Preview & Chat: The New Jersey Nets

Kurt —  November 25, 2008

Records: Lakers 11-1 (1st in West) Nets 6-6 (8th in East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 110.3 (3rd in League) Nets 109.2 (5th in League)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 96.5 (1st in League) Nets 112.7 (30th in League)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladimir Radmanovic, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Nets : Devon Harris, Vince Carter, Bobby Simmons, Yi Jianlian, Brook Lopez

Horry in the Hall: Does Robert Horry, he of the clutch shots and seven rings, belong in the Hall of Fame? This conversation sprung up in the comments on yesterdays post, which was fortunate timing as I was involved last week in an email conversation with the bloggers at 48 minutes of Hell and Dream Shake talking about this issue.

Now the entire conversation is online and worth reading. For the record, I love Horry, but in no way is he a Hall of Famer.

Lakers notes: When you hear players from top college teams talk — such as from UCLA basketball’s squad last season or USC’s football squads the last few years — they often say that practices are tougher than most games. The depth of talent and driven players looking to catch the coach’s eye leads to spirited practices.

Now, it looks like the Lakers are doing that as well.

What stood out to me about on Monday, especially after speaking to Chris Mihm, was that sometimes L.A.’s practices are tougher than games. Mihm alluded in particular to how deep and talented the team is, meaning that even the third unit’s going to offer some serious competition.

“From my aspect, I’m going up Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, plus D.J. Mbenga who’s a very strong, physical player,” he said. “There aren’t better bigs that we go up against in games, so it’s a fantastic opportunity for everybody to really work on their game, especially guys like me who aren’t really getting minutes on the floor in games with now.”

I also asked Mihm about the physicality of these practices, because obviously, L.A.’s assistant coaches aren’t calling many fouls. As such, any time a big gets the ball in the paint, he’s going to get hacked by at least his defender, if not double-teamed and hit from two angles. So for Mihm, concentration is key, because if he knows they’re going to foul him and he won’t get bailed out with free throws, he’d better find a way to make the bucket anyway.

The Nets Coming In: There is more to this New Jersey team than how they are falling behind in the “LeBron in 2010” sweepstakes. There is a red-hot Vince Carter and Brook Lopez’s big feet, just to name a couple things.

The Nets have one of the best starting backcourts in the NBA. Harris is a speedster who gets to the line, scores (60% True Shooting Percentage), and can dish the ball (31% of his possessions this season have ended in an assist). Harris has a team-best PER of 26.9 and looks like an All-Star (not that Dallas could use that, they have Kidd).

Vince Carter has always been able to get to the rack, but in the last 10 games he has shot 41.7% from three, which makes him far more difficult to defend. He also may be one of the best post-up guards in the game, and expect to see a lot of that. His true shooting percentage on the season is 58.7%.

As a team, the Nets are not great shooters (49.2% eFG%, 16th in the league), but they get offensive rebounds, get to the free throw line and their backcourt doesn’t turn the ball over much. They hustle and work hard for coach Lawrence Frank, and that makes them a dangerous team to play. Look past them and you will get the loss.

While the Nets play with passion on offense, that does not translate to the other end. Teams shoot 51.6% (eFG%) against the, third highest percentage in the league, and the Nets foul a lot, second most in the league. While some of their guys gamble at making steals, as a team they are not good at it and they can be made to pay for their aggressive moves.

Keys To The Game: In some ways this looks a lot like the Sacramento game — a team that is very good on offense but terrible on defense comes into Staples.

The Lakers are going to have to do a much better job of stopping dribble penetration against the Nets — Harris and Carter are miles better than Udrih and Salmons. This is not just a Fisher/Kobe issue, the bigs have to show out on pick and rolls, they have to be ready to help. Yi can shoot from the outside, but Brook Lopez has not shown a lot of offensive chops yet at this level (although that part of his game should develop).

Because of how quick Harris is, transition defense matters. The Lakers were terrible at it against Sacramento, they need to not make turnovers and get back to the other end of the court quickly tonight.

The Nets will try to play some 2-3 zone, the Lakers need to recognize it and break it down. The Nets zone is not that intimidating.

Where you can watch:Fox Sports here in LA, nationally you’ll need League Pass or one of the several Web streams for the game.