Archives For October 2010

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As VoR said in the comments, “[there’s] not a lot to take away from the game,” but there was Lamar Odom, especially early on. we’re only three games into the season, but Lamar Odom has impressed as much as anyone in the NBA has thus far. Last night LO was active on the boards, shooting well, passing well and defending well. Odom finished the game with one of his classic lines: 16 points, 14 rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block. Even better, he got the Lakers off to a great start — scoring on or assisting on four of the Lakers first five field goals — which the Lakers were able to maintain while strolling to a 107-83 victory.

Furthermore, Pau Gasol — like Odom — is averaging a double-double after his 26-12-4 line against the Warriors. The Lakers made a conscious effort in getting the ball inside early and Pau was able to take full advantage of the Warriors lack of size. Andres Biedrins wasn’t able to handle Gasol one-on-one, and when double teams came, it opened up looks for Kobe and Derek Fisher, who also had a huge game.

We’ve been so used to seeing Kobe’s work on the perimeter open up things for other players, but with Kobe’s knee hindering some of his athleticism, the offense has been running through the post. The inside out game really opened up things for Fish, who finished the night five for six with 14 points. He was able to step into a few shots, and knocked down a couple of those shots off the dribble that weren’t been falling for him on opening night. This is the second night Fish has shot over 50 percent this season, and I do believe that as long as the Lakers work inside out, Fish’s shot is going to continue to look better. He’s proven over and over again that when he’s able to step into his jumper, he’s been able to knock it down. Catching passes from the paint as opposed to catching passes around the perimeter makes a world of difference for a struggling shooter.

Kobe was patient and picked his spots nicely. He forced a couple of unwarranted jumpers, but when hasn’t he? I thought he looked good, had some nice feeds to Gasol, had a beautiful move on Monta Ellis on the low block and grabbed a few offensive rebounds he had no business grabbing. He finished eight for 16 in just 27 minutes and had an eFG% of 53.1 percent. What we saw against Golden State is a more efficient Kobe. He deferred to his teammates when he needed to, but was still available to create end-of-the-shot clock field goal attempts and create open looks for teammates by getting in the lane and dishing. He’s allowed Gasol and Odom to establish themselves in the paint, and posted up when he had smaller defenders on him.

Overall, I enjoyed what I saw from the Lakers. They’re playing well as a group. Phil Jackson experimented with some lineups, and not all of those experiments worked, but you can slowly see all of these parts coming together. The Lakers finally looked like the top five defensive team that they were last season. The game wasn’t close, and it was even worse than what the box score will tell you because of some late, pad stuffing buckets from the Warriors reserves. But the Lakers did a great job on the Warriors in the half court, closed out on shooters and kept them off the free throw line.

They’ll have tomorrow off, and will play their first of a back-to-back on Tuesday against the Memphis Grizzlies.

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Records: Lakers 2-0, Warriors 2-0
Offensive ratings: Lakers 114.2 , Warriors 122.6
Defensive ratings: Lakers 109.1, Warriors 111.4
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Warriors: Monta Ellis, Reggie Williams, Dorell Wright, David Lee, Andris Biedrins
Injuries: Lakers: Andrew Bynum (knee); Luke Walton (hamstring), Warriors: Stephen Curry Ankle, Lou Amundson (finger), Epke Udoh (wrist)

The Lakers Coming in:  The Lakers are 2-0.  The starters are playing well and the bench is contributing.  Mitch Kupchak’s off-season moves are paying off with new acquisitions Steve Blake and Matt Barnes being nightly contributors in the rotation and the retained Shannon Brown showing improvement in all phases of his game in the early goings of the season.  Really, there’s not much to complain about as the Lakers look to be rounding into form after an up and down preseason.  Furthermore, Kobe’s knee looks to be getting better and better while his shooting woes from the preseason have had a solid uptick.

If I was going to nit pick anything about the Lakers it would be their defensive numbers so far, but I really would be nit picking.  While I’m not happy with their defensive efficiency being 109.1, the Lakers played a hot shooting Houston team on opening night (while themselves suffering a little bit of a hangover from raising a banner and receiving a ring) and then played a traditionally high octane offense Phoenix team in game 2.  So, not only is the sample size small but the opponents and circumstances have a bit to do with the early numbers as well.   I anticipate those defensive numbers will improve as the games go on, though facing the Warriors – another traditionally high scoring outfit – may mean that we have to wait until another day for that to happen.

The Warriors Coming in:  Golden State is also 2-0, though unlike the Lakers, it’s not that normal an occurrence.  It’s actually the first time the Dubs have started out a season winning their first two contests since the 1994-95 season.

And they’ve come out the gates this quickly on the strength of their dynamic duo in the back court, Monta Ellis and Steph Curry.  Ellis has been a scoring machine early on, averaging 30.5 points a game while also tallying 6.5 assists while Curry has also been scoring well averaging 20.5 a game with 8.5 assists a night.  After struggling to find a chemistry last year, this duo seems to have found their groove together by sharing the ball handling responsibilities and finding ways to have their games compliment each others nicely.  They’ve both shown great ability to be ball handlers in the P&R while also being effective as spot up guys and threats when the other guy is leading the offense.  They’ve really developed a balance so, it’s a tough break for the Warriors that Curry suffered a sprained ankle against the Rockets and will not suit up tonight.

The Warriors also have some new additions that are playing well.  Former Knick David Lee has picked up right where last year’s All-Star campaign ended by scoring (16 ppg) and rebounding (13.5 rpg) well in the Dubs first two games.  Coming from D’Antoni’s fast paced system in NY has aided Lee’s transition to the Warriors who play an equally frenetic style where pace and free lancing in the open court are staples of the offense.  Dorell Wright has also been playing very well for Golden State.  As their starting SF, he’s showing that he can do more than be a spot up shooter in the corner (like he was in Miami) by handling the ball some, finishing on the break, and creating for himself off the bounce in the half court.  We’ll see if the early returns can be sustained by Wright, but he’s definitely showing that he can be a solid contributor as a two way player in the Warriors’ system.

Warriors Blogs:  For excellent insight on the Dubs, check out Warriors World.

Keys to game:  For the second straight game, the Lakers face a fast paced team that loves to push the ball and get baskets in early offense.  The Warriors currently lead the league in points per game and offensive efficiency so defense will be a major key in tonight’s contest.  This is especially true in transition so the Lakers need to turn and sprint back to defend the paint and then find their men once they’ve done so.  If there’s ever a night where trying to slap the ball away from the defensive rebounder or sneaking a steal in the back court were a bad idea, tonight is it.  The Warriors will punish this lack of discipline with a quick strike attack so the Lakers need to mind the defensive game plan by getting back to slow the Warriors’ primary and secondary break.

In the half court, the Warriors run a lot of pick and roll, so the Lakers won’t have to change too much of what they did against the Suns when facing the Dubs.  With Curry out, Ellis will be the primary initiator of this set so the Lakers must find a way to simultaneously slow down Monta while not giving up too much to the screen man.  The Warriors two man game between Ellis/Lee will be a tough one to stop as Lee shows variety on offense by both picking and popping to shoot his jumper in the 15-18 foot range while still being a capable dive man and finishing in the paint.  And when you add that to Monta’s blinding quickness when coming off the screen and his steadily improving jumper, there’s really no easy answers when defending this action.  If I had my way, I’d have the Lakers go under the screen and make Monta a shooter, but he’s in such a groove right now that he may bury jumpers and force a change in strategy.  So, my actual suggestion would be to vary the strategy depending on initiation point of the screen by hedging and recovering when the screen is set above the three point line, switching if the screen is set within 18 feet, and going under the pick and making the ball handler take long two pointers (the most inefficient shot in the game) if the screen is set at the top of the key.  But again, there are no easy answers here so the Lakers must be disciplined by following the plan and not getting discouraged if some shots fall.  This team does score well, so it shouldn’t be a surprise if they’re knocking down shots.

Offensively, the Lakers have the same advantages against this team that they did against the Suns and I expect a very similar game plan.  First and foremost that means getting the ball inside to both Pau and Odom.  Biedrins is a solid defender but he lacks the bulk to deny Pau good position so option number one should be to let Pau work from the post.  I especially would like to see Pau set up on the left block so that his lefty hook when drop stepping baseline can be utilized.  Remember, Biedrins is a left handed player so when Pau uses his strong (right) hand, he’ll be shooting against Biedrin’s strong hand too.  By going to his left, he neutralizes some of Andris’ shot blocking ability.  Odom too should be featured on the low block against David Lee.  Lee is not a good defensive player and can be beaten on straight post ups and with quick drives if isolated in space from the mid-post.  LO has shown that he’s ready to be an offensive contributor from these exact areas, so I hope the Lakers take advantage of this match up tonight.  Obviously there’s still Kobe and Artest as viable offensive options against this team and I would not be surprised at all to see both set up on the low block to punish Wright, Williams, Radman, et al in the post.  But overall, I hope to see the Lakers’ bigs carry the day against this team.

Earlier on we mentioned pace being a big part to this game, but rebounding will also be key.  The Suns out rebounded the Lakers on Friday and in their preseason match ups the Lakers struggled to control their defensive glass against the Warriors.  Some of that is because the Lakers’ D was scrambling because of how quickly teams like the Suns and W’s change ends so when a shot went up it was hard to find a man.  But it also just comes down to marking players when the shot goes up.  The Warriors big men are active on the glass so this will be an important stat to keep track of as the game goes on.  If the Warriors are close or leading in the second half, I’m nearly positive a big part of it will be because they’ve got a rebounding advantage and have double digit offensive rebounds.

Where you can watch:  6:30pm start time on Fox Sports West.  Also listen on ESPN Radio 710am.  Remember too, for all of you outside the LA area, NBA League Pass has its free preview going on until Tuesday, so check your cable provider for the game.

Phoenix Suns forward Grant Hill (L) and Channing Frye (R) try and block out Los Angeles Lakers forward Pau Gasol during Game 6 of the NBA Western Conference finals in Phoenix, Arizona May 29, 2010. REUTERS/Rick Scuteri (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

Well, that looked familiar.

Using their advantages inside and that Kobe Bryant guy on the wing, the Lakers took down the Suns on 114-106 on Friday night.  Extending their road opener winning streak to 6 straight seasons, starting their season 2-0, and earning Phil Jackson his 1,100th career coaching victory all in the same evening (the quickest coach to ever get there, by the way).  All in all, a pretty good night I’d say.

Really, this incarnation of the Suns doesn’t have too much of a chance against this specific Laker team.  Their margin for error against a team with as much size, as much skill, and that executes as well as this Lakers team is just too slim.  Phoenix would have to play a nearly perfect game.  We saw that last spring in the western conference finals and we saw it again last night.

Phoenix played with heart and they executed their sets.  Steve Nash, while relatively contained individually (8 points, 9 assists), still captained a terrific offense by pushing the ball and getting his players the rock in their sweet spots.  Countless times he hit Robin Lopez with pin point passes as he dove to the hoop on P&R’s.  Other times he threw the ball ahead to Grant Hill to work off the dribble in space and shoot his (still) killer mid-range jumper.  When Nash went to the bench, Goran Dragic seamlessly replaced him by executing nearly as flawlessly, continuing to keep the Suns in the game with his ability to create off the dribble to either score or set up his teammates.  Really, the Suns played a very good game on offense ending the night with an efficiency rating of 109.6 (a bit below their standard set in year’s past, but still very good).

But it wasn’t enough.  Not against this Laker team.  This Laker team just has too much talent.  Kobe Bryant is like a bull that sees red when he travels to the Arizona desert.  He may not yet be 100%, but he’s inching closer to that mark and last night showed how close he is.  #24 shot 9-19 from the field, scored 25 points, grabbed 7 rebounds, and tallied 3 assists.  He showed excellent lift on his jumper (for the most part), and again showed comfort backing down players from the extended wing to earn the good post position that set up his turn around jumper.  Last night, Kobe was looking more like Kobe again and that’s something that opponents should start to worry about.

But the real difference makers in this game were the Lakers big men.  When Gasol and Odom see “Suns” on the schedule they must get giddy.  Even before Amar’e Stoudemire became a Knickerbocker, the Lakers bigs have had their way on the Suns’ interior.  But now that the remaining bigs are Robin Lopez (who had a very good game last night and continues justify his draft position in his 3rd season) and Channing Frye, the Suns have virtually no shot of slowing down the Lakers big men – especially if they’re not going to battle for position, show any defensive variety with half or full fronts, or use any other tricks to disrupt the comfort zone of LA’s big men.  Pau narrowly missed a triple-double on the night with his line of 21 points, 8 rebounds, and 9 assists while Odom beasted his way to 18 points (on 12 shots) and 17 rebounds with 5 dimes.  The assist numbers for both players is especially staggering as they dissected the Suns defense by hitting cutters diving to the hoop and wide open shooters spotting up on the perimeter any time the defense over-helped in any way.  There’s just a gulf between the quality of big that the Lakers offer and that of the Suns – a gulf that will only widen when Andrew Bynum returns.

To top off this game, the Lakers bench again showed that they are a unit to be reckoned with.  Blake, Barnes, and Brown are all playing high caliber ball and have been since early in the preseason.  They’re showing a chemistry on both offense and defense that this team hasn’t seen from its reserves since the great run of 2008.  They’re all playing so well that it’s really difficult to even single one of them out as being the key player for the unit.  Blake is obviously the general of the group, showing poise and a feel for getting players the ball that everyone benefits off of.  While Brown (who still has some gunner in him) is proving a quality bench scorer that may well average double digit points off the pine this season.  And then there’s Barnes who continues to do all the little things like he’s a SF version of Lamar Odom.  He hits the glass hard and just finds ways to the basketball either when it’s loose or when by slashing to the cup to make himself available for a pass.  Many are clamoring to find this group a nickname, but handing out monikers really isn’t my deal.  For now, I’ll just call them difference makers and leave it at that.

Two games into the year and the Lakers have two wins.  It’s to be expected, but I’m still excited nonetheless.  This team is showing grit and flair.  It’s business-like and still having fun.  The starters and bench are showing a rapport both while playing on the court and when cheering each other when off it.  This is a team, a great one at that.  Even the guys that aren’t getting much burn seem engaged on the bench and ready to contribute if their number gets called.  And, again, Bynum isn’t even back yet.  The journey has only just started but I can already see that this team has the makings of something special.

Lakers at Suns Game Preview

Jeff Skibiski —  October 29, 2010

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The 1-0 Lakers head to the Valley of the Sun tonight to face a drastically different Phoenix squad than the one that took them to six games in last year’s Western Conference Finals (shout out to Ron Artest…that Game 5 winner is still fresh in my mind). That old stalwart with the long hair and perfectly arched three point shot is still around, but the pieces–new and old–surrounding him after Amar’e Stoudemire’s offseason departure remain somewhat of a mystery at this point. That said, here are a few things to look for in tonight’s road opener:

* The Lakers new-and-improved point guard tandem of Derek Fisher and Steve Blake gets its first test of the young season against an elite point guard (apologies to Aaron Brooks) in the aforementioned Steve Nash. Unlike past seasons, though, when Nash had the luxury of dumping the ball down to Stoudemire, his role has been more of a scoring point guard through the Suns’ first two games. In fact, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, the pesty guard’s 26 points in Phoenix’s season opening loss to Portland and 18 points in the Suns’ win against Utah last night—both of which either led or tied for the team lead in scoring—is a rather rare feat for Nash, who only accomplished that once in consecutive games during the 2009-2010 season. As Steve goes, so too go the Suns, which makes stopping him priority number one for the Lakers.

* Though Stoudemire has never been known as a prominent rebounder or defender, he still filled the lane in a way that no current Suns player is capable of emulating on a consistent basis. Robin Lopez proved in last year’s playoffs that he has the potential to become a force down low and the offseason band-aid pick-up of Hakim Warrick will undoubtedly help some, but at the end of the day, the Lakers—Bynum or no Bynum—should be able to fully take advantage of the size disparity between the two teams. Pau pulled down a gritty 11 boards in the home opener against Houston and I’d look for him to meet or exceed that number tonight. Despite his efforts, the Lakers found themselves in an unfamiliar position against the Rockets, who badly outrebounded them 53-44. Against a larger Yao Ming-led Houston team, it makes a little more sense; a similar effort against Phoenix would be inexcusable, though.

* The Lakers have won each of their last five road openers, but these types of early season games against a hungry team like the Suns, whose crowd will no doubt be ready to take some vengeance out on the forum blue and gold, are always dangerous. As we all witnessed in the Conference Finals last season, Phoenix’s stellar outside shooting and athleticism were able to mitigate some of the Lakers’ largest strengths. Moreover, the zone defense employed by Alvin Gentry really caught the Lakers off guard and if it weren’t for Artest’s put-back in Game 5, who knows what direction the series could have turned.

* Overall, the Suns roster reminds me a bit of a Thanksgiving dinner without the stuffing and cranberry sauce. Sure, they have some talented pieces—especially with their surplus of small forward types (Grant Hill, Hedo Turkoglu, Jared Dudley and even Josh Childress, though he’s listed as as a two)—but their roster appears unbalanced and incomplete by today’s NBA standards. Against a team like the Lakers, who can throw any combo of Artest, Matt Barnes, Lamar Odom and Kobe on you, one of Phoenix’s most important advantages is taken away. If you’re Phoenix, where is the stuffing needed to fill the lane against the physical rosters of the league’s elite teams?

* The Lakers will have had three days off by tipoff time, which for most teams might be considered a little counterproductive at this time of the year. The Lakers aren’t in that category, though, with several players—most notably, one Kobe Bryant—still recovering from injuries. With Tuesday night’s emotional ring ceremony and last minute victory behind them, tonight’s game should be a good gauge for where this team’s mental state resides early on in this 2010-11 season. Ideally, it would be great to see the Lakers take a focused, business-like approach to tonight’s game, keeping their feet on the pedal and extending their early season momentum.

WHERE YOU CAN WATCH: ESPN and KCAL at 7:30 p.m. PST or 710 AM ESPN Radio.

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant fakes out Phoenix Suns guard Jason Richardson who jumps up to block Bryant's shot in the second half during Game 6 of the NBA Western Conference finals in Phoenix, Arizona May 29, 2010. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

From Mark Medina, LA Times: How will the Suns look without Amare Stoudemire? – Stoudemire’s departure to New York this off-season because of free agency prompted Suns guard Steve Nash to publicly doubt the team’s chances of making the postseason. “To be honest, if I was outside this picture and a betting man, I would probably pick us to be outside of the playoffs, considering all the changes and the new guys, Nash told the SB Nation Arizona’s Seth Pollack. Of course, Bryant doesn’t feel bad for Phoenix’s off-season adversities, including losing Stoudemire to free agency and Leandro Barbosa in a trade.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: Three months ago, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson seriously considered retiring. He still loved the game, but concerns over his health, fatigue and the constant travel surrounding an NBA season seemed to be wearing on him. Positive feedback regarding a series of medical tests and a week at his lakeside home in Montana, however, proved enough to make him feel rejuvenated and commit to another season. In fact, Jackson felt so energized that he was willing to collaborate on a photography book commemorating the Lakers’ 2010 NBA championship with NBA Entertainment senior photographer Andrew Bernstein. Jackson’s witty and insightful captions to photos Bernstein took from the beginning of training camp through the victory parade make “Journey to the Ring,” scheduled for a Nov. 10 release, a quality read. I recently highlighted Bernstein’s thoughts on the overall concept.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: Lakers Coach Phil Jackson outlined the tough road ahead it will be for finding a proper balance in minutes for the Lakers’ backcourt. And in the Lakers’ 112-110 season-opening victory Tuesday against the Houston Rockets, it was Sasha Vujacic who didn’t make an appearance for a single minute. “It’s real tough to play five guards,” Jackson said after Thursday’s practice at the Lakers’ facility in El Segundo. “We know that. He knows that. All of our guards know it.” Jackson’s rationale for leaving Vujacic out entails the fact that Shannon Brown scored 16 points on six of nine shooting in 21 minutes. That led Jackson “ride the hot hand,” as he called it, even if he had planned for Vujacic to defend against Houston guard Kevin Martin, who scored 26 points on eight of 17 shooting, including going three of six from three-point range.

From C.A. Clark, Silver Screen and Roll: The basketball statistical revolution is coming. Slowly but surely, advanced statistics are creeping into the game. The signs are everywhere: John Hollinger is a prominent national basketball writer for ESPN, primarily on the basis of his statistical model for player evaluation, PER. Daryl Morey and Rich Cho are two of the youngest GMs in the league, and both have foundations less rooted in basketball than in statistics. More than half the league’s teams employ at least one full-time analyst devoted to statistical work. Regardless of how you feel about advanced stats, it is impossible to ignore the growing impact they have on the modernizing NBA.

From Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: It’s commonly said the triangle offense doesn’t require the services of a “true” point guard. Certainly over the course of his 11 championships, Phil Jackson hasn’t made a featured player out of any of those at his disposal, and most have been atypical compared to the ball-dominant, lightning bug types generally featured around the league. That’s how it’s been, but why? Is it a chicken/egg deal, where P.J. hasn’t made stars out of his point guards because he hasn’t had star caliber players to choose from, or does the triangle truly favor Ron Harper/Derek Fisher/B.J. Armstrong types? With Phoenix on the docket for Friday night, I asked Brian Shaw Thursday at practice what would happen if they dropped two-time MVP Steve Nash into L.A.’s system.

From Dave McMenamiin, ESPNLA: The culture in the Los Angeles Lakers’ locker room dictates that you are expected to play hurt. During last year’s playoffs, when Kobe Bryant was dragging his bum knee up and down the court and half the Lakers roster was dealing with a myriad of maladies of their own, Bryant said nobody wanted to be the first “punk” and sit out a game. Lakers free agent acquisition Theo Ratliff is quickly learning the code. Ratliff is beginning his 16th NBA season and, at 37 years old, is the sixth oldest player in the NBA according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The wear and tear of more than 800 games worth of battles in the paint is starting to catch up with him.

From Mike Trudell, Basket Blog: It wasn’t long ago that the Phoenix Suns were pushing the Lakers to six games in a hard-fought Western Conference Finals matchup, but one offseason move has left a major question mark in the Valley of the Sun. For the majority of the past six seasons, All-Star power forward Amare Stoudemire was on the finishing end of All-Star point guard Steve Nash’s gift-wrapped passes. Stoudemire possesses a unique combination of size, explosiveness and touch that made him a deadly offensive player despite his lack of impact on the other end. He averaged 23 points and nine boards while playing in all 82 regular season games in 2009-10, but after a similarly effective playoffs decided to bolt for New York.

From Mike Trudell, Basket Blog: Ron Artest made a big difference on the basketball court throughout L.A.’s run through the 2010 playoffs, and even hit the biggest shot in Game 7 of the Finals against Boston. Throughout the summer and into the 2010-11 season, Artest is trying to make an even bigger difference off the floor while shining a light on mental health issues in kids for their ultimate benefit and well-being. Artest has managed to create quite a buzz around the topic by announcing his in-place plan to auction off his 2010 championship ring. Dressed sharply in a suit, Artest joined “Larry King Live” on Wednesday evening to discuss:

From Todd Behrendt, Fox Sports: Shannon Brown may have collected his second ring in L.A. on Tuesday night, but even among the Lakers‘ faithful, he’s known much more for his crowd-pleasing, above-the-rim exploits than for any meaningful contributions to the team’s back-to-back championships. And he’d really like that to change. “I really don’t want nobody to mention my dunks no more,” Brown said after the game. Given Brown’s “up-ability” (Phil Jackson’s word, not mine), that probably won’t ever happen. But if he continues to play like he did in the Lakers’ opener, people will at least have something to talk about besides his dunks.