Archives For May 2009

Game 5 and Acceptance

Kurt —  May 13, 2009

Los Angeles Lakers vs Houston Rockets NBA Game 5 Western Conference semifinals in Los Angeles
Nearly a year-and-a-half ago I came to a rather Zen acceptance of Lamar Odom for who he is as a player — both brilliant and mercurial. They are part of the same package, the yin and the yang. As a whole, he paints a fantastic picture, but if you live and die with him day to day as a fan, the frustration will overwhelm you.

I am reaching the same place with this Lakers team as a whole. Beginning to accept that their Achilles’ heel is focus and motivation, that it will come and go, and that will not change. During the regular season, two quarters of the good Lakers may often be enough, and during the playoffs it will not be.

But I’m pretty much done talking about lessons learned, thinking this team has finally turned a mental corner, because I don’t think it has and I don’t think it will. I have no idea what to expect in game six. I know what to expect from the Rockets — they are a scrappy team that will come out and play hard, like their season is on the line. With the Lakers, I don’t have a clue. It could be four quarters like Tuesday, although probably not. And I’m not at all convinced that the “lessons” of this series will carry over to games against Denver or Cleveland. The Lakers could actually show up focused for all the games in the Finals, but that would be to me more a matter of circumstance than growth.

These Lakers just are what they are. And I can accept that.

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As for the game itself, realize that the 25-6 run the Lakers had to end the first quarter consisted mostly of made jumpers — they hit 6 of 7 in the stretch. In that same time they had one layup and two dunks. And Kobe was back to destroying Battier on the night, shooting 8 of 13 against him (and 2 of 6 against anyone else.

Aside that, I thought Zephid had a great wrap so I’ll just steal that one.

I think this 40 pt win is a little misleading. Yes, LA was the better team tonight, but the fact is that Houston simply missed a ton of shots. 29-89 from the field, 5-29 from three? Some of that was improved Laker defense, but most of it was simply shots not going in. That being said, if Houston had made about average percent of their shots, this still would’ve been a 20 pt win. Now for some likes and dislikes:

Likes?1.) Kobe Bryant, 10-19 from the field. When Kobe starts driving, like he did tonight, we’re almost unstoppable. He forced up maybe 2-3 bad shots, but mostly we stuck to the game-plan, ran the offense through Gasol, then switched to the Kobe-Gasol PNR so Houston couldn’t get too comfortable. Like Doug Collins said, when he scores 1.4-1.8 points per shot attempt, we’re unbeatable.

2.) Houston Rockets with 17 turnovers. Admittedly, some of this was Houston simply passing the ball to the Lakers. However, as we’ve all seen, when the Lakers get turnovers, both our offense and defense really get going. Everyone gets hyped up from seeing Trevor or Sasha dunk, which gives us more effort on the defensive end, which forces more bad shots and opportunities to push the pace. Turnovers really fuel our team, so the more we get, the better we play.

3.) Ron Artest, dribbling. I started becoming almost school-girly giddy whenever Ron Artest started dribbling the ball outside the 3-point line or in the corner. Of course some of this was Ron Artest being Ron Artest, forcing up shots, but the Lakers did a great job trapping him and forcing him to pass, something he’s really, really bad at, evidenced by his 1:4 assist to turnover ratio last night. I seriously think that with each dribble, Ron Artest lowers his team’s chances of scoring by like 5%.\

4.) Derek Fisher, 18 minutes, Jordan Farmar, 22 minutes, Shannon Brown, 17 minutes. I really liked this distribution of PG minutes. Yes, Fisher got beat a couple times by Brooks, but I don’t think we should under-estimate the couple times that Fisher posted Brooks up. Like was said, Fisher posting up Brooks is like delivering body blows to a boxer; it takes his air. I doubt Brooks was used to taking a beating like he did in the post against Fisher, so I have a strong feeling that it affected his game, 4-11, 0-3 from three as evidence. Farmar and Brown also came in and played great, almost mistake-free basketball. Can’t really ask for more from our PG’s.

Dislikes?1.) Officials: Ken Mauer, Bennett Salvatore, Derrick Stafford. I don’t think we could’ve gotten a more home-team favorable officiating crew than the one we got tonight. The Hayes fouls were all fairly ticky-tack, while a lot of Laker contact went uncalled, especially Andrew Bynum man-handling dudes underneath the basket. Not saying that the Lakers didn’t earn the foul calls on the Rockets, it’s just that the favorable officiating helped.

2.) Derek Fisher, 1-6, Sasha Vujacic, 1-5. ?Our top two shooters, going 2-11 from the floor, including 0-3 from three is a bad sign. Sasha’s big brick in the 3rd quarter had him really upset, as you could see Kobe “consoling” him on the bench. That being said, we need these two to step up and start making shots. I don’t feel confident with the game on the line having to kick out to Odom, Ariza, Walton, Brown, or Farmar for the win/game-tying basket. We can only hope they can back on track soon.

3.) Von Wafer, dribbling. For those of us who actually watched the last 6 minutes of the 4th quarter, it was disturbing how easily Wafer was getting in to the lane. He was lightning quick out on the perimeter, repeatedly beating our guards off the dribble and getting easy scores. Some of this was lax Laker defense, but I for one would love to see Wafer taking contested outside shots over driving on Sasha any day. Sasha has done a great job on Wafer all series long, so I’m a little disturbed by Wafer getting to the basket at will in the 4th.
Overall, it was a great win for the Lake Show. Good to see them close out a game strong, finally. Let’s hope this win doesn’t go to their heads and they come out strong in Houston.

Lakers/Rockets Game 5 Chat

Kurt —  May 12, 2009

Houston Rockets vs Los Angeles Lakers in Los Angeles
I really am not worried about the Lakers focus or effort tonight. That may sound weird after the last two days where in all of Lakerdom, the team was bashed for its flat effort Sunday. But for anyone who followed the Lakers this season, that effort was almost predictable. Just as predictable, after a flat game the Lakers almost always come out with a very good effort.

Instead, let’s focus on what they have to do.

• Run the offense through Pau Gasol. In game four the Rockets came out with a new gameplan while the Lakers decided not to execute theirs. Entry passes to Gasol, if they happened at all, were sloppy. If you have watched the Lakers since the All Star break, you know that the triangle offense has run best when the ball ends up in the hands of the best passing big man in the game — Pau gets the ball and good things happen. The other guys need to move without the ball, Gasol will reward them, and that will open up ways for him to score.

• The Rockets are a lot more freewheeling and aggressive without Yao, and they have given the green light to shots earlier in the clock. Be ready for that, don’t expect them to run 15 seconds off the clock setting up. That was the old Rockets, not the new ones.

• The Lakers need to change how they defend the pick and roll with Brooks (insert you own joke here about defending it at all would be a change). Bigs have got to show out harder and use their length. The Lakers should even trap him on occasion — Brooks cannot be allowed to turn the corner. But part of that last game was the Laker guards did a crap job of fighting through the pick and recovering to their man, that opened up things as the bigs cannot hold Brooks off for that long. The guards have to help.

Brooks has preferred passing options and if he can’t get up a head of steam those become long passes that Ariza et al can steal, or Scola and teammates will need to come out farther to get the pass, pushing them away from the basket. Either is a better option than last game.

• Stick with your man if he can shoot the three. Kobe, I’m looking at you.

• Rebound like you mean it.

• Get back in transition defense and be aware of your man (the Lakers got caught in a ton of mismatches this way last game).

• Realize that even if you get a big lead, this Houston team will not quit and quietly accept their fate. You have to beat them. Again and again. No letting up.

Ron Artest of the Houston Rockets

UPDATE: The official word on Lamar Odom’s injury:

According to Lakers spokesman John Black, results of Lamar Odom’s Monday morning CT scan and MRI are that he has a lower back contusion (bruised back).

His status for Tuesday evening’s Game 5 vs. Houston – which tips off at 7:30 p.m. – is questionable, and his condition will be updated subsequent to Tuesday morning’s shootaround.

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1) In the first game of the 1985 NBA Finals (the first time it was called that, by the way), the Lakers got absolutely routed by Boston Celtics. Devastatingly crushed. Dominated in every aspect of the game. They lost 148-114, and the media dubbed it the Memorial Day Massacre. The Lakers won the series in six games.

2) 1972 NBA Finals, Lakers vs. Knicks game one. From The Show: “Lucas scored 26 pts. an, Bradley hit 11-12 shots from the field as New York shot 53% from the floor. They used a nearly perfect first half to jump to a good lead and won much too easily, 114-92…. At he beginning of the first half the Forum crowd began filing out dejectedly. It looked like another LA fold in the Finals.” The Lakers beat the Knicks in five.

3) Game two of the 2000 Western Conference Finals, the Trailblazer ripped the Lakers, 106-77. The Lakers came back to win that series in a dramatic seventh game and go on the three-peat.

4) Last season the Boston Celtics were taken seven games by a more athletic but far less talented Atlanta Hawks team, then were taken seven games again by LeBron James and what there was of a surrounding cast last season. We all remember how that turned out. But after four games against the Cavs last year, Celtics message boards and fan reactions looked a lot like the Lakers this year.

There are simple lessons here. Don’t say this Lakers team cannot turn it around and win the NBA title. Don’t tell me Magic and the great Showtime teams never had letdowns, because they had them (regular season and playoffs). Don’t tell me game four against the Rockets is proof of ultimate doom. It is not. (Thanks to Gatinho for helping me compile this list.)

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That is not to excuse the lethargic performance in game four, or to dismiss the frustration with a Lakers team that can’t seem to stay focused. A team that wasn’t mentally prepared for how the game would change without Yao.

This one was on the players — Phil Jackson said he warned his team of a letdown and they didn’t listen. He and the coaches warned the Lakers this would be a different type of Rockets team, and they didn’t listen And you can tell Jackson was ticked: When was the last time Phil let loose with an expletive in a press conference? He is angry. Some have suggested PJ is just packing it right now, they clearly have forgotten how bad he wants the 10th ring to best Red. Phil is competitive, very competitive. But as much as you want him to yell to express your frustrations with the team in a timeout, that is not how he works. And he had 9 rings, so maybe we can cut him a little slack.

Also, Kwame a. made a great point in the comments:

Why do people keep acting like Houston minus Yao is trash. This seems to be a case of not having enough knowledge of the players who are contributing to Houston. Hell, all year Wondahbap was noting that Yao slowed them down against us and were better with him off the floor….Yea the way it happened sucked, but it was not like they lost to the Grizz.

What kind of offenses gave the Lakers fits this year? Ones with quick point guards that could break our slower PGs down off the dribble, teams that ran their offense from the top of the key area and teams that had bigs that could step out and hit 15-18 footers that pulled our bigs out from protecting the paint. With Yao out, what does Houston do for offense? Run the pick and pop at the top of the key with a big who can hit the shot. The Lakers responded by going back to old habits — everyone sagging off their guy to provide unnecessary help in the key, in doing so leaving good three point shooters too open. The defensive rotations were pathetic.

Darius chimes in:

I happen to think that we just did a really poor job of adjusting to what type of team Houston is without Yao. Understand that there isn’t a team in the league that changes more than the Rockets when they go from having to Yao to not having him. With him they are a post first, inside out team. And that is the team that we’ve planned every thing for and had mapped out our plan to win against. Now, without Yao, we must adjust to a completely different team that plays an entirely different style. Both versions of this team are very good teams and it’s a different game when you’re facing one vs. facing the other. It’s how they could have the winning streak that they had last season with both versions of this team winning at least 8 games in a row.

The Rockets came out knowing what they wanted to do with this lineup and played with passion. The Lakers came out unsure of what the Rockets were going to do but apparently being pretty sure it would be fold. It was not — the Rockets deserve the win for showing heart and passion in the face of adversity.

But the Lakers are still the better team. And if they come out with equal passion Tuesday night that will be obvious.

Lakers/Rockets Game 4 Chat

Kurt —  May 10, 2009

Houston Rockets vs Los Angeles Lakers in Los Angeles
I think everyone with an emotional interest in this series is sad to see Yao Ming go down with the broken foot and be out. He had played with the heart of a lion, a real warrior, and he was just great to watch as a fan of the game of basketball.

In the preview for game three, Reed talked about the team dealing best with keeping their heads and executing their game plan in the wake of the emotional game two would win. That holds true for game four — if the Lakers now let up because there is no Yao, they will lose. This is a scrappy Rockets team, one that is not going to give up. Execution remains the key, the Lakers need to keep doing what they had done.

With Yao gone there is little need to double, they need to be smart man to man. The Lakers have forced an average of 18.3 turnovers per game this season (while giving up 10) and if you can force them sans Yao to create shots on their own we can force more of these. Also, they can get blocks — the Lakers have averaged seven a game in this series (compared to 2.7 for the Rockets). Energy on defense remains the key.

So now what for the Rockets? I would expect Landry to start, and for the Rockets to go with their small lineup. That group has given the Lakers fits and it will take away some (if not all) of the advantage the Lakers have had on the break (and for the playoffs the Rockets are 7.1 points per 100 possession better on offense when he is off the floor, and they are +14 in this series). The Lakers will need to execute better in the half court (even if that is more freelanced offense on the secondary break) than it has so far.

Look for Artest to start out strong, but his shooting has dropped off by quarter in this series dramatically (.550 in first quarter; .502 in second; .413 in third; .303 in fourth). No matter how mad he is at him, Adelman needs Von Wafer because he needs the guy who can create offense. Wafer can also make questionable decisions, and the Lakers can take advantage of it.

I also am curious to see what happens with the Rockets defense — last game when Kobe came off a Gasol screen Yao pulled back and Battier fought over the top then tried to funnel Kobe to Yao (this worked sporadically). Now, I bet you see a lot of showing out on the screen, meaning Gasol’s man is going to step out and they are going to if not outright trap Kobe they are going to try to cut off his driving lane and likely try to get the ball out of his hands.

Game three also saw a bit of a shift in how the Rockets dealt with Kobe philosophically — rather than being okay with him getting his but trying to make it hard and cut off the passing angles, they really just collapsed on him. That opened things up for everyone else, and the other Lakers made them pay. (Well, not Sasha, but he’s just ice right now shooting 23.5%.) Does that change?

For the Lakers defensively, they need to play smart man-to-man now, with very limited doubling (when Scola starts backing down Odom there should be help, for example). The Rockets don’t have starters that can create their own shot well, outside of Brooks (who would prefer to pass) so the Lakers want to essentially force them to do that. And hope that Artest feels he has to take this game over.

The Lakers get Fish back, and while there is a sudden vocal minority on this site that doesn’t think so, this is a good thing. Fish was the starter on 185 straight games for the Lakers (regular season and playoffs) and has in that recent time led the team to the NBA Finals and the second best record in the NBA. Since he returned the Fish/Bryant backcourt is 141-51. That is not an accident or in spite of him, and there has not been a dramatic drop-off . That said, I hope to see plenty of Farmar today, his effort earned him more minutes — but this is a good matchup for him. Fast but not physically strong point guards (like Brooks) play to Farmar’s strengths, so the Lakers should use him. (Next round, against Billups, we will be very thankful we have Fish and not just Farmar and Brown.)

Note to Shannon Brown — Kyle Lowry almost always fakes first on his perimeter shots. Please stop biting on that and fouling.

There are reasons to feel good — Phil Jackson is 22-1 in the playoffs when his team has led 2-1. And Adelman’s teams have never come back from that deficit. But we know this Laker team, they are fully capable of laying an egg.

The game we watch today has Chuck Daly’s fingerprints all over it. From the ticky-tack nature of assessing what level of physicality is allowed to the way Kobe is guarded. It was Daly’s Bad Boys who, along with the Knicks and Pat Riley, turned the game “ugly” in the late 80’s and early 90’s by combating the skill and finesse of Magic’s Lakers and Jordan’s Bulls with an intimidating defensive style. It was Daly’s Pistons that we’re actually successful for a time in slowing Jordan down in the playoffs by sending varied looks at him.

Daly’s Pistons faced up against the Lakers in the epic 7 game ’88 Finals. If not for Isaiah Thomas’ severely sprained ankle, which he played through in games 6 and 7, there may never have been a back-to-back. The Pistons would get their win over the Lakers the following year when bum hamstrings sidelined both Magic and Byron Scott and their own back-to-back the following year, placing them firmly in the upper echelon of the great 80’s teams.

Daly on guarding Jordan…

“If Michael was at the point, we forced him left and doubled him. If he was on the left wing, we went immediately to a double team from the top. If he was on the right wing, we went to a slow double team. He could hurt you equally from either wing — hell, he could hurt you from the hot-dog stand — but we just wanted to vary the look. And if he was on the box, we doubled with a big guy.

“The other rule was, any time he went by you, you had to nail him. If he was coming off a screen, nail him. We didn’t want to be dirty — I know some people thought we were — but we had to make contact and be very physical.”

…sound familiar?

“The so-called Jordan Rules might’ve been the only thing I contributed to basketball…Everything else I stole.”

SI NBA Historian Jack McCallum on Daly’s defense:

There were three tenets to the Detroit defense: Never give Jordan an easy shot; try to confuse him with varied defensive looks; and be very physical with him. The principles were perfect for the Pistons, who were smart and aggressive (some would say they crossed the line into “dirty”) defenders.

605 wins-420 losses
.609 winning %
HOF 1994
Coach of the 1992 Gold Medal winning “Dream Team”

Charles Jerome Daly
1930-2009

Elements of this story are from Roland Lazenby’s The Show
-Scott Thompson

NBA Playoffs Los Angeles Lakers vs Houston Rockets in Houston
First things first, RIP Chuck Daly. A fantastic coach who by all reports was a better person.

• One of the media mantras was “the Lakers can’t win unless Kobe stays hot on jumpers.” Well, he didn’t in game three. He started out hot, 5 of 6 and setting the tone, but after that he went 6 of 22 from the floor. And the Lakers still won comfortably.

• Of course, the Mantra around here is the Lakers will go as far as their defense will take them. One thing the Lakers did well, particularly in the second half (in part due to the play of Bynum), was protect the paint. The Rockets entire offense is predicated on knocking down jumpers as Yao or penetration allows kick-outs to open shooters. In the first half, the Rockets took just 9 shots outside the paint (hitting five). But in the second half it was jumper city — they were 4 of 20 outside the paint. They were 1 of 13 outside the paint in the third. Some of those were good, open looks, but it emphasizes the point that you want the Rockets shooting from the outside, ideally not threes. If they get points in the paint, they are harder to stop.

• Darius added this about Kobe’s defense in the game:

When the All Defensive First Team was announced, there was a lot of debate about Kobe being included on that unit. Many thought (and maybe still do think) that he is not deserving of that distinction. Well, tonight he showed why he’s held in such high regard as a defensive player. Many will remember his blocked shots (especially the lefty swat of Yao’s layup attempt), but in re-watching the DVR I again saw how smart he can be on D. He was cutting off angles in anticipation of passes to Battier on the wing where Houston was trying to move the ball to a position to make a post entry to Yao. He was sagging just enough off Battier (who was in the corner) when the ball was on the strong side to discourage the post entry from the guard who had the ball at the wing extended. He was working his way through screens and getting in the passing lanes. And in the 4th quarter, when Ariza picked up his fifth foul, Kobe switched on to Artest and battled him for every inch of hardwood and limited Ron’s catches when he was really starting to do damage against Trevor. Houston was trying to make a push in those final minutes and with Yao hobbling, Artest was the guy that was scoring. Kobe switched on to him and we got the stops we needed because Ron couldn’t get a good touch or get up a decent look. Kobe may have had a big scoring night, but he did some real damage on D as well.

• The Lakers forced turnovers on 19% of the Rockets possessions for the night, a very good number. It did not lead to the fast pace we had wanted to see (just 91 possessions, a very Rockets pace) but the number of empty possessions really added up for Houston. Especially when the Lakers turned the ball over on 7% of their possessions.

• When was the last time we saw that balanced a Lakers performance?

• As I think most of us have said, the league needs to reduce the Flagrant 2 on Artest for the foul on Gasol. That simply was not a flagrant in my book, make if a Flagrant 1 if they feel they must, but that is not a suspension-worthy foul.

• I also hope Yao can play Sunday. We’ll keep an eye out for reports on his foot. Zephid said it well:

I think any rational basketball fan (and they are few and far between) has to appreciate the heart of Yao Ming. Every fan, Houston or opposing, can tell that he’s giving his all on the court, and that he’ll do anything to win that won’t compromise the integrity of the game. People universally respect his determination, so it’s natural that rational people will want to play with/against Yao Ming, because he is simply a competitor. Watching him limping up and down the court in the 4th, you could see the pain in his eyes, not just physical, but the emotional pain of not being 100% to lead his team. Then, seeing him dunk on Gasol and Odom’s heads late in the 4th on his gimpy leg, you could tell that he has enough heart for two men. I don’t think enough can be said about Yao Ming. He has so much heart, so much fire, but he never crosses the line to arrogance a la KG.

• As Led and Harold noted in the comments, when you commit to fronting Yao, you can expect he is going to have a bit night on the offensive glass because you can’t box him out (without doubling, which you are trying not to do every second of every play). It’s something for the Lakers to be aware of, to know where he is and get a body on him, but this is a trade off.

• The Lakers.com people gave Shannon Brown a camera to tape some of the trip to Utah, check out the video. An observation: Pau Gasol pretty much always looks like he just woke up 30 seconds ago.

Lakers/Rockets Game 3 Chat

Kurt —  May 8, 2009

Los Angeles Lakers vs Houston Rockets NBA Game 2 Western Conference semifinals in Los Angeles
I wanted to get away from the emotion of the last game and talk a lot of Xs and Os, but in an email Reed makes a very good point that emotions may well determine this series:

I think that is an often overlooked, but important, subplot in any series — which team allows some emotional/mental/psychological weakness to disrupt their desired execution. This is a real driving force in the playoffs. Often the talent difference is razor thin and the determining factor becomes which team can gain the mental edge and thereby force the other team to play with doubt, fear, or some level of discomfort. By “emotion” or “mental edge” or “psyche” I am referring broadly to any kind of emotion that affects play — doubt, fear, confidence, trust, courage, etc. Those feelings can drive execution — if a team believes in their system, teammates, and personal abilities, then they will execute with real precision and commitment; if they do not believe in themselves or others — or fear their opponent in some way, then that will cause execution to break down as they compensate for perceived weaknesses. This is what happened in the Boston series last year. They were not more talented than us, but they gained the clear mental edge and forced us to abandon what was working. Instead of running the triangle, we reverted to Kobe-ball…. The issue was not that we didn’t care or stopped trying, it was that we let Boston intimidate us — both in terms of gameplan and physical play — and thereby lost the disciplined execution that had worked for us.

It’s a good thing to watch for tonight — do the Lakers get away from what they do best? Does a fired up Ron-Ron try to take over the game single-handedly? Those things will determine a winner as much or more than anything else.

Tonight with the Lakers we get a peak into the point guard of the future discussion, and hopefully we are not left screaming, “Free Agents, we need Free Agents” by the end of the night.

Jordan Farmar could do it, if he plays a little smarter. The man used to just run into the pick in the high pick and roll and become lost, but against Brooks he is went under it. The problem last game was he went so far under it that Brooks could still turn the corner and get up some speed before Farmar was there to try to cut him off (and it was too late). Or, Brooks would just hit the three. If Brooks is cold again (he’s streaky) then the Lakers go under, if not Farmar has to fight over the top. If Jordan can make a couple little adjustments like that, he could have a good night.

Otherwise, more ShanWOW and maybe some Sasha at the point.

The Lakers had a good defensive game in a lot of ways against the Rockets in game two — they fronted Yao and had backside help there early, taking him out of the game. I liked the turnovers that created (allowing a faster pace), while Darius breaks down how he thought just keeping Yao out of the flow was key.

However, I think this game was won based off the work that we did on Yao. We fronted him, pushed him further out to make catches, and then doubled him hard which forced him to pass. Houston’s wing players helped us out a great deal by not looking for Yao on the re-post (as Dwyer explained so well over at BDL), but often times those wing players were up against the clock and went into a bit of panic by forcing jumpers and driving into traffic (and all because of the work we had done throughout the possession). As I mentioned in the last thread, if we can continue to make Yao a passer and limit his shot attempts, we’ll put the game on the shoulders of Artest, Brooks, Battier, Landry, Scola, Wafer, and Lowry. And while Artest has shown how good he can really be, he’s always one play away from making himself disappear (as we saw last night). And in the end, I’m more than happy to take my chances against those other guys than to allow Yao to dictate to us. Plus our fronting strategy put our bigs in much better position to help on Guard penetration. If Fish/Farmar/Brown got beat, Gasol/Bynum were in position to help as they were already in front of Yao (most of time at least) and did not allow themselves to get sealed off by his giant frame. This made Guards reverse course and burn more clock. If we can find ways to continue using this tactic even as the Rockets make adjustments, we’ll be in good shape the rest of this series.

The Rockets are going to make adjustments, as the (wait for it) Leg-en-dary David Thorpe pointed out at ESPN.

The Lakers defended Yao much better in Game 2, fronting him more in the low post and sending Lamar Odom into the ball-side box near Yao whenever the ball handler crossed below the free throw line (which is normally where they’ll feed Yao). It effectively bottled up Yao. Houston can try passing down to Yao from above the line, before Odom comes over, if Yao can keep Gasol behind him. If not, Houston could put Luis Scola in more threatening spots on the weak side, hoping to keep Odom closer to home. Or they can pop Yao out to run side pick-and-pops, possibly opening up driving lanes for Brooks.

I love Trevor Ariza but he is not strong enough to cover Ron Artest, so look for more Luke Walton tonight. As Darius pointed out in the comments, Luke is strong enough to absorb the contact when Artest drives and is too slow of foot to react to his fakes, he just stays between Artest and the basket. And that works.

As I have done recently, I’ll let Kwame a. have the final word:

Keep Landry out of the paint: In game 2 Landry was able to bring the Rockets back with a big 2nd quarter. He made seven (7) baskets at basically point blank range and also took thirteen (13) free-throws. He did this from a combination of out-hustling the Lakers for offensive rebounds and from being left open when the Lakers continued to double Ron Artest. We must put a body on Landry and not double off him. I’d rather let Ron shoot himself out of his hot-streak.

Keep Brooks from collapsing the defense: In Game 1 Brooks had 19 points and was a +11. In Game 2 it took him 15 shots to get 13 points. What was the difference? The Lakers did a better job of keeping Brooks from attacking the hole and collapsing the defense. The Laker bigs did a better job of dissuading Brooks from attacking for lay-ups and forced him to dribble through to the other side. This allowed Fish (or the other PG’s) to recover back to Brooks. Keeping Brooks from getting off is key to the Lakers defensive success.

Keep Yao from getting shots: In Game 1 Yao took seventeen (17) shots and played forty (40) minutes. In game 2 he took four (4) shots and played twenty-six (26) minutes. Most of this was due to foul trouble, but with Pau due to start the rest of the series, foul trouble will be something Yao must avoid going forward. Also, the Lakers fronted Yao a lot more. There were a few things in play here: 1) our guards did a good job of pressuring the entry passer and this dissuaded the Rockets from throwing the ball into Yao often, 2) our weak-side defenders (kudos Luke) did a good job sneaking over and swiping at the ball and doubling Yao on the catch, while still recovering, 3) Yao was not making quick enough decisions when he caught the ball. The Rockets will find ways to get Yao the ball more, but the Lakers need to maintain the strategies they employed in Game 2.

For a Rockets perspective, check out Rockets Buzz (they have a live chat going on game nights).

Also, if you are watching online tonight, ESPN360 has the feed, just follow this link at game time.

Now We Have A Series

Kurt —  May 7, 2009

NBA: MAY 04 Conference Semifinals - Rockets at Lakers - Game 1
Welcome to playoff basketball, this is fun and going to get better.

Let me start by discussing the topic du jour, Derek Fisher decleating Luis Scola.

I loved it as a Lakers fan. This team has been blasted as being soft for a year now, and as recently as a couple days ago by an LA Times columnist. But anybody who watched this team this season saw the mentality was different— this team pushed back, they fought, they were tough. They learned the lessons seared into them in the ugly game six in Boston last year. There have been some hard fouls, some pushing back all season long.

What Fisher did was a team leader saying “Don’t f$*%&$ with my teammates.” This is a team sticks up for each other and will push back. There are those that will call this overcompensation, others that at the next loss will pull out the soft card again, but frankly those are people who have not really seen how this team has changed. They are people who do not really have a grasp of this team. That includes LA Times columnists.

• Scola, to his credit, learned a lesson from Brad Miller and put a little extra into it to help sell the flagrant.

• If Fish is suspended and we have to go with Brown/Farmar/Sasha at the point, I don’t think the drop off is huge. But one of them needs to step up and drain threes consistently.

• I like what ESPN’s Eric Neel wrote after the game about the Lakers:

And it’s hard to explain, but watching them, you knew, precisely because of that civil discourse, precisely because they were taking shelter in short answers and trotting out clichés like Crash Davis, that they were loving where this series has gone, that they were itching for Round 3.

• Kobe was 10 of 17 with Battier on him in game two after a rough game one.

• The real key to this win was the Lakers defensive pressure leading to Houston turnovers in 21.7% of their possessions, and turning some of those into easy baskets in transition. When the game grinds down to a halfcourt battle, the Lakers play to the strengths of the Rockets. When they get out in the open court and run, they win. And that all starts at the defensive end. I don’t know if I’ve ever said this before, but the Lakers will go as far as their defense will take them.

• Game three is going to be called more closely from the start, an advantage for the Lakers.

• More game breakdown stuff coming down the line.