Archives For February 2012

Box Score: Lakers 96, Mavs 91
Offensive Efficiency: Lakers 110.3, Mavs 104.6
True Shooting %: Lakers 58.0%, Mavs 48.7%

We knew that the Lakers had a bit of a tough mini-road trip ahead before the All-Star break. The Mavs have been pretty hot. They won 7 of their last 8 going into this game.

THE GOOD
Hey there, Pau Gasol. Way to respond to trade rumors with this performance. Pau Gasol showed pretty much the whole repertoire today from the jumpers to the left-handed hooks to lay-ups to tiptoe dunks. 24 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals. And he did a pretty decent job guarding Dirk Nowitzki, too.

Andrew Bynum looked pretty motivated earlier tonight, too. 19 points and 14 boards for the All-Star starting center. And his passing looked much improved today. Too bad, he didn’t get as many touches and shots as I would like.

Derek Fisher had a season-high 15 points in this game (topping his season-high of 13 which also came against Dallas). He shot 6 for 8 (2 for 3 behind the arc) earlier tonight. We all wish he could do this more often (only his sixth time getting double digits this season).

I like how the defense hunkered down on the Mavericks (the Mavs shot 40 percent). The Mavs were forced to shoot more three-pointers than they liked and it paid off for the Lakers (Mavs only shot 8 for 32, 25 percent!). There was also a huge stretch in the fourth quarter where the Mavericks didn’t score a point for nearly four minutes. The Lakers capitalized by going on a 9-0 run, which essentially put away the game.

The bench wasn’t exactly great today… but Matt Barnes nearly put up a double double (9 points, 9 boards). His hustle definitely helped out L.A. Especially late in the game after a missed freethrow (MORE ON MISSED FREETHROWS LATER).

THE BAD
Kobe Bryant didn’t let the game come to him. He stalled the offense in the 3rd while he tried to get his points. He also, for whatever reason, couldn’t handle the basketball and made some questionable decision-making. Kobe just didn’t look Kobe. He finished with 15 points (4 for 15 shooting) and 7 turnovers. But he did come up big at the end which I’ll bring up in a bit.

While I did like that the Lakers packed it in the paint, they still have to do a better job closing out on the perimeter. Yes, the Mavericks didn’t shoot very well behind the arc and we get that the 3-point shot is a low-percentage shot. But you still gotta come out and rotate. The Lakers were lucky that the Mavs didn’t make more treys. They lost a 14-point lead in the 2nd quarter partly because of back-to-back open 3s Dallas made.

And while we’re at it, the Lakers have to do a better job boxing out guys like Brendan Haywood and Shawn Marion. They were mostly responsible for 21 offensive boards for their team. The Lakers closed the gap with 17 of their own but they still gotta keep the other team in check when it comes to that.

The Lakers also had 17 turnovers. But again, Kobe did have the majority of them (he had 7 as mentioned).

Oh, and don’t let Vince Carter think it’s 2000 all over again. He had 18 points in the first half alone. Good thing that Metta World Peace did a decent job at him in the second half when he was out there (Barnes got the crunchtime minutes). Vince only scored 2 points in the final two quarters.

Shoutout to the refs who didn’t call a flagrant foul on Brendan Haywood. He clearly smashed Pau Gasol in the face late in the game.

THE UGLY
Well… we already know if you watched the game. Freethrows. 18 for 31 overall. That was because they shot 8 for 17 in the 4th. They missed six freethrows in a row with less than a minute to go. That would drive anyone nuts. The game would’ve been over earlier had they made, at least, two of those.

I sure hope Kobe is shooting foul shots (5 for 9) at the American Airlines Center right now. And I hope he took Pau (2 for 6) with him.

THE PLAY OF THE GAME
Kobe to Andrew Bynum for the alley-oop dunk with 1:05 left in the game. That put the Lakers up seven (that should’ve put away the game… but ya know… freethrows) which made it a higher mountain for the Mavericks to climb. The play before that was pretty good, too, where Kobe passed it to Pau for a lay-up. Oh, Kobe. Two passes in a critical juncture after you tried to get your points? You’re such a troll. Anyway, the Lakers are now 2-0 against Dallas this season. It’s not the playoffs, sure, but I’m sure the Lakers and us fans can take a little satisfaction out of this.

The Lakers have now won 5 out of 6. They look more comfortable and settled in their roles. And even though the ending was a little bizarre, this is a BIG ROAD WIN by the Lakers. Yes, the Lakers laid an egg against the Suns at Phoenix but I’m going to look at that as an aberration compared to how they’ve been playing as of late.

No rest for the weary. The Lakers go to Oklahoma City tomorrow night for another big game. Both teams are going to be at the tail end of a back-to-back (the Thunder beat the Celtics earlier) so they’re both going to be pretty fatigued (although, yes, Oklahoma City has younger players). If the Lakers win against the Thunder, maybe the whole league should take notice of Kobe and the boys once again, eh?

Don’t stop believin’!

Records: Lakers 19-13 (5th in West), Mavericks 21-12 (3rd in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 103.1 (15th in NBA), Mavericks 102.0 (20th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 100.6 (11th in NBA), Mavericks 97.9 (3rd in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Mavericks: Jason Kidd, Vince Carter, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki, Brendan Haywood
Injuries: Lakers: none; Mavericks: Rodrigue Beaubois (out), Delonte West (out)

The Lakers Coming in: The Lakers have won 5 of 7 and are coming off a solid game against the Blazers that showed the full spectrum of what this team is capable of. When they were sharing the ball, hitting shots, and defending with energy they built up a huge lead. When they stopped doing those things, the game got closer than it should have been and the starters (namely Kobe and Pau) ended up playing heavy minutes to secure a game that could have been a laugher. The fact that the win came at home is the other key ingredient to it all but we’ll get to that a bit later.

The Portland win, though, isn’t necessarily the story of the day. Much like how Kobe’s comments about Pau’s future with the Lakers stole the headlines on Sunday night, the players-only meeting and subsequent rehashing of Kobe’s comments are still making more headlines than the results on the floor. Whether the Lakers can use the fallout from all this “drama” to their advantage remains to be seen, but as I wrote when previewing the Blazers game, the hope is that the guys in the locker room start to come together and produce a product that’s better than the sum of their parts. As we’ve all seen, this isn’t the most talented Lakers team of the last several years (even with their elite core) and they need that extra bit of chemistry now more than ever. If players-only meetings and comments to the media help produce that, I’m all for it.

The Mavericks Coming in: The Mavs have won 7 of 8, with their only loss coming against the New York Lins this past Sunday in a game they looked to be in control of until Jeremy Lin went all Jeremy Lin on them (note: it may or not have happened this way, I’m caught up in the madness with the rest of the world).

In any event, the Mavs are playing good basketball and have actually been able to keep their season on track depsite their identity changing from seasons past. Rather than explaining it myself, I’ll let the always fantastic Zach Lowe take it from here:

The Mavericks, an offensive powerhouse last season, rank only 20th in points per possession. But they’ve managed to go 21-12 behind a defense creeping up on Chicago and Philadelphia in points allowed per possession. Dallas is just a different animal. Shawn Marion defends point guards, and the team’s nominal point guard, Jason Kidd, defends whatever position is convenient that night. The Mavs use giant front lines, with three power forwards, and employ zone principles that confuse every opponent.

So, even without Tyson Chandler (who’s playing fantastic man and team defense in New York) the Mavs are playing elite level defense and winning games via the tried and true approach of stopping the other team and getting timely buckets from dependable crunch time scorers.

Mavericks Blogs: The Two Man Game is excellent. You should be reading their work.

Keys to game: The last time these two teams played we were treated to endured a defensive slugfest that saw a total of 143 points scored between the two teams on a combined 57 for 156 shooting. Yuck. Both sides missed a ton of open shots and neither found their rhythm, as physicality ruled.

Tonight, obviously, I think we’d all like a more aesthetically pleasing game but with the same result (a Lakers win) to discuss after the fact. A few things to watch for:

  • If you look at the boxscore to the last game, you’ll notice Dirk going for 21 points on 8-17 shooting. That’s a good, but not great night and one that I think most Mavs fans would be happy with based off the numbers. However, what that boxscore doesn’t describe is the defense that Pau played on Dirk down the stretch of the game and how he didn’t fall for any of the German’s pet moves, contesting shots expertly and doing it all on an island with no help. Tonight, if the Lakers are to win, Pau will need to bring that same defensive intensity to the floor in trying to achieve the same results.
  • More box score watching gives us insight into what the Lakers’ offensive attack should look like. A hint: it rhymes with Andrew Bynum. The Lakers’ big man was the most effective player in that game, using his big frame to get good post position to score inside. Tonight, the Lakers would be wise to do more of this as Bynum is the one Laker that has advantageous matchups on both sides of the floor (more on this in a second) that should allow him the energy to be a focal point on offense.
  • Kobe too should get his shots, but as mentioned above, he has some things going against him tonight. First is that the Mavs will throw multiple defenders at Kobe – Carter, Marion, Kidd – in an attempt to keep a fresh body on him all night. Second is that Kobe will either have to deal with Vince Carter (who’s having a good season as a 3rd option) or Jason Kidd (where Kobe will have to navigate screens and make key rotations on D) that will affect his legs throughout the game. Taking these factors into account, Kobe needs to be smarter on offense by getting into position to score before he has the ball (either by using screens, making smart cuts, or posting up) rather than isolating on the wing or at the top of the key 20 feet away from the rim. The more he’s able to get into the teeth of D to get his shots, the better.
  • Rebounding will also be key tonight. Despite the Lakers missing 37 shots last game, they only grabbed 6 offensive rebounds. The Lakers must do a better job of getting to the glass on the offensive end, especially when Marion is on Kobe and either Ron or Barnes are matched up against a smaller defender that they can take into the paint to battle for rebounds with.
  • Finally, the Laker bench must provide something of value tonight. As I’ve mentioned before, role players often perform worse on the road, but for this Laker team to start to win some road games, that has to change. Blake, Barnes, Murphy, and Goudelock must hit shots to take the offensive pressure off L.A.’s big three, and must defend well enough that big minutes aren’t needed from Kobe and Pau. This can’t be stressed enough. The Lakers are some legitimate road wins away from being, record wise, one of the better teams in the league and as much as we harp on the things that Pau, Bynum, and Kobe can be doing better, they’re really not the problem here. The bench (as well as Fisher and MWP) must do more and must do it in a place not called Staples Center.

Where you can watch: 6:30pm start time on ESPN and KCAL.

Wednesday Storylines

Dave Murphy —  February 22, 2012

The win against Portland on Monday night felt especially satisfying, coming on the heels of Kobe’s statement of support for a teammate that’s still on the block. Players pulled together on the floor. I don’t think there’s any way you watch a team on a regular basis and fail to notice something so elemental. And then Steve Blake, bombing them in with clinical precision. A good win in many ways.

The players-only meeting that followed has been widely reported on and for good cause. Regardless of your take on the team as currently constructed, there are certain things that cannot be disputed. A large scale exodus took place after the Dallas sweep. A new coach and staff were brought in. A lockout followed. A blockbuster trade was scuttled and Lamar exited stage left. The season began and the transition has not been smooth. These things matter, and they get reported on:

Ken Berger at CBS Sports takes the matter head on, writing about a family business that is going through some sweeping changes.

Kelly Dwyer at Ball Don’t Lie further examines Berger’s take, and zeroes in on the aftermath of Phil Jackson’s reign.

The players-only meeting was reported on by Chris Broussard at ESPN.

Weighing in on the upside of the players’ action is Andy Kamenetsky at the Land O’Lakers.

Andy also has a preview up for tonight’s game against the Mavericks.

Mitch Kupchak’s reaction to Kobe’s statement is covered by Mike Bresnahan at the L.A. Times.

Kevin Ding at the OC Register wrote an in-depth article about Kobe’s purpose for airing grievances.. He also wrote a newer missing links piece out this morning.

Over at Silver Screen and Roll, C.A. Clark writes about the fall of empires.

It’s not about the today’s Lakers, but Jeff Caplan at ESPN/Dallas offers an article about Lamar Odom’s continuing struggles for the Mavericks.

In a good summation of the state of things in Lakerland, Mark Medina for the LA. Times, looks at our current crossroads.

***

The media has generally taken a wait and see attitude with Coach Mike Brown, a guy with big shoes to fill. The grace period has passed. From Brown to the epically dysfunctional Buss family to the continuing trade rumors, a perfect storm appears to be building. The irony (and perhaps the story’s saving grace) is that the players are the ones taking action. The team is doggedly hanging onto fifth place in the west and while lacking in depth, is good enough to compete in a banged-up league with a suicidal schedule. They’ll go as far as their own stewardship will take them this season. They’re at Dallas tonight, OKC tomorrow. As the wheel turns.

- Dave Murphy

The Lakers have played the Phoenix Suns twice in the last five days to varying results. During their win in the Staples Center, there was one play that stood out to me and others on twitter. Andrew Bynum caught the ball at the pinch post and fed a cutting Troy Murphy, who finished the play and got fouled. When I watched it live, it was merely just a great pass from Bynum to Murphy, but after a re-watch, I realized that it was a great play drawn up by the Lakers coaching staff.

The Play starts out with a high screen and roll between Troy Murphy and Steve Blake. Matt Barnes and Andrew Goudelock are straddling the perimeter, creating space in the middle of the floor. As you’ll see, Murphy is coming up from the right side of the court, as Andrew Bynum starts fighting for position with Robin Lopez.

Instead of setting the screen from the direction Murphy was coming from, he slips the screen and Blake begins to drive toward Bynum. The slipped screen confuses Sebastian Telfair and Hakim Warrick — just for a split second — but long enough to free Troy Murphy. Warrick starts to show, when he doesn’t actually need to, and Telfair naturally tries to fight through a screen that isn’t there. With both eyes sets of eyes on Blake, Murphy rolls to the basket. During Murphy’s cut, Bynum begins to open up to receive a pass from Blake.

Steve Blake gets the ball to Bynum, who sees a wide open Troy Murphy cutting down a lane with no defenders in front of him. Hakim Warrick wasn’t quick enough to realize that he made a defensive lapse and found himself about a yard behind the cutting Murphy as the pass was being made. The design of this play was crucial for Murphy being wide open. With Barnes and Goudelock holding their respective defenders near the three point line and Bynum bringing the center out of the paint to the pinch post, there wasn’t anyone around to rotate fast enough by the time the defense realized that Murphy was getting the ball.

The result was Bynum hitting Murphy in stride with a beautiful bounce pass that led to a layup and a foul. Watch the play in real time below.

Boxscore: Lakers 103, Blazers 92
Offensive Efficiency: Lakers 113.2, Blazers 101.1
True Shooting %: Lakers 58.6%, Blazers 55.5%

The Good:
In the preview for this game, I wrote this:

Some of what makes a team successful is a bunker mentality where the players can rally together and find a common enemy (of sorts) that serves as extra motivation. Phil Jackson was a master of this during his time with the Bulls and the Lakers, and I’ve got a sneaky feeling that Kobe learned a thing or two about this tactic during his time under Jackson. Right now, this Laker team needs all the extra kicks in the pants it can get. If (Kobe’s statement) helps in that area, I’m all for it.

I’m not going to sit here and say that the way the Lakers played tonight is directly attributable to Kobe’s public backing of Gasol last night. However, I’m not going to dismiss it either.

The Lakers came out tonight focused and ready to play and there was a certain sense of teamwork and camaraderie in the air. The Lakers were moving the ball well, making the extra pass (sometimes to a fault), and taking extra pride when a teammate made a positive play. It was a sight to see the ball zipping around the court, inside and out, from side to side with nearly every player touching the ball on countless possessions. The result was the Lakers racking up 23 assists on their 38 made baskets with a few assists of the highlight variety mixed in.

With all the ball movement, the Lakers were able to run the Blazer defense ragged, getting easy shots inside early on. Andrew Bynum benefitted the most in the early stages, getting easy dunks and point blank attempts that he converted with ease. As the defense started to adjust and collapse the paint in an attempt to shut down the easy shots at the rim, the Lakers then started to move the ball to shooters on the perimeter and they also took advantage by knocking down their open looks. And just as Bynum was the beneficiary of shots in the paint, it was Steve Blake that took advantage of the extra space behind the arc, making his first 4 three pointers and turning the game into a game of target practice.

It wasn’t just the Lakers’ offense that was doing work, either. Their defense was engaged in the early going, denying the paint and forcing the Blazers to take jumpers. And when Portland did take those outside J’s, Laker defenders rotated well and contested shots and then cleaned up the misses by securing defensive rebounds. The Lakers only allowed the Blazers to score 7 first quarter points (a franchise low for points in a 1st quarter) and with that, the rout was officially on…

The Bad:
Until it wasn’t, of course. This wouldn’t be the Lakers if they crushed an opponent for a full 48 minutes, after all. Around the middle of the 2nd quarter, the Blazers finally got some shots to fall as the Lakers naturally let their respective guard down. Suddenly defensive rotations weren’t as crisp and closeouts weren’t as timely. And the Blazers started to take advantage of the extra space on the perimeter to knock down some three pointers and crawl back into the game. By the time the half time buzzer sounded, what was a 30 point lead was down to 22 and while the Lakers were still in firm control, the writing was on the wall that the Blazers weren’t going to go down quietly.

In the 3rd quarter, the Blazers carried over that momentum they built up going into the half and started to hit even more shots against a Laker defense that was, at that point, purely in spectator mode. When screens were set, the Lakers didn’t step out to hedge hard and when the ball was swung, closeouts were nearly non-existent. The Blazers were able to take mostly uncontested three point shots and got them to fall at an incredible rate. Even when the Lakers started to try and pick up their defensive effort, it mattered little because Portland was able to find their rhythm to the point that even contested jumpers started to fall. The result was a 36 point period for the Blazers and what was once a lead that seemed insurmountable was then down to a manageable 15. That lead would shrink to 10 in the fourth period before Fisher and Kobe hit back to back jumpers with another Kobe lay in tacked on to push the Lakers lead back to 16. Portland would never truly recover and that was seemingly that save for…

The Ugly:
The referees starting to call a tighter game that seemingly caught both teams off guard. The final frame lasted what seemed like an hour after countless whistles blew with both sides complaining about calls that were going against them. (It got to the point that Kobe even earned a technical foul after being called for a charge on a drive against Gerald Wallace. That tech was Kobe’s 7th on the season which puts him halfway to the point where he would earn a game suspension should he keep accumulating them at the pace he currently is.)

What made matters worse was Nate McMillan deciding he would go to a hack-a-World-Peace strategy in the final 4 minutes to try and get his team back into the game. And while the tactic wasn’t successful in stopping the Lakers from scoring the ball nor in inspiring his team to play better offense, it certainly helped ugly up a contest even more by making it unbearably long down the stretch. When you combine this final stretch of the game with how the Lakers stopped playing as hard as they could in the middle part of the contest, you nearly forgot how beautiful the game started with the Lakers getting nearly everything they wanted on offense and building up that huge lead.

The Play of the Game:
Several quality plays to choose from tonight, including Bynum throwing a baseball outlet to Kobe with #24 then euro-stepping past Nic Batum for a sweet lefty lay in and a couple of beautiful big to big passes between Bynum and Pau (with Bynum doing the dishing). Instead, though, I go with Kobe breaking down Gerald Wallace off the bounce with a pretty inside-out crossover and then sidestepping Marcus Camby with a nice fake to finish at the cup while drawing the foul. Kobe may not be the explosive athlete he once was, but he sure can make up for it with savvy and craft: