league in points allowed up per possession, 109 per 100 possessions). It’s pretty simple — if you give up as many points as you score, you’re a .500 team. I don’t care how many points you score.

If the Lakers are to improve this season they will have to give up fewer points — meaning better defensive play at the point and in the paint, plus better defensive rotations. At the point, I think they will get that. First, Smush Parker and his matador defense are now allowing point guards free trips to the hoop in Miami. Then, due to some fortune and some generosity of spirit by the Utah Jazz, Derek Fisher fell to the Lakers. Understand, Fisher is no defensive stopper, but he has veteran savvy that gets some key steals and takes some key charges. Behind Fish (and playing as many or more minutes) will be the gym-rat Jordan Farmar, who has bulked up this year and looked good defensively in the preseason. Behind them both is the rookie Crittenton, who also has looked good on defense in the preseason.

In the paint, well, we shall see. Andrew Bynum enters his third year with a much more fit and ready physique, plus more explosiveness. But the question is can he rid himself of the mental lapses that plagued him. If he fixes them, he could be quite good. Kwame Brown comes back with even a better physique than Bynum and the attention span of a gnat. Maybe a contract year motivates him — and maybe he catches all those passes that hit him in the hands and deflect out of bounds — but I wouldn’t bet money on that. Chris Mihm is, well, Chris Mihm. And not one fully back from the injury that kept him out all of last year.

The biggest strength of the Lakers — after Kobe — is the depth this year. When healthy Lakers will roll out a second unit of Farmar, Maurice Evans, Luke Walton, Vladamir Radmanovic and Andrew Bynum. That’s a lineup that can score and will pull away from virtually every other second unit in the league (they have been the best part of the team in preseason).

The key to that second unit, however, is them being a second unit, which brings us back to the Lakers staying healthy this year. Not sure a team can learn to stay healthy, so the Lakers need to hope the breaks — or lack of them — go their way this year.

What are the goals for this team? The Laker front office will tell you 50 wins and reaching the second round. Essentially to be last year’s Utah Jazz. That could happen if everything falls their way — Odom gets healthy and has a banner year, Kobe stays healthy despite the fact every defense will key totally on him, Kobe and the team remain focused, Andrew Bynum has a breakthrough, the team plays great defense, and Jack Nicholson intimidates Greg Popovich at key points during the team’s matchups.

But, when has any team really had a perfect year like that? Well, except the 2004 Pistons.

Prediction (if Kobe isn’t traded)
: 46-36 and out in the first round of the playoffs. Honestly, things health wise for these Lakers cannot go as poorly as last season, and when healthy this not a bad team. It’s also not a contender. Which I guess means a season of drama off the court.

Prediction (if Kobe is traded): I don’t know. Ask your local psychic.

Shaq/Kobe vs. Kobe/Bynum

Kurt —  October 27, 2007

I have bumped up this great comment from JonesontheNBA (he of Fanhouse and his own blog):

The irony of Kobe and Bynum is that it kind of reminds me of Shaq and Kobe. Shaq not liking the young brash kid with tons of potential that the organization seemed to love more than him seems a lot like Kobe telling the organization to choose between him and Bynum. What Kobe doesn’t understand is that if he embraced Bynum and worked with him, he might be a lot closer to having a winning team in Los Angeles than he thinks. Kobe should be taking Bynum under his wing. Showing him how hard he works. Encouraging him to be the best big man he could be. Kobe says he needs to win now, but players can go from potential to being good within one season. Look at Steve Nash, Josh Howard, Tony Parker, Leandro Barbosa, Dirk Nowitzki. Nowitzki’s rookie year was terrible. Nash was below average his first three to four years in the league. Josh Howard broke out out of know where during his third year. Barbosa was seen as a bust until he really started to break loose during the 2006 season. Tony Parker was a starter that couldn’t finish games because of his lack of focus and dislike for contact his first three seasons in the league. I mean, TP is the reason Speedy Claxton currently is making the kind of dough he is. My point is that sometimes all you need is a little bit of patience. I know it sounds idealistic, but I think it’s still possible. Young guys need time to develop. Bynum, Farmar, Critt, and even Sasha are showing great signs of improvement. Barbosa didn’t break lose and show what he had to offer until his third season. The Suns had patience. The Lakers, Kobe and the fans need to learn how to do the same thing.

NBA Blogger Previews: The Southeast

Kurt —  October 27, 2007

Here’s the latest round of NBA blogger previews. Sunday, my Lakers preview for this series will go up.

Washington Wizards
Bullets Forever

Orlando Magic
Believing In Magic
Third Quarter Collapse

Miami Heat
I Want to be a Sports Agent
Crazy From The Heat

Atlanta Hawks
Impending Firestorm
Atlanta Hawks Blog

Charlotte Bobcats
Bobcat Bonfire

Celtics Blog NBA page