Los Angeles Lakers: Pregame analysis
In other words, the preseason hasn't really taught us much about the Lakers.
Today's game against the Clippers may not buck that trend. Kobe Bryant is likely to sit out the action with a foot injury, and Dwight Howard will be a game-time decision due to lingering soreness after his debut Sunday. Yet another game without the starting five intact, and the same may hold true for the Clips' first five as well. Whatever comes from this contest, it's unlikely to reveal much about the championship prospects for the new-look Lakers. That said, a handful of specifics could be revealed, even with incomplete rosters on both sides. Here are five things we might learn about the Lakers tonight.
1) Who's got the edge at backup shooting guard?
For those seeking silver-ish linings to Kobe being sidelined, at least Mike Brown will get the rare opportunity to see Devin Ebanks and Jodie Meeks in extended minutes at shooting guard, where he's earmarked both to play with a full roster. As the coach explained during Monday's practice, in a perfect world, he'll employ a big man rotation of Howard, Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill, with Antawn Jamison the primary backup at small forward behind Metta World Peace. This leaves Ebanks and Meeks penciled in for Kobe's leftovers. Unfortunately, Hill's absence has forced Brown to slide Jamison to the 4, Ebanks to the 3 and clarity to the side.
With Hill potentially on hand for a big man rotation with Gasol and Robert Sacre tonight, Brown can perhaps watch Ebanks and Meeks in his preferred spot. Brown has been complimentary of both, but their skill sets are fairly different and equally useful. Ebanks is more of a slasher, with a higher upside as a rebounder, defender and general athlete. Meeks is the more proven shooter, and this team desperately needs floor spreaders. Talking with the coach Monday, he didn't tip his hand much about the direction he's headed, but acknowledged the small sample size for making a decision. Perhaps this game can narrow down his decision.
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
High on the list of intriguing storylines in this series will be the battle between the NBA's two leading scorers.
The prospect of facing the Oklahoma City Thunder in the postseason has for most of the season conjured incredibly pessimistic images for Lakers fans. As the regular season wound down you could practically hear Adrian's pre-Drago speech to Rocky ringing throughout the city as most prayed the Lakers would leap through whatever logistical hoops required to avoid the Thunder until the Western Conference finals. But steadily the Lakers built momentum, solving some of their road woes and finding some actual support in the supporting cast.
Two games into their first-round matchup against Denver, things looked even better. Four games after that, they seemed much, much worse. Saturday, a strong performance pushed the Lakers through Game 7, finally earning a date with those very Thunder, starting Monday night in Oklahoma City. Nobody, save those viewing the world entirely through purple-and-gold-colored glasses, will make them a favorite -- nor should they. But despite the inconsistent effort vs. Denver, it's not out of the question the Lakers, through strong post play, attention to detail defensively, the intensity shown eliminating the Nuggets, and perhaps a healthy dose of ultra-rustic Siberian training can give OKC a genuine test.
Maybe even pull the upset?
The series features serious star power, with each team trotting out a high-end big three. Oklahoma City's combo of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden brings, among other things, scoring punch and athleticism, while the Lakers counter with the length, experience and skill of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. Lovers of subplots and intrigue will have a field day, too, starting with the NBA's two leading scorers facing off in a battle of old vs. new guard. Metta World Peace and Harden will share the floor for the first time since this happened. Bynum and Gasol each have narratives to repair.
And, of course, the Lakers face a motivated Derek Fisher in a playoff series. The citizenry fears getting .4'd.
With all that in mind, here's a first look at the matchup ...
SEASON SERIES -- Oklahoma City 2-1
1. Thunder 100, Lakers 85 (Feb. 23, Chesapeake Energy Arena): The Lakers finished the first quarter up 23-19, but were outscored by 19 the rest of the way. Bryant finished 7-of-24 from the field, while Durant popped for 33.
2. Thunder 102, Lakers 93 (March 29, Staples Center): Again, L.A. got up early but was thoroughly outclassed after the first quarter. Durant and Harden were relatively quiet, but Westbrook went off for 36. Again, Kobe struggled (7-of-25).
3. Lakers 114, Thunder 106, 2 OT (April 22, Staples Center): The Lakers limited OKC to 14 fourth-quarter points, erasing an 18-point deficit and pushing the game to OT. Kobe again struggled overall (9-of-26), but hit huge shots late and ate up Westbrook (3-of-22) defensively. Big games for Gasol and the Lakers' bench.
Nor is a lot of analysis from Thursday's 113-96 loss required. With Bryant, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Metta World Peace, and Matt Barnes in street clothes, the Lakers aren't very good. Not exactly a shock.
Arron Afflalo's ability to contain Kobe Bryant will be a major factor in the first round.
George Karl's crew comes into Sunday's Game 1 (12:30 pm PT, ABC) as one of the West's hottest teams, going 11-4 over their last 15, including four straight victories to end the season. At 18-15, they sport the NBA's fifth best road record, and at +2.9 have a better average point differential than the Lakers. In short, they're a sturdy first round matchup for a shorthanded Lakers squad, one with no stars but scads of B-level talent.
Denver started 14-5 before injuries took them off the rails, and while not completely healthy -- forward Wilson Chandler is done for the year, as is guard Rudy Fernandez -- they should not be taken lightly.
Here's a primer on the Lakers' opening round matchup ...
SEASON SERIES - Lakers 3-1.
1. Lakers 92, Denver 89 (Dec. 31, Staples Center): In Bynum's first game of the season, the Lakers squeak out a win. Drew pops off for 30, while Bryant and Gasol each score 17.
2. Denver 99, Lakers 90 (Jan. 1, Pepsi Center): Kobe goes 6-of-28 from the floor, while six Nuggets score in double figures as Denver takes their half of the home-and-home.
3. Lakers 93, Denver 89 (Feb. 3, Pepsi Center): Bryant was only 7-for-23, but spread around nine assists. Bynum hit 10 of his 13 FGA's, as the Lakers held on to the ball (11 turnovers) and won the glass battle, 47-40.
4. Lakers 103, Denver 97 (April 13, Staples Center): Bynum went for 30/8 with three blocks as the Lakers raced to an early 11-point lead, beating Denver without Bryant in the lineup.
SEASON STATS (through Wednesday's games)-
Offensive Efficiency - Lakers 103.4 (10th), Nuggets 106.1 (3rd)
Defensive Efficiency- Lakers 101.4 (12th), Nuggets 103.4 (20th)
Pace (possessions per game) - Lakers 92.9 (20th), Nuggets 96.6 (2nd)
Rebound Rate (percentage of shots a team rebounds) - Lakers 53.1 (2nd), Nuggets 51.5 (4th)
Turnover Percentage (turnovers per 100 plays) - Lakers 14.2 (19th), Nuggets 14.1 (18th)
5 REASONS THE NUGGETS POSE A PROBLEM FOR THE LAKERS
1. Transition offense. Via Synergy, in transition possessions Denver is the NBA's third best team measured by points per play, at 1.205. Moreover, they push relentlessly. No team in the league has had more transition opportunities than the Nuggets, by a healthy margin of over 100 possessions. While Denver isn't a strong defensive squad, they do force turnovers (7th in defensive TOV%) and are solid on their own glass (9th in DRB%, only .08 percent behind L.A.), two keys in fueling an effective running game. The Lakers, meanwhile, grade out as the 25th ranked team defensively in transition, at 1.171 points per play.
You can see where this could be problematic.
After sprinting through 62 games, including Tuesday's disappointing loss to San Antonio at Staples, in what feels like 32 days, the Lakers are in Oakland tonight for a date with a bad Golden State squad. It's the sort of game that, even in this crazy year, should be a cakewalk. Particularly given the question of whether Golden State, having traded or shut down almost all of its high-end talent, is doing whatever it can to lose down the stretch, preserving a first-round pick ticketed for Utah should it fall outside the top seven.
Still, the Lakers would be wise not to take any chances. With guys like Dorell Wright, Nate Robinson and Klay Thompson, at the very least the Warriors will want to get up and down, drawing the Lakers out of their Happy Tempo Zone into something a little too fast. Kobe Bryant will likely miss the game, the last trip to Oracle wasn't exactly satisfying and the Pacific Division is still up for grabs.
More than incentive to stay focused and bury the Dubs, which, given a season-long tendency to play down to the competition, would actually constitute a genuinely positive evening's work. To help gain a little more insight into the team upon which the Lakers should toss an abundance of dirt, we hit up J.M. Poulard of the always entertaining Warriorsworld.net.
1. So word is the Warriors are tanking. True? If so, how's it going?
The Golden State Warriors have lost 17 of their past 22 games, which coincides with the Monta Ellis trade to Milwaukee (for Andrew Bogut). Mind you, it’s one thing to tank and not give the fans anything to cheer about -- yes, Charlotte, I’m looking at you -- but it’s something completely different when the team is able to get the young guys a look, get them to play hard and remain competitive for most of the game and then finally fall to a more talented team late.
The Warriors have been tanking since early March but the fans have had the chance to cheer for their team given their effort. So in short, it’s been a resounding success!
There's a lot on the line Wednesday when the Lakers "visit" the Clippers (7:30, ESPN), starting with positioning in the Pacific Division. The Lakers will wake up Thursday in first place no matter the result-- they're 1.5 games up heading in -- but a victory for the LAC would pull them even with the Lakers in the loss column, and more importantly the winner takes the season series 2-1, earning what could be a very useful tiebreaker.
Griffin vs. Gasol is a big matchup to watch, particularly if Andrew Bynum plays.
Unburdened from responsibility on his side of the floor, Griffin is far freer to load up on highlight dunks and soaring rebounds.
The Lakers are riding what might be the most unsatisfying three game win streak in sports history. With only 12 games left before the playoffs, they don't have a lot of time to coalesce, and their apparent allergy to comfortable leads obviously won't play well in the postseason. The LAC, meanwhile, have quietly posted a six game win streak, their longest as a franchise since March of '92 (an NBA record for largest gap between five win streaks), including a thumping of Dallas Monday night. Before, though, they'd lost 12 of 19, and still have some work to do convincing observers they're truly on track.
Add in a quickly developing, very chippy rivalry and, to paraphrase Rasheed Wallace, both teams have good reason to play hard.
To get a better feel for Wednesday's battle royale, we sat down with Kevin Arnovitz and Jordan Heimer, hosts of ESPNLA's The Clipper Podcast (among other things) for an audio preview. Click here to listen. To serve the more literary crowd, Arnovitz was nice enough to answer a few questions...
1. Maybe 10 days ago, we were all speculating about Vinny Del Negro's job security. Now the Clips have won six straight. What has changed?
"The Clippers had a relatively easy homestand against of slew of really, really bad road teams. But in the process, they've started to figure out some stuff defensively. On top of that, they've gotten some otherworldly shooting performances from all over the roster. The average NBA team puts up an effective field goal percentage of 48.6 percent. The Clippers over their six-game winning streak? 54, 55, 54, 57, 61, 54."
- (1:50): We examine my theory about how the Lakers only play consistently well against teams they collectively hate (the Clippers, Mavericks and Celtics) or Kobe hates (the Suns, #NeverForget).
- (3:45): Blake Griffin's annoying on-court behavior (primarily flopping, although some don't dig the post-dunk preening) is compared to Andrew Bynum's troubling behavior on and away from the hardwood.
- (11:00): Arnovitz and Heimer break down how the Clippers' once-sinking fortunes suddenly turned. In particular, the defense has suddenly improved.
- (17:50): This will be the Lakers' first game against the Clippers with Ramon Sessions in the fold. How will he fare defending Chris Paul? (And if he struggles, who picks up the slack in his place?) Can Sessions place pressure on a team that sometimes struggles in pick-and-roll coverage?
- (26:00): How do Arnovitz and Heimer expect Kobe Bryant to be defended?
- (27:20): Predictions!
- (30:00): The Clippers got their act together almost immediately upon the reinstatement of Clipper Darrell. Pure coincidence or testament to the power of a super-fan who now "understands his role?" And yes, I do find the notion of a meeting to spell out Clipper Darrell's "role" hysterically funny.
The matchup between Pau Gasol and Zach Randolph will be key Sunday night.
Friday, we noted the ways in which Sessions has improved the team's offense, goosing efficiency with high-percentage shots either for himself or teammates, many coming in transition, plus an ability to get himself (and teammates) to the line. And this was before he made his debut as a starter, lighting up the Blazers for 20 points and 11 assists Friday night at Staples. The game was significant not only for his impressive numbers but how Sessions affected the action down the stretch. In a still competitive game, Sessions dominated the fourth quarter with eight points and six assists as the Lakers piled up 32 points, all while Kobe Bryant happily took only one shot in the final 12 minutes.
It's a brave new world, folks.
Sunday, the Lakers get another good test against the Memphis Grizzlies, the same team L.A. edged in double-OT not even two weeks ago at FedEx Forum. That night, the Lakers were carried by Andrew Bynum (37 points) and Bryant (34) but only had one other player in double figures (Pau Gasol, with 14). Meanwhile, the Grizzlies got a career night from Marreese Speights, one of six Grizzlies with 10 points or more. Normally, when teams meet twice in a small window, the first game can be instructive. Not here.
The Lakers played that night with Derek Fisher and without Sessions. Memphis was missing not only Zach Randolph, but also Rudy Gay. They've also added Gilbert Arenas as a free agent, giving him real minutes in his first two games. The cast on the floor Sunday will be very different on both sides.
With that in mind, here are three things to watch:
1. Z-Bo vs. Pau Gasol.
In five games since returning from a knee injury, Randolph has been solid: 15.4 points and 7.8 rebounds, while shooting nearly 47 percent in about 31 minutes a night. Pretty good, but not the walking double-double he was in a dominant 2010-11 season. At some point, Randolph will round into form. If it's Sunday, the Lakers (and specifically Pau Gasol) have one more tough cover. Friday against Portland, the Lakers, who rarely do this sort of thing, were forced to bring doubles against LaMarcus Aldridge in the first half before order was restored in the second. If the same thing happens Sunday, the Grizzlies -- not a good half-court team offensively -- might find some lanes opening up that would otherwise be closed. The more extra rotations the Lakers have to make, the more wing players such as Gay can attack or Marc Gasol, who needed 25 shots to get 20 points in Memphis, can get easy looks on putbacks and open feeds at the bucket.
2. Kobe Bryant vs. Tony Allen.
Allen is among the league's most active defenders, one of the few guys capable of making Kobe's life truly difficult. On the ball, he can be very hard to beat, but while the Lakers had periodic success with Bryant operating away from the ball at points this season, with Sessions on board they have the means to do it more effectively and more consistently. Closer to the rock, the potential for good 1/2 or 2/1 pick and rolls could give Allen and Mike Conley looks they haven't seen much against L.A. Bottom line, as Mike Brown and Bryant noted after Friday's win, with Sessions the Lakers have so many more ways to attack, making them much tougher to prepare for.
Still, despite some weakness (see below) the Grizzlies constitute a very solid test for the revamped offense. They'll be at full strength, making them the best defensive team the Lakers have seen since acquiring Sessions, more effective than a Dallas squad missing Shawn Marion. Moreover, no team in the NBA is better at forcing turnovers, and Synergy rates them as the league's second most productive team in transition, meaning mistakes on the offensive end won't go unpunished.
3. L.A. vs. expectations.
Memphis is a dangerous team, one nobody will want to see in the postseason -- unless perhaps the postseason started today. The Grizzlies have dropped five of six overall, including Saturday afternoon to a slumping Clippers squad, and four of five on the road, and are just 9-14 outside Memphis overall. Perhaps it's because they don't score much, averaging only 91.2 points on the road compared to 99.1 at home. Nor have they been very good against teams over .500, going just 10-17. All told, Memphis' talent says it's a game the Lakers could absolutely lose, while the numbers say they really should win.
It's easy to forget, given the total disappointment of Sunday's effort against the Suns and Kobe Bryant's strong comments to management about Pau Gasol, that the Lakers have a game to play Monday night. Against no cupcake, either. The Portland Trail Blazers may be slumping, having lost six of 10 and playing sub-.500 ball since starting the season 7-2, but they have tons of talent, match up well with the Lakers, and -- oh by the way -- beat them by 11 in the first meeting of the season.
Raymond Felton has been a disappointment for Portland this season. The Lakers need that to last at least one more night.
It will be the Lakers' last home game before the All-Star break, and given how the week ends (back-to-back games in Dallas and Oklahoma City), a win feels like as much of a necessity as the 32nd game of a 66-game season can. To get a few quick thoughts on the game, we hit up Andrew Tonry of TrueHoop's Portland Roundball Society with a few questions.
1. Ray Felton is averaging fewer than 10 points and shooting under 36 percent in February, and on the season he's 34th in assist-to-turnover ratio. On the other hand, he did have a good game Saturday against Atlanta. Was that a blip or the start of a trend?
Tonry: While he made a few shots on Saturday against the Hawks, Felton did not control the tempo or lead the team in the way a point guard is supposed to. So no, one game does not make a trend. Felton has dug a huge hole to climb out of. After all, point guard is a position most requiring consistency.
With Andrea Bargnani sidelined, Compton product DeMar DeRozan is as good an offensive option as the Raptors have.
Still, while it's a game the Lakers should win, it's fair to say when it comes to this team, particularly on the road, there may be no such thing. To gain a little more insight into Sunday's game, we reached out to Sam Holako of Raptors Republic.
1. With Bargnani out, where does Toronto's scoring come from?
Holako: The first thing to remember is that with Bargnani out, the Raptors score through sheer attrition, void of much team ball-movement. You'll see a lot of listless passing on the perimeter then someone jacking the ball up with under eight seconds left on the clock. Jose Calderon has been doing his part of hitting outside jumpers and finding guys off the pick-and-roll, and Leandro Barbosa is hit-or-miss as he's always been, but the three-headed hydra of Jerryd Bayless, James Johnson and Linas Kleiza has been carrying much of load, putting up shots at will. DeRozan checks in from time to time with a big game, but they are too few and far between. It's the Raptor effort that keeps us interested as fans, not the offense sans Bargnani.
Signs certainly pointed to Philly as a potential team on the rise, and this year they've definitely made a major leap. While the Sixers lack a definitive go-to scorer, coach Doug Collins has plenty of effective offensive weapons at his disposal. Not that it matters all that much, since Philadelphia is the league's best defensive team through the first third (give or take) of the year.
And, as Kobe Bryant pointed out after the loss in Utah on Saturday, the Sixers are young and fast, representing a major challenge for the "old, slow" Lakers. To gain a little more insight into the surging Sixers, we hit up Carey Smith of Philadunkia, part of ESPN.com's TrueHoop network, with some questions:
Land O'Lakers: By nearly every metric, the Sixers are the league's stingiest defense. What accounts for their success?
Smith: First and foremost, it’s the 76ers' commitment to playing defense that is the key. Doug Collins has gotten these guys to buy in to the idea that you have to play solid team defense to win in the league, and given the results when compared to the brief-but-disastrous Eddie Jordan era, Collins is 100 percent correct. The other factor is that the Sixers have some phenomenal perimeter defenders in Andre Iguodala, Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner. Add in Thad Young (another solid defender), and you have a nice collection of players who can make it really difficult for the opposing team’s guards and wings to score the ball.
Land O'Lakers: The team's leading scorer is Lou Williams, who comes off the bench, but nine players average more than nine points a game. Is this a reflection more of a great team-first ethic or the lack of a true go-to scorer?
Smith: Great question. Honestly my answer is it is a chicken-or-the-egg situation. Collins preaches team, team, team, and then still more team, and the Sixers have played that way very successfully over the last two seasons. They do a great job with the little things that make balanced scoring work -- making the extra pass or setting screens for each other or rotating the ball quickly or finding the hot hand. But if Collins had a superstar like he did, say, in Chicago with that guy named Jordan, I wonder if the offense would flow the same way.
The Charlotte Bobcats are a terrible team, by any measurement.
Go ahead and click around ESPN.com's stats page. It's very, very difficult to find encouraging numbers for Paul Silas and his crew. 26th in points per game, 29th in point differential, 25th in 3-point percentage, 29th in points per shot, 29th in points allowed, 26th in opponent's field goal percentage (at over 50 percent), 27th in rebound differential, and so on.
Charlotte has lost eight straight and 13 of 14. They're 1-10 on the road, and via John Hollinger's playoff odds, have a zero percent chance of playing this postseason.
Zero. Not even a fraction of a point, so we could more easily insert this clip. Bottom line, this is one of those teams where it shouldn't matter at all what the Bobcats do tonight. 48 minutes of zone? Go for it. Seven seconds or less? Feel free. Confetti-instead-of-water in the bucket trick? Have at it.
Still, there's a game to play, and in an effort to gain more insight into the Bobcats, we hit up Spencer Percy of Queen City Hoops, who was nice enough to answer some questions:
1. This team seems like a transcendent kind of bad. Are they as horrid as a 3-18 record suggests?
Percy: This team is worse with the injuries that they've taken on lately to D.J. Augustin, Gerald Henderson and Corey Maggette. Bad is not a word that can describe just how unbearable it's been lately.
2. Byron Mullens seems like he's been a bright spot. What accounts for his improvement, and how much more are the Bobcats hoping to get from him over time?
Percy: Mullens can do one thing exceptionally well- shoot the midrange jump shot. He lacks any physicality at all on the post and leaves much to be desired on the defensive end- low defensive basketball IQ. A film breakdown of Mullens so far this season can be found here.
3. With D.J. Augustin sidelined, Kemba Walker is getting big minutes at the point. What are his strengths and weaknesses?
Percy: His strength is his quickness and ability to beat just about any defender off the dribble, but what he's failed to realize so far this season is that the defenders are much taller. That being said, his fade away jumper from anywhere inside the arc hasn't been nearly as effective in this league. Kemba has got to learn how to distribute the ball and get his teammates involved more.
It's a big game on a few levels. For the Lakers, it kicks off a six-game stretch against playoff-level opponents. Despite winning nine of their last 11 games, Mike Brown's crew hasn't quite sold the city on the team's long-term viability. A few quality wins over the next 10 days would change that. For both teams, it's a battle for position in the Pacific Division, one made all that more important thanks to a 66-game schedule. It's not too early to consider how head-to-head tiebreakers might factor in down the road.
And, of course, it's the biggest matchup between the Lakers and Clippers since that fateful day when the Clippers' ship sailed north from San Diego. There have been moments, panda rare for sure, where expectations for the Clippers exceeded those of the Lakers, but never has the city been treated to a scenario in which both teams have legitimate aspirations for a deep playoff run.
That scenario has arrived. It's a fun moment in L.A. basketball in any context, but factoring in the whole Chris Paul thing -- he's the reason the Clips are now a national sensation, but only after he was thought to be a Laker -- takes it to another level.
Here are five things to watch ...
1. Pau Gasol vs. Blake Griffin
Griffin is electric. Even if half-tuckased dunks are enough to land him on SportsCenter's Top 10. He jumps over sedans and probably could hop an SUV if given the opportunity. What he hasn't quite figured out yet: scoring against Gasol. In two games last season, Griffin shot only 41 percent (well below his season average of 50.6) and scored 19.5 points (vs. 23.3), plus struggled with foul trouble. Give a lot of the credit to Pau, who effectively used his length and mobility to frustrate Griffin. Of course, all that happened before Paul's arrival, meaning Gasol's dual responsibilities of handling Griffin and defending the pick and roll, where Brown expects a great deal from his bigs, weren't quite as burly.
Pau will have to be on his game, but the matchup also puts a great deal of strain on the Lakers' help defenders. With CP3 around, Gasol can't afford to cheat even a little in his coverage, meaning the guys behind him will have to help effectively.
Except any similarities aren't particularly meaningful anymore. Last year, Phoenix finished six games out of a playoff spot at 40-42, and in a highly competitive Western Conference this year's edition is again only a fringe contender for the postseason. They enter Tuesday's game at Staples Center a .500 team, and rising too far above that mark will likely be a tall order.
Steve Nash has recovered from early season bumps and bruises, and is playing well.
Rising to the level of an entertaining team? That's more manageable. Once again, it goes back to Nash. When he's right physically, he's still brilliant and the Suns can be fun to watch.
As of today, he appears to be right. To gain more insight into the two-time MVP and his teammates ahead of tonight's game, we hit up Michael Schwartz of Valley of the Suns, part of the TrueHoop network. (For my answers to his questions, click here.)
1. In the early going, the Suns have flipped their typical script. The offense has been pretty average, but the defense is in the top third in the league. What accounts for those numbers? Are they likely to stick?
Schwartz: Well, the biggest reason is small sample size, as the Suns played well enough offensively last week to improve to 12th in offensive as well as defensive efficiency. In particular during their last two victories over Portland and Milwaukee the Suns raced out in transition, nailed jump shots and seemed to finally get their mojo back.
Before the Suns rediscovered their offensive rhythm, players pleaded that they were just missing shots they normally make. Channing Frye in particular knocked down just four of his first 23 3-pointers and then drilled all four on Sunday. Combined with Steve Nash playing hurt, the Suns transformed into an anemic offensive crew.
I still don’t think they are as good as the Suns offenses of yesteryear that annually led the league in efficiency being that they are without a go-to scorer and rely so much on Nash, but there’s no reason to think this isn’t a top-10 offense.
The Suns hired Elston Turner to be their defensive coordinator and thus far he has made a difference with a defense that features more ball pressure and traps than the Suns have used in the past, as my colleague Mike Schmitz explains, with the ultimate goal being to force contested mid-range jumpers. I see the defense eventually drifting to the middle of the pack.
2. How has former Laker Shannon Brown fit in? What is his role with the Suns?
MS: It’s been a bit of a struggle to become accustomed to the Suns’ more open system, where he’s not only allowed but required to shoot the ball whenever he has an opening. He’s compared it to going back to his pre-NBA days when he felt he could score without even thinking about it.
There are things to like about the Golden State Warriors. Their uniform redesign, for example, produced some of the slickest togs the NBA has to offer. Go get yourself a logo patch, and maybe a t-shirt or replica jersey. The Warriors also have dedicated fans, an association with Jerry West (always nice, particularly when it comes to thinking big), and a very young, appealing franchise player in Steph Curry.
Plus, David Lee is from St. Louis, always good for cheap points on this site.
I'm sure Mark Jackson will look a little more excited once the Warriors are playing better.
Since 1994-95, Golden State has won more than 38 games in a season twice, 26 or fewer seven times, and have made the playoffs once. That ain't good. For a long time the Warriors were saddled with brutally bad ownership under Chris Cohan. Now new rich guys are in charge, led by Joe Lacob and Peter Guber, so there's hope the Warriors might turn a corner. Still, it won't happen quickly. New coach Mark Jackson has tried to instil a defensive mindset, and with the understanding all things are relative, in the early going has had some success. Through TK games, Golden State has shaved about four points off opponent's scoring per 100 possessions. Still only good for 22nd in the league, but better than the three previous seasons (26th, 29th, 28th).
Unfortunately, that defensive improvement has come at the expense of Golden State's offense. Once a juggernaut putting ball through hoop, the Warriors have thus far been among the league's most anemic teams, 25th in scoring (90.3 ppg) and efficiency (98.9 points per 100 trips), a huge drop from previous seasons. Blame some of that on Curry's recurring ankle problems, but it still amounts to trouble for Golden State folks may not have expected.
To get a little more insight into tonight's opponent, I sent some questions to Ethan Sherwood Strauss of WarriorsWorld.net, your GSW stop on the TrueHoop track.
1. Not to get all judgmental, but things seemed to go off the rails up there as the Don Nelson era wound down, and didn't improve under Keith Smart. How has Mark Jackson impacted the Warriors culture?
Ya, it did get pretty dark and weird back there with Nellie, huh? The best was when he slurrily called a sports radio show from an Indianapolis bar, made loud mention of his scotch in hand, and lamented Stephen Jackson's terrible trade value. The culture has calmed down since then, but in the wake of cultural chaos we're left with mediocre talent. Perhaps Mark Jackson can motivate athletes, but this team might have no way to pair with a will.
2. What are the prospects for Year 2 of the Monta Ellis/Curry/Lee core? Can it become a playoff contender, or do more changes have to be made?
The prospects are bleak, the team must decide on Monta vs. Steph. It feels as if the catharsis of making the decision matters more than making the right decision. Lee has immense defensive flaws, but I'm enjoying his progress as a pick-and-pop big.