Making Adjustments

Kurt —  May 22, 2009

Denver Nuggets vs Los Angeles Lakers in Los Angeles
It took me a while to write something about game two, because the loss was so frustrating on fundamental levels for me. I try remind myself that the bottom line is that these are two evenly matched teams in games where just minor breaks can swing either game either way, and they have swung both ways, so it is fitting that the series is 1-1 after two.

Still, as a fan I’m frustrated. I’m frustrated that Andrew Bynum, who played so well in the first half, played the first 4:45 of the second half then never got back on the court. In fact, when Bynum sat in the second quarter is right when Denver’s late 12-0 run starts.

Watch the first few minutes of the second half — you don’t hear Bynum’s name called but the Nuggets are shooting almost all jump shots. Then Bynum makes a bad play, turns his head and loses Nene and the Brazilian gets a layup. And Bynum is benched, never to see the court again. He finishes the game a team best +7. On the bench.

I’m frustrated by the guard play. I’m not frustrated by the missed last second shot by Fisher — when you have to take a three at the buzzer to tie it’s a crapshoot. No matter who takes it. What is frustrating was Fisher’s play in the third quarter, when the Lakers had a big lead and he kept driving into a forest of defenders looking for…. a foul I guess. A parting of the Red Sea. Whatever. Doing it once and not getting it is one thing, the two subsequent times when the same thing happened is very frustrating.

But Phil Jackson trusts Fisher because they have a history. Because he is stable. Because he has hit big shots in the past. All the reasons that we Lakers fans love Fisher. But at some point in these playoffs that trust has to bend to the new reality that Fisher is not getting the job done. He is a defensive liability. He is not hitting his shots. He is just not the same player.

Clearly Jackson has some recognition of this — Fisher has sat for long stretches in these playoffs, including the fourth quarter of some games. Thursday night Jackson tried to go with the other guard he trusts, Sasha. But he has just gone ice cold — he’s still trying hard on the defensive end. But he is just ice.

Shannon Brown and Farmar, to the eye, appear better options and better things seem to happen when they are on the court. Brown was in for a late Lakers 9-0 run but when the game went to the real crunch time Jackson turned to Fisher.

The bottom line is nobody is really stepping up — Laker guards outside of Kobe were 6 of 24 in game two. That simply will cost the Lakers games. It’s frustrating because I want someone to grab the opportunity and play so well they demand the minutes. It hasn’t yet happened.

And that extends beyond just the guards. Ariza played poorly down the stretch. Gasol looks like all the basketball last year and this summer and this regular season are starting to catch up with him a little. That is all frustrating because we talked about all season how other guys were stepping up and it didn’t have to be all Kobe. But now in the biggest games of the year, Kobe has had to take on more because the help isn’t there.

And Denver is too good to beat without help. This is a very good team. This is going to be a series that is going to come down to little things at the end of games — like Gasol missing free throws or Billups making a wild blind pass that caroms to Nene. Some luck. But luck is the residue of design and aggressive play. Denver did a better job of those things in game two, they deserve the win.

What is frustrating is that we expect more of these Lakers, we have seen them make the big plays late before, but Thursday night they did not. And the proble