Archives For November 2007

Game Preview & Chat: The Utah Jazz

Kurt —  November 30, 2007

Records: Lakers 9-6; Jazz 11-5
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.5 (5th); Jazz 112.2 (3rd)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 104.9 (11th); Jazz 104.2 (8th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: (This is what I’d do, I have no idea what Phil will do after last night) Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum
Jazz: Deron Williams, Ronny Brewer, Carlos Boozer (day-to-day), Andrei Kirilenko, Mehmet Okur (day-to-day)

Lakers Notes: The Lakers played very well for 60% of the game, and that was enough to get a comfortable win over the nuggets. Early on (in the first on court stint for both Fisher and Farmar) the Lakers seemed caught off guard by the aggressive, gambling style of the Nuggets. But when Fisher and the other starters came back in halfway through the second quarter the Lakers offense settled down, stopped turning the ball over and that took the Nuggets out of their running game and easy buckets that fueled the lead.

Radmanovich has not thrived as a starter (last night in the first quarter he had two turnovers and two missed threes, and he was the first guy subbed out (of course, Turiaf is in for him and makes a turnover on the second possession in the game). The ying to that yang, Luke Walton has struggled off the bench but got a start in the third quarter (moving Lamar to the four) and he and the offense thrived in their familiar roles.

When the gambling wasn’t working, at the start of the fourth quarter the Nuggets started playing more zone. There are conventional wisdom ways to beat a zone — pound it on the inside, or shoot over it. Sasha Vujacic almost single-handedly beat the zone by shooting over it (yes, kwame a., maybe too much but when you’re hot….).

My favorite play of the game, in the third quarter on a mini-fast break Fisher just took the ball right at Camby, used amazing savvy and body control to draw the foul and hit the shot. About three times a game he just makes a veteran, smart play that we haven’t seen since, well, he left.

As for the Nuggets… I tried to post this in the comments yesterday and screwed it up. But after the game I thought it was dead on. It is espn.com’s David Thorpe talking about Denver.

Allen Iverson, Marcus Camby, and Carmelo Anthony are three big names for Denver. Thorpe singles out this team as the antithesis of San Antonio’s approach of accumulating good role players. “Denver’s like an AAU team, where every time they lose everyone thinks they should have gotten five more shots.”

What About Odom? He was off his game again in the first half against Denver — not aggressively going to the hoop on offense (and missing his jumpers), not physically challenging to Carmelo on defense (although that is a tough match up), not taking charge of the second unit when he was the best player on the floor for the team at the start of the second quarter.

In the second half he got a few lay-ups, then hit a wide-open three later. Is that the start of him turning it around? Do you want to bet on that? Is he just better suited at the four?

I’ve waited for him to turn the corner, but I’m settling into kwame a.’s assessment that Odom is what he is — inconsistent. At times he can be brilliant, but to expect him to maintain that over 82 games is asking too much. He’d be a great third option, but is not the second option that can take this team to the next level.

The question is: How do we get the most out of him? Is it moving him back to the four and setting him up closer to the hoop? He said he is a natural three, but hasn’t played like it. Do we give him more time? It is only November, just 15 games into the season. Is it just a matter of making him more comfortable? Or uncomfortable?

I’m not sure what the answer is, and I don’t think the coaching staff seems to either. Off the court, Odom is maybe my favorite Laker right now and after all he’s been through even Scrooge is rooting for him. But I’m not sure what to expect on the court night to night, and that isn’t good for a second option on a good team.

The Jazz Coming In: They are good, they are deep, they are 7-3 in their last 10 and Carlos Boozer is leading the way in that stretch shooting 60.8% and scoring 25 a game. Not to mention his 10 boards.

Jerry Sloan is an old dog with a new trick this year, opening up the offense — the Jazz play at the seventh fastest pace in the league, almost identical to the Lakers. The results have been great — the Jazz are the third best offense in the NBA this year, shooting 51.6% (eFG%) as a team.

Both Boozer and Okur and game-time decisions tonight due to nagging injuries. Whether or not they play will be a big factor in how the Lakers line up and match up.

Last time these two met: It was a Sunday night game four games into the season and the Lakers got the win. Kobe led the way, with 33 points, a +13 and he shot an incredible 71% (eFG%). But it was Andrew Bynum — against one of the best front lines in the league — who shot 85% and was a +14, while Jordan Farmar was +11 and shot 68.8% off the bench.

Those three stood out in the key stretch in the fourth when the Lakers pulled away. To be fair, it was the second game in as many nights for the Jazz, and the fourth quarter is often where teams on a back-to-back fade.

The highlight of that game — Kobe rejecting an AK-47 dunk.

D-Fenders note:
Coby Karl with 19 for the D-Fenders, on 7 of 14 shooting (1 of 3 from deep). He had 15 in the first half. Sean Banks led the team with 28. Oh, and the D-Fenders won, 123-111.

Keys To The Game: If the Lakers win tonight it will be because of a good defensive effort. First, the Jazz love them some pick-and-pop and high screen plays (you would too if you had Williams running the point) and the Lakers need to defend that well, with the bigs showing out strong then recovering, or it will be a long night.

Under any circumstances the Jazz front line is a tough match up. Bynum on Boozer? I think Boozer will play — he came back from a sprained ankle last game to play the fourth quarter (although those tend to swell after the game is over and the tape is off). Okur went out with back spasms and just judging the tone of Jazz beat guys I think he sits. But then, who do the Lakers use on AK-47? Walton? Odom? Whoever it is the Lakers will need to control the paint to win.

Kobe took it to Brewer last meeting and will need to do it again. And the Lakers bench will need to play like it did in the fourth quarter again.

Tonight’s Game: Where At Least We’re Not All Knicks Fans Happens: A back-to-back with travel going up against one of the NBA’s best teams is not a recipe for success. The good news is that the great play of the Lakers bench last night means that Kobe, Odom, Fisher, Bynum and others got plenty of fourth-quarter rest.

Still, it’s hard to predict a Lakers victory here. What I want to see is a good game and good effort, not a young team that takes a night off.

Where you can watch: Game time is 7:30 p.m. (Pacific). In Los Angeles we get a choice: KCAL (9) or ESPN. I’m still not quite sure why Joel Meyers is better than Paul Sunderland and that change needed to be made, but I’ll take Joel and Stu over just about anyone at the WWL. Nationally, you don’t have a choice. Sorry.

Records: Lakers 8-6; Nuggets 9-6
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.0 (8th); Nuggets 106.6 (17th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers; 105.4 (13th); Nuggets 100.1 (2nd)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, Ronny Turiaf (please, no more Vlad), Andrew Bynum
Nuggets: Allen Iverson, Yakhouba Diawara, Linas Kleiza, Carmelo Anthony, Marcus Camby

UPDATE: Phil Jackson has signed a two-year extension to coach the Lakers, likely at $11 or $12 million a year. I think this is good, providing some continuity and stability — plus he is a damn good coach. He’s gotten a lot out of this roster so far, and now things are starting to look brighter.

Thanks to Gatinho for the heads up.

Lakers Notes: In case you didn’t see it, Coby Karl was sent down to the D-Fenders of the D-League so he can get some run. The odds of George Karl attending the D-Fenders game this afternoon just increased dramatically.

The Lakers got a win against the Sonics Tuesday night but no style points were awarded. Kobe shot well early (hitting five of his first six) to keep the Lakers in it, then in the third quarter a few spurts — primarily with the starters on the floor but with Walton and Mihm in as well — put the game away.

Sometimes we can over think a win — and I don’t want to think too much about that game — so let’s just mention a couple things . First, Ronny Turiaf had a bounce back in his step, was a force on the defensive end and, in my mind, needs to be back in the starting lineup. Also, Lamar Odom shot 50% (eFG%) for the game, but only because of the wide-open meaningless lay-up he got as the game expired. He still looks lost and uncomfortable, and he needs to right that ship because the next three games the Lakers are going to need him.

The Nuggets Coming In: Coming into the year, I lumped the Lakers and Nuggets together in the West, saying that they would go as far as their defenses would take them. The Lakers defense has been average (a big improvement over last year) but the Nuggets have been a powerhouse — they are second in the league in defensive ratings.

I watched the Nuggets against the Clippers and they double on the post very quickly and have guys who can defend the paint — Marcus Camby as a starter and Eduardo Najera off the bench (he gave Kaman problems, and Kaman is playing well). (They would be even better with Nene and Kenyon Martin, but neither is expected to play tonight.) On the perimeter the Nuggets gamble a lot and create the most turnovers in the league (and that gets them easy buckets going the other way).

In offense, it’s all about Anthony and Iverson — they average 49 points a game between them. What Denver does is spread the floor out and try to isolate those guys (and other shooters like Linas Kleiza), there are not a lot of set plays. To defend them you have to keep balance on the floor and not collapse on the ball. And don’t let the role players get hot.

The Nuggets have lost three of their last four, and in all four games have shot less than 40%. The Clippers defended them pretty well (actually very well considering the injuries and roster they have left) but Denver missed some shots they should hit. Let us hope the cold streak continues.

Keys To The Game: This should be an entertaining barn burner — the Nuggets play at the fastest pace in the league (nearly 100 possessions a game) and the Lakers are not far back at sixth. I’d say bet the over but at 218 I might balk, still that number is in jeopardy.

The Lakers need to take care of the ball tonight — the Nuggets lead the league in turnovers and blocked shots, and they use that to fuel their pace. The Lakers need to slow it down a little and play under control.

The Nuggets offense is predicated on slashing and driving — Iverson is maybe the best at that in the league, Melo can do that or pull up and shoot from anywhere. They also set a lot of screens in transition or early in the shot clock, the Lakers need to defend that well tonight.

This is going to be a tough night for Bynum — Camby is a good defender and he may pick up fouls on a driving Iverson — but the Lakers should get good offensive nights from Kobe and likely Odom (especially if Melo is on him). They need to hit the midrange and three shots because points in the paint will be harder to come by.

Also, the Lakers and the Nuggets are both in the top six in the Association at getting to the free throw line. If one team can keep the other off the stripe it will be a huge advantage.

Tonight’s Game: Where Sir Charles Happens: This should be an entertaining game. If Odom really shows up and plays like he can, I see a Lakers win. If he remains off his game, well, then it will be a tough road for LA.

Where you can watch: Game time is 7:30 p.m. (Pacific) and it is TNT for all of us (no local coverage). Since the Lakers are the back end of the double header, I would think 7:45 is more like the actual start time. We need to make sure Sir Charles has time to talk.

Who Starts?

Kurt —  November 28, 2007

It’s been the question in the comments recently — start Bynum or bring him off the bench?

He’s the best offensive center the Lakers have by far, and plays good defense for the most part (opposing centers are shooting just 37.5% and have a PER of 13.5). On the other hand, he averages 5.4 fouls per 40 minutes and starting him means risking having to sit him with foul trouble at key points. Plus, without him the second unit that was such a force for the team early on is dramatically weakened (and the current starting unit with him is not tearing it up).

However, as Rob L. brought up, the question here is really bigger than just Bynum:

Should a coach go with the best starting five athletes, or find the best complementary starting five? Is the answer to this question absolute? Or does it change from team to team? Shouldn’t a coach be able to take the best five athletes and meld them into a cohesive starting five?

I’m going to email this to a couple basketball people and see what they think, and post the responses as updates. What are your thoughts?

UPDATE #1: From Tom Ziller of Sactown Royalty and AOL Fanhouse:

I think you absolutely have to go with the best complementary starting five. Look at San Antonio, with Michael Finley starting over Manu Ginobili. Ginobili is one of the best five two-guards in the league (and Finley might be in the bottom quartile among rotation-level SGs), but he fits the team better coming off the bench and not necessarily playing all of his minutes with Tony Parker and Tim Duncan. Manu played 62% of his minutes with Parker on the floor last year. In that other 38%, the Spurs had a net per-48 +/- of +11.5, which is comparable with the Manu + Parker +/- of +13.3. Finley’s +/- without Parker: +1.89 points per 48 (versus +6.9 with Parker). It’s not just the starting lineup you have to worry about when constructing a rotation — those eight minutes which straddle the first quarter break count too. And this says nothing of the benefits of subbing a roleplaying rebounder (Chuck Hayes?) for a scoring power forward (Luis Scola) in the starting lineup, even though Scola’s a better player. A basketball starting lineup isn’t like a baseball batting order; the pieces need to fit. Starting your five best players usually doesn’t do that.

UPDATE #2: Next up are some great points from Henry of the legen-(wait for it)-dary True Hoop:

Oh man, I am SQUARELY against the “best five players” approach, and so is Gregg Popovich!

I could write a novel about why. Here are some highlights:
• Who starts is not about who deserves honor. It’s a strategy.

• Pretty much no matter what, you always need at least one big man and at least one real deal point guard. On a lot of teams, that rule alone would defeat the “best five” argument.

• As Daryl Morey explained in a Houston Press interview recently, thanks to substitution patterns, you can think of an NBA game as a series of mini-games. Every time there’s a different lineup, a new mini-game begins, and it lasts until the next substitution. As coach, you have to have a plan to win more than your fair share of those mini games. You have to be able to put effective combinations on the floor at all times. So your beginning game strategy must not crap upon our mid-game strategy. Which is why there is a long history of great players — Manu Ginobili, Adrian Dantley, Vinnie Johnson, Bill Walton in Boston — coming off the bench.

• In trying to win a team game, you have to find combinations of players that work. For instance, Shane Battier is not all that great compared to a lot of players, but when he’s on the floor, statistics show the team is good. 82games has examples of player combinations that are highly effective, like last year Kyle Lowry and Mike Miller were, per 48 minutes, the best combination in the NBA. If the sample size is big enough, that kind of stuff is all you need to know. Guys who beat the other team consistently are your best lineup, whether you consider them your best players or not. So, as coach, I think you need to seek lineups that demonstrate they can perform at a high level together. Not lineups that look like you think lineups are supposed to look, feature the highly paid players, etc. If you want to win, play the guys who are in the habit of scoring more points than the other team.

UPDATE #3: Mike from Knickerblogger says the Knicks are struggling with some of the same issues:

In New York, this is the exact problem the Knicks have. For argument sakes, let’s assume that the starting five are the best five players on the team (Marbury, Crawford, Richardson, Zach, and Curry). While there are some that might disagree with this statement, there are enough Knick fans that would play Zach and Curry over Lee, and just as many that would play Marbury/Crawford over Nate Robinson. (And I’m sure Quentin Richardson’s mom still thinks her son should be starting over Balkman). In any case Isiah has put these guys on the court (when possible) at the start of each game. The problem is these players don’t complement each other in the least, and at least 4 of the 5 starters are poor defenders who need the ball to be effective. The Knicks would be better served to play some of their guys that can contribute without the ball and can play defense (Balkman, Lee, Jeffries, Robinson, etc.)

Basketball isn’t baseball where for the most part it doesn’t matter how you fill in your lineup card, as long as you’re not putting your pitcher up after Barry Bonds. Baseball matchups are mostly mano-a-mano events. Think about it, how many times do basketball players acknowledge a good pass that led to an easy basket? Dozens in each game. Now when was the last time anyone hit a homerun and credited the batter behind him for setting up the pitcher? Ummm never? In basketball the parts on the court have to fit together. A prime exampltes are the Spurs who bring Manu off the bench.

Records: Lakers 7-6; Sonics 2-12
Offensive ratings: Lakers 110.7 (6th); Sonics 100.5 (25th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.6 (14th); Sonics 110.5 (26th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, Vladamir Radmanovic, Andrew Bynum
Sonics: Earl Watson, Kevin Durant, Damien Wilkins, Kurt Thomas, Chris Wilcox

Lakers Notes: “There is little margin for error.” That has been one of the mantras of this site regarding this year’s Lakers — the squad cannot absorb injuries and perform at its best for long. The players cannot have mental lapses and get wins.

And that’s what this three-game losing streak is really about. Kwame Brown is out injured for at least a few more weeks, and Turiaf is not 100%, two things that threw the Laker rotations off and hurt the defense along the front line. Key players have had off games or off moments — Lamar Odom, or Andrew Bynum on the last play against the Nets. The team tried to compensate by chucking up threes at a pace only Rudy Tomjanovic would love, and that was a recipe for disaster..

All that said, while the record says 7-6, the point differential (or Pythagorean record, if you prefer) suggests the Lakers are still playing like a 54-win team. The offense has been mostly good, the defenses has had lapses but is basically average in the NBA this season. If they keep that level of play up for the entire year, they will do just fine. A three game losing streak is hardly a time to panic.

The Sonics Coming In: If you have a 19-year-old rookie as your go-to scorer, it’s going to be a long season. And that’s where the Sonics are. I’ve seen some of their games and that combined with talking to people around the team leads to my two cents:

Durant is going to be very good but he’s on a steep learning curve in the NBA. He can score and does so with an amazing flourish at times, but he hasn’t met a shot he doesn’t like and that leads some ugly attempts and a 43.1 shooting percentage (eFG%). Which is not good for a guy using 26% of the team’s possessions when on the floor. He’s also turning the ball over a lot. All that said, he’s young and learning, and there are flashes where he shows why he may well be worthy of that lofty pick.

By the way, Sonics fans are saying the hype around Durant is overshadowing how good Jeff Green is as a rookie. He can drive and get the ball in the lane, 56% of his shots come right around the basket. He will be a good defensive challenge for the team tonight.

The Sonic that has impressed me is former Clipper Chris Wilcox, who has developed some polished post moves, which is why he is shooting 53.7% and has a PER of 19.89, best on the team.

Also playing well for the Sonics is Kurt Thomas providing a veteran presence inside. Wally Szcerbiak can heat it up at times (and seems to do that against the Lakers). Damien Wilkins has improved his shot and Delonte West has some brilliant plays (and some horrible ones).

Bottom line, this team has talent, but it is young and still blending and trying to figure out the way at the NBA level.

The Fouth Quarter Gets A Litte Fuzzy: The Seattle Weekly has given us the Sonics drinking game:

Let’s get drunk. (Take a drink every time):

-Kevin Durant takes a shot that would have gotten you benched on your high school, junior high, or rec league team.
-Chris Wilcox dunks.
-Robert Swift looks like a victim stuck in a bully’s body.
– Damien Wilkins pump fakes.
-Jeff Green’s jersey looks too small for him.
-You find yourself examining the southern shore of PJ’s beard for grip marks.

Blogs you should read: Friend of the site Kevin Pelton, the web master for the Sonics, has a blog with great insight into the team. And also there is Supersonics Soul, which is a blogging insutution. Then there is Save Our Sonics, the site right in the middle of the noble fight to keep this team in Seattle. Personally, I hate the idea of this team moving to OK City.

Keys To The Game: This is going to be an up-tempo game — the Sonics play at the second fastest pace in the NBA so far (tied with Phoenix), the Lakers seventh. Both teams also turn the ball over at a high level (the Lakers on 17.5% of possessions, the Sonics on 18.1%, both in the top [or is it bottom] 10 in the league). If one team can take care of the ball tonight, it will be a big advantage.

The Lakers need to get the Sonics athletic wing men to shoot from the outside, because none of them are terribly good at it. Durant, Earl Watson, Jeff Green, Nick Collison are all shooting under 50%. Szcerbiak runs hot and cold, if he is missing let him shoot from out there too. When the slashers do get to the rim, Bynum and Mihm (and Turiaf) need to alter and block shots without getting in foul trouble.

On offense, the Lakers should be able to get the shots they want — this is not a great defensive team. But they have to be patient and run the offense (when the break isn’t there). In the starting lineups there is no way Kurt Thomas or Chris Wilcox should be able to handle Bynum in the post, and the Sonics don’t have the perimeter defenders to slow both Kobe and Lamar.

Tonight’s Game: Where A Slumpbuster Happens: When you need to break out of a slump, you don’t worry about how it looks, just that you get what you need to get back on track. The Lakers need a win, and this is the perfect team to get it against. It doesn’t have to be pretty, just a win to right the ship. We’ll worry about pretty next game.

Where you can watch: Game time is 7:30 p.m. (Pacific). In Los Angeles tune into Fox Sports, nationally you will need League Pass. (Sorry for the TNT note earlier, thanks for the corrections).

Records: Lakers 7-5; Nets 6-7
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.4 (6th); Nets 96.2 (29th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.6 (15th); Nets 104.4 (11)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, Ronny Turiaf, Andrew Bynum
Nets: Jason Kidd, Richard Jefferson, Vince Carter, Malik Allen, Jason Collins

Lakers Notes: This year’s Lakers team is off to a good start, but it has played two teams playing at an elite level early — San Antonio and Boston. For all the Lakers are doing right — and there is a lot — consider what happened Friday night a reminder that this team is not at “title contender” status and what that status looks like. Credit to Boston in that game, they’re aggressive defense threw Bynum and Odom and others into a funk. (For the game, the Lakers had an offensive rating of 101, 10 points per 100 possessions off their season average, and they shot 48% (eFG%), well off the 51.2% they are shooting for the season. The Celtics offense was slightly above its season numbers, three points per 100 possessions. And thanks to Rob L. for the stats.)

The question is, can the Lakers put that behind them and get back to doing what won them games?

The Nets Coming In: The Nets are a lot stronger when all three of their best perimeter players are in the game — and Vince Carter missed several games during a recent losing streak. He came back the team’s last game, played 34 minutes and the Nets got the win (against Seattle)

Jefferson is thriving with Kidd feeding him the ball, scoring 25 points per 40 minutes, 10th in the league, and he is using a quarter of the Net’s possessions when on the floor. (For the record, Kobe is second in the league at 29 points per 40, trailing only some guy named LeBron.) Jefferson is getting to the line a lot this season — the Lakers need to not foul him.

Jason Kidd is, well, Jason Kidd. He’s not shooting great (41.8% eFG%) but 39.3% of his possessions end in an assist (third best in the league). Then there is the enigmatic Vince Carter, who is shooting 46% and has a PER of 15 (right at the league average). He may not be playing well, but ignore him at your own peril.

The Nets don’t have much beyond the big three, in part because Krstic is out with an injury. The one guy to watch for is Sean Williams, the Boston College rookie that was popular with this board prior to the last draft. He is shooting 62.5% and is averaging 4.4 blocks per 40 minutes. But, he also has been a turnover machine.

Chise meets Kobe: In case you missed this, commenter Chise went to the game in Boston then was in an IHOP at 3 a.m. (I’m not going to ask why) where he ran into Kobe Bryant.

The highlight of the night came at 3 AM when I got to meet Kobe Bryant himself at the IHOP. Kobe was there eating pancakes at 3 AM all decked out in a suit and tie. Despite what people say, he’s a really cool guy. A lot of people were going up to him and getting autographs, pics, etc. He seemed to love it. We let him finish eating before we went up to see him. I shook his hand, told him he was the best, and wished him luck on the season. He was pretty cool even though a ridiculous amount of people kept going up to him. He was actually there for awhile too. I wish I had my camera though.

I was there with 4 friends from Boston and a friend of mine from home in Connecticut and they told me they were surprised he was so nice/cool. They had all figured he was a prick given what is said about him in the media. From what some people were saying, Kobe even paid the bill for like 5 tables or so of people that were sitting near his table. He just seemed like a real down to earth humble person.

It was crazy though because I have been a fan of Kobe’s since he first came into the league. I was about 13 then and now I’m 25, so I’ve got the jerseys, sneakers, etc. And it was so out of nowhere. Like, we came out of the bathroom and looked to the left and he was just sitting there. Can’t believe we passed right by his table and didn’t even realize he was there at first. And he was mad polite too. When I first shook his hand, you know, I told him he was my favorite player and the best in the league. He thanked me and I wished him good luck for the season and he said he thanks again and that he appreciated it. Just real humble, down to earth. Even if he was thinking to himself “I know I’m the best” or whatever, he didn’t act like a self-absorbed celebrity.

Keys To The Game: This is going to be quick, there are two big keys as I see it. One is perimeter defense, the Lakers have been sluggish there this season and they can’t be tonight, the Nets run out three good perimeter players. The Lakers have to play better man-on-man, be crisper with their rotations and the bigs have to show and recover better on the pick and roll.

Second, the Lakers should be able to pound the Nets inside and get to the rim, Bynum needs to bounce back.

And as a third bonus thing (at no extra charge), this is a game where the Lakers bench should again dominate.

Tonight’s Game: Where Chick Hearn Night Happens: Back home and smarting from that embarrassment in Boston, I look for the Lakers to get a comfortable win. If they can focus on containing the Nets on the perimeter and not let this be a shootout. The Nets have been horrible on offense, but they have weapons that will beat you if you are sloppy.

The Lakers had better not lose on Chick Hearn night, that would piss me off.

Where you can watch: Game time is 6:30 p.m. (Pacific). In Los Angeles tune into Fox Sports.

Records: Lakers 7-4; Celtics 9-1
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.3 (3rd); Celtics 112.0 (5th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 104.8 (11th); Celtics 95.1 (1st)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, Ronny Turiaf, Andrew Bynum
Celtics: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins

Lakers Notes: There is a buzz about tonight’s game. Boston is back near the top of the East, and the Lakers have surprised as one of the better teams in the West so far. Two traditional rivals playing well, plus the whole KG trade drama, make this a fun match up. Well, for us the fans, I imagine the coaches don’t find it as fun.

The Lakers have had a couple better defensive games of late, at least until the other night in Wisconsin (the Bucks shot 53.4% eFG% as a team and had an offensive rating of 116.6 for the night). The offense will keep the Lakers in those games (as long as they don’t just start chucking up threes) but to win consistently they need to be consistent at the defensive end. And that is especially true tonight.

Trevor Ariza (wearing number 3) likely will suit up tonight and get a chance to show what he can do on defense, as the Celtics have several athletic wingman he could spend time defending (Mr. Ariza, meet Mr. Pierce).

The Celtics Coming In:The Celtics have been even better than I and many others expected — and I thought they would be good. To get a little inside perspective on the Celtics, I turned to one of the bloggers I most admire, Jeff from Celtics Blog. He kindly answered a few questions.

When the big three were put together everyone knew the offense would be potent, but nobody expected this kind of defense (I mean, Ray Allen is one of the three). How are they doing it?

Part of what made me so excited to get Kevin Garnett is his All World defensive ability. He can guard anyone on the court and anchor the defense at the same time. So that was a great start. Then consider that the two “other” starters Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins are both above average defenders. Then toss in James Posey, enough said. Finally the whole thing is tied together by new assistant coach Tom Thibodeau (a defensive genius) and you have a pretty good snapshot of how this got put together.

Also consider that Pierce and Allen don’t have to carry the team offensively anymore. They’ll never be shutdown guys, but they can put in a little extra effort within the team defensive scheme and make it work.

The other knock on the Celtics was it was going to be the “Big Three” and then some guys who might be D-Leaguers other places. How are Rondo and Perkins doing? Who else is stepping up?

I think the best point about this was made by Ainge, who played with the original Big Three. He said that the majority of the game was focused on the Big Three. Ainge, DJ, and others were there in a support role. That’s all were asking of the guys like Rondo and Perkins. Know your role and do it as best you can. Rondo’s big issue was shooting, but when you leave him wide open (sometimes there’s nobody for miles around him) he can hit shots inside the arc. Perkins has no post moves, but when 3 people collapse on KG and he finds Perkins under the rim, the only move he needs is a two handed slam. He knows his role is to rebound, defend, and pick up garbage dunks.

The bench is all role players too. House is our own Vinny “the Microwave” Johnson. Posey is a shutdown kind of guy. Tony Allen attacks the basket relentlessly. Pollard fouls people. Big Baby Davis is our human victory cigar. It all works (so far).

You’ve got the Celtics, the World Series winning Red Sox, and the undefeated Patriots. Are Bostonians sick of all this winning yet? And who is dominating the hearts and minds of the city?

Please. Boston fans do not have a complex anymore. We are happy to be winners. It is the rest of the world that is sick of Boston winning. And that is a little unfortunate. There’s always going to be that one cocky Boston guy that goes around shoving his teams’ accomplishments (like he did anything to help them win aside from buying a hat) in people’s faces. That never helps. But I most fans are just enjoying the moment, loving the ride, taking it all in to remember for when the natural cycle of things takes a downward turn.

Boston will forever be a Red Sox town, and since they won it all, they still have the hearts and minds of fans. With that said, the Pats are a steamroller right now and they have a mini-dynasty thing going on too. It will be hard for the Celtics to take a spot away from either of those two. They are kind of like the new kids on the block, which given the team’s history is infinitely ironic.

Keys To The Game: Boston has been very good, but their schedule has not been that tough (opponents have won 51% of their games, the Lakers are at 58% and that has dropped recently).

The one place teams have had success attacking the Celtics is at the five — while Garnett is always a good defender in the paint teams have been able to attack Perkins — opposing centers are shooting 51% and have a PER of 17.4. Assuming the Celtics use Pierce and not Ray Allen on Kobe (Kobe should destroy Allen), then KG likely will be on Odom. Pull the Lakers two outside and Bynum should be able to get some isolation on the block. Points in the paint will be a big stat tonight, the Celtics have dominated that in their wins and if they do tonight it will be because Garnett is getting good position and Pierce is slashing into the lane. The Lakers need to defend these options without fouling. The Lakers also need to keep rebounding position and keep the Celts off of the offensive glass.

The Lakers have the advantage of depth, although the Celtics leave at least one of the big three on the floor at all times (at least until the Human Victory Cigar Big Baby is in the game). This is a game where the Laker bench really needs to step up and punish the guys off the Celtics bench — if it is starters on starters that decide this the Lakers will struggle to get a win.

Also, to win this one the Lakers are going to need a big night from Kobe — and I expect he’s fired up for this one. He lives for these type of games.

Tonight’s Game: Where Rivalry Happens: I grew up hating the Celtics and wanting to deck that little gnat Danny Ainge. Now I look back on just how much fun it was to have a great rival like that, how the meetings of the two in the regular seasons were like mini-finals. (Still, I’d like to punch Ainge.) For the last few years I didn’t feel that hatred well up in me when we played the Green, but it is back now. I can’t wait for this game.

Where you can watch: Game time is 4:30 p.m. (Pacific but KCAL (9) is not going to start showing it unitl 5:30, so if you are watching the game live and commenting try to use a spoiler alert. Online check out ESPN’s gamecast.

Records: Lakers 7-3; Bucks 5-4
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.4 (2nd); Bucks 104.6 (19th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 103.8 (9th); Bucks 107.9 (21st)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, Ronny Turiaf (although it could be Vladamir Radmanovic again), Andrew Bynum
Bucks: Mo Williams, Michael Redd, Desmond Mason, Yi Jianlian, Andrew Bogut

Lakers Notes: We are a spoiled. Sometimes in our efforts to focus on how much Andrew Bynum has improved, or what a good floor general Jordan Farmar has become, we overlook something — Kobe is unbelievable.

In the first quarter he was the alpha dog — 4 of 7 from the floor (2 of 3 from beyond the arc), plus he got to the line four times, giving him 14 points in just under 11 minutes. After a rest he came back in and was 4 of 6 (3 of 4 from three) with another assist, giving him 26 points on 80% (eFG%) shooting for the half and a +8. For the game, Kobe had an offensive rating of 139 (points per 100 possessions pace) and — thanks to another big night from the bench — got to rest almost all of the fourth quarter.

The other thing of note — that was one of the Lakers better defensive showings this season. They held the Pacers as a team to 43.7% (eFG%) shooting. And I think Jermaine O’Neal will remember Bynum as more than trade bait in the future.

The Bucks Coming In:Right now, the Bucks are the luckiest team in the NBA. They have been outscored by their opponents (3.4 points per 100 possessions) but still have a 5-4 record. And, they are undefeated at home. Something is going to change — either the Bucks numbers will start to show them outscoring opponents or, more likely, they’ll drop some of those close games and their record will fall.

Yi Jianlian gets all the attention Bucks are Michael Redd’s team — he is using 27% of the team’s possessions when he is on the floor, is shooting 48.9% (eFG%, and that is a pretty good number considering how much of the offense he is carrying) and is averaging 24.8 points per 40 minutes.

The Bucks run many of their offensive sets for Redd — they run him off multiple screens, they make him the ball handler in some screen-and-rolls, they’ll even post him up (credit the official Lakers web site scouting report for that info). And don’t think this is the catch-and-shoot only Redd — last night he got to the line 20 times. The Lakers need to keep him off the line.

Pinky, Are You Pondering What I’m Pondering? A couple more thoughts on the newest Laker Trevor Ariza. Because of the time it takes to learn the offense, I think Ariza’s minutes will be limited at first (although I’d expect him to get a taste tonight). What will get him on the floor is his defense — there are times the team would be willing to sacrifice some scoring to have better defense on the wing. I expect his minutes and role will grow as the season wears on, and by next year he’ll have a comfortable spot in the rotation.

Keys To The Game: Both teams come in on the second game of a back-to-back, but The Lakers should be able to get some mismatches on offense — they don’t have anyone who can cover Kobe (does anyone really?), the Bucks have struggled to defend the three and there aren’t many threes like Odom, and Bynum should be able to do some damage against Bogut. The Lakers, on the other hand, should be able to use Kobe (and Ariza?) to slow Redd somewhat.

Like the Lakers, the Bucks can count on their bench in key moments — in crunch time last night in Cleveland it was Mo Williams taking most of the shots (in part because the Cavs can’t defend the point) and Charlie Villanueva in the paint (remember he had 26 against the Lakers last year). Yi and Mason sat and watched. The Bucks also have Bobby Simmons off the bench, who seems to have found his Clippers form and is shooting 53.9% this season. Whichever team’s bench comes through will have a big advantage.

Tonight’s Game: Where Five-In-A-Row Happens: If the Bucks had not won an emotional game last night, I might pick them to knock off the Lakers. My guess is that both teams come out a little flat tonight (if one team gets a healthy early lead that would be huge) but that the deeper Lakers bench gets them another lead, and a rested Kobe finishes them off. Still, this is the kind of game that worries me against a team that just seems to win right now.

Where you can watch: Game time is 5 p.m. (Pacific). In Los Angeles tune into KCAL (9), no national broadcast. Online, I’d suggest Gamecast.

Trevor Ariza — Come On Down

Kurt —  November 20, 2007

Well, we don’t have Brian Cook to kick around any more.

The Lakers traded two for one, giving up Mo Evans and Brian Cook to get former UCLA Bruin Trevor Ariza. This trade strikes me as a win for the Lakers, I’ll miss the consistency of Evans but this is Sasha’s chance to show that he is ready to be Kobe’s backup (and his last chance to prove it).

In Ariza the Lakers get an athletic wing man who can finish at the rim with authority. How much authority?

Picture that on the break with Farmar feeding him thee ball. That’s the high end of what he can do offensively, but there are downsides. Despite his work on the matter he has no midrange (or longer) game — this season he is shooting 21.4% on jump shots. The good news is he has learned from this — he takes few jumpers. While he is a three, only 47% of his shots are considered jump shots (most threes are more like 60%).

His athleticism makes Ariza a good rebounder (11.6% of the available boards this year, 12% last year), and he has a flair for the offensive boards.

Defensively, his numbers this year are bad (opposing threes are shooting 59% and have a PER of 22 this season) but that may be a matter of limited sample size. In previous years he was an average defender by the numbers, and by all accounts he has plenty of hustle.

Don’t take my word for it. Mike from Knickerblogger is one of the best NBA bloggers (and a guy I patterned this site after to a degree) and he saw a lot of Ariza when he was a Knick (and wishes they’d not put him in the disastrous Francis deal).

He’s a good rebounder, and moves well in the half court. From what I recall his handle is OK. Finishes pretty well around the hoop. His jumper is a work in progress, which is a nice way of saying he doesn’t have one.

On defense he’s good at anticipating the passing lanes, and will get (my favorite expression) his hands on a lot of balls. He’s not a lockdown defender, well at least he wasn’t as a teenager in New York. But he stays with his man well enough. You’d think he’d be able to block more shots with his athleticism, but he doesn’t.

Fans that can’t see past his inability to hit a jumper will hate him. Fans that like athletic players will like him. Just remember he’s only 22, so he’s got a lot of room to grow.

Then there is Ben Q Rock from the Magic-focused Third Quarter Collapse blog.

He’s a good defender. He just has a knack for staying between his man and the basket. He occasionally gambles and plays the passing lanes, which is how he lead the team in steals last year.

On offense, he’s fairly one-dimensional. He’s a dunker. He takes the ball to the basket and dunks you into oblivion. The only other way he can score is via the offensive rebound, which is another area in which he excels. That’s it. His jump-shot is suspect, to say the least, but he’s worked on it.

I’m not sure if I have anything else to add. You’re getting a high-energy player with great defensive skills who also happens to be a fan favorite due to his dunking and hustling.

For Orlando, Cook will spell Hedo Turkoglu at the four (allowing Lewis to move to the three at times) and ideally having Howard on the floor will negate some of his defensive weaknesses. Mo Evans will be a professional solid guy off the bench, as he has been in LA and Detroit.

What the Lakers get is another young athlete who may be able to work his way into the system. We’ll see how long it takes him to really adjust to the offense, but the Lakers just made a trade where they got the best player and saved salary in the process. That is the kind of trade we’ve wanted the Lakers’ front office to make.