Archives For December 2008

Preview: The Minnesota Timberwolves

Kurt —  December 14, 2008

California v UCLA
Records: Lakers 19-3 (1st in the West) T-Wolves 4-18 (14th in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.7 (3rd in league) T-Wolves 102.9 (25th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 101.7 (3rd in league) T-Wolves 110.0 (25th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
T-Wolves \Randy Foye, Mike Miller, Ryan Gomes, Craig Smith, Al Jefferson

Check Back During The Game: No live chat, but I will be at the game credentialed for the night (through the other hoops writing gig) and I’ll start a fresh game chat thread and throw up some comments from Staples.

Lakers notes: For everyone that thinks the Boston game will tell us a lot about these Lakers, Phil Jackson made this point at practice yesterday: The Lakers go on the road and play four games in five days, then come home about 2 a.m. on the 23rd. They’ll do a light practice the 24th, but because of the early start Christmas day there is no morning shoot around to walk through more plays and strategies. That is why the regular season is not like the playoffs, you don’t have the time for the detailed prep.

That doesn’t mean the game is meaningless, just that it doesn’t define June.

The T-Wolves Coming In: They are a team that is really struggling, having eight in a row and lost nine of their last 10. Now Kevin McHale is facing the poetic justice of having to coach the roster he created (he’s 0-3 so far).

The Wolves have some talent on the roster, the problem is they can’t seem to string together four quarters of good basketball. They hang around, look good for while and then get blown out in the last third or fourth. Or, they get crushed early, which usually comes with a late rally that is too little, too late. They play like a young, inconsistent team.

The Wolves also are different than a lot of teams the Lakers have faced recently in that their best scoring option is at the center spot in Al Jefferson. He is averaging 22 and 10, shooting 50% , while using 25% of the team’s offense when on the floor (21st most in the league, higher than any Laker but Kobe). I’ve watched him in person a few times and he is just a beast down low. He rarely gets thrown in with the great young centers in the game, but that is because he played on some bad Boston teams and bad teams here, the classic case of a good player overlooked because of his situation. This is a very good player.

I’m really looking forward to seeing Kevin Love, who is averaging 10 and 10 in Minnesota’s last 10 games, while shooting a solid 46% from the floor (for a rookie, not bad).

I’m also looking forward to seeing what happened to Mike Miller. The guy who should be Mr. Outside to what Jefferson does in the paint. He is taking more than two fewer shots per game, his three-point percentage is down to 37.5% (it was above 40% since 2004), and with that all of his shooting numbers are down across the board. He’s missed some time to injuries, but from the little I’ve seen, I’m not sure that’s not all of it.

Keys To The Game: The defensive matchup should be interesting, based on this quote from Phil yesterday.

“…it’s probably better to have (Andrew Bynum) on (Craig) Smith and Pau (Gasol) on Jefferson, but we’ll probably wait and see how that goes. He’s a guy that doesn’t want to readily give it up because he believes in his own scoring.”

Having Bynum on Smith allows him to double off him and trap more often, making Bynum the aggressor, which should be good for him. Whatever the assignments, this is a good matchup for the Lakers and their trapping defense as they can keep a couple bigs near the basket. Along with that, they need to clog the paint and make the T-Wolves shoot jumpers, because as a team the T-Wolves hit just 39% of them (and that’s egg%). Foye is shooting 38% on jumpers, and Mike Miller is still a good shooter but you don’t need to fear him as you once did. Just don’t let him get hot from three.

Offensively, the Lakers should be able to do what they want. The T-Wolves simply are not a good defensive team, as an example opposing teams have a higher PER at every position against them. That said, the Lakers are best when the ball goes inside and comes back out. They are especially weakened by good passing and ball movement.

Where you can watch: 6:30 Fox Sports and League Pass. And remember to swing by here for a special game thread.

Preview & Chat: The Sacramento Kings

Kurt —  December 12, 2008

Los Angeles Lakers vs Phoenix Suns in Los Angeles
Records: Lakers 18-3 (1st in West) Kings 6-16 (12th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.7 (3rd in league) Kings 104.4 (21st in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 101.6 (4th in league) Kings 112.5 (29th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Kings Beno Udrih, John Salmons, Francisco Garcia, Spencer Hawes, Brad Miller

Lakers Christmas Shopping: What do you get the Lakers fan who has everything? Well, Collin at the Examiner has some ideas via eBay:

Lakers Small Dog Jersey Shirt – at least this best friend will agree with you that the Lakers shouldn’t have signed Andrew Bynum to that extension.

Lakers Christmas Santa Hat – if Santa was a Laker, he’d definitely wear this hat…and he would let the elves get to the basket at will despite a considerable height advantage.

Lakers Reusable Grocery Bag – because everybody who’s buying Hot Pockets at 3 for $5.00 wants to be reminded that Chris Mihm is making $2.5 million this season.

Lakers Mr. Potato Head — I hate to say it, but this bears a striking resemblance to Lamar Odom.

Brandon Jennings in Europe: You remember Jennings, he was Sonny Vacarro’s wet dream, a gifted player who blew off the one-and-done college year to play in Europe. Slam Magazine’s Lang Whitaker was there and made a great point:

While I initially thought Brandon going to Europe might be a bad idea, he’s found a team that’s giving him playing time and letting him learn on the fly. If he’d gotten into a US college or gone to a junior college, he’d probably be allowed to shoot as much as he wants, go up against zone defenses, have a coach catering to him and not be expected to defend the opposing team’s best guards. But now he’s getting a one year crash course in defending pick-and-rolls, handling the travel and the attention, keeping his teammates and coaches happy — basically, what it’s going to be like for him next year in the NBA.

Lakers Notes: Two comments today on the Lakers and their recent play. The first is from arguably the smartest hoops writer out there, Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus, who talks about the team and Mark Jackson in his most recent piece:

…while we probably got too excited about the Lakers’ strong start (consider me guilty as charged), nor is the team as bad off as it appears right now. One of Jackson’s hallmarks as a coach is his willingness to let his team flounder at times as a teaching tool, and to some extent we may be seeing just that. The Lakers don’t need to be an elite defensive team right now; they need to reach that level in May and June, and one way or another this stretch will help Jackson determine whether the strong-side trap can be a part of that.

What really irked me about the commentary from Pasch and Jackson (and even Lakers legend Magic Johnson, during his in-game interview with sideline reporter Nancy Lieberman) is the notion that this rough patch defensively is indicative of some inherent shortcoming of this Lakers squad, that it doesn’t have a quote-unquote “defensive mentality.” At one point, they called the Lakers out for rarely practicing defense, which–without putting too fine a point on it–is pretty much exactly opposite what was reported by the people who actually covered the team during training camp. It’s an example of the worst of sports coverage in terms of drawing a conclusion and picking facts to support it instead of coming to a conclusion based on the facts.

Along those same lines, thoughts from Darius lifted from the comments.

Every team must bring their best in order to win the title. They must also hope that their best is better than what their opponents bring in that Final moment or Championship series. Boston will need that same great performance to make the Finals and win that they gave and had last year. The Lakers will also need their best. So, I don’t care about very good in December, I care about the best in June. And that’s the reason that I’m not too upset with where we are as a team right now. Could we be playing better? Of course. And if the playoffs started next week, I’d have legitimate concerns. But this isn’t football season with 3 games left to play. This is the NBA and we aren’t even at the All-Star break yet. We haven’t even passed the trade deadline. There is so much season left to play that we literally have 2 college length regular seasons left in our season. So far we’ve won 86% of our games…I’m cool with where we are.

The Kings Coming In: What’s new with them since Tuesday> Well, Sheldon Williams married Candice Parker? (Hopefully their kids get her skills, she’s more polished than he is.)

Aside that, not much, they are still basking in the glow of the Lakers win the other night. They also will still be without Kevin Martin tonight.

You should be reading and asking Tom Ziller any questions about Sacramento, not me.

The last meeting: Despite some Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind efforts, I think we all recall that game vividly. I’m not going to rehash it here.

Keys To The Game: For all my talk about not reading too much into early regular season games, I think this is one game where we do learn something about the Lakers. It’s not if they blow Sacramento out of the water — the Kings are a team that simply matches up well with the Lakers — but it’s about the effort. The intensity. Do they come out wanting to avenge their bruised pride, or do they stay in coasting mode on defense?

Bynum has gotten some ribbing from Phil about his defense, but tonight poses a real problem for Bynum. He’s supposed to protect the paint, but you have to come out on Brad Miller, probably the best shooting center at 15-18 feet in the league (still). Hawes poses some of the same issues for Gasol. The Lakers have been slow to make counter-adjustments to what teams are doing to the new trapping defense, I’m curious if we will see any tonight, the Lakers need to find an answer. As yesterday was just a film day, no practice for the team, I would guess we see no big strategy changes.

One other thing, the first two meetings the Lakers turned the ball over a lot, they need to limit that tonight.

Where you can watch: This is a Fox Sports night, with the rest of the nation scrambling.

Note To Chicken Little

Kurt —  December 11, 2008

Lakers vs. 76ers
Today, we basically just steal from one of the best NBA writers on the Web, Kelly Dwyer. This is his recap of the ugly Lakers win against Phoenix last night from Ball Don’t Lie:

So, am I the only one who isn’t pulling a Chicken Little routine with the Lakers right now?

This team is 18-3, that’s 18 wins in 21 games (geesh), and to listen to ESPN’s broadcast last night, you got the feeling that their time had come and gone. The Lakers are listless. The Lakers don’t play defense. Magic and Kareem would have never let this happen.

Except, they did. Just about every team “let this happen.” Holes are holes, and Los Angeles’ veteran backcourt sometimes allows for too much dribble penetration. Big deal. Damon Stoudamire used to kill the Bulls. They still won 72 games.

Even with those holes, the Lakers are still third in defensive efficiency. But combine a Kings loss with a talking point gone mad and some anecdotal evidence as a tremendous offensive team from Phoenix managed to (shock horror) get into the lane a few times, and you have a nauseating watch.

The Lakers won, mind you. They won by five and did it against a Suns team that played very well. The Suns earned that 50.6 shooting mark from the floor, and the “Shaq didn’t play, the team was sad about the trade, Nash only shot 2-12” elements don’t bother me in the slightest. Honestly.

It’s an 82 game season, and the Lakers are on pace to win 71 of them. I don’t think they will, but I also don’t think I’m going to bleat and moan and pretend this team is anything less than fan-flippin’-tastic.

Lakers vs. Suns, Live Blog

Kurt —  December 10, 2008

Preview & Chat: The Phoenix Suns

Kurt —  December 10, 2008

NBA Finals Game 4: Boston Celtics v Los Angeles Lakers
Records: Lakers 17-3 (1st in West) Suns 13-9 (8th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.5 (3rd in league) Suns 109.6 (6th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 101.1 (3rd in league) Suns 109.3 (24th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladimir Radmanovic, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Suns Steve Nash, Raja Bell, Matt Barnes, Amare Stoudemire, Robin Lopez

Live Chat Tonight: We are going to be doing a live chat for tonight’s game against the Suns. This is the system we used last time, with comments flowing and a fast pace, so grab a winter brew and swing on by. The chat tips off at 7:30.

Lakers Note In all the hand wringing about the loss to Sacramento, one thing has not been mentioned around here — the Kings hustled. They wanted it. They earned the W. Yes the Lakers are more talented and should have played harder, but credit the Kings for doing just that. Good on Theus and his squad.

Lakers Suns Rivalry Think about all the great games in this series recently.

April 30, 2006, Kobe just can’t be stopped in crunch time. He hits this running/floater shot with seven-tenths of a second left in the fourth quarter to force overtime, then drains the 17-footer to give the Lakers a 99-98 win. At that point the Lakers are up 3-1 in the Western Conference playoffs. I don’t remember what happened after that…..

Or May 10, 2000, another Kobe game, but he was just 21 at the time. Clock running down he dribbles it out in isolation, then hit a 15-foot jumper over Jason Kidd to seal a 97-96 win. Lakers go up 2-0 in a playoff series. I remember what happened in the rest of those playoffs.

Before that was a regular season game where Magic hit a fade-away jumper to win by two. There were a series of great games in the 1980s when the Suns were a top team and the Lakers were led by Magic and Kareem — and one game where the ball went into Kareem, who passed out to Norm Nixon for a patented 15-foot fadeaway that won the game.

Everybody kind of sees the Lakers as a rival, but few teams have that many rivalry games with us over the decades.

The Suns Coming In: Our condolences go out to Shaq on the loss of his grandmother.

He would have made her proud last night with a vintage performance – 35 points, 10 boards and he just dominated the game the way he used to. He’s still good for that now and again, but he will not be in the lineup tonight.

Amare has wanted to get the spotlight, and he has been the best player on the Suns of late, averaging 21 and 8 in the last 10 games. He also has been picking up fouls at a fast rate, getting five in the last three games prior to the win over the Bucks.

Raja Bell has been cold of late, shooting 25% in his last three games but he is shooting 46.8% from three in the last 10, so best not to leave him open.

Keys To The Game: With Shaq out these are going to look a little more like the old Suns than the new ones. That means the overall strategy has to be make Nash the shooter, don’t let him dish out the assists. When he scores 30 the Suns lose, but if he scores 18 but has 15 assists they become tough to beat.

The Lakers have been, um, crap at defending the pick and roll lately, and it is something that plays to the weaknesses of the Lakers aggressive defensive system. But they are going to see a steady diet of it until they start playing it well, and few teams run it as well as the Suns with Nash and Amare. The Lakers need to be focused, show out hard on Nash and not let him dictate everything.

What the Suns are doing now is turning the ball over a lot — 18% of their possessions end in turnovers, highest rate in the league. The Lakers should be able to create turnovers tonight, but unlike last night they need to take care of the ball for that to matter.

Farmer vs. Barbosa, a fun matchup that could determine the battle of the second units.

Both teams had games last night, although the Lakers should have an advantage as they clearly did not expend much energy during the contest.

Where you can watch: You can choose Fox Sports here in LA or ESPN here and everywhere else. So, Mark Jackson or Stu Lantz?

About Last Night….

Kurt —  December 10, 2008

….Or, alternately titled, Sexual Perversity in Sacramento

I don’t think anybody who watched part of all of the last five Lakers games that would say this team is playing well right now. It’s still winning games because of the talent level, but the defense has gotten lax and the triangle offense is often ignored.

But, all of that is a far cry from the disaster some seem to think. The regular season is a process, a long grinding road where your mind and body are tested, where your team’s weaknesses are exposed and picked at. The best teams, especially ones like the Lakers trying to grow into a champion, do not spring fully formed like some sort of Venus. No, they are forged by the fire and hammer of Vulcan. The process makes them stronger.

In that way, the last five games can be a learning experience, if the team lets it (Phil will certainly try to make it such). Because, as Joel said in the comment below, things learned now (good and bad) are carried over.

The Lakers need to start developing good habits (executing the offense, playing solid contain defense, boxing out) and stop relying on their talent to win them games. When injuries, fatigue, and bad shooting nights become issues you need to be able to fall back on those habits. When you can’t, teams like Sacramento, Washington, and Indiana light you up for 100+ points.

The offensive side should be easier to fix. The Lakers need to run the triangle offense. They need to get the ball inside to their bigs more and get their jumpers on passes that go inside out. Bottom line, against Sacramento Gasol and Bynum combined to shoot 59% and get to the line 10 times. Good teams see that and go to that well over and over, not become an isolation team on the perimeter. The Kings tried to take the ball out of Kobe’s hand and he seemed to take it as a personal challenge. Just run the offense inside out and this team will thrive.

On defense, some have concerns with the scheme, the traps and aggression the Lakers have shown. I think at the NBA level, defense is more about desire, about who wants it worse, than it is about schemes and pure talent. Right now, the Lakers do not look like a team that cares about defense, and they get away with that bad habit because they can still win games that way. A lot of games. But not a title.

Friend of the site JonesontheNBA talks about why Sacramento gives the Lakers fits:

The Kings are a bad match up for the Lakers because their centers play a perimeter game that draws Bynum and Gasol out to the three point line and opens up the lane for drives and causes the Lakers defense to break down leading to easy lay ups or open three pointers. Same thing happened against the Pacers and their perimeter oriented bigs and Detroit and Rasheed’s three point shooting from the center position. Teams with quick penetrating guards and perimeter oriented bigs will continue to be a problem for the Lakers as Farmar and Fisher will never be ball stopping guards, so if Bynum and/or Pau are out on the perimeter those guards are going to have a field day and just chop up the Lakers on defense. Against teams like the Pacers and Kings the Lakers are usually able to make up for this match up issue by outscoring them. But when the Lakers shots aren’t falling, you’re going to have issues like this.

Come playoff time the only teams that could try and kill the Lakers with that strategy are Utah (With Okur…but disregarding pace, they are a terrible defensive team that the Lakers usually just outscore), Boston (if they go small and play KG at Center and sit Perkins…which I doubt), San Antonio if they go small with Duncan at Center (They aren’t really comfortable doing that, and Duncan is still reluctant to stay on the perimeter), and Detroit (On the long shot that they made the finals and Rasheed was playing at the top of his game like he was the last time the two teams played). But anyhow, expect the Lakers to struggle against teams that have perimeter oriented centers the rest of the year.

In the end, the Lakers are 17-3 after 20 games, but if they take that record as a sign that everything is good and they are fully formed, we are in for another playoff disappointment. But if they are still learning how to be a great team, how to win, we are in for a real treat as the team comes together.

I still think, as a Lakers fan, the best part of this team is ahead of it.

Records: Lakers 17-2 (1st in West) Kings 5-16 (12th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.9 (3rd in league) Kings 103.7 (21st in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 100.2 (3rd in league) Kings 112.9 (29th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladimir Radmanovic, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Kings Beno Udrih, John Salmons, Francisco Garcia, Spencer Hawes, Brad Miller

Lakers notes: Mike Trudell rocks. If you are not reading his work at the official Lakers blog, you need to click that link and do it.

Today’s Lakers note is courtesy him, comparing Andrew Bynum performance pre and post his foot injury.

Pre-Injury: Oct. 28 to Nov. 26:
Games: 13
Minutes: 28.8
Points: 11.5
Rebounds: 8.7
Blocks: 2.38
Assists: 2.0
FG%: 52.7% (58-of-110)
FGA: 8.46

Post-Injury: Nov. 27 to Dec. 8
Games: 6
Minutes: 31.8
Points: 17.3
Rebounds: 9.3 (including his season low three boards at Philadelphia)
Blocks: 1.3
Assists: 1.8
FG%: 60% (39-of-65)
FGA: 10.8

To be clear, I’m not saying that Bynum’s foot injury has made him play better (that would be a ridiculous theory). My point is simply that the foot hasn’t affected him while he’s continued to get better, improve his game conditioning and get almost back to where he was before the January 2007 injury.

The Kings Coming In: The Lakers catch a break as Kevin Martin will miss the game. Again. Martin has already missed a dozen games this season, and teammate Francisco Garcia is trying to take that record away from him, apparently.

Which is why it is odd that coach Reggie Theus is rumored to be on the hot seat. J.D. Hastings made good points in the comments:

What exactly did Theus fail to do that he was supposed to? Did the Maloofs really think the Kings would be good this year? With Artest gone and injuries to several players?

Why now? What is a lame duck interim coach going to accomplish this season? Since they have to pay Theus anyways, why not just let him see the squad through. Maybe he gets them playing well enough to be hard to beat by the end of the year. Anything else is delusional.

Just how bad is it in Sactown? Just check out this quote from Mikki Moore today:

“You don’t know what direction (the organization is) going in. They might be doing this so they can have a higher draft pick for next season. You never know.”

I really feel for Tom Ziller. One of the best NBA bloggers on the planet. He should not have to suffer through this.

Divac to get number retired: When your team struggles, remind them of the good old days. The Kings are going to retire the jerseys of Chris Webber and Vlade Divac in a few months.

The last meeting: Back a few days before Thanksgiving, these two teams met and apparently had a gentlemen’s agreement to play All Star Game quality defense for the night. The Lakers took the lead in the second quarter, pushed that up to 19 and eventually won 118-108.

The Kings, with their three big men in Brad Miller, Spencer Hawes and Jason Thompson, all of whom can shoot from the outside, created a problem for the stay-at-home, protect the paint Lakers that night. It will be interesting to see what, if any, changes the coaching staff make tonight.

Keys To The Game: Yes, the shooting bigs were a problem last game, but so was the fact the Lakers gave the Kings a lot of easy buckets by turning the ball over and playing bad transition defense (and credit the Kings for hustle here). Both of those things need to be remedied tonight, and both really are about focus on the task at hand.

The Lakers need to run the triangle offense tonight (that would be a nice change from recent games) and go inside-out with it. Miller and Hawes cannot handle Bynum and Gasol on the blocks, so exploit that. Second, the Kings don’t defend the three well, so inside out should get good open looks for Fish, Radman and others.

Finally, the Lakers need to defend the pick and roll better. Beno and Bobby Brown (Fullerton shout out!) killed the Lakers with that last meeting. The Kings can run it well because the bigs can both roll or pop after setting the pick, but again this comes back to the focus of the Lakers.

Where you can watch: 7 pm start because they are in Sactown. KCAL 9 here in LA, and no national broadcast (the fans want LeBron on NBATV tonight).

Fast Break Thoughts

Kurt —  December 8, 2008

California News - November 18, 2008
It was great to see the Lakers get back to a good defensive game, albeit aided by the fact that the Bucks offense is a pretty sad thing to watch. Redd is a fantastic shooter, but when he ran into the Lakers trap he acted almost like a rookie, with bad passes and dribbling himself into a corner.

Also, when was the last time no starter from one team scored in double digits in an NBA game? The Lakers did that to the Bucks last night.

The team is 17-2. Damn.

• By the way, if you are complaining that the Lakers turned a 27 point lead into a 13 point win because the last 8 minutes of the game the guys at the end of the bench played, my advice to you is to stop betting on basketball. Because seriously, how else could you care that a desperate team decided to press and cut the lead but never threaten the game? So what if the end of the Bucks bench was able to slightly outscore the last guys on the Lakers bench?

• Aside that, what are we going to seriously complain about, the games aren’t entertaining enough?

• Apparently Kevin McHale is getting the Isiah Thomas treatment — you built this crap roster, so you coach it.

• From Ryan O. in the comments, talking about Vladimir Radmanovic:

He’s looked like a different player on the defensive end this year, and Phil has really turned him into 1st quarter specialist. I realize that sounds silly, but I think Vlad is our deadliest player on offense in the 1st quarter.

• I think the problem with talking about the Lakers and 70 wins is it presumes a healthy season. That said, the Lakers’ Pythagorean win rate right now has them heading for 69. By the way, the Cavs are on that same pace, Boston is headed to 65 by that measure.

• By the way, what is clear is those three teams are the elite of the NBA right now.

• Manny Pacquiao looked like a great fighter in his prime. De La Hoya looked like a fighter 10 years past his prime. I just hope Oscar hangs it up now and doesn’t go Holyfield on us.

• I take back anything I said about Iverson maybe fitting in with Detroit.

• Remember when Kurt Rambis was considered the favorite to get the Sacramento head coaching job, only to have some casino owners decide to roll the dice on UNLV’s Reggie Theus? Now, if the rumors about Theus getting canned are true……