Archives For February 2009

Preview & Chat: The Denver Nuggets

Kurt —  February 27, 2009

Los Angeles Lakers v Denver Nuggets - Game Three
Records: Lakers 48-10 (1st in West) Nuggets 38-20 (3rd in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 114.4 (1st in league) Nuggets 109.2 (9th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.4 (7th in league) Nuggets 106.6 (10th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Nuggets Billups, Dahntay Jones, Melo, K-Mart, Johan Petro

Jordan Farmar’s beard: Jordan Farmar has apparently given up shaving for Lent. I’m not sure there’s another reason for sporting his new beard. But Mimsy made a great point in the comments:

There has been a depressing lack of facial hair on the Laker bench since Turiaf left. Morrison’s porn stach is all well and good, but we needed for a real beard. Farmer stepped up and did what was necessary for the team, and should be commended. Plus, the beard makes his ears look smaller which means he now looks more like an Earthling and less like a Vulcan. Since extra-terrestrials have been banned from playing in the NBA for some time now, that will also cut back significantly on administrative costs for the team.

Lakers without Bynum. When someone suggested in the comments after the OKC game that the Lakers were better off without Bynum, there were some interesting comments from Reed and Darius, that deserve a bigger audience. So, here they are.

Reed first:

I don’t think the Lakers are better without Bynum either, but they are much more cohesive, fluid, natural, purposeful (searching for the right combination of adjectives…). Without Drew, I think the team feels more comfortable in a few ways. There’s a sense of familiarity born of last year’s title run. The roles are more clearly defined, leading to increased individual (even if not team) consistency – Kobe gets 30, Pau 20 and 10, Lamar 15 and 12, and so forth, with little variation. With Drew, sometimes he’d be option #1 down low and sometime Gasol, Odom’s role wildly fluctuated based on need, Kobe didn’t need to score as much, etc. The offense also moves more fluidly without Bynum as all 5 players can typically pass and shoot from outside, whereas Drew leads to a lot of possessions where he slowly operates on the block (and very effectively). The pace is also more consistently up tempo without Drew. So, again, things are more uniform without Drew – consistent pace, defined roles, free flowing offense, etc. There’s real appeal in that and it works, this year and last. But Drew gives the team real upside. When he’s firing, he transforms our defense from okay/good to great and presents an overwhelming physical presence that few teams can deal with on offense.

Now Darius:

I would also add to what Reed is saying about fluidness on offense. Bynum is not nearly the level passer that Gasol is from the hub of the Triangle and that makes the ball stall more and leads to uninspired cuts from our other players as they rarely get rewarded from that movement when it’s Bynum that’s doing the posting. In addition to this, LO is replaced by Pau in the starting group and Pau is not as mobile nor the cutter that LO is so we don’t get the same type of off ball motion out of Pau that we get from LO (this is also true when it’s Pau posting and Bynum is the one that would be moving off the ball). So, with Bynum in the game, we end up with more post iso’s. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because as Reed pointed out, our bigs are very efficient scorers on the block.

One last point I would make is that both LO and Bynum are mostly isolation players when they have the ball in their hands, they just do it in different ways. LO loves to attack off the dribble and Phil likes to put him in positions where he can drive against PF’s that don’t have the skill to stay in front of him (for example those top of the key iso’s where we go to a 1-4 set and Odom can drive hard to his left hand with shooters all around him). Bynum on the other hand has really come into his own as a player that can score against very good defenders in the post. My point really is this: Do you want a player that can create off the dribble or another player that can score on the block with consistency? The funny thing is, (I want) and we really need both. When you look at our team, Kobe and Farmar are the only players that can create for themselves or others off the dribble besides LO. And Kobe and Gasol are the only players that can score in the post with consistency besides Bynum. This is why we need Bynum back and why we also need Odom on this team. They bring dimensions to our team that aren’t prevalent outside of one or two other players. In the end, I’d love for Odom to keep his aggression level high when Bynum returns while also hoping that Bynum is ready to score on the block the way that he was when he got injured. It’s this diversity, with a full roster, that makes us such a complete offensive team.

The Nuggets Coming In: Last playoffs we got so much great info on the Nuggets from the blogger Jeremy that I reached out to him, at his new blog Roundball Mining Company, and asked him a couple of questions.

The conventional wisdom is that this year’s Nuggets team is a better defensive squad than last year’s team. But, the squad’s per possession numbers are identical to last year’s numbers. Is this a better defensive team? Also, is their transition defense as inconsistent as it looks at times?

The Nuggets have been subjecting their fans to a return of the enver Nuggets jokes with the play over the previous couple of months. No matter how you slice it, their defense has been mediocre at best the past couple of months. They put together a three game stretch against Miami, Orlando and Philly that lead me to believe they may be getting back to playing defense the way they did to start the season. It proved to be a fluke though as they have posted single game defensive efficiencies of 123.4, 121.3, 127.4 and 121.7 since then.

The area where the defense has improved is they are all paying attention. Last season players like J.R. Smith, Allen Iverson and Carmelo would routinely lose track of their man and then be shocked to discover that he had just scored a layup. That does not happen anymore this season. The problem has primarily been an issue of communication and defending the pick and roll.

Earlier in the season you almost never saw two Nuggets both running at the same shooter. Now that is much more common. Tell me if I am wrong, but it I always thought that teams should get better executing what they do as the season progresses and not worse.

As far as defending the pick and roll they have been relying almost exclusively on switching, which makes me nuts. You are voluntarily creating two mismatches when you switch plus it is lazy and I think establishes a culture of passivity. After the Celtics completely demolished them due largely to the switching of screens Denver tried playing much more aggressive against Atlanta by trapping the ball handler coming off the screen. If you are interested in reading how that went you can do so here, but the summary version is the Nuggets ended up giving up many open shots.

Ultimately, I think the conventional wisdom is correct that this version of the Nuggets is a much more capable defensive squad than in the past, but only if they are performing at their peak. When they float through games just going through the motions, they get absolutely picked apart.

As far as their transition defense, they have been very porous as of late. One reason for that has been that the guards are not stopping the ball in transition. Both Chauncey and Anthony Carter routinely are left standing at the three point line while the opposing point guard is in the lane to finish a fast break. The other reason is just a lack of want to. They are just getting beat back on defense. Several times against Atlanta they had Hawk players pass them going down the floor, even after makes, resulting in fast break points.

I am still holding out hope that as the season progresses and the pressure ramps up Denver will revert back to their early season defensive mentality, but there is no guarantee that they will. That means there is no guarantee that they will continue to remain amongst the top teams in the Western Conference and thus if they do not get their defensive act together, they will be staring at a sixth straight first round playoff exit.

The Nuggets seem to be the most heavily tattooed team in the league. Are they? Is there anyone they need to pick up to ensure that crown?

The Nuggets players talked about this very issue during training camp. They believe they are the tattoo kings of the NBA. Kenyon Martin arrived with his classy neck kiss lip tattoo, Chris “Birdman” Andersen now has wings tattooed under his arms. I am sure Carmelo and J.R. Smith had some new ink done, but good luck finding it.

Unfortunately, the front office made a big tattoo mistake acquiring the plain wrapper Chauncey Billups for the inked up Allen Iverson. If they want to make sure they hold onto the most tattooed team in the NBA title I think they need to bring in Stephen Jackson. His praying hands holding a gun tat would put them over the top.

Keys To The Game: I think Jeremy gave us just about everything we need to know — the Lakers can run on the Nuggets and should push the pace. When that is not there, some Kobe/Gasol pick-and-roll at key moments would lead to mismatches and baskets. Those two things should get the Lakers the points they need.

The Nuggets defense is predicated on steals and blocks (they lead the league in both per game). You can turn that aggressiveness against a team with back-cuts and interior passing, something we can hope to see tonight.

Last meeting the Nuggets decided Kobe was not going to beat him — they threw hard doubles at Kobe early and way out on the wing. They wanted the ball out of his hands. If he passes out of that and the rest of the Lakers move and pass, again that aggressiveness can be turned into easy baskets for other Lakers.

Normally I’d be talking about the second game of a back-to-back, but the only person who should be tired is Adam Morrison, who is not used to that much run. The rest of the Lakers should be fine.

Where you can watch: 6 p.m. start, with KCAL 9 here in LA having the game. Which means John Ireland and his hair.

Los Angeles Lakers vs Phoenix Suns in Los Angeles

1st Quarter
Houston just handcuffed the LeBronsters and we’re going to get started any minute here! We’ve got Kevin Harlan and Doug Collins calling the action tonight. Man I can’t wait! I had this date circled from the very beginning looking forward to seeing Raja Bell get booed heavily, Boris Diaw get his triple double, Steve Nash dribble circles around everybody like Cousy, Barbosa prove he’s the fastest man on the court, Amare finish at the rim like the beast he is, and watch Marion pick up all the garbage and get his 20 and 10. What do you mean this isn’t 2006?

The starting lineup for the suns tonight is full people who were known for playing elsewhere. Leandro is the only holdover and he’ll be starting at guard. Wisconsin’s Big Ten Player of the Year Alando Tucker is the other guard. Orlando Magic and Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat center Shaquille O’Neal will jump the tip off. Former Duke Blue Devil and Detroit Piston Grant Hill starts at small forward. And Golden State’s Jason Richardson starts at the other small forward. It’s just like the Wishbone formation ladies and gents! So crazy it just might work. I’d say this lineup bears watching, if only because it’s going to get more absurd as the subs you’ve never heard of check into the game.

Lakers will start the same five they’ve been starting for a while. The one that, you know, wins games.

Thank goodness no one has played up the Kobe vs. Shaq angle for this game. Doug Collins doesn’t even mention it before tip-off.

I gotta say, I like that the Lakers are wearing warmup jackets as of late, as opposed to shooting shirts. There are three teams who should ALWAYS be wearing shooting jackets. Lakers, Boston Celtics, and Detroit Pistons. Everyone else is welcome to ditch them or keep them as they please.

11:20 – Kobe’s favoring his post-up moves and jumpers lately. He combines them both and goes to the turnaround jumper in the low post. Wet.

10:49 – PHX 0, LAL 2 – Déjà vu. Same play except Tucker gets caught up in the air and Kobe earns a trip to the line where he deposits one of two free throws. Something that I don’t really get, if the Suns want to go back to SSOL after just 4 months, why in the world did they release the coach that perfected it?

9:41 – 2, 7 – Shaq establishes himself underneath the basket and Gasol proves helpless to uproot a 5000-pound body and Shaq slams the ball home.

8:30 – 7, 11 – Barbosa waltzes his way to a free layup after intercepting a kobe pass.

8:02 – 9, 11 – A little razzle dazzle with some man sauce on top! Barbosa runs the break and drops a beautiful behind the back dime to Richardson who absolutely crushes the ball through the hoop denting the floor. The towel guys can be seen trying to spackle the floor after that one. The game is all tied up. Staples Center is buzzinggggggggg. Stevie Nash enjoyed that one.

7:03 – 14, 13 – Kobe and Pau both watch Richardson dribble hard to the baseline and give up an uncontested reverse layup. Perhaps ‘help right’ sounds a lot like ‘help left’ when Pau puts his Spanish accent on it.

6:05 – 18, 17 – Kobe watches Tucker go baseline and again gets no help. Same result as before. Dear Kobe, feel free to provide a slight bit of resistance when they go to the bucket.  I understand that expending too much energy doesn’t look cool but you’ve taken that idea a little too far. Your friend, nomuskles.  “Wow, these are a lot damper than I expected.”

5:10 – 20, 20 – Mismatch. Somehow the extra tall Fisher ended up guarding the diminutive
Richardson. This led to a foul when the double team came.

4:42 – 20, 20 – With ZBo’s punching bag checking in (Ahmandson), the Suns are going small and Lamar makes them pay. Pau finds him underneath the basket with a great seal on Richardson and he dunks it home.

4:08 – 20, 22 – The Suns use the TFSOL (Twenty-Four seconds or less) technique and come up dry.

3:33 – 20, 24 – Kobe’s really been developing that fadeway lately. The only thing I don’t think is good is he doesn’t square up his shoulders to take it. But hey, you can’t argue too heavily with results. The ball drops through like it was destined for such a fate from the time it was still a cow.

2:35 – 20, 28 – Lakers don’t seem too interested in this one as they allow the Suns to tap the ball around the basket multiple times before JRich puts it in. A bunch of yellow jerseys take notes on their moleskin notepads. I believe I spot the words, “I CAN HAZ CHEEZBURGER?” on Odom’s.

2:07 – 22, 30 – Lakers get a steal in the backcourt and Kobe finishes with a beautiful finger roll up and under. He’s been the Lakers main threat so far.

1:44 – 22, 32 – An audible “whoa” escapes my lips as Matt Barnes throws up an aesthetically offensive shot that grazes the rim and catches Shaq’s hands by surprise. Shaq travels his way to a turnover underneath the bucket. In his excitement he forgot that a pivot foot needs to remain stationary. Honest mistake.

1:35 – 22, 34 – BOOSTIES! Kobe gives a great pass to Jordan (Farmar, not Michael) for the backside alley-oop.

0:49 – 22, 34 – two men who went to UCLA and have tattoos on their neck face off (Ariza vs. Barnes). No real idea there, I just thought that was an interesting juxtaposition.
0:38 – 24, 34 – He’s old, not dead. Farmar challenges Shaq and Shaq brushes his shot aside. Farmar decides to take his shot from outside after the inbounds and hits a three. Much better young’n.

0:15 – 24, 37 – you know what you definitely want on your last possession? Your young point guard to throw the ball away and let the other team run the other way for a fast break layup. Dragic might be a bit shaky. Okay, nevermind, the next time down he hits a nice 17 footer near the end of the quarter.

2nd Quarter
I just read Watchmen the graphic novel, and that commercial makes me want to see the movie. It was relatively action-less in printed form, but for the silver screen it looks like they’ve upped the number of explosions by a factor of 26. Count me in. Who doesn’t want to watch a big blue man walk around in a speedo?

11:40 – 26, 39 – Ariza drills his three and Jared Dudly answers back with a three of his own. Mbenga is in the game. What’s the chance he jiu jitsu’s someone? Is that even a verb?

10:54 – 29, 44 – Barnes throws up his second “whoa” of the night, in a bad way.

10:00 – 29, 48 – As great as Grant hill is, he can’t really guard Mbenga in the post. Mbenga shows off his turnaround jumper off the glass. The bank is open.

9:25 – 29, 48 – Matt Barnes goes for the hattrick! He looks to posterize Mbenga on a fastbreak dunk and Mbenga just turns him away like a bouncer at a nightclub. “I’m sorry sir, your ID says you are a baller. I don’t allow fake IDs in my club.” Barbosa cleans up the rebound and lays it in.

Great insight into Gentry boosting the confidence of Dragic telling the young man, “I don’t care how many mistakes you make as long as you play with confidence…  You’re a pro, you’re here. Just go out there and play.”

7:20 – 37, 50 – Lakers run the unconventional fast break. I guess they are trying out the A-11 offense too. Two on One fast break and Farmar has the ball. Instead of Vujacic making the run towards the hoop to take the ball to the bucket, he runs away from the basket and takes a 17 foot jumper/leaner on the baseline. He hits it anyway. Know your strengths, I guess. Also, with 52 points and 7:18 left in the 2nd Quarter, you might surmise this will be a high-scoring first half. I’m certainly not going to complain about that.

6:18 – 39, 52 – What? The Machine can dunk?? He jams one home on the fastbreak created by stifling defense that led to a turnover. I sort of assumed he couldn’t because he hasn’t done it in forever. By the way, worst gimmick ever is Sasha’s headband watch on his website. I’m boycotting noticing the color or thickness of his headband. If you asked me what color his headband was tonight, I’d have to say, ‘I don’t know, but that is a disallowed question because I’m opposed to stupid gimmicks.

5:30 – 41, 54 – This third unit of the Lakers is getting sucked into a track meet and it’s working for them as the Suns aren’t converting their offensive opportunities. There was just a string of three or four consecutive turnovers by the teams.

Oh. Just kidding. Turner Sports can’t resist. A montage of the shaq and kobe meetings post-trade. Why why why?? No one cares.

4:00 – 43, 60 – Adam Morrison is in there. He is not quick on defense. He is obviously a step behind knowing where he needs to be but he’ll benefit from being out ther with Kobe, Fisher and Odom. The camera shows Gentry wiping his face, trying to figure out how his team ended up in such a big hole.

2:42 – 45, 64 – Sideshow Bob ver 2.0 (or is it 3.0?) shows off his garbage collecting abilities and dunks it.

0:33 – 52, 69 – Shannon Brown subs into the game. I’m hoping for another crazy block. Lakers go four down for Fisher to close the quarter. He creates off the dribble and throws up a right hand runner across the lane. No good. Also, no blocks by Brown. Lakers up by 15, 55-70. That’s an astronomical number of points. If I were John Madden I would say “The team that scores the most points is going to win the game and the Lakers are scoring a lot of points.” Marc Jackson would say, “This Lakers team is soft but the Suns are soft. Good offense beats good defense.”

Halftime
“16 points at halftime doesn’t mean anything.” –Alvin Gentry, Rhodes Scholar.

3rd Quarter

11:50 – PHX 55, LAL 70 – Lakers start it off right with a Gasol alley-oop.

10:55 – 58, 72 – Gasol takes a jumper from the elbow and then he takes a shot to the nether regions by Grant Hill. Hilarious for everyone not named Pau Gasol as he who is named Gasol grabs himself in pain.

8:30 – 63, 80 – After some good offensive possessions by the Lakers and poor execution by the Suns, the suns are forced to call timeout when Fisher drains a wide-open three ball. 63-83 is an absurd score for this point in the game. If the Lakers take this big of a lead into the fourth quarter, the broom wagon lineup will come in and depress the final score, but they are on a cosmic pace.

8:00 – 65, 83 – More fadeaway action from the MVP.

7:25 – 65, 85 – Kobe shows great patience in not forcing the play. Luke had a mismatch and Kobe tells him to setup in the midpost. Luke creates a great opportunity for Pau who get fouled and hits one of two from the line.

7:00 – 68, 86 – The nicely palindromic score doesn’t last long as Gasol flashes to the weakside elbow and Kobe from the strongside post whirls around and gets the alley-oop. It was a great looking sequence that taller teams committed defense wouldn’t allow.

4:54 – 69, 92 – Shaq and Grant Hill are subbed out at this point and the Suns just threw in the towel. Here at the nomuskles cave, we’re also going to throw in the towel. Seriously the Lakers were just too much for an injury-stricken Suns team still finding their way. Now I understand why Brett Pollakoff didn’t really give us any insight into the Suns’ strengths right now. They just aren’t comfortable in their own skin right now and the Lakers are too long and too skilled. There’s nothing they could’ve done tonight so I don’t think they’ll put too much into it. And…scene. Dolla dolla bills y’all.

Preview & Chat: The Phoenix Suns

Kurt —  February 26, 2009

Sports News - February 16, 2009
Records: Lakers 47-10 (1st in West) Suns 32-24 (9th in West, half a game out of 8th)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 114.2 (1st in league) Suns 111.8 (4th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.4 (7th in league) Suns 109.5 (20th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Suns Leandro Barbosa, Jason Richardson, Matt Barnes, Grant Hill, Shaq

Lakers Coming In I think it’s a sign of how good things are going that what has Lakers fans upset is a perceived slight by John Hollinger over at ESPN. If that’s the biggest problem we have — a power ranking that has no bearing on the playoff seedings or anything else — then we are in good shape.

We are getting to the point in the season when we can start to look at potential first-round matchups. Right now, teams 7, 8 and 9 are Utah, Dallas and Phoenix. The only team I really wouldn’t want of that group to start with is Utah — not that the Lakers couldn’t beat them, I don’t think there is a team in the West that beats a healthy Lakers squad, but you want a first-round series you can end early and get some rest for your players. Utah will not be an easy out, and with the right matchup is a team that can pull a first-round upset. Dallas and Phoenix are good as well, both teams have players that can single handedly win a game or two in the playoffs, but it takes a team to win a series, and they don’t have that.

I expect that Utah will be seventh or higher, they are healthy now and playing well. Which means either the Suns or Mavs will be the odd team out (barring a major injury from a team above them). It will be interesting to see how that shakes out.

TOP CHEF SPOILER ALERT!

Hosea Is Top Chef? On one hand Hosea deserved it, he had the best overall meal on the last night of the show. I think Carla would have won this thing if she stuck to her guns and did what she wanted, Stephan could have won with a Top Chef Finale worthy desert, not ice cream. If you’re going to go desert in the finale, you better have a spectacular one in the cookbook.

Hosea was good and safe the entire show. He rarely ever was bad, but he was rarely ever spectacular. He was steady good, and that was good enough. But if I were opening a restaurant he would be the last of the final three I would hire — with some work you could get Stephan or Carla to put together an amazing menu, you just have to get the misses out of the lineup. Hosea’s menu would be good, but not great. I just wanted to see great win, not steady. But good on Hosea, who at least seemed like a guy you’d want to have a beer with.

The Suns Coming In: No Steve Nash tonight, that’s the report. I got that info from Brett Pollakoff of Fanhouse, who has been the best source of Suns info this year. Here are his thoughts on the Gentrified Suns:

We all know by now that the Suns have reverted to D’Antoni ball under new head coach (and former assistant under Mike D.) Alvin Gentry. Phoenix is 4-1 since they made the switch, with the only loss coming to the Celtics. Since Amare Stoudemire has left the lineup, Phoenix has decided to try to run even more if that’s possible, buy going extra-small in the starting lineup.

It’s been Nash, Barbosa, Jason Richardson, Grant Hill, and Shaq. Barbosa has been playing out of his mind in the new (old) system, including putting up a crazy line of 41 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, and six steals (!) against Oklahoma City last week. But a team like the Lakers should have little trouble handling this lineup — if they play smart and don’t get caught up in a track meet.

While the Suns have crushed some lesser NBA squads, what hurts them in the new system is their defense. Again, here’s Brett, this one from Fanhouse:

For a team that prides itself on being so quick offensively, the Suns are extremely slow when it comes to defense. The veterans have trouble staying in front of their man or fighting through screens, and the help comes late or not at all — so they end up fouling.

If the NY Times magazine piece taught us anything about beating the Lakers, one big key is keeping them off the free throw line. OKC did not do that the other night and it cost them. The Lakers should be able to get to the line tonight.

Keys To The Game: Phil is not one to adjust to what another coach is doing, he wants you to adjust to him. So look for the Lakers to try to use their size advantage tonight. If Shaq is on Gasol, put Pau in the high post and pull the big man away from the basket. Odom will be able to dominate the boards if Shaq is 15 feet out trying to run down Pau.

Here is the scoop on beating these Suns from Brett:

The way to beat the Suns is to push the ball like they do, but only when the opportunities are available. This is important, because if you start taking long jumpers (or three-pointers as the Lakers sometimes like to do) early in the shot clock, unless they’re all going down, it’s going to feed into the Phoenix running game. And obviously, you don’t want to do that.

The rest of the time — after made baskets or in the rare instance that the Suns get back on defense after a miss — the key is to run the offense, and have patience in waiting for high percentage shots to open up. And inevitably, they will. The Suns are a horrible half court defensive team, and they know it — which is why they try to avoid that scenario by pushing the tempo at all costs.

Run when you can, work for (and make!) high percentage shots in the half court set when you can’t. And don’t get sucked into taking bad shots early in the shot clock. That’s how to beat the Suns.

So Fish, although you hit them, lay off the PUJIT’s tonight. That recipe above is what the Celtics followed — they shot 60% against the Suns last week. The Lakers can do the same.

Also, because the Suns like to run now, they leave the rebounding to Shaq and just take off. If Gasol and Odom crash hard on the offensive glass, the Lakers should get some second chance points and put backs.

Where you can watch: It’s the second TNT game, so the official start is 7:30, the actual will be 7:45 and we will still miss the first five minutes.

Preview & Chat: The OKC Thunder

Kurt —  February 24, 2009

Records: Lakers 46-10 (1st in the West) Thunder 13-43 (14th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 114.2 (1st in league) Thunder 103.7 (27th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.5 (7th in league) Thunder 110.3 (24th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Thunder Russell Westbrook, Kyle Weaver, Kevin Durant, Nick Collison, Jeff Green

Lakers Coming In: Lots of concern around Lakers nation about the minutes Pau Gasol is racking up — in the Lakers last 10 games he is averaging 42 minutes, in the overtime game the other night he played 49. Is that too many for a guy coming off the Summer Olympics that the Lakers need to be ready to go come playoff time?

It’s a Catch 22: Do you want home court advantage? Because, play more Powell (who has been solid but is not Gasol) or DJ Mbenga and the Lakers lose games like that last one. Or, you play hard now and maybe get some rest later in the season (and remember, the first round of the playoffs has a lot of days off in there). Phil Jackson told the OC Register’s Kevin Ding he is thinking of taking door number two. He is not going to start cutting back Gasol.

“No, not yet,” he said after Sunday’s victory against Minnesota. “Maybe in April at some point we may watch it. We’ve shut down players before and gave them a week off here and there — players that we thought needed the rest at times during the end of the regular season. But at this particular point, we’re still pushing on.”

Gasol is not 35, he’s young and as long as he is holding up, I think you need to ride the train. What would be nice is a couple of blowouts so he and Kobe and Fish can get some minutes cut back.

And for those thinking we need to get someone or should not have let Mihm go: There is nobody who replaces Pau or gives you better minutes than Powell out there. Did you see Mihm play? I like Mikki Moore as a solid backup guy (he will fit in well and help some in Boston) but he is no better than Powell. And he was the best guy out there. The Lakers roster is the Lakers roster, and frankly it is good enough to get everything we as fans and the team wants this year.

The Thunder Coming In: Two guys have seen the Thunder in person recently, our own Darius and Brett from Fanhouse. Both of them sent me some thoughts on OKC, which I will paraphrase here:

First, Kevin Durant is the real deal. Brett said he seems to score quiet points in the sense that he does not just take over a game the way Kobe or LeBron will, but he scores seemingly every time he touches the ball. Darius said he is already one of the elite scorers in the game: “his length and long stride enable him to get to basket easily against players that play him too closely. He is also rebounding much better and filling the lane on the break quite well. He’s getting to the foul line and shooting the 3 ball well too.” Darius suggests if you work to deny him the ball you can do it, he doesn’t fight for it enough.

Former Bruin Russell Westbrook amazes everyone with his athleticism, but he may really be a two forced to run the point right now. Darius thought he looked better as the two with Watson on the floor, but even at the point Westbrook will make amazing plays and can finish at the rim on the break or in the half court. But, he’s a rookie and makes a lot of rookie mistakes and turnovers as well.

Darius on Jeff Green: “Jeff Green is a bigger, stronger, faster, more athletic Luke Walton. He was crafty in the post and showed a nice jumper too. He was physical on the boards and was just a right place, right time type of player.

And one final note from Brett: But Scott Brooks seems like a tortured soul who can’t figure out how to get the most or best out of his young team, so they lose a lot, and lose big. OKC is a likable team with a future, but especially against teams like the Lakers, the future is most certainly anything but now.

Keys To The Game: The Lakers have a big advantage in the paint, but in the last meeting did not really exploit that. Do it tonight and they should win big.

Another big advantage for the Lakers, from Darius looking at OKC: SG is their weakness and it’s a big one. They need to address this in the draft or get a steadier PG and move Westbrook there…. Maybe Thabo will help them eventually, but he didn’t look ready against the W’s. I really think this is a team that could use a Bowen/Raja Bell type that could guard the other teams wings while also shooting the ball from the corner.

Um, I think the Lakers have a pretty good two guard. He could have a big night.

The Lakers have to not give up the fast break points and easy buckets to this team. The Thunder struggle in the half court but can hang if you let them get Durant and Westbrook and Watson out and running. This team has athletes, you can’t get into that game with them and blow them out.

Where you can watch: 5 pm start out West on KCAL 9 and online at your favorite locations.

25 Random Things About The Lakers

Kurt —  February 23, 2009

You know something like “25 Things” has jumped the shark when it has made it to a basketball blog….

1) Sunday in Minnesota was only the third time in the last 13 seasons that three Lakers players scored at least 25 points in the same game (Kobe, Gasol and Odom).

2) In the last 10 games, with Andrew Bynum down, Pau Gasol is averaging 42.2 minutes on the court.

3) The Lakers are one of three teams with three players who have a PER of 20 or higher: Kobe, Gasol and Bynum. (Spurs big three and the Suns with Shaq, Amare and Barbosa. No not Nash.)

4) Pau Gasol has the highest three point shooting percentage on the team (1 of 2). Of the guys actually taking them (and still on the team) it’s Fisher at 41.8%.

5) Highest free throw percentage on the team this season? Sasha Vujacic at 90.2%.

6) In the 1951—52 season, the NBA changed the rules and widened the lane to its current width in an effort to slow down legendary Laker George Mikan, who was unstoppable near the basket. His scoring average dropped five points per game to 23.8.

7) The one area the Lakers are below average this season is defensive rebounding. Opponents get the offensive board on 26.6% of their misses, making the Lakers 17th in the league in that statistic.

8 ) Kobe Bryant uses 30.5% of the Lakers possessions, third highest percentage in the league (LeBron and Wade).

9) Bud Grant, who went on to coach the Minnesota Vikings to four Super Bowls (losing them all), was a member of the Lakers 1949-50 NBA championship team.

10) Elgin Baylor averaged 24.9 points and 15 rebounds per game in his rookie season.

11) For the season, Pau Gasol’s 36.8 minutes per game leads the Lakers but is 33rd in the Association. However, his pace in the last 10 games would have him leading the league.

12) Lamar Odom turns the ball over on 12.9% of his possessions, the highest percentage on the Lakers but 44th in the league.

13) Jerry West was the #2 pick overall in 1960. The guy ahead of him? Oscar Robertson. (Pretty hard to go wrong with the top two picks in that draft.)

14) Kobe Bryant moved past Elgin Baylor on the all time scoring list with his 28 points in Minnesota last night.

15) In 1965, Jack Kent Cooke purchased the Lakers for $5 million.

16) In 1979, Jerry Buss bought the Lakers, the Kings and the Forum for $67.5 million.

17) Current estimated worth of the Lakers: $534 million.

18) FIBA just named Pau Gasol the European Player of the year, even though he played almost no games on that continent last year.

19) In the 83-84 season, Magic Johnson missed a month of play with a dislocated finger. Not comparing that to Kobe, just saying…

20) Lawrence Tanter, the Lakers in-arena voice since 1982, played college basketball on scholarship at the University of Dubuque.

21) The Laker record holder for blocks in a game is Elmore Smith, who had 17 against Portland in a 1973 contest.

22) Kwame Brown shot 52.6% from the floor in the 05-06 season, the highest FG% on the Lakers that season.

23) The hardest part about taking the escalator up to the 300 level seats at Staples Center is being able to see the guy carving fresh roast beef for the people on the suites level.

24) The Lakers have had three-peat titles twice — in 1952-54 with the Mikan Lakers and the Kobe/Shaq era team.

25) Former Laker Samaki Walker’s first name means fish in Swahili.

NBA: JAN 26 Timberwolves at Bucks
Records: Lakers 45-10 (1st in the West) T-Wolves 18-36 (11th in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 114.3 (1st in league) T-Wolves 106.4 (20th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.5 (8th in league) T-Wolves 110.4 (25th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
T-Wolves Randy Foye, Sebasian Telfair, Ryan Gomes, Mike Miller, Kevin Love

The Lakers and The Oscars: No, Lamar Odom isn’t going (an odd rumor running around the Internet a couple weeks ago, until somebody bothered to check the Lakers schedule).

But who is the Best Laker in a leading role? Best Foreign Language Laker? Well, the Oscar goes to… Or, it goes to… (Great minds….)

By the way, I’ll be flipping between the Lakers and Oscars, so feel free to comment on both. I just wish the Lakers were as big a lock tonight as Heath Ledger.

Phil Jackson thoughts: There was some talk about Phil and his strategies in the last thread, but I thought Zephid did a great job summing up the argument about Phil just having talented teams (which his coaching job in this second stint with the Lakers should clear up):

Any great coach has to have great players to succeed. Would Jerry Sloan have been around for 20 years if not for Stockton and Malone being there for so many of them? Would Red Auerbach have won any championships if he hadn’t had 7 Hall-of-Famers on his squad? Would Gregg Popovich have won any without TD? Same goes for Riley and Showtime.

A great coach with a bad team will be marginally successful (Larry Brown’s 76ers come to mind), and a great team with a bad coach will underachieve (George Karl and the 90’s Sonics come to mind), but a great coach with a great team will get the most out of them. It doesn’t matter how good Michael Jordan was, he didn’t win anything until Phil Jackson became his coach.

His methods may be unorthodox, but 9 championships speak for themselves. Those Jordan-Bull teams did not win because of the greatness of Michael Jordan, they won because Phil Jackson (and Tex Winter) developed a system that got the most out of ALL their players.

The T-Wolves Coming In: As a team they have been struggling, losing 8 of their last 10 and four in a row. The key reason is are struggling is that they are without Al Jefferson 9torn ACL four games back), and he was the focal point of the offense. Without him this is a team that does not play great defense and can go on long stretches without offense. That’s a bad combination. Also out is Craig Smith, one of the starting forwards.

Then at the trade deadline the Wolves gave up Rashard McCants, he of the nice game and the sulking attitude, to bring in Sheldon Williams, he of the questionable skills but considerable effort. If you don’t think the more skill guy is going to figure it out, give me the guy with the effort every time.

Keys To The Game: If Jefferson was healthy, this could be a challenging game. But without him, and without Smith, the Wolves are very thin up front. So the Lakers should be able to control the paint — the Wolves have nobody who can stop Gasol or keep Odom off the boards. The Lakers need to go inside out on the offense tonight.

Honestly, I have no idea what the Wolves are doing on offense now, but if you look at their game tracks they just go cold for stretches. The Lakers need to be consistent on offense, if they do that they can get some big runs in this game and just pull away.

The focal point of the T-Wolves offense now is Randy Foye, who the Lakers need to focus on (Ariza and Kobe?).

Also, this is a team the Lakers can run on. The second unit could get out and run and be a key to the Lakers pulling away.

Where you can watch: 4 pm starts out West on KCAL 9, and the usual spots around the Web.

NBA: FEB 18 Magic at Hornets

Records: Lakers 44-10 (1st in the West) Hornets 32-20 (5th in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 114.4 (1st in league) Hornets 109.3 (8th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.5 (9th in league) Hornets 106.2 (10th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Hornets Chris Paul, Rasual Butler, Peja Stojakovic, David West, Hilton Armstrong

Lakers notes: I have to say that the best thing about the trading deadline is that none of the Lakers key opponents for the title got noticeably stronger. Out West, the Spurs stood still, as did Denver and Utah. And the Hornets when it was all said and done.

But Boston and Cleveland also decided to go with what they had. With KG’s injury (hope he is back soon for the good of the sport) I just keep thinking Cleveland is getting the home court advantage out East. That side of the bracket is going to be interesting — come in second and you will have to play a good Orlando team in the second round before you get the top seed. That can wear you down, so Cleveland getting the top seed could be huge. By the way, that noise you hear is the sound of the cash register in David Stern’s head as he thinks about a Kobe/LeBron finals.

On a different topic, about Kobe’s clutchness: He has made 13 go-ahead field goals in the fourth quarter this season. That is tied for third in the Association (with Danny Granger) behind two Spurs — Duncan and Parker.

Last meetings: This is the fourth meeting this season, the Lakers have won two of the first three (all three were won by the road team). The first two games in the Big Easy were pretty comfortable Laker wins, with the team jumping out early and not having to worry about anything but a late run. The Lakers got balanced scoring in the first meeting, the second time it was the Kobe and Pau show.

The last meeting, in LA, was the David West show. He had 40, CP3 added 32 and 15 dimes.

The Hornets Coming In: What is the feeling in Louisiana after the rescinded trade for Tyson Chandler? This comment over at Hornets24/7 pretty much sums it up, I think.

The Hornets emerge from the madness with nothing much to show for themselves but a credibility hit. Tyson Chandler won’t have an easy time redevoting himself to a franchise that was so willing to part with him. Chris Paul and David West are obviously glad to have TC back, but they must be questioning the direction of the team when management seemed more concerned with saving money these past few days than keeping a great core intact.

It was not the sprained ankle that has Chandler out tonight that nixed the trade. It was his big toe, which was operated on a year ago. Ironically, the doctor that did the surgery is the one who did the physical for the Thunder, and he told them that while the toe was fine now it could go in a big way at any time, and they’d be taking on a big risk with this trade. So the Thunder backed out.

One other topic worth noting (and I’m cribbing here from an APBR thread that becomes about adjusted +/-) — Chris Paul is the defensive lynchpin of the Hornets.

He himself is playing better defense this season: opposing PGs are shooting 46.7% (eFG%) against him this season, down from 51.8% last season. When he is on the floor, the Hornets give up 106.1 points per 100 possessions (better than last season’s 107.6 when he was playing).

But, when he is off the floor, the Hornets give up 113.5 per 100 possessions. To give you an idea, if they played like that all the time, they would be 29th in the league in defense (only Sactown would be worse). What is shocking is that last season they improved when Paul sat — 101.4. I’m not close enough to the situation to know why things changed, but they did.

Keys To The Game: Based on that last paragraph above — the Lakers bench needs to make big runs in the few minutes CP3 is sitting. Take advantage of his absence.

The last meeting between these two was the game when Odom hyperextended his knee in the second quarter. It is no coincidence that the David West went off in that game — Odom frustrates West, but he is really the only Lakers that does. He Odom back tonight and him holding West in check as he tends to do will be key.

The Lakers are not going to stop Chris Paul, they never do. Nobody does — CP3 has scored or assisted on 48% of his team’s baskets this season (the highest figure in the NBA). (Kobe, by the way, is fifth in the league at 36.7%.) But the Lakers cannot let Paul rack up 15 assists like he did last game — they need to give him the “Steve Nash Treatment.” Make him a shooter, not a distributor. He’s a great shooter and scorer, but the Hornets by far are a more dangerous team when he is getting everyone involved and not just shooting himself.

Lots of pick-and-roll tonight — in the past the Lakers length has bothered the Hornets on their bread-and-butter play, but that means active bigs. The Lakers need to use their size to slow the probing of the defense by Paul as well as not let West get a bunch of open looks. West (and Posey) are not going to pass, you have to take the shot away from them.

Where you can watch: 7:30 start at Staples Center, and this is an ESPN Game. If you want to watch online, there’s a good feed at ESPN360.

The Economy and the Lakers

Kurt —  February 19, 2009


This winter, with the national economy tanking and sports team owners taking hits on stock and real estate, the market for baseball players shriveled up. Bobby Abreu goes to the Angels for just $5 million. Consistent 40 home run guy Adam Dunn to the Nationals for just $10 million. Manny Ramirez still doesn’t’ have a deal.

Except in the Bronx. There, the Yankees spent money like it was 2005, throwing out by far the three largest deals of the off-season.

How did they do that in this economy? CNBC’s Darren Rovell explains:

Think about all the other owners who have gotten pounded this year in the sector of the economy that they might still have their money in.

Think about the New York Mets, whose owners not only lost money from the Madoff mess, but also are in the real estate investment business. So too is Theodore Lerner, the owner of the Washington Nationals, who were hoping to land Teixeira. The Chicago Cubs are being sold by an entity that is bankrupt.

Go down the list and you can see that there’s a lot of people that lost money this year in other businesses. I have no idea where the Yankees are investing their personal money, but the bottom line is that their business is only the New York Yankees.

What does that mean? It means that as long as the Steinbrenners believe that the business of the Yankees will be good, they are not as affected as the others are. Will people still go to games? If not, will they watch the YES Network. It’s a pretty simple equation.

That brings us to Jerry Buss and his family, the majority owners of the Los Angeles Lakers. Buss made his money on real estate deals, but today he is in the Lakers business and very little else.

And right now the Lakers are a very good business, recession or no. The building still sells out at the highest ticket prices in the Association. The Lakers television ratings are up (unlike the Steinbrenners, the Buss family does not own the cable network showing games, but they do get a healthy payment). While Lakers officials said they have felt some pinch from sponsors, go to a game and it does not appear to be significant.

Just how healthy are the Lakers financially, as the second highest valued franchise in the NBA? This is what Forbes says (thanks to Darius for finding this info):

Based on the team valuations made by Forbes for all the 30 teams, the Lakers were pegged at US$ 534 million. Here’s the breakdown:

1. $123 million or 23% comes from the earnings from the league’s shared profits
2. $240 million or 41% comes from the value of the city’s market size
3. $140 million or 24% comes from the stadium earnings (ticket sales, merchandise, food, etc.)
4. $81 million or 14% is attributed to the team’s brand

Last season the Lakers were second in the league in operating profit at $47.9.

All of this ties into the big question for we Lakers fans — just how much is Jerry Buss willing to spend to keep this team together?

This summer, Lamar Odom, Trevor Ariza will be free agents. The Lakers if they pick up Sun’s option (his deal is two years) will have nine players on the books for next year with a payroll of about $74 million. This season, the luxury tax is at just higher than $71 million, but that number is expected to drop the next two seasons. (To really get a feel for what this means, read the excellent post from the always-amazing Tom Ziller over at Fanhouse. That guy should be bronzed. In a good way, not the Hans Solo way.)

Right now, in Jerry Buss’ head, there is a number of how high he will go. We can speculate all we want about it, but the fact is we have no real idea what that number is. We know he will spend more to win, but we also know he made some cost-cutting roster moves during the three-peat years to keep payroll under control.

Not only do we not know the number, we don’t know if it is possible to fit both Odom and Ariza under that number. Remember, if the Lakers sign both of them, they are still going to have to sign at least three more minimum level players (this year’s late first rounder, maybe Shannon Brown and another pick or free agent). The likelihood that the Lakers would keep Odom and Ariza and use the Mid-Level exception on a free agent seems almost nil.

If Kobe opts out and resigns a max deal extension, he will make about $1 million less (but will extend five years out). That is not a huge savings, but every little bit helps.

No doubt this Lakers roster, as is, can win — the Lakers have the best record in the NBA and are serious title contenders. The question is can the Buss family keep the band together.

One other factor in all of this is AEG, the company that owns 30% of the Lakers and the majority of Staples Center. AEG just spent insane amounts of money to build LA Live, the restaurant and entertainment complex across the street from Staples Center. This is a tough time to open a venture like that, and you need foot traffic to make it work. The kind of foot traffic that a sold-out Staples Center 41 times a season plus playoffs provides.

AEG cannot afford to have the Lakers slip. The question again is how much AEF is willing to pay to make sure they do not.

This is a hard topic, because reading into the Buss family and its finances is about as easy as bringing peace to the Middle East. There is no way to get 100% knowledge or certainty.

But it looks like they should be in position to keep the band together. Unless the market goes crazy this summer and a couple of band members get huge offers. Then, well, who knows?