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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.

Do The Lakers Need To Make A Trade?

Kurt —  January 26, 2010

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When a team is not reaching its potential around the trade deadline, there is a temptation to want to “shake them up” with a trade.

The Lakers are not reaching their potential. They are 5-5 in their last 10 games, 1-2 on this road trip. They played better against a Toronto team that plays well at home, but it was still a better overall game from them than we have seen recently. It’s one of those things I notice in baseball (not sure if the stats would back me up) — when a slumping hitter is about to break out of that, they seem to go through a phase where they start hitting the ball hard but still make outs. They drill the ball but right at the shortstop, or the centerfielder robs them of a home run. Is that where the Lakers are?

Or, do the Lakers need to be shaken up?

That is always risky — shaking a team up for the sake of shaking things up rarely works out. It’s about needs, value and fit. For both teams (meaning don’t think that there are teams lining up to get Sasha Vujacic right now).

What if the Pistons called and offered Jason Maxiell for Adam Morrison’s contract. That’s what the guys at Pistons Powered asked me in an email, and I have to say it is tempting. Maxiell is going to make $5 mil a year for four more years. He is playing poorly this season, but is that a question of a bad team and no defined roll, could he return to the quality backup four he was the previous couple seasons? The 2008 Maxiell would be a good deal at $5 mil, this year’s version makes that a long-term problem.

I doubt Buss would do it; he’s not going to take on long-term salary for a role guy like that. But what do you think would work? Know that the Nets said Devin Harris is not on the block (they are not going to trade him until they have John Wall in camp, and with the worst record they would only have a 25% chance of winning the lottery). Nobody in Toronto, nobody with connections there, thinks Bosh is on the market.

What could the Lakers do to shake things up? Or should they?

The Baller In Chief

Kurt —  January 25, 2010

The Lakers got to meet the President Monday, and the only thing that would have made it better is weather that would have allowed it outside on the basketball court President Obama had installed at the White House. And with the way the Lakers have been playing defense lately, no doubt Obama could have dropped 20 on them.

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Championship teams are not born fully formed, like Venus rising from the sea. They start with just the seed of potential — the talent to be a contender when the season starts. But it takes more to fulfill that potential.

Like the lead character in a novel or movie, there has to be adversity, there have to be struggles in the path. What makes the hero able to achieve their goals in the end is what they had to learn in overcoming those struggles. If an NBA team goes through a season without struggles, they will not be tested and ready for the playoffs (the 72-win Bulls team was the exception to the rule, they were a veteran team that had learned what they had needed to in previous years).

The Lakers are struggling right now, but to me fretting over losses to a decent Toronto team (or other wins and losses) on the road ignores the big picture point. To me, the team needs this. The question is simply: Can they grow and overcome the things making them lose, can they evolve into the team they need to be to win another title? And I don’t know the answer to that. I hope so. I think they have the talent to. I know they have the coach who can get them there. But all that is not enough. Right now the main character of the story (if you’re a Lakers fan) is being challenged and struggling with it. It’s hard, but it has to be hard or what is the point, where would the fun be?

The question is, can this character grow into the hero role?


For a snapshot of the Lakers problems, let’s break down the last 3:20 of the Raptors game. At that point, the Lakers are up 103-100 after Jordan Farmar just hit a little running floater in the lane (a shot I wish he’d use a little more on penetration).

3:20: Bosh gets the ball at the elbow and throws a high lob pass to the guy cutting baseline — except there are no Raptors cutting baseline, just Shannon Brown, so he gets the steal.

Brown sees nothing on the break so he pulls up and gives to Kobe, who wisely runs time off the clock until 11 seconds are left on the 24. That is when Gasol comes out to set the high screen for Kobe but then he slips it and both Raptors stick to Kobe, so he feeds Gasol a perfect bounce pass at the free throw line. Gasol catches it and drives into the lane and the three remaining Raptors defenders collapsed on him, so Gasol kicked out to Shannon Brown for a wide open corner three. Missed it.

Hedo is the playmaker late in Canada and he comes off a Andrea Bargnani high screen, finds no driving lane takes a step back long two, maybe the worst shot in basketball. Missed it, but Bosh tips it out to Bargnani, who takes a three that he misses. Lakers board.

So now the Lakers are up three with 2:20 left and the ball, and Phil takes a timeout. The Lakers late in games just rely on isolations and the pick-and-roll too much — the traditional triangle sets just go out the window — and in this case Bynum comes out to set the high pick for Kobe. Bargnani plays the pick-and-roll well, taking away Kobe’s driving lane, but Kobe passes out to an open Jordan Farmar, who has Jack running at him. Farmar drives around Jack and gets to a baseline 10-footer, but rather than go straight up with his jump shot he fades left for no particular reason. The result is a miss, but the Lakers use up a lot clock.

Jack brings the ball up for Toronto and pretty quickly decides to drive from the right wing on Farmar. Jordan can’t stay in front of him and Jack gets almost under the rim. The Lakers bigs can’t help because Bosh and Bargnani are spreading the floor and Bynum/Gasol have to defend them in space. Anyway, Jack gets fouled and hits one of two free throws.

1:50 left, Lakers up two. The Lakers counter with some retro offense from the early 1990s — pure isolation. Kobe with the ball and nobody joints him on the at side of the court. It works, he gets to the left elbow and hits that little fade away he loves.

1:40 left, Lakers up four. The Raptors work the ball around the perimeter but never inside, and the result is a Jack three with Farmar contesting, and he misses. An unimpressive possession by the Raptors (and solid defense by the Lakers). Kobe rebounds.

The Lakers push the ball and run the break, Kobe handling the ball in the middle with Brown and Gasol on the wings. Just like we were all taught in junior high, at the free thrown line Kobe makes his decision and passes to Brown, who dribbles behind his back then goes up but is contested so he tries to change his mind in mid air and throws a pass to nobody out of bounds. The Lakers get no points and run little time off the clock, the worst of possible outcomes. It was a bad decision not to slow it down, and that started with Kobe.

Bargnani gets the ball out on the left wing and puts the ball on the floor going baseline. Gasol pushes him that way but nobody helps, so Bargnani gets the and-1 on the foul from Gasol.

1:10 left, Lakers up one. Kobe brings it up and gets the high pick from Bynum, first goes left off the pick then swings back right. Hedo is on him but Kobe doesn’t seem to care and the result is Kobe taking a contested fade-away 21 footer that misses over Hedo. Not a pretty possession at all.

What follows was the Lakers best defensive possession of the game. Great switches, Brown fought through the high pick and got help on penetration. Toronto couldn’t find a shot it liked. The result was Hedo taking a desperation long three that missed.

Kobe brings the ball up with 30 seconds and a one-point lead, then eats clock. Eventually Gasol comes out for the high pick, and similar to before (although Gasol set the pick this time but slid out quickly) when Gasol rolled he got a bounce pass from Kobe. Gasol tries to kick out to the right corner and Farmar, but it is knocked out of bounds. So Phil takes a timeout to draw up a play with three seconds left. That play turns out to be Kobe taking a desperation three from the wing, which was not a pretty option or outcome.

We all know the last play, the Hedo drive on the last play where he got a foul call (there may have been a foul on that play, but after letting the teams bang a little for most of the game that was a light call for that late). Complain about the call if you must, but as I always say (as my coaches taught me young) if you leave the game in the hands of the referee late you deserve what you get. This should never come down to the last play, to me that is what matters.

The fact is the Lakers missed shots, turned the ball over early in the shot clock, and generally made bad choices on offense. Starting with not running the offense. They executed poorly. They didn’t help on defense.

All part of the struggles, all fixable things, the question is will they? Can they overcome these struggles?

Preview & Chat: The Toronto Raptors

Kurt —  January 24, 2010

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Records: Lakers 32-10 (1st in West) Raptors 22-22 (6th in East)
Offensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 108.3 (10th in league), Raptors 111.2 (4th in league)
Defensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 101.2 (2nd in league) Raptors 112.7 (30th in league)

Soft? Who You Calling Soft? After the Cleveland game, the “are the Lakers tough enough?” debate has started up again. No doubt, the Lakers were pushed around inside twice now by the Cavs, although I agree with Brian Kamenetzky that the “soft” label is really used a lot to cover up a multitude of other sins.

But I think Mike Moreau has a great take on this (thanks to Busboy for the link). Moreau is the head NBA guy at the IMG training centers (taking David Thorpe’s old job, as Thorpe has gone out his own). I met him at Summer League and he has a great basketball mind, and is a good guy. And he talked about how the Lakers shook the soft label in the playoffs last year.

Go back and look at their series with Denver in last season’s Western Conference Finals. Denver was mauling the Lakers around the basket, killing them inside, beating them up in the paint. L.A. was wearing the soft label again.

So how did the Lakers react? They came back with 54 points in the paint, Odom and Fisher combining for 31 points and 25 assists on 37 field goals, eight players taking at least five shots, and no one taking more than 13. They shared the ball, attacked the rim, and dug in on defense. When last year’s team got punched, they punched back – not only with an aggressive mentality, but with precision execution.
L.A. responded to the challenge on every occasion in last year’s run to the title. They did it first with a change of mind-set, a determination to win the physical battles – from Fisher clocking Scola to Odom crashing the boards to the interior defense locking down. That mentality must be found again on this road trip. The soft, comfy home friendly schedule is over.

But, last year, they also responded with technical points of emphasis in their offense which helped to generate that aggressiveness – more post touches for Gasol, running the high low action between Odom, Gasol and Bynum – which not only got the ball inside and established inside presence, but made plays easier for their supporting cast.

Raptors coming in: Toronto may be a hockey first town, but they have strong hoops culture as well — lots of good blogs and a lot of media coverage. I asked one of them, Hoop Addict’s Ryan McNeil, a couple questions.

1) Defense. Have the Raptors started to play any lately?

Maybe I’m biased but I don’t think Toronto’s defense is nearly as bad as it was made out to be.

Sure, they were on pace to earn the title of worse defense in the history of the NBA, but what people don’t realize is this was just one bad month. Back in November the team was in the middle of getting eight new rotation guys used to Jay Triano’s sets after Bryan Colangelo had a busy season. Throw into the mix Chris Bosh, Antoine Wright and Hedo Turkoglu missed most of the preseason due to injuries and there are plenty of excuses for why the team got off to a rough start.

The team has since regrouped and aren’t as terrible as they started off. Things have slowly improved to the point where in December the team ranked in the top five in terms of team defense. Will they be an elite team on the defensive team? Nope! But come playoff time they’ll have a defensive system in place that they can compete and possibly even surprise a team or two.

Also worth noting is the team threw out a zone defense against Milwaukee on Friday that completely frustrated the Bucks. Look for Triano to possibly throw it out again on Sunday against Los Angeles.

2) What is the local feeling on Bosh? Is it that he’ll stay, that he’s gone and should be traded now to get something back, or something else?

I don’t think even Bosh knows what he’ll do this summer so it’s impossible for me to give an educated answer to that question. Sorry.

Does the fact Bosh is keeping an open mind mean Bryan Colangelo will panic and deal him? I doubt it. Based on the law of diminishing returns it makes no sense at this point to deal Bosh unless it’s a good deal for Toronto. Look for the team to ride out the remainder of the season, try to resign him in July and if they can’t the team will work a sign-and-trade with the team that wants to sign him. Even if he bolts town they’ll have a ton of money to put some solid pieces back onto the roster.

Raptors blogs Check out Raptors Republic, these guys are good and hitting it hard in the Great White North.

Keys to game: Toronto is a good offensive team and they are going to score points. If Bargani plays (he’s a game time decision) he’s a big that can stretch the floor with his shooting, always a problem for the Lakers.

Toronto has played a lot of zone defense lately to cover their man-to-man weaknesses. The Lakers need to attack the soft middle of the zone — not with post isolation but with guys flashing into the key, and some high-low would be nice as well. Also, the Lakers shooters are going to have to knock down a few shots over the top of the zone, but they can’t start to settle for that shot every time down.

Where you can watch: 3 p.m. start here out west, on KCAL 9. Plus, ESPN radio 710am.

Preview & Chat: The New York Knicks

Kurt —  January 22, 2010

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Records: Lakers 32-10 (1st in West) Knicks 17-24 (10th in East, 1.5 games out of the playoffs)
Offensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 108.3 (10th in league), Knicks 106.1 (19th in league)
Defensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 101.2 (2nd in league) Knicks 107.5 (18th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Knicks: Chris Duhon, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gillinari, Jered Jeffries, David Lee

Talking Books: I am just finishing up the challenging to read but interesting Death With Interruptions by José Saramago (shout out to our readers in Portugal). If you like literature — in the sense you enjoyed being an English major in college — I recommend it.

The Lakers players just picked up books from Phil Jackson (if they open them is another question). Eric Freeman over at Free Darko does a masterful job breaking down the books and their meanings to the players, this is a post worth a read.

Colin over at the Examiner suggests what Phil should have given his charges.

Knicks coming in: The Knicks are in the playoff hunt. Look at that starting roster above, realize that you are likely taller than their best player coming off the bench, and that first sentences is really saying something. This is a roster that has a long way to go to fit D’Antoni’s system, but the fact he has them this close to the playoffs suggests he is earning his money this year.

David Lee is shooting 55.8%, doing a good job on the boards and proving that good players who hustle can fit in any system if they want. Danilo Gallinari is a good fit for this system and is starting to figure out how to work in it. If you want to read more on their young players, Mike at Knickerblogger has a great breakdown of their progress.

Jordan Hill, the Knicks first round pick this summer, is not seeing a lot of time. I’m going to pass on what David Thorpe said while watching him at Summer League: This is a guy that is going to take a two or three years to figure out how to fit his athletic game into the NBA, and then he is the kind of guy who will work great complement better players, but don’t expect him to play well with lesser players.

Knicks blogs Knickerblogger has been knocking it out longer than this site has been around. And I still check the advanced stats page all the time.

Keys to game: Sometimes, after you get out of a rough stretch where you feel physically and emotionally beaten up, you just need an easy score. Hey, I’m talking about the Lakers big men in the paint, what did you think I was talking about? The point is, the Lakers should be able to dominate Lee and Jefferies inside tonight and control the game that way (the Lakers had a nearly 30 rebound advantage in the first meeting).

The Knicks don’t play slow, but they have become a .500 team lately (14-13 since the Lakers beat them in November) because they have slowed the tempo a little. Basically, if the break isn’t there they run a more set offense, particularly with the starters. Those sets are simple — pick and roll on one side of the court, three guys standing at the three point line on the other — but they can work if you don’t play the pick and roll well. Those guys at the arc will slash to the hoop if you sleep on them. And, with the floor spaced, Lee and Harrington hit the boards hard and have success. The Lakers need to be aware and talk on defense tonight.

Last year, the Lakers had a tough loss then headed to Madison Square Garden, and Kobe set a building record. See any parallels? I think it would be better if he plays within the system tonight, but something to watch.

Where you can watch: 5 p.m. start here out west, on KCAL 9 and ESPN. Plus, ESPN radio 710am.

Losing On The Inside

Kurt —  January 21, 2010

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The Lakers are among the favorites to win a NBA title this season in large part because of their great front line (plus that Kobe guy). But as Darius pointed out in the comments, Cleveland beat the Lakers because they beat them inside.

The difference tonight was that the Cavs size was more effective than ours. Shaq, Varejao, and Z complimented each other perfectly and Hickson took advantage of our over helping on Lebron early in the game. It’s really that plain and simple. We can criticize Pau (for the missed FT’s and for that layup where LeBron had a nice contest from the weakside), but Bynum allowed Shaq to bully him and LO was absent from the paint (on offense) for most of evening. Last year our biggest strength was the advantage that our bigs gave us but tonight the Cavs had that advantage and it was the difference in the game. Yes Lebron was huge, but that is to be expected (he is a tremendous talent). But if Cleveland’s bigs are not only going nullify our bigs, but also play better than them, than we’re not going to be successful against the Cavs.

The Lakers got lazy on their defense on the re-post tonight. The Cavs showed excellent patience in passing to Shaq, Shaq then passing back to the perimeter, and then re-posting to get better position. He used his strength to his advantage and the Laker’s bigs were concerned with foul trouble. The plays where we attacked Shaq and/or contested shots he did poorly (only hitting that lucky bank on Pau in the 2nd quarter). But, for most of the night, and especially in the 2nd half, Bynum and Pau both allowed Shaq to set up in his sweet spot on the right block and shoot his little hook against the glass. Shaq would still get 20+ a game if he’s shooting all his shots from 5 feet and in the way he did for most of tonight….

Look, I’m not blaming anyone for this. Drew’s not to blame and neither is Pau. Neither is Kobe. But, when I watch the games, I see less of what made us successful last season and more of what we were in 2004 when we lost to the Pistons. Now, that 2004 team was pretty damned good – they got to the Finals. But that team was also more of an isolation team in the guise of a Triangle team. Almost all of our sets ended with an iso for Kobe or Shaq or Malone or Payton. When you have talent you can play like that and still be successful (and this current team does have talent). But to be transcendent, you have to have talent + teamwork. And so far this season, one where we’re ranked 12th in offensive efficiency, the teamwork has been too infrequent.

There are other factors, like LeBron made the shots when it counted. ESPN Stats and Information noted that he was 3 of 13 on jump shots through three quarters. He sat out nearly the first six minutes of the fourth quarter but when he came in hot and made 4 of 6 jumpers in the fourth. Meanwhile, Kobe tore up Anthony Parker — ESPN tracked it and Kobe was 9 of 16 for 21 points against him — but when Cleveland switched up Kobe was 3 of 15 the rest of the way.

Games in January do not determine the outcome of games in June. But Cleveland and its front line have now outplayed the Lakers both outings, and that has to catch your attention. The Lakers have been to the mountaintop, this loss should not impact them going forward (that is something to watch, how they play the rest of this road trip), but this was a confidence boost for Cleveland. Especially if there is a June series between these teams.