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

NBA Preseason: Lakers vs. Kings

Kurt —  October 26, 2007

While I’ve been out in front leading the “it’s just the preseason” parade, the consistently poor performances of the Lakers in the last several weeks combined with the consistent spat of injuries is disconcerting. Especially since the first three weeks of the season are loaded with good teams where the Lakers will have to play well just to be near .500.

I had hoped that tonight, the final preseason game (against the Kings), we would see some normal rotations and a team that looked ready for the season, but that is not to be the case. No Kobe (wrist injury), no Lamar. So, we can watch tonight and see what the Lakers’ second unit looks like against a team with some talent (but stuck in limbo). However, in the grand scheme, this game will show us little and mean less — seeing how Bynum and Kwame play will be the most interesting thing.

All that leaves me with some trepidation heading into the regular season next Tuesday — have we even seen five good minutes out of what will be the starting lineup for the Lakers against Houston? It’s just the preseason, where the games are virtually meaningless and lineup experimentation is the norm, but consistent poor play still has me uneasy.

As for tonight….

I saw the Kings in person against the Clippers Wednesday night, although I’ll admit that because of the day’s events for me I wasn’t laser focused. That said, here’s what I saw:

Mike Bibby was in midseason form, torching the Clipper point guards all night. Granted, the existing Clipper ones are not really known for their defense, but Bibby looks ready and will be a good test for Fisher and Farmar.

Kevin Martin had an off night, but I don’t expect that to mean much because he’s too good. Francisco Garcia had an off night and I’m questioning if that is part of a larger trend.

Brad Miller is past his prime and Kwame/Bynum should be able to take it too him down on the block (Kaman did a couple times). And I thought Mikki Moore would bring more of a presence to this team along the baseline than I saw — and I guess I wasn’t alone as Reggie Theus announced that Kenny Thomas would start the season for the Kings at the four and Moore will come off the bench.

John Salmons looked better than I remember him being, and some Kings fans said it was an off night for him.

Not much else to add here, and not sure there is much we will be able to take away from this game when its over.


Finally, the last installment of the Fesivus of the NBA, focused on the Pacific. And the wise Tom Ziller looks smart in our eyes because he agrees with what we’ve said since the trade was made:

it wasn’t the Shaq trade which sent Los Angeles into the void — it was the Caron Butler trade. Really, I’m shocked that one didn’t work out.

And here’s a song about telling Buss that he needs to keep Kobe that is worth a listen.

Thank You

Kurt —  October 25, 2007

Today is one of the few days this blog goes off-topic.

At the end of the day, all I could think to say was “thank you.”

It seemed woefully inadequate, but it’s all I could come up with.

Yesterday I spend the day with the men of a fire strike force — men asked to go in and protect homes and other buildings with flames bearing down on then in this rash the Southern California wildfires. The team was made up of five engines — two from Long Beach and one each from Sante Fe Springs, Vernon and Downey — with a total of 22 men, all who had been Malibu for three days before I caught up with them at the base camp for the Santiago fire in Orange County.
fire 1
It was amazing that after four days of breathing in smoke, have fires race up hills to where they were protecting a home, having glowing embers blow down their shirts, and having moments where they questioned both their sanity and their mortality, when the guys were talking about their experiences they casually throw in words like “play” and “fun.”

Oh, they were all business. This was no game. One guy described Malibu to me as “a scene out of Hades, the ground a carpet of embers”

But this was also what they love to do. And it showed.

Maybe the most amazing thing was that after four days of entering situations that were at times bordering on hopeless, their spirits were very high. When I caught up to them it was right after the first good night’s sleep in 72 hours (a whopping six hours on a cot outdoors) they were eager to get back into it. The breakfasts were welcomed, as were some clean clothes and baby wipes that would have to do for showers, but it was clear that standing around they felt like a player on the sidelines.

I followed them up to a staging area in the hills, where at times you could see the flames and could always see (and breathe in) plumes of smoke. These guys were experts in reading wind — knowing that a plume going straight up was a bad sign because a smoky energy cloud was forming that was going to come down at some point.

But this — like all major operations — was a case of hurry up and wait. Waiting for the wind to shift, and therefore waiting hours before the commanders knew where to send them, what houses to save. And waiting was no fun for them.

But like soldiers fresh from a battle they were quick to exchange their stories of the last few days. Of how hard it is to breathe when a dry eucalyptus tree virtually explodes right in front of you. Of standing in a shower of embers from a guesthouse they were unable to save and wondering if the main home – with ice plant at least protecting one side – could be saved.

It could. But really, my words are a poor expression of what these guys went through and did – of the respect and honor these firefighters and the thousands like them deserve. So I’ll just leave you with a few of their quotes.

“We realize it’s someone’s house, just like it would be my house, so you’ll work 110% to save it.”

“You go and go and then maybe you can catch a few hours of rest, the somebody gives you an assignment and you get jacked up again and you want to get right back up there.”

“We were in Malibu for three days and that first day was really rough. We were on top of a roof and it was just so black you couldn’t see and it was hard to breathe, but you do what you’ve got to do.”

“After those first days we came back to camp and our eyes were just bulging and red.”

“But when you get back here you forget a little bit about what it was like at that moment. We just want to get back in there.”

They did get back in, sent into the deep recesses of a wooded canyon to protect some homes. Today they may get some rest, but they also expect to be moving on to San Diego by the end of today. To get in the middle of some more fires.

Gentlemen, we all thank you.

First — I hope that the ongoing wildfires have not displaced (or worse) any of you. It is my sincerest wish that each of you and your families are safe.

Now, on to the distractions…

Kobe has a shorter drive to the arena tonight and there is a championship banner hanging in the rafters, but nobody is going to confuse the Anaheim Pond (sorry Honda, it will always be that to me) with the Staples Center.

Tonight’s tedious preseason match up should be interesting on a few levels. I’d expect to see more of a “regular” rotation from the Lakers — whatever that will be exactly — at least for the first half, as Phil starts to look more toward the season.

The rotations we really need to see from the starters and core players are on defense — they have been better at times this preseason (compared to the nonexistent ones last year) but the performance has been inconsistent across the numerous player groupings. The players are talking a good game, but actions are what we need to see.

For the Jazz, Ronnie Brewer is trying to earn the starting two-guard spot, and leads Utah in the preseason with 17 ppg while shooting 60% from the floor. So what is worrying Jerry Sloan? Brewer’s defense. Remember last year Brewer started against the Lakers and Kobe put up 52. Look for Brewer to try to make a point tonight, and for Kobe to be a little more focused.

But the best part of tonight should be the banging inside, with this game having harder hits than anything Deon Sanders ever did in the NFL.

We know the Jazz — with a front line of Okur, Boozer and AK47, plus Millsap coming off the bench — can bang, but the Lakers new front line with Turiaf and Kwame (and, eventually, Odom) are no slouches themselves. Don’t take my word for it, this quote is out of True Hoop, from a Bobcat fan reader of Henry’s:

The Lakers are a lot tougher and more physical this year than last season. It’s more than just Kobe now. Kwame Brown knocked Primoz Brezec on his back, laid the ball in, and you could hear him yell ‘Ay! Get tough!’ Ronny Turiaf was downright nasty. He was literally pushing Walter Herrmann off of him on both sides of the floor.

As for injuries, Odom is out for sure for the Lakers (although he is going to try to play the final preseason game on Friday in Vegas) and Walton is questionable. Harpring will sit for the Jazz. And we can all hope nobody goes down in this game like Morrison did against the Lakers.

UPDATE: Elton Brown, Andre Patterson and Larry Turner have been waived by the team. No shock there, the only question now is if Coby Karl gets the 15th roster spot or if it stays open.


One little housekeeping note. As has been the tradition here, I’ll be doing previews and setting up comment threads for every Lakers game (with a breakdown of what the Lakers have been doing as well as info on the opponent). I’m trying to come up with my format for said previews, so if there is anything you want to see in there — point spreads, starting lineups, list of celebrities expected to sit courtside — send me an email or put it in the comments. Or, really, if you have other suggestions of things you want to see, put those in too. FB&G has become a community, so I want everyone to be a part of the process.