It’s Good To Be The King

Kurt —  April 14, 2008

It’s hard not to be one of those confident bordering on unbearable Lakers fans today, after two wins in a row against contending teams where the Lakers played formidable defense (well, for two of the four halves, anyway.) Check out this quote from Kobe after the game yesterday that we call all just pray is true:

“I think we’ve found our defensive identity,” Bryant said. “We’re very aggressive. We have a tremendous amount of versatility in wings and bigs who are athletic and long. We can get after guys.”

The Laker roster is made of long guys (save Fisher and Farmar), and that’s a big plus on defense. When they are active the long arms alter shots and cut off passing angles. What’s more, the Lakers coaching staff is starting to use that is very smart ways. From Bill Bridges in the comments:

Did you all catch the interesting defensive scheme the Lakers brought out in the second half? The Spurs try to force the opponent to double team Duncan who then passes it out for open 3’s. The rotation is usually easy for Duncan to spot as it comes from the wing or corner.

In the second half. The Lakers didn’t double him as much. Instead, when the Spur in the corner facing Duncan cleared baseline, the Laker guarding him followed his man past Duncan but then immediately turned back to double him from the blindside. This disrupted Duncan’s usual kick outs because his usual normal targets were still covered yet he was being doubled hard from the baseline. Very smart and effective.

On a separate note, I don’t think enough good things can be said about how Lamar Odom is playing, once again freed up from the pressure and defensive attention of being the number two guy. He was a team-high +26 against the Spurs, crashing the boards, moving without the ball and diving to the baskets at the right times. At some point in the playoffs, a team is going to focus more on stopping Odom, and when it happens Gasol and Fisher will have big days.

Reed echoed those thoughts in the comments:

Odom finally gets it. Since the all-star break: 15.8 points, 11.9 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.1 steals, 1.4 blocks, and 58% shooting.

The rebounding line would be good for 3rd in the league on the year and the FG% would be 4th. Add in great, versatile defense and you have a sure-fire all star. He is our x-factor. If he continues to play like an all star, we are the team to beat in the West, even without Drew. Some credit for this should go to Gasol, whose arrival sparked Lamar’s transformation (in ways I both do and don’t fully understand).

With a win Tuesday (no gimme, you think the Kings might love to muck up that top seed?) the Lakers finish #1 and likely get the best first round match up available in Denver (although Dallas is certainly a strong possibility). According to the poll recently conducted here, 37% thought Denver was the best choice for us in the first round, Houston was second at 32% and Dallas had 18%. Rather than jinx anything, we’ll save the breakdowns until after the game Tuesday.

Just a few other thoughts:

• Seriously, Kobe’s kids are at the game with “Daddy for MVP” signs? Did Kobe hire Mark Penn to run his campaign?

• Maybe it’s not good for the Lakers playoff seedings, but it brought a smile to my face to see Seattle win most likely their final game in that city, ever, knocking off Dallas.

• Explain to me again how Oklahoma City is a better market for the NBA than Seattle again?

• Dodger Stadium is still an amazing place to watch a baseball game on a clear day. Even if Madux is pitching.

• The Lakers can be a very efficient team shooting from three when they take 20 or fewer a game. Above that and generally seem to be looking for it over better shots, and things start to go south.

• Fisher and Farmar combined to be 10 of 14 from the field. That stat just caught my eye.