Archives For April 2008

3-0 Means…..

Kurt —  April 17, 2008

I don’t think we can take things whole cloth from the Lakers sweep of Denver during the regular season. For one, all three games were played in January or earlier — before the Lakers made the Gasol trade. The Nuggets are not quite the same team as back then, either. Plus, in two of the three games Carmelo left early — he got tossed from one game (for choking Sasha) and was injured partway through another.

Still, there were some trends and things we can pick up. For example, the Nuggets didn’t have a good one-on-one answer for Kobe, so they tried to trap and double him, and Kobe burned them with the pass in the last game. The Lakers bench was far superior in all the contests. The Lakers had a lot of scoring from the guards in these games — Kobe, Fisher, Farmar and Sasha had big games. The Lakers shot a high percentage in all the games. On offense, the Nuggets had success when they could get out and run. What hurt them was they just kept running one-on-one basketball in the half court.

Feel free to point out other thoughts as you read through a few notes from each of the games.

November 29: Lakers 127, Nuggets 99. The Lakers were a turnover machine in the first quarter and the results were Denver up by 20 early in the second quarter. But from there on the Lakers took care of the ball, had the game tied by half time and dominated the second half.

The Nuggets got those turnovers because they play a gambling defensive style, and it worked for them in part because they had Camby sitting in the paint to cover mistakes. However, after the Lakers stopped giving the Nuggets fast breaks points the Nuggets did try a zone for a while. Sasha Vujcaic almost beat that himself shooting over the zone.

The Nuggets showed they can be strong in the paint against the Laker bigs, both with Camby and with very quick doubles of post players. However, the Lakers had considerable success posting Kobe up. Kobe finished with 24, Sasha had 21 and five other Lakers were in double figures.

The Lakers bench, led by Sasha’s scoring, was a big part of that win.

December 5: Lakers 111, Nuggets 106. The Lakers were in control from the opening tip through midway into the third quarter, when the Nuggets went on an 8-0 run to take the lead. Things seesawed until a 15-5 Laker run to end the game got them the win. The Lakers did that on the second night of a back-to-back on the road.

The show belonged to Alan Iverson – 51 points, eight assists and got to the free throw line 18 times. However, the Nuggets stuck with the one-on-one basketball, particularly in the first half, and that’s when the Lakers had their biggest leads. When Denver made a run in the third, the Nuggets were passing well.

Kobe had 25 despite a lot of quick doubles early, however late in the game they stopped trying to trap Kobe off the pick and roll and he finished them off. He was also hitting the open man with a pass when the double did come, which is why Radmanovic had 21 and Fisher had 20. The Lakers got big contributions from Bynum and Mihm in the paint, altering shots from the penetrating Nuggets.

January 21: Lakers 116, Nuggets 99. No Bynum, no Ariza and no Radmanovic for the Lakers, but LA jumps out early and has a comfortable lead from the second half of the first quarter through the middle of the third. That’s when Denver tied the game with an 18-3 run, but the Lakers turned it on again and pulled away for the win.

The Nuggets stuck with the “double Kobe instantly” defensive system, and the result was Kobe taking just seven shots (hitting five) but he did have 11 assists. The PGs are the big scorers for the Lakers, Fish has 28 and Farmar 19, and the Lakers had good success with Fisher, Farmar and Kobe all on the floor at the same time (a lineup largely used when Camby was sitting).

The only real success the Nuggets had was when Walton was trying to cover Carmelo (this was also a game where Carlmelo went down with a sprained ankle).

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.