Archives For March 2008

Starting To Get Serious

Kurt —  March 3, 2008

The games are starting to take on a playoff feel — more physical, better defense, crowds more into it. The Lakers game yesterday against Dallas was like that — which is one reason it was a quality win. With the tightness of the West right now, I think we could see a lot more games like this before the playoffs roll around, and winning games like this gives the youngish and still meshing Lakers a lot of confidence.

One key thing I took away from the last couple of games— the Lakers need Bynum back to make a serious run at the title. I think we all knew that, but these games confirmed it. I love Pau Gasol. He has been everything we could have hoped for. But he is not a powerful physical presence in the paint, someone we can count on to bang away and get boards and play tough defense at the rim (or on the pick and roll). Yesterday Dampier was very physical with Gasol and it threw him off. Dampier led the Mavs in scoring midway through the third quarter and looked like a guy who deserved that fat contract.

Gasol made smart plays down the stretch defensively, but he can’t be expected to bang for 48. He can’t be expected to do it for what promises to be three tough playoff series in a row in the West (followed, ideally, by the finals).

We need Bynum back and healthy enough to be that guy. I’m not one of those terribly worried about how Gasol and Bynum will blend — I think their games will complement each other beautifully. Josh from sent me some thoughts along these lines the other day:

How will Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum mesh? Will they be able to play together? Everyone seems to be in wait-and-see mode, but I can answer that for you right now: It won’t be a problem. It will be perfect. It will be beautiful.

It seems to me that those questioning whether or not Bynum and Gasol can co-exist in the paint are making one key mistake: They’re judging a book by its cover. That book is Pau Gasol. He’s 7 feet tall and has often played at the center position, including during this first stint with the Lakers while Bynum is out. And therein lies the problem.

Because Pau Gasol is a 7-footer, the incorrect assumption that most people are making is that he prefers to operate under the basket, and that he doesn’t have the range to score outside the low post. After all, isn’t that true of most 7-foot tall centers? But Pau Gasol isn’t most 7-footers, and he’s not a center. Not only does he not have to operate in the low post to be effective — he actually prefers not to! He prefers to play off the elbows, and he’s much more comfortable facing the basket than he is with his back to it. He can shoot the jump hook with either hand, and he’s jot a good mi-range jumper. With all the attention Kobe and Bynum will draw, he’ll also get plenty of easy layups and dunks by cutting to the hoop.

The simple fact is that Gasol is not a center. He’s a power forward. He’s size leads people to assume he plays a center’s game, and the fact that he has filled in at that position has further reinforced this idea for many. But the reality is that Pau Gasol is a power forward — like any other, except taller — and if he were 6’10, we wouldn’t be talking about this.

Gasol’s game and Bynum’s will form concentric circles, with Bynum playing in the low post with his back to the basket and Gasol facing up on the elbows and baselines. And, as many have already pointed out, the passing ability of both big men, the attention that they will draw from Kobe (and vice versa), and the fact that neither demands the ball, can only make a good thing that much better.

We need a few games for that meshing to happen prior to the playoffs starting. But bottom line, we need Bynum back.

A few other thoughts:

• I said he had not been playing well, so let me say I loved the energy Luke Walton brought to the game yesterday. He was diving, hustling, scrapping. If he can play like that coming off the bench (when Radmanovic then Bynum return) it will be a huge boost for the Lakers.

• Kidd played better in the Mavs system than I expected, because they are running better and more than I expected. I knew Kidd could run the break, but as Bill Simmons said the question was who would run with him. So far, not bad, Terry and Stackhouse are doing well in that role. Still not sure Kidd was worth Harris and two first round picks (meaning the future), but he played well.

• Late in the fourth quarter, the Mavs had to put Stackhouse and Kidd on Kobe in isolation — that is going to come back to haunt them, and not just against the Lakers. Those are not great defenders in space (in Kidd’s case anymore, he used to be) and if that is what they’ve got they will pay a price late in games in the playoffs.

• Yes, you have to foul late in the game and up by three. Jackson said he feared the four-point play or giving up three free throws. If you do it right that is not an issue — foul the guy who gets the inbound pass instantly. Even if the guy is shooting the three, unless it is Steve Nash the chances of hitting three straight free throws are less than hitting an in-rhythm three. Hope that was a lesson learned.

• Yes, Kobe may have vaulted himself into the lead in the MVP race. Horses often change position down the stretch, but Kobe has the lead and maybe a clear run to the trophy. As I said before, I think he gets the “body of work” vote this year as well (LeBron will have more chances, some voters will think).

Records: Lakers 41-18 (2 seed); Mavs 39-20 (5 seed)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 113.6 (2nd) ; Mavs 112.7 (8th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.0 (6th); Mavs 107.2 (10th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Mavs: Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, Josh Howard, Dirk Nowitzki, Eric Dampier

Lakers Notes: It was one loss after a 10-game winning streak, on the second night of a back-to-back on the road against a good team. There are bad losses that tell you a lot about a team. That was not one of them.

One guy who continues to struggle is Luke Walton, who was abused on defense by Travis Outlaw and is not contributing a lot on the other end right now. Phil Jackson was slow with the hook, but his options with Ariza and Radmanovic sitting are limited, really the best option is Sasha at the two and Kobe at the three. I’d go to that early today if Luke has another bad game.

Aside that, there’s not much to seriously complain about right now. Well, except the price of a beer at Staples.

Get Well John Wooden. Nothing more to say there.

How ‘Bout Them Matadors Tough loss against UC Irvine last night, but I’m still on the bandwagon and not the only guy pumping them up on blogs, SportshubLA had a great piece too.

Good guards, pressure defense, fast pace. This is a fun team to watch, people. And we’re already dreaming NCAA tourney.

The Mavs Coming In: Kelly Dwyer over at Yahoo! said just about everything I would want to about the Kidd trade.

The misperceptions regarding Jason Kidd continue. TNT’s sublime studio crew spent the halftime break discussing how much Kidd adds to the team’s transition game, how the Mavs are going to have to keep their heads up because Jason is going to be spraying passes all over the fast break. Then TNT cuts to the first half stats to show that the Mavs have … six first half fast break points.

Just stop it. Kidd led two Nets teams to the Finals by being selective with the transition plays, and New Jersey consistently ranked among the slowest overall teams in the NBA. The Mavs, since Avery Johnson took over, have been a low-possession half court team. If Kidd is going to fit with the Mavs, it’s because he fits the team’s ideal of plenty of half-court offense mixed with the occasional (and, we mean, very occasional) transition foray.

And after Kidd called his own number and missed an open jumper with two minutes to go in the fourth, Doug Collins felt it necessary to point out how the Mavs acquired Kidd to “close out games.” Close out games? The guy shoots 37 percent; you’re telling me he’s shooting 33 percent over the first three quarters, and busting out with a 50 percent shooting mark in the fourth? Kidd’s too good to need this needless buildup.

If you want some more detail, JE Skeets breaks down all of Kidd’s passes to Dirk in that game. Did Kidd get Dirk easier shots? You decide.

To be fair, Kidd did find his shot on Friday night, scoring 21 on 9 of 18 shooting in a Mavs win over Sacramento. Kidd is shooting a solid 55% True Shooting Percentage since joining the Mavs (53% eFG%) but I’d still rather have him shooting than other guys on the floor. I don’t want to disparage Kidd, no doubt he’s a Hall of Fame point guard. But not for what he is doing right now. Purely from a Lakers perspective, LA has trouble with quick, slashing PGs that can breakdown a defense. Devin Harris could do that, Kidd not so much.

The Kidd trade is not like the Shaq trade — the Suns took a huge risk, with a player that may or may not be able to blend into their system and help. It was a big gamble. (He will sell a lot of tickets.) Kidd is not going to make the Mavs worse right now, the question is will he make them better? So much better that it was worth the extra salary and selling out a chance to get younger for a two-year window?

Keys To The Game: There are two matchups that really favor the Lakers today.

While Pau has had a couple of games below the standard he set since he came to the team (10 of 23 the last two games, 17 of 35 the last three), this is where he should bounce back. He should be able to pull Eric Dampier away from the basket, shoot over him, take him off the dribble and generally have a big game.

The Mavs have long had an issue stopping Kobe, and the Mavs coaches said yesterday that Kidd is going to get some shots at stopping him. Good. The 2001 Kidd would have worried me, but the current version is a pretty average defender at best. I think Dallas is going to have to throw a lot of looks (and players) at Kobe, which should open things up for other players.

Also, the Mavs are no longer a run-and-gun team, they are 26th in the league in pace. The Lakers should be able to get some easy baskets if they up the tempo — in particular Gasol should be able to outrun Dampier, get some early position and some early buckets.

Luke Walton has got to have a better game, likely drawing Josh Howard on defense. Phil has to be quicker with the hook if Luke is off. (Man, we miss Radmanovic and Ariza.)

Finally, I’m sure the Mavs watched the tape from Friday, so expect a lot of pick-and-roll early with Kidd and Dirk (at least that’s what I’d do). The Lakers defense on those needs to improve dramatically today.

Where you can watch: Game time is 12:30 and we get the consistently bad team from ABC today. Well, they can’t be as bad as those Blazers home announcers….

Paying My Debt

Kurt —  March 1, 2008

As was mentioned yesterday, with the Blazers win I had to write a “why we should fear the Blazers in the coming years” post for the Blazers Edge. Here it is.