Archives For April 2012

Wednesday Storylines

Dave Murphy —  April 18, 2012

The major storyline of course is last night’s flip – the vaunted rebounds were nowhere in evidence and we were treated to a loss, courtesy of the Tony Parker revenge. This probably sets up the return of the Mamba nicely – there’s been some talk of him returning tonight against the Warriors, although it’s more probable that he’ll wait until round three of the Spurs series, which would provide a wonderful narrative for ESPN and leave the suits at TNT gnashing their teeth. For now, the links:

C.A. Clark at Silver Screen and Roll says one good outlier deserves another.

SoCalGal at Silver Screen and Roll weaves links into a rematch recap.

Chris Fedor offers a Sports Radio transcript of the Kobe interview, discussing among other things, his shin injury.

Brett Koremenos at HoopSpeak writes about why the offense has been working without Kobe. This written of course, before last night’s shellacking.

Rob Mahoney at Bleacher Report, on the Lakers identity shift, from all D, no O, to the opposite.

Henry Abbott & Trevor Ebaugh at True Hoop, delve into basketball geekery with crunch time stats.

Hardwood Paroxysm has a wild west roundup for the playoffs.

Kurt Helin at ProBasketballTalk writes about Ramon Session’s choice to test the free agency waters.

Mark Medina at the L.A. Times says that Kobe is doubtful for tonight’s game against the Warriors.

Kevin Chan at Lakers Nation offers a breakdown for tonight’s game.

Dave McMenamin at ESPN GO, has an interview with Jim Buss, in part one, followed by part two.

The Kamenetzky bros at the Land O’Lakers, hit up our very own double-duty J.M. Poulard, for a Warriors preview. Shout out to J.M., who’s done a lot of heavy lifting here at FB&G all season long, while keeping the Warriors World flag flying high.

Speaking of FB&G staff, Emile Avanessian has a new series up on his Hardwood Hype blog, digging into the world of sporting bets. Check out his Mad Props maiden voyage, and today’s second installment.

Continuing with the love, R.R. Magellan who has cranked out so many great previews and recaps here this season, tells why Orlando should ship Dwight out – courtesy The No Look Pass.

I had resolved not to pimp out yesterday’s self-indulgence but if we can beat the Spurs on Friday, I’ll leave Sager in fantasy land for the rest of the season.

***

It feels more than a little strange to be looking at the last four games of the regular season. It has simply gone by too fast. Regardless, this is where we are. The Clippers have won four in a row, and are breathing down our necks for the third slot. I hope we take care of business the rest of the way, because personally, I’d rather face either Denver or Dallas, than Memphis in the first round.

 

– Dave Murphy

The Lakers had their hats handed to them by the Spurs, losing 112-91. After the game, Tony Parker said that he and his team were particularly motivated after being embarrassed in San Antonio last week and wanted to make up for it tonight. Well, mission accomplished Tony.

Tonight’s game really was an example of two things. First, is that outlier games happen. Last week the Lakers trounced the Spurs on all levels, nearly doubling their rebound count while nearly every major player on their roster played terribly. Some of what the Lakers did that night was repeatable – like their effort on D and their game plan on O – but the poor performances from Parker and Ginobili specifically likely weren’t to be duplicated. Tonight, Parker was as amazing as he was awful last week, scoring 29 points on an array of jumpers and open court forays to the rim created by sloppy Laker play. When you add his points to his 13 assists, you have a night that’s beyond even his own high standard of strong play. So, while Parker wasn’t going to stink up the joint again tonight, it’s doubtful he’ll be this amazing consistently against any opponent. (This isn’t to discount Parker, either. He really was great and deserves all the accolades he’s bound to receive for playing so well. I’m just saying if he could get 29 and 13 each night, he probably would. Tonight he was beyond special.)

Second, people often stress late game performances as the key to winning or as more important than other parts of the contest. But in reality, games can be lost at any point. In the 2nd quarter the Spurs went on an 18-0 run with the Lakers turning the ball over on 5 straight possessions at one point. That stretch effectively lost the game for the Lakers as a 2 point Laker lead was turned into a 16 point deficit in the blink of an eye. When you consider that the final difference in the game was 21 points, those 18 straight loom rather large. So while we often worry about late game performance (and, to be fair, there’s good reason for that), it’s also important to remember that it’s what a team does during the rest of the contest that makes those moments matter. Tonight, the Spurs dominated the Lakers in the 2nd quarter and never looked back.

Ultimately, this game is a tough loss for a variety of reasons. The Lakers are now tied in the loss column with the Clippers and will be in a dog fight for the final week trying to hold on to their #3 seed. The built up confidence from winning without Kobe has also been dented as this wasn’t just a loss but a shellacking. But, ultimately, the Lakers still control their own destiny and will just need to get back on track. Luckily, this loss won’t linger for too long as they face the Warriors tomorrow night. Sometimes it’s better to just tip your cap to the other team and move on, and that’s what the Lakers get to do after this one.

Records: Lakers 39-22 (3rd in the West), Spurs 43-16 (1st in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 106.3 (10th in the NBA), Spurs 109.6 (2nd in the NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 103.8 (13th in the NBA), Spurs 103.3 (12th in the NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Ramon Sessions, Devin Ebanks, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Spurs: Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan, DeJuan Blair
Injuries: Lakers: Kobe Bryant (out), Jordan Hill (out); Spurs: none

These teams just played a week ago so let’s cut to the chase. This game matters for a variety of reasons but none more so than playoff seedings are still in play in the jam packed Western Conference. As the season comes to a close a key win or loss can change the match ups and turn the landscape into a rockier path than what existed just a day ago. And this year, maybe more than most, match ups will matter in determining who advances in each round and to the the Finals from the WC. And with the Spurs now in the #1 spot out West (and holding the tie breaker over the Thunder), OKC is on the Lakers side of the bracket – should both sides advance to round 2. That said, with two games left against the Spurs, the Lakers can impact that starting tonight…

Getting it done will take a similar formula to the one that earned them a W just a few days ago. In that game the Lakers defense turned up a notch, playing the P&R well, rotating quickly to shooters, and finishing possessions with rebounds. Andrew Bynum’s presence on in the paint meant few shots went unchallenged once the ball advanced past the foul line. His long arms served as deterrents and the safe landing for caroms and tonight that focus will need to be the same.

Offensively, the Lakers deliberate attack will also need to continue. The Spurs frontline was overwhelmed by the activity, size, and length that the Lakers offered as both Bynum and Gasol worked the interior well with McRoberts chipping in with his typical hustle. The Lakers will need to control the tempo and force the action to the paint where the Spurs don’t have the same caliber of players to match up. Bynum will need to be decisive with the ball and Pau will need to support him by providing spacing with his jumper and attacking the glass when help shifts towards his front court partner.

The desire to crash the glass must be countered with the need to get back on D, however. In the las game, the Spurs took advantage of the Lakers in transition with Parker turning on the jets and their shooters trailing the action to step into three pointers. Bonner was especially dangerous in this role as his defender often ran to the paint first only to find the big red-head camping 22 feet from the basket. The Lakers must hustle back on D, slow Parker and Ginobili in the open court and then mark shooters. Gary Neal will play tonight (he didn’t last time) and he offers another shooter that is capable of hitting from the shoulder and corner outside the arc.

The last game was a dominant effort from the Lakers but on some levels it was also sort of flukey. Manu and Parker were mostly quiet and Duncan had little impact on either side of the ball. It was the role players that kept the game close early on and a turn of better play from their stars should be expected. That said, the Lakers have the tools to slow the Spurs should they concentrate and focus on the little things that slow those players down. Parker must be forced to hit his jumper rather than getting into the paint free and clear. Manu must be kept to one side of the floor and not allowed to change directions multiple times in his forays to the hoop. And Timmy must be forced to guard the rim and rebound in single possessions while made to beat his man off the dribble on the other end.

If the Lakers can play a disciplined style against those three and while still recovering to shooters spacing the floor, this game can be a re-run of the last one. The eye popping totals may not end up being the same but the end result can be. The Lakers must simply work for it. With greater stakes beyond a simple W or L in the ledger at play, here’s to them doing it.

Where you can watch: 7:30PM start on Prime Ticket and nationally on TNT. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.

In Kobe Bryant’s absence there have been several story-lines about players filling in the gaps and raising their collective games. Be it the players you’d expect in Pau and Bynum, guys you’d hope would step up like Ron and Barnes, or (in the case of someone like Steve Blake) someone who you may have had little belief in, there have been no shortage of players turning up their games right when they’ve needed to.

One player though, who has filled a key role but hasn’t really gotten much recognition for doing so is Devin Ebanks. Called on from the depths of the bench to fill a starting role, Ebanks has seen a steady diet of minutes in the 5 games that Kobe has missed and has shown that he can be serviceable player.

No, his numbers aren’t anything special. In 24 minutes a night he’s scoring only 6 points on 42% shooting while grabbing only a shade over 2 rebounds. The rest of boxscore stats are just as modest, tallying a single assist and turnover each night while picking up a few steals over the course of the 5 games. All and all, from a statistical standpoint, he’s been fairly non-descript.

But, looking at the boxscore is only one way to judge his place on the Lakers. When you look beyond the standard numbers, you start to see a story of a player that can fit in on the court should he be used in a manner that maximizes his strengths.

First, and probably most important, is that Ebanks understands his role on this team. His usage rate is a paltry 12.8 in the past 5 games so he’s “coloring within the lines”. He’s not forcing shots, not trying to be a playmaker, and not going outside of what he’s supposed to be on the floor.

Second, he’s opportunistic on offense and plays to his strengths. Of his 31 field goals in the past 5 games, 17 of them have been inside of 8 feet with 15 of those coming right at the rim (where he’s shooting 60% in this stretch). He’s a smart cutter and seems to have a good understanding of moving into open spaces, indicated strongly by the fact that more than half of his makes have been assisted. Furthermore, he has a nose for the ball and can often be seen slithering into the paint from the weak side to battle for offensive rebounds (where he’s grabbing 1.4 a night).

Defensively, Ebanks’ numbers aren’t that flattering – at least when judged by the results of the team when he’s on the floor. In the 122 minutes Ebanks has played in the last 5 games, the Lakers defensive efficiency is 106.3. But, those numbers don’t tell the entire story either. As a whole, the Lakers defense has slipped lately and that has less to do with Ebanks evidenced by the fact that when Ebanks is off the floor the Lakers DEff jumps to 112.6. This certainly has a lot to do with the teammates that Ebanks plays with (he mostly runs with the starters) but he’s part of the units that have been playing better on that side of the floor.

And this bears out with the eye test too. On an individual level, Ebanks has played solid positional D using his length and above average lateral quickness to stay with his man. He’s still only a second year player so mistakes are made on that side of the  ball, but he seems to have a firm understanding of the Lakers’ schemes and is rarely out of position.

Ultimately, Ebanks has probably earned himself spot minutes even after Kobe returns. First of all, Kobe will need some rest and even when the playoffs come, 40+ minute nights shouldn’t be the norm if the goal is to have a functional Kobe Bean for a deep post-season run. Getting Kobe 10-15 minutes of rest a night should be a goal and Ebanks (along with Barnes) can help achieve that. Second, if the choice is between playing Ebanks with either Sessions or Blake at PG or playing Blake at SG, I choose the former. In the 42 minutes Blake and Sessions have shared the court in the past 5 games their OEff/DEff numbers are 103.3/109.9, while the numbers for a Sessions/Ebanks pairing are 108.0/99.6.

Ebanks isn’t an ideal solution due to his youth and spotty outside shooting. His D can still use some work too. But in a season of searching for a back up SG, the Lakers look to have found one based off how he fits into the team structure and how he plays to his strengths all while being an above average athlete with very good size for the position. And if that means for 6 to 8 minutes a night the Lakers run him at SG rather than Blake, I’m all for it.

*Statistical support for this story from NBA.com

Without Kobe Bryant for the 5th straight game, the Lakers sought their 4th straight win and got it taking down the Mavs 112-108. The win gave the Lakers a season sweep over Dallas and bumped their lead to 1.5 games in the Pacific Division over the Clippers. The Lakers seem to be finding their stride right now and in doing so, set up Kobe to come back to a primed team that looks like it can make some noise in the playoffs.

This was a great game to watch. It helped that the Lakers won, but just consider these things: the game, as it got going, had some playoff level intensity for two teams that are still battling for positioning in the west; the game went to overtime and had some fantastic shot making from both sides and some big defensive stops down the stretch; there were 17 lead changes in the back and forth affair with neither team really gaining an advantage for the final quarter plus overtime.

From the Lakers side, it’s difficult to come up with a player that didn’t impact the game in some positive way. Steve Blake’s boxscore shows 4 points and 2 assists, but he played hard on D chasing a red hot Jason Terry off shots that, based of how he was playing, likely would have gone in.  Josh McRoberts was more productive – in terms of raw stats – than usual, scoring 8 points and grabbing 4 rebounds in his 17 minutes of burn while also bringing his usual energy and aggressiveness. He also had a nifty bounce pass on a high/low entry to Bynum that led to FT’s that was quite memorable for it’s precision. Only players with good feel can make that pass and McRoberts certainly has that.

When looking at the rest of the players that saw action, you could pull any name from the hat and find that he helped secure the victory in a major way…

  • Ramon Sessions had 22 and 5 on the night and was huge down the stretch of regulation. He scored 5 points in the final three and a half minutes and without that burst of O, there likely isn’t an overtime and the Lakers lose in regulation.
  • Andrew Bynum didn’t have the best shooting night (9-24) in getting his 23 points, but he made 4 of his 7 shots in the 4th quarter and overtime, scoring 10 points along the way. His final basket was his biggest, though, as he knocked down a sweet turnaround jumper from the a step inside the foul line, getting separation from Haywood after a hard shoulder fake that’s become a staple of his growing arsenal. When you add in his 16 boards and the fact that he did all his work with an upper respiratory infection, he deserves his due even though is overall efficiency on O left us wanting.
  • Ron Artest had another good scoring night with 18 points, though he needed 20 shots to get them. He did chip in 6 rebounds and 4 assists too. But, it was his 2nd half defense that was a difference maker. In the 1st half, Delonte West had 16 points on 8 for 11 shooting, doing most of his damage in the P&R as his man got caught on picks without recovering. In the 2nd half and overtime, Delonte West had 4 points on 1-4 shooting. What changed? Ron Artest guarded him in that second half, that’s what. Of course the team D was better on West as well, but it started with Ron fighting over screens, using active hands to disrupt passing angles, and basically making it hard for West to even catch the ball.
  • Pau Gasol put up 20 and 10 but hit the two biggest shots of the game – back to back three pointers(!), both of which turned one point deficits into two point leads.
  • Matt Barnes flirted with a triple double finishing with 11 points, 11 rebounds, and 8 assists by playing his typical scrappy, heady game. But it was the defensive play he made on the Mavs’ final possession that will be remembered most. With Dallas only trailing by 2, they ran a P&R with Jason Terry finding daylight to the rim with no one in his way. Barnes rotated to him at the last second, made him double clutch, and ultimately bothered the shot enough that Terry missed right at the rim. The game easily could have been tied and headed to a 2nd OT had Barnes not stepped up, but he did.

Of course not everything was perfect in this game and there are still things the Lakers must do better. Their P&R defense still needs a lot of work as Bynum – especially in the 1st half – sat well below the screen and gave up countless mid-range jumpers that were made too often. When you combine Bynum’s hanging back with Sessions going under screens all too often, the result was even more open jumpers. And when guys weren’t going under screens, they were getting caught on them way too easily, often times forcing a switch that left small on big and vice versa. Down the stretch Dirk got several good looks taking jumpers against Sessions because Ramon couldn’t get over the screen and ended up having to stay on Dirk.

The offense also took a fair amount of time to find any sort of rhythm. Early on, the sets were disjointed as the bigs didn’t fight for post position and the ball didn’t move well enough to make a sagging defense pay. The Lakers also looked all too eager to shoot the first shot that seemed open rather than working for a better one, only to later pass up good shots in order to move the ball on to less open teammates (this was especially true with the 2nd unit). Over time this was smoothed out (especially in the 3rd quarter where Ron really got going) but it was a bit concerning to see them struggle with the same defensive scheme they’ve seen from the Mavs all year.

In the end though, this was a great game for the Lakers that shouldn’t be nit picked too much. They played without Kobe and got their 4th straight win (and 3rd straight over a playoff team). If they can continue to fine tune their defense and focus on getting good shots on offense, this team really is dangerous.