Archives For May 2009

Los Angeles Lakers vs Denver Nuggets Game 1 NBA Western Conference finals in Los Angeles
In last season’s NBA Finals, Phil Jackson then (and still today) took some heat for running Chris Mihm out on the floor after he hadn’t played all season due to injury. It made no sense to people to throw a little-used player cold into the biggest games the team had played in years.

But there was a logic to it. By the time Mihm stepped on the court, it was pretty clear to everyone that the Lakers were losing the series and the only way to fix that was to get more of a presence in the paint. The only options Phil had left were real longshots — so, in goes Mihm. He likely wasn’t the answer, but Phil was out of bullets, so he threw the gun.

I think that is same reason is why we’re seeing screwy rotations rather than anything set in this series and in these playoffs from Phil — he’d love to have a set rotation of people stepping up night after night. People he can trust. But outside Kobe and Gasol, nobody is stepping up consistently. In game four, Lakers not named Kobe/Gasol or Bynum shot 26.5% (those three shot 54.5%). That will not get it done.

Bynum had a good game in game four, but some of his other efforts have been lackluster. Fisher is struggling on both ends, but at least he is battling. Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown have looked better in stretches, but they have far from been the answer or been consistent. For the playoffs, Walton’s PER is 9.65, Fisher’s is 6.74, and Sasha’s is 3.82.

Then there is Lamar Odom. Who has just been MIA for most of this series unless he is guarding an inbound pass. He may be still be banged up, but we simply need more out of him. The Odom with the inside out game, who can grab the board and run the break has disappeared.

This is all very frustrating because during the season guys did step up. Not all at once, but guys did. Odom had dominating stretches, Sasha was knocking down key shots (as was Fisher), and then there were some great games early on from Farmar. The point is somebody stepped up.

Denver’s bench, on the other hand, is stepping up. LK basically won them game two, and yesterday when Melo was sick they got great play from K-Mart, Nene, JR, just about everybody.

There are no easy answers for the Lakers, no simple Xs and Os adjustment that changes the series. Maybe Phil just goes back to his set regular season rotation and stops searching. But the fact is, it is a coach’s job to put players in a position to succeed — then the players have to make plays. What the rotation is doesn’t matter if guys are not stepping up.

I don’t think the game four loss to Denver was like the game four lost to Houston — I think the Lakers tried. But guys that were hitting shots and making defensive plays in the regular season are not now, and as an optimistic by nature person I want to find another reason other than that these guys shrink in the brightest of lights. After last season in the Finals I thought this was just a maturity thing, that the experience would toughen them up. And it did Gasol, who is playing much better. Ariza is giving us all we can really expect out of him. But the other guys….

The time for excuses is gone. Best of three for a trip to the NBA Finals. It doesn’t get much bigger than this. It is time to step up or the Lakers are going home.

Lakers/Nuggets Game 4 Chat

Kurt —  May 25, 2009

We can talk about the heroic efforts of Kobe Bryant or the steals of Trevor Ariza or the spotty point guard play or a hundred other things, but this series still comes down to one thing:

Can the Lakers control the paint?

In the second half of game three the Lakers did that — most importantly they kept Melo out of the lane, he had no baskets in the paint or anywhere else in the second half. Part of that was better defense inside by the Lakers, and part of that was that Denver fell in love with the jumper, especially the three, but couldn’t hit it. That will not happen again, be sure that they will attack the rim in game four. The Lakers defense needs to be ready, Bynum and Gasol needs some blocks without fouls.

At the other end of the floor, for all the Kobe amazing shots, it’s about getting points in the paint. Denver has basically taken a page out of the Celtics defensive schemes against the Lakers, and the Lakers need to counter that by getting the ball inside to Gasol/Bynum or a posted up Kobe, then making the smart pass out of the double, moving the ball and moving without the ball. Then hitting the shot when they get the look.

In the first half of game three, Denver got points inside by sending cutters that exposed the Lakers strong side zone defense — flooding the zone them hitting someone cutting off the weak side — and you can bet they will go back to that tonight. The Lakers defenders on the weak side need to be aware and be ready to cut those off. Denver can’t get that many layups if the Lakers expect to win.

One other reason the Nuggets got out on top to start the game was they took advantage of transition opportunities, both off turnovers and misses. They are running on everything they can, and on misses they are getting a lot of offense out of secondary break plays (drag screens, guys running to the three point line, etc.). The Lakers have to play much better transition defense, and be more aware of who is running and get to their man..

One final thing I think the Lakers will see more of tonight is Linas Kleiza. The guy is +16 for the series and the Nuggets are -21 for the series when he sits. He was a game changer in Denver’s win, and Karl is going to go with what is working.

What I hope to see in game four is more transition basketball from the Lakers. Game three saw more breaks and opportunities than the first two games, the Lakers good advantage of that, and they need to build on that.

The other thing the Lakers did well last game was get the ball to Kobe running him off screens coming off the high post. The Nuggets will counter this in an effort to continue playing ball-denial for Kobe. This is going to open other things up on give and goes and other counters — the Lakers players (Fisher for one) need to make the Nuggets pay when they do this. If Denver wants to take Kobe out of the game then their needs to be a cost.

We can expect another close game. Denver will come out playing with more desperation and energy than they did last game — they cannot afford to go down 3-1. Will the Lakers play loose like a team with nothing to lose after getting a win in game three? Which team will do better fighting through the exhaustion of last game? Will Denver or the Lakers execute best down the stretch?

This is going to be a fun one to watch.


A few more haikus from after the last game.


Melo sad for loss
Lakers in the driver’s seat
NBA relieved

Bill Bridges

Rip by Ariza
Kobe cuts out George Karl’s heart
Bloody, eats it raw

Denver Nuggets vs Los Angeles Lakers in Los Angeles
Big players where win big, close games. That is how this series is going to be — close games. Saturday the Lakers got big plays when it mattered from both Kobe and Gasol.

We all saw what Kobe did, playing great even at the point in the fourth where he said he couldn’t feel his legs and was still making plays. With all the words written, I’ll let Dex use words and poetry to describe the performance (because he write pretty, and stuff).

Tonight Kobe played with the impossible serpentine perfection of one of Tarantino’s romanticized assassins from the Kill Bill movies. I always believe that he will do the impossible, a la Beatrix Kiddo defeating the Crazy 88 single-handed, but once he starts dropping those shots I feel as wondrous as if witnessing it for the first time.

Let these grey jackals
Snap and snarl and swarm, let them
Leap at the tiger.
Let them leap at flames; he is
Already gone; he
Ate up their hearts and vanished.

• As for Gasol, here is the best stat of the night — the guy he was guarding was 0-6 in the fourth quarter.

He, when he was decisive and attacked, was fantastic on the offensive end. He’s such a cerebral player and sometimes he waits to analyze before he attacks. When he made up his mind and went he was almost impossible stop. Hope to see more of that Gasol.

• I really think the Lakers did a pretty good job on Anthony all night — yes, he had 18 first half points, but the field goals he was getting were basically all jumpers. He had two points in the paint al night (plus he was fouled a few times inside). In the first half his jumpers were falling, but in the second half they didn’t. I can live with that.

• Laker fans have had our frustrations with Derek Fisher — and he did not have a good game again, 2 of 6 from the floor (0-4 after the first quarter) and committing a key late charging penalty — but to his credit he is still being aggressive. He came out trying to make plays and had some good mixed with the bad (remember the steal on Billups that led to the Ariza layup).

The other half of that is, as we have also discussed, who is stepping up do demand the minutes? Certainly not a shaky Brown or Farmar last night. If I were coach, I’d try to give each guy some burn in the first half and see who has the hot hand then ride it. But that has never been Phil Jackson’s style — it never has been and we can’t expect him to change now. What we can hope is he recognizes the nights Fisher is just killing the team and cuts his minutes. But that will only happen on nights when someone else steps up.

• I love watching Trevor Ariza play.

Lakers/Nuggets Game 3 Chat

Kurt —  May 23, 2009

Lakers Nuggets game 2 Western Conference Finals
The Lakers do not need to win today, they need to come back to Los Angeles 2-2. If they lose today but win the Monday Night RAW game, they will still be in a good spot to win the series. But if they are going to win either game, one thing needs to happen:

The Lakers need to control the paint. That is the line of scrimmage in football, the inside half of the plate in baseball — it is where games are won. Why Lakers fans are frustrated is that we had expectations of controlling the paint from the first day of camp. Bill Bridges explains.

In training camp we had visions of possibly the tallest front line in NBA history with Bynum, Gasol, and Odom.

I think Phil tried this in camp and possibly in one pre-season game. Then somehow he made the decision that he would not play the three together at all for the rest of the season! I submit that this was a huge mistake.

We are paying for this now. When Melo subbed himself in for Carter, the game changed. Ariza had to cover Kleiza and Kobe, Melo.

Had PJ had some trust (and experience) in the Bynum, Gasol, Odom front-line, the Lakers could have countered with this line plus Kobe and Ariza. The Lakers would be the ones posing mismatches instead of the other way.

Phil has been on the coaching back-foot this entire playoffs. He has been the one reacting to the other coach instead of letting the Lakers impose its will by exploiting obvious advantages.

The reality we all see (check out this breakdown from Don W.) is that Brown/Farmar are outplaying Fisher. That Bynum has some lapses but more good things than bad tend to happen when he is on the floor. Nobody is being consistent, but some of Jackson’s less trusted players are playing better. Craig W. said it well:

Phil’s philosophy is to ride things out, rather than to take situations out of the player’s hands. To do that he has to trust the player, therefore, before Phil will allow a player to get many minutes he must be able to trust that player to work things out in a reasonable amount of time.

The problem is that that ‘reasonable amount of time’ is compressed during the playoffs.

Phil is now at a decision point – according to us fans – where he has to put his imprint on the game and he has to do it with players who haven’t completely earned his trust. Can he do this? Can Phil change at this late point in his career? Should he?

There are other things we need to see. As Holinger pointed out — if Bynum is sitting (and often even when he is not) and Nene is on Gasol, running the high pick and roll with Kobe/Gasol is not as effective because Nene hedges so well on that play. A Kobe iso is more effective, spread the other guys along the baseline. That’s in the playbook, we used to do it all the time

But the Lakers need to get away from the pick and roll, away from the isolation and get shots through off the ball movement, through cutting, through good passing, Those are the ways the Lakers score efficiently on the Nuggets.

If we want someone other than Fisher to play, then someone has to hit the shots and make the plays. We call for Shannon Brown but he was 3 of 8 from the floor in game two. Jordan Farmar took one shot. Sasha is ice cold. Someone please grab control of that job and take it.

Also, the Lakers are going to have to play through the physical contact. In Denver, Lakers going to the rim are going to be pushed around and fouled, they cannot stop and look at the official hoping for a call. Finish. Control what you can control.


Really, is there a better way to preview a game than Haiku? No. Not one. Bill Bridges started it, here are his and some others from the comments

Bill Bridges

Against these Nuggets
The key is controlling the lane
Play Andrew Bynum

The most puzzling phrase:
“Kenneth what’s the frequency”
Then “And the proble”

Lil’ Pau

Fish? Hooked. Machine? Broke.
Just Kobe, Pau, Trev., ShanWow
Where’s Lamar? Crickets.


Brick… brick… airball… brick…
Drive to rim, pray for bailout
Fish, swimming upstream


Airball from Sasha
Furious, I smash TV
Two machines, both dead.


Two words.
Selfish. Offense.
That is why we lost.

Making Adjustments

Kurt —  May 22, 2009

Denver Nuggets vs Los Angeles Lakers in Los Angeles
It took me a while to write something about game two, because the loss was so frustrating on fundamental levels for me. I try remind myself that the bottom line is that these are two evenly matched teams in games where just minor breaks can swing either game either way, and they have swung both ways, so it is fitting that the series is 1-1 after two.

Still, as a fan I’m frustrated. I’m frustrated that Andrew Bynum, who played so well in the first half, played the first 4:45 of the second half then never got back on the court. In fact, when Bynum sat in the second quarter is right when Denver’s late 12-0 run starts.

Watch the first few minutes of the second half — you don’t hear Bynum’s name called but the Nuggets are shooting almost all jump shots. Then Bynum makes a bad play, turns his head and loses Nene and the Brazilian gets a layup. And Bynum is benched, never to see the court again. He finishes the game a team best +7. On the bench.

I’m frustrated by the guard play. I’m not frustrated by the missed last second shot by Fisher — when you have to take a three at the buzzer to tie it’s a crapshoot. No matter who takes it. What is frustrating was Fisher’s play in the third quarter, when the Lakers had a big lead and he kept driving into a forest of defenders looking for…. a foul I guess. A parting of the Red Sea. Whatever. Doing it once and not getting it is one thing, the two subsequent times when the same thing happened is very frustrating.

But Phil Jackson trusts Fisher because they have a history. Because he is stable. Because he has hit big shots in the past. All the reasons that we Lakers fans love Fisher. But at some point in these playoffs that trust has to bend to the new reality that Fisher is not getting the job done. He is a defensive liability. He is not hitting his shots. He is just not the same player.

Clearly Jackson has some recognition of this — Fisher has sat for long stretches in these playoffs, including the fourth quarter of some games. Thursday night Jackson tried to go with the other guard he trusts, Sasha. But he has just gone ice cold — he’s still trying hard on the defensive end. But he is just ice.

Shannon Brown and Farmar, to the eye, appear better options and better things seem to happen when they are on the court. Brown was in for a late Lakers 9-0 run but when the game went to the real crunch time Jackson turned to Fisher.

The bottom line is nobody is really stepping up — Laker guards outside of Kobe were 6 of 24 in game two. That simply will cost the Lakers games. It’s frustrating because I want someone to grab the opportunity and play so well they demand the minutes. It hasn’t yet happened.

And that extends beyond just the guards. Ariza played poorly down the stretch. Gasol looks like all the basketball last year and this summer and this regular season are starting to catch up with him a little. That is all frustrating because we talked about all season how other guys were stepping up and it didn’t have to be all Kobe. But now in the biggest games of the year, Kobe has had to take on more because the help isn’t there.

And Denver is too good to beat without help. This is a very good team. This is going to be a series that is going to come down to little things at the end of games — like Gasol missing free throws or Billups making a wild blind pass that caroms to Nene. Some luck. But luck is the residue of design and aggressive play. Denver did a better job of those things in game two, they deserve the win.

What is frustrating is that we expect more of these Lakers, we have seen them make the big plays late before, but Thursday night they did not. And the proble

Lakers/Nuggets Game 2 Chat

Kurt —  May 21, 2009

Andrew Bynum of the Los Angeles Lakers
I expect this game to be similar, yet very different, from game one.

Similar in the sense that I expect it to be close. Maybe this series will have its blowout game — all series seem to — but for the most part the games will be close and the difference will be execution under fire.

How I expect it to be different is in how the Lakers attempt to dictate the game — this time they will go inside and attack mismatches with Denver’s front line. If Nene is on Gasol, then Bynum needs to tear up Martin. Clearly the Lakers wanted to do that last game but were taken aback by the fronting strategy and energy that Denver put into stopping the post entry passes.

As there always are in the triangle, there were counters to what Denver did but the Lakers didn’t seem to execute them. First, I expect the Lakers will try to get Bynum and Gasol (and even Kobe) running and trying to get early position deep (and hopefully they will get the ball this time, the Lakers did not reward running bigs last game). Also, look for the Lakers bigs to move from week to strong and get the ball as they do, look maybe even for the bigs setting screens for each other.

What the Lakers need to do is attack — they started doing that at the end of the last game and that is when they got calls. Before that, Denver got the calls because they attacked the rim. (Hopefully the officiating is a little more consistent for everyone tonight.) But off the dribble or pass to the post, the Lakers need to get to the rim.

When that happens the Nuggets will collapse, and that is when Fisher/Farmar/Sasha/Ariza/Walton need to make them pay with threes.

The Lakers can score off the Kobe/Gasol pick and roll, that is a deadly combination, but the Nuggets are a good pick-and-roll defensive team, so hopefully there is not a steady diet of this.

Defensively, the Lakers need to do better early in the clock and in transition. The Lakers need to do better finding Billups and Melo in transition and not letting them make the play.

Denver wants to get fast break points but when that is not there they almost always set a drag screen (a big behind the play stops up for an early-in-the-clock pick and roll) and after the deliberate pace of the Houston series the Lakers did not adjust well to this. Billups is not going to have another off game shooting like that, especially if the Lakers bigs do not do a better job on that drag screen. The Lakers bigs need to show out, take away his jumper and easy path to the basket, then recover,

I don’t expect Melo to be as hot, but he won’t be cold either. He is playing well right now and the Lakers need to just make him work for his points. Whether it is Ariza, Walton or Kobe, somebody needs to step up and step out on him a little. And that may be hard because I expect Denver will start having him attack from the top of the key, where the Lakers rotations are not as paint-by-numbers.

The Lakers need to continue their domination of the boards. And the bench needs another good night

Bottom line, I think Bynum is going to be a good barometer for the Lakers this game. And I hope Ding is right.

Thoughts On Bill Simmons

Kurt —  May 21, 2009

Sports Guy Bill Simmons — likely intentionally sparking an easy-to-rile fan base with comments in line with his personal biases — yesterday ticked off the Lakers fan base with his chat.

Normally this blog doesn’t wade into these waters — and in a few hours a game 2 post will be up — but friend of the site Dex had comments that I thought just deserved a wider audience. These are some of the best breakdowns of his work I have seen anywhere, so here are Dex’s thoughts.

Simmons is at his best when (a) reminiscing about a movie or television program from his adolescence, (b) covering a spectacle, e.g. the NBA All-Star Game, and (c) writing quick, general analyses of a given sport, team, player, controversy, etc. As a journalist, he shines most brightly doing (c). As your funny, articulate college roommate, assuming you get along, his (a) and (b) stuff can be very entertaining. But as soon as the issue becomes personal, i.e. he’s covering one of his home teams or their nemeses or, worse, both, (c) goes out the door while (a) and (b) glom into the kind of inch-deep blather that, well, you’d expect from a suddenly emotionally charged college roommate. If the emotion is anger, you get sulkiness and sneering. If it’s joy, you get sneering and bathos. Hide-your-head-in-embarrassment-bathos; he is perhaps, in this context, the most sentimental sportswriter living. His Kobe piece for ESPN The Magazine was dreadful. It read like the work of a cocky, glib freshman in his first week of Introduction to Critical Writing. “Kobe is so selfish, you know how I can tell, my friend who’s a Knicks fan emailed me that he was and my other friend who’s also a Knicks fan called me and said that he was and when I was talking to my dad about it he agreed with them both! And also I read that someone said that he was in a BOOK, if you don’t believe me. Yes, a real book, published and everything! TWO books.” Etc. etc. He spent a few seasons passionately condemning Doc and Ainge for their cowardly, desperate tactics, but when those tactics finally paid off, in the form of a motley Dream Team, he leaped shrieking girlishly onto the bandwagon. Once it collapsed under all that sweaty weight (as it was bound to; shoddy means shoddy; sin comes home to roost; etc.), Simmons evinced the classic reaction. Self-hate can only be dispelled through humility. But humility, you can’t really learn that from Karate Kid. Someone should vivisect that Kobe piece. It rates a D, D-, tops.

And then there is this brilliant diagnosis of Simmons thoughts on Kobe.

Simmons hates Kobe (yes, Bill, you hate him; it isn’t a crime — it’s okay, in sports, to hate your arch-nemesis; the man who, even in defeat, makes the recent, short-lived achievements of “your” Celtics paltry and jerry-rigged by comparison; “your” Celtics; and the entire state of Minnesota’s; and New York’s; and wherever else Ainge and Doc rousted an aging star with no roots in Boston whatsoever and signed him with the understanding that he could move the hell back to his actual city as soon as they’d won a championship.

But who’s championship was it? It was basically Garnett’s, wasn’t it? — Garnett the Timberwolf, who shall always be a Timberwolf, and never, ever not look incongruous in his baggy green costume — think of Malone and Payton in L.A., only fifty times worse — for I haven’t seen many moving tributes to Paul Pierce, or Ray Allen, or Doc Rivers, or Rondo, with glistening eyes as they softly caress the trophy. No, this championship was about Garnett finally winning one after years of ignominious failure in the state that made his name and fortune.

So — here you are, pretending that an aging miscellany of bounty hunters and frustrated uprooted veterans qualifies as an actual Celtics team. No matter that they’ve no ties to Boston, that you haven’t cheered for them from youth to manhood — come on, those green jerseys speak for themselves. No matter that Pierce, without this dramatic intervention, without the team nobly tanking half a season on the chance that mediocrity and incompetence (and quisling surrender) would be rewarded, — no matter that he would have wasted his career on one of the great clownish franchises of the NBA — see, he’s got that ring, and that’s what matters. And it’s inspiring to see Doc weep into the microphone about injured players this, injured players that; LA’s loss of Bynum, who was just coming into his own, was quite a terrible blow itself, but not apparently the kind that a coach can point to as the reason for his lumpish departure from the playoffs.

Phil Jackson seemed dry-eyed, but then again he and Doc have such different styles. Phil is calm, humorous, self-deprecating, but all business; he can articulate why his team failed on a given night. Doc’s style, which is endearing, is to smile desperately into the cameras beslimed in sweat and give the other team credit because his guys kind of sucked, which in no way says anything about the character and excellence of his guys.

I’m digressing, it’s too late in Chicago, where the songbirds sing all night. In short, Simmons, Kobe is beyond your comprehension. You recognize that you once had someone like him in Bird, and you recognize that you shall not see that again in your lifetime. In a Boston jersey, I mean.

You reveal your hand when you accuse Kobe, la de da, of reacting to Bynum’s second injury with nought but self-interested rage and frustration. Your evidence for this? Kobe’s inscrutable face in those horrible minutes after their collision. I suggest he was suffering agonies of a complexity far, far more profound than your armchair diagnosis allowed, which apparently you arrived at by interpreting a few quick glimpses of Kobe’s taut and haunted face — in the manner of, yes, a hater.

Come on, Simmons, we’re all haters to an extent; that’s why rivalries are thrilling and glorious or thrilling and tragic depending. Your Kobe piece was maybe the weakest apologia, the timidest defense, I’ve seen since I was grading papers written by freshmen who didn’t give a damn. If by chance you read this, I fart in your general direction; let’s take the claims in your ESPN Bryant piece and scrutinize them a little.

For example, your response to Kobe’s masterful performance in the Garden, which had three-fourths of the crowd on their feet chanting “MVP” in the exuberance of having witnessed something close to sublimity, was not merely flimsy as a cobweb, but a hilarious contradiction of what you’d demanded of him prior to 81. Let’s do this, Apollo, you can batter me around a little, I’m nothing. You’re Bill Simmons, with a mailbag and a book and TIVo, a diploma. I’m Dex with a homemade Kobe Bryant t-shirt. Come on, fight me a little. You accused Kobe of some pretty hard things in that ESPN article. Come on, let’s see you go a couple rounds with someone who’ll hit back. I’m sure you’ll maul me, you’ve got nothing to lose except your reputation as a fanboy hater.

Lakers/Nuggets Live Chat

Kurt —  May 20, 2009

Submit your questions to me and Jeremy of Roundball Mining Company and we will answer them. Or ignore them. One or the other.

The chat starts at 1 pm Pacific and will appear on both our blogs.