Archives For November 2009

“Welcome To The Circus”

Kurt —  November 23, 2009

On a night of crazy highlights, Kobe (as is his way) provided the best one.

(Some of you old timers may remember that Larry Bird hit a similar shot during a game, but when you watch the video you see the ref starting to wave it off immediately. Was Kobe’s shot legal? Rondo hit one for the Celtics last year and this was the rule interpretation the NBA office gave at the time: Picture the backboard as a tunnel that extends from the back of the backboard to infinity. If the ball passes through that tunnel, it is illegal. The goal is to allow midrange shots from the baseline that may travel over the corner of the backboard to count, but ones from behind not to. Not sure they should have counted Kobe’s.)

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Records: Lakers 9-3 Thunder 7-6
Offensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 105.9 (16th in league), Thunder 104.5 (21st in league)
Defensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 101.8 (9th in league) Thunder 101.1 (6th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Thunder: Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Jeff Green, Kevin Durant, Nenad Krstic

The Lakers Coming in: Andrew Bynum is officially a game time decision, but I’m guessing he goes. If not, Gasol slides over to center and Odom is back to starting for a night.

With the return of the “regular” starting lineup against Chicago, the Lakers played their best all around game of the season Thursday. One night is a start, the Lakers need to start playing like that night in and night out, build continuity through the season.

Also, as has been said before, Sasha has been the guy squeezed out of the guard rotation for now. But over the long NBA season, he is going to get chances again, injuries or back-to-backs will mean minutes. If he uses those chances well, he gets a few more minutes. It’s pretty simple — minutes in the NBA should be a meritocracy. They’re not, but the closer you can get to that the better. Sasha has earned being pushed out of the rotation, if he wants to be back in he has to play better. Sounds simple, but…

The Thunder Coming in: OKC has won four of its last six, is 7-6 on the season and if the playoffs started today they would be in. Things seem to be on, or a little ahead, of schedule for a young and building team. And defense is the key to that.

Watch the Thunder defense tonight, they have tried to play a “shell” defense as they call it and the result has been they contest three point shooters well — opposing teams are shooting 28.2% from three against them, best in the league (the Lakers were they exception, shooting 5 of 11 last meeting. The Lakers post game may throw their “protect the rim and contest threes” system off.) The goal is to protect the rim and contest from deep.

The core of the shell defense is to take away easy buckets in transition by getting back. Again a good system — every team wants those easy points — but if the goal with the Lakers is to force them into the halfcourt, the Lakers will take that. They have a very good half court offense, particularly with Gasol back.

Because they are long and athletic, the Thunder switch and help on defense better than most teams, and so far that has worked to their advantage. They create turnovers and don’t give up offensive boards. That has worked well for them on defense so far.

Blogs and Links: Check out Daily Thunder.

Also, if you haven’t seen Sonicsgate you should.

Also, great story in the NY Times about the use of the pick and roll in the NBA and how much it is growing. The Lakers generated 11% of their offense with it last year, the lowest percentage in the NBA. I agree with Brian Kamenetzky, I’m glad the Lakers don’t rely on it.

Keys to game: The Lakers starters not named Kobe shot very well last meeting with the Thunder — Artest had 20 points on 6 of 8 shooting, he led the efficiency parade. With Gasol back tonight I expect another night of the Lakers getting he shots they want, they just need to drain them with a long arm reaching out (the Thunder use their athleticism to get steals and spark that defense).

But that first game still went to overtime, largely because of Laker turnovers. LA turned the ball over on 25% of their possessions in that game (25 turnovers on the night). But Los Angeles forced 14 second half turnovers from the Thunder. If one team can take care of the ball it will have a huge advantage. The Lakers should trap Westbrook, that was effective last game.

Ron Artest did a good job on Kevin Durant late, he was 0-5 in the fourth quarter and overtime (to be fair, the Thunder did a poor job of getting him the ball at points when he was open that quarter as well). Artest got in his head late. Durant finishes at the rim well (74%) and is a good midrange guy (about 40%), but if you can make him work to get the ball and shoot from the outside he is less effective. Expect to see a lot of the Artest/Durant matchup. Otherwise on defense the Lakers need to play their roles, they got burned on some bad gambles last meeting (I’m looking at you, Kobe).

Speaking of Kobe, he seemed to take Thabo Sefolosha’s defense as one of those personal, mano-a-mano things last time and while he had 31 and key OT hoops, he tried to take over the game when other players were having efficient nights. He needs to get his in the flow of the offense, get the shots in the paint off the rub action not just isolated in the post (obviously last game was pre-Pau so hopefully we see the offense more tonight). Ball movement like the Lakers had Thursday will be key.

James Harden has been playing great of late, he needs particular defensive focus off the bench,

Where you can watch: This game tips off at 6:30 pm Pacific, on Fox Sports, and on the radio at 710 ESPN.

Welcome Back Fluidity. We Missed You.

Kurt —  November 20, 2009

Los Angeles Lakers play Chicago Bulls in Los Angeles
I think fluid was the word of the night. For the first time this season the offense started to look fluid again (and the defense looked improved as well, in part just because of the size and length). Here are a few other thoughts.

• I asked Kobe about being out on the perimeter more and posting less with Gasol back, but he doesn’t see it that way. His answer (lost to the whims of my digital recorder, so this is a paraphrase) is that in the half court he has preferred to get his inside position on the rub action and some curls, that he really only went straight to the post early in the clock before the defense could set. He said even with Gasol in the post he can still get the actions and shots he wants through the offense and that this is not a dramatic change, adding he did that against the Bulls. In fact, it’s easier because you have to respect Gasol’s shot and he can pass so well, he said.

Kobe was 7 of 21 on the night overall. He was 3 of 12 from the short midrange and post areas (based on the shot chart). He got a lot of shots in the paint, at the elbows, that usually fall for him but just didn’t last night (he said afterward he just shot like, um, manure). I don’t think we should be worried about those falling in the future.

• Darius added this on the offense in the comments:

…the other name for the Triangle offense is the “Triple Post” offense. I’m speculating here, but aren’t we in fact seeing a Triple Post with Kobe, Pau, and Drew? I mean, last night we had Kobe on the weakside block, Pau at the high post (FT line area), and Drew on the opposite low block. Yes, at times the spacing could have been better, but this is a deadly offensive alignment. From this position (especially when Kobe has the ball), the team can either 1). Have Kobe shoot a turnaround jumper or create for himself with a spin move to the baseline 2). Kobe sees the help off Pau and he hits him for a FT line jumper or on a cut down the middle of the lane 3). Kobe can hit Bynum on a lob or Bynum can sneak under his man for a pass that puts him right under the basket. And last night, we saw all of these options play themselves out (Kobe did end the night with 9 assists). I mean, this is essentially the same alignment that we killed Denver with in the playoffs after Game 4. Kobe went to the block (or mid post) on the weakside and then he picked them apart by passing to Pau on the weakside block (where Drew is now) or passing to LO who was either flashing to the FT line or executing a dive cut from that area. As I mentioned before, the spacing could be a bit better, but we have the horses to play this way (no other team can, so it’s not like we see this alignment a lot from other teams) and it creates match up nightmares for our opponents.

• Drew was moving pretty well after the game, just a slight limp on a “jammed ankle” as they are calling it. I’d be surprised if he missed time (if this were a back-to-back, I’d feel differently).

• A good way to ease Gasol back is to have his matchup the first night against a 6’9” rookie (Taj Gibson).

• Of course, part of the beauty of Gasol is he gets a favorable matchup most nights.

• My favorite Kobe quote of the night, when asked about how Pau blended right back in and if that was a surprise, “He’s been playing basketball for four straight years, this was 17 days off.”

• I want to see, and I think we will see, a lot more games like this from Artest this season. First, he locked down Deng, who could make clean cuts and couldn’t get the ball where he liked. Then on offense he just filled a role. Drain the three, got some boards, got out in transition, just did a lot of little things. He will have some big offensive nights, but games like this from him make the Lakers so hard to beat.

• Great note from the Kamenetzky brothers at the LA Times: The Lakers have NEVER lost a regular game in which Pau Gasol and Ron Artest played as teammates.

• Sam Bowie has applied to become the first black member of one of Lexington’s exclusive golf clubs (via TrueHoop). However, the club members have learned from history and will be admitting Michael Jordan first.

• Derrick Rose is just not right. In the first quarter he would come around the high pick and rather than go to the basket he just settled for the jumper. He got more aggressive as the game wore on, but he wasn’t the explosive guy that finished against Boston last playoffs. Then with Ben Gordon gone, there was nobody else who could really just start creating and hitting shots to get the offense going. That team needs Rose to be the creator right now.

That said, I kept looking at the Bulls and seeing them as a team treading water this season but with a plan. They have the young franchise PG. They have some quality role guys (and guys who can be a little more than that like Deng). If they could land Bosh or another of the big free agents this coming summer (and they have the cap room) that becomes one very dangerous team. They are playing good defense and the effort is there. They have a very good foundation, they just need one more big piece.

He’s Baaaaaack!

Zephid —  November 20, 2009

Los Angeles Lakers play Chicago Bulls in Los Angeles

The return of Pau Gasol, to me, was like going to see a really hyped-up movie, and then the movie actually being really good.  I sat down with my soda, popcorn, and watermelon Sour Patch Kids, totally prepared to be disappointed.  Little did I know that Pau would capture my attention early with a superb first quarter, scoring 10 of the first 13 Laker points, then carry us through the game to the tune of 24 silky smooth points and 13 rebounds.  A few preliminary Gasol points:

  • As expected, Pau improved our defensive rebounding, limiting Chicago to 10 offensive rebounds on 46 missed shots.  While not spectacular, there was definitely a noticeable improvement during the game, especially against one of the better offensive rebounding players this season (Noah).
  • Curiously, Andrew Bynum seemed to become an even blacker-hole than he already is (0 assists, tons of forced shots).  When he catches the ball, it seems as if the only thing Bynum is looking at is the rim; there were numerous times when Odom or Gasol were open near the basket or a kickout was available to Bynum, but he just didn’t see them.
  • I didn’t really like Kobe’s play when he wasn’t in the low-post.  He had only 5 shots within 10 feet of the basket, going back to the mid-range jump shots that we all love and hate.  Worse was that the offense just stopped moving whenever Bryant caught the ball on the wing or in the pinch post.  He would turn and face his man, take a couple of jab steps, then usually launch a semi-contested jump shot.  No ball-movement, no player movement, just Live by the Kobe, Die by the Kobe.
  • Lakers shot just 6-19 from three last night, led in their futility by Kobe (0-2), Shannon (0-2), Sasha (0-3), and Jordan (0-2).  It’s kinda sad when your frontcourt (Artest 2-4, Odom 2-4)  doubles the amount of made threes by your backcourt (Fisher 2-2).  If Gasol is going to draw double teams and kick out for threes, the Lakers have to start making them.

No question that Gasol makes the Lakers a much, much better team.  While Gasol’s return hides some of the Lakers numerous mistakes, he also tends to magnify some of their outstanding flaws:  Bynum needs to work on his vision and passing out of the post, Kobe needs to move better off the ball and stop holding the ball on the wing, and the Lakers as a whole really need to work on their three-point shooting.  Maybe Kobe needs to recover the shooting regimen he gave to Ariza and take his own advice.

Preview & Chat: The Chicago Bulls

Kurt —  November 19, 2009

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Chicago Bulls
Records: Lakers 8-3 Bulls 6-4
Offensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 105.4 (16th in league), Bulls 98.0 (27th in league)
Defensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 102.3 (10th in league) Bulls 99.5 (4th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Bulls: Derrick Rose, John Salmons, Loul Deng, Taj Gibson, Joakim Noah

Getting This Off My Chest (using my hands): As a guy with the jersey from Ireland’s last World Cup trip still hanging in my closet, I am angry today.

The Lakers Coming in: Pau Gasol, fresh off his Emmy worthy performance as “good Samaritan driving by accident” on CSI:Sunglasses, returns to the Lakers lineup tonight. I expect there is going to be a few games of a learning curve with him and the other players, but I do hope to see better movement and spacing in the half court, something virtually non-existent at points this season.

Kobe’s 16th point tonight will put him past Kareem into second all time on the Lakers scoring list. The Logo remains number one, until the first part of next year, when Kobe should pass him, too.

I went back and looked at the playing time the last six games for our three guards off the bench, trying to read the tea leaves as to what Phil may be thinking as he settles on a rotation. I came away with only one conclusion: Sasha seems to be the guy getting squeezed out. Brown and Farmar’s minutes were more random — based on matchups, mostly — but Sasha’s minutes continually seem to drop. At least the ones not mop up time late. We’ll see if that continues, we’ll see if Brown continues to get more time spelling Kobe at the two and not just as the PG, but that seems to be the trend.

The Bulls Coming in: The Bulls 6-4 start is the best start the franchise has had since MJ was still a Bull. Still, there is a sense that this Bulls team can be better, and a slow start by their franchise guy Derrick Rose is the primary reason.

Rose rolled his ankle in the preseason but has played through the pain, looking like about 70% of himself. He is shooting about as often, but is getting about three less shots at the rim a game and is hitting 3% less (both in eFG% and True Shooting Percentage). His assists are down and his turnovers are up. If you watch him, he just looks a step slower (and that negates his strength, somewhat). The same debate Lakers fans have had regarding Kobe and Gasol has been taking place in Chicago — is Rose better shutting it down for a little while and getting healthy or does he need to play because he is the franchise guy? Also, like LA, the coach thinks the injury is as much in his head as physical at this point.

But a slowed Rose alone cannot account for how poor the Bulls offense has been overall, and it has been poor. They really miss a guy who can just carry the team with his scoring for a stretch, someone like a Ben Gordon, for example. The Bulls have gotten terrible play out of the two spot, although Salmons has long been a Lakers killer.

The one bright spot for the Bulls has been Noah — who spent the summer working out at Venice Beach and has come back stronger and more explosive. He has been s a monster on the boards — he is grabbing 20.1% of the missed shots when he is on the floor. That is basically the same rate this season as Dwight Howard and Greg Oden. He is a double-double machine. The key, to borrow a line from David Thorpe: Energy is a talent.

Blogs and Links: There is Matt’s Bulls By The Horns, and of course there is the legendary Blog-a-Bull, one of the OG NBA blogs and still going strong.

I’ll be at the game tonight, putting up comments here, tweeting and pitching in at the ESPN Daily Dime live chat.

Keys to game: Seriously, the Lakers can’t lose to these guys.

The Bulls have had trouble scoring unless they get some easy transition baskets — that also is the thing that helped bring Detroit back the other night, the thing that had Denver running away from the Lakers in the second half recently. The Lakers need to limit turnovers and not take long-jumpers early in the shot clock that lead to those runouts. Be smart with the offense. For a full 48 minutes. That means you, bench players.

The Bulls offense starts with penetration, usually from Rose although they will get the ball to Deng in that role as well, and then have those guys kick out. Which means the Lakers must stick with some basic defensive principals — bigs show out on the pick and roll to slow the penetration (the Lakers are good trapping team off this as well), smart and quick rotations inside, and the perimeter defenders cannot just leave the shooters out at the three point line to sag inside.

The Lakers have not been good at owning the defensive glass this season — they need to against Noah and the Bulls, a good rebounding team, or it will come back to haunt them with easy second chance points. And with the way the Bulls have been shooting, there should be a lot of rebounds to go after tonight.

The energy and quickness (and dare I say length, in an homage to Joel Meyers) the Bulls have makes them a good defensive squad. One thing the Bulls do that reminds me of the best Spurs teams is they just do not foul much. They contest shots but they do not send you to the line. The Lakers need to attack the basket and try to get fouls on the Bulls, but need to realize they may not get all the calls they want. Even at home.

Where you can watch: This game is on TNT and tips off at 7:30, in theory (we know the early game on TNT is required to run long, so it could be 7:45). For the radio play-by-play check out ESPN 710.