Archives For March 2008

I appeared on the Brothers Kamenetzky podcast today, which you can listen to over at their LA Times blog or at Now Live. We talk Dallas with Andy, who was at the game and called in from the Denver airport to tell us Marc Cuban did not stare daggers at him (and that Henry Abbot may or may not have tried to hide behind Andrew near the Dallas locker room). We also discuss what we can reasonably expect from Bynum come playoff time. This is well worth a listen, just for the joy of hearing Brian try to juggle eight kinds of technology at once.

And now a few more thoughts….

• Speaking of Bynum, I think part of what Phil was doing was playing down expectations for Bynum. Now if he does come back a few games before the playoffs he is ahead of schedule, not a month behind it. Plus, it’s a reminder that when he comes back he will not be the player he was when he went down.

As for the topic we discussed on the podcast, I think it’s impossible to say how much we need Bynum for the first round because we don’t know the matchup. Whoever we play he does not need to be a savior, just 15 minutes or so off the bench of solid defense and rebounding would be a huge boost. Andrew K reminded us how well Bynum and Farmar meshed to start the season and to rekindle that in the playoffs would be huge. Plus, the first round of the playoffs takes weeks, giving him more time to get into shape for more minutes as things go along.

• As for last night, I’ll stick with my theory that the Gasol-less Lakers are last year’s team — they played two-and-a-half quarters of good basketball and then stopped doing what had got them the win. Kobe was passing early and picking his spots in the offense, which was allowing other guys to get good shots. The Lakers played the best half of defense they have in a long time (I forgot to save it, but the Mavs offensive efficiency rating after the first half was right around 90). Then Kobe started taking more offense on and the Lakers got out of synch on that end. The misses and less tenacity on the boards allowed Dallas to get out and run a little, and the result was some good looks and easy buckets. Then, suddenly, we had a ball game.

Yup, that pretty much reminds me of the inconsistent team from last year.

• If you want to relive last night’s contest, nomuscles put up a fun and funny recap in the comments.

• I think Dallas’ heavy isolation offense really plays to the Lakers defense better than making them help on things like the pick-and-roll. Plus, Ronny had his best defensive game in a while, protecting the rim better than we have seen any Laker do since Drew went down. To have any chance against the motion and screens of the Utah offense, the Lakers will have to play 48 minutes like that Thursday.

• A number of commenters (and myself) said we needed someone other than Kobe to step up and take on some offense — Hello Vladimir! One of his best games as a Laker, both shooting well from three and putting the ball on the floor. His putting the ball on the floor early opened up some of those three chances later. He also is a better defender than his reputation. His mind seems to be elsewhere some nights, but it was in Dallas last night.

• If you are a fan of the advanced basketball stats here and want to use them (and other stuff like RPI) when filling out your NCAA pool, check out the amazing Kenpom site.

• The Final Four in my work pool, as it stands now: Kansas, UCLA, Louisville and Memphis. Personally, I’m not sold on Memphis going that far and may change that, but they are a good offensive team and their style throws some people off. But can Pitt beat them? Also, I have Clemson and Butler going farther than most. But I could probably be talked out of any of that (save Kansas, who I really like).

Actually, we can all use the help so throw your NCAA tourney thoughts in the comments.

Records: Lakers 45-21 (2 seed); Mavericks 44-23 (7 seed)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 113.7 (5th); Mavericks 113.2 (6th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.4 (6th); Mavericks 107.0 (8th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladimir Radmanovic, Lamar Odom, Ronny Turiaf
Mavericks: Jason Kidd, Josh Howard, Jerry Stackhouse, Dirk Nowitzki, Eric Dampier

Lakers Notes: Some good news from Kevin Ding over at the OC Register – Gasol is off crutches, Bynum has no swelling and Ariza is out of his boot.

And in case you are curious, here is what an anti-gravity treadmill looks like (the kind Bynum has been working out on). (Hat tip to Jeremy at Pickaxe and Roll.)

All reports are that the Lakers are keeping their heads about them during this recent run of play, which is good. Every report out of practice yesterday was about the light atmosphere. Let’s hope that the majority of the practice was spent working on defensive rotations. But I don’t think panic is a good thing.

The Mavericks Coming In: I guess I can write whatever I want about the Mavericks, Cuban isn’t going to think I know too much anyway. (By the way, Henry from True Hoop, Andrew K from the LA Times Lakers blog and the Dallas Morning News blogger that started this whole thing are all going to the game in Dallas tonight. Should be interesting.)

The Mavs come in on a five-game win streak. But before you say “they must have figured it out with Kidd” look at the opponents — New Jersey, New York, Charlotte, Indiana and Miami. If you need time to work on some things, playing the worst of the Eastern Conference is a good time to do it. Tonight, then the upcoming games against Boston and San Antonio, will tell us a lot more about just how good they are now.

One thing we do know, regardless of the opposition, Dirk is playing like an MVP again. In his last 10 he’s been scoring 26 a game shooting 55.2% (eFG%) and 51% from three, and he’s getting to the line 7.4 times per game. Plus he’s grabbing 8 boards a game.

Kidd certainly has upped the assist quotient for the Mavericks, but you can question whether Kidd’s pass first mentality has spread to the rest of the team. Kidd is averaging 10 points and 9.2 assists per game in the last 10, and the less attention he is getting from defenders has dramatically improved his shooting, especially from three — he is hitting 60% from three in the last 10, picking his spots taking 2.3 per game.

Also, Jason Terry is now coming off the bench, providing a little more scoring for the second unit of the Mavs.

Last time these two met: We can only hope this game is as entertaining as that one. The Lakers won it in overtime 108-104 behind 52 from Kobe.

Keys To The Game: Historically the Mavs have had trouble stopping Kobe, and without Pau Kobe wants to take on more of the offense anyway. Last game in the key moments the Mavs tried to stop Kobe with either Stackhouse or Kidd, and neither is really up for that task. Bottom line, should be a good night if Kobe is on your fantasy team. However, for the Lakers to win there likely will need to be some balance from someone else. Hopefully the Lakers can get Odom going early.

With Kidd at the helm the Mavericks are running more than they used to, so the Lakers need to get back in transition. One key to that is being more active on the boards — remember Dampier had 17 boards and looked like a stud last meeting, Ronny needs to outwork him and not let him control the glass.

While he is shooting better since relocating to Texas, you’d still rather force Kidd to shoot than pass. Go under the pick. Odom has traditionally done a fairly good job on Dirk and he needs to be up to that task tonight.

The bench needs to play better, particularly on defense, not letting Terry or Bass get hot.

Defensive rotations. Help the helper. Contest the shot but don’t foul. Important things the Lakers have not really done well lately, but need to tonight from the opening tip.

Oh, if the Lakers are up three late and the Mavs are going to take a last shot, foul.

Where you can watch: The game is at 5:30 pm. (Pacific) on KCAL (9) or League Pass everywhere else.

I Don’t Like Flashbacks

Kurt —  March 17, 2008

I’d like to thank the fine people at ABC for reaching into the vault and pulling out one of last season’s Lakers games for us to watch, reminding us of how frustrating it was to sit through…

Wait, that was this year’s Lakers? That’s what the injuries reduced the team to?

On a serious note, I found this morning’s LA Times Lakers report (via the hard working Mike Bresnahan) telling. In it, Lamar Odom complains that he didn’t get enough chances on the block in the Rockets game and that he could have done a lot more if he had.

He’s right — which is why he should have gotten his ass to the block rather than float around on the three-point line in the fourth quarter. He should have run the floor and set up early position before the offense and defense really set. He should have demanded the ball. Instead, we were treated to the good but passive Odom as the second option. Again. We were treated to Kobe more than willing to take on the offensive burden — good shot or not — if other guys don’t demand the rock. We got to see a lot of standing around.

It was frustrating because on the other side was a Rockets team where the role players have stepped up in the absence of a star. They are committed to defense and contest every shot. Their help defense is fantastic (hat tip to Bill Bridges in the comments). The fight for rebounds. They move on offense without the ball. They played to their strenghts and the offense looked like Adleman’s offense when it was clicking in Sacramento. The Rockets have earned that streak.

In a similar spot the Lakers seem to look to the other guy to step up. Even the vets were doing it —Rafer Alston is a good three-point shooter, so maybe Fisher should have stopped coming off him to help. Especially after the fourth three in the first quarter. That might have been a good hint he was hot (and a glance at the stats before the game would have told you he can shoot the three anyway).

What is the saving grace right now is I know that this year’s version of last year’s Lakers is going to get better as it gets healthy. This is not last year’s team, this is a team that is a contender when everybody is suited up. Bynum does fight for and get rebounds, Gasol will demand the ball, Odom will feel more comfortable with the pressure off. But yesterday’s experience was a frustrating one for fans, and the next two games could offer more of the same.

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A few other notes poached from the comments. We’ll start with Kwame a. talking about whatever that was that was supposed to be the Lakers pick-and-roll defense:

I know Farmar wasn’t playing Alston tight, but his problem was different than Fisher’s, who was unnecessarily helping, leaving his man open. Jordan was going under the screen, but there is no reason our bigs couldn’t come out and show, I think the burden is more on them. I agree with you about the momentum, but the last 3 Alston hit before the quarter ended, McGrady set a screen on Jordan, there’s no reason for Kobe not to have stepped out on the shot. I think our single biggest defensive deficiency is rotating as a team. One guy helps, the others don’t rotate, two guys trap, the defense doesn’t adjust, people let their man go back-door, there’s no help. It is truly a problem of TEAM DEFENSE, no individual can be the culprit. Houston is playing tremendous team d, everyone is on the same page, us, not so much

Trying to end on a positive note, here are some suggestions from Bill Bridges:

Things I’d like to see in the next two games:

1. Kobe on the lower left block (Pau’s usual spot). He could roll into the lane for his running hook or generally wreck havoc in the lane.

2. Pick and pop w/ Kobe/Fish/Farmar and Rad (we never run this, why?) [Kurt’s note: This is a good call I had not thought of, the Lakers had success with this the last couple years using Cook, they should try it again.]

3. Sasha at the 1 guarding the opponent’s PG. He’s our most pesky perimeter defender and the best at getting over the screen. Don’t need this for JKidd but would like to test it on Dwill.

4. Start out with Lamar on the right block and feed him 3 consecutive possessions to start the game (Like the Bulls used to do w/ Cartwright – to jump start an unagressive offensive player).

5. No double-teams on D. If Boozer or Nowitzki beat you – so be it. But don’t sag off the 3-point shooters.

6. (For the first time this season) Execute secondary rotation to help the man covering dribble penetration.

I don’t hold much hope for #6 as they try to execute this every game but mostly fail. However 1 -5 has never been tried. Why not?

Preview and Chat: Houston Rockets

Kurt —  March 16, 2008

Records: Lakers 45-20 (1 seed — tie); Rockets 45-20 (1 seed – tie)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 113 (3rd); Rockets 108.1 (16th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106 (5th); Rockets 102.2 (2nd)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladimir Radmanovic, Lamar Odom, Ronny Turiaf
Rockets: Rafer Alston, Tracy McGrady, Shane Battier, Luis Scola, Dikembe Mutombo

How the Lakers do it: Normally, with so many injuries, you’d expect a heavy dose of Kobe today. However, with the very good man defender Battier on Kobe, it’s going to take more of a team effort to get things done.

Here are the two areas I think are key for the Lakers while Gasol remains out.

1) Defense in the paint. Gasol at times provided some solid defense inside, but it never looked like his heart was really in it. Ronny Turiaf may not have the same skill level, but all of his heart is in everything he does. Remember, back in training camp Turiaf was played as a starter because he was providing toughness inside (a role Bynum ultimately filled better than Ronny could). He has to do that now, block shots and dominate on the boards. He has to play at the top of his abilities. And, when he’s not in DJ Mbenga has to do those same things. The Laker offense is going to be less potent, the defense has to get better and it starts inside. And the rebounding must improve as well, the Lakers cannot afford to give up many second chances.

2) Get back to running. Drrayeye mentioned this yesterday — since Gasol’s arrival the Lakers have slowed the pace some. Today and for the rest of the trip they need to get back to running, to getting some of the easy baskets that come in transition. Farmar will be key with the second (and at times first) units, and I’d like to see Phil go small at times and try to run that way. The Lakers are a good running team when they do it.

The Rockets Coming In: Winning 21 in a row is an amazing streak.

And for the Rockets it starts on the defensive end — this has been a very good defensive. In the last 10 games opposing teams are shooting just 43.4% (eFG%, for comparison the Lakers are 46.7%). Regular commenter here and Rockets fan Stephen posted some comments yesterday along these lines:

They are playing outstanding team defense. It all begins w/Shane Battier. His non-stop shadowing of the other team’s top scorer not only sets the tone for the team, it also allows the rest of the team to concentrate on the rest of the opposition. His hard work allows the rest to make defensive rotations on the perimeter and protect the paint. Mutombo is giving 15-20min in 2-4 stretches where he is blocking everything.

On offense, there is Tracy McGrady – he is averaging 25.6 points per game shooting 52.2% (eFG%) and getting to the line six times a game. He’s getting balanced back up from Rafer Alston, Luis Scola, the surprising Carl Landry and even double-digit points per game from Shane Battier. They have balance, a number of guys who can score, and they don’t need to score a ton with their defense.

Keys To The Game: On defense, the Lakers have to make the Rockets uncomfortable, meaning beating them to the spots they like to get the ball. You, me, Kobe, the ball boy all know McGrady prefers to get the ball on the wing, try to deny that pass. It may mean a back door or two but don’t let him get comfortable.

The Lakers defense cannot collapse into the paint today. Rockets love to shoot the three – taking 26.6 a game in the last 10 games. And they are hitting 35.7% of those attempts. Alston, Battier, Head and McGrady can all hit the three (all above 33.3% in the last 10), the Lakers defenders cannot sag off them at the three-point line.

On offense, this cannot be the Kobe show, Battier is a good defender and will lower Kobe’s efficiency. Somebody – Odom? Fisher? Radmanovic? – has to step up and take on a role of second scorer. I think Odom can have some effectiveness on Scola, and whoever has Radmanovic will be smaller than him I look to those two. There needs to be some balance to the offense today.

The Rockets have won 21 in a row in part because this is one of the hardest working teams in the NBA. They play hard for a full 48, and if the Lakers start to coast at all they will pay a steep price.

Where you can watch: The game is at 12:30 pm. (Pacific) on ABC where you pray we get Van Gundy as an announcer because he’s the only good guy they have. In LA, the game also is on KCAL (9).

Gasol Out

Kurt —  March 14, 2008

According to the Lakers web site, Gasol is out for at least the next three games. Where he will be sorely missed.

Much like the Lakers in the second half without Gasol, I’m still in a state of shock.