First things first – Join us tonight as we host a Live Blog in tandem with Jeremy from RoundBall Mining Company.
This is obviously a huge game for both teams. The loser will be one game away from elimination and (if this was a TNT series) one loss closer to going fishing with Kenny, Charles, and EJ. And no one likes to be photoshopped in with those guys. The good news is that the Lakers are back home for this game. And while we have had our share of stumbles at home, the comforts of Staples should provide a nice backdrop for a good performance. History backs this up as well. The Lakers are a very nice 19-0 when playing a Game 5 at home with the series knotted at two. Let’s make that 20 after tonight. And just as Kurt asked if Kobe and Pau could get some help, we can also hope (dream, fantasize, pray) for better play from our role players as they should feel better playing in our building. Personally, I’m also hoping for a loud and raucous crowd tonight. Let’s get everyone standing and shouting. Let’s get Jack out of his seat. After some hard fought games with only a days rest inbetween, the guys could use that extra boost
The main key to this series has been controling the paint. Denver has done it and the Lakers have not. Will that change tonight? One way for the Lakers to control the paint on defense is to limit Denver’s ability to get into the lane. Phil called Denver’s offensive attack in Game 4 “crash ball” as they relentlessly attacked the paint off the dribble and then went just as hard after offensive rebounds off misses. So, our guards must be better at staying in front of Billups, Melo, and JR and allow our bigs to not have to help as often – as it’s this help that is getting our bigs out of position for defensive rebounding and putting them in foul trouble when they contest shots at the rim. Fisher, Sasha, Kobe, Ariza, Farmar – this one is on you. Bill Bridges adds his own keys to how we can improve on defense tonight:
a. Do not leave the weakside corner 3 uncontested. This defender cannot continue to stray into no-man’s land, neither helping in the paint nor preventing the corner 3. Whether the shooter is Kleiza, Smith, or Melo. This tactic can and will kill you.
b. To help prevent the corner 3. Play the post straight-up. The Lakers should not double as a matter of course. Nene killed us with his passes and this double and the ensuing scramble opens up rebounding lanes for Bird and Martin.
c. Force Melo left for a contested jumpshot. This is exactly the same defense as Battier’s on Kobe. Do not give up driving lanes to the right. Shade to the left. Face guard on jump shots.
And I’ll add that we must rebound. I know I just mentioned that many of Denver’s offensive rebounds came off our guards’ inability to stay in front of ball handlers. However, we must also rotate and put bodies on guys. In the last game, WOW failed to rotate down and let Andersen slide right by him for an offensive put back. I’ve seen Sasha and Farmar do the same thing. When a big man rotates, a guard must sacrifice his body and box out the crashing big. And our bigs need to seal their man and attack the ball as well. If we rebound, we can get out and run. If we don’t we’re going to let a very good offensive team get 2nd and 3rd chances. I’d prefer the former.
On offense, it’s the same story we’ve been discussing for weeks. The Lakers have an advantage with their size and length and need to go into the post for early offense. In Game 4, Pau and Bynum combined to shoot 14-18 from the field and 7-10 from the line. We should be initiating our offense from the post as often as possible. But this goes for Kobe as well. He lost some of his effinciency in Game 4, but we all saw some tired legs and forced shots in the 4th quarter when he was trying to cut into that Denver lead. He can get some of that effinciency back by posting up and by driving to the basket hard. If you want a couple of specifics on some plays that I think may work to establish the post, read here. But a lot of this is going to initiate with Kobe. He’s the guy with the ball in his hands and he’s the primary decision maker for this team. I trust that he’ll make the right decisions and get the right players involved. This brings me to…
Ultimately, Kobe is going to be the player with all eyes on him. He needs to be agressive and bring everyone else along with him. Pau is ready. Ariza has played very well. Bynum has shown flashes. But who else is going to join the party? This is the Western Conference Finals. Two more wins and the Lakers can reach the Finals for the second straight year, avenge their loss, and raise that championship trophy. They can silence all the doubters and naysayers that have called them physically and mentally soft. Disparage the media who dared to say that they disrespect the game. And they can do it all with their play on the court. This is the time of year where the best players show up and legacies are cemented. Think of those commercials that have been playing. What Laker is going to join the ranks of these players and create new memories for all of us fans? Tonight is the night that many players on this team can show their worth. And after all the pushing, the tripping, the showboating, and the talking, I think our guys will be ready. I think that they can’t wait. It’s time to go get a win.
And on that note, one last point to the fans. This game is a chance for us to reaffirm all the positives that we’ve felt about this team the entire year. And while this is a very important game, it’s only one and we must enjoy this journey that we’re on in pursuit of the ultimate prize. I think we come out and win tonight, but I’ll let Dex have the final word on this:
It’s sheer arrogance, as well as sulky and spoiled, to assume we should be plowing through any team, much less the Nuggets, who are indeed a worthy foe. Once you start craving a Tyson-like knockout in the first round, you not only suffer unnecessary agonies from not getting your fix but you rob yourself of the glories of seeing two heavyweights go the distance. As Kobe said in (the game 4) post-game interview: “It’s the Western Conference Finals; it should be close.” That isn’t entirely rhetoric; he means it.
Certainly we have guys playing below standard, but again quoting Kobe, performance at this level isn’t something you can turn on and off; psychology enters into it, and sometimes you get your ass kicked. Mine still aches from last night, but my foot should be ready by Wednesday.