Archives For March 2008

Records: Lakers 41-18 (1 seed); Kings 27-35 (11 seed)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 113.5 (4th); Kings 108.1 (15th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.9 (6th); Kings 111.3 (26th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladimir Radmanovic, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Kings: Beno Udrih, Kevin Martin, Ron Artest, Mikki Moore, Brad Miller

Lakers vs. Kings: Any time I feel a little sad, I just play this:

The Kobe for MVP debate. This easily is the topic I’m getting the most emails on, and most I’ve gotten on anything in a while (more than the Gasol trade). People are passionate about this. A lot of the emails are links to other people writing on the topic and there are some great discussion threads and posts out there on this, such as this one over at Lakersground. Personally, J.D. Hastings summed up my feelings on the whole award the other day:

The MVP race is a lot like the democratic primaries. Except with nothing but superdelegates.

The Kings Coming In: I said this a few days ago but it bears repeating: everything I know about the Kings I learned at Sactown Royalty.

On a positive note for the Kings — there’s been almost no talk of the Kings moving to Vegas this season. Which is good, because the fans in Sacramento have been loyal to a fault with the Kings, good for both the league and the team’s owners. Maybe the only “fault” is they wouldn’t tax themselves so their owners could build a stadium on the cheap. Which I think is what how any sensible person would vote. (Yes, Okalahoma City, I’m talking about you.) Since Stern works for the owners — and their interests are their pocketbooks — he’s not going to do the right thing for Sacramento or any other fan base that has stood by its team. I’m happy the moving talk is largely dead and the Kings (rumor is maybe with a remodeled arena) will be in Sacramento for years — so we can continue beating them regularly.

On the court, two nights ago Kevin Martin was allowed off the leash by Theus and the result was 48 points on 12 of 23 shooting and he got to the line for 24 shots. Problem is, the Kings still lost. To the Timberwolves. At home.

Artest is questionable for tonight’s game due to a sore foot. He missed the last two games.

Didn’t We Just Play These Guys: The Lakers played six minutes of quality basketball in Sacramento Tuesday. That was enough. Kobe had 34 and Pau had 31 on 10 of 15 shooting. It was an intense, physical game, expect more of that tonight.

Keys To The Game: Just a few days ago the Lakers got away with playing up to their potential for six minutes and still walking away with a win. I love wins, but that one was hardly well earned. Play better defense from the start and we can once again get plenty of Son of George entertainment.

In that late run last meeting, Kobe worked hard to deny Martin the ball, and the Kings went to a lot of Ron Artest isolation with Odom. Really, Artest took a lot of shots all game (and hit them despite some solid defense from Odom). If he plays tonight I’m good with a repeat of that, Artest is not normally that efficient and forcing the Kings into more isolation offense slows their effectiveness (like kick-outs to Brad Miller for the midrange when his defender collapses to protect the basket). What I think we will see is a lot of Martin early, so the Lakers need to be ready and throw different defensive looks at him.

Also, the Lakers should dominate when the benches are on the floor, but they didn’t last game (in fact the bench was outscored 24-9). The Lakers need a better night from the subs.

Where you can watch: The game is at 6:30 (Pacific) on Fox Sports in Los Angeles and League Pass nationally.

Records: Lakers 43-18 (2 seed); Clippers 20-39 (12 seed)

Offensive ratings: Lakers 113.5 (4th); Clippers 102.7 (28th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.9 (6th); Clippers 108.3 (14th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Clippers: Brevin Knight, Cutino Mobley, Corey Maggette, Josh Powell, Chris Kaman

Lakers Notes: In case you haven’t seen it, not great news reports on the injury front. Trevor Ariza still has his boot on and apparently will not be back until into the playoffs. Which, frankly, means we may not see much of him the rest of the season (coming back for the second-round of the Western Conference this season would be a very tough spot to walk into).

Bynum is still just training in a pool, he may start running on a treadmill next week. Reports now are early April. Yes, it all makes me a little nervous, I’ve said before I don’t think the Lakers can win it all this year without Bynum’s defense in the paint.

That said, he is expected to be back. And I don’t think the adjustment period will be that long, it’s more a matter of conditioning.

The Clippers Coming In: Let’s go with the positives for the Clips tonight. First, Al Thorton is a beast. Great get, he’s really developing into something. Second, Tim Thomas likely won’t play tonight, that should help the Clips on defense. Finally, Corey Maggette continues to be playing well, scoring 23 a game the last 10 and driving the Clippers offense.

Two other bright spots: ClipperBlog and ClipsNation.

Last Time They Met: Back on Feb. 23 Kobe was having an off-shooting night (and was doubled constantly), Fisher was off early and in foul trouble, and the result was a fairly even first half. In the second half the Lakers turned up the offense, Kobe was more decoy than shooter and the Lakers pulled away big by midway through the third and coasted the rest of the way.

Odom had 20 and 10, Gasol was high scorer with 23 and was able to get those points almost however he wanted.

One difference tonight, Kaman should play

Keys To The Game: Having Kaman back and on Gasol should make this an interesting contest — while playing with a sore back now Kaman is still having a breakout year and is the style of big who can get inside on Gasol and give him issues.

Lamar Odom had a big game last time with the defensively-useless Tim Thomas on him and should be able to do so against Josh Powell again. Also, the Clippers last time doubled Kobe nearly every time he touched the ball (especially on the pick-and-roll) and the Lakers spaced the floor well to make them pay for that. The Lakers should get buckets tonight.

The Clips are just not just much of an offensive team, put the clamps on early and this game is much simpler. Good defense = more Son of George. And we all want that.

Where you can watch: The game is at 7:30 (Pacific) on Fox Sports in Los Angeles and League Pass nationally.

The One Big Piece

Kurt —  March 5, 2008

For all the talk on this site about building the right way, getting players that fit your system and the like, the hardest part of building a championship team is getting at least one transcendent player.

You need The Man. MJ. Shaq. Detroit was the exception, but for the most part you need the unstoppable force and team leader. And those guys don’t grow on trees. Duncan. LeBron. Garnett.

And Kobe. Last night was one of a few games recently where he put the team on his back and won a game. When he had to do that for 82 games the last couple of years, the burden was too much. But this year, when he can pick those spots, you see how amazing he is.

Here are some thoughts from commenter 81Wittness, who was at the game in ARCO:

Some notes from the game, but first, what did I say yesterday?

“About the Kings: The Lakers can dominate if they take the ball to the cup early and consistently. While the Kings perimeter defense is good, their interior defense is terrible. I do not give much credit to Miller and Moore. They also get into foul trouble easily. I know Kobe has recently tried to get his teammates involved, but it would be nice for him to get to the rack early and often.”

Lakers won tonight because Kobe et al. took the ball to the rack with a serious mission in the 4th. Had they done it the hole game instead of these namby, pamby, passes, maybe they would have blown them out. More:

“Sometimes Artest will bring the ball up. Luke, Sasha, and Kobe need to give up space and let him shoot. This was how he destroyed the Kings under Musselman. However, do not let him take you to the interior as he will out-muscle most of the Lakers and draw a foul. Same thing goes for Salmons. He has been struggling from outside lately.”

Saw Artest thrown some clunkers down the stretch. As soon as he dribbled down the court and put them up, everyone knew it was a brick. Salmons played well, but did it on mostly interior plays. Terrible job by the machine, Kobe, and anybody else guarding him.

About the crowd:
It was 3:2 Kings vs. Lakers. Lots of Lakers fans in the crowd. I loved hearing the echo of Luke in the first. Also, when Martin shot up the airball, lots of airball from the crowd. Lots of chants of MVP down the stretch. This #24 might be an okay player.

My two cents on the game: The Lakers in the second half of the fourth quarter got back to doing what made them so impressive at the start of the year. They played aggressive pressure defense. Then they grabbed the rebound and ran, getting transition buckets or getting shots off before the defense really got set.

Here’s a little breakdown to show you what I mean — with just more than six minutes left the Lakers started their run. (And if Lawler’s Law were actually a law, the Lakers have just lost.)

6:14, 100-93 Kings. Kobe isolated on the wing against Salmons, and Salmons is having a nice season that is asking too much. Kobe blows past him, there is no rotation help and Salmons fouls. Kobe hits both.

5:56, 100-95 Kings. Beno does his best Curly Neal and never gives up the dribble — he takes the inbounds, comes up the court, watches the other Kings go through the offense for 10 seconds, decides he should just take Fisher and drives past him into the lane. Both Gasol and Odom collapse, forcing Beno to alter his shot then Gasol grabs the rebound on the miss.

This is the one time the Lakers don’t run off a miss, and look at the result. After going through a little two-man game between Kobe and Gasol that nets nothing promising, Kobe gets his isolation and goes to one of his standard moves — he swings the ball through and tries to draw the foul on a reaching opponent. Except this time he loses the handle out of bounds. Ah, but Kobe can sell it —- he says Artest touched it and the refs agree. Come on, it’s not like Kobe has a bum finger on one hand and would just lose control of the ball. On the inbounds the Lakers have little time so it’s a quick long three by Kobe that misses.

There are times the King’s offense just seems to have no focal point or direction. Like this possession, where the Kings run through some isolations and half-hearted picks until they just clear out for Artest (with Odom on him) and we get the 18-foot contested jumper that misses.

Kobe gets the rebound and the best way to run a break is to have the rebounder bring it up, so that’s what Kobe does. He blows by everyone except Artest, who fouls in the act. Kobe hits both free throws.

4:53, 100-97 Kings.
Salmons gets the ball in the high post with Luke on him, thinks to himself “if I can’t get by Luke I shouldn’t be in the league,” then proceeds to blow by Luke. Gasol rotates over and forces him to alter his layup, and the result is a miss.

Quick outlet pass and Kobe brings the ball up in transition but doesn’t have numbers so he stops on the wing. Gasol, running down the court, looks like he is going to set the “drag” high pick early in the clock, but slips it as Miller and Artest try to trap Kobe. What have we said about how well these Lakers can pass? Kobe splits the double with a pass to a wide-open Gasol who goes in for a little runner hook shot. Good.

4:28, 100-99 Kings. Sacramento wastes no time trying to isolate Artest with Odom on him. Artest starts on the wing, drives baseline, draws a nice little crowd of defenders, decides to shoot anyway and misses.

In the rush down court Kevin Martin (not Artest) picks up Kobe. He can’t cover Kobe in isolation. The result is a foul, two free throws and more points.

Time out Kings.

4:06 101-100 Lakers. The Kings again go through their set where Miller gets the ball out sort of high, tries to back in on Gasol and eventually picks up his dribble, looking to hand off to Martin. Except that Kobe plays good denial defense and has Martin blanketed. Miller decides to go with the up-and-under on Gasol from 8 feet out. Let’s just say that’s not Miller’s game.

Kobe with the rebound, and what did we say about rebounding and leading the break? Kobe goes down, puts on the crazy spin move at the free throw line, gets the layup. Damn he makes that look easy.

3:28, 103-100 Lakers. Beno has the ball and Artest has to come out past the three-point line to get it. Odom wisely plays a step back daring Artest to shoot the three. Artest like a dare, he takes the shot. No good.

It’s the Kobe show, he brings the ball up and the rest of the guys might as well go get something to drink because Kobe is not passing. He drives into the heart of the Kings defense. He is fouled in the act. Two shots. The crowd shots M-V-P while Kobe is at the line. Ziller throws up a little in his mouth.

3:13, 105-100 Lakers. The Kings want to get Artest the ball in a good spot, but Odom’s length is bothering Artest. So the ball swings out top and they try to get it to Martin off a screen, but Kobe is everywhere denying the pass. Ultimately Mikki Moore has to create his own shot, and he can’t do it before the shot clock expires.

The Lakers bring the ball up but just over half court, before the defense is set, Fisher sees Odom wide open in the corner. Odom drives but Moore makes a nice rotation to pick up the charge.

Kevin Martin gets a down-screen from Brad Miller and curls around at the free throw line where Beno feds him the ball. But Fisher slides down and knocks the ball out of Martin’s hands.

Fisher launches the long bounce outlet to Kobe, who grabs it for the 360-spinning dunk.

Time out Kings but the game is done. And it was pressure defense and running that get the Lakers the win.

UPDATE: Check out Sactown Royalty, where Ziller bribed ESPN’s David Thorpe with a free dinner (I’m guessing) to comment on the fourth quarter from last night.

Martin had 16 shots in 3 quarters, with just one in the 4th. Only 2 touches overall. I wonder if the Kings would have scored just 18 fourth quarter points if Martin was just as central to their attack as Kobe was to the Lakers. And I also wonder if Kobe would have been so effective as a scorer in the 4th if he had to chase Martin around screens and hand-offs and backdoor cuts the entire quarter. We don’t know if Martin can carry this team over the Lakers in crunch time. I’d like to find out. I’m sure Miller would love lots of 4th quarter touches.

Kobe was on Martin for a reason – Phil Jackson wanted the Kings to go to Artest. Had Artest started making shots, I’d guess Kobe would have switched onto him. The Kings did exactly what the Lakers’ hoped they would do.

Records: Lakers 42-18 (2 seed); Kings 27-32 (they will be drafting 12th)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 113.4 (3rd); Kings 108.3 (14th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.0 (6th); Kings 111.1 (25th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Kings: Beno Udrih, Kevin Martin, Ron Artest, Mikki Moore, Brad Miller

Lakers Notes: Good news — Vladimir Radmanovic will be back and dressed tonight. Note I don’t have him as a starter because: 1) It’s his first game back; 2) Luke Walton has played hard and well the last couple of games, so you don’t just yank him. But having Radman’s ability to space the floor should improve the offense again, it was really clicking with him as a starter before the injury.

Also, yesterday (in talking about the tying three-pointer against by Dallas at the end of regulation) I wrote: “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.”

Exhelodrvr correctly pointed out, that’s not really right.

Not quite – say a 50% chance of hitting a three (which is probably an exaggeration).

An 80% free throw shooter has a 51% chance of hitting three in a row; an 86% FT shooter (like Nowitzki) has a 66% chance of hitting three in a row.

We can discuss how well people would shoot three consecutive free throws under pressure, but the point that an in-rhythm three is less likely to fall than three consecutive free throws is not something I can argue. I think we should have avoided the whole discussion by fouling Kidd the second he touched the ball inside the arc. Also, great comment you should read by Darius, on why Farmar should get some blame on that last play.

The Kings Coming In: Everything I know about the Kings I learned at Sactown Royalty.

I’ve said before that I think organizations that win have a plan from the top down — they know what kind of team they want to be, get a coach to execute said system, draft and get players who fit that system. While I often point to the Spurs or Lakers (since Phil came back) of being franchises that have done that, the Kings are the opposite. I really have no idea what the plan is or what kind of team they want to be.

That starts with how they are using their best player, Kevin Martin. From a great piece recently at Hoops World:

Kevin Martin is the fifth-leading scorer among two guards in the NBA – behind Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson, Dwayne Wade and Michael Redd.

Of these five players, Kevin Martin has the highest three-point field goal percentage and the highest free throw percentage. Only Iverson makes more free throws per game, and only Iverson and Wade get to the foul line more than Kevin Martin.

Kevin Martin also has the sixth-highest player efficiency rating of all NBA two guards….

What also separates Kevin Martin from those stars is that he plays fewer minutes and gets fewer shots than any of these other four players.

In fact, Martin plays fewer minutes and gets fewer shots per game than Vince Carter, Joe Johnson, Jamal Crawford or Jason Richardson.

He gets fewer minutes per game than Ray Allen, Monta Ellis or Mike Miller.

He gets fewer shots per game than Tracy McGrady or Ben Gordon.

Can you imagine Kobe, A.I., D-Wade or Michael Redd sitting on the bench in the fourth quarter in a close game?

Theus (and Mussleman before him) is taking a lot of heat for his coaching. And he should take some. But really, what is the plan for the Kings? From where I sit it seems the owners and GM are on different pages in terms of a long-term plan, and the results on the court are in large part a fallout of that.

Keys To The Game: Sacramento is still one of the tougher home courts to win on — the Kings are 18-10 at home this year. If the Lakers expect a cakewalk they will get a surprise.

The Kings have a couple of players that will give the Lakers problems. One is Kevin Martin, who gives everyone problems because he is damn good. But then there is Beno Udrih, who is coming into his own as a PG and is the kind of quick guy who gives the Lakers issues. Then there is Ron Artest, who may be nuts but can still play the game.

With Udrih and Martin the Kings have two guys who can get into the lane, so the Lakers need to stop the penetration on the perimeter and make good rotations in the paint. They have to control the paint without fouling.

And, the Kings like the high pick and roll with Artest setting the pick (he can roll or pop) and the Lakers need to defend that more like they did against Dallas and not so much like against Portland.

And, according to the scouting report at Lakers.com, look for some zone tonight. The Lakers should be able to score — and Pau should abuse Brad Miller — but they have to recognize the zone and attack it in the middle and then shoot over the top when it collapses down.

Where you can watch: The game is at 7 (Pacific) on KCAL 9 in Los Angeles and League Pass nationally.

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 RespectKobe.com 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).