Archives For April 2008

Records: Lakers 52-24 (2 seed); Kings 36-40 (11 seed)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 114.4 (3rd); Kings 108.9 (14th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 107.4 (8th); Kings 111.5 (25th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladamir Radmanovic, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Kings: Anthony Johnson, Kevin Martin, John Salmons, Mikki Moore, Spencer Hawes

Lakers Notes: I’ve focused on my frustrations on what passes for the Lakers defense, but not watching the Lakers for a week then watching the way the offense clicked against Dallas reminded me just how much fun this team can be to watch.

I was going to break down some numbers, but Tom Ziller did that already and did it well at Fanhouse:

The Los Angeles offensive onslaught, as you would imagine, has been vicious — 104 points in 89 possessions against the Blazers, 112 points in 86 possessions against the Mavs last night.

On-off data from would corroborate Pau’s positive impact on the offense — the team has an offensive rating of 119.1 when Gasol is on the floor (versus a figure of 109.8 overall); for perspective, Utah and Phoenix have the best offenses in the league at offensive ratings of 111.2. The Lakers with Gasol are about 7 points better on offense than the freaking Suns.

Gasol totally opened up the offense (which was going well even before he got here). His inside/outside game is a perfect fit for the triangle. You now have to double him and Kobe, and both of them are good passers who are hitting the open man when the double comes (or, Kobe will just drive through it and score anyway). The Lakers are moving without the ball, particularly Odom, and they are crashing the boards. The Lakers are making that extra pass. No team is going to totally be able to stop the Lakers on offense.

The Knicks Are Looking Better: I think Mike at Knickerblogger hit this on the head — Donnie Walsh was not perfect in Indiana, but he was a far sight better than what has been going on in New York. Walsh oversaw some good drafts and made some great trades (JO being the best move). This was a good hire for New York, so long as Dolan gives him latitude.

I think the Lakers should offer Isaiah Thomas a front office job overseeing trades. (Just kidding, I wasn’t here on April Fools Day to make a whole post out of that.)

The Kings Coming In: The Kings are banged up – last night no Ron Artest, no Beno Udrih, no Brad Miller. The result – they still beat Denver 118-115. None of those three are expected to suit up tonight, a break for the Lakers on the road.

I’ve talked before about how much I like Kevin Martin — a few commenters on this site tried o compare him to Reggie Miller and say it was a bad thing. Reggie Miller was one of the best pure shooters and scorers in the league. Surround him with the right players and he could be a key cog on a title team.

Also last night, Mikki Moore added 23 and Francisco Garcia had 29 off the bench.

One other thing – the Kings are playing hard for Reggie Theus. It may have taken a while for him to warm up to Martin, he may rely a little to much on veterans over the best players, but there is no doubt that the players respond to him. That’s something.

Last Time These Two Played: Did I mention the Kings play hard and you can’t sleep on them? They played hard, the Lakers looked shaky on defense, the Lakers couldn’t stop the penetration of Udrih or Martin, and the Kings got a win, 114-113.

Keys To The Game: The Lakers, and Kobe in particular, have had their best success against Kevin Martin playing ball denial with him. He needs to be the first guy stopped — Kobe can’t just gamble on the steal but needs to play smart, denying the ball and staying between Martin and the basket to slow his penetration.

The Kings run a lot of screens and in the last meeting Fisher got caught up in them, allowing Beno to have a huge game. Combine that with Kobe not chasing Martin on the many back cuts he and the other Kings guards make and we got to watch a lay-up drill. The Lakers need to be prepared, stick with their man (not ball watch) and cut off those passing lanes. Also, Gasol (and Ronny) need to defend the paint.

Sacramento is a long and fairly athletic team, which has given the Lakers problems in the past. Last meeting the Lakers let the Kings control the tempo and tonight they cannot do that. The Lakers have had a tendency to come out flat against non-playoff teams – Sacramento is playing too hard to do that and get away with it. That’s why the Lakers lost to them last meeting (and almost lost to them the game before that).

Where you can watch: Game time is 6:30 pm on Fox Sports in LA and League Pass everywhere else.

Fast Break Thoughts

Kurt —  April 5, 2008

• The Lakers are not going to win the NBA title this year, and it is my fault. I want to apologize to all Lakers fans in advance.

You see, my wife and I are expecting our third daughter in early June. We’re excited, although a little nervous that moving from two to three kids means a change from man-to-man to zone defense.

But before you say congratulations, understand that this likely will cost the Lakers any shot at the title. My first two daughters were born during the NBA playoffs as well. The first was during the 2004 Lakers/Pistons NBA Finals. Don’t think I need to remind you how that turned out. The second daughter came two years later: Just at the start of the Lakers/Suns first round playoff series. You remember, the one the Lakers led 3-1 before falling apart.

I fear that baby three means another playoff loss. Understand that I, personally, would gladly trade a host of Lakers titles for another daughter, they are the light of my life. But I want to apologize to all of you for what is to come. I really should have tried to have a daughter during the baseball playoffs, it’s not like the Dodgers were going to win a series anyway.

• Of course, the other thing that could keep the Lakers from the title is the way they are playing defense right now. With Gasol in the lineup the Lakers offense can outscore teams, and that may be good enough for a round-one win (depending on the match-up) but unless the return of Bynum somehow improves the perimeter defense and rotations as well, I’m not sure the Lakers can win three series in the West.

• That said, the offense is really clicking and it is a lot of fun to watch right now. And that was a gutty little win last night by the Lakers,

• Following the discussion Reed started in the last post, there is a new poll up on the right hand side about who you want to see the Lakers face in the first round of the playoffs.

• Finally got around to making some changes in the sidebar. Among them, a cutback in the number of blogs linked to. Back when I started this site in 2004 it was fairly easy to link to every NBA blog out there, but in a sign of how much the community has grown that is very difficult to do now (and is constantly changing). What I’ve decided to do is put in some of my reads and favorites, and I’ll try to keep that up to date but I can’t list everybody anymore. I’m sure I left some good sites off of that list (I was working off an old list) so if you think I forgot something or need to add a site send me an email. By the way, all of those listed are fan blogs, I did not put in the mainstream media blogs. That could change.

Also, I added a section for other LA Sports Blogs, listing just a few favorites. I will gladly add to that list, send me emails (for example, I’m not sure what is considered the best USC football blog).

• Now, on to nomuscles recap of last night:

We’ll pick this up at halftime.
Lakers played a second quarter that left Jason Kidd feeling confident about his shot at Jason Kapono’s three-point crown. He’s been that wide open. Dirk was really feeling it. Hitting jumper after jumper over the Lakers outstretched hands. They need to go at him on defense. He can’t move side to side and forces the Mavs defense into giving help. Ira Newble actually got to play for a few seconds at the end of the half. He’s wearing number 14 and sporting a great farmer’s tan. Kobe may need to come out in the second half with a lot more aggressiveness. One last note, my ears are bleeding from John Berry’s “analysis.” If he somehow caught laryngitis right now, I don’t think I’d be particularly upset. In celebration, I’d probably pop open the Yellow-Tail sparkling wine that is sitting in my fridge…calling to me…mmm… oh sorry. I got sidetracked. Lakers down by 10. 54-64.

3rd Quarter
11:40 – On Dallas’s first possession, JET is isolated on Gasol and this looks like it’s going to be ugly. Yep, Terry threatens to take it to the bucket but Gasol gives him enough space to make sure he doesn’t catch any diseases JET might have. JET pulls back and hits a 20 footer. Whoa Nellie! Phil calls a timeout. He’s pissed about that possession. That’s a new record for earliest timeout by Phil Jackson ever.
10:08 – Lamar corrals a rebound and takes the ball up the court. On the semi-break the Space Cadet dives for first base. Safe! Refs call a foul on JET for tripping the Space Cadet. The announcers are refusing to announce the game. Guess who is telling us about how competitive and tenacious Kobe Bryant is? Yes, that’d be our good friend, John Berry. Someone Tonya Harding him please.
9:20 – Mark Cuban is here. We’ll see if he sends eye daggers at any Lakers girls tonight. I bet they’d promise to never blog again if he did.
8:40 – On nationally televised games, the allowable sponsorship rules are different. Those alien disc things used to wipe the sweat off the floor have the Lakers logo on them. Usually they have the Foot Locker logo on them. More useless knowledge for the faithful Forum Blue and Gold reader. You can thank me later.
7:18 – I guess I should mention the Lakers are making a little run and playing good defense. Mostly spurred on by Kobe’s activity on offense. They are down 4, 66-70.
7:02 – they have quickly realized their mistake and give up a Jason Terry layup and a foul. He misses the free throw.
6:48 – MVP chants get synchronized during a Kobe free throw. The first time the chant gets started, usually when nothing notable has happened, it’s always disjointed. It’s like a collective MVP stutter. This one is nice and loud.
5:38 – Dirk drives the lane and does his best Dr. J impression. Scoop layup.
4:32 – Lakers got sloppy. Jason Kidd steal leading to a fast break layup. The lead opened up to 11. I’m not really sure how that happened. Plenty of time left but this feels like the Mavs game to lose.
“In a game like this, something stupid will try to happen. Stay focused.” ~Avery Johnson in the huddle. Jason Terry plays along and points to his head. “Right here.” That was quality. I love the coaches being mic’d up.
3:36 – Pau gasol gets a nice bucket in the post against the tall German after Dirk had educated Lamar on the proper use of the reverse pivot going baseline at the other end.
3:00 – Kobe hits a contested three right in Devean George’s grill. Lakers down by 6.
1:40 – Kobe gets beat to a rebound by Josh howard. Lazy play. And he fouls Howard as well.
1:21 – The MACHINE! Throws up the three and JET gets him across the arm. He converts the 4-point play, the old-fashion way.
0:40 – Tyron Lue shows us why he impersonated Allen Iverson during the 2001 Finals. Famar had to immediately seek medical attention from Gary vitti for his shattered ankles. Boy that was a little embarrassing. I was embarrassed for him.
The quarter ends with the Lakers down by 7. 80-87.
Lisa Salters interviews PJ during the break. He’s so smart that I can’t understand anything he says. Oh wait, he makes the point that we aren’t stopping anything Dallas wants to do. On that, he and I agree whole heartedly.
4th Quarter
11:50 – Newble is out there again. Mike Breen tells us this is the first time he’s checked in but we know that’s not true.
11:31 – And Newble grabs his first rebound! And Farmar hits a three! Lakers down by 4.
11:05 – Kobe Bryant and Bynum start making out on the bench. Just checking to see if you’re paying attention.
10:30 – Lakers decide they don’t want to take the lead too soon. Down by 8 again. Oh nice. Vujacic hits a three to bring them back within 5.
9:10 – lazy pass by the Mavs leads to an easy layup by Son of bill.
8:52 – Yikes! The tall German just rises up and drains a three. Nothing but bottom. That was nice.
7:40 – Lakers playing well here. Down by 1!!!! 94-93. Some great hustle tracking down rebounds has given us some life. Credit Ronny Turiaf a little bit here. Kobe’s on the bench and Famar is making great decisions as the distributor.
7:02 – When the play ends up with Luke Walton taking an off-rhythm jumper over the Tall German, that’s not what I’d call execution.
6:15 – Lamar does his patented miss the first, make the second routine. Pau gets subbed out after just checking in
5:48 – Lakers down by two. Lamar puts on his Kobe Bryant cape. It forces the wearer to take the defense one on five. Possible side effects include getting caught in the air and throwing the ball to the young lady sitting courtside. Involving the fans, that’s what being a Laker is all about. He smiles at his silliness. I throw the remote at the TV. Lakers down by 2.
5:00 – Dirk is going to win this game for the Mavs. He can’t miss.
4:44 – MAN SAUCE! Jordan Farmar flies down the lane. Draws the blocking foul on Josh Howard who got a great view of Jordan’s belly button.
4:09 – rough stretch for Josh Howard. He just drew a technical foul for throwing his headband on the floor. It’s a good thing the refs called that. He might’ve caused permanent damage to the vintage maple finish. Kobe hits the technical. Lamar has a chance to the bring the Lakers within 1 on free throws. He changes it up and misses the second one. Lakers down 2. 101-99. Lawler’s law is on the line here.
3:45 – John Berry describes Kobe’s “great body control.” Excuse me while I take my mind out of the gutter. Kobe ties the game with his free throws. 101 – 101. All we need now is some Dalmations.
3:17 – Lamar earns a double double with his tenth rebound right here. Great work boxing out Dampier.
2:44 – Mavs take a 1 point lead on a JET free throw. He bungled the first one.
2:17 – With the shot clock winding down, Kobe uses a burst of speed to leave Josh Howard on the three point line questioning his career choice and as the defense collapses, he finds Lamar on the wing who takes it strong to the rack. Makes the tough layup around Dampier. LO wants a foul called, he’ll get none. Lakers take their first lead of the game.
1:42 – After Kobe blew a layup against the intimidating presence of Dirk, Jason terry gets two free throws to put them up by one.
1:29 – Brain fart for the machine. He turns the ball over and then commits the foul putting the Mavs back on the line. Howard hits 2. Mavs up by 3.
1:14 – Lamar fakes Dirk into standing still. You might not believe that it was the fake that caused the Tall German to remain motionless since it’s not much difference than his usual defense, but I assure you it was. Lamar is able to get the right-handed layup to fall. Lakers down by 1. And they get a stop. Back they’ll come.
0:40 – LAMAR ODOM FOR MVP LADIES AND GENTLEMEN. Give and go from gasol to odom to gasol. Gets the layup and the foul. I didn’t see if Gasol tried the jersey pop or not. I hope he did. Gasol gets the free throw. 108-106 Lakers on top.
0:35 – The Staples Center crowd is on its feet! Chants of DEFENSE fill the arena. Dirk isolated on Pau and his uterus gives birth to a turnover. That may do it for the Mavs. If the Lakers get a bucket here the game will be over.
0:17 – Kobe drives to the hole and draws the foul on Howard. Two free throws will pretty much put this one away (never say never). He makes the first. And then we get a nice view of Dampier’s stretch marks. I could’ve really done without that. Thanks ESPN. First John berry, then Damp’s womanly scars. Kobe makes the second. Four point lead. 110-106.
0:09 – good defense by Pau. Aww poop. That opened the way for Dampier to grab the offensive rebound. Two point game. Dallas mugs vujacic to put him on the line. He hits the first. And the second. Avery Johnson can be seen drawing on a white board. You think he’s writing the list out for who is bring what to the post-game pot luck? He might as well be. This one is in the pooper.
0:03 – MAN SAUCE! Jordan Farmar will have none of Jason terry’s three point shooting. He blocks him from the side. Ball out of bounds. On the inbounds, Farmar isn’t done. He deflects the inbounds pass and it goes out of bounds. 3.1 seconds left. Very solid play from farmar tonight capped by these two efforts.
0:00 – Pau bothered (Possibly fouled) Dirk’s last shot. No good. Time expires. Big win tonight.
Oh exciting! Lamar is being interviewed by Lisa Salters. Oh darn. He’s making sense tonight. I’m disappointed. I would’ve loved to see a repeat of the other night when he was as high as a kite. I love how basketball players have to bend down to hear the reporter. We are being treated to a great view of the top of Lamar’s noggin. Unfortunately, even in HD, it’s not clear whether he uses a razor or clippers. He starts answering questions before she’s done asking them. Maybe he thinks the interview will go quicker that way. Haha great moment there. Lisa asks him about the glue holding that cut on his head together and how I feels. He says it’s “alright though, now I got two lumps in my head. One in the front, one on the side. But it’s not gonna mess up my handsome game.” Classic.

(I’m tied up at work today, so this will be brief. Fill in thoughts in the comments. –Reed)

Records: Lakers 51-24 (3 seed); Mavs 47-28 (7 seed)
Offensive Ratings: 114.2 (3rd); 112.8 (8th)
Defensive Ratings: 107.2 (6th); 106.9 (5th)
Projected Lineups: Lakers: Fisher, Kobe, Radmanovic, Odom, Gasol; Dallas: Kidd, Terry, Howard, Dirk, Dampier

Dallas Coming In: Dallas posted their win of the season last game, with a decisive, critical win over Golden State. The victory was huge on several fronts: the unexpected return of Dirk, gaining a game and the tiebreaker over Golden State, and — perhaps most importantly — the first victory over a winning team since the Kidd trade (they had previously gone 0-10). The Mavs now have a 2 game edge on the Warriors with the tiebreak, so their playoff standing looks much more secure than a few days ago. Dirk is still limited with the ankle and knee sprains, admitting that he’s mostly relegated to being a spot up shooter on offense and unable to run in transition.

This means more reliance on Josh Howard, who is on a tear, averaging 30.2 points over the last 5 games. Howard is probably the key matchup for the game, as he seriously exposed Radmanovic and Walton in the last matchup, constantly burning them with penetration in the first half. The Lakers might be wise to go to the Fisher/Sasha/Kobe lineup to better defend Kidd/Terry/Howard on the perimeter.

Most consider the Kidd deal a disaster, but the numbers only show them being mildly worse with him than Harris. With Kidd on the court, the Mavs offensive rating is 112.4 and the defense rating is 105.3. With Harris on the court, the Mavs had a 117.3 offensive rating and a 106.5 defensive rating. Surprisingly, Kidd has hurt the offense and helped the defense, but this actually makes sense given his inability to contribute in an isolation rich offense and the team’s inability to defend big guards with Terry and Harris out there together. The real problem with the trade lies in the other pieces lost in the deal — 2 draft picks and Diop, who was probably their best defensive player (the Mavs had a team leading 102.9 defensive rating with Diop on the court).

The local media has been all over the Mavs lately — questioning the Kidd deal, blasting Avery’s coaching, and constantly recalling the past two playoff collapses. Avery in particular is under serious scrutiny, with almost everyone calling for his head for refusing to stop micromanaging and just turn the offense over to Kidd. While this is probably heat of the moment overreaction, there is a clear tension between Avery’s desire to call plays and run isolation sets and Kidd’s increased effectiveness in transition and while freelancing. Something has to give, and I’m guessing it will ultimately not be the new $20 million point guard.

Lakers Coming In: Gasol came back and his ankle seems to have responded well. The second half of the Portland game was the first time in a while that the defense has looked sharp, it being only the third in fifteen games that they have held the opponent under 100 points. The Lakers are in a heated battle for the division and playoff seeding, so it is critical they win games like this at home, especially with Dirk hobbling. No one wants to drop to the 5 seed and face Utah in the first round. My keys to the game:

(1) Odom needs to attack Dirk on offense, as he has no chance staying with Lamar’s speed with his leg injuries;

(2) Defend the perimeter. Make Howard and Dirk take contested jump shots. Force the ball to Kidd late in the shot clock — make him score. This might mean less Radmanovic and more Sasha.

(3) Rebound. Two games ago, Dampier looked like Dwight Howard, going for 17 and 16 before fouling out. Gasol is still rusty, but he needs to do a better job of keeping a body on Damp and holding Dallas to one shot.

Your Thoughts:

Two great comments I saw recently:

Drrayeye on putting all our pieces together as they return from injuries:

The Zenmeister has fifteen “pieces,” but two of his biggest pieces, Pau and ‘Drew, have never played together at all. Two of his most dependable pieces, Kobe and Derek, have nagging injuries that will not go away during the playoffs. At least one of his pieces, Trevor, will not be making his return debut until the playoffs. We’ll have to make due with Ira, a wiley veteran stand-in. There may even be minor stand-in roles for Mbenga and the other Kobe. Only time will tell.

The Zenmeister needs to put Humpty back together again when Humpty was never together in the first place–and Phil does not have all the kings horses or men (though his backup support is pretty good). Zenman better understand the Japanese “just in time” approach to product delivery perfectly!

Nomuskles with a running recap of the Portland game.

Seeding Thoughts:

Open questions for the forum: Are we better off as the 3 seed playing Houston in the first round, but then facing San Antonio or New Orleans on the road in the second? Would a healthy Dallas be the scariest 7 or 8 seed in playoff history? Who is the one team you would absolutely want to see on the other side of the bracket?


I must apologize in advance for this post. Normally, Forum Blue And Gold is a great source of basketball analysis. Today you shall have none. The few posts I have written here tend to have a lot of statistics. Today my spreadsheet is empty. No, with the playoffs only seven games away I have found my mind drifting to the psychological. Or to put it bluntly: the mind games.

“You, my friend, are a victim of disorganized thinking. You are under the unfortunate impression that just because you run away you have no courage; you’re confusing courage with wisdom. ” -The Wizard of Oz

Andrew Bynum and Trevor Ariza have not arrived back on court. They have gone beyond the initial diagnosis time line. A lot of fans assume either: A. the injuries were more severe than the Lakers initially let on or B. Gary Vitti doesn’t have the same magic pixie dust they have in Detroit. One of those scenarios is fairly plausible, but those are not the only options. It is possible the Lakers have held back Andrew and Trevor after they fully recovered. There are two very good reasons to do this. Once the Gasol trade happens and clicks, the need to rush Andrew and Trevor back to make the playoffs recedes. This sets the stage for the first very good reason to sit on their return: Bynum’s the franchise when Kobe retires. While his knee subluxation seemed like bad luck, in a way it was very, very good luck. Just ask any Clippers fan. Dr. Buss was not going to risk bringing Andrew back too soon. Remember, he wanted Kobe to have finger surgery (or did he?) which would have most likely killed the Lakers’ playoff chances for this season. Trevor could be around for awhile too; so why damage two players in your potential post-Kobe nucleus?

Of course, this doesn’t really explain why you’d keep them out this freaking long. And I did promise you two very good reasons.

“All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable…” -Sun Tzu

Humor me and count the number of times you’ve read an article about a treadmill before this season. Please, take your time. (No, that piece in Men’s Health doesn’t count.) Now count how many times you’ve heard about that miracle/monster/timemachine/torturedevice. Sure, some of that is PR for the fan base. “Look, we’ve bought a treadmill that’s worth three years of the average fan’s salary! We mean business!” But come on. It’s almost like some coach with a reputation for Mind Games was writing a movie for Gene Hackman to star in: Bynum’s so messed up only anti-gravity can save him! Trevor’s still in a humidity controlled boot! Kobe’s finger is going to fall off!

So yes, the second very good reason to hold them back is to play opossum. Though not necessarily in the strictest sense of the term. If those cats have been good to go for awhile, I’m sure the other NBA teams know. But the one thing nobody knows, which coincidentally has Lakers fans tied up in knots, is how will Bynum and Gasol play together. This is the key. Not a single team has faced that Lakers squad. No one knows what that looks like. That is what they call the element of surprise.

“It was all very well to say ‘Drink me,’ but the wise little Alice was not going to do that in a hurry: ‘no, I’ll, look first,’ she said, ‘and see whether it’s marked ‘poison’ or not…” -Lewis Carroll

But that makes no sense. Even the Lakers don’t know what will happen with Andrew and Pau on the floor. That’s just playing Russian roulette. The thing is, the Lakers do have a good idea of what those two will do together. First, Andrew knows the triangle. He passes well within the system, blocks shots and can put the ball in the basket from the post. Second, Pau has had a crash course in the triangle from the center position. He has been at the end of the line of deployment, getting dished to. Now, all he will have to do is think from the other end of the line of deployment he’s been playing on. (The line of deployment runs from the center to the forward on the wing.) In a way, having Pau start the triangle from the center then move to forward has probably quickened his learning curve. It has given him time to absorb the motion while still contributing to the team in a meaningful way. There is no reason to think that, at this point, Pau and Bynum can’t click on first team like Pau did with the rest of the team. If that happens you’re talking about a massive win streak until teams can figure out the weakness. And if you can see that possibility and could choose the timing of it…well, who wants to be the NBA version of the Colorado Rockies?

“East, West, just points of the compass, each as stupid as the other.” -Dr. No

Which brings me to the diabolical genius that is Biz Markie Phil Jackson. My entire line of thinking may be delusional, probably is. But at the very least Phil has taken actual uncertainty about the team’s health and played with it in the press. Given Phil’s history this creates doubt in the opposing team’s minds. “Maybe he is up to something?” He has taken a perceived weakness and used it as a weapon. Not many coaches bother to even try doing stuff like that.

This whole post is so speculative, I almost didn’t put it up. I fully realize it’s the pop psychology version of the trade machine.

But I’ve got this feeling we should pay attention to that man behind the curtain, because in this version of the story, I think his hot air balloon can take all of us home.

-Rob L.

Records: Lakers 50-24 (3 seed), Portland 38-36 (trying to finish above .500)
Offensive Ratings: Lakers 109.6 (3rd), Portland 104.1 (15th)
Defensive Ratings: Lakers 102.9 (6th) Portland 105.3 (18th)
Projected Lineups: Lakers- Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vlad Rad, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Blazers- Steve Blake, Martell Webster, Travis Outlaw, Lamarcus Aldridge, Joel Pryzbilla
Gasol is Back! (Probably)

The Home Stretch: This is the home stretch for the Lakers, the last 8 games of what has been a great season. We have talked a lot about potential playoff opponents and we peruse the box-scores of other teams to see who is winning and who is losing. The main thing the Lakers need to do going into this home stretch is focus on them. That means improving perimeter defense, not settling for jump shots and most importantly, get healthy.

Next Year is not looking bad in Portland: Not only do the Blazers bring back one of the best young nucleus’ in the league (one that won 13 games in a row), it is adding 2007 #1 pick Greg Oden to the mix…and a lottery pick this year.
Last Time These Two Met: The Trail Blazers: The Lakers took a one point lead into the 4th quarter, but lost by 8, 119-111. That game was in the Thorn Garden (where we play them one more time 4/8) and the Lakers have had a history to forget at the Blazer’s place. The key to the Blazer win was their bench, especially Jarret Jack and Travis Outlaw who combined for 39 pts.

If You See a 7 footer at Venice Beach…It won’t be Greg Oden, he has been told no more pick-up games.

Vin Scully: Got a chance to watch the Dodger game last night, and Vin Scully made me smile at least 5 times. Just like Chick used to do, he seamlessly transitions from talking in-game strategy to the background of a reserve’s nickname, all while providing simulcast quality play-by-play. It made me realize how lucky LA is to have Vin, and was to have Chick.

Keys to the Game: Brandon Roy is not playing tonight, and the Blazers are coming off a home loss to the Bobcats (sound familiar)…which all makes me nervous. The Lakers got outscored by 10 pts last game in the “points off of turnover” category, so taking care of the ball tonight is important. Also, Outlaw is a tough match-up for us and seeing how we signed Ira Newble for the rest of the season, maybe he plays tonight. Last, Aldridge is a Laker-killer in the making, we cannot allow him to take 18 ft jump shots uncontested and on the block, we may have to double him. Offensively the Lakers should (like everyone has been saying) run their offense inside and be patient. One thing Phil doesn’t do as much with Kobe as he did with MJ is post him up.

Where to Watch: FSN West and League Pass, 7:30 pst

–Kwame A.

Building a Champion: Redux

Reed —  April 1, 2008

Last July, when we were all frantically in GM and trade machine mode, I wrote an article called, “Building a Champion,” where I tried to analyze what went into the title teams of the last 10 years and how the Lakers matched up. The big picture points:

(1) Title teams need 2-3 stars who complement each other and collectively perform the fundamental basketball skills at the highest level;
(2) Title teams always have veteran, older role players who understand the nuances of the game and are willing to sacrifice personal glory for team success;
(3) The Lakers, as then constituted, were not built for immediate contention as they neither possessed a core of stars who covered the needed breadth of skills nor the veteran role players who understood the game’s intricacies. Kobe and Odom were the only “stars” and they were largely redundant in what they offered; the role players were overwhelmingly young and developing.

Fast forward to today and everything (miraculously) has broken right, leaving us as unquestioned grade A contenders, even in the midst of the most competitive landscape the league has seen in years. Fisher arrived. Bynum emerged as an all star producer. Farmar, Sasha, and Turiaf took steps forward. Radmanovic found his shooting stroke and showed enough (even if limited) focus. Slowly, Kobe believed and found it in him to trust his teammates. Cook became Ariza. Kwame became Gasol. Suddenly, we have the most talented team in the league, 1-12.

But, how do we compare with past title teams? Are we another complete Spurs title team or another Mavs/Kings false hope? Do we have the requisite skill bases covered or do fatal flaws remain that will haunt us against the best teams in big playoff series? Applying last summer’s championship blueprint to the present roster:

1. 2-3 Stars that Complement Each Other

The foundational ingredient of any title team is the presence of 2-3 stars that complement each other. This means that between them they perform the various fundamental basketball skills at an elite level. Look back at the last decade of title teams:

• Shaq, Duncan, and Sheed provided low post scoring
• Shaq, Duncan, and the Wallaces provided interior defense and rebounding
• Kobe, Wade, Parker, Ginobili, and Billups provided playmaking
• Kobe, Wade, Ginobili, and Billups provided clutch scoring down the stretch
• Kobe, Ginobili, Wade, and Billups provided perimeter defense

Obviously, this is shallow analysis, but the point is that you must have stars capable of doing the big work. Very talented teams with multiple stars have failed in the playoffs because their stars were either redundant or lacking in some key area. Nash, Marion, and Amare did not offer interior defense. Nash and Dirk did not offer post scoring or interior defense. Webber, Bibby, and Peja did not offer perimeter defense. The common theme of “almost” teams is that their stars seemed to do the same thing (usually scoring), leaving one key skill unaccounted for. That’s the beauty of Duncan – he dominates the areas of the game that are hardest to find – interior defense and post scoring.

This Laker team seems well positioned on this front – they have 3 legitimate “stars” in Kobe, Gasol, and Bynum and they are not redundant. Kobe handles the playmaking, penetration, perimeter defense, and clutch scoring. Bynum provides interior defense and rebounding. Gasol provides interior scoring and playmaking. Add in Odom’s (often) star quality rebounding and playmaking and you have a solid core of stars who perform all the basketball skills at the highest level.

Of the league’s other title teams, the Spurs (again, Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili), Celtics (Garnett, Pierce, and Allen), Pistons (Billups, Sheed, Hamilton/Prince), and Hornets (Paul, West, and Chandler) seem to also have the bases covered, though some more than others. The Suns, Jazz and Mavs (when healthy) seem to have fatal flaws (Suns – perimeter defense, both by their wings and bigs; Mavs – interior scoring; Jazz – interior and perimeter defense).

2. Veteran Role Players

Look back at the title teams from this decade – they are filled with veteran, older role players who understand the nuances of the game. Horry, Fox, Finley, Bowen, Harper, etc., etc. 21 out of 32 rotation role players from this decade’s title teams were over 30; only 5 of 32 had less than 4 years experience. While young players often seem capable of filling starring roles (e.g. Wade, Kobe), they have traditionally been less adept at successfully filling key lesser roles on championship teams.

When I wrote this post last year many people objected that I overemphasized age and underestimated basic basketball intelligence. This is probably true. Some players get it earlier than others. Certainly someone like Udonis Haslem was able to come right into the league and play like a savvy veteran. The same is probably true of Luke Walton. What makes (many) older players valuable, despite waning physical tools, is their deep understanding of the game, from floor spacing to boxing out to fighting through screens to defending the pick and roll to fearlessness in big moments. For this reason, in the playoffs cagey veterans usually shine while more talented young players come up short (e.g. Barbosa, Doug Christie, etc.).

I have mixed feeling about where our role players stand in this regard. They are undoubtedly talented. In Farmar, Turiaf, Sasha, Radmanovic, Fisher, Walton, and Ariza we have the single most talented collection of 5-12 players in the league. But only Fisher and Walton (to a degree) are playoff tested. A constant complaint all year has been the inability of these role players to correctly play team defense. Do we trust that they will make the “right” play in game 7 in San Antonio? Will Farmar go under a screen too often when he should fight through? Will Radmanovic get burned baseline by a small forward consistently when the plan was to force him into the middle? Will Ronny get into foul trouble when we need him? Do we trust Sasha or Farmar taking the open 3 to decide a series? Do our role players have enough “Rick Fox” and “Robert Horry” in them? I suspect they need to try and fail once before they have the seasoning necessary to win four straight series against stiff competition, but we will see.

3. Other Notes

A few other random thoughts for discussion. First, point differential. This seems to be an even better predictor of playoff success than win-loss record. Here are the point differentials for the last six title teams: 2007: Spurs (+8.4, 1st in the league), 2006: Heat (+3.9, 5th), 2005: Spurs (+7.8, 1st), 2004: Pistons (+5.8, 2nd), 2003: Spurs (+5.4, 3rd), 2002: Lakers (+7.1, 2nd). The 2008 Lakers currently stand at +6.6, good for 3rd in the league. Given the excessive injuries we’ve faced and the late addition of Gasol, I think it is reasonable to say our real point differential is probably at least a point higher, which would put us second in the league and in about the same neighborhood as all the recent title teams.

Second, it simply cannot be overstated how much we have improved at the point guard and center positions with the replacement of Smush and Kwame with Fisher and Bynum/Gasol. In every aspect of the game: defense, scoring efficiency, rebounding, turnovers, etc. Last year, our point guards had the 10th worst collective PER and 4th worst collective PER differential (the difference between what our point guards produced and what they allowed opposing point guards to produce). Our centers were 7th worst in PER differential and 4th worst at PER allowed (defense). PER obviously has its limitations as a statistic, but PER differential is one of the most insightful stats out there because it measures net efficiency – how good were you at (1) creating points with your possessions and (2) creating/valuing possessions versus how good were you at stopping your opponent from doing the same. This year, we see a massive shift the other way. We are 13th in PG PER differential, improving by 13 spots, and 6th in C PER differential, improving by 17 spots.

4. Final Thoughts

Even with the improvement of Portland, New Orleans, Boston, and other teams, I believe we have covered more ground this year than anyone else. We have not necessarily gained the most in terms of wins and losses, but we went from the brink of trading Kobe and starting over with a fractured front office and angry fan base to having the best roster in the league for the next 5 years. No matter what happens this year, we should appreciate the good fortune and enjoy the ride. With the team finally having supporting stars around Kobe that do things he can’t (Odom is great, but he is too redundant to ever be a solid #2), the team is well positioned to fine tune the roster and compete for titles so long as Kobe can perform as an elite player. Though, our chances this year probably lie less with him and more with the ability of our role players to play like veterans – to avoid mistakes, play solid team defense, and hit big shots in the 4th quarter. When they learn to do that, this should be the most complete Laker team in 20 years.

— Reed