Friday, December 19, 2008

The Worst 21-4 Team Ever

Are the Lakers the worst 21-3 - oops, I mean 21-4, after losing to the lowly Heat - team ever? Unfortunately, the answer is yes. The Lakers are a good team, but not a great team. They're merely a good team that got off to a hot start. Fortunately for the Lakers, they still stand a pretty good chance of getting out of the West, and once you're in the finals, anything can happen...right?

I know, Lakers fans are freaking out and the team is still 21-3. I know, there's still a lot of season left, and this team is still learning to play together. I know, the team is blessed with great depth and loaded with talent. But precisely becuase it is loaded with talent, this team may be the most frustrating Lakers squad I have ever followed in my life. On a team this loaded, nothing short of the title will be a success. The Lakers' offense has misfired recently, but that's not the major problem. After going to the Lakers-Knicks shootout with my family (Merry Xmas, guys) and watching the Lakers-Heat debacle, I'm convinced that this team has no chance of winning the title - zero - without a serious change in defensive philosophy, especially guarding the high screen and roll.

First, this article from Forum Blue and Gold sums up the issues very well. There are certainly some games where the Lakers don't seem to be playing very hard. However, in most of the games this year, I do think the players are trying. They are simply victims of a poor defensive strategy masterminded by Kurt Rambis.

Rambis has instituted a few wrinkles that I like. Shifting over the weak-side big to zone off guards successfully deters penetration, and the rotation back to cover skip passes is adequate. However, the Lakers screen-roll defense is atrocious becuase it is always the same. The Lakers always ask the big to show and to stay doubled on the guard, no matter what the situation. The Lakers almost never go under the screen, even if the guard is a poor shooter. If the screen is ineffective and the defending guard is back in position, the Lakers' big stays out on the guard. This scheme caught some teams by surprise at the start of the season, leading to songs of praise about the Lakers' length and steals forced. But guess what? Apparently NBA teams have "scouts" that devise tricky strategies like "ball reversal" and "weak-side cuts to the basket" that exploit the Lakers' predictable ball traps and hard doubles. The result is a steady diet of defensive confusion, wide-open threes, and 100 point games.

Let me give one example from tonight's game. Dwyane Wade has the ball and Haslem runs up to set an ineffective pick that Wade doesn't use. Kobe stays on Wade. Bynum, guarding Haslem, immediately shows on Wade and stays on Wade after Haslem rolls to the basket. However, Bynum is not in a hard double on Wade to force him to give the ball up. He's just sort of caught in no-man's land, shadowing Wade. Gasol is forced to rotate to Haslem, leaving the other Miami big (Joel Anthony) open underneath. Now a Laker guard (Fisher) has to sag into the lane to prevent a pass to Anthony, leaving a shooter open, or has to leave Gasol covering two men. Wade passes to the open guard, forcing Kobe to jump over and take Fisher's man. The guard immediately swings it back to Wade, leaving Bynum guarding Wade, one-on-one.

This exact turn of events also happened at the end of the Knicks game, leaving Nate Robinson vs. Bynum one-on-one at a critical juncture. Wade scored today; Robinson missed on Tuesday. Both plays are bad outcomes for the Lakers.

Because this is the first year that the Lakers have played defense this way, and they do it consistently (to the point of ridiculousness), it has to be a coaching problem and not just an execution problem. The fix should be easy. Don'd do the same thing every time! Show, half-show, or go under depending on the opponent. Get back to fundamentals, with scouting reports to help. In some situations, a hard show and trap can lead to turnovers. In others, it's inane. The Lakers' scheme is nothing but a gimmick. Forcing every big to show no matter what leads to terrible mismatches, defensive confusion, and easy buckets, IF THE OPPONENT KNOWS IT'S COMING. The strategy is easy to defeat because there are no surprises - the Lakers play every single screen-roll the same way. We need to stop this. The players are obviously confused, as you can see Bynum, Pau, and Odom helplessly glancing at the bench as they execute orders and give up points. It's not a natural way to play basketball, and it's not a smart way to play basketball.

At this point, Kurt, it's time to switch off your defensive masterpiece. Let the Lakers get back to playing solid man-to-man defense for a few games, so they remember what that is like. Then reinstitute the hard show at select times for select matchups, as one weapon in your defensive arsenal. In any sport, running the same strategy time after time will not work. In football, a good running game opens up the passing game, and vice versa. No team would blitz every single down, because opponents would just run screen plays. That's just common sense, right?

Why are the Lakers bringing the house on every single screen-roll of the 2008-09 season? It makes no sense, and may cause me to suffer an aneurysm before long. Fortunately, Gary Vitti will probably be able to tape me up and send me back in with blood spurting from my eyes.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Underworld: Part 3

Maybe Baron Davis fakes a bad back so that he has time to howl at the moon and fight vampires:

I couldn't be more excited for the start of the season, and not just because I love werewolves. For a preview of the Lakers season to come, I refer you to this excellent review.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

WELCOME BACK! Plus, LeBron News.

First of all, welcome back to all of our loyal readers (if indeed we have any). We apologize for our time away from the blog -- the end of the law school semester and our mutual departures for summer jobs led us away from the job we'd really like to be doing (writing on this blog). But, we're back -- just in time for an exciting new season.

So, on to the season. Justin, Jordan, and I will be writing season previews for our teams very soon. But, right now, I'd like to focus on a topic that's been, of course, everywhere over the offseason: LeBron's "impending" departure to New York/New Jersey.

I know others have made similar arguments, but I'm going to attempt to break it down simply.

The Brooklyn/New Jersey/Brooklyn/New Jersey Nets:

Why Bron would go: They're moving to Brooklyn! Jay-Z! Exciting young core! Chinese guy for the global icon! Young point guard!

Why he won't: Let's be real, people. The Brooklyn thing just isn't happening. Bron and Z are best friends right now; I don't think Bron going to Trenton is going to advance that relationship -- and it's certainly not going to make Bron any happier. The "exciting young core" is made up of a guy who can post up, well, a folding chair. And this guy. Who's also the exciting point guard.

Look, I know the arguments for, but it's starting to look like it's just not going to happen. In 2010, the Nets will still be in New Jersey, and Vince Carter will still be a Net (at least for now). They won't be competitive -- I just don't think Harris and Yi are going to get it done, though they will be in their prime along with Bron. Ultimately, I think the case for NJ is getting less likely.

The New York Knickerbockers:

Why he'll go: Mike D'Antoni! Running! New York!

Why he won't: Mike D'Antoni is exciting, but if Mike Brown can actually install this uptempo offense he's been promising, that takes away D'Antoni's best argument. Plus, D'Antoni has had playoff success, but there's still so much skepticism about whether it can win a championship that I don't know if LeBron will buy in all the way. Remember, Bron's time in the NBA has been dominated by the Spurs and Celtics -- two teams that play a game similar to Mike Brown's (great playoff D and decent halfcourt offense).

Plus, the team is just not going to be good. David Lee's on his way out -- and he's the only player to really get excited about (sorry, I can't get that pumped about Danilo when he already appears to be having Ben-Wallace-esque back problems). Plus, the Knicks have a huge problem (that NJ also does) -- they can't go after two guys as easily. They don't get Bird rights on any of the big free agents -- meaning that if they want to get two (which is, I think, the only way they are players for Bron) they will basically have nobody else on the team. They just won't -- can't -- be as competitive as the Cavs.

The Cleveland . . . . Cavalieeerrrrrsssss:

Why he'll stay: Bron gets all the big stage he wants right now. He gets the benefit of both worlds, actually -- adulation in New York when he goes, and the unconditional love of a fan base in Cleveland. He grew up watching the Cowboys and the Yankees -- teams that built dynasties around iconic players (Aikman, Jeter, etc.) Note that the "hired guns" in Dallas and NY were never as beloved as the core guys (see also, Irvin, Smith, Posada). He also grew up watching Jordan -- who became the iconic figure for an entire city in the way LeBron is now. He's also seen how people react to Boozer and knows the reaction to him leaving would be a million times worse.

Plus, we're going to be competitive. We have a solid young core -- Mo, Boobie, Delonte, JJ, and Darnell aren't the best five in the NBA by any means, but they're all around LeBron's age and will be comfortable playing his game. We can also afford to go after one of the other big free agents since we'll have 1.) cap space and 2.) Bird rights to Bron.

Look, I'm not an optimist by nature. Everyone who knows me knows that. But I'm starting to think that if we perform the way we should the next two years, it's going to happen. We have Wally's expiring, Andy, and a full slate of draft picks to potentially move this year. We have Ben Wallace's expiring (let's be honest, Z isn't going anywhere) next year, which is just massive. And we have some young players we could move if necessary. In short, I think we have the best mix of young players and trade assets to keep Bron around, and I'm starting to believe that we'll be able to keep this banner up outside the Q.

Again, welcome back, everyone! Looking forward to an exciting NBA season. T-minus 13 days.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Playing 5 on 8

Halftime of Game 2 of the NBA Finals, Boston up by 12. One of the worst officiated halves of basketball I have ever seen...pretty close to the first half of Lakers-Spurs, Game 4. Maybe more miserable because of the free throw disparity, 19-2. Leon Powe has 9 FT attempts. Normally, I'd assume that he got a bunch of offensive boards, and got fouled on put-back attempts. Nope. Powe has 1 FG attempt and 1 rebound...and 9 free throws.

The worst isn't even the fouls called on the Lakers, though at least 5 have been questionable (including all 3 on Kobe). The worst is the inconsistency. The Lakers can't touch a single Celtic, but the Celtics have to really mug a Laker to get called. I mean, the Lakers have had one - one! - shooting foul called for them.

This is tough to watch. Maybe the Celtics are better than the Lakers are. It's sure hard to tell, though, when they're taking players out of the game on touch fouls. I wish we could just have a real basketball game.

Kobe needs to drive more. Against the Celtics, he inexplicably refuses to go around Ray Allen. I know they are showing a second defender, but not even getting around Allen to challenge that second defender is a strange decision.

EDIT: Well, game pretty much over now. Lakers can't let themselves melt down like that. They let the horrible officiating get them out of their game. They have to assume that the refs are going to rig the game for Boston, and play through it. Right now, they are a soft team. You don't let Leon freaking Powe dunk on you. You knock him down and send a message.

Of course, in meaningless minutes, the refs are calling touch fouls on Boston. Way to even out the final foul count, and make the box score look fair. David Stern is a genius. I just hope he dials in Games 3 and 4 for the Lakers. Basically need to win 4 in a row now...Game 7 officiating would be a disaster.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Leaderboard Update

Andrew: 14.5 (previous two rounds) + 4 (LAL) + 4 (BOS) = 22.5
Justin: 11.5 (previous two rounds) + 4 (LAL) + 4 (BOS) = 19.5
Jordan: 10 (previous two rounds) + 4 (LAL) + 4 (BOS) = 18
Rakesh: 9.5 (previous two rounds) + 4 (LAL) = 13.5

A refresher on finals picks:

Andrew: LAL (7)
Justin: BOS (6)
Jordan: LAL (7)
Rakesh: LAL (6)

If the Lakers win, Andrew clinches it, regardless of how many games it takes. But if Boston takes advantage of home court, and pulls out the series, then Justin is our new champion. Will the prestige of the title of "Best NBA Playoff Picker" motivate Justin to root against his beloved Lakers? Only time will tell.

One thing remains certain -- Rakesh's picks were aptly titled.

Monday, May 19, 2008


Still in a state of deep depression about the Cavs, mixed with resignation since it's always been clear that this is how our season would end. I'll write a retrospective on the season/prospective for the offseason shortly, but for now, a leaderboard update.

After two rounds:

Andrew: 6.5 (1st round) + 2 (DET) + 2 (LAL) + 2 (SAS) + 2 (BOS) = 14.5
Justin: 5.5 (1st round) + 2 (DET) + 2 (LAL) + 2 (BOS) = 11.5
Jordan: 4 (1st round) + 2 (DET) + 2 (LAL) + 2 (BOS)= 10
Rakesh: 5.5 (1st round) + 2 (DET) + 2 (LAL) = 9.5

Andrew rides the Spurs to a dominant lead, whereas Rakesh's sentimental pick of the Cavs turns out to bite him in the ass. Interestingly, nobody gets a bonus for picking the correct number of games for any series in the second round -- guess we all overestimated home court in some cases, and underestimated it in others.

However, Andrew has not clinched the title yet. A brief reminder of Conference Finals picks:

Andrew: LAL (7), BOS (7)
Justin: LAL (6), BOS (7)
Jordan: LAL (6), BOS (7)
Rakesh: LAL (7), DET (7)

Everyone picked the Lakers, so that series is largely inconsequential -- though two players can pick up a two point bonus. If it takes seven, Andrew is in prime position, but Rakesh is in striking distance.

The Boston-Detroit series is more interesting. With Boston looking vulnerable (and tired), and the Pistons looking motivated (and rested), Rakesh may be able to ride the Pistons to the Finals (believe it or not, he will be rooting for them because of a newly deep-seated hatred of Boston and its frontrunning fans) and a big bonus that would put him in the thick of things. It's still anyone's game.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Why I Hate Utah

It's one thing to lose a basketball game. It's another thing to lose to a dirty team. When you feel like your team got jobbed on virtually every play, as officials swallow their whistles or referee the two sides of the court inconsistently, it feels like a punch in the stomach. It leaves you feeling angry and demoralized, like the sport has been tarnished.

Playing Utah feels bad. Even when the Lakers win, I feel relieved that no one got hurt. It feels like the good guys won - the team playing real basketball, rather than some thuggish brand of rugby. And when the bad guys win, it's sad to see the good guys changing how they play. No more passing to the guy open underneath, because you know he's going to get crushed with no call. No more hard fouls at the basket, because your player will get thrown out of the game.

I hate whining about the referees, and it isn't really their fault. The Utah strategy is quite simple - referees can't call every foul, and they don't want to award one team 100 free throws a game. Thus, if you push in the back on every rebound, you'll get away with it most of the time. If you hack and grab and hold, you slow down the other team. You also anger them, and maybe a few plays later they will retaliate - and the refs will whistle that, since they want to be "fair" by calling fouls on both teams. And it's an effective strategy, especially in Utah, where the refs seem to be swayed by the crowd.

But it's a disgusting strategy. It's not basketball. I've played basketball for as long as I can remember, and everyone gets away with things on the basketball court. I've nudged a bigger player in the back, knowing that most of the time it'll help me get the rebound. I've slapped at the ball and gotten nothing but arm. And I've pushed off a defender to get a little extra space off a curl or to get a pass on an inbounds play. But I've never considered grabbing my defender and throwing him into a pick. The Jazz do. I've never pushed off when no advantage can be gained. The Jazz do, just to be "physical." These are not basketball plays. The level of grabbing that the Jazz do is unprecedented.

And the thing is, we've seen it for 25 years now. Stockton, Malone, Hornacek, Foster, Ostertag - that whole crew did it. Now Williams, Boozer, Okur, Kirilenko, Harpring (oh how I hate Harpring) do it. I didn't use to think Jerry Sloan was a dirty coach. Now, there's no other explanation.

Being physical is one thing. Being dirty is another. If the Lakers lose this series, it'll be more because of Kobe's back, Sasha's toe, and Bynum's knee than the referees. Players have to adjust to the officiating, and Game 4 would have been won with a healthy Kobe. But some small part will be because the Jazz are coached to play dirty basketball. And the fact that dirty basketball wins over unselfish, flowing, artistic basketball is something that should not be allowed.

Yes, Mr. Harpring, it's a foul to deck someone. No matter whether it's called or not, it's not part of basketball.