Archives For January 2008

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Gatinho —  January 14, 2008

Pretty scary, it felt like my knee twisted all the way around…I didn’t hear any pops…I’m fine, I can put weight on it…not as bad as I thought…they put ice on it, and it felt better right away.”

Seattle: PG Earl Watson, Sg Kevin Durant, SF Jeff Green, PF Nick Collison (game time decision), C Kurt Thomas
Offense: 96.2
Defense: 103.6

Ridnour and Wilcox have been out and both return tonight.

Lakers: G Derek Fisher, G Kobe Bryant, SF Luke Walton, PF Lamar Odom, C Kwame Brown
Offense: 107.4
Defense: 100.8

Last time they met: …Rookie Kevin Durant had 25 points for Seattle, 12 of them in the final 6:05. But it wasn’t enough to overcome a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit… After this ragged game, Phil Jackson commented on the “unbridled and still undisciplined” aspects of this still developing team.

The Popcorn Machine: if you are not familiar with this site, give it a look. Game flows offer a unique comprehensive view of the ebb and flow of games, along with +/- and Help Value hv=Reb+Ast+Blk+Stl-TO. See the last time the Sonics and Lakers played here.

About last night…

With everyone’s mind on the health of Andrew Bynum, the Lakers lost their defensive focus and allowed a 13-0 4th quarter run. Gutting out an ugly win (with the help of a favorable no call) shows that this team is fighting to be included in discussions about upper echelon clubs. This was a game that they would (and did) lose last year. After letting the Grizzlies score 29 1st quarter points, look for the defense to be sharper tonight.

Missing Bynum: Assuming Bynum doesn’t play. With Kwame starting and Turiaf coming off the bench (or vice versa depending on the whims of one Phil Jackson). Jackson will get his wish of having Brown start, get more minutes, and hopefully get him in a groove.

“Right now, we’re trying to get Kwame going, get him back in basketball shape,” Jackson said. “If he can’t do it, Ronny (Turiaf) is going to have to take his spot. If coming off the bench is that difficult for him, we’ll have to move on without him.”

In a perfect world, Jackson would rather start Brown and keep Bynum as a productive backup. Bynum’s standout play while Brown was injured earlier this season had made Jackson’s plan impossible to carry out, however.

Bynum had won the starter’s spot until he was injured Sunday.

“Andrew seems to be sustaining his conditioning and his energy pretty well right now,” Jackson said. “He’s able to play 35 minutes now. His productivity, you just can’t turn away from it as a coach. He’s just too productive to not have him on the floor.”

Update per ESPN: Bynum out 8 weeks. Hat tip to 33.

-Gatinho

Vacation (All I’ve Ever Wanted)

Kurt —  January 12, 2008

As is a bit of a January tradition around here, I’m off on a one-week vacation to my in-laws in Vegas (Summerlin, to be specific). Since there are so many new readers here this year, let me repeat my annual warning — don’t marry a girl with family in Vegas. You don’t get to do many “Vegas” things, instead you see family and watch television in a different house. It turns the city of legendary debauchery into Fresno.

That said, I plan on getting out a little and doing my part to make sure Steve Wynn’s children don’t go hungry.

For the next week there will be posting from a few of the long-time regulars here, keeping the conversation going and updating more Lakers wins (fingers crossed). Posting may be a little light but there should be interesting stuff, and keep the comments coming. I’m not going to be totally unconnected, so I’ll be checking in too.

(By the way, there were a couple of emails that I never got to respond due to a busy week at work, trying to pack and my general slothiness [sure, that’s a word]. Yes, please send me those insights and if you have a question I didn’t respond to send me another email and I’ll at least get back to you with something. Sorry for the delays.)

See you in a week or so. And — come on seven!

Records: Lakers 23-11; Bucks 15-20
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.2 (5th); Bucks 104.6 (20th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.1 (7th); Bucks 110.8 (27th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum
Bucks: Mo Williams, Michael Redd, Bobby Simmons, Yi Jianlian, Andrew Bogut

Lakers Notes: Can you really get enough Andrew Bynum love?

David Thorpe, ESPN.com’s best analyst (for my money) breaks down Bynum is a (for now) free post on the Web site. Here are a few highlights, but you really need to read the entire thing.

The Lakers play at the fifth fastest pace in the NBA and Bynum is a beneficiary of their style and speed. He rarely races down the floor, choosing instead to run methodically rim-to-rim (even in transition) and looking to make contact with his defender inside. He occasionally sets a drag screen for the guard but even then he heads right to the paint afterward hoping for the quick lob.

Credit Phil Jackson and the Lakers for recognizing that Bynum is most effective when the defense is still getting set, while part of that number also comes from offensive rebounds. Still, as defenses retreat worrying about Kobe, it’s often Bynum who hurts them.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar deserves much praise for Bynum’s development. Most impressively, Bynum has learned how to use his size, speed and length in a far more productive way. Just as Shaq excelled because he had both the body and the mind-set to use his body, so it is with Bynum. He has a different body, but a similar mind-set.

On the glass, he’s active and his strong hands enable him to pull down 50/50 balls with regularity. He also seems to be more engaged in the whole process — rebounds start with “want to” and Bynum has that now.

If Bynum makes just marginal strides in his next two years, he could grow into a dominant player. And if, by 21, he makes the same phenomenal jump he’s made this season, we could be talking about one of the top two true centers in the league next year.

The Bucks Coming In: The Bucks are the proving the Ewing Theory of late — they have a three game winning streak, all while Michael Redd is sitting. Redd is expected to play tonight, according to the latest reports, but those can be about as accurate as the local weatherman.

Mo Williams has been playing great ball for the Bucks in the last 10 games, averaging 21.8 points and 7.4 assists per game in that stretch. He also is hot shooting — 42.9% from three in the last 10 so you have to stay with him out high.

Of course, there is Redd, who dropped 26 on the Lakers back in November. He is one of the games better pure shooters (even if his eFG% is below 50% this season). Also, the Bucks run a balanced attack with five guys averaging double figures in points.

What is hurting the Bucks is defense — they are 27th in the league in defensive efficiency, and only one other team allows other teams to shoot a higher percentage against them (the Knicks). The Bucks have been struggling to defend the point and in the paint (last meeting with the Lakers Fisher had 14 points on 71% shooting and Bynum had 16-13).

Last Time These Two Met: The fourth quarter was one of the worst 12 minutes of basketball the Lakers have played all year, as they got outscored by 12, gave up the lead and lost. The Lakers played one of their worst defensive games overall, allowing the Bucks as a team to shoot 54.3% (eFG%), which is 6% higher than their season average.

That was back in November, the Lakers have played much better of late.

Keys To The Game: The Lakers have to stop the high screen and roll. Last time these two met the Bucks ran that play a lot, particularly in the fourth quarter, and the Lakers had no answer. Not only did Williams and Redd (with the ball) get a lot of good shots, but the Lakers help defenders were collapsing and that left Bucks shooters open at the three point line. The Lakers defended that same problem much better against the Hornets a couple nights ago, they will need that same level of defensive performance.

The Lakers should be able to get their points, particularly if they get thhe ball on the block to Bynum and Odom and play inside-out. According to the Lakers.com scouting report, expect to see some zone defense. As always, attack a zone in its weak center and that opens up shots over the top of it.

Also, the Bucks bench has been a key to their recent run, the Lakers need to win the battle of the bench tonight and not rely too much on their starters.

Where you can watch: Game time is 7:30 p.m. (Pacific). In Los Angeles tune into Fox Sports, or you can watch the ESPN broadcast as we are going national, baby.

Enjoy The Ride

Kurt —  January 10, 2008

There are just too few times as a sports fan when you can feel like you are seeing something special come together before your eyes. When the present looks good and the future even better. When young players are developing like you hoped and the veterans are both leading them and energized by them.

We Lakers fans can be a spoiled bunch at times. We can look at this current roster and only think, “they aren’t going to win a championship this season with this group, what do we have to do to get a title?” We start to obsess over trades or envy players other teams have.

But while the title is the goal, the journey is the fun part. This team (as constructed) will not win a title this season, and that’s okay. You can see a team that can challenge for one in the near future, and the rush to make it one right now is more likely to lead to mistakes and failure than success.

Be patient. And enjoy what we get to see nightly:

• A team playing an up-tempo, exciting style. The Lakers are often pushing the ball up, Bynum and the other bigs are looking for drags (running the high screen and roll early in the possession before the defense can set or get the matchups it wants) and there is an element of unpredictability in the offense that was lacking for years.

• A young center who is growing in confidence every game. Did you see what he did to Tyson Chandler (one of the game’s best defensive centers) in the second quarter? He backed him down on the block, pushing him to the right like Bynum wanted to spin into the middle, then when Chandler started to overplay that side Bynum swung back for a little left handed jump hook that went in cleanly. Forget last year, Bynum would not have had the confidence to make that move at the start of the season. Early on this season he was being ignored, and that was leading to a lot of dunks and lobs and easy baskets for him, which started to build that confidence. Now teams are adjusting, they are taking away some of those simple buckets, but Bynum now has the confidence in his game to show off more of his repertoire. And do things like back down Tyson Chandler.

• A veteran point guard who makes smart choices. This was a sight for sore eyes after the last couple years.

• Two young point guards who are growing and learning behind that veteran, and are bringing incredible energy off the bench.

• A deep bench that puts pressure on other team’s second units with defense and sharp shooting,

• Ball movement in the half-court offense. The extra pass to the open man is a pretty thing.

• And still the best player in the game. Every game he still does something that we can take for granted because we see it so often, but should make your jaw drop. Last night in the second quarter (I think) Kobe had the ball at the three-point line straight away with the clock running down and Mo Pete right up on him. Kobe made a jab step that Pete didn’t really bite on and Kobe went up with the three anyway, with Pete in his face. Nothing but net. You could hear the Hornet crowd deflate. I get emails from other bloggers after Lakers games against their team and universally they glow about Kobe, just marveling at what he can do.

We need to step back a little and marvel at it to. And just enjoy this ride.

Records: Lakers 22-11; Hornets 23-11
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.8 (6th); Hornets 109.4 (11th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.5 (7th); Hornets 104.1 (4th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum
Hornets: Chris Paul, Mo Peterson, Peja Stojakovic, David West, Tyson Chandler

Lakers Notes: Last night was a reminder of just what a big improvement the Lakers have a point guard this year. Mike Conley is a good young guard — he was still able to get to the rack with Fisher playing five feet off him, Conley just couldn’t finish consistently — but Fisher was the savvy veteran who took him to school.

And, this was another “quiet” night from Odom where he still had 10 points and 15 boards. To me, the key is, with the emergence of Bynum and steady play out top from Fisher, the ups and downs of Odom’s game don’t impact the team as much any more.

On a different topic, Lakers.com did a big two-part interview with Mitch Kupchak, and I thought a couple comments he made deserved note:

On the bench’s struggles of late: The NBA season is ebbs & flows and NBA teams will take note of a bench that is effective and make adjustments as the season goes on. Just like a player that starts out great going to his right, the second time around they’re going to take away his right and make him go to his left. Our bench is going to have to make adjustments because they’ve made some notoriety for themselves and there will be more pressure for them to perform. Now it’s up to them to make an adjustment and continue to provide us with a boost off the bench.

On the team getting more lay-ups and fewer jumpers from their guards:
I know our coach has made a point of having a so-called secondary break, which means that if there’s not an official fast-break, we do have a secondary break where he allows the players to freelance before getting into the triangle. A lot of times a player will react to the freedom of getting out and running, cutting, and being more innovative which might lead to more lay-ups.

Typically out of a set offense with the clock running down you’re probably going to end up with jump shots. A higher percentage shot would normally come in a break of secondary break situation and that is something that our coach’s worked on this year versus last year.

On Coby and Javaris: Coby’s been sent down to the D-League, incidentally that’s something that we might do with Javaris—we’ll evaluate that as the season progresses, perhaps by the end of January we’ll have a better feel.

The Hornets Coming In: They are one of the hottest teams in the NBA, and are linked in headlines nationwide with the Lakers as the “surprise” teams of the NBA this season. So what is going on in The Big Easy? We asked the guys from At The Hive:

Chris Paul has improved his shooting this season, both inside and outside the arc. The stats say he’s shooting 10% more jumpers and hitting a higher percentage of them (up to 48.5% this season). What is he doing with his game to create shots for himself?

While the numbers do indicate that he’s taking a significantly higher portion of his shots on jumpers, I really don’t think he’s been “looking” for his own shot. The reason I say that is his “assisted on” numbers for jump shots have stayed virtually constant (20% last year, 19% this year). To me, those numbers indicate he’s taking a lot more shots in the rhythm of the offense. To answer your question, Peja and Mo-Pete have done a lot to create jump shots for Paul simply by standing out on the wings.

I’d say the main reason his eFG% is up is because he’s wide open so often. Teams are saying “go ahead and knock down that 20 footer; we’re guarding the drive.”

The biggest change this year is how much improved the Hornets defense is compared to the last couple years. What is different?

I can talk all I want about how CP’s so awesome at driving, West hits jumpers, this, that. But I’d be kidding myself if I said defense isn’t the reason this team has played so well. For starters, Mo-Pete has made a very underrated contribution as a one-on-one defender since coming over from Toronto. As much as people may make fun of Peja’s defense (myself included), there’s an undeniable level of difficulty added to a shot when you’re firing over a 6’10” SF. Of course, he wouldn’t even be able to guard the a driving Manute Bol, but David West and Tyson Chandler are very physical help defenders. Quieting LeBron was a real test for this team, but they were up to the task. Of course, there will be two huge challenges this week in Kobe and D-Wade.

Last year it seemed like Chris Paul against the world, although David West was always solid. This year Peja and Tyson Chandler are healthy and contributing points. How has that changed the team on offense?

This one can be answered sort of anecdotally. The impact those guys have had can be illustrated by a single play the Hornets seem to obsessed with: the high screen and roll. In fact, I’m willing to bet the Hornets go to the high screen at least 5-6 times versus the Lakers; it’s basically become the go-to play. The unique thing about this play is that any of the five guys on the court can score. Normally, it’s set on the left wing, and Chris Paul will drive hard to his right (toward the hoop). If the center helps the point guard with Paul, he’ll throw the alley-oop. If the SF or SG come to help, Peja or Mo-Pete can get off a three. David West is usually the last option on this play. Last year, when they ran the high screen and roll, the SF and SG could cheat off their men to guard the CP drive. And of course, if nobody comes to help, Paul has a lay-up.

So Much Good Reading: Lots of good things I just wanted to link to today.

First off, Kelly Dwyer over at Yahoo asks why it’s only the bloggers that seem to talk about defense? And sure, I linked to a story that quotes me, but KD’s work there has fast made this one of my favorite stops on the NBA Web. You need to read his stuff.

The always-insightful Bethlehem Shoals posts about the NBA’s up-and-comers (including the Lakers) over at Deadspin. And another of my favorites, Harlan at Hoops Analyst, also has a good look at the NBA surprises (although he thinks the Lakers defensive turnaround has less to do with everything than I do). Hoops Analyst was one of the first NBA blogs I read, and I still read everything there.

Last Time These Two Met: It was just the fourth game of the season and it was a real stinker for the Lakers, who lost 118-104. The Lakers were all geared to stop Paul (who, as Henry at True Hoop noted yesterday, may be the fastest player from high pick to lay-up in the league), so the Lakers collapsed on him when he got in the lane. Paul kicked out to a wide open Peja Stojakovic, who hit 10 of 13 threes on the night and finished with 36. David West chipped in 22.

Keys To The Game:My thoughts watching that first game was that the Lakers needed to take the “Steve Nash” approach — make Chris Paul the shooter. Yes, he can shoot, yes, he will have a big night. But, while Paul is shooting 51.2% (eFG%) on the season that is a lower percentage than a Tyson Chandler dunk or letting Peja have open shots from three again.

The Hornets are a slower version of the Suns (NO is averaging 8 fewer possessions a game than the Lakers) — the offense is predicated on letting a great point guard create. That happens in transition screen and rolls (Chandler gets his points on that roll). David West and Peja spot up around this and hit the kick out shots. Also, Paul gets a lot of steals that leads to easy buckets the other way, Fisher and Farmar need to take care of the ball.

This is going to be a key game for Bynum and Kwame, they have to stop Paul’s penetration (no PG in the league is fast enough to do that alone) and the bigs need to do it because you can’t leave the shooters on the wings.

Also, the one big weakness for the Hornets is the bench — the Lakers bench needs to shine tonight if LA is going to get the win.

Tonight’s Game: Where Jambalaya Happens: Second game of a back-to-back on the road against a quality team that matches up well with you (quick PGs give the Lakers fits) is never a good situation. The good news is that all the Lakers starters, save Kobe, rested the fourth quarter last night.

I look for a close game this time around, the question is how much the Lakers have in the tank at the end.

Where you can watch: Game time is 5 p.m. (Pacific). In Los Angeles tune into KCAL (9).