Archives For May 2009

Lakers/Rockets Game 2 Chat

Kurt —  May 6, 2009

Kobe Relax
The T-shirt idea posted over at the LA Times Lakers Blog (and shown above) really sums up my thoughts. There are a lot of people saying the Lakers lost home-court advantage, but that’s not how I see it — of the six games left, they are split evenly. What having the HCA gives you is breathing room if you have a bad game. The Lakers had theirs, but this is far, far from over.

As for what the Lakers need to do, it is get back to their offense, which I think Houston assistant coach Elston Turner described very well in a TrueHoop story (from Kevin) that I thought was the best on the first game:

“Spontaneous creativity — that’s what makes them so tough,” Turner said of the Lakers, as he marked up the board. “They’re so flexible offensively. That kind of flexibility is unique, and you need defensive flexibility to stay with them.”

One of the most insightful commenters here had a great rundown of things that need to change after game one, and so I’m just going to let him have the floor:

First of all a strategy that depends on Yao wearing down is not going to work. I don’t know what kind of ginseng he’s been taking but the Yao of yesterday does not drain that 20 footer at the end of the game and 40 minutes of court time.

Some of the Lakers problems were temporary. Lack of shooting touch, slow on rotations, etc… these will naturally be improved. But some problems are structural. These problems need a change in strategy.

1. Aaron Brooks. The problem he posed was different to the problems D-Will and even to some extent, Chris Paul poses. He broke Fisher down without needing a screenroll. The Lakers have gotten better at defending the screenroll with Pau or Lamar showing hard and recovering to his man. But Brooks just blew by Fisher, never giving the help defense the chance to affect him. Brooks is similar to Parker, a shoot-first point guard who can get into the lane and finish. The Lakers should consider putting Ariza on Brooks who can leave space to prevent penetration and still bother his shot. This would leave Kobe on Artest (Ariza did not slow Artest at all) and create a matchup problem with Fish on Battier but I’d rather have Battier taking up Yao’s low post possessions instead of taking the corner 3. I’m not convinced that Farmar can stay in front of Brooks as he’s not demonstrated this ability against any other point guard in the league whereas Fish is strong enough to hold his position against Battier.

2. On offense the Lakers simply have to do better executing 2 simple plays. High screenroll with Kobe and Pau and mid-post with Kobe. The Rockets are doing a good job defending the screenroll by having Battier cheat off Kobe toward the right side of the court. Ideally Kobe would have the ball on the strongside (left side of the court) and Pau would flash up to screen his man, resulting in either in a Kobe dribble drive down the right side of the court (the new strong side) or being double -teamed which can create the highly effective hockey pass to Odom on the high post and Pau diving to the hole. But the Rockets anticipate this screenroll and when Pau flashes up to set the pick, Battier is in front of Kobe and already shading to the weakside. Thus when Pau sets the screen, the pick is a backside pick and the only avenue left for Kobe is to double back toward the strongside (left side) where the defenders funnel him toward the baseline. This defense is exactly out of the Michael Lewis article. To combat Battier’s stance, the Lakers have to change the initiator of the triangle sequence. You know the sequence that Fisher runs where he dumps the ball off to the high post, cuts down and then doubles back to receive the hand-off (yes picture it, Fisher usually takes a 20 foot jump shot off of this sequence). Instead of Fish, this has to be Kobe. If Kobe initiates this sequence on the left side of the floor, he can receive the hand-off from Pau who also picks off a trailing Battier. The screenroll now is dangerous, with either Kobe one-on-one with a showing Yao or being doubled by a trailing Battier. The Rockets now are rotating furiously to cope and shooters are open everywhere on the floor. I’m disappointed that the coaches do not have a solution for this defense because this is what the Rockets have run each and every game since last year.
Also, Kobe must simply work harder to establish the mid-post position on the right side of the court. You know the plethora of moves he has from this position. We saw this once last night with Kobe getting a good shot in the lane.

On a macro note, some times it is not your night. The 50/50 plays went the Rocket’s way. Someone posted about the team rebounds being an indicator. There were many sequences where the Rockets made shots with the clock winding down. And still the Lakers had chances. I expect the Lakers to win the next game as Kobe should come out very aggressive continue his forays into the lane that he started late in the 4th quarter. But the win would be easier if Phil addresses the structural problems and not just count on more effort. I don’t know whether Phil’s adjustments will have any similarity to the ones being suggested by FBG readers but it will be interesting to see what they are going to be.

Nomuskles suggested in the comments the Lakers may need to give Brooks the Steve Nash treatment — don’t let him facilitate, make him score. He will, but it’s less dangerous. Maybe that’s an option.

But what I really want to see tonight is some made shots.

Game One Thoughts

Kurt —  May 5, 2009

Aaron Brooks of the Houston Rockets
Prior to the start of the playoffs, we said that the second round would be the toughest round for the Lakers, that Houston (and Portland) were the biggest matchup and deepest teams LA would face. Denver may have something to say about that logic now (they are playing interior defense for the first time in recent memory) but the Rockets gave us a reminder they are a good team.

This loss was all about the Lakers offense — or lack thereof — and the Rockets defense.

The Rockets defense is good and one result of that is players to do things a little more hurried — you know the rotation is coming, so you rush the shot just a little. Then miss. Even when open. Combine that with a little rust from a week off and you get 2 for 18 from three and Gasol missing the 15-footer that is usually automatic for him. Then when other players starts missing, Kobe starts taking on more shots (as he is hot) and suddenly the 2006 Lakers are on the floor.

But, as Darius explains, the Rockets took the Lakers out of how they wanted to execute on offense:

For all the talk that Gasol is our biggest advantage we seemed to feel that he’s best served shooting mid-range jumpers rather than going into the post against Scola. Phil was dead on when he commented that “I don’t like the way we’re using Gasol”. I know he didn’t have his touch tonight and if he makes some of those FT line jumpers we have a different game, but when those shots weren’t falling we did not adjust. I mean, what’s the point of starting two seven footers if we don’t go into the post where we have a size advantage at PF? Both Bynum and Pau settled for jumper after jumper and while Andrew made some, Pau did not. Our entire plan must change if we are to win games and ultimately the series. Ultimately, some of those post Iso’s that Bynum got against Yao early in the game need to go to Pau on Scola. Simple and plain.

Reed was right from the comments before the series — we have a point guard problem in this series. Here is what he wrote in an email before the series:

I don’t like the PG matchup for us. Brooks will run circles around Fisher; ditto Lowry. I think Houston sizably wins that matchup. I love what we got from Brown last series but am not ready to expect that kind of consistent production. And I’ve totally given up on Farmar. The thought of him defending either Brooks or Lowry terrifies me (and it’s not as if they are Deron and Chris Paul).

Brooks ran circles around Fisher and there were terrible interior rotations behind him, and the result was layups. And a problem in that Brooks is now the guy who can create his own shot when the clock is running down (something Lakers fans thought the Rockets would struggle with).

The answer, amazingly, may be more Jordan Farmar. Despite his slump of the last month or so, he showed some quickness on defense and a little hunger in his few minutes. Brooks did not drive on him (although he may have been tired from running by Fisher all night). And he hit the three. Just as ShanWOW had before, Farmar earned a little more run with his performance in game one.

The Lakers did not get to the line a lot, but remember that is the goal of the Rockets defense — contest but don’t foul. And the Lakers — Kobe in particular — were willing to take those jumpers rather than attack for much of the game. (To be fair, Kobe was draining them for a while.) But the Lakers need to attack (which goes back to Darius’ point earlier).

Also, 93 possessions in that game. Too slow. Too grinding. Pick it up.

Another quick note — I’m happy that was not a serious knee injury with Yao.

Finally. I’ll let Darius talk about our X-Factor:

I was pretty disappointed with LO tonight (and being one of his bigger advocates, that’s saying something, I think). He was awful at the FT line and didn’t have any rhythm on his jumper (surprise, surprise to few, but he was making that shot against the Jazz). He was scrappy on the offensive glass with four on that end, but when he only gets 5(!) total (so only one defensive rebound!! in 32 minutes!!!), he’s not working hard enough. Plus, if he’s not rebounding on our defensive glass, he can’t push the pace or start the break from the glass which is a major advantage he can give us. So, I was upset with my guy. I hope he’ll do better in upcoming games, but Adelman was extremely smart in putting Ron on him and, as we saw when Boston put Posey on LO, Lamar struggles when SF’s who can stay with him on the perimeter and body him when he cuts guard him. He needs to go to the post more in those instances, but we’ll see if he adjusts his game.

Lakers/Rockets Game 1 Chat

Kurt —  May 4, 2009

NBA: NOV 09 Rockets at Lakers
Time to stop talking and start playing.

But, if you can’t get enough talking, I have a few thoughts up over at Dime Magazine (as do the guys from Dream Shake) about why the Lakers will win this series. Consider it the last two posts condensed down to 250 words.

Also, Bill Bridges asked and answered his own question in the comments about why Bynum is back in the starting lineup.

Why is Bynum going to start when the Gasol is so effective against Yao?

If you put yourself into Phil’s mind for a moment. You might think this: I know I can always go to Gasol/Odom at any time – especially crunch time. Gasol defends Yao as well as anyone (poking the incoming post pass is a favorite tactic). But Bynum might create problems for Yao that might make the games easier to win.

As effective as Pau is, he doesn’t get Yao into foul trouble. Bynum’s length, athleticism plus the fact that Yao is not a flopper creates the possibility of Yao working on defense and possibly getting in foul trouble. Unlike Collins and Okur, Yao is not a flopper (credit to him) and is unlikely to draw charges against Bynum.

A Rockets team with Yao in foul trouble is cooked. If Bynum is effective early and has the desired effect, great. If not, PJ knows what Gasol and Odom bring.

The game starts at 7:30 (or later) on TNT. I believe we get Kevin Harlan and Doug Collins. Whoever it is, they won’t screw up the call as bad as Tom Durkin did with the Kentucky Derby.

Sports News - November 10, 2008
For part two of our preview of this series, try to speed-read it.

Because what the Lakers need to do in this series starts with pushing the tempo and getting the Rockets to run. It’s one of the big lessons we can take away from the Portland series.

Let’s be clear — the Rockets are a very good defensive team. Their overall philosophy is a good one — funnel all penetration into the middle of the lane and Yao, then contest the good jumpshooters with good defenders in Ron Artest and Shane Battier. Scola is a solid defender as well.

But be clear about this, too — good offense will still score on good defense in this league. And the Lakers have a very good offense. But the first key is to get some baskets before the Rockets get set. Portland (another great offense) let them get set, did not wear down Yao, and the result was they had trouble scoring. The Lakers need to run and push early offense, drag screens and secondary break points. Go at the Rockets BEFORE they get set. Our resident Rockets fan Stephen gives us another reasons to run:

Our resident Rockets fan Stephen gives us another reasons:

Other than Yao the Rockets are a small team that doesn’t jump very well. You can shoot over them, high passes are an option as are lobs. Long or high rebounds are problematic for the Rockets. They have shown a bad tendency of not getting big rebounds late in close games. The Rockets don’t block a lot of shots, so it’s even more imperative to push the pace against them, as fast breaks can only be stopped by Rockets trying to draw charges or fouling. Usual result is FTs for the offense.

Another way to get Yao out of the paint is going is going with a “smaller” lineup that has Pau Gasol at center and Odom at power forward. Force Yao to come out and defend out of the paint. Reed is a big fan of this matchup for the Lakers:

Houston’s defense is built around Yao protecting the paint and forcing the other team to take perimeter shots. He is so big that when matched up against a non-perimeter threat (Pryzbilla, Oden, Bynum), he can just occupy the lane and effectively take away penetration and effective cuts. He has the length and lower body strength to control a low post player through positional denial and contesting the shot up top. In the pick and roll, he can sag into the lane when the other center can’t pick and pop.

Kobe Bryant had big games against the Rockets this season — in the four games he averaged 28.3 points shooting 58.3% (eFG%), 53% from three and getting to the line six times a game. But as Darius points out, we want to see smart play from Kobe:

Kobe needs to play the same game he played against Utah. He needs to read the defense and give the team what it needs. I don’t mind if he’s aggressive, but I don’t want him to get caught up in attacking in a manner that plays into Houston’s scheme. Houston will want to force him left and want him to take jumpshots (like that article suggested). Kobe can get off regardless, but he’ll need to continue to play smart ball (which I expect he will) and use the offense to get his shots and not settle. Kobe should try to get into the paint and create for himself and also try to get Yao in foul trouble. I also think we need to go P&R and put Yao in positions where he’s in between on helping on the ball handler and recovering to his man. This should not only help Kobe create for himself and create for the screener (who either pops or rolls), but it should also collapse the defense and allow Kobe to hit our shooters on the weakside or in the strong side corner. Houston, like Boston or San Antonio, is a strong help team, so when Kobe has the ball he will draw a lot of attention (especially if he’s putting their D in positions where they don’t want to be). Sounds simplistic, I know, but it’s the truth. BTW, I’m not that concerned with Hero Kobe or Go at Artest/Battier Kobe. This is playoff time and he’s repeatedly shown that he’ll play the smart game that is needed of him in the post season. This is even more true in the past two seasons where his teammates have been more aggressive in their own right. Will he go off? Sure, and probably in multiple games. But I don’t see it being forced.

Kwame a. adds something on why he thinks Battier will get the primary Kobe assignment.

Who guards Kobe: I think that Battier will get the primary assignment on Kobe. He matches up better than Artest does because he is faster than Ron and he does a better job of staying on his feet and contesting Kobe’s jump shot. Last series we saw Kobe get it going when he initiated his offense from the mid-post ala MJ. To get quality shots, Kobe needs to focus on catching the ball either on the block or the pinch-post so he is in an attacking position and can get closer shots or draw defenders to kick out to Fish, Shannon, Sasha, etc.

One other matchup to attack is whomever Scola is guarding. Again, he is a solid player but both Gasol and Odom are too long and quick for him to stop. Again, Darius:

Scola will battle, but he’s over matched. Pau’s got a size, length, and quickness advantage against Scola and is as strong, but not the bruiser that can give Pau problems. So, Pau should be able to dictate this matchup if Houston plays him in single coverage. If they double team Pau, we all know he’s a willing passer and he will hit the open man. Ultimately we need to go to Pau early and often. He is our biggest matchup advantage and can create offense for everyone.

As we did last time, I’ll give the finals words of summation to Kwame a.

On Offense: 1) Initiate through Pau, whether Pau is playing Center or PF. 2) The Lakers must set Kobe screens off the ball and Kobe must move well away from the ball. Everything Kobe does cannot come from Kobe facing the defense, ball in hand. 3) Push the pace, here LO can be the catalyst when he grabs a rebound and ignites the break. Also, because the Rockets are such a good defensive team when they are set, pushing the ball will result in more secondary offensive opportunities which the Lakers cannot be afraid to take. Shots in the first 10-12 seconds of the clock (good shots) are going to be important for the Lakers to take and make. 4) Everytime Yao is out of the game we need to post either Pau, Drew or LO, Chuck Hayes ain’t stopping them!

NBA: APR 03 Rockets at Lakers
We start the breakdown of this series when the Lakers are on defense and the Rockets have the ball.

The Rockets offense is about Yao Ming — it is where their plays start, where they will need to get the majority of their offense. Basically, pretty much every Rockets set involves getting the ball to Yao or Luis Scola, either on the low block or at the pinch post. And in this series, when it will be the much larger Pau Gasol or Lamar Odom on Scola, that is not going to be a great option for the Rockets (he will have to do damage from the weak side if Odom doubles Yao in the block).

So the ball will go to Yao pretty much every time down. And this blog’s long-time resident Rockets fans makes the point that is what they should do:

They are 34-4 this yr when Yao gets 20 or more. Seems pretty simple what the Rockets must do, but the simplest things are often the hardest to do.

When Yao gets the ball deep he is hard to stop because this is a skilled 7’6” guy. Again Stephen:

His best is his “jump” hook that he can shoot w/either hand.(You can tell when Yao is tired, the hook is flat instead of a little arch at beginning of shot.) He will try dribbling into lane and backing towards basket to get better position for his hook but he has a very high dribble that is very susceptible to being picked. His back-to-basket move is often a fade-away jumper that looks like it’s being shot in slo-motion. If he feels his defender is overplaying his into lane side, he will make a surprisingly quick spin move and try to bank it in from in close.

The Lakers cannot just do one thing all series long against Yao — he is too good and too smart for that. One thing the Lakers need to do is make him work for post position — but unlike Oden doing it without fouling. Portland had some success fronting him in the post (something Houston counters very poorly for some reason) while earlier in the year the Lakers had success sending a slow double to the block (not when he first gets the ball but when he starts to make a move). The Lakers may even go with a little one-on-one — although let’s be clear, while we should expect more out of Bynum, expecting him to stop the best center on the planet one-on-one is asking too much of him. (And before you say Dwight Howard is the best center on the planet, look at his head-to-head with Yao.)

The goal is to both Make Yao hesitate and make him think and pass out — he is a smart player and in recent months he has become much better to passing out of the double, out of trouble. But that is still the preferred option. Let’s go to Reed to lay it out.

It seems the best way to shut down their offense is to force them deep into the shot clock and make Artest and others try to create from the perimeter. If Yao is fronted then they spend 20 seconds trying to get him the ball from one side to the other, then the ball finds Brooks or Artest and they have to make a play. But, fronting (especially while sandwiching) Yao leaves Scola and their 3 point shooters open. Those players are not great creators for themselves (Artest is okay, but low efficiency), so I’d change things up so that they can’t just get all those easy open looks. I also think Yao is turnover prone in the face of pressure, so varying the looks could prove beneficial in confusing and frustrating him.

Reed is of the opinion that the Lakers should go with a lot of Gasol on Yao, not giving him a more traditional center to work against. The other thing that can do is wear him down a little — Yao’s conditioning is better but you can still wear him down if you make him run the floor, make him chase outside on offense, make him work to get his shots. Portland did not have the personnel and style to do this, the Lakers do.

The Rockets have good three point shooters all over the floor, and all of them are dangerous if you let them set their feet, but make them move and their numbers go way down (save Artest, who still shoots well if you let him take one step to the left). The Lakers need to close out on Rockets shooters — they did that in the regular season sweep of the Rockets, holding the Rockets to 28.4% three point shooting in the four regular season games.

As Reed said, the Rockets do not create their own shots well, what shots they do get in the paint tend to come off of cuts and motion in the offense. Things the Lakers should be able to stop, if they are paying attention on defense. One thing they will do to create shots on offense is run the pick-and-roll, with Yao setting some very good high picks. Darius breaks that down.

First things first, I don’t respect any of the Houston shooters enough (at least off the dribble) to go over the top on any screen. I’d be comfortable playing our usual hedge/recover D, but I wouldn’t mind if we made Houston make some jumpers first before we did. Brooks, Lowry and Wafer are their primary Guards who play P&R and with their quickness, I think we’d be better off clogging the paint and not letting them get into the middle where they can create for their themselves or for Houston’s shooters (who are much better as spot up guys). Artest is another guy that will play P&R with Yao/Scola, but Ron is a wildcard that will cause interesting matchup issues in any scenario.

Ah yes, Ron Artest. The guy so many Lakers fans wanted instead of Odom. I’ll let Darius talk about him so my anti Ron-Ron bias doesn’t creep in:

Defending Artest will be another big key to this series. We can joke about Ron or play up his penchant to go into hero mode, but he is capable of playing a controlled game and when he does is an extremely dangerous player. He’s a good outside shooter and can bull his way to the basket (and do it without committing charges) against any player we put on him. I’m not sure if we want to put Kobe on him, but I’d lean in that direction as Kobe is a better defender when he plays against better players and guys that he respects. Putting Kobe on Battier may be a recipe for trouble as his gambling could lead to too many open jumpers (especially the wing/corner three that Shane loves). As for Artest, I think we need to play him to his left hand, contest his jumpshot, and show him the help early to make him pass.

The one Rockets player I think will have a big series is former Laker Von Wafer. He shot 58% against the Lakers in the regular season, 50% from three and averaged 16.7 points per game — more than Yao. The bottom line is he is the one Rockets player who can create his own shot off the dribble and finish at the rim (Brooks can create but will struggle to finish at the rim against the longer, taller Lakers). Sasha and ShanWOW need to have a big defensive series on him.

Kwame a. will sum up for us (even if he and I differ on how big Scola will be in this series):

On Defense: 1) Double as little as possible-Houston has limited one-on-one threats, if the Lakers can defend without leaving shooters it will ensure Houston can’t score enough to win. 2) Don’t let Brooks get off early. 3) Make Artest feel disrespected. Giving Ron a little Brewer treatment may send him into nova mode and that would help the Lakers. 4) Respect Scola’s skills- A lot of the focus on Scola is centered on his savvy, but that dude has game. He can hit the face-up mid-range J, he can post up, he can finish with either hand, yet time after time he left open like he his Reggie Evans. The Lakers have to be aware of him, and that’s not even referring to his ability to collect o-boards.

Kentucky Derby Picks

Kurt —  May 2, 2009

Kentucky Derby workouts
As is an annual tradition around here, my wife and I are throwing a big Kentucky Derby party and I have some picks for the race. I am boxing these three as an exacta.

If you are just a basketball fan, root for Join the Dance, owned by Rashard Lewis of the Orlando Magic.

And no, Pioneer of the Nile is not in the mix for me. I don’t think he will make the synthetic to dirt transition well, although the slop could help him some. I really liked I Want Revenge, that scratch was sad to see.

1) Friesan Fire. He would be up there anyway and the conditions make him my favorite.

2) Dunkirk. I think he is going to struggle coming from way off the pace in this one, with a crowded field, but he is simply too talented to leave out of an exotic.

3) Desert Party. Like his stalking running style for this race, and he has ran bullets in training.

I’ve fought off the urge to send taunting emails to all the cocky Blazers fans I know and thought instead it was time to start looking ahead to the Rockets and what we can expect from this series.

What follows are some broad strokes, and starting Sunday morning will come a more detailed breakdown of the series, (We don’t work on this Saturday because it is a holy day in our household — Kentucky Derby day.)

• While the Lakers won the season series 4-0 and did so handily, this matchup is really the first meeting of these teams with the current alignment. There was only one game after the Lowry trade, and the Rockets have become a better team as time as gone on with him. That said, the Lakers won that game without Bynum, Odom or ShanWOW.

• The Lakers need to push the pace. If there is one key to this series, it is for the Lakers not to get sucked into the grind-it-out, half-court game the Rockets want to play — the Lakers need to run. And not just for the handful of easy transition baskets.

Portland was very polite in the last series, waiting for Yao Ming to get down the court and for Houston to set its defense before they got into their sets, The Lakers simply can’t be that nice — get down fast and get deep position inside, create mismatches and guys are forced to pick up the closest man. Get Bynum and Pau so deep inside that not even Yao Ming can block their shots. Have Bynum set drag screens for Kobe. But don’t let Houston set up what it wants to do.

The other thing is you can still wear Yao down — he is in far better condition than he was just a couple years ago, and the crazy number of television timeouts in the playoffs help. But he is just never going to be doing triathlons. The Lakers did get to him this season, and with the every-other-night nature of this round the Lakers may be able to wear him down some. Gasol and Bynum can run the floor well, the Lakers need to push Yao and make him sprint.

• In case you didn’t see the schedule for this round: Game 1 at Lakers: Mon., May 4, 7:30; Game 2 at Lakers: Wed., May 6, 7:30; Game 3 at Rockets: Fri., May 8, 6:30; Game 4 at Rockets: Sun., May 10, 12:30; Game 5* at Lakers: Tues., May 12, TBD; Game 6* at Rockets: Thurs., May 14, TBD; Game 7* at Lakers: Sun., May 17, TBD.

• The Rockets get good guard play off the bench from Kyle Lowry and, when healthy, Von Wafer. Basically, the suddenly get guys on the floor who can run and create their own shots. Guys who attack the rim and get fouls. All that stuff Tracy McGrady was supposed to do but didn’t. This is going to be a challenge for Sasha, ShanWOW and Farmar (I do expect Farmar to get more run this series because of the tempo the Lakers want to go at). They need to slow the penetration and drive it to help.

• The Lakers need to close out on Rockets three point shooters or they will kill you.

• The Lakers cannot be intimidated into becoming a jump-shooting team. Take the ball to the hole.

• This final thing may be a little off topic, but it is too good to ignore. Courtesy Gatinho, a little trip down memory lane with Brad Miller getting under a certain Lakers’ skin.