Not everything was pretty about how the Lakers beat the Jazz — unless you enjoy giving up leads just to live dangerously — but in the end just about everybody on the planet said the Lakers in five and the Lakers won in five. They looked dominant at times doing it, and the bench was alternately fantastic and frustrating.
But the Jazz are gone. Who’s got next?
Well, either the Rockets or Portland. The Rockets are up 3-1 on the Blazers, next game on Tuesday night (NBA TV, 7 pm). The Rockets have big matchup advantages in this series that they are exploiting better than I thought they would. The Blazers have nobody who can slow Yao, forcing a lot of double teams that is opening things up for others on offense. On defense, the Blazers are a jumpshooting team and with Battier and Artest the Rockets have some quality perimeter defenders.
We’ll get into more of an Xs and Os breakdown against the Lakers later, but Zephid has laid out the case quite well (and I agree with him) that the Lakers easier path is through Houston.
On Offense Against The Rockets
Without Mt. Mutombo, the Rockets have no legitimate big man to back up Yao, so either he’s going to be handling the brunt of our Gasol/Bynum two headed seven foot monster, or they’re going to have Landry or Chuck Hayes guarding them. Needless to say, I like our chances, and that doesn’t even touch on the mismatch that Odom brings against Scola. So long as Kobe doesn’t have another few cold games when deciding to destroy Artest single-handedly, we should have a deadly efficient series against the Rockets.
On Offense Against The Blazers
The Blazers, on the other hand, have two legitimate seven-footers in Joel Przybilla and Greg Oden. Both of those guys are true bangers, and as we’ve seen in the past, they could easily outmuscle our guys underneath and get a ton of offensive rebounds. LaMarcus Aldridge and Channing Frye also have good size to use against Odom, so that match-up loses it’s luster. On the perimeter, Nicolas Batum has been very aggressive against Kobe, doing fairly well at taking him out of his comfort zone, while Travis Outlaw is long and tall enough to bother a lot of Kobe’s shots. Overall, all the beautiful mismatches we have against the Rockets we simply do not have against the Blazers.
On Defense Against The Rockets
As Portland has shown, if you are going to double team Yao, you’re going to have to cover Scola and Landry at the free throw line if you want it to be effective. That being said, we have the advantage of choosing to do either. Both Bynum and Gasol will be able to at least bother some of Yao’s shots with their length, so I doubt he’ll have the ridiculous efficiency that he’s had against the Blazers. We can also bring Odom across the lane in the SSZ, which should serve us well if we can cover the passing lanes adequately on the weak side. On the perimeter, I like the idea of Aaron Brooks charging into a forest of seven-footers, so I’m betting Fish will play up on him and force him into the SSZ and a few bad decisions to boot.
On Defense Against The Blazers
While the Blazers have similar models to our team, the one difference is they are a jump-shooting team. The Rockets are able to contain them so well because they have a lot of great individual defenders. Lowry, Battier, Artest, Landry, Hayes, and even Scola and Yao to some extent are very good individual defenders who don’t require help. This way, Portland isn’t getting any uncontested jumpers unless it’s off Roy’s penetration. Compare this to our defense, which has a penchant for giving up open jumpers, and is especially weak against sweet-shooting bigs, and you can see why we’ve lost 2 games to them this season.