Archives For May 2009

NBA Playoffs Los Angeles Lakers vs Houston Rockets in Houston
As much as I am confident the Lakers will win today, there is a sense of nervousness around a game seven. Because anything can happen. We want more Ron Artest from the Rockets, but he is fully capable of having one of those games where his poor shot choices are falling. There are a lot of things to make Lakers fans nervous.

That said, the road jitters that take the team out of their offensive rhythm will be gone, replaced by a loud and supportive home crowd. The Lakers never lost home court in this series (as has been said), this game is why you want home court. And for all the stories that have said “the Lakers didn’t learn anything from Boston’s game six last year” this is the game where we really find out if they did. The team sounds ready. I know Kobe will be.

The key for the Lakers in this series has been on the offensive end of the floor. When they have lost that is the end where the Rockets and themselves took them out of their rhythm That is the end that fuels their passion on defense. Darius had a few suggestions on what the Lakers need to do.

1) Our big men changing ends better. The best way to use our size advantage is not by backing down stronger players, it’s by establishing deep post position. And the easiest way to earn that position is to sprint up court, get to the paint, and the turn for the ball. The only game we really did this well was in game 5. More please.

2) More cross screens for our bigs. The Triangle is an offense with many variables and actions. However, an under utilized initiation is to start the ball on the weakside with an empty post. This allows the three strong side players opposite of the ball to bunch at the pinch post and set a screen for a big that comes across the lane to form the Triangle on the ball side. This will get our bigs moving towards the ball which gets them in an advantageous position without all the banging.

3) More Pau at the FT line but with less settling for the jumper. Pau needs to attack Hayes off the dribble, but he needs to do it from the middle of the floor where his counter move is easily available. When Pau turns and faces from the wing, Hayes can use the sideline against him and also funnel Pau towards help. This positioning limits Pau’s ability to reverse course and pivot into open space. But if Pau attacks from the middle (especially when paired with LO) he can change direction much easier and have more of the court open to him while also making his reads on passes easier. And when paired with Drew (and at the FT line), Pau and Bynum need to work in tandem to better create high/low situations. Bynum needs to recognize when Pau is drawing extra eyes and initiate quick post position against his defender to create a passing angle. We used this on the first play of game 5, but have seen this action less than five times all series. Like I said earlier, deep post position will kill the shorter Rockets and when we have the chance to work these types of actions to get that position we must take advantage.

One other thing the Rockets have done well in this series is take away Kobe’s dribble penetration — we’ve complained that he has taken too many pull up jumpers in this series but credit the Rockets and Battier for playing good defense and guiding him to help, then everyone collapsing on him. Commenter andseedlings makes a good point here.

(How the Rockets defend Kobe is) Reminiscent of the way Posey and Pierce hounded him during last year’s finals. If it seems like I’m making a lot of Boston comparisons, I am. That is going to remain the blueprint on how to destroy the Lakers’ offense until we prove otherwise, but very few teams can follow that blueprint because very few teams in the league have the combination of both strength and quickness in both the wings and the post to be able to do pull it off. Houston, without Yao or T-Mac, is one such team. When you combine that with a general stinginess with the ball (10 Houston turnovers in game 6, only 6 Laker steals) to keep our transition game from clicking, all of a sudden the best offensive team in the league is struggling to score points.

There are things we should look for on defense as well. Like when Brooks drives the guard and help big need to force him baseline and out of the middle where he is most dangerous. Timely help on Scola is needed. Rebound like they mean it.

I expect the Lakers to overcome this in game 7. I expect a win and haven’t really thought about any other alternative. But everyone — this is the fun part as a fan, try to enjoy the experience.

I’ll be at the game today, so expect a lot of updates, here and via twitter.

“Kobe Doin’ Work” Thread

Kurt —  May 16, 2009

LAKERS
This is a nice diversion leading up to game seven, and I’m looking forward to seeing it. (I am not going to see it tonight, I am gone to a Long Beach State athletics fundraiser, but it will be soon.)

Talk about the show, the upcoming game and more. And try to relax before tomorrow.

Los Angeles Lakers vs Houston Rockets NBA Game 5 Western Conference semifinals in Los Angeles
What was disappointing and frustrating about the game six loss is that the Lakers had their chances. This never felt like game four, in the first half the Lakers simply were not hitting their shots (and not working to get them from good spots on the floor), they were not creating the turnovers that have fueled them all series. For one 8-minute stretch they did, but when the Rockets pushed back with the desperation of a team not wanting to get eliminated, the Lakers went back to not making plays. Sloppy entry passes (hello Kobe), missed open looks. Meanwhile the Rockets made plays. Credit to them. But that is one that just feels like the Lakers could have had.

• Reed actually drove from Dallas to Houston for this one, and I’m going to do something I don’t normally and steal a little from his personal email to me for the blog:

I think the fundamental problem was our discomfort on the road. I’ve been to many basketball games, but that was the loudest I’ve experienced. From beginning to end the crowd was charged (usually they lose steam, but they had a lot to cheer about last night…). I thought it really affected us on offense. After Houston made a few shots and grabbed a lead in the first few minutes, Kobe and Fisher decided to play hero and throw up multiple tough threes or long twos to quiet the crowd. They missed and abandoned the offense in the process, totally going away from our goal to pound it inside and work the offense.

He and I are on the same page about this — the problem has been the Lakers offense in this series, not the defense. The Rockets hit hard shots to get to 95 points. But the Lakers shot 38.5% (eFG%), just 21.7% from three and only Kobe was getting to the free throw line. Which goes back to the discomfort on the road idea.

• From Darius:

Game 6 reminded me much more of Game 1 than the blowout in Game 4. Forget the big lead or the lackluster start. By the 3rd quarter we were right back in this game and we just couldn’t get over that hump – like Game 1. We didn’t get the stops we needed as Houston made some tough shots (Landry’s spinning shot right into Odom’s contest, Brooks’ layup when Pau challenged him and the ball just seemed to slip out of his hands and into the hoop, Ron’s jumper at the top where Pau closed hard and damn near high fived him – I could go on and on) and then we made too many mistakes in that same period.

• I’ve been the defender of Phil, but he added to all of our frustration levels last night. I’ll let Kwame a. take it from there:

I had to mention my frustration with Phil. Bynum was finally providing the Laker defense with an interior anchor and the Lakers subsequently were able to play solid 3rd quarter defense, getting more steals, defensive boards/stops and run-outs than any other quarter. Why go to an ineffective LO the whole 4th quarter? LO got torched by Landry (and Scola) ALL game long, and was a non-factor on offense. Also-sad to see D-Fish’s swan song go like this, each time he shoots I still feel its gonna drop so maybe I’m insane.

• One thing I keep reading variations of in Lakersland is “Gasol/Odom are making Scola look good.” No, Scola is good. Very good. He has a gold medal with Argentina as a key player. He was one of the best players in Europe before coming here. He is savvy on the court and is one of those guys who knows how to get his shot off in traffic. He is dogged on rebounds. He demands extra attention, it’s just on a team with Yao he often gets overlooked. He shouldn’t. And he doesn’t need the Lakers to make him look good.

• Just how big a game is this for Kobe? Big.

• RIP Wayman Tisdale. Wherever he is, the Jazz band just got a little better.

Lakers/Rockets Game 6 Chat

Kurt —  May 14, 2009

First, yesterday the conversation in the comments turned to Phil Jackson and his coaching style — is part of the reason for the Lakers inconsistency based on Jackson’s laidback style during games? I’ve always thought that Lakers fans desire to see a coach pace the sidelines and yell a little is more based on the need for a cathartic release at players they are frustrated with than actual coaching issues.

But then in the comments Craig W. made a fantastic point:

I remember watching a very successful coach who also didn’t believe in making too many in-game changes and also did almost all his teaching between games — John Wooden…

It is a unique style, but one I would expect players with high IQs (Walton, Wilkes, Alcindor, Warren) would thrive in. The players must be smart and mentally tough to be able to function in all kinds of game situations without coaching interference. I think it is the best possible situation for a player, but they must be able to handle themselves. I wonder if this isn’t the reason most ‘modern’ players don’t enjoy systems run in this fashion – and why most coaches won’t try to institute them.

He added later that Wooden was very slow to call timeouts.

—————————————————————————-

As for the game, the Lakers did a fantastic job in game 5 of exploiting mismatches — basically use their size to control the paint. The early big-on-big action of Pau Gasol passing to Andrew Bynum really set the tone for the Lakers, and the Rockets really have no answer for it. As we have seen this year, the Lakers need to feel the flow on offense for them to bring the energy on the defensive end (the Lakers are 7-0 in the playoffs when scoring 100+ points, 0-3 when under that number). Early offense from the bigs or even Kobe will be important.

The other thing the Lakers need to do is take the ball out of Brooks’ hands and get it over to Ron Artest. While he is capable of a big game, he is shooting 23.5% since Yao went down, and is shooting 7% from three. More Artest is good for the Lakers (unless he is having a hot game again). Carl Landry is shooting 65.5%, so less of him would be ideal.

One thing the Lakers can expect is better execution from the Rockets — as much as we like to say the Lakers were better focused on defense the Rockets made it easy with horrible execution of their gameplan.

Usually, it is the losing team that needs to make adjustments, and Bill Bridges sent in what he would do if he were Rick Adelman (besides just be nicer to people):

1. High screen-roll each and every set play initiated by Brooks and trying to get dribble penetration. I mean every single play.

2. Yes. Aaron Brooks plays 48 minutes. Sorry, you can rest in the summer, AB.

3. Every shot is either a lay-up by AB, or dunk by a big off an AB pass, or an open 3.

4. The kick out by Brooks will result in ball-rotation to the weakside to a wide-open corner 3 by Battier. (As Kobe still wasn’t covering Battier in game 5). Ideally Battier will shoot every ball.

5. The Rockets will shoot at least 40 3’s, ideally over 50.

6. The perimeter players will chase down the inevitable long-misses off the 3’s. If they get the rebound. Repeat step 1.

7. On defense pack it in. Invite long jumpers from every perimeter player bar Kobe.

8. Double Kobe and Pau in the post. Let them kick out for open 3’s from everyone bar Kobe.

9. Do not double Bynum. Play him straight up with Hayes.

10. If 1 – 9 fails. Full-court trap ala Vivek Ranadive’s San Carlos girl’s team.

If you want to watch the game online, follow this link to the ESPN360 broadcast.

Game 5 and Acceptance

Kurt —  May 13, 2009

Los Angeles Lakers vs Houston Rockets NBA Game 5 Western Conference semifinals in Los Angeles
Nearly a year-and-a-half ago I came to a rather Zen acceptance of Lamar Odom for who he is as a player — both brilliant and mercurial. They are part of the same package, the yin and the yang. As a whole, he paints a fantastic picture, but if you live and die with him day to day as a fan, the frustration will overwhelm you.

I am reaching the same place with this Lakers team as a whole. Beginning to accept that their Achilles’ heel is focus and motivation, that it will come and go, and that will not change. During the regular season, two quarters of the good Lakers may often be enough, and during the playoffs it will not be.

But I’m pretty much done talking about lessons learned, thinking this team has finally turned a mental corner, because I don’t think it has and I don’t think it will. I have no idea what to expect in game six. I know what to expect from the Rockets — they are a scrappy team that will come out and play hard, like their season is on the line. With the Lakers, I don’t have a clue. It could be four quarters like Tuesday, although probably not. And I’m not at all convinced that the “lessons” of this series will carry over to games against Denver or Cleveland. The Lakers could actually show up focused for all the games in the Finals, but that would be to me more a matter of circumstance than growth.

These Lakers just are what they are. And I can accept that.

—————————————————————————

As for the game itself, realize that the 25-6 run the Lakers had to end the first quarter consisted mostly of made jumpers — they hit 6 of 7 in the stretch. In that same time they had one layup and two dunks. And Kobe was back to destroying Battier on the night, shooting 8 of 13 against him (and 2 of 6 against anyone else.

Aside that, I thought Zephid had a great wrap so I’ll just steal that one.

I think this 40 pt win is a little misleading. Yes, LA was the better team tonight, but the fact is that Houston simply missed a ton of shots. 29-89 from the field, 5-29 from three? Some of that was improved Laker defense, but most of it was simply shots not going in. That being said, if Houston had made about average percent of their shots, this still would’ve been a 20 pt win. Now for some likes and dislikes:

Likes?1.) Kobe Bryant, 10-19 from the field. When Kobe starts driving, like he did tonight, we’re almost unstoppable. He forced up maybe 2-3 bad shots, but mostly we stuck to the game-plan, ran the offense through Gasol, then switched to the Kobe-Gasol PNR so Houston couldn’t get too comfortable. Like Doug Collins said, when he scores 1.4-1.8 points per shot attempt, we’re unbeatable.

2.) Houston Rockets with 17 turnovers. Admittedly, some of this was Houston simply passing the ball to the Lakers. However, as we’ve all seen, when the Lakers get turnovers, both our offense and defense really get going. Everyone gets hyped up from seeing Trevor or Sasha dunk, which gives us more effort on the defensive end, which forces more bad shots and opportunities to push the pace. Turnovers really fuel our team, so the more we get, the better we play.

3.) Ron Artest, dribbling. I started becoming almost school-girly giddy whenever Ron Artest started dribbling the ball outside the 3-point line or in the corner. Of course some of this was Ron Artest being Ron Artest, forcing up shots, but the Lakers did a great job trapping him and forcing him to pass, something he’s really, really bad at, evidenced by his 1:4 assist to turnover ratio last night. I seriously think that with each dribble, Ron Artest lowers his team’s chances of scoring by like 5%.\

4.) Derek Fisher, 18 minutes, Jordan Farmar, 22 minutes, Shannon Brown, 17 minutes. I really liked this distribution of PG minutes. Yes, Fisher got beat a couple times by Brooks, but I don’t think we should under-estimate the couple times that Fisher posted Brooks up. Like was said, Fisher posting up Brooks is like delivering body blows to a boxer; it takes his air. I doubt Brooks was used to taking a beating like he did in the post against Fisher, so I have a strong feeling that it affected his game, 4-11, 0-3 from three as evidence. Farmar and Brown also came in and played great, almost mistake-free basketball. Can’t really ask for more from our PG’s.

Dislikes?1.) Officials: Ken Mauer, Bennett Salvatore, Derrick Stafford. I don’t think we could’ve gotten a more home-team favorable officiating crew than the one we got tonight. The Hayes fouls were all fairly ticky-tack, while a lot of Laker contact went uncalled, especially Andrew Bynum man-handling dudes underneath the basket. Not saying that the Lakers didn’t earn the foul calls on the Rockets, it’s just that the favorable officiating helped.

2.) Derek Fisher, 1-6, Sasha Vujacic, 1-5. ?Our top two shooters, going 2-11 from the floor, including 0-3 from three is a bad sign. Sasha’s big brick in the 3rd quarter had him really upset, as you could see Kobe “consoling” him on the bench. That being said, we need these two to step up and start making shots. I don’t feel confident with the game on the line having to kick out to Odom, Ariza, Walton, Brown, or Farmar for the win/game-tying basket. We can only hope they can back on track soon.

3.) Von Wafer, dribbling. For those of us who actually watched the last 6 minutes of the 4th quarter, it was disturbing how easily Wafer was getting in to the lane. He was lightning quick out on the perimeter, repeatedly beating our guards off the dribble and getting easy scores. Some of this was lax Laker defense, but I for one would love to see Wafer taking contested outside shots over driving on Sasha any day. Sasha has done a great job on Wafer all series long, so I’m a little disturbed by Wafer getting to the basket at will in the 4th.
Overall, it was a great win for the Lake Show. Good to see them close out a game strong, finally. Let’s hope this win doesn’t go to their heads and they come out strong in Houston.