Archives For February 2010

There hasn’t been much news on the Lakers front since the team hasn’t played since their Thursday loss to Boston, but we did learn over the weekend that Kobe is (hopefully) on his way back into the Lakers lineup for their Tuesday matchup in Memphis, where the Lakers lost earlier this month. He was able to go through their Saturday practice and said that he’d have to see how it felt on Sunday. The Lakers did not practice on Sunday, but Bryant did go through some personal drills and testing – no word yet on how that went.

We also learned that Sasha Vujacic had a Grade-1 shoulder sprain and will end up missing a couple of weeks nursing that injury. From Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Times Lakers Blog:

“It’s pretty painful,” said Vujacic, who is receiving ultrasound and laser treatment but has declined to wear a sling. “It’s frustrating.”

That feeling has permeated throughout most of the season with Vujacic playing a mostly limited role. But his minutes had picked up ever since Bryant’s absence, and Lakers Coach Phil Jackson credited his defense in last week’s game against Utah and in Thursday’s game against Boston. There was also a clear increase in production in the last five games during Bryant’s absence compared to his season average, including points (2.5, 4.4), rebounds (1.1, 2.0) and assists (.6, 1.8). Obviously, Bryant’s injury is the most consequential, but Vujacic’s absence definitely strikes a blow to the Lakers’ rotation.

Because of the Lakers’ success without Kobe, a lot of people have began to wonder if the Lakers are a better team without Number 24 on the floor, a ridiculous thing to wonder to say the least. Joseph Treutlein of hoopdata.com wrote an article for the New York Times analyzing the Lakers’ offensive and defensive ratings with and without Kobe and came to the ultimate conclusion that, ultimately needless to say, the Lakers are not a better team without Bryant.

On the surface, it appears the offense must be performing better sans Kobe. But looking deeper into the numbers, the surprising truth is that, despite the Lakers’ dominance over those five games, they’ve actually been performing noticeably worse than normal. Indeed, the Lakers’ offensive efficiency, on average, during the past five games has been 102.8 — 3.8 lower than their season average. While these numbers don’t definitively prove anything, they likewise don’t provide any evidence that the offense performed better without Bryant; the opposite has been the case.

So how do we explain the Lakers’ excellent play these past five games? Surprisingly, it’s on the defensive end where they’ve stepped up their game, playing far above their standard. For the season, the Lakers rank second in the league in defensive efficiency, allowing 99.6 points per 100 possessions, but in the past five games they’ve allowed an average of just 91.5 points per 100 possessions.

…So what exactly have we learned here? Mainly, that anything can happen in a five-game stretch, so we shouldn’t read too much into it; and that nothing that’s happened in the past five games suggests the Lakers are better without Kobe Bryant anyway.

Brian Kamenetzky over at Land O’ Lakers took a look at Treutlein’s article, and was able to break down the numbers a little further and provide some insight as to why there were the slight changes in efficiency in Kobe’s absence.

Treutlein correctly notes five games isn’t a large enough sample size to draw sweeping conclusions, but the numbers seem to confirm what the eye saw. The Lakers were outstanding offensively in Portland, the first with Kobe on the sidelines, posting 113.8 points per 100 possessions. Against San Antonio the Lakers were again strong, at 107.4.

From there, things got increasingly less efficient: 101.3 against Utah, dropping to 98.1 against an absolutely wretched Golden State defense, and 93.5 against Boston, the stingiest team in basketball.

In a pair of those games (at Portland, vs. San Antonio), the Lakers were more efficient than earlier matchups against the same opponent earlier in the year with Kobe available. One was basically a wash (at Utah), and in two they were less efficient (vs. Golden State, vs. Boston). Don’t look for any “smoking guns” in relation to Kobe’s performance, either. In L.A.’s first visit to Portland, Kobe was a high volume, low percentage shooter (14 for 37), In San Antonio on Jan. 12, he was a tidy seven for 10.

What people around the league should be saying about the Lakers is that the team has a much deeper talent pool than what we may have thought before Kobe sitting out as Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated has said.

Finally, Land O’ Lakers have broken down every trade and analyzed it, telling us how it affects the Lakers. Here’s a tidbit on how Kevin Martin to Houston could potentially affect the Lakers, as this is one of only two trades of consequence for a team the Lakers could potentially see in the postseason before the Finals:

As for the Rockets, Martin could pay serious dividends. Houston values efficiency, but could use a little more ‘zazz. Martin supplies both with his low volume high scoring. Dude fills it from inside, outside, at the line, playing off ball, running back cuts, etc. And he already has a feel for Rick from their Sacto days. It remains to be seen how he and Aaron Brooks–a much better scorer than pure point– mesh, but in theory, I like this deal a lot. Landry is a bigger loss than people may realize, but if you can get Martin, the still-developing Hill, and picks for Landry and the burden of one season paying Jeffries (a decent defender), that’s a good return.

The most underrated part of this trade? Martin’s presence means fewer responsibilities for Trevor Ariza, which could be a fantastic case of less being more. Right now, Ariza’s operating well beyond his capabilities and often flailing in horribly inefficient fashion. If/when Yao Ming returns healthy, that’s even less on TA’s plate, which ultimately makes him a better and more dangerous player.

-Phillip

Despite there not being any Lakers games since Thursday’s game against Boston, their have been a few interesting developments around the league over the past couple of days – especially in regards to some of the guys that changed area codes before the Thursday trade deadline. So, here are a few random thoughts on what we’ve seen in their first games with their new teams…

*How about that T-Mac? He was quite impressive in his debut for the Knicks as he looks completely healed from his knee surgery (I think Doc Brown performed his micro-fracture surgery) and was in better condition than I would have expected for a guy that has only played a handful of games over the past season and a half.  If McGrady can play well down the stretch of this season for the Knicks, some team is going to want him and maybe even a contender.  If money really isn’t an issue for him, I could see scenarios where he stays with the Knicks or moves on to another team that is in contention for a championship.  There are plenty of teams that could use a player with his skill set and if he really can adjust to being a secondary player on a good team, he will surely help out with his ability to score and handle the ball.

*T-Mac wasn’t alone in looking good for the new look Knicks, though.  I was quite impressed with Sergio Rodriguez and his comfort in D’Antoni’s schemes (they are a natural fit) and was also happy to see Eddie House doing his thing for a team that can’t really hurt the Lakers in the post-season.  Like Phil Jackson, I believe House is a dangerous player and I think Boston let go of a player that really can change the game with his shooting.  House is a threat and can change the momentum in a game.  However, coaxing those types of performances out of Eddie is seemingly much easier when he’s upset and playing with chip on his shoulder (as he is after this trade) and while playing in a shooter friendly system that he has history in.

*Lots of other players had good performances for their new teams over the past couple of days.  Hakim Warrick and Flip Murray performed quite well in their debut for the Bulls and fit in like they’d been playing with the team all season.  Ty Thomas stepped in with the Bobcats and played well in his first game under Larry Brown’s coaching as the Cats continued to terrorize the Cavs.  He then followed up that performance with a double double against the Bucks the next night.  Speaking of the Bucks, John Salmons has given them the scoring punch and playmaking they need on the wing.  These are small sample sizes for these players and keeping up the strong play will be something to monitor, but getting a boost from a trade is a always a good thing because it’s not always a smooth first impression for these guys.

*Like Antawn Jamison’s 0-12 debut for the Cavs.  Or Carl Landry’s ten points on eleven shots for the Kings.  Or Ronnie Brewer tearing his hamstring in his first game with the Grizz.  Sometimes things don’t go as planned and players don’t perform well in their debuts, making it easy to think the worst.  However, just as you can’t get too high because of a strong performance from a newcomer, you also can’t get too down on a player because they played poorly.  Jamison and Landry are good players and they’ll be better than they showed in their first games with their new teams.  I thought Matt Moore had a good take over at ProBasketballTalk on Jamison’s debut:

To think that Jamison’s career in Cleveland will be marked with failure because he had difficulty on his first night after lots of traveling, rearranging his life, and trying to integrate into a brand new system is just plain silly, and ignores one significant factor in this outcome: the Charlotte Bobcats.

The Bobcats defense is one of the best in the league, beset by talented, versatile defenders, especially bigs. They operate well in man, man-help, zone, and hybrid schemes, meaning essentially they can affix their approach to any opponent. Throw in their effort and ability and it’s not at all shocking that Jamison struggled. Throw in the other factors and a cold shooting night, and it’s simply one of those things that happens. Let’s wait to see how Jamison responds for the remainder of the season before sounding the panic alarm.

However, even though I agree with everything said, I do think Jamison will need to have a strong performance soon just to relieve the fans of the Cavs.  They’ve lost two straight games (one without ‘Tawn and one with) and that is a rare thing for this years Cavs.  For a team that was coasting along on a 13 game win streak and in possession of the league’s best record, a couple more losses or bad performances from their new acquisition may induce some panic.

Light day today for Lakers news, so I thought I would try to find something worth watching on Kobe.  Turns out, me and commenter jeremyLA24 were thinking the same thing this morning.  So while I tip my cap to Jeremy, you can grab some popcorn, take 10 minutes and watch this video.  Simply put, Kobe Bryant – Greatness Personified.  Also, if you haven’t done so already, and you’re not all Kobe’d out, go check out the feature in GQ on our favorite #24.  It’s worth the read.

How Trades Affect the Lakers

Darius Soriano —  February 19, 2010

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If the playoffs were to start today, the Lakers would face Portland in the first round.  And if the first round held its form with the higher seeds winning the series and advancing to the next round, the Lakers would then face Dallas.  If we extrapolate this same line of thinking to the Conference Finals, the Lakers would face Denver and then in the Finals the Lakers would face the Cavs.  It just so happens that three of those four teams pulled off trades in the past week that were aimed at strenghthening their roster for the stretch run of the regular season and into the playoffs.  So, at this point, I think it’s wise to look at the trades that those three teams made and how they affect their roster (and a matchup with the Lakers).  We’ll start in the first round and then move forward.

Portland:  Portland traded Steve Blake and Travis Outlaw for Marcus Camby.  This was a natural move for the Blazers as it relieved them of players that were crowding their rotations at both PG and SF (Blake at PG and Outlaw at SF) and opened up time for players that they are quite high on in Jerryd Bayless, Martell Webster, and Nic Batum.  When you combine that with the injury status of Greg Oden and Joel Pryzbilla and the chance to acquire Marcus Camby, this deal becomes a no brainer.  Camby is still a very effective player that rebounds well, plays very good team defense, and is a capable offensive player that does not force shots nor need the ball very often to be effective on that end of the floor.

In a match up with the Lakers, an addition of Camby means that the Blazers have more than Juwan Howard and LaMarcus Aldridge to throw at a front line of Odom/Pau/Bynum.  As you can imagine, slowing down the Lakers frontline is key to any series with the defending champs.  Yes, Kobe is the engine of this team; he is the unquestioned leader and the player that every teams defensive schemes revolve around.  But, as the Lakers showed against Utah, San Antonio, and Orlando, if you can not contain the Lakers frontline you do not have a chance at victory.  Only Denver came close to taking the Lakers bigs out of their game(s), but even they eventually succumb to them as Kobe’ brilliance caused double teams that the Lakers’ bigs exploited again and again with cuts to the middle of the floor where they either got easy buckets or moved the ball to an open shooter on the weakside.  If Portland is going to slow the Lakers big and turn Kobe into a volume scorer with little help from his mates, Camby’s presence is definitely needed as the Blazers stable of big men would not be nearly enough to battle LO, Pau, and ‘Drew over a seven game series.

My prognosis? I don’t think Camby gives them enough over the course of a series.  Though he is a very good defensive center whose rebounding skills would limit the Lakers second chance points, I still think he lacks the girth to battle Bynum underneath and would not have the endurance to go from ‘Drew to Pau as the Lakers work their substitutions over the course of a game and a series.  Plus, Camby does not have the offensive game to put the Lakers bigs in foul trouble and though his 18 foot jumper and high post passing are very strong, bigs that primarily rely on jumpshots rarely help lead playoff upsets against teams with strong post play.  This is not to say that the Blazers don’t have other weapons to take down the Lakers – we all know that Portland is, historically, a very tough match up for the Lakers.  Miller, Aldridge, and especially Roy all cause different issues on offense and both Webster and Batum can give Kobe problems on defense.  But, in the end, I don’t think this trade has improved the Blazers enough to truly contend in the post season and win a series against the Lakers.

Dallas:  You can find my thoughts on the Dallas trade here.  As for how they match up with the Lakers, I think this trade helps them a great deal.  Haywood is a really strong defensive center and I do think he could limit Andrew in a one on one matchup.  Completely stop him?  No, but he could make his life difficult on that end while also providing good help defense on any dribble penetration or post ups from our other players.  I also think Butler is a player that must be respected by Artest and that even though Ron could contain Caron, I also think that Butler is a good enough player to make Artest work hard and burn energy over the course of a game and a series.  You add in Dirk (who is fantastic), Kidd, and notorious Laker killer Jason Terry, and I think you have a team that matches up with the Lakers quite well up front.

That said, they don’t have anyone that can really slow Kobe.  And an effective Kobe compromises everything you want to do on defense as he finds ways to beat you by scoring and then (as shown against Denver last season) he shifts his game to exploit your changing schemes by using his teammates to hammer you into submission.  Then, on the flip side of that superstar coin, you have Pau and (especially) Lamar (and, potentially, even Artest) that have the ability to play Dirk one on one and I think Dallas has an issue with matchups against the Lakers.

My prognosis? I think it would be a hard fought series, but that ultimately Dallas would not have enough on both ends of the court to beat the Lakers.  Dirk may be too good to hold down for an entire series, but I think our array of defenders slow him in enough contests to make the Mavs’ lives difficult on offense.  You add the Lakers front line depth and the lack of depth (behind Haywood and Dirk) that have the size to compete with the Lakers bigs and I think our post presence wears them down over the course of a series.  Throw in the Kobe factor and you have a real advantage for the defending champs.  Don’t get me wrong, I think Dallas is close.  But I don’t think they get enough from Marion (who has traditionally struggled with Phil Jackson’s schemes and Lamar Odom) and I also think their back court is a bit too thin on defensive players to match up with Kobe (or even the quickness of Farmar on the second unit).  I think it would be a great series to watch though.

Cleveland:  Ahh, the Cavs.  If both teams are good (and lucky) enough to make it this far, fans and media alike would be drooling at the prospect of seeing these two teams battle for the championship.  This is only more true with the addition of Jamison.  Antawn gives the Cavs what they’ve sorely been missing the past several seasons – a reliable scorer in the front court that complements Lebron’s game.  Jamison is a player that is just as comfortable as a spot up shooter as he is a slasher as he is a post up player.  A member of the “I don’t really know how his game is that effective” club, Jamison is a guy that keeps plugging along with an arsenal of deep jumpshots, driving runners, and post up flip shots that make old guys at the Y smile.  Jamison is also a good rebounder and a solid defender.  Most important of all, Jamison is a real team player and a pro’s pro that will work hard to fit into the team concept of the Cavs and will not rock the boat.  There is no diva in Antawn.

However, when it comes to matching up with the Lakers, an addition of Jamison is not a slam dunk for the Cavs.  While Jamison may be a guy that has the size and style to match up with Rashard Lewis or even Josh Smith, facing off against Pau Gasol is a different story.  As we saw in the Finals last season, when an undersize PF matches up with Gasol it often leads to a double team that can be exposed by our Spaniard’s slick passing skills.   This is a defensive matchup that is not in the Cavs favor.  Now, Jamison could make up for it on the other end of the court with his versatile offensive game, but as we’ve all seen Pau is an underrated defender whose length and reach often bothers shooters more than they anticipate.  Obviously though, a match up with the Cavs is not only about Jamison.  They have Shaq as well.  Oh, yeah, and that Lebron guy too.  These are players that create match up issues for the Lakers defense.  So far this season, battling Shaq on the block has not worked out too well for Bynum and Gasol.  And even though Artest is an elite defender, Lebron makes even the best of the best look slow footed and lacking in strength.  Throw in the possible return of Z, Andy Varejao’s crafty defense, and the shooting of Mo’ Williams/West/Parker and you have a team with a tremendous amount of talent and diversity to their potential attack.

My prognosis?  This may sound like a cop out, but I really don’t know how this series would turn out.  There are too many variables could break in either direction that lead a victory for either side.  Do the Cavs have enough size and defense in their back court to contain Kobe?  Does Z return to the Cavs to complete their rotations at Center?  Can Artest (and the rest of the Lakers help D) slow Lebron enough that the other Cavs are forced to make the key shots in a game?  Does Lamar play like he has for the last 5 games and the way that he did in last year’s playoffs from the Denver series on?  Do our guards make shots?  Can Bynum outduel Shaq?  Does Mike Brown make the right adjustments to the wrinkles that Phil is bound to incorporate into a gameplan?  I could go on and on.  These are obviously the best two teams in the league and I think we’d all be lucky just to see this matchup occur.

In the end, understand that the countdown is now on to the playoffs.  Rosters are pretty much set (save for a random addition due to a buyout or, tragically, potential injury) and teams will be looking to gel and peak as they enter the second season.  Yes the Lakers stood pat.  And yes some of their chief rivals did everything they could to compete.  Were these moves enough?  How will it turn out?  Let me know what you all think about these moves (or any of the ones not mentioned – Kevin Martin to the Rockets for example) and what they mean in relation to the Lakers.

With 2.2 seconds left in the game and the Lakers down one, I was baffled during the timeout. I had NO idea who Phil Jackson was going to diagram a play for – it was definitely Kobe time, but Kobe was in street clothes. And after Ron Artest inbounded the ball, Derek Fisher – who has hit his fair share of HUGE shots for the Lakers – attempted an off balance 21-footer that had no chance at the hoop. Conventional logic would tell us that, yes, we need Kobe Bryant back right now. However, the Lakers resilience in that fourth quarter still has me in the “Kobe should keep resting until he’s fully recovered” camp. Sure, the Lakers would have been in a better position if it were Kobe, not Shannon Brown, taking those one-on-one jumpers. Sure, the Lakers would have been in a better position late in the fourth when both teams ratcheted up the defense making it tough for either team to add to their respective point totals. And sure, the Lakers would have been in a better position if it were Kobe taking that final shot – or so it seems.

In the Lakers previous two games against the Celtics, both games were won by a one-point margin, and Kobe played in those games. It’s the Celtics, no matter who’s on the floor, we’re going to have to expect a hard, tough fought battle. Even for all of the game winners that Kobe has hit, 2.2 seconds against Boston is a lot more difficult a task than against the likes of Miami, Milwaukee and Sacramento. There is no guarantee that Kobe hits that shot last night, but what we know for sure is that the Kobe-less Lakers were just as competitive – maybe not better – against the Celtics as they have been with Kobe on the floor.

The loss was tough, no doubt about that. But I can only take this loss as a positive (sans Shannon Brown). Lamar Odom played with more heart than I’ve seen from him in a while. Andrew Bynum had some really good stretches. Sasha, although not there yet, seems to be getting his ’08 confidence back as he had two straight buckets (one coming off an offensive rebound and put back while the other he drove hard to the rim and finished strong) in the third quarter. Pau struggled physically (and still had 22 with three blocks), but I know that’s just not something the Lakers are going to have to worry about on a nightly basis. But most importantly, they defended well. It’s been well chronicled that the Celtics have had untimely offensive lapses this season, and the Lakers were able to take advantage of that. A lot of the media attention has focused on just the mere fact that the Lakers are winning without Bryant, but in the five games in his absence, they’ve only given up 86.6 points per contest. That’s a whole seven points better than what the Celtics, the team giving up the fewest points per in the league. Yes, it’s a loss, but even without Kobe, the Lakers are still good enough to put themselves in positions to win games.

After the game, Derek Fisher was interviewed about taking the last shot in place of Kobe:

Fisher noted it was “a difficult shot” and acknowledged his strategy to try to draw contact may not have been the best way given “there’s not going to be many calls made” late in the game. But even with a poor shooting night, Fisher accepted and embraced the responsibility.

“If you’re confident in yourself and you know your teammates are confident in you, if you’re open you have to be willing to take the shot and live with the consequences,” said Fisher, who went only one of nine from the field for three points. “That wasn’t the type of shot I would’ve liked to have gotten in that situation. But if there’s anybody else on the team that is willing to and can handle whatever comes with it, if you don’t make it, it’s me. Ill take whatever comes with it, I just wish we could’ve won the game.”

The Basket Blog over at Lakers.com gives a position-by-position breakdown of last night’s game against the Celtics that shows how well Ron Artest has done against Pau Pierce in the two games against the Celtics.

Celtics Hub puts the win over the Lakers in perspective for Celtics fans and gives a little game analysis from the view of those on the opposite coast.

There are a number of reasons not to get too excited about this win if you are a Celtics fan. The C’s beat LA, but they didn’t have Kobe. They still had the 2nd half collapse and couldn’t score when it mattered in the 4th quarter. The C’s undoubtedly just got “lucky” tonight. That’s one assuredly fair assessment of this contest.

Of course, for every point, there is a counterpoint. Yes, the Celtics beat the Lakers without number 24, but this was the same Kobe-less team that crushed Utah, easily the hottest team in the league last week on the road. Yes, the Celtics collapsed in the early part of the 4th quarter but they did not fold altogether. Instead, they held the Lakers to just 2 points in the final 7:13, enabling them to escape Staples Center with a one point win.

For more game analysis, go check out Darius’ post from last night (or early this morning) if you haven’t done so yet.

I’ll leave you guys with one last link found over at the Orange County Register. Jeff Miller argues that Lebron, not Kobe, is the NBA’s best basketball player. Have fun with this one.

Is there anyone other than Kobe Bryant we’d rather have with the ball at the end of a game waiting to be won? No.

Is there anyone better suited than title-tested Bryant to lead these Lakers on another postseason run? No.

Is there anyone more polished than Bryant at the art of rescuing unexpected victory from looming defeat? No.

But is there anyone in the NBA better than LeBron James right now? No. No. And – say this one with extra-special emphasis — no!

Breathe deep, Kobe Nation. We know you get a little defensive when it comes to questions about Bryant’s status as a living bronze statue.

-Phillip