The T-shirt idea posted over at the LA Times Lakers Blog (and shown above) really sums up my thoughts. There are a lot of people saying the Lakers lost home-court advantage, but that’s not how I see it — of the six games left, they are split evenly. What having the HCA gives you is breathing room if you have a bad game. The Lakers had theirs, but this is far, far from over.
As for what the Lakers need to do, it is get back to their offense, which I think Houston assistant coach Elston Turner described very well in a TrueHoop story (from Kevin) that I thought was the best on the first game:
“Spontaneous creativity — that’s what makes them so tough,” Turner said of the Lakers, as he marked up the board. “They’re so flexible offensively. That kind of flexibility is unique, and you need defensive flexibility to stay with them.”
One of the most insightful commenters here had a great rundown of things that need to change after game one, and so I’m just going to let him have the floor:
First of all a strategy that depends on Yao wearing down is not going to work. I don’t know what kind of ginseng he’s been taking but the Yao of yesterday does not drain that 20 footer at the end of the game and 40 minutes of court time.
Some of the Lakers problems were temporary. Lack of shooting touch, slow on rotations, etc… these will naturally be improved. But some problems are structural. These problems need a change in strategy.
1. Aaron Brooks. The problem he posed was different to the problems D-Will and even to some extent, Chris Paul poses. He broke Fisher down without needing a screenroll. The Lakers have gotten better at defending the screenroll with Pau or Lamar showing hard and recovering to his man. But Brooks just blew by Fisher, never giving the help defense the chance to affect him. Brooks is similar to Parker, a shoot-first point guard who can get into the lane and finish. The Lakers should consider putting Ariza on Brooks who can leave space to prevent penetration and still bother his shot. This would leave Kobe on Artest (Ariza did not slow Artest at all) and create a matchup problem with Fish on Battier but I’d rather have Battier taking up Yao’s low post possessions instead of taking the corner 3. I’m not convinced that Farmar can stay in front of Brooks as he’s not demonstrated this ability against any other point guard in the league whereas Fish is strong enough to hold his position against Battier.
2. On offense the Lakers simply have to do better executing 2 simple plays. High screenroll with Kobe and Pau and mid-post with Kobe. The Rockets are doing a good job defending the screenroll by having Battier cheat off Kobe toward the right side of the court. Ideally Kobe would have the ball on the strongside (left side of the court) and Pau would flash up to screen his man, resulting in either in a Kobe dribble drive down the right side of the court (the new strong side) or being double -teamed which can create the highly effective hockey pass to Odom on the high post and Pau diving to the hole. But the Rockets anticipate this screenroll and when Pau flashes up to set the pick, Battier is in front of Kobe and already shading to the weakside. Thus when Pau sets the screen, the pick is a backside pick and the only avenue left for Kobe is to double back toward the strongside (left side) where the defenders funnel him toward the baseline. This defense is exactly out of the Michael Lewis article. To combat Battier’s stance, the Lakers have to change the initiator of the triangle sequence. You know the sequence that Fisher runs where he dumps the ball off to the high post, cuts down and then doubles back to receive the hand-off (yes picture it, Fisher usually takes a 20 foot jump shot off of this sequence). Instead of Fish, this has to be Kobe. If Kobe initiates this sequence on the left side of the floor, he can receive the hand-off from Pau who also picks off a trailing Battier. The screenroll now is dangerous, with either Kobe one-on-one with a showing Yao or being doubled by a trailing Battier. The Rockets now are rotating furiously to cope and shooters are open everywhere on the floor. I’m disappointed that the coaches do not have a solution for this defense because this is what the Rockets have run each and every game since last year.
Also, Kobe must simply work harder to establish the mid-post position on the right side of the court. You know the plethora of moves he has from this position. We saw this once last night with Kobe getting a good shot in the lane.
On a macro note, some times it is not your night. The 50/50 plays went the Rocket’s way. Someone posted about the team rebounds being an indicator. There were many sequences where the Rockets made shots with the clock winding down. And still the Lakers had chances. I expect the Lakers to win the next game as Kobe should come out very aggressive continue his forays into the lane that he started late in the 4th quarter. But the win would be easier if Phil addresses the structural problems and not just count on more effort. I don’t know whether Phil’s adjustments will have any similarity to the ones being suggested by FBG readers but it will be interesting to see what they are going to be.
Nomuskles suggested in the comments the Lakers may need to give Brooks the Steve Nash treatment — don’t let him facilitate, make him score. He will, but it’s less dangerous. Maybe that’s an option.
But what I really want to see tonight is some made shots.