Check out today’s ESPN daily NBA Podcast, where I say things like the Lakers would rather face the Mavericks than the Suns, and that Phil Jackson has done a lot to boost Trevor Ariza’s confidence.
Archives For March 2009
strong>Records: Lakers 55-14 (1st in the West) Thunder 20-50 (12th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 113.6 (1st in league) Thunder 103.4 (28th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.5 (6th in league) Thunder 109.1 (20th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Trevor Ariza, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Thunder Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic
Lakers Coming In: Are the playoffs here yet? Are the playoffs here yet? Are the playoffs here yet? Are the playoffs here yet? Are the playoffs here yet? Are the playoffs here yet? Are the playoffs here yet? Are the playoffs here yet?
I know the Lakers could use the last dozen games to make sure the bench is right again, get Bynum back, and build momentum, but I’m about as patient as Lisa and Bart Simpson in the back seat of a car.
The Thunder Coming In: If you were going to have a really crappy year, 2007 was the time to do it. That year the then Sonics (now Thunder) drafted Kevin Durant with the #2 pick overall. Last year they got Westbrook at #4. I bring this up because I feel for the Kings and the Wizards and OKC this year — Blake Griffin is a legit top pick, but after that the drop-off is huge and whoever drafts second needs to pray Ricky Rubio decides to come over this year.
The Thunder have been winning their way out of the highest of picks recently, having gone 5-5 in their last 10 games — and half of those were without Durant, who was injured. Credit this year for the Thunder doing this year what last year’s Sonics did not — just turn the thing over to the kids. Let Green and Westbrook and Durant learn the hard way, but get burn and learn. As evidenced by recent games, they are learning.
Durant is back and deserves props for learning how to adapt to being “the man” on an NBA team. And that is an adjustment. Look at O.J. Mayo, who started out fast and was a leading rookie of the year guy. Not lately, not for a month or more. Maybe part of it is conditioning, you play so many more games in the NBA than college. But part is that defenses adjust, and these are smarter defenses with more active defenders than Mayo or any rookie has ever faced. And they are focused on him. There is an adjustment period. Durant this year has figured it out, and it’s another step in his evolution.
What I love about Durant on offense is his versatility. Name another NBA player who could be as good as the ball handler or setting the pick in the P&R? He can shoot the J, post up or attack the rim off the dribble, and he is running on the break well. He is a complete player. And his line in the last meeting with the Lakers: 32 points, 11-20 from the field, 2-4 from 3, 8-9 from the line, 10 boards, 6 assists, 3 steals.
Keys To The Game: The Thunder will not be a pushover, this is a team that has beaten the Spurs and Mavericks this month already. And if you remember the last meeting between these two last month, it was one of those games where the Lakers starters built a big lead and the bench gave it all back. Phil left everyone in there to figure it out. The game stayed close for a few until Kobe returned — 5 of 6 from the floor in the fourth, got to the line 7 times, was a +13 for the quarter. Game over.
One key tonight will be for the bench to extend the lead rather than give it back. The key is no turnovers and not chucking up threes. OKC came back on the bench because the Lakers were doing those things, allowing the Thunder’s athletes to get out and run. The Lakers need a more half-court game.
The Lakers need to crash the boards and not give up second chance points either. Odom and Gasol, this is on you.
The good news is that the one position the Thunder do not defend well is the two guard. The Lakers should not need Kobe to go Mamba, but if it is needed this is a team that will have a hard time slowing him.
Where you can watch: 5 pm start out West on KCAL 9 and online at your favorite locations.
If you read just one thing today, make it the great piece on Lamar Odom from Sports Illustrated by Lee Jenkins.
THE HAPPIEST Laker is the one whose father was addicted to heroin, whose mother died of colon cancer when he was 12, who attended three high schools, had his first college scholarship revoked before the fall semester of his freshman year, became a subject of three college investigations, declared for the NBA draft, tried unsuccessfully to pull out of the draft, was picked by arguably the worst franchise in sports, violated the league’s antidrug policy twice within eight months and after finally getting his life together, went home to New York City for an aunt’s funeral and wound up burying his 6½-month-old son, then getting robbed at gunpoint.
“That’s my book,” says Lamar Odom. “That’s my movie. It’s a big bowl of gumbo.”
That is why I and many others are rooting hard for him to succeed. Here and in everything he does.
• Plenty of talk in Lakers land about home court advantage (now suddenly called just HCA). I don’t think HCA in the Finals is as big a deal as some do, because of the 2-3-2 format it is simply not cruicial to have it unless you can’t win a lick on the road (and the Lakers have proven this season they can win on the road anywhere). I think it could matter in the Western Conference, save that the Lakers basically have it sewn up. And I don’t buy the “look at game six from last Finals” argument, because I don’t think those Lakers were beating those Celtics either way. It exacerbated what happened in game six, but it was not why the Lakers lost. This year, the Lakers and Celtics are different teams.
• The Lakers had the rare two days off between games on the road, and the team had a choice — spend the free day in Chicago or Oklahoma City. Actually, is that really much of a choice?
• Best line of the day comes from Gilbert Arenas on if the rumors are true that he is coming back to the lineup on Saturday: “It’s only true if I play on Saturday. If I don’t play, it ain’t true.”
• The Houston Rockets are now second in the Western Conference, and are 15-4 since McGrady shockingly ended his season due to injury (who could have seen that coming?). The Rockets beat the Spurs in SA yesterday. The question is, are they for real this year? Could they win a seven game series against Utah or San Antonio? I think they may be more set this year than previous years — if Artest does not try to take over the offense.
• By the way, I suck at college basketball predictions. Apparently. Out of 151 in the FB&G pool, I am a pathetic 130. After the first weekend march mustache (day0ungster) has the inside track.
• I’m not a big sitcom guy, but Big Bang Theory is a new favorite.
After last night, he and the bench deserve a few props.
And for those wanting to get pumped for the playoffs:
Records: Lakers 54-13 (1st in the West) Bulls 32-37 (8th in the East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 113.8 (1st in league) Bulls 107.3 (18th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.6 (6th in league) Bulls 108.4 (17th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Trevor Ariza, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Bulls Derrick Rose, Ben Gordom, John Salmons, Tyrus Thomas, Joakim Noah
Watching the Tournament: I am a rather sad 89th in the FB&G NCAA Tournament pool after a rough second day, and my Midwest bracket is a disaster. Congrats to irielakerfan10 (March Moustache Madness) who leads after the first round of play.
I like to watch games and think about guys at the next level, specifically guys on my team. It’s far too early to say who the Lakers will take with a pick at the bottom of the first rounds, private workouts have not started and there will be a lot of movement on the draft board. But, you can get an idea of the guys available at the end of the first round.
DraftExpress (the best of the draft sites, for my money) has the Lakers taking Tyler Hansbrough, which is not an idea I love. I’m not sure how well his game will transfer to the next level, I’d rather take on a good athlete but a bit of a project. Still, there are some interesting names at picks 25-30: Jerome Jordan (Tulsa), Darren Collison (UCLA), Chase Budinger (Arizona), Hansbrough (UNC) and Damion James (Texas). Just a couple guys to watch.
The Lakers coming in: Two quick thoughts on Phil Jackson’s update on Andrew Bynum’s return at some point next month, at which time he needs to play his way into shape.
One, if I wanted to take the pressure off a kid working out to get back, which watching his team struggle without him, I’d say exactly what Jackson did. You don’t want Bynum to rush back too fast, and you want your team to focus on the now and not be looking for the Cavalry to come charging over the hill. PJ did both those things.
Second is something Eric Pincus once told me that is dead true around the league: Coaches are the worst place to get injury updates. They are out of that loop. They have so much on their plate, dealing with game plans and practices and travel, that they have no time to fantasize about players they don’t have on the active roster (except Larry Brown, apparently). Coaches get their injury status updates second or third hand, often, and they are simply not very reliable sources on these things.
The Bulls Coming In: Another game in the “with this roster they should have a better record” series. Because to me, the Bulls still have a lot of talent — Rose will lead the way, but guys like Thomas and Deng and Hinrich can be very good, athletic pieces of a puzzle The Bulls just haven’t figured out how to put it all together yet.
The Bulls also seem to have made out well in their trade with the Kings at the deadline. Here is Matt from By the Horns talking about Salmons and Brad Miller (both of whom had some good games against the Lakers when they were in SacTown) after the Bulls beat OKC:
Like John Salmons, who followed up his 38-point effort against the Celtics with 20 points on 8-for-15 from the field (which gives him 82 points in his last three games). I have to tell you, Salmons is better than I thought he was. Since he arrived from Sacramento, he’s averaging more points on fewer shot attempts (and 50 percent shooting), he’s rebounding a little better and his PER has jumped from 16.1 to 18.5.
Speaking of former Kings who are better than I thought, how about Brad Miller? Last night he chipped in 14 points, 6 boards and a team-high 5 assists off the bench. And yeah, his numbers are up since his relocation to Chicago, but with Brad it’s more about those little intangibles. Like the way he manages to come up with key offensive rebounds (he had four of them last night). Or how he manages to get to the hoop. How does he do that? Seriously, Brad Miller couldn’t outrun a park bench, but somehow he gets his shambling bulk to the front of the rim. I guess you could call that veteran savvy.
The Bulls have a lot of pieces, but I just don’t se the overarching plan of what kind of team they are trying to be. With all the athleticism on this team, they should not be middle of the pack in both offense and defense in the league. They should be excelling at something.
Keys To The Game: The Bulls are 17-12 against the West this season. Just putting it out there to say this is no gimmee.
There is nobody on the Bulls that can stop Gasol and his host of moves, no matter how tired he is right now. The Bulls have struggled to defend the four and the five all season, The Lakers need to establish Gasol early, as always. The second unit needs to use him. I feel like I write variations of that sentence every game, but it’s in hopes of actually seeing it some day.
The Lakers need to control the paint on both ends. On defense, they need to not let Rose just get to the rim, because he can both finish and set up those athletic wings from there. Force him to be a jump shooter, he is average to cold if you can force him out of the middle of the floor and get him shooting from the wings (he will kill you from the free throw line with jumpers, if you let him. With Noah in the lineup, the Lakers can afford to help off him, but when Brad Miller enters the game it is more problematic, he is the type of big with a midrange game that really hurts the Lakers defensive rotations.
The Bulls are one of the worst defensive rebounding teams in the league, Gasol and Odom should get a lot of second-chance points tonight.
Where you can watch: 5:30 start time for those of us in LA, with KCAL 9 doing the broadcast, or WGN if you want to the Bulls announcers.