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.

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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).

Kurt

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24 responses to Lakers/Jazz and Other Thoughts

  1. i guess it is a forgone conclusion that the jazz will emerge from this series (?) the rockets are not going away quietly……..if it goes to seven games, we will have to bring up the inevitable debate……..rust vs rest. lakeshow has great rhythm right now. i’d hate to see it get offbeat……

  2. Crazy day for the league…

    *I’m kind of conflicted about D’Antoni. I really don’t like him that much. He comes off as whiny and arrogant at the same time. But he is innovative on offense and even Kobe has called him a genius. I also think that he has been dealt a bad hand by ownership with the selling of draft picks that would have undoubtedly helped the Suns over the years. However, on that same note, the coach is supposed to make the most out of the talent he has on the roster. Phil got loads out of Smush, Kwame, et al where other coaches have just buried those guys. You get lemons, you make lemonade…and that’s what coaching is about. So, I really don’t know if he’s getting a raw deal or not with all the speculation about his future with the team.

    *Avery is another guy whos situation I can’t quite get my arms around. I think he’s a very good coach who is able to motivate his guys. But he’s also an over-coacher who has too tight a leash on the players. He also is not innovative on offense but continues to want to bark instructions as to what plays should be ran. I mean why call out every play if it’s just going to be an isolation? Anyways, I hope he lands on his feet. I always liked him as a player and a coach. But I’m a sucker for lefties. As for improving the Dallas roster (and since I’m not talking Lakers trades, maybe Kurt will let this slide), I think they need to try and get another true scorer who can do some damage on the mid to low block. If they could pawn off Howard and Terry for Carmello, I’d like that. If they could swap Kidd for AI, I’d do that as well (although that deal would be much better if Avery was still there calling out Isos). My problem with Dallas against NO was how Howard vanished and went from impact guy to someone who could not be trusted (to either make j’s or not talk about rolling them).

    *Big game for Utah/Houston on Friday. Alston is really making a difference in that T-Mac doesn’t have to be the primary ball handler and the primary scorer…teams that have that formula rarely do well (look at us the previous 2 seasons). Utah has the chance to close this out at home so I expect them to do it. But honestly, I don’t know…Houston has gotten some of that mojo back and have the ability to beat Utah in Salt Lake so it’s really a toss up. And although I’ve been saying that Utah is a tough match up for us, I think I’d still rather play the team with the powerful offense and the not as strong defense, than the team with the suspect offense and the juggernaut defense. So, we shall see.

  3. Did I miss something? Was this page suspended for a time? It was like that for literally a few seconds, and then I reloaded and got the usual site again. But this particular post still had only one comment on it, after a few hours.

    Anyway, basketball: If I’m the Suns (and I’m not), I give them some time to get on the same page. And it has to be honestly on the same page, not some lip-service same page just because everybody wants to keep their jobs. But I’d make the opportunity available, because I don’t think D’Antoni was given the chance to devise something workable for that squad.

    Having said that, I don’t think he can do it. But he should be given that chance. (Unless, as it’s sometimes been suggested, D’Antoni pushed hard for the Shaq trade against Kerr’s better judgment. I’ve heard that, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen that confirmed in print.)

  4. There have been serious technical issues with the site, leading to intermittent down time the last week or so. Today it was figured out what happened and the problem was solved (that sound you hear is me knocking on wood). We should be running as smoothly as the Laker offense now….

  5. I kind of feel bad for Johnson because he was a good leader, with a crazy management. I think he will get another good job shortly. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in either Phoenix or New York next season.

  6. Kurt,
    Did you transfer your problems on the website to my satellite company. Now I am not getting any picture at all. Thank god they can get to my house before the 2nd round starts or I would be really p*ssed. Stop moving all this website access problems around to your bloggers.

  7. The Painted Area link above is right down my thoughtline. The biggest problem with the Suns is Robert Sarver. Now the word is that they won’t fire D’Antoni, but wait for him to quit – saving them the $ at the end of his contract.

    I would love to see D’Antoni stay, if only to take their money or force them to give him his walking papers. The problem is that 1) his reputation would take a big hit because of the disfunctionality in the front office, 2) the good jobs will be ‘gobbled’ up soon, and 3) nobody likes to live in an atmosphere poisoned with animosity.

    The silver lining is likely to be that good coaches will shy away from the PHX job – like they do for the NFL coaching position in Arizona – and the club will have to pay an up-front premium to get anyone to risk their career to go there.

  8. It’s funny how the 2003-04 Lakers are continually referenced as the poster boys for underachievement – a squad full of All-Stars who couldn’t get it done.

    But despite all the dysfunction and disappointment of that season, that team did something the Nash-D’Antoni Suns were never able to do – they actually made it to the NBA Finals.

    I expect we’ll hear a lot about the “end of an era” if, in fact, there is a major shakeup in Phoenix. But what, really, did that team ever accomplish?

  9. If I’m Pat Riley, I’m dialing Avery right now. Unless I’m a control freak who wants to secretly coach the team from the front office and then take back over whenever rebuilding is done.

  10. I kept getting a screen with all those php files showing, as if I logged onto an FTP. Anyway, glad to see the site back up.

    Crazy idea, inspired by the Avery firing, is… what if you switch coaches? Avery to Suns, D’Antoni to Mavs. If anything, they would be really well prepared to play each other, while both possess intimate knowledge in how to battle the Spurs/West. Not to mention that they probably have a very objective view on the strengths of the teams they’ll coach.

    Anyway, since I can’t root for the Suns and Mavs anymore (I hoped that they’d take their respective series to 7, cause more bruises etc.) I’ll be rooting for the Wizards, Hawks, Rockets and 76ers.

  11. Looks like Bynum has increased his workouts to 2 on 1…

    http://community.foxsports.com/blogs/timmoore2/2008/4/30/Andrew_Bynum_Is_Getting_His_Game_On

    Go Lakers.

  12. Warren Wee Lim April 30, 2008 at 7:15 pm

    I think it would be allowed somehow…

    Phoenix is actually staying put IMO. This is the best thing they can do. Its not like they can trade Nash or Shaq that easily anyway. I think the bast way for them to go is trade Barbosa + the 15th pick for something like … … … (Miller + Lowry) or (Artest + Garcia).

    Dallas is a different story. So Avery has just been fired and I say that’s good for him. I honestly think he will not be rendered jobless this year and the Bulls could be VERY interested. As for the team, I agree with the Terry-J-Ho for someone like Melo.

  13. Looks like D’Antoni is ‘resigning’

  14. re-signing or resigning?

  15. Dallas could try some tweaks and might be better than we think. They need a SG who can fill it up and run w/Kidd. JR Smith perhaps? Would Denver match a full MLE offer? Try and steal Quinton Ross w/the LLE. Buy an early second and draft a raw,athletic big to groom. Try to find some way to pry one of the young Memphis PGs to apprentice under Kidd. W/a Smith and Dirk to carry scoring load Howard can relax back into his super all-around role. Stack,Terry,Ross and Bass give Dallas the strong bench that used to be their trademark.
    (And I’d bet early fav to be Mavs coach is Del Harris.)

  16. Warren Wee Lim April 30, 2008 at 9:47 pm

    Defensive Scheme:

    Why not put Pau on Boozer, Odom on AK and Radmanovic on Okur. Okur will occasionally wander around the three area which Radman likes to operate anyway and this will ensure that Pau is in the low block to grab the boards with Odom coming in for the board as well.

    AK47 has the 18-ft jumper which he loves to shoot. I think Lamar should dare him to shoot that as we have the sure rebound on that miss.

    Utah’s offense is ignited by the Deron to Boozer entry pass. If that pass is somehow disrupted, Deron goes back and finds another cutter or shoots it himself. I say disrupt the entry pass, you disrupt Utah’s offense. I could live with Deron lauching threes all night even if he hits them at a 50% clip as long as the others do not get their share.

  17. Not sure if anyone saw this. I’m not normally a PTI fan, but today’s podcast had a 5 minute interview w/ Phil Jackson. He had some pretty candid and interesting things to say about Kobe, this Lakers’ team and more.

    Here’s the link to ESPN’s podcenter page, look for “Pardon the Interruption: 4/30″ (the Phil interview is about 1/2 way through the podcast):
    http://espnradio.espn.go.com/espnradio/podcast/index

  18. “Avery is another guy whos situation I can’t quite get my arms around.”

    lol Do you really want to hug him that badly? I’m kidding, I thought Darius had some excellent analysis on the coaches. I don’t like D’Antoni at all, but I think he got a raw deal. They had chosen a system. Kerr was supposed to find pieces to enhance that system, not revamp it on the fly.

    I saw the PTI interview too. I remember thinking, Phil usually is a little condescending to the media, he at least like’s to mess around with them a little, but I couldn’t see him trying the same thing with Kornheiser. And I was right, Phil was surprisingly open, honest, and humble, and it was a very good interview.

    The one thing I noticed is Phil calls out his players a lot, but he knows when and how to do it. In that PTI interview he took a small shot at the Lakers’ rebounding, but I never got the feeling any Lakers would take it personally–I think it’ll help fuel them in the next series.

    Also, I’m not sure we want Pau on Boozer. Pau’s not a good rebounder in traffic anyway, and Boozer’s post game could put Pau in foul trouble very quickly. Also, Pau’s offensive game seems to wear down when he plays against strong post players. Granted, I don’t see a better option. I think he can keep up with Okur, but Radman is probably a better fit there. AK moves and cuts too much. So I guess we’re stuck with Gasol on Boozer, but I just hope Pau’s offensive game doesn’t struggle as a result.

  19. As good as the Jazz offense is, we have the talent to disrupt it while they can’t really stop ours. What I’m mostly worried about this series is giving up too many offensive rebounds.

    Even if we play good, solid defense and force the Jazz into awkward shots, all of our hard work can be negated by an offensive rebound and a quick, high-percentage put back.

    Crash the boards, crush the Jazz!

  20. laughing hard May 1, 2008 at 9:52 am

    I couldn’t find the actual link for this (LO’s web site was down), but this blurb on TrueHoop is really funny:

    http://myespn.go.com/blogs/truehoop/0-32-141/Kobe-Bryant–MVP-of-the-Steakhouse.html

  21. 16. Warren, I like the defensive scheme you outlined and I think it would work. No argument here. I would like to see a switch though from time-to-time since a few of those match-ups are almost interchangeable. Just to keep them off guard.

    And hey, I wasn’t really stung by the slight on your big list I was just fooling around. But thanks for picking it up late :-) I prefer to think of myself as a D-Fish type, by the way.

    Anyway, I’m rooting Rockets on Friday night just to send it to seven. Every extra game and every extra Laker day off is helpful. Forget rust, these guys are going to stay sharp. Trevor and Andy need to keep improving so at least one (hopefully both) will be on the court for the eventual NBA Finals showdown with…The Hawks? Just kidding. No really.

    I hate the Celtics but I wouldn’t wish that on them!

  22. 20- namotuman,
    Check out tinyurl.com.

    —-

    That TrueHooop thing on Kobe was hilarious, I can’t stop laughing about it.

  23. The Dude Abides May 2, 2008 at 3:41 pm

    Bummer…ESPN just reported that Andrew said he doubts he will return this postseason. I guess we all knew this, but still…