Lakers/Rockets: When The Lakers Have The Ball

Kurt —  May 4, 2009

Sports News - November 10, 2008
For part two of our preview of this series, try to speed-read it.

Because what the Lakers need to do in this series starts with pushing the tempo and getting the Rockets to run. It’s one of the big lessons we can take away from the Portland series.

Let’s be clear — the Rockets are a very good defensive team. Their overall philosophy is a good one — funnel all penetration into the middle of the lane and Yao, then contest the good jumpshooters with good defenders in Ron Artest and Shane Battier. Scola is a solid defender as well.

But be clear about this, too — good offense will still score on good defense in this league. And the Lakers have a very good offense. But the first key is to get some baskets before the Rockets get set. Portland (another great offense) let them get set, did not wear down Yao, and the result was they had trouble scoring. The Lakers need to run and push early offense, drag screens and secondary break points. Go at the Rockets BEFORE they get set. Our resident Rockets fan Stephen gives us another reasons to run:

Our resident Rockets fan Stephen gives us another reasons:

Other than Yao the Rockets are a small team that doesn’t jump very well. You can shoot over them, high passes are an option as are lobs. Long or high rebounds are problematic for the Rockets. They have shown a bad tendency of not getting big rebounds late in close games. The Rockets don’t block a lot of shots, so it’s even more imperative to push the pace against them, as fast breaks can only be stopped by Rockets trying to draw charges or fouling. Usual result is FTs for the offense.

Another way to get Yao out of the paint is going is going with a “smaller” lineup that has Pau Gasol at center and Odom at power forward. Force Yao to come out and defend out of the paint. Reed is a big fan of this matchup for the Lakers:

Houston’s defense is built around Yao protecting the paint and forcing the other team to take perimeter shots. He is so big that when matched up against a non-perimeter threat (Pryzbilla, Oden, Bynum), he can just occupy the lane and effectively take away penetration and effective cuts. He has the length and lower body strength to control a low post player through positional denial and contesting the shot up top. In the pick and roll, he can sag into the lane when the other center can’t pick and pop.

Kobe Bryant had big games against the Rockets this season — in the four games he averaged 28.3 points shooting 58.3% (eFG%), 53% from three and getting to the line six times a game. But as Darius points out, we want to see smart play from Kobe:

Kobe needs to play the same game he played against Utah. He needs to read the defense and give the team what it needs. I don’t mind if he’s aggressive, but I don’t want him to get caught up in attacking in a manner that plays into Houston’s scheme. Houston will want to force him left and want him to take jumpshots (like that article suggested). Kobe can get off regardless, but he’ll need to continue to play smart ball (which I expect he will) and use the offense to get his shots and not settle. Kobe should try to get into the paint and create for himself and also try to get Yao in foul trouble. I also think we need to go P&R and put Yao in positions where he’s in between on helping on the ball handler and recovering to his man. This should not only help Kobe create for himself and create for the screener (who either pops or rolls), but it should also collapse the defense and allow Kobe to hit our shooters on the weakside or in the strong side corner. Houston, like Boston or San Antonio, is a strong help team, so when Kobe has the ball he will draw a lot of attention (especially if he’s putting their D in positions where they don’t want to be). Sounds simplistic, I know, but it’s the truth. BTW, I’m not that concerned with Hero Kobe or Go at Artest/Battier Kobe. This is playoff time and he’s repeatedly shown that he’ll play the smart game that is needed of him in the post season. This is even more true in the past two seasons where his teammates have been more aggressive in their own right. Will he go off? Sure, and probably in multiple games. But I don’t see it being forced.

Kwame a. adds something on why he thinks Battier will get the primary Kobe assignment.

Who guards Kobe: I think that Battier will get the primary assignment on Kobe. He matches up better than Artest does because he is faster than Ron and he does a better job of staying on his feet and contesting Kobe’s jump shot. Last series we saw Kobe get it going when he initiated his offense from the mid-post ala MJ. To get quality shots, Kobe needs to focus on catching the ball either on the block or the pinch-post so he is in an attacking position and can get closer shots or draw defenders to kick out to Fish, Shannon, Sasha, etc.

One other matchup to attack is whomever Scola is guarding. Again, he is a solid player but both Gasol and Odom are too long and quick for him to stop. Again, Darius:

Scola will battle, but he’s over matched. Pau’s got a size, length, and quickness advantage against Scola and is as strong, but not the bruiser that can give Pau problems. So, Pau should be able to dictate this matchup if Houston plays him in single coverage. If they double team Pau, we all know he’s a willing passer and he will hit the open man. Ultimately we need to go to Pau early and often. He is our biggest matchup advantage and can create offense for everyone.

As we did last time, I’ll give the finals words of summation to Kwame a.

On Offense: 1) Initiate through Pau, whether Pau is playing Center or PF. 2) The Lakers must set Kobe screens off the ball and Kobe must move well away from the ball. Everything Kobe does cannot come from Kobe facing the defense, ball in hand. 3) Push the pace, here LO can be the catalyst when he grabs a rebound and ignites the break. Also, because the Rockets are such a good defensive team when they are set, pushing the ball will result in more secondary offensive opportunities which the Lakers cannot be afraid to take. Shots in the first 10-12 seconds of the clock (good shots) are going to be important for the Lakers to take and make. 4) Everytime Yao is out of the game we need to post either Pau, Drew or LO, Chuck Hayes ain’t stopping them!