Archives For January 2010

[picappgallerysingle id=”7770246″]

 

This contest was the classic example of how a basketball game can take you to the highest of highs, down to the deepest depths, and then right back to cloud nine.  It was a game that wasn’t always pretty, but it was hard fought throughout and showed why these two teams are two of the best in the league: both teams do not quit and show the heart of a champion by exhibiting true grit and fighting until the final buzzer.

The game started with an intensity level befitting an all-time sports rivalry.  Artest and Pierce needed to be separated while jockeying for position during the jump ball.  Players were elbowing and grabbing for territory all over the court like shoppers at dawn in line on Black Friday.  Every inch of real estate was contested.  The referees tried to get control of the game early by calling touch fouls on the big men battling on the block and by penalizing the slightest of contact on the wings with a blow of the whistle.  Both teams begrudgingly adjusted and the game settled into a flow (we should note that even though the game settled down, both teams were still pretty sloppy as turnovers were plentiful).

At the outset, the Lakers showed their hand for how they plan to play Rajon Rondo.  They put Kobe on the C’s all-star and dared him to be an outside shooter.  Initially, this was effective as Rondo struggled to get into the paint and the C’s struggled to find an offensive rhythm.  Boston ended up settling for jumpers from Ray Allen and mid range post ups for KG.  And though some of these shots went in, Boston struggled to create quality looks and also turned the ball over too many times to ever really find an offensive groove.  Meanwhile, the Lakers’ offense was patient and poised.  Kobe showed nice touch on his jumper.  Pau and Andrew established deep post position and scored easily against Boston’s frontline.  This was especially true for Bynum who was playing a brand of ball that many fans have long been hoping for from our young Center when we face a quality opponent with very good defensive bigs.  I’ll let nomuskles explain what we all saw:

Kudos to Andrew Bynum. He played mostly good defense and did a lot of work to get good position for himself on the offensive end. He grabbed 11 boards and he didn’t back down from any of the Celtics. KG and Perkins live off their opponents’ fear and Bynum showed none. KG got a bucket and ran his mouth all the way down the floor. Bynum sealed KGs smaller body off to the outside, received a nice post-entry pass and dunked it and glared at KG. He was not out of control but he was determined.

And so it went in the first quarter.  The Lakers played an inside out game, contested shots, forced turnovers, and raced out to an 11 point lead.  However, unfortunately for the Lakers the game did not end after the initial 12 minutes of this contest.

At the start of the 2nd quarter, the Lakers bench proceeded to play out of sorts and the Celtics took advantage.  At the center of the comeback were Rajon Rondo and (to a lesser extent, but a still quite effective) Tony Allen.  Essentially, Rondo showed why the coaches of this league selected him to be an all-star.  He controlled the tempo of the game and got good shots for himself and his teammates.  He showed savvy on the the P&R and forced switches by keeping his dribble alive and flashing his beautiful change of pace dribble.  All of this led to Rondo living in the paint in the half court, easily creating easy shots for himself right at the rim and  opening up passing angles all over the court against a scrambling Lakers’ defense.  Slowly but surely, the Celtics chipped away at a double digit advantage and gained confidence.  Meanwhile the Lakers went away from what worked so well early in the game and began playing too fast, became isolation centric on offense, and got sloppy with the ball.  By the time the 2nd quarter ended, the Lakers had been outscored by 16 and an eleven point lead was a five point deficit.

After playing to a virtual tie in the 3rd quarter, the closing period arrived the Lakers showed the combination of heart and skill that earned them a title last June.  They continued to fight and made enough plays to keep the game close going into the final minutes.  Then, in the closing moments of the game the Lakers did all the little things that help win – they cleaned their defensive glass, they found a soft spot to exploit in the Celtics defense (Kobe at the elbow), and just kept attacking.  The Lakers finally clinched the game on a four possession sequence (two offensive, two defensive) where Artest made an incredibly difficult layup to bring us with one, followed by (Ron again) drawing an offensive foul on Pierce, then Kobe sinking an amazing line drive jumper with Ray Allen all over him, and climaxing with the Celtics running a play for Ray Allen and Lamar closing out to contest what would have been the game winner.  Just a fantastic finish to game that had my heart pounding for the final 5 minutes of the contest.

As Kurt mentioned, this is the type of game that often means a lot to the fans.  Many of us see these games as measuring sticks and take on a greater importance than the effects it has on the standings.  But, this was also a game that was very important to the players.  Again, I’ll let nomuskles take it from here:

It’s a great confidence booster to the Lakers that they can win these tough games. It won’t carry all the way to the playoffs by itself, but I could tell how pumped the guys were that they hung tough. It would have been very easy to let that second quarter set the tone for the rest of the game and throw in the towel accordingly…The game could have easily gone the other way and the lessons learned would still be the same but the impact is much stronger because they emerged with a win. These sorts of tests will come in handy when the Lakers are facing crunch time in the playoffs.

That feeling of confidence (and relief) was evident with all the guys right as the final buzzer sounded.  After Fisher secured the rebound off the aforementioned Ray Allen miss, you saw players jumping up and down, embracing, and celebrating in a manner that is not typically seen after a regular season game.  The Lakers beat the Celtics and survived a roller coaster ride in the process.  For one day, at least, our biggest historical rival was vanquished and despite all the ups and downs we were smiling at the end.

-Darius

Preview & Chat: The Boston Celtics

Kurt —  January 31, 2010

[picappgallerysingle id=”3250774″]
Records: Lakers 36-11 (1st in West) Celtics 29-15 (3rd in East)
Offensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 109.5 (9th in league), Celtics 107.6 (13th in league)
Defensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 102 (2nd in league) Celtics 101.7 (1st in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Celtics: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins

Lakers Coming In Today — or more likely Monday in Memphis — Kobe will become the Lakers all time leading scorer. He goes into this game 47 points short of Jerry West.

Here’s a note from the ESPN’s statistical research gurus (who rock):: Kobe shot 49.1% before the finger injury, 44% since, and he is taking two more shots per game since.

Celtics coming in: Check out yesterday’s post, an interview with Zach Lowe or Celtics Hub, or check out the roundtable we all were part of over at Land O’Lakers. But know that all those

Here’s another fun note from the ESPN’s statistical research gurus: KG is essentially the Pau Gasol of the Lakers in that their record with and without him is dramatically different. Without, 5-6, with they are 24-9.

Celtics blogs The Celitcs are loaded with good blogs. Jeff and Celtics Blog remain the OG and one of the best ever. You’ve met Zach from Celtics Hub. But checkout their links, there are a lot.

Keys to game: With just about every game, we say the Lakers need to exploit their advantage in the paint. Today’s game will be won in the paint as well, but for a different reason — the Celtics can match the Lakers in the paint. Gasol and Bynum got pushed around by Cleveland, the Celtics will do the same thing. Bynum needs to stay out of foul trouble and protect the rim like Perkins will. Gasol has to match what KG will bring. The front lines will be where this game is won and lost.

The Lakers can’t be passive, they have to go at those guys. Run the offense inside out. That said, the Celtics shut down isolation, one-on-one offense better than any team in the league, because it’s not really one-on-one — three players at any time three guys have responsibility for stopping the ball. They anticipate where the ball is going to go better than any team is out there. The Lakers have to counter that with passes and cuts out of the triangle offense.

Basically, the isolation offense that the Lakers resort to too much this season is going to cost them this game, but if they run the triangle offense and move the ball they will get good looks. Facilitator Kobe most make an appearance.
Where you can watch: 12:30 start on ABC. Plus, ESPN radio 710am out West.

What Is Up With The Celtics?

Kurt —  January 30, 2010

[picappgallerysingle id=”7368639″]
Oh sure, it’s easy to hate the Celitcs, that’s just an instinct of Lakers fans. But, one is better off when one knows ones enemy.

So, Zach Lowe from Celtics Hub and I have been busy. We teamed up with the Amazing Flying Kamentezky Brothers for a roundtable over at Land O’ Lakers you should check out.

Zach also answered a few questions for us (all before the Celtics lost to the Hawks again last night, the Cs are now 1-6 against Atlanta and Orlando this season).

1) Through the injuries and everything else, the Celtics defense looks like it is back to near (or at least on the path to) where it was a couple years ago. Is that accurate, or does it have a way to go?

That’s basically accurate. The C’s lead the league in defensive efficiency (points allowed per possession), just a hair ahead of the Lakers. They defend the rim and the three-point shot very well; only Orlando allows a lower shooting percentage on shots near the rim (via Hoopdata.com), and only three teams allow a lower three-point shooting percentage.

That said, the defense isn’t as consistent as it was in 2008 or the start of last season, mostly because the team has gone from an elite defensive rebounding club to an average one. Other than health, this is the biggest internal threat the team faces going forward.

How healthy is Kevin Garnett? Is he expected to be 100% for the playoffs?

Nobody knows. KG hyper-extended his right knee, and the team insists that injury is unrelated to the bone spur and strained tendon in the same knee that kept him out of the playoffs last season. Just as you’ve stopped trying to understand what Phil Jackson might be thinking, I’ve stopped trying to parse out the truth about KG’s health, because I’m not sure anyone really knows–including the team. He labored against the Magic on Thursday, and then—on the second end of a back-to-back—put up 15-7-3 against Atlanta and generally looked decent.

He has to play himself back into game shape, but to do that, he has to avoid the nagging injuries that seem to strike every three weeks.

I should also note that a lot of Boston fans feel burned by the team after it failed to disclose the bone spur issue until well after the playoffs last summer. I personally don’t feel that way–it’s not in the team’s interest to be fully transparent about an injury KG might have been able to play through. But there is some distrust among the fan base, for sure.

How is Sheed working out? Is he fitting in the offense?

Sheed is working out exactly as I expected–he alternates between games in which he appears to be exactly what Boston needs off the bench and games in which he looks creaky and old. To his credit, he has dialed back the three-point shooting a bit; he’s jacking 7.4 threes per 36 minutes, the most on the team by far, but after 15 games or so that number was up at about 11—a number even Antoine Walker never sniffed. He remains (at times) devastating from the post, so you’d always like to see him park his (fat) butt down there more often, especially since he’s shooting 29 percent from deep.

But his presence on the perimeter does open up the floor for everyone else, especially Rondo. The plus/minus numbers indicate that the C’s offense has performed about as well as normal with Sheed on the floor, but that the defense has suffered. This isn’t surprising. Sheed struggles against quicker bigs and has had problems protecting the defensive glass.

Ray Allen’s numbers are off, both from three point range but also in the midrange shots. What are the theories as to the cause? Is there a Rondo effect at play (with him taking a larger role in the offense)?

The main theory is that Ray Allen is just getting old as a player. He’s the oldest of the C’s three 30-plus stars, and he has reached the age (34) at which shooting guards begin to see their accuracy drop. Ray keeps himself in great shape, eats well, etc., so he should hold up better than most.

I don’t think this has anything to do with Rondo taking a larger share of the offense. Rajon and Ray have a nice connection, and Rajon goes out of his way to find Ray for open threes in transition. Ray just isn’t making shots at the same rate. That’s really it. Even so, he continues to put up monster plus/minus numbers, both raw and adjusted, and the second unit plays much better with Ray as the lone starter than with Pierce in that role. That trend has been consistent since Ray got here, suggesting he adds something that is tough to quantify.

How much of creation of shots in the offense falls to Rondo now (both for himself and others)? Is that good?

More than ever. Rondo is taking 11.3 shots per game this season, up from about 9.5 last season, and his assist rate (the percentage of teammate baskets Rajon assists on while on the floor) is the third-highest in the league. It’s a good and necessary development. When Kevin Garnett is injured, the C’s lose one huge piece of their offensive foundation: the ability to run plays through KG in the post. More of the burden naturally falls on Rondo. As KG, Pierce and Allen all age, having someone else to lean on helps keep the offense moving.

The C’s offense has dropped off this season (all the way to 13th in efficiency), but that has less to do with Rajon than with the absence of KG, the tough season Ray Allen is having and the team’s overall drop in three-point accuracy (hello, Sheed).

What is with all the turnovers?

The Celtics have been turnover prone in each of the last three seasons, so it’s not shocking to see them ranked 29th in turnover rate. (They were 29th in each of the last two seasons). It remains amazing to me that a team that pays such maniacal attention to detail on defense can be so sloppy on offense. Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins are the main culprits. Rondo’s turnovers I (mostly) don’t mind, since he’s the point guard and his assist-to-turnover ratio remains one of the best in the league. But Perk commits far too many traveling violations and gets called for illegal screens at least once a game, it seems. That needs to stop. And Rondo has gotten into a bad habit lately of going for Brett Favre-esque passes in transition.

How much does this game matter to the team and fans?

These games always matter a little more. I think fans of these two clubs understand–perhaps more than any other fan bases–that regular-season games don’t matter all that much in the scheme of things. We’re not going to remember in 2015 who won the regular-season series in 2010, unless the same team wins by 30 in each game or something. But it’s the Lakers, there are some minor bragging rights involved and the games always feel special because there are only two of them each season and they are on national TV.

The C’s could also use a win against a quality team after losing back-to-back roadies against the Magic and Hawks. So this game means something extra in that sense, though it would hold that same importance if the C’s were hosting, say, the Cavs.

[picappgallerysingle id=”4315994″] 

There’s been some other news around here today, but there are actual games to discuss as well.  So, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Records: Lakers 35-11 (1st in West) 76ers 15-30 (13th in East)
Offensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 109.5 (9th in league), 76ers 106.3 (18th in league)
Defensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 102.1 (3rd in league) 76ers 109.3 (22nd in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
76ers: Allen Iverson, Jrue Holliday, Andre Iguodala, Elton Brand, Samuel Dalembert

Lakers Coming In: First things first, congratulations to Pau for making his 3rd All-Star game (second consecutive) as a Western Conference reserve F/C. Yes he’s missed some games, but no one can question his value to this team or his talent level. Were other players deserving? Yes (Billups, Kaman, Boozer, Nene are just a few names that pop into my head). But that is always the case and every year there will be legitimate gripes. But, for the most part, I think the selection committee of coaches did a good job of filling out the roster and Pau is well deserved. (On a side note, maybe next year ‘Drew. Use your “snub” as motivation tonight and on Sunday.)

Now, on to tonight’s game. You can blame (or credit, I guess) the quality of recent opponents, but the Lakers’ offense is finding its stride. Players are cutting and setting better screens, the ball is moving, and the distribution of shots is much more balanced. The team just looks more in tune and focused on what they need to do on the offensive end of the floor. They also look more lively.  They have a bounce in their step (especially Kobe) and the movement of the players within the offense is more fluid than it’s been in weeks. The team is still playing a bit more P&R than I’d like to see, but Kobe is making good decisions with the ball and when he draws the extra defensive attention he’s making the right read and the correct pass (averaging 7.5 assists over his last 4 games).

Besides the offensive improvements of the last few games, a few other trends have emerged with this team and they’re tied to Phil’s rotations.  Over the past few games, we’ve seen a steady diet of Kobe at SF with Farmar and Shannon flanking him in the backcourt.  This line up has given us a speed and athleticism dimension that we haven’t really seen since last season (when the Farmar/Ariza/Odom lineup played quite well together).  This group is pushing the ball, attacking the basket, and getting opponents on their heels (even in the half court).  However, when Kobe is playing SF, that means both of our true SF’s are not.  Artest has only reached 30 minutes once in his last 8 appearances and in the last three games Luke has played 10 minutes (in a blowout), 3 seconds, and 9 minutes respectively.  You can blame the nicks and bruises that both players have endured this season, but I think you can also point to the fact that Phil has found a backcourt that he likes (Farmar/WOW) and he’s looking for the right player to compliment them at SF – so far, that player looks like Kobe.  However, both players seem to be taking it in stride – you never hear Luke complain about his role and Ron is saying the right things.  Continuing with the micro-perspective, another recent trend is a certain “machine” like player playing a bit better.  Bill Bridges explains:

It has been obvious to me that Sasha Vujacic has been playing well over the last few games. To confirm my impressions, I thought I would look at the numbers. Over the last 10 Laker games (including the win over Milwaukee), Sasha has played in 6. Over those 6 games he has played a total of 25.5 minutes, bit minutes each game. When a player gets such short runs, the expectation is that the numbers will look pretty bad. After all, good numbers translate into more PT, more PT brings numbers back to the mean. Bad numbers = continued spotty minutes. Not in Sasha’s case. On a per 48 minute basis, his 48minute “average” works out at at 37.1 points on 75% FG shooting and also 75% 3FG%, 100% FT%, 5.6 rebounds (3.7 offensive), 5.6 assists, 1.9 steals, 0 turnovers and 3.7 fouls. I roughly calculated his PER (ignoring pace) and it worked out to be about 41. So the numbers confirm what the eye sees. Impressive as his scoring and efficiency has been, he also has been playing in control, moving the ball, making correct decisions, and making no mistakes. He looks extremely facile and comfortable in the triangle and has been an agent of fluidity not turbulence. He also has been energetic on the glass, crashing the offensive boards, and playing good D without fouling too much – no more fouls under the opponent’s basket. Do you think he deserves more playing time?  I do.

It’s been tough to get minutes with a crowded backcourt lately.  But we’ll see if the coaches start to reward Sasha for his better play with a bit more burn.

The 76ers Coming In:  Earlier, I mentioned that the Lakers have not been playing the stiffest competition.  That trend continues this evening.  While a decent 5-5 record in their last 10 games, the Sixers are not playing that well and have gotten most of their wins against fellow NBA bottom-dwellers. 

I think one of Philly’s main issues has been adjusting to their new coach and his offensive scheme.  Eddie Jordan was brought in this season and he’s installed the “Princeton” Offense made famous by Pete Carril and adopted by several NBA coaches (Rick Adelman most notably).  This scheme is a good one and can be very effective when run properly.  However, Jordan doesn’t really have the personnel to run this scheme effectively.  He’s got ball dominating guards in AI and Lou Williams and big men like Brand and Sammy Dalembert that don’t exactly remind anyone of Bill Walton.  And he’s got them running a system that is based off reads and cuts and lots of motion.  So, the passing is suffering (third from the bottom in assists per game) and the offense is not as efficient as it could be.

Keys to the Game:  On offense, this is another game where the Lakers should go inside early and establish their size advantage.  Dalembert has traditionally struggled with ‘Drew (some of Bynum’s best games as a pro have come against Philly) and Gasol has a big height advantage over the undersized Brand.  Pound the ball inside and continue to cut and screen off the ball to get better shots for everyone.  Kobe is coming off a very efficient game and that could continue this evening with either Holliday or Iverson being the primary defender.  If the Sixers go to Iguodala to guard Kobe, look for Ron to be a primary post passer and then get hand-offs or duck-in passes when he clears the side and tries to pin a smaller defender under the hoop.  Also, the Sixers are one of the better teams at forcing turnovers (5th best opponents turnover % in the league) so taking care of the ball is a must.

On defense, the Lakers need to focus on getting back on defense and limiting penetration.  Philly does not play at a fast pace, but they have guys that can get out and run (Iguodala, Thad Young, Holliday, Lou Williams) and they will take advantage of the openings you give them.  And any team that features Iverson will rely on penetration for buckets so the Lakers bigs must be ready to help on the driving guards.  One other play to look for is Iverson driving the paint and looking to Dalembert for the lob finish.  AI and Sammy have a good chemistry from their previous stint as teammates and the boost in Dalembert’s offensive game and activity is one area that has improved with the return of the Answer. 

Lastly, the Sixers have some talented players.  Besides Brand and Iverson, they have a nice group of young talent (the afforementioned Williams, Holliday, Iguodala, Thad Young, and the not yet mentioned Speights).  They are at home and they will come out and play hard.  In a down season, nothing feels quite as good as taking down the champion of the league.  So, the Lakers need to come out focused and ready to play on both ends of the floor.  They do that and they could close the door early.  However, if they relax or come out uninspired the home team will hang around and keep this thing close.  Let’s hope we see the former tonight.

Where you can watch:  4 p.m. start here out west, on KCAL 9. Plus, ESPN radio 710am.

The Transition Game

Darius Soriano —  January 29, 2010

As you’ve likely read, Kurt is leaving Forum Blue and Gold. He leaves us to pursue the dream of any NBA junkie that loves to talk, debate, and write about basketball – a full time gig covering the entire league. I wish him nothing but the best of luck and plan to bookmark his site the day it goes live. Kurt is nothing short of a legend around these parts (and by “these parts” I mean the entire basketball blogosphere) and he deserves a big congratulations from all of us and a thank you from me. I thank Kurt for creating Forum Blue and Gold. For providing a place for me to come every single day, discuss the team I love, and learn something about the Lakers and the game of basketball. For being smarter, wittier, and more level headed than any other Lakers fan I know. And, most of all, I thank him for handing me the reins of this tremendous site.

First things first, this site and all of its core values are not going to change. FB&G has always been a community that thrived on high level discussion and analysis about the team we follow every day. None of that is going away. In fact, we’re going to try and bring you more of it. More analysis. More information. More topics to discuss and debate with a style and substance that all of us who have called this site home have come to love and appreciate. And that’s where you come in. In order to move FB&G in this direction, I’m going to need some help. I’m going to need more people that love this team to help contribute to the growth and further development of this site. Do you love to break down the X’s and O’s of the game? Are you a person that can’t get enough of the statistics and advanced analytics of basketball? Are you a Lakers fan with a unique take that wants to write about our team? If so, I’m looking for you. And if you’re looking to contribute, get at me. Submit writing samples, links, proposals, etc. to me at lakersfans@forumblueandgold.com

My goal for the future of this site is simple: I want to grow this site while keeping alive the tradition that has been established over the past 5 years. The foundation has been laid, let’s build this thing bigger than ever before and evolve the site to its next incarnation. We’ll be here every single day trying to make this site the best place for Lakers fans to follow our team. I hope to have you join us.

Darius