Archives For January 2008

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.

Anatomy of an Assist

Kurt —  January 22, 2008

The first two times the Lakers played the Nuggets this season, Denver wanted to make sure Kobe didn’t beat them. It’s a strategy a lot of teams have used over the last few years — make those other guys around Kobe step up and win the game.

That strategy doesn’t work anymore. Even without Bynum or Radmanovic last night, the Lakers had plenty of other guys who could score if you focus too much on #24 — he showed trust in his teammates and they responded. (In past years, when Kobe made those passes the shots were too often missed, so the next time down Kobe tried to make shot over three collapsing defenders.)

Maybe it was because Bynum was out, but for a third time the Nuggets went with the “stop Kobe” option, doubling Kobe the second he touched the ball. Kobe took only seven shots (making five) but racked up 11 assists. And in the first three quarters he had seven “Gretzky assists” where he made the first pass but a second pass got the player an open look (they give those second-pass assists in hockey).

Here is an anatomy of Kobe’s assists (with mentions of the Gretzkys thrown in):

10:21 First Quarter, Denver 8-2. Gretzky Assist. (Fisher three from the corner after Kobe was doubled on the high pick and roll.)

9:09 First Quarter, Denver 12-4. Gretzky Assist. (Kwame dunk, Odom with the primary assist cutting to the basket after Kobe was doubled in the post.)

8:45 First Quarter, Denver 14-6. Gretzky Assist. (Kwame dunk, Odom with the primary assist cutting to the basket after Kobe was doubled in the post.)

7:01 First Quarter, Denver 16-12. Gretzky Assist.
(Fisher three pointer, Odom with the primary on a very nice skip pass, open because of the double on Kobe.)

6:28 First Quarter, Denver 18-14. Gretzky Assist. (Fisher three pointer, Walton the primary after Kobe was instantly doubled in the post and dribbled back out of trouble.)

3:55 First Quarter, Denver 22-21. Gretzky Assist. (Fisher three from the corner, Turiaf the primary after Kobe passed out of the double in the post. Sensing a pattern here?)

3:26 First Quarter, Lakers 24-22.
Odom takes the ball from Kwame under the Nuggets basket and brings the ball up, but no Nugget really comes out to greet him so he keeps going. Camby eventually tries to pick him up at the free throw line but Odom has a head of steam and blows by him — the only thing Camby does is force Odom to go to his weaker right side. That’s enough, Odom misses the lay-up. But Turiaf doesn’t give up on a rebound that is clearly Kenyon Martin’s (does Ronny know the words “give up?”) and knocks the ball free. Kobe picks it up six feet from the basket and, since all the Nuggets sprinted down for the fast break, it is a three on one. Kobe drives into Camby then makes a sweet behind the back pass to Odom for the one-handed jam. With the left hand. That’s one for Kobe.

2:00 First Quarter. Lakers 28-24.
Kobe is back in the low post, something the Lakers used to great success all game, especially when Carter and other smaller players were on him. With Bynum out the Lakers used Kobe as the post anchor in the triangle (much like the Bulls often used Jordan in that role), and they should go back to that when the matchups favor them like they did in this game. On this trip down however it was Kenyon Martin on Kobe, and it is Farmar who makes the entry pass to Kobe from the corner — Martin tried to front the pass but Kobe sealed him off beautifully and Farmar’s pass was perfect, leaving Martin on the wrong side and Kobe with a clear two steps to the basket. Camby came over to help, leaving Turiaf who went to the basket, Kobe wrapped a pass around Camby and Turiaf had a dunk and one. That’s two.

:10 First Quarter, Lakers 37-29. Gretzky Assist. (Farmar three from the corner, Sasha with the primary assist after he got a pass from Kobe, who was doubled out by half court as the Nuggets wanted to make sure he didn’t get the last shot of the quarter.)

11:00 Second Quarter, Lakers 41-29. The Lakers reset the offense halfway through the clock and again Kobe goes to the post against Carter, and again Farmar makes a great entry pass. Kleiza comes over to double, but does it in a stack fashion putting no pressure on the ball. So Kobe directs traffic, asking Farmar to move to the corner, then drives against the grain and trying to spin into the middle. As he rolls that way into the lane two other Nuggets collapse making it the rare quadruple team. Turiaf is alone and cuts baseline to the basket, and Kobe hits him with a pretty bounce pass. Turiaf dunks and Kobe has three.

10:10 Second Quarter, Lakers 43-31. Guess what? Kobe is trying to post up Carter. This time it is Odom with the entry pass but the Nuggets are slow to double. Doesn’t matter. Farmar comes off a Turiaf back screen, but really both defenders are looking over at Kobe, waiting to collapse on his move they are sure is to come, so they pay no attention to Jordan as he cuts to the basket backdoor. Kobe makes a pretty pass right over his man to Farmar for a reverse lay-up. And we have four.

3:15 Second Quarter, Lakers 62-50. Fisher pushes the ball after a Nuggets make and the defense never gets set. Fisher stops 22 feet out and Kleiza leaves Kobe to get him, so Fisher makes the quick pass to an open Kobe on the low block. Camby rotates quickly, but he is the only Denver player to do so — which means his man Kwame is unattended. Kwame goes to the basket, Kobe hits him with the pass and Kwame remembers to dunk. That’s five.

9:10 Third Quarter, Lakers 68-59. Now Martin is on Kobe and the bigger body is denying quality post position, Kobe is halfway out to the wing by the time he gets the ball. Kobe realizes this and faces up, then drives to his left into the center of the lane. Three Nuggets collapse and, stop me if you’ve heard this before, Kobe kicks out to an open Fisher for a three. Kobe is up to six.

3:00 Third Quarter, Nuggets 79-77.
This time it was Odom on the block getting the double, passing out of it and the Lakers quickly working the ball around the perimeter faster than the defense can rotate. Apparently Fisher is wearing an invisibility cloak because the Nuggets leave him open, Kobe throws him a quick pass and it’s another three, And another Kobe assist to make seven.

2:23 Third Quarter, Lakers 80-79. This time Kobe gets to the high post and is relatively unguarded when he gets the pass from Odom. Seeing this Fisher’s man (Yakhouba Diawara) comes to Kobe and leaves Fisher alone in the corner. By this point you think the Nuggets would rather have anybody but Fisher shooting, but apparently the lesson has not sunk in. Kobe makes the quick pass from the high post to Fisher, and it’s another three. Eight for Kobe.

1:53 Third Quarter, Lakers 83-79. Kobe gets the ball on the right baseline early in the clock and then basically gets a clear out. The Nuggets have gone to a zone, sort of a 2-1-2 match-up, so with the clear out the Lakers overload the weak side but three Nuggets stay with the ball because Kobe has it. Kobe makes the quick skip-pass to Farmar on the opposite wing for the three, which falls. That’s nine.

About 1 minute left in the third, when TNT decided that the score and time box they had up all game needed a breather or something, Lakers 86-79. Kobe gets the rebound and brings the ball up himself, then gets a drag screen (a high screen early in the clock) from Turiaf, and the Nuggets switch which leaves Camby on Kobe. That’s a mismatch out high. So Kobe drives right and goes past Camby easily, Martin and Carter collapse. Unfortunately, Carter had to leave Fisher alone in the corner to collapse. Tell me if you’ve heard this before — Fisher gets the kick-out pass and buries the three. Kobe reaches double digits.

:40 Third Quarter, Lakers 89-81. Kobe gets the ball out high and has Martin with him on out at the three-point line — Martin great in the post, not so much out on the perimeter. Kobe blows past him on the right side and here comes the collapsing Nuggets defenders — I think Dan Issel came out of retirement to collapse on Kobe in the paint. This time it is Turiaf following the play who benefits from the pretty Kobe behind the back pass for a lay-up. And you have Kobe’s 11.

The pattern is pretty obvious – and not just that you shouldn’t leave Fisher alone for the corner three (although that’s a good one, too). The Nuggets were so preoccupied with Kobe that the other Lakers were getting good looks and knocking down the shots. This season Kobe really trusts his teammates (particularly Fisher and Bynum) and the result is a team that is much tougher to defend.

Records: Lakers 26-12 (5th seed); Nuggets 24-15 (4th seed)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.8 (6th); Nuggets 109.4 (14th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.4 (7th); Nuggets 105.3 (6th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, Kwame Brown
Nuggets: Allan Iverson, Anthony Carter, Linas Kleiza, Carmelo Anthony, Marcus Camby

Yes, the records and seedings are right: If the playoffs started today, the Lakers and Nuggets would meet in the first round. The Nuggets would have the higher seed — as the leaders of their division they can be no lower than fourth — however the Lakers, with their better record, would have home court advantage.

Lakers Notes: As some backup at center, the Lakers signed 7-0 big body DJ Mbenga to a 10-day contract today. This is a solid 10-day pickup, a guy who can provide some defense and depth — he averaged 2.5 blocks per 40 minutes his last year in Dallas and is a decent help defender. He is not a great rebounder for his height but he will get some boards. He will give us no offense. But rather than taking a big risk, the Lakers are playing it smart and seeing if DJ can provide a patch for a week or two until Mihm gets back.

Now, on to the injury report. I’m not a doctor, but I play one on this blog.

Trevor Ariza broke his fourth metatarsal bone in his foot. The metatarsals are the five long bones in the forefoot which connect the ankle bones to those of the toes. The fourth one is the for the toe next to the little toe. Healing depends on the severity of the break, but recovery lasts four to eight weeks. So, expect Bynum and Ariza to be back about the same time.

Chris Mihm is also a couple weeks away. Bynum is out. It would be nice if Radmanovic can play as he torched the Nuggets last meeting. And I just got carpal tunnel typing up the Lakers injuries.

The Nuggets Coming In: Denver’s isolation basketball that relies on Iverson and Melo continues to work pretty well — they are 6-4 in their last 10. Melo has four double-doubles this month (the stat, not the In-N-Out burger) and Iverson consistently leads the team in scoring. Linas Kleiza has had some hot games of late (he had 41 a couple games ago) being the open spot up guy with two other slashers who draw the attention. Read more about him from David Thorpe in an interview at True Hoop.

It is really Marcus Camby that makes the Nuggets work, however. Without his great backstopping defense in the paint the Nuggets would try to get in a shootout every night, but Camby can take away the paint (Bynum had just two points against him last meeting) and that forces other teams into more jump shots than they would like. The result is one of the better records in the West.

Last Time These Two Met: Back on Dec. 5 Alan Iverson put up 51, Melo had 26 and the Lakers still won, thanks to 15-5 run to end the game. While the Nuggets are a good defensive team the Lakers shot 53.6% (eFG%) for the game. Vladamir Radmanovic was a key part of that, hitting 6 of 9 three pointers on his way to 21 points on a sharp-shooting night for him.

In the first meeting of the year, the Lakers sported the Nuggets a 17-point lead by turning the ball over every chance they got. But when they took care of the ball they took care of the game and won.

Keys To The Game: If you were going to be without your high-scoring center for a game, this is not a bad one — he wasn’t going to score a ton against Marcus Camby, one of the best defensive centers in the game. (Last meeting Bynum had just two points against Camby.)

In part tonight depends on what Nuggets team shows up — when focused on defense and moving the ball on offense they are one of the best teams in the NBA. But that team only shows up sporadically, sometimes for just a quarter or less. No way of predicting this squad.

One thing the Nuggets are starting to get is play from their bench. In the first two Lakers win against the Nuggets the bench was key — it was Farmar and Bynum off the pine that started to turn the first meeting around, last game it was some key players off the bench that ensured the Lakers win (although the starters did a lot of damage). The depleted Lakers bench needs to find a way to step up tonight because J.R. Smith and others have started to step up more for the Nuggets lately.

This needs to be a big night for Kwame and Turiaf — the Nuggets are a team that likes to drive the lane, and in the process get a lot of fouls. Iverson and Melo can get by anyone outside (best to make them shoot from there if possible) but the Lakers need to block and alter some shots without fouling.

Where you can watch: Game time is 7:30 p.m. (Pacific). We get a choice here in LA between the Fox Sports broadcast and the national TNT version. But, if you live in Boise, you’re stuck with Chuck (and a lot of “fav five” commercials).