In last season’s NBA Finals, Phil Jackson then (and still today) took some heat for running Chris Mihm out on the floor after he hadn’t played all season due to injury. It made no sense to people to throw a little-used player cold into the biggest games the team had played in years.
But there was a logic to it. By the time Mihm stepped on the court, it was pretty clear to everyone that the Lakers were losing the series and the only way to fix that was to get more of a presence in the paint. The only options Phil had left were real longshots — so, in goes Mihm. He likely wasn’t the answer, but Phil was out of bullets, so he threw the gun.
I think that is same reason is why we’re seeing screwy rotations rather than anything set in this series and in these playoffs from Phil — he’d love to have a set rotation of people stepping up night after night. People he can trust. But outside Kobe and Gasol, nobody is stepping up consistently. In game four, Lakers not named Kobe/Gasol or Bynum shot 26.5% (those three shot 54.5%). That will not get it done.
Bynum had a good game in game four, but some of his other efforts have been lackluster. Fisher is struggling on both ends, but at least he is battling. Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown have looked better in stretches, but they have far from been the answer or been consistent. For the playoffs, Walton’s PER is 9.65, Fisher’s is 6.74, and Sasha’s is 3.82.
Then there is Lamar Odom. Who has just been MIA for most of this series unless he is guarding an inbound pass. He may be still be banged up, but we simply need more out of him. The Odom with the inside out game, who can grab the board and run the break has disappeared.
This is all very frustrating because during the season guys did step up. Not all at once, but guys did. Odom had dominating stretches, Sasha was knocking down key shots (as was Fisher), and then there were some great games early on from Farmar. The point is somebody stepped up.
Denver’s bench, on the other hand, is stepping up. LK basically won them game two, and yesterday when Melo was sick they got great play from K-Mart, Nene, JR, just about everybody.
There are no easy answers for the Lakers, no simple Xs and Os adjustment that changes the series. Maybe Phil just goes back to his set regular season rotation and stops searching. But the fact is, it is a coach’s job to put players in a position to succeed — then the players have to make plays. What the rotation is doesn’t matter if guys are not stepping up.
I don’t think the game four loss to Denver was like the game four lost to Houston — I think the Lakers tried. But guys that were hitting shots and making defensive plays in the regular season are not now, and as an optimistic by nature person I want to find another reason other than that these guys shrink in the brightest of lights. After last season in the Finals I thought this was just a maturity thing, that the experience would toughen them up. And it did Gasol, who is playing much better. Ariza is giving us all we can really expect out of him. But the other guys….
The time for excuses is gone. Best of three for a trip to the NBA Finals. It doesn’t get much bigger than this. It is time to step up or the Lakers are going home.