Archives For June 2012

Wednesday Storylines

Dave Murphy —  June 13, 2012

As Darius wrote yesterday, the Heat and the Thunder have been on a collision course all season. Game one was terrific last night. One of the things that I enjoyed most was watching Fish play – 25 minutes, 3 of 5 shooting, and all the little five-rings things. If he gets number six, I’ll be very happy. Without further ado, some links:

Andrew Kamenetzky from the Land O’Lakers, offers a forum with Dave McMenamin and Kevin Arnovitz, about Ramon Sessions.

Marc J. Spears at Yahoo Sports has a wrap-up for the OKC loss with a great Russell Westbrook quote about Shane Battier, “He was trying to punk me.” And then there’s the post game video, Russ in his red glassless frames and Prada shirt with cars and dancing people. Pure gold.

Kelly Dwyer at Ball Don’ Lie considers the decision making process that Derek Fisher went through after buying out his contract from Houston.

Also at BDL, Dan Devine writes about charitable causes, Kobe Bryant, and H-O-R-S-E.

Ken Berger at CBS Sports has a David Stern interview thing.

Alex Dewey at Gothic Ginobili, on LeBron’s long and unfathomable journey, with a Chekhov framework.

Tom Sorensen at the Charlotte Observer, feels that Brian Shaw is the best candidate for the Hornet’s coaching vacancy. The other members of the final three are Jerry Sloan… and Quin Snyder.

Ramneet Singh at Lakers Nation reports on Lakers assistant Ettore Messina returning to Europe, where he’ll be the head coach for CSKA Russia. It was great having him here, but you knew it wouldn’t last – the man is a bonafide legend in the Euroleague.

Beckley Mason at True Hoops has the flops of the night – Chalmers vs. Fisher.

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Other than Messina leaving and Snyder being on MJ’s short list, there really isn’t much in the way of Lakers news to write about. Or if there is, it hasn’t filtered down to the world according to Dave. If anybody hears anything really choice, post it here. I’ll be sure to snake it and call it my own.

- Dave Murphy

It’s always a bitter feeling when the Finals roll around and the Lakers aren’t participating – especially when they’re one of the handful of teams with legitimate title aspirations. But, for the second season in a row, this is where we sit. However, as a basketball fan, this Finals match up is one that intrigues me to no end. Both teams offer elite star players in their primes, are well coached, and the results will impact the league for years to come. If the Heat win, they’ll have achieved what they were formed to do and can (potentially) build on this success for future seasons. If the Thunder win, they’ll be so young that it could easily tip the balance of power in their direction for the next several years (especially if their ownership is willing to go deep into the tax to keep the team together).

From the beginning of the season this is the match up many predicted and now we have it. As a Laker fan this may upset me but as someone that loves the game I can’t help but be excited. Here are a few of my thoughts heading into the highly anticipated first game…

  • The LeBron vs. Durant match up will be the headline grabber but I think one of the most important tactical match ups will be Bosh vs. Ibaka. Bosh’s ability to spread the floor and play in space will challenge Ibaka’s desire to guard the rim and play close to the paint. If Serge can’t guard the rim effectively, LeBron and Wade will have a much easier time finishing off drives.  And if Serge decides to leave Bosh to still help at the basket he’ll be put in the difficult position of having to challenge without fouling while also leaving one of the premier jump shooting big men alone. If Bosh is able to hit his jumper like he did in game 7 vs. the Celtics, it will be interesting to see how the Thunder counter that match up over the course of the series.
  • The other match up that interests me is Wade vs. Harden. Wade hasn’t looked himself these playoffs and with reports about him getting his knee drained against the Pacers, it would not surprise me if he’s banged up. But he’ll need to be at, or close to, his best this series if the Heat are to win, especially when matched up with Harden. Wade will need to make Harden work hard on both sides of the floor and wear him down by running him off picks and attacking him in isolation from both the wing and the post. When the Thunder played the Lakers (and early in the Spurs series) Harden seemed to tire on offense when he had to guard Kobe on the other end (and Ginobili when he was coming off the bench). If Harden struggles, the Thunder become more beatable as he’s the bridge between Westbrook’s all out attack game and Durant’s more patient approach. Harden will need to perform well on both ends but that’s a tall task if it’s Wade he must go at consistently.
  • It will be interesting to see how much Perkins and Joel Anthony play in this series. My hunch is that they’ll be matched up a lot with each other but when Perkins sits, Anthony won’t play at all. I don’t think the Heat can afford to play him on a jump shooting big like Ibaka or Collison. Perkins, on the other hand, will likely play more than he should – especially when the Heat go small. I think his foot speed issues will be exploited when James plays PF and Bosh plays C. Whether he can make up for that on the glass and in the halfcourt by getting his teammates open in OKC’s screen game remains to be seen, but I’d be weary of playing Perkins too much when there’s an abundance of speed on the floor for Miami.
  • Which role players will step up? Will Ibaka have one of those games where he’s nearly perfect on his mid-range J? Will Battier or Mike Miller have a game where they get hot from behind the arc? Can Haslem still make a difference even though he looks like he’s not right physically? Can Fisher summon another hero moment and twist another dagger into an opponent? I’ve seen too many big games turn on a performance from a role player to not expect one or more of these things to happen over the next couple of weeks. The stars may headline, but at least one time a supporting cast member will steal the show.
  • Out of all the players in this series, Russell Westbrook may be the true difference maker. Every other star player has a counterpart at his position that is nearly just as key except for Westbrook. If he torches Chalmers or finds his groove shooting his mid-range jumper, the Heat will need to start to trap him and shade their defense his way. This will open up opportunities for other Thunder players on every possession. By the end of the Spurs series Westbrook was making the D pay by making smart passes when they overcommitted to him. If Miami is forced to do the same, they may be in trouble.
  • Ultimately, every time I try to pick a winner to this series I can’t really decide. Neither the Heat nor the Thunder have faced a team like the one they will tonight. OKC hasn’t seen a team with Miami’s defensive ability and athletes to match their own. And the Heat haven’t faced a team with as explosive an offense nor the depth and size of the Thunder. Both will be in for a bit of a shock tonight and will need to adjust accordingly. Predicting this series is as much about who navigates that change best and at this point, it’s toss up. If I had a gun to my head I’d choose Miami to win in 6 games but I’m about as confident in that pick as I am in winning the lottery.

However this series goes, we’ll be in for some great basketball. And while not having the Lakers still playing is disappointing, I can’t say this match up has me at all upset. These two teams have been on a collision course all season and to see it actually happen has me excited.

As a Laker fan, there’s not a player I’ve disliked more in my life than Kevin McHale. Whether it was his clothesline on Rambis, how he’d lumber up and down the court, or just his lurch-like look he was the Celtic I despised most during those epic 80′s battles.

I’d be lying, however, if I didn’t admit that one of the main reasons I also couldn’t stand him was because of how good he was and how often he’d take his defender to school – especially whoever on the Lakers was checking him (that is until the Lakers traded for his college teammate Mychal Thompson). McHale was a low post monster, shooting 55% for his career and twice eclipsing the 60% barrier in a season. His mix of long arms, fantastic footwork, and ability to mix primary moves with almost unstoppable counters made him a nightmare on the low post.

So, when McHale talks low post scoring or has opinions on the games of today’s post players, you listen. His insight in this area should be as respected as much (or more) than any other legend, especially since he relied on technical skill more than athletic prowess. At the Adidas Eurocamp, McHale was doing some talking and teaching on playing on the low block and one topic he covered should be of interesest to Lakers’ fans. Brett Pollakoff of Pro Basketball Talk has the story:

The question came up of how important it was for a big man to be able to learn to pass out of a double-team in the post — a skill Lakers center Andrew Bynum has struggled to develop as he’s started to face that extra defender inside. McHale said that’ll come, but smiled when the question was asked, because it’s really the very last step to come in a competent post player’s game.

“First of all, there’s like three prongs in that thing,” he said. “One, you’ve got to get good down in the low post. Two, you’ve got to get good enough to beat your man steady. Three, they double-team you — that’s the third prong, and then you’ve got to pass out, OK?

“You learn pretty quickly, because in the NBA especially, when you start getting double-teamed a lot and when teams have success, they’ll do it every single night. Bynum a year from now will be a very good post passer. He’ll know where to go, he’ll be relaxed, he’ll read it, and pass it out. Then you’ve got murder on your hands because the guy can score down there and he can pass out. And any time two (players) guard one in our league, three have got to guard four. And three cannot guard four in the NBA, the players are too good.”

During this past season, we saw Bynum progress through all three of the prongs McHale discussed. Early in the year Bynum showed that he had the strength and size to establish the deep post. From that position he then showed he could score against single coverage with great efficiency. At that point, defenses started to adjust by double teaming him and that’s where things got tricky for the first time all-star.

Throughout the year Bynum had his ups and downs in dealing with the double team, sometimes making the right read and other times forcing the action a bit too much. Rather than making the easy pass back out to the same side wing, Bynum would try to make the homerun pass to a teammate cross court that wasn’t quite open. Other times he’d try to bully his way through the double team to score rather than pass at all. And other times, he’d (seemingly) resign himself that the double team was eminent and not work for position to make a catch at all. (As an aside, the latter two issues could also be the product of the inconsistencies the Lakers showed in featuring their big men on the block. Too often the ball stuck in the hands of perimeter players – Kobe and his wing running mates are guilty of this – and not looking inside early or often enough.)

Bynum’s inconsistency in dealing with the second defender – no matter the reason – only created further incentive for defenses to continue the tactic. It’s easy to say that Bynum was getting doubled because of his ability to consistently beat single coverage, but as McHale mentioned teams also double team because they have success doing so. That means they force turnovers, bad shots, and frustration of the guy they’re doubling. Anyone that saw the last few games of the Nuggets series clearly saw a frustrated Bynum weary of constantly having to deal with double teams.

However, as McHale also said, Bynum should only continue to grow in this area. Big men must learn to navigate defenses with their back turned to the rim and getting that grasp on where and how a defense wants to attack them takes time. I liken it to how a quarterback must turn his back to the defense when executing a play-action pass in football; big men don’t often see how the defense is shifting behind them and how their teammates move in accordance with those shifts. As bigs get more comfortable with how the D wants to double them, their reads become almost automatic and are executed off muscle memory the way a counter spin move is when the defender takes away middle.

We saw flashes of that with Bynum this year but he’s not yet a finished product. However, in time, I believe he’ll get to where he needs to be. I remember the period in their respective careers when Duncan and Shaq struggled dealing with double teams, firing passes to the other team or committing traveling violations when getting pressured by the second man. Over time they learned how to stare down the pressure of the second defender and make the right read more often than not. One day, and probably soon, Bynum will get there too.

After Magic Johnson’s retirement and the end of Showtime, the Lakers were a team in transition. They’d yet to find another franchise icon and instead put together a team of carryovers, journeymen, and youngsters. Guys like Vlade, Sedale, George Lynch, Elden Campbell, Van Exel, and Eddie Jones. What transpired was the “LakeShow” era of Los Angeles basketball that may not have won any championships but sure were fun to watch.

One of the reasons they were fun was because of Eddie Jones. Watching him run the floor and finish above the rim was like an extension those Showtime teams. Jones attacked the rim with reckless abandon and didn’t care if it was a guard or a big man under the hoop to challenge the shot – he was going to try and finish over him. This style produced countless highlight plays and had me jumping out of my seat countless times at home.

Of course, within a few years of Eddie being drafted the seeds for a new era were planted. Shaq came as a free agent, Kobe was traded for on draft day, and the expectations for the team started to change. But I’ll never forget Jones streaking down the floor and throwing it down over any and everyone. And, thanks to the beauty of the internet we can all remember it today too. Enjoy, Eddie Jones DUNKS!:

Friday Forum

Dave Murphy —  June 8, 2012

Basketball continues along its duel tracks, with the playoffs marching toward the final round and the rest of the teams proceeding into their seasons of change. It’s as evident here as anywhere. With Kobe heading toward his 17th season, management can ill afford to tinker and wait. Darius recently wrote about team building and the need for youth. The playoffs have been a fascinating mix of young and old, and the clock stops for no one. Here’s some links, and food for thought:

Brian Kamenetzky at the Land O’Lakers, compares the team’s needs this season, to their needs last season, and finds a lot of similarities.

Ben Bolch at the L.A. Times writes about Derek Fisher, hoping for another ring.

Kurt Helin at ProBasketballTalk reports that Kobe will revisit Germany this summer for more therapy on his knee. Andrew Bynum may have the same experimental procedure.

Mike Trudell at Lakers Reporter goes into a little more depth about training matters, during an interview with Gary Vitti.

R.R. Magellan at The No-Look Pass examines how the Oklahoma City Thunder got to where they did.

C.A. Clark at Silver Screen and Roll also looks at OKC, and the clearest paradigm shift in NBA history.

Right before last night’s Eastern Conference Game 6, Emile Avanessian, at Hardwood Hype issued a challenge to LeBron. LBJ was clearly listening.

I enjoyed a cyber dinner with Emile the night before, and we discussed the conference finals, plus matters more centric to the Lakers.

Most of the recent talk of a possible Lamar return to the Lakers, has been tempered by the new one-year moratorium rule. David Lord & Mike Fisher from Dallasbasketball.com, have a possible way around that.

Elizabeth Benson at Lakers Nation, examines the need to get younger and faster.

In the wake of last night’s remarkable LeBron performance, a ton of writers sallied forth to opine. Jared Dublin at Hardwood Paroxysm,  gives us a table of contents.

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This year’s strike-shortened season was more than a little strange. The playoffs however, have been engaging, highly competitive, and fully entertaining. This summer will not be like last summer. The gym doors won’t be locked. Coaches won’t be prohibited from talking to their players. The new draft picks won’t be sitting, wondering, and waiting. The summer league and full training camps will be back in force. And between now and then, there will be a lot to talk about. As the Chambers brothers famously sang, “time has come today.”

- Dave Murphy