The focus of the pre-series review has emphasized that the Magic pose match-up problems for the Lakers. Perhaps. However, I contend that the matchup problems that the Lakers pose for the Magic dwarf the former. Gasol against Lewis, Odom against Lewis, Tukoglu, or Pietrus. Kobe against Lee. I like these match ups.
The mis-match advantage, the Lakers’ superior training partners, and the proven ability of Jackson and staff to make the correct adjustments leads me to the conclusion that the championship is for the Lakers’ to lose.
The Chuckster is fixated on the starting Orlando forwards. “Whose going to guard Lewis and Turkoglu?”, he asks rhetorically. Lamar Odom and Trevor Ariza, Chuck, that’s who. Chuckster is obsessed by the first 5 minutes of each half when Ariza and Gasol start at the forward spot.
So how will the Magic take advantage of this mis-match? Ariza on Turkoglu? No mis-match there. Then how will Lewis punish Gasol? Not by posting him up obviously. By shooting perimeter shots? As Memo knows, Lewis will be surprised at how good Gasol is at defending the perimeter jumpshot. He will find that shooting jumpers over the length of Pau’s outstretched fingers not quite as easy as shooting over Mo Williams or Delonte West. Lewis’ best chance is to take Gasol on the drive. Even here as well the advantage is not so clear cut.
Unlike Turkoglu, Lewis is mainly comfortable going right. Against one-handed players, the Lakers’ SSZ is particularly good at throttling penetration. Also unlike Turkoglu, Lewis is not gifted with handle. Making Lewis a penetrator off the dribble creates steal opportunities for the Lakers. The other problem with the Magic trying to take advantage of this “mis-match” is that they will be taken out of their pattern. Once Odom substitutes for Bynum, the “mis-match” disappears for the Magic (although it remains for the Lakers). So if they are to attack the match up, it has to be done early in the 1st and 3rd quarters. The first quarter for the Magic is all about trying to estab lish Howard in the post and distributing shots to their perimeter players. Lewis is the least active in the 1st quarter and usually gets it going as the game progresses – a sort of anti-Josh Howard. Are they going to make Lewis their go-to-guy instead of Howard? If they do, thank you, SVG.
On the other side of the ball, Phil must see Gasol versus Lewis and be licking his pleasingly-smooth chops. Move Gasol around on the block, get him the ball, make strong cuts and what do you have? Single-covered, easy scores by Gasol. Double-covered, layups by cutters, open 3′s by Ariza/Fish/Kobe, and fouls on Howard defending the basket. This mis-match might become such a problem that I predict that SVG is the first to blink and play a Howard/Gortat front line to counter.
We know enough about these Lakers to be able to write down the ingredients that trouble them.
- Lightning fast, penetrating guards
- Bruising, athletic, tough front-line that crash the boards.
- Perimeter 3 point shooting
The Magic’s quickest guard Lue, gets no playing time. In Gasol, Bynum, Odom, Mbenga, and Powell, the Lakers’ bigs have the toughness advantage. Only the 3 point shooting is left. But is it really a weakness? Just because Jeff Van Gundy says that the Lakers are poor at 3 point defense doesn’t make it so. In fact, the Lakers were the third best team in the league in defensive 3 point FG% at 34.5%. The problem for the Lakers is that Orlando takes so many, 26 per game, the most in the league, and have myriad of ways getting open looks.
1. The Turkoglu/Howard high screen and roll creates strong-side dribble penetration and rotations. Lee/Pietrus waits on the strong side corner and Lewis on the weakside 3.
2. Deep post by Howard. If you double, he kicks out to the top or wing. Shoot the initial 3 or pass around the perimeter for a corner 3.
If you rush at the shooters, they take it to the defender’s feet and to the hole. Unlike Denver, who looked to dunk, the Magic players look to kick the ball back out to the top for the corner 3 or the hockey passes to the corner.
Of course the on occasion Turkoglu and Alston like to go one-on-one for a low percentage possession. Whilst to be incouraged, the defense cannot rely on these infrequent brain-farts.
As the other 90% of possessions are occupied running the two plays above, the Magic are very well practiced and execute extremely well. But an offense with limited options can be stopped. For the first time in the post season the Magic will encounter a team who can switch on the high screen and roll without creating mis-matches. Switch and show cuts off the driving lanes and bottles #2 from the beginning.
This leaves #1. And frankly whilst in theory Bynum, with his length and strength should be able to bother Howard just as much as Perkins, he’s never displayed this in practice. Assuming Howard cannot be checked one-on-one, the Lakers present unorthodox help defense against the post with the help some times coming from the top, base line and weakside. The natural SSZ defense is most susceptible to the pass from the strong side low post to the weak side corner. Howard rarely makes this pass. Instead, his outlets are almost to the top and the wing not the corner. By the last 2 games, the Lakers were much better at recovering back to cover the corner 3. If can’t defend Howard on defense, you must be able to attack him on offense.
Of the final four teams, the Lakers are the only ones with the bigs that will attack Howard. The truth is that Howard simply is not a great own-man low post defender, kind of like Ben Wallace. He can be backed under the hoop in early transition and sealed. If Bynum plays with aggression and his team mates look for him, Howard just might have to work on man defense for the first time this playoffs.
The Magic is comprised of weak individual defenders (with the possible exception of Pietrus and of course, Howard) who execute a scheme. The crux of the scheme is not doubling and staying with perimeter shooters. Against the Cavs, with no post presence, this scheme is perfect. Against the Lakers who can post up Gasol and Odom against Lewis, this scheme breaks down. Once the Magic double down low, their sticky perimeter defense is gone. Wide open shots and driving lanes should present themselves. If Howard gets in foul trouble every single game when the lanes are closed and he need not play any man defense, the Lakers could cause serious foul issues for the Magic.
The road to the finals also favors the Lakers. Apollo Creed identified hand and foot quickness as Rocky’s weakness. So he had him chasing chickens. You have a problem guarding quick point guards and perimeter shooters; practice against Houston for 7 games. Tough athletic post players have pushed you around in the past? Practice against Denver for 6 games. Ali prepared for Foreman by sparring against Ernie Shavers, not a light weight.
In contrast, non of the teams the Magic has played thus far has prepared them for the challenges that the Lakers bring. They had so many physical mis-matches against the Cavs that it was like seeing Ali beat up on the light-heavyweight champion, Bob Foster. But this practice was no preparation against Ken Norton who broke Ali’s jaw.
Assuming that the Lakers have cured themselves of the Malaise of the early rounds and brings effort each night, 4 games or 5 is a possibility.