Thursday, January 31, 2008

Who can guard LeBron James?

So I watched last night's game, and then ended up in a conversation with Justin. How on earth do you stop LeBron these days?

Not only is he the strongest player in the NBA, and one of the quickest, he now has a jump shot to boot. So, you can't sag off him, because he'll hit the 15-20 footer with decent regularity. You can't press him, because he'll blow right by you (notice how good he is at turning sideways to get past defenders to avoid the foul?). You can't double him, because he'll find a way to get the ball to Ilgauskas or Boobie, who have a decent enough chance at scoring. So what do you do?

Which led us to realize what makes LeBron so good. And so outstanding. His go-to shot is a LAYUP. A Layup! As Justin points out, MJ and Kobe have the stick-it fadeaway. Duncan has the bankshot. Shaq (used to have) the dropstep. Magic could always find the open guy. And Bird had the dagger three. LeBron just sticks his head down and gets to the rim -- while still being able to do ALL the other things.

I think that alone makes the Cavs a dangerous playoff team, that plus the fact that LeBron is playing shutdown defense on an opposing team's star right now. Two games in a row, he's defended Kobe and Roy impeccably down the stretch -- forcing them into tough fadeaways.

So, the question in the title. Who can guard him? Shawn Marion is athletic and can bother him, but LeBron's just a touch quicker and more explosive. Wade is just too small. Kobe used to be able to, but now that Kobe's losing a bit of weight as he gets older (which is smart) LeBron can just overpower him. Tayshaun? Please, not after cowering under each of LeBron's thunder dunks last year. Bruce Bowen tries, but ultimately, aside from running the "stick my foot under LeBron" play, he can't rely on just letting LeBron have the midrange J anymore. And we know LeBron can post him. The best we could come up with is Josh Howard -- he's athletic and long -- but he also is prone to fade away on D for periods of time.

Ultimately, that's what would make this team so deadly with just one more star -- someone to knock down the shot when teams collapse on LeBron (like they have to). But, that said, it makes me think Kidd might not be the answer, since he's not a dead-eye shooter. I'd still prefer Bibby, on balance (and would vastly prefer his contract). But, it might not be the worst thing (given the Cavs' current chemistry and overall team defense) to make a small move for a Jarrett Jack-type PG and then make a big splash this summer with the ~30M of expiring contracts we'll have. Lots of good shooters out there next summer (here's looking at you, Juan Carlos Navarro). And, if the Suns don't win, you have to figure they'll blow things up (Shawn Marion, anyone?)

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Kidd in CLE?

So after talking to Justin and reading that LeBron wants Kidd (no duh), I came up with two possibilities:

Here's the first one.

CLE (Incoming): Jason Kidd
IND (Incoming): Eric Snow, Drew Gooden, Ira Newble, possible draft pick
NJ (Incoming): Jermaine O'Neal

NJ gets an athletic big man who needs a change of scenery. CLE gets Kidd and keeps LeBron happy. IND gets 4M of cap relief this year in Newble, and gets to try out Gooden as a moderately priced 4 for another year. They also get a veteran presence and good defensive point in Snow. Both Snow and Gooden expire in '09 too.

Here's another one. This isn't as good.

CLE (Incoming): Jason Kidd
MEM (Incoming): Donyell Marshall, Drew Gooden
NJ (Incoming): Pau Gasol, Ira Newble, Shannon Brown

NJ gets cap relief in Newble and Brown and a talented big man in Gasol. MEM gets cap relief in '09 and gets to take a flier on Gooden to replace the bust that is Milicic. The question is, is Jerry West ready to rebuild? Or does he want to see what Conley can do?

More to come tomorrow.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Rainy Days, Silver Linings

Things are pretty dismal in Lakerland right now. After being at the top of the Western Conference, the Lakers have lost 4 of 5 and, in the tightly clustered standings, will have to fight just to make the playoffs.

However, I don't want to dwell on all that's gone wrong - I could whine about that for days. Instead, let's look at the silver linings. What's encouraging?

First and foremost has to be the change in Kobe's attitude. After today's loss to the Cavs (damn you Rakesh), Mark Heisler of the LA Times reports what Kobe said of Bynum and the team in post-game interviews:

"He developed into the player that I prayed about having on my team for years," said Bryant after the game, in his most lyrical praise of Bynum yet.

"You know one, he was going to get you at least 10 rebounds, he was going to get you about three blocks and he was going to get you 20 points.

"And the second thing, it was much harder for teams to match up. Teams couldn't double me as easily, and if they did, I could throw it over the top and he could complete at the basket [score].

"That being said, he's not out for the season, so it's important for these guys not to get discouraged. Just continue to play and understand, we're going to continue to struggle a little bit, but the important thing is not to get down, to continue to play hard and then when we get those guys back, get ready for the playoffs."

That sounds like a Kobe who will be here for the long run, making at least one or two more legitimate title runs in his prime. While LeBron probably has taken over the title of best player in the league (or soon will, if his defense improves and his killer instinct continues to grow), a motivated Kobe makes any team many times better. This season has been a testament to that, as a collection of limited players has really become effective.

There are other encouraging signs too. Even without Bynum and Ariza, the Lakers showed this week that they can compete with San Antonio and Dallas, even on the road. The Lakers outplayed the Spurs for two quarters, played one even quarter, and got destroyed in one. Against Dallas, the Lakers played 3 quarters even, and got destroyed in one. Both bad quarters were third quarters. In both games, it was clear that SA and Dallas were better teams, but not by much. If the Lakers were full-strength and playing as they have this season, I actually think both games are easy wins. The fact that we are this competitive bodes well.

The reason why we are still competitive is fairly simple, and is perhaps the biggest silver lining of all other than Kobe's attitude change. Simply put, the upgrade from Smush Parker to any other NBA point guard alive is the same as upgrading from Kwame Brown to new-and-improved Andrew Bynum. Derek Fisher is a limited player who works hard, shoots fairly well and isn't fast enough to guard elite PGs. Smush Parker is a horrible player who gives up on plays, pouts when he isn't given minutes and shoots about as well as I do. The single best thing about this season, other than the fact that my team was legitimately awesome for 40 games, was not having to watch Smush drag his lazy ass around the floor looking like he'd never before seen a screen.

Just thinking about Smush fighting with some parking valet in Miami makes me smile. Even if that was the only change, it's been a good year.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Larry Hughes Can Dunk???

More to come tomorrow, but for now, I'm going to bed perplexed and giddy at that thought.

An Old Nemesis

Tough Laker loss tonight, though a road loss to the Spurs is never shameful. What made the loss tough was how well the Lakers played in the first half, completely outplaying the Spurs. Then the third quarter came, and by the end of that 12 minute period the Lakers went from a 9-point lead to a 10-point deficit. 19 point swing in a quarter - that is tough to stomach.

And you know the worst part? It's all my fault. You see, I was in my apartment watching the first half, and everything was clicking. Kobe was orchestrating the offense beautifully, telling guys where to go, making his move, and then hitting them in the exact spot he'd just told them to occupy. The defense was swarming. The Spurs looked old. Then, at halftime, I decided to TiVo the second half and go get some chicken katsu curry with friends.

Well, that chicken katsu curry was delicious. Really, really good. Hit the spot. Spicy, steaming, crispy, perfect. And, with every bite, I was dooming my team. You see, when your team is clicking, you don't move. You stay where you were. You try not to shift positions, let alone get changed, leave the house, and record the game. I could argue that I was hungry, but I had ramen. I had the number to Domino's. The Spurs beat the Lakers just because I couldn't resist the siren call of chicken katsu curry.

A few thoughts:
  • In the first half, Turiaf had a very strong performance. He played tough defense on Duncan, even blocking a Duncan fadeaway, and showed impressive versatility in cutting hard to the basket for a few dunks and mixing in some mid-range jumpers as well. Unfortunately, we stuck with Kwame for all of the third quarter, probably due to his greater size and strength playing Duncan. Rony is a good change to throw at post players once in a while, but Kwame still is a better position defender.
  • Kwame over Turiaf hurt our offense a lot, though it's unclear that that was the main problem. Kobe came out gunning in the third and put up some very questionable shots, and the rest of the team fell into a dismal pattern of standing around and watching. So much for conducting an orchestra - this was more like punching the concertmaster in the face and stealing his violin.
  • The most frustrating part of the Lakers offense was Lamar Odom. Throughout the game, he was defended by a smaller man - Mike Finley, the surprisingly effective Udoka, Brent Barry. To his credit, Lamar did try to post up a few times, but didn't get the ball. Too often he would float out to the perimeter and just swing the ball. He also got called for an obvious offensive foul once by shoving Finley, clearly frustrated that he wasn't getting the pass and/or the inside position he wanted. There were no Odom drives to the hoop, and while he did work hard on the glass, I thought it was too passive of a game for LO. Get post position, and demand the ball! Stop thinking about your bong!
  • Then again, maybe Phil needs to tell his team to feed it to Odom more in a game where he's drawing the obvious mismatch. That would help. So would not having so many mental lapses by throwing the ball away.
  • On defense, the Lakers just need to get smarter. Believe it or not, Sasha, it's not a smart move to leave Brent Barry to collapse on a driving Jacque Vaughn - and he did that two or three times. You have to know who's driving, and Jacque is not going to finish around the basket. The D overall wasn't bad, but players seemed a little too willing to help when the primary defender didn't need the help.
  • DJ Mbenga was horrible. Worse than Kwame. Mbenga : Kwame :: Kwame : Bynum.
But hey, the first half was beautiful. If only I'd resisted the most delicious dish in the world.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Unbearable Lightness of a D-Wade Foul

Big win for the Cavs tonight. I'm not even joking -- sure, Miami is having a lot of difficulty (and making our roster look functional, which takes some effort to be sure) but the Cavs tend to think they're a better team than they are, making these games tough. That is to say, the Cavs think they're an elite team, and thus think they can give 50% effort in these games. But, they can't -- they're a team that only has success when all its moving parts are going at 100%. Lately, they've been giving that effort throughout the game (or at least close to it) regardless of the team, and have thus been having good results against teams in the league of SA/Dallas and, on the other side, Miami. Hopefully we can keep this up against a red-hot Washington team.

Some thoughts:

1.) The Cavs seem to have fixed their third quarter blues from last year (and earlier this season). While they've had some memorable wins in the fourth quarter this year after some epic third-quarter swoons, they're starting to realize that good teams use the third quarter to build a lead and then spend the fourth quarter maintaining it. Nice to see solid defensive intensity and good execution across the board.

2.) Larry Hughes had a another great game tonight (believe it or not). Larry's real strengths are defense (which he plays very well) and transition jumpers. He hit a few of those tonight and it was great to watch -- he gets good lift when he pulls up on the break or off a quick cut (much better than when he tries to spot up and shoot). Doug Collins mentioned tonight that Larry is just not a great halfcourt player, and that's true, but I think Larry is wisely (and maturely) looking for his shots in transition now and serving as more of a facilitator in the halfcourt game, which is great to see. There was one play in particular at the start of the third quarter when Boobie passed to an open Larry, but instead of taking the spot-up J he hit LeBron moving to the rim for a nice layup. That's smart basketball -- playing to your strengths.

3.) Apparently the Cavs used to run an offensive set for Sasha the first time down the floor in all their games last year because he's such a streaky/confidence player. I think they should keep doing that. Tonight, Sasha was tentative until he made a strong drive to the rim in the first quarter, after which he looked like the Sasha of old. We need him to play at that level, so I'd like to see us make a concerted effort to get him involved early.

3.) Z is really doubting his jump shot lately. In the first quarter, LeBron had a nice between the legs pass to Z on the break and he passed up the wide open J in favor of a crazy 360 attempt that did not go well. He passed up another J in the fourth. Needless to say, that can't happen -- the Z pick and pop is a staple of our offense.

4.) The Cavs bench is playing SO well lately. Devin Brown just has amazing energy (sometimes a bit too much, but I'd rather have that problem) and is playing well on both ends of the floor. Damon Jones has become a real asset -- he's not just taking spot-up threes but is also cutting inside every so often (he had a nice pull-up J in the fourth quarter and a good drive and lay-in over Shaq as well). Boobie had an off night, but still found wayas to contribute on the defensive end. And Andy is just playing at a really high level; I think he's the second-best player on the team right now.

5.) I love LeBron and all his fourth-quarter heroics, but he's going for the "dagger" plays way too often. He took a few too many threes at the end of the SA game, and he had a crazy-wild drive for an offensive foul in the fourth quarter today. I think he did a great job mixing up play within the offense and his own "take on the whole defense" approach in the third quarter and would like to see him keep that mix up in the fourth. In particular, I really like him moving off the ball on the baseline -- he's so talented down there. Also, he was abusing Dorell Wright in the post early -- watch for that post game to develop because when it does, Bruce Bowen will be unable to do anything except try to screw up LeBron's landing on jumpers (which he does a lot already).

6.) It wouldn't be a viewing of a Heat game if I didn't mention the ridiculous calls that D-Wade sometimes gets. Now, I love D-Wade; I think he's a great competitor and a great ambassador for the league. But there was one play where he literally shoved Gibson off the ball, dribbled once, took a shot, and got a foul + continuation. That's just nuts. LeBron and Kobe get calls too, but at least they usually get some form of meaningful contact.

7.) Last point -- it is sad to see a day in which Z and Andy routinely look like better athletes than Shaq in the low post. Man.

Another One Bites the Dust

And the derailing of the Lakers season continues - Trevor Ariza goes down with a broken foot suffered in practice. According to the LA Times, there's no timetable yet for his return, but one will be set after Ariza sees a foot specialist today.

UPDATE: Ariza will be out for eight weeks. At least Bynum has a buddy in rehab now.

Though Ariza was not starting in recent games, this is a major blow to the Lakers. Ariza was one of the best defenders on the team and was also one of our most athletic players. In one game against Denver about a month ago, Allen Iverson was going crazy until the Lakers assigned Ariza to shadow him. While AI still got a few buckets, he was contained the rest of the night.

Though Ariza is not a very good perimeter shooter, limiting his offense, his activity level makes him a very important player on offense as well as on defense. Not many players on the Lakers can do this - and not many would even have the guts to try. I've been impressed with how fast he picked up the triangle, and if he could develop a jumper in the offseason, teams wouldn't be able to sag off him as they do now.

The best thing about Trevor was that he wasn't Brian Cook. I still can't believe that we got Ariza for Cook and Evans (though I did like Mo), and dumped salary in the process. Then again, Cook would never have suffered a foot injury from coming down on someone else's foot. That would require that he either go in the paint, try to rebound, or be guarded by Bruce Bowen.

All that is moot now though, as a broken bone in the foot certainly doesn't sound good. Ugh. This season seems to be going the way of last season, with a fast start derailed by injuries.

To follow-up on the home LA fans booing Kwame Brown during the Phoenix game, Kobe and the rest of the team seemed to close ranks around Kwame. Of particular note is what Kobe said:

"I thought it was terrible," Kobe Bryant said after the game. "If [fans] want to do that, they can stay home. He's going to be our guy for two months. Kwame's sensitive -- you boo him, it's going to affect him. I told him I've got his back."

I still think the boos were an indication of how bitter Laker fans are at losing Bynum, rather than real ire at Kwame - we know who he is, and who he isn't at this point. Regardless of whether the booing was justified, however, these are the things Kobe needs to say to be a leader on this team. Good to see him saying them.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Meaningless or Meaningful?

For the Spurs, last night's game was just another game -- just another chance for the Spurs to try to find a rotation and a gameplan that works. The Spurs are notorious for not really peaking into true "championship" form until the last few months of the season -- they tinker and tinker and then finally the switch clicks and they get it going.

For the Cavs, last night's game meant a lot. After being trounced by the Spurs in the NBA Finals, and then humiliated nationally as the "worst NBA finals team ever," a rematch against the Spurs was a chance for some sort of redemption. For LeBron, it was a chance to show off all the tools he's worked on during the offseason.

Which is why it wasn't surprising that the Cavs fought back hard during the second quarter to take a lead (though it was surprising that the Cavs did that totally without LeBron). I do think that sometimes the second unit moves the ball better without LeBron, only because guys don't default into giving him the ball and letting him stand at the top of the key. When LeBron does move as much as he did at points last night, trying to establish post presence and catch the ball inside the three point line, he's much more effective.

What was surprising was the intensity of the end. I think the Spurs came in thinking that they could coast a bit and that the game didn't really matter -- but by the third quarter they started to play with pride. And look at the plays they won it on: 1.) A sweet 22 foot jumper from LeBron (a shot he had a lot of trouble with last year, even though the Spurs always gave it to him), a nice "hockey assist" pass from LeBron to Larry to Boobie Gibson for a big three (hey, a Cav who consistently makes big threes! You hear that, Donyell?), and good defensive intensity by the Cavs on the Ginobli drive at the buzzer (hey, they actually kept defensive focus). These are signs that the Cavs actually have improved from earlier this season and last season, and are finally rounding into shape. As Brian Windhorst points out, this may be the first time we've beat both Dallas and San Antonio on the road -- believe it or not, the Cavs have a lot of focus this year in big games because they have something to prove.

A few more discrete observations:

1.) I love the fact that LeBron has worked on his jumper, but I think he needs to calm down just a touch with it. The last few games it's looked like he thinks he plays for Golden State -- he keeps hoisting up wild threes fairly early in the shot clock. He did it last night and almost ended up letting the game go to OT with his miss. He did it a bunch against Charlotte. Obviously if he hits those shots, they're huge daggers -- but I wish he would recognize that the "daggers" he's hit throughout his career are rarely threes, and are instead strong drives to the basket that only he can finish (see the Washington series two years back, the insane game against Detroit last year, etc.)

2.) Daniel Gibson is a fantastic three point shooter, but I'd really like to see him add a bit more versatility to his game. He's got a great outside shot, and a good ability to take a few dribbles inside the three point line and hit a jumper. But he's not yet adept at creating shots for himself off the ball beyond moving to open spots for threes. I'd like to see him try to do a bit more Rip Hamilton (which is tough because he's not as tall, but he is quicker) and work off curls to get more midrange jumpers -- he's the only Cav who really consistently makes those when he takes them.

3.) I respect the hell out of the Spurs, but I find it weird that every time I see LeBron go up for a jumper, there's miraculously a foot under him when he lands. The "Bruce Bowen" school of defense.

4.) I wonder if Larry Hughes is turning into Eric Snow. Think about it -- he's a great defensive player (more on that below) but he is not the best offensively, to say the least. Though, unlike Eric Snow, he isn't mortally afraid to take a shot.

5.) Last night we actually saw a good effort by Larry, believe it or not. Parker's not all there, but I think Larry showed why he is an effective defender in the NBA and why we really missed him in the finals last year -- he's long and big enough to keep Parker in front of him, and he has the quick hands to force a steal or two on the crossovers. Also, it's tough to describe, but I think Larry is an inherently better shooter the less he thinks about it. The few times I've seen him really "pure" a jumper this year are plays like the one he had in the third quarter last night, where on a fast break he pulls up, catches a pass, and shoots it in one motion. The vast majority of times he's bricked shots are when he tries to create the shot on his own. I'd like to see Larry speed up his release a bit more when he comes off curls and shoot without dribbling -- I think that's more of his natural game.

6.) I will write more about this in a later post, but I'm a bit bummed about the Cavs trade situation. First, I think it's beyond hilarious that Isiah almost traded Jamal Crawford for Larry Hughes. I used to joke about Larry being a perfect fit in NY because he is an overpaid wing player who is a bit past his prime -- but never thought they would actually think about making a move for him. In other news, my hunch is that the Bibby trade won't happen, even though I wish it would. Sigh.

7.) Finally, a quick note -- after watching the Lakers game last night, I am beyond pissed that the Cavs whiffed on the Shannon Brown pick. Jordan Farmar would have been PERFECT. First of all, what did the Cavs need then? A PG who's not afraid to take an outside shot. So, naturally, they took Shannon Brown. And, second, what is Farmar's game? He has a good outside shot, is a above-average passer, and a good handle. How did we mess this up? How? Imagine what this Cavs team would look like with Farmar at the point, if only to spell Larry Hughes.

Life Without Andrew Bynum

The Lakers-Suns game tonight was just another regular season game in one sense, but was an extremely important game in another. It was the Lakers’ first real test since they lost Andrew Bynum (given that they played Seattle right after they found out, and seemed understandably shell-shocked and lethargic) and I was curious to see how they would respond. Would the team come together and rally together after losing a huge part of their success, and the key to their future? Sadly, no.

This game was a test against a division rival. The Lakers match up well with Phoenix, as they’ve shown over the years. Lamar Odom plays better against the Suns than against any other team. He can dominate inside, getting rebounds and post position that he can’t against bigger, stronger, more defensively minded teams, and wears Marion down on the block so that Marion is affected on offense too. With Bynum scoring inside as well, I fully believe the Lakers (as they were playing this season, before the Bynum injury) would beat the Suns in a seven-game playoff series. I don’t even think it would take seven games – more like 5, maybe 6.

Finally, a Lakers win today would be more than just one more regular season game – it would mean the Lakers have gone 3-0 against the Suns this year, and that they could beat Phoenix even without Bynum. From a psychological perspective, that would be a huge step for a young team.

Going into tonight’s game, I thought these were the key factors for LA to win:

  • Both Kwame and Odom had to come up big inside
  • LA had to be committed to rotating the ball.
  • LA’s bigs had to stay out of foul trouble
  • Marion had to be contained
  • Fisher and Farmar had to provide some offense, to keep Nash honest and working on defense
  • Leandro Barbosa needed to be contained – that guy KILLS the Lakers

Odom and Kwame

Odom came up big – I thought he was the best player on the court at times. After a quiet stretch in the first half, when he pulled his disappearing act again, he started attacking the rim relentlessly, fighting for rebounds, and rising to the level of play that he showed in last year’s playoffs. Sometimes he seemed like the only Laker player who gave a crap.

Unfortunately, Kwame came up…small. Tiny. So small, that in the second half, the Lakers fans booed him every time he touched the ball. His final line (8 points on 3-8 FG and 2-4 FT, 6 boards, 0 assists, and 7 TO) looks average, but to say he was average would be kind. Kwame missed an open dunk off a gorgeous Lamar feed. He often looked lost on the court. Simply put, Kwame is a perfectly good backup center but is far overmatched in the starting role. The downgrade from Bynum to Kwame is a titanic one, not just a large one.

I think the difference can be summed up in one play tonight when Lamar (I think) lobbed a ball into Kwame on the pick and roll. That lob has become a staple of the Laker offense, and there’s no doubt that Bynum would have dunked it. Kwame caught the lob – a good start – but then couldn’t finish the layup. The Lakers never tried the lob again, even though we run it 4-5 times a night with Bynum on the floor.

To be honest, Kwame makes me sad. At the end of last season and the beginning of this season, he was a legitimately average NBA player. He was (and still is) a great position defender and an average rebounder. His physical presence could deter other teams and he seemed to know his place in the triangle. Kwame also has strangely fast arms. Yes, arms – his hands stink. He excels at poking the ball away even from guards, so his arms must be very fast. (Maybe his hands are fast, but are just bad at gripping things?) Tonight, he even guarded Steve Nash one-on-on and poked the ball away.

Before his injury this season, I had high hopes for a center tandem of Bynum and Kwame. And, to be fair to Kwame, he is recovering from a tough injury, and the only reason fans were booing him is because we’ve gotten so spoiled from Bynum’s dominance this year.

Now, he’s clearly regressed, and I worry that the booing of the home fans will be the last straw. Kwame has never been the most confident of players. After having his self-confidence decimated by Michael Jordan, he came to LA in the ill-fated Caron Butler trade and his main value now is as a $9M expiring contract. If all that weren’t enough, he has to put up with every announcer ever telling a national TV audience that he has “small hands”…and we all know what that implies. No wonder Phil Jackson meows at him.

(Quick aside – Phil Jackson meows at his players to call them a…er, to poke fun at their manhood. He makes jokes about Brokeback Mountain. He openly mocks Craig Sager in TNT’s interviews. I love Phil.)

Rotating the Ball

The Lakers had 18 assists on 36 shots. That’s not a good ratio at all. Usually when the ball stagnates, it’s because Kobe has reverted to his form of a few years ago and decided to be a gunner. Tonight, he was almost too passive. He was usually content to pass the ball to teammates and float out of the play. The problem wasn’t that Kobe was hogging the ball – the problem was that his teammates could not create their own shot, and were trying and failing miserably to do so. LA failed to move the ball and to reverse it to the weak side, making a porous Phoenix defense look much better than it actually was.

All game, the Laker offense looked out of sync. This is not to say that Phoenix looked in sync – the suns actually had 23 turnovers to the Laker 21 – but the Lakers often ended up with possessions where Kwame shot a 10 foot jumper, or Luke Walton tried to post Marion. Needless to say, these possessions failed. (More on Luke Walton later.)

Foul Trouble

Hey, a category the Lakers won! Amare actually was the only big in real foul trouble. Kwame picked up 5, but this was mainly because Phil left him in with 4 when he was getting booed on every touch. Why? Phil probably wanted him to play through it, but it’s also very possible that Phil was asleep.

Containing Marion

The very first Phoenix score of the game was Marion getting a wide-open three, which he drained. This was particularly bad because Marion is a confidence player. By that, I mean that he often disappears for long stretches of games when he is not involved, and Odom posting him up often has that effect. He is also a streaky shooter who shoots better when he’s made a few. Given all that, it seems like a bad idea to give him an uncontested three to start the game, no?

Fisher and Farmar

First, let’s talk about Fisher. Derek Fisher is a hard-working veteran whom I really like. Even though I really like him, his career FG% (including this year) is 40.2%. With Utah last year, he shot 38.2%. This year, he is shooting 47.9% (before today’s game, in which he was 1-6). From three-point range, Fisher is a career 37.1% shooter and shot 30.8% last year. He is shooting 42.9% this year. Finally, Fisher is a career 80.7% FT shooter and shot 85.3% last year. He is shooting 86.2% this year.

Basically, those numbers say that Fisher is either (1) a much better shooter now than he has been over his career, or (2) he is enjoying an abnormally good shooting year. Given that his shots this year have not been more open than in the past – I have to think he got more open looks playing with Shaq and Kobe – what gives? I don’t think he spent all summer practicing jumpers, since he had to take care of his daughter. Bottom line is, I’m worried. I don’t think Fish’s hot shooting is sustainable and I’m quite worried about a line of bricks.

As for tonight, he didn’t do much. This team really needed him to step up and lead it, and he couldn’t do it. On the positive side, he’s not Smush Parker. He actually tries on defense and appears to have defended a screen and roll before at some point in his life. If I had to estimate, I’d say Fish is approximately 156 times better than Smush. I also don’t think Fish has ever had a Facebook group called “Derek Fisher Sucks,” while Smush has had several dedicated to his suckage.

Now, what about Farmar? Simply put, his improvement from last year has been striking. Farmar had a decent game today, mostly against Barbosa. He didn’t succeed in wearing down Nash – and I really think he could, given his speed – but that’s not his fault. I was most impressed with his speed today when matched up opposite Barbosa. On one play, he blew by Barbosa and made a gorgeous lefty layup. He seemed to stay with Barbosa fairly well, speed-wise, and Leandro is one of the fastest players in the league. This bodes well for Farmar’s speed (and athleticism).

The other part of his game that’s improved is his three-point shooting. If anything, he might have fallen in love with it too much this year, but unlike ex-Laker Brian Cook, he still penetrates to mix things up. I’d like to see Jordan take some more two-point jumpers, but overall I can’t complain. He was solid tonight and it was another good game for him. I think the Lakers will be fine at PG in the future (and maybe can package Crittenton with Kwame…but that’s another post).

Overall, though? The Lakers put almost no pressure on Nash to guard anyone. Bad.

Containing Barbosa

LA pretty much failed on this point. On the positive side, Barbosa didn’t get many layups. On the negative side, he got as many open threes as he wanted. In fact, the Lakers gave just about any Sun that cared to shoot an open 20 foot jumper.

Other Keys to the Game – Marion on Kobe (Or, Why Luke Walton Sucks)

The Suns showed an interesting defensive alignment, putting Marion on Kobe for long stretches of the game. I thought this was a good move because it prevents Kobe from posting, and Marion is quick enough to stay with Kobe when he drives. The Suns have done this before, and Kobe can still score on Marion, but seems to have to work very hard to do so.

When Marion is on Kobe, though, that means our small forward is being guarded by Raja Bell. The Lakers HAVE to punish that matchup if D’Antoni is going to put Marion on Kobe, and the Lakers completely failed to do that. At the beginning of the game, it was Luke Walton. Later, it was Trevor Ariza (who did have one nice post move).

Luke Walton was simply horrible tonight. Worse than Kwame. Walton did not score. He was 0-4 and had two turnovers in 20 minutes. On the very first Laker possession of the game, Marion backed off Walton at least 10 feet and Walton didn’t even look at the basket. Instead, he decided to try to throw a backdoor pass that sailed out of bounds. His reluctance to shoot and his lack of confidence in his shot cripples the rest of his game, because he isn’t quick enough to get by anyone without the help of a believable shot fake. How can an NBA wing player be so afraid to shoot?

Later in the game, Walton failed to recognize mismatches. The few times he did try to post up Raja Bell, he couldn’t get anything going. Then, he failed to recognize when Marion was back on him, and tried to post Marion up at least three times. Luke, there are a few problems here. First, Marion is more athletic than you are and can block your shot. Second, he’s quicker than you so you can’t go around him. Third, you suck. These possessions resulted in ugly misses or turnovers. Very, very poor recognition by a supposedly heady player.

To be fair to Luke, he is a limited player and everyone knows that. He’s a streaky shooter with below-average athleticism, above-average court vision, and the ability to post up smaller players (sometimes). That’s fine – he’s a role player. But why did the Lakers offer him a 6- year deal? I’m guessing no one else was offering anything close, and it becomes a horrible contract. He is the wrong sort of player for the faster, more athletic Lakers of today – Trevor Ariza (love that guy) is the right sort of player.

Final (random) thoughts

  • The “10 items or less” grocery store sitcom really runs a lot of commercials. I bet it’s not that good.
  • Sasha is at his best when his shots are fairly meaningless. Today, he drained 8 points in a row to bring LA within 10, then missed a lot when the Lakers were trying to cut further into the deficit. Typical Sasha. I won’t miss him when he goes. Maybe he can form a team with Slava Medvedenko or something.
  • Phil made a curious decision in continuing to sit Kobe with 9 min left in the game, with the Lakers down 8 and with some momentum. Kobe did not come in until the six minute mark, and there wasn’t enough time to mount a serious comeback. Still, I guess Phil was sticking with what worked on the floor.
  • The Laker defense was also horrible, and needs to be examined. We continued to give up open shots over and over. After Diaw hits 4 or 5 jumpers in a row, isn’t it obvious that he can shoot?!
  • Rony Turiaf had a good game, I thought. Good hustle and showed some range on his jumper. We even started posting him, and he drew an and-1 on Skinner. He won’t be able to score against starting big men, but has a chance of being very productive against the second-string.
  • Kobe didn't have a good game, despite a pretty box score. He was extremely passive for most of the game, leading to crappy role players struggling to create their own shots. He appeared to be coasting at times - on one play, Nash had a breakaway layup, and Kobe ALWAYS sizes those up and tries to come in for the block. In this case, he just jogged back and didn't contest at all. I thought that play showed that he didn't believe the Lakers could win, and was mailing in large stretches of the game, including the entire second quarter.

In the end, Phoenix was clearly the better team tonight and the Lakers never seriously threatened. That said, Phoenix didn’t play particularly well. They were extremely sloppy with the ball and don’t seem to be playing with the same joy that they used to play with. I doubt they come out of the West, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they end up making an early exit. Watching them play, you get the idea that they don’t really love playing with each other anymore and that they are a step slower than they used to be. And, they still don’t play much defense.

A depressing night for Lakers fans. It will be a long two months until Bynum comes back, and he won’t be in game shape. Let’s hope the team puts forth better showings and can sneak into the playoffs, then do some damage as it rounds back into form.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


Welcome to "From AC to Wilt," a new NBA blog. As you can tell from our title, our goal is to have coverage that abounds in both quality and quantity.

The authors are three law students in California who have been NBA fans for as long as they can remember. Two of them are Lakers fans, and the other is (sadly) a Cleveland Cavaliers fan who used to have his own blog here. Needless to say, the Lakers fans rub in the 44-year Cleveland title drought as much as possible.

Our hopes are to provide some serious, though humorous, analysis of the NBA, particularly the Cavs and Lakers. Coverage will include regular posts about opportunities for teams to revamp their rosters, blogs about games televised on the West Coast, and longer pieces about current trends in the NBA.

We hope you'll visit with a Wilt frequency, or enjoy your first visit at least as much as AC must have. Please enjoy the reading as much as we enjoy the writing!