Archives For April 2008

Lakers/Jazz and Other Thoughts

Kurt —  April 30, 2008

First things first, I still expect the Lakers will meet the Jazz in the next round, but Friday night will be an interesting contest. What little I saw of the Jazz/Rockets game (my DVR skills are apparently worse than Doc Rivers coaching skills) seemed to consist of a desperate and motivated Rockets team against a complacent Utah squad. Maybe that is youth, but maybe you don’t want to give the Rockets a glimmer of hope. We learn a lot Friday night about the Jazz team’s constitution.

Much like the Denver series, I wanted to look back at the previous matchups this year between the Lakers and Utah. And, like Denver, I’m not sure the matchups are terribly instructive because both teams are very different than the first meetings — that includes Utah, which before last night was playing better defense in the playoffs than I had seen in the regular season. Still, here is a look back at the contests.

November 4, 119-109 Lakers. It was the second night of a back-to-back for the Jazz and they faded in the fourth quarter, LA pulled away with a 17-7 run. Kobe led the way, with 33 points, a +13 and he shot an incredible 71% (eFG%). But it was Andrew Bynum that really impressed in one of his early break-out performances shooting 85% and ending a +14, while Jordan Farmar was +11 and shot 68.8% off the bench. The Lakers bench was key in this win.

November 30, 120-96 Jazz. It was the third game in four nights for the Lakers. Utah took the lead midway through the first quarter, led by as much as 28 and crushed the Lakers. The Jazz, without Boozer and Okur, completely outworked the Lakers on the boards and doing the little things like going for loose balls. AK-47 completely outplayed Odom, and Laker fans spent much of the day discussing the merits of Odom in the triangle. Bynum was outplayed in the paint. D-Will had 35 and Milsap added 20 on 10 of 14 shooting.

December 28, 123-109 Lakers. A 16-0 run in the first quarter gave the Lakers the lead, they went on to score 75 in the first half and cruised to a win. Kobe led the way with 31 but five other Lakers were in double digits.

March 20, 106-95 Lakers.
The Jazz were on fire, the Lakers were without Pau, and still the Lakers never trailed. Big night in the paint from Ronny, who provided energy in the paint to match Utah. Kobe had 27 (and said he and the team was angry about Utah fans treatment of Fisher), Odom 21 and as a team the Lakers shot 58.8% (eFG%) as a team. It was one of the Lakers better games the Lakers have played this year.

The Lakers have shown the ability to deal with the interior length and athleticism of Utah when they are focused, but Utah has shown resilience and a growing game as well. Utah’s defense was inconsistent at best in the four meetings and the Lakers took advantage — something I think LA can do in the upcoming series, if they can play through getting bumped around. And, the biggest problem for the Jazz is that they have no answer for Kobe — if they treat him as they have done McGrady the Lakers crisp passing will mean open looks for other guys. Maybe that is the way you want to go, make someone else beat you, but ask George Karl what he thinks of that strategy.

There were lots of fantastic thoughts in the comments on the potential matchup (including some great thoughts from Jazz fans), and tomorrow I’ll post a bunch of them. But, we might want to do a little thinking about the Rockets — maybe they have just a 25% chance right now, but after last night how will Utah come out at home? Like I said, Friday is going to be interesting.


Some other playoff thoughts:

• Great stuff from JD Hastings and Laughing Hard, as they combined to put the Suns loss in a poetic form (channeling TS Elliot’s “The Hollow Men”):

This is the dead land
This is cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man’s hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.

This is the way the Sun’s Season ends
This is the way the Sun’s Season ends
This is the way the Sun’s Season ends
Not with a bang but a whimper

• The rumors are everywhere that D’Antoni is out. In my view, there needs to be a shake-up because the coach and the GM are not on the same page. And because he was just hired I imagine Kerr stays. That is not meant to knock D’Antoni, who I think is a good coach, but right now there is a clash as to what kind of team the Suns want to be and that is a recipe for disaster. Henry at True Hoop has a great post on the Suns up — as much as they are rivals we are glad to see gone, they deserve credit for helping change the face of the NBA in recent years. Another great post at The Painted Area lays the blame at the owner’s feet (which seems about right).

• Avery Johnson may well end up getting canned in Dallas (UPDATE: He is gone!) , but he is not the biggest problem. That is a poorly-constructed team that now is stuck with Kidd. There needs to be a roster shakeup, working to get pieces that fit. Frankly, the move that would be best is to trade Dampier, but nobody is going to take on that deal (three more years at about $12 mil a year). At least they have Bass, who will come back a beast next year.

• I am pulling for the Hawks, in part because it’s the Celtics and in part because you have to love the gritty underdog that won’t back down. I expect the Celtics will crush them again, but Atlanta is playing with a lot more confidence now. Whatever happens in this series it bodes well for the Hawks going into next year.

• Congrats to Dan Rosenbaum, one of my favorite NBA stat guys (who now has something better to do with his time).

Savoring and Looking Ahead

Kurt —  April 29, 2008

You know the best part of the Lakers sweep? Wednesday night we don’t have to sit through any Major Payne promos, or to see how long Holly Hunter’s list is. Kyra Sedgwick, I have a confession for you — I don’t watch your show. Don’t plan to either.

Today is a day to enjoy a series win — these are not gimmes. Denver is no pushover team — they won 50 games and have two of the game’s best offensive players, plus they play a style that some teams have trouble adjusting to. A sweep for the Lakers is no small feat and should be savored.

Last night, for the first time in the series Denver played like the team we expected the Lakers to face — more aggressive on-ball defense (Camby doing this really seemed to both Pau) and much better ball movement on offense. Credit to the Nuggets for not just folding when down double digits for most of the first half.

But in the end, the Lakers discipline at both ends of the floor held sway. Plus LA had Kobe making key plays with the game on the line — and good ball movement when he gave it up (the wide-open Walton three late, and the passes that led to Gasol’s dunk to seal the win).

It wasn’t pretty, but we had better get used to that as we look toward Utah.

Lakers fans should try to watch Utah and the Rockets tonight (my DVR is set) and should pull for the Rockets — if this extends one more game it will be Friday night, then likely the Jazz will have to turn around and play the Lakers 36 hours later. We should take all the benefits we can get.

Starting tomorrow we’ll really break down this series, look at past games and talk about what the Jazz are doing now. It is supposed to get tougher each round of the playoffs, and it will for the Lakers for sure.

Here are a few other thoughts out of the comments to think about, starting with Kwame a.:

It will be a very physical series and unfortunately I think the refs will play a big role. 3 key places I see this happening

Pau on Boozer: If we stick Odom on the 3pt happy Okur, we will have Pau on Boozer and the Jazz would love to get Pau in early foul trouble.

Utah on Kobe: The refs will be key in determining just how physical Utah is with Kobe. They have allowed Utah to play tough with T-Mac.

D.Fish on D.Will: Fish will need to be able to play physical with D.Will to match-up with him. Also, I think the primary other cover for D.Will needs to be Sasha (or Ariza). D.Will punishes opposing PG’s with his physicality, the refs will definitely have to find boundaries for how physical the series will be.

And Darius, who echoes some of the same themes:

What we need to understand about Utah is 3 fold. They may not be a strong defensive team, but they are a physical team. They lead the league in fouls every year. The Lakers are going to have to play through that physicality and get used to not getting every call, especially when we play in Utah. Refs get intimidated by that crowd. Phil knows this too, he mentions it every year we go to Utah. Utah is also extremely talented on offense. They have a diverse attack with a lot of weapons that can hurt you. Williams, Boozer, Okur, AK47, Korver, Millsap, Harpring, Brewer….all these guys can get Utah buckets and do it in diverse enough ways that our defense will be tested. Utah is a disciplined team on offense and the run motion sets…so while we got used to playing pretty good defense against Denver’s Iso sets, we will have a significantly more difficult challenge putting the clamps on Utah’s attack. Also, have we really improved our P&R defense? We will find out this series. The P&R is the staple of the Utah offense and they can score off it in a variety of ways. Williams can shoot the J or drive the hole. Boozer can roll on a dive cut, pop out and shoot the midrange J, or slip the screen and either dive hard or stop short for a lane jumper. Basically, we are going to have our hands full.

Have we tradtionally beaten teams that try to outscore us? Indeed we have. But this series is going to be much more difficult than the one we just played. We are going to be facing a team that matches up with us well and has a deep enough bench where we probably won’t have a decided advantage at any one position besides Kobe’s. Utah is not a team that we can take lightly, look past, or think is going to be any sort of easy out.

Lakers/Nuggets Game 4 Chat

Kurt —  April 28, 2008

At this point I think it’s okay for us fans do a little looking ahead (not the players — they need to keep their eyes on game 4). And do a little scoreboard watching. It almost certainly is Lakers/Utah in the next round, and we’ll get into the matchups more later this week. (Although, in the comments some of you seem dismissive of Utah — I think you underestimate how good D Williams is and, more importantly, how physical Boozer and Millsap are in the paint and how well AK-47 is playing right now. And how those things are matchup problems for LA. This is not Denver, it is a team to fear.)

But the things to focus on today are rest and recovery — any series against Utah is likely to start Sunday at the Staples Center (according to Ross Siler out of the Salt Lake Tribune). Whether the Lakers win tonight or at home Wednesday, they should get plenty of rest and time in the film room before game one (although a win today is better). However, tomorrow night Lakers fans should be Rockets fans — if Houston can extend the series one game Utah will have to play the Rockets Friday night then turn around and play the Lakers Sunday. That would be a nice advantage.

On to tonight’s matchup — Denver will come out hungry and energetic, I think early on we will see more fire out of them (especially considering what was said after the last game). Two thoughts on that: 1) A motivated Denver likely means AI and Carmelo trying to do more on their own on offense, which will fall apart over time (unless one has one of those unstoppable games); 2) Once the Lakers make a run they need to keep their foot on the gas — this Nugget team can be demoralized. Obviously.

Keys for the Lakers are not fuel Denver’s early fire with turnovers and a fast pace. Do what has worked all series. The Lakers must to continue to play smart basketball against Denver’s isolation offense (you can see a great explanation of what they are doing at The Xs and Os of Basketball blog).

I have stopped thinking too much about this series, to be honest. Yesterday I spent a great afternoon at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books (where I was lucky enough to run into and talk with Jon of Dodger Thoughts — in front of the children’s stage, of course). The Lakers barely entered my mind, because there is nothing left to really worry about in this round.

There is nothing Denver can do to stop this train — yes for one night AI and Melo could get hot and overwhelm the Lakers. But you just know the series is over, and with the makeup of this current Denver team they are far more likely to roll over than rise up tonight. So long as the Lakers don’t give them any reason to believe.

Game Three Thoughts

Kurt —  April 27, 2008

For the first time this postseason the Lakers won a game on defense.

That’s my favorite sentence I’ve typed so far this post-season. The Lakers did a lot of things very well on defense — they forced Iverson into help baseline and didn’t let him slide across the lane for that little fade-away he loves. And just one example of something the Lakers did that across the board, they forced Denver into shots they were not comfortable with, they doubled at the right times from the right angles.

In the end the Nuggets had an offensive rating of 85.7 (points per 100 possessions), way off their season average. They shot just 40.1% (eFG%) as a team.

Some other thoughts.

• I overestimated the pride and passion of the Nuggets.

• The Lakers were aided by the worst game I’ve seen Carmelo play.

Carmelo missed a lot of lay-ups in part because the Lakers overplayed his right hand and dared him to use his off/left hand — he wouldn’t and the in-close misses piled up. Credit to Radmanovic (not someone known for his defense) and Walton for doing a good job on him all over the court.

Carmelo wouldn’t pass out of the doubles, he shot too quickly trying to get off a shot before another defender arrived (even when one wasn’t on the way). Or, Bobby Steels put it this way in the comments:

The MVP of this series should go to MELO. I think we really have to thank Meloman for making this series so easy for us. I mean what more can you ask for? The incessant jab steps, the constant smirks after missing a shot, the spin around move into 2 sometimes 3 defenders and then raising up for a jumpshot, no defense on Vlad or Luke.

• The Lakers did a good job of bringing a forward or center down to help when Denver wanted to run isolation. Let’s use a Carmelo isolation for example (I think Fratello did this during the game). The Lakers point guard would stay out high, the man on Carmelo would try to force him baseline, and either Odom or Gasol would come across and play space to keep him from just driving to the hoop. The two remaining Lakers defenders essentially played a zone on the back side. The same thing happened on Iverson wing isolations. Now, you could expose what the Lakers were doing with skip-passes to the opposite corner or quick ball movement around the perimeter once the double team was drawn, but Denver almost never does that. The Lakers could essentially take away good isolation shots without paying a price.

• Bill Bridges throws out some props to Fisher, playing through an injury:

But for me, the game ball goes to Derek Fisher. Clutch shooting. The biggest being the 3 when Denver dared to hope to get back in the game in the 3rd quarter. But more important was his D. His man D on Iverson was fantastic. If not for some cheap calls he would have pitched a virtual shut out. But it is on team D that he stood out. Whenever a Nugget started to penetrate, Fisher was there swiping at the ball. He only got credited for 2 steals but I saw many deflections and turnovers as a result of Fisher’s activity.

• After what we saw game three, do you think the Nuggets will show any more passion in game four?

Live Blog Game 3

Kurt —  April 26, 2008

Nomuskles only writes game live blogs when his girlfriend isn’t with him. We’re lucky that she is hanging out with the USA national water polo team lately (purely platonic, I’m sure) freeing him up to write more. Here is the game 3 live blog, enjoy. Tomorrow we’ll break all of it down a little and talk game 4.

1st Quarter
10:19 – Kobe finds Fisher open on the left side behind the arc and Derek strokes it for three. 5-2 Lakers. Denver comes back quickly and Kobe picks up the early blocking foul.
8:54 – RadMan has been playing with a lot of energy here in the first. He’s gotten a hoop underneath, an offensive rebound, and he picked up a foul on the defensive end.
7:56 – Lamar Takes Kleiza to the rim in the post.
7:43 – Melo makes a great move around RadMan and then blows the reverse layup. Doesn’t even get the rim.
7:05 – Lakers catch a break the size of Yao’s stress fracture. Kobe loses the ball and AI is about to go the other way but the officials say Kobe traveled first. Denver is forced to take it out.
6:46 – Melo is frustrated again as he gets to the rack but can’t convert. He’s clearly got it in his mind to be aggressive on offense tonight.
5:30 – AI and Fisher is turning out to be an interesting battle here. AI drew a flopping offensive charge on Fisher earlier and now he blew by Fisher who was playing the part of Robinson Crusoe—out on that island by himself. Misses the layup though.
4:12 – Kleiza gets the jam inside against three purple guys 15 – 14 Lakers are up.
3:48 – Poor pass on an alley oop looking for Melo. Kobe plays Angelina to Camby and melo’s Brad and Jennifer—He breaks it up.
3:17 – That was impressive. Kleiza takes it baseline off the dribble and dunks over some Lakers. We have no answer for him. 17-16 Lakers up. This is not the cakewalk the Lakers were hoping it would be. The Lakers are getting good looks at the basket while running their offense patiently. Neither team is shooting very well. AI and Melo are struggling up to now. They are a combined 1/10 from the field. Kleiza has been a big part of what is working.
2:22 – Kobe has his put back attempt swatted away by Najera.
2:04 – Pau slips the high screen and roll and Kobe makes them pay by finding Pau.
1:37 – Lamar gives up on a broken sequence. Lakers give up the ball in the backcourt and AI and JR Smith run a two-man game against the couple Lakers who are still back. Lamar turns his back on AI thinking AI was just going to shoot. AI takes this opportunity to dribble around Lamar who has no idea what’s going on to get himself a layup.
1:09 – Kobe picks up his second foul and he’ll come out of the game. Vujacic in the game. 22-18 Lakers up. Sasha causes JR Smith to have an Over-And-back violation.
0:32 – Luke and JR Smith get tangled up in the box and JR draws the offensive foul. Yours truly doesn’t like the call.
0:24 – Najera gives a pickup game ball fake and Luke jumps about six feet out of position to guard against the pass to the corner. Najera runs his the layup drill, easy deuce.
0:00 – Last possession for Denver. AI dribbles through the all the Lakers trying to find an opening to the rim. He tries to finally pass it off and the retreating Lakers punch it out of bounds as time expires. 23 – 20 Lakers.

2nd Quarter
11:20 – Farmar isn’t sticking with AI at all. When AI drives to his right into the middle, Farmar follows him but doesn’t get in front. He gets caught in defensive no man’s land. It’s as if he’s expecting help but he’s not close enough to provide a double team and he’s not guarding anyone else. The Lakers need to work on this at halftime.
Soon after, Nene and Lamar get tangled up with Lamar getting the worst of it. Lamar’s arm got caught in nene’s after a basket. Nene felt Lamar’s arm and spun him around judo-style. Lamar was grimacing in pain but he should be fine. That was pretty uncalled for.
Najera elbowed Sasha in the face trying to get an offensive rebound. On the replay it looks pretty intentional. If you’ve ever seen a martial arts board breaking competition, replace Sasha’s face with the boards and that’s pretty much what happened there. I’d be surprised if he’s not suspended and/or fined for the next game. Sasha was awarded a flagrant foul. After rolling around on the floor like an injured fish for a while, the Machine seems to be in working order.
9:12 – Farmar beats Ai off the dribble baseline and jumps into Nene and converts the layup. Great move. 34-30 Lakers up.
8:40 – While Lamar is missing a couple of free throws off a time out, AI is shown on the bench looking old. He’s bundled up in some towels and he’s got bags under his eyes.
8:20 – Great sequence here for the good guys. Anthony Carter tries to lob it inside as Luke plays Angelina this time. He takes it up the floor himself and threads a backdoor pass to Farmar cutting baseline. Farmar finds Mbenga with a behind the back pass in the lane who converts the jump hook. A little razzle dazzle.
7:52 – carter tells Farmar, “young man, this is how we do it in Hawaii” as he calmly blocks Farmar’s turnaround.
7:40 – Najera draws a charge on Lamar. 36 – 33 Lakers.
7:25 – JR Smith comes off a screen and shoots a three. He makes it to tie the game. 36-36.
6:58 – Camby hustles after an offensive rebound but can’t quite come up with it. Lakers need to be the aggressors.
6:43 – Anthony Carter dives for the ball and Farmar doesn’t. The Nuggets get it going the other way. Regardless of the outcome of the possession, this does not bode well for the mental toughness of Farmar. He’s not playing with the tenacity required in the playoffs. The Lakers need to take advantage of every opportunity.
6:12 – Farmar tries to atone with a lighting fast cut to the rim and he’s found for a layup. 38-36 Lakers. JR Smith gets to the rim by himself and ties it up. Najera gets himself a layup on the next Nuggets possession. And on the other end, Pau gets contact underneath and just heaves it up off the glass throwing the ball in. A foul and the bucket. Timeout called.
Coming back from the break, a Nuggets fan is shown behind the text question of the day with a personalized jersey. The number? 23. The expected name is Camby right? Instead, this guy had “Vicki’s Husband” stitched on there. I wonder if it was a 23rd anniversary gift.
Pau misses the free throw. Joel says the Lakers are 6/11 on Free Throws.
5:11 – Apparently the reduced air pressure in Denver is throwing off the expected trajectory of the ball. That’s about the third Alley Oop pass gone awry for the Nuggets. This one sails over Kenyon Martin’s noggin. A smattering of boos are heard.
3:45 – There are some Lakers fans in attendance. When Kobe made a shot, the home fans went quiet and you could hear some clapping.
3:20 – Again that darned altitude. DFish throws it up for Pau and Pau isn’t able to get a shot without coming down first. He tries to dunk it and Hawaii 5-O makes sure there’re no easy buckets. Pau will shoot free throws.
2:35 – It’s Kyra Sedgewick time, let’s see how the Lakers close the quarter. They’ve got a 6 point lead.
2:00 – Kobe is guarding AI gets him to miss a jumper. Lamar grabs the one bounce rebound (is this handball?) and he’s trying not to step out of bounds by keeping his heel off the ground. Boy, his ankles look shaky.
1:36 – Melo is having a really difficult time of it today. He drove baseline against the space cadet but Lamar was waiting for him and he ended up missing the layup. Add that to his growing list of frustrations in the series.
1:08 – Kobe comes out so he won’t pick up his third foul. Kenyon misses both free throws and there’s a phantom foul call on Kleiza as Lamar mistimed his jump for the rebound. Lamar’s first one is Boykin’s. Second one is good. 51 – 42 Lakers.
0:58 – fisher plays great D on the Answer but he gets called for the blocking foul. Tough call. Fisher beat him to the spot, Iverson’s shoulder hit him square in the chest and rose up and shot. Iverson hits both free throws. Lamar comes out to avoid his third foul as well. 51-44 Lakers up.
0:35 – Vlade doesn’t have a prayer here. He’s guarding AI who draws a foul. Two shots. Quick, what number does vlad wear? The answer? 10.
0:17 – Lakers practice some patience and in the post Pau turns and faces and finds son of bill cutting to the basket all alone. Easy two.
0:00 – We’ve seen this before. Iverson dribbles hard to the rack and there’s nothing there. Pau blocks his shot/pass and Melo gets the ball with about a second and a half left. Melo pump fakes like a pump faking machine and time expires. Lakers up 53-46. I’d prefer the 51 – 42 lead. 7 is nothing.
Lakers are shooting poorly from behind the arc. 3/11. John Ireland says that the Nuggets are going to come out “like a house on fire” to start the third and the Lakers better be ready.
3rd Quarter
11:42 – Kobe starts it off right with a bucket on the first possession against Camby. Lakers up 9.
11:21 – Melo puts up a shot and finally makes it.
11:08 – Kobe hits a long deuce over K-Mart. 57-48.
10:38 – AI almost takes the ball away from Pau in the high post. Lakers dodge a bullet there. After the inbounds, Kobe puts up a ridiculous shot that misses. Pau can’t get the rebound.
9:52 – Silly foul by Kleiza. Lamar was shooting deep in the shot clock near the free throw line and he tapped Lamar from his non-shooting side. Lamar makes two. 59-50 Lakers up.
9:20 – Kobe drops a deuce! (Not that kind of deuce.) Converts it over K-Mart again with a couple feet on the line. That’s Kobe’s 14th point. 61-50.
9:05 – Derek Fisher is Demi Moore and strips Kenyon on his drive to the basket. Off Kenyon’s leg, Turnover.
8:51 – Kenyon sees Kobe gathering to rise up for a shot and he doesn’t want to be left behind so he hangs onto Kobe’s arm. I’d imagine that felt like being caught by a bear. He makes one, misses one. 62-51 Lakers.
8:03 – Joel’s MVP, Kobe (surprise) is trying to take over this quarter. Hits the three. Actually, his toe might have been on the line. But for now it stands as a three.
7:20 – Fisher hits another three and falls out of bounds. Lakers up 16! Denver is feeling defeated. There’s no bounce in their step and they are falling apart as a team. The refs need to be careful that this one doesn’t become an embarrassing series for the league.
What is this? Amateur night at the Apollo? The security/ushers at the arena are wearing dark suits with sky blue athletic headbands. Seriously? Who thought this was a good idea?
6:50 – Fisher takes the ball away from K-Mart again in the post as the secondary defender. K-Mart elbows Fisher in the face for his trouble. Regular foul called there. I’m not sure what the reasoning is there.
6:29 – Kobe is a little impressed with his superpowers. He shoots it from 30 feet at least with 4 seconds on the 24 second shot clock and air balls it. Nothing but net. We get a wry smile out of the garden snake on that one.
6:05 – JR Smith is doing his cheer leading routine on the opposite wing because his defender, Fisher, came over to double Melo in the post. Do you think Melo found the open man? Nope. He forced up a shot. It drew a foul on fish, but good teams don’t do that.
5:32 – Nuggets get some energy here. Kobe makes a great block on Melo’s layup but it goes right to K-Mart who slams it home. Slams is perhaps too nice a word. Nuggets are getting a little bit of momentum going their way and the crowd is back in it.
4:30 – Melo hits the jumper and that’s 8 straight for the Nuggs. 69-59 Lakers still up. Timeout good guys.
4:13 – Lakers get a good possession coming out of the timeout. Fisher gets the contested three. 72-59.
3:35 – Lamar can’t be guarded by JR in the post. Easy dunk as JR goes for the steal.
3:14 – I’m going to call JR Smith Moses from now on. He makes the Lakers defense part like the Red Sea. 74-61 Lakers.
2:33 – fisher gets a steal from Melo in the post (he’s made his living there today. He also probably got all arm this time, however.) Luke picks up the ball and outlets it to Kobe who is leaking out. Kobe gets the layup. Technical foul assessed to whiny baby Melo. Fisher takes the free throw and misses it. What is it today with the missed free throws? I woulda had mamba shoot that one since it was fisher’s first free throw of the day.
2:15 – Lamar does a ridiculously good job guarding AI one on one. AI eventually gets a shot off and drills it. Fisher comes back and hits a three of his own. 81-64.
1:40ish – Pau blocks Carmelo in the post. It’s been a rough series for him. But hey, at least he’s not Darko.
0:34 – Kleiza has this bad habit of trying to get rebounds by jumping over back of guys. I agree it’s a tough call on him, but if he’d work a little bit harder before the shot goes up establishing position, he’d be rewarded with a lot more offensive rebounds without catching fouls. Luke hits the free throws. 83-64.
0:02 – Farmar dances on the three point line against JR Smith and shoots a short jumper as the shot clock expires. That’s pretty much how the quarter will end as Najera doesn’t want to ruin his FG% numbers. He doesn’t get the shot off in time. 83-64 Lakers up 19. Expanding the lead by 12 in the third. Barring a Homerian-style epic collapse here, Lakers should be able to hold off any runs in the fourth.

4th Quarter
John Ireland says Kobe told every single teammate not to let the Nuggets off the floor and told The Machine specifically not to let Smith get going.
11:36 – Lakers get a steal from the Nuggets and Luke gets a fast break layup but gets undercut by Smith. Poor play by smith. Luke misses the free throw worrying about his shoulder I imagine. We haven’t seen Turiaf but he is on the bench ready to go if needed. George’s son is in street clothes tonight.
10:31 – JR’s dribble penetration leads to a Carter short corner three from the left side. Nice play. Cuts it to 17. 87 – 68.
9:33 – the sidelines advertisements are for McDonald’s “I’m lovin’ it” I imagine that they didn’t mean that in an ironic sense for Denver fans. But it works in that fashion.
8:58 – Phil puts DFish and Kobe back into the lineup. Pau is also back in.
8:42 – Sasha hits a wide open straight on three. 90-69.
8:18 – Kobe gets the Nuggets miss and outlets it to Sasha down court in front of all the Nuggets. Carter fouls him preventing the easy layup. Sasha misses the first and makes the second. Not surprised at the miss.
7:19 – Sasha is not so good at the whole floppage to draw a foul thing. He earns a blocking foul instead. Kleiza goes to the line.
7:03 – Not that they have to at this point, but there are no Lakers to rebound when Sasha put up the three. He misses and there isn’t a purple jersey below the free throw line to challenge for the rebound.
6:41 – The building is pretty antsy. They are waiting for something exciting to happen, either a highlight play or a fight.
This game is over so we’re gonna wrap this one up early. The starters should come out soon. 3-0 in the series. This bodes well but the Jazz or the rockets won’t lie down like the Nuggets have in this series. Both of those teams play together and rely on each other more than this team does. Have a great weekend Lakers fans. Stay cool in this heat wave.

Lakers/Nuggets Game 3 Chat

Kurt —  April 26, 2008

As we enter game three, I think the cliché fallbacks about effort and focus are appropriate here — the Lakers know how to beat the Nuggets, now they just need to do it in a more hostile environment against what will be a motivated Nuggets team. The Lakers have counted on windows of Nuggets disinterest in defense to pull away in the first two games, those windows will be a lot smaller today. Look at how Dallas stepped up their intensity and started to do the things they needed to in this series (be more physical, to start). Denver will be more like that tonight — they have no match up changes they can make to instantly solve their problems, it has to be about playing in their system and doing so with controlled desperation. For their part, the Lakers need to keep the offense flowing, then get back in transition defense.

While the Nuggets defense has rightfully taken some lumps in every form of media, there’s an interesting post up by Jeremy at pickaxeandroll saying that the Nuggets offense is not without blame.

The primary issue remains the same. They know they need to play with greater intelligence, they just seem incapable of actually doing it. My greatest fear for the Nuggets on offense is that AI and Melo will try to do too much. The bleaker the outlook the more Melo and AI count on themselves to carry the offense.

Even more concerning the offense enables both of them to do so as it is designed to get one or the other the ball and simply do their thing. The result is more forced shots, less movement, stagnant offense and frustration.

However, in game two it was not just Melo and AI responsible for the Nuggets inability to move the ball. Unfortunately, like the Jackson family (think Michael and Tito, not Phil), there are multiple offenders. In his brief stretch on the court Nene was surprisingly black hole-esque. I am glad that J.R. is going to the rim, but he is at his best when he is willing to dump the ball off to a teammate from time to time. In the first two games he has been forcing shots when he penetrates and seems to have forgotten that buckets by his teammates count for just as many points as the ones he puts in himself.

Some other good reading out there over at SportsHub about the series.

As for strategy for game 3:

• Still try to make AI a jumpshooter, last game he was hot from 15 to 18, but you want him taking that over a layup. That said, you know Melo and AI will get there points, just don’t let Kleiza or Smith add a big number to that.

• Good transition defense.

• One thing I like the Lakers are doing: Keeping someone on any Denver player who grabs a defensive rebound to prevent a good outlet pass. They also are hanging around AI to make sure he has to work to get the outlet. It’s working, keep it up.

• Know that Denver is not going to go away quietly today, be ready for a dog fight.

• More Luke. He’s playing well and the Nuggets have no answer.

• Keep doing what your doing, and remember not to get caught up in the speed Denver wants to work at.

Game 2 Thoughts

Kurt —  April 24, 2008

It bothered me in game one when Kobe took the Lakers out of what was working. In game two, he was working.

In the first quarter he took the ball to the basket — of his 10 shots in the quarter 4 were dunks or layups. That freed up his midrange game, five more shots were in the midrange. There was just one three attempted. I was worried that he would take on the challenge of Kenyon Martin by becoming “pull-up jumper Kobe,” but he went to the rack.

Then, when the Nuggets started to adjust to what he was doing, Kobe picked up 10 dimes in the last three quarters (he had none in the first). Eight of those came in the second half. The Nuggets really don’t have an answer. I think KD at Ball Don’t Lie summed it up well (as he always does):

Kobe Bryant (49 points, ten assists) is one of the best shooting guards to ever play this game.

Kobe Bryant was guarded, mostly, by a pair of power forwards who couldn’t keep up with most of this league’s small forwards. If you can’t follow Ryan Bowen around the pine, why should you have to guard Kobe Bryant? George? Kenyon and Eduardo want a word. And they want to move back to Ronny Turiaf, if at all possible.

Other thoughts:

• Game two looked a lot like game one on some key levels. First, the Nuggets offensive rating for the game was 109.2 (points per 100 possessions), not much different than the 110.7 they had in game one. The Lakers defense continues to keep the Nuggets just below their season average (112.1).

And, as is obvious without the numbers, the Nuggets don’t have any defensive answer to the Lakers. LA had an offensive rating of 124.5, pretty much identical to the 124.3 from game one. The Lakers season average was 114.9 and the Suns led the entire NBA at 115.8.

• The good news, 98 possessions in game two, five slower than game one. A few less would be great but the Lakers are better off with it under 100.

• Good note on Carmelo from Tony Starks in the comments:

Melo has gotten no calls these first 2 games. With that said, though, melo-melo man is a black hole. my gosh. mr. bridges says he only has 3 moves on the block. I’m sure 1 of them is definitely not passing. he must’ve got the ball at least 10 times on the block/15 ft. out (where he likes it).

3 times (at most) he passed the ball (reluctantly – 1 for a turnover, 1 for a made AI 3, and one for an AI miss). The other 9-10 times, he’s looking to get up his own shot. I’ve seen him and Kleiza pass the ball to each other like 3 times all series. Sad.

Reed added this note along the same lines:

Iverson and Melo are obviously talented and are going to put up gaudy scoring numbers, but you get the feeling they are incapable of combining to shoot better than 45%. With Denver having no one on their team that is going to get a lot of easy, efficient points inside, all of that perimeter scoring isn’t going to avail much. On the flip side, Kobe also usually shoots 45%, but he mixes it with Pau and Odom’s 55%+ shooting and great playmaking.

• When the Lakers attacked the Nuggets zone inside out (via Kobe penetration or passes into Pau) they got good looks, even the kick-out threes were very open ones. When they just went around the perimeter the looks were poor. Maybe there’s a lesson in there somewhere…..

• The Nuggets aren’t getting the calls? It’s “5 on 8” to quote Mr. Smith. Really? As J.D. Hastings pointed out in the comments, the Nuggets have shot more free throws than the Lakers in both games — 17 more over both games. While that is not the ultimate test of quality officiating, it’s a sign things may be more fair than the Nuggets realize. The Nuggets are just a little desperate. And letting the officials get into their heads.

You Like Me

Kurt —  April 24, 2008

You really, really like me.

Seriously, I am touched to have won the “Sixth Blogger of the Year” (best team-focused blog) in the Hardwood Paroxysm recent NBA blogger voting. Especially when I think of all the fantastic blogs I read and think, “Man, I wish I was that good.”

This little site has grown into a fantastic community, where I serve as caretaker and conversation starter. But it is the community that keeps me (and I think many of you) interested. So, thanks for voting for me.

PS. I am so going to rub this in Ziller’s face.