Archives For April 2008

We need to talk about Kobe Bryant. No, not the fact that he is staying in LA, that’s been painfully obvious since about December. Some members of the media apparently wanted to see him eat his words, so they didn’t let the issue die, but anyone with half a brain figured it out a long time ago.

No, I’m talking about his game one performance.

The Laker offense and passing was a thing of beauty in game one. The spacing, the flow was as good as the triangle has looked all year. The only time that flow stopped is when Kobe got the ball and decided to prove his manhood against Kenyon Martin. From Bill Bridges in the comments:

But the nature of the jump shots bothered me. It is one thing if he would take the jump shots in the context of the offense as a by-product of off the ball movement. Instead, the offense came to a screeching halt as he would hold the ball, jab step, etc etc before launching the J.

Martin stayed back on Kobe, plus (as Darius pointed out in the comments) he showed good lateral quickness and with his strength was able to really slow Kobe’s penetration. In the LA Times today Kobe called playing against K-Mart a “challenge.” The problem is, Kobe likes to take on those types of challenges head on, and in game one his ego got in the way of the offense, something that has not been a big problem the second half of the year. Kobe needs to pick his spots better.

Father of Coby’s decision to go with K-Mart on Kobe was an interesting one, but it came with a price — a mismatch of Anthony Carter or AI having to take one of the Laker bigs (Radman or Luke Walton). It was Walton that made them pay the price, although Radman has his moments. The Lakers were at their best in exploiting that mismatch, it forced Camby to run around trying to protect the paint. A couple quick passes and Gasol got lay-ups, as did other guys.

The only time that seemed to stop was when Kobe got the ball.

Kobe had his points, and got them late, but the Lakers need him to play within the offense. He needs to be efficent. If it means an 11-point night with 11 assists, good. The one dime in game one was a sign of how Kobe played (although he did get some “hockey assists”). When the defense adjusts to stop Pau and try to jump his passing lanes, Kobe’s chances will open up. Now, he should go at K-Mart a few times to keep him honest, but he needs to play within the offense. Do that and it is an easy win.

A few other thoughts:

• The Lakers transition defense needs to be better.

• Good read about the changes in Lamar Odom’s game from friend-of-the-site Nate Jones, check it out.

• Commenter Renato Afonso had a few suggestions for George Karl:

1 – Play mixed defenses, alternating a 2-3 zone with man-to-man. Throw the triangle out of synch by cutting the flow of the offense.

2 – Play Iverson, JR Smith, Kleiza, Martin and Camby as the core. Carmelo Anthony should not be playing for them.

3 – Switch K-Mart to Odom, stop Odom and let Kobe get his points.

Personally I don’t buy into the sitting Melo idea, they need his offense and they can cover his defensive deficiencies. But they do need to get Kleiza and Smith more time on the court (at Carter’s expense). But, as Afonso pointed out, the options Karl has are limited.

UPDATE: Not just seconds after I posted this, Heather sent me an email with a link from the Denver Post saying that Kleiza will start in place of Carter.

• The boys at Fire George Karl have had it with Lakers fans. Well, I can’t really argue point #7.

• A quick diversion: If Kobe and LeBron played a game of one-on-one, who do you got?

• Am I the only person on the Internet who thinks the Rockets problems do not fall on McGrady? Nobody else on that team is stepping up and they really miss Yao Ming. A team can focus its defense and take one guy out for a quarter or even a game (although McGrady settled for a lot of jumpers in the fourth quarter). The Nuggets tried to do the same thing to the Lakers in game one, but Gasol made them pay a price. Who else on Houston is making Utah pay?

• UPDATE: New stuff from the official Lakers blog worth checking out, including more Jim Cleamons video interviews and stuff from Sasha.

Fast Break Thoughts

Kurt —  April 21, 2008

To me, game one followed a predictable script, just like every Hugh Grant romantic comedy. The Nuggets had one big run in the second quarter, but for the other three they could not stop the Lakers so long as LA took care of the ball and didn’t shoot early in the clock. The problem for Denver is they don’t have a lot of options to change up that could affect what the Lakers do, not because of a lack of talent but just how the team plays together. Just like a romantic comedy, we can expect to see a few tweaks in the rest of the series, but I think we’ve seen the formula and we know how the movie ends.

Here are some other thoughts from game one, and also check out the stuff from the Nuggets blog Pick Axe and Roll.

Things I liked:

• The Nuggets had no answer for Pau Gasol (interesting that for a while Karl thought Carmelo might be that answer — he wasn’t, something we all could have predicted). And while his shooting was spectacular, what set that up was his passing. It started with the first two times he got the ball in the post — he got great assists (the pass inside to a cutting Radmanovic who had sealed off his man, then the cross courter to Fisher for the three). His passing had the Nuggets defenders looking for the pass, opening up his lanes for shots (first shot of the second half a fake pass gave him a lane, he drew the foul). That and he benefited from some great passing from teammates.

• One thing that breaks down the Nuggets defense is good passing. (Well, that’s true of every defense, but the gambling style of the Nuggets makes it worse. Even when they play a zone they don’t stay home.) The Lakers are the best passing team in the NBA right now, particularly among their big men. The front line of Odom, VladRad and Gasol combined for 20 assists. That led to a lot of the Lakers lay-ups or wide-open threes. Part of the advantage there was that with K-Mart on Kobe, it created a mismatch inside where Laker bigs could see better passing lanes.

• The Lakers offense thrived when it went inside out. Not so much when the ball just worked around the perimeter. Now, read the bullet point above this about passing again and it all comes together.

• Lamar Odom’s play. He just continues to be great to watch.

• Sasha on defense. The Lakers need to go to him more, his length gives Iverson and other Nuggets ball handlers issues.

• I like Drrayeye’s quote: “Unselfish Laker teamwork more than makes up for the extraordinary talent of those Nuggs.”

Things I did not like:

• The DUI chant. You’d think, after all the vitriol directed at Kobe after Colorado a few years ago and Lakers fans response to it, they would have learned a lesson here and not acted like a third-grade schoolyard bully. Not to downplay the seriousness of drinking and driving, but Anthony has handled it with as much class as could be hoped for. That chant was just cheap.

• The pace was 103 possessions. Too fast.

• The Nuggets second-quarter run was fueled in part by misses by the Lakers. Well, that and some questionable defense on JR Smith and Keliza. And some terrible defense in transition in that stretch. All season long the Lakers second unit (led by Farmar) has come in with a burst of energy and pushed the tempo, being willing to take jumpers early in the clock. In this game, against the Nuggets, that backfired. Which is why Farmar was a team worst -15.

• As a Laker fan, I didn’t like Kleiza’s play. He can hit the outside shot but he was one of the few Denver players to consistently drive to the basket. (Iverson tried).

• How Kobe was just a jump-shooter against Martin. One of the advantages Kobe has when he drives the lane is just how strong he is, but he’s not stronger than Martin. That and Martin’s size had Kobe pulling up, but he needs to attack more. Kobe generally makes better decisions when he’s attacking than when he’s pulling up.

Other random thoughts:

• I would expect Denver to try again to be more physical with the Lakers next game. Problem is Denver really doesn’t have the personnel to do it up and down the roster. Utah on the other hand….

• Man, how compelling was that opening weekend? The Suns and Spurs? The Sixers win in Detroit? Both of those were thrilling endings to watch. I’m excited the playoffs are back.

• If Tim Duncan beats you with a three (or sends it to another OT) you just have to tip your hat to the man. That’s the shot you want to force.

• I really like the MJ “Or maybe you’re just making excuses” commercial.

• Phil Jackson has become a master of saying nothing in his responses to those in-game questions. He should run for office.

Game Live Blog

Kurt —  April 20, 2008

Well, I guess it wasn’t technically live, unless you were at nomuskles house. He put together one of his popular live blogs of game one, so here it is in its entirety. Enjoy it and enjoy the win, even if it was not perfect or pretty. Playoff wins against quality opponents should not be taken lightly. We’ll start breaking this thing down in earnest tomorrow. For now, I’m going to have another adult malted beverage and savor the win.

Pregame thoughts
I have decided that the Lakers will lose in a bit of reverse psychology. Hopefully they will listen to my doubts and prove me wrong. However, by admitting that I am doing this, I might be undoing the reverse psychology, thus rendering it reverse reverse psychology. We’ll see what happens. I’m really excited for this game. I didn’t sleep well last night I was so excited! I think the Lakers will have a difficult time containing the Answer on penetration but their help defense will be solid. The question is, will JR Smith and Kleiza come off the bench to hit the open jumpers? Pau and Lamar have to remember to guard Camby’s 18-20 foot jumper, he can hit it. Today, it’s just me and the HDTV.

1st Quarter:
Got word from my friend in New York that the ABC affiliate there is showing the Pope instead of the game. What’s up with that? They can’t borrow a few hours of time from CSPAN?
Wilbon predicts 4-2 Lakers in the series with a Denver win today. He disagrees with Kurt and says the Nuggs don’t play defense.
I have no idea who that was doing the theme song for ABC, but that was lame. They should’ve gotten Foo Fighters. The Pretender would have been perfect. Today we’ve got Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy, and Mark Jackson. Denver will wear their primary road unis—the powder blue ones. Lakers will be in their Sunday whites.
We get an update that the bus carrying some of the Nuggs caught fire on the way to Staples Center. The players dodged cars on the freeway to run away from the exploding bus. Apparently Phil Jackson drove past the bus on his way to the arena. What kind of omen is this? Shades of food poisoning in Sacramento?
11:45 – The Nuggets also do the whole “The bench players don’t sit down until they get their first score” thing, as do the Lakers.
11:34 – Nuggets first possessions end up with some sloppy play and a missed shot.
11:31 – Kobe jacks up a quick three. Brick city. Lamar hustles for the rebound. Kobe gets it back, drives into the lane and in his indecisiveness, he just flicks it up off the backboard. Lame! The Space Cadet seals his man well and Pau gives him a pass post to post across the key where VladMan can lay it in.
10:49 – Melo gets the nuggs on the board with a jumper.
10:34 – Fisher gets an inside out pass and hits the three. Lakers up 5-2.
10:15 – Kobe drives baseline past Kenyon martin who has no help and Kobe gets an easy reverse layup. The Nuggs throw it out of bounds in quick transition. Lakers up 7-4
9:52 – The ABC guys are making a great point. Kenyon Martin is guarding Kobe, which means Allen Iverson is guarding Radmanovich. Both of those are bigtime mismatches but just as we’re mentioning that, Radman gets called for a foul trying to get position on the block. AI earns a golden globe for his flop there. The Space Cadet earns a seat on the bench with his second foul. With Vlad’s limited post ability, I don’t know if the mismatch there will hurt the Nuggs too much. (It will hurt them when Vlad becomes a slasher and gets the feed from Pau or Kobe).
9:29 – On the next possessions this happens exactly. Luke cuts to the bucket and gets a great look at a layup. Camby erases the effort though with a nice block. This play will work all day if Dad of Coby keeps AI on our SF.
8:58 – They go to Luke in the post again and he converts. Mismatch like whoa.
8:45 – Kobe blocked the Answer’s jumper and runs out the fast break but camby gets another block. Ball to the Lakers. Ugh. Offensive foul on Mamba. Lakers still up 9-6.
8:25 – Shoutout to Anthony Carter, the pride of Hawaii basketball.
8:05 – Lakers doing a great job cleaning up the glass on the defensive end.
8:00 – Lakers exploit the mismatches to perfection on this possession. Kobe lobs it into Luke. If Luke had more boosties, it’d be a dunk in this case, not so much. A couple Nuggets come to help. He kicks it out to Odom on the three point line who has a defender run him off the corner three. Lamar zips it to Pau who trailed the play into the middle of the lane and gets the easy dunk. In the confusion and scramble created by the mismatch, Camby got a little lost and guarded no one, allowing Pau to find some space in the lane.
7:45 – the triangle offense is apparently predicated on ball movement and player movement (according to Breen) or, when that doesn’t work, give it to kobe and get out of the way (according to JVG).
7:35 – AI hits two free throws. Nuggs down 7-11. His hair is nicely done for the start of the playoffs.
7:20 – Pau saves the ball from going out of bounds and lamar makes a great effort to take the ball away from melo, and before he fell out of bounds, he threw it off Melo. Lamar is pretty good at making that play. If I were melo, I might think about wearing a cup when Lamar is in the game though. That was pretty close to tagging his boys. Lakers forget about the 24 second clock and Kobe doesn’t get a shot off.
6:44 – AI hits the step back over Fisher. Kobe’s got a foul so he and fisher have switched assignments. That was perdy.
6:31 – Lamar had to change direction exactly zero times to dribble from the top of the key to the basket. This resulted, unsurprisingly in a left handed slam. If this were Car and Driver Magazine, Lamar just completed the 0-60-0 test…but was not subjected to the slalom course. Note to Nuggets: This brand of defense is why everyone thinks you soft. Way to not prove them wrong. 13 – 6 Lakers.
5:53 – whoops! Where’d it go. Nuggets pay too much attention to Kobe out top who finds Luke drifting towards the baseline. He bounce passes it to Pau who gives a little ball fake to Kleiza on his back. Kleiza stands more still than a statue. Pau hits the turnaround jump hook. Timeout Coloradoans.
George Karl and men, much much smaller than he are pushing into each other before the game in the locker room. Good to know that being old doesn’t preclude horsing around.
5:20 – Lamar waltzes to the basket and gets the layup over Camby. At least the Nuggets made him change directions once this time.
4:39 – the Lakers are not getting to the rebounds with the same tenacity as they did before.
4:16 – “Walton, nobody on him.” I’ll take the over on how many times Mike Breen says, “nobody on him” tonight. 21 – 11 Lakers.
3:22 – AI takes Fisher off the dribble. He gets a step and Lamar drifts off his man to provide support in the lane. AI has seen that before (every night) and finds Camby underneath the bucket for the easy dunk.
3:12 – Odom was by himself. Missed the shot. Luke hustles to get the long rebound. Pau ends up by himself earning a dunk. Kobe’s penetration caused that one.
2:46 – Lamar wishes his lengthy arms were about two inches longer as he mistimes his jump and bats an easy rebound out of bounds.
2:28 – Melo goes to the line. I think chants of D-U-I break out. Classy. JVG criticizes the fans for chanting that. I agree, but it’s not like Melo forgot to pick up after his dog that pooped on a neighbor’s lawn. He was driving totally hammered. That’s how you kill someone. Instead, they applaud his willingness to admit his mistake.
1:35 – “gasol is open.” He just misses the jumper. I’m going to go ahead and Ctrl+C that phrase right now.
0:53 – “Farmar left open.” Finally converts his first three ball. 26-16.
0:40 – Lakers don’t get back in transition. Kleiza gets the over the top pass down the court. Mamba pwnage! He blocks Kleiza from behind. AI picks up the miss and gets the putback to fall. Kleiza directs some displeasure at the official for not calling a foul. JR Smith is waiting to check into the game. 26-20 Lakers up.
0:03 – Lakers decide that the quarter ends when they stop playing, instead of them stopping to play when the quarter ends. Melo gets a fastbreak layup. Nuggs within four. Kobe just got beat down the court by Kleiza and he gets upset with Luke for not sticking with Melo. Uhh…. Pot, kettle, black?
2nd Quarter
Coby and George Karl are shown on the split screen. The cancer stories are trotted out for everyone.
11:40 – Nuggs are within 1. 25-26.
11:20 – The Space Cadet steps out of bounds on the baseline.
10:53 – JVG says the Lakers only have one baseline out of bounds play. Well that one play just netted Sasha a great shot which he drills. JR Smith fell asleep during the film session this week.
10:06 – Lakers offense is sputtering a little without Kobe and Pau.
9:51 – Kmart just takes it away from Turiaf.
9:43 – JR Smith misses a free throw. Somewhere, Stu Lantz is making the point that JR needs to not fall away on his free throws. Nuggs within 2 – 28-30. Kobe is 1 out of 8 on FG right now.
9:10 – Nuggs take their first lead with a Kleiza three. 31-30.
8:47 – Kleiza hits another. Lakers call timeout. 9-0 run for the power blues. 34-30 nuggets.
JR Smith shaves his legs. The camera is giving me an ankle eye view of the Nugget huddle and you can see his silky smooth skin.
8:18 – Kleiza puts his name in the hat for 6th man of the year.
7:55 – Sasha finally breaks the drought. Hits a three.
7:43 – Kleiza takes it to the bucket and finishes with the teardrop. 38-33 Nuggets.
7:16 – Lakers are lazy on defense (Kobe I’m looking at you.) he slaps JR Smith on the way to the basket after JR beat Luke off the dribble and lets him convert the runner. That is unhelpful defense.
7:01 – Smith applies for the unfilled position of Pau Gasol’s human backpack while and then does the “who me?” pose afterwards. Gasol hits two. 41-35 Nuggs lead.
6:40 – the Lakers are suffering malaise. Give up an offensive rebound.
6:02 – Fisher does the unselfish thing. He passes up the open three, surveys the land like Lewis and Clark, and then feeds Pau in the post being guarded by Melo. Mr. Lala is no match for the Spaniard. Two points. Nuggets come right back and in about four seconds Kmart gets himself two points. Lakers have decided that not playing defense is more fun than working hard to control their own end. It’s a good thing they practiced the past few days concentrating on coming out with intensity on defense. Whoops. 45-37 Nuggets.
5:30 – Luke hits the three after good ball movement. I’m not surprised they got a good luck. Melo was spying near the paint to prevent a Kobe drive to the bucket. That left the Lakers with a lot of space on the perimeter.
4:47 – Luke hits a short jumper. 43-47.
4:18 – Finally, Kobe hits the 18 footer from the side. Melo with a nice shot of his own.
3:50 – great look by Fisher to hit Odom cutting behind the defense. Dunkalicious. 47-49.
3:10 – Camby tries out his Allen Iverson impersonation. Drives to his right trying to get past Gasol. The Spaniard moves well enough to prevent the drive from going anywhere dangerous. Camby throws the ball up anyway and it doesn’t hit the rim. There is something surreal about watching two lanky men as one of them drives to the bucket and the other tries to move laterally to stop him. A blur they were not. A pair of baby giraffes is more like it.
3:07 – Lamar does his make one miss one thing at the line. I think he needs to drop his back foot more back. He doesn’t seem to have it behind him enough.
2:51 – AI draws contact from Kobe and that’s Kobe’s third. He’ll probably sit the rest of the half. Maybe he’ll “use this time to think about what he’s done,” as my second grade teacher might have said. In this case, he’s done very little on the defensive end. Scratch that. Kobe stays in. Iverson has had a little difficulty at the line tonight.
2:34 – Pretty pass from Gasol to Luke for the layup. 50-50.
2:02 – Gasol = Dr. J. You don’t believe me? Watch him glide through the lane with his 0.4 second hang time and alter his shot to get the layup around the defender. 54-50.
0:43 – Fisher to Kobe to Lamar to Pau. Dunk. Those three passes happened in about the span of 1 second. Let’s have more of that. Like I said before, Gasol does a great job of cutting with hands up so that he’s almost always ready for the quick passes.
0:22 – Lamar is hungry for rebounds! He gets the rebound off the Sasha miss. And earns himself a layup. Woot!
Last possession for the Nuggets – Sasha hounds AI at halfcourt while Iverson waits for the clock to run down. AI mishandles the ball and it goes into the back court. Was that a violation? Ref says play on. AI gets it back, gets some penetration with the clock winding down. He finds Najera and Sasha runs over and just mauls najera as he’s shooting a three. No foul called. That’s how the half will end. Nice job by the Lakers to get back in the game after that lapse.
Kobe is 2 for 10 but he’s been setting his teammates up splendidly.
Halftime
Good feature on the Boston Three Party. Melo is mic’d. And we don’t learn anything about him.
Michelle Tafoya spoke with George Karl. Denver wants to attack the basket. He’s apparently in awe of the Lakers’ passing. JVG says Karl should think about taking Carter out of the game and putting in Kleiza or JR Smith to create more natural matchups. Father of Coby says, “uhh…why didn’t I think of that?”
11:45 – Gasol starts it off with two free throws. 56-60. Lakers.
11:33 – Kmart doesn’t get the alleyoop to go.
11:14 – Odom does a great job after forgetting to box out. Melo tries to bulldoze LO and gets called for the charge.
10:50 – Kobe misses the three and for some reason he doesn’t get back in transition. Lamar is all alone and Melo converts the lay in. charge that one to Kobe misreading what was happening and not using his NOS tank to get back.
10:38 – Gasol gets a great follow dunk. And a tough rebound on the other end. Lakers up 62-58.
10:04 – LO is tenacious. Misses a layup against Camby but he gets the rebound.
9:50 – Kobe intercepts a pass and streaks downcourt by himself. Carter grabs him to prevent the layup. Nothing vicious. But then something happens and Carter gives Kobe a little shove. Not sure what happened there. Kobe apparently tagged Carter in the eye on accident and he took out his frustration on Kobe by giving him a small nudge. Carter is telling bald Joey Carter that this is not the first time he’s been hit in the face.
9:14 – Camby’s Chinese tattoos always create a little bit of dissonance for me. Why do they have to be so big?
9:03 – Camby slaps the crap out of Pau’s arms. And then he complains that he’s called for a foul. JVG says the Nuggs are -14 when Iverson and Carter are on the floor together. Plus/Minus might be misleading, but I think that’s real talk.
8:25 – The Space Cadet finds Pau under the basket. Delayed pick and roll. Pau is, all together now, “all alone.”
7:56 – Kobe catch and shoot on the out of bounds play. 73-60 Lakers up. Can the Lakers hang on to this big lead? I say, let’s not bet your house on it just yet.
7:42 – Don’t draw too many conclusions from this, but I would not surprised if I heard that Kenyon Martin hangs out with Mike Tyson. He just seems that volatile to me. I think it’s his build and the tattoos.
7:19 – Kobe does his usual mental lapse. Fouls Melo shooting a jump shot. The replay is inconclusive as to whether he actually touched Melo’s elbow or not.
6:58 – Lakers get careless and Denver takes it away which leads to a Denver fast break. Kleiza slam.
6:45 – Kobe fouled and hits a tough fade away over Martin. And one. 76-64 Lakers. Let’s see if that sparks the Mamba’s offense.
6:26 – LO is victim to one of those automatic foul calls. He and Kleiza go up for the rebound but Kleiza gets a better hold of it and bring it down. LO’s arms get wrapped around Kleiza in a sweet embrace and Joe Crawford calls the foul. Denver isn’t able to convert on the inbounds.
5:34 – Lakers are doing a terrible job boxing out. Nuggets are doing a good job pushing the Lakers out of rebounding position and are being rewarded with no-calls and offensive rebounds. Kmart earns a trip to the line.
5:18 – Kobe drills it. He’s shaking his head “no.” If I’m Denver, I don’t mind this. Kobe by himself can’t beat Denver.
5:11 – AI is 6/12 from the charity stripe. Lakers still up 78-67.
4:55 – Stomach punch by the Lakers. Pau one on one with Camby in the post. His hook shot gets blocked away but it’s right to the Space Cadet. His shot is wet. 81-67.
4:26 – Kobe is talking a lot to Farmar during the free throw. They are apparently discussing how to defend AI. I think “say lots of prayers” was mentioned. AI promptly hits a jumper coming off a screen. JVG says Kobe is probably tell him to get the switch with Sasha so AI can be Sasha’s problem. Funny man that JVG. The Lakers offense is stagnant and we’re not seeing the cutters like we did before.
3:40 – This lineup for the Nuggs is doing well. Najera, Smith, Camby, AI, and Kleiza.
3:16 – Pau gets thirty points on a great feed into the lane. 85-73 Lakes.
2:47 – Pau trails the play and gets his no jump dunk on. He’s got so little lift, my 62 year old father starts laughing. I kid you not. Timeout Nuggets. Lakers up fourteen.
Kobe is still talking to Sasha and Farmar about the defense. I’m glad we’re making defense a little bit of a priority here. Let’s not forget there is a TON of time left here. The ABC guys have popcorn on their desk/table. I’m not sure how they eat without us hearing.
2:28 – Lakers tough defense leads to a Denver turnover. Lamar runs a slow break and no one stops him. So he does his swoop left hander and gets knocked to the floor. No foul though. In fairness, Camby did make him take bigger steps on his way to the hoop. The announcers can’t get enough of Lamar. They think he’s the best thing since Velcro.
1:09 – Linus Kleiza is playing a great game. But man, his free throw just there was super ugly. Frozen rope off the back iron.
0:56 – RadMan finds too many nuggets around him and drops it off to Pau for the slam. JVG with the comment of the day, “it’s like room service for Gasol, the ball is finding him.”
0:29 – The Space Cadet his a three ball from the corner. Mike Breen says they are blowing out the Nuggets now. I’m still not betting the house that the Lakers will remain strong. 94-75 Lakers.
0:00 – Farmar decides he doesn’t want a 10 trillion and makes the wide open three with time expiring. 97-78 Lakers with one more quarter to go.
4th Quarter
Phil does his little smirky thing with Michelle Tafoya saying Kleiza and Smith are having too much fun. On the other hand though, it’s my impression that the Lakers haven’t done a bad job limiting Melo and Camby.
11:24 – JR Smith tries to demolish Walton on a fast break layup and Smith gets owned by the floor. Flagrant 1 against Smith. Two foul shots and the ball out of bounds.
11:11 – Nuggets on the break and Walton almost gets a clean strip from Kleiza. I said almost. It was actually all wrist/arm. Apparently we can’t mention Kleiza without mentioning Lithuania fourteen times. At least we got a Sarunas Marciulionis mention out of it. I liked that guy back in the day. Remember the tie-dye jerseys?
10:05 – Smith is quick. He almost destroys Kobe’s ankles. The Lakers orthopedic surgeon breathes a sigh of relief when Kobe remains upright. Barely. Kobe was backpedaling and was all sorts of discombobulated.
9:58 – After two Melo free throws, the lead is only 13.
9:13 – I bow down at AI’s feet.
8:31 – 101-88.
8:17 – melo abuses Pau’s layup attempt. Smith takes it hard to the bucket at the other and gets the bucket and the foul. 101-91.
7:57 – Kobe hits a three ball. Back to 13.
7:33 – I’m letting AI operate on his own all day long. Even though he’s hitting a lot of shots, the Nuggets shouldn’t be able to win that way.
7:15 – Kobe slices through the defense. Layup. 106 – 93.
7:03 – Kobe picks up his fifth foul. Lamar will come in and take his place.
6:45 – Machine!! Vujacic hits a three.
6:20 – Lamar is hurting. Something is wrong with his right knee. He’ll probably keep playing but he’s a little gimpy. Timeout. He just bumped knees with Kleiza apparently.
5:57 – LO at the line. He makes the first one. Just kidding. Of course he missed it. He misses the second one too. 109-95
5:42 – Melo is active on offense. He misses the first layup against Pau. Gets his miss. Shoots again and is fouled by Pau. Crowd chants DUI again. 109-96. Kobe checks back in.
4:55 – Kmart has had enough of LO driving to the basket and blocks it out of bounds. Kobe dribbles against Kmart and throws up a huge brick that doesn’t draw iron.
4:30 – JR Smith is a perfect angel. He never fouls. At least that’s what he thinks. Kobe is standing at the line and he and Kmart are talkin a little junk. Refs give the double T. 98-112 after the free throws.
3:50 – the past two possessions, AI has just made it the basket super easy. AI is wondering how come he can’t play against the Lakers every night.
3:27 – AI draws contact and still makes it. Fouled. The Space Cadet didn’t play good D there. He’s either got to commit the foul or let him go. 114-105 After the free throw. Is there a reason we haven’t seen Nene? Is he injured still?
2:37 – Kobe was anxious the whole possession. Alley oop to Kobe. It wasn’t the usual backdoor. It was just a blatant mismatch against Carter who had no help behind him and ended up fronting Kobe. Pau got him with the lob over the top. AI decides he wants to check-out what’s on the post-game menu a little early and gets tossed from the game with two quick technicals. Or maybe he had a 3:00pm surfing lesson. Kobe gets to shoot four free throws in a row. Pad his stats time. Despite shooting a horridly, he still got 32 points. 122-107. This one is done and now everyone knows it.
0:41 – After a great Lamar Odom alleyoop from Walton, Najera lines up the straight on three. You could see him thinking, “If all these other guys are going to be knuckleheads, I’m going to get mine.” And he drills it.
0:00 – Jack Nicholson tells his son to grab his swag bag and they leave the court.
Kobe is being interviewed by Michelle Tafoya and he says that his shots in the first three quarter were “just a little off.” If you didn’t watch the game on television, let me tell you, his shot was a little off in the same way that dating someone you think is a woman but turns out to be a man is just a little problem.
LA Lakers 1, Enver Nuggets 0. (hat tip, basketbawful)

Lakers/Nuggets Game 1 Chat

Kurt —  April 20, 2008

Here we go!

This is going to be an entertaining series, I like the Lakers chances a lot but the Nuggets are a fun team to watch. I’ve said before, AI is one of only a few players in the league that once a game makes you just shake your head and say “how did he do that?” We’ve got a good show ahead.

For those looking for a little more preview, Bill Bridges had some good notes on things I didn’t mention in the comments, I’ll pass along.

Lots of buzz on the net that the Nuggs are practicing a box and one on Kobe. I’m not concerned about this. A lot depends on who that one is. Battier and Bowen maybe but not Carter or Smith. Also a help that comes from the zone should be easy for Kobe to split. Besides, this is the NBA with a defensive 3 rule and not the college. A box and 1 is extremely difficult to execute.

The most effective defensive scheme might be the “Let Kobe gets his and stop the rest” tactic. The team needs to avoid what happened to them vs Memphis where Kobe went off in the 1st two quarters and the rest of the team never got into a rhythm. What does Kobe do in the 1st when he doesn’t want to shoot much (and the entire NBA knows that this is his m.o.) but the defense is giving him the shot?

He has to resist the temptation to stay on the perimeter but attack the basket and set up his teammates this way. If Kobe penetrates and the rest of the Lakers remember that in Camby and Martin, the Nuggs have 2 block happy defenders (pump fake!) the Nuggs bigs can get into serious foul trouble.

With all this talk about AI’s penetration and Smith’s shooting. They really don’t concern me. Unlike Paul, AI doesn’t penetrate to set up his guys but to get his. Smith is streaky and I expect Sasha to take him out of his game on the road.

But the Nuggets have Melo on the right block. When he faces up while preserving his dribble. Nobody can stop him if his J is on. Fortunately, in AI, the Nuggets have a shooter who will take possessions away from Melo. Good.

Enjoy the game!!

Lakers/Nuggets Preview

Kurt —  April 19, 2008

The thing that makes me the most nervous about this series is the same thing that gives me the most confidence.

No doubt there is a lot of talent on the Nuggets roster — two big stars in Iverson and Anthony, nice group of role players led Camby, Linas Kleiza, J.R. Smith and others.

But for a couple of years now they have never put it together and become the team they should be. On one hand it makes me nervous, because if they could put it together for seven games in a row they would be difficult to beat. But, what gives me confidence is that they have never done that for an extended stretch. Teams don’t just find that in the playoffs when they haven’t done it during the season.

The Nuggets are inconsistent because they are not a disciplined group of players (I don’t intend that as a knock on coach George Karl, I think it’s more the hand he’s dealt). ESPN.com’s David Thorpe described the Nuggets as looking like an AAU team, and I think that’s accurate — a lot of ego, a lot of guys who can shoot you into a game or right out of it. (Iverson is the king of that, when the pressure is on he takes on more and more of the offense, throwing off any balance.)

And discipline is the key for the Lakers — if they play their game, if they run the offense, keep the tempo under control and focus on defense and boards, they will win. The first step in controlling the Nuggets offense is to make them work on defense and slow the tempo there. The Lakers have to control the ball and not turn it over, turnovers fuel the Nuggets running (remember the first quarter of the first meeting this season). The Nuggets will gamble a lot on defense, trying to create steals, the Lakers should be able to exploit that with crisp passing. Bottom line, the Lakers need to impose their style on this series, not let Denver turn it into a run-and-fun shootout. At points this year the Lakers have gotten sucked into that style, they should run but only when it is a good spot — pull out of it when the numbers aren’t there. Slow the pace down.

On offense, the Lakers should be able to score. Anthony Carter cannot handle Kobe, help him in meetings this year the Nuggets trapped and doubled him quickly. When that happens Fisher and Radmanovic should get good looks, Kobe has shown trust in this group of teammates and that needs to continue. I expect (as Jeremy said in his view from the Nuggets side) that they will count on JR Smith to spend some time on Kobe. That said, I still think Kobe can have a lot of 20 point, 10 assist games in this series that will be a big problem for the Nuggets.

Pau Gasol also will be a big problem because of his range. The Nuggets pressure the ball and try to jump passing lanes, and they can get away with that in part because Camby stays in the paint and covers up those mistakes. I expect the Lakers will use Pau and his 18-foot jumper to pull Camby out of the lane. The result should be good games for Pau and some open layups for slashers and cutters in the Lakers offense.

Lamar Odom has been great at making things happen without plays being called directly for him. He should be big in this series – the position the Nuggets defend the worst is the four, they give up an average of 22 and 12 out of that spot nightly. Odom should be able to have a couple big games.

One other area the Lakers had a big advantage this season is off the bench – the Lakers have extended leads with their bench on the floor. The one key for the bench will be slowing JR Smith, who may be the definition of a streaky shooter. He is the best player they have off the bench, he (and Kleiza) have a better pure +/- number than any of the starters save Iverson. The Lakers need to not let those two gain any confidence.

One final note, expect Denver to try some zone, they have had success with a 1-2-2 lately (as Darius mentioned in the comments). The Lakers need to get the ball inside to Pau on that then let him kick out to the open guy. Even before Pau the Lakers had good success against the Nuggets zone, in part because they have the shooters to shoot over the top of it.

On defense, rule one (and two and three) is get back in transition. The Nuggets will run at every opportunity, the Lakers simply cannot give up a lot of easy baskets. The Lakers have to follow guys who leak out and simply be aware of this at all times.

The tempo thing for the Nuggets though is not just about fast breaks – they run drag (transition or early in the clock) pick and rolls, letting Iverson score and create. The Nuggets take 45% of their shots in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock and shoot 55% (eFG%) on those. Force them to wait 10-15 seconds (another 29% of their shots) and their shooting falls to 48.4%. Now, that 48% still isn’t bad, but the point is simple, the Lakers need to make those early in the clock shots hard ones.

That starts by not letting Iverson into the lane – which is easier said than done as he is lightning quick. Lakers bigs need to take away Iverson’s direct route to the hoop on the pick and roll, both by showing out and having good rotations behind that. Laker PGs should go under the pick and play off him. The goal is to make Iverson a jump shooter – AI shoots 57.8% inside but 44.9% on jumpers. Again, not a bad number but lower than when he gets into the paint. Also from the easier said than done column – try not to foul AI. He draws fouls on 17.1% of his attempts and he’s a good free throw shooter, the Lakers need to keep him of the stripe.

I expect Odom will get the Carmelo Anthony assignment, and Odom has length and athleticism to give Anthony some trouble. Like AI, there really is no stopping him, just slowing him, making him less efficient. And like AI you need to make him jump shooter – he shoots 42.6% on jumpers and 65.2% inside. That means making Melo give up position for possession push him off that mid-block spot he likes. Odom, who has done great work on the boards, needs to keep Melo off them.

With the other Nuggets, the Lakers just need to be aware of who is where. You can’t sag off Kleiza or Smith at the three-point line. As Darius mentioned in the comments, Camby can hurt you on the baseline extended and at the top of the key, in those spots you need to close out on him. Really, the only guy who really scares me is the explosive Smith – he is going to have one big game in this series, he is too good not to. They key is making sure he does not have three or four.

Bottom line, the goal is to make the Nuggets a little uncomfortable, because when that happens is when guys start really trying to do too much individually for them. And, you end up with AI going 6 for 26 or whatever. And with the Lakers offense, that’s all they need.

This season the Nuggets have won a lot of games, but won only 39% of their games against the top net scoring teams in the league. If you can score with them, they melt. And the Lakers can and should score plenty, which is why I see them winning in five.

UPDATE: As we should have expected, the official Lakers site has a lot of great stuff up, including a video interview with Jim Cleamons. Also, check out the Courtside Connection, where the scouting report for the series is up — it has video evidence of some of the Nuggets favorite plays. For example, they like to run the pick-and-roll with AI and Melo, but they run it below the foul line. Check out the video.