Savoring and Looking Ahead

Kurt —  April 29, 2008

You know the best part of the Lakers sweep? Wednesday night we don’t have to sit through any Major Payne promos, or to see how long Holly Hunter’s list is. Kyra Sedgwick, I have a confession for you — I don’t watch your show. Don’t plan to either.

Today is a day to enjoy a series win — these are not gimmes. Denver is no pushover team — they won 50 games and have two of the game’s best offensive players, plus they play a style that some teams have trouble adjusting to. A sweep for the Lakers is no small feat and should be savored.

Last night, for the first time in the series Denver played like the team we expected the Lakers to face — more aggressive on-ball defense (Camby doing this really seemed to both Pau) and much better ball movement on offense. Credit to the Nuggets for not just folding when down double digits for most of the first half.

But in the end, the Lakers discipline at both ends of the floor held sway. Plus LA had Kobe making key plays with the game on the line — and good ball movement when he gave it up (the wide-open Walton three late, and the passes that led to Gasol’s dunk to seal the win).

It wasn’t pretty, but we had better get used to that as we look toward Utah.

Lakers fans should try to watch Utah and the Rockets tonight (my DVR is set) and should pull for the Rockets — if this extends one more game it will be Friday night, then likely the Jazz will have to turn around and play the Lakers 36 hours later. We should take all the benefits we can get.

Starting tomorrow we’ll really break down this series, look at past games and talk about what the Jazz are doing now. It is supposed to get tougher each round of the playoffs, and it will for the Lakers for sure.

Here are a few other thoughts out of the comments to think about, starting with Kwame a.:

It will be a very physical series and unfortunately I think the refs will play a big role. 3 key places I see this happening

Pau on Boozer: If we stick Odom on the 3pt happy Okur, we will have Pau on Boozer and the Jazz would love to get Pau in early foul trouble.

Utah on Kobe: The refs will be key in determining just how physical Utah is with Kobe. They have allowed Utah to play tough with T-Mac.

D.Fish on D.Will: Fish will need to be able to play physical with D.Will to match-up with him. Also, I think the primary other cover for D.Will needs to be Sasha (or Ariza). D.Will punishes opposing PG’s with his physicality, the refs will definitely have to find boundaries for how physical the series will be.

And Darius, who echoes some of the same themes:

What we need to understand about Utah is 3 fold. They may not be a strong defensive team, but they are a physical team. They lead the league in fouls every year. The Lakers are going to have to play through that physicality and get used to not getting every call, especially when we play in Utah. Refs get intimidated by that crowd. Phil knows this too, he mentions it every year we go to Utah. Utah is also extremely talented on offense. They have a diverse attack with a lot of weapons that can hurt you. Williams, Boozer, Okur, AK47, Korver, Millsap, Harpring, Brewer….all these guys can get Utah buckets and do it in diverse enough ways that our defense will be tested. Utah is a disciplined team on offense and the run motion sets…so while we got used to playing pretty good defense against Denver’s Iso sets, we will have a significantly more difficult challenge putting the clamps on Utah’s attack. Also, have we really improved our P&R defense? We will find out this series. The P&R is the staple of the Utah offense and they can score off it in a variety of ways. Williams can shoot the J or drive the hole. Boozer can roll on a dive cut, pop out and shoot the midrange J, or slip the screen and either dive hard or stop short for a lane jumper. Basically, we are going to have our hands full.

Have we tradtionally beaten teams that try to outscore us? Indeed we have. But this series is going to be much more difficult than the one we just played. We are going to be facing a team that matches up with us well and has a deep enough bench where we probably won’t have a decided advantage at any one position besides Kobe’s. Utah is not a team that we can take lightly, look past, or think is going to be any sort of easy out.