Archives For January 2008

Records: Lakers 21-11; Grizzlies 10-23
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.8 (6th); Grizzlies 107.2 (15th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.0 (8th); Grizzlies 111.6 (27th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum
Grizzlies: Mike Conley, Mike Miller, Rudy Gay, Pau Gasol, Darko Milicic

The Grizzlies Coming In: I look at a Memphis roster with Pau Gasol, Rudy Gay, future Olympian Mike Miller and the emerging Mike Conley and think, “How can they be this bad?” This is not a roster that would contend, but one of the worst records in the NBA?

We’ve got a few questions and they were answered by Chip from the great new blog 3 Shades of Blue (which also has a very good game preview up).

New coach, new GM, what kind of changes has that brought on the court?

The new coach has brought in a new philosophy both offensively and defensively that has caused some adjustment problems this season. That has been compounded by a series of injuries to Darko Milicic and Pau Gasol who were supposed to anchor the heart of the defense especially. The inability to put a consistent starting lineup on the court week to week dramatically slowed the maturation process of the team both defensively and offensively. However, over the last two weeks the team has established the lineup they wanted to begin the season with and are starting to see better results because of that. A blowout win in Indiana, a tough 4 pt loss at Boston and a win at home against Miami has got the team off to a good start to begin the New Year. Chris Wallace’s impact has been felt but is somewhat muted compared to the impact he should make over the next 12 months. Chris pulled off a great deal to acquire Juan Carlos Navarro who is both another deadly outside shooter and best friend of occasional malcontent Pau Gasol killing two birds with one trade so to speak. His signing of Darko Milicic may be a bit expensive for what we have received so far but other teams were willing to swoop in if we didn’t get him signed so I think Wallace did a good job there. The injured thumb on Darko’s left hand has retarded his development but there aren’t a lot of talented 22 yr old centers with 4 yrs experience available. The three year contract doesn’t commit the Grizz to an eternity waiting for him to develop either. Mike Conley is looking like an excellent pick as well.

There’s some good young talent in guys like Rudy Gay and Mike Conley, how does Pau Gasol fit in with that? What are the fan feelings about Pau now?

How Pau is fitting in with the new system and players and how the fans feel about Pau are two radically different questions. The city of Memphis dislikes Pau’s style of play and his apparent lack of physicality. It has gotten so bad that the fans loudly booed Gasol for a bad performance one game after he put up 31 pts and 13 rebounds against Philly. That isn’t exactly a supportive home town atmosphere for the man who has been the only bright spot on the team for the last few years. The problem with Pau’s adjustment to the new relates back to your earlier question. Pau suffered a sprained ankle in training camp, a back strain at the beginning of the season and a jammed big toe. These injuries were spread out over the first two months and combined with Darko’s sprained thumb and sprained ankle have limited the opportunity to the two bigs have had to adjust to each other. That has been getting better lately and the Memphis Trio of Gay, Gasol and Miller are really getting in groove lately. When all three are comfortable and healthy in the system they make a difficult group to stop and throw in lightning quick Mike Conley at the point and Darko to be the physical presence and there is a lot to be optimistic about next season.

This is another season where the Memphis defense is holding the team back. Is this a matter of effort or personnel?

The simple answer is yes. No one will ever confuse Gasol or Miller as defensive stoppers. However the main problem has been at the point not the interior. When Damon played the opposing point guards easily beat him off the dribble to penetrate into the box. From there it was relatively easy to simply continue to the hole or dish to an open teammate when one of the bigs moved to cover. Iavaroni has been working hard to correct this and the insertion of Mike Conley into the lineup has severely reduced this problem. In the games since Conley took over as point guard the scoring has been 72, 100 and 94. No one will confuse the Grizzlies with San Antonio, Detroit or Houston but we aren’t the Warriors right now either. The team’s health issues created a lot of the defensive problems as did the new system but again those things seem to be working more in the Grizzlies favor of late.

What is going to be interesting is to see how things change once teams adapt to Conley. Right now Mike is benefiting from a lack of scouting on his game but that will change soon and how he adapts to different defensive and offensive schemes will go a long way to determine how effective the Grizzlies will be the remainder of the year.

Lakers notes: Sometimes I have long, thoughtful posts planned that just get chopped off at the knees before I get them up on the site. For example, this thing I had been working on about how I am growing to really like the Lakers rotation at the three — Luke Walton and Trevor Ariza have very complimentary games. Need the Triangle to flow, some play in the post and a guy who can stretch the opposing defense, go with Luke. Need better defense and an athletic guy who can run the floor and get to the hole, go with Trevor. The Lakers can play to any match up.

Then today Mike Bresnahan’s Lakers Report in the LA Times talks about how the three is overlooked and Phil is going to use Luke or Trevor more based on matchups. So just read what he wrote.

Stat To Watch Tonight While Thinking About When Blu-Ray Machine Prices Will Come Down: When Mike Miller scores 17 or more points, the Grizzlies are 10-8, when he scores less than 17 they are 0-15. (Via True Hoop.)

Keys To The Game: Since becoming a starter Conley has averaged 9.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 2 steals a game. It’s a key reason that the Grizzlies the Lakers face are better than their record. He seems to be getting the ball to Miller and Gasol in better positions for them, opening up their game. And if you go way back in the TrueHoop archives, you’ll find I liked Rudy Gay from the first time I saw him.

The Lakers should be able to score plenty tonight — the Griz do not defend any position particularly well, but are really weak inside. Bynum should be able to get his position and shot against Darko, and I’d use him in the high pick-and-roll with Kobe to force Darko to recover quickly or force a switch favorable to our emerging big. Also, Odom should be able to exploit Gasol on defense. I’m also curious how Memphis will choose to defend Kobe, with Gay or Miller. Either way, whoever has Miller on him (Kobe or Walton) should be able to get some points.

The key for the Lakers will be defense (as it is every night, really). Memphis is a roster with a lot of firepower so the Lakers need to not let it get rolling. I’d like to see a lot of pressure on Conley (using Fisher but also Farmar and maybe some Crittenton) to test the youngster. He’s going to be good but he’s still a rookie, so pressure the ball. In addition, the Lakers need to make sure Gasol, Miller and Gay do not get comfortable.

Also, the Lakers can’t turn the ball over — Memphis is 1-10 this season against the teams with the lowest turnover percentages. Take care of the ball and you take away some easy baskets for a team that needs them.

Tonight’s Game: Where A Road Win Happens: This is the first game of a back-to-back, with the second game being the very hot Hornets. The Lakers want at least a split here and it will be much easier to get on the front end than the back end. But, if the Lakers look past a Memphis team that feels some momentum and they will be in for a tough night. The Lakers need to play good defense, and the win will come.

Where you can watch: Game time is 5 p.m. (Pacific). In Los Angeles tune into KCAL (9), and thankfully no delay here. Keep the comments coming as I’ll be “watching” this one through ESPN Gamecast from work.

The Starters Are Good, Too

Kurt —  January 7, 2008

After a season of touting the Lakers bench and depth, Sunday was a night the Lakers starters reminded us they can play, too. All five Lakers starters shot at least 53% true shooting percentage (which includes threes and free throws). All five Lakers starters were +22 or higher for the night, every bench player was in the negative. It was the starters who had the team up by 20 in the third, it was the bench that gave it back, and it was the 16-0 run in the fourth the Lakers had when the starters were forced to come back on the court that sealed the game.

Let’s look at that last 16-0 run to break down what the starters were doing right. When they were on the floor the Lakers offense was moving the ball well, pushing the tempo to create favorable matchups and Kobe used the attention he attracted after a couple threes to set up Fisher for good looks. The Lakers also played solid defense (plus caught a couple breaks).

We pick up the action as the Pacers had just cut the lead to 7 with a wide-open Dunleavy three (you can’t give him those) so Phil called a time out and put all five starters back in.

6:16 left, Lakers 92-85. The Lakers have a possession where the two-man weak-side game (with Odom handing the ball off to Fisher driving the lane) gave Fisher the chance for a little floater layup over a charging O’Neal, but he missed it. The Lakers then catch a break — Travis Diener blows by Fisher easily on a high pick and gets deep into the paint where approximately eight Lakers collapsed on him (three guys came off the bench just to try to block the shot). Diener kicked out to Dunleavy for a wide-open three. But this time he misses.

The Lakers push the ball back fast, not allowing the defense to get set, and in the rush Troy Murphy has to pick up Kobe. Fish recognizes this and gives Kobe the ball plus sets a little screen, which Kobe uses to drive to about the free-throw line then hits a little fade-away that Murphy can’t touch. Shooter’s roll.

5:32, Lakers 94-85. Murphy has the ball out at the top of the three-point line, Dunleavy comes out to get it, steps behind Murphy as a screen and takes a shot from three-feet behind the arc. It comes up short. He’s hot but that’s still not a good choice.

Kobe has the ball out top (at the same place Murphy did on the other end), Bynum comes out and sets a pick, Marquis Daniels is slow getting over the top of it and O’Neal (who had Bynum) never came out past the free throw line giving Kobe an open 21-footer, Which he nails. It was bad pick-and-roll defense at a key part of the game. Maybe giving Kobe open looks is not a good defensive strategy.

5:10, Lakers 96-85. The Pacers run their offense and work it around to O’Neal on the left block against Bynum. He backs Bynum down then makes a quick spin move into the center of the lane that Walton is late reacting to, but rather than shoot O’Neal kicks it out to a wide-open Diener for a corner three, but the Pacers have gone cold. Which frankly was a key part of the win — the Pacers had some good looks late and just missed them.

On the other end Kobe gets the ball on the wing and is thinking heat check all the way — the Pacers go with an interesting defense of Daniels alone on Kobe on the wing but two guys are stacked up behind Daniels, in case Kobe gets by him. Kobe shoots over the top of the stack but is short and now the Pacers are off and running. Diener tries a lob in transition to Dunleavy, who it turns out is not as athletic as Iguodala, so it’s a turnover.

Kobe pushes the ball up himself and starts to drive the lane drawing four Pacers defenders to him — then the kick out pass to an open Fisher in the corner. Joel Meyers is doing a poor man’s Marv Albert — “Yes!”

4:18, Lakers 99-85. The Lakers smell the blood is in the water now, so they step up the defensive pressure. Bynum does a great job stepping out on the pick-and-roll to deny Daniels any lane, the result is a pass to Diener for a contested 17-footer that falls short.

Odom got the rebound, pushes the ball himself and tries to go coast-to-coast but is fouled in the act. He sinks both.

4:00, Lakers 101-85. Pacers coach Jim O’Brien pays homage to Phil Jackson by not calling a time out when the Lakers are on a 7-0 run.

Instead they again get the ball into O’Neal, who kicks out to Diener at the three, quick pass to Granger for a three where Walton was running at him. Granger missed, and Walton just kept running and Fisher gets the outlet and hits Walton with a pass from half court. Walton is fouled in the act, and hits one of two.

3:43, Lakers 102- 85. Granger gets the high screen from O’Neal and drives the lane, but Bynum has stayed back and forces Granger to stop, then make a pass to Dunleavy who is cutting baseline. But this is where Bynum’s length comes in — he was able to recover off Granger and block Dunleavy’s shot. The Lakers grabbed the ball and raced up court, but Odom lost control and traveled.

And that brings us to the SportsCenter highlight. Kobe has the ball out at the three-point line on the wing, Bynum comes out and sets the pick and Kobe goes left to the top of he key while Bynum rolls to the basket. The defensive rotations the Pacers have means Diener leaves Fisher to try to pick up Bynum in the block. Kobe sees Fisher’s man leaves him so Kobe goes wit the behind-the-back bounce pass to a wide-open Fisher for a three.

O’Brien thinks this is a good time for a timeout.

2:53, Lakers 105-85. Ike Diago forgets to dribble while posting up on Odom, and it’s a traveling turnover.

Kobe gets the ball on the right wing and without a pick drives to the free-throw line and sees Fisher cutting to that left corner for the three, and hits him with a tight pass and Fisher goes up for the pretty rainbow three.

And that’s about all that mattered.

Records: Lakers 20-11; Pacers 16-18
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.8 (6th); Pacers 106.1 (16th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.0 (9th); Pacers 106.8 (13th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum
Pacers: Andre Owens, Mike Dunleavy, Danny Granger, Jermaine O’Neal, Troy Murphy

Lakers Notes: Kobe Bryant is playing 36.5 minutes per game this season, down from 40.8 last year. Fisher and his veteran legs are playing 26.5 per game. Lamar Odom is playing three fewer minutes a game. All that is to say that the Lakers bench and blowout wins are combining to keep the minutes down for guys who will have to play big minutes in the playoffs. You can wear a team out right now by overplaying them, but Phil Jackson hasn’t had to do that.

I often look at the other team’s last 10 games stats (via Doug’s stats) to see how a team is doing coming into the Lakers match up. What about the Lakers in the last 10? They have been getting great contributions from Kobe (despite his poor shooting of late), Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom and Derek Fisher. With Bynum and Odom averaging 10 rebounds each per game, the Lakers have been beasts on the boards. And, as a team the Lakers are shooting 51.9% (eFG%) and 34.1% from three in that stretch while holding opponents to 46.9% and 32.5%.

And the Lakers are 7-3 in their last 10, which is still just tied with Phoenix for fourth best in the west in that stretch.

The Pacers Coming In: The Pacers had lost five in a row before Friday’s thumping of Atlanta. The win led to an interesting comment at the Indy Cornrows blog:

The Pacers often feast off brief individual player surges in wins. Sure, 48 minutes of consistent play would be ideal, but this team doesn’t have that in them. As long as 3 or 4 guys can offer strong contributions at some point in the game, the result is usually a W.

The individual who has been hot lately (and, really, all season) is Mike Dunleavy, who is shooting 60.7% (eFG%) in his last 10 games, scoring a team high 19.1 points per game in that stretch. The Lakers need to stick with him at the three-point line, where he is shooting 46.3% in his last 10.

The Pacers also have been getting good play from Jermaine O’Neal, who is averaging 16 and 8 (but shooting just 42.9%) in the last 10. Danny Granger and Troy Murphy have been solid contributors. However, former fan favorite Ike Diagu has struggled since coming back from injury, he is just 9 of 34 from the floor since his return.

Jamal Tinsley is day to day and has missed the team’s last four.

Last Time These Two Met: It was the day of the Ariza trade, so the Lakers team the Pacers will see will be a little different.

The Lakers put up 134 points on 67.4% (eFG%) shooting, including hitting 52% from three (13 of 25). Kobe started the trend — in the first quarter he was 4 of 7 from the floor (2 of 3 from beyond the arc), plus he got to the line four times, giving him 14 points in just under 11 minutes. After a rest he came back in and was 4 of 6 (3 of 4 from three) with another assist, giving him 26 points on 80% (eFG%) shooting for the half.

The other thing of note — that was one of the Lakers better defensive showings this season. They held the Pacers as a team to 43.7% (eFG%) shooting. And Andrew Bynum got the better of Jermaine O’Neal in that game, by far.

Looking Too Far Ahead: If you haven’t seen it, apparently the Suns are not going to make any big moves this season and try to win with what they’ve got. I still think the Suns are a team constructed for the regular season, and in a seven-game series the Spurs and Lakers can beat them (and probably the Mavs, and if the Jazz or Rockets are healthy they would be a tough match up for the Suns as well).

Keys To The Game: Indiana gets good production (and more than half its points) from it’s bench — Marquis Daniels, Shawne Williams, former Laker Kareem Rush, Jeff Foster and Travis Diener to name a few. The Lakers bench has to be up to the challenge (without Radmanovic, who is injured) and win the battle of the benches.

This is going to be a fast-paced game, the Pacers run at the third-fastest pace in the league and want to push the tempo. The Lakers, with better athletes, took advantage of this last game, picked their spots and had a big night on offense. They also limited the easy transition baskets for the Pacers and forced them to shoot from deep (the Pacers took 27 threes). The Lakers need to do that again, running when it is smart but avoiding turnovers. This is a game the Lakers should continue with the hot shooting, get open looks and lay-ups, and hopefully continue to rest starters late.

Jermaine O’Neal is not going to forget that Bynum got the better of him last game, look for that to be an interesting match up tonight.

Tonight’s Game: Where A Spectacular Ariza Dunk Happens: This is the kind of game that is well suited to the athletic youth of the Lakers — Farmar, Ariza and even Bynum run the floor well and should get some great opportunities tonight. As long as the Lakers take care of the ball and don’t provide easy baskets the other way, they should help Indiana start a five-game road trip with a loss.

Where you can watch: Game time is 6:30 p.m. (Pacific). In Los Angeles tune into Fox Sports, nationally you’ll need League Pass (NBA TV is giving us the thriller that will be the Mavs and the T-Wolves).

Records: Lakers 19-11; 76ers 14-18
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.2 (7th); 76ers 103.9 (22nd)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.4 (12th); 76ers 105.3 (7th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Trevor Ariza, Ronny Turiaf, Andrew Bynum
76ers: Andre Miller, Rodney Carney, Andre Iguodala, Reggie Evans, Samuel Dalembert

Lakers Notes: This is the game Lamar Odom sits and it’s not going to be easy to replace the 16 points and 10 rebounds a game he has averaged in the Lakers last 10. In the last 10 Odom has been shooting 51.1% (eFG%) and 35% on his 20 threes.

Kobe and Fisher have not been nearly as solid in the last 10. Kobe is shooting 45% (eFG%) overall and 29.8% from three, down from his 48.5% overall and 33.5% numbers for the season. Fisher’s numbers are 45.8% (down from 52.1%) and 33% (down from 37.9%) in the last 10.

Mihm is out another month (give or take) with an Achilles problem. I just want the guy to get healthy — remember two seasons ago he was, besides Kobe, the one guy who brought it every night, who really worked hard. I had hoped to eventually see that Mihm again. If his body doesn’t betray him.

On the injury front, Sasha Vujacic has had back spasms (which hurt like hell, by the way) and is a game-time decision. So is Radmanovic with a twisted ankle.

The 76ers Coming In:Ladies and gentlemen, start your rebuilding.

That’s what the trade of Kyle Korver signaled — the Sixers, behind new GM Ed Stefanski, are wisely blowing up what they have and starting over. I expect Andre Miller is moved at the trading deadline (although Stefanski likely will not take lowball offers).

The question is how will all this impact the team on the court this season? They are 5-5 in their last 10 and have been getting great play of late from Miller and Iguodala (a guy who thrives slashing to the basket in isolation, but is also hitting 36.6% of his threes the last 10 games). Dalembert has been giving them good minutes as well.

The bench play has hurt the 76ers of late — for example the last time these two met Louis Williams had been shooting 43.8% from three-point range off the bench, but in the last 10 that is down to 30%.

Last Time They Played: The 76ers had no answer for Andrew Bynum — he had 24 points on 10 of 11 shooting, plus pulled down 11 boards. Kobe, Fisher and Odom also were all in double figures as the Lakers cruised — they never had a huge (20ish point) lead but they led almost the entire game and took control with a third-quarter run. It was not one of Kobe’s more efficient games, in the fourth quarter he was 0-5 from the field (but did get to the line for 5 free throws, hitting them all). For the game he shot 35% (eFG%).

The Lakers did continue their trend of not stopping quick guards — Andre Miller had 21 points on 9 of 17 shooting. Iguodala added 20 but was 7 of 20 from the floor. The now-traded Korver had 11 points in 31 minutes for the Sixers in that game.

Want To Feel Like You’re At The Game? Check out this YouTube video of the Lakers pre-game spectacular. It was taken and put up by the guy who posts here as UCSBShaw. Well worth the look.

Keys To The Game: The Sixers try to create turnovers with a pressure defense, last meeting the Lakers exploited this by getting past the pressure out top and getting the ball to Bynum in great (and isolated) positions. Fisher and Odom also were able to exploit the pressure with smart plays that led to open looks. The Lakers need to do that again tonight.

The Lakers — particularly Turiaf and other guys on the front line — really need to crash the boards tonight because the Lakers will miss Odom in that regard against a good rebounding team. The 76ers grab 31% of their missed shots, the second highest percentage in the league. The Lakers cannot allow a lot of easy putback baskets tonight. Put a body on Reggie Evans.

Tonight’s Game: Where Britney Spears’ Seat Is Empty Happens: Last season the Lakers had the young-team’s habit of playing to the level of their opponent. They had great games against the league’s best but struggled with the teams they should beat. We’ll see what happens over the next seven games, if the Lakers have matured. This is a game the Lakers should win but the Sixers have enough talent and are playing well enough to beat teams that overlook them.

Where you can watch: Game time is 7:30 p.m. (Pacific). In Los Angeles tune into Fox Sports, nationally you’ll need League Pass or watch online with the ESPN gamecast.

Fast Break Thoughts

Kurt —  January 2, 2008

Hope everyone had a fun and safe New Year’s Eve, and now welcome to 2008.

• After some tough stretches, the Lakers should — should — be able to pad the record a little bit in the next few weeks with this schedule: Philly, Indianapolis, at Memphis, at New Orleans (that’s a tough one), Milwaukee, Memphis again, Seattle. That’s a 6-1, 5-2 at worst stretch for the kind of team the Lakers claim to be.

• Lamar Odom is suspended for Friday’s game against Philly, and deserves to be. Yes, the Celtics had their starters in at the end of a blowout, but it is not their job to keep stop scoring, it’s the Lakers job to play defense. Odom’s frustration foul against Ray Allen was a clean hit in the NFL, but not really allowed under NBA rules.

• For some Lakers fans Lamar Odom has become the new whipping boy, the guy holding this team back from reaching the next level. As I’ve said before, I’ve come to accept that Odom is who he is, I’m no longer willing to be tantalized by the potential of what could be. Odom will get you a double double most nights, have a few spectacular games and a few others where he disappears. So be it.

But, for those looking to replace him, know that there are not a lot of guys who put up the numbers Odom does. And, in the last two playoff series against Phoenix, Odom has been the Lakers best player (I guess Kobe could make a case, but Odom is at least a close second). You can be frustrated with Odom, but replacing his production would not be easy, there aren’t many guys in the league who put up those numbers and who are available (at a reasonable trade price).

• Boston’s defense is fantastic at taking away what you want to do — Bynum couldn’t get position on the block that he liked, Kobe couldn’t find space, etc. More veteran teams can adjust to that, take away one thing from the Spurs and they will attack somewhere else (you can’t take away everything). The Lakers have not had to do that enough yet to know how to do it.

Credit Boston. That is a team that is buying into the system, and the presence of KG behind them to clean up mistakes is making guys like Pierce and Allen decent defenders.

• If you haven’t yet watched the video of the Lakers putting on the short shorts (and talking about them), you really need to.

• Think getting to watch 144 NBA games a season in person as a scout would be fun? Maybe, if sleeping on airplanes, eating hotel food and never seeing your family is fine with you. Great post over at TrueHoop by Brian Windhorst today on the life of an NBA advanced scout.

• I’m enjoying watching Chicago try to sort out their roster. New coach benches Ben Gordon, starts Chris Duhon. Duhon promptly goes 4 for 20 from the floor. Noah still can’t get consistent time on the floor. Is it just me, or did a new version of Skiles become coach?

• Of course, I’d rather try to figure out what to do with Chicago’s roster than Miami’s right now.

• Knickerblogger has a great NBA dictionary up:

Intangibles (adj) – Statistics other than points per game; Tangible stats like rebounds, blocks, steals, etc.
“Ben Wallace is a phenomenal player because of his intangibles.” – Bill Walton