Archives For December 2008

Preview & Chat: The Orlando Magic

Kurt —  December 20, 2008

Olympics Day 16 - Basketball
Records: Lakers 21-4 (1st in the West) Magic 20-6 (3rd in the East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.1 (3rd in league) Magic 107.3 (12th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 101.8 (4th in league) Magic 101.3 (3rd in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Magic Jameer Nelson, Keith Bogans, Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu, Dwight Howard

Farmar Injured This came out today, Farmar injured his knee on an uncontested dunk against Miami last night. It is a a tear of the lateral meniscus in his left knee. He is out for the rest of this road trip, he is flying back to LA to be looked at by doctors.

How long he is out will depend on how bad the tear is, could be a week or two, could be a couple months. Look for more Sasha at the backup point, which could be a good thing.

Lakers notes: What was frustrating about last night’s loss is that the Lakers let the Heat set the terms for the game. Yes, the bad free throw shooting and the turnovers were hard to watch, but it was the flow of the game that bothered me most.

There were 90 possessions in the game, six fewer than the Lakers average a game.

Next, the Lakers did not do a good job exploiting their mismatches inside. The Heat did the smart thing, fronting the Lakers bigs. There are ways to counter that. You can have the big seal off and throw a lob pass over the defender, but the Lakers threw terrible passes virtually every time they tried that. The Heat cheated a weak-side defender down to prevent the lob and the Lakers never recognized it. Part of the problem was the bigs, particularly Bynum, not really fighting for position and sealing guys off, but the passes into the post were sad.

The other way to deal with that is quick ball rotation, around the perimeter, allowing the big to slide across and set up on the other side of the key in a better spot. The Lakers did have some good plays off quick ball rotation, but it was almost always with Farmar or Kobe breaking down the play off the dribble. Again, no good passes into the post. The Lakers need to recognize their mismatches and exploit them.

Finally, the Lakers allowed the Heat to grab 26.8% of their missed shots (almost an identical percentage to the Lakers). Simply, the Lakers did not dominate the glass, and that is part of defense, too.

One bright spot, the Lakers did what they should have done to Wade. He attacked the rim and got off a shot f5 times (making 4). But, long range twos and threes he was 7 of 16. The Lakers did a pretty good job of keeping him out of the lane, but someone like Wade scores and impacts the game anyway. What the Lakers did was what you want to do.

Kobe’s shooting: Following up on a note about Kobe’s attacking the rim and shooting in general from yesterday.

Against the Heat, Kobe drove and attack the rim for 11 shots of which he made 8, plus drew a couple fouls. He also took 11 long two-pointers or three pointers, and of those he made 3.

The Magic Coming In: The Magic just spanked spanked the surging San Antonio Spurs. I mention that just to remind you of how good this team is, they are probably the fourth best team in the NBA this season.

Not many teams can match the Lakers length across the front line, but Orlando can. They also will create some issues for the Lakers and their trap, because Lewis and Hedo can step away from the basket, and bigs who can step out have been an issue in the past. Plus, doubling off Howard is not the wisest of choices.

The guy who really impressed me when I’ve watched the Magic is Jameer Nelson, just a very solid PG. He is scoring 16 a game with a 58.9% true shooting percentage, and 30.9% of his possessions end in an assist. He understands how to distribute the ball to this team.

Bringing it all together is one of the better coaches in the NBA in SVG. Defense first, play to your strengths offense, they move at a good tempo (9th fastest pace in the NBA) and they are just well coached.

Keys To The Game: I expect a good game out of Andrew Bynum, he plays up and down to the level of the competition more than any other Laker. He did not dominate the smaller Heat last night. But tonight, against the biggest test for a center in this league, I think we’ll see his best.

What kind of team gives the Magic fits? Ones that move the ball. As you would expect with their record, they play well against everyone but have won only 33% of their games against the top 10 teams in assists in the league. The Lakers are capable of that, they are a fantastic passing team when they want to be. But of late they have been inconsistent in the offense and in their passing.

Let’s see if the Lakers can exploit a mismatch tonight, in this case the Magic don’t have anyone who can stop Pau Gasol. Make them double him and let him pass off that, with movement off the ball returning to the Lakers offense.

Where you can watch: 4 p.m., KCAL 9 here and League Pass everywhere else.

Preview & Chat: The Miami Heat

Kurt —  December 19, 2008

Olympics Day 16 - Basketball
Records: Lakers 21-3 (1st in the West) Heat 12-12 (6th in the East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.7 (3rd in league) Heat 106.9 (17th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 102 (4th in league) Heat 107.4 (19th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Pau Gasol (fingers crossed), Andrew Bynum
Heat Mario Chalmers, D-Wade, Shawn Marion, Udonis Haslem, Joel Anthony

Lakers notes: It’s Got To Be The Shoes!

If you remember back to last year, Kobe Bryant killed the Heat in both games, and he did it by penetration. On plays in transition, drives and shots in the paint (or just close by) he was 12 of 16. Those longer twos and threes, 5 of 13.

Which brings us back to Kobe this year, who seems to have relied a lot more on jumpers and with that is the reason his eFG% dropped from 50.3% last year to 48.5% this year. His true shooting percentage (which includes him getting to the free throw line) is down to 55.3%, from 57.6% last year. That’s the lowest it’s been in four years. (Full disclosure, said Kobe shot 75% jumpers last year and 76% this year, so maybe this is all perception.)

I don’t think this is a case of Kobe having lost a step or having heavy legs after playing in the Olympics (his minutes were not so heavy there as to be more strain then he would have put himself through at the gym). Rather, with two seven footers starting, two guys who live closer to the hoop, the paint is more crowded and the driving lanes are just not there. So, he relies more on the jumper.

The Lakers need to work the offense into spots to where Kobe can get back into a triple threat position. Also, they need to post him up more, they did early but seem to have gotten away from it.

Or, maybe the shoes will make all the difference. Its Got To Be The Shoes!

The Heat Coming In: Wade has been at the heart of the Heat’s turnaround this season, but in the last three games he has looked human — shooting just 33.9%, is 0-8 from three and is scoring 17.7 per game (he leads the league at 28 per game). You can’t count on this slump to continue, but the Lakers may be able to keep him cold if the defense is focused.

Wade is the heart of everything the Heat do on offense, he has to penetrate and draw defenders for anything to happen. Marion can play that role as well. They have shooters around them — Haslem can hit the 15-footer, Chalmers and Quinn (and Cook, who is expected back tonight) can bomb from three. But none of those can create their own shot.

I’m looking forward to getting a look at Michael Beasley. His numbers are basically average (-2.2 in +/-, 14.9 PER, 46.4% eFG%) but I haven’t seen enough to make a judgment. David Thorpe at says Beasley is improving, especially on defense, but he is still playing like a rookie at times.

Keys To The Game: Everyone will be focused on Wade and Kobe, but this game should be won by the Lakers inside.

Once again the Lakers have a big size advantage in the paint — the front line of the Heat is 6-7, 6-8, 6-9. The Lakers should pound it inside to Bynum and Gasol, get points close to the rim, and dominate the glass. Now, they should have done this against the Knicks, too, but they didn’t. The one difference here is pace — the Heat average 8 fewer possessions a game than the Knicks. They run a half-court perimeter offense, which can be good when you have a Wade-like guy, but it should not spread the Lakers out like the Knicks could do.

Also, this is another game where the Lakers depth should wear out Miami, but not if they play like they have lately, Farmar is letting the offense get into too much one-on-one and I can tell you it is frustrating Odom, among others. Maybe we’ll seen them fall into some more triangle tonight.

Turnovers will be a key — the Heat average 3.3 fewer turnovers than their opponent per game (the largest differential in the NBA). The Lakers have been careless at times with the ball, and if they do that tonight they will pay a steep price.

Where you can watch: 5 p.m., KCAL 9 here if you love you some John Ireland, or ESPN if you love you some Stuart Scott game breaks.

Fast Break Thoughts

Kurt —  December 17, 2008

Lamar Odom of the Los Angeles Lakers
I think you can get some of the most honest answers from players when the adrenaline is up and they don’t have their media filters on. Such was the case last night when Lamar Odom was on the 570 Radio being interviewed within 20 seconds of the end of the game.

Spero Dedes asked about the first half play.

“We’re lazy on defense,” a statement Odom went on to qualify saying it was just sometimes and they keep winning. But Mychal Thompson didn’t let it go and asked him why that is.

“We’re overconfident on offense.”

Again he went on to qualify that statement, but I think this kind of sums up the Lakers right now. They know they have the talent to win, they know it’s December, and the focus is not where it needs to get to. Which is okay, so long as it does get there.

Maybe the upcoming road trip will see them snap out of that.

• As for the first half last night, I think we sometimes forget just what an adjustment it is to play a Mike D’Antoni team. It goes against all conventional wisdom to jack up a three early in the shot clock, but it is an integral part of what the Knicks do. Much of what they do on offense is just radically different than everyone else.

That is hard to adjust to in the NBA regular season, with few practices and just film sessions as prep a lot of days. That is not enough to really be ready for something so different. It’s also one of the reasons D’Antoni’s teams struggle in the playoffs — see it a few games in a row and you are well adjusted.

• About that road trip — what is brutal is the team on the back end. Lots of hype for the Miami game Friday (It’s Got To Be The Shoes!) but then a much better Orlando team awaits on Saturday. Monday it’s Memphis, but then the next night it’s CP3 and the Hornets. Those are tough teams to beat when you are tired.

The Lakers could play well on this trip and go 2-2.

• Jim Alexander in the Press Enterprise saw things this way:

But maybe this is our problem in evaluating the Lakers: we fail to incorporate boredom into the equation. Not ours, theirs. Can we stipulate, please, that the Lakers are vastly superior to most of the people they’ve been playing lately? And may I submit that maybe they haven’t always looked dominant because they haven’t always felt challenged?”

• It’s fun to watch Nate Robinson play.

• Marbury. I know on a few other boards people have suggested getting him for the Lakers. This guy paid for courtside seats just to remind the team paying him millions what a disruption he can be if they don’t buy him out. And you want to add him to a 21-3 team?

• Great article by Kevin Pelton on all the coach firings. The bottom line, it may have been smart for the 76ers to fire Cheeks because supposed playoff teams that make changes improve quickly under a new coach. But in the case of the Kings, it doesn’t really matter short term, because if you don’t have the right talent no coach can make a difference.

Preview and Chat: The New York Knicks

Kurt —  December 16, 2008

Golden State Warriors vs New York Knicks in New York
Records: Lakers 20-3 (1st in the West) Knicks 11-13 (9th in the East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.7 (3rd in league) Knicks 106.0 (19th in the league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 101.7 (3rd in league) Knicks 108.0 (20th in the league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Knicks Chris Duhon, Quentin Richardson, Wilson Chandler, David Lee, Al Harrington,

Lakers notes: Here are just a couple things from my venture to Staples the other night.

First is something that I mentioned in the comments of the last post: Kevin McHale said after the game that they tried to up the pace because the Timberwolves felt they had to. With the Lakers trap, it takes longer to run your half-court sets, so if you just walk the ball up and try to run it you end up against the clock, McHale said. He said you have to get into your offense with at least 15 seconds on the clock, or you struggle against the Lakers.

The bigger thing is this: The Lakers hear your criticism, they are aware that they are not playing at their peak and they are being criticized for it. And to a man, everyone asked brought up the word “execution,” saying they have good offensive and defensive systems when they execute it. But also, they are not panicked about it. I leave you with the post-game thoughts of Derek Fisher, who I think summed up the locker room mood:

“Things have really changed a lot. We’ve put ourselves to the point where if we win 120-108 we gave up to many points and if we win 98-86 it’s not pretty enough.”

Then he was asked if there is room for improvement with this team.

“There should be. If there wasn’t room for improvement in December [laughs]. It would be a very high goal for us to stay at that level through June and keep up our intensity.”

The Knicks Coming In: This is the second game of a back-to-back for the Knicks, who lost last night to the Suns. Brett Pollakoff of Fanhouse was there and sent me a couple thoughts:

Mike D’Antoni wasted no time at all implementing his up-tempo offense in New York. Last night in Phoenix, the team launched a preposterous 37 three-point attempts, many of them in transition with definitely less than seven seconds gone off the shot clock. Not to over-simplify things, but had they made more than five of them, they definitely would have had a pretty great shot to beat the Suns.

The downside for New York is, with this lineup and the tempo that they choose to play at, they have no inside presence defensively — at all. So if the Lakers begin the game by establishing Bynum in the post, limit their turnovers and don’t get sucked into the tempo by taking quick shots early in their possessions, then they should have little trouble beating this Knicks team.

The Knicks started the season 6-4, but have gone 5-9 since then. Yes, they miss the scoring of Randolph and Curry, but that’s not the biggest problem according to Mike from Knickerblogger:

Prior to the start of the season, I called the guard spot the Knicks “deepest“. D’Antoni had a rotation of Duhon, Crawford, Robinson, and Collins with Roberson and Marbury on the bench. However since then, New York traded Crawford and Collins, Robinson hurt himself, and Marbury has Marburied himself off the team. This has left the Knicks without any depth at guard. Over the last few games Duhon has played more than 40+ minutes in just about every game, Richardson has slid over to shooting guard, and D’Antoni has so little confidence in Roberson that he’s used 5 forwards on the floor instead of playing the team’s summer league signee.

D’Antoni’s system needs good guard play to thrive, and not only are they not getting it, they don’t look to be getting it from anywhere short of a trade.

Keys To The Game: Remember way back when Loyola Marymount made a run to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament, with Bo Kimball shooting free throws left handed and Paul Westhead as the coach? They did it, beating established teams, because their extreme run-and-gun style threw more traditional teams off their game. Those teams didn’t know how to react. That was until LMU ran into UNLV, a team with athletes like Stacy Augman and Larry “Grandmamma” Johnson that wanted to get out and run too, and they had far, far more talent. The result was UNLV was comfortable and blew out the Lions.

I bring that up because this game is sort of like that – these are the teams playing at the first (Knicks) and third (Lakers) fastest pace in the league. But, the Lakers have far more talent, they are better suited to this style and should be able to run away from New York.

One key will be the Lakers recently shaky transition defense. As Brett Edwards said, this Knicks run back and are happy to do the PUJIT, you have to have you man in transition. Bynum and Gasol run the floor well for seven footers, but Al Harrington has thrived and scored in this system. If Bynum and Gasol don’t get back the Lakers may need to go smaller. Another reason to get back — the Knicks shoot 54.6% (eFG%) in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock but that falls to 47% if you can get them into the next five seconds. The Lakers need to get back, and if not slow the Knicks down they need to prevent layups and force those PUJITs.

Offensively, the Lakers bigs should dominate. The front line of the Knicks is 6-8. 6-9. 6-9. Bynum and Pau should feast.

But that means getting the ball inside — the Lakers have been bad about this. Or when they do the ball kicks back out but doesn’t rotate to the other side. The Laker bigs should be able to score even against doubles tonight, but if they kick out we need ball movement with passes.

Where you can watch: This game is on Fox Sports here in LA and NBATV nationwide. For some odd reason, when NBA TV shows the game, you can’t get it on NBA Broadband, something that is rather silly.

Time to Mix it Up

Bill Bridges —  December 15, 2008

NBA 2008 - Lakers Beat Timberwolves 98-86
Every Laker fan is also a Laker critic. It is a divine right of the Laker fan to complain if the team does not meet lofty expectations and blow out each opponent. Much has been said and written about the new Lakers defense. But the switch in performance and the magnified switch in fan sentiment regarding the Laker’s defense is probably unparalleled. At the beginning of the season, the new “strong-side zone” defense masterminded by the new Defensive Coordinator Kurt Rambis had lifted the team to #1 in total defense prompting national media attention and admiration. Recently, the same SSZ defense is prompting ridicule from the likes of perennial all-defensive-team stalwart, Mark Jackson: “The Lakers are a bad defensive team…”

It is as if the ’74 Steel Curtain transformed into the ’08 Detroit lions in the span of 4 games. So it is time to strip away the rhetoric and opinions and try to examine this defense objectively and render a fair critique. In so doing, there are at least 3 separate components.

1. The strategy. The over-all structure of the defense. What is the scheme? What is the objective? 

2. Execution. Are the players executing the strategy with effort?

3. The personnel. Do the players have the skills to execute the strategy?

The Strategy.  The goal is to take advantage of the new zone defence rules to create a hybrid defense. The strong-side players actually play man-to-man. Ball placement in the wing area draws the weak-side post player to the strong-side mid post who zones off that region, preventing penetration and help either to the high or low post. As Frank Hamblen recently said, each player is playing his man and ½ of another by being ready to provide help for his team-mates. In the beginning of the season, the help was more judiciously applied such as when the opponent had picked up his dribble, or in the corners. This is a trap. The offensive player is put under pressure resulting in sub-optimal results such as errant passes. More recently the help has been coming at all times. This is doubling – not trapping. Doubling John Salmons when he is still has his dribble is not smart. This help is easy to beat with a quick pass out to the top, resulting in defensive scramble, and invariably, an open shot. 

The result of this constant helping? Reduced steals, open looks and wide open lanes for dribble penetration. If the strategy is of the defense is to pick and choose trap opportunities, the team has not been executing it.

On high screen and rolls, the strategy seems to be, with no regard for the opposition, a hard show by the bigs with the man covering the ball (usually Fisher or Farmar) NOT fighting through or going under the screens but covering the zone between Bynum/Pau and their men until the bigs begin their retreat back to the basket at which time, Fisher/Farmar re-engage with their men.  Because they have constant “show” help, Fisher/Farmar are playing their men very tight, trying to disrupt the offense.  

There are two issues problems with this strategy. Any move played without variation, whether in chess, or baseball pitches, will be beaten. The bigs should sometimes NOT show, just to change the rhythm. Second, the tight play by Fisher/Farmar (not the quickest of guards anyway – more later) only make them easier to beat off the dribble even without the aid of a pick.

My observation is that if you had to pick one strategic move causing the Lakers the most problems is their tight-coverage/constant-show on the screen and roll. This strategy is the wrong one for this team and because of it the entire defense breaks down due to the resulting dribble penetration. Dribble penetration exposes the bigs who have to help, bring their man toward the hoop and whether the outcome is a layup, foul, open 3, or offensive rebound, the chances are that the results are not good.

Execution. I don’t believe that the execution has really changed much throughout the year. Defensive execution is about coaching and basketball IQ. By the time a player has made the NBA and he still has not learned to keep between his man and the hoop while keeping an eye on the ball, it is probably too late for him to learn. There are several Lakers who apparently have not learned this simple skill. One of the reasons for the benching of the stronger, quicker, taller Vlade for Luke is that Luke has these fundamental skills while Vlade does not. Farmar never had these skills and Lamar seems to have lost his. 

As far as effort, I actually think the players are trying harder than they were at the beginning of the season. But to quote the Wizard, “don’t mistake activity for achievement”. Constant doubling demands a lot of hard work. Unfortunately such indiscriminate activity puts the defense in easy-to-exploit scramble mode. More lazy, but discriminate trapping would be far more effective.

Personnel. No matter the validity of the strategy and degree of execution. These two factors have to fit the characteristics of the personnel. For the most part, an aggressive trapping defense fits well. In Kobe, Ariza, and Odom, the Lakers have disruptive wing players who can both provide trap pressure and intercept errant passes.  Although even here recently (perhaps spurred on by the wager made by several players on highest steals totals) too many steals attempts are being made on passes to the middle rather than cross court. A missed steal on a cross court pass gives team mates a chance to rotate over. A missed steal to a pass to the free throw line to the top of the key creates a wide open lane.

Where the strategy does not fit with the personnel is the idea that the wing players should constantly funnel their man baseline to the bigs and the aforementioned hard show on the screen and roll. Funnelling the man to the hoop requires having a big that can change the shot without fouling. A Zo, Wallace, even Chandler.

Against the Kings recently, Bynum showed he has simply has not learned how to defend a small attacking the basket without fouling. Bynum’s best defense is against other bigs (Amare, Bogut, Jefferson), not help defence against smalls. He has to decide whether he is going to block the shot, make a hard foul, or get out of the way. Doing none of the three results in feeble denial attempts that results in an and-more often than any 7’ 285 pound center who can dunk without jumping should ever give up. Kwame has shown (and Roy Hibbert of all players has echoed) that merely standing straight up with arms straight in the air is an incredible deterrent. Bynum has to be coached to play help defence with intent and purpose. Surely he must be tired to making a half-hearted attempt to block a small’s layup a step too slow only to be charged for a foul. I know that I am. As I am tired of his inevitable whining about the unjust call.  Maybe the wing player should just play good defense, move their feet and draw a charge (heaven forbid) instead of letting their man go base line.

Also, whether it is due to lack of quickness or desire, Bynum simply is unable to show hard and get back to his man. 

If you are watching the defense intently, the sheer lack of defensive skills and instincts of Farmar is quite shocking. I wrote in the Kings game thread that the defense would be better without Farmar at all and the Lakers playing  4 on 5 as at least then his man might be tempted to shoot the open jumper instead of abusing Farmar at will and driving to the hoop. It is as if his coach had not taught him to watch his man’s belly instead of his eyes or the ball. Every twitch of the ball handler had Farmar jumping until his man decided to take him out of his misery and blow by him. Farmar might be that rare athlete who is fast when running straight with the ball to the hoop while being slow moving laterally, and explosive  and strong when rising for a dunk but not when fighting through a pick. 

Both point guard’s inability to keep their men in front of them and the scramble that the hard show creates should result in the Defensive Coordinator adjusting and changing the strategy.

My suggestions on what this change could be are:

1. The default defense for screen roll should be for the bigs not to show and the guard to go under the screen. I would much rather have Udrih taking long jump shots or trying to initiate the offense from the three point line than having a straight line to the basket. Show occasionally to mix it up.

2. If you show, rarely do it with Bynum. And never do it if a Bynum/Farmar combo is the defense.

3. Do show with Lamar. He is the best show help defender on the team. His screen and roll defense against Tony Parker 2 seasons ago was a revelation. When Lamar is on the floor, put him against the big that usually sets the high screen and roll. 

4. Whatever you do. Change is up. 

5. Consider putting Ariza on the point. Much like San Antonio, make the point guard shoot over a taller quicker player who can play off him as a result of his size. Considering the dearth of wings who can play from the post, if Parker isn’t exposed on defense neither will be Fisher.

6. Play straight man defense sometimes. Again, change it up. The current defense is akin to an all out blitz. This works for a while but then the offense will screen pass you to death and eventually figures out a blocking scheme to kill you over the top. The triangle is fluid, changing and morphing to adapt to the defense. Why can’t the defense adapt to the offense?

Despite the “sky is falling” laments from the fan base I think we should take heart in the performance so far. Think of the first 23 games as practice for a new kind of hybrid defense. Constant practice has made them better at it but constant use has made them vulnerable to the opposition. Now it is time to use it as just one of their many options in a multi-dimensional, adaptive defense that leverages the strengths of their personnel whilst hiding the players’ natural weaknesses.

—Bill Bridges