Archives For April 2009

Lakers vs. Nuggets Chat

Kurt —  April 9, 2009

Olympics Day 16 - Basketball
Records: Lakers 62-16 (1st in West) Nuggets 53-26 (2nd in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.5 (3rd in league) Nuggets 110.6 (5th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 104.5 (5th in league) Nuggets 106.6 (8th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Trevor Ariza Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Nuggets Billups, Dahntay Jones, Melo, Renaldo Balkman, Nene

Live Blog Tonight Bynum’s back, statement game, plenty of Charles to make fun of. Sounds like a good night for a live blog, so come back here at 7:30 and we will be chatting. There’s even a possible appearance by President Obama. (Well, it’s possible, it’s not like we’d turn him away.)

Lakers And Bynum. We’ve been waiting for this for a long time, so suddenly this game feels like Christmas. Andrew Bynum is back and ready to take is rightful position as a starter. The Lakers defense has been improved of late and if Bynum can provide some presence in the paint on that end of the floor, and grab some defensive rebounds that have been getting away, the Lakers will be that much tougher.

As Darius said:

I’m happy that Bynum is returning to the starting lineup. It restores Andrew and LO’s early season roles and (most importantly) gives us a true advantage against almost every team with Pau going back to PF. It also allows LO to return to his role as the leader of the second unit and hopefully turn all those minus’ on the +/- ledger of the bench to pluses.

The Nuggets Coming In: It’s interesting to watch the jockeying for position in the Western Conference — the goal seems to be to avoid the Lakers as long as possible. Dallas was playing with that kind of fire last night, certainly.

The best way to do that is to be the number two seed — by then you would face the Lakers in the conference finals. And that is a lifetime from now, things could theoretically look different. Some bloggers are writing lengthy screeds rationalizing about how some team could beat the Lakers, but nobody wants to put that theory to the test soon.

This is a big game for a Nuggets team — a win here would almost certainly get them the two seed. What they want to avoid is having to win on the final night of the season in Portland to secure the standing. Also, there is that not-to-be-discounted “See, we can beat the Lakers” psychology in play.

Denver has won eight straight. And it’s because they’ve become a pretty good defensive team. And while they may lack a traditional center (ala Bynum or Shaq) they do have some quality bigs, who are key.

I’ll let Kevin from Clipperblog break it down (from a recent post):

The Nuggets’ frontcourt rotation is composed of legitimate big men — Nene, Kevin Martin, Chris Andersen, and Renaldo Balkman. They don’t engage in a lot of small ball, despite what their 5th ranked pace number might suggest. At times, Linas Kleiza will assume the 4 spot in the second unit, particularly with Martin still recovering from a back injury, but they generally have two big bodies out there at the 4 and 5.

Along with Chauncey Billups, these bigs are a primary reason the Nuggets rank 8th in defensive efficiency. On Thursday night, they held Utah to a mere 104 points in 107 possessions. X’s & O’s of Basketball watched the game, and illustrates Denver’s effective pick-and-roll defense. Jeremy Wagner of Roundball Mining Company made some similar observations a few weeks back….
There’s no question that S/R defense is the linchpin of any NBA defense, but X’s & O’s reveals a point that often goes unsaid: The two guys defending that action are vital, but the three guys covering the rest of the floor are just as important to a defensive stop.

The only problem for the Nuggets tonight — the Lakers don’t live and die off the pick and roll.

Keys To The Game: This game matters to the Lakers because they have a schedule-makers loss tomorrow night. A late game, with national television time outs to drag it out, in LA then fly up to Portland for a game the next night against a good team in a great environment. There are games you look at when the schedule comes out and think there is a plot against your team. That is one of those games. So the Lakers need the win tonight.

The Lakers have had great success taking Carmelo Anthony out of his game, which is one reason the Lakers have had such success against them. Jeremy from Roundball Mining Company breaks it down:

During the four game playoff series against LA last season Carmelo shot 32 of 88 for a disastrous 36.3%. He has somehow managed to top that performance this season shooting 14 for 51 in the three games against the Lakers this season which equates to 27.5%. Overall in his last seven games against the Lakers Melo has only made 46 of his 139 attempts equaling a shooting percentage of 33.1%.

The Lakers do a great job of pressuring Melo and then providing help as a team. It is comical to think of players like Vlad Radmanovic (now with Charlotte) and Luke Walton frustrating Melo, but they have thanks to the team concept the Lakers’ utilize to slow Melo down. Radmanovic and Walton will get right up under Carmelo which takes away his jumper and his jab step and shoot midrange game. When Melo drives, they ride him into a position where they know help is waiting. It is simple, but effective and also somewhat illegal. The Lakers get away with a lot of contact on Melo when he drives and I am sure the Nuggets have sent footage of it to the league. If the refs continue to allow it, Melo will have his work cut out for him. Instead of forcing bad shots Melo needs to use the swarming defense against the Lakers and look to earn easy shots for his teammates

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While the Nuggets play at a fast pace, they are not a great transition defensive team. And now they are on the second night of a back-to-back (OKC last night). The Lakers can run on the Nuggets and should push the pace. But do it wisely (Jordan, I’m looking at you).

The Lakers need to take care of the ball — the Nuggets defense is all about steals and blocks then turning that into easy transition points. Time to “fake a pass to make a pass” using some back-cuts and interior passing.

The Nuggets, because they have so many athletes, tend to switch off just about every pick. That can lead to mismatches and the Lakers need to recognize and exploit those.

George Karl’s MO in the past was to double Kobe early and often, get the ball out of his hands and make anyone else beat them. If they do that tonight Kobe has to be the willing passer and guys like Gasol and Odom could be big beneficiaries.

Where you can watch: 7:30 start on TNT. And by 7:30 and TNT I really mean 7:45 at best. Then a three-hour game thanks to extended TV timeouts. But at least we will all be sure to know when the season finale of Saving Grace airs.

Access E3 2006 - Arrivals

Andrew Bynum is back and will start his first game against the Denver Nuggets (I think Chris Broussard is one of the more reliable reporters out there, so I’ll go with this as real).

On one hand this is a great place to start, a team that does not possess a big body interior threat, so he can sort of ease back in. But the Nuggets are also a hot team (seven wins in a row). There will be no hiding what he can do in a national TNT broadcast.

Best of all, we get to hear the wisdom of The Jet about all of it… well, maybe that’s not the best part.

UPDATE: Here is a little Drew video.

• Jordan Farmar has become the new whipping boy for Lakers fans. And he isn’t getting much love from Phil Jackson either — he made two nice plays back-to-back last night, followed by one bad decision going into the lane rather than running the offense. Shannon Brown was up off the bench and in.

Sometimes we can get sucked into these things — Brown is a fantastic athlete and we want the guy with the potential, not the guy we expect more out of. But Brown is not making all great decisions and Farmar is not making all bad ones. There are discussions to be had bout next year, but that is not until after the playoffs. We need the guy playing the best right now to be the guy in the game.

Kwame a. broke it down well in the comments:

I think Brown’s minutes in the playoff will depend on 1) Farmar’s play, 2) Brown’s play and 3) the matchup (I think Brown would get minutes against a D-Will, see last year’s playoffs for my reasoning).

•I’ve taken part in the Blogger Knows Best series over at Hoops Daily. (Feel free to question whether I know best, my four year old daughter certainly does.)

If you’re not familiar, Hoops Daily has stuff like the Value Board where you rate the top 50 players in the league (Kobe is ranked 5th, right below D. Wade), and your opinion is compiled with others’ into a Consensus Value Board, creating something like a super smart public opinion poll. Hoops Daily is also connected to the AP wiretap for NBA news each morning, and has some of the most progressive advanced statistics around.
www.hoopsdaily.com.

• This is a question I have asked a few people: Who is the second best team in the West now? Denver? Utah? Houston? The question isn’t who we want/don’t want to see in the Finals — that is too far off and there is too much work to be done to get there for that to be a concern. I’m wondering who is the biggest challenge in our conference?

San Antonio Spurs v Los Angeles Lakers, Game 5
Records: Lakers 61-16 (1st in West) Kings 16-60 (15th in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.5 (3rd in league) Kings 105.8 (25th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 104.6 (6th in league) Kings 114.5 (30th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Trevor Ariza, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Kings Beno Udrih, Francisco Garcia, Andres Nocioni, Jason Thompson, Spencer Hawes

NCAA Pool: Congratulations to Wildyams 09, who won the first ever FB&G NCAA Tournament Pool. He gets the shirt and the chance to lord it all over us for a year.

The Lakers coming in Really fascinating work up today at Basketball Prospectus done by Kevin Pelton that shows the Lakers play at one of the fastest paces in the league. We sort of already knew that — by “traditional” pace measurements the Lakers are sixth in the league in pace.

Now, bear with me for the paragraph about statistics. (If your eyes just rolled up into your head, just go check out the latest Machine video.)

The NBA chooses not to make possessions an official statistic, so there are estimation formulas out there. The formula distinguishes between “plays” and “possessions” and the easiest way to explain the difference is this — if Sasha takes a jumper and misses, but Gasol grabs the rebound and passes out to reset the offense, that is considered a second play but still part of one possession.

But what about teams that are good at offensive rebounding? They will appear to play at a statistically slower pace than really is happening. So, with the help of 82games.com, Pelton put together how long it takes, on average, a team to get their first shot off (or turn the ball over or get fouled).

Do that, and the Lakers actually are tied with Golden State for fastest in the league, at 11.5 seconds for the first action. That validates what we see with our eyes, at least to me. The Lakers still do get some fast break baskets, but even in the half court the movement tends to start early — the ball goes into Gasol and cutters move and often there is a fairly quick pass or shot. The Lakers rarely are jacking up shots to beat the clock (especially compared to a couple years ago).

However, on defense the Lakers tend to slow other teams down (Golden State, not so much). The Lakers are forcing other teams to go deeper into their offense, which is good. What was interesting is that Cleveland was tied with Golden State for letting teams shoot fast, but the Cavs are a good defensive team — they seem to rush teams into bad shots.

Bottom line, you should read the entire article.

The Kings Coming In: Speaking of things you should read — Sactown Royalty. If you are not reading Ziller (there or at Fanhouse) you are missing out on some of the best NBA writing anywhere. Not to mention the pretty graphs.

Ziller talks about just how good Kevin Martin is — he is on his way to a third straight year of averaging 20 PPG while having a true shooting percentage above 60%. Jordan did it four times. Kareem is the all time leader at 11. The list of efficent high-volume scorers is interesting, and the fact Martin is on it says a lot.

But Martin is not expected to play tonight due to an ankle injury.

This is not the same Kings team that gave the Lakers fits earlier this season — gone are Brad Miller and John Salmons. And good riddance. They are now counting on the guard play of Martin and Francisco Garcia, with the young Jason Thompson and Nocioni in the frontcourt. And they have a different coach. The team has basically changed everything except cities… wait, I shouldn’t be giving the Maloofs ideas.

Keys To The Game: There are a couple guys that could give the Lakers trouble — Beno can drive the paint, Garcia can shoot the ball. Nocioni is can hit a jumper and is strong going to the hole if you let him. McCants can bomb away from three if you let him. Spencer Hawes can score if you leave him alone.

The real issue for the Lakers is focus. What is left of the Sacramento team just isn’t very good, the only very good they have is injured. They don’t have guys good at creating for themselves let alone others. They try to compensate with a fair amount of off-the-ball movement. That can be stopped with communication and focus.

Also, the Kings are not a good defensive team. Worst in the league. Run the offense and the points will come. (This could be a slump-buster night for the bench. Let us hope.)

The Lakers should — should — take care of business. They should have ice on the knees of the starters by the fourth and tonight it should stay on.

But we said that should happen two nights ago, and it didn’t. This is an NBA game and you can’t just walk out there and win.

Where you can watch: 7 pm start out West with the game on KCAL 9.

Michigan State vs. UConnESPN was in its infancy, the internet was a sparkle in Al Gore’s eye, the NBA was an afterthought or not thought of at all, and March had yet to go Mad. When March Went Mad by Seth Davis chronicles an important developmental era of basketball, and more specifically how its marketing and hype machine would evolve as seen through the prism of the 1979 Indiana State vs. Michigan State NCAA Final.

Most of us are familiar with Seth Davis from CBS and SI, but here Davis tries his hand at historian and myth maker. Davis lacks the story telling skills necessary to carry this flawed drama (the game itself an anticlimactic one), and it lacks a consistent tension to make this a truly riveting read. But the book is exhaustively researched, and the fact that neither Bird nor Johnson participated in the process allows for many unique viewpoints from several angles of perception of the events that unfolded.

Having the main characters absent would seem like a detriment to the process, but it actually allows for us to meet participants that have long been forgotten. From the coaches, to the role players, to the team managers, these secondary and tertiary characters help Davis mythologize the nexus of the personal rivalry that would translate into a rebirth of the Lakers-Celtics rivalry of the ’80′s.

College basketball has always been about programs. Modern sports programmers would have to be talked off the ledge if you told them that Michigan State would be paired with Indiana Sate in the final game with nary a Duke or North Carolina around to represent the powers that be. But they would be clicking their heels together in delight at the thought of a mano-a-mano battle between the two best players in the country, one having already been selected in the previous year’s draft by the evil genius of Red Auerbach and another poised to be picked first by the glamor franchise on the West Coast.

It a was time when the college game was a regional phenomenon. But Bird and Magic would usher in the modern age of basketball. They would be the ones who would give a young David Stern no choice but to begin to market personalities and individual stars. They would be the ones whose coat tails ESPN would ride as college basketball would be become the phenomenon that we may be seeing wane in the era of the one and done.

The basketball deities birthed these twins as saviors to bring basketball into the national consciousness. The white kid from French Lick, who is Jimmy Chitwood but with a back story that never would have made into the romanticized world of Hoosiers, and the black kid from Michigan, whose smile and style would have kids across the country regardless of height pining to be point guards making no look passes, cast as foils. Then to place them under the spotlight of the National title game in Salt Lake City, Utah, many fans seeing them for the first time that night, is so storybook, central casting may have deemed it too corny to produce. The anti-climactic game aside, where Michigan State showed they were the better team with Bird laying the proverbial egg, failing to duplicate the performance that had seen the Sycamores go undefeated that season and that still eats at him to this day,

The structure of the novel follows the recruitment of the two players with Bird’s being the more riveting tale. We may connect Magic with Hollywood and Showtime, but it is Bird’s tale that is truly cinematic. He liked to fight. He liked to drink beer. He joked and harassed in a manner that displayed his lack of knowledge or concern with things political or correct. Davis’ depiction of Bird as the prototypical yet complex “hick” is the novel’s strength.

Johnson’s portrayal peels back the layers from the public persona that we dream is inseparable from his private one. In previous tomes writers have failed to give any depth to who Earvin really is. Davis does nice work in allowing the reader to make connections and decide if there really are any chinks to be found in the wildly-adored Teflon Johnson. From a Laker-centric viewpoint, When March Went Mad can be seen as a pre-history of Johnson. Long time fans will find themselves making connections between the collegiate Johnson and the professional one. I found myself especially ruminating on Johnson’s amazing rookie year with the club, showing that the leadership and skill he possessed at Michigan State would translate to the pros better than any imagined.

Davis also plainly yet elegantly fleshes out exactly what made these two players unique on the court. They were innovators and improvisers yet understood the premise of the game at a level that those around them were struggling to keep pace with. Davis takes us through the parallel journeys of two teams previously unrecognized on a national level and their ascent to prominence.

When March Went Mad chronicles an unrepeated “moment in time” that could be called the Coming of Age of basketball in its rise in the American consciousness. The days of “bracketology” and the injection of the information age still on the horizon, one can see where it has come from and can’t help but continue to speculate where it is going.

-Scott Thompson aka Gatinho