Archives For May 2009

Olympics Day 16 - Basketball
The focus of the pre-series review has emphasized that the Magic pose match-up problems for the Lakers. Perhaps. However, I contend that the matchup problems that the Lakers pose for the Magic dwarf the former. Gasol against Lewis, Odom against Lewis, Tukoglu, or Pietrus. Kobe against Lee. I like these match ups.

The mis-match advantage, the Lakers’ superior training partners, and the proven ability of Jackson and staff to make the correct adjustments leads me to the conclusion that the championship is for the Lakers’ to lose.

The Chuckster is fixated on the starting Orlando forwards. “Whose going to guard Lewis and Turkoglu?”, he asks rhetorically. Lamar Odom and Trevor Ariza, Chuck, that’s who. Chuckster is obsessed by the first 5 minutes of each half when Ariza and Gasol start at the forward spot.

So how will the Magic take advantage of this mis-match? Ariza on Turkoglu? No mis-match there. Then how will Lewis punish Gasol? Not by posting him up obviously. By shooting perimeter shots? As Memo knows, Lewis will be surprised at how good Gasol is at defending the perimeter jumpshot. He will find that shooting jumpers over the length of Pau’s outstretched fingers not quite as easy as shooting over Mo Williams or Delonte West. Lewis’ best chance is to take Gasol on the drive. Even here as well the advantage is not so clear cut. 

Unlike Turkoglu, Lewis is mainly comfortable going right. Against one-handed players, the Lakers’ SSZ is particularly good at throttling penetration. Also unlike Turkoglu, Lewis is not gifted with handle. Making Lewis a penetrator off the dribble creates steal opportunities for the Lakers. The other problem with the Magic trying to take advantage of this “mis-match” is that they will be taken out of their pattern. Once Odom substitutes for Bynum, the “mis-match” disappears for the Magic (although it remains for the Lakers). So if they are to attack the match up, it has to be done early in the 1st and 3rd quarters. The first quarter for the Magic is all about trying to estab lish Howard in the post and distributing shots to their perimeter players. Lewis is the least active in the 1st quarter and usually gets it going as the game progresses – a sort of anti-Josh Howard. Are they going to make Lewis their go-to-guy instead of Howard? If they do, thank you,  SVG. 

On the other side of the ball, Phil must see Gasol versus Lewis and be licking his pleasingly-smooth chops. Move Gasol around on the block, get him the ball, make strong cuts and what do you have? Single-covered, easy scores by Gasol. Double-covered, layups by cutters, open 3’s by Ariza/Fish/Kobe, and fouls on Howard defending the basket. This mis-match might become such a problem that I predict that SVG is the first to blink and play a Howard/Gortat front line to counter.

We know enough about these Lakers to be able to write down the ingredients that trouble them.

– Lightning fast, penetrating guards

– Bruising, athletic, tough front-line that crash the boards.

– Perimeter 3 point shooting

The Magic’s quickest guard Lue, gets no playing time. In Gasol, Bynum, Odom, Mbenga, and Powell, the Lakers’ bigs have the toughness advantage. Only the 3 point shooting is left. But is it really a weakness? Just because Jeff Van Gundy says that the Lakers are poor at 3 point defense doesn’t make it so. In fact, the Lakers were the third best team in the league in defensive 3 point FG% at 34.5%. The problem for the Lakers is that Orlando takes so many, 26 per game, the most in the league, and have myriad of ways getting open looks.

1. The Turkoglu/Howard high screen and roll creates strong-side dribble penetration and rotations. Lee/Pietrus waits on the strong side corner and Lewis on the weakside 3. 

2.  Deep post by Howard. If you double, he kicks out to the top or wing. Shoot the initial 3 or pass around the perimeter for a corner 3.

If you rush at the shooters, they take it to the defender’s feet and to the hole. Unlike Denver, who looked to dunk, the Magic players look to kick the ball back out to the top for the corner 3 or the hockey passes to the corner.

Of course the on occasion Turkoglu and Alston like to go one-on-one for a low percentage possession. Whilst to be incouraged, the defense cannot rely on these infrequent brain-farts.

As the other 90% of possessions are occupied running the two plays above, the Magic are very well practiced and execute extremely well. But an offense with limited options can be stopped. For the first time in the post season the Magic will encounter a team who can switch on the high screen and roll without creating mis-matches. Switch and show cuts off the driving lanes and bottles #2 from the beginning. 

This leaves #1. And frankly whilst in theory Bynum, with his length and strength should be able to bother Howard just as much as Perkins, he’s never displayed this in practice. Assuming Howard cannot be checked one-on-one, the Lakers present unorthodox help defense against the post with the help some times coming from the top, base line and weakside. The natural SSZ defense is most susceptible to the pass from the strong side low post to the weak side corner. Howard rarely makes this pass. Instead, his outlets are almost to the top and the wing not the corner. By the last 2 games, the Lakers were much better at recovering back to cover the corner 3. If can’t defend Howard on defense, you must be able to attack him on offense.

Of the final four teams, the Lakers are the only ones with the bigs that will attack Howard. The truth is that Howard simply is not a great own-man low post defender, kind of like Ben Wallace. He can be backed under the hoop in early transition and sealed. If Bynum plays with aggression and his team mates look for him, Howard just might have to work on man defense for the first time this playoffs. 

The Magic is comprised of weak individual defenders (with the possible exception of Pietrus and of course, Howard) who execute a scheme. The crux of the scheme is not doubling and staying with perimeter shooters. Against the Cavs, with no post presence, this scheme is perfect. Against the Lakers who can post up Gasol and Odom against Lewis, this scheme breaks down. Once the Magic double down low, their sticky perimeter defense is gone. Wide open shots and driving lanes should present themselves. If Howard gets in foul trouble every single game when the lanes are closed and he need not play any man defense, the Lakers could cause serious foul issues for the Magic.

The road to the finals also favors the Lakers. Apollo Creed identified hand and foot quickness as Rocky’s weakness. So he had him chasing chickens. You have a problem guarding quick point guards and perimeter shooters; practice against Houston for 7 games. Tough athletic post players have pushed you around in the past? Practice against Denver for 6 games. Ali prepared for Foreman by sparring against Ernie Shavers, not a light weight. 

In contrast, non of the teams the Magic has played thus far has prepared them for the challenges that the Lakers bring. They had so many physical mis-matches against the Cavs that it was like seeing Ali beat up on the light-heavyweight champion, Bob Foster. But this practice was no preparation against Ken Norton who broke Ali’s jaw.

Assuming that the Lakers have cured themselves of the Malaise of the early rounds and brings effort each night, 4 games or 5 is a possibility.

—Bill Bridges
 

 

Scouting The Finals

Kurt —  May 30, 2009

Olympics Day 16 - Basketball
Great chance tonight to get a good look at who we will see in the Finals (and we may get one more chance). It’s a chance to look at matchups, discuss what we want to see.

My ultra-fast breakdown is that Orlando creates more matchup problems but the Lakers get home court; while the Lakers frustrate Cleveland more but would likely have to win two on the road, plus LeBron James should strike fear in our hearts of anyone facing him.

The detailed breakdowns are coming. But tonight we get to watch a game as fans.

Time To Celebrate

Kurt —  May 29, 2009

LAKERS
I thought George Karl said something very telling in his post game press conference.

He said that at the start of the series and through the first few games he saw the cracks in the Lakers, the places to attack and exploit, but by the end they had sealed those up and become a better team. That is what we didn’t see from the Lakers last year, when they ran into a team that could really exploit those cracks, they could not seal them up in the finals.

This year was different. There are a lot of people, myself included, that said after the last game “These are the Lakers I remember.” But no they are not, they are better. It was one thing to play like the Lakers did tonight against a lesser team that had no time to scout them in January. It’s another thing entirely to do it against a very athletic, confident team in a playoff series where that team has time and games to scout you and know what you do.

Lakers fans, enjoy this. There are far too few opportunities to soak in moments like this. There are some big games down the road, and tomorrow night we can be scouting. Another night we can break down the Xs and Os. But for now have your favorite adult malted beverage, relax and enjoy this.

Because what we saw tonight as Lakers fans was special

Game 6 Live Chat

Kurt —  May 29, 2009

If you want this in a pop-up window Click Here.

Lakers/Nuggets Game 6 Preview

Kurt —  May 29, 2009

Los Angeles Lakers vs Denver Nuggets Game 5 NBA Western Conference finals in Los Angeles
Once again there will be a live chat tonight here for game six with myself and Jeremy of Roundball Mining Company, and while that is a good omen for the Lakers (the Lakers have yet to lose a game when this site has hosted a live blog) this will be the toughest win for them this season.

At this point, there are no secrets in the series about what is going to happen strategically, it’s about execution.

First, the Lakers are going to need to withstand the initial onslaught we can expect from Denver. LA needs to find a way to keep this thing close going into the fourth. While some people still question the mental makeup of Denver, if they have issues it will be in the fourth quarter, not the first.

Denver is going to trap Kobe again, and if he can continue to make his passes out of that toward the basket creating a 4 on 3, the Lakers will be fine. If the guys make the shots. But expect Denver to be more aggressive in its fronting and efforts to keep the ball out of the paint. At some point, the Lakers will need to make them pay with the open threes they will get.

Look for a steady diet of Billups. He will try to take control, and if need be the Lakers need to go with Kobe or Ariza on him.

One thing to watch — the team that gets to the line the most in the fourth has son four of the five games in the series. That is, the team that is aggressive and getting to the rack when it matters.

Here are few ideas from Drreyeye on what the Lakers need to do:

Defensively, the mantra is to keep ‘Melo from feeling too mellow without allowing the energy guys to look like superstars-especially on the boards.

Birdman needs to be grounded. Maybe ShanWOW can posterize him again. Those Nuggets with Thugget tendencies need to be detained–even as their tactics are exposed. The Lakers need to give the refs every opportunity to do the right thing by overmatching Nugget intensity.

The plan that has been most successful has been to match the Nuggs through three–and pull away in the fourth. If the Lakers could get a little more separation every quarter, it could be much more decisive, even boring. I personally would go for boring–if you don’t mind.

Darius pitches in with a few details on how to pull away.

*Attack Nene. Denver has proven to be a different team when Nene is in foul trouble. He’s key to their P&R and interior defense(s) and is their best passing AND finishing big man. Once Andersen comes in, they are more prone to giving up offensive boards and become less reliable with their interior rotations (they may get more blocks, but they also give up more lanes to the basket). Attack Nene on the block and off the dribble with Gasol and Kobe should do the same when handling the ball.

*Space the floor. Game 5 was the game where our spacing was best – especially in the deciding quarter. Denver decided that they would double team Kobe a lot last game and he killed them with the pass. I don’t expect we’ll see that same tactic from Denver as they should expect the same result. That means we need to give Kobe room to operate by spacing the floor. If we’re properly spaced Kobe will have the room he needs to attack the defender that’s on him and it will also give him the space to deal with the double team (if it does come) and stretch out the Nuggs D, making passing lanes more open.

*Stay aggressive with our SSZ. Denver says they adjusted and are ready for our trapping. Make them prove it. Earlier in the series *if* we doubled, it was soft. In game 5 we trapped the ball handler and made him panic. Let’s have more of that and see if they can still function with Ariza and Odom trapping Melo on the wing. Or Kobe and Odom/Gasol trapping Billups on the wing.

*End every stop with a rebound. Denver only stayed in Game 5 in the first half because they were grabbing a bunch of their own misses and making us pay. Secure the ball, push it back at them and then establish the post to play inside-out. We can create cross matches in transition and we can get them in scramble mode if we get up court quickly and start to move the ball.

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Now I will quickly get on my soapbox….

The one thing that’s really starting to bug me about the playoffs — the complaining about the officiating. This is not to defend the referees as being good or consistent, because they certainly haven’t been, or to say that something doesn’t need to be done about the officiating. But five games into the conference finals, the teams that have played better are up 3-2. In the Lakers series, the team that has been the aggressor with the game on the line has gotten the calls — game 5 that was the Lakers, game 4 that was the Nuggets. That should not be a shock, during the regular season the team that attacks the hole is the team that gets the calls. That hasn’t changed. As for the Kobe/LeBron conspiracy — they are two players that have the ball in their hands virtually every time down the floor, they shoot a lot and they drive the lane a lot. They get fouled a lot. That’s why they get the calls. The whining about the officiating (from coaches, media and fans) is just draining on me because the bottom line is the teams that play the best are still winning. And that’s the way it should be.

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One thing I haven’t really gotten to during the Finals here is getting up links to other stuff. So, here are a few.

• Dex, one of the favorite commenters here on the site, has started his own Blog. There really are few fresh voices on the Internet anymore, the level of pablum being discussed varies in quality, but few things are original. Dex is.

• I loved this story in Slate, essentially saying that Kobe Bryant is the measuring stick for the current generation of NBA players.

• There’s a new interview with D-Fish up at his Web site.

• What if the NBA playoffs had been done BCS style?

• Remembering the Kobe Bryant of 1996.

LAKERS
There was Sasha and Fisher hitting big shots. There was a couple thunderous dunks because the Lakers were the team that attacked the rim. There was aggressive defense extended out high and long arms in the passing lanes. There was a whole lot of Lamar Odom.

It was the complete team effort that Lakers fans had been asking for. Here are just a few collected thoughts from game five:

• One thing the Lakers did much better was handle the aggressive double teams and traps of Denver. Especially when it happened to Pau Gasol, he had been kicking it out for a three, which the Laker guards had been mostly missing. Tonight it was Kobe trapped in the corner passing to Gasol single-covered in the post. Or, if Gasol was doubled in the post he could hand off to the cutter going right by him. The Lakers moved without the ball when there was a double, and that led to layups.

And, that is something that can happen in Denver. That was not about friendly home rims, it was about effort and willingness to take the punishment to be the aggressor.

• Reed added these thoughts about Kobe:

When Denver went up 7 in the third, I expected (and wanted) Kobe to take over. But he just calmly made the right play, play after play, chipping away and putting immense pressure on Denver to defend our length inside while overdefending Kobe. And what an advantage length is – we controlled the paint at both ends with it in the fourth quarter.

Kobe continues to prove that he is the preeminent closer in the game. Every time down he knew the double was coming, but brilliantly let the full trap come as far out as possible – all to give the other 4 as long as possible to beat 3. A lesser player would have skipped the ball out as soon as the double started. But he is a Man, directing and inspiring his teammates as a true leader – telling Pau and Odom to make plays and putting them in a position to do so. He is everything Henry (Abbott) thinks that he is not.

Home court is the single biggest factor of the rest of the playoffs. Our role players just don’t play well on the road. It kills our execution and puts too much pressure on Kobe and Pau. But at home they do just enough. For that reason I want Orlando if they advance notwithstanding the matchup issues.

• Darius added these thoughts.

Tonight was a call to arms and our veterans answered. Fish came out early very aggressive and made some plays when it looked like this game could get away from us. Odom played his best game since the Utah series and showed why so many of us support him as a player and as a teammate (I mean, bad back and all – he banged on the block, stayed assertive even when things went against him, and played with real energy even though he played almost the entire 2nd half. Man I love that guy – and when he’s on his game he’s such a difference maker).

And Pau! Understated stat line for his impact on the game. The blocked shots, the great skip passes out of those P&R’s, his interior passing, his offense…just a very strong game. I distinctly remember a play where Pau was trying to get Kobe the ball with under 10 seconds on the clock and Kobe was denied well and then Kobe just told Pau “take it!”. Pau proceeded to attack off the dribble get bumped and flip up a shot that fell. That may have seemed lucky, but he was aggressive and he was rewarded. Which ultimately was the theme of the night — our aggression paid off.

The other key to me was Phil. Coached a great game and pulled all the right strings tonight as almost everything worked. Stayed with Odom and LO delivered. Went to WOW and he gave us a real spark. Didn’t extend the rotations in the 2nd half as Sasha and Farmar didn’t get off the pine (or at least I don’t remember them playing). He stayed with the guys that were performing and it got us the win.

Also, Denver is a tough, tough team. I give them credit. They play hard and have a truly explosive team. Melo has also elevated himself so much in my eyes. I already held him in high regard, but at this point he’s just as dominant as any other scorer in the league and his defense has really raised a level. He’s just supremely talented.

In the 4th quarter, we had a stretch where we forced 4 straight turnovers. In game 4, we only forced 9 total. Tonight, we extended our defense, were much more aggressive in extending our SSZ and our backline defenders were more aware of cutters behind them trying to sneak into the gaps. This led to deflections, forced passes right to us, and then Denver holding the ball and forcing shots against the shot clock. Tremendous effort on D in that closing quarter.

• These thoughts are from Snoopy 2006

When Nene went out with foul trouble, we did an amazing job of using the PnR to open up the floor for other players, doing a great job of swinging the ball across the floor and getting the Nuggets scrambling on D. (Also Pau/Lamar did a great job of getting deep post position on these plays). When Nene came back in, the effectiveness of the PnR dropped drastically (although he quickly left with 6 fouls). I loved Phil’s call (and Kobe’s) of abandoning the PnR when it wasn’t working as well, and running the ball through Pau in the post. Adaptability is a key.

• These final thoughts come from Scot:

Just got back from the game. All I can say is thank you ShanWOW. The building was nervously quiet for 2 1/2 quarters. After the WOW dunk, Staples was electrifying and LOUD for the rest of the game. Defensive energy ramped up exponentially. One play indeed can truly change the course of a game (a season?). And of course, props to the “good” Lamar, and to Kobe for playing a smart and unselfish game.

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NBA: FEB 26 Suns at Lakers

First things first – Join us tonight as we host a Live Blog in tandem with Jeremy from RoundBall Mining Company.

 This is obviously a huge game for both teams.  The loser will be one game away from elimination and (if this was a TNT series) one loss closer to going fishing with Kenny, Charles, and EJ.  And no one likes to be photoshopped in with those guys.  The good news is that the Lakers are back home for this game.  And while we have had our share of stumbles at home, the comforts of Staples should provide a nice backdrop for a good performance.  History backs this up as well.  The Lakers are a very nice 19-0 when playing a Game 5 at home with the series knotted at two.  Let’s make that 20 after tonight.  And just as Kurt asked if Kobe and Pau could get some help, we can also hope (dream, fantasize, pray) for better play from our role players as they should feel better playing in our building.  Personally, I’m also hoping for a loud and raucous crowd tonight.  Let’s get everyone standing and shouting.  Let’s get Jack out of his seat.  After some hard fought games with only a days rest inbetween, the guys could use that extra boost

 The main key to this series has been controling the paint.  Denver has done it and the Lakers have not.  Will that change tonight?  One way for the Lakers to control the paint on defense is to limit Denver’s ability to get into the lane.  Phil called Denver’s offensive attack in Game 4 “crash ball” as they relentlessly attacked the paint off the dribble and then went just as hard after offensive rebounds off misses.  So, our guards must be better at staying in front of Billups, Melo, and JR and allow our bigs to not have to help as often – as it’s this help that is getting our bigs out of position for defensive rebounding and putting them in foul trouble when they contest shots at the rim.   Fisher, Sasha, Kobe, Ariza, Farmar – this one is on you.  Bill Bridges adds his own keys to how we can improve on defense tonight:

a. Do not leave the weakside corner 3 uncontested. This defender cannot continue to stray into no-man’s land, neither helping in the paint nor preventing the corner 3. Whether the shooter is Kleiza, Smith, or Melo. This tactic can and will kill you.

b. To help prevent the corner 3. Play the post straight-up. The Lakers should not double Nene as a matter of course. Nene killed us with his passes and this double and the ensuing scramble opens up rebounding lanes for Bird and Martin.

c. Force Melo left for a contested jumpshot. This is exactly the same defense as Battier’s on Kobe. Do not give up driving lanes to the right. Shade to the left. Face guard on jump shots.
 

And I’ll add that we must rebound.  I know I just mentioned that many of Denver’s offensive rebounds came off our guards’ inability to stay in front of ball handlers.  However, we must also rotate and put bodies on guys.  In the last game, WOW failed to rotate down and let Andersen slide right by him for an offensive put back.  I’ve seen Sasha and Farmar do the same thing.  When a big man rotates, a guard must sacrifice his body and box out the crashing big.  And our bigs need to seal their man and attack the ball as well.  If we rebound, we can get out and run.  If we don’t we’re going to let a very good offensive team get 2nd and 3rd chances.  I’d prefer the former.

On offense, it’s the same story we’ve been discussing for weeks.  The Lakers have an advantage with their size and length and need to go into the post for early offense.  In Game 4, Pau and Bynum combined to shoot 14-18 from the field and 7-10 from the line.  We should be initiating our offense from the post as often as possible.  But this goes for Kobe as well.  He lost some of his effinciency in Game 4, but we all saw some tired legs and forced shots in the 4th quarter when he was trying to cut into that Denver lead.  He can get some of that effinciency back by posting up and by driving to the basket hard.  If you want a couple of specifics on some plays that I think may work to establish the post, read here.  But a lot of this is going to initiate with Kobe.  He’s the guy with the ball in his hands and he’s the primary decision maker for this team.  I trust that he’ll make the right decisions and get the right players involved.  This brings me to…

Ultimately, Kobe is going to be the player with all eyes on him.  He needs to be agressive and bring everyone else along with him.  Pau is ready.  Ariza has played very well.  Bynum has shown flashes.  But who else is going to join the party?  This is the Western Conference Finals.  Two more wins and the Lakers can reach the Finals for the second straight year, avenge their loss, and raise that championship trophy.  They can silence all the doubters and naysayers that have called them physically and mentally soft.  Disparage the media who dared to say that they disrespect the game.  And they can do it all with their play on the court.  This is the time of year where the best players show up and legacies are cemented.  Think of those commercials that have been playing.  What Laker is going to join the ranks of these players and create new memories for all of us fans?  Tonight is the night that many players on this team can show their worth.  And after all the pushing, the tripping, the showboating, and the talking, I think our guys will be ready.  I think that they can’t wait.  It’s time to go get a win.

And on that note, one last point to the fans.  This game is a chance for us to reaffirm all the positives that we’ve felt about this team the entire year.  And while this is a very important game, it’s only one and we must enjoy this journey that we’re on in pursuit of the ultimate prize.  I think we come out and win tonight, but I’ll let Dex have the final word on this:

It’s sheer arrogance, as well as sulky and spoiled, to assume we should be plowing through any team, much less the Nuggets, who are indeed a worthy foe. Once you start craving a Tyson-like knockout in the first round, you not only suffer unnecessary agonies from not getting your fix but you rob yourself of the glories of seeing two heavyweights go the distance. As Kobe said in (the game 4) post-game interview: “It’s the Western Conference Finals; it should be close.” That isn’t entirely rhetoric; he means it.

Certainly we have guys playing below standard, but again quoting Kobe, performance at this level isn’t something you can turn on and off; psychology enters into it, and sometimes you get your ass kicked. Mine still aches from last night, but my foot should be ready by Wednesday.

-Darius