Archives For May 2008

Game One Thoughts

Kurt —  May 22, 2008

The real world is keeping me very busy today, so I’m falling back on easy (read: lazy) bullet points to organize my thoughts. Plus, I like to do whatever KD does.

• It’s great to have Kobe on your team.

• That was by far the best defense the Lakers have seen in the playoffs, and it clearly was a challenge to adjust (the Lakers averaged 117 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs, last night it was 98). The Spurs did what they do so well, turn teams into midrange jump shooters (Dean Oliver was talking about this statistically years ago) — they defend the rim with Duncan and chase guys off the three-point line. The Lakers took just 10 threes. Odom in particular seemed to have a hard time adjusting to what the Spurs were doing, but the Lakers as a unit need to be better prepared and hit those shots in game two.

• I’m curious what adjustments PJ makes for the next game — use Gasol’s mid-range game to pull Duncan away from the basket? Try to exploit a clearly-slowed Ginobili on defense? Any other thoughts?

• It really helps to have Kobe be able to take over an otherwise sluggish game.

• We said one of the big keys was whose bench and role players were going to step up. Sasha finished a game-high +25, Farmar came out of his slump and was second best at +15. Plus Turiaf, matched up on Duncan when he was in, was just -3 and made some great energy plays. That is something I hope to see every night.

• That and some Trevor Ariza on Ginobili (or Parker). I wonder if Phil is saving that card as one to play in San Antonio?

• Quick thought from Darius:

I know that SpurredOn mentioned this, and we would like to say that Spurs fans in general are making excuses, but Ginobili is not the same guy right now. He is out there on guts alone, his quick first step gone, his explosion at the rim gone. Manu is a guy that can change a game. Duncan may be their catalyst, but Manu is their game changer. I liken him to what Kobe was to us when we still had Shaq…that guy that even though you account for him, his abilities to change a game are so strong that you really can’t game plan for the dynamic that he brings. I think without him performing at least to his averages, the Spurs are going to have a tough time. (and if you read KD over at BDL, you’ll get more on Manu against the Lakers this year.

• Did I mention that having Kobe on your team can be a really, really great thing?

• For those of you (such as Reggie Miller) who think this is a deflating loss for the Spurs — do you know what team you are talking about? The team that has been counted out more times than Glass Joe only to get up and surprise people. The team that was down 2-0 to the Hornets and won the series. This team does not have four rings because it folds in the face of adversity.

• And I don’t think this series is the Spurs last chance either. We said that their weakness is their lack of depth, well next year they add Tiago Splitter to the front court and still have an improving Udoka, plus they have some cap room coming up to make another play or two. This team will not go quietly into that goodnight, not in this series or next season.

• If you want to read more good stuff, check out Hardwood Paroxysm’s recap.

• The Lakers hung in there on the boards, which is something they will have to do all series.

Lakers/Spurs Game 1 Chat

Kurt —  May 21, 2008

Nine months ago, no Laker fan in their right mind saw their team hosting the first round of the conference finals on a sunny mid-May day. We should all take a moment to bask in the warmth of that success, to look around and survey the situation and feel excited and proud today. Lakers fans should have their chests out, and we should all enjoy this feeling.

But there is a lot of work left for the team to do. And a lot of good analysis out there to talk about — I’d start with David Thorpe at ESPN.com — to catch up on before the game starts.

In a move that surprised absolutely nobody, Phil Jackson said yesterday that Paul Gasol will match up with Tim Duncan. He also suggested that the double will only come to help out in a few spots, or if Gasol gets in foul trouble. That matchup is one obvious key because if the Lakers have to double much a couple of quick passes will expose the Laker rotations. As has been said, it may be best to let Duncan score 40 but not get his teammates going at all.

That “don’t double” idea was supported in an interesting preview from friend-of-the-site Kevin Pelton over at Basketball Prospectus. He said that the Duncan/Gasol matchup, and how the Lakers do defensively against Tony Parker will be the key.

The big challenge for the Lakers will be defending Parker running the pick-and-roll. When these teams last squared off in the postseason, the Lakers could simply go under picks and sag into the paint against Parker. Now, Parker is too dangerous when allowed to shoot off the dribble to make that a reasonable strategy. In Fisher, the Lakers have a physical defender against Parker who can body him up and try to push him away from the screen. Still, Parker averaged 20.7 points and shot 56.5% against the Lakers in the regular season; finding a way to slow him down with a big man showing hard against the pick-and-roll or even trapping Parker to get the ball out of his hands will be key.

The other troublesome matchup for the Lakers, naturally, is Duncan in the post. Los Angeles can’t afford serious foul trouble for either Gasol or Odom, and neither is a great matchup for Duncan down low in terms of pure strength. If the Lakers double-team, they must try to do so off of Parker and with the other big man on the floor instead of allowing the Spurs’ wing players to get open looks from downtown. However, over the course of the series, the Hornets found out how difficult that can be. San Antonio got much better three-point looks late in the series than in the early going, a major factor in their comeback. The wisest course for Phil Jackson and his coaching staff may be playing Duncan one-on-one and doing everything possible to keep everyone else quiet. The more minutes the Lakers can steal with Ronny Turiaf defending Duncan, the better.

Personally, I agree with the commenters that you go under the pick if it is set out by the three-point line (at least until TP shows he is hot for that game) but you need to show out or trap from the top of the key in.

While Fisher will get some key time on Parker so will Jordan Farmar, and that was the topic of coach Anthony L. Macri, Jr. (one of the IMG guys) in in another Basketball Prospectus piece about the key role players in the conference finals. One thing he said is that Utah took Farmar out of his game, didn’t let him push the pace, but that if he can get back to that it would be a big boost against a Spurs team that likes to slow it down. Then there was this about Farmar’s defense.

Farmar can breathe a sigh of relief now that he will not have to guard a physical, strong-bodied guard like Williams. Instead, he gets to guard a player more akin to his own style in Tony Parker. While Farmar is not at all at the level of a player like Parker, his quick feet and defensive pressure will allow him to stay in front of Parker most of the time….

One thing we all agree on is that Lamar Odom is the X-Factor in this series — the Spurs have nobody who can really cover him if he is aggressive. If you want to hear from Odom on why he’s playing better with Pau, that’s one of the questions he answers in a new video up on his site.

And while we’re doing the audio (without the visual), I took part in the Hoops Addict podcast for this round, along with Matt from Detroit Bad Boys and AOL Fanhouse, Jeff from Celtics Blog , Natalie from Need 4 Sheed and Holly from Slam Magazine. Those other people are really worth listening to.

For an opposing view point, check out the quality Pounding The Rock blog. Over at SportsHubLA the have a veritable plethora of posts, including some good stuff on Phil and Pops and the latest from Roland Lazenby.

My final thoughts — this is not going to be easy, but a big key for the Lakers will be getting a few easy buckets. It is hard to push the pace on the Spurs (they rebound well and don’t turn the ball over usually) but if the Lakers, especially the second unit, can get some runs it will go a long way toward putting the Lakers in the Finals.

Like everything against the Spurs, it’s easier said than done, but the Lakers know what they have to do.

Lakers/Spurs, A First Look

Kurt —  May 20, 2008

This series is going to be an interesting chess match, as both teams have some very powerful offensive weapons and both play impressive defense (although the Lakers tend to be more spotty on that end).

Some will say you can’t take much from the Lakers/Spurs meetings this past season (the Lakers only had Gasol for one of the games, the Spurs were without key players in both losses), but I think when you look back you see some things that will be trends in this series.

April 13, Lakers 106, Spurs 85. The Spurs were without Ginobili, who was out with a groin strain, but stayed even through the first half. The Lakers started the second half with a 17-6 run and never looked back.

The trends: Most importantly second half was one of the Lakers better defensive halves of the season, and they did something I think we may well see again to defend Duncan. From Bill Bridges at the time:

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.

Also, the Lakers had a very balanced attack in the win, with six players in double digits but no one with more than 20 points – that depth is something the Lakers can use to their advantage in this series. We can debate which team has the better top three, but the Lakers are much better 4 through 10 and that is something they can and should exploit.

Finally, Lamar Odom had 17 points, 14 boards and was a game-best +26. He will have to have more big games like that for the Lakers to advance, the Spurs have some big bodies but will have time matching the speed of both Gasol and Odom.

January 23, Spurs 103, Lakers 91. This was the Lakers in between Bynum and Gasol. The Lakers still jumped out to a 14 point second quarter lead and led at the half, the Spurs came out with a 14-0 run to start the second half and a 15-2 run at the end of the quarter sealed the Spurs win.

The trend: The Spurs pulled away thanks to very good on the ball pressure that stopped the Lakers ball movement and got the Lakers into isolation. In this series the Lakers cannot revert to that game, they need the offense to continue as it has recently against the best defensive team than they have faced in a while.

December 13. Lakers 102, Spurs 97. Not a lot you can take away from this, Duncan and Parker missed the game, and the Lakers got Ginobili in foul trouble so he missed much of the game.

The trend: The Lakers starters still got outplayed, it was the Lakers bench that won the game (all the starters had negative +/- numbers for the game). We mentioned depth before but it bears repeating.

November 13, Spurs 107, Lakers 92. Parker and Ginobili drove into the lane at will, the Lakers defense collapsed on them, and on the kick-outs Bowen went 6 of 6 from beyond the arc.

The trend: As the season wore on the habit of the Lakers to collapse in the paint off three-point shooters has decreased, but it is not something they can revert to in this series. The Spurs thrive on the three, they averaged nearly 20 a game during the regular season, and they hit 36.9% of them as a team because they get good looks. Duncan can demand the double team, and the penetration of Parker and Ginobili can mean open looks on kick-outs. The Lakers cannot sag into the paint and give the Spurs shooters looks from beyond the arc.

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There is something mentioned in several comments and stories – that Pau Gasol has played Tim Duncan tough through the years. Some say that dates all the way back to the 2004 Olympics when Gasol dominated Duncan.

We’ll see if it is true, but I tried to look back at the Spurs games against Memphis from this season where the two played and measured the +/-. I should note I don’t know how much of the time Gasol was directly matched up with Duncan, so consider these numbers very crude.

On Oct. 31, Gasol was +10, Duncan had 17 points on 46% shooting. On November 23, Gasol was -6, Duncan had 28 points on 82% shooting. December 30, Gasol -19, Duncan had 24 points of 50% shooting.

I’m not sure we take anything from that, just throwing the numbers out there.

UPDATE: KD reminds me that he looked at the Gasol/Duncan matchup way back at the start of the playoffs, and he has a lot more info than I did. Because he’s damn good.

Game 7 Watching, Plus The East

Kurt —  May 19, 2008

I guess I should start this out with some thoughts on Andrew Bynum (this is a Lakers blog and all). I think all we can do now is hope this surgery goes well, solves the lingering problems and wish him godspeed on his recovery. Having him back next year healthy and confident is what we need.

Tonight we find out who the Lakers face off against starting Wednesday at Staples (games then follow every other day after that until we have a winner). Sure, I’ll be watching this game and the matchups with a WWPJD eye (What Would Phil Jackson Do?) but I hope as a fan we are not treated to another 20-point blowout in NO.

Just a few thoughts about the Spurs/Hornets matchup. I think the most safe prediction after watching the rest of this series — the third quarter will be key.

For the Hornets, they need to keep Tim Duncan quiet, which means taking the risk that Fabricio Oberto might have a huge night. San Antonio has been willing at times to run the offense through Oberto in the post, and he has set up others and Duncan with smart interior passing — the Hornets need to cut that off, make Oberto the shooter. Bottom line, if Oberto beats you it wasn’t meant to be, but you can’t let Duncan beat you.

The other problem the Hornets face is Ginobili — they don’t have a good answer for him man-on-man (the same way they don’t have a good one for Kobe). He could just go off, and if he does the rotations and adjustments would open up room for Duncan and Parker.

On offense, the Hornets need a good night from David West — CP3 is a stud, but it takes more than one man to win a game 7 (well, outside of Boston). He needs to get some early buckets inside, he needs to force the double team, which opens things up for both Paul and Peja.

One other thing to watch — which bench has the better night. Neither of these teams has a great bench, but if one team’s role guys can step up it will be a huge advantage. I think this one is going to be close. At least I hope so.

After yesterday’s entertaining game 7 back East, I’ve seen a few people suggest that whoever comes out of the West should easily handle whoever comes out of the East. That wasn’t pretty, up-tempo basketball we saw yesterday, not like NO or LA play. But I’ll give you one reason the Pistons or Celtics will be no pushover:

Defense.

They both play it and play it well, which is why any team out of the East has a shot in the Finals (against whomever comes out of the West). Do you remember the two Laker games against Boston this season? That flowing Lakers offense came to a grinding halt, the Celtics clogged passing lanes and kept Laker players from their preferred positions on the floor. Yes, the Lakers are playing much better now than they were then, but don’t for a moment think the Finals will be a cake walk.

And, I think it will be Detroit in the Finals. Yes, they played the lesser opponent in the second round, but don’t they look like they have all the aspects of their game together in a way Boston only shows in spurts?

First things first – The Jazz are a very good basketball team. To be honest, before the playoffs they scared me as much as either of the two teams remaining on the other side of the bracket. Maybe more, because our best antidote to what they do is named Andrew Bynum and he wasn’t playing.

That win was the latest chapter in a now-growing rivalry with the Jazz. And it’s one that’s going to continue for years – the Jazz, Lakers and Hornets are young teams that will be fighting each other for the right to play in the finals for the next four years or so.

But that’s the future and what we are focused on now is a few days from now, when the Lakers start the Western Conference finals. I don’t have a big preference between the two remaining teams, both present a lot of problems (like two very fast point guards, a long-running Lakers problem), and both teams play good defense. But both have things you can attack, starting with the Lakers are deeper than both of them and should win the battles of the bench. One other plus — just like last round the Lakers are resting up while their opponent will play Monday night then have to turn around 24 hours later off an emotional high and carry that two-thirds of the way across the country. That gives the Lakers a big boost for game one.

And here are some notes on the Lakers playoff stats:

Compared to the regular season, the Lakers are scoring 3 more points 100 possessions, their offense is really clicking. One key reason is they are doing better – they are getting more shots right at the rim. In the regular season, 64% of the Lakers shots were jumpers, 36% were in close, but in the playoffs that has increased to 40%. Obviously, you shoot a higher percentage in close, so getting more shots there means more points (even if we are talking just four shots a game, that likely means two more makes and four more points a game, and that matters).

That is making up for the fact the Lakers are giving up four more points per 100 possessions on defense. The reason there is the same problem in reverse – during the season the Lakers forced opponents to shoot jumpers on 65% of their attempts, in the playoffs that is down to 58%. Part of that is skewed by the Jazz, who can pound the ball inside so well. But protecting the rim is something the Lakers have to do in the next round. (The Lakers are also giving up more shots in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock, but playing the running Nuggets and a Jazz team that isn’t afraid to run, that number is skewed.)

We’re not going to Hollywood like the Lakers to watch the game as a team. But we will be watching tomorrow night, and looking at the matchups and more.