Archives For April 2007

Game Three Preview

Kurt —  April 26, 2007

The year was 2004, and the Lakers fell down 2-0 to the hot and rolling San Antonio Spurs. It looked bleak. It looked like a Laker team that, back before the season started, most fans thought would walk to an NBA title was going to be eliminated in the conference semifinals.

But the Lakers won two games at home, then went to San Antonio and stole a game on the legendary Derrick Fisher 0.4-second shot. The demoralized Spurs lot game six back at Staples.

It can be done, teams can come back from 2-0 deficits and win a series. We’ve seen it before. (Thanks to commenter Skigi for the reminder.)

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Those last three paragraphs are pretty much all the positive energy I’ve got.

I’m not going to get into how those Laker squads were filled with veteran role players that would step up when Kobe (or Shaq) was being doubled (as Jonesonthenba pointed out in the comments and pointed out the Lakers need now). And I’m not going to get into how those were good defensive teams.

There are a lot of reasons this year’s Lakers are not those Lakers. But, as a fan, I’ve got to believe it’s possible on some level. Otherwise I’m just an observer.

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Things that need to happen:

1) The Lakers cannot come out demoralized and let the Suns jump out early. Rarely have I been the advocate of Kobe taking over a game in the first quarter, but if Odom cannot get the ball in the post and take it right at Marion early on, Kobe has to step up. And Kobe going for 48 minutes is good with me. But, when the double and triple teams come to Kobe, and they will, somebody else has to hit the big shot.

2) Make Nash the shooter. In the first game the Lakers did a good job of not letting Nash dish off for easy baskets and open threes by his teammates. Not in game two. The Suns adjusted to better isolate him (and Barbosa) plus went to the pick-and-roll — the Lakers know how to defend these things they just have to step out with energy and do it. For 48 minutes. As we’ve said, making Nash score a lot is not ideal, he can score, but it’s better than the alternative.

3) The crowd needs to get the Lakers up and into the game emotionally.

4) Barbosa must be slowed. I’m good with Barkley’s suggestion of knocking him down once or twice. Even if it means a flagrant. But that threat of physical play only matters if you back it up with solid rotations the other times he drives, so he sees a body between him and the basket.

Game Two Thoughts

Kurt —  April 25, 2007

In those Greek tragedies we all were supposed to read in high school, there was something called Hamartia. (Apparently Gatinho read them because he pointed me to this.) What is Hamartia?

The “tragic hero” attempts to do the “right thing” in a situation where the right thing cannot be done.

I could see Kobe in that spot in game two. On one hand, he realizes the Lakers can’t beat the Suns over the course of a series if he has to score 50+ points and take over the games. On the other hand, the Lakers can’t seem to win any games if he does not score 50+ and take over the game.

These days we call it a “Catch 22,” based on another of those novels we were supposed to read in school. Call it whatever you like, unless the other Lakers step up it is an unsolvable bind.

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The reason there has to be so much pressure on Kobe and the offense is because 48 minutes of defense is beyond the Lakers.

The Suns made adjustments to get more isolation — both by clear outs or the pick-and-roll. Both of those required quick and smart defensive rotations to stop. The Lakers were slow and stupid. They let Nash be the passer not the shooter. The rotations that were solid in game one disappeared, to be replaced by a very confused look on many players’ faces.

I thought about breaking down a specific second quarter sequence where the Suns pulled away, but it largely read like this over and over:

Barbosa blows past Smush Parker and nobody rotates over with any urgency. Barbosa doesn’t even have to change direction on his layup.

There were some minor variations of that sequence, but not many. The Suns started their 24-9 run that gave them the big lead for good against a Laker lineup that was Kobe and the bench. The Suns bench outplayed the Laker bench pretty badly.

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I feared this, the one blowout game where the Lakers got behind early and the players just folded. I hoped they would fight back, I didn’t want to admit it really could happen, but I feared a game like that.

Thursday night we’ll learn a lot about the mental makeup of this team. Another effort like Tuesday’s and they might as well not bother to come to Staples Sunday. But they are capable of winning, if they are willing to play within the system, on both ends of the court.

And they have to do it all for 48 minutes.

Lakers/Suns Chat: Game 2

Kurt —  April 24, 2007

Something to look for in this one — where are the Lakers getting the ball to Kobe and Lamar early. On the block, like early in game one, or out on the perimeter like late in that game. If the Suns are overplaying to keep the ball out of their hands in the block, there are easy passes to make to open guys (and then they have to hit the shots).

By the way, help me out a little, I’ll be at work through the first quarter or so of this game, so I’ll be counting on all of you to provide me the color I’m missing live (but will rewatch on TiVo later).

Game Two Preview

Kurt —  April 24, 2007

There are not many secrets left between these two teams. The Lakers (and the Suns) have played each other a lot the last couple years and know what they have to do to win. For the Lakers that means not abandoning the game plan — pound it inside, post up Odom (and Walton and Kobe and Kwame and everyone else on the floor), crash the boards, make Nash the shooter and get back on defense. If game one taught us anything, it’s that the Lakers can’t deviate from this for even a few minutes.

Other thoughts heading forward:

• Great note that reader and commenter Omar sent to me:

I was reading “Mindgames” by Roland Lazenby last night and I could not help myself but to replace Jordan’s name with Bryant’s in the following paragraph:

“Faced every game night with the task of urging Jordan (Bryant) not to dominate the basketball in the fourth quarter, to include his teammates, Jackson spoke to Jordan (Bryant) through film clips inserted in the team’s scouting tapes. In 1998, as Jackson guided the bulls to their sixth championship, he chose to insert clips of the feature film Devil’s Advocate into the Bull’s scouting tapes. In that film, the protagonist’s wife slices her own throat with a shard of glass. Feeling the need to speak forcefully, Jackson showed his team a film clip of a possession where Jordan (Bryant) held the ball too long, then he cut to a clip of the woman cutting her own throat. Gruesomely effective, Jackson’s editing spoke to Jordan in a way that no verbal communication could.”

• I thought Farmar did a respectable job tasked with the impossible job of shadowing Nash. Where he really got in trouble is when Nash moved without the ball on down low picks, he lost Nash several times and that led to wide open shots for a two-time MVP. Forget the ball, stay with the man.

• The idea expressed by AP in the comments — to run Kobe off some off-the-ball screens for quick catch-and-shoots — is a good one. The Lakers did it a couple times in the first half (remember Kobe flashing into the lane and hitting a fade-away?) but abandoned it in the second half, like everything else. Need to get back to that, too.

• The Lakers need an answer for Barbosa, I just have no idea what it is. Smush and Sasha clearly weren’t it. Maybe give Mo Evans a shot.

• Great line by Clipper coach Mike Dunleavy in a radio interview this morning (that Rogan/Simers show) talking about the Suns. He said there were three guys on the Suns who could create their own shot and needed to be stopped — Nash, Barbosa and:

“Diaw’s right hand. The guy can’t even go to the bathroom with his left hand.”

• I am saddened by the passing of David Halberstam. If you want some great views of the United States post World War II, his writing is some of the best. My personal favorite is “The Fifties,” both the book and PBS series. Highly recommended.

Thoughts from Game One

Kurt —  April 23, 2007

There’s a reason that Kobe has long struck me as the sort of character seen in Greek mythology or classic novels — his greatest strength is also the cause of his undoing.

He could not be Kobe without his supreme self-confidence, without his unshakable belief that the next shot is going to fall regardless of if he made the last one, regardless of where he is on the court or how many people are defending him.

Laker fans lamented Kobe’s shot selections and deep threes in the fourth quarter, but he was taking similar shots earlier in the game. In the first half those shots fell, so nobody questions it; in the second half they didn’t. But you have to know Kobe won’t stop taking them.

In the first half, the Suns went with a soft double on Kobe, I’m not sure anyone had really done that against him since Toronto last year. It let Kobe get into a rhythm early. In the second half when Kobe first started to go cold he was still single-covered, he was just missing the shots he hit earlier. But his confidence never wavered and he kept shooting, trying to take over the game as the Laker lead faded. And as he pushed harder to take over, the Lakers got farther away from the game plan that got them the lead in the first place.

Then, as tends to happen, the complete “Kobe heat check” offense came when he felt he had to do it for the Lakers to win. After Kobe forced a few shots early in the fourth quarter Phil sat him for a couple minutes. When he came back in on his first play Kobe broke out of the offense, drew defenders and hit Odom with a pass under the basked, Odom missed (and missed the put back). Next trip down when the double came he passed inside to Kwame, who passed back out and the ball worked around to Odom in the corner, he proceeded to drive the lane and lose the ball.

After that Kobe’s unshakable belief that he could do it alone seemed to take over and that meant him taking forced shots even though the Suns had adjusted and were bringing the double team.

As numerous commenters here said at the time, in the second half in general and the fourth quarter specifically the Lakers got away from exploiting mismatches, like setting up Odom in the post. Or Walton. Or whoever Marion was covering, because going right at him was when they had their best success.

Kobe needs to recognize this and set up his teammates better, no matter how unshakable his confidence. That is how the Lakers can win the next game.

Some other thoughts:

• Kwame Brown was a +8 for the game, the only Laker playing major minutes who was a positive for the game. He was +14 in the first half. It speaks volumes about what he means to the Lakers defense, and how much not having him at 100% hurts this team.

• Defensively that was a solid game by the Lakers, the Suns finished with an offensive ratting of 103.3, 7 points below their season average. In the first half in particular, the Lakers make the Suns a midrange shooting team, and it worked.

• I didn’t put in a post until the day of the game how much Barbosa concerned me. Probably should have gotten to that sooner. He comes off the bench often matched up on a Laker sub like Smush or Sasha. That was a bad combo for the Lakers.

• The Lakers shot 19% in the fourth quarter. Kobe was 1 of 10 in the fourth quarter.

• Things I never thought I’d type: I’m pretty sick of the Pussycat Dolls.

• It seemed like the second half was at a much faster pace, but the Suns only had one more possession than they did in the first (46 to 45).

• The Suns are like Brazil in soccer, everybody’s second favorite team because of the style of play.