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What Is Up With The Celtics?

Kurt —  January 30, 2010

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Oh sure, it’s easy to hate the Celitcs, that’s just an instinct of Lakers fans. But, one is better off when one knows ones enemy.

So, Zach Lowe from Celtics Hub and I have been busy. We teamed up with the Amazing Flying Kamentezky Brothers for a roundtable over at Land O’ Lakers you should check out.

Zach also answered a few questions for us (all before the Celtics lost to the Hawks again last night, the Cs are now 1-6 against Atlanta and Orlando this season).

1) Through the injuries and everything else, the Celtics defense looks like it is back to near (or at least on the path to) where it was a couple years ago. Is that accurate, or does it have a way to go?

That’s basically accurate. The C’s lead the league in defensive efficiency (points allowed per possession), just a hair ahead of the Lakers. They defend the rim and the three-point shot very well; only Orlando allows a lower shooting percentage on shots near the rim (via Hoopdata.com), and only three teams allow a lower three-point shooting percentage.

That said, the defense isn’t as consistent as it was in 2008 or the start of last season, mostly because the team has gone from an elite defensive rebounding club to an average one. Other than health, this is the biggest internal threat the team faces going forward.

How healthy is Kevin Garnett? Is he expected to be 100% for the playoffs?

Nobody knows. KG hyper-extended his right knee, and the team insists that injury is unrelated to the bone spur and strained tendon in the same knee that kept him out of the playoffs last season. Just as you’ve stopped trying to understand what Phil Jackson might be thinking, I’ve stopped trying to parse out the truth about KG’s health, because I’m not sure anyone really knows–including the team. He labored against the Magic on Thursday, and then—on the second end of a back-to-back—put up 15-7-3 against Atlanta and generally looked decent.

He has to play himself back into game shape, but to do that, he has to avoid the nagging injuries that seem to strike every three weeks.

I should also note that a lot of Boston fans feel burned by the team after it failed to disclose the bone spur issue until well after the playoffs last summer. I personally don’t feel that way–it’s not in the team’s interest to be fully transparent about an injury KG might have been able to play through. But there is some distrust among the fan base, for sure.

How is Sheed working out? Is he fitting in the offense?

Sheed is working out exactly as I expected–he alternates between games in which he appears to be exactly what Boston needs off the bench and games in which he looks creaky and old. To his credit, he has dialed back the three-point shooting a bit; he’s jacking 7.4 threes per 36 minutes, the most on the team by far, but after 15 games or so that number was up at about 11—a number even Antoine Walker never sniffed. He remains (at times) devastating from the post, so you’d always like to see him park his (fat) butt down there more often, especially since he’s shooting 29 percent from deep.

But his presence on the perimeter does open up the floor for everyone else, especially Rondo. The plus/minus numbers indicate that the C’s offense has performed about as well as normal with Sheed on the floor, but that the defense has suffered. This isn’t surprising. Sheed struggles against quicker bigs and has had problems protecting the defensive glass.

Ray Allen’s numbers are off, both from three point range but also in the midrange shots. What are the theories as to the cause? Is there a Rondo effect at play (with him taking a larger role in the offense)?

The main theory is that Ray Allen is just getting old as a player. He’s the oldest of the C’s three 30-plus stars, and he has reached the age (34) at which shooting guards begin to see their accuracy drop. Ray keeps himself in great shape, eats well, etc., so he should hold up better than most.

I don’t think this has anything to do with Rondo taking a larger share of the offense. Rajon and Ray have a nice connection, and Rajon goes out of his way to find Ray for open threes in transition. Ray just isn’t making shots at the same rate. That’s really it. Even so, he continues to put up monster plus/minus numbers, both raw and adjusted, and the second unit plays much better with Ray as the lone starter than with Pierce in that role. That trend has been consistent since Ray got here, suggesting he adds something that is tough to quantify.

How much of creation of shots in the offense falls to Rondo now (both for himself and others)? Is that good?

More than ever. Rondo is taking 11.3 shots per game this season, up from about 9.5 last season, and his assist rate (the percentage of teammate baskets Rajon assists on while on the floor) is the third-highest in the league. It’s a good and necessary development. When Kevin Garnett is injured, the C’s lose one huge piece of their offensive foundation: the ability to run plays through KG in the post. More of the burden naturally falls on Rondo. As KG, Pierce and Allen all age, having someone else to lean on helps keep the offense moving.

The C’s offense has dropped off this season (all the way to 13th in efficiency), but that has less to do with Rajon than with the absence of KG, the tough season Ray Allen is having and the team’s overall drop in three-point accuracy (hello, Sheed).

What is with all the turnovers?

The Celtics have been turnover prone in each of the last three seasons, so it’s not shocking to see them ranked 29th in turnover rate. (They were 29th in each of the last two seasons). It remains amazing to me that a team that pays such maniacal attention to detail on defense can be so sloppy on offense. Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins are the main culprits. Rondo’s turnovers I (mostly) don’t mind, since he’s the point guard and his assist-to-turnover ratio remains one of the best in the league. But Perk commits far too many traveling violations and gets called for illegal screens at least once a game, it seems. That needs to stop. And Rondo has gotten into a bad habit lately of going for Brett Favre-esque passes in transition.

How much does this game matter to the team and fans?

These games always matter a little more. I think fans of these two clubs understand–perhaps more than any other fan bases–that regular-season games don’t matter all that much in the scheme of things. We’re not going to remember in 2015 who won the regular-season series in 2010, unless the same team wins by 30 in each game or something. But it’s the Lakers, there are some minor bragging rights involved and the games always feel special because there are only two of them each season and they are on national TV.

The C’s could also use a win against a quality team after losing back-to-back roadies against the Magic and Hawks. So this game means something extra in that sense, though it would hold that same importance if the C’s were hosting, say, the Cavs.

And now the end is near
And so I face the final curtain
My friend I’ll say it clear
I’ll state my case of which I’m certain

I’ve lived a life that’s full
I traveled each and every highway
And more, much more than this
I did it my way
—Sinatra

I, Kurt Helin, am about to leave Forum Blue & Gold.

I tried about 256 ways to phrase that first sentence, but sometimes being direct is the best approach. Know first and foremost — this is a good thing for me and a good thing for the future of the site.

It’s good for me because I have been hired full time to start and write a new NBA blog for NBCSports.com. Not just Lakers but the entire league, and in a format that is proven to work (if done right). I feel like someone who got the call to head up to the majors — excited and a little bit nervous. But, like Nuke LaLoosh, I’ve practiced my cliches and learned to throw a punch with my non-typing hand (?) so I’m ready to go. You’ll hear and find out more about the blog when it launches on Feb. 8. But know that I am not disappearing, I will still be reading this site every day (and throwing in comments now and again).

The new blog is going to take up virtually all of my time, I couldn’t stay on here and do it right (plus, NBC doesn’t want me working for ESPN on the side anyway). After five years of building Forum Blue & Gold and living on this site every day, one thing I had to do was find the right person to take over the helm.

That is Darius.

The great basketball mind and long time amazing contributor to this site has agreed to step up and be the man. I couldn’t be happier, because I know he is going to do a great job and make this site even better, to help it evolve. I’ll let him talk about his own plans and goals, but I sort of picture him as Bono out in front of the band (and when I do that I’m picturing 1985, mullet and fur boots at Live Aid Bono).

But he wants more band members. That is where writers out there can come in.

Maybe you’re a master narrator who can compose a recap for the ages for even the most lopsided blowout. Or you might be a breakdown artist who loves dissecting the x’s & o’s. Or Are you a stat geek who wants to use all these cool advanced analytics to figure out what’s ailing the Lakers’ offense? A humorist who can tackle the most profound questions facing the team with gallows humor? Or you could be someone who just wants to add thoughtful observations to our community.

Send whatever you think we need to see (links, writing samples, proposals, references, errata) to lakersfans@forumblueandgold.com. And remember, I’ll be reading.

Time to start getting fired up for Sunday.

Preview & Chat: The Indiana Pacers

Kurt —  January 27, 2010

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Records: Lakers 34-11 (1st in West) Pacers 16-29 (11th in East)
Offensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 109.2 (9th in league), Pacers 101.6 (27th in league)
Defensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 102.1 (3rd in league) Pacers 106.6 (15th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Pacers: Earl Watson, Luther Head, Brandon Rush, Danny Granger, Troy Murphy (Roy Hibbert could start instead of Rush)

Lakers Coming In Going quietly unnoticed through the recent rough patch is that the Lakers offense has been pretty good lately. The numbers have been consistently getting better in terms of points per possession in the last week or so (the Lakers have cracked the top 10 in the league). That was evidenced last night when the Lakers pretty much did whatever they wanted on offense to the Wizards. It was like a game last season where the offense was so good it didn’t matter much about the defense.

Which is good because the defense remains a concern lately — while the offense has gotten better, the defense has taken steps back. Teams are shooting 44% against the Lakers over the course of the season, but that has been 46% in the last 10 games. Last night Washington shot 51.2% and scored 115 points per 100 possessions. Those are high figures, it was just easy to look past them because the Lakers took control of the game in the second quarter.

But the Lakers right now are not putting it all together on both ends.

Pacers coming in: At the start of the season, I talked about the Lakers as a team with a large margin for error — they could win a lot of games if things did not go perfectly, maybe they could even win a title that way.

Indiana is what a team with no margin for error looks like. Things have to go just right for them to win.

Usually things go right when they go with their small lineup — Granger as the power forward (even though he may be a small three) and Troy Murphy as the center. That five-man unit may have areas you can attack, but they are far-and-away the best five-man lineup the Pacers have. And as you would think they run when they go small.

Pacers blogs Indy Cornrows has been great for years and check out 8 points, 9 seconds.

Keys to game: This is an interesting battle of styles — the Lakers are big with Bynum and Gasol and Artest up front, the Pacers go smaller than any team in the league. It is likely both teams will try to force the other to adjust first in terms of style and personnel.

The Pacers love to get out and run — they play at the second fastest pace in the league. Faster than the Suns and Knicks. The Lakers play fairly fast two and have good athletes on the floor, so they can run but they need to do so under control. If they get sucked into a game of PUJITs and poor transition defense (things they have done recently) they will be in trouble in a Canseco Field House that will be rocking. Also, take care of the ball, limiting turnovers will slow the Pacers down.

In transition defense, the Lakers have to talk, the Pacers are less about set plays and more about recognition of mismatches or guys sleeping then making them pay. Also, Murphy loves to trail the break then spot up for the kick-out three.

The Pacers foul a lot (second worst free throw to field goals ratio in the league). The Lakers need to attack the basket, get the ball inside and not settle for jumpers. More touches for Gasol, I love Danny Granger’s game but he is woefully outmatched there (and Gasol will struggle on the other end defending Granger on the wing, you could put Artist on Granger but then you have GAO on Brandon Rush). When the Lakers do take jumpers they should get good looks — opposing teams have shot 40% from three in the last 10 Pacers games. When they get the shots, the Lakers need to knock them down.

Where you can watch: 4 p.m. start here out west, on KCAL 9. Plus, ESPN radio 710am.

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Records: Lakers 32-11 (1st in West) Wizards 14-29 (14th in East)
Offensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 108.8 (10th in league), Wizards 105 (22nd in league)
Defensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 101.8 (3rd in league) Wizards 109.4 (23rd in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Wizards: Randy Foye, Deshawn Stevenson, Caron Butler, Antiwan Jamison, Brendon Haywood

Lakers Updates: Ron Artest was at shoot around today and will play tonight (likely getting a key matchup on Caron Butler). I will add that this is one guy who could benefit from the upcoming All Star break. A few days without the pounding on the hardwood will help the plantar fasciitis he is fighting.

Wizards coming in: Do I really need to go into the ugly details here? Well, I think we do on this point: While the Gilbert Arenas/Javaris Crittenton gun charges get the mainstream media attention, the team’s problems on the court are much deeper than that. The guys at Truth About It nailed this the other day.

It would be simple to cite constant themes of lacking energy and settling for jumpers and conclude that this team has quit on their coach, themselves, the franchise, and the fans. But these issues have plagued them since the beginning of the season. So, and pardon me if I’ve said this before, you technically can’t quit if you never start playing.

Early season issues arose from the players’ unfamiliarity with a new offensive system. That quickly beget reoccurring situations where they should have known the system, but didn’t trust it. The most recently evolution involves one of the team’s captains ignoring the coach and running his own play with the game on the line.

Wizards blogs Did I mention Truth About It?

Keys to game: We complain sometimes that the Lakers aren’t focused and can just win on talent and not teamwork, but it is nice to have a few of those on the schedule. Like when you’ve been struggling and need win. This should be one of those games. Should.

Both teams have had weak bench play of late — if one of them can get a good spark off the bench it will be a huge advantage. Mike Miller has been a Lakers killer, the Lakers need to focus on him. Also, Andre Blatche has a lot of talent when he decides to focus. Against the Lakers may bring his “A” game, and that could be a problem because he is long and more athletic than our bigs.

The Lakers need to communicate on defense tonight because Flip Saunders’ offense can score points when it is executed. Always has, Washington just tends to not execute it well. But Butler and Jamison have the talent. They love to set a wing up on the weak side, have run a strong-side pick and roll where the screener rolls to the weak side and the ball handler drives. The goal ball reversal (a problem for the Lakers with their current defensive scheme) and to get easy weak side looks for the wing (who can also set to the new post on the weak side, who should have deep position). Saunders offense needs ball movement, and when the Wizards do it they can cause problems.

Where you can watch: Early 4 p.m. start here out west, on KCAL 9 locally plus NBATV where you are. Plus, ESPN radio 710am.