Tag Archives: Los Angeles Lakers

My 2009 NBA Finals Pick

It’s finally time for the NBA Finals. After a year of waiting, the Lakers are back for unfinished business. I hope they remember last year’s loss to the Celtics as distinctly as I do. I’m anxiously awaiting the tip of the ’09 Finals, even though I’m disappointed we will not be getting the heavily anticipated showdown between Lebron and Kobe.

Instead, the Lakers are faced with the Orlando Magic, led by the league’s best big man and reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Dwight Howard. It’s hard to dislike Orlando. Howard is a fun-loving, Dunk Contest-winning, Shaq Junior. Meanwhile their coach looks like porn star Ron Jeremy, they shoot 3s like a rec league team, and they come from Disney World.

Still, the Lakers have experience on their side. Only two Magic players have ever played in the NBA Finals, and both are backup point guards. Anthony Johnson played for the New Jersey Nets in 2002 and 2003, and Tyronn Lue played for the Lakers in 2001. Most of the Lakers roster played in the Finals last year. Additionally, Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher each has 3 rings, and coach Phil Jackson is aiming for his NBA record 10th title.

The key to the series, in my opinion, will be the frontcourt battle. I expect Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol to more or less cancel each other out. Both are all-star and All-NBA talents. The difference will be the other frontcourt players. If the Lakers’ Andre Bynum/Lamar Odom/Trevor Ariza can outplay Orlando’s Rashard Lewis/Hedo Turkoglu/Marcin Gortat, L.A. will win. If Orlando’s bigs make a bigger impact, they may pull the upset.

In the end, though, I think L.A. simply has too much firepower. They learned their lesson from last year’s championship, and they finally came together in Game 6 against Denver. Lakers in 6 is my pick.

My Picks
To recap, I’m using the scoring system from TrueHoop blogger Henry Abbott’s Stat Geek Smackdown. The scoring system is 5 points for each correct series winner, plus 2 points if you get the number of games correct.

1st round = 36 points
2nd round = 15 points
3rd round = 7 points
Total = 58 points

NBA Finals
Los Angeles over Orlando in 6

For more information, visit MattHubert.com.

Game 7 Looms for Los Angeles

I still cannot believe that the Lakers’ season could actually be over 24 hours from now. The problem is, I’m not sure the Lakers realize that either. They’ve had multiple wake up calls during this playoff run—perhaps more of a playoff jog or playoff brisk walk—and have continually hit the snooze bar.

So now they’re down to a one-game, winner-take-all Game 7 against an undermanned, undersized Houston team that clearly has the Lakers overmatched in one key area. Use whatever term you want: heart, desire, will, want-to, effort, energy, enthusiasm. The Rockets bring it and the Lakers wing it. I haven’t been this frustrated, well, since the Lakers last played an elimination game. For those who need a reminder, they were embarrassed by the Boston Celtics, 131-92. The Celtics celebrated an NBA championship and the Lakers vowed to come back tougher this year. Ha.

Toughness—both physical and mental—remains the glaring vulnerability of this Lakers team. Their recent history with their backs against the wall isn’t encouraging either. Including the Boston Finals debacle last year, L.A. has faced elimination just three times in the post-Shaq era, and they’re 0-3 in elimination games.

In 2006, the Lakers met the Phoenix Suns in the first round. L.A. took a 3-1 series lead, but the Suns won the next two to force a Game 7. And in the series finale, the Lakers folded, losing 121-90 in a game in which they never led.

The following year, they met up with Phoenix in round one again. This time it was the Suns who jumped out to a 3-1 series lead. But the Lakers would not force a Game 7—or even a Game 6. They lost Game 5 by a count of 119-110, again never leading at any point.

Throw in the 2004 NBA Finals against the Pistons and 2003 Western Conference Semifinals, and the Lakers are 0-5 in their last five elimination games. They haven’t won an elimination game since they took both Games 6 and 7 of the Western Conference Finals against Sacramento in 2002. Incidentally, that team was also the last Lakers team to win a championship.

With home court advantage and memories of a 40-point win the last time the Rockets visited Staples Center, the Lakers are the clear favorites in Game 7. But if they’re going to win and advance, they can’t rest on their laurels. They have to come out from the opening tip with something to prove and give a spirited full 48 minutes of intensity and execution. If not, Houston is more than capable of stealing another game and the series, leaving the Lakers and their fans another long, agonizing offseason of questioned toughness and finger-pointing.

For more information, visit MattHubert.com.

Grading the Game 6 F-ort

Frustrated. Disappointed. Angry. The Lakers brought out a cornucopia of negative emotions from me with their dismal Game 6 performance. They started the game by digging themselves a 17-1 hole that they would never emerge from. Credit the Rockets for not rolling over when everyone (myself included) was already talking about how L.A. matched-up against Denver. Fault the Lakers for thinking the Rockets would.

Collectively, there is no question that the Lakers deserve an F for their effort in this one. If there was a grade lower than an F, I’d give them that. But I’m not satisfied with just one blanket grade for this lackluster performance, so let me go down the line and assess the Lakers roster one-by-one.

Phil Jackson: D
He can only do so much to preach to his team about not having a letdown game. My gripe with Jackson is his lineup decisions. Farmar should play the bulk of the point guard minutes against the speedy Aaron Brooks. Shannon Brown should be the primary matchup against Kyle Lowry, and Fisher should only see spot minutes filling in. I also don’t want to see any more Luke Walton or Josh Powell in this series.

Kobe Bryant: B-
He may be the only Laker that I trust to bring it every night (excluding the second half of Game 7 vs. Phoenix in 2006). Still, he was hardly at his best last night. The careless turnover he had trying to feed the post in the third quarter was a momentum killer after the Lakers had cut the deficit to two. He also needs to resist the temptation to go for the FU-jumpers Battier wants him to take and instead make a commitment to getting into the paint and onto the free throw line for some easy points and/or kick-out opportunities to spot-up shooters.

Derek Fisher: F
Derek Fisher is past his prime. OK, fair enough. I don’t expect major statistical production from him anymore. And I don’t expect him to be able to defend quick point guards like Aaron Brooks. (You hear that, Phil?) Still, as the only Laker besides Kobe with any championship rings, I expect certain intangible benefits from him as a veteran leader of this team. Jacking up pull-up jumpers in transition, missing open 3s, and forcing the issue on offense before any offensive rebounders are in position are not among the things he should be bringing to the table. Is it a coincidence that L.A. won the game he was suspended in this series? I’m not so sure it is.

Pau Gasol: D
It is simply unacceptable for Pau Gasol, an All-NBA selection to be outplayed by the likes of Luis Scola, Chuck Hayes, and Carl Landry. Unacceptable. No one epitomizes the soft problems more than Gasol. Don’t get me wrong, the Lakers need him. But they need him to step up and be someone they can run the offense through, especially given the injury status of the Rockets’ front line.

Lamar Odom: C+
Odom is the individual player most like this Lakers team. He is so ridiculously talented that there is little he cannot do, but you never know what version is going to show up from game to game. For being the only Laker that seemed to want to rebound the ball in Game 6, and doing so with a severely bruised back, I’m giving him one of the few decent grades.

Andrew Bynum: F
Where did you go, Andrew Bynum? The man that was supposed to be a key cog in the Lakers’ attack after returning from injury has yet to fit back in. He used to be good for a few dunks, offensive rebounds, and shot blocks per game. Now he looks lost on offense and fouls like Greg Oden on defense. He’s young enough to have time to redeem himself, but it’s looking less and less like that will happen this year—let alone this series.

Trevor Ariza: C-
He was a key contributer to the Lakers’ brief sign of life in the third quarter, getting a steal and dunk and then connecting on a 3. Unfortunately, his supposed role of defensive stopper isn’t getting much press considering the workmanlike job the Rockets’ Shane Battier is doing on Kobe.

Jordan Farmar: C+
He may have been the only Laker to make a positive impact on the first half. Then when he finally got some fourth quarter minutes in place of Jackson, his impact lessened. I still think he needs to get more time in Game 7, though as his energy and quickness is needed.

Shannon Brown: C
The most consistent player off the L.A. bench this postseason didn’t do much good or bad for the team in this one.

Sasha Vujacic: F
One of the team’s most deadly weapons off the bench last season, Vujacic hasn’t shot the ball well all season, and this series is no different. His inability to hit shots has cut into his playing time and allowed the Houston defenders to sag into the paint against Kobe.

Luke Walton: D-
Walton is noted for his basketball IQ, but I frown every time I see him on the floor. He’s become an offensive liability and he’s not much better on the defensive end.

DJ Mbenga: D
I realize he didn’t play, but DJ deserves a “D” because defensive intensity is the one thing he brings to this team. If he were on the Rockets, he’d likely be seeing some playing time filling in for the injured Yao and Mutombo. And he’d probably be outworking Gasol, Bynum, and Odom, too.

Josh Powell: D-
As the roster replacement for Ronny Turiaf, Powell gave them some quality performances during the regular season, showing that he could be a reliable pick-and-pop player. But his deficiencies have surfaced in the playoffs. Unlike Turiaf, Powell is a low-key guy. Turiaf brought a feistiness and energy that this team seems to lack. Turiaf was also a better post defender and stronger rebounder. I was sad to see him go when he did, but I really didn’t miss him until now as he’d be the perfect answer to counter the Rockets’ Chuck Hayes and Carl Landry.

Adam Morrison: INCOMPLETE
In need of comic relief? Take a look at the 2006 NBA Draft. Morrison was chosen third overall yet he’s spent the series in a suit watching picks 24-26 play meaningful minutes right before his eyes. I don’t know If Morrison will ever matter as a Laker, but I’m at least intrigued to see if watching the playoffs from close up has an effect on him next season.

For more information, visit MattHubert.com.

Two Recipes for the Lakers

I went to bed angry last night. It’s one thing to lose a playoff game. It’s another to come out at home in a series opener and lose like THAT.

The same things that the Lakers got away with in their first-round series win against Utah surfaced in Game 1 Monday night against Houston. It was a recipe for disaster.

Lazy defense? The Rockets will move the ball, find the open man and hit the shot. Bypass boxing out? Scrappy Chuck Hayes, Carl Landry and company will sniff out the loose ball and give their team extra possessions. Rely on perimeter shooting? Houston’s defense will make you work. Open shots are few and far between, and you’ll be more tired if you ever do get an open look.

There’s no question which team is more talented in this series. The Lakers have the most talented roster In the league. But the Rockets proved in Game 1 that great effort and execution can defeat great talent.

Call it rust from the long layoff between series. Or call It an off-night (the Lakers shot just 11 percent (2-18) from 3-point range to go along with 63 percent shooting from the line and 44 percent from the field.

Despite all of this, the Lakers never trailed by more than 11 and even led by 1 briefly in the fourth quarter before the Rockets closed the game on a 24-15 run.

So, now that I’ve had some time to blow off some steam via text messages to my brother, an e-mail to my dad and several ranting tweets and Facebook status updates, let me offer the an 8-step recipe of improvement to help the Lakers bounce back from this ugly 8-point defeat.

  1. Start Lamar Odom.
    The Lakers are crisper with Odom and Gasol than they are with Bynum and Gasol (or Bynum and Odom) up front. It’s as simple as that. Plus, Bynum seems to pick up quick fouls almost every game relegating him back to the bench anyway. Let Bynum play with the second unit where the Rockets really have no backup center to defend him.
  2. Get Gasol involved early and often.
    Pau gives the Lakers a mismatch whether it’s quickness against Yao or size and skill versus Scola, Hayes or Landry. They need to get him the ball on the low block and let him go to work. Bynum going at Yao is not the way to attack. Gasol is an all-star and a better passer if the Rockets choose to double-team.
  3. Make an effort to get to the free throw line.
    I’m looking at you Kobe. Five free throw attempts is not going to cut it. Yao is a presence inside, but you still have to challenge him. Take the ball to the hoop strong and stop settling for outside shots.
  4. Give Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar more playing time.
    Fisher is not a good matchup against the Rockets’ speedy point guard tandem of Aaron Brooks and Kyle Lowry. Brown and Farmar have the speed and quickness to stay with them and limit penetration. Fisher brings veteran leadership, but his minutes should be limited throughout this series.
  5. Pass the ball with a purpose.
    There was too much stagnant offense from the Lakers in Game 1. The Rockets are a tough defensive team, but you make their job easier when the ball is sticking in one place.
  6. Make someone other than Yao beat you.
    Offensively Houston looks into Yao Ming on almost every possession. The Lakers need to show Yao different looks to complicate things for him. Double-team him on the catch one time, on the dribble the next, play him straight up the next time. Frustrate Yao and you’ll stifle the Rockets.
  7. Shoot with confidence.
    Ariza, Vujacic, Fisher, Brown, Farmar…when you have an open look from downtown, step into your shot and put it in. Don’t think about it. Don’t hesitate. Just shoot it. There’s no way we’re going 2-18 from distance again.
  8. Show some passion.
    Somebody show me that you care. Remember the beatdown Boston gave you last season? Where is that team that was poised to make this postseason different? Give me an FU dunk on Yao. Give me a good clean, hard, playoff foul on Aaron Brooks the next time he slithers into the paint. C’mon now!

For more information, visit MattHubert.com.

One Week Later: My thoughts from Lakers-Cavs 12/20/07

Last Thursday, along with my brother Mike, my dad, my best friend Colvin and his dad, I traveled to Cleveland to watch the Lakers take on the Cavs. It was my first NBA game since 1998. That game was also Lakers-Cavs, though both teams bore little resemblance to their ’98 counterparts.

The only thing I remember about that ‘98 game is Mario Bennett, who scored a career high 21 points and pulled down double digit boards for the Lakers in an otherwise unremarkable 105-93 victory.

After looking at that old box score, it turns out Derek Anderson of the Cavs was actually the leading scorer in the game, not Bennett. And Shaq had 26 points to pace the Lakers, but he did so on 11-of-23 shooting.

Did you know three players from last week’s game also played in the ’98 contest? Derek Fisher, Zydrunas Ilgauskaus and some kid named Kobe Bryant.

As for the Cavs 94-90 win over the Lakers this time around, I have several observations:

  • The loudest ovation of the first half, and arguably the entire game, was the introduction of the newest Iron Chef, Cleveland restaurant owner Michael Symon. No offense to the chef, but you would think the fans of the reigning Eastern Conference Champions would be a bit more excited, especially for LeBron vs. Kobe. Also, piping in chants of de-fense – not very impressive.

  • There were at least two or three occasions when the Lakers used a halfhearted hug technique to foul LeBron on drives to the hoop, allowing him to get his shot up on the rim for the “and-1” opportunity. Part of that is LeBron’s strength, but you have to be able to commit a clean, hard foul in those circumstances to prevent the three-point play. You coach that in high school.

  • Poor Larry Hughes. It’s not his fault the Cavs signed him to a ridiculous contract, but he looked overmatched by everyone in a purple uniform. My brother actually apologized to the Cavs fans sitting next to us that they had to have Hughes on their roster. I think he was only half joking.

  • From the second quarter on, I kept saying, “It feels like we should be winning by a lot more than we are.” The Lakers enjoyed a double-digit lead for about 20 seconds late in the third quarter, but they had several key turnovers to stifle their own momentum throughout the game.

  • If you ask me, the game was lost in the first two and a half minutes of the fourth quarter when Phil Jackson went with a lineup of Trevor Ariza, Sasha Vujacic, Vladimir Radmanovic, Jordan Farmar and Andrew Bynum. The Cavs turned a 78-75 deficit into an 83-78 lead in less than three minutes before Jackson reinserted Bryant into the lineup. I actually like what each of those players brings to the Lakers team, but as a unit, they brought the offense to a screeching halt.

  • After LeBron hit two free throws to put Cleveland up 92-90 with 1:44 to play, the Lakers had five chances to tie or take the lead, including two shots from Kobe. I’ll take those chances every game. This game, however, the shots simply didn’t fall.

  • Early in the season, when Kobe trade rumors were swirling, I proposed a four-team mega deal that I e-mailed to Bill Simmons, who calls himself the Picasso of ESPN’s NBA Trade Machine. At the time, you could make a case for all four teams, but I said the Cavs would be first to say no when it came to dealing LeBron. Fast forward to today, and the Heat and Knicks are dying for this sort of deal. But I think the Lakers are now as hesitant to deal Kobe as the Cavs would be to deal LeBron.

For more information, visit MattHubert.com.