Archives For January 2009

Andrew Bynum of the Los Angeles Lakers
Records: Lakers 36-9 (1st in the West) Grizzlies 11-34 (13th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 114.1 (1st in league) Grizzlies 101.8 (29th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.0 (6th in league) Grizzlies 109.4 (24th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Grizzlies Mike Conley, O.J. Mayo, Rudy Gay, Darrell Arthur, Marc Gasol.

The Lakers Coming In: It seems to have taken half the season, but Andrew Bynum is back. JonesontheNBA (another guy we miss, but law school will do that to you) said it well in the comments:

It’s safe to say Drew is finally fully healed. Just as little as a few weeks back Drew was still having trouble elevating and finishing around the rim. I wonder what clicked all of a sudden for him, because he’s back to catching lobs, actively moving on both ends, and finishing with authority.

I still wonder how much of that was confidence, both in himself and his knee, compared to a physical problem. Whichever it was, it is in the past now, and suddenly the Lakers have a true high post/low post game that no team in the NBA is going to be able to match. (Who is closest? Boston, probably.)

Right now the offense is clicking, and last night they scored at will on Minny. They should be able to do that again tonight.

The Grizzlies Coming In: The Griz come in having lost 11 in a row. They canned the coach they brought in just last year and replaced him with one apparently not loved by the players. It’s a tough spot for a franchise that has some talent on the roster. Over at 3 Shades of Blue they are already doing mock drafts.

The problem of late is that talent isn’t scoring much. And not efficiently. Of the team’s five leading scorers, none is shooting higher than 46.7% in the last 10 games. O.J. Mayo, who had a fun battle with Kobe last time these two met, is shooting just 44% (eFG%) and 32% from three in the last 10. Rudy Gay’s numbers are not much better.

The one guy playing pretty well of late is Mike Conley, who since being inserted into the lineup is shooting 47.6% from three and is getting four assists per game. He’d have more if his teammates would hit shots.

While the offense is struggling, the defense isn’t exactly shutting people down, either. It’s a bad combo.

Keys To The Game: These two teams met during the Lakers December swoon, and it took Kobe Bryant heroics to pull out the win. Bynum played a poor first half, as did Ariza and others. Today, the two teams are on very different trajectories.

There are no games in the NBA where you can just roll out the ball and win, but if the Lakers show up focused this should be a comfortable win. It would help to get a nice early lead and take the confidence out of Memphis.

Once again, the Lakers have an advantage inside. Arthur cannot stop Pau, and Bynum should be able to get points on the other Gasol if he continues this run of play. The Lakers need to pound the ball inside to start, establish the middle and that will open up shots for Fisher and the others spotted up at the arc. Oh, and that Kobe guy.

Their offense is pretty heavy on the pick-and-roll (well, at least it was under the old coach, I haven’t seen the new coach yet). Gay and Mayo can get in the lane and cause a lot of problems if you let them, but they are not good jump shooters. Go under picks for a change. Dare them to shoot from the outside.

Where you can watch: 5 p.m.,, KCAL 9 here in Los Angeles and League Pass and the usual spots nationally.

NBA 2008 - Lakers Beat Timberwolves 98-86

Records: Lakers 35-9 (1st in the West) T-Wolves 16-28 (10th in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 113.7 (1st in league) T-Wolves 106.0 (21st in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 104.7 (4th in league) T-Wolves 109.4 (24th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
T-Wolves Randy Foye, Sebasian Telfair, Ryan Gomes, Craig Smith, Al Jefferson

Biting The Hand That Feeds Me: Henry Abbott is wrong.

In his Friday Bullets today, Henry called Bynum’s flagrant foul on Wallace a dirty play and said he comments should have been more remorseful. First, we shouldn’t judge on one stand-alone comment (I’m glad the league saw my side and I didn’t get suspended.”). The fact that Bynum went over to the Bobcats locker room after the game, apologized to Larry Brown and asked to get in touch with Wallace is the sign of a guy who handled this the right way. One sentence in an interview is not a good way to judge, because anyone involved in those interviews knows how one line can be pulled out of context.

Second, it was not a dirty play. He came late and tried to foul to stop a lay-up. That play happens in every NBA game, six times in any game Wade is involved in. But watch it and it is clear Bynum did not intend to injure Wallace, he turns sideways. Henry, as someone with children, understands the difference between punishing intent and results. My four-year-old daughter has gotten in more trouble for doing things that did not hurt anyone but that she knows she wasn’t supposed to do than she has for accidents. Intent matters. Bynum, it is clear, did not intend to severely injure Wallace. The NBA understood this.

But, please keep working to give Bynum some sort of undeserved enforcer reputation. All the better for the Lakers.

The T-Wolves Coming In: This is a dangerous team.

The T-Wolves are 7-3 in their last 10 games (same record as the Lakers). And now this is the first game since the All-Star announcement slighted two Wolves, so they will be playing with a chip on their shoulder. First, Al Jefferson should have been on the team over David West, this is a case of people voting for the good guy on the winning team rather than the better guy whose GM has left him stranded. Secondly, and this may the bigger slight, Kevin Love was left off the rookie team. Really, there are nine rookies in the West better than him?

Both of those guys have been playing well of late. Jefferson has been a 22-10 guy in the last 10 games, getting to the line five times on average and shooting a solid 47.6%. He can get his shot in the lane very well against most teams. Love has been 12-10 in 24 minutes coming off the bench in the last 10, shooting 53% and getting to the line 4.5 times per game.

It took Love a little while to adjust to the NBA game, but look at what’s David Thorpe is saying about him now:

What Love has really shown lately is his incredible combination of skill and size, and his feel for the game — he’s often in the perfect position to make a play. He’s now No. 2 in Player Efficiency Rating for rookies and is tops in all three rebounding metrics (offensive, defensive and total rebound rate). That’s impressive, considering his poor start.

The other Minny guy playing well of late is Foye. He is averaging 18 a game and shooting 41% from three in the last 10. You have to go out and respect his shot now. He has picked up the outside shooting missing with Mike Miller out, and Foye has handles, too.

Keys To The Game: What the T-Wolves do is not complex, but you have to be focused to defend it. They simply like to go-inside out — Jefferson on the inside opening up room for shooters and guys who can slash on the wing.

Last meeting, the Andrew Bynum’s length really bothered Jefferson and he needs to do that again. And he needs to bring it — Jefferson is really going to be ticked and really look to prove a point tonight. Bynum has to be physical and use his length to bother Jefferson’s jump hook in the middle of the lane (Bynum blocked one last game).

In the last meeting of these two teams, the T-Wolves hung in because they grabbed a lot of offensive rebounds — 16 for the game, with Jefferson getting five and the strong Craig Smith getting four. The Lakers need to take care of the glass.

Ultimately, the T-Wolves don’t shoot well from the midrange. If you take away Jefferson or the three from Foye and others, they will miss a lot of shots. Then crash the boards and get out and run. Sounds simple, but seven of the last 10 teams they played could not do it well enough.

And if the game is close at the end, remember this from Kelly Dwyer at Ball Don’t Lie:

And if things are close in the end, not that I’m rooting either way, you’d like to hope that the Lakers would be the first team to not act surprised when Minnesota throws out its late-game go-to play; a curl that sees Foye grab the ball on the strong side of the inbound passer, only to turn over his left shoulder, drive hard with the right hand, and go up for a floater off glass. They’ve only been running this, and we’re serious, since 2006. And yet, teams have looked surprised by it ever since.

Where you can watch: 5 pm starts out West on KCAL 9, and the usual spots around the Web.

With 4:21 left and the score tied 83-83, I hit pause in the DVR and decided right then and there to do a detailed breakdown of the final minutes of the game. It was bound to be instructive and exciting, right?

Well, it was exciting. But I’m not sure how much we learned and I didn’t do the overtimes. Still, the breakdown is below.

When a game goes to overtime, let alone double overtime, there are a thousand little things that could have gone one way or another and determined a win. Credit to the Bobcats, who out hustled the Lakers and wanted it more all night. Maybe the Lakers looked past the Bobcats, who knows, but they just got ground down into the kind of game the Bobcats wanted to play. The Lakers did not dictate the style of game, and to me that was the biggest mistake

Also (and most importantly), we wish Wallace and Ariza a speedy recovery.

Here’s the breakdown:

4:21, 83-83: Felton at the top of the key gets the ball to Bell at the elbow coming off a down screen, and he turns catches, jumps and turns in one move like he is going to shoot. But on the switch the long arms of Odom are coming at Bell, so he makes a smart pass to the mismatch the switch created — Sasha on Diaw. Diaw drives the lane and misses the running floater because Bynum came off Okafor to challenge the shot, but the now uncovered Okafor corals the rebound over the cylinder and puts it in.

4:02, 85-83 Bobcats: Fish gets the ball to Kobe at the elbow, who passes to Bynum in the middle of the paint. Bynum gave up a little position for possession, seems a little farther out (9 feet) than he wanted to be, so he breaks out the entire arsenal of jab steps and head fakes. He now has so many to show off he gets called for three seconds.

3:50 85-83 Bobcats: The Bobcats go with Diaw isolated on Odom on the left wing. He makes a move left, Odom goes with him but it gets Diaw down near the low block. He then goes with the fake left, shoot right turnaround fade-away. Nobody is blocking that shot and he hits it.

3:33 87-83 Bobcats: Fisher dribbles around at the top of the key while Sasha comes off two picks from the weakside to the strong, and Fish gets him the ball with some space to shoot behind an Odom pick. Sasha hit three of his first four, so he was feeling it, but he lost it at the end and just kept gunning.

3:17, 87-83 Bobcats: Diaw and Felton in the high pick and pop. Odom does a good job showing out on Felton to take away the drive. I don’t know what the Lakers call was here, but it looks like Odom thought they were switching and Fish thought Odom was going back to Diaw. The only thing going back to Diaw was the ball for an open three, which he hits. Time out Lakers.

3:06, 90-83 Bobcats: Gasol gets the ball and is a hard double way, way out on the wing, so he passes back to a wide-open Sasha near the peak of the arc. If you are a shooter, you have to take this, and Sasha is a shooter. Unfortunately, he’s a cold one.

2:53, 90-83 Bobcats: The Bobcats run the first pick and roll but Fish defends it well going under, on the second one the Lakers switch and Gasol and Fisher soft-trap Felton, who makes a jump-pass to Diaw at the top of the key. Diaw does have Sasha closing out on him but he has got to take that shot, instead he passes to Wallace at the three point line. Wallace who is shooting 26.7% from three on the season. The Lakers will let him have that, and he misses

2:33, 90-83 Bobcats: Kobe brings it up and nobody pressures the ball, so he goes straight to get good position down on the right block, then hits and easy fadeaway over the defender.

2:20, 90-85 Bobcats: This is the one where Wallace goes down. The Lakers have stepped up their defensive pressure on the perimeter, Fisher hounds Felton, who throws it to Wallace at the three point line straight away. Kobe goes for the steal and gets a deflection but Wallace regains control and now has a lane to the hoop and he takes it. Bynum comes over late and just turns sideway and gives the elbow in the ribs to Wallace. A deserved flagrant, that was no play on the ball.

I feel bad that Wallace was hurt as much as he was. Bynum deserves the donation to NBA Charities coming his way from the league office. But I’m good with the long-term ramifications here — I want other teams thinking there is a price to pay for coming into the lane. I want us to be physical like this now and again. (Even after this loss and this play some people pulled the toughness card, even though it was unrelated.) Like a pitcher who throws hard on the inside part of the plate, you will hit a few batters but you establish that area as yours. I want the Lakers to do that with the paint, particularly Bynum, and this is part of that.

Back to the game, Raja Bell on the flagrants, and the 86% guy from the line all season misses both. Still Bobcats ball and they milk a little clock before going pick and roll. Felton drives the lane but the ball gets stripped by Fish, however the ball stays with the Bobcats and they reset. In the scramble it is Fish on Diaw and the Bobcats recognize the mismatch and get the ball to Diaw on the block. Fish fouls. And Diaw misses both. For all the times you think of things the Lakers should have done to win this game, remember the Bobcats just needed to make one of those last four from the stripe.

1:50, 90-85 Bobcats: Actually Okafor grabbed the last missed free throw, but Kobe stripped him quickly then brought the ball up himself. This time Bell isn’t letting Kobe get to the block. So Kobe makes the exact same turnaround jump shot, just from the elbow extended to about 18 feet. Net.

1:40, 90-87 Bobcats: Felton tries to run a little time, but eventually under pressure gives to Diaw at 23 feet out. Gasol plays back, letting him have the long-range shot, but Diaw drives, a little right to left drive across the lane followed by the 12-foot fadeaway. Tough shot but he hits it.

1:20, 92-87 Bobcats: Just give the ball to Kobe on the wing, behind the arc and clear out. I mean, what would you do? Kobe goes jab step, jab step, three pointer. Bingo, to quote our Clippers friend.

1:10, 92-90 Bobcats: This time it’s Felton and Okafor on the screen and roll, but there is no driving lane. So Felton finds Diaw wide open at the three point line, Pau is sagging way back Diaw goes up with a good look over the late-charging Gasol. Miss, Lakers rebound.

:51, 92-90 Bobcats: Kobe on the iso on the right again, but this time he drives a little and gets to just inside the free throw line and looks like he is going up with the fade away — but instead it’s a pass to Sasha who slid into the corner for an uncontested three. Good look, but the only thing colder than Sasha at this point is a Russian winter.

Coming out of the box-out battle down low, Gasol and Diaw got tangled and went to the floor. Foul Gasol, Diaw to the line. He makes one of two.

:30, 93-90 Bobcats: Out of the timeout, the Lakers bring it up the length of the court with Kobe, who comes off a soft screen from Odom then tries basically the same thing he did last time, driving into the paint. This time it was Fisher slipping down a little on the arc and while Felton wasn’t as fooled it didn’t matter. Fish drained the three. He’s solid like that. Somebody should write a post about that guy.

:14, 93-93: No timeout from Larry Brown, which I like. Yes there is a game on the line and the Bobcats are in the playoff hunt at the bottom of the East, but this is still a chance for a team to learn. They know what works, let them give it a shot. However, I somehow doubt what Brown had hoped to see was an 18-foot Felton fadeaway. Maybe next time they do better, because Felton misses.

From there it’s OT. Then another. And I didn’t enjoy the second one as much.

Charlotte Bobcats v Los Angeles Lakers

Records: Lakers 35-8 (1st in West) Bobcats 18-26 (11h in the East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 114.0 (1st in league) Bobcats 103.1 (27th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 104.6 (5th in league) Bobcats 105.1 (7th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Bobcats: Raymond Felton, Raja Bell, Gerald Wallace, Boris Diaw, Emeka Okafor.

On the Road Again: After tonight’s game the Lakers head for the six-game “Grammys” road trip (yes, the most meaningless award show of them all will fill Staples for a while). It’s a road trip that includes games against Boston and Cleveland. It all is the start of the toughest couple months in the Lakers schedule. With this trip, it’s a good thing to have Jordan Farmar back, who looked sharp in his return. Sometimes you learn things being forced to just watch, we’ll see if that’s the case here.

Speaking of Boston — this is the worst idea ever. EVER. I refuse to run the photo, but whatever NBA exec thought that a good St. Patrick’s Day selling point was a Lakers shirt in Celtics green — with a shamrock on the sleeve — firing is not good enough. I’m not a fan of extraordinary rendition, of going Jack Bauer on people, but this may be the exception. This could have come from the good people at Adidas, I don’t know. But somebody really didn’t think this through.

Way Off Topic, But StillI think this is a pretty good idea — shouldn’t Moses Malone’s jersey be retired in Philly?

The Bobcats Coming in: The Bobcats come into Staples with lots of old “friends” of the Lakers — Raja Bell and Boris Diaw to start. And while those two have had to adjust from the high-flying style of last year’s Suns to the grind it out style of Larry Brown they seem to be doing it very well — both had 18 points in the loss to Indiana a couple nights ago.

This team really has the feel of a Larry Brown-coached team (and not just because he openly covets everyone not on his roster). The Bobcats play hard, and particularly on the defensive end. They grind you down with a slow offensive style. And they are getting better — they are 7-3 in their last 10 games.

The key has been the much-better play of PG Raymond Felton — a 43% (eFG%) shooter on the season he is hitting 50% in the last 10 games, He has always gotten teammates involved (about 7 assists per game) but when he is scoring and not just dishing the ball the Bobcats are harder to defend. Basically, they run him off a ton of pick-and-rolls, nothing fancy but it works when he is on his game. And lately he has been on his game.

For a much more in depth look at the Bobcat guards, check out Queen City Hoops, which breaks it down in way, way more detail.

Keys to game This team is not going to be a pushover. The Bobcats have beaten Boston, New Orleans and Utah already this season. They will play hard, they will not just melt away, and they have some matchups that could frustrate the Lakers. Yes, LA should win, but don’t bet on a blowout.

Tempo is going to be key — the Lakers play at the fifth fastest pace in the league and average six or seven more possessions a game than the Bobcats (27th fastest). If the Bobcats are getting their way, the game does not have many possessions, they grind out a defensive win. It’s very Larry Brown of them. The Lakers, especially the reserves with Farmar back at the helm, need to blow past this team and get some easy buckets in transition, if they do it will be hard for the offensively-challenged Bobcats to catch up.

While the Bobcats do play good defense, their one weakness is on the boards — they allow opponents to grab 27.7% of their missed shots, which is in the bottom 10 in the league. The Lakers, with their long front line, should be able to exploit this and get some put backs and second chances.

The Lakers need to defend the pick-and-roll well, one of the keys to their offense is Felton getting into the lane. We know how quick PGs can give the Lakers fits, but LA can do a good job defending this (see Parker, Tony). If Felton is getting into the lane the Lakers will have issues.

The other tough match up is Gerald Wallace (who is a tough match up for anyone, he is good). I tend to think of Wallace as a stronger better version of Trevor Ariza, they have a somewhat similar game. One thing the Bobcats do is get him the ball in the post, but that may not work with long guys like Walton and Ariza on him. Wallace is a beast in the post or slashing into the lane but shoots just 36.6% on his jumpers — they key is getting him to shoot those and not layups.

If the Lakers can get a lead in this one they should be able to hold it, but to get that they will need to run the offense and hit the open man — the Bobcats love to block shots and leave their man to do it. There is space against them to score, but you have to be smart.

Where you can watch: 7:30 start and it is Fox Sports here in LA and NBA TV nationwide. Hey, NBA fans, why would you vote to watch this game instead of San Antonio and Utah?

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Los Angeles Lakers
The title of this post is a reference to a famous Joni Mitchell song, Big Yellow Taxi.  It’s a song that has been redone, reworked, and used multiple times in pop culture.  But, this isn’t a music history blog and I’m not the guy to talk to about songs released in 1970.  So, I’m not going to break down the melody or try to discern some hidden meaning from this classic hit.  However, these lyrics have been darting through my head recently when thinking about our team.  You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone…

Just the other day, Kurt ran a post and linked to an update on Jordan Farmar and his ahead of schedule recovery from a knee injury that he suffered last month against the Heat.  And against the Spurs yesterday, Farmar did indeed return way ahead of schedule, performing quite nicely in his first game action in a month.  He was his usual agressive self, taking the ball to the basket, shooting when open, and pushing the ball at every opportunity.  He again showed his chemistry with Ariza and brought that extra dimension to our team that no other player really brings.  It was definitely nice to have him back in the mix and adding additional life to our second unit. 

However, even when Farmar was out, our team kept on rolling.  Sure, we were a different team:  Our second unit (while still fantastic) lost one of it’s sparkplugs, we were running less, and our rotations and substition patterns were thrown off.  Sasha saw more minutes at PG and he filled this role quite well.  He pestered guys full court, knocked down jumpers, and he filled our need for an additional ball handler with our primary backup PG sidelined.  However, this post is not about Sasha.  Farmar’s absence also impacted Kobe.  With Farmar out, we saw Kobe’s minutes go up and the coaches had him in lineups where he was the defacto PG.  Lineups where he was paired with anyone and everyone and was mostly a distributor.  Bynum even referred to #24 as Kobe Nash in the postgame interview following our win over the Clippers.  However, this post is not about Kobe.  And despite the title, and him being the guy that was actually out with an injury, this post is not about Jordan Farmar.  This post is about another guy.

Let me take you on a trip down memory lane.  Brace yourself, it’s not pretty.  Chucky Atkins, Aaron McKie, Shammond Williams, Smush Parker, (rookie) Jordan Farmar.  These are the guys that we called on to play PG for us while Derek Fisher was away.  Away helping Utah make the playoffs.  Away contributing to the turnaround in Golden State that saw them make the playoffs the season after he was traded to the Jazz.  Remember those days?  Yeah, I tried to purge them from my memory as well.  I bring this up because recently the talk surrounding Fisher has been less about praise and more about picking him apart.  In our first meeting with the Spurs, Fisher made the mistake of fouling Roger Mason Jr. on a made shot that turned out to be the game winning basket (after the subsequent made free throw).  In several games since then, we’ve seen him foul players shooting three point shots, make the (seemingly) incorrect decision on the fast break, and not finish some shots in the lane that (we think) he should be making.  Basically, we’ve seen him make mistakes and we’ve criticized him for it.  Some of us have been calling for his minutes to be decreased.  Some of us have suggested that he not close games out.  “Should Sasha be closing games instead?  Should we move Ariza to SG and have Kobe, Odom, Gasol, and Bynum close games?”  Us fans were asking these questions.  Essentially, we’ve implied that he could be playing better; we’ve called him boneheaded and we’ve highlighted his mistakes while downplaying what he’s been doing well.

Really though, this isn’t a new thing.  Over his two stints with the Lakers, Derek Fisher has been one of the more unheralded players on the team.  Sure, he’s hit some big shots (most notably this one) and he’s contributed to many wins.  We all recall his late season return from injury in 2001 as a major key to our post season romp that ended with a champiomship trophy and an amazing 15-1 record in the playoffs.  But for the most part, Fisher has been just a role player.  When our Threepeat run started in Phil’s first stint as coach of the team, Fisher was the player that went from starter to sub when Phil wanted Ron Harper to be the big guard he likes to run his Triangle Offense.  When the Lakers tried to go from the Big 2 of Shaq/Kobe to the Big 4 that included Gary Payton and Karl Malone, it again was Fisher that went to the bench so that Gary Payton (who ignited our fast break, but was a poor fit for our halfcourt sets) could start for the team.  Through all that, Fisher remained the consumate pro and has happily gone out and done his job.   This has been Fishers m.o. his entire career:  Do what’s asked of him, give maximum effort doing it, and be a leader at the same time.

And this continues now.  On this current team, Fish is a guy that is doing exactly what we need of him.  He is helping this team, despite some of his weaknesses.  I know that Fisher has never had the strongest instincts when handling the ball on the fast break.  I also know that Fisher is not the best finisher when he gets into the lane.  It’s also clear that Fish has lost a step and is no longer the strongest on ball defender against quick PG’s.  Kurt even coined an acronym that describes his penchant for shooting a pull up jumer in transition.  However, all of these issues combined don’t come close to the negatives that his predacessors possesed.  They also don’t diminish his value to this team.  And if we’re talking about value, some things need to be mentioned.  During the time that Farmar was out with his knee injury, Fisher saw his average minutes increase from 26.9 min/gm to 36.8 min/gm.  This stretch included seven instances of playing over 40 minutes in a game.  However with that increased workload, we actually saw a better player.  With Farmar out, Fisher shot better from the floor, got more steals per game, and fouled at a slightly lesser rate (no small feat considering the minutes increase).  He was also still money from the foul line, was still drawing charges, and was still making big time jumpshots when the team needed a bucket.  Basically, he was playing the best he had all season.  And all of it came from a 34 year old player that most of us thought would have ceded his starting position to someone else by now. 

Last Thursday night against Washington, Fish made a beautiful drive to the basket, collapsed the defense, and dropped a tremendous bounce pass (through multiple defenders) to a slashing Bynum for a finish at the rim.  In our game against Cleveland, when the Cavs were making their late game run it was Fisher that made a key jumper to stem the tide and push a seven point lead back to nine with two minutes left to play. He’s making plays like these every game.  And what’s funny is, many times we’re taking it for granted.  I remember when Fisher originally left the team to sign with the Warriors.  While many of us were discouraged as another piece of our championship team left, no one really felt that bad.  I mean, Phil was gone, Shaq was gone…Fisher’s leaving too?  Okay, it’s just one more guy.  The thought was, we can’t pay him that much money and he’s a player that’s declining anyway.  But, now that he’s back (ironically, on the tail end of the contract that he signed when he left Thanks to Craig W. and Vincent for pointing out that Fisher signed a New Deal with the Lakers after his contract with the Jazz was mutually terminated) I wonder how we got by without him.  Well, after re-reading that list of replacements up there, we didn’t get by, did we? 

Nothing against Farmar.  In his first game back he showed me a lot of good things and reinforced his work ethic with an early return to the lineup.  And not only did he return early, he looked sharp.  And that type of performance doesn’t happen if you’re approaching your rehab half heartedly.  So I’m not knocking Jordan here.  I’m only saying that we should also recognize what Fish has done in Farmar’s absence.  Because just like the last time he wasn’t around, when Fisher’s no longer here, we’re all going to miss him.  We’ll miss his steadiness, his savvy, and that strange release resulting in all those made jumpers.  But he’s not gone yet.  So today, as Joni Mitchell’s lyrics go through my head, I thought I’d just remind everyone to appreciate what we have while we’ve got it.  We’ve seen what it’s like without him. 


Texas News - January 14, 2009
Records: Lakers 34-8 (1st in West) Spurs 29-13 (2nd in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 114.2 (1st in league) Spurs 108.2 (13th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 104.9 (6th in league) Spurs 104.5 (5th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Spurs: Tony Parker, Roger Mason Jr., Michael Finley, Matt Bonner, Tim Duncan

Lakers Notes: I’m sure the ABC crew today will be playing up the revenge angle after the loss 11 days ago, but I’m not sure between these two teams there can be a statement game in January. They are just too familiar with each other and in a playoff setting for one game to mean that much now.

But, I also think this is a better look at what we may see when these teams meet in May. The last meeting the Lakers were on the second game of a back-to-back, were without Sasha Vujacic as a backup point and Luke Walton as a starting three. This is a better version of what the Lakers should look like in the playoffs. *knocking on wood*

That said, right now I agree with David Thorpe, analyst and Executive Director of the Pro Training Center at IMG, that the Spurs are the biggest threat in the West to the Lakers. Here’s what he said in a post a couple of days ago.

I still think San Antonio is the most dangerous threat to LA. First of all, they beat the Spurs 3 times in the playoffs last year by 4, 2, and 8 points. In those games, a severely disabled Manu scored 10, 7, and 9 points. Bigger picture — LA has an excellent defensive team because of the way they work together, but they have only 1 or two very good individual defenders. So a team like San Antonio, with 3 stars (when healthy), really puts a lot of pressure on that defense to move as a unit. Also, the Spurs are gritty tough (like Boston), forcing all of LA’s softness to the forefront. If they play with force, LA can win that series. But can they play with force, assuming all 3 of the Spurs stars are healthy?

In the Blueprint for Beating the Lakers some of the things discussed were having a PG that could penetrate, a scorer at the three and a big that can pull at least one of our 7 footers away from the basket as help. That describes the Spurs. Still, right now, I think we win a 7 game series with San Antonio. I hope I still feel that way after today’s game.

The Spurs Coming in: A couple weeks ago, the Spurs knocked off the Lakers in one of the more entertaining games of the season. How much does that win matter to the Spurs? How much should they take away from it? Does it give us much insight if these teams met in May? I threw that question at Graydon Gordian of the brilliant 48 minutes of Hell.

Obviously it was a boost of confidence to get a win against the Lakers but I wouldn’t put too much emphasis on it, partially because it is January, partially because your bench wasn’t at full strength. The Lakers still remain the one team in the West I believe we would lose to in a 7 game series. I believe, if fully healthy, that it would be a more competitive series than last year because I, unlike a lot of people, actually believe this team has gotten better, not worse. But I still believe, as currently constructed, we would most likely lose.

That being said, we have made some personnel adjustments that I believe give us a better chance against the Lakers. In particular we are leaving an offensive minded squad on the floor for a greater percentage of the time. As game one of the WCF last season demonstrated, I don’t believe we have the defensive prowess to create a lead and merely hold it. If we want to win games we have to be constantly expanding that lead. Or, more likely, making some sort of attempt to match you guys shot-for-shot. Now, obviously we can’t do just that, but if Bowen is at the point in his career where he is getting burned by Kobe anyways, why not just let Mason get burned and leave ourselves with a more versatile offensive weapon on the floor. Throughout the season Pop has slowly begun creeping away from his stodgy, defensive-minded lineups and deploying more balanced, offensively sustainable groups. Subsequently we are experiencing far fewer of those abysmal offensive droughts we were known to experience last season. This trend gives us a better shot at toppling the Lake Show.

As I said, I believe we would lose to you guys in 7 but I still think we are your greatest threat (in the West). Duncan will play magnificently in the post season as first ballot hall-of-famers are known to do. Parker will continue to create match-up problems for your backcourt. Manu will remain a threat to explode offensively at any given moment. Mason will hopefully make a couple of late game daggers where Barry failed to. But most importantly, this is a team that is not afraid of LA. We have lost and won high stakes contests time and time again. We will not easily be phased. If anything, the inability of the Spurs to be intimidated is one of the things I might take from the first game.

Keys to game: Last meeting was a see-saw affair until the Spurs made a 9-1 run on the Lakers bench in the third quarter, then the Lakers responded in the fourth with their own run. These kind of games often end with a little bit of luck — Fisher with the rare mental mistake and a great shot by Roger Mason (he’s beat the Suns and Clippers with big shots as well). Credit to him for making the play.

Controlling the paint will be the key in this game. The Lakers lead the NBA in points in the paint per game at 46.4, while the Spurs give up just 33.3 in the league, second best in the league. (By the way, take a few guesses in the comments about what team leads the league in protecting the paint, it’s not who I would have thought). We need a continuation of Andrew Bynum’s last few games here.

It’s a challenge to slow the Spurs offense because of balance, six players scored in double digits in the last meeting. We’ve discussed how to slow Tony Parker in the past (go under the pick-and-roll, he’s a good jump shooter but he’s more dangerous driving the lane) and the Lakers need to do that. Pau Gasol did a reasonably good job on Duncan last game (9 of 19 from the floor) and making him less efficient is always a key. That said, Duncan has a double-double in his last six games, and you don’t stop him. I expect he’d get his seventh today.

The bigger challenge is Manu (he had 27 in the last game). I think Ariza has to be the man here, and the goal is to get Manu to drive left (he is about 60-40 to the right side with drives and seems to finish better going that way).

The Spurs are a very good three-point shooting team, the Lakers cannot let them set up out there and get good looks (part of that goes back to not letting Parker and Manu in the paint for kick-outs). As a team, the Spurs shoot 39.7% from three, second best percentage in the NBA, and in the last game they were 50% against the Lakers (10 three pointers were key). The Lakers need to close out on threes.

Where you can watch: 12:30 on ABC, right after Dirk finishes going for 55 and the Mavs knock off the Celtics (hey, I guy can dream).

The Post Phil Era

Kurt —  January 24, 2009

USA TODAY Hollywood Hero Honoring Magic Johnson
In an interview with Magic Johnson to be aired during Sunday’s Lakers/Spurs game, Phil Jackson, when asked if he has considered retirement, said yes — in the summer of 2010, the end of his current contract. He doesn’t rule out coaching beyond that, saying he’ll go year by year, but it was about the most definitive Jackson has ever sounded on the issue.

I haven’t heard the entire interview yet (John Ireland had just a snippet on his radio show) and by the time the Lakers/Spurs game is over I’m sure Phil Jackson will be back to tap dancing around the retirement question. And nothing can change a man’s mind like $10 million. But I can see why he would want to hang it up — he’s had both his hips replaced, he doesn’t need the money, and he’s been there and done it all. If he wins the 10th ring in the next couple of years, I can see him hanging it up.

The question of the day is not should Phil retire — he can and should do that on his own terms — but rather what follows for the Lakers?

To me, that has to start with a basic team philosophy question: Do the Lakers stay a triangle team? Or do they go to another style?

That really determines where you go for a coach. If you want to stay triangle, you hire one of the current assistants — Kurt Rambis, Brian Shaw or former NBA head coach Jim Cleamons. If you want to go another direction, you talk to Bryon Scott or another top-flight coach.

It also determines roster moves. What Mitch and the Lakers have done well in recent years is build a team of players who have skills that fit well in the triangle (despite how painful that process been at times). Certainly some of the players on the Lakers roster now (and when the retirement happens) can succeed in multiple styles, but some may not. And there may be new players needed to fill specific roles in a new system.

My two cents are that if Phil hangs it up after the end of the 09-10 season, with the team in the middle of a championship window, you don’t rock the boat with a new system. You hire Rambis or Shaw, try to keep things largely the same, and go for more titles with the team as built.

But, if it is a few years later, when the window is closing, maybe it’s time for some changes.. Buss has questioned the triangle in the past, but if you are going to get away from that, you have to do so when the timing is right. But before you hire any coach, you need to look at these big picture questions.

Live Blog: Lakers vs. Wizards

Kurt —  January 22, 2009