The Practical Fan

Kurt —  June 10, 2009

nuggets@lakers game 2
It’s kind of amazing how different I feel as a fan during these finals.

If the Lakers had lost a game exactly like Game 3 back in December, there would be a post talking about needing to hit free throws, of wanting more diversity in the offense under pressure, of execution. Mostly, we’d talk about lessons learned to apply later.

Now I’m a very practical fan. I don’t care about aesthetics — the Lakers won an ugly game two and that was just fine as it was. I care about the big picture, the fundamentals that underlie the score that carry over to the next game and will decide the series.

And that is the reason I feel pretty good today. Orlando had the best shooting night ever in the Finals — an insane 75% in the first half, still 62.5% for the game. They had the energy of their first home Finals game in 14 years behind them. They had Rafer Alston shooting like he only does at Amway.

And it still came down to one possession at the end. It came down to Kobe Bryant having an off night at free throw line.

We could pick that loss apart for another 48 hours, but why. I don’t feel like this was a blown chance. Ultimately, the Lakers need to win one of three in Orlando, and I feel very confident after Game 3 they will get that game. The practical side of me sees how that can happen. For example, the Lakers did well attacking the post late with Gasol and Odom, we will see more of that. Darius has some thoughts as well.

*Orlando really varied their P&R game. Not only were the screens well set, they were set in different ways. For example, Orlando ran stagger screens for Alston with Lewis and Howard. This gave Alston more space to get into the lane, it gave Howard that extra step he needed to bull his way into the lane, and it gave Lewis more freedom to roam around the three point line as multiple Lakers defenders helped. Howard was also more effective in picking off Ariza and freeing Hedo to get to his spots easier. Earlier I mentioned that the Magic hit many difficult shots, but Hedo is a guy that does make those shots on a more consistent basis. His height and reach allow him to shoot over the top of defenders – even ones with the size of Ariza. All Hedo needs is that extra space and tonight he got it.

*The Magic also involved Lewis more in P&R’s as the screener. This put Pau in awkward help situations and gave Lewis wide open looks. Looks that he’ll make. Orlando also screened for Lewis more off the ball. Pau is a very underrated defender, but one thing he’s going to struggle with is fighting through screens and closing on the perimeter against a player as skilled as Lewis. As a team we have to defend this better and not leave Pau on an island against a player who moves as well as Lewis.

*With our offense, Kobe wasn’t able to establish the post for the second straight game. Lee did a great job of fronting Kobe, pushing him away from the hoop, and discouraging the entry pass. If we really want to take advantage of Kobe on the block (which I think we do), we need to find ways to get him position on the post easier. I suggest bringing him from strong to weak or setting screens for him so he can catch the ball while moving coming across the lane. I also think we need to involve Gasol earlier in the offense and then screen and move better off the ball to create looks for our other guys while also giving Pau more chances to play one on one without the full focus of the defense. He’s proven he can score on any Magic defender that guards him and his decision making will only improve the efficiency of our offense.

*In the fourth quarter, when we went to our P&R we were effective when we spread the floor and Kobe read the defense and passed to the open man. Several times, he either hit Pau with a quick pass to the FT line area or he skipped the ball to the opposite guard. We got good looks out of this set (Pau’s drive that could have been an and-one, LO’s seal on the block and finish over Lewis, Fisher’s three pointer) and I’d like to see more of it next game. The key is the spacing and making the Magic choose between Kobe and others. They’ve shown in the first three games that they’re going to choose Kobe – make them pay more often for this choice.

We said going in this would be the toughest game to win, and it was. But there are two more in Orlando and I just still feel very good about the Lakers and thir chance