Archives For November 2009

What To Expect With Gasol Back

Kurt —  November 18, 2009

Los Angeles Lakers vs Denver Nuggets Game 1 NBA Western Conference finals in Los Angeles
That Handel’s Messiah’s chorus you hear is Lakers fans rejoicing at the return of Pau Gasol, which will happen Thursday night against the Bulls.

It’s easy to say the Lakers will be better with their second best player back — but it’s how they will be better that could fix a lot of the Lakers issues so far this season.

There’s been a lot of focus about Kobe’s newfound post game this year, and how with it he has been a more efficient scorer. First off, that’s not really true —when you count getting to the line and three point shooting, as the true shooting percentage stat does (think of it as points per shot attempt), his numbers are basically the same as last year 55.9% to 56.1%. He is scoring more just because he is shooting more — four more shots and 1.5 more free throws per game. He is taking on more of the offense.

But with the Lakers relying on Kobe in the post, the offense has gotten stagnant. Reed emphasizes that point:

But I feel that we have been looking too hard to get him the ball, recognizing his advantage down there. This has resulted in less effective movement off the ball and cutting, and more standing around and watching Kobe isolate (although isolate in a more effective spot). Having him down there also creates an imbalance, as we lack the same perimeter/slashing/penetrating force that he created. Instead, it’s all post ups and kickouts. That’s not necessarily bad, but I think we could have more balance and flow if Kobe spent more of the game outside when Gasol returns.

Last night against Detroit, it was once again the Kobe show — a show we have seen and needed a lot this early season. But for the Lakers to really get going, they need to return to a balanced offense. With Gasol (and how well he passes) players work hard off the ball, something we have seen little of this season. It’s different than how Kobe has been getting his shots

With Gasol back Kobe will get his shots in a different way, but as Darius explains he can still get to the spots he likes on the floor.

He’ll set up more at the top of the key and the wing. He’ll be forced to take more jumpers and it’s very possible we’ll see an uptick in his 3pt FG attempts. That said, he seems very intent on getting shots closer to the basket so I think Pau’s return will mean that Kobe will likely use the other motions of the offense to still get the shots that he likes at the elbow, mid post, and at the free throw line area. I mean he can still utilize the curl from the weakside to get his middle lane jumper. He can still get to the mid post on the weak side off of the rub cut/hand off after the post man flashes to the elbow and the passer circles off him. And with Pau back, these chances will be more easily executed from a spacing and passing perspective because of Pau’s ability to pass out of the post and draw defenders attention when he’s on the floor.

Bynum has also been a force this early season, and the Lakers can’t go away from him. However, the number of touches he gets likely will drop, and the question becomes how he deals with that. For Bynum, and Kobe, it’s all mental, a point Zephid makes.

We know that both of these are simply mental adjustments by Bynum and Kobe; it’s not as if they’re not physically capable of adjusting to off-ball roles. It’s whether they’re willing to accept the reality that Gasol is simply a better focal point of our offense that will affect whether our offense goes stagnant or not.

Bynum should still be on the block plenty, which means more of Gasol away from the basket, something we saw parts of last year before Bynum was injured. Darius recalls what we saw last year.

We may actually see the expansion to Pau’s game that we anticipated and got glimpses of last season. Remember, when last season started, Pau had just come off the Olympics and he was really flashing his mid range jumpshot. He was making that shot from the baseline and the elbow extended all the way out to 18 feet. Then, Bynum went down and Pau went back to playing Center and playing off of Odom. This lead to Pau spending more time on the block and by the end of the season he did not seem to have the same touch (or confidence) on that shot.

Simply put, the Lakers are 17th in the Association right now in offensive efficiency, a sign not of their talent but the execution of the offense to get the shots they want. The return of Pau should start to return some spacing and movement to the offense that has been lacking. And when that happens, better shots will follow. And when that happens, suddenly we may start to see the Lakers we remember from last season.

nba basketballrockets@lakers

Kwame A. sent in this breakdown from the Piston’s game.

A couple things from last-night’s game against the Pistons:

Worked For Us: Odom/Bynum two-man game. This has been developing nicely over the course of this short season. When the Laker guards bring the ball up the court the first pass triggers a cut to the corner. This sets up Lamar and Bynum on the weak-side for some two-man action. Against the Pistons, this action led to an easy bucket for Drew in the 1st quarter. Odom received the ball, Bynum set the screen, both Piston defenders swarmed towards LO and as LO went up to shoot Bynum rolled to the hoop and got a chippie.

Worked For Them: Aimless Driving.
Its bad when the triangle breaks down. It leads to imbalance on the court, and that could lead to a turnover or worse, a turnover that leads to an easy hoop. We had two such instances that stood out last night. Lamar at the top of the key driving into the heart of the defense with Bynum and Kobe already in the paint, and Kobe getting stuck baseline in the air, with nobody to pass to. The Nuggets did a good job disrupting the Lakers sets, so did the Mavs. No other teams have forced the Lakers out of their offense. The problems occur when the Lakers break their offense. Aimless driving needs to be eliminated.

Worked For Us: Aggressively Trapping the Screen and Roll. Will Bynum, Stuckey and Gordon are all very dangerous off the screen and roll, and nobody needs to remind Laker fans about the Lakers perennial (see since the 90s) problem with this basic basketball play. Two times last night the Lakers aggressively trapped the ball handler coming off the on-ball screen. Once the guard was Jordan, once the guard was Kobe. Both times Bynum was the big. Bynum was having a lot of problems when he gives the guard space, but when he closed down hard and the guard fought through, the aggressive trap disrupted the play or caused a turnover.

Worked For Them: Basic Give and Go.
With KWAME BROWN no less!!! Austin Daye (Tay Prince’s long-lost right-handed younger twin) and Brown ran their own two-man game on the weak-side. Daye entered the ball into Brown, Daye used a rub-read cut and received the ball on the give-and-go for the easy two points. The Laker weak-side defense was absent on the play. Weak-side d not reacting also allowed Gordon to drive to the hoop for a easy dunk.

Worked For Us: All 5 Touch the Rock. The best play of the game probably came out the dual-post action we have been seeing with Kobe and Drew occupying the low blocks. Fish entered to Kobe on the weak-side. Kobe was doubled, so he kicked back out to Fish, who swung it to Ron-Ron. Artest, ever the deferring passer, whipped to LO in the strong-side corner. LO found Drew for the easy bucket. This dual post-action also led to Kobe giving Drew a direct lob for a jam as well.

Worked For Them: Creating the Mismatch. Ron and Kobe were running through (for the most part) a series of staggered picks all night long. One sequence that worked well was when the Pistons had Chuck V. set the second stagger pick for Gordon on the wing. Gordon receives the ball and immediately an on-ball screen from the other Detroit big is set so the Lakers have to switch. All this action sets Gordon up at the top of key with space to attack Ron. (The Lakers adjusted to this later in the game and began to surround the ball-handler when he attacked the hoop.)

Kwame A.

Preview & Chat: The Detroit Pistons

Kurt —  November 17, 2009

Andrew Bynum of the Los Angeles
Records: Lakers 7-3 Pistons 5-5
Offensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 104.5 (18th in league), Pistons 106.8 (14th in league)
Defensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 102.5 (10th in league) Pistons 104.7 (15th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum
Pistons: Rodney Stuckey , Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva, Ben Wallace, Jonas Jerebko

The Lakers Coming in: Let me do my best Hawkeye impersonation with today’s M*A*S*H* update (picture me with a martini glass filled with bathtub gin): Luke Walton is out six week with a pinched nerve in his back. This hurts our depth — to me Walton is a solid NBA player. He is not spectacular, but he does one thing very well (pass, the second unit’s motion is much better with him in there) and he is a decent shooter and can defend bigger bodied players pretty well. From where I sit he is what he is paid — right at the league average. But he fits the Lakers system well and fits well in the locker room. Those aren’t little things. With him out, the second unit needs to work on moving and passing more.

Kobe Bryant practiced yesterday and will play tonight, a surprise to… nobody. This is Kobe. Pau Gasol also practiced yesterday and may return against the Bulls Thursday or maybe Sunday. Although, at this point until I see him on the court I’m not betting on anything.

On a separate note, Kevin Ding had the best article I’ve read so far this season on the Lakers start and issues.

They have not held themselves to a gold standard from within. They are not particularly motivated and they are not actively seeking opportunities to make immediate improvement.

There is Pau Gasol’s injury return at some point, there is Ron Artest’s full indoctrination coming and there is plenty of time. True, true and true. No question that the Lakers can be the NBA’s best team at the end, because the standings now certainly can’t be believed with paper-thin Phoenix lording above all others.

The point is that that the Lakers haven’t been committed to ongoing excellence right now – or even committed to playing offense from the inside out. Whether you call it mental weakness or complacency or human nature, it has already happened.

Along those same lines, the Brothers K get Fisher talking about the Lakers offensive woes and get some good insight.

The Pistons Coming in: Kwame Brown’s back in town. I just dropped a ball in honor of his return.

As banged up as the Lakers are, the Pistons have it worse. Tayshaun Prince is out for a while with a ruptured disc in his back, and Rip Hamilton will miss the game (and many more) with a sprained ankle.

This Piston team is dramatically different looking than last year’s version. There is the addition by subtraction by ditching Allen Iverson. Then they went out and spent $85 million on Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva — both of whom have played well so far. Maybe not $85 million well, but well. Gordon is giving the Pistons a solid 22 points a game with a 57% True Shooting Percentage. Villanueva is giving them 17 points a game at the same shooting percentage, but just four rebounds a contest.

Dumars has taken a lot of heat for what he spent on those two, but to me it looks like he was trying to build a team in the mode of 2004 — a lot of good players that mesh instead of one great one. It just becomes much harder to make that work with Prince and Hamilton out, now you are asking Gordon and Villanueva to carry the load. That is a lot for them.

Rodney Stuckey handles the ball at the point, and he is a player I just enjoy watching. That said, he is not now nor has he ever been a great shooter, which is one reason the fans love Will Bynum off the bench, that and his numbers are just better across the board. Bynum is much more the type of player that gives the Lakers fits, he is very quick and he is their spark plug. And, he is like Shannon Brown in that he comes off the bench but is the best dunker on his team.

One other thing — Ben Wallace is playing like the Ben Wallace that was good in Detroit the first time around. Don’t think he’s just a pushover (like he was last year).

Blogs and Links: For Pistons info, check out Piston Powered, and Need 4 Sheed remains a gold standard for that team.

Also, stats fans, there is an interesting article over at Hoopdata where they modify PER to better account for assisted field goals. This APER likes Kobe better, by the way.

Keys to game: While we do a lot of Xs and Os on this site, I think tonight is really more about focus, passion and execution. The Lakers have pretty much been sleepwalking lately — maybe it’s a title hangover, maybe it’s a lot of things, it doesn’t matter what it is. The Lakers need to find their competitive edge again, Phil Jackson realizes the team needs to find that for itself, and he is letting the players find their way. Hopefully those two losses last week help speed the process. Especially because even with the injuries, the Pistons can win this game if the Lakers slack off.

Detroit plays at the slowest pace in the league, and they have the fewest assisted baskets in the league. Which is to say — welcome to 1990s isolation offense. Tonight will be about man-to-man defense and the bigs making good defensive rotations. Both things lacking against Houston.

Also, the Lakers should be able to run and get some transition buckets tonight.

When the Lakers do go into the post with the ball on offense, watch the Lakers spacing outside. When the double has come there has not been great options for the man passing out of the post, and the person who gets that first pass has often not had someone in position for that extra pass to get an open look. The Lakers need to get back to that.

Detroit will go to a three-guard lineup at times when Bynum comes in, and they count on teams not being able to match that quickness. The Lakers need to make them pay by posting up Kobe on offense some when this happens, but this will be there biggest team defensive test of the night.

This game features two of the worst teams in the NBA so far this season on the defensive glass — both teams are giving up a ton of offensive boards, which is leading to second chance points. If one team can clean that up, if one team puts in the effort to rebound, they will have a big advantage.

Where you can watch: This game tips off at 7:30 pm Pacific, on Fox Sports television and ESPM 710 on radio.

Los Angeles Lakers vs Houston Rockets NBA Game 5 Western Conference semifinals in Los Angeles

So many things went wrong in the Lakers loss to Houston (and Denver, really) that it’s hard to focus on just one. In the two losses the Lakers have gotten killed in transition (Houston scored 51 of its points in transition or the first 7 seconds of the clock). The Lakers rebounding is just sad. The inability to adjust to more active doubles and a fronting defense in the post is troubling.

Then there is one thing we expected to be a problem — stopping quick point guards. Like Aaron Brooks.

What follows is a breakdown of Brook’s breakdown of the Lakers, and while Fisher and the Lakers PGs earn their share of blame, the problems are as much about poor team defense.

11:00 First quarter: We’ll start with a good play by the Lakers. Brooks gets the ball isolated on the left wing against Fisher, and Fish does a good job shading him to go to the baseline, bait Brooks takes. Bynum is there waiting and Brooks stops his penetration then tries a little hesitation/step back shot that Drew rejects (Kobe scores on a PUJIT off it).

7:30 first quarter: Fisher is a little late off a screen to Brooks when he gets the ball on the right wing, and he cuts back to the right past fisher before Fish has dealt with a Scola screen (and before Fish has set his feet, a key to his defense). Scola’s man Ron Artest lays back so once Brooks gets by Fisher he has a lane to get by Artest and attack the rim. Bynum is there, too, but tries to make a play with his arms not his feet and the result is a layup.

5:50 first quarter: The Rockets are running off a Lakers miss and Brook brings the ball up the right side. Fisher is back defending but Brooks just drives right into him on the break and draws the foul. Can’t really blame Fish too much here, Brooks is so quick he would do that to any guard in the league. He hits both free throws.

5:00 first quarter: The Rockets are running again off a missed Artest three, with Ariza getting the board and making a long outlet to Scola. Brooks runs down the opposite side of the ball and spots up for the short corner three. Scola goes to the basket and both Fisher and Odom try to stop him, so he kicks it out to Brooks for a wide open three. Again, this is really a team failure of transition defense, more Rockets were back than Lakers, and they spaced the floor well.

4:43 first quarter: He gets a free throw on Kobe’s technical.

3:16 first quarter: Brooks comes off the high screen of Scola, which picks Fisher off pretty well, but as Brooks looks to drive he sees Bynum, and he remembers what happened when he drove in and tried to shoot over Bynum last time. So, he stays outside and drains the open 20 footer before Fish can recover. Yes, Fish got picked off pretty good, but if you don’t have a big show out on the pick, this is the risk you run.

2:50 first quarter: Fisher makes a terrible entry pass into the post to Kobe that Budinger steals and outlets to Brooks, who leaked out was all alone for a layup.

7:30 second quarter: Budinger misses a corner three, and when the shot goes up Jordan Farmar starts to cheat in looking for a rebound, but the Rockets grab it (so problem #1 for the Lakers on this play was their poor rebounding). Meanwhile now Farmar is standing below the free throw line, while a pass is whipped out to Lowry at the top of the key who makes the extra pass to Brooks who is open from downtown and Farmar is way late. Net.

9:40 third quarter: Brooks out on the high right wing goes away from the Scola screen and blows by Fisher, but Odom is there to try and ride Brooks in to the basket. Brooks gets close to the rim and makes a nifty stop and jump move that catches Odom off guard. Layup.

6:55 third quarter: Scola has the ball at the elbow working against Odom but doesn’t like what he sees, so he steps out to the wing and Brooks, in the corner, comes out and takes the ball on a handoff using Scola as a screen. Fisher actually does a decent job fighting through the pick and is with Brooks to about the free throw line, but Brooks draws contact there and when he hears the whistle throws up a quick, ugly little prayer that falls in. Three point play.

5:33 third quarter: Brooks throws an entry pass to Scola at the elbow then starts to make a lazy little cut off it and it looks like he is going to go under the basket (something Budinger does from the corner). Fisher is focused on Scola and cutting off that pass under the basket, so much so he doesn’t notice Brooks bounce back out to the three point line. Scola passes out, Fisher runs out hard but late and fouls Brooks on a three pointer. Four point play.

4:45 third quarter: Ariza trips driving to the basket on the opposite side from Brooks, and Odom picks up the ball — then throws a bad outlet that is stolen by Hayes who makes a quick pass to Scola about 30 feet out who passes to Brooks about 30 feet out on the left side of the court. Fisher had dropped down to make the steal then really hadn’t moved, watching Hayes save it on the other side of the court, but by the time he realized what was going on with the broken play it was too late. Three pointer Brooks.

4:04 third quarter: One of Fisher’s worst plays of the night. Scola has the ball on the left midpost, Brooks is at the three point line straight away and has been on fire. So Fisher decides to make an indecisive, slow double team on Scola, and as he gets close Scola whips a bounce pass to the wide open Brooks. Another three. You just can’t double off a hot guy like that, let alone an indecisive double like that. Terrible decision.

3:45 fourth quarter: On a reset out high, Brooks drives and is on the right wing when he picks up his dribble. Fisher is a step off him at this point but with the dribble gone takes a step to Brooks as if to trap him. Brooks jumps into Fisher’s chest as he comes toward him, throws up the shot and draws the foul. He hits one free throw.

1:30 fourth quarter: Lowry tries the right side with a probing dribble but finds nothing, then the Rockets do something they did well all night — reverse the ball quickly. Artest has switched on to Brooks off a screen earlier but he is late charging out to Brooks and is not quick enough to stop him anyway, Brooks just blows by him and nobody else is there to help. Lay up.

That last play was all sorts of ugly. It really summed up the Lakers night.

Los Angeles Lakers vs Denver Nuggets Game 1 NBA Western Conference finals in Los Angeles

If you have not seen the news, Kobe Bryant has a strained right groin, something he first got against New Orleans and aggravated in his poor shooting game against Houston.

Groin injuries, like hamstring injuries, can tend to linger. And it brings us to a philosophical question in dealing with these injuries during the season: Is it better to play through them or rest them?

Pau Gasol, who may return to practice with the team this week, has been slow and cautious, wanting things to be 100% and resting until he can get back to that level. Kobe Bryant just played through it, as he would injuries to his shooting hand that many would get surgery for, and the result was an off shooting night. He says he is not missing any games.

Honestly, I don’t know the answer and I’m not sure there is a one-size-fits-all answer. It should vary from player to player, injury to injury. But how it is dealt with impacts the Lakers early this season, and if it lingers it could impact the Lakers for a long time to come.


One note on the ugliness that was the loss to Houston. There were a lot of factors that went into the loss, but terrible outside shooting was at the top of the list. Houston is the second team in a row now to adjust and try to take away the Lakers low-post game with Kobe and Bynum by double teaming and working to deny entry passes. Doing that should lead to open looks from the perimeter, and the Lakers got them but did nothing with them. To borrow a Chickism, Fisher could not throw a pea in the ocean, but that did not stop him from thowing peas. There was a clamoring for others to take his minutes, but the combo of Farmar/Brown/Vujacic was 4 of 13 from the outside. Nobody was stepping up and making shots.

But that was just one of many problems for the Lakers last night.

Preview & Chat: The Houston Rockets

Kurt —  November 15, 2009
Los Angeles Lakers Ron Artest defends against Houston Rockets Trevor Ariza at Toyota Center in Houston

Records: Lakers 7-2 Rockets 5-4
Offensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 106.3, Rockets 108.5
Defensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 102.8 Rockets 106
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum
Rockets: Aaron Brooks, Trevor Ariza, Shane Battier, Luis Scola, Chuck Hayes

The Lakers Coming in: That was not a pretty loss in Denver . They never are, but this was particularly ugly. But I continue to say you can’t really extrapolate anything, good or bad, from one game in November into what will happen in the spring.

The difference between the even first half of that game and the third quarter was simple — seven turnovers. That’s how many the Lakers had in the third quarter, and they led to easy baskets the other way that got Melo and other Nuggets going. From the people at ESPN Stats and Information, for the game Carmelo had 8 layups or dunks (making seven) and Denver as a team had 12 layups in the game. The Lakers as a team had four and Kobe one. That will kill the Lakers against any team, particularly a good one like Denver.

The Rockets Coming in: Trevor Ariza gets his Championship Ring tonight, and the guy deserves a huge ovation from the fans for all he did on that run. We may be better now with Artest, but Ariza is still missed.

The Rockets have gone 2-2 since we saw them last, but the most recent game was their own ugly loss to Sacramento. Our resident Rockets fan Stephen says these struggles may be signs of the Rockets roster (sans Yao) catching up with them:

Rockets are starting to show significant weakness that good coaching can exploit-if the player will execute. The Rockets perimeter D is getting abused, leaving the bigs scrambling to help and hopelessly out of position on rebounds.

The offense is very much hit-or-miss in that if the 3s fall, the Rockets are very good, but if the aren’t, they don’t have a viable option B. Brooks sprained his ankle against Dallas and has been somewhat hesitant since. Budinger will be available for this game and he’s been a typical rookie, can’t miss one game, can’t throw it in the ocean next.

The one guy who is playing well — and had a good game against the Lakers last time around — is Carl Landry. If you compare his year-over-year shooting numbers he’s a little less efficient this year, but that is because he is having to take on more of the offense and create his own shot more (60% of his baskets this year are assisted, down from 67% last year and 73% two years ago). The Lakers also need to keep him off the boards.

Blogs and Links: Check out Rockets Buzz. Also, I’ll be throwing in some comments on the ESPN Daily Dime live chat tonight.

On an off-topic point — maybe the amazing thing that Brandon Jennings has done is not 55 points as a rookie (it was against the defenseless Warriors) but the buzz and interest he has created around Bucks basketball. That is something hard to do.

Keys to game: The Rockets are one of those teams that just tends to match up well with the Lakers, and tend to play them tough. On paper it shouldn’t be this way, the Lakers length and quickness on the wings should be ideal for attacking Houston, but they always struggle. I don’t expect a cakewalk win tonight.

With the Rockets playing weaker perimeter defense, tonight might be a good night to move Kobe out of the post a little and have him attack from the wing. Part of the reason for that is getting some motion back in the offense, something Stephen adds the Lakers need to do to win.

The key to this game for the Lakers is simple-MOVE. Move the ball,but above all move Laker bodies. The more one-on-one play by the Lakers the better for the Rockets. The Lakers need to swing the ball, find cutters, above all move their butts. Even if Kobe goes into low post and works over Shane or Trevor, they can’t just stand there watching, they need to set picks for each other, cut to the basket, curl around the FT line. Do this and they won’t get caught flat-footed watching the Rockets race past on a fast break. And you’ll be surprised at how many offensive rebounds will fall into your lap.

The Rockets are still thin in the front line, so some early touches for Bynum where he goes at Chuck Hayes trying to draw fouls would be a help.

Last meeting between these two was some of the best pick-and-roll defense the Lakers have played, with Bynum stepping out and not letting the speedy Brooks turn the corner, then the Lakers recovery and rotations were tight. They need that again tonight.

And don’t leave Lowry, Ariza, Battier and Budinger alone at the three point line. Don’t. That’s what gets them going.

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

Preview & Chat: The Denver Nuggets

Kurt —  November 13, 2009
Los Angeles Lakers vs Denver Nuggets In Denver

Records: Lakers 7-1 Nuggets 6-3
Offensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 109.2, Nuggets 111.5
Defensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 101.9 Nuggets 108
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum
Nuggets: Chauncey Billups, Arron Afflalo, Carmelo Anthony, Kenyon Martin, Nene

The Lakers Coming in: The Lakers rose to the occasion for a big test — something they did last season consistently and seem to have carried over to this year. Granted, the Suns were on game 7 in 10 days and a back-to-back, they can play better, but the Lakers stuck with their game plan and pounded the Suns weakness inside. This year’s Lakers remain very disciplined at going right after the mismatches. That matters.

Oh, and I feel obligated to say no Gasol tonight. Phil Jackson hopes to have him back by Valentine’s Day now.

The Nuggets Coming in: For Denver, tonight is the little bit of revenge they can get for the playoffs last year, the whole closing you out on your home court thing. They see this as the win that can give them some confidence about games down the line that matter (as much as you can take away anything from November). The fans will be out of control. Reports out of Denver’s shooter around is the players have a chip on their shoulder for this game.

What the Nuggets are doing right this season is playing great offense. Melo has been the man here, playing at the MVP level people have expected of him. He is averaging 30 points a game, shooting an impressive 55.2% true shooting percentage. What is most impressive is he is creating a lot more of his own shots — last year 48% of his shots came on off an assist, this year that is down to 38%.

Denver likes to get Melo and his teammates open looks in transition — they have played at the fifth fastest pace in the league so far this season. But unlike the Suns, Denver does it with size and some people who want to bang you around in the paint — Nene, the Birdman and K-Mart. Denver is a physical team that can run, and that leads to a lot of points.

Denver, however, has not been a good defensive team this season (they were eighth in the NBA in defensive efficiency last year, they are 19th right now). Jeremy from Roundball Mining Company minced no words after a loss to the Nuggets a couple nights back.

Defensively Denver is not playing with any cohesion. On many possessions one player makes a mistake or gets beat and the help is not there. Honestly, the Nuggets are floundering in nearly every facet of defense. They are not consistently working together on pick and rolls, they are missing rotations, and generally playing lazy.

Denver’s biggest defensive flaw: Rebounding. They are allowing opponents to grab 29.3% of missed shots (27th in the league).

Blogs and Links: Roundball Mining Company rocks, it’s that simple.

Keys to game: I’ll say it again — the back-to-back having to fly to Denver is brutal. Remember last year, Greg Popovich sat Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Michael Finley in Denver as his mini-protest. Not saying the Lakers can’t win, just don’t underestimate the challenge.

Of course, what we all want to see tonight is Ron Artest defending the hot Melo. This is one of the reasons we were all excited to see Artest here — to slow down the big threes in the league. Last playoffs the Lakers had to move Kobe over on Melo because Ariza was not strong enough to hold him off. Tonight is going to be fun to watch.

To win, the Lakers need to limit the easy baskets, particularly in transition, that Denver thrives on. Melo can finish, JR Earl Smith can finish, Nene can finish, everybody not named Anthony Carter on that team can finish, and Billups makes the right pass to set them up This will not be as easy as slowing the Suns by just feeding Bynum and Kobe in the post all night, but the Lakers do need to slow them down. And the Lakers need to feed the post on offense, but we can say “feed the post” every night.

The Lakers do have mismatches to go after. Bill Bridges illuminates:

Artest will stay on Melo throughout. Will Melo try to check Kobe as Affalo and Smith have no chance against Kobe in the post. Nada. If Melo takes Kobe, will the Lakers rotate and post up Artest against Affalo/Smith?

How will PJ counter the Nuggets’ small line up of Lawson at the point and Billups at the 2. I hope he goes large, posts up Kobe against Billups and punishes them.

The other thing the Lakers should do, both to get points and slow Denver down, is pound the offensive glass. Denver has not rebounded well this season, the Lakers need to make them pay for that.

Where you can watch: This game tips off at 7:30 pm Pacific, on ESPN and KCAL 9 here in LA. Also, 710 ESPN Radio has the game.

Tempered Exuberance

Zephid —  November 13, 2009

Los Angeles Lakers Head Coach Phil Jackson Sets Up a Play at Toyota Center in Houston
We as Laker fans have a lot of things to be happy about:

  • Our team has only one loss, tied for the fewest so far.
  • Our team has played this well in spite of our 2nd best player having been hurt all season and nobody really knows when he’s coming back.
  • Our team just whomped on the 2nd best team in the Western Conference last night, to the tune of 121-102.
  • Our bench seems to be making a turn in the right direction.
  • Our young center is quickly turning into a budding All-Star.
  • Our resident crazy person hasn’t really gone too crazy yet.

Needless to say, we’ve got a pretty good first couple of weeks to the season.  Yea, Phoenix was on the 2nd night of a back-to-back, but I’m not so sure it would’ve really mattered if both teams had been rested.  The Lakers managed to do the three things required to beat the Suns:

  1. The Lakers size and length (I feel dirty just typing the word) worked the Suns weak interior defense (consisting of Amar’e “yea, defense isn’t really my thing” Stoudemire and Channing “pillowy soft” Frye) on their way to 78 points in the paint.
  2. The Lakers managed to keep the pace of the game in their favor, only allowing the Suns to get 2 fast break points compared to LA’s 12.
  3. The Lakers held the Suns to 35% from three.

Perhaps the only disappointing part of last night’s game was the 24 offensive rebounds given up, 14 to the combination of Amundson, Dudley, and rookie Earl Clark.  However, when a team misses 63% of its shots, that’s a lot of bricks up for grabs.

Now the Lakers move on to probably their most difficult test of the early season: @Denver on the 2nd night of a back-to-back.  Back in August, I kinda sorta somewhat picked this game to be our first lost (damn you Dallas!), but I don’t expect anything to change.  Last night’s game started late, something like 10:50 ET, so 7:50PT, so the Lakers had to get on a plane, fly to Denver, get to a hotel, all the while losing an hour due to time zones.  Our starters did manage to get some rest due to the blowout nature of the game, but I’m not so sure that 10 minutes less of NBA game time will be all that beneficial.  We could be in for an ugly game on the heels of one of our team’s best performances of the year, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves with the pre-mature gushy gushy dominance posts just yet.

On a completely different note, everyone should check out SSNR’s post on why PER hates Kobe.  I think their argument is pretty solid, highlighting the fact that the triangle produces a lot of assists for Lakers other than Kobe.  I would also add that the VOP multiplier (value of possession, according to is higher in today’s game (since team’s simply score a lot of points), giving added bonuses to things like rebounds, steals, and blocks, of which Kobe gets few.  Overall, I’d say the fact that PER doesn’t work should be an indictment on the statistics we keep, and not so much on the measure itself.  In my opinion, PER does the best job possible of getting a single value, over-arching measure of efficiency, given the statistics available.  And if the league kept track of things such as hockey assists, FG’s from ISO, FG’s from assist, blocks leading to possession, challenged FGA’s, unchallenged FGA’s, etc., I’m sure Hollinger would develop a new and improved PER to take those into account.