Archives For August 2008

UPDATE: My worst-case scenario held sway for about the first 15-minutes of the game, but in the third quarter in particular the USA’s defense took over, and that was the difference. KD emphasized the defense and Kobe’s role in his great roundup.

Craig W. said the same thing in the comments:

All the flash and dash was the reason we lost those other basketball games this last decade. The people who win these things play in the trenches and stop the other people. Players the world over can score. It is defense and how you transition both ways that wins championships – FIBA or NBA. Kobe takes the best scorer on the other team and all people talk about is how Lebron and Wade dominated the scoring. What they dominated is the defense – then they scored.

Next up, Argentina. A very good team where pace will be the key, but we’ll get to that down the line. Today we enjoy a good win.

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Laugh if you want, but I think the Australia — and the following game if it is Argentina — are going to be a bigger test to the Americans than another match up with Spain. Australia may be the team most capable of the “Greece game” that beats the United States.

The reason is that Australia brings to the table a couple of the things that will slow the US.

First is what Patrick Mills brings — a point guard that the USA must respect and may not succumb to the pressure defense. So far in this tournament the USA has forced turnovers on 23% of opponent possessions, that has led to those fast-break baskets they thrive on. If Mills can again handle the pressure — which needs to come from Paul and not Kidd for much of the game — it will be one thing to slow the game.

And slowing the game will be key. The USA has averaged 81 possessions a game so far in the round-robin play, Australia is at 73 (Argentina, by the way, is at 69). If the Aussies get back on defense, if they don’t turn the ball over, that will be the first big step. The USA just needs to run — after makes and misses.

And the USA needs to force misses. Australia’s hybrid-Princeton offense is very effective — the USA has an offensive rating in the Olympics 126 (points per 100 possessions), but Australia is second at 125.1. They are deliberate but they can score, both on the back cuts that have killed the USA in the past and from three. The USA must be focused in its half-court defense, watch the cuts and close out on shooters.

That will mean Dwight Howard with a lot of one-on-one time with Andrew Bogut. Howard should be able to hold his own but he cannot get in foul trouble. While Bosh has been great Bogut may be able to be physical with him on the block on offense.

Despite all that, to lose I think the USA would have to go cold from the outside, and Australia hasn’t defended well. They have let teams shoot 60.4% (eFG%) and have a defensive rating of 110 (sixth in the games). Once again, the USA should be able to score, either in the half court or on the run.

But Australia will be the biggest test for the USA yet, and we are now in the one-and-done phase. Argentina in the next round could do the same thing (slow pace, good outside shooters, a defense as good or better than Spain’s).

Play focused, play like they have and the USA wins. But take a night off and……

By the way, I think Lithuania and Spain should move on, but the Greece/Argentina game could be interesting.

Vacation And Other Thoughts

Kurt —  August 18, 2008

I just got back from a vacation that included Chicago and the Detroit suburbs, and first things first, thanks to Reed for the breakdowns, Darius for his game thoughts, Gatinho for his history and game thoughts, and Nomuskles for filling that live-blog Jones we all had. This site never misses a beat with them around.

So, here are my pent-up thoughts on a whole range of issues.

• Chicago is an amazing and fun place, and hats off to a city willing to invest so much in fantastic public art like at Millennium Park. Those are the kind of things that really make a city. Of course, ask my kids what the best part was and they say pizza.

• We should get into the Lakers news. A couple weeks ago we were talking about “Tractor” Traylor and others as the possible back up big at the end of the bench next season, but it appears Josh Powell will get that role.

It’s a nice pick-up, one that fits with the team Mitch Kupchak has built in that he is a player whose skills fit what the Lakers do and need. Powell has good energy and is scrappy, and that shows mostly on the boards (he grabbed 15.6% of available rebounds last year with the Clippers, that’s the same percentage as Odom). He scores mostly at the basket but has a nice midrange jumper, although was a little slow to use it last year, and he sets a very good pick away from the basket. If he can do those things with the Lakers he will get some decent minutes.

Why take my word for it, look at what the brilliant Kevin at Clipper Blog said about Powell last season:

Josh Powell continues to show that he’s a serviceable frontcourt bench guy who can give you a quality screen up high.

I’d like to offer another endorsement of Josh Powell as a bona fide useful NBA piece. Back at NC State, he was an extremely active frontcourt player on both ends with more quickness than your average power forward. “Energy player” is a often a euphemism for a guy who is neither a small nor a power forward and I was initially skeptical that Powell could find a place on the floor except in those rare instances when a Boris Diaw-type is playing the 4, but his post defense has been solid. In addition, he’s improving in help situations with each passing week. Offensively, his mid-range game is what I remember from his ACC days – instinctive and with a better touch than you’d think.

• In Chicago we came across a few good jazz street musicians. I just love that in an urban setting. I wish LA had more of them.

• I only caught one Team USA Game while on vacation — USA vs. Spain, But that told me plenty. I’m not going to add on to the superlatives already seen at this site and summed up so well by KD. The USA put on a great performance.

But I will say that the USA still can be beat. And with the one and done games coming up (starting with Australia, it appears, who gave the USA fits in a tune up playing without Bogut) the USA cannot lose its focus. For the USA to lose, a few things have to happen:

1) The opposing team cannot turn the ball over. I think one of the most misused stats in basketball is “points off turnovers” (it bugs me how much Joel Meyers loves it) but in the case of team USA it is telling. You cannot give them easy baskets. They are unstoppable in the open court.
2) The opposing team has to shoot a high percentage, making the USA take the ball out not rebound and run. Bottom line with this and the first note, the opponent will have to slow the game pace down, and they have to get back on defense.
3) The USA has to be cold from three in the halfcourt. If they are hitting like they did against Spain, there is just no way to stop the scoring machine.
4) Score on the USA with back cuts and ball movement.

It may be hard to do all that in the face of the USA’s ball-pressure defense, and the USA is going to have to help the cause with an off night, but it’s not impossible. When they play again for the gold I think Spain will be able to deal better with the USA’s pressure, with turnovers down. But I doubt that will be enough.

• I watched that game on the Canadian Broadcasting Company feed (you get that in the Detroit area) and it was a pleasure to hear a game broadcast without all the hyping of stars that happens on ESPN and ABC.

• Ricky Rubio is just 17? He was Spain’s best PG by a mile, and dealt better with the USA’s pressure than Calderon. He’s got some flash but just kept making the right plays.

• China loves them some Kobe-a! Jones on the NBA breaks it down.

• It’s a ways away, but we’re starting to gear up for the season, and one way to do some review and look ahead is to check out an interview I did with Empty The Bench that covers a lot of ground.

• If you haven’t seen this yet, the account of how one woman became a Lakers fan is a fun read.

• If you go to Chicago, it’s not all that cheap ($30), but the boat architectural tour up the river is a must. Thanks to Matt from Blog-A-Bull for that suggestion.

USA Passes Latest Test

Gatinho —  August 17, 2008

Do you think you made other teams fear you with tonight’s performance?

Kobe Bryant: “Maybe a little bit because everybody knows what a great team Spain is. I think we sent a pretty strong message tonight.”

They did it with defense. This is a team that is not relying on the fact that it is bigger and stronger than any other team in the tournament, even though it is. A total commitment on D and a set offense that is finding its rhythm is beginning to take the drama out of the tournament.

Fast break points:
USA 32…Spain 0.

But 12-25 from behind the arc? KD, as usual, said it well:

Sure, Team USA had 16 steals and caused 28 turnovers, but the team’s stroke from long-range is what turned this into a laugher … early. That said, the D was spot-on. When you hold the NBA-veteran troika of Jose Calderon, Jorge Garbajosa, and Juan Carlos Navarro to 1-12 shooting from behind the arc? A shorter arc? Something’s working.

The intensity of this team was evident. The seemed edgy, as if they were upset that Spain wasn’t putting up a bigger fight. Unfortunately it led them to do some NBA style griping that had been missing in previous games.

Lebron James had 4 steals and Chris Paul had 5.

Pau was himself. About what was to be expected from him. He struggled with the strong USA double team committing 5 turnovers. Proving what we all already know, he’s not a 5.

Younger brother Marc has NBA size but not NBA fitness.

17 year old Ricky Rubio has a mountain of internet hype to live up to, but he seems poised beyond his years. Flashy but fundamentally sound. I’d like to see what he could do in the NBA, but with three years left on his contract with Joventut, watch while you can.

Up next: Dirk, Chris Kaman and the 1-3 Germans. The USA has already qualified for the next round, so look for Coach K to control the minutes of some of the older guys.

Watching on NBColympics.com: No commercials, no commentators, and you could frequently hear the chatter from the players and coaches.

And thank god that the music is only played during breaks for basketball. The in-between-every-point music in the beach volleyball matches is maddening. Do they really think that lowly of our attention spans?

The Next Round is One and Done: The quarter finals begin on August 20th, with the semis on August 22nd and the Gold Medal Game is on the 24th.

41 strides: I’m glad Usain Bolt‘s coach let him try the 100m.

Note: When commenting on games that are in progress or recently played, please give other commenters a SPOILER ALERT.

-Gatinho

Some quick hit notes about what’s going on recently in the Olympics and the NBA in general…

*Team USA ran away with it’s third consecutive game with a 92-69 bashing of Greece.  From the recap, this was obviously a meaningful game for the Americans.  Out of all the recent failings of Team USA in international competition, none has stung more than the defeat they suffered at the hands of the Greeks in the World Championships in 2006.  With that extra motivation, Team USA used its pressure defense and athleticism to take down the Greeks in another rout for the U.S. in its quest for Gold.  Today’s highlight play (SportsCenter’s Top 10 play for sure) was a D-Wade steal and perfectly thrown lob to Kobe for a tremendous two handed slam all while Wade was falling out of bounds.  If you haven’t seen it yet, believe me, you’ll get plenty of chances later today. (Update: here it is.  Hat tip to Awful Announcing via Ball Don’t Lie.)

*Speaking of Wade, Flash is back.  (Besides Bosh) Wade has been the pleasant suprise of Team USA.  I was one person who, before this tournament started, questioned Wade and how he would fit in with this team and whether his game would translate well to the FIBA style of play.  I thought of an inconsistent long range jumpshot and wondered how he would create for himself against the zones that Team USA was likely to face.  Color me dumb.  Wade’s first step and strength has been the difference in him getting whatever he wants on offense, be it scoring or creating for others.  Wade has been fantasic as a playmaker (5 assists in 20 minutes against Greece) and has wreaked havoc in the passing lanes (6! steals in this game) and in finishing on the break (he’s obviously not alone there, though).

*As for our favorite son, Kobe, he finally had a more efficient offensive game.  Kobe had 18 pts. on 7-14 shooting and finally found some range on his jumper, going 2-5 from deep.  There have been questions about Kobe’s offense…if the shorter 3 point arc is messing him up, if his hand is injured, if he’s tired, or if the magnitude of playing in the Olympics (remember it’s his first time in FIBA play on this grand a stage) has him a little too excited.  Maybe it’s all of the above.  I happen to think he’s just a little out of rhythm and that his offense will come.  I also think that his “doberman” mentality on defense has made his offensive game less efficient.  He’s treating every defensive possesion like it’s the final possesion in the game and working like a mad man.  Sometimes working that hard on D makes your O suffer.  But, he had a decent game today, so maybe he’s turning the corner.

*Other Olympic notes:  Pau Gasol has played well for Spain.  He’s been shooting a good percentage from the field and had an excellent showing against the host country, China, with 29 pts., 8 reb., and 3 blocks.  Our other favorite Sun, Mr. Yue has played well.  His exploits against Team USA have been covered, but he also had a nice outing against Angola.  Sun had 11 points on 4-4 shooting (including 2-2 on threes) while also registering 2 assists and 2 steals in 29 minutes.

*On to the Association…In case you haven’t heard, Josh Smith and Andre Iguodala re-upped with their respective teams.  Iggy definitely got the better of the two deals, and as the better player (IMO) I think that should be the case.  As for Smith, Memphis GM Chris Wallace should get another high-five from a rival GM as he gave the Hawks an easy out by signing J-Smooth to a very fair market contract offer-sheet, and thus easily allowing the Hawks to match.  Even with ownership issues abound in the ATL, matching that deal was easy as pie.  Also making news of late is the 3 team trade that landed Lebron a new running-mate in PG Mo Williams.  Without getting too much into the details of the deal (but if you want a strong oppinion, check out Hollinger’s), I think the Cavs did well to get another guy who can handle the ball and score some points.  Williams may not be a classic PG, but he can handle the ball, run an offense, and he can score the ball, thus allowing Lebron a little more rest on offense.

*One final Olympics note:  Big props to Michael Phelps.  I am a Phelps Phan and will be rooting him on tonight in his quest for more shiny neck ware.

(UPDATE: As Paydawg mentioned in the comments, the Lakers have agreed to terms with former Clipper, Josh Powell.)

Darius

Forum Blue and Olympic Gold

Gatinho —  August 11, 2008

The Original Dream Team: Wilma “La Gazzella Nera” Rudolph and Cassius Clay dominated the headlines when the Olympics returned to Rome. The men’s team that the US sent would be overshadowed by these dynamic characters, but included 10 players that would eventually spend time in the NBA. They would be led by a trio of Hall of Famer’s Jerry Lucas, Oscar Robertson, and Mr. Clutch himself, Jerry West. They would average over 101 points per game, and their minimum margin of victory was 24 points with 5 players averaging double digits in points.

1976: After ducking a scare from a feisty Puerto Rican team, Mitch Kupchak would be solid in this Gold Medal performance in Montreal. He would average 12 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists. The US team would include Quinn Buckner and Adrian Dantley.

1984: Laker fan favorite “Sleepy” Sam Perkins would garner a Gold as a member of this Bobby Knight led team which of course included Steve Alford. This team also had a Ewing and a Jordan allowing them to shoot 64% from the floor as a team and beat Spain by 30 in the final contest.

1992: After realizing that rest of the world was using their professionals and circumventing the Olympic ideal of amateurs only (that and losing in 1988), the USA finally got into the act and put together a team for the ages. This team of legends was led by The Legend, Earvin Johnson. I’ll share a little personal experience. I was able to see these guys play in Portland against Cuba in The Tournament of the Americas. They beat them by 79 points. It was like watching the Globetrotters.

1996: Still playing with the winning formula, this team mixed grizzled veterans like Gary Payton (Was he really a Laker? I forget.) and Charles Barkley with young upstarts like Penny Hardaway, and Grant Hill, and not yet a Laker Shaquille O’Neal. This would be the last time the USA would enter an international tournament with its head and shoulders above the competition.

Sun Yue Primer: So most of us probably spent Sunday watching the (ahem) Chinese Magic Johnson. Outside of some grainy stuff on youtube, there really isn’t a lot of stuff out there about this guy. Most of us will use the Chinese games to scout the newest Laker signee. He seems to have good handles and is a legitimate 6′ 9″ with a 34″ vertical. And yes that was him on the underside of Lebron James shadow on that ridiculous alley-oop dunk. Kurt pondered his minutes, but he got 26. He scored 8 points and had 2 assists.

When is the next game?: Angola vs. USA is Tuesday at 8:00 PM Beijing time. NBC’s website tells us this. Beijing, China is +12 hours from EDT. You do the math.

Think before you react: A quote from Yahoo’s reporting of the Sun Yue signing…The Lakers are considering moving Bryant to small forward and making frontcourt player Lamar Odom a guard.

Need a job?

-Gatinho