Archives For May 2009

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.

Los Angeles Lakers v Denver Nuggets - Game Three
Remember, join us here at 1 pm Pacific today for a live chat with myself and Jeremy from Roundball Mining Company.

You had to like that win. It was a gutty win when the Lakers were outplayed most of the night. When they were out shot. You had to love that after a night where they struggled Pau Gasol and Derek Fisher made the plays at the end. You have to love Kobe Bryant. The Lakers were tough — as they have been for a while but still don’t get credit for.

Sure, there were a lot of things I didn’t like. I didn’t like that when the Nuggets were aggressive with cutting off easy post entry passes the Lakers didn’t counter (late moves across the lane, cross picks). I didn’t like that early when Gasol and Bynum did run the floor and get early position they were not rewarded with the ball. I did not like Spike Lee cheering on the Lakers. I did not like how much the Lakers ran the pick and roll instead of their standard offensive sets.

But it’s a win. And we can get into more detail of the likes and dislikes in this breakdown of the end of the game. We join the action with 3:20 left, after Phil had called a timeout to remind everyone that Melo just scored, again, and maybe they should try to stop him (it worked, he didn’t score again).

3:20, 96-92 Nuggets: The Lakers get the ball to Kobe who dribbles across the top of the key to his right and since Nene is the closest defender five feet off him Kobe rises up and buries the 21 footer. Not a sequence Denver will remember fondly, no real pick and nobody on Kobe? That can’t be the defensive game plan.

3:12, 96-94 Nuggets: Billups spends the first 10 seconds of the clock directing traffic, then from five feet beyond the three point line goes away from the high pick. Odom switches nicely and follows him in, forcing Billups to go deep under the basket then pass baseline to Nene who drives into the middle of the lane and tries a little runner that Pau Gasol blocks.

Gasol is taking heat in some quarters for his performance, but: 1) the Lakers did a poor job of getting him the ball in good position (credit to the aggressive Nuggets defense here as well); 2) He made the plays when it mattered. He played like a veteran.

Back to the game. Kobe starts the run-out off Gasol’s block and outlet, but Denver gets back, then traps him, so he does a little jump pass to Ariza. Then the Lakers putz around with the ball for a few seconds, I’m not sure what else to call it, before Bryant decides to not wait for the screen and just take his man off the dribble. He was able to do that in this game, something that did not happen last series. Denver lets him go right (Battier was great at forcing him left) and by the time he gets to the elbow three Nuggets are there to greet him, Kobe passes to Fisher all alone in the corner, so alone that he can set his feet (and, frankly, run out to the concession stand, buy a water and get back) and he buries the three. Staples erupts.

2:29, 97-96 Lakers: Billups brings it up again, and again 10 seconds are off the shot clock by the time they start to run their half-court set. With all those athletes shouldn’t they push the ball more? Anyway Billups can’t find a post pass to Melo he likes so he picks up his dribble and gets hounded by Kobe. But now Melo realized hc can’t get the ball as deep as he’s like so he gives up position for possession. Kobe comes off the Billups to double in the post, but Melo had turned his back to him, faced up and wants to drive. Gasol anticipates, gets over and draws the charge. Another good defensive set from Gasol late.

Now Fisher brings it up for LA and early in the clock he and Kobe cross and Fisher hands the ball to Bryant who drives left this time, pulls up at the left elbow, then feeds Gasol with a pretty bounce pass. That was a good entry past to the post by the Lakers, you can count those on one hand in that game by the Lakers.

Gasol does what Lakers fans had wanted him to do and backs K-Mart down into the paint and while he doesn’t make the shot he draws the foul. We need to see more of this next game. The problem is he misses both free throws.

1:53, 97-96 Lakers: Billups has gone into attack mode. He pushes the ball up but sees nothing, still he starts probing early. Nene comes out and sets the screen, but when Billups tries to use it Gasol shows out well and takes away the move. So Billups shoots the contested three with Gasol right there. Nothing but net. Credit Billups for playing some of his best basketball in years.

1:38, 99-97 Nuggets. The ball eventually works to Kobe in the right corner, but he has no shot, instead he dribbles out using a pick set by Gasol but still there is nothing there so it is out to Fisher with the ball and an reset. But that doesn’t reset the shot clock so Fisher tries to draw the foul with an ugly looking three that misses badly.

Fortunately Gasol is there for the offensive board. Those were absolutely the key to the game — the Lakers had 17 offensive rebounds and 22 second chance points, That kept tem in it despite the Lakers bad shooting night and not getting to the line. It got them the win. Gasol got fouled and made his free throws.

99-99, 1:13 left: Again Billups is looking and probing, and doing so with a sense of urgency, eventually he goes around a high pick from the Birdman, and both Laker defenders focus on Chauncey. Birdman does a little delayed roll to the hoop and gets the pass as he cuts. Odom rotates over early and is a statue with its arms up that Birdman has to drive into and shoot over, and he misses. Letting Birdman shoot anything but a putback dunk is good for the Lakers.

In the ensuing scramble there is a jump ball called between Birdman and Odom. Birdman wins the tip but tries to send it up near the basket, a play no other Nuggets seemed to be in on, so Gasol grabs it.

Kobe has the ball on the Lakers end and he is probing, He gets a high screen from Gasol but noting is there. The Lakers ran entirely too much pick and roll in this game – because of their athletic and quick bigs Denver defends this very well, their can show out and recover. I’d like to see more just straight triangle run against Denver.

Eventually Kobe goes isolation and drives right and pulls up for the 17-footer that misses but Pau is underneath fighting for the offensive board and while he doesn’t get it he forces Billups to tap it out of bounds, it remains Lakers ball. Timeout to set up a play, not to mention see another commercial from that amazingly unfunny Mikes Hard Lemonade campaign.

The Lakers inbound to Kobe who again starts to drive sweeping to his right across the top of the key, but this time K-Mart joins to double Kobe, then makes an amazingly foolish reach-in foul. Just a terrible foul — not only is Denver is in the penalty (and Kobe goes to the line and sinks two) but you essentially give the Lakers the two-for-one they wanted. We said before the game that keeping the Lakers off the line was key, and the Nuggets did a good job of that most of the night. But this was a big exception.

:30, 101-99 Lakers. Out of a timeout Anthony Carter is inbounding the ball at halfcourt, and as Phil has done all year he puts the very tall Odom on the inbounder. On the far side away from the ball, Billups sets a screen then surprises Ariza by racing straight out high rather than running underneath the basket and into the corner (clearly the corner is the preferred spot because Ariza played him to go there, then on the next inbounds play, the one where Billups hits the three after stepping out of bounds, he did go to the corner to get the ball).

As soon as Billups bolts toward halfcourt Ariza just starts to sprint to recover. But from Anthony Carter’s perspective Billups both looks wide open and he has to get the ball over Odom, so he lofts it. Ariza never quits and gets the steal. Another Laker with a bad game who made a big play late.

Also, credit Ariza and the Lakers here for not just taking the breakaway dunk, but pulling up and running time off the clock. It was the smart play. As was getting the ball to Kobe and letting him iso Anthony Carter. Kobe is fouled, hits the free throws and the rest is history.

It will be interesting to see how this Denver team responds. Some teams will lost a game they feel they should have won and just pack it in the next game until they get back home. Others will think this validates they can win, just with some smarter plays. I know how Billups will respond, but will his teammates follow?

Because the Lakers certainly can play better.

Lakers/Nuggets Game One Chat

Kurt —  May 19, 2009

NBA: APR 09 Nuggets at Lakers
First a couple programming notes — tomorrow at 1 p.m. come by the site for a live chat with myself and Jeremy from Roundball Mining Company as we talk game one and if Nene and Kenyon Martin could win the WWE tag team belt. If you want to get a preview of that chat, check out the ESPN.com NBA podcast today as Jeremy and I go at it (and I think he bests me).

Second, if you haven’t seen this yet, Kurt Rambis had a job interview:

Lakers assistant coach Kurt Rambis has interviewed with the Philadelphia 76ers for their head-coaching vacancy.

Rambis, 51, met with 76ers President Ed Stefanski at a hotel in Los Angeles on Monday. The Lakers gave the 76ers permission to speak with Rambis.

“I met with Ed and I thought the meeting went well,” Rambis said. “Beyond that, I have no further comment. Right now, I’m focusing on helping the Lakers defeat the Nuggets.”

What should Rambis be focusing on right now? Here’s some suggestions from Bill Bridges.

If I were the Laker coaches, I’d be stressing:

1. Take care of the ball (run the offense). Denver has thrived off turn-over fuelled runs.

2. Pump fake, Pau. Pump fake, Lamar. The Denver bigs are shotblock happy and ripe to be put into foul trouble.

3. If the Lakers get 2 consecutive stops, look for Chauncey on a pull-up 3. Guaranteed.

4. Each and every Denver big has one move, which is a counter move. They take one dribble in one direction and pivot the other way. Its like they got the complete Pete Newell big man camp DVD, except the disc got stuck on the “Counter spin-move” section and in repeat play mode. Play for the counter and take position: charge.

I like Sasha on JR. If Houston was Farmar’s redemption, will Denver be Sasha’s?

And a few final thoughts from Reed:

I think our length on defense is going to make life more difficult for Denver than they think. If Bynum can stay on the court (by both being productive and avoiding foul trouble), we should be able to prevent Denver from really racking up points in the paint, which is the foundation of Denver’s explosive offense. The Nuggets led the league in dunks and were second in points in the paint this year. This led to them placing 7th in eFG%. Add in strong FT shooting and they were 3rd in TS%. However, despite having several high profile perimeter shooters, they are a mediocre to poor outside shooting team. They were 7th worst in the league at 2-point perimeter shots (we were 3rd thanks to strong midrange shooters like Kobe, Pau, etc.), and middle of the pack in 3 point shooting.

It will be difficult to stop Nene, Melo, Martin, etc. from getting good looks inside, but we are well positioned relative to most teams to do so given our length inside. Utah is another team that relies heavily on interior scoring and we were successful the last two years at pushing them out and bothering their close shots with our size. If we can tempt Martin into that horrific midrange shot, keep Nene from dunking, and allow Melo to shoot long 2s (even though he’s admittedly good from there), then I think we can hold down their offense and outscore them 4 out of 7 nights. I’d love to see us force the ball out of the hands of Billups, Melo, and Nene early in the clock so that Martin and Jones are often forced to make a play with the clock running down (like we forced the ball to Brewer and Harping in the Utah series). There will be nights when their shooters are hot and we lose, but the odds and stats say that won’t happen consistently.

I expect Gasol to demolish Martin, Nene to abuse Bynum, and the series to come down to which teams gets more two players impact the game more from each team: Kobe and Odom or Billups and Birdman (whose impact on the game can be monstrous at times and invisible at others — like Lamar…).

Let’s Get It On! And we’re also talking NBA Draft Lottery in this thread.

Lakers/Nuggets Preview

Kurt —  May 18, 2009

Los Angeles Lakers vs Denver Nuggets in Denver
Due to time constraints (and the fact I like sleep) I’m not going to do the big two-part breakdown of the Lakers/Nuggets series that I did for the previous two. Instead, one long post filled with a host of thoughts.

• Don’t confuse this Denver team with the Nuggets that the Lakers swept last season, or even the team that the Lakers beat in the regular season. The Nuggets come in hot, having steamrolled their first two opponents and no doubt the franchise is playing the best ball it has in decades. But as we’ve been saying, the NBA is all about matchups, especially in a seven game series — and both Dallas and New Orleans are terrible matchups against Denver. So far the center’s they have had to face are Tyson Chandler and Eric Dampier. The two power forwards — David West and Dirk Nowitizki — are good but have an allergic reaction to the paint. This round will be a lot more interesting.

• To me, the biggest key for the Lakers is Andrew Bynum. The Lakers need his defense in the paint (as seen in game seven). They will really need his rebounding as the Nuggets will turn defensive rebounds into transition baskets, making them commit to the boards can slow that.

And as Jeremy from Roundball Mining Company pointed out, Bynum on the court creates much tougher matchups for Denver — Bynum’s size and length will be hard for Nene to match. Kenyon Martin’s physical style has had some impact on Gasol this season, but Gasol still averaged 18 points and 12 rebounds. Gasol also can attack Martin in more ways in the post than Dirk could, and expect the Lakers to go with that.

For the Lakers to win, they need to control the paint and the boards. That means that they need Bynum. That also means the Lakers need to get him a couple of good offensive touches in a place he can score from early in the game — everything with Bynum is about confidence. When he makes an early play and gets an early basket, things flow for him. If he picks up silly fouls he never quite gets he head screwed on right again. The Lakers will be counting on the good Bynum.

• The second biggest factor will be fouls and if the Lakers can draw them. Over the course of the season, the Rockets were 2nd in the league in fewest fouls to field goal ratio. They were particularly careful not to foul Kobe despite playing him physically — the result is the Lakers did not get a lot of easy points.

The Nuggets, on the other hand, fouled fifth most in the league. They will hack inside — you can call that physical if you want. The Lakers have to: 1) Realize they are not going to get all the calls they want, stop whining to the refs and play through it; 2) Make the Nuggets pay at the free throw line. That we did see in matchups between the teams this year.

The Nuggets have K-Mart and Nene, with Chris “Birdman” Andersen coming off the bench (and coming from the weakside for the block) but that is about it with quality post defenders. If the Lakers can get one or more in foul trouble, the matchups really swing for Los Angeles.

• Fouls leads right into another key matchup — K-Mart on Gasol. Dirk had some big nights against K-Mart, but he is also a very different player than Gasol. Pau will be in the post and Darius talks about that matchup.

We just played a team that refused to foul. Can Denver do the same? Pau struggles against Hayes and Perkins’ types, but Martin is not in that mold.. Sure he’ll battle, but he’s also a reacher and a guy that goes for blocks. Martin is also a guy that can get frustrated and give a hard foul to send a “message”. But if he’s wasting any fouls in this series, it will come back to bite him as I don’t see the depth outside of their three bigs to play with us if they foul at the rates that they have against us during the regular season. Martin must play without fouling and he must keep his head. If he doesn’t, Birdman plays extended minutes. And while he played well against Dirk, Gasol is not a jumpshooting big that is trying to play 18 ft and in.

• Kobe is going to have more room to operate this series. The Nuggets have talked about Dahntay Jones as a get-under-your-skin defender who will draw the primary assignment on Kobe (JR Smith and maybe Kenyon Martin maybe). Jones did a good job on Chris Paul in the first round. But he allowed two shooting guards to shoot 59% (eFG%) and had a PER of 19.

Again, this is a matchup thing. Jones is the kind of defender who uses his athleticism to bother the man he’s guarding, but that tends not to be the kind of guy who is effective on Kobe. Stronger defenders (ala Battier) are. Kobe has gotten his in the past against Denver and will again.

And that’s probably going to be okay with Denver. I expect Denver to treat Kobe the way they did Nowitzki — not a lot of doubles, let him get his points, but don’t let him start involving teammates. The other Lakers need to step up to challenge that strategy.

• Carmelo Anthony has been playing some of the best ball of his career in the playoffs, scoring and getting the ball moving to teammates when the defense adjusts. But, he has struggled against the Lakers. Darius will take it from there.

Over the past couple of seasons he just hasn’t played that well against us. Rad gave him problems, Ariza is a guy that can take away his quick first step, and Luke is a guy that will battle him on the block and at least try real hard. So, can Melo break through? All those questions aside though, I really can’t say enough about this guy. He’s not the physical freak like Lebron or Wade and he’s not the maniacally focused player like Kobe, but this guy is really damned good. His offensive game has no holes and if he gets it going he can put up 20 point quarters and wreck a defense. I actually think our SSZ is built for a guy like Melo though, so I hope to see us trap him and give him tough looks by funneling him to our bigs. He loves the mid block and he loves to isolate on the wing, so I hope we can effectively double team him within our normal scheme and still recover to shooters like Smith and Billups.

• There’s been a lot of talk on this site and other places about how much of a better matchup Chauncey Billups is for the Lakers than Aaron Brooks. In terms of style, yes, he is — Billups is not a lightning quick slasher ala Paker or Jameer Nelson. And we know how the Lakers struggled with those guys. But Billups also is one of the best point guards in the game and if you don’t think he can damage Fisher and the Lakers, you don’t remember 2004.

Kwame a. takes it from there:

Billups has been attacking the cup in the playoffs: Billups has been reinvigorated himself in these playoffs. In the ’06, ’07, and ’08 playoffs Billups faded in the later rounds. These playoffs I’ve seen him do something he hasn’t done much since the Pistons made back to back finals in ’04 and ’05 — attack the basket. Last series against the Mavs, Billups used his great ability to change his tempo to get into the lane off the high screen and roll. Billups was able to get the 10-12 foot pull-up that he is quite proficient at. He also got to the cup and was finishing with his great strength. Last, he was able to collapse the defense and find open men, either under the hoop for layups, or on the wings/corners for 3 balls.

Billups isn’t a speedster, but what he does better than most PG’s is make the right decisions. He has great strength, great change of pace and can control a game both by scoring and by distributing (something Brooks cannot do). Billups has less of a speed advantage against Fish, but it would be foolish to think that Fish is doing cartwheels at the idea of guarding the guy that won a Finals MVP against him 5 years ago.

• One potential big problem for the Lakers in this series is JR Smith coming off the Denver bench. Darius likes JR’s game:

He’s the ultimate wildcard and he’s the type of player that will give Sasha problems. Essentially, this isn’t some Von Wafer or Kyle Korver here, this guy can play. I don’t see Sasha’s pressure bothering him at all. He’s not only athletic, but he’s got a good handle and will hit from deep but will take it to the basket. We’ve seen this guy go at Kobe, so we know he’s not intimidated by anyone. if he’s making his shots he can win a game by himself. We must try to keep him under wraps – he’s that dangerous to us and is that big a boost to Denver.

• Turnovers will be key, or more specifically not having them. Both teams are loaded with athletes and like to get out and run and finish well in transition. If one team is coughing up the ball a lot, it is going to be hard to win. That simple.

• A few suggestions on places to get information on this series. First, for the Nuggets, I have long been a big fan of Jeremy at Roundball Mining Company and you will learn a lot reading his site. (Also, come by Wednesday afternoon for a live chat with Jeremy and myself.)

Also for the Nuggets, there is Pick Axe & Roll, as well as Nuggets Nuggetz.

For the Lakers, there are a lot of great blogs, but you will get a lot of great video and insight from the Brothers K over at the LA Times, and Silver Screen and Roll is doing great work.

• As we have done with every preview some final thoughts from Kwame a.

Denver is playing their best ball: Like any coach would hope for, George Karl’s boys are playing their best ball of the year. They finished the regular season ranked 7th in Offensive Efficiency and 8th in Defensive Efficiency. Those numbers aren’t too shabby, and it is primarily due to Chauncey Billups bringing a disciplined approach to an offense that was good, but rudderless with A.I and replacing Marcus Camby’s woeful PnR defense with a combination of Nene and Chris Anderson (I refuse to call that dude by his nickname). In the playoffs they are 1st in Offensive Efficiency (at whopping 118.5- the Cavs are 2nd with a 111.9) and 4th in Defensive Efficiency at 101.3. They have had the luxury of playing two teams that didn’t match-up great with them, but they did what they have clearly come together as a team at the right time.

3 other Keys: 1) Make Melo a scorer. Against the Mavs I was very impressed by Melo’s ability to get other people good shots. One of the other reasons the Nuggets offense has been absurdly good this post-season is Melo. He has all the moves inside the 3-point line: face up jumper, post moves, ability to drive to the hole. When he is hitting the 3 ball and passing to open teammates, the Nuggets will score 115 with ease. I think if we can keep Melo to a scorer, it will be harder for the Nuggets to get everyone involved. Ariza and Luke will be the key to this, as well as Drew/Pau who will have to be able to show and recover (Nene is a better player than Hayes and must be accounted for). 2) Make Billups work on D: Here is where Fish (and Shannon Brown) can really help us this series. Forcing Billups to play defense will tire him out, and over the last couple years, he has lost steam at this point in the playoffs. 3) Rotation: I would like to see Phil find a rotation against the Nuggets early in the series and for him to stick with it.

NBA: APR 09 Nuggets at Lakers
I’m not going to list all the quotes, suffice to say that after the game the Lakers players all said the right things about lessons learned and bringing this game seven energy and effort to the next series and so on. Take it with a grain of salt, they’ve said that all year. But we can hope.

There’s not a lot of time to break down the Nuggets, but we’re going to start right away, and do so with some thoughts from the very good Jeremy at Roundball Mining Company. As people who were around last playoffs will tell you, Jeremy knows basketball and the Nuggets, and you’ll see a fair amount of him here in the coming weeks.

The thing that has impressed me about the Nuggets so far in the playoffs has been their interior defense — it was a weakness a year ago, now they look good. Is that because of the competition they faced in the postseason (fearsome offensive forces like Tyson Chandler and Eric Dampier), or are they actually better?

The Nuggets defense is still a little up and down, but the up is so far beyond anything they have been capable of in the past. Denver has been fortunate to play a couple of teams that did not provide much of an interior threat. Tyson Chandler was clearly far from healthy and David West had no chance to score against Kenyon Martin in the post so he shot nothing but jumpers.

Against Dallas Erick Dampier lacked the talent to attack the Nuggets’ interior defense, but Dirk demolished whoever tried guarding him in the post, but Denver basically refused to double him for fear of giving up a hoard of open three pointers.

Should Denver play the Lakers I fully expect Pau Gasol to make life miserable for the Nuggets. There is no one who matches up very well with him. Chris Andersen is probably the best matchup, but I do not think he can cover Gasol very long without Pau getting him in foul trouble.

To me the key is Andrew Bynum. If Bynum is healthy and contributing, the Lakers will have a big advantage in the paint. Nene has appeared intimidated by Bynum on offense and if Nene is matched up against Bynum Kenyon Martin will be guarding Gasol. Needless to say Pau has a big advantage of Kenyon with his length and he would dominate that matchup.

If Bynum is only playing a few minutes and Odom is playing the rest that makes things much more palatable for Denver. Nene has the strength to force Pau off the block and Kenyon can stay with Odom wherever he wants to go.

A big key this year from last year is Dahntay Jones provides a much better option to guard Kobe thus allowing Kenyon to guard someone else. Jones was the key to defending Chris Paul, but in the second
round he was not nearly as important as Anthony Carter was a much better matchup for defending Jason Terry. Next round, Jones will be much more important.