Archives For January 2010

Losing On The Inside

Kurt —  January 21, 2010

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The Lakers are among the favorites to win a NBA title this season in large part because of their great front line (plus that Kobe guy). But as Darius pointed out in the comments, Cleveland beat the Lakers because they beat them inside.

The difference tonight was that the Cavs size was more effective than ours. Shaq, Varejao, and Z complimented each other perfectly and Hickson took advantage of our over helping on Lebron early in the game. It’s really that plain and simple. We can criticize Pau (for the missed FT’s and for that layup where LeBron had a nice contest from the weakside), but Bynum allowed Shaq to bully him and LO was absent from the paint (on offense) for most of evening. Last year our biggest strength was the advantage that our bigs gave us but tonight the Cavs had that advantage and it was the difference in the game. Yes Lebron was huge, but that is to be expected (he is a tremendous talent). But if Cleveland’s bigs are not only going nullify our bigs, but also play better than them, than we’re not going to be successful against the Cavs.

The Lakers got lazy on their defense on the re-post tonight. The Cavs showed excellent patience in passing to Shaq, Shaq then passing back to the perimeter, and then re-posting to get better position. He used his strength to his advantage and the Laker’s bigs were concerned with foul trouble. The plays where we attacked Shaq and/or contested shots he did poorly (only hitting that lucky bank on Pau in the 2nd quarter). But, for most of the night, and especially in the 2nd half, Bynum and Pau both allowed Shaq to set up in his sweet spot on the right block and shoot his little hook against the glass. Shaq would still get 20+ a game if he’s shooting all his shots from 5 feet and in the way he did for most of tonight….

Look, I’m not blaming anyone for this. Drew’s not to blame and neither is Pau. Neither is Kobe. But, when I watch the games, I see less of what made us successful last season and more of what we were in 2004 when we lost to the Pistons. Now, that 2004 team was pretty damned good – they got to the Finals. But that team was also more of an isolation team in the guise of a Triangle team. Almost all of our sets ended with an iso for Kobe or Shaq or Malone or Payton. When you have talent you can play like that and still be successful (and this current team does have talent). But to be transcendent, you have to have talent + teamwork. And so far this season, one where we’re ranked 12th in offensive efficiency, the teamwork has been too infrequent.

There are other factors, like LeBron made the shots when it counted. ESPN Stats and Information noted that he was 3 of 13 on jump shots through three quarters. He sat out nearly the first six minutes of the fourth quarter but when he came in hot and made 4 of 6 jumpers in the fourth. Meanwhile, Kobe tore up Anthony Parker — ESPN tracked it and Kobe was 9 of 16 for 21 points against him — but when Cleveland switched up Kobe was 3 of 15 the rest of the way.

Games in January do not determine the outcome of games in June. But Cleveland and its front line have now outplayed the Lakers both outings, and that has to catch your attention. The Lakers have been to the mountaintop, this loss should not impact them going forward (that is something to watch, how they play the rest of this road trip), but this was a confidence boost for Cleveland. Especially if there is a June series between these teams.

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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.)