Archives For March 2009

Charlotte Bobcats v Los Angeles Lakers

Records: Lakers 58-15 (1st in West) Bobcats 33-40 (9th in the East, 2 games out of the playoffs)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 113.1 (3rd in league) Bobcats 104.8 (27th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.0 (6th in league) Bobcats 105.7 (8th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Trevor Ariza, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Bobcats: Raymond Felton, Raja Bell, Gerald Wallace, Boris Diaw, Emeka Okafor.

The Lakers Coming in: I’m tired/tired of being admired/tired of love uninspired/let’s face it, I’m tired!
— Lilly Von Shtup in Blazing Saddles

I think other than Mel Brooks, Reed summed up the feelings of the Lakers and their fans best in a comment yesterday:

This has been, perhaps, the most uninteresting end to a regular season in memory. Our seeding was set by Christmas. With Drew out there really aren’t any young players whose development is interesting. Ariza is a bright spot, but if anything we’ve see our young players regress as the season progresses. There were no interesting trade additions. The rotation is largely set. The team’s strong play eliminates the “maybe they’ll turn the corner” angle. Everyone’s getting along.

So, we’ve had to endure solid, steady, but fairly monotonous basketball without any dramatic subplots. It’s tough to complain about monotony when it’s winning, but please wake me when the playoffs begin or Bynum returns.

One interesting thing, the Charlotte Observer interviewed Raja Bell about how to slow Kobe today. He said all the right things — that you can’t stop him just make him work a lot, make him hit jumpers, etc. But one question caught my attention:

Q: Is he better or worse when angry?

A: “Depends on what kind of anger; if he’s angry at who he’s playing against, better. If he’s angry at an official, or something else has him off a bit, that could work into his opponent’s hands.”

The Bobcats Coming in: Two games back that is tantalizingly close to the playoffs but a difficult amount to make up. Brett from Queen City Hoops laid out how they can do it at ESPN.com today, and of course that includes beating the Lakers.

The Lakers see old friend Vladimir Radmanovic tonight. Vlad is steady, his numbers with the Bobcats are down slightly from his numbers in LA, but not a ton. He is playing four more minutes a game, shooting 38.1% from three (down 3%), his true shooting percentage is down 4%, and his PER is almost identical.

I still really covet Gerald Wallace, and he has been playing well. In the last 10 games he is averaging 19.8 points on 59% shooting overall and 45% from three, plus you can count on about 10 rebounds and 4 assists. And he is going to keep attacking the rim.

Keys to game This is going to be a tough game. The fans are pumped up because they want revenge on what they see as a dirty hit on Gerald Wallace. The team should be pumped up and focused because the playoffs are within reach. And remember that double OT loss for the Lakers in the last meeting.

After the last showing in Atlanta, the Lakers run into another team that likes to jump passing lanes on the wings, be aggressive on defense and go for steals. The triangle offense is filled with pressure releases for these situations (or guys can just come out a little farther to get the ball). Like Atlanta, this is not a great half-court offensive team, but if you give them some easy transition baskets off turnovers they will score plenty.

The Lakers did not defend the pick-and-roll well last meeting, so we should expect a lot of that. The Bobcats run it with Raymond Felton (UNC!) and Diaw, both of whom can drive or hit the outside shot. The Lakers need to be disciplined and communicate, show out on Felton but recover fast.

Also, just make Diaw go left. Please. He’s more one sided than Odom.

Wallace also is going to get his chance to slash, and that is hard to stop. Slowing him means pushing him out on the perimeter with ball denial then having more crisp rotations behind him.

The Lakers should be able to run — this is a Larry Brown team after all. They want to grind out the game. Some easy transition baskets would be nice.

Here are a couple quick thoughts from Darius:

I wonder how we’re going to adjust to the defensive schemes that the Bobcats run. Larry Brown has had lots of success in game planning against our offensive sets and they’ll do similar things that were successful for the Hawks (and Boston in last years finals). They will deny ball entries to the wing, they’ll half front the post, they’ll deny ball reversals, and they’ll be very aware of the flash to the highpost from the weakside big. All of this is meant to disrupt our timing. Against the Hawks our guys did not do a good job of establishing the timing in our sets. (Sidebar-a while back Gatinho posted a link to a video where Phil and Tex were talking about the principles of our offense. In that video they stressed that one of the major principles is players reading the defense and reacting to what they are doing and moving accordingly. Essentially when the defender is five feet from the ball, we should be passing to the open player who should have been working to get open because he was reading that the pass would be coming soon-end sidebar.) Anyways, I’d like to see crisper sets tonight. Better timing, harder screens, sharper cuts, and-overall-more fluid movement.

On defense, I’d like to see us do a better job containing Felton off the dribble and matching the effort of Wallace and Okafor. I’d also like to see Odom do a number on Diaw and have LO use his length to disrupt what Boris likes to do on the block. Last game Diaw got it going using his Euro craftiness and it fed his confidence which led to better shot making throughout the rest of the game.

Where you can watch: Early 4 pm start out West, on KCAL 9.

Fast Break Thoughts

Kurt —  March 30, 2009
Lakers-Hawks

UPDATE: Andrew Bynum has a new Q&A up on his site:

Q: Are you coming back this season?
A: Yes I am going to make a return this season. I’m already doing strength and conditioning as well as playing 2 on 2 and 3 on 3, while waiting on the team to return.

Hat tip to Lakers Nation on that one.

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There’s a note in Kevin Ding’s blog at the OC Register that could go a long way toward explaining the Lakers performance in Atlanta — Phil Jackson gave them Saturday off and there was no practice, not even a light one. With an early game Sunday there was no walkthrough.

NBA team’s have full-on practices (like your high school team did) way less than you think. But to go into the aggressive, trapping defense of the Hawks cold, without any preparation, is asking for trouble.

But it also shows where Jackson’s head is — he was worried more about resting players than getting the win. There’s been a lot of fretting about the minutes the starters have had to rack up and the fear that the Lakers could be tired going into the playoffs. What Phil did shows he sees that too, and it shows his priorities are starting to rest the players some and not worry about home court against Cleveland. That may not mean the nights off that some Lakers fans want, but clearly Phil is starting to lighten the load.

• On a separate note, I am not that worried about going into the playoffs with a ton of momentum. I said this in the comments but I think it bears repeating — the playoffs are another season all together. They have their own ebb and flow, and teams will improve during them. Remember last year — the Celitics looked like crap in the first round. And much of the second. Nobody thought they looked like a champion, getting taken seven games twice. How did that end? The playoffs are another animal, all together.

That is not meant to say I think the Lakers need dramatic improvement, but rather a reminder that what is going on mid-April and in June are just simply different. And not easily predictable.

• What I think we are seeing in part with the Lakers is the manifestations of boredom with what is left of the regular season.

• The claims of the NBA fixing games for the Lakers are older than you are.

• Has anyone seen the Jimmy Fallon show? Thoughts?

• With just three games remaining, I am a rather sad 107th in the FB&G NCAA pool — but at least I’m beating Kwame a. He sucks! Your fearless leader is Yamheads, and his champion North Carolina is still alive. (So is mine, I have Uconn, but that is the only Final Four team I got.)

• I had no idea how twitter happy the NBA is.

• Did anybody really think Kobe wasn’t going to play?

Preview & Chat: The Atlanta Hawks

Kurt —  March 29, 2009

NBA: MAR 23 Timberwolves at Hawks
Records: Lakers 58-14 (1st in the West) Hawks 42-31 (4th in the East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 113.5 (2nd in league) Hawks 109.5 (10th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.1 (6th in league) Hawks 107.4 (12th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Trevor Ariza, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Hawks Mike Bibby, Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Al Horford, Zaza Pachulia

Lakers Coming In: Kobe Bryant will be a game time decision. I am not a doctor and I’m not going to play one on the Web, Kobe knows how he feels and if he can go. This is not something where he is risking long-term damage, so it’s a matter of pain management. It’s his call. That said, it would be nice to have a game where he can sit the fourth if he does play.

Also, since the Lakers are playing the Hawks, it seems a good time to revisit this:

The Hawks Coming In: The Hawks are pretty locked into the four seed in the East — nobody is catching any of the top three and they are three games up on Miami in the five spot. (If there was one team I’d like to avoid in the first round in the East it is Miami, Wade is playing that well, Atlanta better start planning now.)

Joe Johnson continues to be the leading scorer and offensive focal point for the Hawks, scoring 26.6 a game in the last 10. One thing you have to watch on him — Johnson is red hot from three lately hitting 47.8% from deep in the last 10. Have to close out on him, open threes will fall.

The guy playing well is backup point guard Flip Murray. The only NBA player ever out of Shaw University is averaging 15 points a game and shooting 41% from three in his last 10, and he is up to playing nearly 27 minutes a game. Farmar has his defensive challenge.

Keys To The Game:Two things from the meeting last month the Lakers need to repeat. First, the Lakers dominated the glass — Odom and Gasol had their way inside. Despite the length and athleticism the Hawks have on the front line they don’t defend the paint well and the Lakers need to exploit that.

Second, last time these two met the Lakers starters played the Hawks even until the Lakers started to pull away thanks to a run from the bench. Ahhh, remember those days. Lately I’ve been trying to think of a new nickname for the bench and have been leaning toward Decaf — because coffee is for closers.

Everything with the Hawks offense starts with Joe Johnson. He is the one Atlanta player most capable of beating you in the half court, so the Lakers need to focus on taking him away and not letting him get the hot hand. What the Hawks do on offense in the half court is simple, basically iso and some high screens for Johnson and Murray, with those guys trying to create for everyone. It is very defendable IF you play as a team.

What can get the Lakers into trouble in this game is not protecting the ball — the Hawks thrive when they can get turnovers and turn those into easy baskets in transition. They have great open court finishers. So they play an aggressive defense, they try to deny passes out on the wings and go for steals. They gamble all over the court. If the Lakers start the offense through Gasol flashing into the high post he should have opportunities to hit cutters who get open as their man overplays going for a steal an leaving the cut to the basket open. Player movement in the half court and few turnovers will be key.

Make Josh Smith shoot jumpers, don’t let him get to the rim.

Where you can watch: 12:30 matinee out here in the West. KCAL 9 in LA.

NBA: MAR 06 Nets at Magic

Records: Lakers 57-14 (1st in the West) Nets 30-41 (11th in the East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 113.6 (1st in league) Nets 108.7 (13th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.4 (6th in league) Nets 111.2 (24th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Trevor Ariza, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Nets Trenton Hassell, Keyon Dooling, Vince Carter, Yi Jianlian. Brook Lopez

Lakers Coming In: One quick thought on the sad bench performance in the second quarter last night — it forced Phil Jackson to use a more playoff-like rotation in the fourth quarter. Gasol and Odom stayed out with Farmar, Walton and Sasha at the start. Then almost as fast as DJ came in for Gasol, Kobe returned for Odom. A couple more minutes and the entire group of starters were back on the floor, until the game was very well in hand.

Andrew Bynum could change some of that. Here’s Phil Jackson’s vague answer on how he might use Andrew Bynum when he returns:

“We’ll just have to see how he comes back, not when,” Jackson said. “Does he come back in condition where he can play 25 to 30 minutes? Is he going to be a ‘Starbury’ (Stephon Marbury of the Boston Celtics) where he’s playing 12 or 14 minutes a game, and then increase it that way? So, we’ll see how he fits in. He’s running on the court, and that’s about it. He’s doing some basketball skills. There’s a considerable amount of time before he’s even able to practice with us.”

The Nets Coming In: Devin Harris is expected back tonight, returning from a left shoulder injury. I did not list him as a starter but he may start and certainly will play.

Vince Carter and Devin Harris have had very good seasons for the Nets (particularly Harris), but Brook Lopez has turned out to be a solid rookie center. He shoots 52.5% from the floor, grabs 15.3% of the available rebounds and has an above average PER of 17.6. Here is what ESPN’s David Thorpe is saying about him:

Lopez is still playing at a high level, and is constantly making a bid to prove he was the overall steal of the draft. He’s the rare rookie that is contributing strongly in all three phases of the game: offense, defense and rebounding.

And his blocked shot numbers have also been amazingly consistent: He has averaged 1.6 bpg, 1.8 bpg and 1.7 bpg (twice) in four of the first five months of the season (he blocked 2.3 shots per game in December). Add in the amount of times he’s changed shots or intimidated guys to not take a shot at all, and you can see his impact on defense.

Keys To The Game:Honestly, I have not seen a lot of the Nets lately. But here’s the handful of notes I have:

If you work hard to deny Vince Carter the ball, he can get frustrated. That kind of focus may be harder to do with Harris back in the lineup.

The Lakers must close out on three point shooters — Carter, Dooling, Jarvis Hayes and Bobby Simmons are all shooting better than 40% from three in the last 10 games. Their offenses wants to penetrate then if you collapse kick it out for a corner three. If you let them, they will beat you from out there.

Defensively, the Nets do a lot of ball pressure on the guards. The Lakers need to not turn the ball over and attack that when they can.

The sad play of the bench in the second quarter forced Phil Jackson to play the starters through the Fourth Quarter last night, just to be safe. Tonight that could catch up to the Lakers if the bench falters again. So, the Bench needs not to suck.

Where you can watch: 4:30 start out here in the West. KCAL 9 in LA.

McDonalds All American High School Basketball Game

Records: Lakers 56-14 (1st in the West) Pistons 34-36 (7th in the East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 113.6 (1st in league) Pistons 107.1 (20th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.4 (6th in league) Pistons 107.7 (14th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Trevor Ariza, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Pistons Rodney Stuckey, Aaron Afflalo, Tayshaun Prince (Dominguez High shout out!), Antonio McDyess, Kwame Brown

Lakers Coming In: If you haven’t seen the post at 20 Second Timeout that talks about the Lakers defense, you should. At least for the part where Jim Cleamons talks about what the Lakers do on defense and why. Darius has been preaching this same thing all year at this site:

I mentioned this a while back, but after reading Jim Cleamons’ comments it popped back in my head- the Lakers play a defensive scheme that is equivalent to paint by numbers. The coaches are telling players exactly where they need to be in help situations rather than letting them figure those things out for themselves. It’s the reason why we double the post against players who may not be strong scoring threats. It’s why we shift into our SSZ when the ball handler is in a position to be a penetrator. It’s why we extend into traps on the wing when the player with the ball is in a position to hurt us with the ball. These are all situations where the coaches think we are vulnerable and want us to be in better positions as helpers. Ultimately we’re trying to compensate for the fact that our players are not instinctive enough to play the defensive scenario well enough for the result to be something successful. So, like paint by numbers, the staff has laid out what they (the players) should do on any given possession beforehand so all they do is fill in the part of the picture with the proper color. Understand though, that while this scheme is meant to limit our weaknesses, it’s also meant to play to our strengths- length and quickness. We have players that *should* be able to show help on the strong side while still recovering to the weakside to contest shooters. We have players that can trap on the strong side while still recovering to the paint to rebound when the players are rotating to the opposite side of the court. I agree with Coach Cleamons though, we need to bring that effort to rotate on defense in the manner that the scheme requires. Because if we don’t we will be in trouble.

I also have detailed thoughts on the NBA blogashere debate about the NBA and advanced statistics. Too long to get into right here. But let me quickly sum up:

Any manager in any business is foolish not to gather as much information from varied sources as he can. It is good to have information presented that challenges your conventional wisdom, makes you rethink things, even if you come back to the original conclusion. Advanced statistics (and I don’t mean just PER but the things teams are really using) can do that. It should be a slice of the pie, but not the entire pie. Look at Billy Bean in baseball — he loves statistics but he also has traditional scouts. He collects information from several sources and makes a decision. That is what smart people do. That’s what NBA front offices should be doing with these statistics. I use them here because, well, points per possession is just clearly more logical than points per game to me. But I want my information from varied sources as well.

The Pistons Coming In: The Billups for Iverson trade was never about this year, it was about starting the rebuilding process early in Detroit. I think it’s something Jerry Buss would support, he has always favored getting rid of a player a year early rather than a year late.

But couple a trade that was going to have questionable short-term impacts with a rash of injuries, and you have your current Detroit Pistons. Tonight they will be without Iverson, without Rip Hamilton, without Rasheed Wallace.

Injuries like that will lead you to be 3-7 in your last 10.

But this needs to be added — I watched a chunk of their recent game against Houston, and the Pistons played hard. Antonio McDyess is shooting 50% in the last 10 and has picked up his scoring, not to mention the 14 boards he is grabbing a game. More time on the court for Stucky is a good thing — he makes good decisions and has a basketball IQ beyond his years.

The problem is that due to the injuries guys like Afflalo are being asked to do too much. The title contending teams of a few years back in Detroit were about guys just filling their role and playing hard as a team. Now, guys have to step outside their comfort zone, and the results are losses.

Keys To The Game: First game of a back-to-back, it would be nice to take care of business like the Lakers did in OKC and get the starters some rest. Detroit, however, is not going to roll over.

The Lakers actually have watch Kwame Brown — remember from his days with the Lakers, on the nights he is focused he can be solid. He will be up against his former team, and in the first meeting this season he dropped 10 and 10 on the Lakers. He has more bulk than anyone the Lakers will throw out there save DJ, but he has Swiss cheese like holes in his game (and hands). He can be exploited by Gasol, but ignore at your own risk.

Get out and run, Lakers. The Pistons play at the second slowest pace in the league, this is a team where if you force the tempo they get out of what they want to do at both ends. There should be some easy transition buckets for the Lakers.

Because of the injuries, the guys the Pistons are giving minutes are just not as consistent. The key is to make them work for their points — don’t allow the penetrating guard to get the layup, protect the defensive glass, don’t turn the ball over and allow that to be fast break points. If the Pistons have to work, their shooting percentage will drop.

Also, the Lakers can expect a little zone tonight. They know what to do, they just need to execute it.

Where you can watch: 4:30 start out here in the West. KCAL 9 in LA.