Records: Lakers 46-16 (1st in West), Bobcats 28-31 (9th in East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 109.0 (10th in NBA), Bobcats 103.6 (26th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 102.1 (1st in NBA), Bobcats 103.4 (6th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Bobcats: Raymond Felton, Stephen Jackson, Gerald Wallace, Boris Diaw, Theo Ratliff
The Lakers Coming in: So much for carrying the momentum from the Denver and Indy wins into the road trip. The Lakers now have a bit of an uphill climb to salvage this three game roadie. They face a team that traditionally gives them problems tonight and do so on a the second night of a back to back. Last night, I gave you some key numbers that defined the loss to the Heat. Well there were a couple of others that got left out that I’ll share with you now.
15 is the number of assists the Lakers had on their 45 made field goals. That is simply not enough and it needs to change if this offense is really going to operate at a level consistent with playing winning basketball. The ball needs to move better for this team and the teamwork needs to come back if they really are going to play high level offensive basketball. I understand that the assist numbers are going to be low-ish when Kobe has a fantastic night from the wing on his jumpshots the way that he did last night. But, along those same lines the team needs to create more opportunities for eachother based off the movement of the offense and set eachother up more by passing and moving with out the ball. Last night, the offensive efficiency was 111.0 and that is a solid number and above our season average. But if Kobe needs to go crazy with his shot making for the team hit that number it will not be sustainable. Let’s hope we get back to passing, cutting, screening, and playing together tonight and on Sunday.
The Bobcats Coming in: After being a surprise team for most of the season the Bobcats have fallen off some lately. While they’re still in the playoff hunt, they’re now on the outside looking in as the 9th seed in the East. They’ve lost 5 of their last 6 games and that won’t get it done if they expect to catch the Heat, Bucks, or Bulls to get into the post season. Their dropoff can be attributed to several factors – they’ve been hit with the injury bug with their big men as Chandler and Nazr Mohammed have missed loads of time recently. And in a trade that got them Tyrus Thomas (a big that can help with some of their frontcourt injury woes) they gave up their one dependable guard off the bench in Flip Murray, so they’re now thin in the backcourt and lack that scoring punch that helped sustain an already poor offense (to accentuate this point, they’re actually looking at acquiring Larry Hughes). They’ve also seen a dropoff in their defense as the team that used to be ranked #1 in defensive efficiency has now slid down to sixth. This team was probably over achieving some in that department, but when it comes right down to it, they were hanging their hat on their D and if they have trouble stopping people winning won’t come easy.
Besides the fight for entry into the post season, the other big piece of news surrounding the ‘Cats is the upcoming change in ownership. Bob Johnson has finally found someone to buy the team and it’s a guy that he, and we, should all recognize. Michael Jordan moves up in rank from ‘minority’ to ‘majority’ owner as he’s gathered the investors needed to purchase the team. Personally, I’m excited to see a former player become a major stakeholder in a franchise. Former players have always been guys that we’ve seen pacing the sidelines as coaches or the guys that have been heading front offices as GM’s. But to now have a former player, especially one with the profile and legacy of MJ, owning a team? I think that’s a great thing for the NBA and for the fans of Charlotte. Hopefully he can do a better job as an owner than he did as a GM or in his game against Gerald Henderson in HORSE.
Bobcats Blogs: Queen City Hoops will keep you well informed on the team from Charlotte. Check ’em out for some smart takes on everything regarding MJ’s new team.
Keys to game: Go to the top of this post and look at who is starting at PF and C for this team. Now, tell me what you think the Lakers’ strategy on offense should be. Obviously, this game should be another that the Lakers try to exploit their distinct advantage in the pivot. Gasol and Bynum should have a field day against this duo. But, in order to do so the Lakers need to create the proper passing angles against some long and strong defenders on the wing. Kobe and Artest are going up against Stephen Jackson and Gerald Wallace and both those guys have the ability to take away what you want to do on the perimeter and that includes finding good ways to receive the ball and make proper entry passes. So, our wings and our bigs are going to need to work in tandem to create post entry chances by helping eachother with screens to get open and by being big targets against post defenders that will look at what the Heat did with their fronting and ball denials to make the Lakers’ bigs’ lives hard. Our post guys must fight for position and seal their men to make themselves easy targets. And our weakside big must recognize when his post partner is struggling with this and make himself available as a pressure realease in order to create high-low opportunities where this type of defensive tactic can be exploited. It didn’t happen last night, but it needs to be there tonight or we’ll see plenty of stalling on the offensive side of the ball. If we see three or more 24 second violations or Kobe/Ron/Farmar/Odom taking too many shots as the shot clock buzzer is sounding you’ll know that our post players and wings are not working together to take advantage of Charlotte’s deficiencies inside.
On defense, the Lakers need to be aware of three key players – Felton, Jackson, and Wallace. Raymond Felton is a guy that has the ability to hurt the Lakers in both the open court and in turning the corner in P&R situations. The Lakers need to funnel him to the sideline and slow him down in transition by building a wall in the paint and making him slow up and run his team’s sets. If the Lakers allow Felton to break free in the open court, it will be a long night. With Jackson, he is the classic boom or bust perimeter player. Last game against the Lakers he was all boom as he delivered a fantastic shooting night and scored 30 points on 16 shots, but doing so mostly on the perimeter against some solid defense. On that night I thought we defended him well and it just didn’t matter. So tonight, I just want to see us mark him like we normally do, contest his shots, and try to avoid allowing him to get into a rhythm. One way to do that is to make a concerted effort to find him in transition and not allow him to walk into three point shots. Dating back to his days with the Spurs, this is one of Jackson’s favorite shots and he’ll kill you with his flat footed non-jumper. Find him early in the possession and don’t let him take these shots because he’s much less dangerous and can get out of control when he has to put the ball on the floor when chased off the three point line. As for Wallace, Ron is going to have his hands full again. After chasing the fleet footed Wade all over the court last night, Ron gets a different beast entirely tonight. Wallace is one of the few forwards in the league that can match Ron’s physicality and he’ll do so mainly in transition, in attacking off the dribble, and on the offensive boards. Ron will need to be extra aware of Wallace slipping into the paint looking for offensive rebounds so boxing out and rebounding will be a priority tonight for Artest – especially after last night’s rebounding performance where he had zero rebounds in 45 mintues of play and was the first forward to accomplish that dubious feat since Kiki Vandewheghe in 1987 (hat tip to our old friend Kurt Helin via HoopData). So box out, make Wallace more of a perimeter player that shoots jumpers, and just live with the results tonight and I think the outcome in that matchup will tilt in our favor.
Where you can watch: 4:00pm start time on the West on KCAL, and on ESPN Radio 710am.