The Blueprint For Beating The Lakers

Kurt —  January 20, 2009
Texas News - January 14, 2009

The Lakers come out of a brutal four game stretch 2-2, and it could be 3-1 without a couple lucky shots by the Spurs (and a rare mental mistake from Fish). Lakers fans are feeling pretty good about their team’s chances right now — and we all should be. This is a contender.

But the other thing that has emerged, both in the last four games and over the course of the season, is the blueprint for beating the Lakers. And I don’t mean just one game in the middle of January, I mean over a seven-game series.

And there are teams that can do it. David Thorpe, ESPN.com analyst and Executive Director of the Pro Training Center at IMG thinks that the Spurs may be that team:

I still think San Antonio is the most dangerous threat to LA. First of all, they beat the Spurs 3 times in the playoffs last year by 4, 2, and 8 points. In those games, a severely disabled Manu scored 10, 7, and 9 points. Bigger picture — LA has an excellent defensive team because of the way they work together, but they have only 1 or two very good individual defenders. So a team like San Antonio, with 3 stars (when healthy), really puts a lot of pressure on that defense to move as a unit. Also, the Spurs are gritty tough (like Boston), forcing all of LA’s softness to the forefront. If they play with force, LA can win that series. But can they play with force, assuming all 3 of the Spurs stars are healthy?

The Spurs do match up well with the things that a team needs to do to more than just chant Beat LA.

Play Defense. Simply put, the Laker offense is too good for a team to win a shootout with the Lakers for seven games. There are too many weapons, too many guys who can hit the shots. Darius said it well in a recent email:

If teams really think that they can milk our defensive deficiencies into victories, I don’t think it will work. If the Finals taught me anything it’s that if you play tough enough D our Offense can stall and you’ve got a chance. But if you can’t stop our Offense, you’re not going to have enough firepower to beat us. And that was without Bynum.

What the Celtics did in the Finals last year is really still the model for stopping the Lakers. They pressured the ball, but what they maybe did best was stop the ball rotation to the weakside, something the Lakers had done well in getting through the Western Conference.

Thorpe chimes in on that:

Yes-forcing the triangle to stay on one side of the floor is always a smart plan defensively. It helps define help positions while allowing those helpers to stay more stationary, as opposed to moving from help to strong side positions. In short-it allows players to know with more alacrity that they are the helpers on a particular possession. So it ends up bottling Kobe and Pau on slashes/cuts to the paint, as helpers are already there.

If there is one thing we all — from myself and commenters — have wanted to see more of in the triangle offense is the ball to work from the inside out. When that happens, the cuts and weakside plays that the Celtics took away, opens up. Reed expands upon that:

(Teams should) do everything possible to get the ball out of the hands of Gasol and Bynum. If the offense isn’t running through them, the team is likely to either revert to Kobe ball or jack up too many difficult perimeter shots, many of them from people like Ariza and Odom. If Gasol and Bynum get the ball early in the clock they either get a high percentage shot or force the defense to collapse, freeing up open shots for others. The more Kobe shoots, the better chance you have.

On that last note — the Magic had Kobe doing a lot of that at the end of the game the other night, and it worked. The Cavaliers let Kobe get 12 assists and so at the end of the game he did not need to be the gunner.

Let’s talk about the bigs. A couple days ago Nomuskles had a great post on what Bynum is doing now. Thorpe had some thoughts about Bynum as well:

The guy he reminds me of the most right now is actually Rik Smits. Bynum, like Smits, is a huge man with an excellent shooting touch. Not elite level athletes, but inside forces that can score. At 21, there is still a long way for Bynum to grow, but he isn’t forced to do that because he already plays for such a good team that does not need him (at present) to develop into a 26 point per game beast.

Don’t turn the ball over. This really obvious statement is key to beating any team. But it is especially important against the Lakers, particularly when their bench players are on the floor because they want to get out and run and turnovers fuel that. Taking care of the ball is one of the best ways to slow the Lakers bench.

Be efficient on offense. While you need to focus on defense, your team still needs to put up 90+, and the Lakers defense can make that hard some nights. That said, there are ways to attack the Lakers.

One good way is to have bigs that can shoot from 17-feet or more out. The Lakers struggle with Sacramento because their bigs can do just that, pulling our zone apart and our shotblockers away from the basket. Cleveland could not do this last night without Big Z in the lineup and the Laker bigs at home slowed LeBron James, maybe the best dribble-penetration guy in the league.

One little thing a lot of teams have already started doing is to attack the Laker defense with penetration from the top of the key area (rather than the wings), taking away what the Lakers strong side zone. Notice this is something the Cavaliers did poorly with LeBron James (maybe the best dribble penetration guy in the game) — he started on the wings and the Lakers help was waiting for him.

Reed can take it from there:

The Lakers have several poor defenders in terms of knowing when and how to rotate, so getting into the lane from the top will almost always result in an open corner 3. Getting into the lane also will likely result in Bynum getting into foul trouble, and the more he sits the easier it is to get easy shots inside (see Boston in last year’s finals). Don’t be afraid to initiate your offense a little earlier in the shot clock than usual as LA’s length can make it difficult to score one on one when the clock is winding down.

Darius has a little something to add:

I’ve noticed that the Lakers really do a poor job of dealing with motion offenses. I noticed this against the Kings and the other night against the Pacers as well (I also remember Utah going to their Flex offense in the playoffs and it giving us problems). When there are back cuts that are built into the offense or when there are designed actions where the screener cuts hard after setting a pick off the ball, the Lakers really struggle with who they are covering and where they should go to compensate.

That’s the blueprint. The question is: What team could pull it off consistently in a seven-game series? What team has the matchups to do it? What about the mental toughness?

Kurt

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79 responses to The Blueprint For Beating The Lakers

  1. I like that Phil brought out the full-court press last night.

    It forced the Cavs into their offense a little later in the shot clock, and as Reed wrote, “LA’s length can make it difficult to score one on one when the clock is winding down.”

    I think Phil will employ this more in big games for short bursts.

  2. The Hornets still worry me in a 7 game series. My biggest two problems with us are rotating on the perimeter and getting burned by decent point guard play. Chris Paul can have his way with Fish and if you don’t rotate on Mo, Butler, or Peja then you are in for a lot of headaches. It also hurts that David West can hit from anywhere on the floor (including the occasional three) so our bigs can’t help as often as they would like. I would have no problem with someone else knocking them out of the playoffs for us again this year.

  3. The Utah Jazz seem to fit this profile.

    It all depends on the officiating, though, doesnt it?

  4. Somewhere, an assistant of a contending West team is gathering tape of Jim O’Brien’s teams, Pete Carrill’s Princeton offense, while still studying Boston’s defense form last year.

    Thanks guys.

    Seriously, great post.

    As much as Boston’s defense of us was a blueprint for slowing us down, I think our bigs are, so far, doing a great job of expecting team’s attempts to play them tough. Pau expects it now. So, instead of waiting for whistle that may not come, he’s doing his best to stay aggressive. If Pau’s not backing down, the teams either have to start doubling and leaving guys open, or let Pau kill them time and again. Same for Bynum.

    Add that with Kobe actively looking to pass it the open 3-pt shot, it opens our offense up even more to go inside out, and run the triangle how we want to. Kobe’s looking to pass opens up everything and adds confidence to our shooters.

    In last night’s game, on two straight possessions, the Cavs tried to trap Kobe, wo willingly led the trap out towards half court, then passed it to Lamar at the top of the key, who then found Pau wide open. Teams trap Kobe because they want him to dribble out of it. Instead, ball movement helped seal the game.

    Teams aren’t able to pack it in anymore, the play tough.

  5. Well, rotation offenses seem to bother Kobe mostly. Utah last year was mostly because Kobe roamed rather than staying with his man (Kobe does not pay attention to the Ronnie Brewers of the world.)

    Houston could potentially pull it off. Good motion offense, size up front, 2 guys they can throw at Kobe 1-1, speedy point guard off the bench, toughness (especially in rebounding). I would pray that things like “Phil owns Adelman” are true.

    San Antonio does not scare me that much. For whatever reason, Tony Parker does not always play well against the Lakers, and they had some success using taller players lagging off him. And the Lakers have a few players who can run some 1-1 against Duncan. The main thing is that the Spurs D is “no lay-ups and no-threes”, But I am confident that Kobe/Pau can win the series with their mid-range game.

  6. wondahbap, I agree. There was a stretch late in the 4th where the offense worked beautifully. Kobe was trapped on the wing, Lamar ran to the free-throw line and got the pass, dished it to Pau, who kicked it out to Sasha/Trevor, who then rotated it to the other out of Sasha/Trevor. If we play like that, I think just about every team, even at the absolute top of their game, would have a tough time stopping us.

  7. Any team that succeeds to stay with us for the first 3 quarters when the ball goes through Bynum and Pau can beat us, because the 4th we always go to Kobe whether it’s working or not.

    And once in the 4th, depending on what kinda wings the other teams have, they can make Kobe less efficient and have our other players stand still and be passive, which carries over to defense and results in poor rotations or brainfarts.

  8. I think the Magic is one team that the Lakers do not match up well against. At any time they have 4 guys that can all shoot from the outside, and Howard draws so much attention that they get a lot of open shots. Also they are a good defensive team anchored by Howard who I think is the the DPOY (so far).

    One note on Howard that I noticed last Friday. He is a freakishly large man with little legs. Right now he does not have the lower body strength to be as physically dominant on the offensive end as Shaq was in his prime. Though he is still young and he may get to that point. Though I do think that he is a better rebounder and defensive player than Shag was.

  9. first and foremost, posts like this are why fb&g is the only laker blog i visit. not just for its insightful moderator posts, but for the insightful comments. both provide thought provoking information and ask me to answer some questions in my own mind. i hope everyone realizes how lucky we are to have found this intelligent online community.

    second, san antonio, boton, orlando, cleveland, and maybe a healthy houston could have the qualities kurt describes to beat our lakers this year.

    like so many others here, i bleed laker colors, but even above that, i love the game of basketball. and this year, we are fortunate enough to have a contending team playing other great teams every other night, i dont remember being so entertained by nba ball. we are not marching to the finals, we are being challenged every step of the way. my only lament is that as an ex pat angelino living in san francisco, i dont get to see every laker game.

    more than ever, i love this game!

  10. great post

  11. Nice post. I hope no one reads this except for us Lakers.

  12. anybody else having a huge open space at the top of the page? i have to scroll way down to get to the first paragraph. I think this might be tied into the new look, espn tie in…
    not that it’s a major problem, but I know Kurt likes feedback on how the site works for us.
    I’m a mac using safari.

  13. No one team has all the qualities that are discussed in the post, but the teams that concern me the most are the Spurs and Hornets (as well as a healthy Rockets team…but seeing the Rockets fully healthy is like seeing a unicorn) in the West and Boston, Cleveland, and Orlando in the East.

    Out of all these teams, the ones that I know can beat us (vs the teams that I *think* can beat us) are the Spurs, Celtics and the Cavs. These are the teams with the elite level defense, the necessary experience, and the mental toughness to pull off the job. Nothing against the Hornets or Orlando (especially Orlando, considering they’ve already swept the season series against us) but I don’t think these teams have the defense to contain for a 7 game series, nor do I think they have reliable enough offense to beat us in a 7 game series. In Orlando, I don’t think they can stay as hot from the perimeter for an entire series and I don’t think that Howard is refined enough in the post (ala Duncan) to hurt us if we make him the focal point of their offense. And with the Hornets, I don’t think that West is a banger enough on the block to be a consistent scorer over the course of a series, and I still don’t trust Peja or their other perimeter players to make enough shots to support the brilliance of Chris Paul.

    That leaves the Spurs, Boston, and Cleveland, all of which present different problems on offense and defense that I think would be difficult, but not impossible, for us to exploit. In the end, I do think that our coaching and the experience that our players have gained through the failures of the last few playoff series will win out. I think that we’ve learned what it takes to beat these teams. I know that we just lost to the Spurs, but we did beat Boston and Cleveland very recently. And while the Cavs were missing some very critical pieces, I also think that our inside players are still the types of players that can take advantage of their bigs by scoring inside and I also think that a player like Odom is a guy that can make a real difference in any series against the Cavs. Anyways, there will be plenty of time to discuss this more, these are just some of my initial thoughts.

  14. Kurt,

    The Western conference team I worry about the most is Houston. We’ve yet to face them fully loaded. Let’s not forget their winning streak last year minus Artest and Yao Ming. They are one of the few teams that can match the Lakers for depth. Their defense now has Battier and Ron Artest as defensive specialists and the capability of scoring inside or out,.

    The team in the East that worries me most is the Orlando Magic. Their two victories against the Lakers were not flukes. It is no accident that both of them have truly spectacular “bigs” on the inside at the center position that could stand up well even to the championship Lakers.

  15. Of course, this isn’t any secret to the Lakers; they have 40+ games to work on addressing these weaker areas.

  16. 8 – “One note on Howard that I noticed last Friday. He is a freakishly large man with little legs. Right now he does not have the lower body strength to be as physically dominant on the offensive end as Shaq was in his prime.”

    You nailed it. I’m amazed at how little this comes up when discussing Howard. No doubt he’s one of the best in the league today. But sometimes people try to judge where he is compared to Shaq or other great big men of different eras, without mentioning his lack of dominance on the offensive end. He can score, but not with a varied repertoire. His few moves are awkward and clumsy. Tiny Maxiel exposed him last year in the playoffs; it’s base and core strength that matter when posting up, not how big your shoulders are. Howard is a specimen physically (which makes him an elite rebounder), but still not great at individual defense and with very few offensive moves. I’m amazed at how quickly people claim he’s as good as Shaq was.

  17. I see our team having two off games in a seven game series, that can result in losses.

    So teams I worry about are those that are able to take two out of five in which we don’t have discernible lapses.

    Unfortunately my list does not differ from those before me.

    SAS, BOS, CLE, ORL.

  18. Good insight about outside shooting bigs …

    Teams with outside shooting PFs & Cs:
    - Celtics : Garnett
    - Magic : Rashard Lewis
    - Spurs : Bonner
    - Pacers : Murphy
    - Pistons : Rasheed or Prince
    - Kings : Brad Miller
    - Mavs : Nowitski

    All those teams have given us trouble – even the mavs game Nowitski gave them the lead in the 3rd period.

  19. I dont think any team in the West will beat the Lakers in a 7 game series, especially considering that the Lakers will probably have homecourt advantage. I was scared of the Spurs, but I was surprised of how easy it was to score off of them last game. That team doesnt seem to have as good of a defense. Can Mason and Barnar really defend?? Bynum can contain Tim Duncan with his size and for the most part, Parker was kept out of the lane well. The Hornets are scary to but they dont have a lot of depth in their bench. The Jazz dont play enough defense, we pretty much just outscored them last year. In the west, the Spurs and the Hornets can do it, and also Houston if they get healthy enough.

  20. http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/news/story?id=3847915

    Looks like Kobe will fight through it. No surprises there. Seriously, we cannot take this guy for granted at all. To play through this type of injury, just because of that competitive drive, is nothing short of incredible.

    The obvious questions will pop up now. Is there danger of further injury? We’ll have to watch carefully; if it affects his play or his aggressiveness, I’d rather have him take time off now, before the All-Star Break, then have it become an issue late.

  21. 12.Chris H., you are not alone. Some browsers (some Safari, IE6, Chrome) are having issues. I have my tech guys looking into it.

  22. 20. It is interesting that it was around this time last year that he had the injury to his finger and ended up taking the all-stars game off with the exception of a minute on court. Maybe he can make the same claim and take this all-stars off too so not to agitate it much. Hopefully he doesn’t keep doing this every year or he won’t have any good fingers left on either hand to play with.

  23. Good points all.

    Rather then going to X’s and O’s and showing off my weakness in that area I have a couple of holistic observations that seem pertinent. In both the Hornets game and then the game against LeBron, Bynum was doing a great job picking up the ball handler on pick and rolls. With LeBron, I noticed a number of missed shots because even as he got his rhythm against whoever defended him our young center managed to use his length to effect a number of shots. I also think Bynum’s strength is something that even a LBJ respects and it made it more difficult for him to penetrate. Against the Horents, and thinking about it I saw it with Rondo too, Paul managed to get by the defender and kept his dribble while slicing and dicing through the heart of the D. There was Bynum with his length to keep CP3 contained long enough to either force a contested shot to beat the clock or to get Paul to pass the ball out (again, having to look around or over a very big man) to one of his teammates when they were not quite in position or in rhythm and a ckock on their mind. Bynum is going to make a difference over the course of the playoffs.

    Point two, anyone notice that Pau is not doing the wiping his face to check for blood move this season? Dude has maintained a tenacity that seems born of a man in that zone where mind has taken control of matter. I’m not saying that everyone in that zone becomes a champion but it takes that zone to be one. Pau came to the team in the middle of last season and rode a high of joining an elite team that wound up in the Finals. There is something energizing in the exotic. Rather then credit Pau with having shed his softness, I still think Pau was always tough but It seems to me that Pau has had the opportunity to really see how he can help this team and comprehends his skill level in a way which he didn’t last season. Last year’s trade created a somewhat divided mind, second guessing and perhaps looking for help under adversity (it might have been from the ref or from Kobe or whatever). Now? Dude is playing with confidence and uncontrived passion. He is fully committed to his game and seems prepared to let his game create it’s natural opportunities. I think that is going to make a difference over the course of the playoffs.

    Okay, I’m done sounding like a new aged novice.

    Last thought that I have less confidence in but is worth mentioning. Does anyone else think LO might be more efficient when playing injured?

  24. Pau’s confidence is gotten to a point where he believes he should be the focal point of the offense. Now that he tasted life as 2nd fiddle, I think he wishes to be the first option again. This is all good, but the number of quotes and interviews where he (he does include Bynum in this) demands more plays run through / for him.

    But I just don’t have the same confidence in Gasol as I have in Bryant, and PJ seems content to let KB24 make those decisions in crunch time.

    If Bryant can continue to play composed, even through the 4th, we’re a truly difficult team to beat.

  25. 24. I haven’t heard Pau say that he wants to be the first option. I have heard him say that we should take advantage of the frequent mismatches that we get on the block but I think any reasonable person would make that claim.

  26. The Notorious LOG January 21, 2009 at 5:59 am

    What a groundbreaking blueprint, let me see if i understand it fully:

    1. Play defense
    2. Don’t turn the ball over
    3. Score points

    This is unprecedented!!! You shouldn’t publish this kind of genius on a public forum like this!!!

  27. the other Stephen January 21, 2009 at 7:52 am

    is it just me, or does trevor only hit threes when we’re up? just a hunch.

  28. 26. Maybe you missed the part where each of those was backed up with specific facts and insights on how to do each of those things. Since I’m trying to be welcoming today, I’m not just going to delete that comment, but either you actively participate and add to the conversation, or you comments will just disappear. There are commenting guidelines at the top.

  29. #18. Good analysis. Forgot one though.

    Utah: Okur

    With the way Milsap is playing and as D. Will gets healthier, this is the only team I see as a problem in the West. They are younger and more athletic than San Antonio, and better rebounding than NO. Not mention a cast of unsung heroes: Brewer, Korver, Harpring (I really hate him), etc. And one of the greatest coaches of all time. It is only a matter of time before they got on a run and end up in the 4 or 5 spot in the West.

  30. harold,

    I don’t think Pau want to be 1st option, but he obviously wants to have the ball get to him. He can score on anyone, and make any shot. He knows he’s good, and has advantage almost every game, along with Bynum. We’re very hard to beat when they are on.

    You can definitely tell Pau has an edge to him this year. He’s taking it personally. Listen to him in interviews when someone questions his toughness, or on a night he doesn’t get the ball as much as he should, he has a cockiness to him. I like it. He’s being forceful this year, especially as of late.

  31. AFB,

    No way Utah can beat the Lakers, unless they have all 7 games in Salt Lake, and they get their “home calls.”

    I honestly don’t think any team in the West can beat us. Not even in a 5 game series. Not after the way I saw Pau and Drew score at will against San Antonio, and I think they have the best chance. New Orleans is even less equipped to handle our bigs. Neither team can defend us, and we have a better chance of stopping them defensively then they can us.

    I don’t have any reason to believe that any team improved from last year, all the while, we have.

  32. Has anyone else noticed that Gasol has not been looking for the foul call as much lately? It seemed more apparent in the last game against the CAVs, where LBJ was costantly looking for the foul call but Gasol just went in, got pushed around, scored and just ran back on D.

  33. wondahbap,

    Oh, I wholeheartedly agree! I don’t think Utah beats the Lakers in a series, but I think they pose a challenge and shouldn’t be overlooked.

    I felt more uncomfortable the games in Utah than I did about the games in SA.

    But if Pau and Drew(and LO) continue to be more aggressive, and we work on our help defense and rebounding, I don’t see ANY team that beating the Lakers in a 7-game series.

  34. The teams that provide the biggest troubles for the Lakers in a potential play-off situation are the Spurs and the Hornetts in the West and the Cavs and Magic in the east.

    Of these, the Hornetts and Magic worry me the most.

  35. Pau’s dead on. We’re a much, much better team when the ball goes through him, and I think everyone knows why.

    Running the offense through the post is always a better option than the perimeter. I think it’s just difficult for Kobe to adjust, after having carried the load for years. When the game gets close, his tendency to go into the post vanishes.

    My formula: run through Pau/Bynum for the 1st 3 quarters, and if we do that, we probably won’t even need Kobe for the 4th. The offense is incredibly efficient when Pau leads the charge.

    Funny how we’ve come full circle – another big man asking for more touches. In this case, it’s well-warranted, Pau has every right to ask for more touches.

  36. GOOD LORD, what a terrific post. Absolutely, true, too.

    One of the salient points made is that there are ton of Lakers who have horrific defensive instincts. Guys like VladRad and Farmar cause the entire defense to break down because they double the wrong guy, or funnel guys to areas where there is no help.

    I’ve thought this for a long time: what the Lakers are missing is a true stopper at the point guard position. Phil experimented with it some – using Ariza to guard the Point guard position with some sucess. The only caveat is Fish can’t be the one covering the shooting guard.

    He’s just not fast enough anymore. His instincts are usually good, but physically, he can’t keep up any more.

    The Lakers need a true harrasser at the point of attack (like Ty Lue was against Iverson so many years ago during the finals).

    Farmar is quick enough to be that guy, but his instincts aren’t there. The Lakers could really use a guy like Lindsay Hunter or Earl Watson to lead the second unit. It would sacrifice scoring, but that’s not an issue with the Lakers…

  37. 36. I agree with you, and it is so important to pressure the point, as it helps delay and break down the offensive sets that our opponents are trying to run…similar to our full court press having positive results against Cleveland on Monday.

    But I think we already have what we need, and you hit on it: Trevor Ariza.

    It has been said within this blog on numerous occasions: our best line-up is one that features a 1-2-3 set of Vujacic, Bryant, and Ariza, with a combination of LO, Pau, and Bynum down low (depending on our opponents).

    When it is lockdown time and we need stops, like at the end of the game, this lineup provides the versatility to stop a multitude of different perimeter and inside players. Also, Sasha helps w/ the three and Ariza may show to gain some consistency as the year progresses (showing some mixed signs on the jumper).

    But I just don’t think, with our already glaring depth, (ignoring our current injuries) that we should be looking for anymore cheap pickups for the team.

  38. The 2 things that affect games the most are officiating and individual ups and downs.We have the most talented team and the best coaching.Baring injury we should be the next NBA champs.Good to be a Laker fan these days.
    I still think we got worn down and just didn’t play well for the Celtics series.

  39. I agree with Adam.

    We don’t think we need to have Fish in at the end for defense. I’d much prefer Kobe, Sasha, and Trevor as well. Sasha just needs to stop getting silly fouls when he’s all up in the opposing player’s face. The refs are looking for something to call in those situations, and he usually obliges them.

    Depending on the opposing line-ups. Kobe or Trevor could be that harasser.

    Chris,

    Farmar isn’t a good defender. He gets killed by the good point guards more than Fish. Only, when he does, it affects his offense. Why does Ty Lue get so much credit? It was one game.

  40. The Cavs having Z out was a huge problem for them against the Lakers in the last game. While he doesn’t have 3 pt. range, he does have one of the sweetest 17 ft. jumpers in the game for a big man. When you have him in there, vs. running Varejao and Big-Ben at the same time, one of the Laker’s bigs has to come out and guard him. And that opens up the middle for Lebron’s slashing and Mo William’s mid-court game.

    The Cavs had won 5 in a row before that last game, and 6 of the last 8. I think they would be a hard matchup for the Lakers, especially if they had home court and were 100% healthy.

    That being said, if the Lakers don’t give up games playing out of sync, and manage to at least contain Lebron, then I would still give them the advantage in a series.

  41. Good points.
    However, doesn’t every NBA team rely on their bigs being near the basket on defense? What makes the Lakers so different?

  42. I think if we are healthy and play smart (playing our best ball), there isn’t a team in the west that can beat us. However, even when we play well, Boston, Cavs, and Magic can give us trouble if their outside shooting is on. Luckily for us, other than Lebron, there isn’t a player on those teams that demand double team. Although Pierce was unstoppable, I think with Bynum in the middle, Ariza and Kobe will be more effective this time around. Lebron will have better games against us when Big Z and Delonte West are back healthy. He does rely a lot on driving and pop with those two on offense.

    That said, the key will be as many have mentioned here that our team use post options early and often. It seems like when Kobe has to take over early in 2nd or 3rd quarter, he has nothing left in the tank in the 4th quarter. When he’s fresh, he’s been able to finish better.

    If I were the opposing team’s coach, I would always try to make Kobe angry and make him get going early with scoring. More he scores early, less effective he becomes at the end of the game. Of course, he could also drop 81 on you, but I’d rather have Kobe beat you with shooting than having the likes of Sasha and Ariza kill you with wide open 3s and dunks. It’s applying our strategy of letting Nash and CP3 beat us with their scoring, not passing.

    However, Kobe and the Lakers have improved a lot this year in terms of Kobe faciliating early rather than taking over from the beginning evidenced by his high assist numbers in recent games.

    Finally, if Gasol and Bynum play efficiently on both ends of the floor, there’s not a team that can beat us, at least not on this planet.

  43. snoopy2006,

    “Looks like Kobe will fight through it. No surprises there. Seriously, we cannot take this guy for granted at all. To play through this type of injury, just because of that competitive drive, is nothing short of incredible.”

    I like to look at it another way: selfish.

    The guy can’t stand not playing and I think it’s a little more then competitive drive..What, he can’t miss one game against the lowly clippers? He would rather be 80% for the rest of the year and always play then 100% if he had rested a while..To me that is selfish towards his team.

  44. Anything Kobe does can be construed as ‘selfish’ towards some people…

  45. Sorry, that should be ‘by some people’…

  46. Ocho,

    Be serious. That’s ridiculous. So let me guess. You must think T-Mac is being such a great teammate, right?

    It’s Kobe being able to deal with the pain, and not missing time because he doesn’t need to or have to. It’s a tolerance issue, not an inability issue. He shouldn’t “stand not playing.”

    I don’t want to insult other commenters but that is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever read here.

  47. ocho,
    “He would rather be 80% for the rest of the year and always play then 100% if he had rested a while.”

    Where did you get that information from?

  48. I’m just saying he would rather play hurt and have it nagging him all year then to rest it. His team needs him 100% by the playoffs and if it means he should rest it a number of games he should.. TMAC has no choice to rest due to his injuries..

    I’m just saying that Kobe goes through many injuries and doesn’t let people know about them and it effects the whole team in the end.

    He would rather play hurt, then miss a game. How is playing hurt going to help him or the team in the long run?

    After 12 years in the league, my competitive “juices” won’t be flowing to play a lowly clippers team when I could be resting to help my team later.

    But you are right..Everything Kobe does can be taken as being selfish. But this has been one thing over the years that I’ve observed. The Lakers don’t need Kobe as much right now and maybe for once he should think about the big picture and not just about him and what the Lakers are doing now.

  49. 44. i think its a little premature to call his actions selfish. Let him play a game first. If his presence on the court affects the team and causes them to loose then you can make that great proclamation.

    Its funny because Kobe is always viewed with a different lens. I look at Wade being considered for the MVP this year and i remember Kobes team with Smush and Kwame. The knock on Kobe that year was his team wasnt winning. Well that doesnt seem to be the knock on Wade. Instead its all praise, he is doing the best he can with what he is given.

  50. The problem with putting Ariza in for Fisher, you lose outside shooting and ball-handling. SO what you gain in defense you tend to give up in offense. Id Ariza was a little better in one of those two areas than he currently is, it would definitely make sense. RIght now, it’s a toss-up.

  51. Kobe played hurt most of last season, did that hurt the team? How about Monday night when he played stellar defense on LeBron?

  52. Joel,
    We don’t really know. Maybe Kobe would have been better in the finals last year if he was completely healthy. We don’t know because Kobe never takes a day off.

  53. 50 – Give him time. He’s already better at shooting the 3 then he should be if you ask me. When he squares his shoulder off the pass, he looks good. Off the dribble, not so much.

    49 – Are you kidding? They’re fighting for home court throughout and you’re arguing that this warrior should rest because he had a dislocated finger? The docs say he can’t do any more damage. If he can take the pain, let the man play.

  54. Kobe can’t win. If he doesn’t play people start calling him TMac, if he plays through it, he’s selfish. And by the way, the reason the Lakers lost in the Finals had nothing to do with Kobe’s finger.

    I don’t think Kobe is that hard to understand — if you view everything through the eyes of a fierce competitor it makes sense. He will not take a game off just because it’s the Clippers. That fire is what makes him who his is, what makes him great. You can’t ask him to turn that off and be the same player.

  55. ocho,
    You are following the media pack. The media has been saying Kobe has been selfish for the last 8 years, because he takes and a lot of difficult shots at the end of games. That he has the b**ls to take the shots and the heat for missing when other ‘great’ players don’t demand the ball at the end of the game says more about his confidence than his selfishness.

    Kobe had high assist levels during our championship years, because he willingly passed into Shaq – but he is the one who is selfish???

    Since he has been labeled selfish by the media it seems we don’t need any further justification when we just blurt out that saying whenever he does something we don’t like.

    Was Jordan selfish – by that definition he certainly was. Of course Garnett isn’t selfish, but do you want him handling the ball exclusively in the last minute of a close game?

    exhelodrvr,
    When you sub in Ariza for Fisher, then you normally have Kobe and Lamar in the game to handle the ball.

  56. I’m looking at the bigger picture. I could care less about home court advantage if the finger effects his shooting in June.

    If it doesn’t then great. I just feel Kobe does have a bunch of nagging injuries that he doesn’t tell anyone about and it effects his play at the end. But he won’t tell you that.

    He said a few weeks ago that this is the best he’s felt for January in years because he’s playing less minutes. We are talking about January here! Since he’s playing less minutes, he’s staying healthy and tiring less. That’s what we need! A strong, rested, Kobe for the playoffs.

    Kobe doesn’t let you know when he’s hurting most of the time. I say, get totally healed up for the playoffs as opposed to playing and being only 80-85%

  57. Ocho,

    T-Mac has chosen to “condition.” That’s is why the team, the coaches, Yao, and the fans are fed up with him, because he refuses to play through any pain.

    No injury limited Kobe last year. If you blame Kobe for the Finals loss, and his pinky, I think you’re wrong. Unless his pinky is named Kendrick Perkins.

    When has his ability to paly through pain, at almost no drop off in production cost the Lakers?

    Exhelodrvr,

    If Kobe, Sasha and Ariza on the floor shooting and ball handling aren’t issues. Sasha is a better shooter, and Kobe can handle the ball. But even if it’s just Ariza, I think it would be in protect lead situations, and what we gain defensively and fast break opportunities, rebounding, and slashing outweighs whatever ever shooting advantage Fish has over Ariza. Plus, I don’t think Fish is much better of a shooter, Ariza has much improved in that area this year.

    Just my opinion.

  58. - Z for the Cavs can shoot from the outside.

    - Howard is a physical beast. He’s not Shaq however and I don’t think of him as a go to guy. His offense has improved greatly, but it was primative to start with. He is an improving foul shooter, but still well below average. You can also get into his head by playing him aggressively (like Boston does). Finally, Nelson is still suspect IMO and the Magic really don’t have a premier go-to-guy. Hedo’s the closest thing, but he’s not in the Kobe-James-Pierce clutch elite.

    - Last I knew, the Celtics are the champs. The Lakers didn’t lose to the Celtics because they were worn down. They had a much easier/quicker path to the finals than Boston did which was why the Lakers were the pundits’ choice despite Boston being the dominant team in the regular season.

    - Outside of Boston and Cleveland, I’d worry most about SA. They have the pedigree. Age/injury is the issue. Houston may be great, but they’re paper tigers until proven otherwise.

  59. wondahbap,

    The proof are in Kobe’s comments. “This is the best I’ve felt in years.”. Why? Because he is spending less time on the court. He can rest his nagging injuries and of course get more rest period.

    We don’t know if Kobe’s stats would have been better because he never takes a day off. I think the proof is right there in his comments. Rest more and he will play better in the end.

    I also don’t blame his pinky for the finals..But I do believe he could have played better. It wasn’t his best showing in the playoffs that’s for sure.

  60. I’m not a medical expert, but I would bet that the finger is going to swell up and hurt more than when it was dislocated. Possibly even limit it’s movement (also being taped), but knowing Kobe that would not stop him from playing if he can. Unfortunately it was a finger on his shooting hand, but he was OK I guess last game.

  61. There is no one on the Clips that really interest Kobe; therefore, if the other Lakers are scoring, I suspect Kobe will be content to provide a lot of assists. The only way he starts to score a lot is if the Clips fail to defend him or they defend him poorly – then he is likely to get to the rim with his left hand more.

  62. Kobe’s a warrior.. period.

  63. Excellent post!

    I really enjoy the learning and understanding the X&O’s and strategies of winning games, and appreciate the people who make this blog available and those who participate with intelligent comments and points – thanks to all.

    There is one thing I’d like to put out here on this blog … I have nothing against Stew and Joel but their lack of insight and understanding of the game, and their boarding banter on TV really bugs me. After watching other broadcasters like TNT, and ABC, where knowledgeable former coaches and former players lead the broadcast with insightful commentary (other than halftime with Charles and Kenny’s stalking smack….), it begs the question, why don’t we have intelligent commentary in LA the biggest NBA market in the nation?

    Well, at least I can visit this blog when I want to read something worthwhile!

  64. chris h, I have the same problem with huge space on top. are you using opera by any chance?

  65. One thing that bothers me is why do we play so much Kobeball in the 4th? I think generally good things happen when we run the offense through Pau or (less so) Bynum, so why change it up when things get tight? Now, in the last two minutes, we certainly want it in Kobe’s hand, but too often we lapse into Kobeball when he comes back for the final stretch.

  66. Out of the 8 losses I feel that 2 of them were actual losses and not fluke situations from last second shots/put backs/fouls etc.
    Six of the Lakers losses came from the Lakers not hitting the shots they needed to hit.
    The loss to NO and the 2nd loss to ORL are legitimate losses. I feel that the other 6 games were more the fault of the Lakers and not their opponent.

    Here is my breakdown:
    Loss 1 DET.. Detroit shot the ball better and scored more 3s. All starters scored in double figures. Only 2 Lakers starters and 2 bench players had double points.
    I went over the entire play by play and, not counting fouls shots, Detroit had 11 combined dunks and layups. The Lakers scored more points in the paint 52/30.
    I’ll call this a great outside shooting night for Detroit.

    Loss 2 Indiana: Fairly even game which is reflected in the score. Indian won on a lucky put back by Murphy. Indiana had 16 combined layups and dunks compared to the Lakers 15 (not counting FT on both teams). Essentially, this was fair game all the way through. I think the penetration by IND resulting in fouls and hitting 955 of those shots helped. Lakers had one quarters 1,2,3 and lost it in the 4th.

    Loss 3 Kings: really bad shooting night for the Lakers. 3 players scoring double figures and 1 of them was off the bench compared to the Kings 6 players who scored double figures. SAC shot the ball a lot better then the Lakers. The game was even on 3pt% and rebound totals. The major eliminating factor was poor shooting from the Lakers. The Lakers did not win any of the 4 quarters. It was a great shooting night from the Kings, bad shooting night from the Lakers.

    Loss 4 Heat: Sort of like the Indiana game. Fairly close most of the way. The Lakers lost by 2; why? First 2 quarters were even so after the half we basically had a new 24 minutes game. The Lakers lost the 3rd quarter by to many points. Both teams had 4 players in double figures scoring. We lost the game at the free throw line and Wade had a great game.

    Loss 5 Magic: Lakers lost by 3 with 3 Lakers players scoring in double figure compared to the Magic’s 4. Lakers won the first 2 quarters and lost it in the 3rd. Orlando proves that they are a very good 3 point shooting team. Not enough contributing points coming from other Lakers players.

    Loss 6 Hornets: Overall this is one of the games where I would say that the Lakers were actually beat. NO had a better shooting%, a better 3pt%, a better Ft%, and more points in the paint. Huge games by West and Paul were the overall difference. I think the points they scored were the deciding factor.

    Loss 7 Spurs: 1 point loss off of a bad foul from Fisher. FG% and 3PT%, the Lakers had a better FT%, and dominated points in the paint. Scoring between teams was fairly even; 6 Spurs players were in double figures, 5 for the Lakers. Not a huge discrepancy between that 5 and 6 because 1 spur player scored 10 while the other Lakers player scored 9. There is that 1 point that resulted in the loss.

    Loss 8 Magic: The Lakers Lost by 6. Lakers won the FG% and FT% game, but once again the magic have shown that they are a 3pt shooting team by hitting 43% of their attempts. Player scoring is even with both teams having 5 players in double digits. Lakers won quarters 1 and 2, and the Magic won quarters 3 and 4. More 3 point shots and 2nd chance points were the difference in this game.

  67. 61. Actually playing a few less minutes a game doesn’t affect a player that much, especially a player like Kobe who keeps himself so well conditioned. JVG says it all the time. In fact, if you factor in our deep playoffs run and the Olympics, Kobe probably played more basketball than any of the last couple years. Listen, Kobe and his trainers know him better than anyone here. If he really needed to be out, he would take some time. In one of the post game interviews, Kobe even said that if Gary had told him that he needed to get out of the Cleveland game, he would have.

  68. Although I have lived in LA for more than 20 years, my love for the Lakers died with the retirement of Magic.
    Since then, the Lakers have used their league status and popularity to gather immense groups of talent over and above any other team in the NBA. Their current team could easily be broken into two and each would have a decent record in the East or West. They are the Yankees of the NBA.
    If you are a fan that only cares about winning, it is good news for you. If you are a basketball fan who wants Champions to earn that title, you are out of luck.
    I have always appreciated the teams in the NBA that had to have very good games from role players just to win. This year, that includes Orlando and Clevland (to a lesser extent, San Antonio). These teams are getting contributions from everywhere to achieve their excellent records.
    The Lakers actually play a lot of uninspired ball. In relatively close games, they only need to focus for a single quarter to pull away or pull out a win. WIth two players that can drop 40+ per night, two players that can drop 30+ per night and several starters that can put up 20+, they cruise more than they play.
    It will be interesting to see if Boston adds Marbury to get a 4th star to compete with LA.

  69. Todd, the Lakers during the Magic era were much closer to buying a championship than this team. That squad had no salary cap to deal with, they were able to get Magic Johnson and James Worthy in trades for draft picks that would never be allowed today. They had no restrictions in the players they got to fill in around the stars.

    I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy last season, when years of picking the right role players and taking risks like Bynum in the draft all came together at once. Yes, there was the Gasol trade, but if you watch Memphis you see that was not a bad deal for them either. And, the Yankees have no salary cap to deal with, as evidenced by their spending this off season. It is a very different situation than the Lakers.

  70. And, for the record, if you remember a Lakers team from the 80s that played inspired ball every night, you are wearing rose colored glasses. Although, they did play more consistently with passion than this team. But this team is younger.

  71. John Paul T. EstebN January 24, 2009 at 5:44 pm

    Nobody is beating the Lakers in the west this season, nobody. Nuff said.

  72. nice post, i was enjoying reading the very insightful comments until i came across ocho. that is one of the most ridiculous comments i have ever heard. It sounds like a personal hatred for Kobe rather than an intelligent observation.

    Whether Kobe misses a game does not matter with the injury he has. Sitting out a game is not the difference in his fingers getting to 100%. Surgery is required and healing time to fix his fingers and that would cost him precious time being out there and he knows every second together is important to fully get to know eachother and be on top of their game come playoff time. He is making the sacrifice of pain and less shooting accuracy to make sure this team is ready. So now the Lakers learn how to play with a hobbled Kobe being a distributor and seeing other players step up for crucial baskets. That is as unselfish as you can get from your superstar. By comparison, what did Shaq do when he had injuries that needed surgery? Thinking back on it, its another reason I view Shaq as maybe the most selfish player besides Marbury.
    It will never be forgotten that Shaq was the leader in bringing 3 championships to L.A. but it will also never be forgotten how he costed us chances at more titles and how he tried to leave this franchise in shambles. But one thing everybody learned again is that no player is bigger than the LAkers. Not even Snaq Oneal. But enough about Snaq.

    Bynum had a career game that could finally launch him back on the dominating track and who was the main catalyst? Who was feeding him the ball and feeding his confidence? Kobe Bryant. But yeah your right, he should’nt have been playing against the Clippers. How selfish of him.

  73. the article hit the nail on the head…. its almost kinda sad that the kings couldnt sneak into the playoffs as the 8th seed. that would be a good series because of the matchups. if the spurs somehow trade for decent center they will be as good as the lakers…

  74. Just saw Todds comment. Not quite as ridiculous as ocho but still absurd. Kupchak has done an incredible job putting this team together and having the patience to wait it out until it all came together. Through the pressure of Kobe running out of patience and wanting to be traded. The Lakers were turning it around last year before the Gasol trade and when things looked fine, Kupchak made one final tweak to the lineup. Trading for Trevor Ariza. Of course you look at the trade now and think no-brainer but to understand the brilliance of the trade you have to take yourself back to that time. The Lakers were playing well and getting better. Trevor Ariza was buried on Orlando’s bench. No one really knew that Ariza was capable of the things he is doing today except for Kupchak. The team was finally gaining confidence and picking up victories. It appeared that everything was going great and it wasnt broke so why tinker with it. But Kupchak didnt let that success blind him from adding maybe the final piece to a championship caliber team. Its players like Ariza that make intangible type plays that help turn contenders into champions. Every champion needs a Robert Horry/ James Posey type.

    I thought Kupchak deserved that exec of the year last year and even more so this year. Look at last years winner , ainge. What did he do to deserve the award? Trade for garnett with an old celtic buddy. Trade for ray allen when the sonics were rebuilding with Durant so they were looking to move him anyway. Sign Posey who wanted to come to the celtics. And sign pj brown who would only sign with the celtics so how could you mess that up. Pray that his crappy draft picks would fill roles effectively. 2 players he drafted are good though. Al Jefferson and rajon rondo. Jefferson is a no brainer and lets see how effective rondo is without 3 hall of famers. What did Kupchak do? Drafted all those players who finally started maturing last year. Stole the bigman of the future in the draft. Stood firm against Kobe last year in maybe the Lakers darkest hour. And made a trade for Ariza that was barely a ripple at the time and turned out to be huge. Then theres the Gasol trade which I wont even count and its still overwhelmingly in Kupchaks favor.

    Lets look at this year. Both GMs stayed pat with what they had but one GM’s assesment of the situation was accurate while the others was not. Mitch Kupchak felt he had added all the pieces needed last year and they would deliver this year. Those players continue to improve and the present looks bright but the future even brighter. Danny Ainge felt he had all the pieces in place to support his big three. He let Posey go thinking tony allen could do what posey did. wrong. he neglected to add a big man thinking his players he drafted would continue to step up. Instead those players revert back to the not so good prospects that they are, tony allen cant fill poseys shoes and never will, and the bench is a major, glaring weak spot this year. I think Kupchak deserves the award more this year than last.

    And another thing. The Lakers arent the team with the max salary. LAst year they were around 5th or so. They try to stay under the cap and field a title contender and are doing a great job. I dont know how the cap situation was in the 80s or if they even had one. but I do know its more strict today. And Kurt is right this team is still very young and still are learning everything about being a winner including keeping your foot on teams throats and playing consistently every night.

  75. that was a good anaylisis of how to beat the lakers, but the thing that seperates the lakers from the pack this year is the versatality the lakers have with bynum and ariza. watch out if bynum continues to improve and get the touches on offense.
    also on defense i like it when we go with ariza, kobe and sasha without fish or farmar. it reminds me of the bulls team with jordan, pippen and ron harper. we get alot of deflections and stop penetration better than when we have the smaller point guard in there.

  76. Interesting analysis on how to beat the Lakers, because I guess they’ve become good enough to need an instruction manual on how to do just that. I’ve read with interest on the various ways. However, that’s assuming all these are executed as they’re presented. Every analysis has to have a counter analysis. What are teams going to with Bynum now taking lobs around the basket? Teams know that Kobe must be double teamed (and they do that at the arc). Gasol also requires attention. That leaves Bynum open. What happens when Bynum starts implementing the skyhook that Kareem is tutoring him on (he shoots it regularly in practice)? He gets that going in the game, and he doesn’t need to worry about positioning. He catches it in the post, turns around, lets it fly and it’s in the bucket. Gasol can do just about anything except muscle up on a guy like Howard. So let’s not get entirely caught up in only what teams can do to beat the Lakers. They’re not 34-8 with the best record in the NBA because strategies work to stop them consistently. Obviously, what the team is doing in order to win works out more often.

  77. Being a laker fan and watching the countless games that we play, the weaknesses that we have are evident. The label of being “soft” has lightened up ever since boston exposed us last year in the finals but i think the lakers inability to close out on shooters as well as the defensive lapses that AS a TEAM rather than individual players. You cannot just blame individuals like rad and farmar because it is up to the team to help them. Look at boston, before garnet came, Peirce wasn’t even considered a decent defender, same goes for ray allen but if you look now, their improvement has helped boston become an elite team. Rad has size (6’10) and pretty long arms which fits with our identity on defense (bothering oposing offenses with out lenght). Rad wonders off as and doesn’t think with his mind whatsover and i think it is up to the coaching staff to fix this because there are times where we are going to need rad’s shooting and ability to spread the floor without giving up too much defense. Like mentioned before, when the offense runs through bynum and pau, good things will happen (many teams would love two seven footers who have extremely long arms on their rosters). Bynum continues to improve and will get better before playoffs and gasol has found his swagger this season where he is showing that toughness (last game dunked on two wizards players without looking for foul and ran back to play defense). Kobe understands that he doesn’t have to take over the game as much but he does know when Pau and drew are struggling in which gives him the go-ahead to take over. The only teams that have a chance to make this intresting in a 7 game period is Houston when healthy. New Orleans can’t beat us with limited bench and lack of size-last game was more of a fluke-West and Paul aren’t going to have games like that in a 7 game period, Spurs can’t defend both pau and drew, too much size and length for duncan alone and last game didn’t have three players as well as the lucky threepoint play from rogers. Everyone else in the west has a glaring weakness in which the lakers can completely expose in a 7 game period. In the east, the only team to give us trouble in terms of matchups is Orlando. Cleveland poses no huge threat to us though dangerous and doesn’t have the bench to compete with us, once lebron(though amazing) goes to the bench that team falls apart and if you watched the game, once lebron fails to enter the paint, he diverts to jacking up shots and many would rather have him to do just that. Boston, even though we won’t take lightly, just doesn’t have a strong enough bench to beat us. James posey really hurt them when he left because he not only brought scoring but a reliable defender to that second unit and i think with the emergence of ariza who can check Peirce with an occasional help defender as well as having bynum back which is helpful like in the last game we played them. In last years finals garnet would take gasol or odom to the perimeter freeing up Pernkins but with bynum patroling the paint it won’t be as easy. I think we have to go and beat the boston celtics in their homecourt to full regain our mojo because we were ineffecitve in their court last year in the finals. Orlando on the other hand pose the biggest threat because of their three point shooting, in which we have a weakness of closing out on them. The only good thing about facing them is the fact that they won’t be lights out from three point range everytime and i think that if nelson doesn’t run around us and score threes, we should be okay.