the pain of watching mavs-spurs

watched the dallas-san antonio game earlier today (sunday march 23 ’08). a painful experience…a painful experience that had nothing to do with watching dirk crumple to the floor in agony from having his leg bend under him in ways legs aren’t supposed to get bent (after a nifty defensive play). the pain didn’t come from watching manu get his mouth bloodied up for him in the undercard match by jerry stackhouse either.

no, the pain came from watching jason kidd do nothing for most of the game. and by nothing, i mean no penetration whatsoever. he had some nice, lofting passes right to the spot where guys running on the wings could gather them in in traffic, but to watch him time and again meander around the three point line and harmlessly flip the ball off to other guys (josh howard, jason terry) who were themselves hanging around the arc, and who then had to work create a shot for themselves by driving in heavy traffic? well, that hurt.

at the very end kidd finally seemed willing, reluctantly, to shoot the ball, and after an ugly brick made a couple of nice threes. but it was too little too late…it came after too many trips on the offensive end where he made clear to the spurs d that there was no need to worry too much about what he was going to do. that’s part of why the spurs were able to go on a 19-0 run in the 2nd half…yeah, you read that right…a 19-0 run…that’s what happens when a pro defense figures out they’re playing five-on-four, especially when the four doesn’t include the point guard.

when dallas traded away youth and speed (harris), length and d (diop), and a mountain of luxury tax cash for jkidd, what everyone who said they liked the trade talked about was dallas’ need for toughness and leadership. but it’s hard to be a leader when you don’t much matter on the floor, and kidd looked anything but tough today…he looked meek. in fact, devin harris was pretty tough himself…he has that cockiness of someone who has athletic superiority – in his case speed, and not a little durability and strength – and is about to break you off some.

for kidd to make a difference for dallas, he’s going to have to start penetrating, and for that penetration to cause defenses to have to shift when he does it, he’s going to need to finish himself from time to time…both of those are things harris used to do for the mavs, regularly. it’s what tony parker does for the spurs, chris paul does for the hornets, steve nash does for the suns, deron williams does for the jazz, ai does for the nuggets, jarrett jack and brandon roy and steve blake do for the trail blazers, kobe bryant, jordan farmar, and even derek fisher do for the lakers, and about two-thirds of the warriors roster does for them. and oh yeah, it’s what harris is still doing, only now for the nets.

but no sign of either thing was on display from kidd on sunday, a day on which he confirmed to michelle tafoya that his famously control freak coach (my words, not his) had told him to do whatever he wanted with the ball…looks like what he wanted was to let someone else control the game.

it’s funny…while writing this just now, my wife just asked me if something tragic had happened…when i asked her why she asked, she said that i had a look on my face like someone important to me had just gotten run over…not that kidd’s important to me, per se, but great pro hoops does kind of matter to me more than it should, and as much as i’m cool seeing dallas lose, it’s sad to see someone who was once such a force of nature on the court turn so meek…

why the lakers will win the pacific division

in all the talk about the relative strength of the top five or six or seven teams in the west right now, one thing’s been left out of the discussion that makes the lakers the top bet to win the pacific division regular season title…strength of schedule (remaining). the lakers, as of today (monday feb 11) standing at 33-17, have already played the majority of the games against the toughest teams on their schedule…far more than any other west contender.

consider: the lakers have already played each of the top eastern teams twice, with no more left for the season. if you’re keeping score, that’s boston (losing twice), detroit (split), and orlando (split)…they’ve also finished up with cleveland (losing twice). out west, they’ve played san antonio three of the four times they’ll see them (losing two of three), phoenix three of four (winning two of three), utah three of four (winning twice), and new orleans two of four (split). the only top team they still have more games left with than they’ve played so far is dallas, with whom they’ve completed one of four meetings this year (a loss). in fact, if you take the losses against those 9 teams (boston, detroit, orlando, cleveland, phoenix, san antonio, utah, new orleans, and dallas), they account for 12 of the lakers 17 losses against 8 wins, leaving the lake show 25-5 against the rest of the league. they’ve got seven games left the rest of the way against those nine top teams…

correction (2-13-08): the numbers posted above are in error…the lakers have eight games remaining with the top western and eastern teams listed, not seven…the remaining games are phoenix (1), new orleans (2), dallas (3), san antonio (1), utah (1), boston (0), detroit (0), orlando (0), cleveland (0)…my apologies…

compare that to phoenix for example, two games ahead of the lakers in the loss column, who still have to play boston twice, detroit twice, san antonio twice, dallas twice, new orleans once, the lakers once, and utah once…that’s eleven games against the top teams, compared to the eight the lakers have to play…that two game margin in the loss column suddenly doesn’t look so daunting…

oh, wait, you say, what about the exploding, self-imploding cigar known as the denver nuggets…i left them out…quite right…well, here’s the tally…the lakers have zero games left against the rocks, having won all three of their meetings, while the suns still must face them three times, if that worries you (it shouldn’t).

the schedule story looks about the same for the other west powers…games against the top three in the east plus cleveland, and the top seven in the west (phoenix, new orleans, dallas, san antonio, lakers, utah, denver) look like this:

games remaining to play against top powers:

phoenix (14), new orleans (14), dallas (13), san antonio (15), lakers (8), utah (12), denver (12)

update (12:50 am PST 2/13/08) – the analysis above sparked gts at insidehoops to analyze the skedj of the top 9 west teams, comparing how many more times they’ll play each other…you can read it here. however, he claims that i’ve left opponents out of the lakers count that i included in the count for other teams…i checked it a couple of times and i don’t think so (see correction above, however…apparently i did miscount by one)…anyhow, it’s a choose your bias kind of call, since though he includes two more west teams (gs, hou), he leaves out the leastern powers, incl. boston and detroit who are at least the equal of any team in the west…of course, i’ve included orlando and cleveland in the count, and it’s a fair argument that gs and houston are in their class (hell, portland too, probably)…that said, i don’t see either gs or houston taking the conf, though either one is, i think, equal to denver in degree of difficulty. i included denver in the final count because they had fewer than 20 losses when i wrote it, which was the cutoff i used to determine the top west teams…i agree, though, that denver’s not any stronger than either gs or houston (sry nug fans…no disrespect, it just is what it is) though all are strong teams playing well…anyhow, check him out…the two takes together create a pretty good snapshot of the situation…there are a whole bunch of different ways to count it up, but if you just scan the schedules of the top teams, it jumps out at you, however you want to tally it…the question of *how much* of an advantage the lakers have does depend on your perceptions of who is truly strong, but the lakers look good any way you look at it…doesn’t mean they’ll win, but you have to like their chances…

where have we seen this before?

one of the things that’s struck me since shaq was traded from the miami heat to the phoenix suns was the absence, in all the sports show chatter i’ve heard to date, of the obvious analogy to the last time he was traded…namely, he goes to a team made up of old, experienced but hungry guys dying for a ring, surrounding one young stud (wade in miami, stoudamire in phx). now, yeah, it’s a little different…among the older heat, there was no one who you could really compare to nash, from a talent and production standpoint, but still…don’t the similarities strike you? and taking it a step further, wasn’t that also the situation he got traded from in l.a. (see: payton, malone and young stud kobe)? so, this naturally begs the question: whatever the rest of this year brings, does this signal a couple of years of exhaustion, injuries, and struggles for phoenix in the immediate future, the way it has for l.a. and miami? well, that certainly is a question everyone’s asking…we’ll see…

personally, i can’t wait to see phoenix/l.a. (with bynum) in the playoffs…should be fun…

pau started this…how will he finish?

this blog started when the lakers traded for pau gasol…i simply could not believe – same as almost everyone else – that they got an all-star like gasol for exactly zero players in their top eight, no nine, no…

i heard about the trade first from an email from the lakers inviting me to buy tickets, and featuring a picture of a gasol jersey. oh sh#t i thought…i didn’t want to know who they gave up…figured it would have to be, in addition to the obvious kwame, one or more of jordan farmar, ronnie turiaf, vlad radmanovic, maybe even lamar odom. a few anxious clicks later, lo and behold, none of them. thank goodness…each one of those guys listed above is there for a key reason, and the lakers need them. farmar in particular, is the one guy on the roster who can d up on the quick (and even not so quick) guards who’ve been feasting on the lakers in recent years: parker, d. williams, nash, devin harris. plus, the guy has developed his 3-ball to the point where he’s a real threat. as for turiaf, i’ve been really impressed with his interior passing, good short-range shooting, and spot-up fifteen-seventeen footers, not to mention the surprising number of blocks for a guy built like a barrel (who knew he had hops and timing like that?).  he’s been showing that he’s not just a one-d role player or energy guy…he’s got a complete game. ditto radmanovic…once thought of as a three point specialist with not much D in him, he’s now playing great D (relatively speaking), featuring a sophisticated passing game, and showing moves off the dribble.

all told, i’m becoming much more a phil jackson believer than i’ve ever been…the variety of skills all of the guys on the team are showing, again particularly the quality of the passing, really surpasses any team of his i think i’ve ever seen, and that includes the 72 win bulls.

anyhow, coming back to pau, as great an acquisition as it was, and it has got to rank up there as one of the great laker trades ever, though not quite at the level of the kareem trade nor the trades that got them shaq and kobe, there’s still a hole there. yeah, pau averages a lot of boards, but if you watch him play, there are a whole lot of times that the ball goes up and he’s just watching. that said, i do expect that to change, because these lakers all show a commitment to consistent pressing effort on d, and i don’t think pau will want to lose the respect of his new mates by not matching that effort. besides, in memphis he had to save himself, because they needed his o so much…but here in laker land, the team can’t afford to have anyone out there not working all the time on d and on the o boards.

so, it will be interesting to watch pau’s development in d and on the boards…it says here that if he doesn’t improve, dramatically, the lakers won’t get out of the west…if he does though, and assuming bynum returns, sky’s the limit…should be a fun season