Archives For February 2008

Records: Lakers 41-17 (1 seed); Blazers 30-28 (10 seed, five games out of the playoffs)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 113.6 (2nd); Blazers 107.7 (14th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.8 (6th); Blazers 108.8 (19th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Blazers: Martel Webster, Steve Blake, Travis Outlaw, LaMarcus Aldridge, Joel Przybilla

Lakers Notes: What can I say about how much fun the Lakers are to watch right now, and how much fun they are having on the court, that is not summed up in this clip:

How Good Are The Blazers Going To Be? I made a bet with Dave from the fine Blazer’s Edge blog on this game: The losing team’s blogger has to write a post for the other blog on why the Blazers/Lakers are to be feared in the coming years.

Mostly, I agreed because it should mean I have a day off from blogging, Dave will do my work. But, even if the Lakers lose (because the ref’s screw us over, no doubt) it should not be hard to write about how good the Blazers should be in a couple years. I’d like your help with that though: Why do you think the Blazers will be good? And I’ll start by saying, I love me some LaMarcus Aldridge.

The Blazers Coming In: Statistically, the Blazers are not one of the NBA’s better rebounding teams — but you never would have known that watching the Lakers/Blazers game two nights ago. With Aldridge leading the way, the Blazers outworked the Lakers for rebounds and grabbed 23.9% of their missed shots.

That’s a sign of this team’s desire, if nothing else. Aldridge outworked the Lakers and was 10 of 19 for 24 points. He and the emerging Travis Outlaw outplayed the Laker forwards by and large and kept the Blazers a head or at least close until the start of the fourth quarter, when the Lakers pulled away shooting 53% for the quarter to the Blazers 35%. Kobe was 4 of 8 and a +10 in the fourth quarter to lead LA.

Keys To The Game: Conflicting reports on whether Roy will play, although the ones out of Portland say no. Three-point shooter James Jones should suit up this time, however.

The Lakers need to be more aggressive on the boards tonight. Luke Walton cannot sleepwalk through another game against the very athletic Outlaw. (With both Ariza and Radmanovic out, he can’t have these off nights.) And for god sake’s put a body on Aldridge. I’d like Ronny to get some extra time on him — he’ll get in foul trouble but his energy at least will match LaMarcus.

In the last Laker win LA dominated on the perimeter, they need to do that again. Also the Lakers bench was huge — Portland had 10 points off the bench total, Farmar had 21 by himself. The Lakers depth should pay off tonight, on the second game of a back-to-back.

Where you can watch: Another 7:30 start, with KCAL (9) in LA and League Pass everywhere else.

Preview & Chat: The Miami Heat

Kurt —  February 28, 2008

Records: Lakers 40-17 (1 seed); Heat 10-44 (more ping pong balls than any other franchise)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 1133.6 (2nd); Heat 102.8 (28th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.8 (5th); Heat 110.3 (24th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Heat: Jason Williams, Dwayne Wade, Shawn Marion, Udonis Haslem, Mark Blount

Lakers Notes: In a recent Q&A at Clipsnation, I was asked about Kobe and the MVP race and wrote this:

But let me say this — the reason Kobe is getting his teammates involved more this year (and his shots attempts per game are down 7 from two seasons ago) has a lot to do with the talent around him. Last season when the double came to Kobe he had passing options such as Kwame “hands of stone” Brown in the post, Smush “where am I now” Parker at the point and Luke Walton. This season when that same double comes Kobe can pass to Pau Gasol (or earlier Andrew Bynum), Derek Fisher and a rejuvenated shooter in Radmanovic. Basically, now Kobe can pass to players he can trust. Bottom line, Kobe is all about winning, and when he looked at his options last year he often thought “my shot over the double team is the best option” and this year that is not the case. Sure, Kobe’s drive and ego fuel part of that, but he wasn’t totally wrong.

Today, threre is a must read piece at SportshubLA by David Neiman that is a fantastic review of Kobe’s journey to the precipice of the MVP, including a few words for to those newpspaer columnists saying “Kobe should get the MVP because he is finally making his teammates better.”

Earlier in the year, I argued that the entire notion of “making one’s teammates better,” at least as far as it’s commonly meant, is nonsense, the NBA equivalent to giving an NFL quarterback too much of the credit or blame for winning or losing. Yes, Kobe’s teammates are better, but it’s not because he’s suddenly passing them the ball where he wasn’t before. A season ago, he gave them the ball plenty.

They’re better because for the first time, they’re matching his effort.

They’re better because Sasha Vujacic is making open threes where he missed them all last year. They’re better because Jordan Farmar isn’t a rookie, is stronger, and has a much better sense of the pro game. They’re better because Derek Fisher is giving Los Angeles and Kobe trustworthy veteran leadership. They’re better because Lamar Odom is healthy and thriving, now that he’s free of the pressure of being the second scoring option. They’re better because Andrew Bynum is a freak of nature. And they’re better because, in what I refer to as the Immaculate Transaction, they somehow picked up Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies for nothing.

Go read the whole thing, it’s a must

The Heat Coming In: The move East has improved Shawn Marion’s game. His true shooting percentage (which counts three pointers and free throws) is 5.2% higher than it was in Phoenix. He’s also is handling a percentage of the offense than he did as a Sun, but with that has come a few more turnovers.

All of that didn’t amount to a win for eight games, until Tuesday night when the Heat beat Sacramento.

Last Time These Two Met: It was the first game for Marion in a Heat uniform and he added some energy to their attack, he had a team best 21 points on 6 of 13 shooting. But the Lakers led by 17 in the second half, tried to give it back and held on for a 104-94 win.

Big note: No Haslem in that game.

Keys To The Game: Haslem will be there tonight and he brings a lot of energy to their front line, something the Odom and the Lakers will have to match. And Lamar, Haslem can hit the 18-footer and is maybe Wade’s favorite target when the defense collapses on the drive — you can’t leave him. Let the other bigs challenge Wade in the paint, you make sure Haslem is covered and doesn’t crash the boards hard.

As we remember from the last time these two met — the new-look Heat want to get out and run. Transition defense will be big, there are some guys who can really finish (Wade, Marion) if you don’t get back in numbers. And that includes Pau (and Ronny) running with Blount, who had 22 and got a number of those by outrunning our bigs last time.

Also in defense, the Lakers need to be ready for a lot of pick-and-roll, Wade and Marion did a lot of damage with that in the first meeting (Marion setting the pick and sliding off to an open spot) and the Lakers need to limit that.

Two areas we should get some good production tonight. First, Blount is not a very good defender, so Gasol (or maybe Odom, if they try Haslem on Pau in spots) should be able to get theirs against him. Second, our second unit. The Lakers have a lot more depth of talent than the Heat, when the second units are out the Lakers should pull away.

You want a prediction? For every insightful thing Charles Barkley says tonight he will annoy me five times.

Where you can watch: Game time is 7:30 pm (Pacific) and we will all be watching on TNT. Well, since it’s on TNT there’s a good chance we’ll miss half the first quarter so we can see just what a brilliant move that Jason Kidd trade was. (Reread that last sentence in a sarcastic voice.)

Talking Pau

Kurt —  February 27, 2008

There’s a discussion going on in the comments from last night’s game that I think deserves a little more space. That is, a breakdown of how Pau Gasol is fitting in with the Lakers 11 games in.

I think we’re all various degrees of ecstatic with Gasol — the Lakers are 10-1 with him in the lineup, and he’s averaging 21.1 points and 6.9 rebounds. But that doesn’t break down his game, so Reed started the conversation:

Now that I’ve seen Pau for a full 10 games, I thought I’d weigh in on my general impressions. I’m sure a lot of this has been said better elsewhere.

1. The best possible triangle big man. I honestly cannot think of another big whose skills better translate to the triangle, even if I can think of a few players I’d rather have for broader reasons (Garnett, Duncan, etc.). For the triangle to work at peak efficiency, the big must be able to do a number of different things at a high level — score on the block, make the midrange shot, score in isolation, pick and roll and pick and pop, attack from either block and with either hand, run the high pick and roll or baseline pick and roll, pass to cutters when isolating, pass after rolling, pass to the corner shooters, catch difficult passes, etc., etc. There are bigs who can do most of these things well, and a few who do some things better than Pau, but I’m not sure anyone does all of them collectively as well as he does. When put in the fluid triangle system with players who know the offense and are highly skilled, Pau becomes ridiculously efficient.

2. Since joining LA, his true shooting percentage is 67.4%. (eFG 63.2%) That would place him at number one on the season (slightly ahead of James Jones, Bynum, Amare, Nash, etc.). Is this sustainable? I think we’re bound to see some regression to the mean, but not as much as you might expect. With the triangle’s spacing, the team’s passing, and the attention Kobe demands, Pau is much more free to attack and find high % shots than ever before. Last year, his efg% was 54.1% (9% lower than with LA now), but 55% of his attempts were jump shots and 49% of his baskets were assisted. With LA, only 40% of his attempts are from the perimeter and a whopping 69% are assisted. This makes sense. He was the focal point of every defense in Memphis and surrounded by poor shooters (besides Miller) and undisciplined point guards. Now, he has Kobe commanding all the attention and shooters spacing the floor — so he is going to get a higher % of easy and assisted looks. Obviously, interior and assisted shots are much more likely to be high %, so it is reasonable to believe that he can sustain a blistering shooting rate, even if a step beyond his career norms.

3. An awful rebounder. He’s probably the worst rebounder of the elite big men. It’s been apparent the last 10 games that he simply does not get difficult rebounds in traffic. Ever. In fact, he never really gets any rebound that doesn’t fall to him uncontested. The numbers back this up. His rebound rate is 11.7 (the % of missed shots he rebounds when on the court) — good for 96th in the league and worse than heavyweights like Memo Okur, Juan Dixon, Yi, Darko, Kwame, etc. (and .1 better than Lebron). Elite rebounders are near a rate of 20 (Howard, Camby, Chandler, Kaman, Duncan, and Bynum are all above 19.0). Pau is not only worse, he’s a lot worse — rebounding at about 50% of their rate. I’m not sure if the problem is lack of strength, leaping ability, or some combination, but he’s clearly not a reliable presence on the boards. Thankfully, this weakness is almost totally masked by the presence of Bynum and Odom, who are both elite rebounders by any measure. They will get the tough, contested boards, allowing Pau to focus on scoring. Hopefully Odom finds a way to crash down and help out when he moves to the 3.

4. Defense. About as expected — just okay. He’s too thin to keep strong attacking bigs away from the basket, but is pretty crafty at denying position and drawing charges. He has length to affect some shots, but doesn’t have the leaping ability to be a real shotblocking presence (like Andrew) — Pau’s blocks are usually against a blind penetrator who didn’t see him coming and increase trajectory. I think he’ll be a solid, maybe even fantastic, secondary interior defender, but would be a real problem as our first line of defense against Duncan/Amare/Boozer if Bynum doesn’t come back.

Thankfully, his strengths (interior scoring in the triangle) are not redundant and his weaknesses are probably totally masked by Bynum/Odom — making him the perfect fit for our team. There are other bigs producing at similar rates (Amare, Boozer, etc.) but I don’t think any would fit so seamlessly into our system given our personnel.

One commenter, Drrayeye, has been on the “Lakers need Pau” wagon longer than any of us. He has put in his two cents that we have not yet seen everything Gasol can do.

He can be a chamelion–sometimes a rebounder, sometimes a passer, sometimes a shot blocker, sometimes someone who “shuts down” an opponents–and sometimes an important part of a fast strike offense.

One thing that he can’t be is everything all at once.

All he does for the Lakers is win.

I have been following Pau for over a year very carefully, and I learned a great deal about his exploits in Spain and Memphis. In Spain, he was sort of a Kobe Bryant figure–bigger than life–the guy who takes the winning shot–or makes the key block or steal. In Memphis, he was the Saviour who was mere mortal–and never forgiven for it by the fans. Although the “Shades of Blue” guys in Memphis all loved and admired Pau, many fans ultimately soured on him: for “reasons” like those you’ve expressed.

Pau Gasol is a fine rebounder, but he is currently valued for many other things as well. He, Kobe, and Lamar have somehow split up a whole host of responsibilities rather effectively in a teamsmanship framework. It’s made the whole team better. On offense, Pau is Kobe’s “get out of jail free” card, forcing the opposition to weaken their double teams, making extremely high percentage shots and great passes. On defense, he has been a jack of all trades–but not always totally aware of his team role. That will evolve.

Count me in with those not convinced Pau is a great rebounder and is a solid if unspectacular defender. But once paired with Bynum, it is a perfect blend.

Records: Lakers 39-17 (1 seed); Blazers 29-27 (10 seed, 4.5 games out of the playoffs)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 113.1 (2nd); Blazers 108.2 (14th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.4 (8th); Blazers 109 (20th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Blazers: Martel Webster (or Jarret Jack), Steve Blake, Travis Outlaw, LaMarcus Aldridge, Joel Przybilla

Lakers Notes: Tonight’s expected starting five for the Lakers (with Walton in for Radman) has an offensive rating as a group of 138.46 and a defensive rating of 99.03 (thanks to That, people, is crazy good.

The Lakers offense is a lot of fun to watch right now (unless you are Nate McMillan tonight) and a key reason is something often overlooked when focusing on shooting and scoring — the Lakers pass the ball well. That didn’t escape Kevin from Clipperblog after the most recent match up:

Now that the Lakers have five starters who are not just good, but top-shelf passers, they’re the best team in the Western Conference – and that’s with Bryant’s bum finger. With all the hemming and hawing I’ve heard over the past five seasons on sports radio in this town about Mitch Kupchak, the guy has done exactly what you want your General Manager to do: Recognize what kind of players your system values most, then go out and acquire them. Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Luke Walton, even Andrew Bynum relative to his age – all great passers and, by extension, perfect fits for Morice Winter’s system.

Part of what good passing can do is encourage guys to move without the ball. It has been pointed out in the comments several times, but when was the last time any of us saw Lamar Odom move like this without the ball? Not as a Laker. Not as I remember as a Heat player. With the Clippers? In Rhode Island? Doesn’t matter to me, he gets it now and is another reason the Lakers are a very entertaining basketball team right now.

Best Player In NBA History? Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

The Blazers Coming In: Back in December we were all marveling at a young Blazers team that was stringing together wins and did no wrong on the court. Now, they have lost five in a row, eight of their last 10. They are 4.5 games out of the eighth playoffs spot (which is a lot to make up the way the West is going). What happened? We asked Dave of the great Blazer’s Edge to explain:

It’s pretty common knowledge that Portland fields the third-youngest team in league history. They’ve already eclipsed the season win totals of either of those other two teams and seem likely to win more than both combined before the season is over. This comes after losing the player that every off-season move was designed to build around. It’s a remarkable season, one that clearly shows the talent present on this roster. None of that changes the fact that this is still a young team. Inconsistency is the only constant.

One of the main consequences of our youth–besides rolling the dice every time we take the court–is fatigue: mental, emotional, and just plain physical. None of our regular rotation players have played this many minutes with this much responsibility. Every player hits the wall at some point in the season. In our case the wall knows judo. We are losing loose balls we used to vacuum up. We’re drawing fewer fouls. We’re hitting fewer of our foul shots. The jumpers are falling short again and again. The subtleties of the game–rotation, communication, trust–are getting lost in the cracks.

With Oden out we’ve been playing with smoke and mirrors much of the season. We’re thin and small down low on both ends. It’s hard to win in the long run with no interior post game. The defenses we’ve employed have been of the extraordinary variety…tons of zone, tons of switches, tons of disguises. The surprise factor makes that work the first time you run through the league with it. The Wizard is out from behind the curtain now though. Worst of all our rebounding has been a slow, steady drain all year. We need five guys rebounding to even stay close. Teams have figured out we’re going to stay back to grab the board instead of running out, which frees them to pursue offensive boards to their heart’s content.

I would be remiss in not giving credit to the opposition as well. This is the playoff-run season. The league changes after the year turns. We’re playing a host of Western Conference opponents in a vicious battle for seeding. The focus is tighter, the energy is higher, the determination is deeper. The Blazers don’t know how to match that yet even for 48 minutes, let alone night-to-night and week-to-week.

I think most reasonable Blazer observers saw this kind of thing coming. However those same observers would be quick to point out that this team isn’t built for 2007-08, but 2010 and beyond. The same talent that gave us an improbable glimpse of the future in December will be in Portland for a long time to come. Bolstered by a monster center and a couple of acquisitions coming down the pipe, this team should be truly scary just about the time the current Western contenders are winding down their runs.

Other NBA news Apparently Yao Ming has a stress fracture in his foot and is out for the season. That’s a huge blow for a Rockets team that nobody wanted to face in the first round. But I think, with how tight the West is, we knew some team’s playoff chances would fall due to injury. Too bad it had to be Yao. My second thought — will he be healthy in time to play for China in the Olympics?

Where’s Waldo Sam? Sam Cassell has been bought out by the Clippers. Does he land in Boston? How much better would that make the Celtics come playoff time? Better than the new look Cavs? No answers here, just lots of questions right now.

Keys To The Game: It looks like Brandon Roy will sit out tonight after twisting his ankle Sunday. Which is too bad as a fan, I really wanted to see him play in this type of game, but a good break for the Lakers. In the 10 games Roy has averaged 19 points a game to lead the Blazers, although he was shooting just 43.8% (eFG%).

Really, none of the Blazers are shooting all that well, as a team they are shooting 46.5% (eFG%) in the last 10 games (compare that to the Lakers who are 53.7% as a team). The second leading scorer in the last 10 for the Blazers is Aldridge (16 points per, plus 7.5 boards) and he is shooting 45.1%. One guy to watch for is Travis Outlaw, who has one of the best PERs on the team and is shooting 47.1% from the season, they run a lot of isolation for him.

As Dave from Blazer’s Edge mentioned, the Blazers currently are not a very good rebounding team — opponents grab 30.1% of their misses (only two teams are worse). The Lakers, with their length and depth, should be able to get boards and offensive putbacks tonight.

Also, the Blazers operate at the slowest pace in the NBA — 8 fewer possessions per game than the Lakers season average, and still 5 slower than the recent Lakers. This is a game where LA should push the pace, control the tempo and get some easy buckets in transition. The Lakers will see some zone defense tonight, they need to attack it — get the ball into the soft middle of it and have Sasha et al. bomb over the top.

Where you can watch: Game time is 7:30, with a Fox Sports broadcast in LA and on NBA TV nationwide.

Records: Lakers 38-17 (1 seed); Sonics 15-39 (13 seed)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 113.6 (2nd); Sonics 101.7 (30th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.5 (7th); Sonics 108.7 (18th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladimir Radmanovic, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Sonics: Earl Watson, Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, Chris Wilcox, Johan Petro

What he said – the Lakers: Busy morning for me, so this will be short and sweet. My thoughts on some current Lakers trends can be found at Kevin Pelton’s very good Sonics Beat blog (should be up this afternoon).

And, why should I write more about last night when Drrayeye did such a good job in the comments:

In the beginning of this game, Lamar took the initiative, playing like the all star he can be, sending a friendly message to his old pal, Donald Sterling. Lamar had ZERO Oh! No! Dumb three point attempts, but made several long two’s in rhythm at the right time–with great confidence. Lamar played better than his 20/10 indicates. His confidence and joy were contagious.

Pau showed that he could score just about any time he wanted, scored whenever it was needed, and kept feeding his teammates with great passes. I don’t think Kaman could have stopped him. I think that Pau had the most fun when he successfully led a fast break.

Even though Derek Fisher both bricked his 3 pointers and fouled himself to the bench in the first half, his teammates kept feeding him, and he hit a whole series of 3’s in the third quarter.

The Machine was The Machine from the three point line, but I will remember the drive and reverse layup that he must have learned from Kobe.

Kobe couldn’t hit from outside if his life depended on it, and Dunlevy wasn’t about to get him started, so Kobe decoyed, played great defense, assisted, tied for fourth in points on mostly free throws, and watched his teammates score.

The Sonics coming in: I’m still swamped, so more Drrayeye:

Even though the Lakers won last time they played in Seattle, it was in overtime–and they were saved from a loss in regulation by Kwame Brown.

Having lost Wally Z to Cleveland and Kurt Thomas to San Antonio, you’d think that the Sonics would be in chaos. Wrong. They’ve won two out of the last three, and could have won all three. They’ve relied on the energy of their young players, who have nothing to lose.

The Lakers are playing the second game of a back to back. Their string of wins is about as long as it ever gets. Seattle would love to help them end it.

Keys to the game: The Sonics are young, athletic and want to run (sixth fastest pace in the NBA). The Lakers have been better about slowing it down lately, and I expect that will be the case tonight (second game of a back-to-back and all). If they can do that and run the half-court offense, this should be another win. Make it a track meet, and you play into the hands of the Sonics.

My Prediction: No Country for Old Men wins all the biggies.

Records: Lakers 37-17 (3 seed); Clippers 19-33 (12 seed)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 113.6 (2nd); Clippers 103.4 (26th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.7 (7th); Clippers 107.7 (13th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladimir Radminovic, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Clippers: Brevin Knight, Cuttino Mobley, Corry Maggette, “some call me” Tim Thomas, Chris Kaman

Lakers Notes: Just a few quick notes looking over the Lakers stats from the last 10 games.

Kobe is taking 18.9 shots, per game, down from his 20.5 average for the season. And he is being very efficient with those shots, shooting 55.5% (eFG%) and getting to the line 8.5 times per game.

Then there is Pau Gasol shooting 65.1% and Lamar Odom shooting 64.5% (eFG%), including shooting 50% from three point range (taking 1.2 shots per game, which should be about the max for him).

The Lakers also have guys doing a great job of spreading the floor. In the last 10 games, Derek Fisher is shooting 37.5% from three, Sasha is at 50% (taking 3.6 per game), Radmanovic is at 43.8% (3.2 per game), and there is Kobe at 36.4%.

The Lakers pace has been a little slower, down to 93.1 possessions per game (about three fewer possessions per game than their season pace).

No doubt, the offense is clicking at a high level, but the defense still needs some work. The Lakers are giving up 108.7 points per 100 possessions, about 2 points higher than their season average.

The Clippers Coming In: This season, a lot of the questions about the Clippers are bigger picture ones for the future. To get some answers, I turned to ClipperSteve from ClipsNation:

1. First things first — what’s the latest and expected return dates for Brand and Livingston? Will we see them this season? Should we, or should the Clippers look for more ping-pong balls?

The Clippers have been very tight-lipped, and very conservative about setting any dates for Brand and Livingston. Basically, although both Brand and Livingston have both uttered the word ‘March’ on many occasions, the organization has never given any date. They are both in the same place right now – they returned to practice within a couple of days of each other, but only in non-contact drills. The best guess is that one or both will be cleared for contacted within 10 days, and we might see them on the court a couple weeks after that.

So, yes, I think we’ll see them this season, if only briefly. Brand almost certainly; Livingston is more in doubt. That has nothing to do with where he is in his recovery (which by all indications is going great) and everything to do with the type of injury. The book is pretty well written on the ruptured Achilles and there’s no reason to doubt that Brand will (has?) recover completely. But Livingston hit the ligament trifecta, and Willis McGahee is the only other athlete I know of to do that. The good news is McGahee made a full recovery and made the Pro Bowl this year. But there’s just not nearly as much data on this injury, and everyone will be super conservative on it, with good reason. Livingston is scheduled to meet with his surgeon the first week in March and we’ll know more then.

Finally, there are those pesky ping-pong balls to consider. The team has plenty of incentive to keep them off the court, above and beyond lottery odds. For instance, why showcase either one of them when they could both be free agents at the end of the season? The best case for the Clippers is that they know these injuries are completely healed, but the rest of the NBA remains in the dark. They’ll play, but not much.

2. Assuming Brand does not opt out (unlikely after this injury, I would think), how is the growth of Chris Kaman this season going to pair with Brand in the future?

That’s a great question. I’ve heard some people say that there won’t be room for Brand and new Kaman to operate – that the post will be too crowded for both of them to be effective, etc. The poster boys for this problem would be Eddy Curry and Zach Randolph, I guess. But I say Brand and Kaman are going to be great together.

Let’s start with defense. The Clippers, even without their best low post defender (Brand) and their best perimeter defender (Livingston) have remained an OK defensive team this season. They have a chance to be a great defensive team at full strength. Kaman is currently 3rd in the league in blocked shots (easily the most surprising improvement in his break out season), while Brand has been a top 10 shot blocker for many years. And neither of them are playing free safety on the weak side the way Camby does. Brand always took the toughest low post assignment, and still blocked shots, and of course Kaman is forced to take the tough assignments this season. They are both very good on the ball defenders in addition to blocking shots. There will be no unchallenged shots against the Clippers next season.

Likewise rebounding is a no brainer improvement. Especially offensive rebounding, where the Clippers have been among the league leaders in the Elton Brand era, and are 29th this season (despite missing plenty of shots).

I’ll admit that there’s potentially less synergy on offense, but one obvious plus is that someone is going to have a mismatch. As defenses adjusted to the Generic Clippers (no Brand) this season, Kaman has seen more and more double teams, and he’s had very few options for the pass out. Brand changes that immediately. But the great low post duos (there haven’t been a lot, but McHale and Parrish come to mind) develop a rhythm and a knack that makes them that much stronger. Can Brand and Kaman develop that feel for each others’ games, that interior passing that leads to easy baskets as the help defender hedges from one to the other? I hope so, but we’ll have to wait and see.

3. Corey Maggette is one of the few players on the Clippers in his prime and playing great this season, showcasing for a new contract with a career year. Should the Clippers resign him, and at what cost? Or, do you move another direction?

It’s pretty clear that Corey will opt out of the final year of his current contract. He’s playing the best ball of his career right now (he’s 12th in the league in scoring at 21.8 per game, but is actually scoring over 24 per game in 2008), and he turned down an extension from the Clippers last summer. So he’s obviously planning to get paid this summer. What isn’t clear to me is, who is going to pay him? There aren’t that many teams with cap space, and of those I really don’t see Memphis or Seattle or Charlotte making a huge offer to Corey Maggette given the personnel they have already. So although he stands to be the second best free agent on the market (after Antawn Jamison, and depending of course on what happens with all those other option guys like Arenas and Marion and yes, Brand), I don’t see where the big offer is going to come from.

The situation is further complicated by the internecine battles on the red and blue side of Staples Center. Mike Dunleavy has spent the better part of 3 seasons trashing the guy, and has tried to trade him on at least three occasions. But owner Donald T. Sterling loves Maggette, has vetoed at least one and probably two of those trades, and has said he wants to re-sign Corey. Which leaves me without a clue as to what will actually happen.

I’m hoping they don’t bid against themselves for his services. They have Al Thornton ready to step into the small forward position right now, and although you could do worse than having Thornton come off the bench for a couple years, $50M+ would be a lot to pay when you’ve got a much cheaper alternative. Don’t be surprised if he ends up leaving the Clippers via a sign-and-trade, that gets him the pay day he’s looking for on a team that needs his unique talents.

4. The Clips offense has held them back this year. When they are winning and competing well, what are they doing right on offense?

Oh you noticed that, huh? Yeah, it’s a problem. Mike Dunleavy is a very good defensive coach and extremely prepared for each game. But the Clippers offense, which relies heavily on isolations, is unimaginative in the extreme. So frankly, the offense ends up being almost completely dependent on the existence of exploitable matchups, and the degree to which an individual player is ‘on.’ So if Mobley or Cassell is being defended by a smallish guard, then they’ll go into the post six plays in a row. And if the shots are falling, then the Clippers have a chance. (If Cassell plays Saturday, watch for him to go to work if he’s defended by Farmar.) Recent Clipper wins against Toronto and New Jersey and Atlanta were all about Al Thornton winning his matchup in the fourth quarter.

That’s not to say that the team doesn’t run the occasional set, and at times they look pretty good doing it. But it’s all pretty ‘Arthur Murray’ by the numbers. If they run the set and it works, great. If the defense denies the first option, then they go to an iso and stand around. The team’s spacing is rarely good, and they don’t have enough shooters to take advantage when they force double teams. Spacing seems like such a basic concept, you would think every NBA player would be in the right place all the time. But the simple fact is that very few teams actually do it well (the Lakers, Suns and Spurs come to mind), so it must be harder than it looks. The Clippers’ spacing sucks.

All teams are better when they run, but all coaches want to be in control. Still one key for the Clippers is definitely early offense. If they can push the ball (just a little), then good things happen. Maybe they get the ball to Kaman in deeper low post position because the defender hasn’t had a chance to push him off the block. Or maybe they just get into their set that much earlier, giving them more time to re-set if they need to. But instead what tends to happen is that they make an entry pass with about 14 seconds into the possession, and by the time they pass out of the double team, there’s not enough time for anything other than a desperation heave with 2 on the shot clock. The Clippers probably lead the league in those.

Keys To The Game: The Lakers had better not sleep on tonight’s game — the Clippers destroyed Utah last night. (Yes, the final score was just a 4 point differential, but that’s because of a late 11-0 Utah run, the Clippers dominated from the middle of the second quarter on.) The Clips are 5-5 in their last 10 and playing decent ball.

Part of that is how well Corry Maggette is playing — he is shooting 59.1% (eFG%) in his last 10 games, including 53.8% from three. As Kevin at ClipperBlog points out today, when Maggette is hitting the outside shot he’s very tough to stop because he is such a good penetrator and so strong doing so (sort of how it is hard to stop LeBron’s drives because of his strength). It’s hard, but try not to foul this guy in the paint.

Two other Clips playing very well right now — rookie Al Thorton (27 points in 29 minutes last night, going 10 of 18 from the floor and getting to the line 9 times) and Chris Kaman. Kaman is running the court well and setting up deep position early in the clock, the Lakers need to get back with him and not let him get the ball too deep.

Looking at notes from the previous meetings of these teams, the Clippers have focused their defense on Kobe, doubling him quick and often (especially on the pick-and-roll). The way the other Lakers are playing right now we should be able to make them pay if that strategy doesn’t change. Other guys should be getting good looks, they just need to knock them down.

Where you can watch: The game is at 7:30 (Pacific) on KCAL 9 in Los Angeles if you want the Lakers broadcasters, KTLA 5 for the Clippers quality broadcast team and League Pass nationally.

Fast Break Thoughts

Kurt —  February 22, 2008

Some thoughts on how the trade deadline shook out, and other stuff.

• Commenter Drrayeye says he is a “doubting Thomas,” but I think the Kurt Thomas to the Spurs was a deal works for both sides, the Spurs in the short term and Seattle in the long term. Jonesonthenba has a great take on this trade, and in the comments made a great point:

The crazy thing about Kurt Thomas is that Presti got a first round pick for taking in, and then got a first round pick for sending him out. To say that worked out for him would be an understatement.

• The usual brilliant stuff from friend-of-the-site KD over at the Yahoo blog the other day about why the Mavs will be better with Kidd:

I beg of you, dear reader: keep this post in mind when cable TV swoons over an improved Mavericks team over the season’s last two months. The answers to their resurgence won’t come in the singular form of Jason Kidd, and they won’t be articulated with nausea-inducing bluster like “that championship focus,” or some twaddle about “leadership.”

No, the Mavs will be better because they were already a championship-level team to begin with, one that was playing below expectation and limiting the minutes of its best players. That stops, now.

• And I like what Cleveland did yesterday to boost their offense. I’ll let Mike from Knickerblogger explain:

But looking at who they gave up, it’s addition by subtraction. Consider the league average for TS% is typically around 54% (53.7% at this moment), and look at who’s heading out of Cleveland: Drew Gooden (48.7%), Larry Hughes (46.7%), Donyell Marshall (42.7%), Shannon Brown (43.3%), and Cedric Simmons (21.0%). Only Ira Newble (52.2%) has a TS% anywhere near the median….Enter Wally Szczerbiak (TS% 57.3%) and Joe Smith (TS% 51.5%), both of who should provide an offensive boost to Cleveland. Szczerbiak has never had a problem scoring efficiently, and at 30 years of age is still near the top of his game. Suddenly the Cavs look to have the makings of a strong offense: LeBron, Szczerbiak, Gibson, Ilgauskas, Varejao, Smith, Damon Jones, all have TS% above 50%. And although Ben Wallace is shooting poorly (TS% 39.1%) he’ll help the defense as well. With Ilgauskas, Wallace, Varejao, and James the Cavs have enough defense to make up for the guards.

Now, add a little motion to that offense and maybe you’ll have something. Particularly in the East.

• I’m not sure what they are doing in Chicago anymore. Sure, you get rid of Wallace so you can finally play the kids, but at what cost? Larry Hughes? Drew Gooden playing the worst ball of his pro career? I wrote this last time I filled in at TrueHoop, just a few days after Skiles was dumped, but here’s my question for Chicago’s brass: What kind of team are you trying to build? Boylan isn’t the long-term coach, so they need to decide what kind of team they want, bring in a coach to execute it and build toward it. Right now I don’t see that master plan, just a lot of flailing around.

• Lot’s of Kobe for MVP talk. I have a hard time getting into that debate only because the definition of MVP is nebulous and varies from voter to voter. Best player in the league? Best player on a good team? Best player on the best team? Honestly, I think Kobe deserves an MVP, but as much for his “body of work” more than just this year. I think you can make a good case for CP3 or LeBron. KG will get some votes, too. I’d like to see KG get one someday for the same “body of work” reasons. But this may be Kobe’s year.

Of course, with a couple months between now and the end of the season a lot of things can change.

• Ever wonder what guys shoot on the midrange jumper? Well, someone over at APBRmetrics used the NBA HotZones thing and crunched the numbers.

Your top 10: 1. Jose Calderon 56.1% (115-205); 2. Steve Nash 52.9% (83-157); 3. Derek Fisher 519% (97-187); 4. Jason Kapono 517% (74-143); 5. Malik Allen 513% (81-158); 6. Dirk Nowitzki 507% (136-268); 7. Dorell Wright 503% (76-151); 8. Kevin Garnett 500% (94-188); 9. Mo Williams 496% (112-226); 10. Channing Frye 491% (79-161).

Two interesting other numbers: 75. Richard Jefferson 39.4% (113-287); 76. Kobe Bryant 39.2% (133-339).

• Don’t look now, but my Matadors of Cal State Northridge are looking pretty good now. Great pressure defense (defensive rating of 93.3, 29th in the land), a team that shares the ball on offense and presses the pace (75.4 possessions per game, 10th fastest in the nation). Only one NCAA bid coming out of the Big West, so the Matadors have to win the tournament, but they are in a good position. Which means you’re going to be stuck reading more about them.

• If it’s sunny out, my Sunday plans include some Long Beach State baseball.

A Win Worth Celebrating

Kurt —  February 21, 2008

First things first — there have been issues with the site for the last 12 hours or so. Apparently this has something to do with an “upstream service DNS migration,” whatever that means. I followed the instructions from my host and apparently everything should be solved. If by this afternoon people are still having issues, let me know and I’ll… um, I don’t know what I’ll do but I’ll have a beer while I do it. And try to fix it.

Last night’s win over the Suns was about all you could ask from a regular season game — entertaining, playoff atmosphere, and at the end of the day I still think the Suns cannot beat us in a seven-game series (providing we are healthy). I think Carter Blanchard summed it up:

Such a good win. On the road, on the wrong end of a back-to-back, against one of the best teams in the L riding the emotional high of the Shaq trade. Anyone else feel like we took their best shot (huge game from Amare, great Nash/Hill games, solid Shaq game, hard to expect much more) and just weren’t fazed. We’ve had a ton of thrilling wins, but tonight’s might have been the most significant thus far.

Plus, the areas where the Suns really hurt the Lakers — on the boards and in the paint — get a lot better for the Lakers when Bynum gets back. Sure, the Suns will get better but we match up well with them.

And this team is fun. So fun that let’s relive the last 7 minutes or so. Not that all of it is filled with insight, but I had so much fun writing it that I’m just going to run it all anyway.

We join the game after Strawberry made a bid to knock off Daniel Day Lewis for Best Actor Kobe has just got called for charging into DJ Strawberry and the Suns have the ball.

7:41, 105-103: Early in the clock Stoudemire comes out five feet past the three-point line to run the ultra-high pick and roll with Barbosa, the Lakers defend it poorly with Farmar trying to go over the top and Pau laying back, so Barbosa gets up a fierce head of steam around the pick and toward the basket. Gasol tries to slide with him but Fisher trails Stoudemire, so Barbosa passes to the rolling Amare at the free throw line. It’s pretty obvious what is coming but Turiaf is slow to rotate, the result is the dunk and the harm. He hits the free throw.

Odom and Gasol enter the game.

7:26 105-106. The Lakers got out of the offense a lot in this game, which worked because Kobe was hot. This time they run the offense and the result is Sasha and Gasol playing the little two-man hand-off game on the weak (this time left) side. Gasol gets the ball out 18 feet and gives it to Sasha cutting past him, and Sasha decides to show he can do more than drain threes. He drives into the land of the trees and hits a little running layup falling away from the basket.

7:01 107-106. Just over the half court line Farmar comes out and pressures Barbosa with the ball. Barbosa tries to impress the women in Brazil with his soccer skills — he dribbles the ball off his foot, into the back court for a turnover. Suddenly, Steve Nash is up off the bench and at the scorer’s table.

The Lakers run the offense for 10 seconds on the out of bounds, but Kobe has that look tonight and Strawberry isn’t scaring him much. Kobe gets an isolation out top, drives to the right elbow, pulls up on a dime and nails the jumper.

6: 35, 109-106. Amare comes out to run the high pick and roll with Nash, Odom doesn’t show but stays back to protect the paint. Nash drives in and is below the free throw line by the time anyone bothers to pick him up. Not only does Odom help, but also Gasol rotates over to stop the shot. Gasol leaves Shaq to do that. Alley-oop and dunk. And the crowd goes wild.

6:25, 109-108. The Lakers patiently go through the motions of the offense – inside to Gasol, back out to Kobe – but Kobe’s going to shoot. Everybody knows it. He has the ball two feet behind the three-point line, Strawberry is back a step to defend the drive, Kobe shoots over him. Drains it. Mike D’Antoni says something under his breath about the pinky being a ruse.

6:02, 112-108. Again (and always) it’s Amare and Nash in the high pick-and-roll, but this time the Lakers defend it better. Farmar does a much better job fighting over the top of the pick and staying with Nash. Sasha flashes from the weak side to slow Nash, Odom does a much better job taking away Nash’s passing lanes. The result is what you want – Nash shooting, and it’s a little three-foot runner and it’s contested. He misses it.

Odom grabs to miss and outlets to Kobe, who jogs it up the court. But Gasol had some rest, he felt good, so he ran the court and no Sun went with him. Bryant throws it from half court to Gasol who drives in for the dunk and gets fouled by the trailing Amare for the and one.

Then Sasha jumps higher than he has in years to hug Gasol. He must have shown off an 8-inch vertical on that one.

And we go to commercial and an ESPN SportsCenter promo. Hey, Duke lost. That usually makes me smile, but when it’s to the University of Miami I don’t know how to feel.

115-108, 5:43. They don’t run set plays much, but the Suns almost run a motion offense here, with some nice action, the result being Stoudemire trying to drive on Gasol from the free throw line, he gets off a contested layup that Odom blocks. Right into the hands of Shaq. He can still dunk with authority.

115-110, 5:20: Fisher and Kobe pass the ball out top, then Kobe makes a pretty quick pass to Odom flashing through the lane. Amare isn’t lost though, he trails Odom from the weak side and rejects the layup. Odom grabs the ball but travels.

Nash does his Nash thing, holding the dribble and probing the defense, but the Lakers do a good job and there are no real options. So a quick pass to Grant Hill and he feeds the ball to Shaq on the low block with Gasol on him. Shaq spins back into the lane and hits a nice little 8 footer. Nice shot. I’d make him do it a bunch more times before I’d send the double, however.

115-112, 4:45. Kobe and Fisher try a little high pick and roll but nothing develops, then the Lakers run through some more offense but nothing is good there either as they work the ball around. So with the clock running down it is the old bailout of Kobe with a 20-foot jumper, he misses.

Nash pushes the ball, well maybe at half speed for him but pretty quickly. Shaq decides to do the Shaq of 2000 thing — run down the court and get a deep position before the defense gets set. Nash sees it and gets him the ball quickly just three feet from the hoop. Shaq takes a pretty little right-handed jump hook, but Kobe comes and blocks it from the weak side. Goaltending. Pretty close in my book, but close enough to argue either way.

115-114, 4:14. Kobe has the ball out high and drives around Bell but never really loses him. Shaq comes over from the weak-side and in getting his arms up to block Kobe’s shot he gives a vicious elbow to the back of Bell’s head. That really looked like it hurt. I’m sure Bell will be fine, but I’m glad it wasn’t me.

Oh, and Kobe hit the shot.

117-114, 3:55. Guess what, Suns tried the high pick and roll with Amare and Nash. Fisher is in the game now and he goes under the pick, so Nash steps back for the three, and misses, but Shaq gets the rebound over Gasol and is fouled going back up.

This is why I said yesterday that Shaq will help the usually weak Suns rebounding. Yes, Marion had more boards per game, but Shaq takes up a lot more space under the basket. You have to body him. He opens up space for others. And, Marion never would have gotten a rebound like that over Pau.

Of course, Marion likely would have hit both free throws. Shaq hit one.

117-115, 3:40. The Lakers run the offense, staring with the two man game out high with Kobe and Fish while Sasha is going from one side to the other around Odom’s down screen on the block. The result is Sasha gets a very good look from 18. He just misses it.

This time Shaq, trailing the play after Nash pushed the ball, sets a drag screen, then rolls to the basket. The Lakers mostly roll to Nash, so he goes for the alley-oop to Shaq. But Kobe has seen this “lob to Shaq for a big dunk late in a game” thing before somewhere. (Can’t think of where off the top of my head, maybe we should ask Henry Abbott.) Kobe reads it and comes from the weak side and knocks the pass away. The end result of a little scramble is a Shaq/Gasol jump ball.

I’m with Hubie on this one, it looked to me like Gasol knocked the ball out of bounds, but they call it out off Shaq on the jump ball.

The Lakers first play is isolation Kobe, and he gets into the lane but a rotating Grant Hill knocks the ball out of bounds. After a time out the Lakers came up with a very creative play — Kobe isolation. He hits the midrange over Hill.

119-115, 2:49. For the first time I can remember in the game, the Suns run the double high post look, with Shaq on one side and Amare on the other. Nobody is clear what to do, and the Lakers are playing tight, dogged defense. The result is Barbosa trying to create his own shot, taking a contested 17-footer and missing.

Kobe isolation. Kobe pull-up jumper. Kobe misses.

The Suns first attempt is the high pick and roll early in the clock, Nash drives and the Lakers take away the bounce pass to the cutting Amare. The result is confusion for the Suns, eventually with the ball going out of bounds off Sasha’s foot. On the inbounds play, Fisher fouls Nash from behind, the Lakers are in the penalty and he hits both.

119-117, 1:49. Kobe is asking for the ball and isolation, but Fisher is going to run the offense, damnit. Fisher drives off the high screen from Pau (Gasol can’t get open because Nash is waterskiing behind him off his jersey) and tries a floater over Shaq that misses but Hill knocks it out of bounds.

On the inbounds play Gasol gets the ball out along the left baseline and just drives the lane on Shaq, who goes flying backwards but gets called for blocking. That bit of acting by Shaq was worse than Kazaam — no way Gasol can knock Shaq over like that. The Lakers get the ball out on the side again.

Odom inbounds the ball from the side to Gasol on the block, then cuts straight past him to the rim. Amare is slow to react. Gasol gets the ball back to Odom, who hits a tough little falling layup.

121-117, 1:27. Shaq and Nash in the high pick and roll, the Lakers cover the passing lane and it’s another Nash floater in the lane and another miss. Good defense by the Lakers. The rebound bounces out to Fisher who passes out to a streaking Kobe, and suddenly it’s a three on one with only Hill back. Kobe gives it back to Gasol for the dunk. Love the way Gasol ran the court late in the game.

123-117, 1:15. This time it’s Amare’s turn to be out high with Nash. Odom tries to play the passing lanes but Nash makes a nifty bounce pass at the top of the key to Amare who drives hard to the basket. But Gasol read this the entire way and was waiting at the basket when Amare was still at the free throw line. Amare tries a running floater/layup over Gasol but misses, and Odom gets the board.

The Lakers take their time setting up the offense and eventually get the ball to Gasol 16-feet out isolated with Shaq. That’s rarified air for Shaq. Gasol tries to put the ball on the floor (something he does pretty well) but losses control. The ball bounces free and Shaq dives after it, chop blocking Gasol in the process. That’s 15 yards and two free throws for Gasol, who hits them both.

With just 45 seconds left, the Lakers give a lot of concession baskets to the Suns, the Suns in turn foul the Lakers (although they let 20 second run off at one point, which was an odd choice). Bottom line, the game was over.