April 2004 - Posts
In my last post I mentioned the struggles and challenges the Lakers will face in Round 2 of the playoffs. Ric Bucher has written an entire article on ESPN.com that discusses in much more detail why the Lakers will be in for a rude awakening. Two choice quotes:
L.A.'s defense on game-deciding plays was thoroughly unimpressive. In both Games 1 and 4, the Rockets got wide-open looks for game-winning shots -- with an offense that was as dysfunctional and easily disrupted as any in the playoffs.
So true. And this one rings true as well:
The Lakers couldn't have found a worse warm-up partner for the Spurs than the Rockets. San Antonio is as consistent and emotionally steady as the Rockets are a roulette wheel. The Spurs can be beaten, but they don't beat themselves, which the Lakers knew the Rockets would if given the chance.
I'm hoping that this series will be competitive. I honestly don't expect the Lakers to take the series, but I am keeping my fingers crossed for six or seven games in total, all of them nail-biters.
Well, the Lakers whooped up on the Rockets on Wednesday, winning by 19. It was the best game the Lakers played in the series, and a good note to move onto the second round with. The Lakers will face the rested Spurs on Sunday, in San Antonio.
The Lakers have beaten the Spurs 3 out of 4 games during the regular season, but those three W's were very early in the season, when the Duncan and Parker were out, and when the Spurs weren't yet clicking. (They were, at one point, below 0.500.) In any event, the Spurs have been playing lights out lately, while the Lakers had to struggle to win two of their four games against Houston. Point in case: the Spurs have won 15 straight, not having lost a basketball game in over a month's time; the Lakers barely won Game 1 against the Rockets (thanks to a Jimmy Jackson miss), and barely won Game 4, requiring an OT victory. The point is, the Lakers, I fear, are going to be in for a long, tough series, and, to be honest, I think the Spurs will prevail.
Why? The Spurs are playing well together, and boast the league's best D. They have an offense that clicks, fast guards in Parker and Manu, a high screen and roll, and a cohesive group whose won an NBA Championship together. The Lakers, while boasting some great talent, have still not gelled. Malone, while able to show flashes of brilliance even this late in his career, will have a tough time against Duncan, a perennial MVP candidate. Shaq's play has been ho-hum at best, although he should have an easier time with Nasterovic than with Yao. The real problem comes with the Lakers inability to handle cutting and slicing point guards. The world saw this weakness in Payton's (lack of) defense against Francis, and even Mobley was scoring way more points than he should have. It's bad enough to have your guards get blown by, but it's inexscusable to not have any weak side D step over.
Remember when the Lakers were dominant two years ago? Shaq would hound the lane. If someone got by one of the guards, he'd be right there to impede their progress, alter the shot, or force them to pass it back up top. Shaq is too slow now. When he does step over, he has a tendency to reach, geting slapped with pointless fouls. He does what I do on the basketball court way too often - he doesn't move his feet. He reaches. The result? Those little guys get by you, and the bigger guys call fouls.
Can the Lakers beat the Spurs in a 7 game series? Sure, anything is possible, but in order to do so, the Lakers will need to play tight defense every night, and Kobe will have to play in the system, and not get lured into a one-on-one show trying to prove to the world that he can take Bruce Bowen. Malone needs to keep hitting those open outside shots to draw Duncan out, Payton needs to keep up with his man, and Shaq needs to dominate inside on both ends of the floor. Dr. Jack gives a look at what he thinks it would take for the Lakers to win the series.
The Lakers are going to have their hands full in this series. In his latest article, Bill Simmons sums it up best: “San Antonio's "best" is still better than anyone else's "best." They have an extra gear. They just do. As the Lakers are about to find out.”
The Lakers hope to win tonight's home game against the Rockets, thereby closing out the series. A loss would send the series back to Houston for Game 6 on Saturday, May 1st. Kobe has court hearings in Eagle, CO all day today, so he might be late to the game's 7:00 pm tipoff.
To win tonight, the Lakers will need:
- Shaq to stay out of foul trouble
- Malone to keep hitting those open shots
- Kobe on the floor, as he commands a double-team and opens up spot-up shooters
- A good shooting night for Fisher and Rush
The Lakers have an opportunity tonight to show that they have the mettle of a championship team. Winners win games. Let's hope for a decisive victory from the Lakers tonight, which would give them a morale boost going into the second round. Let's go Lakers!
Random statistic: Phil Jackson has coached 13 first round playoff series, and has never lost. A win tonight will give Phil a career 14-0 first-round playoff record. Interestingly, though, the throughout the L.A. Lakers history, their only two first-round playoff loses came from Houston (1981 and 1996).
The Lakers 92-88 OT win against the Rockets was probably the most exciting Laker game I've seen all season (note: I missed the last game of the regular season). What's most important was that the Lakers were able to scrap out a W, extending their series lead to 3 games to 1. The Rockets must win the next three straight in order to win the series, which is very unlikely, naturally. The downside to this win was that it came with so much effort and was barely won. The Lakers had a 14 point lead very late in the 3rd quarter, and let the Rockets battle back to a point where the Rockets could have won it (had Francis not air-balled his team's last shot attempt).
The (Really) Good
Karl Malone played lights out through the vast majority of the game. He shot nearly 65% from the field, hitting 11 of 17 shots. That, along with 8 of 11 free throws gave him 30 points for the game. He also snagged down 13 boards, leading his team in points, rebounds, and steals. He also had a key three point play in overtime that fouled out Yao.
The Lakers bench players weren't up to snuff this game, as they were in Games 1 and 2. Today, Rush, Medvedenko, Fisher, and Walton tallied for a total of 6 points. The vast majority of the game's points were from Bryant, O'Neal, and Malone, with Payton contributing 13. Devon George had a good game offensively (finally), going 3-4 from the floor (2 of those being threes), for 8 points. Kobe didn't have a particularly hot offensive game either, hitting on 33% of his shots. To be fair, he was routinely double-teamed, but he did take some very questionable shots. One of the most questionable, in my opinion, was when he got a steal in OT. With the Lakers down by one, he drove it downcourt. There were three Rockets players, but just Kobe. Instead of holding up, he took it into the lane and, fortunately, made it. Although when I saw him heading through the paint, I cringed, seeing as his shooting when double-teamed earlier in the game had been so poor and all...
Shaq's free throw woes continued into Game 4, with Shaq hitting only 3 of 11 shots from the charity stripe. I wonder if Van Gundy will succomb to the Hack-A-Shaq defense in Game 5.
Game 5 on Monday is on Wednesday back in LA. Hopefully the Lakers will be able to get this much needed win and get some rest before Round 2, where they'll face a more formidable foe, the San Antonio Spurs.
I don't follow the Knicks, nor the Nets, but after reading Tim Thomas's comments on K-Mart's hard foul, I'm hoping Tim gets back out on the court before this series is over to see if he walks the walk, or just talks the talk. Thomas took a hard foul from K-Mart in Game 1 of the series, hitting the floor and sustaining back, hip, and ankle. To quote Thomas:
My goal is just to get back out there on the court before this series is over so I can go hit somebody. That's it. That's all I'm looking forward to. What's been done to me is going to be done to them. It's very simple.
Them's some fightin' words.
Most likely, Tim's just frustrated that he's not out there, and, assuming he does come back, he likely won't do anything short of a cheap shot on some unimportant play.
Speaking of the Eastern Conference, how about the Miami Heat? How about the Hornets? These were two teams that started off the season going in opposite directions. The Hornets were one of the best teams in the entire league the first few months of the season; the Heat were still reeling from Pat Riley's sudden resignation and, therefore, a new coach. The latter half of the season, though, was much kinder to the Heat than the Hornets, as the Heat battled up to get solid footing in the playoff bracket, while the Hornets stock kept dropping. The nail in the coffin for the Hornets might have come tonight, with a 30 point drubbing by the Heat, 93-63. The Heat lead the series 2 games to none.
The Bucks made their series against Detroit more interesting tonight as well, winning 92-88. The series there is tied 1-1. I still expect Detroit to win this series rather convincingly, but this loss takes away home court advantage for the series... This loss marks the first home-team loss in the playoffs this year.
The T-Wolves are beating up on the poor Nuggets 88-71, with under three minutes to go. Tonight's win will give them a 2-0 lead in the series.
Looking at the future playoff picture in the West, the Lakers are really going to have their hands full with the Spurs in the second round. The Spurs have been playing lights-out since early March, and I don't see that abating anytime soon. Hopefully the Lakers can put away the Rockets sooner than later, and get some much needed rest. With their rash of injuries they don't stand a chance against San Antonio unless they get a chance to heal.
The Lakers went up 2-0 in their series against the Rockets last night with a 14 point victory, 98-84. Monday's victory was much more convincing than there 1 point escape against the Rockets on Saturday, although the Lakers didn't take control until midway through the third quarter. (In fact, the Rockets outplayed the Lakers in the first half, taking a two point lead into halftime.) Some notes from the game:
- In Game 1 Malone had an off game, going 3-14 from the floor and playing weak D. In Game 2, he bounced back, shooting 7-12 and hitting 3-4 free throws for a 17 point effort (along with 8 boards, 4 assists, and a steal).
- Kobe played a much more offensively-minded game, driving to the basket repeatedly, shooting a total of 17 free throws throughout the game (making 16 of them). Overall, Kobe had 36 points.
- While Kobe and the Mailman were hot, Shaq was not. He was plagued with foul trouble, sitting out long stretches of time during the course of the first half. Shaq had only 7 points - a playoff low for him - going 3-9 from the field and 1-3 from the charity stripe. He did manage 4 blocks, though.
- One player who has quietly hit his shots in both Games 1 and 2 is Kareem Rush. Last night Kareem had 10 points, shooting 75% from the floor with two three pointers.
The next game is not until Friday, and will be played in Houston. Game 4 (hopefully the last game of the series) will then be on Sunday. The Lakers need to put their heads down, concentrate, and dispose of this team. While I don't doubt the Lakers will win this first round, they'll be facing San Antonio in the next round, a much more dangerous foe that has been playing lights out since early March.
The Lakers barely beat the Rockets - 72-71 - in a game mired with terrible shooting. The Rockets had a chance to win, down by 1 with 16 seconds left. Francis dribbled a bit, and drove into the lane, kicking it out to a wide open Jim Jackson who chucked up a three as time expired. The shot, fortunately, was a bit short, and hit the front of the rim.
Why did the Lakers score only 72, and win solely on a missed jumper? There were, in my estimation, two motivating factors:
- Malone had a rather terrible game, going 3-14; each time he squared up for a jump shot I cringed. His defense was weak, Maurice Taylor several steps into the lane before getting up in his face.
- The only thing worse than Malone's all-around play was Shaq's performance at the free throw line, where he was a horrendous 4-14. Had Shaq just shot 50%, the game wouldn't have come down to a last second shot.
Shaq and Kobe were the only offensive options tonight, and the Rockets adjusted their defense accordingly. Starting in the second half, neither Shaq nor Kobe could touch the ball without drawing a double or tripple team. Sadly, Malone was often the left man, and he missed too many open shots when receiving the ball from a double-teamed Kobe. On two occassions he got the ball and drove into the lane, only to get hit with a charge. (Both calls, though, were suspect, in my opinion, as the player shifting over was late and, in one case, had one foot still squarely under the rim.) The Rocket's defense worked wonders in the third quarter, with the Lakers scoring only 9 the entire twelve minutes. In the fourth quarter, thankfully, Fisher and Rush stepped up and hit open threes. Rush was 2-3 behind the arc, and Fisher 1-1.
Shaq had a good game, save his free throw shooting. He had 20 points on 8-17 shooting, 17 board, 3 assists, and 2 blocks. Kobe had 16 points, although his shooting was a bit off - 4-19 - mainly because he took some tough shots, a couple while being double-teamed. Kobe had 6 assists, but should have had a few more, as he had some nice drives to the hoop, dishing off to Shaq, only to have Shaq get blocked by Yao (which, on reply, was clearly a goaltend, as the ball was on the rim), and another time getting stripped from behind.
The Lakers game today was the only Round 1 playoff game that was not a rout. I hope this narrow victory is not an omen of things to come...
1 down, 3 to go...
This year's NBA Playoffs officially begins today, with four game. The Pacers-Celtics game is nearly half-way through, with the Pacers having a 20 point lead. The Lakers play their first game against the Rockets tonight, should be a good one, as most of the games between these two teams have been fun to watch this season.
Two articles worth reading:
I really think this year's playoffs will be the best since 1998. Hoping to see some tight series, with exciting game 7s and loads of drama/great plays.
Let's go Lakers!
Holy crap, the Lakers won! An exciting double overtime game, beating the Blazers 105-104. A last second 3 pointer by Kobe put the game into the first overtime, and a last second three pointer by Kobe won the game! With the Kings loss to the Warriors, the Lakers win the Pacific Division, giving them second seeding in the Western conference playoff bracket! Woo! The Lakers will kick off the 2004 Playoffs against the Houston Rockets.
The Lakers play their final game of the 2003-2004 season tonight against the Blazers. The top 4 spots in the West are still up for grabs. Each team has one game left! The current standings are as follows:
- Minnesota, 57-24, playing the Griz in Memphis tonight
- San Antonio, 56-25, playing the Nuggets in San Antonio tonight
- Sacramento, 55-26, playing Golden State tonight
- Lakers, 55-26, playing the Blazers in Portland tonight
While neither the Lakers nor Kings can capture the #1 spot, there will by some vying for the second, third, and fourth spots between the Lakers, Kings, and Spurs. What we need is for the Lakers to win and the Kings lose - this will catipult the Lakers to the second seed in the West, having them face off against the Rockets in the first round of the playoffs. If the Lakers lose tonight they will face the Mavs in the first round, regardless of how the Spurs, Kings, or Wolves fare tonight. If the Lakers win, the Kings win, and the Spurs lose, the Lakers will be ranked third, pitting them against the Grizzlies in the first round.
In closing, this should be one hell of a playoffs this year. Hopefully we'll see Indiana and Detroit facing off in the Eastern Conference Finals. All of the games between the Lakers/Spurs/Kings/Wolves ought to be interesting, assuming the Lakers and Wolves get past the first round.
At the courts I play ball, there's a large number of people who think that if a player shoots, but draws air, and grabs his own rebound, it's not a travel because he “attempted a shot.” They seem to think that it's a travel only if it was an attempted pass, not a shot. They say this is an NBA rule. I wish there was a computer with Internet connection at the courts, because I'd direct them to Rule #10, Section XIV, Statement (i):
A player who attempts a field goal may not be the first to touch the ball if it fails to touch the backboard, basket ring or another player.
Another common rule mistake a number of folks down at the courts make is that it is a kick ball if it hits your shin/foot no matter what, even if it was unintentional. Why they think this, I don't know, as it makes absolutely no sense. “So,” I ask, “you can just throw the ball at someone's foot and you get the ball up top?” And they say, Yes, and explain that's NBA rules. Clearly they are not familiar with Rule #10, Section V, Satement (b):
Kicking the ball or striking it with any part of the leg is a violation when it is an intentional act. The ball accidentally striking the foot, the leg or fist is not a violation.
These two rules seem to be abused about once a week, which is really annoying. Are these rules different in college ball? Perhaps this is where the misconceptions are coming from...
What an exciting season this is turning out to be! The Lakers won their tenth straight tonight, besting the Rockets 93-85, while the Kings lost to the Mavs by 10. The Kings loss - and Lakers win - puts these two teams atop the Western Conference, both tied with a 52-23 record! The Kings have been losing the majority of their games as of late, on a bit of a downturn. This is, naturally, the worst time to suffer this kind of setback. And the Lakers, thankfully, are starting to put together a good run at the right time. Let's hope they don't peak too soon.
The Lakers face the Sonics tomorrow night and the Spurs on Sunday. The Lakers also play the Kings in their last game of the regular season - that game may very well decide who wins the Conference. In the other game tonight, Porland beat the Sixers, putting the Blazers in a tie with the Jazz for the eighth playoff spot. Denver trails in the 9th spot, a half game behind the Blazers and Jazz.