Archives For March 2008

Records: Lakers 49-24 (3 seed); Wizards 38-34 (5 seed)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 113.9 (4th); Wizards 109.6 (12th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.9 (5th); Wizards 110.2 (19th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladimir Radmanovic, Lamar Odom, Ronny Turiaf
Wizards: Antonio Daniels, DeShawn Stevenson, Caron Butler, Antawan Jamison, Brendan Haywood

I’m outta here: I’m going on vacation again, and not just because the Lakers’ play the last couple of games has made me ill. I’ll be gone all of this week, living the high life in the Shelter Island area of San Deigo.

Some familiar names from this site will be keeping things going — with some interesting ideas for posts. Things are not going to slow down around here at all.

Lakers notes: I’ve praised him before for this — one of the things Phil Jackson does well is put players in a position to succeed by playing to their strengths. He doesn’t ask Sasha to run the pick and roll, he makes him a spot up shooter because that’s what he does well. He asked Kwame to just rebound and be a big body because those were the only two things he could sort of do. It is kind of like directing Keanu Reeves in a movie — ask him to do Shakespeare and he flops, but contain him in a simple character and he’s fine.

However, all the injuries have forced Phil to ask too much of players, forced them to be asked to do things they do not do well. And the results have been ugly. Phil can’t limit Walton’s minutes when Luke is struggling because he needs the healthy body on the floor. I think we’re all a little tired of the “wait for Gasol and Bynum to come back” line of thinking — the last couple of games the team played like they were waiting — but there is a lot of truth to it. When healthy, this is a deep and versatile roster. (By the way, good news about the Bynum injury in the Times today, and Gasol is expected back next week).

Kwame a. had some thoughts about the short term that I’m passing along.

I really think the most important thing is getting Pau back, that will happen soon. Our whole game is outside-in, we gotta reverse that to inside-out. Also, without Pau, Kobe doesn’t have the luxury of the deadly pick and roll, and effective weapon that opens up space on the court. As far as defense, well that may be the thing that prevents us from winning it all. I can’t find one thing we do well on defense right now, not just one player, the whole team, because its a team thing…..One other thing, a lot of our shots are coming from the perimeter, which is triggering the oppositions fast break. With our bigs back we will get closer shots, and limit the oppositions opportunities for fast breaks.

And, by the way, if you haven’t seen this, it is quite sad.

The Wizards Coming In: No Gilbert Arenas, no problem. The Wizards are the hottest team in the Eastern Conference lately, having won 8 of their last 10. That includes big wins in the first two games of this West Coast road trip, in Seattle and Sacramento. In both games the Wizards spotted the home team big leads (in the teens) then came roaring back in the second half.

Another former Laker, this one the very popular Caron Butler, comes to Staples tonight. He is averaging 17.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game in the last 10, although he is shooting just 44.8% (eFG%) lately.

The guy really stepping up is Jamison — 23 and 10 in the last 10 games, shooting 51.7% (eFG%).

Keys To The Game: The Lakers need to get the damn ball inside tonight. Right now the Lakers are a perimeter team, and that doesn’t work in the triangle (or really in general), and you end up shooting a stupid amount (45) three pointers. The Wiz are not a great defensive team, the Lakers should run their offense and get good looks out of it. It can’t be the Kobe show.

The Lakers should be able to do that because the Wizards prefer small ball and will go with a small lineups for extended periods. The Lakers need to be ready for that and get back for transition defense. The other way to slow the Wizards — don’t turn the ball over and get the ball inside instead of shooting threes.

The Wizards are a team that lives on penetration and kicks — Arenas or no Arenas they get into the lane. The Lakers bigs need to defend the rim tonight, and do that without fouling. The Wizards as a team average 24 free throws a game (in the last 10) with Jamison and Butler leading the way. Mbenga (and maybe even Mihm) should get a few minutes tonight but the key will be to keep Ronny and Odom out of foul trouble.

The Wizards like to shoot the three on those kick-outs, 20 a game in the last 10. In particular, both Stevenson and off-the-bench Roger Mason can hit the shot (42% and 48%, respectively, in the last 10) so you can’t sag off them.

Where you can watch: The game is at 6:30 pm on both Fox Sports here in LA and on League Pass.

Records: Lakers 49-23 (3 seed); Grizzlies 12-33 (drafting third, most likely, plus the 27th pick from LA)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 114.1 (3rd); Grizzlies 106.3 (22nd)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.7 (6th); Grizzlies 113.2 (28th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladimir Radmanovic, Lamar Odom, Ronny Turiaf
Grizzlies: Mike Conley, Mike Miller, Rudy Gay, Hakim Warrick, Darko Milicic

Lakers notes: After a sub-par effort two nights ago I expect a little more out of the Lakers tonight. The Lakers without Gasol are an inconsistent bunch, but with the season winding down two bad games in a row, two games with a lack of effort, would be very frustrating.

If you haven’t seen it, Pau Gasol talked with the paper in Memphis and said, basically, everything is better in LA except for the barbeque restaurants. (Via True Hoop.)

Gasol is expected to run again tomorrow, but the smart money is on him coming back next Wednesday.

Javaris Crittenton will be back tonight and should get some burn, which will be good to see. I liked what we saw of him, although he may always have been better suited to an offense other than the triangle. He’s averaging 16 minutes a game but his poor shooting (41% eFG% since the trade) limits his scoring. That said he has had a 17 and 22 point game in Memphis. The jumper is what he needs to spend the off-season working on.

Kwame Brown will be back in town as well, but he has been a DNP-coaches decision the last four games. I wonder what the market will be for him as a free agent this summer? Certainly not $9 mil a year, but who will take a $2 mil a year flier on him? I just think someone will because size and bulk are hard to find, but if I did it (not for the Lakers, but in general) it would be a one-year deal with a team-option for one more.

The Grizzlies Coming In: The big news today for Memphis is off the court — their local minority ownership has had to give back some of their shares to majority owner Michael Heisley. Check the comments out over at Three Shades of Blue, they are turning red over this.

Then there is the rumor that ownership would dump first-year coach Marc Ivaroni for Larry Brown if he wants the job. I don’t really like that move — not because I dislike Brown, the guy can coach and has improved teams everywhere he has been (he even got the Clippers to the playoffs). He stresses defense, which is good. But to me he is the wrong coach for a rebuilding process — you need a coach willing to make mistakes with youth and Brown is a guy who wants to give veterans heavy minutes. His rigid control many not allow the young core of the Griz to meld into a cohesive unit over a couple of years. I don’t think it’s a terrible move, but not one that I would make.

On the court, the Griz are 3-7 in their last 10, but a couple guys are starting to heat it up. Mike Miller (who should play a bigger role this summer in Beijing) is scoring 17 a game and is shooting 57.8% (eFG%) in his last 10, plus 40% from three. Warrick is shooting 53.5% and is scoring 16 a game.

Rudy Gay is leading the scoring in the last 10 games, but he’s taking a lot of shots to get his 18 a game, shooting just 45% and getting to the line 3.5 times per game. If he wants to shoot the three-ball, let him — 19.6% in the last 10.

In a sign of just how bad their inside play is, Miller is the leading rebounder for the team the last 10 games from the guard position, averaging 7.7 per game.

Keys To The Game: There is a fantastic position-by-position breakdown of tonight over at the Grizzlies Blog Three Shades of Blue.

After one of the Lakers worst performances of the year, in comes one of those young and athletic teams that tends to give the Lakers problems (the Lakers won by 1 last meeting). I tend to talk Xs and Os more than the amorphous “effort” here, but tonight priority number one needs to be focus and effort. If the Lakers come out with another Bobcats-game effort, they will lose this one going away. Run the damn offense and D-up.

The Lakers need to focus that defense on Warrick, Miller and Gay, they are the biggest offensive threats. Make Conley a shooter. If Darko beats you with an offensive explosion, so be it. But force the big three to pass and contest their shots. And don’t sag off Miller beyond the arc — Kobe cannot gamble off of him for the risky plays he seems to be in love with again.

We already know Mike Miller can get under Kobe’s skin — he needs to keep his head about him tonight.

Even without Gasol and Bynum, the Lakers should be able to dominate inside tonight. Odom and Turiaf need to post up, the offense needs to run through them inside out. Also, this is a good team to penetrate the lane against as they have nobody who defends the rim well. If the Lakers win big in the points in the paint — and get some offensive boards — they should win going away.

Where you can watch: The game is at 7:30 pm on both Fox Sports here in LA and on League Pass.

Other People’s Thoughts

Kurt —  March 27, 2008

Just a couple of quick thoughts from other people that I liked today.

First up, the incomparable Kelly Dwyer at Ball Don’t Lie about last night’s ugly loss:

I’m going to chalk this one up to Los Angeles’ lack of effort, and a bit of hubris. The first part seemed pretty obvious. The latter has to do with my observation that this team thought it could jump-shoot its way back into things, starting at about the 11-minute mark of the first quarter.

The Lakers refused to run its usual offense, from the inside-out, and the Bobcats pounced and moved the ball and attacked and shot and ran and won.

I think the Bobcats game was one where the absence of Gasol and Bynum was a big problem, and combine that with the feeling they should walk through these guys and you have a loss. Without two of the team’s three best players, the other guys cannot take any nights off.

Next, I liked this observation from Sports Guy Bill Simmons:

During regulation of Monday’s Warriors game, (Odom) went to the line in the final few seconds with a one-point lead, endured a few taunts and standing-in-front-of-him maneuvers from Davis and Jackson … (Follow-up to that story: In that same game, the Lakers were up two with four seconds left in overtime when Kobe got fouled. Three interesting things here. First, none of the Warriors came within 10 feet of him as he was preparing to shoot the first free throw. Second, he stared down all the Warriors around him, drained the first free throw and muttered “Game over, game over” to everyone who would listen. Third, he made the second one and that was that. The lesson, as always: It’s good to have Kobe Bryant on your team.)

To me that is less about Odom than the fire of Kobe and the fear and respect he instills in most of those who play against him.

Finally, I think we should talk a little about Kobe’s technicals. No doubt he has been talking — and talking back — to the refs more this season. I think it’s a function of his passion — he’s back on a team that can win and he is fired up. Every little thing matters to him. And while I understand that fire, he needs to understand you need to pick your battles. Not every one is worth fighting to the point of ejection. Or now, suspension for a game. Being a leader is not just getting in the ref’s face, it’s knowing when to back off. I’m sure he and Phil have and will again will discuss that.

Records: Lakers 49-22 (1 seed); Bobcats 25-44 (12 seed)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 114.1 (3rd); Bobcats 105.1 (23rd)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.7 (6th); Bobcats 110.8 (23rd)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladimir Radmanovic, Lamar Odom, Ronny Turiaf
Bobcats: Raymond Felton, Jason Richardson,Gerald Wallace, Emeka Okafor, Nazr Mohammed

Tech problem solved. Well, at least we think. There is some more behind the scenes upgrading to go on today, but the site look and form is back. As I said in the comments, this is really a community site and this summer I’ll be looking at possible changes to the look and the options here, and when that happens I’ll be looking for suggestions and thoughts.

Lakers notes: According to Mike Breshnahan at the LA Times, Sunday will be the earliest Pau Gasol returns. What matters most is having a healthy Gasol for the playoffs, no need to rush him back for a game against the Bobcats. Also, Bynum is still a couple weeks away and Ariza is sometime during the playoffs.

That said, the Lakers are banged up right now. Kobe has a twisted ankle to go with that pinky finger held on by tape. Fisher got a bruised knee in the end-of-game collision with Ellis last game. Every team is a little banged up right now, what has been impressive is how the Lakers fought through their injuries to stay on top in the West. Credit to the team, which is playing with confidence, and the coaching staff for knowing when to put their foot down on the gas and when to ease off.

NBA Thoughts Two things, one of which is I’m looking forward to seeing some of the Celtics/Suns game tonight. Should be an interesting test for both teams.

Chris Webber is stepping away and that seems to make the era of the Shaq/Kobe Lakers a little smaller in the rear-view mirror. Webber was at his peak in Sacramento, leading the Kings in that 1999 to 2003 stretch when they were probably the second best team in the NBA. He was versatile, could play inside and out, was a fantastic passer and solid rebounder. I hope he is remembered more for those days than the one big mistake at Michigan or what he was by the end of his career, when his body betrayed him.

The Bobcats Coming In: Charlotte comes in on the second night of a back-to-back, having found out that Utah can score a lot of points (126-106 Jazz win). Incidentally, that’s how the Lakers beat the Bobcats last month, just outscoring them. Because it was a thumping, most of the Bobcat starters rested during the fourth quarter. Charlotte has lost six of its last seven after a five-game winning streak against quality teams (while Wallace was out).

Of late, the two leading scorers for Charlotte have started to find their stroke. Jason Richardson is averaging 24 points per game in the last 10 shooting 52.5% (eFG%) overall and 35.8% from three. Gerald Wallace is shooting 53.1% and is scoring 16 points per game (and while he doesn’t shoot many threes he can hit it if he sets his feet). I’m looking forward to getting a better look at Wallace who didn’t play against the Lakers lat month.

If the draft goes to form, the Bobcats will have the 8th pick this year.

Keys To The Game: The Lakers need Odom to keep playing like he has in recent weeks. Last month when these two played Gasol had 26 points on 9 of 11 shooting — Charlotte had no answer for him. Odom (and maybe Radmanovic) will need to pick up some of that slack.

Odom also needs to play well on defense. The Bobcats come in with real size and the ability to play inside and out with Okafor and Mohammed. If those two get going inside it tends to opening things up for the Richardson and the jump-shooters on Charlotte, so Ronny and Odom need to play well defensively, not letting those two (particularly Okafor) get going. Okafor has struggled of late (giving the Bobcats 10 and 8 on 44% shooting in his last 10), the Lakers need to continue that trend.

The good defense also need to extend to slowing Wallace and Felton and not letting them get into the lane with penetration at will, or blocking a few shots if they do.

This is not a good defensive team the Lakers face, LA should get high-percentage looks if they move the ball and run the offense. The rotations of the Bobcats have been slow every time I have seen them this year, including the highlights of last night.

Fast starts in both halves would help. The Bobcats should be tired and they have had some terrible starts to the third quarter recently. Fast starts at the beginning of both halves mean the chance for Son Of George and maybe Newble to get some burn. At the same time.

Where you can watch: The game is at 7:30 pm on both Fox Sports here in LA and on League Pass.

Fast Break Thoughts

Kurt —  March 25, 2008

Got to these late because I stayed up late watching the overtime.

UPDATE: Please excuse the technical difficulties with the look of the site. Fixes are being worked on. No, I have no idea why this happened, but I blame Isiah Thomas.

• Just how good a passing team the Lakers have become was key to the win last night — when Golden State retreated to a match-up zone defense to protect the paint, the Lakers used a lot of skip passes, drive-and-kicks and just general good ball movement to get good looks. My personal preferred way to attack a zone is inside out — get the ball in the paint to your big and let him score or dish out for open looks when the defense collapses down (Gasol would be perfect for this). But without a big who could pull that off, the Lakers went another direction and pulled it off. Despite some ugly late turnovers, and the team at times getting sucked into the Warriors’ game, this was a good win.

• My two cents on the last play — I would have gone with a no-call. Baron Davis runs up and (as was accurately described in the comments) he and Kobe give each other a bear hug. I guess Don Nelson was trying to draw up the “picket fence” with Ellis coming off the end, but he crashed into Fisher and it ended up in a pile on the floor. I think the call could have gone either way, but who wants to see a game decided by a toss-up call? Maybe call the double foul and let the inbounds play happen again.

• That said, I’ll say to Warrior fans what I say to Lakers fans when close games are decided by late questionable calls — that’s on you for letting the game get close in the first place. The best teams take the decisions out of the ref’s hands, if you let it come down to a late play you live with the breaks.

• It keeps getting mentioned in the comments but really deserves a lot more space (and more than I am giving it here) — Lamar Odom is playing his best basketball as a Laker right now. He thrived since Gasol arrived and, in games like last night, providing a key inside presence in a win while the traditional bigs sit injured. Another plus is him grabbing the defensive board and leading the break himself, ala Magic, which has sparked some good transition points.

• A well written commentary saying perception is at the heart of the love/hate relationship that national fans and media have with Kobe.

• Maybe I just haven’t seen enough of them lately (just parts of games), but I’m still not sold on Phoenix being a huge playoff threat. Maybe kwame a. can convince me otherwise (or maybe I just get to see more of them). That said, there is a race again for the top spot in the Pacific. Good thing the Lakers schedule softens up. Oh, and we get that Gasol guy back.

• After watching these last two games, I’d welcome Golden State in the first round. It would be fun, but with the bigs in the fold I think the Lakers win fairly handily (as much as that happens for anyone in the West). I’ll be honest that Denver scares me only in that they have so much talent on the roster, if they ever figure out how to play together night in and night out they would be dangerous. If they haven’t all season it’s unlikely they flip a switch now, but these are the things I worry about.

• I feel bad for Dirk and Dallas fans, but you knew a key injury was going to change the landscape in the West. I’ve been amazed with how well the Lakers have stayed afloat without Gasol, it’s a real credit to the team. I’m not sure Dallas can do much without him, but then Houston seemed to take “The Ewing Theory” to a new level.

• Via True Hoop, the drive to get Wilt the Stilt a stamp is something I can get behind.