Archives For December 2011

The Lakers couldn’t find their groove for the 2nd straight night and found themselves in a hole that was just a bit too deep to climb out of, falling to the Kings 100-91 to bring their record to 0-2 on the season. The loss is certainly frustrating, as the Lakers simply couldn’t string together effective offensive or defensive possessions until the 2nd half.  When they finally did start to make their push, the Kings were still able to hit enough shots to keep the Lakers at arm’s length. By the time the Kings finally started to show some cracks on both ends – due to ramped up defensive effort by every Laker and some excellent passing on the other end – the clock became L.A.’s biggest enemy and they simply didn’t have enough to get over the hump.

Below are some free flowing observations, bullet style, on what transpired in this one:

  • Kobe’s final line of 29 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds certainly looks good and he played a pretty good floor game most of the night. He worked well off the ball, kept his turnover count low (2 on the night), and generally played within the flow all evening. He did take 24 shots, though, and missed all 4 of his three pointers on the night. All in all, I thought Kobe played well but he did go isolation a bit more than I would have liked (especially late in the game), especially considering how well he was moving off the ball early in the contest and how that movement was occupying defenders off the ball in a manner that was freeing up his teammates for open looks.
  • Kobe’s main partner in crime, Pau Gasol, continues to be up and down. His numbers – 15 points on 7-12 shooting and 9 rebounds (4 offensive) – were good, but not up to the standard he’s set during his tenure with the team. He only shot 2 FTs on the night and his 5 defensive rebounds show his lack of activity in really going to the glass on that end most of the night. He did have some beautiful plays tonight – a fantastic right to left drive where he up faked, stepped through, and finger rolled in a basket in traffic comes to mind immediately – but overall he needs to do more with Bynum out and tonight, whether the analysis is fair or not, he didn’t.
  • The Laker that did raise his game tonight was MWP. The former Artest acted out Mike Brown’s vision of his role to perfection, doing loads of damage in the post against a Kings’ 2nd unit with little bulk on the wing. On several possessions, MWP simply bullied his man on the block by backing him down and then using leverage to spin off his man or power through him to get a shot right at the rim. He also moved well off the ball to make catches moving to the rim, where he was able to finish more easily. He finished the night with 19 points on 14 shots and carried the Lakers’ O for stretches in both halves. If he can be even half this effective on most nights, he’ll really help the team this year in this role.
  • Where the Lakers continue to struggle is on defense. The Kings guards and wings were able to break down their men off the dribble much too easily for most of the night, and it led to the type of defensive breakdowns that this team simply can’t afford. When the D collapsed to help on penetration, the ball would be kicked to the perimeter for open jumpers. When the help was late, shots at the rim were the easy result. If those shots were missed, the scrambling Lakers wouldn’t always be in position to secure the rebound and the Kings were able to reset and take another stab at the D. And the biggest culprit on D continues to be foot speed. The Kings had 19 fast break points and many of them came because they simply outran a slow group of Lakers that simply couldn’t change ends as well as the home team. This is especially obvious with L.A.’s big men, as neither Murphy nor Gasol are changing ends well. The key to transition defense will always be how quickly the big men can get back to wall off the paint and help the perimeter players better cover the wing when the ball is coming at them. The Lakers aren’t doing this well and it’s really hurting their effectiveness on that end.
  • The Lakers couldn’t buy a three pointer tonight. They only hit one(!) of their sixteen(!!) attempts from distance and their inability to hit anything from the outside completely undermined their offense as the floor got shrunk, driving lanes disappeared, and post chances got disrupted by dig downs. Meanwhile, the Kings hit half of their 18 attempts from deep, which was pretty much the difference in the game when you consider the Lakers won the battle of the boards, had more assists, and fewer turnovers. (As an aside, if you take away the Lakers 3 point attempts, they made exactly half of their FGs and 16 of their 19 FTs too. Sigh.)
  • This was a game where the Lakers’ roster imbalance really came back to bite them, as all three of their main SFs played well (Ebanks and Barnes both, in limited attempts, shot 50% and were active on the boards) while Goudelock – the only natural SG on the roster besides Kobe – played poorly (0-4 FGs for 0 points, with 0 rebounds, and only 1 assist). This meant that Kobe had to play heavy minutes (38 in all) and neither Barnes nor Ebanks got enough run because MWP was playing so well. (Also of note here, Darius Morris was inactive tonight, but both Blake and Fisher had rough outings to the point that having the rook active could have provided a spark. Unfortunately, both Kapono and Walton were active and that meant LA had a whopping 5 natural SF’s active but are only carrying 2 natural SGs and didn’t have their 3rd PG active. Again, roster imbalance is a proving to be a real issue).

Overall, this loss is difficult to swallow simply because the Kings – as young and as talented as they are – did hit some shots that on a typical night you’d think would not fall, and the Lakers couldn’t buy a basket from deep that could have made a world of difference in helping with spacing and keeping Sacto’s D honest. Plus, Kobe and Pau both played heavy minutes and with another game tomorrow night, weary legs by the key contributors could be an issue. Not to mention, 0-2 isn’t ideal either. However, it’s still hard to make any real judgments on this team without Bynum in the mix as he’s a key player who will have a domino effect on the rest of the roster through changed rotations and personnel groupings. It’d still be nice to get a win or two before he’s back, though.

Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Devin Ebanks, Josh McRoberts, Pau Gasol
Kings: Jimmer Fredette, Tyreke Evans, John Salmons, Chuck Hayes, DeMarcus Cousins

The Lakers Coming In: The Lakers opened the season with a tough loss to swallow: with less than a minute to play, the Lakers blew a six-point lead and allowed the Bulls to score the final seven points of the game, and that’s exactly what Mike Brown touched on in his post-game presser.

“We played pretty good basketball until we went down the stretch,” said Brown. “Obviously there were a lot of things that went wrong. We didn’t quite finish the game — and we had a little bit of trouble closing quarters. But uh, I thought we did a good job closing the third, which was definitely encouraging. But down the stretch, you name it, whether it was missed free throws or turnovers or unnecessary fouls or blown defensive  — we had all of that in a 50 second span.”

While there were lots of positives to take away from the season opener (Blake, McRoberts, Murphy, Ebanks, and ball movement to name a few), we still can’t shake the fact that the Lakers, and most notably Kobe, have been turning the ball over way too much through two pre-season games and one into the regular season.

The Lakers still haven’t seen a win under Mike Brown, but they proved that they still have the ability to play with one of the league’s elite teams in Chicago.

The Kings Coming In: Last year, the Kings were led by two young and talented ball players in Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins. As good and exciting as those two have been, all of their on court ups and downs were overshadowed by the fear that the Kings could be moved from their home in Sacramento. While they’ll spend at least one more season in Sacramento, things still remain unresolved in terms of bringing a new arena to California’s capitol.

While the Kings won’t be playing in a new city this season, they will be throwing out three starters new to the team this season: Jimmer Fredette, John Salmons and Chuck Hayes — two veterans and a rookie who can shoot the lights out. This Kings team also sports a bit of depth with guys like Marcus Thorton, Francisco Garcia and J.J. Hickson coming off the bench.

Kings Blogs: Make sure you check out Cowbell Kingdom and Sactown Royalty for all Kings news and updates.

Keys to the Game: For the Lakers, things remain relatively simple: Take care of the ball. After averaging 21+ turnovers in the preseason followed by a 17 turnover performance in their home opener, this team knows how costly giving teams extra possessions can be — especially against a young, fast squad in Sacramento.

For the most part, I liked what Mike Brown has done with the offense, as J.M. mentioned this morning, the offense looked its best when Kobe was moving without the ball, having him catch in different spots, making it harder for the defense to predict where Kobe would be on any given possession.

The Lakers could use a bigger contribution from Pau tonight, too. Last night, Pau had trouble shooting outside of 10 feet and uncharacteristic trouble from the free-throw line. Some of Pau’s shooting woes have a bit to do with Chicago’s defense, but more of it had to do simply with Pau’s rhythm. For most of his misses, he caught the ball in spots away from where he’s been most successful in the past: the pinch post on either side or on the left block. He also found himself in much too many isolation situations against a premier defensive unit. On plays where Pau caught the ball in pick-and-roll situations or plays where he could catch and shoot from 15-feet in, those generally ended successfully. However, there were too many times were Pau was catching the ball from 17+ feet and was forced to make plays off the dribble. To get Pau going, Mike Brown is going to have to find a way to get Pau the ball in better spots and closer to the basket.

Defensively, stopping dribble penetration will be the Lakers biggest challenge as Tyreke Evans and even Marcus Thorton have the ability to really hurt teams if they can get into the paint. Gap penetration opens up the perimeter for shooters (Fredette, Garcia, Salmons) and opens lanes for offensive rebounds (Hayes, Cousins, Hickson, Thompson). For the most part, Derek Fisher and Steve Blake did a relatively good job on making gap penetration tough on Derrick Rose, and will have to pick up where they left off tonight against Evans, who has had his way with Laker defenders in the past.

Where you can watch: Tip off is at 7 p.m. and can be watched on KCAL locally or on NBATV nationally.

The Los Angeles Lakers were defeated by the Chicago Bulls in their home opener on Christmas day. As previously covered, the purple and gold’s struggles against the Bulls came as a result of their sloppy play as well as the inability to alleviate some of the scoring burden from Kobe’s shoulders.

But if we have a bit more of an in-depth look at the game, these facts become all the more painfully obvious.

In the match-up against Chicago, Kobe Bryant seemed to be able to get his points in a variety of ways without the Bulls’ defense really being able to challenge his shots. Part of that stemmed from the fact that Mike Brown had his superstar catch the ball in a multitude of areas on the move, which made it tough for the defense to key in on the star guard.

Where the Lakers got themselves in trouble, mind you, was when the ball started to stick in Bryant’s hands (a la Melo) as he tried to isolate his defender.

Indeed, according to Synergy Sports, the Black Mamba was three-for-11 in isolation situations against Chicago and eight-for-12 in every other scenario (pick-and-roll, post ups, coming off screens, hands offs, cuts and transition).

Also, Kobe finished the game yesterday with eight turnovers, with 50 percent of them coming in the pick-and-roll and two more in isolation situations.

This poses an intriguing conundrum for Mike Brown: going back to the preseason, the star guard has been unable to hold on to the ball when faced with two defenders, but then again Kobe has been efficient shooting-wise in the screen-and-roll action.

The Lakers obviously want to avoid turning the ball over, which Bryant does in isolation situations; but then again so far his shooting numbers are less than stellar when he tries to attack single-coverage off the dribble for the time being.

Nonetheless, Kobe did a good job of getting his points against the Bulls and should be able to figure out how to be more efficient with the basketball heading into the game with the Sacramento Kings tonight. Mind you, it may be all for naught if the team’s current starting power forward/center does not bring better production.

Pau Gasol is a gifted big man with the ability to score on the block with either hand but he can also shoot the perimeter jumper as well as take his man off the dribble. He presents a combination of skills that are just too tough to handle for most opponents. And yet, against the Bulls, Pau was decent when in fact he should have been at least good.

Have a look at Gasol’s field goal attempts per game according to shot location, as compiled by Hoopdata for last season:

Shot Location

FGAs per game

At the rim

4.5

3-9 feet

4.1

10-15 feet

2.3

16-23 feet

2.8

3-pointers

0.0*

Gasol shot three 3-pointers last season, which translated in 0.03 attempts per game.

Now have a look at Pau’s shot attempts against Chicago on Christmas day:

Shot Location

FGM

FGA

At the rim

2

2

3-9 feet

3

4

10-15 feet

1

3

16-23 feet

0

3

3-pointers

0

2

The Bulls are one of, if not the best defensive team in the league. And consequently, it stands to reason that they would be able to vary their schemes and also send the tall and physical Joakim Noah after the Spaniard.

However, it would be one thing if the former Grizzly was trying to score over the Bulls defenders in the paint and kept missing because of the tough defense; but instead Pau settled for a lot of outside jumpers where he was completely unsuccessful as evidenced by his one-for-eight shooting from beyond 10 feet.

For more data on Gasol’s shooting, let’s turn to Synergy Sports. Against the Bulls, Pau converted half or more of his shots in post ups, offensive rebounds, cuts and coming off of screens. But in his field goal attempts as the pick-and-roll man, isolations and spot ups, he was a mere one-for-six from the field.

Clearly, the Lakers have to play better as a team in order to get wins, but there is no denying that it all starts with the stars. They are relied upon to set the tone and more often than not bail out their teammates out of tough situations. Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol are terrific players in their own right and if Mike Brown is able to correct these issues with his star players, the offense should run more smoothly and the Lakers should have the look and feel of an elite team.

One game down, 65 to go…

Bulls/Lakers: Opening Day Loss

J.M. Poulard —  December 25, 2011

The Los Angeles Lakers played their home opener today against the Chicago Bulls in what was an incredibly thrilling game.

The Lakers were defeated 88-87 as the reigning 1st team All-NBA guards both had a chance to win the game for their respective teams late in the fourth quarter.

Granted, the story of the game involved more than just Derrick Rose and Kobe Bryant.

Indeed, during an incredibly short preseason, the Lakers showed two flaws that could easily be corrected one would assume, but that are still problematic so far.

It’s obvious that the purple and gold are currently out of sync on offense and that has translated into turnovers. Plenty of them.

Mike Brown’s squad coughed the ball up 17 times against the Bulls, which resulted in 17 points off turnovers. Although the team lacks a bit of rhythm, one would have thought that the ball security issues that surfaced during the preseason would be addressed; but clearly such is not the case so far.

Kobe Bryant was guilty of eight miscues; most of which came when he dribbled or tried to pass the ball when trapped or in traffic. Perhaps Bryant is still trying to figure out when and how to feed his teammates given that he also had seven turnovers against the Clippers in the Lakers’ first preseason contest.

Nonetheless, his inability to hold onto the ball cost the Lakers late.

With 20 seconds left in the game, the Lakers had the ball at midcourt with a one point lead. They inbounded to Kobe who was expecting to get fouled near midcourt but Chicago instead trapped Bryant and forced a bad pass, which led to Derrick Rose converting the go-ahead bucket with four seconds left on the game clock.

The Black Mamba still had the opportunity to redeem himself as the Lakers called timeout to set up a play for their star. Bryant caught the ball at the top of the key and blew by Luol Deng to get in the lane for a lay-up that the Bulls’ small forward recovered to block from behind.

Although the miscues were part of the reason that the Bulls emerged with the victory, they were also aided by Los Angeles’ inability to defend the 3-point line. On Christmas day, Chicago converted seven-of-15 3-pointers (46.7 percent from 3-point percentage). Derrick Rose was four-of-six from deep and made most of his long-range shots off the dribble.

The Lakers will have to put this loss behind them quickly since they will be moving on to play the Kings tomorrow night. Nonetheless, Brown’s unit had a six-point lead with less than 50 seconds left in the game and allowed Chicago to steal the game from them.

The Lakers were on their way to a victory it seemed, because they did a solid of job of on the boards, outrebounding a physical Bulls frontline 42-41; and also because they benefitted from some solid play from Steve Blake (12 points on four-for-nine shooting).

Kobe Bryant may have had some trouble holding onto the ball in this game, but he was his usual self as far as scoring against the Bulls. He made jumpers from different areas on the court, took the ball to the basket and got fouled.

Part of the reason that Chicago remained within striking distance throughout can be attributed to the absence of Andrew Bynum who is currently serving a four-game suspension.

Normally the Lakers would have three scorers to carry the load but on this night they had to rely heavily on the exploits of Kobe given Joakim Noah’s tough defense on Gasol. The Spaniard scored early in the game on the block but slowly drifted out to the perimeter as Noah kept pushing him out outside of the paint.

Worth noting, Matt Barnes did not play in this game, as Devin Ebanks and Metta World Peace got all of the minutes at small forward.

Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Devin Ebanks, Josh McRoberts, Pau Gasol
Bulls: Derrick Rose, Richard Hamilton, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah
Injuries: Lakers: Kobe Bryant (probable); Bulls: none

The Lakers Coming in: The new season is here, change is upon the Lakers and with that, an interesting vibe has surrounded the Lakers. Suddenly, they’re the team many are counting out as a viable contender to win the title. This is strange ground for a team that employs Kobe, Pau, and Bynum but here we are anyway.

However, where the outsiders looking in see weakness, those inside must see opportunity to once again exceed expectations. Remember, this is a prideful team that is coming off an embarrassing end to their last season and still possess championship aspirations. The off-season hasn’t been the smoothest but what would Laker basketball be without a little drama?

The Bulls Coming in: The Bulls continue to operate under the radar and I’m sure that suits them just fine. Derrick Rose signs a monster extension, it gets some national press for a day or two, and then everyone is back to talking about Lob City or Kobe’s wrist. They pick up Rip Hamilton to compliment the reigning MVP in the backcourt and it gets a head nod, a few “that’s a good move” tweets, and everyone moves on. Maybe it’s the understated nature of Rose or the fact that the glamour teams are still in Miami and Los Angeles, but in any event, this team just seems to go about its business with few heads turning.

However, now is the time for the Bulls to take the next step as a franchise and try to reclaim the heights that Michael Jordan left as a legacy for this team and that city. As mentioned, Rose is the game’s MVP, recognized as one of the elite players at any position. Deng has grown into one of the best two way players in the league, a title Jo Noah also possesses. When you add in the offensive virtues of Boozer and Hamilton, the coaching prowess of Tom T., and a solid bench this is clearly one of the teams to beat not only in the East, but in the entire league. Whether they can make the push in this shortened season, when their coach likes to play his starters heavy minutes, remains to be seen. But, make no mistake, they’re primed to make a run. And last year’s experience of falling short to the Heat will only make them stronger in the pursuit of their goals.

Bulls Blogs: By the Horns and Blog-A-Bull are two very good sites that deserve your time.

Keys to game: The Bulls will give the Lakers everything they can handle as their strengths directly attack the areas where the Lakers can be vulnerable.

Derrick Rose is the game’s premier penetrating guard and he’s surely licking his chops at the thought of being matched up against Fisher or Steve Blake in isolation on the weak side. With Andrew Bynum serving game one of his four game suspension, the issue is only exacerbated as Rose will have one less shot blocking big body to deal with when he put his head down to attack the tin.

The Lakers will need to play Rose smartly by backing off, encouraging him to take his jumper, while also showing him a second defender early and often in possessions when he’s working at the top of the key. In pick and roll situations the Lakers will hedge hard but the key is to try and make Rose pick up his dribble or pass the ball in order to deny him from getting the ball back so he can go back to work. Any possession that ends with a player not named Rose trying to create a shot for himself or a teammate is a step in the right direction.

That said, Rose isn’t the only Bulls weapon. Deng is a fantastic mid-range player that is very effective 18 feet and in both with his jumper and in going to the hoop. He’s not the most athletic player, but he’s smart with his movement and will find creases in the D if they’re made available to him. Ebanks will have his hands full chasing Deng around the court but the Lakers’ 2nd year pro has the length and foot speed to make Deng’s life a bit harder.

Of course, Boozer and Noah also pose problems for most teams. Boozer’s post game is still mostly left handed as he loves to drive to his off hand to try and finish at the rim or pull up after one or two dribbles to shoot his mid-range jumper. When he works the post, he’ll often settle for a fadeaway, but that too is a shot that must be respected and challenged as he can quickly find a rhythm. Noah meanwhile is one of the most active bigs in the league in going to the offensive glass and has great feel when operating in the middle of the floor as a playmaker. He’ll often serve as an outlet for Rose when he’s trapped in the P&R, so the Lakers must be aware of Noah making a catch at the FT line and then either driving hard for a shot at the rim or kicking the ball quickly to a shooter camped out behind the arc. Both Rip Hamilton and Kyle Korver will need to be marked in these instances.

For the Lakers to slow all these threats, they’ll need to have their heads on swivels and move as one on defense. Players off the ball must be aware of where Rose is at all times but also mustn’t get too caught up ball watching as every other starter on the floor can hurt the team should he shake free. The key will be bottling Rose early in the clock, turn him into a passer, and then hope that either Boozer or Deng have to create for themselves against the shot clock. One match up I’d like to see is for Brown to use Gasol on Boozer as he’s had problems with Pau’s length since his days with the Jazz. This would put McRoberts on Noah (edge Chicago), but Josh too is an active player that goes hard every minute he’s on the floor so he may be the best person to throw at the hyperactive Joakim from the opening whistle.

Offensively the Lakers will need to sort out their system and find the creases in one of the stingiest defenses this league has. Thibodeau thrives on containing elite wing scorers like Kobe, so moving #24 around to different parts of the floor and off screens to free him up should be a big part of the plan. Kobe will likely see a lot of Deng, so working the post against a bigger player may not be ideal but I trust Kobe to find what works – especially with his bum wrist – and go from there.

However, the Lakers also need to go inside early and often. Bynum may be out, but Gasol is still one of the premier big men in the league and whether he’s jousting with Noah (likely) or Boozer, he still needs his touches in order to both get his own shot and to facilitate offense from the low post.

Make no mistake, though, the Lakers are a bit shorthanded and will need one of their role players to have a good game if they’re to pull this one out. Blake will need to get hot from the outside or Ebanks will need to hit a few jumpers to loosen up the defense so he can drive (while also creating space for his teammates). MWP will need to hit some shots off the bench and a couple of threes from Murphy wouldn’t hurt either. Basically, it will take a team effort (something I’ll be saying a lot this season).

In any event, enjoy the game. It’s Christmas day, it’s our first real basketball in too many months, and the Lakers are due to win one of these holiday fests, right?

Where you can watch: 2:00pm start time on ABC. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.