Archives For January 2010

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Records: Lakers 32-9 (1st in West) Cavaliers 32-11 (1st in East)
Offensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 108.5 (10th in league), Cavaliers 110.4 (6th in league)
Defensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 101.1 (2nd in league) Cavaliers 103.4 (5th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Cavaliers: Delonte West, Anthony Parker, LeBron James, JJ Hickson, Shaq Daddy.

On The Road Again: It’s a bit of a cliché to say that you really learn about a team on a long road trip, but it’s a cliché because it’s somewhat true. What happens in the next eight games will not determine of the Lakers will win or lose the NBA title, it will not decide if the Lakers can beat Cleveland or Boston in a seven game series, but we’ll have a lot better idea how close they are when it is over.

Aside that, do I really need to hype up a meeting with Cleveland more? After the Christmas Day Massacre of ’09, every Laker fan would like to see a little revenge.

Cavaliers coming in: No Mo Williams tonight due to a shoulder injury, which is a break for the Lakers as he dropped 28 on them on Christmas.

The Cavaliers come in 7-3 in their last 10 (same as the Lakers) and playing as well as anyone in the NBA right now (save maybe the Bobcats who are on fire).

Cavalier blogs — and I’m on a podcast: John over at Cavs the Blog is not only a good guy but a very smart blogger.

Also, I will be on the podcast for The Dugouts Sports Show, a live podcast leading up to the start of the Cavs game. I should be on about 3:40 pm Pacific Time, so check it out.

Keys to game: The two big matchups to watch are Delonte West on Derek Fisher — West is a very good point guard in their system and creates a lot of problems off the dribble or as a shooter. After what Mo Williams did to the Lakers last meeting, look for the Cavs to attack with the point guard.

However, the corollary to that is the old injury axiom that the problem is not the backup, but the backup’s backup. Jordan Farmar (and Shannon Brown) will see more of Gibson and they need to exploit that matchup off the bench.

The other matchup is that JJ Hickson should not be able to stop Pau Gasol. Now, that means the Lakers need to focus on this matchup and get Pau the ball, but if they do he can have a big night.

Finally, the Cavaliers do love them some midrange game — they bring LeBron off of what many Lakers fans might remember as the “Rip Hamilton screen” off the free throw line that the Pistons love and hurt the Lakers with back in 2004. The Cavaliers shot lights out last meeting, the Lakers need to close on those shooters and not give open looks to have a chance tonight.

Where you can watch: 5 p.m. start here out west, the first game of the TNT double header. So for once, we can bleed into somebody else’s game and not the other way around.

The Point Guard Conundrum

Kurt —  January 21, 2010

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The Lakers are getting above average offensive production at every position except one (using PER as the snapshot stat). They are holding the opposing team to average or less than average production at every position except one.

It’s no secret that if the Lakers have a weakness that could haunt them later, it is production at the point guard spot. At both ends of the floor. The Lakers have not gotten good shooting out of the point guard position, they have gotten questionable decision making, and they have gotten poor defense and an inability to slow penetration.

But the fix is not that simple. Notice I did not say the Lakers are getting poor production out of Derek Fisher — the production is a problem position wide. Everyone who plays there. That is what Reed noted to me in a recent email (after seeing the Lakers play in person in Dallas).

We currently have the single worst PG PER in the league at -5.9. Only Memphis (-5.4) and GS (-5.0 are close). None of our PGs shoot over 35% from three. Fisher is shooting 36% overall and Farmar 41%. Our best PG (Farmar) is 43rd among PGs in PER. Our starter (Fisher) is 65th (only 67 make Hollinger’s list). To drive the point home, of all the PGs in the league who have played 6 minutes per game, Fisher is the 3rd worse in PER. I believe his +/- numbers and decent 5-man-lineup production stats are only passable because (i) he plays 100% of his minutes with Kobe and two of Pau/Odom/Bynum, and (ii) his replacements are well below average.

But of them, Fisher is struggling the most. Again Reed:

As much as I love him, I think that Fisher is far below replacement level at this point… Fisher’s True Shooing percentage is 4% lower than the worst shooting team in the league (New Jersey). If a team were comprised of players that shot exactly like Fisher, they would by far be the worst offensive team in league history. And yet, he probably has more open looks than any PG in the league given his role in the offense.

Then there are the defensive concerns — Fisher is allowing opposing point guards to shoot 51.9% (eFG%), and he is not slowing penetration or guiding other point guards to help with any consistency.

Darius added to the Fisher talk.

What I worry about most is his drop off in shooting from 3. I can live with a low-ish % from him on his two point baskets just because he’s not a finisher inside and that will skew his shooting numbers downward as he’s primarily a jumpshooter. But if Fish can’t shoot in the 38-42% range from 3 that will be a problem for us just because I know that Farmar/WOW can’t shoot that number over extended minutes (nor would I even want them attempting enough 3’s where shooting a good percentage really matters as that is not their game and I’d prefer players play to their strengths).

What we are talking about here is the balance of the offense. Bynum operates from the post. Gasol can operate from the post. Kobe wants touches there. Artest has a bull move from the post. Odom can post up. What the Lakers need is a guard who can steadily make good post entry passes and then spread the floor. Fisher is not doing the second half of that right now (Artest is the best of our three point shoters getting regular minutes). In a playoff series, that could come back to haunt the Lakers as defenses collapse down off the shooters.

The problem is, neither Farmar nor Brown can spread the floor with their shot either. And they bring their own problems. Darius again:

Farmar could take those minutes or Brown could, but I’m not convinced that either of them is a 30 minute PG for us. They both, still, play too fast and don’t exhibit enough control and that style of play is not one that mixes well with our starters (especially now that Artest is swapped for Ariza). I suppose both could change or would adjust based off the personnel that they’re surrounded by (this would be more natural for Brown, imo), but I’m not sure.

In the off-season, the Lakers front office will be forced to deal with this situation. But, with the team not looking to take on salary, it is unlikely that any moves will be made at the trade deadline.

Phil seems to be dealing with the problem by trying to limit Fisher’s minutes every night — something he did last year but now, with the level of Fisher’s deterioration, has to happen even more abruptly. That means subbing Fisher out early (8 minutes of the first quarter) and keep his minutes down. The problem is, Phil wanted to play Farmar more late in the Orlando win but he on three trips down in a row he took the team out of the offense. The last one he called Gasol out of the post to set up a high pick, then launched an off-balance 25 footer. Soon Fisher was in, because the offense can flow better with him in it.

Brown should get some more run. Farmar will get time. Sasha needs to get some run at the point (he did okay in that role last season and he is shooting the three fairly well right now). Fisher will get his run, but his minutes need to be reduced. Close game and you need some big shots? Get him in there. But Phil needs to find a 25-30 minute a game answer at the point guard, and get that person fitting in the rotations. Darius adds this final note:

Phil is the king of normalizing roles and getting players conditioned to play with certain personnel groupings and at certain times during the game. And while I’m not at the stage where anything is urgent, I will be in about 4 weeks when we start to bear down on March and we should start to see more of what the team is capable of and have a better idea of where the team is headed.

Kobe Knows The Way To Sesame Street

Kurt —  January 20, 2010

Kobe Bryant again leads the league in jersey sales. He has hit game winning shots, played through pain and led the Lakers to the best record to the NBA. And that’s just this season.

But (as I have kids about the same age), I guarantee you this is what made Kobe a hero in his own house:

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…they are made in all of the preparation leading up to those decisive moments you remember.

Ansel Adams is considered one of the best photographers of all time. He has produced such wonders as Moonrise Hernandez, and this, and this.

Ansel always made it clear that photography was not about a lucky moment or just taking a bunch of photos until you were happy with one (the shotgun approach) or about having the best equipment. He was meticulous in both his composition and developing. He mastered the technical aspects of his cameras and his equipment. The key to his photographs, was his ability to know what he wanted from a photo and execute it using all of his prior experience and wealth of knowledge.

Sound like anyone else we know?

In countless other media, Kobe has been described similarly in terms of his preparation. His shoes? Analyzed and made as light and responsive as possible. He watches game film obsessively. He is constantly adding new moves to his game. He hired Tim Grover to be his assistant full-time last season. Whatever Kobe can think of to get better, he does it. His singular purpose is winning but he does not show up to a game without first making sure he is the most prepared person in the arena. The same can be said for Lance Armstrong, Michael Jordan, Roger Federer, and Tiger Woods. Before the game has started, these men have already beat you.

Ansel advocated that photographers go through a process of visualization before ever touching their camera. To him, photography as an art was not about walking around and shooting what you came across, it was about creating an image using the tools available. Creating an image meant planning the place, the time, and the elements in a frame. It meant visualizing how the three-dimensional scene would transfer to the two-dimensional format of film. Knowing how to shoot a camera or a basketball does not make one great. It’s everything that leads up to the moment the shutter is released or the ball flicks off the fingertips. A player and a team must create a championship, it does not fall into their lap.

If the Lakers hope to repeat as champion, they must master all of the technical details but they must also make sure that they are as prepared as possible. Mentally, physically, and emotionally. Once San Antonio goes on their Rodeo trip at the beginning of February, everyone will know it is time to buckle down. The Lakers must start to become a finely tuned unit that will peak in June. It begins with these tough games but doesn’t end there. The Lakers must have the tenacity that the greats always display. They must visualize what it takes to reach the promised land and if they fail to prepare adequately they will surely come up short. Defensive rebounding, three-point shooting, and defensive intensity need to be tightened up. Does this team have what it takes? Can they survive the close calls and snuff out the pretenders? Can Ron Artest jump over a roll of quarters? OK, maybe that is just my own curiosity. Will the bench improve and provide consistent minutes? Can everyone stay healthy? FB&G faithful, the moments of judgement are now upon us. Let the team who has best visualized what it takes to be a champion wear triumph as their cologne and victory as their cape. (Except the Celtics. They can suck it.)


Winning Without Kobe

Kurt —  January 18, 2010

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Having Kobe Bryant on your team is why you win most games. Or having a big center like Andrew Bynum in the paint.

But maybe the best sign about the Lakers is that playing a contending team on a night those two big guys had off nights, the Lakers still won. The Lakers made their comeback in the third and fourth quarters with a lineup of Pau Gasol, Kobe Bryant (with Luke Walton getting a couple of his minutes), Lamar Odom, Jordan Farmar and Shannon “I can score, too” Brown. It was the Lakers bench that was key to this game. That beat one of the best in the East.

A huge game from Kobe is not the sign of a championship team. You know those are going to be there, that he is going to hit key shots with the game on the line. It is winning without your star that is the sign of a title team.

Zephid added these points in the comments.

-Dwight Howard beasted all over Bynum. When Bynum was guarding Howard 1v1, Howard was just too fast and strong for Bynum to hold off without help, which starting killing our rotations and leaving shooters wide open. It was only when Gasol started guarding Howard that he got bothered a little and started putting up some bad shots (plus the Magic went away from Howard for a good quarter and a half).

First, Bynum had a stomach ailment that slowed him. Also, Bynum’s second foul (a questionable one on Barnes) shook Bynum’s confidence. He was tentative after that, and Howard eats that for lunch. The Lakers had to go to Gasol. And Bynum, long term, needs to be able to play through that.

More Zephid:

-Farmar and Brown played great, as everyone saw. I was scratching my head a little as to why they only played like, 7 minutes in the 1st half, but Fisher also played pretty good in the 1st quarter [Note: He was 3-3 and a +6 in the quarter]. I didn’t like most of Shannon’s shots, but he got into such a rhythm that they just kept falling for him. Same pretty much for Farmar. Their shots don’t look pretty (completely the opposite of Lewis; his shots look perfect every time), and perhaps that’s why they shoot so inconsistently.

-Shannon Brown should have a session with the rest of the guys on how to close out shots. There were three or four times when Brown was the rotating man and had to close out on one of Lewis or Redick or Anderson, and Brown ran full speed at the shooter, and swung with his arm with his body going past the shooter. You could tell that this really bothered Lewis and caused him to brick a couple late threes that could’ve really hurt the Lakers.

Preview & Chat: The Orlando Magic

Kurt —  January 18, 2010

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Records: Lakers 31-9 (1st in West) Magic 26-14 (4th in East)
Offensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 108.6 (11th in league), Magic 109 (9th in league)
Defensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 101.1 (2nd in league) Magic 103.8 (6th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Magic: Jameer Nelson, Vince Carter, Matt Barnes, Rashard Lewis, Dwight Howard

Shannon Is Dunking: In case you missed the news this morning, Shannon Brown is in the dunk contest. He will be up against Gerald Wallace, Nate Robinson and DeMar DeRozan (who I think beats out Eric Gordon in the dunk off).

Congrats to Shannon. It will be interesting to watch on Feb. 13 — dunking in game and dunking in an exhibition are two totally different things (well, except for the being able to dunk part of it). The Dunk Contest is a showman’s exhibition, Brown is by nature a little bit reserved. We’ll have to see what he comes up with for the contest.

Magic coming in: I wanted to touch on just a couple things about the issues the Magic are facing.

The Magic’s offense is predicated on the other team needing to double-team Dwight Howard, or dribble penetration — either way it should free up three point shooters or get high percentage looks at the rim. Except that Dwight Howard is taking three less shots per game than he did last year, they are not getting him the ball in the post well enough. Last season Jameer Nelson’s penetration tore up the Lakers in the regular season, but he has not been the same player. So a lot of those penetration chances are going to Vince Carter, who has never been an efficient scorer and is not near the passer Nelson is. When they do get the three, they are not hitting as many — Nelson shot 45% last year, 37% this year, Hedo shot 35% last year, Carter 30% this year, Rashard Lewis is shooting the same percentage but is getting one less attempt per game.

I’ll add that while everyone talks about how much they miss Hedo, they miss Courtney Lee. He played 26 minutes a game in the playoffs and gave them some athleticism and solid play, things they seem to consistently miss now.

These things seem fixable to a degree, but like the Lakers those fixes need to start coming now so that there is something built solidly before the playoffs start.

Magic blogs: We’ve already linked to Orlando Magic Daily today, but you should also check out Orlando Pinstripe Post (the former Third Quarter Collapse), which is a high quality team blog with good writing.

Keys to game: Often, when teams that faced off in the playoffs the year before come together the next season, you get a little bit better brand of basketball. All those hours learning the tendencies of the other team, studying the offense, come back in game situations. And, as Bill Bridges pointed out in the comments:

Play Howard straight-up. Stay on the 3-point shooters and force them to shoot off the dribble as only Carter is dangerous off the dribble.

The Lakers have the luxury with Bynum, and Gasol behind him, of single covering Howard and really making him work at both ends of the floor. Plus, bringing in DJ Mbenga for a little hack-a-Howard can work for a stretch, also.

Carter was supposed to provide the ability to create shots off the dribble — particularly late in the shot clock — that the Magic lacked last year. The problem is, Carter’s true shooting percentage is down to 50.2%, well below the league average. He is shooting just 44% when he gets to the rim, 41% from 16 feet out to the arc, then 30% from three. While he can create off the dribble he is not finishing well enough to boost the team’s offense.

The Lakers cannot let Jameer Nelson get going. They also need to defend the pick-and-roll as Orlando likes to run that with Howard setting the screen (so he can roll and get deep position) or Lewis (for the pop). The Lakers have seen it all before, they know how to defend it, they just need to bring the focus this game.

Where you can watch: 7:30 p.m. start on TNT nationally, and ESPN 710 radio here in LA.

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The Orlando Magic are currently the four seed in the East, with a 26-14 record. Not bad, but they are 4-6 in their last 10. If you watch the games, right now they are not the same team that made it to the Finals last year — you can make a good case for starting White Chocolate in front of Jameer Nelson right now. Seriously. What is going on in Orlando?

I asked Philip Rossman-Reich of the TrueHoop Network Blog Orlando Magic Daily to explain what is happening:

A lot has happened to the Magic since the Lakers danced off the Amway Arena floor with the Larry O’Brien trophy. Hedo Turkoglu and Courtney Lee are gone, Vince Carter and Ryan Anderson (and Brandon Bass and Jason Williams and Matt Barnes, plus the return of a “healthy” Jameer Nelson) are in. On paper this looks like it would be a huge upgrade as Orlando has sorely missed a go-to scorer since the days of Tracy McGrady. Not only that, but the team is much much deeper and easily goes 10 players into their rotation.

But things are not quite so happy in the Magic kingdom. Orlando had to weather the storm of some early injuries that went with Rashard Lewis’ 10-game suspension to start the season. Things worked then. But as players have had to be integrated back into the lineup and new combinations are playing together, something seems off. It is hard to put a finger on what exactly is wrong with the team. A lot of times the effort is simply not there to go out and win games. It is like the team expects to hit the floor and win basketball games. And I think we all know that is not how things work in the NBA.

There has been a lot of pressure put on this team. Nothing lower than a championship would be an acceptable outcome. This is really the first time a lot of these players have faced that kind of pressure and scrutiny on a day-to-day basis and I think it is wearing on them more than they would like to admit.

It certainly is not an excuse, but really thinking this is maybe the third year in the franchise’s history (1995 and 1996 being the other two) that a title was a realistic expectation. Last year caught everyone by surprise as the team flew under the radar and had to prove themselves as they played the disrespect card. No one is disrespecting the Magic this year and everyone is giving their best shot to them.

This has been made more difficult by the shuffling lineups Stan Van Gundy has had to use. The Magic have had their top four guys in the lineup a total of 12 times this season. That is 12 of 40 games! With two new starters and a bunch of new guys coming off the bench, that transition has not been easy. It is made worse by the fact everyone is shooting and performing much worse than last year. Vince Carter is having the worst shooting year of his career. Jameer Nelson, who is still working his way back from tearing his meniscus and missing 16 games, has regressed to the mean after his all star season last year. And Rashard Lewis is still fitting his way into the offense with Carter dominating the ball more than Turkoglu did.

That does not even get into Dwight Howard, who still struggles to get his teammates to get him the ball and is still a 50-50 chance at the line.

These problems are vexing everyone — fans, coaches and the players themselves. 26-14 is certainly not a bad record. Orlando is still within striking distance at the top of the Eastern Conference and despite all the turmoil, I think a lot of people still expect them to break through. But the lack of energy and offensive inconsistency from this team has been really disconcerting and has led to a very puzzling first half of the season.

Joel Meyers Catchphrases

Kurt —  January 17, 2010

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Short-corner three. Points off Turnovers. There are countless others.

Lakers television play-by-play broadcaster Joel Meyers has plenty of catch phrases he falls back on. So, as was done with Mark Jackson last playoffs, we’re going to create Joel Meyers Bingo.

But I want your suggestions — what are your favorite Meyers phases? What needs to be in the center square? Post them in the comments and we’ll have something up later in the week. Have fun with it.