Playoff Preview: If the playoffs started today, this would be your first-round match up. Turns out the playoffs donâ€™t start for a few weeks. Right now, the Lakers are the seven seed, one game up on Sactown in eighth. The Lakers drop a few more like last night and Sacramento keeps beating the likes of San Antonio, the order could change.
But, for fun, letâ€™s say it will be the Lakers and Suns in Round 1. I still donâ€™t think tonightâ€™s going to be the best playoff preview, with the Lakers in the second game of a back-to-back after an emotional loss.
Beating The Suns: Phoenix is not on the top of their game right now, they are just 4-6 in their last 10. And the Clippers the other night showed how a team can expose the holes in the Suns â€” the question is if the Lakers have the personnel to do it.
Kevin at Clipperblog put it very well â€” the Sunsâ€™ â€œoffenseâ€ is really about having athletic guys who create match up problems because they are so quick (especially off the dribble). Combine that with a savvy point guard and you can jut let them improvise and run a bunch of pick and rolls and space the floor. But the Clippers and other teams have shown you can knock the Suns off rhythm.
First, the Clippers went tall and long. With Sam Cassell out, Shaun Livingston was at the point and his length disturbed both Nash and Raja Bell. Quinton Ross did the same thing as Livingston’s backcourt mate. Now, Smush is long, as is Kobe, but can they have that same impact? That long-on-defense thing also extended to the frontcourt â€” Odom, Kwame, Cook and George are going to have to deal with Boris Diaw and Marion. What the Clippers did well was limit dribble penetration â€” something basically every Sun player can do â€” and force them to beat them from the outside, with good rotations so those looks werenâ€™t all clean (Nash is shooting 47.2% from beyond the arc in the last 10 games, so going under picks is unwise).
Second, on offense the Clippers pounded the ball inside, using Brand primarily but also Kamen and others. It forced the Suns to collapse their defense, slowing their break. More importantly, when the Suns defense did collapse, Clipper perimeter guys hit their threes.
It can be done. The question is can the Lakers do it? Weâ€™ll get into this a lot more as the playoffs near. (Of course, all that may end up having to be about how to beat the Spurs, a harder task if you ask me.)
In appreciation: Sometimes on this blog Iâ€™ve tended to focus on the play of the role players, the defense, and the other things needed to make this team good, and almost taken for granted what Kobe does.
We canâ€™t. Heâ€™s been amazing, bringing energy and passion every night, while taking on a crazy amount of the offense (he has a usage rate of 35.5% this season, by far the highest in the league). Last night was a perfect example â€” people will look and say â€œhe was just 13 of 32â€ and miss the 14 free throws he took or the 8 rebounds he grabbed, second highest on the team. Last night Kobeâ€™s true shooting percentage was 55%, a great number considering the amount of offense he takes on (and has to some nights as the team just defers to him).
I donâ€™t think heâ€™ll win the MVP (honestly, there is no standout candidate, you can make a good case for Dirk, Wade, Nash, LeBron), but that shouldnâ€™t take away from what may have been his best season ever.
On the other end of the spectrum: No matter how good a game he is having, there ends up being about two or three times a game I end up just yelling “damn it Kwame.”
About that loss last night: That hurt, but today Iâ€™m trying to look on the bright side of how they fought back. It would have been nice not to have had to come from way back, but that they did (using the big lineup) is a good sign.
That said, I will ask this question: On the final play in regulation, the 0.6 second shot, Kobe got a pretty good look. But Odom was wide open, alone in the corner. What would you rather have, that Kobe shot or Odom open? Walton never gave Odom (who ws waving his arms around) a glance. Should he? I think the Lakers need to get someone besides Kobe to take some of those last-second shots, and better an open Odom than Walton on a running three.
That said, Walton and Devean George gave the Lakers good minutes last night (Walton was a team high +11).