LA-Utah, Loves and Hates

By Jason Wojciechowski on April 26, 2009 at 5:09 AM

Quality win for the Lakers tonight to get to 3-1 in their series with Utah. Some thoughts.

I hate NBA referees. Borderline calls seem to be 90% right in baseball and football, but maybe 75% right in basketball. Why? The particular egregiously bad call in this game was on Boozer's airballed free throw. The referees ruled that it hit the rim and thus didn't stop the play, allowing Utah to get another possession. The result was harmless, since Utah missed their shot anyway, but it seemed obvious that the ball didn't hit the rim, didn't change spin, didn't change trajectory.

Utah airballed two free throws (counting Boozer's miscall) and Boozer nearly airballed a third. That's pretty ugly, and is emblematic of some of their problems tonight. They hit their jumpers early, but missed a lot of decent shots late. You could say "well, they lost by x, so how many shots would they have needed?" but you can't really calculate that way. Utah's missed shots result in runouts for the Lakers rather than having to take the ball out from under their basket. L.A. lived in transition tonight, not so much with fast breaks off of turnovers but with initiating their offense against an unset Jazz defense. They were able to live in transition as a result of decent defense that forced the Jazz into a lot of less than ideal shots, which they missed.

I hate Matt Harpring. He's lost whatever athleticism he may have once had, and he's got very little basketball skill left either. What does he get by on? Fans in Utah say "basketball smarts." Fans of every other team (especially Laker fans, because it seems like he always saves his "best" for L.A.) say with dirt and grime and nasty play. Tonight alone he smacked Gasol in the chest with an out-of-context elbow and tackled Odom as the Lakers ran out on a fast break after Odom blocked his shot. Neither was called for a foul.

By contrast, Luke Walton, despite sharing Harpring's lack of athleticism and ability to consistently put the ball in the bucket from any distance, makes pinpoint passes, sneaks around inside the paint for open layups, initiates the offense, gets fingertips on enemy passes, and uses his body better than any unathletic player I've ever seen to prevent defenders from blocking his shot, particularly on the fast break. He'll get overaggressive and thus make a turnover or other silly play at least once a game (the attempted 60-foot pass to Kobe at the end of the half was Game 4's example), but I'll take it (and Phil Jackson obviously has decided to take it) in return for his knowledge of the offense and passing ability.