As much as I am confident the Lakers will win today, there is a sense of nervousness around a game seven. Because anything can happen. We want more Ron Artest from the Rockets, but he is fully capable of having one of those games where his poor shot choices are falling. There are a lot of things to make Lakers fans nervous.
That said, the road jitters that take the team out of their offensive rhythm will be gone, replaced by a loud and supportive home crowd. The Lakers never lost home court in this series (as has been said), this game is why you want home court. And for all the stories that have said “the Lakers didn’t learn anything from Boston’s game six last year” this is the game where we really find out if they did. The team sounds ready. I know Kobe will be.
The key for the Lakers in this series has been on the offensive end of the floor. When they have lost that is the end where the Rockets and themselves took them out of their rhythm That is the end that fuels their passion on defense. Darius had a few suggestions on what the Lakers need to do.
1) Our big men changing ends better. The best way to use our size advantage is not by backing down stronger players, it’s by establishing deep post position. And the easiest way to earn that position is to sprint up court, get to the paint, and the turn for the ball. The only game we really did this well was in game 5. More please.
2) More cross screens for our bigs. The Triangle is an offense with many variables and actions. However, an under utilized initiation is to start the ball on the weakside with an empty post. This allows the three strong side players opposite of the ball to bunch at the pinch post and set a screen for a big that comes across the lane to form the Triangle on the ball side. This will get our bigs moving towards the ball which gets them in an advantageous position without all the banging.
3) More Pau at the FT line but with less settling for the jumper. Pau needs to attack Hayes off the dribble, but he needs to do it from the middle of the floor where his counter move is easily available. When Pau turns and faces from the wing, Hayes can use the sideline against him and also funnel Pau towards help. This positioning limits Pau’s ability to reverse course and pivot into open space. But if Pau attacks from the middle (especially when paired with LO) he can change direction much easier and have more of the court open to him while also making his reads on passes easier. And when paired with Drew (and at the FT line), Pau and Bynum need to work in tandem to better create high/low situations. Bynum needs to recognize when Pau is drawing extra eyes and initiate quick post position against his defender to create a passing angle. We used this on the first play of game 5, but have seen this action less than five times all series. Like I said earlier, deep post position will kill the shorter Rockets and when we have the chance to work these types of actions to get that position we must take advantage.
One other thing the Rockets have done well in this series is take away Kobe’s dribble penetration — we’ve complained that he has taken too many pull up jumpers in this series but credit the Rockets and Battier for playing good defense and guiding him to help, then everyone collapsing on him. Commenter andseedlings makes a good point here.
(How the Rockets defend Kobe is) Reminiscent of the way Posey and Pierce hounded him during last year’s finals. If it seems like I’m making a lot of Boston comparisons, I am. That is going to remain the blueprint on how to destroy the Lakers’ offense until we prove otherwise, but very few teams can follow that blueprint because very few teams in the league have the combination of both strength and quickness in both the wings and the post to be able to do pull it off. Houston, without Yao or T-Mac, is one such team. When you combine that with a general stinginess with the ball (10 Houston turnovers in game 6, only 6 Laker steals) to keep our transition game from clicking, all of a sudden the best offensive team in the league is struggling to score points.
There are things we should look for on defense as well. Like when Brooks drives the guard and help big need to force him baseline and out of the middle where he is most dangerous. Timely help on Scola is needed. Rebound like they mean it.
I expect the Lakers to overcome this in game 7. I expect a win and haven’t really thought about any other alternative. But everyone — this is the fun part as a fan, try to enjoy the experience.
I’ll be at the game today, so expect a lot of updates, here and via twitter.