Archives For December 2008

Chat: The Minnesota Timberwolves

Kurt —  December 14, 2008

I wish I had something, but the Lakers pregame consisted of nothing exciting from Phil and Odom, after hearing what Teixeira was offered, saying his boy is going to play baseball. But more to come, and start chatting here.

12 minutes to tip: Staples Center feels like…. A T-Wolves game. Not the most energetic crowd. Most of whom want to talk Boston on Christmas day.

Aside that, Gasol has a nice handle, better than I tend to think, and Kevin Love is working on NBA threes. About an hour ago, Sun was out working with Rambis: Kurt stood at the elbow (high post spot in the triangle) and Sun worked on making the pass from the point, going around the high post on a curl, then pulling up for a midrange jumper. Classic triangle stuff.

3 minutes to tip: By the way, I said Phil didn’t say anything interesting in pregame, that wasn’t totally true, he did say that he thought Radmanovic probably wants to assassinate him.

10:11 First quarter. The Wolves are basically in a zone, one the Lakers can exploit inside, as evidenced by the offensive boards.

By the way, lest you think this is all that glamorous, I am sitting between China Hoops and Basketball News China.

6:20 First Quarter: The Lakers really are forcing the Wolves to be jumpshooters and they are not good at that. So far, eFG% of 25%.

8:08 First quarter: Mike Miller just waived off a sub after the second foul, and McHale looked confused before deciding to go with Miller’s wishes.

Okay, at the 5 minute mark, going on Mike Miller Watch. Especially after that impressive pass to two kids in the front row.

The Lakers respect him so much they have Walton on him. The Wolves are trying to do the smart thing, trying to keep Miller on the weak side and whipping passes to him, except nobody they have is that good a passer.

By the way, outside of Jefferson the Wolves are 1 of 7 from the floor.

Walton, to his credit, is keeping an eye on Miller and forced a dribble and pass on the one kick-out he just had. That said, Miller was never fast, but he seems a step slower and with that less confident.

1:56 First Quarter:
Kevin Love sighting!

:25 First Quarter: So far Love has an assist on one of those beautiful outlets and ripped a rebound away from Pau, He looks good, strong and just knows how to use his body.

And I thought, with the naked eye, Farmar was late (not his fault). Secondly, Ariza has clearly lost all confidence in his outside shot. He really is looking to drive, he passed open a pretty good look at a three to drive into traffic.

10:30 Second quarter: This is just not pretty basketball, despite the really pretty and one by Ariza.

9:35 Second quarter: Jefferson loves to get the ball on the left block, spin into the paint and shoot the running jump hook, but Bynum’s length is really starting to bother him on that shot.

And right now is when I’m glad I’m here and not watching at home, because you all are about to be subjected to George Lopez.

6:54 Second Quarter:
Against the Wolves, you can really see what the Lakers new defense can do. They are smothering what Minnesota wants to do, and this is not a team with other options to easily fall back on. The Lakers length is killing them.

On the other end, well, the offense really is just sloppy with the ball and missing good looks. You get the feeling they are just going to turn the spigot on and pull away, but that has yet to happen. Consistency……

4:20 Second Quarter. That two plays that led to the Bynum ally-oop were on Love. Ariza made the steal because Love did not come to meet the ball and didn’t see Ariza, then he spectated back up the court when everyone else ran.

By the way, Criag Smith is just a strong man.

Can you say enough just how well the two Lakers bigs run the floor.

And I told you about that running hook of Jefferson’s and Bynum. An Ariza will shoot the three if you go nowhere near him.

Two things are keeping this close. One, the Wolves have grabbed 44% of their missed shots. That’s crazy high. Second, the Lakers are shooting just 42.% eFG%. Not because of the Wolves so much as just not hitting things that normally fall, trying to get inside and passing up open looks.

5:00 Third Quarter: Watched the first half of the quarter from floor level. One thing that always impresses me live is just how little room Kobe needs to get off a shot and how he shoots with a hand in his face. It really is an amazing thing to watch.

Talked with guy Mike Trudell, he formerly of Minnesota, and he said that what Bynum did to Jefferson in the first half was the best he’s seen anyone defend the big man. Using his left hand then coming with the right when Jefferson shot threw him off. Jefferson adjusted and is just not going to that shot in the third.

Also, here was his theory on why Mike Miller looks so flat and just isn’t aggressive: When in Memphis the ball would go into Pau Gasol in the paint, and so when the double came the ball came flying back out to an open Miller. When it goes into Jefferson, it doesn’t come out much, so Miller just loses energy because he’s not involved on offense. However, he hit two threes in the third quarter as he got passes from guys whipping it around the wings and the Lakers not reacting.

0:01 Third Quarter: The Lakers should run more high pick and roll with Farmar. He’s back to exploding to the rim and he can run that play well.

The Wolves are shooting 41.8% eFG% and turning the ball over on 20% of their possessions. The Lakers should just be blowing them out of the water. When was the last time the Lakers scored just 69 through three?

11:30 Fourth Quarter:
Learned Kevin Love can jump high enough to goaltend. Who knew?

Actually, Love is doing some nice things out there, but right now they are asking him to cover Bynum, and that is just not something he can do. But he sets great picks, works hard on the boards and defense and, well, looks like he belongs more than a lot of rookies.

6:08 Fourth Quarter: Jordan Farmar got a little banged around out there, he was laying down with ice on his knee. That or he’s doing his best Steve Nash impression.

3:13 Fourth Quarter:
Adding to our growing Mike Miller theory, when Jefferson passed back out to Miller (catching Fisher off guard, he had sagged down for the trap) Miller drained it. He may want the ball to go inside out and isn’t getting that now.

Jefferson, by the way, looks tired. He is walking up the court, moving slow and just looks worn down after banging on Bynum all night.

1:30 Fourth Quarter: And the crowd heads for the door. However, the remaining people apparently love the noise meter.

Jefferson cannot even hold off Gasol now, and he should push Gasol around.

1:14 Fourth Quarter: Honestly, I could have gone the rest of my life without hearing Criss Cross do “Jump, Jump” again and been just fine.

Jefferson just drained a corner three. That guy is going to play for a good team someday.

I look forward to seeing the Lakers fourth quarter shooting percentage, I think it was better.

20 wins in 23 games. Not a thing of beauty, but a win.

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