Archives For January 2011

For most of the year, a topic of (at least some) concern has been the play of Ron Artest. In early December we covered the topic and ultimately came to the conclusion that Ron wasn’t playing as poorly as some of his numbers looked and that a lot of what we were judging Ron’s performances on were based on comparisons to the strong play of Barnes and the fact that the Lakers were missing Bynum.

Well, since both of those factors have changed in recent weeks (Barnes has been out injured and Bynum has since returned) I thought now would be a good time to take another look at Artest and see if his performance has changed with different circumstances.

Low and behold, his performance has indeed changed. And it’s done so for the better. Below are some of Artest’s offensive numbers for the season and then for the past 8 games (when Barnes has been out with his knee injury):

Season: 28 mpg, 8.3 points, 41.2% FG, 39.3% 3point FG, 50.2% True Shooting
Last 8 games: 35mpg, 11 points, 49.2% FG, 43.8% 3point FG, 63% True Shooting

Granted, the increase in points per game can easily be attributed to his jump in minutes. But what about the increased efficiency? Artest has been shooting the ball much better from both two and three point distance and it’s reflected in his 13% jump in true shooting (a measure of shooting efficiency that takes into account 3 pointers and FT’s). And when watching him, it’s obvious that he’s so much more comfortable on offense than he’s been all season. Gone (for the most part) is the indecisiveness when he has the ball in his hands and he is working within the offense better than he has all season. Several times a game now he’s making excellent reads on when to dive into the post and his teammates are noticing by delivering the ball to him in prime position to score. When on the perimeter, he’s no longer second guessing on when to shoot but rather firing away when the shot presents himself – though still showing good patience and recognition on what’s a good shot and what’s not.  While it’d be a stretch to say he’s a completely different player, he’s worlds ahead of where he was 6 weeks ago.

And it’s not just on offense that I’ve seen an improvement in Ron’s game. In the linked post on him from earlier this year, we mentioned that his focus on D wasn’t quite the same as it was last season. Well, that’s no longer the case. In this recent stretch (and before it too, actually) Ron’s defense has again been completely smothering. He’s pressuring ball handlers, getting deflections, and working as hard as ever off the ball by bodying his man and making him uncomfortable. Against the Jazz the Lakers announcers mentioned several times how “you can’t play around with the ball with Artest on you” in reacting to how much trouble C.J. Miles was having whenever he tried to use his dribble to attack Ron. I really can’t say enough about how disruptive he’s been in swiping at the ball when players are tying to make a move and forcing miss dribbles that ultimately lead to turnovers.

And while there are likely several reasons for Ron’s improved play, I don’t think you can discount the fact that without Barnes to soak up minutes at SF, Ron no longer has anyone over his shoulder looking to take substantial minutes from him. This allows him to play much more like last season where he often had to work through mistakes or stretches of below average play, giving him the chance to find any lost rhythm more quickly. This can often lead to a calmer, more focused player and the results that come with that.

Whatever the reasons though, it’s just great to see Ron playing better and contributing to the team’s success. In his first season and a half with the team I think we can all agree that few players care about winning or compete as hard as Ron. Personally, I love to see players rewarded for that type of determination and lately that’s exactly what we’ve been seeing. Hopefully, when Barnes returns, we see this same level of play as that would go a long way towards helping the Lakers reach their ultimate goal.

(Land O’ Lakers had this clip of Phil Jackson talking about a potential retirement after this season on their site yesterday. This interview was conducted in December, so some of you may have already seen this, but for those of you who haven’t, enjoy!)

Yesterday, Forbes released their NBA franchise values yesterday and the New York Knicks surpassed the Lakers in overall value. You can check the Forbes report here.

From Dan Feldman, Piston Powered: Forbes released its projections for NBA franchise values today, and the Pistons slipped to 13th at $360 million. The declines hardly comes as a surprise, but it’s still not encouraging to see. I worry about the timing of this report, because based only on blind odds, the projection is more likely to hinder negotiations between Karen Davidson and Tom Gores than help the process. One side could easily use Forbes’ $360 million projection to strengthen its bargaining power, and I doubt the other side would be thrilled with that. Still, there’s a chance both sides were already hovering around a $360 million price tag, and Forbes’ report just confirmed to Davidson and Gores the deal was fair. I’m hoping for that.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: Sitting at his locker, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant held court with a handful of reporters in a joyful mood that captured the Lakers’ 120-91 victory Tuesday over the Utah Jazz. Informed that he has shot at least 50% in the past seven games, Bryant deadpanned, “I’m good.” Amid the Lakers’ balance that featured a team-high 36 assists and a continuously strong defensive performance that held the Jazz to 41.9% shooting, Bryant offered a quick reminder that the team shouldn’t rest on his laurels. “Just because it’s my 15th year,” Bryant said, “doesn’t mean I can’t get better.” And at one point, Bryant went into a profanity-laced tirade, joking he wasn’t going to keep answering the “million questions” reporters had for him.

From Broderick Turner, LA Times: Andrew Bynum had more rebounds than shot attempts against the Utah Jazz on Tuesday and had more blocked shots than personal fouls.?? That was a sign of how far the Lakers’ center has come since being inserted into the starting lineup. ??His focus, however, is not on offense, but on defense, rebounding and being a deterrent.?? “We have a lot of scorers on this team, so offensively, if you get a play run for you, you better be successful with it because we’ve got a lot of guys who are able to score,” Bynum said after the 29-point win over the Jazz. “But defensively, I think I can be active and challenge a lot of shots, change a lot of shots.”?? And that’s what he did against the Jazz, blocking three shots, altering several others, while picking up just two fouls.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: That’s partially why the Lakers have yet to see the full benefits Bynum has brought, though there have been a few steps he’s taken. He fought through a torn meniscus in his right knee during the 2010 NBA Finals. He’s also bolstered the team’s record since returning this season to the starting lineup in the past 15 games to 12-3, its defensive identity to the third-best in opponent’s field-goal percentage, and with an average of 13.3 points on 59.3% shooting, 8.7 rebounds and 2.3 blocked shots in 27.2 minutes. Bynum’s injuries are also partially why he’s yet to achieve what he deems to be a significant goal in making the NBA All-Star team, though going through a 23-game stretch last season without a double-double didn’t help his cause, either. With the league set to announce Thursday the All-Star starters for the game that takes place Feb. 20 at Staples Center, it’s conceivable Bynum will have to wait another season to fulfill that position.

Familiar Foes

Darius Soriano —  January 26, 2011

It’s been said that familarity breeds contempt.

In personal relationships this idiom is often used to explain how people grow tired of/lose respect for those that they live with and/or work. How those every day interactions lead to getting too familiar with a person’s faults or those traits that ultimately become annoying.

However, when applying this to basketball I often think of a different type of contempt – the kind that leads wanting to demolish those foes that you’ve gone to battle against countless times year after year. I also think of the confidence that comes from the results of those match ups and started to think about the Lakers.

Ultimately, this led me to look at the Lakers schedule and examine their recent results with one eye, while looking to their future games with the other. What I found is that the Lakers have actually been quite good at vanquishing familiar foes and/or seeking revenge against those teams that have defeated them at earlier points in the season.

Take for example the Utah Jazz in last night’s game. The Lakers have faced the Jazz countless times over the years (after all, they play in the same conference and face off at least 3 times each regular season). But beyond the matchups in regular season, these teams have also matched up in the last 3 playoffs. Each time the Lakers have laid them to waste and each time their confidence grew (in successive years, the Lakers dispatched them in less games than the playoffs prior – needing 6 games in ’08, 5 in ’09, and sweeping last spring). Plus, when looking to earlier this season, the Jazz are a team that has handed the Lakers one of their 13 losses. Surely that defeat was also on the mind of the Lakers as they downed the Jazz last night.

Keeping with the theme of in-season redemption, there have been other examples of the Lakers seeking revenge against those teams that have beaten them earlier the current campaign. When the Lakers played the Pacers for the 2nd time this year, they clearly wanted payback (and delivered it handily). After losing to the Suns and Nuggets in back to back contests in early November, the Lakers handed them defeats in rematches this month with the most recent Denver game fresh on all our minds (those teams also fall into the playoff foe category as they’ve both been post-season opponents in the past several years).  We’ll see if this trend continues when the Lakers face the Spurs next week and the Mavs in March. Will the want of revenge play a part in those games? (I think it will.)

This concept does go both ways, though. The Bulls, Bucks, Clippers, and Grizzlies all fell to  the Lakers before taking revenge in their next match ups with the defending champs.

And the greatest of all motivation (a Finals defeat) will surely be on the mind of the Celtics when they vist Staples on Sunday. These teams certainly have a historical rivalry that pushes these games to another level, but the recent match ups and familiarity of the teams will also play its part in ratcheting up the contempt and the desire to win these contests.

I bring all this up because here at FB&G we consistently focus on the X’s and O’s and what schematic adjustments will be needed in order to claim a win. But coaches will often turn to motivational tactics beyond what can be drawn up on a greaseboard to prepare them to play a particular opponent. Especially when the foe in the other jersey is a familiar one.

From Kevin Ding, OC Register: If the guys in green remain the greatest threat, the Lakers are peaking at the right time before the big test from the Boston Celtics again. With a 120-91 destruction of the Utah Jazz on Tuesday night, the Lakers have won 10 of their past 12 games. Lakers coach Phil Jackson said before the game that the team had been playing better in recent weeks, and the Lakers played flat-out great with a season-high 34 assists and a 38-point lead at one point. After another tuneup against cellar-dwelling Sacramento on Friday, the Lakers play host to the Celtics on Sunday at Staples Center, their first meeting since the Lakers’ 2010 NBA Finals victory.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: After their team’s 120-91 victory Tuesday over the Utah Jazz, the Lakers’ locker room, crowded with players and reporters alike, showed signs that the team is suddenly gelling. Forwards Ron Artest, Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter laughed out loud amid conversation about the win. Guard Kobe Bryant jokingly chided reporters for asking a “million questions” before agreeing to talk further, something that’d never happen after a rough stretch. And forward Lamar Odom openly wondered how often his successful floater before running out of bounds will be replayed on ESPN’s SportsCenter (“It’s up there.”) The Lakers’ willingness to stay for a prolonged time to speak with the media, Bryant’s teasing of Shannon Brown for bricking a fast-break dunk (“I found it funny”) and Coach Phil Jackson granting the team the day off Wednesday were all reactions to what transpired on the floor.

From Mark Heisler, LA Times: Mr. Clutch comes through for the Lakers again!?? Yes, it was Jerry West, Mr. Laker, himself, pointing out the Lakers don’t defend because they can’t.?? Now that everyone is agreed on that point?? Coach Phil Jackson said, “He’s right,” adding his players actually can defend if they “do a lot of things right.” ??Right, like trying.?? Lakers players didn’t take West’s comments as a compliment, although as Kobe Bryant noted, “The intensity, we could definitely ratchet it up and we have.”

From Dave McMenamin, Land O’ Lakers: Well, Jerry West, this one was for you. The “long in the tooth” Lakers made the Jazz look like they had one foot in the grave in a dominant win against a playoff-caliber team. Playing in their first game since West’s comments degrading the Lakers’ defense surfaced , Los Angeles clamped down on Utah on the defensive end, holding the Jazz to just 32.6 percent shooting in the first half while building a 28-point lead at the break. “We’ve been pretty good defensively all year. All year,” Kobe Bryant said, repeating himself for extra emphasis. “Numbers don’t lie.”

From Andy Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: Here are some talkies to complement Brian’s postgame analysis. As one would expect, a 29 point beatdown put Kobe Bryant in a very light mood. Good one-liners about Shannon Brown’s missed dunk and Lamar Odom’s circus-style and-one were offered, plus praise for the Laker defense, despite whatever opinions Jerry West may have. There was also a funny exchange between Kobe and’s J.A. Adande, who wondered if Andrew Bynum’s frequent time on the shelf means the Lakers are still learning what they have in Big Drew. Kobe considers the answer fairly self-evident. “We know,” insisted Kobe. “We’ve been playing with him now for years. We know exactly what he can do. It’s pretty easy for us.” Is it then the media who sometimes forgets, Adande wondered? Out of sight, out of mind, so to speak? Kobe couldn’t resist a reporter walking right into a jab served up on a silver platter.

From Dexter Fishmore, Silver Screen and Roll: Bad things happen to the Utah Jazz when they visit Staples Center. Like a kid getting dragged to the dentist, they know all too well that a trip to the Lakers’ home floor entails a heavy dose of pain that they’re more or less helpless to prevent. Utah hasn’t beaten the Lake Show at Staples since 2005, which is a fairly astonishing streak when you consider that (a) the Jazz are a solid team year in, year out, (b) they’ve faced the Lakers in the playoffs numerous times, so they’re getting plenty of cracks at the purple and gold, and (c) we’re now in the year 2011. Tonight the streak reached a cool 17 games, and not for a moment did a different outcome seem plausible. The Lakers scored on their very first possession and at no point thereafter was the game even tied. When it all wrapped up, the final score read 120 to 91, and the Jazz were sent back to SLC having gone 0-5 on their gruesome January road trip.

From Austin Burton, Dime Magazine: He’s the best player on the best team, which still counts for something. No, the Lakers don’t have the best record in the League, and some other teams are playing better right now — but L.A. is still the last team anybody wants to see in a seven-game series. Kobe is sixth in the NBA in scoring at 24.9 points per game, to go with 5.0 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game. A few less Ron Artest bricks this season, and Kobe would be joining LeBron and Russell Westbrook as the only players in the League right now averaging at least 20 points, five boards and five assists. But Kobe is the boring pick, which sucks for him because Michael Jordan racked up five MVP’s before becoming the boring pick. Kobe only has one. But in the YouTube, monster stat line, trying-too-hard-to-be-trendy era, D-Rose, Amar’e Stoudemire, LeBron … even a dark horse from the Spurs would be more interesting. And did you ever think, in a conversation involving Spurs, Kobe would be the one labeled boring?

Coming into this game, my hope was that the Lakers would jump on the reeling Jazz from the outset and carry over their strong play from Friday’s win against the Nuggets. My thought was that even though the Jazz hadn’t had much success at Staples (losing their last 16 games when visiting the Lakers) that they wouldn’t show any quit and would want to salvage their road trip with a W against the world champs so the Lakers would need to control this game early and stay on top of Utah. Well, the Lakers did exactly what I would have hoped, posting an offensive efficiency of 160.9 in the first quarter  (on their way to a 37-22 lead after 12 minutes) and never looking back on their way to a fairly easy 120-91 victory.

Really, the Lakers did nearly everything right in this game. If you were going to find one flaw in their evening it would be the 16 offensive rebounds surrendered but when forcing the opposition into 41.9% shooting and 50 misses from the field, odds are the other team is going to corral some of their own misses. But that was the only blemish in an otherwise dominant performance.

Rather than give you a blow by blow recap of how the Lakers dismantled the Jazz, here are some of the numbers and notes that caught my eye from the Lakers win:

*For the game, the Lakers posted an offensive efficiency of 131.9. To put that number in perspective, that’s 19.6 points more per 100 possessions than their average (and league leading) efficiency rating. Basically, that’s dominant offense. The Lakers big 4 offensive weapons (Kobe, Pau, Bynum, Odom) combined for 77 points, making 29 of their 41 shots from the field and 17 of their 21 FT attempts (that’s a 76.6 true shooting %). The Lakers controlled the flow of the game on offense, repeatedly working the ball inside on post ups and then rotating the ball to the open man when the Jazz defense collapsed. Kobe was especially aggressive working against Raja Bell early as he consistently used his dribble to either back him down or attack him in face up situations to get to his sweet spots and get up short jumpers. But when it wasn’t Kobe it was Gasol or Bynum or Odom doing the same. Aggressiveness ruled the night on offense for the Lakers.

*The Lakers efficiency on that side of the ball also showed in their season high 34 assists. Led by Kobe’s 6 dimes, six Lakers had at least 3 assists on the night as the Lakers picked apart the Jazz “defense” consistently. The ball moved from side to side, in and out of the post, and after a while the passing was contagious as every Lakers was looking to make the extra pass to get a teammate a better look than the one they were currently presented with. Just great teamwork on the night.

*The Lakers defense, though, was just as good as their O. I mentioned the Jazz shooting percentage but how the Lakers forced the errant shots was even more impressive than the final numbers. Nearly every Jazz field goal attempt was contested on the perimeter and especially in the paint. Andrew Bynum did tremendous work controlling the defensive interior, countless times affecting the shots of any player that came into his vicinity. On the night he had 3 blocks but he altered countless others and was a real difference maker on that end of the floor. But it wasn’t just the bigs that did work on D. The Lakers tallied 11 steals on the night as well, mostly caused by pestering ball handlers (Artest was again fantastic with quick hands against everyone he guarded) and jumping in passing lanes when that pressure led to forced passes.

*On an individual level, besides the stars stepping up I was quite impressed with a couple of bench players tonight as well. Steve Blake had a very good game tonight, giving an effort that he’s really been building towards in the past few contests. Sure his stat line of 5 points (on 2-4 shooting), 4 assists, and 3 rebounds doesn’t jump out at you but he played with great energy on both sides of the ball and seemed to make the right read on every offensive possession. He even won a jump ball against Kirilenko after making a nice defensive play to tie him up along the baseline. Luke Walton also had an excellent game, sinking all 4 of his shots from the floor for 9 points and chipping in 3 assists as well. Overall those two (only) finished +5 and +11 respectively, but considering they were big parts of ensuring that big Laker leads stayed that way I was very happy with those numbers.

Overall, this was just a great win and hopefully the Lakers can continue to play at a high level as the schedule continues to toughen up. With Boston on Sunday and the Spurs next week, the Lakers will need to bring this type of effort in order to continue to pull out wins. But for now, enjoy this one folks. It’s not too often that you witness a complete demolition of a quality team like the Jazz.  (And just for fun, also enjoy the clip of Odom hitting a circus shot below. I’ve probably watched it about 20 times already.)

Records: Lakers 32-13 (2nd in West, 6 games behind Spurs), Jazz (27-17 (6th in West, 4.5 games behind Lakers)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.3 (1st in NBA), Jazz 109.6 (8th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers Lakers 104.7 (10th in NBA), Jazz 108.3 (19th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Jazz: Deron Williams, Raja Bell, C.J. Miles, Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson
Injuries: Lakers: Matt Barnes (out); Jazz: Francisco Elson (questionable)

The Lakers Coming in: Amazingly enough, the Lakers haven’t played a game since Friday. The three days off have meant plenty of rest for the team but also plenty of questions to answer after practice sessions as the discussion about their age and ability to play defense has moved front and center as the topic of the day. Personally, I don’t know if age is as much of an issue as it’s made out to be but I can understand the concern with Kobe, Fisher, Artest, and Odom on the wrong side of 30. That said, the key to the Lakers defense will always be how well they execute their schemes on both sides of the ball as strong offense and floor balance will lead to good transition defense and more half court sets by the opposition. If the Lakers can continue to keep the tempo of the game in their favor and their opponents’ play dependent on scoring against a set defense, I think the Lakers will be just fine. Obviously the issue is ensuring those things but if it was easy we wouldn’t be talking about it now, would we?

As for other news, Theo Ratliff has returned to practice and the reports say that he looked pretty good. This will create a domino effect for the Lakers as it will now give them their entire big man rotation back and available for action while also allowing the Lakers to deactivate rookie Derrick Caracter off the active game-day roster and assign him to their D-League affiliate the Bakersfield Jam. This will allow Caracter the chance to actually get some game action under his belt and continue his development, which can only be seen as a positive if you’re looking at his long term growth as a player. Hopefully he can take advantage of his time in Bakersfield in a similar manner that fellow rookie Devin Ebanks did when he spend time with the Jam before Matt Barnes’ injury.

The Jazz Coming in: Tonight is game 5 of the Jazz’s 5 game road trip and they’re still looking for their first win. Considering the Nets, Wizards, and 76ers were 3 of their 4 previous opponents it’s pretty safe to say that the Jazz are not playing their best basketball. They’ve recently made a change to their starting line up (inserting rookie Gordon Hayward for Andrei Kirilenko) but the change didn’t help one bit (as the Jazz lost to Philly). Tonight, the Jazz will instead try CJ Miles out in the starting line up so we’ll see if he does any better in his match up with Artest (who has been playing better of late and will have a distinct strength advantage against the lefty).

The major reason that the Jazz have been struggling, though, isn’t so much the personnel but moreso the exectution they’re displaying each night – especially on defense. Rather than take my word for it, here’s Zach Lowe’s take over at the great site The Point Forward:

The four-game whitewash represents the nadir of a two-month trend that deserves some hand-wringing: the total regression of Utah’s defense, which started the season in top-10 form and now looks like a liability. 

Zach goes on to explain some of the reasons for the drop off:

One — a recurring problem for the Jazz — is no one fouls more than they do. Opponents have long feasted at the line against Sloan’s teams, and that doesn’t figure to change. The other — a new issue as of December – is the Jazz’s inability to protect the defensive glass. Over the last six weeks or so, the nightmare scenario for Utah has played out. Both of those early problematic trends have continued, while opponents have started to make shots. Teams shot 46 percent from the floor (and 39 percent from three) against the Jazz in December; those numbers have jumped to 47.3 percent and 40 percent so far in January. Meanwhile, the Jazz still give up the most free throws per shot attempt, and, most disturbing of all, they’ve settled in at 27th in defensive rebounding rate. The latter trend is especially disturbing, because Utah ranked fifth in that category last season, meaning their defensive rebounding has collapsed much more dramatically than we should have expected given the loss of Carlos Boozer (a better rebounder than either Al Jefferson or Paul Millsap).

The recent poor play from the Jazz on D has led to overall poor play and has some speculating that Deron Williams may follow in Carmelo Anthony’s footsteps by looking for a way out of town when he has an opt out of his contract at the end of next season. Needless to say, things are at a low point in the Jazz season and with a trip to Staples Center (where they haven’t won in 16 tries) doesn’t make life any easier right now.

Jazz Blogs: Salt City Hoops does a great job covering this team. As does SLC Dunk. Give them both a read for lots of insight on an old-school rival.

Keys to game: This specific match up is one that we’ve seen a hundred times and the keys to the game rarely change. The Jazz will try to play a physical game (as mentioned, they lead the league in fouls) while crisply executing their offense. The Jazz have been running the same sets for (literally) decades, so there should be no surprises here. Look for classic flex actions with lots of cross screening with some P&R’s thrown in for good measure. The Lakers will need to show good communication on all these actions while also being aware that the Jazz wings like to flash out for ball entries and then quickly cut backdoor to recieve passes against overplaying defenders. The Lakers will need to see both man and ball tonight and when their man cuts hard behind them, they’ll need to show active hands in the passing lanes to force errant passes and hopefully collect some steals off deflections.

Where the nuance comes into the defensive gameplan is in matching up with Utah’s individual talents. Williams is, quite simply, one of the more difficult match up problems in the league for any team. His size/speed/strength combination make him a load to deal with when he attacks the paint and his jumper is more than good enough to beat teams from the outside when they dare him to shoot. For all the talk of Paul, Rondo, Rose, and Westbrook (which is deserved) as elite PG’s, Williams – on any given night – is as good or better than any of them with his ability to put up 25+ points and double digit assists. The key to slowing him is to understand two things: First is that getting back in transition is must against him. He’s a freight train in the open court and unless you turn him (make him change directions) multiple times while simultaneously building a wall as he advances the ball up court, he will burn you by getting the hoop and finishing. Second, he still loves to go opposite of the screen in P&R situations by setting up defenders with a hard dribble towards the pick and then crossing back over into space where there isn’t as much help. The Lakers must be aggressive with him and show him different looks (go under screens, trail some screens, trap him some) to disrupt his flow and hopefully make him tentative. In the past Fisher has been able to somewhat bother Williams but has also found himself in foul trouble in a lot of match ups with his former teammate. Hopefully tonight Fisher can play Deron tough without picking up fouls.

In the post, the Lakers will have to deal with both Jefferson and Millsap. Both guys offer their own problems, but the cliff-notes version is that Jefferson loves to play with his back to basket even if he catches the ball as far out as 15 feet. He’s comfortable shooting his jumphook out to that distance and when he gets deeper position he’ll flash excellent footwork and keep defenders guessing with a variety of moves. The key is to stay on the ground against him, not fall for his fakes, and contest his shot when he finally releases. Both Gasol and Bynum have the length to do this, so they must stay dicipline. As for Millsap, his activity has often hurt the Lakers and he’ll do most of his damage with his face up jumper and off hard drives into the teeth of the D. Again, the Lakers must contest his shots, but most of all keep up with him as he attacks the offensive glass.

Offensively, the Jazz will have trouble defending the post (as most teams do against the Lakers). The ball must go inside against this team and make their big men pay for not being blessed with more height. Both Pau and ‘Drew have height and length advantages against the Jazz front court, so (like in recent games) the emphasis should be on working the ball inside out.

As for Kobe, he faces off with old nemesis Raja Bell tonight but this isn’t the same match up it used to be. Raja will scrap and fight with Kobe, but now that Bell is aged he no longer as the foot speed or elevation to do more than body Kobe up and put a hand up when he shoots his jumper. Kobe should be able to drive into space and shoot his mid-range jumper and should also get ample post-up/isolations at the elbow where he’s proven most dangerous of late. Tonight could also be a night where Kobe gets a lot of free points at the foul line so I’d like to see him continue in the attacking mode he’s displayed over the past month.

In the end, the Jazz are a wounded team right now and the Lakers have the opportunity to throw a knockout punch on a team weary from travel and from losing. However, Jerry Sloan coached teams won’t quit so the Lakers will need to take this game and not just expect the Jazz to give it away. In the last match up between these teams the Lakers jumped out big early only to fall behind and ultimately lose. They’d do well to remember that game and get some revenge tonight.

Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on Fox Sports West and nationally on NBA TV. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710am.

From Henry Abbott, TrueHoop: Laker fans have been disappointed at various times this season. Jerry West is talking about an old team, and Phil Jackson is not correcting him. There has been a lot of talk about lack of effort. But despite all of that, consider that as of this moment, and by a slim margin, John Hollinger’s playoff odds give the Lakers the greatest likelihood, of all 30 teams, of winning the title. There would seem to be no chance we have seen the Lakers’ best basketball of the year, so … are they the favorites?

From Dave McMenamin, ESPNLA: We all watched the highlights from Kobe Bryant’s 81-point game over the weekend, and in many ways it seemed like watching ancient history. Saturday marked the five-year anniversary of Bryant’s toasting Toronto, and since then his jersey number has gone from No. 8 to No. 24, his teammates have changed from the likes of Smush Parker and Kwame Brown to Pau Gasol and Ron Artest and even head coach Phil Jackson has gotten rid of his goatee, opting for a clean-shaven look. But the most significant change when it comes to Kobe is that the days of his racking up points on the scoreboard like it was a pinball machine may be over.

From C. A. Clark, Silver Screen and Roll: Late last week, Jerry West spoke ill of the Los Angeles Lakers’ future chances by calling the team old.  He thinks the roster’s cumulative age is an important factor in determining the team’s defensive efficiency.  He may well be right; Phil Jackson agreed that the team’s age poses certain issues defensively, especially as it pertains to team speed when trying to obtain defensive rebounds, or prevent perimeter penetration.  There’s no real way to put West’s old age theory to the test.  It’s something that he sees, and something that we all see at least in some form.  The degree to which old age will affect the Lakers’ chances in this and upcoming seasons is up for debate, but the team’s veteran hue is inescapable.

From Jeff Miller, OC Register: Kobe Bryant last week called Denver Nuggets fans “stupid” first and then, given the opportunity to clarify, characterized them as “idiots.” Good thing we aren’t a wise guy. Otherwise, we’d point out the stupefying nerve required for Bryant to question the judgment and behavior of anyone while in the greater Denver area. Bryant was talking about the decision of the fans to boo Carmelo Anthony, who has made it known he dreams of playing in New York, which, for the record, isn’t in Colorado or particularly close to the Rocky Mountains. Imagine that, people reacting negatively when told that they’re second-best, if not worse. Talk about ignorance! They should just be thankful that Anthony agreed to accept millions and millions of dollars to grace them with his outrageous skills and god-like presence, even if he won’t play defense.

From Mike Bresnahan, LA Times: The Lakers definitely get defensive when talking about their defense. ??It happened Monday, as word of Jerry West’s recent comments trickled through the locker room and spilled into media interviews after Lakers practice.? ?The NBA legend recently said his former team was having trouble defensively because of ever-advancing age, an observation that could be supported by the fact that 10 of the Lakers’ 14 players are 30 or older.?? Not that Derek Fisher wanted to hear much about it.??” You probably won’t get me to respond in any way to Jerry West.… I probably wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him,” said Fisher, 36. “But anybody else who has anything to say about how we’ve been playing defensively, it’s just unfounded and not true.

From Mike Bresnahan, LA Times: The Lakers aren’t the only team experiencing technical difficulties this season.?? Technical fouls for unsportsmanlike player behavior have increased 34% across the league from this time a year ago, part of a concerted effort by the NBA to crack down on animated on-court reactions.?? An even bigger jump can be found in rescinded technical fouls, which have increased more than 300% from a year ago.?? Referees have been busy, but the NBA office in New York has been even busier.?? “Each technical is reviewed daily so that we can ensure that both players and officials have a clear understanding of the expectations,” NBA spokesman Tim Frank said. “We are very pleased with the results so far this season.”

From Brett Houston, Coming off two fantastic offensive performances, the Utah Jazz felt good about themselves heading into a five-game road trip. Four games in, that confidence has taken a big hit – and Tuesday night’s finale doesn’t seem likely to restore it. The Jazz try to avoid their first 0-5 road trip in nearly six years by doing something they haven’t done in more than five years and 16 games – beat the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center. Utah (27-17) went into the trip on a three-game winning streak, averaging 126.0 points and shooting 55.1 percent in its last two home games against a pair of Eastern Conference opponents. That hot shooting disappeared on the Eastern portion of the Jazz’s five-game trip. Utah shot 42.2 percent and averaged just 91.8 points in dropping all four games, with Saturday’s 96-85 loss at Philadelphia the third to a sub-.500 opponent.

From Jeff Fogle, Hoopdata: ESPN ran a story Monday explaining that former GM Jerry West and current head coach Phil Jackson were concerned that age and a lack of speed was inhibiting the Los Angeles Lakers’ defense. West was quoted as saying: “If there’s a loose ball now, how often do they get to it? The reason you can’t play defense is because you can’t.” Jackson agreed: “He’s right. We have to do a lot of things right to be able to play defense the way we want to, and most of it is about controlling the tempo of a game. There’s something about just speed. Outright speed. We’re not the fastest team on the boards here in the NBA, but we can do it if we control things in the right way.”

While the Lakers have typically been seen as a team that relies on its offense (that Triangle thing they run has led to quite a few championships over the years), we’ve long said that the Lakers will go as far as their defense takes them. With a top 10 defense this year (based off defensive efficiency – points allowed per possession), the Lakers are a strong (though not elite) defensive outfit that has proven that they can get the key stop if not the ones that aren’t that crucial. This fact has led many to wonder if the Lakers really have what it takes to defend (sorry for the pun) their championship in what they hope will be a run to a third straight Larry O’Brien trophy.

One person that’s questioning the Lakers ability to play the level of defense needed is Laker legend Jerry West. The Logo mentioned that age may finally be catching up to the Lakers and added that “The reason you can’t play defense is because you can’t”.

As we linked to this morning, Land O’ Lakers caught up with Phil and asked him to repsond to to West’s comments:

“He’s right,” Jackson said. He was kidding, of course, but Jackson did elaborate. “We have to do a lot of things right to be able to play defense the way we want to, and most of it is about controlling the tempo of a game,” he said. “There’s something about just speed. Outright speed. We’re not the fastest team on the boards here in the NBA, but we can do it if we control things in the right way.”

These comments had me again thinking about the correlation between effective offensive execution and how that translates to defense.

But before I could get too far down that path in my mind, I came across a tremendous article at SB Nation by At The Hive head man Rohan Cruyff that introduced the concept of a “speed index” as a supplement to the traditional ways that we think about pace and how possessions are played out in NBA games. In the article, Rohan discusses concepts of both offensive and defensive pace, explaining that the pace of a game can not only be explained by how fast one team plays (for example, how the Suns consistently rush the ball up court and take quick shots) but also how the opposition decides to attack that same team when they then have to defend. He uses data from to examine at what point in the shot clock an offensive team shoots against the defesne they’re facing and found some great data that he charts out and explains very well. It’s really a tremendous and insightful read and you should go check it out (like, right now).

Relating this back to the Lakers, Rohan found that the team we root for is one that teams try to attack early in the shot clock by shooting quickly. In fact, the Lakers rank third in the league in terms of how quickly shots are attempted against their defense.

When thinking back to Phil Jackson’s comments, this makes tremendous sense. The Lakers are a big team and is only one of a handful of squads that possess two legitimate 7 footers in their lineup (as well as a third big man at 6’10”). This makes attacking them in the half court very difficult because as Kurt Helin said:

Since the return of Andrew Bynum to the starting lineup, the Lakers defense is better when it gets set. They have made a point of keeping Bynum home to protect the paint. The wing defenders have done a better job of funneling players looking to drive toward the baseline and toward the long arms of Bynum (and Pau Gasol).

So, by attacking the Lakers early in the shot clock teams are hoping that they can get a quality look before those trees plant themselves in the paint to contest interior shots and the Lakers aggressive wing defenders have a chance to get offensive players in their crosshairs and force them into their awaiting bigs.  This style of defense plays to the Lakers strengths because what they lack in footspeed they counter with sheer size and strength in the both the defensive post and on the wing.

Plus, the fact is that the Lakers, better than anyone else, know what their weakness is. Every game, we discuss the need to get back in transition and build a wall against whatever quick ball handler the opposition possesses. When Deron Williams and the Jazz visit Staples Center tommorow, you can bet this will come up in the same way it does when the team plays the Thunder (Westbrook), Rockets (Brooks), the Suns (Nash), etc, etc.

Getting back to Phil’s comments and what we’ve discussed here many times before, as much as the Lakers must rely on their defense as they advance through the season, remember how this ties back into their offense. Because the fact of the matter is, if the Lakers can control the tempo of their offense by not forcing up quick shots, keeping a balanced floor, and keeping the requisite number of players transitioning back on defense teams will find fewer and fewer chances to exploit this team in the open court. And if the Lakers are able to accomplish that, their defensive efficiency will only get better and they’ll be right on track in where they want to go this season.