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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Christmas By Myself This Year

So deck those halls, trim those trees
Raise up cups of Christmas cheer,
I just need to catch my breath,
Christmas by myself this year.
–”Christmas Wrapping”
The Waitresses

So far the Christmas matchup between Shaq & Kobe has more stories than a good season of 24. Outside of all the drama, this is a game between two radically changed teams. After a tumultuous offseason, how do these two teams stack up against each other? SantaBlogger (a KnickerBlogger subsidiary) is giving a little stocking stuffer for good little hoopheads with a little hardwood egg nog.

Pace (Lakers 21st – Heat 19th)
California and Florida each has a team that plays an up-tempo game, but unfortunately they aren’t these two teams, so don’t expect a fast paced game. The only hurry on Christmas day will be the kids getting to the presents under the tree. The Heat, a Van Gundy? team, will wait for Shaq to lumber up the court and set himself up in the post before beginning their offense. While Jerry Buss’ dream of the purple & gold fast breakers of the ’80s returning will remain just that, a dream. That the Lakers are currently wedged between notorious plodders Utah and Indy speaks volumes on the speed of their offense.

Lakers Offense (9th, 103 pPTS) vs Heat Defense (6th, 99.1)
eFG (8th 48.6) vs (6th 45.3)
TO (26th, 17.2) vs (27th 14.3)
OREB% (26th, 27.6) vs (3rd, 26.6)
FT/FG (1st, 30.4) vs (6th 28.7)

The Lakers are a good shooting team. That’s surprised me with the combination of Kobe’s eFG% dropping faster than Santa down the chimney, while his usage is just a tad lower than the elfish (selfish?) Iverson. However, Kobe’s ability (and desire) to shoot may be taking the load off of his teammates, leaving them with higher percentage shots. Odom (52.5%), Butler (48.6%), Atkins (55.4%), Mihm (52.9%), and Jones (55.9%) are all sporting the best shooting percentage of their career, and 6 Lakers sport eFGs of over 50%. Good shooting isn’t their only offensive skill, as the Lakers combine it with the ability to get to the line. The credit almost singlehandedly goes to Kobe Bryant who leads the league with 9 free points per game. He accounts for 43% of the Lakers’ free throws, when no other teammate accounts for more than 15%, so the onus is on him to carry the Lakers in this respect.

It’s ironic that the two Laker strengths on offense, are two of the Heat’s strengths on defense. It’ll be interesting to see which side gives. The two major keys of the game will be Los Angeles’ ability to shoot well as a team, and for Kobe to get a little bit of home cooking (ie. extra free throws) on Christmas.

Miami’s Offense (5th, 104.8) vs Lakers Defense (25th, 103.1)
eFG (2nd, 51.5) vs (8th, 45.9)
TO (4th, 14.6) vs (29th, 13.6)
OREB (24th, 27.0) vs (17th, 29.2)
FT/FG (7th, 27.7) vs (25th, 22.7)

How’s this for a Dickens twist: the Los Angeles Lakers may have to use the hack-a-Shaq against Shaquille O’Neal. Miami’s is so efficient because the offense still runs through the Big Diesel (61% eFG), and the Lakers are ill suited to stop him. With Vlade “the Gingerbread Man” Divac still on the DL, Los Angeles will only have one 7 footer to throw out there against Shaq: Mihm. Between Cook, Grant, and gulp Medvedenko, the Lakers have enough hax0rs to make Shaq practice a few more free throws. At 45% he’s regressed heavily from his career best of 62% just three years ago, and makes the strategy more appealing.

Dwayne Wade has become Shaq’s third ward, and has flourished in the role. His PER of 25.7 ranks him among the league’s top 10. He’s 9th in scoring, 5th in free throws, 5th in assists, and 12th in steals. It’ll be interesting if Wade’s offense will suffer chasing around the league’s #2 scorer on the other end of the court. To make matters worse, Kobe is no slouch on the defensive end with 5 All-Defensive Team honors and 82games.com verifies his tenacity (SG 12.0 oPER).

The Lakers best option may be to try the Jeff Vandy Gundy?-Jordan defense. Don’t try to waste energy stopping the unstoppable. Let Shaq get his points, but by doing so get the rest of his team out of their rhythm early on. Concentrate on shutting down the three guards in Ward Wade, Damon Jones, and Eddie “Murphy” Jones in the first three quarters, so that they’re not mentally prepared in the fourth.

Whatever approach L.A. uses, it’s Kobe that will be under the pressure, and I’m not even considering the off the court circus. On offense Kobe is the Lakers main focal point, whereas Shaq has Wade who is producing at a near equal rate. On defense, with his team unlikely to stop Shaq, it’ll be up to Bryant to shut down their other main weapon Dwayne Wade. All Kobe on offense. All Kobe on defense. I guess it’s Christmas by himself this year.

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