Archives For November 2007

Records: Lakers 2-1; Hornets 3-0
Offensive ratings: Lakers 107.9; Hornets 108.5
Defensive ratings: Lakers 100.3; Hornets 94.1
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Ronny Turiaf, Kwame Brown
Hornets: Chris Paul, Mo Peterson, Peja Stojakovic, David West, Tyson Chandler

Lakers Notes: Andrew Bynum is off to a hot start — after three games his PER is higher than Kobe’s — and we’ve all been quick to heap well-deserved praise on him for his off-season conditioning work and his more aggressive attitude. But something overlooked is what a good job the Laker guards (plus Walton) are doing getting him the ball in a position where he can succeed. If Andrew has to give up a lot of position to get the possession, he becomes less effective. His length makes him unstoppable near the hoop but at eight feet out he is no KG. But the Lakers have recognized when he has gotten good position deep and rewarded him with the ball. I hope that continues.

The Hornets Coming In: To get some insight on the Hornets and the franchise, I asked Ron of Hornets 24/7 about his team:

It’s only a couple of games into the season, but has what you’ve seen made you think this team can take the next step?

Yeah, so far, so good. I don’t think the Hornets have been properly tested yet, having faced three short-handed opponents, but I’m loving the look of this team. The ball movement has been excellent, and unlike last season, we’re now considered to be a pretty lethal shooting team. The defense is also looking real solid. I’ll be shocked if Tyson Chandler doesn’t make the All-Star team this year. Seriously. He’s not playing around. We’ve also got some good depth. Bobby Jackson, Jannero Pargo and Rasual Butler can all score in bunches off the bench, while young ‘uns Julian Wright and Hilton Armstrong look promising.

How much does a team like the Hornets doing well (or the Saints, for that matter), mean to the city right now?

I think the Hornets doing well is important, but the city doesn’t know it yet. The Saints have deep roots, and their success will never go uncelebrated (is that even a word?). The Hornets will always have to work a little harder and market their product a little smarter if they hope to give New Orleans the same lift. I think they’ll win the city over though. The current squad has what it takes to do that.

Chris Paul has become an established star, but how is his game changing and improving entering his third year.

He apparently spent the summer working on his shooting a lot, although we have yet to see the fruits of that. He’s a year smarter and a year stronger. I think he better understands better how to pace himself and save his body for later in the season. So far this season, he’s really benefiting form having a solid supporting cast. A healthy Peja on one wing and a guy like Mo-Pete on the other makes his job so much easier. The defense has to stay home on those shooters and it frees up the lane much more for him. I doubt we’ll see any substantial improvement in any one area from Paul this season, but expect him to be a little bit better at everything.

Note That Would Interest Only Peter King: I’m hard pressed to think of a worse idea than this — Dennis Rodman coaching a WNBA team. (Hat tip to Matt at Detroit Bad Boys.)

Keys To The Game: Two hot teams coming in, which should make an interesting game this early in the season.

Both teams come in playing very well on offense, two of the best shooting teams in the league so far, and that likely will not change, so the team that steps up on the defensive end will get the win. For the Lakers, that will be the tough test of stopping Chris Paul (particularly off the screen-and-roll, which is their mainstay) — he’s averaged 18.7 PPG shooting 65.8% (true shooting percentage), plus 35% of his possessions end in an assist (9.7 per game). This tough task will fall to Farmar and Fish at first, but will test the Laker rotations behind them that have been good so far this season. The front line will get tested because Tyson Chandler has played will early on, grabbing 22.7% of the available rebounds while on the floor (Bynum is at 25% right now).

If the Laker defense can force some turnovers (10% of Paul’s possessions end in one) that can mean some easy baskets at the other end. On the other end, I’m not totally sure what to expect of the Hornets, this will be a big test for them. Then again, Denver should have been a test and the Hornets are 3-0.

One other key tonight — as Mike in the Mountain West pointed out — is the depth of the Lakers. The starters are pretty evenly matched, but if the Laker bench can do what it has done in the past couple of games, this can be another Laker win.

Tonight’s game: Where Scoring Happens: The big question tonight — can Luke Walton keep his streak of consecutive games with passes through a defenders legs alive? As for the game itself, I look for it to be up-tempo and high scoring. So bet the over. And I think the Laker depth gets them a win as they pull away in the third quarter.

Where you can watch the game: Game time is 7:30 p.m. (Pacific). In Los Angeles tune into Fox Sports Net, nationally you’ll need league pass or log on to the NBA web site, where you can follow the gamecast and, if you register, listen to the radio call. Also, if you’re familiar with torrents at all www.sport-scene.net has the games up for download the next day (thanks to Goo for that tip).

Winning Doesn’t Suck

Kurt —  November 5, 2007

It’s just two games in November, but it is still two games in a row where the Lakers looked like a team that was playing up to its potential. This level of play will not last 79+ more games — there will be bumps in the road — but right now the team is showing what is possible. And that gives Lakers fans hope.

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%.

Those three stood out in the key stretch in the fourth when the Lakers pulled away, so let’s break down those five minutes or so. We pick the game up with 8:46 left, the Jazz pulled within three on a sick Carlos Boozer 12-foot turnaround fade away off the glass (followed by an empty possession for both teams).

Lakers 90-87: Kobe brings the ball up after the outlet pass from Bynum (who had a team high 9 boards), realizes that Harpring is trying to cover him in transition and takes that as an invitation to drive the lane (good recognition and taking advantage of a mismatch). Kobe goes around Harpring, so both Boozer and Millsap jump in to help and the later fouls Kobe in the act. Kobe sinks both free throws.

Lakers 92-87: After a failed play where Millsap wisely passes on the 16-footer, the Jazz kick it back out top to Williams plays pick and roll with AK-47, gets Kobe on the switch then burns #24 with a sweet crossover, drives the lane and hits a little floater over Radman who rotated. Pretty move, pretty shot.

Lakers 92-89: Kobe brings the ball up, nobody comes out on him, so he pulls up and hits the 22-footer. Not the defense Jerry Sloan had planned, I’m guessing.

Lakers 94-89: After a foul by Bynum the Jazz get the ball out on the side and work it around inside to Okur in great position in the middle of the paint. But this is what Bynum has done so well this year with his stronger body — he held his ground defensively, and when Okur was forced to the fade-away Bynum’s length bothered the shot. Turiaf rebounds.

The Lakers worked it around, and with just 11 left on the shot clock Kobe tries to drive on AK-47, Williams sags off Farmar to double Kobe, so Kobe kicks it to Farmar, who gives a head fake and Williams whizzes by on the fly-by, but rather than shoot he gets the ball to a cutting Turiaf, who tried a tight-quarters pass to Bynum that he didn’t expect. The result was the ball rolling on the floor, but as he had been all night Farmar was hustling, picked it up and hit the 15-footer.

Lakers 96-89: The Lakers play good defense for the first 18 seconds of the Jazz possession, including rotating well on Williams when he drives to his right, so he kicks it out toe Kiralenko, who gives Kobe a head fake, and the charging Kobe flies by, and he hits a 21-footer. Yes the Jazz scored, but it was a possession that showed what the Lakers had done all night, taking away much of the paint and the lay-ups off back-door cuts— if AK-47 hits 21-footers to beat you, so be it.

Lakers 96-91: The Lakers run the offense and eventually Farmar gets the ball to Turiaf in the low post (about 7 feet out) and he turns and faces up Boozer, who does nothing much, so Turiaf hits the jumper over him. Turiaf is very confident right now.

Lakers 98-91: After a questionable Kobe reaching foul on Giricek, Williams runs off a Boozer screen then rewards the screener with a nice pass at the top of the key. Boozer thinks he has an open path to the basket but Turiaf recovered from his showing out on Williams, got back and took the charge on Boozer in the paint.

At the other end, Kobe mimics Williams by going around a Walton screen then sliding the ball back to Luke, who looks like he is setting up his fade away in the paint, then instead kicks it out to Farmar for a three. The onrushing Williams gets a piece of Farmar’s shot, but like he did all night Farmar didn’t give up on the play and got the loose ball. He kicked it out to Walton, but AK-47 strips him from behind.

AK-47 tries to take the steal coast-to-coast, but Kobe blocks his two-handed dunk in spectacular fashion. (If you haven’t seen this you have to watch it.) The ball caromed to an open Williams, who missed the three and Bynum grabs the board. He outlets to Kobe, who gets the frustration reaching foul from Kiralenko.

The crowd is still buzzing from the block, the Lakers work it around and Bynum gets the ball on the low block. Kobe rubs off Bynum on the baseline and gets the ball, abuses Brewer, goes up for the 12-footer but when Okur rotates Kobe makes a great pass inside to Bynum, who is hacked going up. He hits both free throws.

Lakers 100-91 (5:26 left): The Jazz need a basket so they go to a bread and butter play — get it to Boozer on the low block. Bynum is on him and plays it well, but Boozer faces up then hits the high-arcing 8-foot jumper over him.

Lakers 100-93: After working it around for a bit the Lakers go to the Kobe/Walton two-man game on the left wing, again both defenders go to Kobe (with reason) and he hits Walton with a pass and a wide-open look. But Bynum never stops moving, cuts to the basket and Walton hits him with a perfect pass — bucket and one.

Lakers 103-93: Williams takes things into his own hands, blows past Farmar down the right side, Bynum is late arriving and fouls him. Williams hits one of two, and for half a second I thought Turiaf and Bynum were going to come to blows over who was going to get that rebound.

Lakers 103-94: Fisher dribbles to the wing then passes to Kobe at the three-point line straight away, and Kobe goes right at Brewer. He gets to the free throw elbow and pulls up for the jumper. He hit it, of course.

Lakers 105-94: The Lakers are aggressive and gambling on defense, clearly smelling blood now, but Okur slides out to the three point line and Bynum doesn’t follow, so he gets a clean look — and misses. But AK-47 got position inside and has the put back.

Lakers 105-96: The Lakers work it around but like last possession the ball ends up with Kobe at the top of the key. Again he goes at Brewer and gets past him, but this time he tries to go to the hoop, the Jazz rotate… and it doesn’t matter. Pretty finger roll bucket.

Lakers 107-96: After a few other passes Williams gets the ball on the wing and makes the low-block entry to Boozer. He faces up but sees Okur cutting to the basket — but again (as he is so often) Turiaf hustles and disrupts what should have been a lay-up. The shot rolls out and Turiaf grabs the board.

Kobe pushes it up and when nothing is there gives it to Turiaf at the top of the key, but Ronny suddenly decides this is in his range and just goes up with it. It misses, but Bynum and his length outwork Boozer and Okur, Andrew grabs the offensive board and goes back up for two.

After that the Jazz were down 13 and called a time out. There was a late Jazz mini-run, but the game was never really in doubt.

UPDATE: The latest from Roland Lazenby, comparing Phil’s handling of the Kobe trade request and that of Pippen in 1998.

Game Preview & Chat: The Utah Jazz

Kurt —  November 4, 2007

Records: Lakers 1-1; Jazz 2-1
Offensive ratings: Lakers 105.7; Jazz 112.4
Defensive ratings: Lakers 98.3; Jazz 102.5
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Ronny Turiaf, Kwame Brown is a game time decision due to a respiratory infection (if not him, Bynum)
Jazz: Deron Williams, Ronny Brewer, Andrei Kirilenko, Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur.

Lakers Notes: The Lakers come in off their best performance in a long time, a decimation of the Phoenix Suns. For one game everything looked good — but there are still some things that are of issue.

The Lakers are turning the ball over 16 times per game — better than the preseason but still too much. Brian Cook has been a defensive statue in limited minutes. And while the Lakers have done much better on the pick-and-roll, there are still some lapses (particularly from Kwame, whose mind seemed to drift against the Suns to some ASU co-ed in the front row, or something). If things continue as they are, I wouldn’t be shocked if Bynum (who has played well) steals the starting job, but for now I’d just like to see him get more minutes.

The Jazz Coming In: For the second game in a row, the Lakers catch a team in the second game of a back-to-back. The Jazz ran past Golden State last night 133-110, with their starters playing deep into the game due to a second half Warrior run. Both of the Jazz wins this young season have come at the expense of the Warriors (which in part explains the Jazz’s gaudy offensive numbers so far, Golden State isn’t playing much D).

As you might expect, Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams have been leading the way for the Jazz so far, both averaging 24 points per game (and Boozer is adding 14 boards). Last night the Warriors were quick to double Boozer and other Jazz players stepped up (AK-47 was 6 of 10, Brewer was 8 of 14 with two threes). Also of note, the Jazz got good play off the bench last night from backup PG Jason Hart (who has taken Fisher’s role and will be a good test for Farmar) and Matt Harpring.

In the previous game, the Rockets handed the Jazz a loss behind a big night from Tracy McGrady. The Jazz did a terrible job defending the pick-and-roll in that game, particularly their bigs, who allowed McGrady way too many easy trips to the hoop coming off the screen. If they play like that again, expect a big night from Kobe (although, to be fair, I don’t expect that the Jazz will stay in a defensive funk for a while, Sloan will not let that happen).

I don’t normally link to media blogs, but Ross Siler at the Salt Lake Trib has one of the best, and then there is also Basketball John’s look at the team.

Note That Would Interest Only Peter King: The thing I’m most looking forward to watching tonight is the start of The Amazing Race. But this year I finally have a HD TV, and this show isn’t shot that way. I was really looking forward to seeing the exotic locals in high def.

Keys To The Game: Really great matchups to watch tonight — Fisher vs. Williams, Boozer vs. Turiaf, Brewer trying to cover Kobe. This game likely will be won by the team that controls the paint — which should be fun, with two teams who have big and deep front lines. Also, after the Houston game, the Lakers should run the pick and roll with Kobe a fair amount.

One defensive key will be Walton on AK-47 — he can’t let the Russian play like he did this summer. Also, as it is a back-to-back for the Jazz, the Lakers need to push the pace, wear out the Jazz starters and get into the bench. If the Jazz can keep it a defensive minded, half-court game, they may have the upper hand.

Thoughts/Prediction: After that last game, can you really pick against the Lakers? This should be an interesting one, I don’t have a great feel for it, but I’ll say the Lakers pull away in the fourth and win 97-90.

Where you can watch my prediction go up in flames: Game time is 6:30 p.m. (Pacific). No national broadcast tonight, just Fox Sports Net (in HD) in Los Angeles, plus those with League Pass (which a lot of cable companies are giving a free glimpse of right now, so give it a shot).

Savor It

Kurt —  November 3, 2007

After a summer of rants and frustration and bitterness, that game against the Suns was cathartic. Sure, it was just one game, but today we should just bask in it and think of the possibilities, we’ll save the analysis for a day. So here are some of the thoughts from the comments and emails I got. Enjoy.

Fisher is really balling too. I love the swagger he seems to have. A few times Kobe wanted the ball and Fisher was directing him to go elsewhere on the court. Nice to see him taking charge,

—Chise

And Kurt, isn’t it wonderful to not see Nash vs. Smush? I swear, it’s like a weight has been lifted whose enormity I never really grasped.
—Rob L.

Who are these guys dressing purple and where are the real Lakers buried that I’m going to throw some more ground on them.
—Xavier

Kobe in the third quarter, ahhh. Reminds of a game a couple years ago where they shredded Dallas on the road. He was picking apart the defense with pinpoint passes, keeping everyone involved…it was a display of beauty. Truly championship-era Jordanesque play.

This was the first time since then I’ve seen him do that.
—A-Hole Carolla

That was so enjoyable to watch, I have nothing else to add.
—kwame a.

This gives guys confidence and speaking of confidence, what about Radmanovic? He was on fire tonight. Bynum played well, Fisher was out of his mind, and Kwame was solid as well. Really nice overall game for the Lakers. Real nice to see.
—Chise

That was pretty spectacular in all ways. Some moments that still stand out: Luke’s through the legs pass; Ronny’s dunk off Kobe’s bullet pass; all of Vlad’s 3’s; Bynum’s post moves on Amare; pretty much everything Fisher did all night. Ya it’s just one game, but it was a damn fun one.

—carter blanchard

Key to the game, I think, was defense at the PG position. They chased Nash around and when he drove into the paint, I’m glad to see so many gold jerseys collapsing on him. Let’s hope they can keep playing this style of defense.

—hertagnism

Laker porn from buzzer to buzzer.
—Dmo

Let’s just sum it up with the combined stats from two players:C Kwame + Bynum 47min 21pts 22rebs 4asst
—The Dude Abides

I’ll keep saying it. If the Lakers stay healthy they will be much better than anyone expects them to be. They would have been a 50 win team last year if Luke, Kwame, Lamar, Vlad Rad, and Mihm didn’t miss 25+ games. Patience baby!

—JONESONTHENBA

Records: Lakers 0-1; Suns 1-0
Offensive ratings: Lakers 96.1; Suns 99.5
Defensive ratings: Lakers 100.4; Suns 87.9
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Ronny Turiaf, Kwame Brown;
Suns: Steve Nash, Raja Bell, Grant Hill, Shawn Marion, Amare Stoudemire.

Lakers Notes: It was the Lakers offense that looked out of sorts in the season opener, but remember that was against the best defensive team in the NBA last year and a team with two of the best shot-blocking centers in the league patrolling the paint. They make a lot of teams look awkward. The question is how do the Lakers come out and respond tonight — and do other Lakers step up early so Kobe doesn’t feel he has to take over the game single-handedly.

One thing the Lakers did much better than in the past against Houston is defend the pick-and-roll. The bigs showed out — meaning they stepped out on the small guard and forced him away from the basket — then the rotations and recovery behind them were good. It was the best we’ve seen the Lakers defend that in a long time.

Which is good, they are going to see a lot of it from the Suns. Like every trip down.

Two great Kobe posts: In all the media noise about Kobe and trades, there were two that I wanted to point out to people. First is the latest from Roland Lazenby, which talks about the Lakers and Kobe being together for better or worse.

The second is Matt from the great Blog-A-Bull, talking about the dead-for-now trade from a Bulls (and very rational) perspective. It is worth the read. (This link does not mean we are opening this comment thread up to Kobe trade proposals — I don’t care how you think the Lakers can make a fair swap with the Bucks, we’re not talking about it. For right now, the Kobe trade talk is dead and this will not become a message board trade forum.)

The Suns Coming In: Tonight will be the second game of a back-to-back for the Suns, with travel in between as well. Last night the Suns looked very rusty for three quarters but pulled it together for a very Suns-like 12 minutes at the end and knocked off the Sonics 106-99.

It was the Suns Bench that led the way back — Phoenix started its run with a lineup of Marcus Banks, Leandro Barbosa and Boris Diaw along with Amare Stoudemie and Grant Hill. Barbosa led the way with a +8 for the Suns, but the bigger shock to me was the Marcus Banks looked much more confident and comfortable in the system than he did last year. It should be noted that only seven Suns played significant times.

Most of what I saw was a very sloppy Suns defense (which in turn was hurting their fast break), with Amare getting in first quarter foul trouble and unusually slowness from Marion (something I think he will not do two nights in a row).

But offensively there was no great new wrinkle — it’s the break and then the pick-and-roll, and the wisdom of Steve Nash running the show. Grant Hill still seemed to be finding his way, spending more time than he should hanging out at the three point line for spot ups. We’ll see if he adjusts for tonight’s game.

For more Suns background, check out Phoenix Suns Rising.

Note That Would Interest Only Peter King: For those of you other NBA stats fans out there, you need to check out this new site, Basketball Value. Not only does it have a lot of individual stats, it has a great breakdown by five-man units. The sample sizes are way too small right now to mean much, but this is going to be a great tool as the season wears on. (For the record, I did not use Basketball Value’s offensive and defensive ratings at the top of this preview, I used Hollinger’s off ESPN.com, the two are different, likely because they are using a different multiplier for pace. I need to see which is using what, but haven’t looked around their sites.)

Note That Would Interest Only Peter King, part deux: Jerry Buss is serving a two-game suspension, part of the penalty for his summer DUI in San Diego (that and a $25,000 fine from the league). So, exactly what good does suspending an owner from attending a couple of game do again?

Keys To The Game: Most teams struggle with the Suns because their style of play is an anomaly in the season. After seeing somewhat similar offenses for a month, in come the run-and-gun Suns, and with the grind of the NBA season there is little chance to really prepare for what is coming, and before they know it teams get swept up in the style.

The Lakers are different — after two consecutive years of playoff series against the Suns, the Lakers know how to defend and play the Suns. The basics are pretty simple — pound the ball inside, pound the glass and make Nash a shooter and not a distributor — but are easier said than done against such an athletic lineup.

Tonight a lot of the Lakers success will be on the Bigs — can the deep Lakers rotation take advantage of the smaller and shallower Suns lineup. The Sonics were able to get Stoudemire in foul trouble last night (Amare averaged 4.4 fouls per 40 minutes last season) and the drop-off from him to Brian Skinner is pretty far. The Lakers can run a lot of guys — Kwame, Bynum, Turiaf, Mihm, Radmanovic — at the Suns, but those Lakers need to have a good night for it to work.

If the Lakers are grabbing a lot of offensive rebounds, it’s a good sign. Making Nash shoot a lot would also be good, although he certainly can score (he had a good shooting fourth for the Suns last night). But a Nash shot is less dangerous than a Marion dunk, so make the Canadian shoot.

One other key — can Farmar and the rest of the second unit keep Barbosa from tearing them up. He killed them in the playoffs last year.

Thoughts/Prediction: This is the best situation the Lakers can hope to catch the Suns in — it’s a back-to-back with travel for them, so their legs shouldn’t be as fresh. That said, as it is the Suns home opener, they will be pumped.

I might have predicted a Lakers upset if Odom were healthy — Marion just can’t handle him on the block and Odom may have been the best player on either team in last spring’s playoff series. And I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Lakers win, but the Suns have beaten the Lakers in eight of the last 10 regular season meetings, so I’ll say the Suns 103-99.

Where you can watch my prediction go up in flames: Game time is 7:30 p.m. (Pacific). In Los Angeles tune into KCAL (9), nationally you get ESPN, and online check out the NBA.com scoreboard page.