Archives For January 2009

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

NBA: JAN 04 Cavaliers at Wizards

Records: Lakers 33-8 (1st in West) Wizards 9-32 (15th in the East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 113.8 (1st in league) Wizards 105.0 (24th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 104.9 (6th in league) Wizards 112.1 (28th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Wizards Mike James, Caron Butler, Dominic McGuire, Antawn Jamison, Andray Blatche

Live Blog Tonight That’s right.. It’s a chance to talk Lakers, mock Kenny Smith, and keep asking all night “why did we trade Caron Butler again?” And do it in real time with a live blog. All the fun will start a little before 7:30, as we catch the end of the Celts/Magic, and follow into the Lakers/Wizards.

It was three years ago today: Jan. 22, 2005. The Lakers are playing the Raptors and fall behind early. The only Laker who shows up to play is Kobe Bryant, and he takes the scoring load on — and finishes with 81. The second most points in NBA history in one game, and Kobe shot a crazy-good 75% (true shooting percentage) that night (his season average this year is 56.8%, which is still very good). Catch the highlights on the ESPN video player to the right, or you can relive every shot right here.

The Lakers coming in Welcome to the halfway point of the season — we’re 41 games in. And, 33-8, no stars having to miss a lot of games with major injuries, and a team that seems to be finding itself at times, that’s about all you can ask.

As for last night’s game, it’s a win and I’ll say again that there are no style points in the NBA. When you are 33-8, not all the wins are going to be pretty. It would have been nice to see the starters get more rest, but this game had the feeling the Lakers could take over whenever they wanted. But only Bynum really wanted too. (And that was good to see, he used to have a tendency to get up for games against the Yao Ming’s of the world but slough-off games like last night, but he showed up big.)

Luke Walton was back, which was good to see as well. I change my mind daily on whether he or VladRad should start at the three, I’m not sold either way. But as long as Ariza closes games out, I’m not going to fret over who starts much.

Finally, for those of us who still have concerns about the Hornets in a seven-game series, what the Clips did with a lot of success last night is what the Hornets like to do. Darius explains:

The Clips are getting into the lane using the CP3 P&R where the screener is really setting a back screen on the PG and the ball handler is getting a head of steam going to the basket. This has opened up DeAndre Jordan inside to get putbacks and receive interior passes and Mardy Collins to get into the lane and hit some floaters. Also the Clips are hitting jumpers, some of which are contested but a few that are not.

My Favorite Comment From Last Night Someone needs to tell Kevin Love that Color Me Badd called, and they want their facial hair back.
— chibi

The Wizards Coming In: Like the Clippers, this is another team where injuries changed everything and the first half of this season has been utterly forgettable. Tonight, no Hibachi, no DeShawn Stevenson (sorry Fresno), no Haywood.

Right now this is a franchise scoreboard watching the Clippers and OKC in the fight for the most ping-pong balls (leading up to what is considered a weak draft). And the Wizards are in for a tough little stretch — five straight games against playoff teams starting tonight.

Like the Lakers, the Wizards are coming in on the second game of a back-to-back, having won a close one in Sacramento last night 110-107. Really, the Wizards outplayed the Kings pretty handily and were up by 20 in the second half— they shot better, they hit the boards better, they took care of the ball better. What kept Sacramento in it was three point shooting — the Kings took 25 and hit 48% of them.

I will say this — the Kings are playing their kids to get experience for the future, and living with the results now. The Wizards are still about the veterans, which may be better short term, but when you have this record you should be thinking long term.

Last night’s win improved the Wizards to 2-8 in their last 10. Jamison has been playing well, scoring 20 a game and hitting nearly 40% of his three pointers in that stretch. Nick Young has been lighting it up off the bench, scoring 13 a game while shooting 61.8% (eFG%) and hitting 48% of his threes. Mike James has not impressed as the starting PG, save that he also can drain the three. All that said, the Wizards shot 14% last night from three against the Kings.

Keys To The Game: The Lakers beat the Wizards on the road in December, but it was one of those frustrating wins. LA had an 18-point lead in the second half but let that slip away, winning by just two and only because Butler missed a three as time ran out. The Lakers need to close this team out tonight.

What the Wizards run is a pretty common NBA offense — a lot of isolation for Jamison and Butler, with some high screens thrown in. Then they space the floor with some shooters. The Lakers need to run guys off the three-point line tonight. But the bigs should be able to provide help inside the paint. Basically, force this team into the midrange and you beat them, let them get layups and open threes and you’re in for a fight.

I think the Bynum/Blatche match up could be a fun one to watch.

Turnovers are the thing that are bothering me a lot lately with the Lakers — just too many of them. It keeps lesser teams in games; tonight would be a good time to start taking care of the ball.

Where you can watch: Officially a 7:30 start, but as this is a national TNT game 7:45 is more likely, and we could well miss the first half of the first quarter. At that point we will all be complaining on the live blog.

Al Thorton of the Los Angeles Clippers

Records: Lakers 32-8 (1st in West) Clippers 9-31 (14th in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 113.6 (1st in league) Clippers 100.2 (30th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 104.7 (6th in league) Clippers 107.8 (17th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladimir Radmanovic, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Clippers Eric Gordon, Mardy Collins, Al Thornton, Brian Skinner, DeAndre Jordan

The Lakers coming in In case you missed the news, Jordan Farmar has been progressing well and could be back before the All Star break. With his work ethic, no shock there.

Also, Kobe’s pain tolerance is higher than yours. And Andrew Bynum doesn’t like to be dunked on.

On a personal note, thanks to Gatinho, Reed, Kwame a., and Darius for all the help while I took a few days off to rest and recuperate. It’s just crazy the quality of the posts they put up.

I put a lot of my stuff in the Keys to the Game today, so head on down there for more about the Lakers.

Thoughts and Links I am hoping the Lakers jump out to a big early lead tonight so I can comfortably flip away and watch the season opener of Lost.

Can the Magic win it all? Anthony Macri, he of the IMG Basketball Academy, tackles that topic in a very well done recent article.

Andrew Bynum talks about getting drafted, and why he thinks people should be able to come straight out of the NBA from high school.

I love this blog and have wanted to link to it for a while — the best places to eat near stadiums around the nation (not just hoops). This could come in handy.

And I flat out just don’t link to the Brothers Kamenetzky often enough. I read them several times a day, I love their stuff and the style. One of my resolutions is to start linking more to the blogs I enjoy, and theirs is at the top of the list.

The Clippers Coming In: Think about the Clippers this way: How good would the Lakers be if they had to sit Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum due to injuries?

Tonight the Clips will be without Baron Davis, Zach Randolph, Marcus Camby and Chris Kaman. This was not a deep team, but no NBA team would be good without their four best. Those injuries explain why the team has dropped 13 out of 14.

There are some guys to watch, for example I’ve seen flashes out of Eric Gordon, but he has a way to go. Kevin Arnovitz (he of Clipperblog and TrueHoop network) has some thoughts on others and what they need to do tonight:

# Al Thornton: Thaddeus Young and Al Thornton both shoot about 36% on two-point jump shots. Here’s the difference: 54% of Thornton’s shots are of the two-point jumper variety, but Young makes the low-percentage shot only 35% of his overall selection. Instead, Young opts for more attempts inside, where both he and Thornton shoot greater than 60%. Thornton must resist the temptation to settle for stuff outside. He’ll start the game against Vladimir Radmanovic, a defender he should be able to take off the dribble. Al will still have to confront the Lakers’ stellar help defense, but penetration gives him a fighting chance. Firing jumpers over the Lakers’ lanky defenders doesn’t.

# DeAndre Jordan: The Clippers’ rookie center did an effective job staying out of foul trouble on Monday while defending the post adequately against Al Jefferson. The Lakers’ Andrew Bynum is a more athletic cover. In addition, the Lakers’ bigs move around the halfcourt a lot more than Minnesota’s, which means Jordan’s most challenging task won’t necessarily be bodying up, but staying alert.

Keys To The Game: This is a classic trap game — just had four tough ones and now you can relax, right? This is still the NBA, these are still professional players. Take a night off mentally and you will have a game on your hands. Plus, for some reason the Lakers have had a lot of letdowns in the first game of back-to-backs.

Yes, Mardy Collins will be the guy covering Kobe Bryant tonight, and that is a serious mismatch. But that is not where the Lakers need to go first.

Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum should have big nights — Al Jefferson destroyed the Clippers a couple nights back. It is true every night but especially tonight — establish the big men first and the triangle offense will flow much better. There should be shots a plenty tonight.

Teams actually don’t shoot that well against the Clippers (they are seventh in eFG% against) but they are not good at defensive rebounding and they do not create turnovers. Simply put, with the Lakers length they should get some easy putbacks and scores tonight. If they want it. Bynum, I’m looking at you.

Oh, and don’t turn the ball over.

Al Thornton and Eric Gordon are going to have to take on the scoring load for the Clippers, and the Lakers need to be smart in playing their penetration. The Laker bigs can afford to stay home against these Clippers, they should be good help, but the Lakers need to do what they did to LeBron and force these guys to beat them from he perimeter. As Kevin said, Thornton can be tempted into that.

Finally, don’t leave Steve Novak out at the three point line. The guy can do one thing — bury threes. He does it very well (41% career clip and 48% last year). That is the only thing he does very well. Force him to put the ball on the floor and he is neutralized.

Where you can watch: 7:30 start here in Los Angeles, the game is on KCAL 9 with the Lakers guys or Fox Sports with Ralph saying the Lakers were the first to 100. Lost is on ABC 7.