Archives For December 2007

The Way-Back Machine

Kurt —  December 21, 2007


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.

Winning With The Other Things

Kurt —  December 19, 2007

Dean Oliver’s seminal basketball statistics book, Basketball On Paper, breaks down the game into the “Four Factors” for winning games — shooting efficiency, getting to the free throw line, offensive rebounding and turnovers. You can win games by doing those things so well on offense you’re opponent can’t match it (what Golden State tries to do), or by playing good defense so the other team can’t do those things (think Detroit circa 2004) or some combination (the Spurs, this year’s Celtics). (For a good primer on all this, start here.)

But the most important category is shooting — the team with the higher shooting percentage wins the vast majority of games. Sounds basic, but then if the stats suggested otherwise we’d really question their validity.

All that leads to why the Lakers win against the Bulls was interesting — the Bulls shot better. The Bulls shot 50% (eFG%) for the game, well above their 44% on the season that is dead last in the league. The Lakers on the other hand shot just 46.5% (well off their usual pace of 51.5%, sixth in the Association).

But the Lakers dominated all the other categories that matter, and that’s why they won. To use the common basketball phrase: The Lakers did the little things.

First, they got to the free throw line — the Lakers attempted 28 free throws, the Bulls just 17. The Lakers had 11 more points from the stripe. That shows they were getting the ball inside, both by passes to their bigs and driving the lane, while the Bulls were more content on the perimeter.

Second, the Lakers dominated the glass — they had 17 offensive rebounds while the Bulls had 7. Bynum had four, while both Odom and Farmar had three. That speaks to hustle and to desire to control the paint.

Finally, the Lakers took care of the ball — they had 11 turnovers, the Bulls 18. Before the game we said you can’t give the athletic Bulls team easy turnovers and transition baskets, and the Lakers didn’t.

What has Lakers fans everywhere feeling good is that this team is doing the little things right night after night. They get good shots within the offense and get them close to the basket (which leads to fouls and free throws). With Bynum leading the way the Lakers are a force on the offensive glass. Fisher and Farmar take care of the ball. Mix all that around the unique skills Kobe brings to the floor and you have a team that is both fun and a real threat to beat anyone.

All of it has given the Lakers with the fourth best record in the West and fans dreaming of playoff success. (If the playoffs started today the Lakers would technically be the fifth seed but have home court against fourth-seed Denver, the Nuggets have to be fourth because they lead their division.)

But, a word of caution during the bubble of optimism: it’s December. Nobody wins a title in December, despite the Celtics best efforts this year. A lot of things can happen between now and April — Denver and Houston are two very talented teams that could put it together, unforeseen injuries or trades can radically reshape the West. There is a long, long way to go this season before the playoffs even start.

Still, all this optimism is as good a Christmas present as Lakers fans could hope for.

Records: Lakers 14-9; Bulls 8-13
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.3 (6th); Bulls 99.7 (28th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.0 (11th); Bulls 105.0 (8th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum
Bulls: Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon, Luol Deng, Joe Smith, Ben Wallace

Lakers Notes: Swamped at work so we’re going to be short and sweet today. Just a quick injury update. Vladamir Radmanovic has sprained both wrists — with is a pretty impressive feat, when you think about it — and he is listed as day-to-day, but I don’t expect to see him tonight. Fisher and Kobe are sore but will play. Kwame Brown will not be back against the team that gave him the injury one month ago.

The Bulls Coming In: The Bulls have played better of late — they are 6-4 in their last 10 after that horrific 2-8 start. Not that the improved play has inspired a lot of confidence in the Windy City yet.

Part of what held them back early was poor shooting, and that seems to slowly be turning around. In his last 10 games, Loul Deng is shooting 49.1% and Kirk Hinrich is shooting 40.7% from three in the last 10 (but just 43% from inside the arc). The Lakers need to contest shots tonight

Last time these two met: Loul Deng was out with back spasms and the Bulls started Eddie Adrian Griffin, both very good signs for the Lakers then that will not happen tonight.

The Lakers pulled away in the second half on a charge led by Farmar, Walton and the Lakers second unit. Pressed into more minutes after Kwame went down, Bynum made Ben Wallace look old at times (something a lot of people have done this season). By the end this was a laugher, but that was because the bench did well. The starters were not terribly impressive for the Lakers.

Keys To The Game: What the Bulls do on offense is not rocket science — high screen and roll, drive the lane and then kick it out for the open jumper. They live and die on the perimeter. The Lakers cannot suck down into the lane when the penetration comes (as is their tendency), rather they need to stay with their man on the perimeter, let the weak-side help defense do its thing to prevent lay-ups. Rotations will be key.

Also, the Bulls are a team that pressures the opposing guards, picking them up earlier and tighter than most teams. Fisher and Farmar (and Kobe) need to take care of the ball because turnovers given to such an athletic team will spell trouble.

Tonight’s Game: Where A Road Win Happens: This is not the Bulls team the Lakers saw a month ago, Los Angeles will have to play better to get the win. That’s what good teams do. I look for another big night from the bench and Bynum keying the Lakers to a close win.

Where you can watch: Game time is 5:30 p.m. (Pacific). In Los Angeles tune into KCAL (9), nationally you’ll need NBA TV or League Pass or a good “black box” to illegally decode the cable signal.

And One For The Road

Kurt —  December 17, 2007

That was a great confidence-boosting, comfortable win for a team heading off on a four-game road trip. To be sure, the Clippers played poor defense on the perimeter (Kobe in the first and Sasha in the fourth got Clips to bite on fakes and that made their shots easier, the Clips rotations and coverage at the three point line was weak) but credit to the Lakers for taking advantage of it. One key sign that the Lakers players better understand the triangle this season is just how much better the spacing has been, and that was a key last night. Clipperblog talks about this (and also breaks down Maggette’s tremendous effort).

Then there was another step in the emergence of Andrew Bynum, who is learning to use his length to bother other centers. His confidence grows each game, and with it his game grows exponentially. His presence inside also helps with the aforementioned spacing.

So the Lakers head off on a four-game East Coast swing, all in big cities (is there a better place to finish off your Christmas shopping than Manhattan?) and all against teams under .500. There also are some good teams in there — Chicago is loaded with talent and Cleveland won the East last year. With Kobe heading to Chicago and New York, the under/over on stories that say “Kobe is happy now” or muckraking columnists that say “Kobe still wants out” this week is about 350. We’ll ignore those and focus on the big question:

How many games should the Lakers win on this trip?

Records: Lakers 13-9; Clippers 9-13
Offensive ratings: Lakers 110.8 (8th); Clippers 101.1 (28th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.2 (13th); Clippers 104.9 (9th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Sasha Vujacic, Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum
Clippers: Brevin Knight, Cuttino Mobley, Corey Maggette, Tim Thomas, Chris “what hair?” Kaman.

Lakers Notes:Kobe Bryant is a game-time decision with a strained (or slightly torn, depending on the report) quadricep. Regular readers here know my feeling on these things — this early in the season you rest those injuries. You don’t want some nagging injury that hurts the team over months rather than Kobe just missing a game or three.

If Kobe sits, and frankly even if he plays as he won’t be 100%, somebody is going to have to step up and be the key focus on the offense. There are two candidates here: Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom. Bynum will face some challenges tonight as Kaman is a big, strong body in the paint that will make it hard for Bynum to consistently get that deep position he likes, and (at times) Kaman shows nifty footwork and good quickness on the defensive end. The other problem for Bynum: He has been getting poor post feeds from Odom and Fisher, making it harder for him to get the ball where he wants it.

Odom, who has born the brunt of some Lakers fans frustration of late, is capable of putting up a great game. The problem is I’m not sure we’ve seen that kind of smart and consistent play since his first game back from the injury. If Kobe sits the Lakers need more than just the usual 13 and 8 from him tonight, he needs to step up.

One other guy who could have a big night — Derek Fisher. He will have a lesser PG on him and this could be a night he steps up big.

And we’ll finish with one interesting stat: Since the trade, Trevor Ariza’s PER is 22.1, which would be second best on the team behind Kobe. Hopefully Phil will start to show more faith in him at key times.

The Clippers Coming In: UPDATED: Kevin at the brilliantClipperblog, who is the best X’s and O’s blogger out there, was kind enough to answer a couple of questions about the two key offensive cogs for the Clips, and so I’ve included those in this preview now:

The Clippers have been without their best player for the entire season (and maybe their second best, Sam Cassell, for weeks). That said the Clippers have been respectable this year because they are playing good team defense.

Two guys have really stepped up on offense — Chris Kaman and Corry Maggette.

Kaman has become a force in the paint, making up somewhat for the loss of Brand. He is shooting 50%, using 20% of the offense when he’s on the floor (up from 17% the season before), and scoring 19 points per 40 minutes. He gets most of his shots right at the basket, using his big body to get position or rebound putbacks (he is grabbing 19% of the available rebounds on the floor, near the top of the league), but he can hit a 12 to 15-footer if open, particularly straight on (he is solid in the high post).

I asked Kevin: Is Kaman playing better because of changes in his game, because of the absence of Brand or some combination?

As Brand did in the summer of 2005, Kaman whipped himself into shape. Whether it’s conditioning, or just mental focus, Kaman is considerably more agile. Where he’d bring the ball down toward the floor last season or take a tentative quasi-jab step, this season he’s considerably more decisive moving toward the hoop. Having said that, I think Chris is much more comfortable on the strong side. And Elton’s absence on the block is one less thing for Chris to worry about as he sets up low.

Maggette has always been able to get to the hole and he shoots well there and gets to the line a lot — he is averaging 9.1 free throw attempts per game, which is more than Kobe. He can shoot the corner three if you leave him open, but the book on him has always been to turn him into a midrange shooter.

I asked Kevin: What about Corey Maggette, who is playing well this season. A matter of opportunity or is he doing something he didn’t do before?

To some extent, Corey’s improvement started toward the end of last season. He’s making better decision and is working a little harder off the ball. As an example, Corey [via Dunleavy?] recognized the other night against Miami that he could handle Dorell Wright in the post. Now, Corey’s inclination is to receive the ball out on the wing. But he understood that the mismatch was low…so that’s where he went and it paid off. That aside, I think Corey’s most profound improvement has been defensively.

Also, the Clippers have got someone with some promise in Al Thorton. He’s still trying to find his shot at the NBA level (shooting 40.3% eFG%) but he is grabbing 11.9% of the available rebounds. He’s going to be a quality NBA player.

Quote I found interesting: From Phil Jackson, in today’s OC Register, talking about the steroid issue in baseball:

“It’s not been known in our game,” he said. “But I’ve been aware of human growth hormone for 15 years and that’s the biggest rage now.”

Keys To The Game: The Kaman/Bynum battle should be an interesting one, Kaman has given the Lakers problems the last couple of years but if Bynum puts out the kind of effort on defense he did on Dwight Howard he can have a big impact. He’ll also get help, Phil said the Lakers would double Kaman in the post, and basically dare the Clippers to beat the Lakers from the outside.

On defense, the Lakers (without Kobe or even with the injured version) don’t have anyone who can play Maggette well on the perimeter, but I’d put Odom on him and have him play off him some, daring him to take the outside shot (please, Phil, no Walton on Maggette). On the whole I’d pack the defense in some against a team shooting just 45.9% (eFG%) this season, 28th in the league.

This is also a game the Lakers bench could be key — Farmar is going to have Dan Dickau on him and should be able to have a good night. Radmanovic and the rest of the guys off the bench should be able to give the Lakers a boost against a weaker Clips second unit.

Tonight’s Game: Where Rivalry Happens: Some Lakers fans don’t think of the Clippers as a rival, but the Clips see it that way and they really have been the better team the last three years. It will be interesting to see how the Lakers play without or with a hobbled Kobe, but good teams step up and win these games.

Where you can watch: Game time is 6:30 p.m. (Pacific). In Los Angeles tune into KTLA (5) the Clippers broadcast team (who I think are better) or tune into Fox Sports to catch the Lakers broadcasters. Or, on a controversial foul, flip between the two and watch two semi-homer broadcasters have completely different takes.

Records: Lakers 13-8; Warriors 12-10
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.2 (7th); Warriors 111.2 (7th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.1 (12th); Warriors 109.3 (20th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum
Warriors: Baron Davis, Monta Ellis, Matt Barnes, Al Harrington, Andris Biedrins

Lakers Notes: No Tony Parker, no Tim Duncan and Ginobli out at the 10:30 mark in the fourth quarter due to five fouls. Mix all that together and it meant the Lakers got away with a sloppy start, too many threes and poor shooting for much of the night. Good teams win some ugly games, and we’ll chalk that Lakers win up to that.

It was a mix of good and bad. The bad, too many threes and far too many early in the shot clock. The good: Another good game for the bench, they started the fourth quarter run that got the win. The bad: Once again the Lakers left too many people open beyond the three line. The Good: Turiaf’s presence inside on defense, the two blocks he had were the only two the team got, and his solid play once Bynum was tossed.

(About Bynum’s ejection: In hockey you see this fairly often, when a team is flat or struggling a veteran guy will go pick a fight with a bruiser on the opposition, all an effort to fire up his team. I don’t think Bynum got tossed intentionally, and he deserved it in the sense he’s still young and can’t yap like that at the refs, but it had the same impact. The team rallied after he was tossed.)

Another note on Turiaf — I’m not why Phil has gotten away from starting him. I think what he brings in terms of defense and intensity is something needed, something the Walton at the three Odom at the four combo does not bring. If the Lakers were getting a huge offensive boost moving Odom back to the four then maybe the defensive trade-off would be worth it (and the Lakers need to get Odom the ball on the block more), but until that happens I’d rather have Ronny’s defense in the paint and energy.

The Warriors Coming In: They beat the Spurs a couple nights ago, too. The Warriors had five guys in double digits and a 24-3 run in the second had them pulling away for an easy win.

Don’t be shocked if Don Nelson tries to force the small ball and pace by starting Kelenna Azubuike instead of Biedrins and pushing Harrington to center. Phil doesn’t really fall for this stuff — he’ll leave Bynum in and try to pound it inside — but that starting five is what the Warriors did against the Duncan-less Spurs.

Also, remember that recent JA Adande quote about the Warriors:

You know how you don’t want to fight a crazy guy, because you don’t know what he is going to do? The same thought applies here. If the Warriors are going to shoot the first 25-footer they see, is there really any way to defend against it?

He’s right, and you just don’t know what Warriors team will show up tonight. They will want revenge and it may be a bomb’s away night for them.

To find out more about the Warriors, check out Golden State of Mind.

Keys To The Game: The Lakers won the last game because they got great play from the bench and stuck with the game plan of pounding the Warriors on the inside. That combo will be what the Lakers should try to do again.

The question is will they? Last night in San Antonio the Lakers played a style and quality of game that, if they repeat it tonight, they will get run out of the building. There are things the Lakers must do: No threes early in the shot clock. In fact, fewer threes overall. Get the ball inside. Pound the offensive glass. Get back in transition defense.

Essentially, the opposite of what they did against San Antonio.

Tonight’s Game: Where A Dish Best Served Cold Happens: I have a bad feeling about this game from the Lakers perspective. The blueprint is there for another key win for the Lakers, but last night’s performance (despite the win) did not leave me inspired. Hope my gut is wrong (or just didn’t like that breakfast burrito I had).

Where you can watch: Game time is 7:30 p.m. (Pacific). In Los Angeles tune into KCAL (9), nationally you get ESPN. You can compare the WWL’s announcing/studio team o TNT’s last night, while that is fresh in your mind. If you’re enough of a masochist to do that.

Records: Lakers 12-8; Spurs 17-4
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.2 (8th); Spurs 114.4 (3rd)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.1 (12th); Spurs 104.9 (10th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, Vladamir Radmanovic, Andrew Bynum
Spurs: Tony Parker, Michael Finley, Bruce Bowen, Matt Bonner, Francisco Elson

Lakers Notes: First game of a back-to-back against teams that are 8-2 in their last 10.’s Hollinger has the Lakers with the toughest schedule in the league so far and I think they’ll keep that title for at least another week. Yippee!

The Kwame Brown update: He practiced yesterday and likely will be back to provide some post defense and drop some passes next week. Luke Walton may come off the bench tonight, if you believe Phil Jackson.

As for tonight, with one game in the last six days, the Lakers should be rested and have all their holiday shopping done. (And if you are a player giving away the Lakers gear you take for free from the team store, that’s cheating. Buy something.)

The Spurs Coming In: Tim Duncan is officially listed as questionable for tonight. However, seeing as he wasn’t the one who beat the Lakers last time they played that doesn’t mean a ton. He only had five points.

Now, Tony Parker is also listed as questionable because of a sprained ankle (I bet we do see him) but if he is slowed just half a step, well, he’s still a step quicker than just about every Laker but they’ll be closer to him when he hits that little floater in the lane. The ankle has seemed to bother Parker’s shooting, he is 19 of 50 from the floor in his last three games (sans Duncan).

Despite the Duncan injury the Spurs have continued to bring Ginobli off the bench the last couple games, going with a starting five that puts a lot of pressure on Parker to provide the scoring. When Ginobli does come in he is lighting it up, shooting 42.9% from three in his last 10 games.

Parker and Ginobli are carrying the scoring load of late, although the Spurs role players are all capable of having a big night. Matt Bonner dropped 25 the other night. Hope his mom clipped that story for the scrapbook.

Last Time These Two Met: Bruce Bowen, 23 points, 6-6 from three. That should bring back some not-so-fond memories.

The reason that Bowen had a big game (and the Lakers lost) was that Parker and Ginobli got into the lane at will, the Laker defense collapsed on them and the Spurs kicked out to wide open guys at the three point line. There was other fun, like when the Lakers guards went under the screen on the pick and roll, and San Antonio drained the open shot behind the screen. The Lakers defensive goal was to defend the paint and they got burned by a team that could space the floor and shoot.

Also, the Lakers had a lot of empty trips thanks to 19 turnovers, plus they shot 2 of 16 from beyond the arc (the Spurs defend that shot as well as any team in the league.

Keys To The Game: My guess is we will see Parker and not Duncan, but that could well be reversed. And if Duncan starts maybe Ginobli does too to provide a guy who can penetrate to the first five. Popovich will make that call close to game time and most likely will not call me to let me know his plans in advance.

The match up I’m looking forward to seeing: Ariza on Ginobli. I think Ariza’s length and athleticism could give the Argentinean problems, plus Ariza likes to go to the basket and that may get a foul or two on Manu.

The Lakers cannot really stop Parker or Ginobli one-on-one, the problem last game was that the entire perimeter defense collapsed on those two when they started to drive, leaving Bowen and others wide open looks from three. The Lakers have to trust their rotations, trust their bigs coming from the weak side to make some blocks. If they do that, you go a long way toward stopping the Spurs (and playing better defense on the whole).

Tonight’s Game: Where We Miss The First Five Minutes Because The Early Game Runs Long Happens: Yes the Spurs have injuries to their big three, but part of what has made them THE SPURS the last decade is that they play their system well, right down to the 12th man on the bench. This team is no pushover, regardless of who plays. That said, if the Lakers stay disciplined on defense and stay in their system, they can win a close game. This will be a good measuring stick for just how well the Lakers are playing now.

Where you can watch: We all get to spend some time with TNT tonight, and here are 15 reasons to watch the doubleheader tonight (from Hardwood Paroxysm). What we need to do is come up with a TNT studio hosts drinking game….