Archives For February 2008

Preview and Chat: The Miami Heat

Kurt —  February 10, 2008

Records: Lakers 28-16 (6 seed); Heat 9-39
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.9 (4th); Heat 102.3 (28th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.7 (9th); Heat 110.4 (25th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladamir Radmanovic, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Heat: Jason Williams, Some Guy Not In My Fave Five, Shaun Marion, Dorell Wright, Mark Blount

Hanging with Ronny and Jordan: Really, are there two other Lakers you’d want to spend some time with? On a recent road trip the Lakers.com staff gave a video camera to Ronny Turriaf and let him (and Jordan Farmar) tape “a day in the life” and the video is now up. Great stuff again from Lakers.com, which has done a great job this season breaking down the wall between the team and its fans.

Lakers Notes: The win in Orlando was a lot of fun to watch, very entertaining game. For us fans. I doubt the coaches looked at it that way. That was a painfully sloppy game on defense — Orlando had an offensive rating of 125.6 (the Lakers were 130). The Lakers can be very bad about recognizing the shooters on the floor – they were sagging off the Magic’s best three-point guys (especially early) and making odd choices. At one point in the second quarter, Jameer Nelson drove the lane and Pau Gasol did not rotate off of Foyle to take away the lay-up — again, not recognizing the most dangerous player.

The defense of late is bothering me, but the great offense with Pau is covering it up for now. And the Lakers are still without two of their three best defenders (Bynum and Ariza), so help is on the way. Here are a few other quick thoughts from the game:

• Both Dwight Howard and Kobe had monster first quarter dunks. Has anyone ever thrown it down harder than Howard? I don’t think Dominique Wilkins did, and he was the first guy to leap to my mind.

• As was pointed out at Third Quarter Collapse, it would have been funny if that second quarter verbal spat between Sasha and JJ Reddick had come to blows. Worst fight in professional sports history.

• Don’t you just love how smart Pau is on offense? He almost always recognizes where the mismatch is and gets the ball there.

• As Craig W. pointed out in the comments, one year Elgin Baylor and Jerry West AVERAGED better than 30 points per game for the Lakers. We tend to think of them as GMs and forget they are two of the all time great players.

The Heat Coming In: On the Kamenetzky brother’s podcast the other day, I echoed what many have said about the Shaq trade from the Miami perspective — it rid them of the anchor holding back rebuilding process.

But it also should make them a better team right now. With D Wade and Marion the Heat now have two of the best finishers on the break in the Association. The Heat have not been a running team this season — their 90 possessions per game put them dead in middle of the league at 15th — but Riley should now release the hounds. Also, Marion should improve the Heat defense, giving them a quality perimeter defender (I expect he will get key minutes on Kobe today).

They also get a boost at backup (and maybe eventually starting) point guard with Marcus Banks. I may be the only person in America who thinks so, and he wasn’t what they hoped in Phoenix, but I still think he can be a solid starting PG in this league (something Miami needs).

The Heat have not been good at either end of the floor, but the problems on offense are glaring. There is only on player — Mr. Wade — with a PER above the league average of 15. Sure, that stat is really just a snapshot, but in this case it’s a pretty ugly photo. (To be fair, Shaq and Alonzo Mourning were both above 15, but they are both gone now.)

Keys To The Game: The Shaq of 2008 may be a shadow of the Shaq of 2000, but when the alternative is Mark Blount you still lose something at both ends of the court. The Heat have very little of quality inside the paint and the Lakers should be able to get a huge offensive night from Gasol — he will torch Blount if not doubled, and if he is doubled he passes incredibly well out of the post. Adding to the Heat woes, Alexander Johnson (another decent big body) is out with an ankle sprain.

The Heat offense has not been great this year because it’s been all Wade all the time, and if it’s just one player any team can slow him some. All the pressure on Wade has also meant his turnovers are up (13% of his used possessions end in a turnover this season). The Lakers should be able to get some turnovers and convert those into easy points on the other end.

This is another game the Lakers bench should help them pull away. And the Lakers want to pull away. You don’t want Wade with the ball in his hands and a chance to win the game at the end.

Where you can watch: Game time is 12:30 pm (Pacific) and we will all be watching on ABC. I just want to see lots of Lost promos, and I don’t think I’ll be disappointed.

Preview and Chat: The Orlando Magic

Kurt —  February 8, 2008

Records: Lakers 31-16 (5 seed); Magic 32-19 (3 seed)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.7 (5th); Magic 112.2 (7th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.3 (7th); Magic) 107.5 (12th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladamir Radmanovic, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Magic: Carlos Arroyo (although maybe Jameer Nelson, who has been playing well), Mo Evans, Hedo Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis, Dwight Howard

Lakers Notes: Kobe is going to play tonight against Orlando, even through he stated his recently dislocated pinky finger on his shooting hand is bothering him (obviously, he is 7 for 27 from the field in the last two games). However, his participation in All Star weekend and the three-point shooting contest is up in the air. I hope he recovers, I really wanted to see him in that.

The question the Lakers need to answer for themselves in about 8 days is: Do we keep DJ Mbenga for the rest of this season? My gut feeling is yes. Bynum isn’t back for about six weeks, so we still need a backup big, and even when Bynum is back we may want another large body to spend some time on the Yao Mings of the world. He’s cheap and a decent post defender — he is a +2.9 per 48 minutes and has held opposing centers to a PER of 11.8 so far this season. You could look at other options, but he’s starting to know the system and has done what you ask of him off the bench. My meaningless vote is to keep him.

We’re big in Brazil Well, apparently. I don’t speak Portuguese, but Gustavo, the very nice NBA blogger at the official NBA site for Brazil asked me a few questions about the Gasol trade then used them and thoughts from other bloggers in this post. Regular commenter and poster here Gatinho actually speaks Portuguese, and has a Brazilian wife (which should make you jealous — have you seen Brazilian women?) and he and his wife gave us a translation:

Our friend Kurt from Forum Blue and Gold agrees with Ryan (from Hoopsaddict) and thinks that the Lakers have become a force in the West no matter what happens. “Over the next few years they will be the best team in the NBA, at least on paper,” says the beat writer for the Lakers.

There’s a question whether the arrival of a new star would affect Kobe’s ego, Kurt answered directly, “When Kobe was asked after the Nets game how he felt about only scoring 6 points but getting the victory, he had a big smile that we haven’t seen in years and said, ‘You have no idea.’”

It seems that finally things are coming together in the City of Angels.

Well, we’ll let the beat writer thing slide. Gatinho added he likes the blog — “His blog is actually pretty good. He talks about the Golden Globes and the Cohen brothers.”

The Magic Coming In: Third seed in the East, starting Mo Evans — what is going on in Orlando? To get a few answers, I posed a few questions to Ben Q. Rock at the quality Third Quarter Collapse blog (and I answered a few Qs on his site):

Since the trade from the Lakers, how have Brian Cook and Mo Evans fit into the Magic? Do they fit in any long-term plans?

The idea behind the trade was to improve three-point shooting and depth at power forward; Cook was the featured player because of his size, but Evans has contributed far more. He’s started the last 15 games for the Magic (an 16 overall), averaging 10.9 points and shooting .547 from the field. File him under “S” for “Surprises, Pleasant.” Cook only recently cracked the rotation, languishing on the bench for two months because he wasn’t in good enough shape. His production is spotty at best, and he does not play defense, as you’re well aware. Honestly, I think the trade was worth it, if only because Cook nailed three big treys in the third quarter in the win against Boston which ended on a Turkoglu buzzer-beating triple. Getting that win alone was worth it. Evans’ contract ends at the end of the season, and I don’t get the sense the Magic are interested in keeping him. He was basically a throw-in, and he’s taking minutes away from J.J. Redick. Personally, I think that’s a good thing, but the Magic tend to disagree because there’s going to be a riot of angry Duke fans and 12-year-old girls if J.J. keeps getting DNP-CDs. It’d definitely be a shame to see Evans go. Other Magic fans agree, as you can see in this thread on the MagicMadness forums. Nearly everyone who has responded thinks the Magic should retain him. He’s one of the few players we have who plays hard every second of every game. Cook has another three years on his deal, so he’s probably not going anywhere. If the Magic get a power forward with actual power forward skills, Cook will be valuable as a specialist. But as the first power forward off the bench? That’s gonna be ugly.

In his eighth year in the league, Hedo Turkoglu is suddenly playing his best basketball. His shooting, rebounding, assists are all much better than his career average, and in the last couple weeks he has been nearly Dwight Howard good. What is he doing right?

Turk is succeeding because Stan Van Gundy has freed him. Under Brian Hill last season, he was basically a spot-up shooter, rarely handling the ball or taking it to the basket; last season, 77% of his attempts were jumpers, compared to just 70% this season. This year, with the Magic’s point guards struggling, Turk has taken over the role of facilitator. He runs the pick-and-roll with Dwight Howard better than anyone else on the team, and the fact that he’s 6’10” makes it almost impossible to defend.

Half a season in, how do you view the Rashard Lewis trade?

Lewis’ scoring, rebounding, and field goal percentage have taken significant dips this season. He’s not much of a defender. He’s grossly overpaid. Yet I’m still happy with the trade because his presence opens up the middle for Dwight Howard, who is scoring better than ever. Yeah, he’s overpaid, but he’s also Rashard Lewis, and he also drills open threes. Are you really going to leave him open to double Dwight? Part of the numbers downturn is due to him playing out of position. He’s a power forward in name only. He’s not used to being defended by bigger, stronger guys; likewise, he’s not used to defending bigger, stronger guys, so he’s probably pretty worn-out. Oddly enough, he did a damn good job defending Dirk Nowitzki (!) the other night. Where Lewis kills us is on the boards. As I pointed out in a recent post about why the Magic need a “true” power forward, Lewis is 54th out of 55 players at that position in rebound rate. At some point, either by the trading deadline or over the summer, we’ll get a “true” power forward to put alongside Dwight. That’d move Lewis to the 3 and Turkoglu to the 2. The mismatch possibilities are pretty fun to think about. Not many teams have the size to guard four guys 6’10” or taller playing at the same time.

When talking about contenders in the East, most people bring up Boston and Detroit, then Cleveland as a darkhorse. Should Orlando be in that conversation for this season? Why? And how do you see the team growing in the next three or four years?

No, I don’t think we’re quite ready to join that conversation just yet. From a talent standpoint, yes, we belong there. It’s hard to argue that Cleveland, even with LeBron James, has a deeper or more talented roster than we do. However, no one will take us seriously until we have a few playoff series under our belts. Sobering fact: the last time we won a playoff series, Bill Clinton was running for re-election. Given that long drought, it’s fair to exclude us. Then again, Toronto legitimized itself pretty quickly last year. We’re talented enough to duplicate that. Going forward, I feel good about our chances to seriously contend. Dwight Howard is only going to get better. He’s only 22 and he’s already one of the best centers in the game. Turkoglu and Lewis are in their primes. Boston and Detroit are getting older, although Detroit’s youngsters (Jason Maxiell and Amir Johnson in particular) scare me. Toronto and Cleveland will probably be up there, too, but we can hang with them. We just need more time and an upgrade at power forward. Point guard is a bit of a concern — does anyone think Jameer Nelson, who turns 26 on Saturday, can lead this team to an NBA title? — but Turkoglu’s ballhanding skills neutralize it. Overall, I like our chances of at least making the Finals during the Howard/Lewis/Nelson era, and even beyond. Did I mention Dwight is only 22?

Keys To The Game: Right now the Magic provide a difficult defensive challenge for the Lakers. Without Bynum the Lakers have nobody who can begin to slow Howard on the block (no offense to Pau here, but low-block post defense is not his forté). I expect DJ Mbenga may get some extended run tonight.

The other problem is that the Magic have a lot of very good three-point shooters starting with Nelson, Lewis and Turk. We have in the past talk about the Lakers tendency to sag off the three-point shooters to protect the paint (Odom, we’re looking right at you) and if the Lakers do that tonight it could rain threes. Also, the Lakers need to play smart on the high screen-and-roll with Howard and Turk — Howard rolls fast and gets deep position down on the block, and if you let him get that spot it’s too late to do anything. He is a beast. Also, the Lakers need to focus on rebounding and not let Howard get a lot of offensive boards and easy putbacks.

On offense, Pau needs to make Howard work hard, drag him out of the paint with his midrange game and open things up some. Also, Kobe can’t really have another of those horrific shooting nights — Mo Evans is a nice player but Kobe should get his in that matchup. Another big night from Odom is needed as well.

Where you can watch: Another of those annoying delayed television broadcasts in Los Angeles. I can’t wait for that to end. Anyway, 4 pm start but 5:30 television in LA (KCAL 9 — which means news promos through the game blatantly targeting men). Nationally, you’ll need the League Pass.

Fast Break Thoughts

Kurt —  February 7, 2008

While the Lakers had a fourth-quarter breakdown last night, I’m not sure we learn a lot breaking that down. Fifth game in seven days, second night of a back-to-back against a young and athletic team. Pau looked tired but he’s racked up enough frequent flier miles for a free trip to Spain in the last few days. Still would like to have won that one, but not a loss that should keep us up at night.

Instead, here are some thoughts and other things to check out from around the NBA Web today:

• Tex Winter doesn’t get the idea of Shaq playing for the Suns either. He told Roland Lazenby that and more over at SportsHubLA.

“It’s going to take Bynum a while to adjust after he gets back,” Winter predicted of Bynum’s projected return in March/April. “How he comes back remains to be seen. He’s young. He can recover quickly. But he’ll have to relearn how to be assertive. He’ll have to learn how to play with Gasol.”

• I heard Steve Kerr be interviewed this morning on Dan Patrick’s radio show and he said it took him a few days to come around to the idea of the Shaq trade. My experience — if it takes you a few days to talk yourself into something, it’s a bad idea.

• We all keep talking about the Spurs, Lakers, Mavericks and Suns as potential contenders in the West. We shouldn’t leave Utah off that list, with Korver and Williams and Boozer they are a legit threat to win it all.

• The Lakers as the Justice League.

• Over at Yahoo, Skeets got an interview with Ernie Johnson, the glue of the TNT studio show.

• By the way, Shaq or no Shaq, they are going to replay the end of that Hawks/Heat game.

• Does the fact that we can’t get an accurate count of who has how many delegates in the Democratic race for president suggest that maybe the system should be tweaked a little? (Yes, I know, I just broke my own rule and talked politics, but this just strikes me as silly.)

Preview and Chat: The Atlanta Hawks

Kurt —  February 6, 2008

Records: Lakers 31-16 (5 seed); Hawks 20-24 (7 seed)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.7 (5th); Hawks 105.0 (20th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.3 (8th); Hawks 106.4 (9th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladamir Radmanovic, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Hawks: Anthony Johnson, Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, Josh Smith, Al Horford

UPDATE: The Kamenetzky brothers (Andrew and Brian) had me on their Purple, Gold and Blue podcast today to talk all things Lakers and Western Conference. We discuss Pau’s first night, just how tough the Lakers will be all around once everyone gets healthy, and if Shaq can get healthy. And if he does, can he really provide the defense the Suns need anymore? You can listen to it either at the LA Times Lakers Blog site or on NowLive. Check it out, they are smart and witty, and I only stumble over my own words like 12 times.

Lakers Notes: Just a few plays that I love from the second half of last night:

Early in the second half, Pau is a strong-side forward in the triangle and comes out to set the high pick for Fisher on the wing, then because his defender (Josh Boone) stays back Pau slides out to 18 feet on the pick-and-pop, and Fish gets him the ball. But as Gasol gets it and Boone comes out toward him he uses a surprisingly quick first step to blow by Boone, gets under the basket and makes a reverse lay-up, plus gets the and one.

11 minutes left in the fourth, Gasol sets the high pick this time for Kobe, both Nets players try to trap Kobe and Gasol rolls to the hoop. Kobe splits the double and hits Gasol with the pass as Carter rotates to him fast, but Gasol sees the whole floor and whips a pass cross-court to a wide-open Sasha for a three. Which he misses, but that happens. Keep making that quick pass to the open man and the Lakers will score a lot of points. (I want to see a lot of this play where Gasol sets the pick for Kobe in crunch time, seriously who do you defend here? The Lakers had some great looks with this play.)

8:53 Fourth Quarter: Farmar has the ball out on the left wing and throws it to Luke Walton cutting up to the free throw line from the weak side. Gasol has sealed off Sean Williams on the block and is now open, Luke quickly spins by his man and takes a step into the lane and looks to pass to Gasol, except Williams will not leave Pau and basically concedes the lay-up to Luke rather than leave his man. This used to happen all the time with Bynum, leave him and there was a lob and dunk, but we haven’t seen that for a few weeks.

5:10 Fourth Quarter. After the Lakers work it around the perimeter Fisher feeds it to Pau on the right block, Boone behind him. Then Fisher cuts through baseline beneath Pau and that draws Kidd to the area who chooses to double Pau (who has 20 at this point), so Gasol makes a nifty little no-look over the head pass to Fisher for the lay-up.

Other things that were great to see: A better defensive effort, holding the Nets to 96.8 offensive rating and shooting 45.8% (eFG%); Radmanovic really finding his spots in the offense in the last couple games, and putting the ball on the floor when defenders run at him; the Lakers using their height advantage — Pau posted up, Odom did, Kobe did with Kidd on him; Kobe passing that much when his shot is off (and the Lakers winning when his shot is off); great spacing in the offense;

Now, for the obligatory disclaimer — it’s just one game. And the Nets aren’t a good team right now. Still, if you were not smiling after that game, you aren’t a Lakers fan. (But you wouldn’t be smiling if you were a Spurs fan, or a Mavs fan, or a Suns fan, or a….)

Shaq in the Valley of the Sun: If this ends up happening (as it appears it will pending physicals), so much for that whole “we don’t want to pay the luxury tax” thing the Suns owners were professing.

Shaq, even what’s left of him, certainly brings an inside presence that they have not had in Phoenix during recent years. He can still score some and grab some rebounds, and he can pass well out of the post (and now has a much better cast to pass to).

But, I think this is a bad move on two levels. One, he still slows the game down clogging the paint in a way their guys cutting and penetrating are not used to. He hasn’t run the floor in years. And, I don’t think he opens up the half-court offense that much because he no longer commands the double team. (The Lakers, with Bynum or even Gasol and Mbenga will not have to.) It is still going to be Nash’s team, and Shaq will get a few pretty lobs, but I don’t see this as a brilliant move. And on defense, well, Shaq for Marion doesn’t seem like a much of a win. In the comments someone put it well — Shaq is now a better version of Kwame Brown. He can defend man-on-man on the low block, but step away from the hoop or ask him to rotate and, well, Shaq back in 2000 could do those things, but today not so much.

Second, and more importantly, it cuts away at the core of what the Suns were. They hadn’t won a title, sure, but from the owner on down it was clear what the Suns were trying to do. The coach was at the core of that philosophy. Now Steve Kerr is changing that, clearly trying to match up with other teams in the West (the Spurs and Lakers). He may eventually change the philosophy, but once you start to move away from the style of team you’ve built on the court there will be an ugly transition period.

The best line I read has come from the always-insightful Bethlehem Shoals at Free Darko:

“If the Suns were going to win a title, it should’ve been on their own terms. They should’ve thrown themselves back in it again, knowing that they’d brought something to this game, something that could beat back others. It would’ve taken a little luck, or a particularly torrid run, but that’s what their whole style was predicated on. Now, we’re back in the realm of positivism. Rotting positivism. As far as the eye can see.”

The Hawks Coming In: For the second night in the row, the Lakers play a team with a ton of potential that don’t live up to it on a regular basis. However, the Hawks have a better excuse — they are young and improving.

Josh Smith is the leader of the “insanely talented but will he bring it?” group. Two nights ago against the 76ers he turned heads: 19 points, nine assists, nine blocks, six rebounds and four steals. But there are plenty of very athletic and long guys on this roster — All Star Joe Johnson, Al Horford, Josh Childress and so on. That makes them dangerous.

But what has keyed the success the Hawks are having is defense. (By the way, 20-24 and the seven seed really is success for Hawks fans, after all they have been through.) The Hawks defense this season has been almost identical to that of the Lakers overall. What they do well is create turnovers with that length and quickness, but you can get them on the offensive boards.

Keys To The Game: First and foremost, it depends on what Hawks team shows up on offense — they have a lot of skill but haven’t really figured out how to use it. This is very much NBA isolation, one-on-one basketball. The times I’ve watched I thought they could use more structure in their offense, but as these guys mature in the NBA they may like a more flexible, isolation offense better. But as fans, we can at least count on a few spectacular plays from the Hawks.

The Lakers should be able to attack on the offensive glass and get put backs, only five teams give up more offensive boards than Atlanta. And, this could be a big night for Lamar Odom (assuming that is who Josh Smith guards). Smith loves to come from the weak side and block — if Odom can stay in space and the Lakers penetrators keep their eyes open Odom should get some open looks.

Because of the Lakers height, they may be able to create mismatches on the high pick-and-roll, the Hawks switch everything. Also, the Lakers need to protect the ball, the Hawks pressure a lot and try to use their athleticism to disrupt.

Where you can watch: Game time is 4 pm (Pacific) but again the Los Angeles KCAL broadcast doesn’t start until 5:30. Remember if you are watching the game live to put “spoiler alert” on your comments, protecting those of us in LA who have to wait.

Preview & Chat: The New Jersey Nets

Kurt —  February 5, 2008

Records: Lakers 30-16 (5 seed); Nets 20-27 (8 seed)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.7 (5th); Nets 103.6 (25th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.5 (8th); Nets 109.6 (22nd)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Nets: Jason Kidd, Vince Carter, Richard Jefferson, Josh Boone, Sean Williams

Lakers Notes: It’s Super Tuesday — Pau Gasol will start his first game as a Laker. Reports out of practice yesterday were that Pau picked up the offense quickly, but we’ll see how much burn he gets (sore back and all). Whatever happens, I’m just happy to see him in that #16 jersey.

There’s been a real bounce in the Lakers step the last two games, since the trade was announced, but that has been more on the offensive end than on defense. It helped that the Lakers played two teams that played questionable defense, particularly against Kobe. (Did you notice the last couple games that Kobe would get the ball in a threatening position, the hard double team would come, Kobe would dribble out of pressure to a non-threatening spot, and the guy doing the double would retreat to his man, leaving Kobe back in one-on-one defense. Then he would blow by his guy for a lay-up with almost no defensive rotation. Odd defensive choice, once you double Kobe don’t you want to keep up the pressure and make him pass? The Raptors got burned on that a lot and the Wizards a couple times.)

In the last 10 games, without Bynum, the Lakers have a defensive rating of 111.7 — basically five points more per 100 possessions than they give up for the season. Look at it this way, those are worse than last season’s numbers and would be 25th in the league this season. While the last two games were blowout wins, the defensive ratings were 108.3 (Washington) and 116.1 (Toronto). What won the Lakers those games was crazy offensive efficiency (offensive ratings of 139 against Washington, 122 against Toronto). But if the Lakers are going to keep winning they need to get the defense back on track.

Hopefully, Pau in the lineup will help as he can provide some D in the paint. Ronny and Mbenga provide some, but the Lakers still clearly miss Bynum’s presence on defense.

Speaking of that little bump of energy the Lakers have had, doesn’t it seem Vladamir Radmanovic was second to Kobe on that? Radman was driving the lane against the Wiz like he thought he was Chris Paul. But Radman and Walton have to start making their case for minutes right now — they see the landscape of the Pau trade, likely pushing Lamar to start at the three, and they see their minutes cut. (I know there are some calling for bringing Odom off the bench, but I think we can safely say that even if Phil is going to come to that decision he’s not going to do it for a while.) Then someday Ariza is going to come back, and suddenly there are more quality players then there are minutes at the three and four. It gives Phil a lot of luxury in terms of matchups and an ability to go with the hot hand, but the players they may not be as thrilled. We’ll see who steps up and earns the burn.

More Aaron McKies: Aaron McKie, trying to break into coaching as an unpaid assistant with the Philadelphia 76ers this season, became part of the trade with the Memphis Grizzlies to help make the salaries work out.

But don’t worry, according to an interesting post (and great bit of reporting) by Henry at True Hoop, the Lakers also still have the rights to Ron Harper, Karl Malone, Shammond Williams, Horace Grant, Mitch Richmond, John Salley and, Brian Shaw to use in any future trade. As we said at the time of the trade, a lot of teams keep the rights to retired guys for just this type of situation, click the link and check out the entire list.

The Nets Coming In: Well, I guess we won’t be hearing as much “Jason Kidd to the Lakers” talk as we would have before Pau came to town.

As bad as they Nets record is, it really should be worse. They have 20 wins but their Pythagorean record (based on points scored and given up) is that of a 15 win team. As a team they have been getting good play from the big three of Kidd, Carter and Jefferson, but not the great play you expect from those three. All three are shooting just about 48% (eFG%) (in fact the only person playing a significant role who is shooting better than 50% if rookie Sean Williams). And with that supporting cast you need great play from the big three. Kidd, who looked great last summer with Team USA, now looks tired and by all reports his mind is in the Bahamas, or maybe Dallas. I’m not sure having a happy and pumped Kobe come to town is going to help that any.

The Nets have their own new player from a trade expected to suit up tonight, Stromile Swift should play his first game for the Nets. He helps make them more athletic, and I would have moved him for Jason Collins in a heartbeat (this season Swift has a PER of 16, while Collins has one of 2. That’s right, 2. For comparison, the league average is 15 and Kwame Brown had a PER of 9.9). Swift is just 28, plus the Nets have two draft picks from the last couple of years (Josh Boone and Sean Williams) who may be something to start rebuilding around. Once they move Kidd and Carter. Good luck with that.

Keys To The Game: With Nenad Krstic having played just 13 games this season, the Nets used to have Collins as their center. Which meant all their offense came from the perimeter. Now Sean Williams and Josh Boone along the front line they are at least getting some offense — Boone has averaged 12 points10 boards in the last 10 games. The Lakers, especially with Gasol, have the length to limit some of his points and turn the Nets back into a perimeter team, where they struggle.

According to the scouting report at Lakers.com, the Nets want to get easy baskets in transition (which makes sense with Kidd passing and guys like Carter and Williams who can finish) but if you take those away from them they bog down some in the half-court offense. Transition defense will be a big key.

On offense, the Lakers just need to be aggressive — and hit their free throws. The Nets foul a lot, 27th in the league in free throws to field goals — so if the Lakers attack as they have the last couple of games they will get to the line. They just have to hit them.

A fast start also would be a big help. For as bad as the Nets have played (2-8 in their last 10) they have a lot of talent, and guys that have won big games and hit big shots. If the Lakers can jump out to a fast lead it may demoralize the Nets, and the Lakers can get another easy win on the road. But let them hang around and you have to worry about Kidd making a great play with the game on the line, and he can still do that.

Where you can watch: Game time is 4:30 Pacific and that is what time you can catch the game on NBA TV. However, out in LA it is KCAL (channel 9) and that means, a 5:30 pm television time.

Pau and Defense

Kurt —  February 4, 2008

More than anything else — even more than Andrew Bynum’s emergence as a low-post scorer — it is the Lakers defense that has turned the team around this season.

Last season the Lakers have up 110.5 points per 100 opponent possessions, 24th in the NBA, and opposing teams shot 50% (eFG%). This season other teams are shooting 48% and that is the key reason the Lakers are giving up just 106.5 points per 100, eighth best in the league.

Not that everyone has been happy — the often cranky but almost always right Tex Winter made these comments to Roland Lazenby in a must-read Pau Gasol piece at Sports Hub LA:

(Winter) has fussed all season that the Lakers need to change the way they play the screen and roll, especially how they choose to bring help from the wings, where opponents have their three-point shooters waiting. He says the Lakers too readily leave shooters open, and he favors getting the help on penetrating guards from the big man in the post.

That would mean the Lakers would have to help the helper, the common basketball phrase, but that would force the extra pass from the offense. He was fussing in particular about Odom helping and leaving his man open late in the loss to Detroit.

This has been a particular problem since Bynum went down — Kwame Brown is a solid man-on-man in the block defender, but his rotations have always been slow.

While Pau Gasol has picked up a reputation as “soft” he plays good defense within the team system, but in Memphis he was not getting near the help along the baseline that he will once Bynum is back (and even now with Ronny and Odom).

Commenter Reed had a great breakdown of what Pau can mean to the Lakers defense the rest of this year and for the next few years:

This really transforms our potential on defense. While Gasol is not a great defender by himself, his size will allow us to play a different type of defense — one that has a much higher ceiling for shutting down teams, forcing low percentage shots, and creating turnovers. The transformation began with the addition of Bynum’s shotblocking, length, and rebounding, but adding another 7 footer completes the process.

Last year, Kwame was a strong one on one interior defender, but things fell apart against the pick and roll or penetration. Because we had no shotblocker, we had to switch on the pick and roll, leading to Kwame covering a guard and our point guard scrambling to pick up a big down low (which in turn led to too much help from others down low, leading to open shooters at the 3 pt line). When guards penetrated into the defense (which happened most possessions with Smush up top…), our bigs either gave up layups or fouled, leading to early penalties and too many minutes for our (weak) bench.

Before his injury, Bynum and Fisher really improved the defense. Bynum’s presence made it much harder for penetrating guards to get those easy scores, especially once he learned to alter shots without fouling. Fisher and Farmar were better (but still average) at preventing penetration. They also were more dogged in fighting through the pick and roll, though still also admittedly mediocre there. But, we still had a relatively low ceiling defensively (compared to the best teams) as Bynum really did nothing more than avoid fouling on the pick and roll (allowing guards to turn the corner or take the midrange shot), and there was no secondary shotblocker to attack the ball if it came inside when Bynum was elsewhere (Turiaf is getting better at this, but he still fouls too much and is a little undersized). Too often, Bynum was out of position or just unable to cover all the ground by himself as the ball moved inside, and the team either gave up easy baskets inside or had to overhelp and leave shooters open at the 3 pt line.

Now, with Gasol’s added size, we can employ the Spurs defensive model. While some teams try to pack it in and force teams to shoot outside, San Antonio has traditionally used their strong perimeter defenders to pressure the ball on the perimeter and feed action into their twin towers. They have always tried to pair Duncan with a strong, long, secondary big — from Robinson to Nesterovic to Oberto and Elson today. Having two interior defenders really opens up the defense: there is always one 7 footer positioned to pick up penetration (especially helpful when one gets dragged outside in a pick and roll); one big can usually roam and alter shots from the weak side, as most teams only have one strong low post scorer; the two bigs can switch inside without causing real problems; there is always one 7 footer positioned to battle for rebounds (crucial in preventing offensive rebounds when the shotblocker runs out to alter a shot); etc, etc.

While Gasol isn’t recognized as a brilliant defender, his sheer size will allow the Lakers to really attack the ball on the perimeter and inside. Kobe and Ariza can roam around with a little more freedom to try and cause havoc with strong double teams and in the passing lanes (a la Jordan and Pippen). Add in Odom’s size at small forward and the Lakers should be able to be able to attack the ball, rotate without causing matchup problems down low, create turnovers, and generally force bad shots and control the boards. There just aren’t a lot of teams that throw out two mobile 7 footers, a 6′10″ small forward, and an all-defensive shooting guard. Once Bynum is healthy and Gasol is integrated, I expect them to be one of the top 2-3 teams in FG% allowed — a key stat for any contender. Combine that with the fact that NO ONE can matchup on the other end with our size and Kobe’s all around offensive dominance, and we should be just overpowering.

Records: Lakers 29-16 (5 seed); Wizards 24-21 (6 seed)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.4 (5th); Wizards 109.2 (12th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.4 (8th); Wizards 109.0 (20th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladamir Radmanovic, Lamar Odom, Ronny Turiaf
Wizards: Antonio Daniels, DeShawn Stevenson, Antawn Jamison, Andray Blatche, Brendan Haywood

My Prediction: I think the Patriots win by 20, that they have another gear the Giant’s don’t. And I think I’ll drink a lot of Stella.

Lakers Notes: I don’t know about you, I can’t get enough Pau Gasol talk. He probably will not play today (although the Lakers could use him), remember he missed three of the last for Griz games because of a sore back. Still, he’s what’s on Lakers fans minds.

Long-time readers here know Xavier, a basketball player and coach (and blogger) from Spain who has seen Pau up close for years. Here are his thoughts:

Like most of you, I was shocked by the Pau Gasol deal but I might be a special case. Although my favorite player is Kobe Bryant, Gasol has always been a hometown hero here in Spain and having him dressed in purple & gold is something I can’t explain in words.

Leaving personal feelings about this deal apart, the Lakers have accomplished (thanks to our beloved Kupchak) an all-star caliber player without giving up any of our 3 core starters (Kobe, Bynum and Odom) and even managed to sign the trade leaving our bench mob almost intact. The only thing I regret a little is giving up Crittenton (although having Farmar makes him an expendable piece) and draft rights to Marc Gasol (It might look like I’m prejudice but this guy is really good and is competing with Rudy Fernández for ACB MVP).
But what are the Lakers really getting with Gasol on their team?

Gasol is a 7-footer who can put up 20-10 per night with a higher basketball IQ than most of you think. He’s been taught European basketball where movement without the ball is far more important than playing the isolation and offensive triangle is about moving without the ball and feeding the open men situation that generates the offense.
In Memphis most of his game has been playing face to the basket as he has a nice dribble for a 7-footer and sweet J , but he’s also a proven post player with a well rounded offensive game, hook shots and even a shy fade away has been seen in some games (which I liked a lot). He has a very fast first step that he likes to use it when playing on the high post or far in the base lane (click that link and you can also watch the classic Gasol-KG highlight). As a Grizzly he was the only man down there under the basket so he had to do it all and never played with a real C (uh, Darko Milicic aka the next Kwame Brown?), hopefully we’ll see him pairing with Bynum sooner rather than later and that will help him shine because they complement each other very well.

Pau has been labeled as a soft player. I’d actually say that he’s not as tough as the other All-star PF/C in the league. He get’s rebounds but mostly because of his size and good positioning not because of his strength. He has a career 1.8 blocks per game, not bad for a “soft” player. I won’t make much of an issue about his toughness because as a whole, the Lakers team has the pieces to cover that and he has shown that he knows how to play team defense.

While Bynum’s not with the team, Gasol will fit the C position and will fill it very well. Let’s see how Phil combines the team when Bynum and Ariza returns with our Forward loaded rotation (Odom, Ariza, Walton, Gasol, Turiaf, Radmanovic). What a great headache to have!

The Wizards Coming In: All Star forward (and a guy Lakers fans still remember fondly) Caron Butler has missed the last four games and likely will not play today. Gilbert Arenas definitely is out. Despite that the Wizards are a solid 5-5 in their last 10.

The guy carrying the load is Antwan Jamison, who is averaging nearly 22 and 9 over the last 10 games. He’s shooting 35% from beyond the arc in that time but a pretty average 49.4% (eFG%) overall in that time.

This Wizards team is Gansta — Andray Blatche is apparently a Crip Blood. He’s also a guy with a lot of potential on the basketball court, I remember him most from the Summer Pro League two years ago where he really impressed. There are questions about his decision making but he is capable of a big night.

For more insight on the Wizards, head on over to the good Bullets Forever blog.

One Thing That Is Bringing Me Down: In case you didn’t see it, friend-of-this-site Kelly Dwyer, one of the very best bloggers on the NBA, is not going to be doing much at the Yahoo NBA blog any more. Frankly, True Hoop has long been my first NBA read in the morning, but KD had made that Yahoo blog #2 with a bullet.

I know the guy taking over as lead blogger and he is good and certainly knows the game, but Yahoo has clearly decided on a style change for that blog. And it disappoints me, because to me there are moving away from the sports fan style to more entertainment-style. Nobody was doing quite what KD was doing or as well, and I can’t wait until some smart exec snaps him up and gives him another spot where he can thrive again.

Keys To The Game: I watched a chunk of the Wizards/Jazz game on Friday night and the Wiz frustrated the structured Jazz offense with a match-up zone (at least for the first quarter, Utah eventually figured it out). I expect that the Lakers will see the same thing for stretches — that means Kobe, Fisher, Sasha and Radman should get some chances to shoot over the top of it a little. Also, this is where Gasol can really help in his first game if he gets on the floor – if the defense extends out to get to those shooters, he should get one-on-one coverage in deep and Gasol is instantly the best interior scorer on this team. If not him, somebody (Ronny) needs to take advantage.

My feeling is Ronny remains a very key cog until Bynum returns — he is the only guy who provides energetic interior defense. He blocks shots and intimidates some. Gasol will bring a little of this but not much. Defense is still what drives this Laker squad and Ronny is a key part of that right now and his minutes should reflect that.

With the injuries two two of their three key players, the Wizards bench has been weakened — the Lakers bench should shine this morning and be a key part of a win.

The Wizards are not a great defensive team, but they are improved and have been playing better of late so the Lakers need to bring the same energy they had in Toronto to the nation’s capital.

Where you can watch: Breakfast with the Lakers. Game time is 9 am (Pacific) on KCAL (9).

How often have we looked at one of those seemingly lopsided trades — ones that would be protested in any fantasy league — and say, “Why can’t our GM pull one of those off?”

Well, now he has, and Mitch Kupchak deserves a lot of credit. He’s taken an unworldly amount of heat from fans and media, but note what commenter kwame a. pointed out:

every player on this team except Kobe has been acquired or drafted by Mitch.

And that is a very deep and very versatile roster. That’s what Gasol brings that will fit so well on this team and in this offense — the Lakers can be a matchup problem for just about anyone. I’ll let Reed break it down:

We also have the most flexible team in the league, with so many possible combinations.

Pure talent: Farmar, Kobe, Odom, Gasol, Bynum

Passing and intelligence: Fisher, Kobe, Walton, Odom, Gasol; or: Fisher, Kobe, Walton, Gasol, Bynum

Speed/energy: Farmar, Sasha, Ariza, Odom, Turiaf; or: Farmar, Sasha, Kobe, Ariza, Turiaf

Defense: Fisher, Kobe, Ariza, Turiaf/Odom, Bynum

Shooting: Fisher, Sasha, Kobe, Radmanovic, Turiaf

Big: Kobe, Ariza, Odom, Gasol, Bynum

Small: Fisher, Farmar, Kobe, Ariza/Walton, Odom

The possibilities go on and on. This smells like a title team.

I asked the guys from the very good Three Shades of Blue blog that covers the Grizzlies for some insights into Pau. Chip sent in this:

Pau Gasol is one of the most talented big men in the game. He can score with either hand and is nearly unstoppable when aggressive against single coverage. He is also unselfish with the ball and when outnumbered is extremely good at finding the open man. His passes are usually on target which can lead to a lot of open shots for teammates. His range is almost out to the three-point line but he is most effective when his back is to the basket within a few feet of the paint. He has a quick first step that can beat most bigs to the hoop as well.

The problem for Memphis has been not having that second scorer that can keep Gasol from being constantly double teamed. Gasol is extremely weak. He is a turnover waiting to happen when holding the ball as it is easily slapped out of his hand and can easily be knocked off the post by stronger players. Most teams defend Gasol with their center because Pau wears out quickly from being leaned on and that has made him ineffective late in games. His free throw shooting has dramatically improved this season but not unlike Shaq, you don’t want him on the line when the game is in doubt.

Pau’s weaknesses on defense are well known but also somewhat exaggerated. He is adequate defending big men but struggles denying drives into the lane. In Memphis this often made him look out of place defensively since he struggled denying lay-ups from slashers in the lane and when he was able to stop the drive it was rare that someone rotated to cover his man. Gasol’s blocks usually are off the ball helping out teammates instead of in someone’s face. This gives him the reputation of being a poor defender. He isn’t great but he is better than it appeared in Memphis.

Rebounds come to Gasol because of his size but he struggles when forced to muscle a board in a crowd. His numbers usually come from long rebounds and situations when the defense is retreating on defense. He is not someone to count on getting the important boards in crunch time.

What I (and many commenters here) have noted is that the things that are weaknesses in Pau’s game are things he will not be asked to do a ton of in LA, once Bynum returns. It is Bynum that blocks shots in the paint, Bynum that grabs all those boards, Bynum that can body the big center on the other team. What I’ve seen of him, particularly in international ball where he is surrounded by good talent, is that he understands the team game. He’s got a great basketball IQ. And those things will help him thrive in Phil Jackson’s system.

Josh from Three Shades of Blue added a few quirky things to look for:

Checking for blood. He hasn’t done it much this season, but it is a Gasol staple move after getting smacked in the face and not receiving a call.

The Jersey Pop. He busted that one out this year and often does it at seemingly strange moments, like he’s not entirely sure when to use it. It is high comedy.

The way he offsets his lower jaw while shooting free throws.

On the flip side of this trade, I really hope for the best for Javaris Crittenton, I think he is very talented and when he learns to get his game under control he is going to be very good. I hope Kwame is happy wherever he ends up.

And I hope, for the sake of the fans in Memphis, that their ownership (whoever it might be by next year) and their GM really do have a good plan. As regular readers here know, I believe that organizations win – there’s a reason the Lakers win so much under Buss, that the Spurs have been so good for so long, that Detroit has done what it has done. These are organizations with a top-down plan. Memphis, if it really has one of those, is in a position with some smart drafts and signings to do what Portland had done in recent years. This kind of rebuilding chance is somewhat rare. We’ll see what they do with it.

As for me, I’m going to open some really good scotch and soak this all in for a little while longer. It’s a good day to be a Lakers fan.