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 Basketballvalue.com). 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.