Archives For January 2008

Preview & Chat: The Detroit Pistons

Kurt —  January 31, 2008

Records: Lakers 28-15 (5 seed); Pistons 32-13 (2 seed)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.3 (6th); Pistons 112.7 (4th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.3 (8th); Pistons 104.8 (5th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladamir Radmanovic, Lamar Odom, Kwame Brown
Pistons: Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Antonio McDyess, Rasheed Wallace

Lakers Notes: On the road again, just can’t wait to get on the road again……

I’m swamped at work and my DSL is out at home, so this is going to be short and sweet today. There’s not much to say anyway, a hobbled Lakers team heads out for nine games in 14 days and starts out with a pretty tough back-to-back — Detroit then Toronto.

Ty over at Lakers.com does a nice M*A*SH* like rundown of the Lakers injuries. Luke Walton likely will not play tonight, look for Vladamir Radmanovic to get the start in his place.

Deeeetroit Bas-ket-ball: The Pistons come in as an elite team but are “just” 6-4 in their last 10 (same record as the Lakers). They’ve been getting great play from all five starters, particlarly Billups and Hamilton. Rip gets run off a ton of screens and is one of the few NBA players who loves to shoot the midrange. Last Lakers/Pistons meeting friend of the site Nate Jones had very good seats and said this about Rip:

I can tell that it has to be very annoying to guard that guy. He runs off of a ton of picks, and pushes, grabs, and slaps his way to open positioning. Kobe pointed out what he was doing to the refs and the refs started calling Rip for offensive fouls. Rip hates getting shown up by Kobe because they were rivals in the PA area during high school.

After that, the Pistons have two of the betst NBA blogs out there and you should be reading them for scouting info — Need 4 Sheed and Detroit Bad Boys.

Last time these two met: It was the first couple weeks of the season and the Lakers picked up a nice 103-91 win. But, in that game the Pistons were without two starters — Chauncy Billups and Antonio McDyess. This time around it is the Lakers missing key cogs due to injury. All that is to say, that game has little bearing on this game.

Keys To The Game: Other Lakers besides Kobe are going to have to do some scoring tonight — with the combo of Prince and Hamilton the Pistons do as good a job as anyone on slowing Kobe. Radmanovic for Walton brings some scoring into the starting lineup, they will need that tonight.

The Lakers need to be disciplined on defense. This Pistons are not a great shooting team — they are actually 14th in the NBA if eFG%, middle of the pack — but they do not turn the ball over. Detroit coughes it up on 13.3% of their possessions, the lowest level in the league (for comparison, the Lakers are 15th in the NBA at 16.2%). This is not a good night for gambles and risks, it’s a night to stay on your man and in your roll.

Along those lines is this from the always great scouting report at Lakers.com:

In “BOX POWER” Billups dribbles down the right side as McDyess sets a down screen on Prince. Prince runs a zipper cut up the middle of the floor to receive the pass at the top of the key. As this happens, Wallace is setting a weakside pin down on Hamilton. Hamilton is excellent at reading how the defense plays this screen and he will react accordingly. Prince swings the ball to Hamilton and if rip doesn’t have the shot he can dump it in to Wallace in the low post or they can run a screen and roll. There are a lot of options to this sequence and we must have sound defensive concepts in order to stop them. Another option out of this box set is to let Prince isolate at the top of the key. He can then use his length to get a shot off..

If the Pistons have a weakness, you could say it is the bench (although youngster’s Stuckey, Maxiell, Amir Johnson and Afflalo have had their moments). If the Lakers are going to win tonight they will need to win the battle of the benches in a big way (the Lakers did that in the first meeting)

Where you can watch: Game time is 4:30 p.m. (Pacific) but the broadcast here in Southern California doesn’t start until 5:30 on KCAL (9). If you are watching the game in real time and are commenting, make a note that you have spoilers for those of us on KCAL’s clock. Thanks.

Prediction Time

Kurt —  January 30, 2008

Nine game road trip gets off to a tough start in Detroit tomorrow night. You can see the schedule here.

My prediction: 4-5. I think 5-4 is very doable. 6-3 and I’d be thrilled. 3-6 and, well, I’d rather not talk about it.

What do all of you predict?

Records: Lakers 27-15 (6 seed); Knicks 14-29 (a lot of lottery ping-pong balls)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.9 (6th); Knicks 104.3 (23rd)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.0 (8th); Knicks 112.4 (28th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, Kwame Brown
Knicks: Jamal Crawford, Quentin Richardson, Mardy Collins, Zach Randolph, Eddy Curry

Lakers Notes: First let’s talk offense. Phil Jackson yesterday called out Luke Walton and Lamar Odom for being “timid” in recent games. Good. The thing is (and Phil mentions this) the problem is not every trip down — I watched Odom last game closely and he made a couple aggressive drives to the hole, one when isolated on Dirk and a couple others in transition from the top of the key. But, he is not fighting for position on the block and is not doing well under the pressure to step up without Bynum. He should get over that mental block, then again we’ve been saying that for years now and it’s just not going to happen. Lamar is what he is.

Also, another insightful comment from Bill Bridges:

The other defensive point (related to the “Bynum Effect” as you point out) I would add is that the weak side back court defender is cheating off his man more than he should. This has happened regularly when the offensive player penetrates from strong to weak. The net result is that both Vujacic and Farmar left Barry open on the weak side leading to 3’s. And Vujacic left Terry open for a crucial 3 at the end of the game. The weakside guard’s defensive positioning achieves nothing – neither helping out on the penetrator nor hindering the 3 point shot from his man. They really need to work on this in practice.

Why I think it is related to the Bynum Effect is that Kwame’s teammates have lost all faith that he can anchor the defense.

Suggested Reading: Great column on Kwame today from Kevin Ding in the OC Register — a must read.

Don’t we all have some friends who hate their jobs? Don’t we all know someone who simply can’t deal with confrontation? And if we look around this Sunday, couldn’t we all find a guy who, given the choice between playing in the Super Bowl and hanging out at a rockin’ Super Bowl party, would be a lot happier wearing a lampshade than a helmet?

These kinds of guys – even with all the size, strength, athleticism and opportunity – would not be 6-foot-11, 270-pound Michael Jordans either. They’d be sitting there with beer in hand, moaning about what time they have to get up Monday morning, rooting for the underdog Giants to beat the so-professional Patriots and asking if you’ve got any more guacamole dip.

Hat tip to Jones on the NBA for the link.

The Knicks Coming In: The Knicks have won five of their last eight, which is a sign that either: 1)They are starting to figure it out; 2) Every team wins a few in a row no matter how bad they are (or lose a few in a row no matter how good they are).

To find out what is going on, we asked a couple questions of Mike, the man behind what is one of the OG NBA blogs and still my favorite, Knickerblogger.

Jamal Crawford seems to be playing well of late. What is he doing right? His game isn’t as “pretty” as some other guards on the roster but he seems to be getting things done.

Jamal Crawford has reigned in his game. I’m not sure why, but those fake out my defender so I can take the longest 2 pointer on the court has been largely eliminated from his game. He’s doing a lot more curls & reasonable 18 footers.


Any other keys to why you’ve won 5 of 8?

The reasons the Knicks have won recently is that they’ve:
a. played crappy competition.
b. played their young guys a little more (Robinson, Balkman, Lee, and Collins – in that order).
c. the season is already lost, so they have nothing to lose by giving it their all.
d. have better on the court chemistry with their lineup (mixing defensive guys like Jeffries, Jones, Balkman, Collins, etc.) instead of doling out playing time based on contract/points per game.

The Lakers Should Win The First Quarter: Knickerblogger dug through the stats and found out what is killing the Knicks this year is the first quarter:

1st Quarter: -155
2nd Quarter: -28
3rd Quarter: -70
4th Quarter: -2
In Overtime : -5
Total Pt. Differential -260

Games are said to be won and lost in “crunch time,” but 85% of the Knicks point differential this season can be attributed to their play in the first (-3.8 pts per game) and third (-1.7 pts per game) periods. They have been respectable in the 2nd, and have almost broken even in the 4th, perhaps due partly to the large amount of garbage time they have played this season. The simple conclusion I think is that in order to have a better second half to the season, the Knicks should focus on making a better start to each half of every game. Readers I am sure will have plenty of ideas about how they might do that.

Last time these two met: The Lakers picked up an ugly road win just a few days before Christmas. Most of the news surrounding the game concerned Kobe scoring his 20,000th point. It was the last game of a road trip and the Lakers played like it but pulled out the win thanks to good shooting nights from Kobe (62.7% true shooting percentage, which takes into account trips to the free throw line), Sasha “The Machine” Vujacic (60%), Andrew Bynum (66%) and Trevor Ariza (71.7%). Note that those last two guys will not be playing tonight.

Also, there were some fun thoughts afterward from commenter No Musckles, who was at the game in the Garden:

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.

Keys To The Game: Last game it was the Knicks Bench that kept them in it — they bring guys like David Lee, Balkman and Nate Robinson off the bench who are pure energy guys. If the Knicks are going to threaten the Lakers it will be because their bench wins that battle, the Lakers reserves need to step up.

The Lakers should be able to get points in the paint tonight — Curry and Randolph are horrible post defenders. That is, the Lakers can get them if Kwame and Odom are smart and aggressive, and if Kobe and Fisher can get into the lane. On the other side, both of the Knicks bigs can score so playing good defense on them will be key.

One thing to look for — the Knicks have played a lot of zone defense lately. Kobe, Fisher, Farmar and Sasha should be able to shoot over the top of that, but Odom and Kwame need to get into the soft middle of the zone for the Laker offense to really click against it.

Bottom line, this is a game the Lakers should win and can use to snap out of their funk — if they play hard and not timid.

Where you can watch: Game time is 7:30 p.m. (Pacific) and is being shown on Fox Sports in Southern California, nationally Kwame a. and the rest of you with League Pass are happy.

Looking At Losing Streak

Kurt —  January 28, 2008

Some thoughts on the three game losing streak and life without Bynum, and about the Lakers missing some of the easy baskets they used to get.

• The last three games have been at a slower pace than the Lakers like — each of them at 91 possessions a game, 5 fewer than the Laker average. And in those games, particularly against the Cavs, the Lakers looked good in transition off Cavs misses (some pretty passes and lay-ups in the first have quickly come to mind). Without Bynum the Lakers need those easy points. And the break is triggered by good defense.

While we’re talking break, before Bynum got hurt the Lakers got a lot of points on what one of my old coach called the “secondary break” — getting points from the late trailers on the break or recognizing that the defense had to pick up different men and exploiting a mismatch. Early in the third quarter the Lakers got a couple of those but they need to do better at this more consistently. Bynum, in transition, used to trail the play down and set the high pick for Kobe (or sometimes Fisher) and when Bynum rolled to the basket hard the Lakers got a lot of great looks and fun dunks. Those are gone, Kwame and Turiaf can’t make those plays, and the Lakers miss those points.

• It’s all about the defense — on the season the Lakers have a defensive rating of 106 (points surrendered per 100 possessions) but in the last six games five teams have bested that number. (Ironically, the only team that didn’t was the Suns.) Shooting is part of that, the Lakers allow opposing teams to shoot 48% (eFG%) for the season and four of the last six games since Bynum went down a team bested that percentage (and the Cavs were just barely behind it), But also in the last three games the Lakers have created fewer turnovers (which refers back to the transition points from the point above).

• As has been obvious; the Lakers offense also has been slowed without Drew (and Radmaovic). The Lakers have fallen below their season average of 111.9 (points per 100 possessions) in five of their last six games. That includes a 104.4 against the Cavs. Again shooting is part of it but what the Lakers are missing are some of those easy put back baskets — on the season the team has grabbed 26.3% of its misses, but without Bynum’s long arms that fell to 21.4% against the Cavs, 15.2% against the Mavs.

Some other thoughts from the Cavs game.

• Games between big stars like Kobe and LeBron often come down to which guy has the better supporting cast. Yesterday, the Lakers didn’t have anyone as good as Larry Hughes. And that hurts to say.

• Phil Jackson got some heat in the comments for inserting Kwame for Luke with about 8 minutes to go and the Lakers up nine — when the Cavs started their late run. I think Phil did it to match up with Big Z, but Kwame was horrible for those seconds he was in there. However, when he came out, the Cavs scored the next two trips down because Odom chased the ball and let Larry Hughes run alone to the basket, then because Hughes pushed the pace and Turiaf was the only guy to try to pick him up, and he did it out above the free throw line and couldn’t keep up with him. Those are not on Kwame or Phil, that’s bad team defense.

• Speaking of bad team defense: :Late in the game, Lamar Odom was way late to a pick-and-roll, let alone trying to show out, that gave LeBron a lay-up. Next trip down Turiaf was slow to switch on Larry Hughes, another basket. However, the Cavs defense at the end did a good job of trying to take the ball out of Kobe’s hands. Commenter Bill Bridges said it well:

A striking difference in the ball game was how the two teams chose to defend the stars with the game on the line. The CAVS doubled Kobe high immediately to get the ball out his hands (resulting in a weak, lazy pass back to Luke with LJ running at him). Kobe checked LeBron one-on-one. As sad it is to write (as it was to watch), it was painfully easy for LeBron to look Kobe off to his left, take one dribble to his right and get a very good look at the hoop. I think LeBron would get this look against any one defender in the history of the league (that’s why no team would cover him one-on-one).

Records: Lakers 27-14 (6 seed); Cavaliers 23-19 (6 seed)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.9 (6th); Cavaliers 106.2 (17th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.0 (8th); Cavaliers 110.4 (26th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, Kwame Brown
Cavaliers: Larry Hughes, Ira Newbie, LeBron James, Drew Gooden, Zydrunas Ilgauskas

Lakers Notes: It’s raining in Southern California, but if you listen to Lakers fans you’d think the sky is falling. It’s not.

Three weeks ago people were debating if this team could beat the Spurs in a seven game series, and after two losses in a row half the fan base is willing to trade anyone and everyone just to stop the bleeding. Relax, people. This is not the time for a panic move to “salvage the season” because that is how you end up with the Knicks roster.

The Lakers are 2-3 without Bynum and those losses are to Phoenix, San Antonio and Dallas. They beat a good Denver team in that stretch (and Seattle). Sure, the Lakers looked bad on a trip through Texas, but a lot of teams look bad in Texas. The Lakers are still trying to find themselves without their second best player. Good teams find a way through this, the Lakers have and need time to figure it out. Doing so makes them better come the playoffs, better for next season.

Not that the Lakers players, fans and coaches shouldn’t expect better and more consistent play than we saw the last couple of games. I rewatched the third quarter of the Lakers game against the Mavericks yesterday afternoon. Because I’m a masochist. But the lessons from that experience have been well documented before — the Lakers start ran too much isolation offense; then when someone (Kobe, Fisher, Farmar) drive into the paint, the help defender comes off Kwame, something teams dared not do off Bynum; the help defense is slow; Odom is not being aggressive and does not fight for position on the block to get a pass; Walton his hobbling.

But none of that is reason to panic.

The Cavaliers Coming In: Since the Lakers played Cleveland last month, the Cavs have gone 11-4, looking like a team that Boston and Detroit would like to avoid in the playoffs. How have they turned it around? I asked Brian Windhorst, the Cavs beat writer for the Akron Beacon Journal (and True Hoop favorite, one of the beat writers around the league that really gets the blogging thing right).

The Cavs turned things around when they starting using a defensive lineup to start games — with big guards Larry Hughes and Sasha Pavlovic defending the perimeter — and using a small lineup to finish them. This often means Anderson Varejao at center, LeBron at power forward, versatile Devin Brown at small forward and Damon Jones and Daniel Gibson at the guards. This is a hard lineup to defend because LeBron plays point guard and attracts double teams and he can kick it to the shooters or play pick-and-roll with Varejao, who is hard to deal with. They have been a great fourth quarter team for most of the season, they play many games close and then let James make plays at the end to win it.

The Cavs will not start Pavlovic as he got injured and is out for six weeks.

James is still having an MVP-caliber season — he is shooting 51.2% (eFG%) while using 32.5% of his team’s possessions (the highest percentage in the league, and nobody else in the top five shoots over 50%). He also has the highest PER in the league right now.

And in those clutch moments Windhorst talks about? (Fourth quarter or overtime, less than 5 minutes left, neither team ahead by more than 5 points). James is shooting 53.9% (eFG%), a higher percentage than he shoots the rest of the game.

The best way to stop him from beating you at the end of games? Don’t let it be close.

Last time these two met: This was one of the few times this season the Lakers bench cost them a game. The starters (with Bynum and Walton) built up an 11-point lead that came completely unraveled with a 16-0 run from late in the third into the fourth. The Lakers got close and even took a 2-point lead back in the fourth.

But it was a close game. And James took over. And the Cavs won by four with a 6-0 run to close the game.

Keys To The Game: The Lakers have to crash the boards hard. Yes, Kwame and Lamar, I’m looking at you. The Lakers gave up 13 offensive rebounds to the Mavericks and now they go up against the third best offensive rebounding team in the league (Cleveland grabs 29.8% of their misses). The Lakers can’t give up a bunch of easy second chances.

Besides James, only other player who has provided a season of good offense for the Cavs is Ilgauskas, who is shooting 48.4% for the season. Kwame can use his strength to defend him in the post, but he’s got to step out with him because Ilgauskas can hit the 17-footer if you give him the look. Watch out for the pick-and-pop with him.

With teams like the Cavs that rely so much on one player, I’ve always been a fan of letting him have a big game but not letting the other Cavs get in the action. When LeBron drives and dishes to an open Gibson for a three, that’s when they make runs. The Lakers need to stay disciplined on defense.

On offense, Kobe should be able to get his and if the Lakers just run the offense and don’t fall into an isolation game they will be fine.

Where you can watch: Game time is 12:30 p.m. (Pacific) and no matter where you live you will be subjected to the ABC broadcast.

Records: Lakers 27-13 (6 seed); Mavs 28-13 (3 seed)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.1 (7th); Mavs 114.2 (2nd)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.6 (7th); Mavs 107.7 (15th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, Kwame Brown
Mavs: Devin Harris, Eddie Jones, Josh Howard, Dirk Nowitzki, Eric Dampier

Lakers Notes: Kobe is starting in the All Star game, not a surprise but a deserved honor none-the-less.

Luke Walton has not stepped up in the wake of Trevor Ariza going down, but more and more it is clear that his ankle injury is not letting him. Walton looks a step slow (and he was not a blazer to start with) and his shot just seems flat (although his is 5 of 10 from three in the last 10). Also, while we have cried out for more Ronny minutes with Drew down, his big toe is holding him back.

As for more reading, I suggest the great interview the Brothers K did at the LA Times blog with assistant coach Jim Clemons, who was a back-up guard on the Lakers 72 NBA championship team (with Wilt and West and a host of other greats). Not just great stories, but he ties it into how being on that team made him into a better coach today.

Or, check out this great Deadspin rant on the difference between bloggers and journalists.

The Mavs Coming In: The Mavs have been inconsistent through their first 41, but that’s what happens when you have a team with a great offense but average defense (last year the Mavs were 5th in defensive rating, this year it is 15th). Offense can leave you for a game or three. According to KD and those that have seen them more recently, the Mavs have been playing better D of late, then again they let what’s left of the Wizards shoot 52% (eFG%) and put up an easy 102 on Monday.

The Mavs are still 8-2 in their last 10 and have a very balanced attack. That Dirk guy is very good — shooting 50.5% (eFG%) for the season, 39.5% from three in his last 10 and still gets to the line 6 or 7 times a game (even shooting all those fadeaways). Devin Harris is a speed burner who can shoot inside or out (but shoots best straight on, the Lakers should try to push him to the wings). Josh Howard loves the wings but you need to defend him everywhere. Jason Terry off the bench, much like Dirk (and Kobe) can hit from any and everywhere.

Despite what many still think about the Mavs, this is not a run-and-gun team any more (they are 25th in the league in pace and average 7 fewer possessions per game than the Lakers). One thing you see very little of is the Mavs going small — Avery Johnson said he doesn’t like playing Devin Harris and Jason Terry at the same time, particularly against the Lakers, because they are at a disadvantage on defense (trying to match up with Kobe).

Jerry Stackhouse is a game-time decision after tweaking his hammy against the Bobcats two nights ago.

Keys To The Game: We’re becoming fans around here of the Lakers small-ball lineup (Farmar, Fisher, Kobe, Odom and Turiaf) but I (and 81 Witness) have concerns about using that lineup against a good shot blocker. Well, tonight I’d like to see a fair amount of that group because the Mavs do not have a guy who intimidates in the middle (Dampier gets blocks but not because of his quick rotations and tremendous leaping ability).

Look for the Mavs to go big trying to guard Kobe — Josh Howard will get the first shot but Devin George and Eddie Jones may get time off the bench. After all the times he has torched them, the Mavs may well be preoccupied with stopping Kobe — if so, and the other Lakers step up like they did against Denver the Lakers can score plenty. If it becomes the third quarter against the Spurs, the Lakers will get outscored.

The Lakers can’t get discouraged on defense — the Mavs are going to get theirs. They just need to try to make the Mavs inefficient and not have long periods of offensive futility. Like the entire third quarter, for example.

What also would help is if Eddie Jones does a few more of these.

Where you can watch: Game time is 5:30 p.m. (Pacific). In Los Angeles tune into KCAL (9). Nationally, I hear League Pass is nice.

Taking The Next Step

Kurt —  January 24, 2008

That is what good teams look like in the playoffs.

Not the Spurs of the first half, who floated semi-aimlessly around the court. Rather, the team that came out in the third quarter and cranked up the defensive pressure. They pressured the ball, and Fisher made some ill-advised passes (a couple long ones up the court trying to push the pace). They pressured Odom and Walton, and those two gave up the ball to Kobe and watched. Yes, Kobe (as is his way) was more than willing to take on this burden and started forcing shots. But this is not all on him — the Lakers as a team stopped moving, returning to the “let’s watch Kobe” offense of years past.

Rather than a long breakdown from me, the words of Tex Winter in the LA Times sum it up much better:

“The ball has to move, the players have to move,” he said. “And when they don’t, they start standing and watching Kobe. Kobe might get 50, but we still ain’t going to win, or we’ll have a tough time of it.

“It’s a team concept. It’s based on ball and player movement with a purpose. It’s predicated on that, and if we don’t have that, then we’re not a very good team.”

As the Lakers try to find an identity without injured center Andrew Bynum, Winter went right to the heart of a possible solution.

“Lamar [Odom] and Luke [Walton] really might be the key to this,” he said. “They’re going to have to hit the open shots. They’re going to have to hit a good percentage of their shots, which they’re not doing right now. They’ll get better and more open shots if we play a team concept and move the basketball and go through with our cuts.”

Odom took only five shots until the final three minutes of the game. He finished with 11 points on four-for-seven shooting. Walton was also quiet, scoring five points on two-for-three shooting.

Consider this a learning experience (Phil certainly did, not calling a time out and letting his starters try to work through it). It cost the team a game, but costing the team a game in January (in a road loss to the defending champs) is a good time to learn. When the Lakers see this again in the playoffs, maybe they will react better.

Records: Lakers 27-12 (3 seed); Spurs 26-13 (6 seed)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.1 (5th); Spurs 111.0 (8th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.4 (6th)(; Spurs 104.4 (4th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, Kwame Brown
Spurs: Tony Parker, Michael Finley, Bruce Bowen, Jeremy Richardson, Tim Duncan (they can call him a forward all they want, he plays center)

Lakers Notes: Two points taken from the comments about the win over the Nuggets.

First, not long after Bynum went down, Kwame a. suggested in the comments the Lakers should consider going small at times — Fisher and Farmar as the guards, Kobe at the three. By my count, those three were a +15 when on the court together during the Lakers run at the end of the third and start of the fourth quarters against the Nuggets. After the game, kwame a. wrote:

The best lineup we got without Ariza and Drew is: Fish. Jordan (or Sasha), Kobe, Odom, Turiaf. Jordan, Sasha and Fish will keep the court spread with their threat to shoot. Odom and Turiaf will find spots when they move without the ball. We will be able to score, it is on the defensive end (especially the paint) that will be a concern until March.

I think it certainly depends on matchups, but I too would like to see more of that lineup.

The other thing was the change in defensive energy that Turiaf brought to the game. From 81 Witness:

Last night when the Nuggets cut the lead to two (with sorry Walton and Brown dragging the team down) we inserted Farmar and Turiaf, this led to a 14-3 run against the Denver starters.

Let me add to that — to start the game Walton was matched up on Melo and quickly Denver realized that and started isolating those two. When Turiaf subbed in for Walton, the Lakers went on an 11-0 run (that extended to a 22-7 run).

The lesson there — it’s always about the defense with this team.

And the laugh of the day from Pick Axe and Roll:

I never noticed this before, but now that Sasha Vujacic has grown his hair out, and apparently stopped washing it, he looks like Luis Scola’s little brother.

About those Tacos: Carter Blanchard sums up my feelings in the comments:

Has anyone ever actually tried to eat one of those monstrosities? A while back my roommates bet me 20 bucks to eat 10 of them in one sitting. I had never had them before, and I’m not one to back down from a pointless bet, so I figured let’s do this. The first one was the most disgusting thing I’d ever eaten. I was absolutely convinced that there was mustard in it. By the time I got to 3 and a half it became very clear that there was no way I could come close to finishing the challenge. And it wasn’t at all about the quantity, strictly the quality. The lesson: You can put “free” before dog feces and some people will get excited.

Best Wishes To Nene. Get better and get back on the court.

Also, I hope that Carmelo Anthony is back soon.

The Spurs Coming In: The Spurs are in the middle of their traditional “just before the All-Star break swoon.” And by swoon we mean 5-5 in their last 10, 10-10 in their last 20. The Spurs do this every year, it has no bearing on the Spurs you will see in April and beyond.

The big three continue to do well — Duncan is averaging 20 and 13 over the last 10, but his shooting has fallen to 45.8% (down from 50.5% for the season; Ginobli is scoring 20 a game off the bench and is shooting 46.5% from three in the last 10, so stick with him at the arc; and Parker is still too quick for any of our PGs (but he is shooting just 25% from three in the last 10 games, you still want him to be a jump shooter if possible).

One other guy to watch for is Ime Udoka, who has been bringing the defensive energy for the Spurs off the bench. His minutes keep going up, and if Pop is giving you minutes you are doing something right.

Last Time These Two Met: The Lakers picked up a win last month, but that game will look nothing like this game. First, Parker and Duncan sat out for the Spurs, plus Ginobli got in foul trouble and missed much of the fourth quarter. The Lakers were sloppy but got the win anyway. They can’t pull that off tonight.

In a game early in the season the Spurs dominated the Lakers, but this is a different Lakers squad in terms of confidence now, so I’m not taking much from that one either. Plus Matt Bonner had 15 in that game — if that is the Spur that beats you, you were destined to lose that game.

Keys To The Game:One thing to watch tonight is pace — the Lakers want to push it, the Spurs want to slow the game down (the Lakers average almost 9 more possessions per game than the Spurs). If one team can control the tempo, that will be a big advantage.

What the Spurs do on offense is not really complex but very hard to stop — they get the ball inside to Duncan, or through penetration by Parker and Ginobli, then if you double or collapse on defense they kick it out to the three point line where Finley, Barry and Horry (or Bowen in the corner) are waiting to shoot. It works because stopping any of the Big Three is very hard to do one-on-one (the Lakers will really miss Ariza tonight for that reason). Still, Kwame and the rest of the Lakers need to protect the paint first and foremost — the other Spurs can beat you, but make them do it and not Duncan or Parker.

On defense, the Spurs are the best rotating team in the league, so the Lakers shooters are going to have a hand in their face tonight (particularly Fisher, I bet). They still need to hit the shots and make moves when isolated.

Where you can watch: Game time is 6 p.m. (Pacific). In Los Angeles tune into KCAL (9), nationally you get ESPN. My plan is to tune into ESPN at the start, see who the announcers are then make my decision.