I’ve fought off the urge to send taunting emails to all the cocky Blazers fans I know and thought instead it was time to start looking ahead to the Rockets and what we can expect from this series.
What follows are some broad strokes, and starting Sunday morning will come a more detailed breakdown of the series, (We don’t work on this Saturday because it is a holy day in our household — Kentucky Derby day.)
• While the Lakers won the season series 4-0 and did so handily, this matchup is really the first meeting of these teams with the current alignment. There was only one game after the Lowry trade, and the Rockets have become a better team as time as gone on with him. That said, the Lakers won that game without Bynum, Odom or ShanWOW.
• The Lakers need to push the pace. If there is one key to this series, it is for the Lakers not to get sucked into the grind-it-out, half-court game the Rockets want to play — the Lakers need to run. And not just for the handful of easy transition baskets.
Portland was very polite in the last series, waiting for Yao Ming to get down the court and for Houston to set its defense before they got into their sets, The Lakers simply can’t be that nice — get down fast and get deep position inside, create mismatches and guys are forced to pick up the closest man. Get Bynum and Pau so deep inside that not even Yao Ming can block their shots. Have Bynum set drag screens for Kobe. But don’t let Houston set up what it wants to do.
The other thing is you can still wear Yao down — he is in far better condition than he was just a couple years ago, and the crazy number of television timeouts in the playoffs help. But he is just never going to be doing triathlons. The Lakers did get to him this season, and with the every-other-night nature of this round the Lakers may be able to wear him down some. Gasol and Bynum can run the floor well, the Lakers need to push Yao and make him sprint.
• In case you didn’t see the schedule for this round: Game 1 at Lakers: Mon., May 4, 7:30; Game 2 at Lakers: Wed., May 6, 7:30; Game 3 at Rockets: Fri., May 8, 6:30; Game 4 at Rockets: Sun., May 10, 12:30; Game 5* at Lakers: Tues., May 12, TBD; Game 6* at Rockets: Thurs., May 14, TBD; Game 7* at Lakers: Sun., May 17, TBD.
• The Rockets get good guard play off the bench from Kyle Lowry and, when healthy, Von Wafer. Basically, the suddenly get guys on the floor who can run and create their own shots. Guys who attack the rim and get fouls. All that stuff Tracy McGrady was supposed to do but didn’t. This is going to be a challenge for Sasha, ShanWOW and Farmar (I do expect Farmar to get more run this series because of the tempo the Lakers want to go at). They need to slow the penetration and drive it to help.
• The Lakers need to close out on Rockets three point shooters or they will kill you.
• The Lakers cannot be intimidated into becoming a jump-shooting team. Take the ball to the hole.
• This final thing may be a little off topic, but it is too good to ignore. Courtesy Gatinho, a little trip down memory lane with Brad Miller getting under a certain Lakers’ skin.