Sleeping Well

Kurt —  April 25, 2006

There are a lot of things keeping me up at night right now – from my new daughter’s crying to thoughts of the cost of college when she is old enough to go – but the Laker loss in game one of the first-round playoff series against the Suns isn’t one of them.

Here’s the key thing I came away with Sunday: The Lakers can play a few notches better than that, but I’m not sure the Suns can.

So, befitting my optimistic mood (maybe it’s the rush of a new child, maybe it’s the rush of all the caffeine coursing through my veins to keep me going), here are a list of reasons Laker fans should feel optimistic going into Wednesday night.

• The most obvious one, Kobe is going to play better. Despite what Bill Plaschke thinks, Kobe did the right thing in the game sticking with the game plan and pounding the ball inside, and in the later stages all the pounding got Kobe some isolation coverage and good looks. He just didn’t hit them. And he didn’t take too few shots, he took 21 for God’s sake, they just weren’t falling. Phil Jackson’s game plan of exploiting the inside weakness of the Suns is the right one for several reasons (a weakness of theirs defensively, it slows their break) and Kobe can get his shots within that. And they will fall.

• The Lakers showed they can slow the Suns – all that pounding the ball inside did its job, the Suns had 91 possessions against the Lakers, 7 fewer than they averaged on the season. That’s a lot and helped take them out of their game. Look for the Suns to press harder, meaning getting the ball inside and hitting shots down there will be a bigger key Wednesday.

• The Lakers can play defense against the Suns. I will give Phoenix this, I said before the series the key was to get the Suns to shoot from the midrange, but I charted as much of the game as ESPN’s midnight replay, shortened version to fit their time slot would let me and the Suns never left what they wanted to do – get lay-ups or shoot threes. What the Lakers did well in the second and third quarters was play better perimeter defense, they didn’t give up the three or if they did it was contested. The Suns went 0-6 from beyond the arc in the second and third quarters, but they were 9 of 15 the rest of the game. The Lakers know what they need to do.

• Tim Thomas isn’t that good. Or, to phrase it better, Tim Thomas isn’t that good consistently. Kwame needs to play better defense on him and keep him off the boards, but Thomas is no longer the guy who can put up numbers like that night in and night out (and he never really did it that consistently anyway, just ask a Bulls fan). I would bet the farm he is not a game high +12 again.

• Lamar Odom can play that consistently. The Suns are going to have to adjust to him in the post, which should be one of the more interesting things to see Wednesday night. The thing is, double him in the post and he can pass out of it so well. Which leads to….

• The Lakers can shoot the three-ball better. They were just 5 of 21 as a team, with Smush 1 of 5 and Kobe 1 of 6. Those percentages will improve.

• Luke walton was team-best +6 and can do that again, and Devean George can play better (he was -7). I still think he’ll be a big factor in this series.

• The Lakers can make better passes into the post. The Suns fronted the post players and were aggressive, and the Lakers seemed confused by this. They made several weak passes over the top that were picked off. You know how to correct this came up in practice, because it was part of the problem with….

• They can’t blow that many lay ups and chances inside again. Can they?

• Kwame has played better than that. The last few weeks leading into the post season, Kwame seemed to have slowed down a little and let the game come to him some. But, whether it was playoff nerves or the swarming Suns defense, he was back to rushing again Sunday. We now he can slow it down, we’ve seen it.

• My wife and daughter are out of the hospital. This is not just a cause of optimism for me – as I had said before, our last daughter was born during the 2004 NBA Finals where the Lakers fell to the Pistons. While we’re watching games at the Torrance Memorial Medical Center, the Lakers are 0-3. This one I’ll watch from the favorite spot on the couch, wearing our lucky hat.