Archives For May 2009

LAKERS
There was Sasha and Fisher hitting big shots. There was a couple thunderous dunks because the Lakers were the team that attacked the rim. There was aggressive defense extended out high and long arms in the passing lanes. There was a whole lot of Lamar Odom.

It was the complete team effort that Lakers fans had been asking for. Here are just a few collected thoughts from game five:

• One thing the Lakers did much better was handle the aggressive double teams and traps of Denver. Especially when it happened to Pau Gasol, he had been kicking it out for a three, which the Laker guards had been mostly missing. Tonight it was Kobe trapped in the corner passing to Gasol single-covered in the post. Or, if Gasol was doubled in the post he could hand off to the cutter going right by him. The Lakers moved without the ball when there was a double, and that led to layups.

And, that is something that can happen in Denver. That was not about friendly home rims, it was about effort and willingness to take the punishment to be the aggressor.

• Reed added these thoughts about Kobe:

When Denver went up 7 in the third, I expected (and wanted) Kobe to take over. But he just calmly made the right play, play after play, chipping away and putting immense pressure on Denver to defend our length inside while overdefending Kobe. And what an advantage length is – we controlled the paint at both ends with it in the fourth quarter.

Kobe continues to prove that he is the preeminent closer in the game. Every time down he knew the double was coming, but brilliantly let the full trap come as far out as possible – all to give the other 4 as long as possible to beat 3. A lesser player would have skipped the ball out as soon as the double started. But he is a Man, directing and inspiring his teammates as a true leader – telling Pau and Odom to make plays and putting them in a position to do so. He is everything Henry (Abbott) thinks that he is not.

Home court is the single biggest factor of the rest of the playoffs. Our role players just don’t play well on the road. It kills our execution and puts too much pressure on Kobe and Pau. But at home they do just enough. For that reason I want Orlando if they advance notwithstanding the matchup issues.

• Darius added these thoughts.

Tonight was a call to arms and our veterans answered. Fish came out early very aggressive and made some plays when it looked like this game could get away from us. Odom played his best game since the Utah series and showed why so many of us support him as a player and as a teammate (I mean, bad back and all – he banged on the block, stayed assertive even when things went against him, and played with real energy even though he played almost the entire 2nd half. Man I love that guy – and when he’s on his game he’s such a difference maker).

And Pau! Understated stat line for his impact on the game. The blocked shots, the great skip passes out of those P&R’s, his interior passing, his offense…just a very strong game. I distinctly remember a play where Pau was trying to get Kobe the ball with under 10 seconds on the clock and Kobe was denied well and then Kobe just told Pau “take it!”. Pau proceeded to attack off the dribble get bumped and flip up a shot that fell. That may have seemed lucky, but he was aggressive and he was rewarded. Which ultimately was the theme of the night — our aggression paid off.

The other key to me was Phil. Coached a great game and pulled all the right strings tonight as almost everything worked. Stayed with Odom and LO delivered. Went to WOW and he gave us a real spark. Didn’t extend the rotations in the 2nd half as Sasha and Farmar didn’t get off the pine (or at least I don’t remember them playing). He stayed with the guys that were performing and it got us the win.

Also, Denver is a tough, tough team. I give them credit. They play hard and have a truly explosive team. Melo has also elevated himself so much in my eyes. I already held him in high regard, but at this point he’s just as dominant as any other scorer in the league and his defense has really raised a level. He’s just supremely talented.

In the 4th quarter, we had a stretch where we forced 4 straight turnovers. In game 4, we only forced 9 total. Tonight, we extended our defense, were much more aggressive in extending our SSZ and our backline defenders were more aware of cutters behind them trying to sneak into the gaps. This led to deflections, forced passes right to us, and then Denver holding the ball and forcing shots against the shot clock. Tremendous effort on D in that closing quarter.

• These thoughts are from Snoopy 2006

When Nene went out with foul trouble, we did an amazing job of using the PnR to open up the floor for other players, doing a great job of swinging the ball across the floor and getting the Nuggets scrambling on D. (Also Pau/Lamar did a great job of getting deep post position on these plays). When Nene came back in, the effectiveness of the PnR dropped drastically (although he quickly left with 6 fouls). I loved Phil’s call (and Kobe’s) of abandoning the PnR when it wasn’t working as well, and running the ball through Pau in the post. Adaptability is a key.

• These final thoughts come from Scot:

Just got back from the game. All I can say is thank you ShanWOW. The building was nervously quiet for 2 1/2 quarters. After the WOW dunk, Staples was electrifying and LOUD for the rest of the game. Defensive energy ramped up exponentially. One play indeed can truly change the course of a game (a season?). And of course, props to the “good” Lamar, and to Kobe for playing a smart and unselfish game.

.

NBA: FEB 26 Suns at Lakers

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 Nene 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.

-Darius

Los Angeles Lakers vs Denver Nuggets Game 1 NBA Western Conference finals in Los Angeles
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.

Lakers/Nuggets Game 4 Chat

Kurt —  May 25, 2009

LAKERS
We can talk about the heroic efforts of Kobe Bryant or the steals of Trevor Ariza or the spotty point guard play or a hundred other things, but this series still comes down to one thing:

Can the Lakers control the paint?

In the second half of game three the Lakers did that — most importantly they kept Melo out of the lane, he had no baskets in the paint or anywhere else in the second half. Part of that was better defense inside by the Lakers, and part of that was that Denver fell in love with the jumper, especially the three, but couldn’t hit it. That will not happen again, be sure that they will attack the rim in game four. The Lakers defense needs to be ready, Bynum and Gasol needs some blocks without fouls.

At the other end of the floor, for all the Kobe amazing shots, it’s about getting points in the paint. Denver has basically taken a page out of the Celtics defensive schemes against the Lakers, and the Lakers need to counter that by getting the ball inside to Gasol/Bynum or a posted up Kobe, then making the smart pass out of the double, moving the ball and moving without the ball. Then hitting the shot when they get the look.

In the first half of game three, Denver got points inside by sending cutters that exposed the Lakers strong side zone defense — flooding the zone them hitting someone cutting off the weak side — and you can bet they will go back to that tonight. The Lakers defenders on the weak side need to be aware and be ready to cut those off. Denver can’t get that many layups if the Lakers expect to win.

One other reason the Nuggets got out on top to start the game was they took advantage of transition opportunities, both off turnovers and misses. They are running on everything they can, and on misses they are getting a lot of offense out of secondary break plays (drag screens, guys running to the three point line, etc.). The Lakers have to play much better transition defense, and be more aware of who is running and get to their man..

One final thing I think the Lakers will see more of tonight is Linas Kleiza. The guy is +16 for the series and the Nuggets are -21 for the series when he sits. He was a game changer in Denver’s win, and Karl is going to go with what is working.

What I hope to see in game four is more transition basketball from the Lakers. Game three saw more breaks and opportunities than the first two games, the Lakers good advantage of that, and they need to build on that.

The other thing the Lakers did well last game was get the ball to Kobe running him off screens coming off the high post. The Nuggets will counter this in an effort to continue playing ball-denial for Kobe. This is going to open other things up on give and goes and other counters — the Lakers players (Fisher for one) need to make the Nuggets pay when they do this. If Denver wants to take Kobe out of the game then their needs to be a cost.

We can expect another close game. Denver will come out playing with more desperation and energy than they did last game — they cannot afford to go down 3-1. Will the Lakers play loose like a team with nothing to lose after getting a win in game three? Which team will do better fighting through the exhaustion of last game? Will Denver or the Lakers execute best down the stretch?

This is going to be a fun one to watch.

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A few more haikus from after the last game.

Turrible

Melo sad for loss
Lakers in the driver’s seat
NBA relieved

Bill Bridges

Rip by Ariza
Kobe cuts out George Karl’s heart
Bloody, eats it raw