Archives For March 2008

Records: Lakers 45-19 (1 seed); Hornets 43-20 (5 seed)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 113 (3rd); Hornets 112.8 (8th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106 (5th); Hornets 106.7 (7th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladimir Radmanovic, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Hornets: Chris Paul, Mo Peterson, Peja Stojakovic, David West, Tyson Chandler

Lakers Notes: We’ve been talking about it for a while — have the Lakers been winning of late in spite of their play on defense? We’ll find out in the next four games, that’s for sure. Look at these records — the Lakers are 1.5 games ahead of the Hornets but four seeds higher. The Lakers need a solid road trip.

Recently LA Times reported that the Lakers were looking at Ira Newble as a guy who might provide some defensive depth in the playoffs. So, what kind of defender is Newble? I went to the source and asked Brian Windhorst of the Akron Beacon-Journal:

Ira was guarding bigger power forwards for much of the season, but I thought he played well with the Cavs. He’s in great shape, maybe the best of his career, and he’s got good length. He would totally be a matchup player at this point.

One little off the court note, Sunday’s game against the Rockets is now a 12:30 start and will be on ABC nationally.

A few links: Good on ya, Lance Allred.

I think the injury killed any chance of him winning the award, but the Empty the Bench puts Andrew Bynum on its list of most improved players.

If you want a Lakers desktop for your computer, here is where you go.

The Hornets Coming In: If you were wondering if the Hornets are for real, they made quite a statement crushing the Spurs two nights ago. The reasons for the questions in the first place is the Hornets have not looked like the early-season juggernaut of late, so we asked Ryan from Hornets24/7 a few questions to gain some insight (I answered a few on his site as well).

1) Since the Lakers last played the Hornets, the team’s defense has fallen from 4th in the league to 7th, giving up 3 more points per 100 possessions. What has changed to cause this? Has the offense largely been able to offset this.

There are two primary reasons for our defense falling off to its current level. First, the schedule the first two months of the season was incredibly soft, allowing the Hornets to shut down weak teams. Second, the Hornets became victims of their own success. They had a nine game win streak in January where everything was clicking. Their defense started tight, and their offense was as fluid as I’ve ever seen it. But as the streak went on, the defense relaxed, while the offense continued to flow. Then, as should be expected, the offense sputtered, and the defense wasn’t there anymore. Since then, the Hornets have slowly been getting their defense back on track again, but they have been playing a much tougher schedule, making it hard to regain the form they once had. All in all – I’d say the current ranking is probably much more accurate than the previous one. I’m not convinced the Hornets have a top 5 defense.

2) We’ve had no sightings of The Birdman yet. When will that happen, and what do the Hornets expect from him?

There are a couple things in play here. First, I’m not convinced bringing Birdman in was really Byron Scott’s preference. People forget this, but Birdman was in Byron’s doghouse in the month prior to him being banned from the league, and he just wasn’t producing anything like what he had produced the year before. Andersen was brought in for two reasons: He’s close with Chad Shinn, the Executive Officer of the Board for the Hornets(and son of the owner), and the poor play of our back up big men. He’s going to have to work even harder to get Byron to put him on the floor, because he has to prove he’s better than remembered, and get past the fact he may have been forced on Byron. That said, I will give Byron credit for his rotations. Ely and Armstrong have played very badly, and his method is to let a player play for a couple weeks. If they play terribly, he benches them and tries the next guy. Andersen will get his shot – even if it takes until the end of March for it to happen.

As for what the Hornets expect from him – all we want him to do is play 13-14 solid minutes as Chandler’s backup. That means finish lobs, rebound, and play interior defense. He is absolutely capable of that. When I analyzed his numbers it was evident that if he came back at 75% of what he was even in the year he wasn’t playing so hot, he’s still going to be an improvement over our current backups.

3) Frankly, nobody in LA is going to buy it, but give us your best pitch for why CP3 should be MVP. What has he done to step up his and the team’s performance this season.

I know Kobe or LeBron are going to win the thing. I’m fine with that, though I think CP3 has as good a claim as either of them. I’ll start by presenting his candidacy in terms of the arguments being presented for LeBron and Kobe. In a nutshell, the argument for LeBron is that his stats are the best of any player in the league, and that his supporting cast sucks and he has to do it all for his team. The arguments I see for Kobe are that his stats aren’t that far below LeBron’s and his team is having much greater success. As I see it, Paul actually falls in between the two players. Most stats analysis sites rank Paul above Kobe and lower than LeBron. Arguably, Paul has worse teammates than Kobe, and better teammates than LeBron, but the Hornets are only 1 1/2 games behind the Lakers. Essentially, he’s got the 2nd best stats of the three, and the 2nd best team success of the three, while the other two guys have a 1st and 3rd each.

His impact on his team as a whole is also on par with either. Purely on an offensive level, James is statistically responsible for 47% of his team’s production.(31 points, 7.5 assists for 46 total points out of 97 points per game) Bryant is responsible for 36%(28 points, 5.3 assists for 39 of his teams 108 points per game). Paul is responsible for 43%(21 points, 11 assists, for 43 out his teams 100 points a game) Paul does that in less minutes and with better shooting percentages than either of the other two. As an added point, despite being the primary ballhandler for the Hornets, he also garners more steals than he produces turnovers(2.7 to 2.5) – and he doesn’t do it by gambling very much. Mostly he just sticks his hand in and picks his cover clean – or intercepts the ball in the open court.

Lastly, Paul is the heart and soul of his team. He runs it, he leads it, and all the guys look and listen while he’s talking. He gets on his guys relentlessly, will correct anyone, and is as fierce a competitor as I’ve ever seen. And he’s a mean bastard. When a team puts someone on him with instructions to bump and push him, he gets downright nasty. Bruce Bowen has already been on the wrong side of altercations with him twice. Paul smacked him in the face by “accident” two games ago when Bowen was poking and slapping at him too much, and last game, Bowen ended up kneeing him during a loose ball scramble, but he was responding to Paul starting the whole tiff by sitting up and giving him a forearm shiver in the nads. The result both times? Paul got offensive fouls – and Bowen laid off of him for the rest of the games. For a generously listed 6’0″ guy, he knows how to protect himself.

4) What are the team’s and the fans playoff expectations for this season? Do they see themselves as contenders, or is this a year for learning what the playoffs are about?

The season started with the hope of reaching the playoffs as a 6th or 7th seed. Due to the Hornets success, however, it seems that the consensus is we may be contenders, and should reach the Western Conference Finals. I prefer to be more realistic. I’m thinking 2nd round, with a good showing there. Of course, being realistic allows me to glow should they get farther and still feel satisfied if they don’t.

Keys To The Game: The Lakers handled the Hornets fairly easily last meeting, and that’s because they gave Chris Paul the “Steve Nash Treatment” — let him score all he wants, just don’t let him set up his teammates. It worked, Paul had 32 points but just five assists and the Lakers cruised. Against San Antonio two nights ago Paul had 26 points and 17 assists — let him dish the ball like that and the Lakers lose.

As part of this, the Lakers need to play the pick-and-roll a lot better than they have the last couple of games. If Paul gets the kind of space to operate TJ Ford did this will be a long night for the Lakers.

The Gasol/Chandler matchup should be a good one, but I think it would be smart to use Gasol more away from the basket and pull Chandler out as well. For the Hornets, David West played very well against the Spurs and Odom is going to have to focus on the defensive end tonight.

The Lakers bench needs to step up tonight, the Hornets will throw out solid guys like Bonzi Wells, Julian Wright and Melvin Ely. That group had a nice game against the Spurs although other reports have them struggling lately.

Where you can watch: The game is at 5 pm. (Pacific) on KCAL in LA and League Pass nationally.

Learning Some Things

Kurt —  March 12, 2008

In Kobe’s post-game interview after last night’s win he touted the team’s defense in key spots against Toronto.

I really hope, after he watches the tape, he changes that opinion, because by any objective measure the Lakers defense stunk it up last night. — they had an offensive rating of 116.1 (points per 100 possessions) and grabbed 30% of their missed shots (numbers well above their season averages). Toronto didn’t shoot any better than they regularly do (they were right at their season average) but they got a lot more good looks in the paint than they are used to. The Lakers got the win by outscoring their opponents. Again.

That is not going to work in the playoffs, and it’s not going to work on the four-game road trip that starts Friday night in New Orleans. If the same Lakers perimeter defense from the Toronto game shows up against Chris Paul, it could be ugly.

It’s too early to be all doom-and-gloom — Bynum ran on a treadmill yesterday (a $75,000 treadmill that helps support the runner so not too much weight is put on the knee, by the way) and his return will be a defensive boost. And, in the playoffs it’s about matchups and Phil is a master at defense against one team for seven games.

But if the latest Lakers trend in defense continues, these playoffs could be a lot shorter for the Lakers than many predict. Here are some thoughts from some of the regular commenters and better game-analysis guys on this site:

Reed:

I would like to officially retract my post from a few weeks ago about Pau’s arrival potentially transforming our defense to something Spurs-esque. He’s really just lost on defense most the time unless he’s guarding someone with their back to the basket. He also just looks a little sluggish on defense — not a ton of activity. When Kobe’s in gambling mode, Pau is sucked out to the perimeter on pick and rolls, and our point guards face speed, we really struggle.

I worry about the defense because I think it’s a reflection of attitude and effort. Pau, Farmar, etc. could be really effective, smart defenders, but right now they’re putting tremendous strain on our team defense by constantly getting beat or being out of position.

Kwame a.

(Gasol’s) biggest problem seems to be pick-and-roll recovery, as you mentioned previously, it has really allowed teams to get layups. However, his helpside needs to do its job too, and for the most part that help has been late. All around, the D needs to improve, there is no sugar coating this, we are beating teams by outscoring them, and that aint gonna win titles.

Darius:

I honestly think that the players are a little intoxicated with their success. We have won games with lackluster performances, boosting our confidence but also creating a false sense of our overall quality. Players aren’t immune to that feeling of superiority that develops from everyone touting your virtues. And, c’mon, the Lakers are the betting favorite to win the title…no one can tell me players don’t know the betting lines and who the favorites are.

I could do a whole blog’s worth of bad defensive examples from last night, but here are just three to highlight a few things:

9:15 left second quarter, 27-27: After a Turiaf block the Raptors are taking the ball out under the basket. The ball is inbounded to Graham out on the wing (covered by Coby Karl) and Brezec comes over to set the pick. Ronny on Brezec shows out hard to stop the penetration so Graham quickly passes to Humphries out high at the top of the key. Now the Lakers have Ronny looking around to find his man, who had swung out to the wing then with the pass to Humphries makes a be-line for the basket. The help defender is Luke but he follows his man Kopono out of the key the other direction toward the three-point line. The result is a quick pass to Brezec who gets the dunk and gets fouled by the late Turiaf.

6:24 third quarter, Lakers 73-65:
Calderon is dribbling out high when Anthony Parker gets a down-screen that allows him to get the ball out at the three-point line straight away. He keeps his momentum going right and Nesterovic has come out for the high pick and roll. Gasol shows out hard to cut off the penetration, and it works. However Kobe never really takes away the passing lane to the now rolling to the hoop Rasho, and when Gasol turns around he is way too far away to recover. Odom is the help defender but he is a step slow and he can’t stop Rasho’s hook even if he was in the right spot.

4:20 third quarter, 78-71 Lakers. Thee Raptors spread the floor at the three-point line as TJ Ford brings the ball up and doesn’t bother to wait for Rasho to set a pick for him, something Fisher slides over easily, so TJ stops and goes back to his left at the top of the key with the now set Nesterovic in place. This time Fish slides under the pick while Gasol hangs back closer to the free throw line. All the while this is happening Radmanovic keeps watching TJ and cheating up off Moon who is in the corner three spot. Radman is so far up when TJ comes to his left, Vlad wants to stop the penetration so badly he left Moon all alone to cut baseline. Bounce pass and dunk. Really nice dunk.

Again, this is not the end of the Lakers season. There are 18 games to go, which is plenty of time to right the ship, and I truly believe getting Bynum back will be a part of that. But the effort and smart decisions should be there without Drew in the lineup, and right now they are not.

Off topic note: If you didn’t see it yesterday, Hoops Addict has a one-on-one with Turiaf.

Records: Lakers 44-19 (1 seed); Raptors 34-28 (5 seed)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 113.7 (3rd); Raptors 112.9 (6th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.8 (5th); Raptors 107.8 (11th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladimir Radmanovic, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Raptors: Jose Calderon, Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon, Andrea Bargnani, Rasho Nesterovic.

Lakers Notes: I’ve already got one Lakers post up today, so not going to add a lot here. I will say I think we learn something about the Lakers tonight — how do they bounce back from a poor effort? Is this the kind of team that gets pissed at itself and takes it out on the next opponent? Or do they not take the loss to seriously and come out flat again? We shall see…..

Cuban Banning Bloggers: I’m not going to try and do more than Henry Abbot did today over at TrueHoop. He sums it up well.

I’ll throw in what I think this is about — trying to control the message. The upside of the Web is that teams can through their own sites get more information out to the fans. (The Lakers.com site is amazing for this.) However, the wide, wild world of the Web also makes it harder for teams to control the message that gets out, to spin it how they like. Bloggers like the Brothers K at the LA Times do a great job providing more information to we fans than the beat reporters have time to, they add to the coverage. But, it is information not controlled by the team. I find it very hard to think Cuban did not read the critical post by the Dallas Morning News blogger that triggered the new policy. I find it hard to believe that controlling the message the team wants out there did not spark this. Just my two cents.

The Raptors Coming In: Chris Bosh, the focal point of the Raptors attack, has missed the last week and a half of games, and is expected to miss tonight’s game as well.

The fact he is out figured prominently in answers to questions by Kinnon from Hoops Addict. Since the Raptors, like us, are looking forward to the playoffs, the questions focus on the future.

Right now Toronto is the five seed in the East. What are they going to have to do to win the first round of the playoffs? What are the expectations for the team along those lines?

The most important things for success this year are that the Raptors have Chris Bosh back to full strength, and that TJ Ford gets the second unit and his own game in the proper rhythm.

I can’t stress the importance of Chris Bosh returning to the lineup, and in a proper mindset and energy level. As we’ve seen in the past, his injuries are usually recoverable and in this case, he’s sitting out as a precautionary measure. However, he’s not going to be at his best upon his return. It’s going to take a few games for him to get into the proper rhythm, and proper mindset. When it comes to mindset, Bosh has a tendency to take a lot of outside shots as he can hit them with a high accuracy, and is part of his pick-and-roll game. However, his most effective plays are when he can get to the line consistently. This requires two things. The first is that Bosh has to drive the ball to the basket consistently and pick up fouls. The second is that Bosh needs to keep a good handle on the ball, as he’s been prone to turnovers on drives.

TJ Ford, on the other hand, has struggled upon his return. There are signs that he’s finding it within himself to play more like a team player rather than a very, very expensive Rafer Alston-type. TJ Ford’s mentality is such, that he believes that he can make any shot, and as a result, he tends to dribble himself into trouble and also make questionable decisions at times. When he’s on his game, this makes him an extremely effective and necessary player on the Raptors squad. However, the problem is that it’s inconsistent, and TJ has far more effective weapons playing on the floor at the same time as he is. At the beginning of the year, he made a commitment to play a more “team oriented” style, but with his injuries and the issues that have come up since his return, he hasn’t been able to find that sweet spot between being “the man” and being “the team man”.

What is needed for the Raptors to take the next step? A stronger presence inside to pair with Bosh? Time?

Time is going to be an important factor. The Raptors, being one of the youngest in the league, are going to need to develop the experience to play smarter basketball. However, there are definite needs that need to be addressed. The main two are for a stronger rebounding presence and for an effective wing player that can create a shot, play within the offense, and get to the line.

I’ll address the rebounding presence first. During the trade deadline, I suggested the Raptors needed to go after a Nick Collison-type of player, as he’s one of the few players that have a reasonable contract, with a strong rebounding presence and a high free throw percentage – things that Bryan Colangelo has publicly stated need to be addressed. However, I don’t believe this is going to be as urgently needed as previously thought. I believe Jorge Garbajosa can address these needs, and while Andrea Bargnani has had difficulties getting rebounds, he’s going to get better in the future. In addition, a lot of the times, the Raptors have difficulties rebounding due to the lineups that Sam Mitchell places on the floor. As he’s prone to do, he’ll often leave Bargnani on the floor with four smalls. This lineup, while usually replaced with Bosh, can be efficient at times, does nothing but exasperate the Raptors’ rebounding troubles.

The wing player, on the other hand, is something that can’t be developed internally. The Raptors have relied heavily on both Carlos Delfino and Jamario Moon to provide the needed defense and scoring punch from the wing positions, but there’s just no dancing around the issue. The Raptors definitely need a Corey Maggette-kind of player. A player that can get to the hoop, yet make his free throws will take pressure off of Bosh, and also play passable defense. If we look at the overall stats, the Raptors have one of the lowest Free Throws Attempted per game averages, and yet, they have one of the HIGHEST Free Throw percentages in the entire league. Even more important is the fact that Chris Bosh is one of the top free throw attempt players in the league, and yet the Raptors still don’t play up this inherit strength to the fullest because the team as a whole, doesn’t get to the line often enough. It’s a pressing issue that must be addressed in the off season.

The Last Time These Two Met: It was the day the Pau Gasol trade was announced, and the Lakers came out with incredible energy and just destroyed the Raptors, winning by 25.

Keys To The Game: While they miss Bosh, what Toronto wants to do — kill you on the perimeter with open jumpers — will not change. This is a drive and kick team and in the absence of Bosh Anthony Parker has taken on more scoring. The Lakers are going to be spread out and have to be smart about their help defense tonight (and they have to be good on defense in transition).

Among the things the Lakers have to do is not sag off the three-point shooters of the Raptors. Calderon, Parker, Bargnani, of course Kapono and Delfino all can drill the three. The Lakers can at time collapse as a defense in the paint when an opposing guard penetrates, do that tonight and they will pay a steep price. Also, better perimeter defense to stop that penetration in the first place would be a big help.

Where you can watch: Game time is 7:30 pm (Pacific) with a broadcast on Fox Sports Net in LA and League Pass nationwide.

Thank You

Kurt —  March 11, 2008

If you hadn’t already noticed, today is Kobe Bryant Blogging day, a day where bloggers around the Web pay homage to the good things about Kobe. Hardwood Paroxysm put this together and if you head on over there is a list of all the posts already up, some great stuff.

Frankly, this left me in a quandary — virtually every day around here is Kobe Bryant Day. We’ve talked and marveled at 81. We’ve broken down his game — his amazing ability to do everything well, go left or right off the dribble, pull up or drive to the basket. As Bruce Bowen put it, Kobe has no tendencies to play on. Plus, when he can focus on it, he is one of the game’s best on-ball defenders.

We’ve done everything but talk about that questionable (at best) jacket he wore after his first Lakers title. What was left to say?

Thank You.

Thank you for the years of entertainment and excitement for us Laker fans. Thank you for the high-level of effort and the obvious love of the game that shines through.

Sometimes I think we take you for granted. We see the pull-up three over a defender so often we don’t think twice about it. Then we watch a game on League Pass and listen to other announcers and as they marvel at that shot we forget how uncommon it is that someone can do it consistently. We take for granted the passion and love you bring to the game, then we watch another NBA game from a midwestern city between two average teams and see listless, uninspired play and effort.

Kobe, his credit, is not wired that way. While is passion for the game and drive to win has driven us fans to frustration at times, we forget what a pleasure it is to see that night in night out. How amazing it is to have a player that still, after all these years, does something every game that makes my jaw hit the floor like I’m in some Tex Avery cartoon.

So, Kobe, thank you. Thank you for everything.

Fast Break Thoughts

Kurt —  March 10, 2008

• While we watch Phil Jackson’s lineup tinkering continue, one thing he does better than any coach in the league gets overlooked — he puts players in a position to succeed by playing to their strengths.

It’s one thing to do that with Kobe, who has a myriad of strengths. But look at what he did with Kwame Brown, who has been racking up DNPs in Memphis, and his already anemic offensive numbers are down even farther. Jackson tightly defined the role Kwame was to play for the Lakers — use your big body on defense and the boards. Don’t worry about everything else, if you do that some points will come to you. It drove Lakers fans nuts at times, but Phil got more out of Kwame than any other coach.

The same can be said of Smush Parker (just shoot the three), or many other guys through Phil’s career. It sounds like a simple thing — getting guys in position to do what they do well — but few coaches are very good at it.

• About Last Night (not Sexual Perversity in Chicago, but really last night)….

A few games after Pau Gasol became a Laker, I wrote that I was concerned about the Lakers defense. To their credit, the defense had been getting better. On the season, the Lakers have a defensive rating of 105.9 (points given up per 100 possessions), and coming into Sunday the three prior games the Lakers had held opponents below that number (100 for Dallas, 101.9 for Sacramento and 90.1 for the Clippers).

Yesterday, Sacramento was 111.8. The Lakers played Timberwolves caliber defense, and you can’t do that against a long team with some talent like the Kings. The Laker perimeter defense was weak and the Lakers really missed Bynum protecting the rim on defense.

That said, I think this was more an aberration, and Toronto may pay the price on Tuesday. The Lakers may have slipped into a “flip the switch” mode against lesser teams, and hopefully this will snap them out of it. They had better be focused for the challenging road trip starting Friday.

• The “soft” label is coming up a lot lately with the Lakers. Personally, I think Bynum in the paint on defense will change that perception (and reality, to a degree).

• Credit the Kings, they played hard and wanted that game.

• Gerald Green was released by the Rockets. That is a very athletic player, but it’s hard to stick in the league shooting 39% for the season as a guard. Plus, if Houston is willing to drop you this late for a D-League call up, what does that say about your work ethic? He didn’t get minutes of love in Minnesota or Boston, either. There must be some issue that negates the athleticism.

• In the same way I think the Lakers loss was a “one off,” I’m don’t think the Suns beating the Spurs means much long term. In a seven-game series, give me the Spurs in that matchup.