Archives For February 2008

Records: Lakers 33-17 (5 seed); Bobcats 18-33 (13 seed, 3 games out of the 8 seed)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.9 (4th); Bobcats 104.8 (22nd)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.7 (9th); Bobcats 110.5 (26th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladimir Radmanovic, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Bobcats: Raymond Felton, Jason Richardson, Jered Dudley, Emeka Okafor, Nazr Mohammed (but they change this five often depending on matchups)

Mbenga sticking around: The Lakers have signed Dj Mbenga for the rest of the season. (Hat tip to Gatinho, who got it in just a couple minutes before Michael). I said just a couple days ago the Lakers should go this way — not sure what if anything we’ll get out of Mihm the rest of the season — so this makes me happy. Now, maybe we should debate starting DJ and bringing Pau off the bench…..

Lakers Notes: The Lakers are now 5-2 through seven games of the “Grammys Road Trip.” (Doesn’t this road swing need a name, like the “rodeo trip” the Spurs take or the “circus trip” of the Bulls?) And the Lakers offense since Pau came to time has been consistently amazing (even with him scoring just 12 yesterday he opened up all sorts of lanes). The offense is still covering up for a defense that continues to concern me (even though I know Bynum and Ariza will help that a lot when they get back next month). Yesterday the suddenly-improved Heat shot 50% (eFG%) for the game.

As has been the case after the last few games, lots of comments about Lamar Odom and how he fits in as the third or fourth option. To my eye, he seems so much more relaxed in that role and that makes him very valuable to a contending Lakers team. This season and next season.

That leads to a thought about Odom’s taking threes — I think there are two kinds for him. When he has to either create his own three or takes a fast catch-and-shoot three, that is where his misses pile up. But about once a game or so, he is trailing a break (or some other play), where he gets left wide-open at the three. When he has a full second to set his feet, look at the basket and take an uncontested shot, he hits a fair amount. (This is where I wish I had access to something like Synergy, where I could watch a bunch of his threes this season and confirm my thinking.) I’m fine with the second kind of three, and with Gasol and Kobe (and eventually Bynum) drawing doubles down deep, he may get more of these looks.

Suggested Reading: If you didn’t read the story in the LA Times by Chuck Cullpepper about Pau Gasol growing up, it’s well worth the time. Apparently, growing up the son of a doctor in a little town outside Barcelona doesn’t suck.

Also, if you didn’t see the Hoopsworld story Chris H. linked to on DJ Mbenga, check that out as well. His life and the challenges in his home country make great reading.

The Bobcats Coming In: They have lost six in a row but they are nearly a .500 team at home (14-15). They are also on the second game of a back-to-back, having been thumped by Detroit yesterday on the road.

The Lakers catch a break as the brightest young star on the Bobcats — Gerald Wallace — is out with a strained right foot.

But there are still athletes a plenty on this roster. The overpaid but still dang good Jason Richardson will carry most of the scoring load — and he is shooting 42.3% from three this season, so you have to challenge him everywhere. They run him off more picks than UCLA ran Afflalo off of last season, the Lakers need to talk on defense.

Emeka Okafor is shooting 53% for the season and the Lakers have to stay with him. Raymond Felton will push the pace and so will Boykins off the bench. Matt Carroll can light it up for a night and did against the Lakers last season. Jeff McInnis plays smart.

And despite the record you can say this about the Bobcats — they play hard. This is not a team that coasts, they get after it with defenders jumping the passing lanes and effort from key guys.

I watched the Grammy’s last night: Man I wish I could get that 90 minutes back. (Even TiVoed and the worst parts fast-forwarded through, it still sucks.) I liked Amy Winehouse, as I usually do. Enjoyed the Cirque “Love” thing, but I’ve seen that show and it’s the best Cirque around. Loved that a jazz guy in Herbie Hancock won best album. But as a whole that show is the worst thing in Staples. And I’m including those boiled hot dogs in that statement.

Keys To The Game: This game worries me, just as the Atlanta game did. In a best of seven the Lakers might not drop one to the Bobcats, but in one game, on the road, in the second game of a back-to-back, combined with how the Lakers have played defense of late and some real scorers for the Bobcats, and there is cause for concern.

It would help the Lakers to do what Detroit did yesterday — jump out to a big early lead and demoralize the Bobcats. This is a team that had 8 first quarter turnovers and shot 4 of 18 to start the game last night.

Ball movement within the half court will mean great looks for the Lakers tonight — right now the Bobcats defensive rotations are slow, particularly on people at the three point line and jump shooters. (In the last five games, teams are shooting nearly 50% from three against the Bobcats because of this.) This could be a big night for Fisher, Radman and Sasha.

Where you can watch: Game time is 4 pm (Pacific) but again the Los Angeles KCAL broadcast doesn’t start until 5:30. Again. Just a couple more games of that on this road trip with this annoying delay.

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 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, 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.