Lakers/Magic: When The Magic Have The Ball

Kurt —  June 3, 2009

NBA: JAN 16 Magic at Lakers
First a note, I am podcast boy today. You can hear me in a battle of the bloggers on the ESPN daily NBA Podcast and you can catch me, Will Brinson and Brett Pollakoff (a big Lakers fan) talking about the series and taking swipes at the Cavs over at Fanhouse in their Roundcast.

Orlando is an interesting mix. On one hand it’s a team that’s fundamentally built like the championship Houston Rockets teams of Hakeem Olajuwon — a powerhouse center surrounded by a bunch of guys who can drain the three (although Hakeem had roughly 3,756 more post moves than Howard). But in some ways the team reminds me of a European team because of the all their tall forwards are more comfortable out by the three point line than in the paint.

There’s a lot of talk about the Lakers needing to defend the three to win the series. There is validity to that but this is something the Lakers can do — they have the lowest three-point field goal against percentage in the playoffs.

But when the Orlando Magic have the ball there are two real actions the Lakers need to stop.

One is the pick-and-roll (and I suspect this is the one we’ll see the most of). Kwame a. breaks down their favorite version of this and what the Lakers have to do.

I think there most dangerous play is when Rashard Lewis ends up at the top of the key on the ball reversal. The play starts with Turkoglu (or Alston) receiving a high screen from Howard. As Turkoglu comes off the screen and goes left or right Howard dives to the hole and Lewis fills the top of the key. Here is where the Magic have their best three players as their 3 primary options. Turkoglu can penetrate or shoot, Howard is always an option on either the pass from Turkoglu on the screen action, or after the ball is swung up to Lewis on the deep seal from the top of the key. Lastly, and arguably most important, Lewis has the catch and shoot option, and because his man has to help on the dive, Lewis has the option of attacking the whole when his man is sprinting back to recover. To defend we will have to keep Turkoglu from turning the corner and attacking the lane. We must also be able to help prevent the deep seal. I really don’t know how to prevent that, so maybe a better option is preventing the pass into the post. I think that Lewis’ man should stick on Lewis hip and we should help on Howard from one of the weakside players (either Lee or Alston).

Orlando runs the same play but with Lewis in the corner. This time Darius breaks it down and offers suggestions on how the Lakers defend it.

The first key is getting a good show on the ball handler. Our big must step out high/hard and be prepared to defend that ball handler until the original defender recovers. That means getting low enough to deter penetration while also being ready to contest the jumper (especially from Hedo). Second is the recovering man – he must chase hard and recover as quickly as possible. He must also be aware of the backside skip pass back to the corner/wing (meaning a pass back to the side where the dribbler came from). Essentially – chase hard and with his hands active. Third is the PF that is going to be in a bit of no mans land. Let me explain – when Howard sets the screen, he always dives. So, with Howard’s man showing on the ball handler and the ball handler’s man chasing to recover, someone needs to pick up a rolling Howard. That player is going to be the PF who is on the backside and marking Lewis in the corner (this is also why I said that the man recovering to the ball handler must be aware of that backside skip pass – that pass is going to Lewis). Essentially, our PF needs to be able to show on a diving Howard (until the man showing on the ball handler recovers to Dwight) and then be able to get back to the corner to cover Lewis. This will be a difficult task, but if our show man and recovery man do their jobs, this tough task can be mitigated by pristine positioning due to the length of our PF’s. Basically, I think Pau and/or LO can do the job of cutting off that dive lane for Howard while also being in position to recover under control to Lewis. However, and this must be said, we are going to give up some open shots. It’s inevitable. But if we can recover well enough on most shots and if their shooters miss some (it is a long jumpshot – an efficient one, but still a long one) we’ll be okay.

One way to make the P&R less effective is something endorsed by Darius, Kwame and myself — pressure the guy brining the ball up the court so Orlando gets into its offensive sets later in the clock. That ballhandler is usually Alston, and Darius even suggested putting Kobe on him (Fish would be on Lee, not a bad matchup for him). This is something the Lakers did a lot this season, particularly early in the year. The goal is not to gamble and get steals (and fouls) but rather just to harass. If Orlando doesn’t start to run its set until there are 12 seconds left on the shot clock, the extra pass can become rushed as can the shooters. Darius adds:

Orlando often runs the P&R only to get the defense into the scramble mode and then they proceed to make one or two extra passes to get a wide-open shot. Well, if Orlando isn’t getting into their P&R set (with Hedo or even Alston after he’s hounded) until 15 seconds are left on the clock and then we stymie that or we rotate well or we get a deflection or it breaks down and they go to Howard (etc), then they will be taking shots with the clock running down. This fits into our MO as well, as the Lakers are one of the teams that really makes teams use clock in order to get a shot

While the P&R is one action, the other thing the Lakers need to do is defend Howard in the post and the kickouts from there.

The Lakers cannot — and from what Phil Jackson has said will not — double Howard in the post. That is when the kickouts to the three point line, then quick ball rotation to the weakside, get them the good looks they love. I would rather have Howard score 25+ and keep the perimeter guys in check every time. Basically, little or no strongside zone when Howard is in the game.

Defending Howard in the post starts with not letting him get position in deep — you want him at least 10 feet out. Father out if you can. Doing that without fouling is hard, but Darius can explain the advantages:

I’d rather have Dwight attack off the dribble than bang into us and back us down. I say that because Drew has enough size and length to contest Dwight’s running hook or counter moves. And Gasol has enough speed, size, and length to do the same. I also like Pau’s ability to poke the ball away when Dwight puts the ball on the ground from a face up move. But if we’re getting backed down, we’re just absorbing the hit and inviting our perimeter defenders to look and watch and lose their man behind the three point line. Basically, make Dwight use his limited arsenal to score. Don’t double and allow him to pass out to open shooters.

The other thing Howard does better than anybody in the league is rebound. The Lakers must be big defensive rebounders, and be ready for the long rebounds that can come with long shots. The Lakers have huge rebounding advantages at every position save center and they need to put that to use.

Then there is the part that scares me — the Lakers must stay home on their man at the tree point line. Now wandering into the lane to help. As Reed points out — Odom, this means you!

He’s our best help defender and his instinct is to track the ball, as opposed to his man. That works great against someone like Martin, Scola, Hayes, or Milsap, but he’s going to have to track Lewis and Turkoglu through screens and watch them as they set up off the ball. I think there will be several o-dumb moments where we in unison scream at the TV after odom overhelps and leaves open the corner 3. Maybe I’m wrong, and he’ll make up for it in other ways, but something to look out for.

If he doesn’t do it much, and the same for the other Lakers, they can slow down the Orlando attack.