2/06/2005 08:15:00 AM|||Kurt|||Thank god for this game, otherwise we’d actually have to watch the Super Bowl pre-game show. Any Howie Long is too much Howie Long for me. And it’s an important game too (really they all are starting about now, but this one more so) — the eighth-seed Lakers are 2 games back of the sixth-seed Rockets. (For the record, Minnesota is the nine seed, 1.5 games back of the Lakers, but three games back in the loss column.) This is the kind of difficult road win to start a trip that is a big step to the post season. The Lakers won the last meeting between these two in January by shooting a blistering 61.5% (eFG%). That was the game where the Lakers brought the triangle back (which Hamblen calls the “overload”) and played maybe their best defense of the year on the perimeter. Mihm did a solid defensive job on Ming and, as is his nature, that led to fade-aways instead of dunks. Ming got a lot of his points against the smaller Grant. It’s going to be tough for the Lakers to repeat that kind of offensive performance — the Rockets have the fourth best defensive efficiency rating in the league and on average team’s eFG% is just 46%. What would help is to push the pace — the Rockets like the pace slow and have won just 52% of their games against the top 20 highest paced teams in the league (the Lakers are currently 18th). In the first two games under Hamblen the Lakers really pushed the ball and got easy buckets (I think it’s safe to say the Spurs were a different animal), doing that tonight would be a big step toward a win. Ming has a good PER (21.40) but he is not been the key to this team — his Roland Rating is -2.7, saying the team actually has been better with him off the court than on. This +/- system has its flaws, but that’s not the kind of number you want to see from one of your stars. And I’m still astounded that a team with Yao Ming has the lowest offensive rebounding rate (just 25.1% of their misses) in the NBA. The guy who pushes this team and really made it his own is Tracy McGrady (22.52 PER) — and tonight the Lakers don’t have their best perimeter defender in Kobe to take him on. That task likely will fall to Jumaine Jones (and others) and for the Lakers to have a chance they need to step up. Of the two games you’re going to watch today, this likely will be the closer one, so enjoy it. And for the record, I’m pulling for the Patriots based on self-preservation (my wife used to live in Boston, the rest of my week is a lot better if they win). |||110770652034436945|||On Tap: The Houston Rockets