Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Opposing View: 11/27 at L.A. Lakers

All season long, Sonics Beat will be consulting an expert on the opposing team as part our gameday preview. Kurt Helin from Forum Blue and Gold answered some questions, and also previewed the Sonics on his blog. The new Lakers.com BasketBlog is also a great source for Lakers info.

What was different for the Lakers in their strong start as compared to the last few games?
The Lakers are not a team with a wide margin for error, so it doesn’t take much to knock them off their stride. In this case, it was a the combination of a couple injuries and some players still trying to adjust to their roles. Kwame Brown, for as much as his offensive game has regressed (yes, Wizards fans, it was possible), the big-body defense he plays is a key for the front line. He is out indefinitely because Ben Wallace fell into his knee. Also, all-world energy guy Ronny Turiaf turned an ankle and is not 100%, which also has weakened the front-line defense. Their injuries — plus the trade of Mo Evans and Brian Cook (for Trevor Ariza, who has yet to see the floor but may tonight) — has altered what was a second unit that keyed several victories for the first few weeks. On top of it all, Lamar Odom is still adjusting to playing the three spot, meaning he plays more on the wing, and his game has suffered some nights. Combine it all and you have three straight losses, but none of the problems are things that should lead to panic. The issues are solvable.

Where is Andrew Bynum at in his development?
He’s made a big leap forward this year after spending the summer focusing largely on conditioning. He came out of high school at age 17 so incredibly raw it’s hard to imagine now (in a summer league game not long after he was drafted I watched him take a hook shot off the wrong foot). The first couple years he worked with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and others on improving his fundamentals, but when pressed into action last year due to injuries all that improvement was undercut by him not being in starter’s shape. He faded at the end of games and in back-to-backs.

This season he has dropped the baby fat and put on muscle, and that has had the side benefit of a boost in confidence. Combine all that with better point guard play and what you get is a guy who can earn better position on the block, get the ball in a good spot and then do something with it. The most noticeable place of improvement is Bynum has become a beast on the boards, averaging 15.9 rebounds per 40 minutes of play. He still has moments of being just 20 years old, moments of mental lapses (such as at the end of the Nets game as detailed by Henry Abbott at True Hoop yesterday), but he is showing far more of his potential this year. The “Trade Bynum” bandwagon in Los Angeles has a lot fewer people on it these days.

How is the PG position different for the Lakers than it was last season?
Last year Smush Parker was staring for the Lakers, this season he can’t get out of Pat Riley’s dog house on a team that desperately needs better PG play. This year the Lakers have the steadying force of Derek Fisher (in and out of the locker room) and the improved play of Jordan Farmar. These guys both have a high basketball IQ and run the offense as the triangle was meant, attacking what the defense gives you (Smush often broke out of the offense). Farmar has become a good defender and pushes the ball on offense, he is really a change of energy and pace off the bench that has won the Lakers a couple games this year.

It looks like Vladimir Radmanovic is fulfilling the expectations the Lakers had when they signed him. What's different this year?
He’s healthy. Last year a wrist injury kept him on the sidelines during camp and he never really caught up on the learning curve, he was never comfortable in the offense. Then there was the now-legendary snowboarding trip and accident. That put him in the coaching staff’s doghouse and he never got out. This season he is playing like what Sonics fans remember — not the most consistent guy, but when coming off the bench he was a very good scorer (how many teams have a second unit guy who can really stop his shot when it is going?).

What should we know but don't about the Lakers?
That the Lakers are pushing the tempo this year. Fans tend to think of Phil Jackson and the triangle offense as a slow-it-down, half-court offense, but that’s not the way Tex Winter drew it up. Pressing the pace early in the clock is a key tenant of Tex’s design, but one Phil never really emphasized, particularly in the early years in Los Angeles when Shaq was a focal point in the offense but never could really fill a lane on the break. This year the Lakers are off and running, averaging 95.3 possessions per game, seventh fastest in the league. Farmar and the second unit really bring a faster tempo in the game with them. Combine that with the Sonics up-tempo style (97.3, third in the league) and this should be an entertaining contest.