Archives For May 2008

Lakers/Jazz Game 6 Chat

Kurt —  May 16, 2008

I want to touch upon a throw-away line from a recent Kobe radio interview (by Petro and Money on 570).

Kobe noted that he grew up in Italy, plus you have the international influence of Pau Gasol, Vladimir Radmanovic, Sasha Vujaic, even Ronny Turiaf (despite going to Gonzaga). He then said all of them grew up playing soccer.

I’m far from a soccer expert, but what are the key parts to a successful attack in soccer — spacing the pitch, moving without the ball and quick touches.

When the Lakers are playing the triangle offense well, all three of those things are on display. And, as was noted before in this great Basketball Prospectus article, when the Lakers are running the triangle and moving off the ball, they score a lot more.

I just thought that connection was an interesting one. Some other thoughts about tonight’s big game six:

• Expect Utah to play its best game, to play with an increased level of desperation and desire. The Lakers need to match that. If you thought after a tough game five loss Utah might be depressed and fold, I have to ask — have you watched the Jazz at all this series?

• The only way to slow D-Will on the pick-and-roll is to mix up the coverages, and the Lakers did a better job of that last game. When they trapped him on the P&R it was particularly effective, and the Lakers may want to save that look for some key possessions.

• Note to Jazz fans complaining about the game five officiating: That’s not why you lost. The Jazz turned the ball over on 20.4% of your possessions. That is why you lost.

Looking ahead to tonight, if the Lakers can again keep up the more intense on-ball pressure from game five, pick their spots jumping the passing lanes, play solid defense that forces Utah into more jumpers — which in turn often pushes them to make more dangerous passes trying to get good shots — they can force a high percentage of turnovers again and get a win on the road.

• Speaking of turnovers, one constant in this series is that the team that has done more running, got more points in transition or early, unscripted offense, has been the winner. The Lakers need to look to push the ball (but not settle for the three in transition) and they need to have good transition defense to stop the Jazz from getting easy buckets.

For a great breakdown of tonight’s game, check out David Thorpe at ESPN.com.

It would be nice have a few days off to rest while the Spurs and Hornets go one more round, but tonight will be the toughest game to win of the series. It means the Lakers will have to play their best game yet to get a win.

Game 5 Live Blog

Kurt —  May 14, 2008

Another nomuskles live blog for your viewing pleasure.

Pregame
Boston holds serve at the Garden (after a few shaky moments) and the Lakers attempt to stay perfect on the Staples Center hardwood floor during these 2008 Playoffs. We’ll obviously be watching Kobe’s back to see how he’s doing with his extra day off.

1st Quarter
TNT doesn’t want to show us the game. They’re making us watch the end of this Boston-Cavaliers torture test. Phew. Lebron doesn’t push it. Zoom to LA!
Lakers up 5-0 on two Kobe Bryant shots. Jazz are trying to change up their luck by using the powder blue uniforms that suck monkey balls from a design standpoint. You can’t read the names or numbers or anything because it’s dark blue on a fairly dark blue. Whoever decided these would work needs help.
9:30 – The Jazz first four points come on wide open dunks. First Brewer took the ball away from Fisher and had his own fast break and then the Lakers suffered a breakdown in the halfcourt.
9:08 – Okay, three dunks. Brewer gets another dunk.
8:53 – AK47 turns away the Gasol jump hook. Great play. Ronnie Brewer gets a layin on the other end.
8:25 – Lamar has it in the middle and tries to go up. All kinds of contact on his head and the refs just call the ball out of bounds. Adding insult to injury they give the ball to the Jazz. I’m not sure how u justify that call.
7:59 – Lakers finally play some good defense and get a 24 second violation. Sarcastic clap.
7:43 – Kobe raises up over Brewer and hits a very difficult fadeaway above the free throw lane.
7:07 – The Space Cadet nails a 20 foot jumper that was wide open because of a good down screen by Fisher on the weak side while D-Will got caught watching the ball. Timeout Jazz. 15 – 8 Lakers lead. I got to warn you. I was so angry last game. I’m not even in a good mood tonight. We’ll see if any humor makes its way into this one. Or maybe we’ll just see unabated sarcasm and mirth. Who says it can’t be both.
6:43 – Fisher mishandles the ball out of bounds. Whoopsee.
6:25 –Brewer shoots the 21 footer from the right wring and I’m okay with him shooting that. He misses it. Anything but those easy dunks please.
5:48 – Williams picks up his first foul on a Fisher drive to the bucket. Fisher is lucky that was a foul because there was no one to follow for the offensive rebound on the inevitable missed layup.
5:27 – Ronnie Brewer is fed for another layer on a flex cut. This is absurd. Kobe needs to quit this ridiculousness. Just because he is the MVP doesn’t mean the guy he’s guarding is garbage. This is the part of Kobe’s game that frustrates me the most. He falls asleep on defense and lets his man go back door way too often. It’s a symptom of his lack of respect for the man he’s guarding.
4:31 – With a Kirilenko bucket, the Jazz are now within 3. 19-16.
4:09 – The Space cadet hits a 3 to slow the Jazz mini run. The TNT guys make a joke that they think he’s heard Phil Jax’s baritone voice. ::chuckles by Harlan and Collins:: I wasn’t laughing because his uninspired play has been hurting us. Why doesn’t he always play with purpose and intensity? When is it a contract year for him?
3:35 – VladRad hits another one from the left corner in semi transition! Assist from LO!
2:52 – We go to timeout after a Kirilenko jumper with the Lakers up 25-18.
2:45 – The Lakers try to run an alley oop with Kobe and I cringe. With a bad back that’s a dangerous play as he gets met in the air by Milsap. Doug Collins makes the same point.
2:19 – Kobe picks up a stupid foul on Harpring underneath the basket.
2:10 – Milsap gets the rebound off the missed freethrow. The Lakers need to figure out how to keep him off the glass or I’m going to have to figure out how to dislodge my remote from my TV.
1:42 – Lakers make a great defense play to take the ball away from Boozer and then Kobe and Luke flub it in transition. Korver nails the three on the return. Excuse me while I type the rest of this without the pinky I just gnawed off.
1:13 – Farmar checks in. I predict he’ll have a great close to the quarter. It should be noted that if we are seeing Farmar this late, it means Fisher stayed out of foul trouble.
0:20 – Kobe is dribbling at half court against Harpring.
0:07 – Kobe loses the ball against Harpring. This is stupid. He makes an unnatural basketball motion but doesn’t draw contact so he won’t be suspended. Korver comes back the other way and feeds Boozer streaking down the middle. He draws a foul on Lamar. If you’re a Lakers fan you only see Boozer’s left arm pushing Lamar out of the way. If you’re a Jazz fan you see…well I dunno. I’m not a jazz fan. They can make their own excuses for the ref’s suckitude. So far, the refs have been mediocre for both sides. Boozer makes one of two and the Lakers are up 29-26 as the quarter comes to a close. That quarter was a C+ for the Lakers and a C for the Jazz.

2nd Quarter

11:20 – Lakers are really hustling coming out of the break. It’s the bench mob and Pau. Pau gets a rebound off a Jordan miss and dunks it!
10:40 – D-Will is back in quickly to see if he can settle things. The chaotic thing is working in the Lakers’ favor for whatever reason. Nope. Utah turns it over.
10:16 – Farmar drills a three. Absolutely drills it. Hands up together, down together. We’ll see if that’s the ex-lax or just a one off.
9:44 – Gasol hits a nice looking set shot. 36-29 Lakers.
9:27 – D-Will draws a foul on Farmar.
8:57 – D-Will makes a nice step back move against Farmar and hits a long two. 33-36
8:25 – Pau might be missing an ear. Millsap absolutely Van Gogh’d the guy three times before Pau could get a foul call. Great job by Pau to not be a weenie and keep on trying until he got a bucket or a foul. That’s Milsap’s third and I’m happy to see him sit down this early in the half. Kurt makes a great point in the comments. Both teams are giving the ball away at an incredible rate.
Coming back from the timeout, they’ve decided to give the foul to Ashton Kutcher instead of Milsap. So Milsap will stay in the game and harass the Spaniard some more. 38-33 Lakers after Pau hits both free throws.
8:15 – Sasha gets under Korver’s skin and Korver gets caught shoving Sasha on the offensive end. They won’t lose much as he takes as a seat because brewer comes back into the game.
7:36 – Lakers play great defense and it ends up in a steal! Kobe pummels his way into Harpring’s arm and draws the foul. Watch that back MVP. Also, this crowd blows. Freaking golf claps. I hate Staples Center.
7:19 – Okur is too open. He can’t make it.
7:12 – SARCASM ALERT: Oh, you mean if you trust your teammates they hit shots for you? I’m shocked. Kobe passes it back to a wide open Vujacic who nails a three. Where was that trust in overtime, you guppy?
6:56 – Pau doesn’t box Boozer out and boozer gets away with his elbow/forearm shove in the small of the back to get an offensive rebound and putback. I wouldn’t make that call if I were the ref either but it’s a very savvy move. Lakers fans, don’t be upset at boozer for doing that move, be upset at Pau for being weak sauce.
6:28 – fisher hits a shot to make it 45-35 Lakers.
6:13 – Doug Collins can’t shut up. He’s in my brain. He’s in my brain. Jazz throw it out of bounds.
5:53 – Lakers pass up a couple of outside shots to try and get an inside shot and get Pau two free throws. I like this. It’s not part of the triangle necessarily, but it’s much better than the watch Kobe/Lebron and stand around isolation offense. Lakers have cleaned up their turnovers a little bit here and have made a small surge while the jazz have not. Maybe Kurt should become a commentator. Same score as before.
Pau misses the first makes the second in a nod to his linemate Lamar.
5:41 – Kobe picks up his second foul on D-Will. Harlan can’t stop talking about Deron Williams as the “throttle” of Utah. Call me a cynic, but I don’t think it’s particularly clever or insightful.
5:25 – Lakers run pick and roll with Kobe and Gasol which we haven’t seen a whole lot of success with but this time we get a nice layup for Gasol. Doug says it’s called a “squeeze.” Jazz answers with a nice jumper. 48-39 Lakers.
4:36 – Vujacic tightropes the baseline tracking down a rebound and those hustle plays are going to win us the game tonight. This leads to another semi transition bucket where Lamar just takes it in himself and gets a layup. 51-39 Lakers up. Jazz turn the ball over in the paint and then Kobe returns the favor by missing Derek Fisher by about 5 feet and passing the ball to Jerry Sloan who is neither a Laker nor an eligible player. I feel like John Madden would be perfect for this situation. “well, the goal is not to turn the ball over so many times so that you can keep the ball in your possession more often. Boom. And that’s how they’re going to score.” Lakers turn the ball over and AK47 dunks it with no one in the same zip code.
3:55 – Mehmet insults Lamar’s mother with that shot. Right in his eye. Three pointer is good. 44-51.
3:21 – Two great passes by Fisher here. A post entry from beyond half court into Pau. I’m not sure how that one got through. And then a pass over the top into Lamar who had only a small bit of sunlight underneath the rim. Two points over the outstretched fingertips of Andrei.
3:00 – CJ Miles, with no regard for human life. That’s not right. Nasty.
2:47 – Candace Parker and Lisa Leslie are shown on TV at the game. 53-46.
2:36 – CJ Miles hits a nice jumper with high elevation over Vujacic.
2:23 – Pau throws too tough a pass and Lamar can’t get it. TO again.
1:51 – Let it not be said that Lamar can guard Deron Williams. He can’t. Deron Williams used him like a steering wheel. First this way then that way. Step back J. two points.
1:15 – Pau outsprints everyone in transition and Kobe finds him for a nice dunk.
1:00 – Utah within 3.
0:52 – Pau gets a nice turn around jumper in the paint. 52-57.
0:34 – LAKERS STEAL IT! Kobe gets an easy layin
0:21 – Deron Williams takes it hard to the bucket and gets “fouled” by Lamar. As much as someone holding their arms straight up and down can foul someone anyway.
0:16 – Kobe will play for the final shot. It’s 54-59. No look pass to Lamar who BLOWS it! Oh no. But SUPER PAU is there to save the day! Puts it back like how Lamar saved Kobe at the end of regulation the other night. 61-54 Lakers are up going into halftime. Lakers need to come out strong in the third quarter. I need to do some dishes. Be right back.

Halftime
Avery Johnson at halftime. Nothing useful.
Kobe wasn’t imposing his will on the game in the first half. I’m okay with that plan unless the Jazz are deciding to go one on one or the offense starts to sputter. Then I think Kobe needs to take Brewer and Harpring and Kirilenko to school.

3rd Quarter
Stupid note: I just noticed that the Lakers and the Jazz are going the direction that they usually go in the first half. That is to say, when the Lakers play at Staples, they usually shoot at the left basket (on TV) first. Tonight, they are going to shoot at that basket during the second half.
11:49 – Brewer starts it off with a couple of free throws to close the gap to a five point lead.
11:20 – Jazz have powers of levitation. The ball hovers in mid air as Boozer picks it up and scores the layup.
10:58 – Fisher hits a nice looking two pointer from the left side. 63-58.
10:31 – Williams works extremely hard to bump Fisher off with no time left on the clock. And makes it.
9:50 – The Lakers decide they don’t want to win. Lamar throws it away. Two points for AK47.
9:23 – Everyone is focused on the turnovers. It’s all TNT wants to talk about.
8:59 – Cookies. Kirilenko picks Kobe’s pocket and the refs bail him out by calling a reaching foul.
8:50 – Great left runner by Lamar. 67-62.
8:31 – AK-47 drives from the right wing into the paint and Odom is the help defender. Boy, if that was a car crash, Kirilenko was the monster truck and Odom was the Honda Civic making the left turn. Lamar gets attention from Vitti for a cut. Kirilenko makes two free throws. Radman misses a wide-open 13 footer. Williams comes back and drives the line drawing a foul. He makes two. Utah down one.
8:05 – Lakers fans still aren’t loud. Even with a chance to re-extend the lead.
7:34 – Deron Williams ties the game with a three.
7:16 – A beautiful dish to Brewer on the fast break. Oh ruined by the traveling call. That was nice. Still 69-69.
6:35 – Now he’s there, now he’s not. Williams was mismatched on Kobe and Kobe told Lamar to get the hell out of the way because he was keeping Kirilenko in a help position. Lamar goes away and poor little Williams is left all alone in the post against Kobe. It’s just not fair. No double teams comes and before you can scream uncle, Kobe makes a delicious spin move and Deron Williams literally falls down on his face because he was trying to lean into Kobe. Kobe gets the easy layup with all the Jazz players around the free throw line to watch. If I’m Williams I say to my teammates, “umm guys, that would’ve been a great time to provide some help in the form of a double team since we were, you know, tied and all.” I’m sorry, that gets re-watched via DVR. It’s better the second time around.
It’s Kobe time lakes fans.
5:53 – beautiful feed by Kobe into Lamar who used his forearm to gain separation from a soft Okur.
5:25 – Kobe disrespects Brewer again and Brewer gets an offensive tip in. 71-73 Lakers. That’s enough of your ego Mr. Bryant. Leave that somewhere else. I don’t want it. Guard him. He’s proven he can score. You are not above boxing out and you are not above playing good defense. If you don’t, you are going to cost the team the game and we will all point our finger at you instead of the domestiques.
4:13 – Utah ties it 73+73.
3:55 – Kobe tries to dunk it against Okur but comes up a few inches short. A healthy back and he might’ve slammed it home. He draws the foul and he misses both free throws.
3:37 – Milsap is the aggressor and fouls Kobe’s arms on the rebound but no foul is called. The only damage on that one is a Luke foul as Brewer is unable to convert the open shot. Lamar takes his train into the middle and gets a foul on Millsap. He makes both free throws. 75-73 Lakers up.
2:41 – Missed opportunities. Deron Williams steps on the endline after a Lakers turnover. The jazz haven’t been able to leap frog the Lakers even the Lakers don’t seem to want to hang onto the lead. I’m not even nervous. Before this, Doug Collins tells us that it was strategy to have Kobe sit in the lap of Carlos boozer and let Brewer take all those shots. I call BS. It’s fine to let brewer shoot open jumpers, it is not okay to let brewer shoot wide open layups, dunks, and forget to block him out on the glass. That was not part of the plan. And that is what Kobe has done tonight.
2:31 – Kobe finds himself back at the line. Drains the first. Shortarms the second. 76-73 Lakers still up.
2:05 – brewer gets another dunk. Someone just punch me in the kidney and take me to the hospital already.
1:58 – Kobe makes Harpring’s stratagem look silly. He’ll take the free two points. 78-75. Harpring hits a shot on the other end. 78-76.
1:34 – Lawrence Tanter gets his Kobeeeeeeeeeeee Bryant on. Kobe doesn’t get touched because he somehow became a gymnast overnight but he gets the foul call anyway and makes the layup for good measure. Converts the three-point play. 77-81.
1:24 – Milsap fakes the three point shot from the top of the arc and Lamar doesn’t bite at all. You can see him thinking “no way man. You’re more scared of Sloan’s reaction to you taking that shot than I’m scared of you making that shot.” Harpring gets fouled and makes two free throws. 79-81.
0:50 – Milsap barrels into Lamar’s quickly shuffling feet and gets called for the offensive foul. That’s his fourth. I breathe a sigh of relief. Utah is going zone. Walton can’t make them pay. Left corner three is clankers.
0:08 – Price hits a running layup.
0:00 – Everyone’s favorite takes the last second shot and it goes…not in. so much for redemption.

4th Quarter
The crowd is barely above a golf clap with the scored tied at 81. ::shakes head:: Lakers going with a very melanin-deficient side. Pau, Farmar, Walton, Radmanovic, and Vujacic. Jazz the same with Williams, Kirilenko, Okur, Korver, and Harpring.
11:37 – The Space Cadet drains a three. 84-81 Lakers.
11:17 – Chants of defense and Lakers finally get a decent stop.
9:54 – Harpring fouls Walton fading away at the end of the shot clock in the post. Luke makes the second one. 85-84.
9:18 – the bench mob is still hustling. They are picking up some loose balls.
8:58 – GASOL =Michael Jordan?
Williams gets into the paint too easy. Layup. One point lead for the good guys.
8:39 – Farmar says, HAVE SOME. He’ll have a chance at a three point play after the timeout. 90-86 Lakers up.

Kirilenko gets a nice layup at the basket beating
7:54 – I’m not gonna finish that sentence. Oh my. With no regard for human life! Lamar slams it home over the Utah defense. Assist for Kobe. 92-88.
7:19 – great hustle by Kirilenko. He isn’t able to corral the ball but that’s a nice job trying to get the rebound.
6:53 – terrible call by the officials. They say Kirilenko shoved Vujacic who stupidly tried to take on AK-47 in the open court instead of pulling it back. Vujacic was bailed out. 88-94. That should’ve been Jazz ball out of bounds.
6:42 – There’s a terrible call on the other end. Boozer pummels Gasol in the post and somehow Gasol is responsible. I’m not sure what is going no. the refs are shutting their eyes.
6:19 – OH MY! GASOL to ODOM! Down the Lane. Lamar with the slam! And the foul. 97-91.
6:01 – Boozer is having a rough go of it. He traveled in the lane. By all accounts, he seems like a classy guy (except that deal with the contract in Cleveland). I feel bad for him. He’s a great player. I’m not gonna lie, though. I’m glad he hasn’t reached his potential during this series so far. He could have destroyed us with his skill set.
5:33 – I think we’ll win. Only ahead by four. But I like our chances.
Deron Williams must have the biggest testicles in the history of the world. He’s been hurt like three times in this series. That’s more than anyone I’ve ever seen while watching basketball. I’ve never been hurt in the gonads playing basketball. Take what you want from that statement.
4:18 – it’s a foul fest. I thought American gladiators was on NBC…
Fisher gets two free throws to fall 99-94.
Boozer doesn’t convert his layup. Williams curses him.
3:34 – Kobe gets a high rebound and oof. I thought he was going to tweak is back. He looks okay.
3:15 – the machine needs more oil. Missed the three.
A bunch of commenters are starting to note that the Lakers are falling in love with the three pointer even though the inside game is what has been going so well this game. Chalk that up to fatigue. Let’s hope Phil reminds them during the timeout to keep the inside attack going. That effect where they play the video on the outside of staples center is sweet. Whoever came up with that deserves a pat on the back.
3:07 – Set play for a Kirilenko distribution who finds Boozer in the paint for a strong layup. Nice conversion out of the timeout by them.
2:43 – Fisher gets fouled away from the ball and he’ll get to make free throws without being reminded that his daughter has retinoblastoma.
2:41 – Vujacic earns a technical foul. For talking to Korver. Whoops. Korver knocks down the free one. 101-97.
2:15 – Killer shot by the jazz. They fumble it around for a while. Kirilenko gets blocked. Deron Williams gets it and Robert Horry’s it home from the top of the key. Fisher came so close to fouling him but didn’t put up any defense to the shot. You’d rather have him take the shot than foul him and give him three free throws but man, that was a huge bucket. 3 points. Jazz down by only 1.
Lakers fans decide they’ll stand now. Punks. They should’ve been standing this whole damn quarter.
1:55 – Nope. Mid clock doesn’t work for Vujacic either. Lakers rebound and Kobe finds Lamar for the easy dunk. Kobe’s seventh assist.
1:18 – Lamar and fisher had to switch assignments which means Lamar had a tough time defending Deron and then on the rebound, fisher couldn’t keep Okur off the boards.
1:00 – Pau with a strong lefty layup around Okur. 105-102. I’m glad we didn’t have Kwame. For that one.
0:48 – Okur misses.
0:20 – Vujacic can’t make a basket to save his life (Kobe trusted him again) and somehow Pau pushes Okur out of the way to get to the offensive rebound. I don’t think there was a foul there (some embellishment for sure on Okur’s part) but maybe. I’d be willing to entertain the complaints of the Jazz fans. Anyway, no foul called. Pau collects the rebound in his lap and dunks it. Huge. That should pretty much end it. 107-102.
If we manage to lose this one at this point, I’m going to break windows. Double pane windows. I might have broken hands but there are about 36 windows in this house and I’ll get through all of them if we manage to lose at this point.
0:19 – Williams shoots it fast for three and misses. Fisher gets the rebound and is fouled. The game is pretty much sewn up but he can make it sewner. He misses the first one. Makes the second. 108-102.
With all these home court wins, why do we even play these games? Who will be the next team to win on the road? Will there be another team?
My quick thoughts: Lamar and Pau were the difference makers tonight and it was great to have a contributing Radman although he was kind of canceled out by a non-contributing Vujacic.
Final score is 111-104. Lakers are one win away from the Western Conference Finals.

Lakers/Jazz Game 5 Chat

Kurt —  May 14, 2008

UPDATE: Over at Basketball Prospectus, coach Anthony Macri (part of the IMG team in Florida, so you know he knows his stuff) broke down the Laker offense from game four and looked ahead to game five. Below is just part of it, but if you read just one preview of tonight read his, it’s the best thing on the Laker offense in a while:

Before Game Five, the Lakers will look back at the tape of this game and conclude that the more ball and player movement they can get out of the Triangle offense, the better off their attack will be. In the press conference after Game Four, Jackson and Bryant indicated a desire to run their offense with more efficiency and go to Bryant as an option late in the shot clock. This would seem a much better tactic for the Lakers, for Bryant’s supporting cast seems content to watch him too much early in the shot clock. Gasol is able to score seemingly at will against this Jazz team, as they simply do not have the height or athleticism to deal with a player of his ability. The Lakers managed to score on seven of the 12 possessions they were in the Triangle and hit the post player, cutting off of his shoulders to either side. In what is known as their “solo-cut” series, in which they isolate a post player and a wing player on one side of the floor and the wing cuts through opposite after entering the ball into the post, the Lakers managed to score on six of 10 possessions. While the Lakers are consistently labeled a softer, finesse team, they really do make a living going to the post. They should look to increase their post-touch possessions to somewhere between 25 and 30 in Game Five.

In addition, expect a stronger emphasis on scoring in early offense, as the Lakers attacked in transition just under 20% of the time, converting 52.4% of those possessions. By standing around in isolations and relying on other sets that lack ball and player movement, the Jazz’ slow-footed defenders had an easier time defending the Lakers. With their long, athletic, multi-skilled players, the Lakers have a decided advantage in full-court offense despite their lack of a star point guard.

Finding the right mix to showcase and take advantage of the versatility of the Lakers’ attack has occupied the coaching staff over the last two days. With the extra day in between these two games, and provided Bryant’s back is strong enough to allow him to play at a high level, expect the Lakers to get back to their high level of play on the offensive side of the floor on Wednesday evening.

Now on with our regularly-scheduled preview:

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I think Mark Heisler is right. (Hey, it was bound to happen.) At times we fans can be a little harsh on players — on Kobe for not running the offense in overtime, despite playing through enough pain to bench every other player in the league. On Jordan Farmar for having the temerity to slump in his second year in the league. On Pau for not playing in the paint like Bynum.

Tonight, I expect to see a lot of support from the fans, and I expect to see a lot of positives.

That list of positives starts with the fact the Lakers were just a made corner three from Odom or a couple of made free-throws away from stealing a game in Utah (with that comeback it would have been a steal). This is a series the Lakers should still win.

To do that they need to get back to some things from the first two games — and as it has all season for the Lakers the key is on the defensive end. Last game Utah continued its trend of improving its offensive efficiency with each game (up to 119 points per 100 possessions last game). Some of the reason for that efficiency is the Lakers missed shots (and turnovers) have sped up the Utah transition game. Darius has a few thoughts on how to slow that:

One thing I think we can do is find Deron early after Utah secures defensive rebounds. In the first half of Game 4, Deron went crazy in the open court and found ways to get easy outlet passes and push the pace (think Jason Kidd on team USA). This led to us cross matching in Utah’s *early offense* where no one was stopping the ball and ultimately leading to defensive breakdowns where Utah was able to burn us with lay ups and wide open jumpers because no one was finding their man. I think what hurt us, and Farmar, the most was that his lack of confidence led to concentration lapses. He was a little sulky (is that a word?) and was not transitioning from offense to defense effectively. Farmar (or Fisher or Sasha) need to be able to find Deron when he’s running out for the outlet pass and slow him down. Make him change direction. Funnel him to a side and keep him there. Basically, just try to ruin their early offense and make them work more for their buckets. When Deron gets an outlet pass running full speed, he’s a freight train…he just gets to the rim or occupies defenders and frees up other guys to get good looks. We have to slow this guy down a little; we can’t let him run around in the open court, we don’t have a guy that can stop him in that scenario.

Also, check out the comments from Renato (all the way from Spain Portugal) and Darius talking about dealing with the Jazz baseline picks.

On offense, the Lakers did one thing last game I liked — they got the ball more to Odom out in isolation when Boozer was on him. That is part of why Odom had a big game, the Lakers used his versatility to create mismatches on whoever guarded him. Pound AK-47 inside. Sloan puts Boozer on him to muscle Odom out of the paint and the Lakers counter with more wing isolation (same if Harpring was on him). The Lakers need to continue this as it not only is good for Odom but helps create matchup issues that help Kobe and Gasol.

I have about as good a chance plunking my money down on the right number at a roulette table as I do accurately predicting Vladimir Radmanovic’s play on any given night. That said, often when Phil calls him out in the press (as he did yesterday talking about the return of Ariza to practice) Vlad responds with some of his best play. I just have a feeling this is his breakout game.

I know we are a little tired of this topic, but I put these numbers out there (with three caveats): As the primary defender on D-Will in game four, Fisher was 0, Farmar was -9 and Sasha was +6. Now, the three caveats (meaning don’t read too much into those numbers): 1) Fisher still had the most time on him and Sasha the least, that would impact things; 2). This breakdown is statistically crude and going off of popcornmachine.net’s numbers not tracking the game film; 3) We are done with the Farmar bashing on this site. I think the numbers back up what we all saw with our eyes — Sasha is having more success as the second defender on Williams and needs to get more minutes in this series and in that matchup. But Farmar is not chopped liver and the days of unreasonable bashing him here are done. Unless you’d like Smush back.

Really, the big point guard issue for the Lakers is keeping Derek Fisher on the floor for more than the first four minutes of the first quarter — keeping him out of foul trouble. If you look at the raw playoff numbers so far, Fisher has the biggest impact on this team: he is +31.5 (meaning the Lakers outscore their opponents by that much per 48 minutes when he is on the floor) and Kobe is +15.2. Now (and stat-a-phobes and newbies) this in no way means Fisher is better than Kobe, but I think it says a lot about his impact at the point, both in this series and the last one, on defense and settling down the offense. The Lakers need him on the floor.

If you are going to the game tonight — be LOUD. This may not technically be a must win, but it’s about as close to that as it gets.

Playoff Fast Break Thoughts

Kurt —  May 13, 2008

Very interesting games on the docket to watch tonight, as we wait another day for the LAkers to take the court. Does home court hold sway in the Hornets/Spurs series?

• I am obligated to start this post off with a “Kobe will play” note, which I think we all expected anyway. The only real question is just how good his back feels come Wednesday night, and that is where having one more day off between games really helps. As Matt said at Fanhouse, 75% of Kobe is too much for Brewer.

• We’ve talked a lot about the refs in this series and how games are called, but to me an overlooked aspect of this is how teams adjust to the tone of the refs that night, or don’t. In the first two games, Utah adjusted to the tighter called games poorly; in Utah the Lakers adjusted slightly better but not fantasitcally. Next game, in LA, expect it to be called tighter and Jazz players to get in foul trouble early, unless this time they actually do adjust. Whatever the tone is the Lakers players (particularly Pau and Lamar) need to accept and adjust quickly to it.

• Speaking of the other two Lakers stars, in the comments yesterday DTC had some good stuff about how the Jazz are dealing with Gasol and Lamar in the post:

I noticed one defensive strategy in particular. Because Pau and Lamar are absolutely killer from the middle of the key, they are now sending a guard from the top side immediately – Pau always catches looking to make a move, and the guard, essentially coming from a blind side, surprises him, either stripping the ball or at least disrupting him enough for the defense to recover. For some reason the Lakers have not adjusted to this well.

Basically, Pau especially needs to hold on to the ball tighter and be ready for the little 2nd defender. More than that, he needs to look for the open shooter. Everytime the Jazz sends a guard down, Fish, Farmar or Sasha is wide open. That pass to one of them needs to be fast, and crisp. The guards also need to position themselves better to maximize spacing. But more than that, they need to start hitting their shots, period, or the Jazz will continue the tactic.

• I think the best line about Jordan Farmar’s struggles comes from one of the OG people around here, Dan Reines: “Am i the only one who remembers that choker Kobe Bryant heaving up four straight airballs against the Jazz? Whatever became of him?”

• Attention Statheads: Most of you probably know about this already, but I want to get a link up. It’s called The People’s Statistic. With most of your big-picture statistical metrics (PER, for example), all stats are not created equal. Meaning, an offensive rebound is worth more than a defensive rebound, a steal and an assist do not count for the same amount. People have put a lot of time and thought into how much what is worth. What this site is doing is opening that up to a vote of the people. It’s an interesting exersize worth checking out.

• Headline about the Dodgers that amused me yesterday (seen on the Dodgers news box on my iGoogle home page), from our fine friends at the AP: “Jones Struggles In 1st Season With Dodgers.” That’s funny, he struggled in his last season with the Braves. Coincidence?

Talking Points

Kurt —  May 12, 2008

After an exciting but disappointing weekend (outside of getting to spend time with Mom) it seems like a good day to take a step back from the analysis and just talk about a couple of interesting issues around the Association.

One came in an email from Mike, a regular reader of this site, but he’s not the only person asking this question: Why is the home court advantage in these NBA playoffs so stark?

I think of the scene in Hoosiers when the little town team walks into the big-city gym and the first thing coach Norman Dale does is pull out a tape measure and show that the rim is still 10-feet high and the free-throw line is still 15 feet away. However, what we have in the NBA are not small-town kids, but rather seasoned players who (regardless of their NBA role and status) have played in front of big crowds for years, have been team stars and have played on big stages.

So, why do the Celtics fall apart on the road? The home team has won all the Western Conference semi-final games. In the Spurs/Hornets series, the home team has been blowing out the opponent. Why the big switch?

I really don’t have an answer, but a couple things may play into it. First, teams are more comfortable in their own gym with their own fans, and that leads to a more aggressive style of play (by that I mean going to the rim more, playing tougher defense). Also, I think for many years NBA referees have been influenced by loud crowds.

But to me, that does not explain all of the disparity. What are your thoughts on that?

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Second, Mike D’Antoni is now the head coach of the New York Knicks. I totally understand why he took the job — the $24 million helps, plus he really can’t do worse than the previous coach and could be heralded as a savior in the nation’s biggest market — but I wonder how this will play out for the Knicks.

The current Knicks stars are horribly suited for what D’Antoni likes to do. (Well, they are terribly suited for any style of play.) There are some young guns (Lee, Chandler) who can start to form a nucleus of young running players, but there needs to be a big weeding out process.

What should happen is a three-year plan to totally rebuild that roster into something that can compete, but will he be allowed to do that in NY? Are he and the new GM on the same page in terms of the style and type of team they are trying to build?

Plus, it will be interesting to see what happens with the Suns. Bring in a new coach with a slightly more rigid offense that puts the clamps on Nash? Try to win running with Shaq? I think that whole thing implodes within two years, and the shrapnel falls at the feet of the owner.

What are your thoughts?

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Finally, one suggested read — the ESPN expose of OJ Mayo and how he got funneled to an agent. As Henry said at True Hoop, to me this is interesting not because of Mayo or USC but because this is one of the first real journalistic breakdowns of a system we all know has existed for years for big-time college players.

And I don’t think there is an easy fix.