Monthly Archive for November, 2008

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In the Rankings: Week 4

Every Monday, the Lakers Basketblog checks the net to bring you the latest NBA power rankings.
This Week: 1 | Last Week: 2 | Diff: +1

The Lakers are cruising so far with Kobe Bryant averaging less than 34 minutes per game, Andrew Bynum getting more consistent and Vladimir Radmanovic hitting 10-for-13 from downtown in the last three games. It’s time to start talking about the ’95-96 Bulls, because the schedule looks pretty easy for the next few weeks.
This Week: 2 | Last Week: 2 | Diff: 0

Spanking the Suns in Phoenix, then drubbing Denver at home one night later is an authoritative back-to-back sweep. The Lakers, though, would tell you that their D has slipped lately, those two impressive games aside.
This Week: 1 | Last Week: 1 | Diff: 0

Their perfect start ended at 7-0 with last Friday’s home loss to the Pistons, but Kobe Bryant & Co. remain the NBA’s gold standard at present. Now Kobe can turn his attention to Thursday’s trip to Phoenix and his former nemesis Shaq, who teased him in a rather “tasteless” rap song last summer.

Average Ranking: This Week: 1.33 | Last Week: 1.66 | Diff: +.33

Daily Trivia: Magic Dimes

Play the Trivia Contest on Lakers Courtside Connection every day (Monday-Friday) for your chance to win great Lakers prizes.

Today’s question is:
In the ’86-’87 season, Earvin “Magic” Johnson led the league in assists with what average?
(Answer Here)

If you think you know the answer, login to Lakers Courtside Connection and see if right. Then come back tomorrow to test your knowledge on Lakers history again, while making a run towards really cool prizes.

Lakers 118 – Kings 108: Postgame

Could the Lakers have beaten the Kings more impressively, more decisively and more efficiently?

Sure. Sacramento scored too easily for much of the game and, at one point of the fourth quarter, cut what had been a 19-point lead down to four.

But here’s my question: So what?

Playing their third game in four nights, the Lakers responded immediately to that four-point margin by locking down defensively to produce a 6-0 offensive run, then coasted to the 118-108 final margin, good enough to solidify the league’s best record at 11-1 (Boston’s 13-2). While this is by no means an apology for a defense that allowed 53.4 percent shooting to a Kings team missing its best shooter – a game from which L.A.’s coaches will surely find many missed defensive assignments – it was still a very easy win. That’s a good thing. In other words, there’s really no reason to believe that the Lakers will take the next sub-.500 opponent (New Jersey on Tuesday) lightly, just because they allowed the Kings too many open looks and were at times careless with the ball (18 turnovers resulting in 30 Sacramento points).

In the locker room after the game, at least a few questions directed at Lakers players wondered out loud if the team had anything to worry about by allowing so many easy shots to an at times hapless Kings bunch. The answer is … no. Let’s just nip that in the bud right now – any such conclusion simply needs to be dismissed (did that sound defensive? My bad).

Frankly, it seems to me that L.A. dominated the Kings, and Sacramento – at no fault of its energetic effort – didn’t come very close, even if the score tightened for a fourth quarter moment.

And with that, a few numbers:

Lakers in double-figures: Kobe Bryant (24); Pau Gasol (16); Andrew Bynum (15); Lamar Odom (14); Vladimir Radmanovic (12); Trevor Ariza (11); Derek Fisher (10) and Jordan Farmar (10). Only Sasha Vujacic got minutes (18) and failed to score 10 (he had six).

Combined rebounds off the bench from Odom (seven) and Ariza (11), helping L.A. control the boards 46 to 36 for the evening.

Three-point percentage for the Kings on 4-of-20, including 0-for-3s from Brad Miller, Donte Greene and Bobby Jackson.

Three-point percentage as a team for L.A. on 8-of-14, including 4-of-5 from Vladi and 2-of-2 from Vujacic.

71.4: Free throw percentage for the Lakers (20-of-28), as Sacramento went to the line just 13 times (making 10).

Lakers – Kings Running Diary

I guess Kings head coach Reggie Theus felt that he’d best make a major switch in order to compete with the Lakers Sunday night at STAPLES, because his starting lineup is brand spanking new. This is due, in part, to injuries to best player Kevin Martin and Francisco Garcia, but also to the solid play Sacramento’s gotten from second-year center Spencer Hawes and rookie Jason Thompson, whom I spoke to in the previous blog entry. Alas, Thompson (a power forward) is starting at the three, while Hawes joins Brad Miller (the usual starting center) in the front court. We’ll see how these matchups workout shortly…

Your inactives:

Lakers: D.J. Mbenga and Sun Yue
Kings: Francisco Garcia and Kevin Martin

Your starters:

Lakers: Same as always … Fish, Kobe, Vladi, Pau and Bynum
Kings: Beno Udrih, John Salmons, Jason Thompson, Brad Miller and Spencer Hawes

First Quarter
Pau Gasol scores the first basket of every game at STAPLES (or so it would seem) and tonight was no different for a Lakers’ team wearing white jerseys and shorts as has become Sunday tradition at home. The Kings, sporting a new-look lineup if not jerseys, had trouble matching up with L.A. early, and watched as Bryant opened 4-for-4 from the field and Radmanovic – taking advantage of Thompson – collected two boards, two assists and a rainbow three to push the Lakers to a 17-10 lead. Note that Lamar Odom checked in pretty early, at the 8:10 mark for Bynum* (three rebounds, one assist, one foul) More importantly, Jack’s back in his usual seat, and the pregame brisket was succulent.
*I learned later that Bynum checked out because he was bleeding.

Bynum checked quickly back in (6:00 mark) and immediately put back a missed Bryant layup to make it 19-12 good guys. Now, obviously, this is a game the Lakers should win on paper. As in, it shouldn’t even be close based on the talent on the floor … If you disagree, you’d put money on McLovin landing a real-life date with Kate Bosworth (for no money … like she couldn’t receive money). But it’s never a guarantee in the league, as witnessed by Minnesota’s 106-80 beat down AT Detroit today. I’m trying to convince myself of that, anyway, because the longer I stare at the statistics and game notes for tonight, the harder it is to picture anything but a blowout.

Your first major highlight play came courtesy of a Chris Mihm alley-oop to Brian Shaw, which was pretty surprising to see considering Shaw’s an assistant coach. That made it 28-23 with 1:30 or so remaining. Or, it could have been a pretty Kobe pass to Odom for a jam after Bryant drew Lamar’s man away from him.

Obvious favorite play of the quarter: Sasha Vujacic stole the ball with 2.9 seconds to go, streaked up the floor, pulled up from 25 feet and nailed a triple to send L.A. into the second up 32-27, taking any wind that may have existed in the the sails of an 8-3 Kings run.

Both teams shot well in the period, with L.A. making 12-of-22 (54.5 percent) and Sac making 12-of-23 (52.2 percent). The scoring discrepancy came from the Lakers getting to the line seven times and hitting three threes to two foul attempts and one made three from the Kings. J-Thompson was solid, we should note: six points, three boards, three steals, an assist and a block. By the way, whom do you think would make more free throws: George Lopez (sitting courtside) or Thompson (64 percent on the season)?

Continue reading ‘Lakers – Kings Running Diary’

Stay in School? Go Pro? What’s Better?

Kings rookie Jason Thompson got me thinking before Sunday’s game, enough so that I spent about five minutes talking to him during pregame shootaround (you can listen at the bottom of this post).

Would he have been this effective (11.9 points, 7.1 boards a game as a rookie out of Rider) had he not played four years in school? Did dominating inferior foes his senior year in particular really benefit him more than practicing for hours every day against the world’s best players? What about Spencer Hawes (12.1 points, 7.1 boards)? Would he be even better had he not gone to Washington at all? Would his numbers be up this year with a year’s worth of practicing against Brad Miller every day, or did dominating smaller PAC-10 players do him justice?

These types of conversations never die in a league that deals in a plethora of speculation about when youngsters should come out of college (since the minimum age requirement forced players not to come to the NBA straight out of high school). The thing that irks me a bit is when we automatically assume a guy would have been better off had he stayed in college. I’m not trying to make the case that a guy is guaranteed to get better quicker by coming into the league and playing against men instead of boys, but I’ll make the case that it’s definitely not automatically the other way around.

For example: a paragraph ago I questioned whether Thompson would be this good this season had he come out early from school. Some would say no, that he needed his senior year to fully develop his skills and confidence. Others would say sure, playing spot duty in games (or, who knows, playing a lot) and practicing daily against the world’s best players while receiving high level coaching and a 24-7 basketball program would have made him better for the 2008-09 season. If I had to choose, I’d probably go with the latter, but my whole point is that since we don’t actually know, let’s not do the “he should have stayed in school” or “good thing he came out.” Who knows? Jason certainly doesn’t, which is part of what he told me when I interviewed him before the game at courtside.

Take a listen:

Lakers – Kings Pregame Fun

Let’s do some math. Not the boring textbook stuff, mind you, but some basketball stat based stuff. That’s fun, right?

I mean, no one’s saying this is as much fun as Chucky Cheese for your 10th birthday or watching people fall down randomly, but it’s all right.

We’ll focus on the Lakers and Kings here as a lil’ preview for Sunday evening’s contest, from lil’ numbers to big numbers.

Kobe Bryant’s league-wide rank in scoring with his 24.7 per game average, which is more impressive because he’s playing significantly fewer minutes (33.8) than the three guys ahead of him: LeBron James (29.1 points in 37.5 minutes); Dwyane Wade (28.9 points in 36.8 minutes); and Chris Bosh (26.9 points in 41.9 minutes, No. 2 in NBA).

Players in Lakers franchise history to make at least five three-pointers without a miss in a game, a list now including Vladimir Radmanovic after his 5-for-5 performance in Phoenix (11/20).

Rebounds averaged by both rookie Jason Thompson and last year’s first-round pick Spencer Hawes. Both were low-profile players coming into the NBA, but both have been quite good for the Kings. In essence, Sacramento fans can feel good about their four and five players heading into the future during a season that might look otherwise bleak.

Scoring average of John Salmons, Sacramento’s leading scorer with Kevin Martin out. The Kings don’t boast a lot of scorers in their starting lineup, which will be a problem against the Lakers. Right, Captain Obvious? Yet and still, Sacramento Bee reporter Sam Amick told me that the team’s biggest problem is very obviously defense, not its inability to find good scorers. I’ll dig deeper into that in the running diary.

Combined rebounds by Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, a rebounding duo that is outranked only by the Chris Bosh – Jermaine O’Neal combo in Toronto.

Points missing from Sacramento’s lineup due to the continued absence of leading scorer Kevin Martin, who’s missed seven games due to a sprained left ankle. Martin would be tied with Tim Duncan for 13th on the league scoring charts.

L.A.’s winning percentage.

Lakers 104, Nuggets 90: Postgame

Friday night’s contest at STAPLES wasn’t – to be honest – much of a contest. Kobe Bryant saw to that.

His quick six-point barrage turned into 11 personal points by first quarter’s end, a total supplemented by four early Andrew Bynum assists and three off-the-bench layups from Lamar Odom. Translation: The Lakers were off and running. In fact, after L.A. opened a 10-point lead on two Kobe free throws at the 2:18 mark, Denver wouldn’t get within double-digits for the whole rest of the game. So much for a team that had been 7-1 since acquiring Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson, huh?

As such, the final box score doesn’t matter too much in this case, even as 11 Lakers scored and only Trevor Ariza hit the 30-minute mark for the evening. What happened was something we’ve seen several times already in L.A.’s largely dominant 10-1 start: the starters cracked the lid on an opponent, and the bench came in and ripped that lid off entirely. After it was off, various Lakers dipped their seemingly constantly hungry mouths in for a bite. It was sort of like a group of fraternity boys at an In-N-Out Burger sponsored after party … How about three swats in nine minutes for Josh Powell; 11 points, seven boards, four dimes and three steals for Ariza; 13 points, 13 boards and five assists from Bynum; 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting for Odom; and most impressively, 29 points in 29 minutes for Kobe, who nailed 12-of-18 shots and could barely miss a perimeter jumper, defense contesting or not.

To that end, Phil Jackson admitted that he was worried about the team’s focus heading into the game after Thursday’s stomping of the Suns, but credited Bryant with eliminating any chance of that perceived notion leaking onto the court.

All right, here are a few more numbers:

80 – Percentage of free throws made by the Lakers (16-of-20), including 4-of-4 from Trevor Ariza, even though 20 free throws isn’t many for a team scoring 104 points. The reason? Highly successful jump shooting, particularly from Kobe Bryant.

67 – Season-high points scored by the Lakers in a half, thanks to 35 first quarter and 32 second quarter points.

62.2 – Lakers shooting percentage in the first half on 28-of-45, including 4-of-7 threes.

26.3 – Carmelo Anthony’s shooting percentage on 5-of-19. More negatively, Anthony didn’t get to the free throw line once. Ouch. A terrible game for Anthony.

4 – First half turnovers for L.A., with three in the second after just one in the first. The second half was much more sloppy, as the Lakers amassed 11 turnovers, but the game was never close at that point.

0 – A speculative number here, but my guess as to how many extra minutes L.A.’s stars have had to play due to tight games this year. When Bryant plays 29, Gasol 27, Bynum 28, Odom 18 and Fisher 22 in a 14-point win, things are looking good not just for that game, but for the next.

Lakers-Nuggets Running Diary

We’ll be logging each minute on the court right here on the BasketBlog … Remember that you can hit your browsers’ refresh (or reload) button to get the latest entry. Check back after tip to follow along…

Inactives for tonight:
Lakers – DJ Mbenga, Sun Yue
Nuggets – Chris Andersen, Steven Hunter

So, after playing another round of “Would You Rather” earlier this week, it got me thinking: If you were an athletic basketball team with wing talent galore, would you rather have Allen Iverson or Chauncey Billups as your primary ball handler?

That’s a no brainer, right? AI, no question. On opposite day. That’s like asking if you’d rather chill on Venice Beach tomorrow or go to the dentist.

Obviously you’re taking Billups, as witnessed by Denver’s 7-1 record since making the trade two weeks ago. The better question is this: How far can Billups take the Nuggets? Can they finally get out of the first round? Can they beat the Lakers in STAPLES on an early-season Friday night after the AI version fell to L.A. in their season opener?

We’ll see. Your starters:

Lakers: Fish, Kobe, Vladi, Pau and Bynum
Nuggets: Billups, Dahntay Jones (how about that spelling, what the h…), Carmelo Anthony, Kenyon Martin and Nene

Last night on TNT, Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley both seemed comfortable with Vladi as the starter, suggesting that the court would be too congested with Odom in the lineup, and that Trevor Ariza’s shooting doesn’t spread the defense like the threat of Vladi’s bomb. Pretty much what we’ve heard around these parts…

First Quarter
The first bit of good news for Lakers fans in the building came as Radmanovic’s first stroke from distance resembled the five that swished through Phoenix’s nets last night. That, and Bryant apparently was insulted that Denver started Dahntay (again, gotta love the unique spelling) on him, opting to score seven points on the former Duke player in about a minute that put L.A. up 15-8 in the early goings. In other news, this is the first home game for which Jack’s been absent, but he gave his seat to Dick Tracy (Warren Beatty), which is nice. He’s pretty cool too.

Generally speaking, the Nuggets are to Kobe Bryant what I would be to Brock Lesnar* in the Octagon – meat. I remember watching last year’s first-round playoffs actually feeling badly for Denver, and a 4-for-6 variation of Js was fun to watch as Bryant opened with nine points in the first seven minutes of this game. Dahntay was relieved by Anthony Carter in trying to slow the Mamba, and though Kobe’s next play didn’t result in points, it may have been the most explosive of the season. Remember when Kobe had that monster dunk against Detroit the other night? He jumped even higher (I think I said 56 feet last time), hung even longer, and just missed a pass that was way too high. I can’t stress enough how high Bryant was in the air, but I can explain what I did during the period from which he left the floor until the ball bounced off the rim:
*If you’re like my dad, you have no idea who Lesnar is … So I’ll tell you: A former NCAA heavyweight wrestling champ turned WWE champ turned UFC (Ultimate Fighting) terror that pounded a former champ last week.

A) Read Bill Simmons’ football column on ESPN (like eight pages)
B) Received a phone call from my buddy Robby, who was in tears after Minnesota got demolished by the Celtics, spoiling his “guaranteed” victory. Why would he have guaranteed that game in the first place? I digress
C) Set my starting lineups for my three fantasy football and three fantasy hoops squads for the rest of the week
D) Balanced my check book

OK I lied on the last one … I don’t have to do that, because everything shows up online anyway. You get the point.

Continue reading ‘Lakers-Nuggets Running Diary’

Lakers – Nuggets Pregame

Click below to listen to Lakers Head Coach Phil Jackson talk about Chauncey Billups’ addition to the Nuggets, the Lakers’ clean bill of health, his team’s success with back-to-back games and more:

Daily Trivia: Road Record

Play the Trivia Contest on Lakers Courtside Connection every day (Monday-Friday) for your chance to win great Lakers prizes.

Today’s question is:
The ’71-’72 Lakers hold the record for the best road winning percentage in NBA history. What was their record?
(Answer Here)

If you think you know the answer, login to Lakers Courtside Connection and see if right. Then come back tomorrow to test your knowledge on Lakers history again, while making a run towards really cool prizes.