Archives For November 2007

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.

Records: Lakers 6-3; Pacers 4-6
Offensive ratings: Lakers 109.2 (11th); Pacers 103.3 (22nd)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.9 (18th); Pacers 104.4 (13th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, Ronny Turiaf, Chris Mihm
Pacers: Jamaal Tinsley, Danny Granger, Mike Dunleavy, Jermaine O’Neal, Troy Murphy,

Lakers Notes: A sentence that starts “Ben Wallace fell into your leg…” is not one that’s going to end well and it didn’t for Kwame Brown, who will miss at least a month. His defensive presence in the paint will be missed on nights like Friday (facing that Boston front line).

Good news on the injury front, Ronny Turiaf made the trip with the team and is expected to play tonight (and they will need his D with JO in the opposing colors).

While the Lakers have been playing great, there are two areas of concern that have come up in the comments. First has been the play of Kobe the last few games. You’d think he was the last guy we need to worry about (on the court, anyway), but fans are concerned. Rob L. made the point you really don’t need to be:

Kobe’s last two games haven’t been spectacular, but also not as bad as people think. If one looks at his ORtg, instead of just his shooting %, it tells a much different story.

Vs Pistons: 111.68 ORtg using 19.15% of Lakers possessions. 38.89% EFG, 47.03% TS

Vs Bulls: 91.59 ORtg using 21.14% of Lakers possessions. 37.5% EFG, 47.17 % TS

I’ll grant you that the Bulls game numbers are merely good, not great. But Kobe had a great game against the Pistons offensively. Yes this is due in part to all those assists, as his EFG and TS were nearly identical in those games.

Then there is the ongoing turnover problem, and just how big a problem that really. Right now the team is overcoming it, but it is something the team needs to get a handle on as the year wears on. Come the playoffs, teams will be better able to exploit those kinds of mistakes (so far, only San Antonio really has, although other teams have hung around games longer because of it).

The Pacers Coming In: Get your track shoes out, the Pacers are running the ball under Jim O’Brien — they are averaging 96.9 possessions a game, the same pace as the Phoenix Suns. (The Lakers are at 94.8. seventh in the league.) They also go relatively small, with Troy Murphy as their starting center (although Jermaine O’Neal certainly helps along the back line).

Despite the pace the Pacers have lost six straight, and part of the problem is that O’Neal is playing his way back into shape, his left knee is not fully healed and has not got his offensive game on track, shooting just 39.7% from the field (he also did not practice yesterday due to swelling in his knee).

Really, few Pacers are shooting well, as a team they are shooting just 48.2% (eFG%). Only Murphy (54%) and Danny Granger (50.7%) are shooting over 50% (of the guys who do much scoring). (Side note, Ike Diagu is playing and shooting well too, but is out with an injury.)

But if you check out Indy Cornrows, you’ll see the Pacers have looked better their last couple of games. And one guy to watch for is athletic rookie Shawne Williams out of Memphis — he was an “upside” kid in the draft with questions about his work ethic. More of those guys fall out long term than GMs seem to think, but so far he seems to be making it work, as evidenced by 7 of 11 shooting off the bench in the Pacers win against Utah the other night. He is the first Pacer wingman off the bench.

Pinky, Are You Pondering What I’m Pondering?The Orlando Magic front office got pounded for that Rashard Lewis contract this summer, and it was probably larger than it needed to be, but I thought from the start he was a good fit with the pieces in there. And for once I was right about something in the East. Because he was in little-televised Seattle I think a lot of people didn’t realize how good an offensive player Lewis is. Well, the Magic are 10-2, second in the East, and Lewis is shooting 62.6% (eFG%) and 48.1% from three.

Keys To The Game: The Pacers and the Lakers like to run, and they both turn the ball over a lot — the Pacers on 18% of their possessions, the Lakers on 17.8% (23rd and 22nd in the league). If one team can limit those turnovers tonight they will have a big advantage. Also, converting the turnovers that do happen into easy buckets will be important.

That’s where the Lakers bench — and particularly the pressure defense of Jordan Farmar — can be key. The Pacers bring some raw but athletic guys off the bench (Diagu, Williams) but the Lakers second team should again be able to have a good night.

One other note, the Pacers foul a lot — second highest percentage in the league. This is a night the Lakers slashers (Kobe, Odom) could get to the line a lot. If they hit their free throws that’s another plus for the Lakers.

Tonight’s Game: Where The Over Happens: My guess is this game looks like a faster-paced version of the Bulls game — close for three quarters, the Lakers bench gets a double digit lead with 8 minutes or so to go. But, as this one is on the road, expect the late comeback push by Indiana, the Lakers will need to hold on and hit a key shot or two in the end.

Bottom line, in a back-to-back on the road like this the Lakers should at least get a split, and it’s a lot easier to win that first one. They need to come out focused tonight and not play to the level of the competition.

Where you can watch: Game time is 4 p.m. (Pacific), but in Los Angeles KCAL (9) is delaying the start time until 5:30 p.m. (something they often do with mid-week games out East). Nationally you’ll need league pass, but my guess is a larger portion of us than normal will be watching online with Gamecast.

Credit The Second Unit

Kurt —  November 19, 2007

I made this note yesterday but it bears repeating: The top four Lakers in +/- per 48 minutes this season are Jordan Farmar, Andrew Bynum, Luke Walton and Vladamir Radmanovic — all guys who come in off the bench. It is that second unit and this team’s depth that has carried it to a 6-3 record that surprised even the team’s optimistic fans.

Last night’s win against Chicago a perfect example — the run that put the game away came with Walton and Farmar making the key plays. They were running a beautiful two-man game on the weak side of the triangle and the Bulls could not stop it.

Let us review, we pick up the action at 2:02 left in the third, just after Kirk Hinrich hits a 15-footer moving to his left to cal a 9-1 Bulls run and bring the score to 63-60 Lakers.

63-60 Lakers: The Lakers do a nice job running the triangle, Walton with a good pass from the high post (he really looked comfortable there last night) to a cutting Farmar who kicks it out to Kobe who makes a nice move and… Chris Mihm was enjoying all this crisp passing so much he stood around and watched it. In the key. Three seconds called and a turnover (that was 19 by the way).

Hinrich comes off a high screen but slips to the ground (but maintaining his dribble in a move the Globetrotters would be impressed with), giving the defense time to reset. Kobe gives Hinrich space to shoot, so he does but clanks the three. As was said before the game: Kirk is struggling, let him shoot.

Again Walton comes out in the high post (well, nearly top of the key this time, so it’s hard to call that a post spot), Farmar gets it to him then cuts around him to the basket, and Walton gets Farmar the ball back. Farmar gets fouled driving and throws up a shot to get a couple free throws. Which he hits.

65-60 Lakers:
Ben Gordon got the ball on a “Rip Hamilton play” — they start him on the weak side wing and run him off three picks, he gets the pass 18 feet out and tries to go up quickly. He misses, and Thomas fouls Mihm going for the board. Mihm’s not a bad free throw shooter.

67-60 Lakers: Hinrich brings the ball up, moving across from the left to the right wing and takes a quick shot that Mike D’Antoni would like, but not so much Scott Skiles. It clanks.

Walton gets the rebound and pushes it up himself, drawing some defenders so he kicks it out to Jordan Farmar on the right wing, and Farmar decides he’s open (he’s not that open) but drains the high-arcing three.

70-60 Lakers. This time it is Gordon out top with the ball and he is waiting for Hinrich to come off the screens, and Kirk gets the ball at the elbow (the corner of the key). But Farmar never gives up on the play, comes up behind Kirk and knocks the ball free to Walton, who passes back to a streaking Farmar for a lay-up. Farmar’s defensive effort is the catalyst for this team right now.

72-60 Lakers. Gordon comes off a high screen but Mihm plays it well, keeping him from getting inside, Farmar recovers and so with no good shot Gordon passes out to Duhon, who gets a good look at the three, but misses it. Tyrus Thomas makes a very athletic play going for the tip in, but misses that.

The Lakers work the ball around the perimeter and it ends up with a Mo Evans three from the corner, which misses, but Mihm gets the offensive board and the Lakers reset. Farmar decides he is going to wait for the last shot of the quarter, drives with seconds left and kicks it out to Luke Walton beyond the arc, who headfakes and Thomas bites like a starved hyena. Walton misses but draws the foul and heads to the line with 0.9 seconds. Walton hits all three.

75-60 Lakers, start of the fourth quarter. Lakers get the ball out to start the quarter. Farmar again comes off the high pick and is looking to get into the lane but the Bulls have seen this move and rotate quickly to cut that off with two guys. Farmar steps back like he wants to rethink this then tries to split the defenders, gets in the air and makes an ill-advised pass to Mihm that is picked off. See, he does make mistakes.

Early in the clock Gordon gets the ball on the right wing and drives the lane but a host of Lakers are there to greet him, so he passes out on the opposite wing to Ben Wallace. Gordon then runs behind Wallace as a screen, gets a drop pass and goes up with a decent look from 21 (Mihm was closing) but misses.

Farmar brings the ball up and the Lakers set up the offense, Walton out top gets it to Mo Evans in the high post, who slides into the paint then tries the 14-foot fade away, missing but getting fouled by Nocioni. He hits both,

77-60 Lakers. The Bulls probe the right wing but find nothing and Gordon decides to throw it back out top and reset. Except that Gardner gets the pass back out top and things that is an invitation to shoot from two feet behind the arc. He misses and Skiles hair gets a little more gray.

Then the highlight play — Odom pushes the ball up and gets it to Walton in the high post, who passes between his legs behind himself to a cutting Farmar, who lays it off for Mihm, who gets the dunk. Staples Center erupts and I wake a child with a scream of delight.

The Lakers score another basket before a Duhon three gets the Bulls off the slide, but by that point the game is over.

Things are going well for the Lakers and I’m enjoying this. Look around at how pissed Bulls fans are right now (and the very thoughtful and slow-to-anger Knickerblogger has started calling for his coach’s head), and you see what my worst fears for this season were. The first nine games have been more like a dream (not a perfect dream, but pretty damn good).

Don’t wake me.