Archives For December 2007

Records: Lakers 9-8; T-Wolves 2-13
Offensive ratings: Lakers 110.0 (11th); T-Wolves 102.5 (22nd)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.0 (15th); T-Wolves 113.6 (30th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, Vladamir Radmanovic, Andrew Bynum
T-Wolves: (Lots of injuries and game time decisions, so this is a best guess) Sebastian Telfair, Corey Brewer, Ryan Gomes, Craig Smith, Al Jefferson

Lakers Notes: First the injury update — Kwame Brown and Ronny Turiaf did not make the trip with the team and are out tonight and tomorrow. (UPDATE: According to the Lakers Web site Mihm did not practice yesterday and is a gametime decision. He needs to play tonight.)

For the last two games, the Lakers offense has been its weakness. For the season the team has an offensive rating of 110 (points per 100 possessions) but for the last two games that has fallen off to 94.2 (Orlando) and 101.2 (Jazz). Odom has taken some heat for part of the offensive problems, but this really has been a team effort. Of course, if you were going to turn that around, playing the worst defensive team in the NBA when they are banged up is the best way to do it.

What to do about Odom has been the hot topic in the comments, now Mr. Green at Sportshub has weighed in. I think a number of you will agree with him.

The Timberwolves Coming In: The Timberwolves were not the most talented or deep team in the league in the first place, so the little run of injuries has devastated this team.

For tonight, Antoine Walker (ankle) and Al Jefferson (bruised knee) will likely play but did not take part in the physical parts of practice yesterday. Marco Jaric, Randy Foye (kneecap stress reaction) and Theo Ratliff (knee) are out.

Jefferson has been the only real quality offensive player the T-Wolves have of late, he has averaged 20 and 10 in their last 10 games. After that it is McCants, who is shooting just 45% (eFG%) in the last 10 games (but 35% from three, so hang with him out there).

Last Time These Two Met: It was Lamar Odom’s first game back and it may have been his best game this season — he had 18 points on 70% shooting, was aggressive going to the hole, had 10 rebounds and was a team best +22. Kobe added 30-7-7. Kwame was out but Bynum and Mihm combined for 20 rebounds and 20 points on 9-17 shooting. And the Lakers cruised to a win.

Of course, they got away with a ton of turnovers that game as well, so there are things to work on.

Keys To The Game: The Lakers offense should get back on track tonight — if it does not, I’ll be a little more concerned. Also, this is a game the struggling Lakers bench should be able to get on track against a depleted Minny second unit.

Minny has one guy who really can take over a game in Al Jefferson. Bynum is still learning on defense, but if he puts out the effort he did against Dwight Howard the other night that will be enough.

Where you can watch: Game time is 5 p.m. (Pacific). In Los Angeles tune into KCAL (9), nationally you’ll need League Pass. Since I’ll be at work late paying the price for a day at home sick, I’ll be watching on Gamecast.

Consistently Inconsistent

Kurt —  December 3, 2007

The loss to Orlando Sunday night was a bit of the microcosm of the Lakers season so far — streaks of tantalizingly good play followed by streaks of disinterested defense, an offense that resorted to “let’s watch Kobe” in crunch time and an egregious number of turnovers. Some days, the good is enough (or lasts long enough) to get the win. Some nights the Lakers play Orlando.

What is starting to really concern me is this Lakers team is still battling its demon from last season — inconsistency.

There’s no doubt they’ve improved — both some players (Bynum and Farmar, obviously, as well as the Fisher for Smush tradeoff) and the team defense has been better but still average (the Lakers are 15th in defensive efficiency, which is better than last year’s 29th). However, the inconsistency that was this team last year (even before the injuries) has returned with the new season. Each night it seems the Lakers find a new way to lose, as Rob L. put it to me in an email.

It seems like the coaching staff is playing whack-a-mole. Fix one problem, only to have another one pop up.

There is no one easy answer because there is no one reason. Yes the schedule out of the gate has been tough. Yes, not having Kwame Brown inside hurts the Lakers defensive toughness.

But for all the talk of a growing team, second youngest in the league, key cogs of this team are not young (Kobe/Odom/Fisher). This is not a team of kids learning on the job like in Portland (or Chicago of years past), not just a focus thing (Odom) and not just a coaching thing. It’s a blending of the three, with the coach hoping the mistakes and losses teach lessons.

But will they? And how frustrated will we all be if and when it does pay off?

Records: Lakers 9-7; Magic 14-4
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.3 (8th); Magic 110.7 (9th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.2 (16th); Magic 102.1 (3rd)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, Ronny turiaf, Andrew Bynum
Magic: Jameer Nelson, Keith Bogans, Hedo Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis, Dwight Howard

Lakers Notes: The Lakers pick up an impressive win over Denver on Thursday, but when forced to travel for a back-to-back against one of the NBA’s better teams they barely show up. The Lakers are the second youngest team in the NBA right now and that’s what you get some night.

What is frustrating is when the veterans you expect to step up take the nights off. The guy Lakers fans are frustrated with right now is Lamar Odom — yes, he hit 60% of his shots against the Jazz, but he took only five shots, grabbed only four boards, looked lost at times on defense and ended the night a team-worst -29.

Part of that is he clearly is not 100% with the shoulder, but he also is clearly still adjusting to his new role in the offense. And, when he starts thinking too much on the court, Odom becomes much more passive. I think commenter kwame a. had a good breakdown:

His current problems stem from his confusion of offense in his new role. He is playing off the ball, so when he catches it in space he is usually open because his defender is quite comfortable coming under screens. This has cut down his ability to penetrate and has highlighted his wack J.

To counter-act this he has to cut towards the basket with purpose, this is what the triangle creates if he would only cut hard (numerous times Tex Winter has called him out for not doing that). Also, he can create opportunities to take his man off the dribble if Phil would run some pick and roll with him, and if he would push the ball every other defensive rebound he gathers.

The Magic Coming In: It’s not what you might have expected, but the Magic are thriving under Stan Van Gundy because he’s an offensive guru. Well, at least this year.

The Magic are a good defensive team — they are holding other teams to 46.5% (eFG%) shooting, second best in the league — but they were a good defensive squad last year (seventh in the league). However, last year they were 22nd in offensive efficiency, this year they are in the top 10 in the league.

At the heart of what the Magic do is Dwight Howard, the best pure center in the game today (assuming you call Duncan a forward, as he prefers). He is shooting 61.8%, is so strong he can get great position on the block and like vintage Shaq it’s hard to stop him from dunking down in there (he has 81 dunks in 18 games). He also has a series of nice post moves.

So you need to double Howard on the block — but if you do that with another big you pay a price because both Magic forwards (Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis) can shoot from the outside. However, right now Lewis is in the middle of a five-game shooting slump, shooting 31.3% in those games. His 6 if 19 against the Suns a couple nights ago is pretty typical of his numbers.

Also on the outside are Nelson and Bogans, who can shoot. In fact, all five Magic starters are shooting better than 50%, something quite rare.

The other reason you can get away spreading the floor around Howard is he is such a beast on the boards, grabbing 21.6% of the available rebounds on the floor. (Andrew Bynum, who has been great, is at 22.3%.)

For more on the Magic, check out the quite good Third Quarter Collapse blog.

Where do I know you from? Former Lakers Brian Cook and Mo Evans will get some run tonight against the Lakers.

Mo Evans has been getting more minutes, about 16 per game, and has been shooting 44%. Really, we know what to expect here — solid but not spectacular play.

Cook — a big who can spread the floor with his shot — should fit right in the Magic system. Since going East he has been shooting 50% (he was at 33% this season with the Lakers), but he has not earned many minutes from SVG (just 6 a game, down from his 9 average with the Lakers). As SVG is a defensive coach and Cook is not much of a defender, he is going to have to earn minutes.

Keys To The Game: Bynum v. Howard is going to be fun. Bynum plays his best games when faced with a challenge, but he will only be able to do so much against the man/child Howard. The hope is making him work hard on defense can keep Howard from putting up the 39 and 16 he did against Seattle a few nights back.

Part of that is defending the pick-and-roll, the Magic will run that with Howard setting the pick and rolling hard to the basket, getting good position inside. The Lakers have had their bigs show out hard on this play this year, tonight those guys will need to recover well too to defend Howard. Also, Howard is not a great free-throw shooters, there may be good times to send him to the line.

With defenses collapsing in on Howard, the Magic shoot a lot of threes. The Lakers have ignored people on the arc a lot this season, the Magic shooters are too good to let stand and set up from there.

Tonight’s Game: Where The Best Young Centers In The Game Happens: I’m looking forward to this one. Bynum is not the physical match for Howard, but his length can be an asset against him. The battle between these two for rebounds should be good.

The Lakers are going to need a good offensive night from Kobe and Odom tonight, both from the perimeter and driving into the lane (get a couple fouls on Howard?). If Odom shows up ready to play tonight, the Lakers can pick up the win, without his scoring it will be a challenge.

Where you can watch: Game time is 6:30 p.m. (Pacific) and it is a Fox Sports game in LA and League Pass nationally.