Nine months ago, no Laker fan in their right mind saw their team hosting the first round of the conference finals on a sunny mid-May day. We should all take a moment to bask in the warmth of that success, to look around and survey the situation and feel excited and proud today. Lakers fans should have their chests out, and we should all enjoy this feeling.
But there is a lot of work left for the team to do. And a lot of good analysis out there to talk about — I’d start with David Thorpe at ESPN.com — to catch up on before the game starts.
In a move that surprised absolutely nobody, Phil Jackson said yesterday that Paul Gasol will match up with Tim Duncan. He also suggested that the double will only come to help out in a few spots, or if Gasol gets in foul trouble. That matchup is one obvious key because if the Lakers have to double much a couple of quick passes will expose the Laker rotations. As has been said, it may be best to let Duncan score 40 but not get his teammates going at all.
That “don’t double” idea was supported in an interesting preview from friend-of-the-site Kevin Pelton over at Basketball Prospectus. He said that the Duncan/Gasol matchup, and how the Lakers do defensively against Tony Parker will be the key.
The big challenge for the Lakers will be defending Parker running the pick-and-roll. When these teams last squared off in the postseason, the Lakers could simply go under picks and sag into the paint against Parker. Now, Parker is too dangerous when allowed to shoot off the dribble to make that a reasonable strategy. In Fisher, the Lakers have a physical defender against Parker who can body him up and try to push him away from the screen. Still, Parker averaged 20.7 points and shot 56.5% against the Lakers in the regular season; finding a way to slow him down with a big man showing hard against the pick-and-roll or even trapping Parker to get the ball out of his hands will be key.
The other troublesome matchup for the Lakers, naturally, is Duncan in the post. Los Angeles can’t afford serious foul trouble for either Gasol or Odom, and neither is a great matchup for Duncan down low in terms of pure strength. If the Lakers double-team, they must try to do so off of Parker and with the other big man on the floor instead of allowing the Spurs’ wing players to get open looks from downtown. However, over the course of the series, the Hornets found out how difficult that can be. San Antonio got much better three-point looks late in the series than in the early going, a major factor in their comeback. The wisest course for Phil Jackson and his coaching staff may be playing Duncan one-on-one and doing everything possible to keep everyone else quiet. The more minutes the Lakers can steal with Ronny Turiaf defending Duncan, the better.
Personally, I agree with the commenters that you go under the pick if it is set out by the three-point line (at least until TP shows he is hot for that game) but you need to show out or trap from the top of the key in.
While Fisher will get some key time on Parker so will Jordan Farmar, and that was the topic of coach Anthony L. Macri, Jr. (one of the IMG guys) in in another Basketball Prospectus piece about the key role players in the conference finals. One thing he said is that Utah took Farmar out of his game, didn’t let him push the pace, but that if he can get back to that it would be a big boost against a Spurs team that likes to slow it down. Then there was this about Farmar’s defense.
Farmar can breathe a sigh of relief now that he will not have to guard a physical, strong-bodied guard like Williams. Instead, he gets to guard a player more akin to his own style in Tony Parker. While Farmar is not at all at the level of a player like Parker, his quick feet and defensive pressure will allow him to stay in front of Parker most of the time….
One thing we all agree on is that Lamar Odom is the X-Factor in this series — the Spurs have nobody who can really cover him if he is aggressive. If you want to hear from Odom on why he’s playing better with Pau, that’s one of the questions he answers in a new video up on his site.
And while we’re doing the audio (without the visual), I took part in the Hoops Addict podcast for this round, along with Matt from Detroit Bad Boys and AOL Fanhouse, Jeff from Celtics Blog , Natalie from Need 4 Sheed and Holly from Slam Magazine. Those other people are really worth listening to.
For an opposing view point, check out the quality Pounding The Rock blog. Over at SportsHubLA the have a veritable plethora of posts, including some good stuff on Phil and Pops and the latest from Roland Lazenby.
My final thoughts — this is not going to be easy, but a big key for the Lakers will be getting a few easy buckets. It is hard to push the pace on the Spurs (they rebound well and don’t turn the ball over usually) but if the Lakers, especially the second unit, can get some runs it will go a long way toward putting the Lakers in the Finals.
Like everything against the Spurs, it’s easier said than done, but the Lakers know what they have to do.