Archives For December 2007

20,000 Fast Break Thoughts

Kurt —  December 24, 2007

It’s really hard to get your head around what an accomplishment 20,000 points in a career is. Look at the list of players who have reached that mark —the list is just 30 players long — and it reads like a “who’s who” of the NBA’s greats. Kobe got there at a younger age than any of them (although Wilt did it faster, in 499 games to Kobe’s 811).

Of that group, just 16 did it with one team. I love the fact that Kobe did — not just because I’m a Kobe fan or a Lakers fan, but because I’m an NBA fan. I think it’s good for the league to have stars that don’t move around much, I think it helps build franchise loyalty and identity. I like that Magic was always a Laker, Bird always a Celtic. I’d like Kobe to always be a Laker, LeBron to stay in Cleveland (unless he wants to become a Laker), Wade to be with the Heat (ditto). I like that Garnett tried hard to make a go of it in Minnesota.

To have watched Kobe since he was a headstrong rookie willing to take big shots in the playoffs, seen him grow into an NBA great, to watch his championships and off-the-court struggles, that makes me appreciate him a little better as a person, and a player. I have more of an emotional investment in him and the team, and while I know this is a business, at some level it’s about the customers (fans) and giving them something worth spending money on. Kobe does that. And it’s been great to watch him score 20,000 points.

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• The Bulls just fired Scott Skiles. I’m curious who they bring in and what direction they try to take this team now. Should be interesting.

• As for the Knicks game….

Don’t question too much a win on the road in the last game of a road trip. Getting those wins are the signs of a solid team.

• The Lakers looked great early — well, technically I think the Knicks looked horrible and the Lakers looked good — and then I think their energy lapsed. Say what you will about the Knicks, they bring guys like David Lee and Nate Robinson off the bench who are pure energy guys, and that can keep a team in a game. The Lakers got caught mentally ending the road trip a little early, but they hung on for the win and I’m not going to look much past that right now.

• Looking at the stats is a little odd, just because it was a tale of two halves, but the Lakers ended up getting good shooting nights from Kobe (62.7% true shooting percentage, which takes into account trips to the free throw line), Andrew Bynum (66%), Sasha “The Machine” Vujacic (60%) and Trevor Ariza (71.7%). After that things drop off.

• Re: Ariza, he is a career 16% three-point shooter who has upped that to 33% since coming to the Lakers (because of the open looks the triangle offense gets him). Still, when he lines up to shoot that corner three, defenders run at him and he steps around them baseline and gets to the basket almost every time. It’s brilliant and athletic, but I’m amazed teams don’t dare him to shoot from three.

• Commenter nomuskles got to check something off his to-do in life list that I have wanted to — see a game at Madison Square Garden. In case you missed it, here are some of his comments:

There were quite a few lakers fans in attendance. The Lakers got lots of cheers and Kobe got about 50/50 cheers/boos in introductions.

Saying Nate Robinson is “fast” doesn’t do him justice. He is beyond fast.

Jamal Crawford’s game resembles the game of the 42-year-old guy at the park who gets by on an ugly set shot and funky bank shots. Doesn’t matter how it happens, he puts the rock through the ring.

Two favorite things about the game today:

1. The crowd at MSG was great. They booed Isaiah as much possible, booed their own team for playing like crap through most of the game, and then got astronomically loud when the Knicks made it close. Chants of dee-FENSE were incredibly powerful. The crowd doesn’t need the scoreboard “noise-meter” to tell them to cheer. They just do it. The smallness of the garden helps give the game a great atmosphere. The cavernous space of Wachovia Center (in Philly) and Staples Center severely hinder the power of the crowd.

2. Jordan Farmar’s steal at the end was incredible. Just a huge sucker punch to the whole crowd. They believed they were going to tie the game with a three from crawford and Farmar just came out of nowhere to make the steal. He was just a blur in my vision as he got his hand on the pass.

• In Newsday this morning, Thomas questioned the starting lineup he had out there against the Lakers, saying maybe they needed more energy and defense. Ya think?

• I watched the late-night replay of the Lakers/Knicks game on NBATV (while assembling children’s Christmas toys — the instructions are unimaginably vague, it’s like a puzzle) and the Knicks announcers questioned Thomas in fairly stark terms. They also marveled at Kobe and really praised the Lakers bench, Well, in the first half.

• And one little trivia question from that broadcast — what Laker scored the most points in a single game against the Knicks? (Answer in the comments, get it right and you win, um, the adoration of all.)

• I think the Christmas day game could have a playoff like atmosphere. That is going to be a fun part of the day.

Records: Lakers 15-10; Knicks 8-18
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.4 (8th); Knicks 102.8 (24th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.6 (11th); Knicks 113.2 (30th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum
Knicks: Jamal Crawford, Fred Jones, Quentin Richardson, Zach Randolph, Eddy Curry

Lakers Notes: Everyone is very high on Andrew Bynum, and we should be high on the guy who has three straight games of double doubles (and he should have a good game today with Curry on him). We shouldn’t shortchange how far he has come in the past year.

But he still has a long way to go. Bynum still is limited in his post moves — he gets most of his points on dunks while getting the ball very deep, on lobs, running the floor or on putbacks. He still needs a lot of polish and some more post moves. Some here (and at other sites) have put Bynum in the same sentence as Shaq — Drew has not begun to show the breadth of post moves Shaq had, nor does he have vintage Shaq’s combo of girth and athleticism. He puts in good effort on defense (most nights) but he still does not defend big bodies in the post that well and is spotty on his rotations.

I love what Drew brings and he is getting better every game, but let’s not overdo it.

Kobe quote: There is a lot of talk about Kobe and the trade “fun” in the papers today, but I think this quote after the 76er game sums up where he is:

“I think we’re doing extremely well. We’ve made the progression to being a solid team, a team that plays consistently well. Even when you have a bad game, you still have an opportunity to win. That’s [the definition of] a solid team. So, now we’ve got to make the progression from being a solid team to jumping up to that elite level, and that’s the hardest step of all.”

The Knicks Coming In: Everything I know about the Knicks I learned from Knickerblogger. Mike at this site was a big part of who I tried to pattern FB&G’s style after, and it remains one of the best reads out there.

With all the focus on the soap opera around the Knicks, most people seem to think they are worse than they actually are. Not that they are good, but the Knicks are 7-8 at home this season and they beat the Cavaliers by 18 earlier this week. They can put together a good game and have some individual talent.

They have two guys who can score on the low block. Zach Randolph is putting up numbers almost identical to last year when he was a beast in Portland — shooting 47% from the floor, grabbing 18% of the available rebounds and he is using a healthy 26% of the team’s possessions.

Curry also can score — he’s shooting of 54% from the floor. David Lee, when he gets in the game, is shooting 53.4% and was the key to a recent Knicks win. The guy that may have the best night against the Lakers may be Jamal Crawford — he’s an athletic guy who plays sort of a shoot-first point guard role, and his athleticism could give the Laker perimeter defenders trouble.

What has hurt the Knicks most this year is defense — they are dead last in the league in defensive efficiency. Team’s shoot a very high 52.4% (eFG) against them and the Knicks create almost no turnovers. The Lakers should be able to score plenty.

Links you should be clicking: Check out the history of every sneaker Kobe has worn in the NBA (and some he hasn’t worn in games). (Thanks for the tip, J.)

We linked to this the other day, but JD Hastings has posted a few new vintage 1973 Lakers photos.

Keys To The Game: The Lakers are going to get plenty of points tonight — Randolph and Curry make a potentially great offensive combo inside but they are both weak defenders, so this should be a big night for Odom and Bynum. As a whole the Knicks are bad defenders, points shouldn’t be the problem.

The key for the Lakers will be defense. Crawford is not really a point (and Jones plays that role some and he isn’t a PG either) so the Lakers should be able to get turnovers with pressure. Crawford is capable of a big game, however, and whoever gets him needs to make sure he doesn’t get on a roll. Also, the Lakers need to play good defense on Curry and Randolph without getting into foul trouble.

This should be an interesting battle of two teams with good energy guys off the bench — Lee, Balkman and Jeffries play hard.

Today’s Game: Where Breakfast and Basketball Happens: The last game of a road trip is a traditional NBA stumbling block, whoever you are playing. And the Lakers have to play at 9 a.m. (by their body clocks). Also, the Knicks have put together some good games. And the Lakers have Kobe trying to put on a show in NY while still not 100%.

All of that is to say the Lakers should win this one, but I expect it to be closer and uglier than many others.

Where you can watch: Game time is 9.m. (Pacific). In Los Angeles tune into KCAL (9), nationally you can check out NBA TV.

Records: Lakers 15-9; 76ers 10-15
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.4 (8th); 76ers 103.4 (23rd)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.6 (11th); 76ers 104.8 (8th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum
76ers: Andre Miller, Willie Green, Andre Iguodala, Reggie Evans, Samuel Dalembert

Lakers Notes: My junior high basketball coach taught me a couple of basketball truths that I believe wholeheartedly to this day:

1) The referees never cost you a game.
2) You don’t lose a game because you missed a shot in the last seconds.

His point was simple — it’s the team’s fault for letting the game be close enough in the first place to be decided by a referee or a desperate shot. That’s how I look at last night’s Lakers game — this was a game that never should have come down to questionable calls and the all-Kobe-all-the-time offense at the end. The Lakers bench, for one of the few times this season, let the team down — Ariza was -17, Farmar -15, Radmanovic -14, and almost all of that because of the Cavs 16-0 run at the end of the third/start of the fourth that was just ugly for the Lakers.

The game left me with concerns about focus and how, once again with the game on the line the rest of the Lakers stood around and watched Kobe, who settled for pull-up jumpers from 20+ feet. I have concerns about not putting a team away on the second night of a back-to-back. I have concerns about what happens against good rebounding teams.

All of that said, those concerns are going on hold for now and I’m going to look at this game as a one-off. For now. Teams are allowed an off night now and again.

The 76ers Coming In: They got off to a slow start, but the Sixers are 5-2 in their last seven and are playing their best ball of the season.

The Sixers have some skill guys — Andre Miller is the kind of quick PG that has given the Lakers trouble in the past (plus he may try to post up the smaller Farmar), and Iguodala loves the isolation plays because he is so explosive (plus he may be the best taking the lob in the league). Green is another good athlete, he just hasn’t quite figured out how to use those skills best yet, and Dalembert doesn’t shoot often but is efficient when he does (54% shooting this season).

Off the bench, watch for some guys who can go bombs away. Louis Williams handles the point and is shooting 43.8% from three point range, and at his side as the two guard is Kyle Korver, whose only reason for existence is he can shoot the three (43% last year, but just 33% this year so far).

The 76ers are a team that relies more on isolation and athleticism than set plays, so the Lakers need to stay focused on their team defense. And don’t leave Korver alone at the three-point line. And watch Iguodala on the back-door lob.

Factoid That May Interest Only Peter King: Allen Iverson played more minutes in Denver’s double-overtime win last night than Javaris Crittenton has all season. (Via the great KD.)

Keys To The Game: Defensive discipline. The 76ers are a team of slashers and spot up guys, plus a couple of good rebounders. What the 76ers want to do on offense is get into some isolation, basketball, let they young athletes outdo your guys. If the Lakers play team defense — rotate from the weak side to stop the slashers, stick with shooters on the perimeter, box out Reggie Evans — and the 76er offense can be slowed. The Lakers need to make this a team game, not a one-on-one show.

And that goes for Kobe on offense, who has a tendency to try to follow up a poor performance with an “I’m The Man” night. The Lakers will score plenty if they run the offense and get shots within it. And if the bench shows up and plays the way it is capable, unlike last night.

Tonight’s Game: Where I Get To Watch Unperturbed Happens: Believe it or not, I almost never get to crack-open a beer and watch a game live (or, tonight,90 minutes behind live). I DVR the games, spend time with my children and wife, then start watching about 10 on our smaller television (and with a computer on my lap). Tonight, the kids are with the grandparents, the wife is off at the movies with friends and I get to just watch a game. With a friend. In peace. So the Lakers better not blow it.

Last night, after an embarrassing loss the previous night, the Cavs came out with energy and looked like they wanted to make up for the night before. I want to see that tonight from the Lakers because, bottom line, they are the better team and if they put out that kind of effort they win.

Where you can watch: Game time is 4 p.m. (Pacific). In Los Angeles tune into KCAL (9) but you’ll have to wait until 5:30 local time for the broadcast (so, in the comments, please use spoiler alerts).

And, a great line from The Kardiac Kid about last night’s broadcast:

Reggie Miller, however, had a rough night, with three mixed-metaphors, five idiotic/hyperbolic statements, and one grating voice.

The Way-Back Machine

Kurt —  December 21, 2007

wilt.jpg

Commenter and reader JD Hasting’s father had great season seats for the Lakers back in the early 1970s, right under the basket. His father recently scanned a whole series of them and Hastings has put them up on his Web site for all to enjoy.

The photo above, watching Wilt go up for a finger roll over Kareem, is my favorite (and as Hastings points out, notice that Wilt has a weggie). But the rest are worth viewing as well, check them out.

Records: Lakers 15-9; Cavaliers 11-15
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.3 (7th); Cavaliers 104.7 (20th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.0 (12th); Cavaliers 110.4 (26th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum
Cavaliers: Daniel Gibson, Aleksandar Pavlovic, LeBron James, Drew Gooden, Zydrunas Ilgauskas

Lakers Notes: I’m not going to say anything, I don’t want to jinx how they are playing.

The Cavaliers Coming In: I don’t think you can overestimate how good LeBron James playing — he is shooting an impressive 51.6% while using a league-high 32.5% of his team’s possessions. His PER of 30.5 is not only higher than anyone else in the league, it’s better than anyone had last season. Or the season before that. Those are approaching Jordan at his peak numbers — in 90-91 MJ shot 54.7% using 33% of his team’s possessions and with a PER of 31.6. And LeBron does not have a Pippen or the rest of the supporting cast to draw attention and defenders away from him.

What is LeBron doing differently this season? Well, he’s getting inside for close shots more often (34% of his shots were in close last year, this year it is up to 39% according to 82 Games) and he has also developed a better and more consistent jump shot according to a breakdown done recently by The Painted Area.

That’s the good news in Cleveland. There are two key areas of bad news that lead to the Cavs being much worse than last year:

First, the Cavs have only one other player right now with an above-average PER — Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and that’s in part due to the fact he’s such a good rebounder. Outside of LeBron, nobody is contributing much on offense. Daniel Gibson can shoot — he has hit 50% of this threes this past year — but anyone who watched the playoffs last year knows not to leave him an open look.

The bigger problem is the defense — last year the Cavs had the fourth best defense in the NBA, and that got them to the finals. This year they are 25th. Teams are shooting at a higher percentage, those teams are also getting fouled more often meaning more uncontested free throws, and last year the Cavs created a lot of turnovers, this year not so much.

That defense is the key reason the Cavs are spiraling downhill — in the last 10 games the Cavs are 2-8 and got crush by 18 by the Knicks last night.

Keys To The Game: I think there are two schools of thought when dealing with a team like the Cavs where one guy generates so much of the offense: 1) put the clamps on him and make someone else beat you; 2) let him get 50 or whatever but make sure nobody else does well. Personally, I’m partial to system number two, I remember that as the most successful strategy against Jordan until his teammates became good enough to beat you too, and from the experience of the last few years we know that the Lakers playing team ball is more dangerous than Kobe going off for 50.

I hope to see the Lakers play their basic defense — give Odom and Walton and Ariza the impossible job of guarding LeBron, help them with doubles, rotate in the paint and don’t give up dunks. But, don’t let LeBron start getting Ilgauskas or Gibson or anyone else hot. Try to make sure LeBron isn’t efficient, but make sure nobody else gets even warm. (That said, the Lakers could go with option one, we shall see).

For the Lakers, I think the bench is the key — the Cavs suffered an embarrassing loss to the Knicks last night, and this is a thin team when they are not tired. The Knicks pulled away in the second quarter with their bench, and the Lakers bench is much, much deeper.

Also, the Lakers should score plenty, the Cavs have been a terrible defensive team this season, and particularly of late. This all comes down to executing on defense for the Lakers — and ultimately that means defending James on the pick-and-roll, that’s where he does most of his late game damage. Easier said than done because James can pass, but Drew and the bigs need to step out and take away those lanes. If he gets a head of steam toward the basket, forget about it.

Tonight’s Game: Where The Lakers Bench Happens: Cleveland is capable of putting together a very good game — remember they beat the Celtics this year. And LeBron should be pumped for a nationally televised game. And the Cavs should want to redeem themselves for a very poor showing last night.

All that said, if the Lakers as a whole and the bench in particular play like they have of late, the Lakers are 2-0 on this trip heading to Philly.

Where you can watch: Game time is 5p.m. (Pacific). In Los Angeles tune into KCAL (9) or you can join the rest of the nation watching the TNT broadcast.