About Last Night….

Kurt —  December 10, 2008

….Or, alternately titled, Sexual Perversity in Sacramento

I don’t think anybody who watched part of all of the last five Lakers games that would say this team is playing well right now. It’s still winning games because of the talent level, but the defense has gotten lax and the triangle offense is often ignored.

But, all of that is a far cry from the disaster some seem to think. The regular season is a process, a long grinding road where your mind and body are tested, where your team’s weaknesses are exposed and picked at. The best teams, especially ones like the Lakers trying to grow into a champion, do not spring fully formed like some sort of Venus. No, they are forged by the fire and hammer of Vulcan. The process makes them stronger.

In that way, the last five games can be a learning experience, if the team lets it (Phil will certainly try to make it such). Because, as Joel said in the comment below, things learned now (good and bad) are carried over.

The Lakers need to start developing good habits (executing the offense, playing solid contain defense, boxing out) and stop relying on their talent to win them games. When injuries, fatigue, and bad shooting nights become issues you need to be able to fall back on those habits. When you can’t, teams like Sacramento, Washington, and Indiana light you up for 100+ points.

The offensive side should be easier to fix. The Lakers need to run the triangle offense. They need to get the ball inside to their bigs more and get their jumpers on passes that go inside out. Bottom line, against Sacramento Gasol and Bynum combined to shoot 59% and get to the line 10 times. Good teams see that and go to that well over and over, not become an isolation team on the perimeter. The Kings tried to take the ball out of Kobe’s hand and he seemed to take it as a personal challenge. Just run the offense inside out and this team will thrive.

On defense, some have concerns with the scheme, the traps and aggression the Lakers have shown. I think at the NBA level, defense is more about desire, about who wants it worse, than it is about schemes and pure talent. Right now, the Lakers do not look like a team that cares about defense, and they get away with that bad habit because they can still win games that way. A lot of games. But not a title.

Friend of the site JonesontheNBA talks about why Sacramento gives the Lakers fits:

The Kings are a bad match up for the Lakers because their centers play a perimeter game that draws Bynum and Gasol out to the three point line and opens up the lane for drives and causes the Lakers defense to break down leading to easy lay ups or open three pointers. Same thing happened against the Pacers and their perimeter oriented bigs and Detroit and Rasheed’s three point shooting from the center position. Teams with quick penetrating guards and perimeter oriented bigs will continue to be a problem for the Lakers as Farmar and Fisher will never be ball stopping guards, so if Bynum and/or Pau are out on the perimeter those guards are going to have a field day and just chop up the Lakers on defense. Against teams like the Pacers and Kings the Lakers are usually able to make up for this match up issue by outscoring them. But when the Lakers shots aren’t falling, you’re going to have issues like this.

Come playoff time the only teams that could try and kill the Lakers with that strategy are Utah (With Okur…but disregarding pace, they are a terrible defensive team that the Lakers usually just outscore), Boston (if they go small and play KG at Center and sit Perkins…which I doubt), San Antonio if they go small with Duncan at Center (They aren’t really comfortable doing that, and Duncan is still reluctant to stay on the perimeter), and Detroit (On the long shot that they made the finals and Rasheed was playing at the top of his game like he was the last time the two teams played). But anyhow, expect the Lakers to struggle against teams that have perimeter oriented centers the rest of the year.

In the end, the Lakers are 17-3 after 20 games, but if they take that record as a sign that everything is good and they are fully formed, we are in for another playoff disappointment. But if they are still learning how to be a great team, how to win, we are in for a real treat as the team comes together.

I still think, as a Lakers fan, the best part of this team is ahead of it.