Archives For December 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.

Preview & Chat: The Sacramento Kings

Kurt —  December 9, 2008

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……

Preview & Chat: The Milwaukee Bucks

Kurt —  December 7, 2008

Lakers vs Wizards
Records: Lakers 16-2 (1st in West) Bucks 9-12 (11th in East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 113.2 (2nd in league) Bucks 102.8 (24th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 100.5 (3rd in league) Bucks 104.5 (11th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladimir Radmanovic, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Bucks Luke Ridnour, Michael Redd, Richard Jefferson, Malik Allen, Andrew Bogut

Lakers notes: It’s a sign of how far the Lakers have come that they won two of three on an East Coast road trip and fans are complaining.

It’s the way those games went that draws the criticism, the blown leads in the fourth quarter. I’ll reiterate what I’ve said in the comments — the play of the second unit late in games on the road is something to be addressed. But that is why there is an 82 game season before the games that really matter, and we are just 22% of the way through it. Anyone who thinks they know now from watching the Lakers or Celtics so far what could happen in June (if both teams even make it that far) thinks they know too much.

That said, it is a concern. DrRayeye had a great idea in the comments, putting together a “hold em” squad that features Lakers bench guys who make smart decisions with the ball, guys like Walton. Could work. Personally, after rewatching the Washington game, what is frustrating is how the Lakers start to go away from what works on offense. The second unit seems to suddenly either be out for themselves or just showboating a little and losing focus, then Kobe comes in and dominates the ball rather than running the offense. The defensive problems seem to feed off of this (and the Wizards gained confidence) but the Lakers woes seem to start when they get away from the offense.

Jackson has sent the message through the media that he may reinsert the starters in the fourth even with a big lead. Maybe he was lighting a fire under that second unit, maybe he means it, but either way the message about focus and staying with the offense have been sent.

The Lakers should get to test that out tonight. Should.

The Bucks Coming In: The Bucks looked better in their last outing a win over the Bobcats, in large part because the team is getting healthy. Most recently the $60 million man Andrew Bogut is back and playing. Redd missed the first 14 games.

As you might expect of a Scott Skiles team, they are playing hard on defense. Most of the time. But Skiles was fired for not using all the offensive firepower in Chicago well and now he has Redd and Jefferson and…. well, some guys who need to be put in the right position to succeed. And that is not happening a lot so far (but the injuries tie in here).

Milwaukee is home to the Luke Ridnour Reclamation Project (a great band name), but the guy to watch is Ramon Sessions backing him up. Sessions has the second best PER on the team (behind that Redd guy). Richard Jefferson is shooting just 48.1% (eFG%) and his true shooting percentage is well off his career numbers.

I’m also looking forward to seeing UCLA product Luc Mbah a Moute, who is carving out a role for himself as a hustle guy off the bench. I wasn’t sure how his game would translate to the next level, but you just can’t underestimate desire and hustle.

Keys To The Game: Here are a couple reasons I think the Lakers should get a big lead to try and hold tonight. First, the Bucks are one of the worst second quarter in the NBA while the Lakers are the best second quarter team in the Association. Meaning the Lakers bench should dominate. Next, the Bucks are one of the worst teams in the league at defending the three, meaning the suddenly hot Radmanovic as well as Fisher, Kobe and the gang should be getting good looks from deep.

I haven’t watched a lot of Bucks ball this season, but you don’t need to see much to figure out this is a jump-shooting team (Bogut and others just did not impress in and around the rim). The Lakers need to close out on the shooters and they need to dominate the boards. On offense, they should be able to get big nights out of Gasol and Bynum because the Bucks have not defended the four and five well this season.

Where you can watch: Standard Sunday, 6:30, Fox Sports night.