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Lakers/Grizzlies: Bizarro Game

Zephid —  November 23, 2012

This game was just bizarre.  In the midst of 4 games in 5 nights, it would be tough to expect the Lakers to beat one of the league’s hottest teams, while lacking one of their 4 best players, and having a new coach.  The Lakers managed to make it respectable in the end, a 106-98 loss to the Grizzlies in Memphis, but there were times when this game was ugly.

In the 1st quarter, the Lakers came out with some energy, garnering 3 early stops on a Dwight block, a Dwight strip, and a Darius Morris steal, twice leading to transition buckets for Morris.  But when the game bogged down, the Lakers began running a very stagnant offense, while the Grizzlies offense kicked into high gear.  Led by Rudy Gay, the Grizzlies jumped out to a 34-18 lead, with Gay going 3-4 from three point range.  With the Lakers giving up 6 turnovers and 4 offensive rebounds, the Grizzlies were able to pounce on them in transition.  Meanwhile, the Laker offense stalled, particularly with Gasol missing a number of jumpers and close shots, starting the game 1-6.

I’m one of Gasol’s staunchest supporters, but this was one of the worst games I’ve seen from him since he put on the Lakers uniform.  He got worked by Zach Randolph on the boards, to the tune of 12 boards, 5 offensive, while getting out-hustled for loose balls, beaten off the dribble, and killed by back door cuts.  His 27 minutes were well below his average this year, and he managed to be -23 in plus/minus in that short amount of time.

Pau’s minutes were low not only because of his poor play, but also because of the excellent play of Antawn Jamison.  Jamison has been a non-factor (to put it kindly) for the Lakers so far this year, and this was by far his best game of this young season.  Jamison came out and attacked the basket (as I’ve been calling for him to do on Twitter @ZephidFB_G pretty much all year).  After two quick buckets and a 3 early in the 2nd quarter, Jamison finished with 16 points on 7-11 shooting with 7 boards.  He also played more than serviceable defense on Zach Randolph down the stretch, far above expectations considering Randolph’s immense skill set down low.

With Pau having his worse game of the season, Jamison having his best, and the Lakers starters getting killed by their counterparts, this game really headed into Bizarro World when the Laker bench came in in the 2nd quarter.  Facing a 16 point deficit, a lineup of Chris Duhon, Jodie Meeks, Metta World Peace, Jamison, and Howard managed to cut the deficit to 3 in under 4 minutes, with Jamison and MWP aggressively attacking the basket.  Then the starters came back in, and the lead again ballooned to 14.  Down 12 going into the 4th, it took another great effort from the bench to cut the lead to 6 in 4 minutes, only to see the starters come in again and lose most of the momentum.

The reserves ran simple sets, posting up Howard, waiting for the double, and making open threes.  While Howard’s stat line is unimpressive (2-7, 7 points, 4 boards, 4 blocks, 3 assists), the doubles he drew on offense in the 4th led to 4 consecutive 3′s, 2 by Meeks, and one each for Jamison and Duhon.  While it’s still no excuse for the Lakers ignoring Dwight for the first 3 quarters, the reserves finally found an identity, one which should continue in the future.  However, the Lakers still refused to involve Dwight in any pick and rolls, an egregious offense considering he was the league’s best PNR big man last year.

In the end, the Grizzlies starters were just too good.  Marc Gasol continually punished the Lakers for overhelping with his passing, while Mike Conley made several crucial shots down the stretch to seal the game.  Tony Allen also did his part by bothering Bryant into 7-23 shooting, even though Kobe missed a number of shots he normally makes.

While the Lakers aren’t quite at the level we would like them to be at, there are signs of progress (things that didn’t happen under Mike Brown).  Darius Morris had a strong game, going 4-6 from the field while playing decent defense.  MWP again had a very good game, with 16 points on 5-9 shooting.  Jamison, Duhon, and Meeks all played well in reserve roles, and the bench finally may have some semblance of coherence on offense with Dwight as their focal point.  If Dwight and Pau play average, the Lakers probably win this game.  But when your two star bigs score 13 points combined on 5-15 shooting, while your star 2-guard shoots 7-23, it’ll be difficult to win any game, and you get outrebounded 39-28, it would be difficult to win any game.

Mo Money, Mo Problems

Zephid —  September 3, 2012

(Is it blasphemous to cite a Biggie song in an LA blog?)

While the Lakers have traditionally been one of the big spending teams in the league, the new CBA comes with new terms that will almost certainly curb the Lakers spending in more ways than one.  As of now, the Lakers have a whopping $99,981,237 in total salary (Thanks to Eric Pincus at Hoopsworld for his excellent work), and with the luxury tax coming in at $70.307 million, that means that the Lakers will have a total salary commitments of approximately $130M this upcoming season, which will easily be the most luxury tax the Lakers have ever paid (Don’t worry, the Knicks have the highest luxury tax payment ever with $45M in 06-07).  While that’s no small amount to scoff at, us Lakers fans have gotten used to Dr. Buss whipping out his checkbook and paying top dollar for the best chance to win a championship.  Bringing in Steve Nash and Dwight Howard over the summer certainly gives the Lakers that best chance, and the attention alone will make it money well spent.

Next season, however, is when things start to get hairy.  That’s when the new tiered luxury tax system begins, where teams pay extra amounts for every $5M they go above the cap (for a detailed breakdown, see Larry Coon’s CBA FAQ).  Currently, the Lakers will have somewhere between $68M-$80M, depending on which options are picked up, assuming they don’t sign any new players that are not under contract for that season.  In order to analyze further, we can make some base assumptions:

1.) MWP will NOT exercise his Early-Termination Option (which he would be pretty dumb to do, but he’s done crazier things).

2.) Chris Duhon will be kept this season and waived next season (his deal is only partially guaranteed next year).

3.) The Lakers pick up Jodie Meeks’ Team Option.

4.) The Lakers fill out the roster with minimum guys (or bring back some of Jamison, Clark, Ebanks, Morris, or Goudelock).

One thing we don’t have to assume is the amount of money Dwight Howard will get.  Since Howard’s contract is already over the maximum salary, the maximum salary for his new contract will be 105% of his old contract ($19.5M), so his new contract will be just about $20M.  This is the absolute maximum Howard can get from ANY team next season.  However, the Lakers owning Howard’s Bird Rights give them two advantages over other teams:

1.) They can sign Howard for a maximum of 5 years, as opposed to a maximum of 4 years for other teams

2.) They can offer raises of 7.5% each year, while other teams can only offer raises of 4.5%.

These two differences mean that Howard will be choosing between $85M for 4 years from any other team, and $116M for 5 years from the Lakers (He’s gonna have to really hate LA to leave $31M on the table).

Now, if we assume all the things I’ve listed, and given that Howard will sign a max contract, LA’s total salary will stand at approximately $97M in salary obligations next season.  Filling out the roster with minimum guys, this will put the Lakers right around $100M.

This doesn’t seem so bad at first glance, considering it’s only a little more than this season’s roster obligations.  The new CBA, however, takes this somewhat tame monster and turns it into a beast:

1.) For the first $5M over the tax level, teams will pay $1.50 for every dollar, giving a total of $7.5M.

2.) For the next $5M, teams will pay $1.75 for every dollar, a total of $8.75M

3.) Next $5M, $2.50 per dollar, $12.5M

4.) Next $5M, $3.25 per dollar, $16.25M

5.) For every $5M after that, add another $0.50 to the per dollar amount, so $3.75 per dollar for $20-$25M over the tax level, $4.25 per dollar for $25-$30M over the tax level.

If the Lakers have salary commitments of $100M, and assuming the luxury tax stays almost level at $70M, they will be $30M over the tax level.  Adding those numbers up, the team would pay a whopping $85M in luxury tax payments, for total salary commitments of $185M.  Note that this is almost twice the highest luxury tax payment ever.

This level of luxury tax hell will almost certainly last only one season.  Assuming Howard re-signs, the only players under contract the following season would be Howard and Steve Nash, leaving the Lakers plenty of room to sign new, smaller contracts once Kobe and Pau’s huge contracts are up.  Relief would come just at the right moment as well, since 2014-15 will be the first year of the repeater tax, in which each of the per dollar amounts given above would be increased by $1.  This basically means that LA would be paying the new tax and the old tax, so if they were to say, have $100M in payroll with a $70M luxury tax level, they would pay a total of $215M in total salary commitments, more than double their original payroll.

Some could make the case that the Lakers don’t need to go into cost-saving mode, simply because they have a local tv deal that will net them 5 freaking billion dollars over the next 25 years.  The reasons for not wanting to stay over the luxury tax, however, may be related to roster flexibility as opposed to fiscal responsibility.  The new CBA places a number of restrictions on team that are over the “apron,” or $4M above the luxury tax level (found here), which include things like losing the Bi-Annual Exception, having a smaller Mid-Level Exception, being able to only take back %125 of outgoing salary in trades (as opposed to 150% for nontaxpaying teams), and loss of the Gilbert Arenas Provision (recently used to sign Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik).

Perhaps the greatest loss, however, will be the inability to perform sign-and-trades, a rule which comes into effect in 2013-2014.  This means that trades like the recent Steve Nash trade will be impossible for teams over the apron like LA.  If they wish to re-load around Dwight Howard, they’ll either have to maintain their current amount of salary and trade for stars using their existing assets (a very, very expensive option), or they’ll have to get as far below the cap as possible to make a max offer (while almost certainly gutting the team around Howard).  So while the Lakers may have all the money in the world to pay all the luxury tax they could ever spend, it may be that the type of talent that the Lakers wish to acquire simply won’t be available to them.

With the NBA recently releasing the schedule for the 2012-13 regular season, it’s that time of the year again where I try to predict the Lakers record for the upcoming year.  First, let’s get some basics out of the way:

The Lakers have a total of 16 back-to-backs.  With reports out there that some teams have as many as 22 B2B’s and as few as 13, the Lakers are definitely on the low side, as has been the case for many previous years.  Also, the 4 West teams that the Lakers play only 3 times this year are San Antonio, Utah, Minnesota, and Memphis.  Since there will only be three games in the season series, all the games against both San Antonio and Memphis could have huge implications for playoff seeding, since season series is the first tie-breaker if two teams finish with the same record.  Lastly, the Lakers only have 1 stretch of having 4 games in 5 nights, so their schedule is pretty well spread out.

Quick Start: Oct 30 – Nov 18 (DAL, @POR, LAC, DET, @UTA, GS, SAC, SA, PHO, HOU).

The Lakers start off the season with a gamut of Western conference teams, notably hosting Dallas on opening night then flying to Portland the next night.  While playing at home against the likes of Detroit, Golden State, Sacramento, Phoenix, and Houston shouldn’t present any problems, the Lakers have always had trouble going up to Portland and to Salt Lake City. However, with only 4 games against opponents that made the playoffs the previous year, the Lakers have a fairly cushy start to their season.

Prediction: 8-2

Three Road Trips: Nov 20 – Dec 16 (BKN, @SAC, @MEM, @DAL, IND, DEN, ORL, @HOU, @NOH, @OKC, UTA, @CLE, @NYK, @WAS, @PHI).

The Lakers then embark on three separate road trips.  The first starts with a B2B with the new-look Brooklyn Nets at home then at Sacramento, followed by trips to Memphis and Dallas.  Then after a match-up with Orlando at home (perhaps with or without Dwight Howard?), the Lakers go to Houston, New Orleans, and then Oklahoma City.  After going home to play Utah, the Lakers head east, traveling to Cleveland, New York, Washington, and Philadelphia.  This is definitely one of the toughest stretches the Lakers have this season, with 3 B2B’s with both games on the road.  The Lakers have always struggled on the road (at least compared to at home), so I have no doubt that this is when the trepidation will start seeping into the minds of Laker fans.

Prediction: 10-5  ;  Record: 18-7

Holidays: Dec 18 – Jan 1 (CHA, @GS, NYK, @DEN, POR, PHI)

For the holidays, the Lakers get a relative reprieve from previous years.  Having played Chicago, Miami, Cleveland, and Boston the past 4 years on Christmas Day (with only 1 win against the hated Celtics), the Lakers should be relieved to not be facing the top team in the Eastern Conference for a 5th consecutive year.  Instead, they face the Knicks (and if the Knicks are #1 in the East, something went terribly wrong in Miami, Chicago, and Boston).  However, the Lakers also have a game the following night, crossing time zones to Denver.  Heading east on a back-to-back is always dreadful, but doing so on Christmas Night will probably be worse, so even a strong showing on Christmas Day may be negated by a poor outing the next day.

Prediction: 5-1  ;  Record: 23-8

Make or Break: Jan 4 – Jan 29 (@LAC, DEN, @HOU, @SA, OKC, CLE, MIL, MIA, @TOR, @CHI, @MEM, UTA, OKC, NOH)

After the holidays, however, the Lakers have arguably their toughest stretch of the season.  They start off facing the Clippers in a de facto home game, but then have to make trips to San Antonio, Chicago, and Memphis, while hosting Miami and Oklahoma City twice.  If the Lakers are really a championship contending team this year, this will be the stretch that they either put fan’s minds at ease, or put them on edge.  While the Lakers get nights off before both OKC games and against Miami, the games in San Antonio and in Chicago will be on the 2nd night of back-to-backs.

Prediction: 10-4  ;  Record: 33-12

Grammy Trip: Jan 30 – Feb 10 (@PHO, @MIN, @DET, @BKN, @BOS, @CHA, @MIA)

The Lakers annual Grammy road trip features two back-to-backs, with seemingly annual visits to Boston and Miami.  Steve Nash will also be making his return to Phoenix on the front end of a B2B with the Lakers traveling to Minnesota the next day.  The game in Boston is on the front end of one of the B2B’s, but the back end is a dreaded visit to Charlotte, the game that perennially makes the Lakers look like a D-League team.

Prediction: 5-2  ;  Record: 38-14

The Most Important Game of the Season (Maybe): Feb 12 – Mar 10 (PHO, LAC, BOS, POR, @DAL, @DEN, MIN, ATL, @OKC, @NOH, TOR, CHI)

In this stretch of the season, there are some fairly difficult games, but only one really comes to my attention.  If the Lakers are competing for a top seed in the West, they will almost certainly be jockeying with Oklahoma City.  The last game of their season series takes place on March 5th in OKC, and may well be the difference between winning, tying, or losing the season series (I can’t imagine either team being up 3-0 at this point).  This may be the most important game of the season, as it may be the difference between having home court or not having home court against OKC in the playoffs.  The Lakers also have a tough back-to-back against Dallas and Denver, while also having to face a young New Orleans team in New Orleans the night after playing OKC. And while it may not be the most important game, the Lakers will face Boston in LA right after the All-Star break; Two well-rested teams that loath one another could make for an instant classic.

Prediction: 8-4  ;  Record: 46-18

Road Warriors: Mar 12 – Mar 30 (@ORL, @ATL, @IND, SAC, @PHO, WAS, @GS, @MIN, @MIL, @SAC)

In March, the Lakers play a total of 10 out of 15 games on the road, but it will mostly be against lower tier teams.  While Indiana may continue their success from the previous season, teams like Orlando, Atlanta, and Phoenix are in the process (or will be in the process) of rebuilding, while Golden State, Minnesota, Milwaukee, and Sacramento are in that awkward phase between being terrible and being average.  There may be a few scares and sketchy defeats in here, but I expect the Lakers to mostly take care of business while prepping for the stretch run to the playoffs.

Prediction: 8-2  ;  Record: 54-20

Closeout: Apr 2 – Apr 17 (DAL, MEM, @LAC, NOH, @POR, GS, SA, HOU)

The Lakers end the regular season with 9 straight games against Western Conference opponents.  After season series record, the tie-breaker is record against Western Conference opponents (unless the two teams share a division, which makes record against Pacific Division opponents the 2nd tie-breaker), so this stretch of the season could heavily influence playoff seeding.  With match-ups against Dallas, Memphis, the Clippers, and San Antonio, the Lakers playoff seed could go anywhere from 1st to 5th or 6th, with tie-breakers settling many of the seeds.  The past 3 years, the Lakers have performed very poorly during this portion of the season.  This is partially because they’ve rested some of their stars, and with the team adding old vets like Nash and Jamison, with Bryant and Gasol getting a year older, I expect no different from this years team.

Prediction: 4-4  ;  Record: 58-24

Analysis

To be honest, these predictions have been much harder to make than the previous two I’ve done (08-09 and 09-10).  With Steve Nash and Antawn Jamison coming on board, it’s not clear if they help or hinder the Lakers greatest weakness in the regular season: letting mediocre teams back into games.  Nash and Jamison certainly provide offensive firepower, but it is generally solid defense that will hold down the less-talented teams, especially on the road.  If the Lakers use their training camp to develop solid defensive schemes, the Lakers should cruise to a record like the one I’ve predicted.  But if the Lakers D is lackluster and sporadic, they may struggle to put away weaker teams and force their starters to play longer minutes.

 

Lakers 116 – Grizzlies 111 Box Score

The Good

In a gutsy, hard-fought game, the Lakers escaped Memphis with a win after playing two extra periods. Dominating for most of the game, Andrew Bynum brought the Lakers back from an early deficit, shooting 7-9 in the 1st half, finishing with a monstrous 15-18 for 37 points and 16 rebounds. For much of the 2nd quarter, Bynum and Marc Gasol seemingly traded punches for their teams, each team going exclusively into their big guys, Bynum’s power game against Gasol’s running hook shot and turnaround jumpers. The younger Gasol couldn’t keep pace, however, finishing 10-25 with 20 points and 10 boards.

Additionally, Kobe played a very controlled game, shooting only 5 times in the 1st half. It was in the 2nd half where he tried to take over, to somewhat mixed results. Many times, Kobe’s offensive brilliance allowed him to take and make shots that only he could; other times, Tony Allen and Quincy Pondexter really bothered Kobe, forcing to take several heavily contested shots. Kobe, however, adjusted his game and became a playmaker in the 4th quarter and both overtimes (more on that later).

Honorable mention goes to Steve Blake, who made 3-4 three pointers and ran the offense fairly smoothly. The Lakers defense also should get some credit, overcoming a 17 point deficit in the 3rd quarter to come back and tie the game in regulation before going on to win in double OT.

The Bad

Getting that deficit, however, I would not describe as “good.” Darius mentioned in the preview that two big things the Lakers had to watch out for were to 1.) not turn the ball over, and 2.) force the Grizzlies to shoot jump shots. Well the Lakers did the 2nd one fairly well, only to have Marreese Speights go crazy with his jump shot, sinking 9-13 at one point and finishing 12-20 for a season high 25 points. Tony Allen also started the game hot, going 5-8 (great by his standards), all on long jump shots.

The Lakers were still their own greatest enemy, turning the ball over 18 times, leading to 24 points for the Grizz. Many of these TOs were simply careless passes on the perimeter, things that shouldn’t happen in practice let alone a game. Credit the swarming defense of the Grizzlies, however, for taking advantage of these mistakes.

The Ugly

I think someone needs to check the stats on how well Metta World Peace shoots each game after either a.) making his first shot, or b.) missing his first shot. Against the Celtics, he made his first three, had a great game, and was a huge factor in that win. Today against the Grizz, he missed his first three, and went on to finish the game 1-7, missing all 5 of his attempts from 3 as well as three free throws. Today also marked another game where Troy Murphy, Matt Barnes, and Andrew Goudelock were mostly non-factors, and Josh McRoberts somehow played 6 minutes with 1 board and 1 assist. And this section wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t include OJ Mayo, who shot 7-25 for the Grizz, including 0-8 from three, doing a lot to help the Lakers in the second overtime.

The Play of the Game

While I can’t point to a single play, I can point to a single set that the Lakers ran multiple times to excellent results. With Kobe handling the ball on the wing, Gasol comes to set a screen. Kobe goes over the screen, drawing both Gasol’s man and his own defender. Holding the ball for just a moment, Kobe hits Gasol with either a crisp bounce pass or a pass over the top. Gasol, with an open lane to the basket, sees Bynum’s man rotate to him on the closeout. Then, putting up a picture perfect lob, Bynum throws it down ferociously for two easy points. As Darius said, when the Lakers big 3 run that side pick and roll, it’s like a cheat code. The Lakers easily ran this set 4 times this game, including once in each OT session.

This just goes to show how irreplaceable each of these three guys are. Very few guards could draw the defense as well as Kobe, very few bigs can force the defense to close out and have the skill to make a pin point lob as Pau, and very few centers have the athleticism to throw down anything in the vicinity of the rim, even in traffic, as Bynum.

Overall, this was a tough win by the Lakers, and in a season in which road wins are rare, it makes this one all the more worthwhile.

-Zephid

Box Score: Lakers 94 – Raptors 92

The Good

In the 1st, it looked like the Lakers were going to run away with this one, rushing out to a 7-0 lead to start the game. With a combination of solid defense and shot-making, the Lakers raced out to an early 18 point advantage, leading 29-11 after Pau Gasol put-back with 2 minutes to go in the 1st. For the Raptors, Demar DeRozan was clearly off his game, missing his first four shots, while Jose Calderon kept them afloat, hitting 5-6 shots in the quarter on a series of long jumpers. With the exception of Calderon, the Lakers managed to hold the Raptors to mostly contested shot, and gobbled up all the defensive boards from the resulting misses.

The Laker offense looked to be running smoothly, with Gasol hitting two elbow jumpers, Bynum making a few good post moves, with Murphy, Goudelock, Barnes, and even Metta World Peace knocking in three pointers. However, with 8:55 to go in the 2nd quarter, the entire game changed…

The Bad

…when Jamaal Magloire entered the game.

I’ll say that again: the entire game changed when Jamaal Magloire entered the game.

Forgetting for a moment that it isn’t 2004 and Jamaal Magloire isn’t on the All-Star team, Magloire brought energy and defensive intensity to the Raptors. Over the span of the next quarter and a half, Magloire managed to hold Bynum in check, outscoring him 4-2 (WHAT?!). The Raptors picked up their defense, and began generating turnovers. These turnovers led to fast break opportunities, which the much younger and faster Raptors used to slowly cut into the Laker lead. Outscored by 7 in the 2nd quarter, the Lakers took an 8 point lead into the half after James Johnson drove coast-to-coast for a driving dunk to end the quarter.

Hope for the Lakers to come out strong in the 2nd half and re-assert themselves died when they came out and missed their first 6 shots, allowing the Raptors to cut the lead to 3 with 7:35 to go in the 3rd. A couple long jumpers by Steve Blake helped keep the Raptors at bay, with the Lakers nursing a tenuous 6 point lead going into the 4th.

Still holding a lead, the Lakers went into the 4th hoping to keep the Raptors at arms length, until…

The Ugly

… the Raptors went zone. Now the Raptors had been using zone intermittently throughout the game, but the Lakers had managed to break it with some halfway decent shooting from their supporting cast (Murphy, 2-4, Goudelock 3-7, Blake 2-6, MWP 3-4), and some decent high-low action from Pau and Bynum. Gasol, who started out 3-4 in the 1st, went cold (especially from the base line), finishing 6-15, while Bynum, who started out 4-5, began putting up sissy-ninny shots inside, finishing 7-13.

And then of course, there’s Kobe. When Kobe came in and saw zone, he immediately tried to go to work, isolated on the wings (I’m assuming this is his logic, since I’m pretty sure everyone knows that’s not how you break a zone). Kobe missed 5 shots in a row at one point, as the Laker lead evaporated and turned into a 4 point deficit. It looked like all hope was lost, as the Raptors had all the momentum and had just taken the lead for the first time in the game with just under 3 minutes to go, until…

The Play of the Game

…Kobe made three straight magnificent plays. First, with the Lakers down 4 with 1 minute to go, Kobe made one of his classic, cold-blooded threes to cut the deficit to just a single point. On the ensuing defensive possession, Kobe hounded Linas Kleiza, forcing a steal which led to a run-out, Kobe dishing off to Metta World Peace for a lay-up, giving the Lakers a 1 point lead. After Jose Calderon hit an tough shot over Blake to give the Raptors the lead again, the Lakers advanced the ball on a timeout.

Using a shake-and-fake maneuver reminiscent of Reggie Miller, Kobe got just enough space to launch one of his fading, twisting baseline jumpers, drilling the shot and giving the Lakers the lead. After an extremely unfortunate (and controversial) 5-second call on the ensuing inbounds by the Raptors, the Lakers held on with a Kobe free throw and some excellent on ball D from MWP.

Overall

This was a game where the support cast out side our big three came through about as much as could be expected from them. With each player contributing at least 4 points, the Lakers supporting cast contributed 37 points. Fisher’s defense was bad, but it didn’t help that Calderon was sinking shots regardless of how well they were contested.

The Lakers never should have been in a position to lose this game after being up 18 so early, but this team has shown that it has a gear that is good enough to be a contending team. Whether they actually use that gear is another story.

-Zephid