Archives For April 2008

Best In The West

Kurt —  April 15, 2008

It was the first step in a long march through the playoffs, but the Lakers are now the Western Conference champions. That is something worth celebrating, particularly this year when you think about how we felt about the squad back in October, when you think about just how deep the West is this year.

We should soak it in and think about how beautiful the extra pass is and how often these Lakers make it, how perfectly Gasol fits in the triangle offense, how Odom has blossomed, how Kobe grew to trust once he had had teammates worth trusting. It was a season to remember.

For one day we should sit back and enjoy. We’ll start breaking down the first round (likely to start Sunday, you know they want the Lakers on the biggest stage) tomorrow. The only question left is who to root for today? I think we root for Dallas and Memphis (behind a career game from Javaris Crittenton) because I’d rather face Denver instead of Dallas.

Records: Lakers 56-25 (1 seed); Kings 38-43 (11 seed)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 114.7 (3rd); Kings 109.0 (13th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 107.2 (7th); Kings 111.5 (25th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladimir Radmanovic, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Kings: Beno Udrih, Francisco Garcia, John Salmons, Mikki Moore, Spencer Hawes

Lakers Notes: There is a tendency for teams to look past the last game of the year against a banged-up opponent playing just for pride. But, with the top seed in the West and home court through conference playoffs on the line, the Lakers had better show up to play tonight like they have the last two games. You don’t play to see who you can get first round — there are no good options — you play for home court.

If you don’t think the Kings will come out playing hard, ask the Hornets from a couple nights back. Or, remember the Lakers game against them last month.

Go Forth And Vote: The fine folks (and good bloggers) at Hardwood Paroxysms have put together an NBA blogger end of season ballot for you to vote on. I’m assuming this will be an American-style election where your vote is at least counted, as opposed to a third-world dictator election where the results will be thrown out and they will name themselves winners in every category.

The Kings coming in: The Lakers catch a break as it appears that Kevin Martin and Ron Artest will sit out tonight, and Brad Miller remains out. The Kings still have talent on the roster, but that takes away some of the scoring firepower (even if Artest is not efficent in getting those buckets).

Also, this is the second night of a back-to back for the Kings, who last night put a scare in San Antonio (after a 15-2 fourth quarter run gave the Kings a 6-point lead) but fell 101-98.

Despite the record and missing the playoffs, if I were a Kings fan, I’d be pretty happy about the last month of play (and I know Tom Ziller is). Beno Udrih has established himself as a solid point guard who can lead this team for years. Francisco Garcia as a solid role player guy and Spencer Hawes has found a comfortable place in this league. John Salmons is a nice role guys as well and Sheldon Williams has developed into a decent player off the bench. Mix in the efficent scoring of Kevin Martin and you have some nice pieces for rebuilding with a young, long and athletic core. Certainly there are needs, but there is a young core to start with. That should give Kings fans hope.

Keys To The Game: It has to start with focus tonight — the Kings (even without Martin and Artest) are too good to think the Lakers can just coast past them. This is a team with a quick point guard running the pick-and-roll all night, if the Lakers take a night off from defending that they are going to be in a fight. Come out focused on defense and Kobe and crew can rest in the fourth as we all wish it could have been Son of George time.

On offense, the Lakers should have no problem scoring — the Kings are not a good defensive team and Kobe should be able to get his on Salmons (even if he hasn’t in the past). Plus, they are not good defensively on the block and would have to double Gasol, which should lead to open looks for others.

As for what to do on defense, well, Bill Bridges in the comments did it better than I:

The Lakers have gotten very good over the last 2 games at following over the screen on one hand (Fisher and Farmar) and also aggressively showing on the other (Gasol and Odom). The difference in the last two games is that the guards didn’t go under the screen and that the bigs quickly retreated back into the lane after showing. Of course, the big’s effectiveness was enhanced due to the fact that neither West nor Duncan are particularly good at slipping the screen and diving to the hoop on the pick and roll. What I mean is that the retreat and cover of Gasol/Odom still has a way to go to handle Amare.

The problem facing the Lakers D with the Kings is whether the pick and roll defensive scheme is as effective when translated to stop a left handed point guard. (The Lakers traditionally have been very poor at covering lefties) Basically the entire defense has to be rotated in a mirror-image form. There is a danger that the bigs will be slower to retreat and cover after showing with the right leg forward. When they defend right-handed PGs and show with their left leg forward, Gasol retreats back with his dominant leg. There is a tendency for retreating for bigs to retreat back with the dominant leg. When he shows with his right leg forward to defend Udrih, lets hope he can retreat back leading with his non-dominant leg instead of switching and thus slowing down his retreat.

Udrih likes to shoot the J coming off the screen so Fisher and Farmar has to fight harder to try to stay with him. Also Miller being out could cause a bigger problem because Spencer Hawes is much more aggressive at diving to the hoop whereas Miller is exclusively a pick n pop guy. John Salmons has been a problem in the past. For some reason he gets up to play Kobe and plays him well. Kobe has to concentrate on stopping Salmons instead of ignoring him as he usually does.

Francisco Garcia: Play him like Peja. Miki Moore: Let him shoot the 18 footer but not straight away. Salmon: play him to drive. Likes a pull up J. In transition stop him early – doesn’t have great handles.

Where you can watch: Game time is 7:30 pm Fox Sports West here in LA and League Pass nationally. (Sorry, NBATV is going Magic/Hawks tonight.)

It’s Good To Be The King

Kurt —  April 14, 2008

It’s hard not to be one of those confident bordering on unbearable Lakers fans today, after two wins in a row against contending teams where the Lakers played formidable defense (well, for two of the four halves, anyway.) Check out this quote from Kobe after the game yesterday that we call all just pray is true:

“I think we’ve found our defensive identity,” Bryant said. “We’re very aggressive. We have a tremendous amount of versatility in wings and bigs who are athletic and long. We can get after guys.”

The Laker roster is made of long guys (save Fisher and Farmar), and that’s a big plus on defense. When they are active the long arms alter shots and cut off passing angles. What’s more, the Lakers coaching staff is starting to use that is very smart ways. From Bill Bridges in the comments:

Did you all catch the interesting defensive scheme the Lakers brought out in the second half? The Spurs try to force the opponent to double team Duncan who then passes it out for open 3’s. The rotation is usually easy for Duncan to spot as it comes from the wing or corner.

In the second half. The Lakers didn’t double him as much. Instead, when the Spur in the corner facing Duncan cleared baseline, the Laker guarding him followed his man past Duncan but then immediately turned back to double him from the blindside. This disrupted Duncan’s usual kick outs because his usual normal targets were still covered yet he was being doubled hard from the baseline. Very smart and effective.

On a separate note, I don’t think enough good things can be said about how Lamar Odom is playing, once again freed up from the pressure and defensive attention of being the number two guy. He was a team-high +26 against the Spurs, crashing the boards, moving without the ball and diving to the baskets at the right times. At some point in the playoffs, a team is going to focus more on stopping Odom, and when it happens Gasol and Fisher will have big days.

Reed echoed those thoughts in the comments:

Odom finally gets it. Since the all-star break: 15.8 points, 11.9 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.1 steals, 1.4 blocks, and 58% shooting.

The rebounding line would be good for 3rd in the league on the year and the FG% would be 4th. Add in great, versatile defense and you have a sure-fire all star. He is our x-factor. If he continues to play like an all star, we are the team to beat in the West, even without Drew. Some credit for this should go to Gasol, whose arrival sparked Lamar’s transformation (in ways I both do and don’t fully understand).

With a win Tuesday (no gimme, you think the Kings might love to muck up that top seed?) the Lakers finish #1 and likely get the best first round match up available in Denver (although Dallas is certainly a strong possibility). According to the poll recently conducted here, 37% thought Denver was the best choice for us in the first round, Houston was second at 32% and Dallas had 18%. Rather than jinx anything, we’ll save the breakdowns until after the game Tuesday.

Just a few other thoughts:

• Seriously, Kobe’s kids are at the game with “Daddy for MVP” signs? Did Kobe hire Mark Penn to run his campaign?

• Maybe it’s not good for the Lakers playoff seedings, but it brought a smile to my face to see Seattle win most likely their final game in that city, ever, knocking off Dallas.

• Explain to me again how Oklahoma City is a better market for the NBA than Seattle again?

• Dodger Stadium is still an amazing place to watch a baseball game on a clear day. Even if Madux is pitching.

• The Lakers can be a very efficient team shooting from three when they take 20 or fewer a game. Above that and generally seem to be looking for it over better shots, and things start to go south.

• Fisher and Farmar combined to be 10 of 14 from the field. That stat just caught my eye.

Records: Lakers 55-25 (1 seed, tie); Spurs 54-25 (2 seed, tie)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 114.7 (3rd); Spurs 108.9 (14th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 107.3 (9th); Spurs 103.5 (3rd)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladimir Radmanovic, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Spurs: Tony Parker, Michael Finley, Bruce Bowen, Tim Duncan, Fabricio Oberto

Lakers Notes: I’m not sure I thought, even with Pau back, the Lakers could get the one seed back. And, as Goo said in the comments, I feel like I need a shower after pulling for the Kings. But here they are — win out and the odds of a good first-round matchup improve. They do not control their own destiny (a three-way tie with Houston and NO is possible, even if it is not likely) but they control their own games. I’m not that worried about getting Kobe and the other starters a little extra rest down the stretch because of how drawn out the first round of the playoffs is.

If the Lakers play defense like they did in the first half against the Hornets, they can beat anyone. Fisher did a better job staying in front of Paul than I thought he could. The Lakers’ rotations, particularly from Odom and Pau were sharp. The Lakers were aggressive on the ball and their doubles were hard and smart, that led to turnovers and fast-break opportunities. The Lakers attacked Paul and Chandler on the offensive end, not letting them play half the court. It was, in my humble opinion, the best half of basketball the Lakers have played this year.

But, inconsistency reared its ugly head in the second half, as it has all season for the Lakers. They can’t do that today, or starting next weekend in the playoffs.

By the way: If you make a comment during the game and you don’t see it quickly, it got held for moderation (only some do, as pulled aside by a spam filter). And, rather than moderating comments I’ll be downing Dodger Dogs and seeing if Chad Billingsley can get that 9.64 ERA into double digits. I’ll be watching the Lakers on delay, so know I won’t be approving comments during the game. One of the other moderators may pitch in if they can, but just wanted everyone to have a heads up.

Spurs Coming in: The Lakers catch a big break today as Ginobli is not expected to play due to a groin strain. Of course, that break didn’t help Seattle at all a few nights ago as Parker took on more of the offensive load and the Spurs cruised

I’m not in the camp of “The Spurs Are Done” but the more I see them lately the more I think they will not win the title this year. The reason isn’t the big three — Duncan, Parker and Ginobli have played well all season and that has really continued of late (the spurs are 8-2 in their last 10). In the last 10 all three are averaging at least 16.6 points per game. (That said, Parker is shooting 45.9% and is not hitting his threes, he is someone to lay back on right now). Also, the Spurs have been getting solid play from Finley of late.

And it is not the Spurs defense, which is still the third best in the league for the season. It’s been even better of late, opposing teams are shooting just 44.6% (eFG%) in the last 10. To me, that defense is what keeps them in contention.

But they don’t get the play off the bench that they used to, and I think that will be their downfall in the playoffs. Ime Udoka has had good stretches, same with Kurt Thomas and Brent Barry. But the fact of the matter, you have to have solid group of role players to win a title, and I think the big three in San Antonio no longer have the supporting cast to get them another ring.

Don’t think for a second they are an easy out. Teams that play that kind of defense are all in it.

For more Spurs info, check out Pounding The Rock.

Keys To The Game: It’s all about the Lakers defense, as always, and that starts with keeping the penetration of Parker under control. You can’t let him get into the paint for easy buckets, and when they do get in the paint you can’t collapse on them off Bowen in the corner or Barry. Parker’s outside shooting has been off of late (and it was never great, but he is 0-11 from three in the last 10 games) so this would be the rare instance I think the Lakers should go under picks, play off him a little and make him a jumpshooter.

The other thing about the Lakers defense – it always leads to fast break points when they are playing it right. That would be a big help today, the Spurs like it slow (28th in pace in the league). Push the tempo and they become more uncomfortable. (Although, part of what makes the Spurs fantastic is they never stop doing what they want to do, they don’t get sucked into your game. That is a veteran team.)

Well, I guess I should say it’s not all about the Lakers defense – the teams Spurs have had the most trouble with this year are the ones that are the most offensively efficient. Against the teams that are the 10 best shooting teams in the league, the Spurs have won “just” 48% of the games, and the teams that move the ball the best (as determined by racking up assists) beat the Spurs 54% of the time. Basically, if the Lakers play their offense they should score, and that will put pressure on the Spurs offense, not that team’s strong suit.

The Lakers need to crash the boards hard and not let Duncan and Oberto control them for easy put backs.

Where you can watch: Game time is 12:30 pm (Pacific) and it is ABC for everyone.

Records: Lakers 54-25 (2 seed); Hornets 55-23 (1 seed)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 114.6 (3rd); Hornets 113.6 (5th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 107.2 (8th); Hornets 106.9 (5th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladimir Radmanovic, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Hornets: Chris Paul, Mo Peterson, Peja Stojakovic, David West, Tyson Chandler

Lakers Notes: After a shaky first 9 minutes (give or take) last night the Lakers played good defense, were efficient on offense and they cruised to a win. It was a good defensive effort by the Lakers, who after the first few minutes got smart and serious about defending Brand in the post, throwing a variety of looks and doubles at him. For the game the Clippers shot just 33% (eFG%) and had an offensive rating of 85.7. That said, I’m not sold that the Lakers have turned the corner on defense, tonight will be a much better test. Same with Sunday.

While tonight a back-to-back, it was the best kind possible — no travel and the starters got to rest during the fourth quarter.

Good to see Luke Walton back and put in a role where he could succeed against the Clippers. Look at his shot chart and you see he was back to hitting threes (4 of 5) but all his other points came in the paint right at the basket. He was back to playing smart and within the system. Hopefully that continues.

The Hornets Coming In: I don’t need to tell you they are playing well, but to get a little more insight we asked the guys At The Hive a few questions:

1) Everyone talks about CP3 (with good reason), but what does the often-overlooked David West bring to the table? How does he blend with Paul and the other starters?

Many people talk about how Paul has single-handedly made west into an All-Star, but that is overstated. The most important thing West brings to the offense is the ability to score with Paul not involved at all. Obviously, that’s a rare occurrence, but it’s a necessity to keep Paul fresh. West brings an excellent back to the basket game every night, and that’s a skill that would translate well from team to team, regardless of point guard.

His ability to extend the floor (with the 17 footer) blends very well with Paul’s passing ability. Much of our offense is predicated on floor spacing- even small let-downs in floor spacing can be devastating, as Utah’s stomping of the Hornets attests to.

2) There seemed to be a defensive slump with the Hornets mid-season, but of late the good defense appears to be back. What has changed? What is the team doing right?

I’m not so sure we’re out of the woods yet. Our defensive efficiency has been on the up-climb, but this team still experiences odd lapses in intensity that we really didn’t see early in the season. The biggest problem has been the inability to prevent penetration. It’s one thing when guys like Deron Williams and Paul Pierce are getting to the paint, but players like Marko Jaric have been accomplishing it as well. The second biggest aspect of returning to old form will be closing out on shots. Some New Orleans players have shown an odd proclivity for lazy closes. Of course, I’m confident in Byron Scott’s ability to turn things around in time for the postseason.


3)The big playoff question is, will the Hornets be able to handle the heat in what will be a first playoff test as a team and for some key players. How do you think they will hold up? What teams are good and bad matchups for them in the deep Western Conference?

I’ve never bought into the playoff inexperience argument too much. If a team is good in the regular season, I like their chances in the playoffs, and vice versa. That said, defensive intensity will definitely be stepped up in the playoffs, and how far the Hornets go will be determined by how much they, in turn, can step it up. Again, I think Byron will have the guys up to the task.

As far as matchups… obviously I don’t want to see Utah for a while. They guard Chris Paul better than any team in the NBA right now, and match up well offensively against the Hornets. Los Angeles would rank second on that “don’t want to see” list, since the Lakers are so deep, and have so much size on their frontcourt. But as you said, there are no easy outs in the West. I had Dallas pegged as an easy first round opponent as recently as a week ago, but now look at them. Ditto for Phoenix. This might sound odd, but I wouldn’t mind a matchup with San Antonio. We’ve defeated them by 24 and 25 this year, and even though history says they turn it up a notch in the postseason, I still like our chances against them.

Keys To The Game: While all the hype is the “Kobe vs. Paul for MVP” tonight, Kobe cannot let his passion and ego get in the way of a team game. If in the second quarter this becomes The Kobe Show he will put up 50 and the Lakers will lose.

For the Lakers to win they have to be focused on defense — and that starts with stopping Chris Paul’s penetration. The Hornets love them some high pick and roll and Paul with his quickness (and mastery at changing speeds) gets into the lane a lot. The Lakers bigs are going to have to be active on those screens, the Lakers need to throw a variety of looks at Paul and when he does get into the lane the rotations need to quick and the right one. Peja and Peterson love the corner three and go there, the Lakers cannot double Paul off them.

On offense, I’d like to see the Lakers use Gasol out on the wing to draw Chandler out of the paint. Whoever gets Peja on him (probably Radmanovic, at times maybe Odom) the Lakers should post up.

The Lakers have to crash the boards, the Hornets are a very good rebounding team (third best in the NBA in defensive rebounds). The Lakers need to make sure they Hornets don’t get easy put-backs or second chances. Also, cleaning up the defensive glass may give them a chance to run and get some easy buckets.

UPDATE: I had a computer crash that cost me much of my first version of this preview, and in the rush to get it done I missed a couple things. Commenter Reed nicely summed them up, so I’m noting them here:

2. Kobe must attack NO’s wings and get into the lane. NO does not have strong wing defenders, so Kobe must not settle for jump shots tonight. Get into the paint and get to the free throw line. Also, Chandler and West have no reliable backups, so getting them in foul trouble this way would be huge.

3. Force Paul to be a scorer. We’ve heard this before.

4. Don’t settle for 3s in the triangle. The Laker offense works best when run inside out. Last night (and often lately), the Lakers shooters (Kobe, Radman, Sasha, Fisher, Farmar, Walton) would jack up 3s without taking advantage of Gasol or Odom (or Kobe) on the block. Throw the ball down low, make your cuts, let Pau playmake, and then take the 3 if that’s what the defense gives you.

5. Bench points. Our biggest advantage over them is in our second unit. If they can’t win the +/- battle at the quarter turns, then we are in trouble. Watch for a close contest between the starters that eventually opens up at the early 2nd or 4th quarter mark.

UPDATE #2: Another great post from Bill Bridges, who has scouted the Hornets well:

The Hornet’s offense.

Option

1. High pick n pop w Paul and West. Pop to West for the open J (actually a set shot) free throw line extended. Automatic. Still don’t know how Cleveland didn’t cover this. Wound up losing to the Hornets on the last play of the game.

2. West post up on the left low block. He’ll either take the step back J on the baseline or try to pound it into the lane for a jump hook.

3. High pick n roll w Chandler and Paul. Paul lobs for an alley oop dunk from Chandler.

4. Transition. Paul pushes it up. Peja spots up top left 3 point line. A little penetration and dish out to Peja.

That’s it. Every thing else is a variation.

1. Stay w/ West on the pick n pop. Paul takes a floater or he dishes it out to Peja whose rotated to the right corner.

2a. Double West before his dribble, he dishes to Peja for the top left 3

2b. Double west after he starts his dribble into the lane, he kicks it out to Paul for the straight ahead 3.

3. Cover Chandler’s cut and Paul throws it back out to Peja for the top left 3. or takes a floater

4. Cover Peja and stop penetration. Reset the offense.

Peterson gets his usually on corner 3’s w the shotclock winding down.

How to slow them down?

1. Yes let Paul shoot. But not off a kickout from West. This he buries. The ones he shoots off the dribble is less reliable.

2. Do not double West unless he is killing you (kinda how you guard Aldridge)

3. Never, ever let Peja get going to leaving him open early in the game.

Where you can watch: Game time is 7:30 pm Fox Sports in LA and League Pass.

Records: Lakers 53-25 (tied for 2 seed); Clippers 23-55 (enough ping-pong balls to draft the PG of the future?)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 114.3 (2nd); Clippers 103.1 (28th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 107.4 (8th); Clippers 110.9 (18th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladimir Radmanovic, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Clippers: Dan Dickau, Quintin Ross, Cuttino Mobley, Al Thorton, Elton Brand

Do It Yourself preview: That thumping sound you hear is my backside being kicked by work, so this is going to be very short and sweet, bullet-point form today. Please, add some insight via the comments. And be sure to check out Clipper Blog and Clips Nation.

• If I said before the season started the team would win at least 53 games and may not have home court advantage in the first round, how hard would you have laughed?

• Whatever the situation with Bynum’s return, the days of that being when the defense will start to play well again are gone — it needs to start happening now. The Lakers can’t afford to wait.

• If the Lakers look past the Clippers and ahead to the Hornets, they will lose tonight.

• The big change on the court for the Clips is Brand is back, and he is averaging 17.5 points, almost 7 rebounds per game and is shooting 46.6% in 31 minutes, Odom (and Pau and Ronny) need to limit his effectiveness because when the Clips offense is clicking it works inside-out. Take away the inside and it becomes less effective.

• The Clips have consistently tried to trap Kobe when the two teams have played, doubled him every time he touches the ball. Pau may get the same treatment. This is a game Odom, Fisher and others need to step up and make the Clips pay for that strategy.

Where you can watch: Game time is 7:30 pm on TNT.

Records: Lakers 53-24 (2 seed); Blazers 38-39 (10 seed)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 114.5 (3rd); Blazers 107.9 (19th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 107.3 (7th); Blazers 109.6 (16th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladimir Radmanovic, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Blazers: Steve Blake, Brandon Roy, James Jones, LaMarcus Aldridge, Channing Frye? (Przybilla is out after breaking his hand on the rim, so I’m not sure what McMillan does)

Lakers Notes: Luke Walton is a game-time decision tonight, although in my mind a few more days on the bench are probably good for him. Plus, we know his weakness is matching up with long and athletic teams, and we get one of those tonight.

Last game against Sacramento saw some of the best defense the Lakers have played in a while — the Kings never shot better than 42% for a quarter after the first quarter.

General NBA Notes: Count me among those thrilled that Adrian Dantley finally made the Hall of Fame. Talk about a guy with a sweet stroke and an effortless scorer.

If you haven’t seen this, the guys at Memphis Grizzlies blog Three Shades of Blue got to sit down with the team owner and ask questions. Look for the fun spins on why trading Pau for Kwame was a good move long term (I love that trade as a Lakers fan but find it hard to think Memphis could not have done better than that deal).

Lots of talk yesterday about bumping the age restriction for the NBA to 20. Personally, I know it led to some bad decisions by kids who are surrounded by sycophants, but I don’t like the 19 age limit. So, you’re old enough to vote, you’re old enough to join the military and be trained to kill and possibly die defending our country, but you can’t play in the NBA? I get why the NBA, the NCAA and team GMs think the age limit is a good idea, but to me basketball (and just about everything else) should be a meritocracy.

The Blazers Coming In: A year from now, I think we’ll be talking about how we don’t really want to face the Blazers in the first round of the playoffs. But this year they are slumping toward the end of the season, having won just three of their last 10 and losing five in a row.

Part of that is injuries. Tonight no Martell Webster, no Przybilla in the paint, no Miles (a blessing for the Blazers) and still no Oden. Brandon Roy just returned from his injury. How, bad are they playing? Look at this post from the OregonLive Blazers Blog:

Last night’s 72-65 loss to the Spurs was probably the ugliest game I’ve been associated with, and I’ve done a number of high school games with no shot clock.

However, even with all the injuries the Blazers are a young and athletic team, something that will be more true with Frye in the starting lineup. Those kinds of teams give the Lakers trouble traditionally. For more Blazers info, check out The Blazers Edge.

Keys To The Game: Despite all the athletes, the Blazers play at one of the slowest paces in the league (86.6 possessions per game, 29th in the league, about 8 less per game than the Lakers). The Lakers fast breaks come off of good defense, as we saw in the third quarter of the Kings game two nights ago — if the Lakers play good defense they should be able to run on the Blazers and get some easy buckets in transition.

Whoever has to guard Gasol tonight should be a power forward (either Frye or Aldridge) and Pau should be able to get points on the block and in the paint. Odom needs to get inside as well, the Blazers are not a good rebounding team and the Lakers should be able to get some easy putbacks and second-chance points.

The Blazers do not have a real good answer for Kobe either, he should have a good night.

We need Odom to show up on the defensive end tonight, as he (and others) will have to slow Aldridge, who has been the best scorer on the Blazers in the last 10 games. Fisher cannot sag off Blake at the three-point line. The bench needs to keep a lid on Travis Outlaw, who can fill it up (especially from three) off the Blazers bench.

Where you can watch: Game time is 7 pm on KCAL 9 or League Pass

Dueling Breakdowns

Kurt —  April 7, 2008

I did a breakdown encompassing the first part of the third quarter, when the Lakers played some good ball at both ends showing off what they can be. Just as I finished I noticed nomuskles had put one together for most of the game (meaning his girlfriend was off at a bar getting tanked and talking to rugby players at her apartment quietly reading a book). The styles are different (he’s funny, for one) but I decided to do a mash-up. Here are his first, second and fourth quarters (read all of it here) and my third.

I’m picking it up a little late here. I just had some great grilled fresh wild salmon. It was so delicious.

1st Quarter
8:05 – Kobe just makes a phenomenal highlight play. Runs through two defenders, avoids the double team with a spin move and throws it with major English off the backboard. The ball finds its way in.
7:01 – The Space Cadet tries his own version of the move and misses it. Kobe lets him know he’s got H-O-R.
6:16 – Just some thoughts right now, The Kings will probably give us trouble tonight but hopefully we’ll find the way to win. Pau has been having a tough time so far. Hawes is actually playing him pretty well. Showing some great hustle. Mikki Moore is playing too well. And The Lakers are turning the ball over too much.
5:34 – Timeout called and Lakers are down 12-16. That Metro PCS commercial with the defibrillator actually made me laugh. KCAL telecast shows an old west style town. I don’t think that’s Sac-town proper. Oh. Barry Bonds is in attendance. He’s got a ridiculous hat on it. It’s got some glitter on it. A man should not be wearing a hat with glitter. Period. You think that cross earring he wears is to remind him of his commitment to God or to compare himself to a crucified Jesus?
5:16 – DFish makes a great steal and makes a tough layup over two Kings defenders. Good job by the kings of hustling back to defend that. They want to win this game. We’ll see about the Lakers.
4:34 – The Space Cadet has some room on Kobe’s drive and kick. That was a beautiful lookin shot.
4:15 – ugh. Artest fumbles the ball driving the bucket and Lamar gets the foul called. That’s his second. On the replay, yeah, that was a bad call. Kevin Martin makes them pay. Really, he takes out his credit card machine and asks for some identification.
2:56 – A little sloppy. Lamar turns it over and then Kevin Martin throws it to a courtside patron in their half court offense. This will take us to a timeout. Thank goodness, We’re going to get enough bad basketball this weekend with the NCAA tournament going on.
Coming back from the timeout, someone named Doobie checks in for the Kings. I wonder if he’s got a brother
2:44 – Doobie steals a terrible pass by Farmar. Francisco gets the fast break layup. 17-22 Kings up.
2:03 – Speaking of salmon, John Salmons checks in.
1:56 – Ronny comes over on the secondary defense and kills the Ron Artest shot. If the ball were filled with hopes and dreams, Obama would have nothing to campaign on.
1:07 – I think the Lakers are just spotting the Kings some points. Kobe threw the ball away right to a kings player
0:51 – Ronny defends Artest and roofs his driving layup. Straight out of bounds. That’s two blocks by Ronny on Artest. Note to Ronny: Don’t throw a beer at Artest.
0:36 – Ira Newble sighting with Pau at the line. 18-25 Kings up after the free throws.
0:05 – finally something good. You know the end of quarter play the Lakers usually run? Let Kobe dribble for 17 seconds and then have him drive to the lane? Kobe dribbles for the 17 seconds but he gets a half step on his man and then throws it high into the middle of the paint for Gasol who somehow comes down with it and lays it in with 1 second on the 24-second clock. Gasol was like a video game version of Randy Moss. There’s no way he should have caught it but he did. Are the Lakers going to give up a good look?
0:02 – Oh. Sacramento showed its youth. Threw the ball away in the backcourt against an unspectacular full-court press by the Lakers. 2 seconds is plenty of time to get a shot off. If I’m Phil, I draw the play up for Newble here. Okay maybe not. It’s Kobe, Newble, Farmar, the Machine, and the Spaniard out there. I’d say, anyone but newble. Sasha will in bounds. Oh wait. Newble sits down. Radman in. The Space cadet gets it, turns and faces, MONEY! That was a great close to the quarter for the Lakers. They are only trailing by four now. 27-23.

2nd Quarter
Kings have been unable to capitalize on turnovers. 7 points off the Lakers 6 turnovers whereas the Lakers have 5 points off 3 kings’ turnovers. The camera shows some Lakers fans looking goofy holding up signs. I think I know one of them.
11:32 – Great start to the quarter! Sasha blocks a Garcia jumper, Lakers push it up. Sasha takes a 16 footer and misses but The Space Cadet is feeling pretty good. He taps out the rebound to Farmar who penetrates and gets the rack. Makes the layup and gets fouled. The Old-Fashioned three point play for a young man.
10:48 – Radman hits a shot with no time left on the shot clock. 28-28.
9:35 – HAHAHAHA. The refs are silly. They call a foul on a Kings missed shot. The ref signals that it’s Lamar’s foul, even though he didn’t really try to get to the rebound. Lamar just about has steam coming out of his ears. The other two refs save the one ref by telling him he should make the call on Ronny (who hit Hawes’s arm). The call ended up being right, but on replay the ref actually made the call that it was Lamar pushing in the back. I’m not sure I buy this whole sequence. The ref called a push in the back on one player but ends up calling a loose ball foul on another player? Can you just blow the whistle all willy nilly like this? It doesn’t really matter since it was a foul on Ronny and the call was right, it’s just a little shady is all I’m sayin. That’s Ronny’s third foul. He’ll probably get a breather.
8:55 – sasha gives the Lakers their biggest lead 32 – 28. The sound goes silent, someone must have said a magic word.
8:32 – Luke decided to sit due to a strained hamstring. At least that’s the official reason. He’s wearing a dorky corduroy jacket. John Ireland says Ariza and bynum are also on the trip but not expected to play tonight or on Tuesday.
8:14 – Farmar vomits a shot that barely hits the backboard. Yikes. Kevin Martin takes the fast break and lays it in over Farmar. 32-32.
6:42 – If I weren’t a Lakers fan I would turn this game off despite the close score. It’s extremely sloppy. A lot of bricked shots and turnovers.
6:15 – Oh. Salmons seems to get a clean strip but the refs are not paying very close attention tonight and call a foul. Radman hits two free throws. 37-22. And radman gets the steal on the other end!
6:00 – This leads to an Ira Newble jumper. That was shorter than Ashley Simpson’s time in the spotlight. (Some might say that was still too long).
Dude. dude. Dude. That commercial isn’t funny dude.
5:53 – Starting Five back in there except it’s Newble instead of lamar.
5:25 – Newble keeps the possession alive grabbing an offensive rebound. The Space Cadet grabs a Derek fisher miss and gets the Lakers another chance. Great point by Stu saying how Radman has figured out how to do other things besides just shooting. I agree. The past few weeks, with a couple of exceptions, Radman has really been trying to do more than just shoot.
5:03 – Artest looks for a foul driving to the line and throws it as hard as he can off the basket. It banks in. He looks like he’s about to punch someone near him since he didn’t get that call. I was actually a little bit scared there.
4:24 – Kobe travels in the lane with a step through move. Well I think he traveled. He misses the shot. Kobe somehow got to the rim and tipped it in though. He’s amazing. I would definitely have his babies.
4:03 – Artest is pretty frustrated. He missed an inside shot and fouled Pau on the rebound. That’s his third. He’ll stay in the game. Pau makes them. 43-37.
3:29 – It’s the Derek Fisher show. He gets a steal and then dominates the basketball for about 15 seconds probing and hits a step back barely jumper over Anthony Johnson. Sinks it.
3:05 – Lamar gets called for a foul on Kevin Martin. Martin pulled up for a 20 footer and Lamar sort of made him smell his armpit. After the shot, Kevin martin took a little a nap on the floor and the refs called a foul. That’s not a call the refs usually make. So much for that “handsome game.”
Wow. The Space cadet has 8 rebounds to lead all rebounders in the game. Nicely done sir.
2:16 – Radman makes a bad pass to newble who manages to catch it. Newble gets it back to radman. Realizing that that’s not his forte, the space cadet takes one dribble to find space and nails a jumper. 49-39.
1:27 – Kobe auditions for one of those As Seen on TV videos after he gets tripped up. He does a few dribbling drills while lying on his backside. I suppose we’re impressed Kobe.
0:52 – Apparently dribbling while sitting on your butt doesn’t translate into actual ball security. Kobe turns the ball over and it goes the other way. I’m not sure how you would describe The Space Cadet’s defense against Kevin Martin’s fast break layup. The best way I can describe it is to think of a Robin puffing its chest to show off its plumage. Vlad put his arms straight down and puffed out his chest as Martin blew around him for the layup. 51-43 Lakers.
0:30 – Spencer Hawes could use some grooming lessons. His beard looks more like a lesion on his face than something aesthetically pleasing.
So far this game is unsatisfying. Bad reffing, a lot of turnovers, and poor shooting.

3rd Quarter

12:00 John Ireland is talking over the action, I guess he has a lot to say now that he is off the radio (what happened with that anyway?). The Kings have the ball, work it around the perimeter then get it to Kevin Martin at the free throw line curling off a screen and trying the quick shot, but Kobe was with him the whole time and gets a piece of it. Gasol grabs it.
11:45 After the block Kobe hustles down court and set up on the low block with the smaller Martin on him — Fisher sees this just after he crosses half court and wastes no time getting the ball in to him. Pretty turnaround jumper. Lakers by 8.
11:38 Hawes gets the ball out by the three point line and picks up his dribble as he sees Artest trying to post up Odom and wants to get him the ball. Radman read the scouting report and knows Hawes is just a 17.6% three-point shooter and sags off him and dares him to shoot, while essentially doubling Artest by fronting him. Hawes is a rookie and thinks he’s still playing against Arizona State and can get that bounce pass through. Radman with the steal.
11:17: Another Laker making the defensive play then running the floor — Radman got the ball to Fish than sprinted ahead of everyone but the always hustling Moore, Fish feeds him and Vladrad leaves a back-heel, er, drop pass for Gasol running down the lane to finish with a nice dunk. Gasol should never enter the dunk contest if that’s all he’s got.
11:12: This time Artest gives up position for possession (a favorite phrase of an old coach of mine to the post players) and gets the ball mid-post (not really high or low) and faces up on Odom. He drives right but Kobe is the help and rotates over fast and Artest tries to shoot over the double team and misses. (Kobe had to help off of Martin, who was alone in the opposite corner if Artest had been looking.)
10:57: Once again the Lakers push the ball, Fish with a little hesitation dribble into the lane then a pass that is a tad low and Gasol bobbles. Meanwhile, Radmanovic has run to the short corner three. Where Artest went up with a shot in the crowd Gasol makes the pass to the open man — Radman with the three. Lakers by 13.
10:40: Timeout Kings. Out of the timeout Stu Lantz calls it — Theus drew something up for Martin. It may have taken a while but Theus figured out who can do the scoring on this team. Martin gets the ball on the wing after a moving screen from Moore on Kobe, Gasol (on Moore) doesn’t really help and couldn’t stop Martin on the perimeter anyway, the kid blows into the land but misses a contested layup as Odom helps. However, Odom has to leave Artest to help and Artest taps it in.
10:25: The Kings play pretty good defense on this trip — Moore never lets Gasol get comfortable in the post, when the double comes Gasol kicks it out, the quick passes around the arc and the Kings have rotated so no open shot. Now back out to Kobe three feet behind the arc straight away, and he buries the shot. Never underestimate how good it is to have Kobe on your side.
10:05: Ball goes out to Martin on the left wing, but Kobe is all over him. Hawes comes out to set a pick but Radman essentially doubles Martin. Why Martin never dribbles a little to relieve the pressure I don’t know, he instead tries an ill-advised pass to Hawes that Kobe steals.
9:50: Kobe on the breakaway, Hawes does the smart thing and fouls him. Notice the trend here we haven’t seen enough of lately — good defense leading to fast breaks and points early in the clock. Kobe hits one of two.
9:45: After a Kobe non-shooting foul on Martin, the Kings do little on offense, but get the ball to Moore with the clock running down and he drains an 18-footer. He can hit that shot, but that is the shot you would like the Kings to take. He hit it, so be it.
9:31: Kobe and Gasol on the high pick and roll, but the Kings try to trap Kobe. He splits it, drives into the lane, draws more defenders, kicks back out to Odom at the three point line, quick to Fisher who is covered (they are not leaving him open), back to Odom (who thinks about the three but hears Drrayeye screaming “NOOOOOOO”) then to Kobe, who in all the confusion now has Hawes on him and sagging way off. Another three for Kobe. Lakers by 16.
9:09: After the ball went out of Radman’s foot, the Kings bring it in and have Artest and Moore with the high pick and roll. Nobody really closes on Artest despite the clock running down, and he hits the three.
8:34: The ball goes into Radman in the post. Yes, Radman in the post, high post but still the post. He spins to the middle and tries a drive but draws a crowd. Odom, who has moved so well without the ball lately, does that to get the ball just above the free-throw line. Then he moves well with the ball driving past three defenders (to his left) for the layup.
8:12: Ball into Moore in the post, but behind him Artest gets free at the arc as Odom is picked off. Good look three that Artest just misses.
8:03: Fisher pushes it than pulls back to set up the offense. Kobe gets the ball at the three-point line and says, basically, I’m hot now. He blows past Artest and into the lane, then when the defense collapses he leaves it for Gasol for a three-footer. Lakers by 17.
7:45: Artest gets the ball in the post but is doubled, so he kicks it out to Kevin Martin, who gets the soft double out by the arc. He makes a pretty dibble-behind-the-back drive between Kobe and Fisher, gets to the hole and misses the layup, but Hawes picks up the garbage tip in.
7:22: After a Hawes foul on Gasol the Lakers get the ball out of bounds, they pass around to Kobe at the arc who drains a three with Artest in his face. Did I mention it’s good to have Kobe on your team?
7:05: Once again Artest draws the double in the post, this time he makes a shorter pass to Moore at the free throw line. That’s a shot he can hit but with Gasol in his face he misses it.
6:50: Odom grabbed the rebound on the miss and pushes it the length of the court. Once he’s in the paint three Kings remember rule one is stop the ball, they go to Odom, he leaves it for Gasol who lays it in.
Lakers by 20. Timeout Kings. Lakers converting good defense into offense. Man I missed that.

4th Quarter
Lakers start up 87-69. Apparently they finished the quarter 15-15 on field goals. On fifteen assists. That’s pretty efficient basketball.
11:16 – Farmar shows his speed on the fast break off his steal. Doobie reaches from behind to earn a foul but farmar makes the layup. Barely even noticed the foul. And one. Too bad he missed the freebie
10:03 – Lamar glides in for the reverse layup. Nicely done. 93-73. He did well to get that offensive rebound away from Hawes. His facial hair is disgusting. I can’t get over it.
9:27 – Farmar and the Machine get a good bit of teamwork going. Farmar drives into the lane and finds vujacic sitting behind the three point arc. Wet. 96-73.
9:07 – lamar tries to make the unselfish play for the new guy. He tried to feed newble on the break but it was a tough pass to make and the ball ends up out of bounds. Turnover. I’ll live with that. He was trying to get newble some reward for his playing time today.
8:50 – Newble is faked out of his shoes by Salmons.
8:18 – lamar and Artest are standing arm in arm. Aww, that’s cute.
8:15 – Newble gets the hook. Kobe comes back into the game cuz the bench was letting the kings back into it. 8-0 run. Make that 10-0. 96-83.
7:24 – Ronny stems the tide with a tough layup.
6:03 – Pau does the check for blood on the side of his head move. Foul called on the kings as he went for the rebound. Lakers want a time out here. Phil creepily holds his finger on LO’s sternum as Lamar explains why the Lakers are a little confused.
5:44 – That’s not fair. Kobe gets trapped near half court. Somehow splits it and finds pau for an alley-layup oop.
4:50 – Nice. After a missed bucket by The Space Cadet. Kobe makes salmons change directions and Lamar is able to knock it away from behind. Kobe strokes the three ball. 102-88.
3:59 – Kobe dribbles through his legs with his right hand and catches it with his right hand. He gained half a step on Johnson and took it to the hole. Johnson reaches and grabs Kobe for the foul. Kobe makes the two free throws. 104-88.
3:20 – fisher adds the last nail in the coffin and hits a three from the left side.
3:05 – Radman gets his double double with his 10th rebound.
2:45 – Kobe walks into the front court and he’s had enough of that whole “go to the basket” thing. Drains the three. He waves to the fans with his fingers.. “goodbye/goodnight.” If you wonder why people hate him. It’s stuff like that. 110-88.
1:52 – The clumsiest fast break ever. Vujacic granny layups it in over two Kings. Farmar created that steal. Good job defensively by Farmar tonight. Lakers just went on a 12-0 run to slam the door. The bench mob owes the starters for saving their butts tonight.
0:35 – Reggie Theus doesn’t have these guys playing professionally. Sheldon Williams made the traveling hand motion while he was supposed to be guarding DJ who had the ball 8 feet from the basket. He actually stopped playing defense to turn himself into a fourth referee.
Game over. 114-92. Apologies this one wasn’t that great. This game was just one of those slogs the Lakers did well to win. We also really benefited from the absence of Beno Udrih.

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Just a few other notes:

The Lakers slow start in the first quarter appeared largely due to sloppiness. First there was the missed open looks — Pau had a layup blocked by Hawes (who I like a lot more than I thought I would during the draft last year), VladRad missed a layup, Fish had a good look 10-footer in the lane miss. Then there were the turnovers (Farmar’s flat pass out top or Kobe getting into the lane, leaping in the air then trying the dump-down pass, just to name a couple).

Then the Lakers started doing things right, particularly the starting five (all the starters were at least +18 for the game (Kobe), with Radman +35, while the best off the bench was Sasha at +2).

Back in December, when the Lakers had a series of defensive lapses, Phil Jackson stuck with his philosophy of letting the team learn from its mistakes. But have you noticed with the playoffs around the corner, that is not the case anymore. Against Dallas, after a sad defensive first half, the Lakers gave up a layup on the Mavs first possession of the second half and Phil called a timeout to make his voice heard. Just a few points into the Sacramento game, same thing.