Archives For March 2009

Olympics Day 8 - Basketball
Records: Lakers 52-13 (1st in the West) Mavericks 40-26 (8th in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 113.8 (1st in league) Mavericks 109.6 (8th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.6 (6th in league) Mavericks 108.0 (15th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Trevor Ariza, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Mavericks Jason Kidd, Jose Barea, Antoine Wright, Dirk Nowitzki, Eric “worst contract in the NBA” Dampier

Matadors, baby!!! My alma mater, Cal State Northridge, made the NCAA Tournament. And it is a great story — on Jan. 26 this team was 7-10, (4-5 in conference) when it’s leading scorer got kicked off the team for being a complete idiot. A few weeks later, the team’s point guard was in a car accident that gave him internal injuries and knocked him out for the season. I and a lot of fans had started to write the season off.

But they rallied around Rodrigue Mels, who after a year and a half of uninspired basketball took over the team and started being efficient ad hitting Kobeesque crazy shots. Combine that with a style good for a smallish underdog team — aggressive gambling defense and a shoot first and ask questions later offense — and they got hot. They won the Big West then the two games they needed in the Big West Tournament. This means I’m buying more Northridge gear to wear this week.

The Lakers coming in: One reason the Lakers offense is so good is it gets shots close to the basket. Against the Spurs, the Lakers were 22 of 39 (56%) in the paint. Gasol was 8 of 11. We all see the Lakers offense struggle some when they get away from going inside (or it is taken away from them) and it is because they just become a less efficient offense — when the ball goes inside the Lakers score a high percentage.

A sign of where Lamar Odom’s head is. Or isn’t. In March, he is 5 of 15 from the free throw line.

The Mavericks Coming In: The Mavericks are facing some injury issues, particularly at the three, where Josh Howard and Devean George are out.

Dallas is 7-3 in their last 10 games, the same record as the Lakers, and they are playing a little desperate. Dallas needs these wins – as the 8 seed they would get the Lakers in the first round, but they are only a game and a half our of the division lead and a top-4 seed with home court. And a better first-round matchup. It will not be easy, however, 11 of their remaining 17 games are against teams over .500, and the Mavs have not been a great road team this year. (The remaining Lakers opponents, by the way, have an average winning percentage of .460.)

How are the Mavs getting geared up for the playoffs? I asked Rob of Two Man Game for his thoughts:

I’m not sure that the Mavs’ recent approach is fundamentally different than it has been all season long. They still live and die by jumpshots, which affects their ability to play on both ends. When the shooters disappear, the Mavs’ defensive focus goes with them and things go from bad to worse. So when the Mavs are playing “well,” it typically means that they are uncharacteristically attacking the basket or the shots are falling. When that confidence builds up on the offensive end, this Maverick team really steps it up defensively. The rotations are more crisp, there aren’t as many long rebounds to jump-start opponents’ fast breaks, and the intensity on the glass seems to improve. So it’s not so much that the Mavs are gearing up for the postseason as it is that they’ve enjoyed some good offensive nights recently.

There is one noted area of improvement: in recent wins over Portland and Phoenix, the Mavs have shown more guts than they have all season. The loss to Golden State makes those games seem like distant memories, but it’d be a shame to discount two hard-fought wins. If the Mavs can somehow steal a win in L.A., I’d still consider the trip to be an incredible success. Even showing some defensive progress would be nice, but by now I know better; this team is what it is defensively. I’ll settle for a gutsy, close victory over a true contender, and that type of game will do more for the Mavs than a decisive victory either way.

Long term, the Mavs are at a crossroads, and it will be interesting to see how they handle it. Is this a team that, as owner Mark Cuban believes, is one Gasol-like trade away from contending again? Or is it time to blow it all up and start to rebuild? The Jason Kidd contract comes off the books this summer and the first-reaction thought is to let him walk. But the Mavs are already over the cap and pushing the tax for next year without him. Can they really get a better PG for the mid-level? The position they really need to improve is the three, do they try to go that way with a trade and bring back Kidd cheaply to run the show for a better roster?

Again, thoughts from Rob:

Obviously it depends on how big the ‘piece’ is. Any significant Mavs’ move is either going to come via trade in 2009-2010 or 2010 free agency. The 2010 angle seems nearly impossible without some serious cap maneuvering, so I consider it to have a pretty huge asterisk.

The current team has some glaring holes (shooting guard and center, perimeter defense), and unless the additions specifically address those weaknesses it’s hard to see this team becoming a legitimate contender once again. That said, the Mavs don’t need Dwyane Wade to jump into the top tier (although it wouldn’t hurt, that’s for sure). Even one of the 2010 free agents lingering just outside the spotlight could make a huge difference (paging Joe Johnson), provided they occupy one of those problem positions. So in short, I think it’s true. If the Mavs could add a good to great player without giving much up, it could definitely thrust them into contention.

To say that Mavs fans are conflicted wouldn’t cover the half of it. It’s easy to see that the Mavs are aging by the day, and many have already grown impatient with second-tier status. Whether that impatience translates to a desire to blow it up and start over seems to change by the game. If at the heart of the issue is ‘Can the Mavs become elite once again with this group?’, then smaller issues like Josh Howard’s tenuous place on the team and whether it’s fair to give up on Dirk serve as both clarification and complication. It’s not an easy situation to sort through, and the fans are feeling that. Generally speaking, though, I think most of the fans are content to stay with Dirk, trade Josh, and play the 2010 market.

Keys To The Game: Beware of the Ides of March. The Lakers just seem to have the Mavs number, having beaten then five straight times. That includes two wins this season, both by seven points. But the Mavs are a desperate team with a leader who is playing well, this is not going to be an easy game.

One of the key reasons is that the Lakers do a good job on Dirk — he has shot just 12 of 32 in the first two meetings this year against the Lakers. In those games, Gasol was on him most of the time because Bynum was in on Dampier. Tonight things will go to Lamar Odom, who also is long and has some success against Dirk. If that doesn’t work, the Lakers can go with DJ Mbenga on Dampier and move Gasol back over to the four. Nowitzk has been playing well of late, scoring 30 a game the last eight games shooting 51%, but the key is not to let him get too many shots in the paint, make him shoot contested jumpers. If the Lakers can continue to hold him in check it could be a long night for the Mavs.

If the Mavs get into the paint, it is on penetration, they rarely have post plays set up. Dirk likes the ball at the elbow, and they run a lot of pick-and-pop with Kidd or with Terry off the bench (but he often closes out games. The Lakers have to defend that well.

The Lakers must close out on shooters. Must. Close. Out. This is not a great team to play pack-the-paint against.

The Mavs struggle to match up in man-to-man with the Lakers, and in a game I caught some of the other night they went to a lot of zone. I expect the Lakers will see a fair amount of that tonight.

Where you can watch: 12:30 start at Staples, showing on ABC. After reading the comments from the last post, I know you’ll all tune in early to watch that ABC Studio show.

By the way, I am at today’s game, so expect more comments and twitters from me than usual.

Can the Lakers sustain the momentum they built yesterday against the Rockets or was that an outlier against a downward trend? The Lakers will attempt to answer this question in the positive tonight against the former inhabitants of the cavernous Alamo Dome.

A peek behind the curtains: I’m actually doing this live blog after it has finished. I’m a little nervous as to whether the recording actually recorded the whole game. Ah, the wonders of technology! Speaking of which, here are some clips from a series of commercials running in 1993. A friend of mine remarked on the fairly prescient nature of the predictions. See it here.

The score listed after the time marker is the score before the result of the play. Lakers score is listed first and Spurs score second.

1st Quarter

12:00 – LAL 0, SAS 0 – We start with a bad tip and a re-tip controlled by the forum blue and gold. Gasol shorts his first open 15 footer.

11:36 – 0, 0 – Finley strokes a nice jumper and Ariza drains a jumper of his own on the other end.

10:54 – 2, 2 – Doug Collins mentions that the Lakers miss The Space Cadet’s shooting and size. I start flinching involuntarily at the mention of Vladi’s name.

10:00 – 4, 4 – Bonner is tasked with guarding Lamar by himself and Odom overpowers/outlengths him and draws a foul on a made bucket. It’s very difficult to take a red-headed, pasty man seriously out there. He and Scalabrine probably have a support group for maligned red-headed NBA players. They’re the only members with Bill Walton acting as Chairman Emeritus.

9:43 – 7, 4 – Awkward possession for Wide Eyed Duncan as he drives across the lane. Pau hit the ball and Duncan left his feet but came down with it. Refs call a jump. I’m happy to relay the shock that was on Pop’s face.

8:34 – 9, 4 – Lakers are off to a great start. Kobe hits a step back jumper over the outstretched hands of the ginger. The Spurs turned the ball over out of bounds. And then Pau gets a tip-in off a wide open Kobe miss from the elbow to put the Lakers up 7. Spurs go with the tried and true early time out. TNT doesn’t go to commercial. That’s gotta be the first time a television broadcast has done that in a non-fourth quarter situation in forever. The announcers recap the past week or so for the Lakers (the ups and downs).

8:37 – 11, 4 – Parker collapses the Lakers defense and Finley finds himself wide open for three and he drills it. Great use of the timeout.

7:55 – 13, 7 – Great move by Finley to take his man off the dribble and drop in a left-handed floater over the secondary defender, Lamar. I’m not sure if Odom expected the shot to go up so quickly.

7:12 – 15, 9 – Lakers again force a turnover and in semi-transition Fisher smashes a three pointer home. Next time down, Ariza tries his luck and finds himself a winner. As drastic as the 11 point lead looks, it could very easily be a much closer game if these last two shots had missed, as they eventually will. It’s not time for the Spurs to panic and if you’re the Lakers, you plan for the maturity of the Los Spurs to set in and their defense to make adjustments.

5:45 – 23, 9 – Ariza picks Finley’s pocket and the Lakers come back the other way but don’t convert it into points. Coming back the other way, Kobe leaves Bowen all alone to provide support inside and stuffs Finley’s layup out of bounds. Spurs get a Kurt Thomas long two to fall. Lakers will live with that.

4:23 – 25, 11 – Lakers play some tough defense on the Spurs and Lamar stays with Tony Longoria enough to alter his shot at the end of the buzzer. Kobe misses a gimme (for him) and Ariza gets a steal again. Kobe gets another shot to fall. He’s playing in rhythm and smooth. Fears of a letdown are laid to rest. The Lakers are ready and willing for this one.

3:10 – 27, 11 – Odom does his patented throw the ball of the defender while falling out of bounds and we get an automatic timeout. I am astonished at how effective the Lakers have been against the Manu-less Spurs.  There is a Pau Gasol look-alike behind the Spurs bench except he’s wearing glasses. I feel you should know this. Is Popovich so maniacal that he’s going to send out a Gasol doppelganger in order to confuse the Lakers?

2:23 – 31, 15 – Lakers force Duncan into a difficult shot over Odom. Odom then gathers up a loose offensive rebound on the other end and deposits it through.

1:19 – 33, 17 – Ime Udoka is aghast at the foul that was just called on him. He planted an elbow into Luke’s jaw while holding the ball and he can’t figure out how he got caught. Umm, Ime, the refs are mainly watching the person with the ball and the person guarding the person with the ball. I think I’ve solved the case.

0:12 – 33, 17 – Kobe’s just going one on one on against his defender. Farmar is going to have an interesting time guarding Mason and being guarded by him. I’m not sure if Farmar can take advantage of his quickness advantage when Mason will have a significant height advantage. All that is going through my head while Kobe saunters around the perimeter for about 10 seconds before settling for a pull-up J in front of Bowen that draws water. Mason misses the last-second shot at the other end.

This is the point in the movie where the annoying buddy says, “this is going good. Tooooo good.”

2nd Quarter

11:30 – 35, 20 – Spurs aren’t taking care of their defensive glass as Luke corrals an offensive rebound. And then the Lakers cough it up.

10: 35 – 35, 20 – Finley is reaching into the way-back machine. He hits a pull-up jumper on the right baseline over Vujacic. Nicely done sir.

9:42 – 37, 22 – I’m okay with helping off Kurt Thomas when he’s standing 20 feet from the bucket but perhaps you don’t just watch him from 10 feet away  while he shoots a flat-footed set shot. He’s old, not dead.

8:51 – 37, 24 – The Spurs look disjointed on offense. They’re getting some penetration but not really doing much with it. Without players looking to slash and score, the Lakers aren’t being put in scramble mode.

8:20 – 37, 24 – Kurt Thomas tries to send Farmar to the hospital with a torn ACL in a loose ball situation and after the refs reward the Spurs with the ball out of bounds, the Spurs get a corner three. Lakers miss at the other end and Josh Powell and Kurt Thomas get tangled up for the second time in a row. Something to keep an eye on.

7:30 – 37, 26 – Pau hits a nice free throw jumper. Finley hits a corner three. Powell and Thomas are tangled again. Lakers don’t get back on defense but Thomas catches his own airball and gets called for traveling.  Spurs are making a push.

5:58 – 41, 31 – Farmar gets a nice block from behind on Finley showing he’s not going to quit. Kobe tightropes the baseline and finds Powell in the lane after Powell built a house and filled out a change of address form. Powell notices the Spaniard open and hits him for an easy jumper from 8 feet. Pop wants another timeout. The Lakers are playing superb. Can they sustain this level of play?

5:36 – 43, 31 – Mbenga gets called for a foul bodying up Duncan. Lamar shows a great bit of veteran leadership and encourages him. Fisher believes that he’s some sort of extraordinary shot blocker as he goes for Parker’s fake. Not much contact but the refs are fooled into giving Parker two free throws. 

4:40 – 45, 31 – After an Mbenga bucket, the Lakers starting five (except Mbenga for Pau) play stifling defense forcing a turnover from the Spurs.

3:45 – 45, 31 – Great hustle by the Lakers to pick up a rebound. Lamar really ran after the deflected ball and found himself one on one with Duncan. Lamar will not be denied! Two points in Duncan’s grill. Despite conventional wisdom, that does not make Duncan soft. Drew Gooden makes an unscheduled appearance. We’ll see how he does with his new mates.

2:08 – 49, 32 – Ariza hasn’t quite mastered the turnaround jumper off the dribble. Either that or a huge gust of wind blew through the arena because his shot came up about 14.2 inches short.

1:28 – 49, 34 – There’s a couple things that the cautious me is thinking. First of all, it’s easy to think this game is over but we haven’t yet played an entire half. The Spurs will have just as much time in the second half to erase the lead that the Lakers built in the same amount of time. Secondly, even if the Lakers win going away, the Spurs have been playing too good to dismiss them as non-competition. Especially with Manu not suiting up.

0:03 – 51, 38 – Not the prettiest last second play ever but Pau makes a strong move inside to get a jump hook to fall over Duncan. Odom was the initiator on that one, which is unusual but Mason did a good job battling Kobe and denying him the ball. Lakers can’t let that happen very often if they want to keep the game out of reach.

Halftime

Halftime takes forever! Yammer yammer about nothing. “But nomuskles, aren’t you watching on DVR?” Hmm… yeah. I don’t know why I was watching the halftime show or the commercials. It’s been a long day. Finally Doug Collins has some actual analysis highlighting Michael Finley’s success and the collapsing Lakers defense that gave up some good looks from outside.

3rd Quarter

11:34 – LAL 53, SAS 38 – Lakers play pretty good defense but Finley is having a rejuvenated effort. He sinks a tough jumper over Pau and then Bonner comes and gets the luckiest shot ever to fall in from three. It bounced off the back iron about 8 feet in the air and dropped in. If he was playing pool, it would’ve been ball in hand.

10:11 – 55, 45 – Popovich blamed the first half on a timid first quarter by Duncan and Parker.

9:36 – 57, 45 – Lakers foul Duncan in the post. Kobe left Mason to double Duncan when Pau had good position. To my eye, that’s a little bit of a breakdown. Cheating off Mason isn’t really a winning strategy based on how well he’s shot this year.

9:04 – 57, 46 – Spurs fans are upset when the refs call Thomas for pushing Pau in the back off a Duncan miss. I don’t blame them. Looked like Pau just mistimed his jump.

8:46 – 57, 46 – NO FEAR! Ariza takes it strong to the hole and despite Finley raking his arms Ariza manages to finish off the glass. He also gets the free throw. Coming back the other way, Duncan draws a foul on Fisher and hits 1 of 2. Oh no. Duncan follows his own miss and gets an easy layup.

8:16 – 60, 49 – Kobe baits the ref into calling a foul on a jumper from 18 feet. Mason is fingered the culprit for tagging Kobe oh so gently.

7:45 – 62, 49 – Interesting sequence. Ariza makes a great steal on a bad pass. Fisher misses the layup on the break. Pau misses the putback dunk (contested). Spurs run the other way with an advantage and Finley misses a three from the right wing. Lakers hustle back down and early in the shot clock Kobe draws a foul against Duncan. [post-game note: this turned out to be a rare sloppy sequence in this otherwise highly skilled game]

7:25 – 64, 49 – Mason drills a three from the left side. Too open. Spurs trying to get the deficit under 10.

6:39 – 64, 52 – And they do it with a Tony Parker three wide open. TNT shows us the corner view. Kobe found Fisher for a three of his own to answer back! Spurs seem to have gotten some handle on the Lakers’ defense.

5:37 – 67, 56 – Tony Parker weaves his way around some screens and hits a nice looking jumper. The Lakers answer is a Derek Fisher contested three from 26 feet. Clang. Ugh. Spurs are making a push against the starters. It’ll be time for the bench to start coming in soon. How will they fair?

4:25 – Wow. Tony Parker just slices the Lakers interior defense into little tiny pieces. Just call him Sushi Chef Longoria-Parker

3:36 – Kobe gets a good seal against Bowen and Lamar gives him a great entry pass from the top of the circle. Spurs collapse and Kobe finds a diving Pau who is fouled in the act.

2:38 – 71, 60 – Kobe makes a great defensive play. He turned it over but hustled back into the play to make Finley alter the point blank layup. He missed.

2:15 – 71, 60 – ::throws shoe at TV:: tony parker is hitting his stride. He ties the lakers hands on defense and drops it off for Tim Duncan for the lay-in and the foul on Kobe. I guess it was too much to ask for the Lakers to keep a quick guard like Parker contained for an entire game. Duncan’s free throw is no good after the timeout and Spurs only trail by 9.

1:58 – 71, 62 – Luke!!!! Offensive rebound and putback in Duncan’s face. 

1:20 – 75, 62 – Ime uses the aerodynamic advantage of the shaved head to drop in a three point jumper.

1:07 – 75, 65 – Kevin Harlan says that Mason fouled “the angular Odom.” That made me chuckle. What does that mean? Is Odom sporting a protractor in his knee brace tonight?? He does the make one, miss one thing at the charity stripe.

0:48 – 76, 65 – Odom is enjoying his night tonight. He swats away George Hill’s timid layup. Unfortunately Tony Parker uses the out of bounds play to get himself a nice looking jumper.

0:08 – 78, 67 – Spurs turn it over on the bad Tony Parker pass. Farmar is forced out of bounds and the refs give the ball back to the Spurs. Parker takes advantage of the extra possession to hit a nice runner while drawing the foul. He hits the free throw. Lakers finish the quarter only up 8. They need to be more disciplined against Tony Parker, that’s for sure.

4th Quarter

11:30 – 78, 70 – Lakers give up back to back threes and a fast break dunk. Three point game. 8 points in practically zero time.

10:49 – 78, 75 – Needing a bucket the Lakers turn to the always reliable….Walton? Walton drives into the paint from the corner and dumps it off for Pau who gets the bucket and the foul. Pau makes the free throw. Finley drains a three. Their defense is much more intense and the Lakers are forced into a frustration foul/turnover.

9:59 – 81, 78 – With the crowd shouting for DE-FENSE! Powell makes a nice face-up shot in the post to quiet the crowd a little. Spurs turn it over. Lakers repay the favor. Finley can’t make the Lakers pay.

8:51 – 83, 78 – with Powell being guarded by the much smaller and more perimeter oriented Udoka, he goes into the post and uses a nice spin move to get a layup that he misses but follows for a tip in. Great show of confidence by Powell in hostile territory these two latest trips down. Spurs get a point taken away after the refs determine Mason was stepping on the line on one of his shots.

8:13 –85, 77 – Vujacic has hit his second basket of the night. That’s got to feel good for him.

7:30 – 87, 77 – altogether now, LUUUUUKKKEEE. Nice back door cut and a quick jump layup away from the defender. Lakers on an 8-0 run the past 3 minutes.

7:18 – 89, 77 – Tim Duncan is shooting free throws. It occurs to me that it still seems silly that the refs have numbers on their jerseys. And Kobe checks back in to the game having not taken a shot since the 2nd quarter.

6:25 – 89, 91 – Lakers are running with their starting lineup except Powell instead of Odom. Kobe gets a tough jumper to fall and then Parker waltzes into the paint before the Lakers get setup for an easy layup. Walton then dishes out some punishment to the rookie, George Hill and gets a layup of his own. Lakers up by 10.

5:25 – 93, 83 – Duncan isn’t going away quietly. Odom beats Thomas off the dribble and looks to have a good angle to the bucket but Duncan pins the layup against the glass.

4:18 – 93, 83 – Michael FINLEY!!!! Drills a three from the right side. Ridiculous how well he’s playing.

3:10 – 93, 88 – Lakers get a much-needed bucket. Kobe is doubled on the wing and with an unconventional pass he finds Pau with a water-polo pass on the opposite block against the smaller Parker. Pau goes dunkalicious.

2:55 – 95, 88 – Thomas then gets his own jumper to fall. Lakers collapsed again onto Duncan.

2:28 – 95, 90 – Kobe’s gone cold. He misses another shot. Parker hits a three and sets the crowd into a frenzy! Spurs pull within two and wield the momentum like a sledgehammer of doom.

1:47 – 95, 93 – Sideline pick and roll, Kobe and Pau. Shut down. Kobe iso. for three. over Hill. GOOD! Holy crap I just tinkled on myself. That shot was a huge dagger in the Spurs’ armor. They played disciplined to 2 seconds on the shot clock and Kobe hits it anyway. What else could they have done? At the other end, we witness a Timmy D jump hook for two. Lakers up 3.

1:22 – 98, 95 – ball in Kobe’s hand. Pressure release is Odom at the circle and he finds Gasol in the low post for a tough finish. Lakers reach 100 first. Will Lawler’s law hold?

1:10 – 100, 95 – ODOM! Forces the jump ball against Timmy and the Lakers control the tip.

0:30 – 100, 95 – Intense bit of defense by the Lakers. Finley ends up with a fairly reasonable look but it was contested and it comes up short after he was forced to create off the dribble. The Spurs want that one back.  Vujacic is fouled and gets two freebies. Lakers should win this one now.

Can the rest of you breathe? What a terrific battle for the Lakers and Spurs tonight. It’s a great feeling, I’m sure, to come out on top against the second place team in the West. Sometimes these live blogs turn out to be one-line zingers but tonight there was no place for that. The Spurs came roaring back in the 2nd half and the Lakers needed all their weapons to fend them off. Can’t say enough about the will to win tonight. Not to mention the contributions by the bench. Powell, Ariza, Luke and Vujacic had some timely buckets. Hats off the Spurs for their effort as they refused to fold in the face of a huge Lakers avalanche in the first quarter.

Los Angeles Lakers v San Antonio Spurs

Records: Lakers 51-13 (1st in the West) Spurs 43-20 (2nd in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 113.9 (1st in league) Spurs 108.7 (14th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.6 (6th in league) Spurs 104.0 (4th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Trevor Ariza, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Spurs Tony Parker, Roger Mason, Michael Finley, Mat Bonner, Tim Duncan

The Lakers coming in: For all the hype about statistics and Battier and Kobe, there was one line in that piece that is forgotten. Watching the game with a Rockets executive, the executive says it is a case of “pick your poison” with Kobe. You can do everything right, and he will still hit the shot a frightening amount of the time. I think when that article was published, the Rockets front office winced a little because they knew this game was coming — the article portrayed the Rockets front office as almost arrogant regarding stopping Kobe (that may have been more the focus of the writer than what actually happened), and you have to be careful about pissing off Kobe and making him hyper-focused. Artest being physical and barking at him doesn’t help.

A few people in the comments said they want to get back to more team-oriented ball tonight, and I think the Lakers will. But on a night when the best player in the game is hot, you ride that train.

The real big news last night was the move of Trevor Ariza to the starting lineup — at the request of Luke Walton. Credit Walton for taking the step.

More to the point, this is another case of Phil letting the players figure out for themselves what is needed, not just dictating change. Rather than forcing Ariza to start as many coaches would have done earlier in the year, Phil let everyone figure it out for themselves, and with that they are far more accepting of their roles.

I think we’ve all known Ariza was the best Laker three this season — the best defender, the guy playing with the most aggression. Now he is the starter, and he makes the first five that much better because of the defense, because he works well from the weakside (with Kobe and Pau dominating the strong side), because he can get some easy baskets in transition, and he will get some boards. The key on offense will be hitting some threes — he is up to 31.7% from there for the season, but is just 24.9% in the last 10 games.

Walton to the second unit also means that unit may slow down a little, but they will run the offense and get shots out of it. That is what happened last night, and they looked better. Once Bynum returns and Odom (or Bynum) play with the second unit, all the better. Imagine the ball movement of a second unit with Farmar, Walton and Odom — that is going to expand leads because teams will not be used to dealing with that type of play.

The Spurs Coming In: This is a team that remains with two-thirds of the Big Three — Manu is out. The question has to be, how far can they go in the postseason without him at 100%?

Over at 48 Minutes of Hell, there is an interesting talk about Bruce Bowen. The issue is, while he has slowed, their defensive numbers are still much better when he plays.

If Bowen remains such a potent defensive force than why has Popovich decreased his minutes so significantly? Well, two reasons. The first is that little number I mentioned earlier: 37. Bowen is borderline psychotic about his conditioning but no workout regimen can bring the biological clock to a screeching halt. If Popovich wants Bowen to continue to be as effective as he once was, he realizes Bruce has to be used in an increasingly surgical manner.

The second reason has a lot to do with the Lakers, actually. After a 4-1 thumping in last year’s Western Conference Finals, everyone understood that the Spurs needed some tweaking if they were going to sneak past LA this season. The most decisive “tweak” Popovich made was to use more offensive minded 5-man units a greater percentage of the time. By replacing Finley with Mason, Bowen with Finley, and Oberto with Bonner, Popovich sacrificed defensive ability for offensive output at 3 of the 5 starting positions.

As I’ve said repeatedly, I think this is the right strategy. No matter what point of decline you think Bowen may be at, it is clear this team is no longer the defensive juggernaut we once were. We may still be one of the top 5 defensive teams in the league but we do not possess the talent to stop the Lakers entirely; our best hope is to slow them down. But in order for the Spurs to win a 7 game series against the Lake Show (or at least stand a better chance than last season), we have to show more offensive consistency than we did in ‘08. I often complain about the awful droughts the Spurs’ offense suffered last season. The Spurs cannot sacrifice an entire quarter of offensive output and expect to outscore LA over the course of 48 minutes. By leaving more shooters and less stoppers on the floor, Pop is giving us a better chance to upset Los Angeles.

Keys To The Game: Okay, we’ve talked about everyone else, but this game really comes down to Tony Parker — if he gets in the lane a lot, the Spurs win, if the Lakers are focused and keep him out, they win. Without Manu, he is the only one who can really create his own offense off the dribble for the Spurs.

Rotations to shooters at the three-point line, the closeouts, have to be quick. The Spurs will make the extra pass to the open man, so you have to get out there.

The Lakers length bothers Tim Duncan, but you can’t just give that man one look all night. Double sometimes (and from different places), man up others, just don’t let him get comfortable. Then go at him on offense with Pau and make him work at both ends.

Try to push the pace and get some transition baskets, but don’t be reckless about it. Push and if it is not there pull back and be patient with the offense. But there are some easy baskets to be had.

Where you can watch: 5 p.m. start on TNT nationally. Also, for a fun live blog, log on to the Wall Street Journal — yes, the WSJ — where Zach of Celtics Hub is doing the live blog. Yes, a Celtics guy, but a very smart hoops guy and fan as well. He will have some good insights.

Sports News - November 10, 2008

Records: Lakers 50-13 (1st in the West) Rockets 42-23 (3rd in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 113.9 (1st in league) Rockets 108.3 (15th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.6 (6th in league) Rockets 104.1 (5th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Josh Powell, Pau Gasol
Rockets Mel Brooks, Ron Artest, Moneyball Battier, Luis Scola, Yao Ming

FB&G March Madness pool: .We’re doing an NCAA Tournament Pool, winner gets a Forum Blue & Gold T-Shirt. We’ll remind everyone on Monday, but if you want to get signed up early, it’s on. Thanks to Goo for setting everything up. We are doing this through Yahoo!, standards scoring.

Just follow this link. Then:
Group Name: Forum Blue & Gold
Group ID#: 54708
Password: smushcalade

The Lakers coming in: No Lamar Odom tonight. LO doesn’t seem too happy about the suspension, but the way the league is enforcing that rule these days he was in the wrong.

I’ve pretty much moved on, as I think we all have, from the Trevor Ariza foul brouhaha. But the Andrew K. at the LA Times blog this morning had an interesting conversation with the NBA’s Tim Frank about the situation.

In talking yesterday with NBA Vice President of Communications Tim Frank about how Trevor Ariza’s situation with Rudy Fernandez (and others similar)Ariza might be evaluated, I learned of a common misconception among fans, players, coaches, and media (yours truly included). Whether someone makes a play on the ball isn’t the determining factor in assessing a flagrant foul. Or even “a” determining factor, really. Instead, it’s a matter of whether the contact itself was necessary and/or excessive.

In a case like Trevor’s, that can obviously get very dicey. On one hand, the league rightfully wants to protect its players, and Fernandez is essentially a sitting (or flying) duck while airborne. You don’t want to see him get hurt. On the other hand, where do you draw the line between contact acceptable vs. excessive? Ariza obviously made contact with Fernandez’s head, but he also came reasonably close to getting a block.

We all see these incidents through the glasses of our team and our emotions. Lakers fans think Ariza was going for the block. Blazers fans think he was going for decapitation. I guarantee if Fernandez had done that to Ariza and there was no suspension, at least half this board would have flipped out. That’s how things are, and while we need to be in the moment, some times we need try to step back and see a bigger picture. Even if we don’t like all of it.

On a lighter note, you can check out some of the lesser-known nicknames of the NBA.

The Rockets Coming In: I’ll be honest, when I first saw the Rafer Alston for Kyle Lowrey deal at the trade deadline, I thought “smart move for Orlando, Alston is no Nelson but he is a solid vet, an improvement.” Then I looked closely at the numbers and thought the Rockets may have been on to something.

Loyal FB&G reader/commenter and Rockets fan Stephen agrees and gave us his thoughts.

The Alston/Lowry trade has paid HUGE dividends for Houston.

Lowry has no three-point shot so he attacks the basket. On his drives he is either kicking out to open shooters or drawing fouls-something the team has been sorely lacking with McGrady out.

He pushes the ball, often continuing to the rim on one-man breaks and he is strong enough to finish thru incidental contact.

He doesn’t defer to Artest, keeping the ball moving and the other Rockets involved.
He has turned the second unit into a viable unit that has become very productive.

I have been steadfast in my belief trading for Ron was a mistake. His over-dribbling, ball-stopping, bad-shot taking, poor team defense had me yelling at the TV whenever he’d do one of his dribble, dribble, jack up a bad 3 and watch as the other team run the miss up the court. It culminated in the debacle in Chicago where the Rockets set a new team record for largest 4Q lead turned into a loss. Ron tried to take over the game, firing 3 after 3 and missing all but 1. Since then Artest has been a different player. He has become a complementary player, moving the ball, only taking open 3s-where he is very accurate-forgoing for the most part his head-down bullrush into the lane for low post play, where his step-back “jumper” is also very effective, and playing strong individual and team D.

This Ron Artest is probably what Phil thought he could get and what the Rockets were hoping for. When he plays as part of a team he’s superb, when he plays to prove he’s one of the League’s superstars he’s very bad.

Yao has started to get his groove back, but he still doesn’t get enough shots. When he is decisive and makes a quick move it’s very hard to stop him. Defenses that use quicker, smaller players that front him have been effective until quite recently.(Mainly because when the Rockets tried to reverse the ball Ron would stop the ball and jack up a wild 3 or make a horrible drive to the basket.) When Yao puts the ball on the floor, it’s there for the taking. A

Luis Scola has been on a rebounding tear of late and has been routinely getting double-doubles.

Carl Landry is getting back to the high-flying act of last yr. He’s also added a pretty nice 15-20′ jumper. He also will run and throw his body around on the offensive glass. He and Von Wafer are now the scoring punch off the bench w/Lowry being the conductor.
Von Wafer has been rather cold from outside recently, but he will still take it to the rim and finishes pretty well.

Battier’s shot has deserted him. He’s making an exaggerated bending motion before shooting, so I wonder if his heel injury is bothering him, it’s as if he has no legs. Brooks has been very inconsistent-which is to be expected from a second yr PG running the team. He can get by anybody, he just has problems finishing.

The Rockets are starting to lock in on defense and can shut you down for a while. They are still vulnerable to young athletic teams who run and jump, but they are not as vulnerable as they were.

Keys To The Game: The Lakers can get a lot of easy baskets by running tonight — particularly the first unit. I’m looking at you, Pau. Yao Ming does a ton of things well, but run the floor is not one of them. They need to run him all over the place, and use Gasol’s 18 footer to pull him away from the basket.

Some more thoughts from Stephen.

The starting unit of Brooks, Artest, Battier, Scola and Yao will go thru Yao and look to pass along perimeter to open 3pt shooters. They will try inside-out with Yao, but he still thinks before he passes and gets many passes picked off.

Without Bynum (and frankly even with him) the Lakers are not going to stop Yao if he gets deep position — so you can’t let him. You have to start fighting him for space at the free throw line and higher. Don’t let him get deep easy. DJ Mbenga will get some time on this, but Gasol needs to do it, too.

Stephen on Yao:

Any Laker defender at the top of the key should quickly drop down and go for the deflection/steal. When Gasol plays Yao he should use his long arms to poke away ball and when Yao lowers his shoulder do the big man shoulder bump, then flop on the second one. The refs will give a player 1, sometimes 2 bumps, but a third will get an offensive foul w/a good flop, and often the second will get one too. With that, if Yao stays out of foul trouble he should have a good game against the Lakers.

More Stephen:

The Lakers should be aware of Lowry pushing the tempo, attacking the rim and his willingness to pass to open teammates. Adelman has also started using Brooks and Lowry together so Farmar and Sasha better have their track shoes handy.

Keys to the game:
Who wins the battle of benches?
Can Lakers stop Yao?
Can Rockets stop Gasol?
Will Kobe get his efficiently, or have to fire up 30+ shots to get 30 points?
Can the Lakers get to the foul line? The Rockets allow very few FTs.
Will the Rockets be hot from the 3pt line?
Will young Rocket points burn the Laker points?

Where you can watch: 5:30 start on KCAL 9 here in LA.

19 and Counting

Kurt —  March 10, 2009
NBA: OCT 28 Blazers at Lakers

Last night I started to break down a section of the game where the Lakers looked particularly inept (there were several options to choose from) but stopped after about a minute of game time.

I wasn’t really learning anything, and I’m not sure that we didn’t all know what was going on: Luke Walton tried but he cannot contain Brandon Roy, and he got little help behind him; Lamar Odom walked away from the bench and his rebounding responsibilities; you have to close out hard on the Blazers three point shooters, especially when they are hot, and the Lakers chose to continue to protect the paint; the Lakers tried to take Aldridge out of the game early and the other Blazers stepped up (see last comment about Lakers rotations); the Lakers did not establish Gasol on offense inside, and Gasol had an off night; when things stared going bad the offense stopped moving and guys were waiting for Kobe Nova. That’s a long list, but all things that focus and game planning could easily fix.

We’ve said it before this season, there are games like this. And we can write a certain amount of those off as what happens when the owners want to play a full 82 for their pocketbooks (same with the players who get a percentage of the income).

But that time is quickly starting to come to an end. There are 19 games left in the season, and the last 20 are when teams need to start gearing up their intensity and focus for the playoffs. For the last three road games, the Lakers have not done that. It is far too early to panic, but it is now a pattern to watch — just like the bench looking lost — because now is when you start to see championship teams build for postseason runs.

So I’m not freaking out about the worst loss of the year. But the timing got my attention, and some patterns need to start changing. Phil, Kobe, the entire team knows this, and they have five weeks to fix it. That’s a lot of time, but now is when the work begins. Another performance like this on April 4 back in Portland and I’ll be a lot more worried.

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Regarding the Ariza foul: First things first, I am glad to hear that Rudy Fernandez is fine. That is what is most important.

I am also happy to hear Ariza is not suspended, although I would not have defended him with the vigor I tried to do Bynum. The reason to me is Bynum came from the side on a late rotation, but within the peripheral vision of Wallace. Ariza came from behind. Yes, he got ball, but he also got the head and arms of an airborn player. If he had been suspended, I could have lived with that. But what makes me happy is again the league is looking at the intent and not the result. Nobody (at least outside of Portland, and mostly not there) thinks Ariza was trying to injure Fernandez. It was a hard foul, but those are part of the game. Suspensions should be saved for those whose have some intent in their actions, and that is not Ariza.

No way the Lakers are a dirty team, as some will start to say today. But I think Matt is right at Hardwood Paroxysms, they can be reckless at times.

Also, Odom likely will get suspended. The league is strict on the leaving the bench rule, and the players have to know that. Odom lost his focus. But we’ve said that a lot for four games.

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Thanks to Henry at TrueHoop for the kind words — and he was right, you guys rocked last night. Very reasonable and thought out reactions to what happened with the Fernandez incident, and the game. You guys and gals rock. You make this spot fun for me.

Henry, I think, missed one point. It was a very emotional game — for Blazers fans and the team. They (rightfully) still hate LA and regard us as an evil empire. A blowout win over the Lakers is cathartic for them in the way that the regular season wins this year over Boston were cathartic for us. But right now, while this rivalry with Portland is starting to warm up again for us, this is sort of a one-sided thing. This is not a huge deal, the game against the Spurs Thursday will be a bigger rivalry feel for us. Nothing personal, but rivalries come out of the playoffs, and it’s been a while since LA and Portland had to battle it out in the post season. That time is coming again in the next few years, but right now it is not. Sorry, just isn’t. The Lakers game is circled on the calender everywhere they go, and we fans are sort of just used to it now.

And now, a few other links for your enjoyment.

• Jordan Farmar on the weirdest motivational tactic Phil Jackson used on him.

“Well it was my rookie year when I wasn’t playing much. I ate a hamburger at halftime because I was starving. I wasn’t playing, I wasn’t getting any minutes. So I didn’t think..it had been like ten or twelve games where I didn’t see the court. And he saw me eat the hamburger, he fined me, he got mad at me. It was a close game up in Seattle and he put me in and said I hope you blow it.”

• Brilliant video of Kobe talking strategy — how to get your shot off, how to play defense, and the like. Great stuff. (Note to Time/Brightcove, join the times and make your videos available for embed.)

• Great column about Pau’s value to the Lakers.

• Wow, if I were in the East I would not want to face a D-Wade team in the first round.

• If we set it up somewhere online, would people be up for a no-cash FB&G March Madness pool?