Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Memphis vs LA Lakers - 1.8.08

Memphis has taken to heart the idea of starting the New Year right. With a blowout win over Indiana, a tough loss at Boston and an exciting victory over Miami and Dwayne Wade on a rare Sunday matinee game, Memphis is playing the best basketball of the season. Not coincidentally, Memphis has started the same lineup for all three games. Mike Conley has replaced Damon Stoudamire at the point with his quick feet, pass first mentality and the team has a new defensive focus giving up a mere 88.67 ppg since the change was made. Maybe the fact that Conley hasn't had to play against an elite PG yet has something to do with that. Gasol has definitely benefited from some off days to recover his physicality and without the need to play 'point' forward his scoring has improved. Mike Miller and Rudy Gay are both becoming stat monsters with their scoring, rebounding and assists. Even Darko has started to find his shooting touch of late. What hasn't been working is the bench which has struggled outside of Navarro's big game in Boston.

Los Angeles is one of the more surprising teams in the NBA this season. Last summer Kobe Bryant was demanding a trade and making life miserable for coach Phil Jackson, GM Mitch Kupchak and owner Dr. Jerry Buss. With the Lakers sitting at 21-11 and having won 8 of their last 10 games no one is miserable anymore including Kobe. The interesting thing was that Kobe was demanding he get more help on the team yet the Lakers didn't make any drastic moves. Lamar Odom's return to health, Luke Walton's maturation and Andrew Bynum's development into an NBA center have suddenly provided Kobe nearly all of the help he needed. Derek Fisher was a nice addition but no one can really take credit for his opting out of his contract in Utah to sign with LA. The only move the front office has made was to acquire Trevor Ariza. With Ariza, Jordan Farmar, Javaris Crittenton and Ronny Turiaf doing the dirty work the Lakers are deep, talented and well-coached. So why was Kobe complaining so much this summer?

Storyline of the Night

-- New Point Guard, New Year, New Team. The 2-1 record since Micheal Conley took over on January 2nd has the fan base buzzing again. Those old feelings of despair, anxiety and doubt have been replaced with a promise of good, if not great, things to come. And right or wrong (I'd say mostly right), Micheal Conley is getting most of the responsibility for the sudden turn around. In the last 3 games, the new so-called "big three" of Pau, Miller and Gay are averaging 65.7 ppg, the success attributed to Conley getting the offense more in sync.

Trends

-- Memphis is 2-1 since the return of Conley. In those 3 games, Conley has played 35 minutes per game, averaging (approx.) 9 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 turnovers.
-- The Memphis rotation has tightened the last 3 games, with Conley/Miller/Gay/Pau all getting 35+ minutes per game and Darko/Swift/Lowry/Casey/Navarro getting between 10-24 minutes.
-- Memphis scored over 100 ppg in 15 of their first 24 games, but only 1 time in the last 9 games.
-- L.A. has won 12 of their last 15 games, and only 3 times failed to reach 100 points (resulting in 2 of the 3 losses).
-- Both teams score considerably more in wins than losses. 108 vs 97 for Memphis and 112 vs 97 for L.A.
-- L.A. is currently 6th in the West if the playoffs started today. The Grizzlies would be 13th and 8.5 games away from the 8th spot.

Zack's Keys to Victory

-- Conley as the primary decision maker on offense. When Damon and Kyle ran the offense, it forced Pau and Miller to be too focused on making crucial decisions with the basketball related to merely getting the offense flowing. Now with Conley taking more responsibility for the ball and ball movement, Pau, Miller and Rudy can focus more on being a threat to score. So far this concept has paid good dividends.
-- Strong interior defense. Darko might not be playing as much as the other starters, but the tone he sets with his interior defense is crucial. The Lakers would love nothing more than to allow Bynum and Odom to control the 1st half with their post-up game. Forcing the Lakers to look to their perimeter play earlier in the game will help us defensively later in the game.
-- Gay staying out of foul trouble. Even if Conley is getting most of the credit for our recent offensive resurgence, all of that could be fools gold if Rudy is on the bench for long stretches due to fouls. If Miller is in foul trouble, Navarro can replace his shooting impact. If Pau is in foul trouble, Darko or Swift or Hak can replace his interior scoring impact. If Rudy is in foul trouble, no one on our roster replaces him. That will be key against Kobe and the suddenly defensive juggernaut Lakers. We might need Rudy's defense on Kobe, but more importantly we need his offense to force the Lakers to exert a lot of energy on defense.

Matchups

Point Guards: Michael Conley vs Derek Fisher
Memphis was unhappy to have to select Michael Conley this summer in the draft after losing the lottery. No Greg Oden, no Kevin Durant and not even Al Horford for the team desperate for interior strength. Not many people are complaining now. It is amazing how much better a solid point guard can make your interior defenders. Speaking of a solid point guard, is it a surprise that the Lakers have improved dramatically with the addition of Derek Fisher at the point? Suddenly Kobe has someone who understands his role and delivers the ball in the proper manner. Fisher is a wily veteran who may not have the foot speed to stay up with Conley but he has all the knowledge that Conley hasn't got yet. Should be a good education for the youngster in this game.
Advantage: Lakers

Shooting Guards: Mike Miller vs Kobe Bryant

Mike Miller is really enjoying playing with a fast, pass first PG as he has averaged 20 ppg since Conley became starter. He was averaging 15 ppg before Conley. Conley's impact is being felt in more ways than just the point positions improvement. Miller is a spot up shooter who needs penetration from the point to be most effective. He is getting that now and from someone who will pass it out once he gets in there. Not that it matters in this match up. Kobe is one of the best perimeter defenders when motivated. He is only superior on nights he isn't motivated. The only way Miller will see 20 pts tonight is if he looks at Kobe's halftime score.
Advantage: Lakers

Small Forwards: Rudy Gay vs Luke Walton

Luke Walton doesn't post illustrious stats but he's drunk from Shane Battier's cup and is the glue on the team. He makes everyone happy and does all the dirty work for the team. If Walton was a tad more athletic he would be far more appreciated. However he isn't more athletic and his all around hustle and determination can only take you so far. Defensively he is a liability against more athletic players. Rudy Gay is more athletic and has a lot of confidence in his game right now. Walton alone won't be able to contain Rudy and everyone knows it so expect to see Trevor Ariza getting extra minutes. If Walton and Ariza get in foul trouble it may not be a surprise to see Kobe take on the challenge against the bigger and stronger Gay.
Advantage: Memphis

Power Forwards: Pau Gasol vs Lamar Odom

When Lamar Odom is healthy he is a 5 category player who can basically do it all. The problem has been he rarely has been able to play healthy. In his 9th season Odom has only played 80 games twice in his career and has made it to 70 games twice more. When healthy he'll score around 15 ppg, grab 6-7 rebounds, dish out 5 assists, get a block and a steal and basically make life miserable for whomever it guarding him. At 6-10 he is tall enough and strong enough to defend PF's but also has range like a SF. Gasol is scoring and rebounding just a shade below average this season and considering he started slow that is an amazing comeback. Gasol can be a beast to defend down low and has developed a nice 10-15 ft jump shot as well. He will have to be physical in this game however and not check for blood too often. Gasol played big against Miami and the Grizzlies will need a similar effort against the Lakers.
Advantage: Memphis

Centers: Darko Milicic vs Andrew Bynum

Andrew Bynum was the man-boy drafted to replace Shaquille O'Neal and continue the tradition of great LA Centers. The problem was he started slow and spent his first two seasons in a legendary coach's dog house. At one point Jackson challenged his desire to improve in the press. Now in his 3rd season Bynum has begun to realize his potential and is starting to be a major force in the triangle offense. Darko Milicic was drafted to become the next Detroit Bad Boy and continue the tradition of excellence in Detroit. The problem was he started slow and spent his first two seasons in a legendary coach's dog house. At one point He was traded and had to re-establish his psyche on a new team. Now on his third team Darko has had to battle injuries this season but has had big games against the likes of Tim Duncan and Yao Ming. Should be a great match between child stars who are trying to become all-stars. The difference is Bynum hasn't had his ego as damaged as Darko's was in Detroit and Orlando.
Advantage: Lakers

Benches: Memphis vs Los Angeles

Where has Kyle Lowry gone? From the Super spark plug who was going to revolutionize the game he has regressed over recent weeks and is barely keeping his position ahead of Damon right now instead of challenging Conley for the starting role. The dreaded rookie wall seems to be claiming another victim as Kyle passes the 45 game mark in his career. Juan Carlos Navarro has been more erratic every week but is still capable of lighting up the scoreboard at any moment (just ask Boston). Stro is still good for 8 pts and 4 boards in 15 minutes. The problem is he's good for 10 pts and 5 boards in 30 minutes. The only other person getting minutes is getting booed when he walks on the court. LA's bench is young, athletic and full of promise but short on production. Jordan Farmer, taken right after Lowry in the draft has been moving slowly into the rotation and is benefiting from Fisher's experience. Vladamir Radmonovic isn't snow boarding anymore but isn't scoring that much either. Ariza is the wild card. When on he can be a very exciting player but he hasn't been on that much. Kwame Brown and Ronny Turiaf fill out bench players for the Lakers. Memphis' bench has the capability of being more productive but LA's bench knows their roles a little bit better than Memphis' and is a tad more consistent.
Advantage: Lakers

Kurt from Forum Blue and Gold was kind enough to ask us some questions about tonight's game, so be sure to check out his great game preview.

Other relevant blogs/websites:
Forum Blue and Gold
Lakers.com BasketBlog
Things to Know (Preview)
Grizzlies.com Preview

7 comments:

zack said...

any guess on how many points Kobe will score?

ChipC3 said...

12?

per quarter that is!

Just teasing. The best way to beat the Lakers is to let Kobe try and take over the game by himself. Let the other players stand around and not get involved. They won't be sharp on defense and then Kobe will start yelling at them and taking more of the offensive load on his shoulders promoting more standing around and it can escalate out of control. It happened last season a lot that way.

When Kobe uses all of his teammates and keeps them involved then he is far more dangerous and the Lakers are far more difficult to defeat.

I hope some people bring signs saying 'Welcome to Dresden' to the game as a Bronx Salute to Phil Jackson who described downtown as reminding him of Dresden after the war.

zack said...

i think kobe goes for 45 points....

Jeff said...

I'm a Laker fan, directed here from Forum Blue and Gold- (REALLY nice Blog you got here) I don't think Kobe breaks 30 tonight- And It'll be a rareity this season when he does- He chooses his spots now to step into take over mode, and it more often works now then it doesn't- See the Indiana game, where he rallied them in the fourth quarter to put the game away, but was fairly quiet the rest of the game.

Good luck to you guys tonight!

Anonymous said...

For the most part, a great preview, but I wanted to try and make a point of clarification. "LA's bench is young, athletic and full of promise but short on production" - really? You mean, the bench that is among the league leaders in points, rebounds, assists, and steals? That's the one short on production?

LA's bench has been one of the best in the NBA -at- producing.

Just saying. :) Anyway, good luck tonight.

zack said...

thanks for stopping by Laker fans...

hptmatt said...

staying at home on perimeter shooters-Fish,Sasha,Farmar,even Odom, even walton (Vlad isn't playing tonight, is he?) is rarely more important than in this game.

i agree with Chip-just let KB24 do his thing to whichever lamb we send to the slaughter under the guise of "guarding" the best player currently playing in the NBA...just don't let him kick it out. Darko stays on his man, and the perimeter guys stay on theirs.

Kobe goes for 50, and the Grizz win. That's what I want...