Archives For November 2007

Game Preview & Chat: The Chicago Bulls

Kurt —  November 18, 2007

Records: Lakers 5-3; Bulls 2-6
Offensive ratings: Lakers 109.2 (11); Bulls 94.9 (29)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.9 (18); Bulls 103.3 (11)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, Brian Cook, Kwame Brown
Bulls: Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon, Tyrus Thomas (a guess), Andres Nocioni, Ben Wallace

Lakers Notes: Take the season +/- numbers so far this year (and average per 48 minutes, as 82games.com does) and who comes out as the team leaders? Walton, Bynum, Radmanovic and Farmar — that would be our bench squad. That’s just a little statistical backup for what our eyes have been telling us — it is that bench that has won the Lakers a lot of games this season.

That was the case against the Pistons, when Phil wisely rode the hot hands (Farmar and Bynum) rather than just following the substitution pattern. The fourth quarter against the Pistons Friday night was the best 12 minutes of basketball the Lakers played this year — pressing on defense to force the tempo, making good passes in the offense, attacking the defense at its weakest points and hitting the shots.

Turiaf is not expected to play tonight because of the ankle — this early in the season better to give him too much rest rather than rush him back. No need for this to linger throughout the season.

The Bulls Coming In: I was watching the Clippers/Bulls game last night when I made note of a nice move by Deng, attacking from the wing, getting into the lane and hitting a pretty little running hook. The problem was he aggravated an already sore back with that play and he will not be in the lineup tonight — something that will hamper and already struggling Bulls offense. That said, the Bulls looked more aggressive getting to the hoop last night than I had seen early on.

I also watched a chunk of the Bulls/Suns game Thursday night, but I’m not sure how much we can take away from that. The Bulls got sucked into the Suns game (as so many teams do) and that’s a hard way to win. They pulled to a tie at about the end of the third quarter, then midway through the fourth decided to go small and run with the Suns. Game over.

The Bulls slow start has generated a lot of talk — I’d suggest reading through the backlog at Blog-a-Bull. The defense isn’t what it was last year (when they led the lead in defensive efficiency) and the offense has been stagnant and filled with bad shots. Maybe the best one-post breakdown came from another long-time Bulls fan, Kelly Dwyer, in an email to Henry at True Hoop. He made some good points about Deng, but we’ll skip those for tonight’s purposes. Here are a few other highlights, but read the whole post:

(On Hinrich and his attitude and play): When his shoulders are slumped, his shooting form resembles a crescent moon, and his facial expressions resemble those of your typical Pitchfork-reader; then a 2-of-11 night is the usual result. Throw in the abject lack of free throws (even at his best) and poor percentage finishing in the paint (even at his best), and you have a mini-Ben Wallace running point.

(On the coaching) It’s not Scott Skiles’ fault that Hinrich is shooting so poorly, Deng isn’t showcasing his usual fundamentally-sound streak, Gordon is streaky, or that Wallace sprained his ankle. The Bulls coach knows the games, draws up some gorgeous plays out of timeouts, and generally does a fine job with his team. So why is he constantly trying to make life harder on himself? We’re a quick-fix society, I grok, but there’s no reason to make lineup changes for the sake of lineup changes like he does … every damn December. Throwing Nocioni out at power forward against an up-tempo team like the Suns sounds about right; until you realize that Nocioni’s strengths (drawing power forwards out to the three-point line to either defend a shot they don’t want to defend, or blow by the slower big men) work against just about any other team BESIDES the Phoenix Suns. Shawn Marion doesn’t mind sticking to that three-point line,

(Overall thoughts) This is still a damn good basketball team. Should they make the playoffs, I like Chicago’s chances with any Eastern team outside of the Nets (whom I loathe, to be candid, but match up well against the Bulls). Some of the best defensive games of Hinrich’s career have come against Ray Allen, the same goes for Luol Deng when it comes to Paul Pierce, and Chicago’s record against the Western giants last year is pretty solid.

The Bulls stink offensively, but its turnovers, rebounding issues, and inability to get to the free throw line is right in line with what went down last year, when the team finished 20th in offensive efficiency. If and when the team starts to hit shots, they’ll improve, and hopefully ascend to the ranks of the mediocre. That, and the defense (first overall last season), should vault this team back into the race. It’s that start, and the missed chances at home against mediocre teams, that worries.

That said, this is your date, and it’s still only half past eight. No coaching change or lineup reshuffle or Important Trade Worth These Capital Letters is either in the offing or probable or likely to help.

Factoid That Would Interest Only Peter King: I could have my blogger’s license revoked for admitting this, but I kind of like the “Where Amazing Happens” commercials.

Keys To The Game: This is the chance for the Lakers to win a game with their defense, the Bulls as a team are shooting just 42.1% (eFG%) this season and tonight will be without their most dynamic offensive player. Hinrich is streaky, and the Lakers want to keep him bombing away from three — he is shooting just 19.2% from deep this year (but if he gets hot that plan changes, historically he can shoot from distance). Gordon can get hot too, and he needs to be focused on to prevent that from happening.

Ben Wallace’s bum ankle has meant the Bulls are not as formidable in the paint and on the boards — they are middle of the pack (18th) in defensive rebounding, so Bynum should be able to get to the offensive boards and get a couple easy put backs.

Tonight’s Game: Where good timing Happens: One of the underrated things about an NBA season is luck, specifically the luck of when you catch a team. There is going to be a string of a couple weeks this season where Minnesota is going to be able to beat just about anyone, and if they are on your schedule during that time you pick up the “how did we lose to those guys?” loss. Conversely, sometimes you need to catch good teams at a vulnerable time — like the Suns on a back-to-back, or the Pistons when they are without two starters.

Or the Bulls when they are without their best player and on the second game of a back-to-back. This is about the best time to catch one of the more talented young teams in the league. They are going to turn it around at some point, but tonight is a game the Lakers could and should win.

Where you can watch: Game time is 6:30 p.m. (Pacific). In Los Angeles tune into Fox Sports, nationally you’ll need the League Pass. Of course, you can always watch the ads, er, gamecast on ESPN.com

View From Behind The Bench

Kurt —  November 17, 2007

Friend of the site Nate Jones — better known as Jones on the NBA, he of his own blog and Fanhouse — sat behind the Lakers bench last night. He posted some observations in the comments that I thought deserved their own space.

I sat right behind the Lakers bench last night. First of all, Ronny Turiaf is the man. He’s pretty much the only player that will respond to fans and idiots in the crowd during the game. The guy is just hilarious. I’ll be glad when he gets back so Brian Cook can take his rightful place at the end of the bench.

Speaking of Cook. He is terrible. A power forward who is a poor rebounder, shot blocker, and defender. Total opposite of Ronny. Plus he shoots like he has a Kobe Bryant green light. I also feel like he doesn’t know the offense that well. Or at least it looked that way to me last night.

Rip v. Kobe was fun to watch. If the Lakers can get scoring from others, then Kobe can do more of what he did to Rip last night. Watching those two, I can tell that it has to be very annoying to guard that guy. He runs off of a ton of picks, and pushes, grabs, and slaps his way to open positioning. Kobe pointed out what he was doing to the refs and the refs started calling Rip for offensive fouls. Rip hates getting shown up by Kobe because they were rivals in the PA area during high school.

Jordan Farmar is the difference maker on this team. When he is in the game he totally changes the way the Lakers play. He’s aggressive on defense and then pushes the ball at every opportunity. He gets everyone on the team pumped up with his exciting play. Also, in only his second year, he’s already directing everyone else on what to do. When Bynum was slow getting back off of a rotation making it so Farmar was guarding one of the Pistons bigs in the post, Farmar got in Bynums ass about it. Bynum got a little offended until Lamar basically came over and told him to shut up. On every free throw situation, Jordan comes over and talks to Phil. You can tell that Phil and the coaching staff are just in love with him.

Lamar Odom is also sensational. He’s a totally different player now that he doesn’t have to match up with guys like Tim Duncan and Rasheed Wallace everynight. I’ve written this before, but Odom is at his best when the Lakers are running and he can get out on the break and do his thing. He had 5 or 6 opportunities like that last night. They gotta find a way to have Farmar, Mo Evans, and Lamar on the floor together, because those guys love to get the rebound and push the ball. Very fun basketball to watch.

Records: Lakers 4-3; Pistons 6-2
Offensive ratings: Lakers 108.1 (11th); Pistons 111.3 (4th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.2 (18th); Pistons 103.4 (12th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, Vladamir Radmanovic, Kwame Brown (this is a big of a guess, but Phil Jackson said yesterday he did not want Odom at the four tonight)
Pistons: Ronald Murray, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Jason Maxiell, Rasheed Wallace

Lakers Notes:Ronny Turiaf turned an ankle yesterday in practice, which means he’ll be watching from the sidelines. We’ll see how much the bum ankle impacts his cheering.

With a couple injuries to the Pistons, this is another night the Lakers bench could be key. That is, if Luke Walton can shake out of this funk. He has slumped the last three games since exiting the starting lineup (shooting just 24% and with 10 turnovers). He also had a tough defensive game last time out trying to cover Bonzi Wells. (I’ll add, even with Turiaf out I wouldn’t start him tonight just because I don’t want to reward the way he played lately. Make him earn his way back in. Plus the matchups don’t work well for Walton to start tonight.)

I’m looking forward to a little bit of Andrew Bynum on Sheed, just to see what the stronger body and length can do.

The Pistons Coming In: Both Chauncey Billups and Antonio McDyess are game-time decisions tonight due to injuries.

The Pistons have a couple of the better NBA team blogs out there. Natalie and Need 4 Sheed is a lot of fun, but this time around I decided to pose some Pistons questions to Matt from Detroit Bad Boys (and Fanhouse).

I know a lot of pundits thought the Pistons stood pat this off-season and
didn’t address their needs, but you don’t feel that way. What did the
Pistons do and why will it pay off when it matters next Spring?

Ironically, the two biggest developments are things that Lakers fans probably won’t see tonight: the addition of Rodney Stuckey off the bench and the decision to move Antonio McDyess to the starting lineup. Stuckey, as you probably heard, broke his left hand in the preseason finale and is about a week or so away from returning. On Tuesday, McDyess aggravated a shoulder injury and could sit out his second game in a row tonight.

But when he’s healthy, Stuckey gives Detroit a solid option in the backcourt who can get into the paint and draw the foul. He has other talents, but that’s the one skill-set the Pistons have been lacking the most in recent years, and it’s something he proved he could do with ease throughout most of the preseason. Plus, he’ll bump Flip Murray down on the depth chart. Murray has his moments, but no one can argue that he’s more of an asset as the fourth guard as opposed to the third.

As for McDyess joining the starting lineup, it not only makes sense in terms of getting your best players on the floor early but also opens the door for some of Detroit’s young big men to actually be used. Jason Maxiell, who you’ll soon discover is one of the league’s hidden gems, brings a ton of energy and physical play to the court, but he was the third big man off the bench last year behind McDyess and Dale Davis. This year, he’s the first to get the call. Amir Johnson is kind of in Maxiell’s position last year in terms of getting inconsistent minutes early in the year, but that’s better than before when he couldn’t even dress for most games.

Amir Johnson is the fans favorite (or so it seems) but not so much with
the coaching staff. What have the Pistons got in him?

First, he’s the answer to a trivia question: he was the last high school kid drafted (56th overall in 2005) before David Stern changed the rules. But more importantly, he’s an incredible athlete. He’s grown two inches since draft day without losing a shred of his athleticism or speed, making him one of the most agile and fast 6-11 players in the league.

Of course, he’s still on the thin side and gets pushed around in the post, but he’s like a pogo stick in terms of getting up and going after rebounds and blocking shots, needing very little time to regroup before getting back in the air. And as talented as Rasheed Wallace and McDyess still are, they’re now known more for their jump-shooting ability whereas Johnson lives above the rim.

Unfortunately, he’s still playing catch-up considering he missed seven of eight games in the preseason with a sprained ankle that turned into a lingering sore Achilles early in the regular season. But he’s looked better and better in each game he plays, so hopefully he’ll keep getting his number called, even if it’s for only 5-10 minutes a night.

Are the Pistons players and fans quietly seething over all the Boston hype right now?

Honestly, I think it’s the opposite: it’s kind of nice to be under the radar. This team isn’t measured by regular-season wins and losses, so avoiding all of the hype from November to April will take a bit of pressure off the team. The Pistons have been division champs in five out of the past six years — the one year they weren’t was 2004, which, I’m sure you remember, ended kind of nicely for them. Given what we’ve seen from Cleveland and Chicago, I don’t doubt they’ll win the Central again this year, but I think the Pistons are fine letting Boston worry about locking up that No. 1 seed. In the meantime, Detroit will use the regular season to develop their bench so they’ll be even better in the playoffs.

What are the Pistons doing right to get off to this good start?

It’s all about balance. Five different players have led the team in scoring in the first seven games, and then three players tied for the team lead in the last game. You really never know who’s going to step up in any given night. If someone gets hot, the rest of the team will keep feeding him the ball. I won’t go so far as to say there aren’t any egos on this team, but everyone is working toward the same goal every night and trusts the guy standing next to him.

Factoid That Would Interest Only Peter King: Boston may be getting all the hype, but I think Detroit beats them in a seven game playoff series. In those chess matches it becomes about exploiting weaknesses, and despite how good the Big Three are in Boston I think there are plenty of places to attack that team (at PG and off the bench). And Detroit, with its balance, can do that well — can you imagine what Billups would do to Rondo in a seven-game series? But we are a long way off from that right now. And what the heck do I know, I thought the Bulls would win the East.

Keys To The Game: Look for a high scoring game — these are two good offenses and two pretty average (and that’s being kind to the Lakers right now) defenses. The Pistons do not create a lot of turnovers (24th in the league at that) so this could be one game where the Lakers don’t turn it over much. If they do, it could be big trouble again.

On defense, the Lakers can’t leave Hamilton alone beyond the arc, they need to stick with him and try to force him into the midrange — he’s still a good shooter from there but not as deadly as everywhere else. Rasheed Wallace is the other guy you have to force into the midrange — his shooting percentage drops off considerably if he’s 15 feet or more out (but he can hit from three, but better that then next to the basket). It’s got to be Kwame using his body, but he’s going to need help because Sheed is too athletic for him.

The key in this game will be the team that plays better defense. If the Lakers can get good rotations and can clog up the lane when guys penetrate, they can force the Piston players to take the midrange shot they are less comfortable with. The Pistons have not done a great job this year defending opposing twos and fours (PERS of 17.3 and 16.8, respectively). That means this could be a big game for Kobe and Odom.

Tonight’s Game: Where too much talk about 2004 Happens: Maybe the biggest key to this game is whether or not Billups plays — without him the Pistons offense isn’t as fluid. Still, I expect this one to be close and high scoring, but I think this Laker team could find a way to win one at home. And if they could get a couple technicals on the fiery Sheed, all the better.

Where you can watch: Game time is 7:30 p.m. (Pacific). In Los Angeles tune into Fox Sports West, nationally you get ESPN, and online check out the ESPN.com gamecast.

The Good and The Bad

Kurt —  November 15, 2007

Since this is the NBA and not, say, platform diving, there are no style points awarded with wins. Which is good, because while the Lakers were doing something with a high degree of difficulty — a back-to-back in Texas — they got the win that was far from graceful in Houston. And we’ll take it.

We learned some things too, like that the Lakers and Rockers are pretty evenly matched. Two games decided by a total of five points — the Lakers could have won both or lost both with just a couple breaks (whether the late threes fall or not). A split is about right, but you’ll never convince me that the fates don’t decide some NBA games.

What else have we learned?

Good. The Lakers can play team defense — they held the Rockets to a team offensive rating of 98.44 (well below the Laker opponent season average of 106.2). To be fair, the Lakers caught a break with McGrady going out, he was shooting 57.1% eFG% and was the only Rocket for the game over 50%.

The Lakers do play good defense in stretches, although I don’t think they’ve put 48 minutes together yet (see the lapses in San Antonio the other night for the perfect example). As kwame a. and others have pointed out in the comments, there are some bad habits the Lakers have — they are doubling off cutters or doubling early off guys on the perimeter and leaving shooters wide open for threes. But, the effort is there compared to previous years and in stretches the Lakers can do it, they just need to become consistent.

Bad. Luke Walton’s play since being asked to come off the bench. He has shot 4 of 17 in the last three games, made 10 turnovers, looked more lethargic on the boards and last night played horrible defense on Bonzi Wells (Radmanovic helped some with that last one). Phil Jackson was frustrated enough to sub Mo Evans in over Luke late in the fourth quarter last night. I’m not in his head, I don’t know what’s going on there, but he needs to snap out of it.

Good. The second unit. The Lakers starters basically played the Rockets even last night (each starter was -3 to -5 for the night), but it was the bench that stood out and took control of the game in the second quarter (and had a key run to end the third quarter). Bynum was a team-high +10, but he couldn’t out rebound Farmar — they both had 9. The Lakers depth is going to win them a number of games this year and that was one of them.

Bad. Turnovers. It’s really simple — 6 first half turnovers, big Lakers lead at half, 13 second half turnovers and the game is in doubt until the clock runs out. What’s disturbing is the number of turnovers from veterans who are making bad decisions — Kobe, Walton, Odom and Fisher accounted for 13 of the 19 turnovers. (Granted, that group handles the ball a lot, but some of those were pretty terrible choices.) Yes, this should get better as the year goes on, but it needs to be a point of emphasis from the coaches, it will not get better on its own.

Good. Rebounding. The Lakers are the eighth best defensive rebounding team in the league right now, and leading the way is Andrew Bynum, who is grabbing league high 23.8% of the boards when he is on the floor.

Bad. Phil Jackson’s attempts at humor.

Good. Being 4-3 after that gauntlet of a start. Right now the Lakers are actually 9th in the Western Conference and are on pace to win about 46 games, but those numbers (and the offensive and defensive stats) are dragged down some because of the quality of opponents the Lakers have faced. Outside of the Timberwolves, the Lakers opponents have a record of 33-10 this season. Doing well against these teams bodes well for the future.

That’s a good note to end on.

Records: Lakers 3-3; Rockets 6-2
Offensive ratings: Lakers 109.1 (8th); Rockets 107.2 (14th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 107.4 (19th); Rockets 101.6 (5th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, Ronny Turiaf, Chris Mihm (I guess, I have no idea what Phil will do at the five)
Rockets: Rafer Alston, Tracy McGrady, Shane Battier, Chuck Hayes, Yao Ming

Lakers Notes: The Lakers two big weaknesses this season — turnovers and perimeter defense — bit them in a big way against the Spurs Tuesday night. The Spurs may be the best team in the league at exploiting a weakness (their balanced roster can do that a number of ways) and it showed.

As I said in the comments last night, this was the first game I didn’t get to watch. So I’m posting a couple of your comments from last night that seem to describe the happenings:

The problem is the defense collapses way too quickly. Even before Parker or Ginobli got to the free throw line, the Lakers double teamed leaving a wingman wide open for the 3. When will they learn not to double-team and rely on their center or weakside help. Kobe and Turiaf looked for the block in the paint and got burned on the perimeter. I posted several days ago, about Kobe’s “opportunistic defense.” Looks great, but doesn’t win. See Bowen’s 3 pt FGM vs. FGA.
—81 Witness

Kurt, you talked about tempo in your preview. I think another reason for so many turnovers was the Lakers rush to get the ball up the court and get a shot off. They will have to learn that there isn’t always a quick shot, and that defense leads to running (its pretty hard to run taking the ball out of the net all game). Lastly, why the hell do we send our pg’s under the screen when that ensures Tony Parker a wide-open 16-foot shot that has become a lay-up to him.
—Kwame a.

I could post a bunch more — there has been great stuff in the comments so far this season, a great discussion — but It’s time to not dwell on last night and move on to the not-so-simple issues ahead tonight.

The Rockets Coming In: The Rockets lost last night as well, having a lead midway through the third quarter and watching it disappear as Gasol and Darko beat the Rockets bigs and scored 46 points between them. Key Rockets off the bench — Bonzi Well, Mike James and Luis Scola — also all had the worst +/- numbers on the team.

As you would expect, the Rockets have been getting great offensive production out of their dynamic duo of Ming and McGrady. Ming is shooting 55.6% from the floor, scoring 25.2 points per 40 minutes, grabbing 15% of the rebounds while on the floor and has a PER of 27.45. McGrady has been carrying more of the offensive load (33.2% of the possessions when on the floor) and still is shooting 50.1% (eFG%) from the floor and 35.1% from three, with a PER of 28.29. (For comparison, Kobe leads the Lakers with a PER of 27.2).

But after those two the Rockets have not done much on offense. Rafter Alston is shooting 35.8% from the floor, Bonzi Wells 39%, Mike James 42.1% (all eFG%). Eventually that will catch up with them.

Fortunately for the Rockets (and unlike the Lakers), they can count on good defense to keep them in games every night. Teams are only shooting 45.7% against them (second best in the league) and the Rockets are one of the best rebounding teams in the league, so there aren’t many second chances.

Last Time These Two Met: The Rockets won 95-93 on the opening night of the season, but the Rockets dominated that game until the Lakers almost stole it with a late run (and they would have gotten away with it too, if it wasn’t for that meddling Shane Battier and his late three).

That was the first game of the year and for the Lakers it was the Kobe show, with him taking 43% of the shots while he was on the floor. This was the “Chicken or Egg” problem game for the Lakers, nobody else was hitting so Kobe took it all on himself.

The Lakers depth, which has served them well this season didn’t do much in that game — all the Lakers starters were positive in the +/- that game, but the Rockets bench was better. Of course, Lamar Odom was not in the lineup for the Lakers for that game.

Also note, McGrady and Ming accounted for 55 of the Rockets 95 points that night. Mike James was the only other Rocket to shoot 50% that night.

Keys To The Game: Both teams are coming in on the second game of a back-to-back, and both are pretty deep, so no big advantage or disadvantage here.

Just like last night, the Rockets are a team that likes the game slowed down (89.6 possessions per game, 7 fewer than the Lakers) so if the Lakers can up the tempo it would be to their advantage — IF they don’t turn the ball over in transition so much. That’s a big IF.

The key for the Lakers is to hold on to the ball, then on defense make someone other than the Rockets big two beat you. Of course, while Wells and James may not be shooting well, if they get the wide-open looks from three San Antonio did they will hit them.

Tonight’s Game: Where ESPN’s Sideline Reporters Talk Nothing But Kobe Trade BS Happens: This is a game the Lakers can win — if they execute on defense and don’t turn the ball over. The Lakers have three big bodies to throw at Yao, and as for McGrady a combo of Odom and Kobe can limit how efficient he is. The key is for the perimeter rotations to be there tonight.

Also, Rob L. said in an email to me (along with the stats from last night) that he thinks tonight could be one of those “Kobe takes over” games. Personally I hope not, this is a tough team to do that against (Battier on Kobe with Yao and Mutumbo behind him). This is a game the Lakers team can win.

Where you can watch: Game time is 6 p.m. (Pacific). In Los Angeles tune into KCAL (9), nationally you get the joy that is ESPN. What is the under/over on the number of times a reporter discusses the “Kobe trade” situation?