Once again there will be a live chat tonight here for game six with myself and Jeremy of Roundball Mining Company, and while that is a good omen for the Lakers (the Lakers have yet to lose a game when this site has hosted a live blog) this will be the toughest win for them this season.
At this point, there are no secrets in the series about what is going to happen strategically, it’s about execution.
First, the Lakers are going to need to withstand the initial onslaught we can expect from Denver. LA needs to find a way to keep this thing close going into the fourth. While some people still question the mental makeup of Denver, if they have issues it will be in the fourth quarter, not the first.
Denver is going to trap Kobe again, and if he can continue to make his passes out of that toward the basket creating a 4 on 3, the Lakers will be fine. If the guys make the shots. But expect Denver to be more aggressive in its fronting and efforts to keep the ball out of the paint. At some point, the Lakers will need to make them pay with the open threes they will get.
Look for a steady diet of Billups. He will try to take control, and if need be the Lakers need to go with Kobe or Ariza on him.
One thing to watch — the team that gets to the line the most in the fourth has son four of the five games in the series. That is, the team that is aggressive and getting to the rack when it matters.
Here are few ideas from Drreyeye on what the Lakers need to do:
Defensively, the mantra is to keep ‘Melo from feeling too mellow without allowing the energy guys to look like superstars-especially on the boards.
Birdman needs to be grounded. Maybe ShanWOW can posterize him again. Those Nuggets with Thugget tendencies need to be detained–even as their tactics are exposed. The Lakers need to give the refs every opportunity to do the right thing by overmatching Nugget intensity.
The plan that has been most successful has been to match the Nuggs through three–and pull away in the fourth. If the Lakers could get a little more separation every quarter, it could be much more decisive, even boring. I personally would go for boring–if you don’t mind.
Darius pitches in with a few details on how to pull away.
*Attack Nene. Denver has proven to be a different team when Nene is in foul trouble. He’s key to their P&R and interior defense(s) and is their best passing AND finishing big man. Once Andersen comes in, they are more prone to giving up offensive boards and become less reliable with their interior rotations (they may get more blocks, but they also give up more lanes to the basket). Attack Nene on the block and off the dribble with Gasol and Kobe should do the same when handling the ball.
*Space the floor. Game 5 was the game where our spacing was best – especially in the deciding quarter. Denver decided that they would double team Kobe a lot last game and he killed them with the pass. I don’t expect we’ll see that same tactic from Denver as they should expect the same result. That means we need to give Kobe room to operate by spacing the floor. If we’re properly spaced Kobe will have the room he needs to attack the defender that’s on him and it will also give him the space to deal with the double team (if it does come) and stretch out the Nuggs D, making passing lanes more open.
*Stay aggressive with our SSZ. Denver says they adjusted and are ready for our trapping. Make them prove it. Earlier in the series *if* we doubled, it was soft. In game 5 we trapped the ball handler and made him panic. Let’s have more of that and see if they can still function with Ariza and Odom trapping Melo on the wing. Or Kobe and Odom/Gasol trapping Billups on the wing.
*End every stop with a rebound. Denver only stayed in Game 5 in the first half because they were grabbing a bunch of their own misses and making us pay. Secure the ball, push it back at them and then establish the post to play inside-out. We can create cross matches in transition and we can get them in scramble mode if we get up court quickly and start to move the ball.
Now I will quickly get on my soapbox….
The one thing that’s really starting to bug me about the playoffs — the complaining about the officiating. This is not to defend the referees as being good or consistent, because they certainly haven’t been, or to say that something doesn’t need to be done about the officiating. But five games into the conference finals, the teams that have played better are up 3-2. In the Lakers series, the team that has been the aggressor with the game on the line has gotten the calls — game 5 that was the Lakers, game 4 that was the Nuggets. That should not be a shock, during the regular season the team that attacks the hole is the team that gets the calls. That hasn’t changed. As for the Kobe/LeBron conspiracy — they are two players that have the ball in their hands virtually every time down the floor, they shoot a lot and they drive the lane a lot. They get fouled a lot. That’s why they get the calls. The whining about the officiating (from coaches, media and fans) is just draining on me because the bottom line is the teams that play the best are still winning. And that’s the way it should be.
One thing I haven’t really gotten to during the Finals here is getting up links to other stuff. So, here are a few.
• Dex, one of the favorite commenters here on the site, has started his own Blog. There really are few fresh voices on the Internet anymore, the level of pablum being discussed varies in quality, but few things are original. Dex is.
• I loved this story in Slate, essentially saying that Kobe Bryant is the measuring stick for the current generation of NBA players.
• There’s a new interview with D-Fish up at his Web site.
• What if the NBA playoffs had been done BCS style?
• Remembering the Kobe Bryant of 1996.