Archives For November 2008

Fast Break Thoughts

Kurt —  November 24, 2008

First things first. We’ve checked, and what Radmanovic was wearing during last night’s game were not snowboarding goggles. So, we can all relax about that. And while the orange protective eyewear may not have been pretty, it could have been worse. (Thanks to Henry at TrueHoop for that link.)

As for last night… Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest, and the Lakers apparently took that literally on the defensive end. Third game in four nights and all, they lacked focus. But I think there were three factors that played into the off defensive night.

One, Sacramento played three bigs — Brad Miller, Spencer Hawes and Jason Thompson — who can shoot from the outside. Because of that, Lakers bigs had to go out to the perimeter with them, and that took them out of good help positions. Stu Lantz talked about this during the broadcast, and he’s right. If the Suns want to send Shaq outside or the Celtics want to send Perkins to the three-point line, Bynum can let them go and stay in to help protect the paint. But with Hawes and Miller, you have to go with him. Now, this does not excuse the wretched pick-and-roll defense the Lakers played, but it is part of the reason nobody was in the paint to stop the penetration.

Second, as Darius pointed out in the comments, the Lakers played poor transition defense, and with all the turnovers there were a lot of transition opportunities for the Kings.

Third, people underrate the Kings. They have some nice young talent, and we sometimes forget that.

None of these things strike me as unfixable long-term problems. I’m going to let the one bad game go (in part because it was a win) and just watch to see if any of this becomes a long-term issue.

• Do you have memories of watching Jerry West play? Have a personal story or anecdote involving the Logo? Well, highly-respected Lakers author Roland Lazenby wants to talk to you, he’s working on a book about West. If you want to reach him, follow this link and email him.

• Two great posts to check out at Basketball Prospectus:

First, does the new and improved Cleveland Cavalier team (best offensive rating in the league so far) have what it takes to win a title? Coach Anthony Macri (of IMG) thinks they just might. I think there are three teams that could come out of the East right now, but Boston is still the team to beat. Cleveland, however, took them to seven last season before Mo Williams came on board.

Second, the first coaching change of the year took place in Oklahoma City. Kevin Pelton has a great look at the new coach there.

• Not far behind Carlisimo was Eddie Jordan in Washington, who is out after a woeful start for the Wizards.

My question in both cases — was it really the coach that was the problem, or the fact they had pretty questionable rosters to work with? (Yes, the Wiz have some talent, but it’s injured.)

• Is there an NBA Live curse?

• Happy 70th birthday Oscar Robertson!

Preview & Chat: The Sacramento Kings

Kurt —  November 23, 2008

Records: Lakers 10-1 Kings 5-9
Offensive ratings: Lakers 109.7 (3rd in league) Kings 107.2 (11th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 95.6 (1st in NBA) Kings 113.4 (29th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladimir Radmanovic, Pau Gasol, Andew Bynum
Kings Beno Udrih, John Salmons, Jason Thompson, Donte Green, Brad Miller

Lakers notes: No live blog here tonight, but this gives me the chance to point you to one of my favorite things this season — Mike Trudell’s in-game live blogs at Trudell joined Ty and the gang over there this season and has been a fantastic addition. Great sense of humor, good game insights, just a generally good read, something all Lakers fans should be checking out.

After the last couple of games, what else can you really say but that the Lakers need to keep playing the way they have been. Keep focused on defense, keep getting good play from the two bigs coming into games they can dominate.

Most Entertaining Game I’ve Seen This Season: Went to the home opener of Long Beach State last night, playing Weber State. Bit of background, Long Beach was honoring former coach Jerry Tarkanian (Tex Winter, Lute Olsen, and Seth Greenberg all coached at Long Beach as well). Now Dan Monson (one of the architects of Gonzaga) is trying to resurrect the program.

Long Beach is small, so they packed it in early with a 2-3 zone to try to protect the paint against a bigger squad. It didn’t work, three point shots and offensive rebounds killed Long Beach and they were down 20. But in the third quarter Long Beach switched to an aggressive man-to-man, started trapping on pick-and-rolls, and they extended the defensive pressure out to half court. On offense, they started hitting the shots over the top of the Webber State zone.

Long Beach went on a 26-1 run to take the lead, and the crowd was going nuts. There is just nothing quite like the college hoops atmosphere with the student section. Things remained close near the end. Long Beach had a three-point lead with :05 left, and Weber State was stymied with their offensive set, and were force to settle for a 30-foot fade-away three by Damian Lillard, who hits it Vince Carter style. OT. Long Beach continues the aggressive defense and hit key free throws to get the win in an OT that was back and forth.

Nobody in this game is likely to end up at the next level (at least in the NBA, a couple maybe in Europe). But Long Beach has made big strides in the last year, the talent level is not great but it’s better and some of the most impressive guys were freshmen and sophomores. This is a program headed in the right direction, keep an eye on them.

The Kings Coming In: The Kings come in to Staples without Kevin Martin and Francisco García, Martin was averaging 22 a game for the Kings before spraining his ankle, and they are 2-5 without him. Injuries has been one of two key problems for the Kings, according to arguably the best NBA blogger around, Tom Ziller of Sactown Royalty (and Fanhouse and Sporting News).

There are two real reasons the Kings find themselves a stones throw behind where they’d like to be: injuries, and terrible perimeter defense by everyone but John Salmons.

Brad Miller sat the first five games; two games later, Kevin Martin went down and hasn’t been seen since. Francisco Garcia hasn’t played a single second this season, and Mikki Moore (an admittedly lower level player, even for this time) has been out three games. Whatever roles Reggie Theus attempted to define in the preseason, those have been all shaken up. Spencer Hawes started at center for five game, Jason Thompson spent three games starting at small forward and two more at the power forward. Donté Greene, a rookie deemed too raw for action the first week of the season, has started the last two games. AH!

Also, Beno Udrih either cannot close out on shooters or chooses not to. And a myriad of rotations have been blown by a Miller who can’t muster up the energy to get out at deep shooters. That’s why the Kings are among the worst in the league at opponent’s three-point percentage.

One of the bright spots for the Kings has been the play of Spencer Hawes. In his second year in the league, he has the second best PER on the team. On offense he has a true shooting percentage of 58.7% and is a seven footer hitting 44% from three. He can be a good player in this league and a is a piece the rebuilding Kings will want to keep.

Keys To The Game: The Lakers have advantages all over the place in this game.

Inside, Brad Miller can’t handle Bynum on the block. Green is a green rookie who can’t hang with Gasol (the four is position the Kings struggle most to defend, opposing fours get 24 an 10 per 48 minutes shooting 53%). That said, Ziller notes that the interior defense for the Kings has been improving.

The perimeter is another story all together. Teams are shooting 42.5% from three against the Kings, Radmanovic and Fisher should get good looks. The Lakers should be able to run on the Kings, particularly with the second unit. Salmons generally does a decent job on Kobe, but #24 is still going get into the lane and draw doubles, and that is going to open things up for others.

Bottom line, is the Lakers should score a lot of points tonight.

The Lakers need to keep playing their defense as they have the last couple of games.. Udrih is a nice PG, but he is not the player who can cause the Lakers aggressive traps problems. (Martin is the one guy who could but the Lakers don’t have to worry about him tonight.) If the Lakers trap and create turnovers (leading to transition points) that will be a big step to the win.

But if the Lakers take the night off, the Kings still have players that can hurt you. Brad Miller can still shoot the ball if you leave him. Hawes can score as well. Salmons can score. The list goes on. The Lakers need to be focused to win.

Where you can watch: Another Fox Sports and League Pass night.

Jerry West

Kurt —  November 22, 2008

Just a look back for the weekend.

Lakers v. Nuggets Live Blog

Kurt —  November 21, 2008

Preview & Chat: The Denver Nuggets

Kurt —  November 21, 2008

Records: Lakers 9-1 (1st in West) Nuggets 8-4 (2nd in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 109.3 (4th in League) Nuggets 103.5 (20th in League)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 95.3 (1st in League) Nuggets 100.6 (5th in League)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladimir Radmanovic, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Nuggets : Chauncey Billups, Dahntay Jones, Carmelo Anthony, Kenyon Martin, Nene

Live Blog Tonight: That’s right, if your Friday night includes a computer and television set… well, I’m sorry. But we’re going to try to make it better. FB&G is doing a real-time live blog for the Lakers and Nuggets. And this will be in the BLD style (same software) so your comments can be approved and added to the discussion, taking place in real time. Myself and a few regulars will be in, but it’s going to be a big party and all are welcome.

And, this is the one time we’re violating the drinking and commenting rule around here. At least I am. Everything starts at 7:30 (Pacific, I can’t start drinking at 7:30 in Newfoundland).

Lakers notes: Does any player in the NBA have more arc on their shot than Vladimir Radmanovic?

Brett Edwards of NBA Fanhouse (and like a million other places) was at the game in Phoenix with media passes last night and passed along this:

After the game obviously (Radmanovic) was in good spirits, and his personality is such that he was very laid back about it, basically just saying “hey, the shots went in” and “I only get three or four shots a game, so if they miss, that’s it.” But overall he was real happy. Then I unintentionally killed his mood by asking if he thought his performance solidified his position in the starting lineup. I added on “or does it even matter if you start as long as you’re helping the team win,” but he was visibly unhappy with the question, gave a short response, something like “I don’t know why all the questions about me starting.” But I could tell it bugged him.

As for last night, the Suns are a good team but not a team with the personnel that can tear apart the Lakers defense. Steve Nash can’t get out and run in the new offense, Shaq allows defenders to stay in and protect the paint and all that plays right into the Lakers trap. Kevin Arnovitz over at TrueHoop did a great breakdown of the Suns last night and added this:

The easiest way to beat the Lakers’ strong-side pressure is spot up lethal long-range shooters on the far side. Nobody is better at orchestrating that kind of attack than Steve Nash. Unfortunately, other than Raja Bell, he doesn’t have any teammates on the floor who can hit a shot from beyond twenty feet. This gives the already stifling Laker defense even more freedom to strangle the Suns.

The Nuggets Coming In: I’m still not used to Melo without the cornrows. It throws me off every time.

The Nugs are 7-1 since the trade that sent AI east and brought Billups West. What’s different? I asked Jeremy of the brilliant Pick Axe and Roll for his thoughts:

I think it is important to start off by saying Chauncey Billups is not solely responsible for the Nuggets improved play. They started the season with a renewed team wide commitment to defense. However, the fact that his acquisition has pushed them to a higher level on both ends of the floor and made them a much more dangerous team is beyond dispute.

When I outlined who my ideal point guard would be for the Nuggets I proclaimed he would have to be a good shooter, a player who plays a pass first style, is quick enough to get in the lane, big enough to guard any opposing point guard, quick enough to stay in front of his man and dedicated to playing great team defense. The NBA player who most resembles a combination of all of those criteria is Chauncey Billups (Deron Williams is also a good match, but I do not think Utah was looking to move him to Denver).

The Nuggets have really stepped up their defensive pressure this season and their defense has risen to an even higher level with Chauncey on board. They have held six of their 12 opponents to sub 40% shooting nights so far this season and you may recall one of those six opponents was the Lakers. Their starting lineup is stronger defensively with Billups as they no longer start the diminutive Allen Iverson at shooting guard. That means the Nuggets will not have to send Anthony Carter or Kenyon Martin out to cover the Kobe Bryant’s of the league. As an individual defender, he is very strong and fights through screens well. As a team defender he has good instincts that allow him to freelance a little and he has already proven he trusts his new teammates to rotate and cover his roaming. The Nuggets are more stout defensively than even the most optimistic fans ever expected them to be.

Offensively Chauncey gives the Nuggets their first long range threat at the point since Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf and his ability to hit the three has been a key addition to the offense. Paired with J.R. Smith the Nuggets now have two guards with good size, deep range and diverse offensive talents. Chauncey is also a very good in the post and does a great job of directing the offense with his back to the basket where he can spin and drive, shoot a soft turn around or pass to a cutter. He is not a great passer out of the pick and roll, but his ability to shoot has enhanced the Nuggets ability to run pick and rolls this season and they have been taking advantage of that.

In the half court with Allen Iverson on the floor the Nuggets had no true half court offense. No one ever really knew what AI was going to do with the ball. That caused them to stand around and wait for AI to make his move so that they did not get in his way. Now they are playing with more movement and are passing the ball much more readily. In the past the Nuggets would make two or fewer passes and shoot on a vast majority of their half court possessions. Now they are much more determined to work for a good shot and much of that is due to the presence of Chauncey.

As fun as it was to run and gun, it was not making them a contender and in fact I thought it was actually hurting them. Over the offseason I called for them to shift into more of a half court defensive oriented team, because that is the style of play that wins championships. I did not really expect them to do it, and if they did I figured it would take two or three seasons to make that transformation. Well, they pulled it off in a matter of months. The key to that transformation was Billups insertion as the point guard.

Now that Chauncey is running the show they are no longer in such a hurry to jack a shot up as soon as they cross half court. They will still run when the opportunity presents itself, but as I mentioned they have changed their approach in the half court. Thanks to that change their pace factor has dropped by more than five since last season from a league leading 99.7 to 94.3, still in the top ten, but there has been a noticeable alteration in philosophy.

Despite his sizable impact on the X’s and O’s of the game the most important thing Billups brings is his championship experience, leadership and confidence. It is shocking to look back and realize the Nuggets have not had a significant contributor on the roster who owned a ring since Avery Johnson joined the team during the 2001-02 season. Needless to say that was not a good team and he was far enough over the hill that he was already approaching the other side of the valley. I honestly cannot remember the last time the Nuggets had a key player who had already won a championship.

Chauncey’s championship pedigree has revealed itself in the way he pulls guys aside during games and gives them advice or encouragement and he also is very vocal in directing the offense and defense. This is a huge difference from the last few seasons where no one had the gumption, or the credibility, to do that in the past and you can see them growing together game by game because of it. Since his arrival the Nuggets have really morphed into a team instead of a group of talented individuals. You can see the impact Chauncey has had in the play of J.R. Smith. Smith has not shot well and his scoring has been absent over the last couple of games, but he is actually playing some of the best offense of his career. He is looking to set teammates up more than he is looking for his own shot. He is passing up open shots to swing the ball for even better shots and has become much more mature.

The trade has not only energized the team, but the fans are encouraged as well. I expected Denver to surprise most prognosticators and make the playoffs before the season started, but they were still just going to be first round fodder again. That was nothing to get excited about. Now with Billups the ceiling for this team has risen from sixth straight first round exit to a team with a shot at earning home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs that can make some noise.

However, at this point any talk of how far this team can go is pure speculation. Even though they are 7-1 with Chauncey running the show they have only played two tough games during that time. They lost at Cleveland, but then went into Boston the next night and out defended the champs in a game that some pundits called the best road win in 30 years.

Because of their relatively soft schedule since the trade the game against the Lakers is a big deal. If Denver can somehow defeat the conference champs on the road, a task they have not even approached achieving last season despite having four chances to do so, we will all know that this team is legit in a way they have not been in over 20 years. Even if they lose there is a key difference with this team from last season. They may not beat the Lakers in LA, but deep down I know they can and I could not have said that last season. The reason for that change is Chauncey’s presence on the roster.

Keys To The Game: AI may be gone, but these are still two teams that like to get out and run, so transition defense will be key. The team that does it better, and controls the boards, will probably get the win.

Defense in general will be big for the Lakers — the Nuggets did better than most teams with passing and breaking down the Lakers defense last meeting. And they are a better ball movement team now with Billups running the show. The Lakers need an outing like last night, not like last meeting, with good doubles and traps and smart play defending the weak side. And, unlike last meeting, close out on Anthony Carter. Please. That guy kills us every time.

Billups gives the Nuggets more options to defend Kobe (he had 33 in the first get together) so that means other players are going to have to step up. Bynum should be able to dominate Nene in the block, although to his credit Nene is having a breakout season (second best PER on the team).

Another hot shooting game from Radmanovic would be nice. But dare we expect that two games in a row?

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.