Archives For February 2012

Records: Lakers 17-12 (5th in West), Suns 12-18 (13th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 102.9 (16th in NBA), Suns 101.9 (20th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 100.6 (10th in NBA), Suns 105.5 (23rd in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Suns: Steve Nash, Jared Dudley, Grant Hill, Channing Frye, Marcin Gortat
Injuries: Lakers: Derek Fisher (probable); Suns: none

The Lakers Coming in: While I take my role in looking at the Lakers objectively very seriously, writing about where they are from game to game is becoming more and more difficult. The reasons for this vary, but mostly it’s because this team doesn’t give you a good read from game to game on where they actually are. They’re simply too inconsistent.

I could tell you this team is finding its stride, having won 3 of their last 4 games and beating a decent Hawks team in the type of game that typically gives any team trouble (the first game back from a long road trip). I could point out the “gut it out” win in Boston, the rocking 1st half against the Raptors (and the fortitude to pull out that win even though they stumbled horribly for most of the final three quarters), and say that this team is starting to find its stride.

I could tell you that despite his struggles all yea,r Ron Artest (yeah, I’m calling him that right now) has started to play better on offense, and his defense is picking up as well. I could point out that Mike Brown is finally settling on his lineups, promoting Steve Blake to de facto lead PG (despite Fisher starting) and giving Goudelock steadier minutes, and that Brown has also settled on a big man rotation, with an assertive Pau and a beasting Bynum appearing more often than not over the past several games.

All in all, I could be happier about in-game things – the play to play effort and execution, the reliance on Kobe in crunch time, etc – but I’ve been mostly happy with the overall effort even though I can nitpick faults. Things have been relatively steady of late. And that’s good. I could also point out that I’ve no idea if any of this will last. Such is the way of these Lakers this year and to bring it back full circle, getting a beat on this team is hard.

The Suns Coming in: If you go on twitter during a Suns game and follow any general group of basketball writers or fans, you’re likely to see the hashtag #freestevenash on your screen multiple times. That’s because, for all intents and purposes, fans want better for one of the more enjoyable players of his era than the team he plays for right now. This isn’t to knock Nash’s teammates, really. But, the Suns are 6 games under .500 and simply aren’t a good team anymore. Their statistical profile shows a team in the bottom third of the league in both offensive and defensive rating and a roster that has some solid players, but not enough quality depth or top-end talent to be a contender. There was a time when the Suns were nearly guaranteed to be a playoff team, and when there, to be a tough out. Those days are long gone.

Meanwhile, Nash is an all-star again this season. He’s posting his highest PER since his MVP seasons, has a true shooting percentage of 64.5%, and an assist percentage (an estimate of the field goals assisted while on the floor) of nearly 59% (that last number is mind boggling, by the way). Simply put, Nash has been an offensive monster this season and he’s doing it all at 37 years of age. Despite it all, though, the Suns can’t win. Maybe that’s an indictment of Nash but I don’t really see it that way. What I see is a team that’s desperate for another playmaker but doesn’t have one. A team that needs a ton of pieces to be competitive each night, but hasn’t got the resources to get them. In a way, it’s sad. Then again, I remember that the Suns kicked the Lakers’ tail when they were in a similar situation (with Kobe at his apex), and my heart grows cold. I find myself not feeling any sympathy for this team. I wish nothing but the best for Nash and with this being his walk year, he can choose a new team to play for next year.

Suns Blogs: Two very good sites to check out: Valley of the Suns and Bright Side of the Sun. Both offer up strong coverage of this team.

Keys to game: In the one game these two teams played this year (a Lakers win), the formula was quite simple: give the ball to Kobe and let him work. Kobe was in the midst of a hot shooting streak and his 48 points against the Suns triggered a four-pack of consecutive 40 point contests. The output was classic Bean and if you read the quotes before the game, you could see it coming (Kobe talked about how he’s not forgotten the playoff losses the Suns put on him during the Smush/Kwame days).

Today, however, the formula will likely need to be different. Not because Kobe isn’t capable of putting up another such game, but because the style in which the Lakers have been playing lately says more balance is in order. Pau and Drew have been coming on of late and are flashing the ability to not only get their own, but to work off each other to make their lives easier. Against the Suns, the Lakers will be best served allowing that to continue by getting Pau the ball at the elbow and the left low block to attack Channing Frye, while getting Drew the ball early in possessions to force the Suns to either double quickly or let Gortat try to play him one on one. Both matchups present an advantage for the Lakers, and both should be exploited early or at least tested out to see if they can be.

Kobe, though, should still play a prominent role in the offense. Lately Kobe’s jumper has been off, but he’s still been key in facilitating the show because the Lakers have been able to get him into more actions that force the defense to make hard choices. Mike Brown is putting Kobe into more P&R actions with Gasol and camping Bynum on the weakside. This action allows Kobe to string out his dribble and either force a hard double team or stretch out the defense to force rotations that are difficult to execute. This has left Pau wide open for mid-range jumpers or has set up Bynum for quick duck ins that result in lobs or easy putbacks if the shot goes up and misses. Tonight, Kobe can do the same thing against a Suns team that will have trouble covering the entire court, making it easier for Kobe to either come off the screens looking for his own shot or to pick out Pau for the easy passes that make the Lakers’ offense hum.

Defensively, the Lakers will see a steady diet of Nash in the P&R and they’ll need to find a way to cover the  big man who pops out after he sets the screen. In the last game, Channing Frye shot 7-9 from the field (including 3-5 from three point range) and kept the Suns in the game before Kobe went nova. The Lakers’ secondary rotations will need to be tighter tonight or they’ll cede the same open jumpers that the Suns thrive on to generate efficient offense. As usual, I hope to see the Lakers force Nash into a scoring mode rather than a distributing one because even though he’ll hurt you scoring, his ability to get his mates involved is what makes this team dangerous. Nash will always be able to hurt you by scoring himself; he’s one of the great shooters in the league and can turn it on in an instant. But allowing him to get his mates going AND get himself going is how this team beats you.

Lastly, I’m looking for good bench play tonight. The Lakers have been an elite home team and one of the reasons  is that their role players step up at home and provide that needed spark at Staples. If they can continue that trend tonight, the Laker starters could get some rest in the 4th quarter and even though it’s been a slow week for games, some extra time on the bench for Kobe and company is never a bad thing.

Where you can watch: 7:30 start time locally on Fox Sports West and nationally on ESPN. Also listen live at ESPN Radio 710AM.

Friday Forum

Dave Murphy —  February 17, 2012

The Lakers have played a lot of games in a short period of time this season. This week brought a brief but welcome respite – they play the Phoenix Suns at Staples tonight, and will travel to play them again on Sunday. It’s an opportunity to further tighten what is already a bunched-up field in the west. And frankly, an opportunity to assuage some feelings of unease amongst the fan base. This has not been your usual season, by a long shot. Here’s a few articles to get you through the lunch hour, and perhaps beyond:

Andy Kamenetzky, Land O’Lakers: The organization just announced Devin Ebanks will be sent down to the L.A. Defenders, the Lakers D-League affiliate. Having not played since January 31, nor logged double digit minutes since January 13, this move hardly qualifies as a surprise. First and second year players are eligible for a stint in the “minors,” so to speak, and franchises typically like taking advantage of this opportunity with youngsters buried on the bench. (And for those wondering, Ebanks in the D-League DOES NOT open up a roster spot, so don’t treat this as a sign of a move in the works.) As a card carrying member of the “I don’t get why Ebanks can’t crack the rotation” club, I get whatever disappointment may be felt by those hoping he’d get a shot at improving a wildly inconsistent small forward tandem. Personally, I think Devin’s skill sets and athleticism provides a unique utility for the Lakers, and he started out the season looking pretty good before abruptly being removed from the rotation altogether. Plus, as one of the few young players on the roster — and at a position of weakness to boot — I think it would behoove the Lakers to figure out what they have in him moving forward.

Janis Carr, the OC Register: Lakers coach Mike Brown doesn’t believe the team needs an overhaul. Where others see 12 losses, the ever-optimistic coach sees 17 victories. Where some might see a lack of offensive production (the Lakers rank 24th in scoring despite having the league’s top scorer in Kobe Bryant), he sees defensive excellence (limiting teams to a third-best 45.3 shooting from the field.) While still others might hear grumblings, Brown resonates a calm. He and Metta World Peace settled their differences earlier this week after World Peace complained about the inconsistency in his playing time and the coach even complimented the forward after Thursday’s practice, saying his hard work is “starting to show.” But is Brown simply looking at the Lakers situation in purple-and-yellow hued glasses, or are they starting to show signs of improvement? Brown said the team has come a long way in short amount of time, given the fact the players had to learn a whole new system from a new coaching staff. “We have a better feel for where we are,” Brown said, adding that it understandably was going to take time to come together as a unit. “People don’t understand that. We don’t have the same team as we did last year,” he said “We’re going to struggle a little bit,” Brown said. “We’re going to get hit in the chin a little bit and we are going to have to withstand that. And if we can withstand that, we got plenty of good times in front of us.”

Matt Becker, Phoenix Suns, NBA.com: While the Lakers and Suns were known for their high-scoring ways over the past few seasons, neither has been prolific in 2011-12. Los Aneles is putting more of an emphasis on defense under new coach Mike Brown, allowing an average of 90.4 points – 5.0 fewer than last season. The Lakers held the Hawks to 34.4 percent shooting and improved to 13-1 when limiting opponents to 91 or fewer points. “On the defense end of the floor I thought that our guys were very active,” Brown said. “On the days when we don’t shoot well, that’s what’s going to help us win ball games, especially come playoff time in a seven-game series.” The Lakers completely frustrated Grant Hill in the first meeting, limiting him to five points and 1-of-12 shooting. He posted his lowedt field-goal percentage when attempting at least seven shots in his 17-year career. Controlling the boards has also been a big key for the Lakers, who are averaging 45.3 rebounds per game. Pau Gasol has 20 points and 13 rebounds against Atlanta, while Andrew Bynum had 15 points and 16 boards as Los Angeles finished with 52 rebounds. The Lakers dominated the glass in the first meeting of the season with the Suns, outrebounding them 49-35 with five players grabbing at least seven boards.

Actuarially Sound, Silver Screen and Roll: When Mike Brown took the position as the new head coach of the Los Angles Lakers, he knew full well what this team possessed in both strengths and weaknesses. His three stars in Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Abndrew Bynum, have enough size and talent to contend with any other team’s best roster. But talent doesn’t always guarantee wins. If it did then LeBron James wouldn’t have the same number of championship rings as yours truly. Oftentimes match-ups can mean just as much, if not more, than pure ability on paper. The ten players on the court don’t operate in a vacuum but instead have interactions that bring out the best and worst in each other. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban uses statistical analysis to determine which combinations of players have the biggest positive and negative impacts on his team’s performance, and it helped the Mavs win a title when no one else gave them a chance. Coach Brown is a stats guy too, at least according to Metta World Peace. He has spent the beginning of this shortened season trying every combination of players to identify what works and what doesn’t. How many combinations has he tried? Only 163 different line-ups have been on the court for the Lakers this season. There are many different combinations of pieces that Brown can put on the floor, and as the minutes begin to accumulate, we are starting to put a few of the pieces together.

(make sure to click on the above link for the rest of the article – the side-by-side comparisons are well worth checking out – D.M.)

***

The nature of today’s media is that of the beast – the 24-hour news cycle feeds evermore on transience and instability. It is hungry and does not pause in its consumption – only when the table is laden with something especially timely does it linger, and sometimes in positive ways. The media’s obsession with Jeremy Lin comes from varied places, but there’s an inherent goodness to the story that jaded hunters can’t help but embrace – the underdog makes good. If you’re looking for any new Lakers trade-centric pieces, I didn’t spot anything substantive this morning, or at least that wasn’t day-old. That could certainly change.

Wednesday Storylines

Dave Murphy —  February 15, 2012

With the Grammy road trip over, the Lakers were back in action last night against the Atlanta Hawks. They managed a win but there was some unpurty ball being played in the midsection. The Lakers are 12-2 at home this year, while not particularly looking like a team that should be 12-2 anywhere. Much of the talk over the past few days has centered on the Gilbert Arenas situation, Coach Brown’s rotations, and Metta World Peace’s winter of discontent with said head coach (although the latest reports bespeak a detente).

The Peace accord as relayed by Dave McMenamin at ESNP, is more about consistency than frustration.

Over at Fox Sports West, Joe McDonnell has a bit of a different take on the situation.

Brian Kameneyzky at the Land O’Lakers looks at last night’s game, observing the excellence and rarity of a MWP double-dunk game.

A terrific article by Bruce Arthur at the National Post, about Kobe Bryant and his relentless drive.

Interesting take by Ben R, over at Silver Screen and Roll, in which he puts Murphy into the beast slot, with Kobe and Andrew as burdens. I will duck out of the way.

C.A. Clark, also at Silver Screen and Roll, offers up a somewhat more charitable Laker analysis, likening last night’s game to the best worst offense ever.

A look at team play as an inspiration point, by Kevin Ding at the OC Register.

Here’s a lively 5-on-5 at ESPN with Danny Chau, Dan Feldman, Zach Harper, John Krolik and Chris Palmer.

And last but certainly not least, with the recent attention being on Hibachi, here comes a J.R. Smith conversation with Mike Brown, as reported by Mike Bresnahan at the L.A. Times.

***

Last night’s win may have quieted the drumbeats, but probably not for long. Pick whatever analogy you want, this team cannot seem to stay on the same page. The Suns come to town for a Friday game, with a Sunday rematch back in Phoenix.  By all rights, two games in five days, against a team with a .414 record, should be an opportunity for a little rest, a practice or two, and a couple solid wins. Right?

– Dave Murphy

Box Score: Lakers 86, Hawks 78
Offensive Efficiency: Lakers 97.7, Hawks 88.6
True Shooting %: Lakers 50.0%, Hawks 41.9%

Honestly… going into this game, I knew watching the game was going to be a chore. I always have a hard time watching the Atlanta Hawks play. Add to the fact that the Lakers haven’t been all that fun to watch, either, and I thought to myself that this game had a potential for a stinker.

THE GOOD
But let’s start out with the good first. The good? The Lakers won. Hurray.

And for the most part, the Lakers had nice ball movement (20 assists) and went to their bigs quite often (which is, you know, common sense) until the Lakers distanced themselves from the Hawks. Pau Gasol had a nice 20-point, 13-rebound, 4-block outing. He even made a corner 3! Andrew Bynum got off to a fast start and, while he wasn’t much of a factor in the second half, he ended up with 15 points and 15 boards. The bigs definitely helped in edging out the Hawks in the rebounding battle, 52-47.

I wanna give Metta World Peace some credit here. He scored 10 points and it was his first time in double digits since January 22nd. And it’s the second game in a row where he made two three-pointers (yes, including that hilarious 3-pointer before the half ended where he held on the ball for what seemed like a minute). He even had a delightful jam near the end of the game. Nice to see him have a good game. Would like to see him put it together in a string of games.

The bench played pretty well today. Andrew Goudelock (NO MORE MINI-MAMBAS, BILL MacDONALD!!!) led the subs with 10 points. Steve Blake dished out 6 assists. Troy Murphy made a couple of linedrive threes. And Matt Barnes hustled his way to 6 points and 5 boards (that block on Kirk Hinrich’s 3-pointer at the end of the 3rd was great).

The three-pointers were going in. 8 for 17 against the Hawks. Not bad for the team who continues to be last in three-point field goal percentage.

Also, while the Hawks were held to 34.4 percent shooting, the defense should get some of the credit but not all of it. It was unbelievable that the Hawks were missing lay-ups all game and the game may have been closer had they made those. The Hawks scored 10 points in the 3rd (the Lakers weren’t much better at 17).

Of course, the game would’ve been done earlier if the Lakers actually took care of business at the other end. Lakers ended up at 44 percent shooting but they were under 40 for a lot of the game.

THE BAD
The Lakers had 17 turnovers and they started out the third quarter with three passes thrown away.

Kobe Bryant wasn’t Kobe today as he shot 5/18 (10 points!). In fact, the offense went to a halt when he tried to get his points at the end of the second, which prompted the Hawks to go on an 11-0 run.

Derek Fisher, in the meantime, has to cut off his toes. He keeps shooting the worst 2-pt shot in the game (THE FOOT ON THE LINE!!!). But, at least, Jeff Teague, the opposing point guard, was only “held” to 18 points (we all know what Jeremy Lin and Jose Calderon did previously).

Not a lot of bad happened in this game but…

THE UGLY
This game was ugly. Period. Very hard game to watch. The fourth quarter was a complete offensive explosion compared to the third for sure but check out these droughts. The Lakers didn’t score for more than six minutes in the second quarter because they stalled and went away from what got them the lead in the first palce. The Hawks didn’t make a field goal for a full nine minutes (last 8:33 of the 3rd) as they hurried jumpers and missed shots your grandmothers can probably make.

The Hawks play a lot of isolation ball (Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Jeff Teague among others) and it’s just not very fun to watch. The Lakers seem to play their best when they go inside to their bigs, which is, admittedly, not very fun to watch, either. And Kobe didn’t go off like he usually does… so what we’re left here is a slow, grinding, diffic… zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

If you had other plans for Valentine’s Day, I applaud you. I love the win and, yes, I mentioned a lot of good for the Lakers here but that doesn’t mean it was aesthetically pleasing. This game would be the equivalent to an ugly girl with a great personality… and, in the end, you’ll slowly fall for her because of it. You’ll just have to embrace its faults.

THE PLAY OF THE GAME
Ron’s dunk was great and all but I’m going to go to the reverse lay-up by Kobe Bryant in the third quarter. It was vintage Kobe where he went under, from right to left, and finished with a twisting right-handed reverse lay-up. ‘Twas beautiful and one of the few bright spots for Kobe.

The Lakers have a home-and-home series against Phoenix next. The first battle starts at Staples Center on Friday. I expect Steve Nash to go for 2,000 points and 895 assists here but the Lakers SHOULD win this and make themselves a little more comfortable in the standings.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everybody.

Records: Lakers 16-12 (5th in West), Hawks 18-10 (4th in East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 103.1 (15th in NBA), Hawks 104.0 (12th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 101.0 (11th in NBA), Hawks 99.8 (7th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Hawks: Jeff Teague, Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, Josh Smith, Zaza Pachulia
Injuries: Lakers: none; Hawks: Al Horford (out for the season), Jason Collins (out)

The Lakers Coming in: First, the okay part: the Lakers are back home after a grueling 6 game road trip that saw them play .500 ball. Many expected them to play to that level and considering they could have won two of the three games they lost and lost two of the games they won, that record seems about right. It’s also fitting because at this point, this team is pretty much a .500 team that has the talent base (in its big three) to play a step above that. Hence, their current 16-12 record.

Now, the not so okay part: the Lakers seem to be grasping at straws while players are being a bit more vocal about either their individual roles or the prospects of adding (or subtracting) from the current roster, and thus implying the state of the team isn’t that strong. MWP has spoken out about his role and his playing time, and it doesn’t paint a pretty picture or inspire thoughts of a harmonious relationship between himself and the head coach. Meanwhile, Kobe Bryant has stated that bringing in Gilbert Arenas “can’t hurt” after the Lakers worked out the former all-star guard over the weekend. Neither of these stories are particularly damning, but both bring into question how this team is progressing and whether or not the belief still exists that the current group of players can compete at the level they’d all like. And while I understand fans have felt this way for sometime, it’s quite another thing for players to feel this way or for the front office to grab at players that no one else seemingly wants. (As an aside, I have more thoughts on Arenas that I’ll share another time).

All in all, the Lakers are in a tricky position now. The expectations coming into the season were to compete for a championship, but the moves made – the hiring of Brown, the conservative approach to free agency, the Odom trade – all speak to a more long-term approach. Time will tell if there are bigger moves made or if this group can find its stride, but right now there seems to be a lot of uncertainty amongst the people who need to be single-minded in their belief regarding this team. Ultimately, that’s not a positive.

The Hawks Coming in: While the 76ers are one of the surprise teams of the league, the Hawks don’t trail them too far for exceeding expecations. Coming into the season this team was considered a group that would likely slip in the standings, becoming a lower playoff seed that couldn’t do much damage. Instead, they’ve won 18 of their 28 games and have found a way to compete even after they lost their best player (Al Horford) to a torn pectoral muscle that will sideline him for the season. If you had the Hawks still being a top 4 seed in the East after Horford went down you can raise your hand, but understand no one believes you because no one thought this was possible.

The Hawks, though, are still playing well and it’s mostly on the backs of Joe Johnson (who made his 6th all-star game roster last week) and Josh Smith (who was again snubbed from the ASG). Johnson, though not living up to his contract, is still providing his steady production by creating shots for himself and his teammates and giving the Hawks a late game option to get a bucket in close games. Smith, meanwhile, has stepped up his game with Horford out by hitting the glass harder and stepping up his paint defense. He still confounds fans with his penchant for taking long two-point jumpers, but his work around the paint is still exceptional and his ability to finish at the rim in transition and the half court is of great value to his team.

When you add those two players to a solid Marvin Williams and an improving Jeff Teague, you have the makings of a solid team that competes every night by playing tough defense, taking care of the ball, and playing a team-centric game on offense. Their talent level may not make this a championship level team, but their style of play is a winning one.

Hawks Blogs: Check out Hoopinion, they do very good work covering this team.

Keys to game: The Hawks offer an intriguing match up because they have the types of parts that typically give the Lakers fits. Teague is a speedster PG that can push the pace and create off the dribble. Josh Smith is a rangy PF that will start possessions deep on the floor but use his athleticism to create shots at the rim (while also taking some deep jumpers). Joe Johnson is the type of power SG that can create shots all over the floor and must be paid attention to at all times. Defensively, they’ll bang you inside with Pachulia, with Smith coming over to clean up and block shots from the weak side. They also have no qualms about packing the lane and daring you to shoot from the outside, because their wings have good size and can cover enough ground to chase shooters, but can also rebound or cover the paint if need be.

This means the Lakers are up for a real challenge even if they have advantages in certain match ups when utilized correctly. On the surface, tonight should be about Pau Gasol going to work on Josh Smith in the post. Smith is a fantastic helper but his man-on-man D can leave something to be desired, especially when defending the post. I’d love to see Pau get some touches on the left block and for Kobe to run some P&Rs with Pau to get him the ball in space, where he can attack off the bounce or shoot his short jumper (or set up Bynum with the lob when the defense rotates).

I’d also like to see Bynum get going early, especially against a rugged defender in Pachulia. At the start of the game is when Bynum will have the most energy and should be able to beat Zaza up the floor to get early position on the block. If Bynum can force Pachulia to foul him, the only backup with real size is the newly signed Erick Dampier, and while he offers strength, he lacks quickness and athleticism at this advanced stage of his career.

Defensively, the Lakers will need to finish possessions with rebounds because the Hawks aren’t going to do them any favors by playing sloppy basketball. As has been their style for years, the Hawks are very good at taking care of the ball and running their sets to get decent looks. I’m assuming that MWP will start on Joe Johnson and we’ll see if he has the footspeed to match Joe on the perimeter when he works off the dribble. MWP has not been as steady on that side of the floor this year, but he typically gets up for the bigger match ups and tonight offers one of those in Johnson. As for Smith, Gasol will have his hands full but he should be able to keep him under wraps if he sags off and invites the long jumper. Even if Smith doesn’t take the bait by settling for the long two, Pau will at least have an angle on his drives to cut off penetration and contest shots when he does attack the paint.

The bigger issue will be containing Teague. As mentioned earlier he will attack the rim, and he’s good at changing ends quickly and taking advantage of poor transition defense. Toward the end of the Lakers road trip, they were quite poor in this area, and will need to be better tonight or Teague will race by them to create good shots for himself or teammates. Teague’s also a threat to turn the corner in the P&R so the Lakers bigs will need to hedge well to deny his driving lane and then recover to the paint to shut down passing angles.

Where you can watch: 7:30 start time on Fox Sports West. Also listen live on ESPN Radio 710AM.