Archives For December 2007

Records: Lakers 19-10; Celtics 25-3
Offensive ratings: Lakers 107.4 (6th); Celtics 107.6 (5th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 102 (12th); Celtics 91.6 (1st)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Trevor Ariza, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum
Celtics: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkin

Lakers Notes: From Ross Siler of the Salt Lake Tribune is the stat that tells you almost everything you need to know about the Lakers win Friday night — LA’s first 18 points came on lay-ups and dunks.

They attacked the heart of the (surprisingly soft) Utah defense. Eventually Kobe was draining three pointers over the top of the defense (and hitting them like they were lay-ups) but it was that initial attack inside that won the Lakers the game. Andrew Bynum rightfully gets a lot of credit for that attack inside.

But I think another part of the attacking style comes from starting Trevor Ariza the last couple games. He is a slasher who gets to the hole through some tight spaces (watch him go baseline after somebody runs at him on a corner three, he gets through seemingly impossible spaces). He also moves well without the ball, giving the Lakers another cutter in the triangle offense.

All that should be interesting tonight.

The Celtics Coming In: They come to this game on the second night of a back-to-back, their fourth game in five days and the last game of a West Coast road swing. Usually those are key ingredients for teams to have let downs, but the Celtics (with KG leading by example) just have not had that kind of let down this season.

While you knew the big three would be good — and they may be better than expected — one other guy that has been hot the last 10 games is PG Rajon Rondo. He’s shot 50.5% (eFG%) in the last 10, throwing in 5.4 assists per game. The Lakers cannot ignore him tonight.

Loving to Hate Bostonians? Are the Celtics and their fans becoming obnoxious now that they are winning again? Kings fans thing so, and even Boston fans are asking that of themselves.

I’m just enjoying the irony of a Lakers blog getting to talk about the arrogance of another team’s fans.

Last time these two met: The Lakers were just not prepared for the intensity of the Celtics defense when these two met the first time. For the game, the Lakers had an offensive rating of 101, well off their season average, and they shot 48% (eFG%), again down from what they are shooting for the season. The Celtics offense was slightly above its season numbers, but as it has been for the Celtics all season it is the defense that won the game.

Keys To The Game: The Lakers were able to get into the lane a couple nights ago against Utah, and if they can do that again tonight it will go a long time toward a win. With KG and Perkins, the Celtics run a virtual zone inside and both love to come from the weak side for the block — if the Lakers can keep up the interior passing we have seen of late they can make the Celtics pay for that weak-side attack.

What they can’t do is see that interior defense and go bombs away from three over the top of it.

Last meeting, Pierce and the other Celtics were able to penetrate at will, the Lakers need to stop that. Also, turnovers will kill the Lakers tonight as the Celtics will make them pay.

If you want another opinion, check out Don from With Malice’s take on the game.

Tonight’s Game: Where The NBA’s Best Rivalry Happens: The Lakers will be wearing the 87-88 throwbacks tonight, which is very appropriate. The Lakers are playing so much better than the last time these two met, this is a good measuring stick for just how well the Celtics are playing.

Where you can watch: Game time is 7 p.m. (Pacific). In Los Angeles you can watch the regular broadcast on Fox Sports or switch over to the “courtside view” showing on Fox Sports Prime Ticket. Remember the courtside view is the one without announces and shot as if you were sitting somewhere next to Nicholson. It’s a fun view.

Game Preview & Chat: The Utah Jazz

Kurt —  December 28, 2007

Records: Lakers 18-10; Jazz 16-14
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.3(7th); Jazz 112.0 (5th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.9 (11th); Jazz 107.6 (14th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Trevor Ariza, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum
Jazz: Deron Williams, Ronnie Brewer, AK47, Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur

Lakers Notes:Quick injury update: No Luke, no Kwame tonight.

Inside Hoops has done an interesting Q&A with Andrew Bynum, which gives us some insight in to how he went from gangly 17-year-old to breakout player:

InsideHoops.com: How’s it going working with Lakers staff as they try to teach you new skills and help your development?

Andrew Bynum: Kareem has been the biggest help to me. We work out before practices, defensively, and offensive moves. And then my trainer, Sean Zarzana really changed things around for me. He got me in shape. Got my body right.

InsideHoops.com: And how did he do that? What kind of changes did he have you make?

Andrew Bynum: Running track. Hitting the weights. That’s pretty much it. Basketball stuff, I did with him and Gerald Wilkins.

InsideHoops.com: I remember when you were a rookie I asked if you were maybe going to try to learn Kareem’s sky-hook. Did that ever happen?

Andrew Bynum: Naw. I tried to pick it up, but still haven’t gotten it yet. We shoot it every day. I shoot it against Vlade [Vladimir Radmanovic, who is sitting next to Bynum during this interview] repeatedly. It looks good against Vlade. I got him scared.

The Jazz Coming In: Gordon Giricek should be back, but once again when the commentators talks about “the loose cannon” we don’t have to assume they mean Kobe.

The Jazz are 3-7 in their last 10, although you might not know it from the drubbing they gave Dallas a couple nights ago. Okur was back after missing some games with an injury and the Jazz starters had a 16-0 run to start the game and an 11-3 run early in the third quarter, and as you might guess that was enough for an easy win.

The Jazz starters have been playing well through the slump, if you look at the numbers, it’s the production from the bench that has been a big drop off. Millsap is the only guy giving them much in the last 10 games, although though against the Mavs a couple nights ago the Jazz I saw looked like the Jazz of last season. The only question is how much of that was because Dallas is slumping right now.

The Other Thing To Read Today I’m back at TrueHoop for one more day. Can one man bring down a vast media empire in one day? Stay tuned…..

Last time these two met The Lakers and Jazz have split their two meetings this season, and both times the losing team was on the second game of a back-to-back. Coincidence?

That last loss (Nov. 30) by the Lakers was particularly ugly. The Jazz were without Boozer and Okur but still outscored the Lakers in the paint, the Lakers had 20 turnovers, the Lakers let Deron Williams drop 35, Lamar Odom was MIA, and… I could go on for another 300 words. Let’s just try to put it behind us.

Keys To The Game: The Jazz are a disciplined team that runs a double high-post offense with a lot of cutters — that means the defense has to be disciplined too. Based on the last meeting, the Lakers need to do a much better job on AK47 and Williams, who did as they pleased then.

With Boozer and Kirilenko, the Jazz protect the paint well on defense, the Lakers need to get the ball into Bynum and use his passes out to shooters to open up that defense. Kove/Fisher/Ariza driving and kicking could do the same thing. This could be a night that Radmanovic and Sasha play key roles shooting over the top of the packed-in Jazz defense.

Where you can watch: Game time is 7:30 p.m. (Pacific). In Los Angeles tune Fox Sports, nationally you’ll need League Pass. Or just head on down to your local sports bar, which is my plan.

The Lakers are 18-10, one game back of the vaunted Phoenix Suns (who the Lakers just handled nicely, thank you very much). Andrew Bynum is having a breakout year, Derek Fisher (with Jordan Farmar behind him) have been a huge upgrade at point guard and Kobe is being Kobe.

Yet, last year the Lakers were 26-13 at one point, looked like a team on the rise, then a couple of injuries sent them spiraling downward. They finished with 42 wins, barely made the playoffs and were first-round fodder for the Suns. What makes this year any different?

Defense.

While we can talk about Bynum and other changes in the Lakers offense, they are playing no better on offense than last year compared to the rest of the league. And while offense can be streaky, defense never takes a night off.

Last year the Lakers had an offensive rating (points per 100 possessions used) of 110, which was seventh in the league. This year, that has jumped to 111.3 (so far), but that is still 7th in the NBA. Shooting the Lakers are almost identical to last year, shooting 51.1% (eFG%) last year and 51.2% this year, The only real difference this year is the Lakers are getting to the free throw line a little more.

But on defense, the Lakers are nearly 5 points per 100 possessions better. Last year the Lakers gave up 110.5 points per 100 possessions (24th in the NBA) and this year it is 105.9 (9th). Last year opposing teams shot 50%, this season it is down to 47.7%. The Lakers are also doing a little better on the defensive boards and fouling less.

There are a few factors at work here. Derek Fisher is not a great defender, but opposing point guards have a PER against him of 16.2 (slightly above average) compared to the 18 that Smush Parker allowed last year. (Think of it this way, 16.2 is about the equivalent of Devin Harris, 18 is about a Deron Williams of this season. Which do you want to face?) Throw in the good defense of Jordan Farmar off the bench and opposing PG’s have a PER against the Lakers of 15.2 this season (right at the league average) where last year it was a noticeably higher 17.

Another factor is the Lakers interior defense has improved. The energy of Ronny Turiaf, the maturity and improving defense of Andrew Bynum and the post defense of Kwame Brown (when healthy) have given the Lakers a boost in the defensive paint.

First and foremost that has forced other teams to shoot more from the outside — last season 37% of teams shots against the Lakers were close to the basket, this season that is down to 33%. That means more jump shots (which, obviously, are a lower percentage than stuff right around the hoop) but teams also are shooting a lower percentage on their jumpers — 44.8% last year down to 42.4% this year.

Finally, credit needs to go to the coaching staff, which clearly refocused on defense. The Lakers rotations are quicker, the team is playing the pick-and-roll better and there just seems to be more of a focus on the defensive end of the floor.

Things may even get better. The Lakers perimeter defense is improving with the arrival and increasing minutes of Trevor Ariza. Getting Kwame Brown back will give the Lakers another body inside.

The Lakers may or may not win 50 games, and the playoffs are a long way off. But when a team plays defense like this, you can start to dream a little.

True Hooping It Up

Kurt —  December 26, 2007

I’m the guest host over at True Hoop today while Henry goes on a four-day bender spends time with his family. I’ve already got a post up on Andrew Bynum’s coming out party.

No posts here today, we’ll have something tomorrow. No promises on quality, though.

Game Preview & Chat: The Phoenix Suns

Kurt —  December 25, 2007

Records: Lakers 17-10; Suns 0-0
Offensive ratings: Lakers 110.9 (8th); Suns 114.1 (2nd)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.5 (9th); Suns 107.8 (15th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladamir Radmanovic, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum
Suns: Steve Nash, Raja Bell, Grant Hill, Shawn Marion, Amare Stoudemire

Merry Christmas To All: We’re going to be a little short and sweet on the preview today because I want to spend time with my family. But I want to wish all of you a Merry Christmas (or the holiday of your choosing, we don’t discriminate here, except against Celtics fans). And I want to thank all of you for making this such a fun and rich place to talk hoops.

Keys To The Game: The Lakers book on the Suns is pretty well known by now — pound the ball inside, hit the offensive glass hard, play deliberate (not slow) and make Nash beat you with his shot and not lobs to his athletic guys on the wing. Defend the myriad of pick-and-rolls the Suns run (especially when they run “drags” where the a big screens for Nash out high very early in the clock) with good play from the bigs and quick rotations. Contain Barbosa. Make the Suns jump shooters. The Lakers did almost that in the second game of the season and got a D’Antoni-angering win. Which was fun.

However, those things are pretty much the opposite of what we have seen from the Lakers lately. They have fallen in love with the three — in part because Kobe is injured and pulling up more, and in part because VladRad and Sasha and Farmar can hit it, so they take it a lot. As kwame a. pointed out in the comments yesterday, there are good threes and bad threes — perimeter pull-up threes are bad shots for the Lakers, particularly against the Suns. However, inside out spot up threes (because Bynum passed out of a double or Kobe did the drive and dish) provide much better looks.

I’ll let commenter 81 Witness fill in the rest:

Note to Bynum: Stay put, don’t chase the high screen and leave Amare open.

Note to Fisher and Farmar: Let Nash shoot those 20-22 footers behind screens. Much better than him beating you off the dribble and dishing to a wide open Amare or Matrix. (Editor’s note: One thing you have to do with Nash is mix up your pick and roll coverage, stay with one thing too long and he gets comfortable and starts picking you apart.)

Note to all the other Lakers: Worry about your own man and do not break down and give the help defense.

Note to the bench: You will win this game for the Lakers. You are much better than the Suns bench and do not lull yourself asleep like you did against NY.

Note to PJ: Do not let the Lakers fall in love with the 3. You saw what happened in Cleveland and (against the Knicks).

Where you can watch: Game time is 2 p.m. (Pacific) and we’ll all be watching it on ABC. What I want from ABC for Christmas is a couple of “Lost” promos.