Archives For November 2009

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.

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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 Basketball-Reference.com) 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.

Game Chat: The Phoenix Suns

Kurt —  November 12, 2009

Leandro Barbosa of the Phoenix Suns
Records: Lakers 6-1 Suns 8-1
Offensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 108.1, Suns 115.4
Defensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 102.5 Suns 108.4
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum
Suns: Steve Nash, Jason Richardson, Grant Hill, Amare Stoudemire, Channing Frye

Short preview today as Bill Bridges did a great job breaking down the Suns.

The Lakers Coming in: I’m not sure I’ve ever spent as much time discussing a man’s let as I have Pau Gasol’s hamstring. I

Two great things out there worth reading. First, Dexter Fishmore over at Silver Screen and Roll did the smart thing — he emailed sports injury blogging guru Will Carroll. I’m not going to post his comments verbatim here, go check out the post, but basically he said calm down. He said to think of it as two injuries, the first one then the one he got trying to come back to fast. That is often why hamstrings linger.

Also, Kevin Ding has a great story saying Gasol is smart to take his time, and Gasol is about as smart a player as there is in the league.

Bottom line for me: If it’s Thanksgiving when he gets back, then we’ll give thanks. A healthy Gasol in April, May and June matters. November does not (especially when you are 6-1).

Keys to game: The Lakers need to get this win, because tomorrow night they have to travel to Denver for the second game of a back-to-back. That is a schedule-makers loss — play then travel over night to altitude and play a very good Denver team (with fans hyped for playoff “revenge”). The Lakers need the front end of this back-to-back.

The good news is they get the Suns on the second game of a back-to-back. (All these back-to-backs is anther way of saying don’t think what happens in these games can be extrapolated to May.)

As for what the Lakers need to do, I’d like to see Artest on Richardson and Kobe on Hill (allowing him to roam a little more. From there I’ll let Burgundy take over (from the comments):

The game plan is essentially this:

1) Use most of the 24 second clock each possession.

2) Go Inside.

3) Go inside (I mean, they were doing this with Kwame Freaking Brown [in 2006] and it was working because the Suns’ middle is so soft).

4) Don’t shoot three pointers unless it is late in the shot clock and you are wide open (we’ll see how Farmar and Sasha handle this directive).

5) Sag way the heck off Nash on D and keep him out of the lane. [Bill Bridges added a great point this morning, Nash prefers to drive to his left, if you force him right he is still good but it starts to throw what the Suns do off.]

6) Stay home on the shooters.

7) When Nash runs the pick and roll with Amare, double Amare off the pick and deny, even if it means Nash can get to the cup for two reasons:

A) An athletic big (like Lamar) can recover in time and still challenge the shot, because Nash is ground-bound and thinks “shoot” last.

B) Even if Nash gets a layup, the important thing is Amare DOESN’T. The less involved Amare is on offense, the less involved he is on D, and ultimately, the less involved he is in the game.

Where you can watch: 7:30 start on TNT nationally (well, more like 7:45 because you know the early game will run over) and Fox Sports here in LA, or listen to Spero on 710 AM, ESPN.