NBA Playoffs, Lakers Jazz game 1: Phil Jackson and Jerry Sloan get together, again

Leave a comment

Thumbnail image for Jackson_Bryant.jpgDid Phil Jackson and Jerry Sloan even bother to look at the advanced scouting reports for this series?

These two coaches — running the exact same systems — have been going at it since the mid 1990s. There are no secrets here. No surprises, no new counters that have not been tried multiple times before. This is a well-known dance between coaches.

But Jackson keeps coming out on top, because he has had the better players. That likely does not change, either. The Lakers pose some matchup questions that the Jazz cannot answer, especially as banged up as they are along the front line.

These two teams last played a month ago and the Lakers blew the Jazz out of the water with a 20-2 first quarter run. The game was never really in serious doubt after that (although the Jazz made a couple runs of it against the sad Lakers bench.)

The Lakers defense made that run, for a couple reasons. One was they forced the Jazz to start their offense farther out on the floor than they normally like, to the point a couple early turnovers came because Jazz players just stepped out of bounds.

Jazz turnovers will be key– the Jazz run the crisp-passing flex offense, and they run it better than anyone, but it is an offense with a lot of interior passing. The Lakers bigs have long arms. They knock down some passes, and those tend to be quickly become transition points for the Lakers. Unlike in the last round against the youth Thunder, now the Lakers want to get out and run, they are the better transition team. If the Jazz cut the turnovers down, they cut out some easy offense for the Lakers.

One Utah matchup that always gave the Lakers trouble was Mehmet Okur — to get easy points against the Lakers need to pull their bigs away from the basket. You need a stretch four (I hate to type that, it’s becoming a cliché, but it rings true here). But Okur is out for this series with a ruptured Achilles tendon, and that is going to be trouble for the Jazz, because the Lakers bigs will have more freedom.

And the big matchup advantage for the Lakers in this matchup has long been inside. And it’s not just that Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum — who will play through his knee injury, but look for Phil Jackson to try to get him rest — can score at will. It’s that they slow down one of the keys to the Jazz offense: Carlos Boozier.

Boozer averaged just 11.3 points in four games against the Lakers this year, on 39 percent shooting (thanks to Forum Blue & Gold for that). And he averaged less than 10 shots per game. The length of Pau Gasol really hampers Boozer in the post, and Gasol is long enough to challenge his jumpers out at 15 feet.

The Jazz may try to counter that with the return of Andrei Kirilenko, at some point. However, how much of an impact he can have remains to be seen.

Where the Jazz have the advantage is Deron Williams. He is as good a point guard as there is in the game, he can slash the lane, shoot the three, and averages 10.5 assists per game. He will utterly destroy Derek Fisher. Destroy.

This is where the lack of Okur hurts — the Lakers bigs will try to block off the paint and force Williams to pull up with the 12-footer. This season, Williams shot just 32.8 percent from 10 to 15 feet (via Hoopdata).

One other little matchup the Lakers can fall back on — Kobe Bryant vs. Anyone. Slowed by injury or not, Wesley Mathews is not stopping Kobe when it matters.

This is a matchup the Lakers should win — the matchup advantages all fall to them. But Deron Williams can win a couple games himself. Bynum is slowed and Kobe Bryant is banged up. And we know this — the Jazz are a good team that plays hard. They will not roll over. The Lakers will have to fight for this one. But they probably will, at least just enough to win.

NBA: Warriors wins credited to Steve Kerr, Luke Walton can win awards

Luke Walton
Leave a comment

Later on Tuesday it will be announced that Warriors interim coach Luke Walton is the NBA Coach of the Month for November. (That’s not official yet, but seriously who else is going to get it?)

Yet Luke Walton’s record will remain 0-0 as a head coach. Those record 19 wins to start the season belong to Steve Kerr.

The league clarified its position to the media on Tuesday with a release:

…the head coach of record is credited with team wins and losses.  Steve Kerr remains the head coach of record for the Golden State Warriors and is credited with those results.  Additionally, any team head coach, interim head coach or acting head coach is eligible to be recognized with league coaching awards.  Therefore, Warriors interim head coach Luke Walton is eligible for NBA Coach of the Month.

The logic is that the systems installed in Golden State were put in place by Kerr, and while Walton has managed games he is not the overall architect of their success. Which is true. With all due to respect to what Walton has done Kerr laid the foundation for this team, Walton has managed it this season. He hasn’t crashed the car.

There still is no official timeframe for Kerr’s return from his back issues. He is around the team at the practice facility all the time, but is not coaching games or traveling with the team consistently.

This performance will be a significant step toward Walton getting job where his wins and losses will count on his permanent record soon enough.

Clippers’ Chris Paul exits game with “rib muscle strain” may miss time

Chris Paul, Gerald Henderson, Mason Plumlee, Al-Farouq Aminu, C.J. McCollum
1 Comment

It happened in the third quarter, although it’s not clear exactly how. All anyone saw was Chris Paul calling a timeout to remove himself from the game (an eventual Clippers’ victory over the Trail Blazers) and grabbing his left side.

After the game, the Clippers said that Paul had suffered a “rib muscle strain.” CP3 will be re-evaluated on Tuesday, and then a timetable for his return will be set. It looks like he could miss a little time. Since the term “rib muscle strain” is intentionally vague we’re left to speculate a little: This could be an oblique muscle strain and if so they can be tricky, and it takes a couple of weeks (or more) to get back.

The Clippers might be wise to give Paul a little time away from the game; he has battled through a fractured finger and a strained groin this season. A little time off could help all of this. Paul played in all 82 regular season games for the Clippers last season, the first time he had done that in his career.

Paul is averaging 17.5 points and 8.4 assists per game, and the Clippers elite offense is 13.9 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the floor rather than sitting. Look at it this way, the Clippers’ most used lineup (Paul, J.J. Redick, Lance Stephenson, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan) outscores opponents by 19 points per 100 possessions, but sub Austin Rivers in for Paul and they get outscored by 13.8 per 100 and their defense falls apart. (For the record, I know that they are trying different players at the three and that Luc Mbah a Moute got the chance Monday, but I was using the lineups with the most played minutes to lessen the sample size error.)

The Clippers are not the same without Chris Paul, if he is out for any stretch of time, it’s a setback for a team that had seemed to start finding it groove.

Will Kobe Bryant’s pending retirement change how Lakers use him?

Kobe Bryant, D'Angelo Russell, Byron Scott
1 Comment

This is Kobe Bryant‘s final season in the NBA; he made that clear with his announcement on Sunday. If for the Lakers organization that means they want Kobe to go out playing his way — still trying to create and make tough shots — then go right ahead. As evidenced by the reactions at Staples Center Sunday night, the fans love it.

But what should have been the Lakers’ primary goal for this season — developing young players D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance — has seemed at cross purposes with that. At least in the mind of coach Byron Scott.

So there it was in crunch time against the Pacers’ Sunday and Kobe and Nick Young were on the court while Russell watched from the bench. It gives the perception the Lakers don’t embrace the future.

Will how they use Kobe Bryant — and by extension the younger players — change now that Kobe has made it official this is his final season?

“I don’t know that I’ll change that much, as far as I want him to play,” Scott said. “I still want him to go out on a very positive note. And there’s a part of me that feels he is going to have those glimmers, having some of those games I know he’s capable of having.”

Scott’s job as coach, at least in his mind, seems to have been to make the last couple seasons of Kobe’s career comfortable. He said that Kobe has earned the right to take his tough, contested shots but has benched the players he’s tried to develop for their mistakes (and not clearly communicated to those players why they are sitting, if you ask the youngsters).

Beyond the coach, this is an organizational decision and priority.

“We have to huddle up and decide if there is going to be anything different in terms of minutes,” Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak said. “It’s not something that’s going to be decided today. But since he has made it clear this will be the last season for him, it will be more enjoyable and I think people can appreciate and will appreciate what he’s accomplished, not only in our building — with loads of love — but even more so on the road.”

Kobe isn’t going to change.

“I gave up hoping he would change his approach 15, 18 years ago,” Kupchak joked. “He is what he is. And I’m thankful for it.”

I understand the need to let the fans see Kobe be Kobe, to let him go out on his terms (although playing him 30+ minutes a night and saying the goal is to have him standing at the end of the season is an odd mix, Scott). The Lakers are selling Kobe while they try to develop their young players.

The question of how well they are developing them remains.

One thing I would like to see is more Kobe with the second unit, and by extension less with Russell and Randle. Kobe’s going to take his shots, but if he is taking those away from Nick Young or Lou Williams, so what? Let those guys fight over the ball a little (that would be entertaining). But then rest him and let Russell and Randle and the other youth learn to work together for long stretches without any of those ball dominating players on the court. That includes letting the kids close some games, even if it’s not pretty.

This was always going to be a rough Lakers’ season, although it is uglier than the team and its fans imagined. But that’s okay if the young players are getting their minutes, being coached up, and developing. The Lakers can’t let the Kobe farewell tour get in the way of that.

Utah’s Rudy Gobert with the crazy high alley-oop finish (VIDEO)

Leave a comment

I love that the Jazz were going to be themselves against the Warriors — two of our three best players are big men in Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert, and we are going to use them whether you go small or not. Those two have the athleticism to make that work in a way few teams can’t. The result was a close game, one ultimately won by the Warriors because Stephen Curry can do Stephen Curry things, but you had to love the way the Jazz played.

And you had to love this finish by Gobert in the fourth quarter.

This alley-oop is pretty well defended, but there’s not much a defender can do when you can lob the ball above the box on the backboard, and Gobert can just go get it and finish.