Archives For November 2007

Records: Lakers 3-2; Spurs 6-1
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.5 (5th); Spurs 110.8 (7th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.7 (18th); Spurs 100.2 (6th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, Ronny Turiaf, Kwame Brown (although it could be Mihm)
Spurs: Tony Parker, Michael Finley, Bruce Bowen, Tim Duncan, Fabricio Oberto

Lakers Notes: Everyone is healthy, which leaves Phil Jackson with some more interesting “who not to play” decisions heading into this dreaded Texas two-step (remember it’s the Rockets tomorrow night). With the big bodies along the front lines the next couple of nights, expect all the centers to be dressed and used, while some of the reserve guards watch the game in street clothes.

The best part of being healthy was the game Lamar Odom played against the Timberwolves. He gives the Lakers a legitimate second scoring option and that should keep opening up the passing lanes for others. So long as the Lakers keep running the offense — and not reverting to the throw-it-to-Kobe-and-clear-out offense — a team that already has the fifth most efficient offense in the league could get even better.

The Laker rotations tonight could be closer to what we all imagined over the summer, but this will be the first time they will get serious game action so their could be bumps in the road. For the Lakers to have a chance tonight Luke Walton cannot have another game off the bench like he did against Minnesota.

The Spurs Coming In: There has been some talk in the comments here about the Spurs being slow starters. If so, the league is in a lot of trouble this year because the Spurs are already the best team going. (Technically the Celtics’ numbers are better early, but if the two teams met in a seven game series who are you picking? Exactly.)

We’ve got questions about the Spurs, like how Manu Ginobli has an early season PER of 34.45. So I asked Matthew Powell from over at Pounding The Rock what is going on with the Spurs

What is Manu Ginobili eating for breakfast and where can I get some? Or, at least, what is he doing so well early on?

This has been the topic du jour amongst Spurs fans in the early season (and you can read hundreds of related words on my blog). The safe opinion is that he’s rested after not playing for the Argentine national team this off-season, but after watching him play I know it’s more than that. Though recklessness is his trademark, he’s playing with an abandon that I’ve never seen out of him; taking threes early in the shot clock, attempting ridiculous passes to the likes of Matt Bonner, even getting into the face of opponents (something he’s never done before this year).

Personally, I think he’s finally comfortable with the notion of asserting himself as one the best players in the league. Which he is, whether people notice or not. He’s currently leading the league in PER and fifth in points per 48 minutes. Is that all that surprising considering he was ninth and fifteenth in those categories last year?

I thought the Spurs traditionally started slow, so what else is going on here?

Well, their schedule has been easy, Ginobili’s been trashing defenses and Robert Horry’s and Jacque Vaughn’s rotten corpses have stayed in street clothes.

Outside of staying healthy, what does this team need to do to repeat?

Nothing. They’ll beat Boston in 5 games, Ginobili wins the MVP and I get the entire Spur home crowd to chant “Nancy boy” during all of Ray Allen’s free throw attempts.

Factoid That Would Interest Only Peter King: I’m doing some Lakers writing again at LAist. The pieces there are aimed a little more mainstream but are fun — starting with five reasons you should be watching the Lakers.

Also, I rarely link to Kobe retrospectives anymore, but I really enjoyed the new one up at Sports Hub LA — Kobe as The Great Gatsby.

Keys To The Game: One thing to keep an eye on tonight is pace — the Lakers are playing at the sixth fastest pace in the league (96.6 possessions per game), while the Spurs are one of the slowest teams (88.2, 29th in the league). If one team can force the game to be at their pace, it will be a huge advantage. Another thing to look for, the Spurs don’t foul much on defense, so if the Lakers can get to the line that will be a big advantage.

Of course, there are also the great matchups — Bowen on Kobe, Ronny/Kwame (and likely others) on Duncan, Fisher and Farmar on Parker. But the biggest test will be the guys off the bench (or Kobe when he’s in) sticking with the very hot Manu. That last one could be the biggest key.

Defense and holding on to the ball have been Laker weak points this season, but if they don’t fix that the next three games (tonight, then the Rockets, then Detroit) that Lakers record will take a big hit.

Tonight’s Game: Where The Sixth Man of the Year Happens: I think this is a great test for the Lakers and they will rise up — remember the Lakers took two of three from San Antonio last year. But unless Fisher has another .04 in him it’s hard to predict a Laker victory on the road against a hot Spurs team. Still, if you want to get a split in Texas, this may be easier than beating Houston on the back end of a back-to-back.

Where you can watch: Game time is 5:30 p.m. (Pacific). In Los Angeles tune into KCAL (9), with NBA TV having national coverage. For those “watching” online, I’ll be with you because I’ll still be at the day job during the game. Reader Dan wrote in last week to suggest the Yahoo! gamecast was the best one going, so check that out.

Anatomy of a Turnover

Kurt —  November 12, 2007

The Lakers had 18 turnovers against the Timberwolves Friday night, emblematic of the way 17.7% of the team’s possessions end in a turnover (20th in the league). How did they happen? Often because the Lakers made a bad decision in transition, sometimes because the extra pass in the lane went array. Here is a breakdown of each one:

1) 1st quarter, 9:12, 6-6.
Fisher brings the ball up after a Jefferson make and at half court tries to thread a pass through to Turiaf who sprinted down and is in the paint, except that Jefferson hustled back and makes the steal, then takes it back up himself (but misses the shot because Chris Mihm never made it down court). Bad decision by Fisher.

2) 1st quarter, 8:15, 11-8 Minnesota. Fisher pushes the ball up quickly after a Gomes make (he was hot early). Things open up a little so he decides to drive the lane straight away, but when Jefferson collapses Fisher tries to make the fancy back pass to Turiaf that fails. The first two are on Fish.

3) 1st Quarter 7:54, 13-8 Minnesota.
Fisher gets the ball in bounds after a make, looks up and tries the three-quarter court pass to a hustling Ronny, but it is over his head and out of bounds. Fisher is not Kevin Love (and has the first three).

4) 1st Quarter, 5:03, 20-15 Minnesota. Kobe grabs the rebound on a miss and pushes it up himself on the left wing. Both Bynum and Turiaf are out high and look like they will set an early pick near the top of the key, but both see each other so both vacate the space just as Kobe looks for the screen. That leaves Kobe driving into the teeth of the defense and Theo Ratliff was there to force Kobe to try a wild pass to Bynum. Which failed. (But Turiaf didn’t give up, knocked the ball away from Marco Jaric, makes a pass to Kobe who passes to Bynum for the dunk.)

5) 1st Quarter, 1:10, 27-26 Lakers. Farmar pushes the ball up and makes a skip pass to Kobe, who starts to drive and when the defense collapses kicks out to Walton, who head fakes the charging defender and drives the land then kicks it out to the top of the key to Kobe, who drives the lane and gets stuffed by Jefferson. Kobe wanted the foul, and maybe it was, but good play by Jefferson as well.

6) 1st Quarter, :30, 30-28 Lakers. Jaric misses a three, Walton grabs the rebound and quickly hits Farmar out at half court on the left sideline, who has Jaric running with him and Turiaf filling the middle of the lane with Jefferson two strides behind him. Farmar has the right idea trying to wrap a pass around Jaric to the cutting Turiaf, but Jaric’s length knocks it away.

7) 2nd Quarter, 10:20 33-30 Minnesota. The Lakers settle in and run a nice offensive set that ends with Radmanovic getting a decent look three from the top of the arc — it misses but Walton gets great position under the basket and grabs the rebound, bringing it out on the left wing. Radmanovic runs to set a downscreen for Bynum in the paint near the basket but his defender is a full step behind, so Walton shoots him a pass — one Radman doesn’t expect. When he does see it he actually recoils from the ball. Bynum is right there too but didn’t react fast enough, and the ball sails through the court and out of bounds.

8) 2nd Quarter, 9:05, 36-33 Minnesota. The Lakers run the offense and get the ball into the paint to cutting Bynum, who tries a jump hook over the veteran Theo Ratlif that misses, but he stays with it and taps the rebound out to Luke Walton near the free throw line. He tries to feed the ball back inside quickly to Bynum, who is doing is best to seal off Ratlif but fails as the defender comes around him to make the steal. Not a great choice by Walton.

9) 2nd Quarter, 6:47, 37-36 Lakers. The Lakers are on the break after Bynum blocks a shot, with Odom bringing the ball up the right wing. Defenders start to slide to him just after half court so he skips it over to Walton on the left side, who tries the quick bounce pass back to Odom going to the hoop but it gets knocked away (and becomes an easy bucket for the T-Wolves at the other end). This was just a one off night for Walton all around.

10) 2nd Quarter, 4:49, 44-40 Lakers. The Lakers are off and running after a Turiaf steal, Fish drives the lane and draws the defenders then makes a bounce pass to Bynum, but Ratlif rotates quickly, then Bynum chooses to do the right thing and throws it back out top to set up the offense. (At least this error isn’t in transition.) With 14 on the clock Kobe gets the ball on the wing beyond the three-point arc, draws in his defender with a headfake then drives around him into the lane. Ratlif rotates, Bynum makes the cut to the hole but Kobe’s wrap-around pass to Bynum just harmlessly bounces out of bounds.

11) 3rd Quarter, 7:15, 66-54 Lakers.
Not coincidentally, it takes the Lakers almost five minutes into the second half to commit a turnover, and they go on a big run. The streak ends when Kobe gets an outlet from Mihm and brings it up the right side, decides to use a crossover to shake Buckner and just loses control and it goes out of bounds.

12) 3rd Quarter, 5:45, 70-56 Lakers. Bynum outlets to Fisher who pushes it up the middle of the court and at the free throw line tries an off-the-dribble “Steve Nash special” to Turiaf running the baseline, but it hits Turiaf on the foot and goes four rows deep. Alexi Lalas sees this and offers Turiaf a three-year, $10 million deal.

13) 3rd Quarter, 2:54, 76-65 Lakers.
Early in the clock Kobe ends up with the ball at the top of the key, while down low Bynum flashes through the lane with pretty good position, so Kobe tries to reward him with a lob pass but it was too high and poorly timed.

14) 3rd Quarter, 2:02, 78-67 Lakers. Odom has the ball on the right wing extended and passes out to Kobe at the top of the arc, who quickly passes to Luke on the left wing. While the play shifts cross court the defenders go with it but Odom floats on the back side then cuts to the basket for a back-door ally-oop from Walton, but Odom can’t quite catch it, and it falls to Jefferson.

15) 4th Quarter, 9:52, 87-73 Lakers.
Kobe comes off a high screen from Bynum on the wing and passes to Farmar who is cutting baseline, but Farmar dribbles it on the end line for a turnover.

16) 4th Quarter, 5:47, 92-84 Lakers. With 15 on the shot clock Kobe gets the ball out at the top of the key with Gerald Green on him and decides to go at the youngster, spinning around him into the lane and drawing the help defender, who comes off Mihm. So, Kobe tries a close-quarters bounce pass to Mihm but it’s at his feet and skips out of bounds.

17) 4th Quarter, 3:33, 96-89 Lakers. With 17 on the clock Odom has the ball at the top of the key while Walton fights for position deep in the lane against Buckner, and while he gets the pass from Odom he also picks up the offensive foul.

18) 4th Quarter, 2:50, 96-89 Lakers.
Fisher comes off a high screen from Mihm where both defenders try to trap Fish but he gets around them long enough to see Walton free along the baseline cutting under the basket and he hits him with a great pass. Since Mihm’s man went with Fish, Mihm rolled to the basket and Walton sees him and throws it to Mihm for what should be an easy dunk but Mihm had borrowed Kwame’s hands for the night and fumbled it out of bounds.

Rust? What Rust?

Kurt —  November 10, 2007

There were things during last night’s game that, if they continue, will be a big problem in Texas next week (*cough, turnovers, cough*) but last night was about what Lamar Odom brought to the table. He had 18 points on 70% shooting, had 10 rebounds and was a team best +22. He had a one game PER of 25.17, All-Star level. He also looked more comfortable at the three spot and did a good job of grabbing rebounds and pushing the pace with the dribble. Kwame a. also had a good observation:

Lamar is leaner, and quicker. It looked good, he was moving like he did in his Clipper days.

The timing of his return works well too because he now gets a few days off to rest before the Spurs on Tuesday. The Lakers are going to need another big game out of him that night.

UPDATE:
The latest from Roland Lazenby is up at Sportshub LA.

Records: Lakers 2-2; Minnesota 0-3
Offensive ratings: Lakers 110.8; T-Wolves 105
Defensive ratings: Lakers 108.6; T-Wolves 114.5
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, Ronny Turiaf, Chris Mihm
Minnesota: Sebastian Telfair, Rashad McCants, Ryan Gomes, Greg Buckner, Al Jefferson

Lakers Notes: Lamar Odom returns tonight and will start, moving Luke Walton to a second unit that can really move the ball around (Walton, Jordan Farmar and Andrew Bynum are all good passers). It’s great to have Odom back at his natural three spot, I have high hopes for what this will mean. But not tonight. Expect some limited minutes and some rust from Odom, and it may throw a kink or two in the offense at points tonight. Still his presence is welcome and needed.

Mo Evans is not expected to play, and Kwame is not likely either. Kwame is a particular loss tonight against a team where they could have used him along the front line, he is the strongest Laker post defender. His loss puts a lot of pressure on Mihm tonight, who was rusty but passable in his start the other night. Bynum is going to have to step up as well.

One other not that Bill Dwyre brought up in his Luke Walton profile today I forgot to mention — the play at the end of the first half of the New Orleans game, a sign to me that this Lakers team may have a little something special going on. If you remember, Kobe sank two free throws with nine seconds left to tie the game at 55. The Hornets come down and Chris Paul got into the lane, posts up and then hits a little fadeaway to make it 57-55 with just under two seconds left. Usual NBA protocol here is for someone to give the ball to Kobe or Fisher to try the three-quarter court heave. But as the ball goes through the net Turiaf turns and starts running up court, Walton grabs the ball to make the inbounds pass, sees the hustling Turiaf and does his best Kevin Love imitation and throws it long, hitting Turiaf in stride. Truiaf beats his guy for a lay-up and a 57-57 game at half. Maybe it didn’t matter in end this time, but this is the kind of little thing that wins games.

The Timberwolves Coming In: They knew it was going to be like this — a total rebuild is ugly for a couple years. But at least Minnesota finally decided to go with the total rebuild rather than the horrible “build around KG on the fly” thing they had been doing with no success with the past couple of years.

This year’s team isn’t as bad as some predicted. They have a rock-solid center in Al Jefferson, an old-school beast on the block. If he plays 40 minutes you can expect 21 and 14. But Randy Foye — who I expect to have a break out year — is out indefinitely. Sebastian Telfair is getting his shot, we’ll see over the course of the year what he really can be — nearly 30% of his possessions end in an assist, but he is shooting just 31% on the year. We’re also learning about the athletic but out of control Gerald Green. Ryan Gomes is a player I like, although in an ideal world he is a guy coming off the bench for some scoring spark. And note to Ronny Turiaf and Odom — Buckner has a nice range and is shooting 59.4% (eFG%) and 37% form three this season, Don’t ignore him.

The T-Wolves have caught teams off guard early — they have had first-quarter double-digit leads in all three games. This is a team that has hung in games until about halfway through the fourth quarters, when other teams have found a gear the Wolves have yet to locate. This season is going to be a lot of that for them.

Note That Would Interest Only Peter King: Best break down of what Ronny Turiaf means to the league I have seen is up at Free Darko (great work Carter).

Keys To The Game: Last year the Lakers didn’t seemed focused for games like this, but good teams beat the teams they should and this is one the Lakers should win.

T-Wolves coach said Marco Jaric is going to start on Kobe, so that should mean a big night for #24. Look for Corey Brewer and Gerald Green — both athletic guys but a little young for this task — to get their chances as well. This is a game Kobe should be able to get his when he wants it, and last season he dropped 40 and 50 on Minny.

Last year at Staples I had great seats for Al Jefferson pushing Andrew Bynum around the paint like he was Chuck Nevit. I’m curious to see what the more fit Bynum can do, but bottom line is the Lakers deep front line is going to have to work to not let Jefferson control the paint.

This is also a game where the Lakers depth should prove a big advantage — Walton, Farmar, Radmanovic and Bynum will find this is not Houston or Utah in terms of second units. They can take over this game and give the Lakers a big lead. And part of the reason for the late fades by Minnesota is that the starters don’t get a lot of rest if things get out of control.

Tonight’s Game: Where Odom Happens: Odom being back is the story, but I’m not sure he’ll be the key at the end. Look for the T-Wolves to hang in their for a while — maybe into the third quarter. This is a team that will hustle. But look for the Lakers bench to start a third quarter run, Kobe to torch whoever tries to cover him and the Lakers to pull away comfortably late.

Where you can watch: Game time is 7:30 p.m. (Pacific). No national broadcast (ESPN gives you the Cavs and Kings) and in LA it is Fox Sports. Because of the late starts, I haven’t “watched” a game online yet, but whose system is better this year, ESPN or NBA.com?

Stung By Hornets

Kurt —  November 7, 2007

There were a couple of key things I took away from the loss to the Hornets Tuesday night:

1) It’s all about the defense with this Laker team. We knew that — it was my mantra this summer — but sometimes a little reminder helps. After four games (a very small sample) the Lakers defensive rating is just about what it was last year, something that needs to improve. They have had good defensive games (Phoenix) and now a bad one. As was said many times in the comments, a number of Lakers helped off Peja (and West) then never recovered, and perimeter rotations were non-existent. The Lakers were so focused on stopping Paul (even Phil in his post-game comments focused on him breaking down the defense) that it gave the rest of the Hornets great looks, which they hit. The Lakers may consider the “Steve Nash system” (make Paul the shooter not the distributor) next game against NO.

2) The Lakers are still 2-2, having played four teams likely headed to the playoffs in the deep Western Conference. And they have done it without their second-best player. Remember, before the season we said if the Lakers could get through the first 10 games 5-5 that would be a pretty good sign, and right now they are on that pace.

So it’s a loss, there will be more of those this season, and this one doesn’t bother me a ton. No Kwame inside, no Mo Evans off the bench to go with no Lamar. Plus, the Hornets are healthy and improved — last year the problem was they couldn’t shoot (47.9% eFG%, 28th in the league). This year, 54.4% on the season (third best). They are legit.

A few other random news and thoughts:

• I don’t think the Lakers falling to the Hornets is a case of playing down to a team they should easily beat. However, Friday against Minnesota…

• David West may be the most underrated player in the NBA.

• Tyson Chandler didn’t score much or rebound much, but he was a presence and was a game-high +20.

• Great point by several commenters about the Lakers not going at Peja on the offensive end, getting him out of rhythm by making him play defense. This is where we miss Odom.

• If you’re a sports/NBA columnist at this point going to the “Kobe trade” column for the day, you’re just picking the low-hanging fruit. The angles have been beaten into the ground and everyone is sick of it. Try harder.

• The Washington Bullets new offense is pretty simple. (Hat Tip to True Hoop.)

• Dallas/Golden State tomorrow night should be entertaining. But I bet the Mavs crush them.

• Knickerbloggers stat page is up (this is my personal fave). That said, we’ve got to get 15-20 games in before I put too much weight in the numbers.

• Are Hornets very common in New Orleans? The name made more sense in Charlotte (it’s a Civil War reference from North Carolina) but I’m less sold in The Big Easy. Then again, the perfect New Orleans name is currently in the least jazzy big city in the nation.