Archives For April 2007

Game Four Thoughts

Kurt —  April 30, 2007

The Suns made one key adjustment for Sunday’s game — they pushed the tempo up and forced the Lakers to make their reads and decisions more quickly.

The Lakers were not athletic enough or smart enough to deal with that, and under pressure got away from what worked before. They didn’t trap on the pick and roll with any urgency. The Lakers didn’t pound the offensive glass to slow the break. Guys were watching Nash and the ball, so Marion would waltz back door for the ally-oop dunk. The Suns really pushed the ball after misses and makes, setting up easy baskets because the Lakers were not back. The Lakers were slow to rotate out to three point shooters.

The word that kept coming to mind watching the Lakers was “unprofessional.”

Professional teams are prepared, they bring consistent mental effort, particularly on defense, every game — whether they won the last game or lost it. This Laker squad had a good game Thursday, they were rewarded with a win for doing what they needed to on defense. They came out in game four and did little of that under pressure.

We’ve seen that kind of inconsistency for months from the Lakers, we shouldn’t be shocked to see it in the playoffs.

UPDATE: This just in from the Irony Department: Kobe was named All NBA All-Defensive First Team. He really did not deserve that honor this year, he was slowed defensively by his knee early and resorted to what was wisely once described as a “one man zone” for much of the year. He was part of the reason the Lakers defense was so bad during the season and post-season. He’s not a bad defender, but he’s no “all NBA” guy anymore either.

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Phil Jackson clearly has no idea what to do with this team. He played all 12 guys suited up in the first half, searching for hot players and combinations that worked together. It was odd, because the tight rotation of players in game had worked the game before. And what worked this time Phil did not return to.

For example, there was the combo of Kobe, Mo Evans, Andrew Bynum, Brian Cook and Shammond Williams started the second quarter and went on a 10-0 run. It ended win Odom subbed in (for Cook)

Phil never played that hot fivesom in the second half.

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Let’s break down the first few minutes of the second half, when the Suns pulled away for good.

Suns +7: Bell and Marion pass the ball around the three point line while Nash runs off two down screens under the basket trying to shake Farmar. When Nash gets the ball on the left wing Marion starts to come over to him. Odom anticipates the pick-and-roll so he gets prepared to show on Nash by going a little high, but Marion never sets the pick — he sees Odom out of position and he sprints to the basket, where Nash hits him with a pass. Kwame is slow to rotate and the result is a basket and the foul, but Marion misses the freebee.

Suns +9: Kobe gets the ball at the top of the key but Odom is able to establish good position in the paint with Marion on him. Kobe feeds Odom who gets the bucket and the foul, but he misses the free throw.

Suns +7: Nash comes off the Amare screen on the right wing but this was one of the few times the Lakers played it pretty well, so Nash had to pick up his dribble above the free throw line, he leaps and passes out on the wing to Marion, who passes up the shot to feed Jones at the apex of the three point line, who waits for Sashay to fly by then slides in for the15 footer.

Suns +9: The Lakers don’t move without the ball at all on offense, so Farmar and Luke try to create off isolation-style plays. Farmar eventually takes a 17 footer and misses it, but Kwame grabs the rebound. He gives it to Walton who tries to feed Odom diving toward the hoop, but that pass is deflected.

Suns +9: The Suns come up with it out of the loose-ball scramble, and nothing quick develops so Nash pulls up, but no Laker decides too cover him so he takes an open 18-footer, which he misses, However, this time it is Stoudemire and Jones who tip the ball out to Nash. He quickly whips the ball to Jones in the corner, who is left all alone and has time to set and drain the three because Odom is slow getting out there (Jones’ man was nowhere to be seen.

Suns +12: The Lakers work it around the top and eventually Farmar makes the pass into Kwame on the left block. He starts to work in on Amare but when he feels the double he kicks out to Farmar, who misses the three.

Long shot means long rebound so the Suns are off and to the races. Nothing develops on the wings so Nash shoots the 15 footer but misses, but seconds later Farmar throws the ball away. Basically this is followed by a couple ugly possessions by both teams not worth describing. Nobody scores but the tempo picks up and the Suns are happy.

The next possession worth talking about the Suns come down and Nash and Amare play pick and roll on the wing. The Lakers do switch but Kwame stays back almost daring Nash to shoot. Instead Kwame laying back also created a passing lane so Nash feeds it to the mismatch, Amare in the post with Kobe on him. Amare passes out, gets better position and Nash renters the ball and this time Amare goes to work, spinning baseline, drawing the contact and getting to the line for two. He only hits one.

Suns +13, the Lakers nibble at it from there but never get close again.

Lakers/Suns Chat: Game 4

Kurt —  April 29, 2007

It comes down to defense.

In game three not only did the Lakers switch (or occasionally trap) on the pick-and-roll, not only did they play better man defense, but they cut off diagonal and other passing lanes. They limited Suns options, and they are going to have to do that again.

Thanks to Gatinho for posting something from an interview on 570am Web site — here’s what Phil said about the defense:

Kwame… “bottled up their screen roll opportunities… We made Nash have to turn back away from the offensive end of the floor so he had to control the ball and that was the difference in the ball game. He then had to recover and reset the offense. Which gave us a chance to recover on our men.”

They need to do it again. And do it for 48 minutes. That’s my one concern, the Lakers have not been a team in the last few months to have consistent efforts back-to-back (or even quarter to quarter). We have to hope the playoffs are different.

Game Four Preview

Kurt —  April 28, 2007

Forty-eight minutes.

It’s pretty clear what the Lakers need to do to win in this series — if you have not read Nate Jones’s breakdown of game three on Fanhouse yesterday you must, it’s so good and comprehensive I’m not going to repeat it all here.

But this time they need to do all that for 48 minutes. The Lakers won game three doing it for 36 minutes. The Suns are too good and too deep to get away with taking a quarter off again and still get a win. Phoenix will come out focused, if the Lakers fall down by 17 in the first on Sunday I guarantee the road back will be a lot steeper this time.

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While having lunch at Riley’s yesterday I rewatched the first half of game three, and one thing jumped out at me:

Just how much more patient the Lakers were on offense starting in the second quarter.

In the first quarter the Lakers tried to force passes inside that weren’t there, tried to take specific shots even when they were not open, and were generally looking hurried. But then, with the first couple of subs off the bench, the Lakers adopted the classic John Wooden mantra — ”Be quick, don’t hurry.”

How many times did the Lakers run the high pick and roll offense, nothing developed, and Kobe pulled it out rather than force something up. And eventually they made a smart pass inside (or some other variant of the offense). They stopped forcing the play, rather they made the pass when it was there.

Those Lakers need to be back Sunday.

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Apparently some Phoenix fans wanted to lay the blame for the game three loss at the feet of the referees. I just felt I have to address this.

First, a little note of compromise: You are not going to get any argument here that the officiating in the NBA can be wildly inconsistent. Both from game to game and within a game. But for the most part I think the bad calls balance out in the long run.

As for game three, let me quote Gatinho from the comments: Unless the refs were helping run down some of the 20 offensive rebounds the Lakers had…

Whether it be Wade in last years finals or Kobe or Nash or Barbosa, the one constant in the NBA is that the aggressive player gets the calls most of the time. The guy who drives the lane goes to the line, not the jump shooter.

In game three, for the first time this series, the Lakers were the aggressors. They dove the lane, they crashed the offensive glass hard, they pounded the ball and were physical inside. And, with that, they got the calls. Yes, they didn’t get those calls in the other two games – but they didn’t earn them. Outside of Kobe, and occasionally Odom, the Lakers were passive jump shooters. That all changed in the last game.

And if they do all that again on Sunday, they’ll get the calls again. Personally, I hope to see that.

Game 3 Thoughts

Kurt —  April 27, 2007

Finally!

In the second quarter, the Lakers started playing like a desperate team, and washed in with that wave of desperation was hustle and honest-to-goodness pick-and-roll defense. Back for three quarters were the Lakers from last December, the team other squads didn’t want to see come playoff time.

Keying the 21-9 second quarter run that got things started was the defense — particularly from Shammond Williams and Kwame Brown. Not coincidentally, those two finished the game with the two best +/- numbers on the team, Shammond +12 and Kwame +9.

But the Lakers did it as a team. The passing, particularly the interior passing, that made this team fun to watch earlier this season was back with a vengeance. So was sticking to the plan of pounding the Suns physically, getting the ball inside on offence and crashing the glass — 18 offensive rebounds.

And the Lakers were toughest when it mattered most, holding the Suns to 30% shooting in the fourth quarter.

Because it’s fun, let’s break down the last three minutes of the game (3:09 to be precise). We pick up the action with the Lakers up 89-86 and with the ball:

• Shammond gets a pick-and-roll screen out high at the left wing from Kwame, drives to the top of the key and decides, since Nash is trailing pretty far behind him, to shoot early in the shot clock. He misses. And a year goes off of Phil Jackson’s life.

• Fortunately, Nash and Barbosa miscommunication at the other end and Nash throws the ball into the bench. I do my best Nelson Muntz “Ha-Ha.”

• The Lakers are deliberate and work the ball around the top, eventually getting it over to Kobe out at the right high wing, probably his favorite spot on the court. Before he can drive Nash comes over to double (joining Bell), so Kobe makes the smart pass to the open Williams at the top of the three-point arc, but he misses a good-look three.

• As they have done with success all game the Lakers switch on the Suns high pick-and-roll, meaning Odom is on Nash but now Williams has got Armare in the high post. Nash wisely waits for him to get set then gets to ball to Stoudemire, so Kwame comes over to double. Amare feels the double and passes back out of the post to Nash, who makes a quick skip-pass over to Barbosa in the right corner. Smush actually closed pretty well but a great shot by Barbosa ties the game, 89-89.

• Now there’s 1:55 left. Kobe drives and draws the defenders early in the clock, and again has to kick out to an open Williams, who this time passes up the shot and instead gets the ball to Odom on the block. Credit Williams with the smart play, going back to the Lakers biggest strength, and Odom rewards the smart play when hits a nice shot inside around Marion. Now it’s 91-89 Lakers.

• Stoudemire sets the high pick for Nash and Kwame does a great job hedging out while Smush recovers. Meanwhile Amare goes and sets a down screen for Marion, who then is open at the top of the key, gets the ball and drives the lane. But tonight the Laker defensive rotations are there — Kwame and Odom come over to sandwich Marion and it works, he misses. Kwame rebounds.

• Figuring to give the Suns a little of their own medicine, the Lakers run the high pick and roll twice with Kwame and Kobe, but nothing develops that Kobe likes. So once again he again kicks it to Shammond as the shot clock winds down, but this time drives and gets a blocking foul on Nash. Of course, the TNT announcer’s first reaction is to call it a charge, then corrects himself. We understand. How could “the” Steve Nash ever really foul a guy named Shammond?

• The second half of the Laker possession starts with an out of bounds play, and the ball going to Smush at the top of the key where he almost pulls up and takes a three — you can see him set himself and start to rock, before he thinks, “wait, this is the stuff I get yelled at for in film sessions.” Instead he gives it to Kobe on a clearout, and he works Bell down the left side then hits the fade away over him before the double arrives. Now it’s 93-89 Lakers and the Suns are the ones getting desperate.

• Again the high pick and roll with Stoudemire, again Kwame hedges hard but this time Nash gets the ball to the rolling Stoudemire. Amare drives to the post where Odom stands him up, so he hands the ball to Barbosa, who runs around him so Stoudemire can be used as a screen. Barbosa gets into the paint but Kwame rotates well and Barbosa suddenly looks confused — he hadn’t seen a Laker defender in his path for two games and now they’ve been in his face all night. He tries to draw the foul on Kwame with an interesting pirouette and reverse over-the-shoulder shot; Kwame just rejects it.

After that you had the feeling it was over, although the Suns did get a couple better looks at some late threes than I would have liked.

I’m ready, I bet the Lakers are too. Can we play Sunday’s game now?

Lakers/Suns Chat: Game 3

Kurt —  April 26, 2007

It says a lot about this Laker team that the coaches are still tinkering with player substitution patterns and lineups well into the first round of the playoffs.

They can overcome that if we see a Laker team that’s a little angry tonight, one with a little fire in its belly. They need to be physical with the Suns — at both ends of the floor. Don’t give up uncontested lay-ups on defense; pound them inside on offense (wherever the mismatches are).

And if anyone is not showing that fire, bench them.