Archives For June 2009

Lakers/Magic Game 3 Chat

Kurt —  June 9, 2009

Celebrities At The Lakers Game
Here we go. I think we all have said this may be the toughest game for the Lakers to win. It will come down a lot to defense, and I like what Zephid said:

If I were the Lakers, I’d take a big chance in Game 3 and let Dwight Howard get his in favor of staying with their shooters. As long as we can hold the rest of Orlando’s players to 40-50 points, we have a good chance of winning even if Dwight goes for 40.

If the Lakers are close after the first quarter, after the initial energy of Orlando at home, I like our chances. Let’s Go Lakers!

Even though yesterday was a travel day, everyone was still talking about strategy and changes. (I was on the Roto Experts radio show, which you can catch here.) I think we will certainly see some adjustments in game three from both team — really more extensions of what worked and counters by the other side than wholesale changes. But things will be different.

One key way things will be different that is not Xs and Os is I expect the Magic will play with a level of energy and desperation they have yet to reach these playoffs — this is a true must win. They know it. Their fans will be there and they know it. (By the way Orlando fans, stop whining about the non-goaltend. You can read my thoughts on the play at this link, I’m not getting into it here.)

One other thing we will see is better play from the Orlando role players, who will be in a comfort zone in Amway Arena. Rafer Alston couldn’t hit anything in Cleveland last series but was lights out in Orlando. There will be more of that from him and the bench and role guys.

A few things I think about game three:

• Post up Kobe. Post up Odom. Those are mismatches on the block, and while Howard comes over from the weakside to create issues you can pass out of that to create open chances.

• The Lakers need to continue to limit the fast break and secondary break points that Orlando loves — they averaged 10.5 points per game that way in the playoffs up to the Finals, but have just two points total in the Finals. The role players will be more comfortable running at home and will be energized by the crowd. They will push the ball more in the past, the Lakers need to slow the outlet and the man coming up court, and find those guys spotting up for threes in transition.

• The Lakers need to continue to make it tough for Dwight Howard to get the ball where he wants and get rolling, in part by throwing multiple looks at him (including some doubles). In overtime, the first three Magic possessions started with the ball going to Howard on the block, and after those three they led by one. The next eight did not, the Lakers won. Not a coincidence. The Magic are going to feed Howard, the Lakers need to make it tough without as much double-teaming as we saw in game two.

• The Lakers need to keep Kobe and Gasol at the heart of the offense without just running the Kobe/Gasol pick and roll. (And credit Petrius, who played good ball denial defense on Kobe — he allowed 27 Kobe touches on 41 possessions, the rest of the Magic allowed 49 Kobe touches on 51 possessions.) Bill Bridges has a great idea about what to run.

I especially like the high post entry to Pau at the free throw line and Kobe coming around for the handoff. This creates a screen roll action without Kobe initiating the play and opens up driving lanes for Kobe. The Lakers ran this twice in the second half. I hope to see more of it.

• When the Magic go to the “twin towers” of Howard and Gortat, Bill Bridges says clear out for Lamar Odom, out on the wing is the counter. Smart idea.

• If Orlando is going to double Kobe on pick and roll sets, Darius suggests the Lakers do what they did against Denver — start that action out very high and have Kobe step back and pull the double-team farther out, then make the pass that creates a 4 on 3 for the rest of the players.

My feeling — the Lakers are going to win at least one of the three games in Orlando, but this one game may be the toughest. Not that the Lakers can’t win it, but I expect the best game we’ve seen out of Orlando yet tonight.

2 Mo’

Kurt —  June 7, 2009

The words written on the Lakers locker room white board:

2 Mo’

They are going about their business and saying all the right things. As a fan, I am smiling a little more now. Despite how close game two was, I feel more confident after that game than I did before it started, and not just because of the 2-0 series lead. Or because the Lakers won a game playing ugly. Or because a bunch of people in the media are writing tonight “hey, maybe that Pau Gasol guy isn’t soft.”

It’s because some fundamental things that make Orlando go have not worked for two games in a row, while other things are going our way:

• The Orlando pick and roll is not really working all that well for them. As was noted before the series, a lot of times Orlando runs that just to try and get the defense scrambling, leading to an open three. But the Lakers are keeping their shape, defending that well. Not scrambling. (The threes Orlando got was because the Lakers decided to double Howard more in the third, which didn’t work out.)

• In game two, Orlando had two fast break points. The Lakers have stifled their transition game. That will be much harder to do on the road, but they have done a good job so far.

• The Lakers made some poor shot choices and still won. To quote Darius: “I thought we were undisciplined in the way that we took too many long jumpers. Sure, those shots were open, but in game 1 those were shots that we passed on to look inside instead.”

• Fisher is playing pretty well again. Not great on defense, but there is no healthy Nelson to make him pay for that. Orlando guards were 6 of 26 on the night.

• Stan Van Gundy literally threw everything he could think of at the wall in game two — he went big, he went without a point guard for the last nine minutes of the game, he hired a Shaman to curse the Lakers (okay, maybe not that). And he is 0-2. There are adjustments that Orlando can continue to make, but you get the feeling that they don’t have a magic bullet here. They will not be swept as at least one game a few of those shots will fall and they will get some hometown calls.

But do you really think they can win four out of five from the Lakers?

We’ve talked about how Game 2 really sets the tone for the series. This one will be closer than game one, let’s see if the Lakers can play up another level.

Lakers/Magic Game Two Preview

Kurt —  June 7, 2009

Andrew Bynum of the Los Angeles Lakers
Game One Thursday in some ways reminded me of Game One a year ago — one team, the more experienced veteran team, came out with a much higher level of energy and execution on the biggest stage, while the other team looked overwhelmed by the moment. It’s just that this year the roles were reversed — it was a veteran Lakers team that played a far more intense brand of basketball.

That is maybe the main thing that will not carry over to game two. Orlando will come back with a game more reminiscent of what they did against Cleveland, one with plenty of energy. And quicker decisions by the guy handling the ball, less hesitation. That alone is going to make this a closer game.

Other things I think you can look for:

• Orlando is going to try harder to establish Howard at the start of the game. He didn’t whine after this game he didn’t get enough touches, but he shouldn’t have to. The Magic offense runs inside out.

• To add to that, the Magic ballhandlers will attack the paint and rim as well. Darius explains:

Too often, the Magic found themselves on the wing trying to attack our defense. Every scouting report out there says that trying to come at us from the wing is the wrong move because our length and quickness will force you into areas where you’ll struggle to be effective. How many times did Hedo run the P&R towards the wing? How many times did he find himself with little to no real estate along the baseline? On the flip side of that, when Nelson first came into the game, he did a much better job of getting to the middle and creating looks for his mates. If you look at the Denver series, that’s what worked against us as well (with Billups in the P&R and in isolations). Because Orlando is primarily a P&R team, they should continue to run it, but be smarter with where they try to initiate from. Too many times Hedo was catching the ball too close to the hash mark and Ariza did a brilliant job of shading him in a manner that dictated where the play would go and how it would develop. Hedo’s got to catch the ball almost straight away and force us to defend this play in the middle of the floor. This will give Hedo the best opportunity to get into open areas and allow the Magic to space the floor much better.

• The Magic learned a hard lesson about letting Kobe get to the spots he wants off the floor on the pick and roll. Overall, Orlando played a fairly relaxed defense and they will not in game 2. Again some Darius:

Kobe was way too comfortable. After Houston and Denver, he must have felt like he was on vacation. I know they contested his shots, but where was the holding and grabbing and pushing and elbowing off the ball? Where was the physical play that the East is known for? Where were the hard fouls? If they happened, I must have missed them. Also, Howard needs to decide to make an impact. He’s the DPOY, but he was relatively invisible on that end. He came late on his rotations on the P&R and on dribble penetration. He needs to intimidate and contest every shot that is within 5 ft of him. Make the Lakers second guess anytime they see him in their peripheral vision. Essentially, make your presence felt. He didn’t do it and the Lakers dominated their defense.

• Notice the last two posts were really about what the Magic need to do — in a series it is the losing team that almost always is the one that has to make the adjustments. What matters for the Lakers is how they counter those adjustments. My suggestion — run the triangle’s traditional sets. Yes, technically the P&R the Lakers ran last game is within the offense, but now they need to get back to more traditional sets, like getting the ball to Gasol in the high post and having cutters flying around him. Quick ball movement.

• Game two is going to be a lot more physical. If the Lakers of the end of the Denver series show up and match that, they will be fine. If they do not, things will not be as confident in Lakerland on Monday.

View From Orlando

Kurt —  June 6, 2009

Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic
I wanted to get a feeling for what the people in Orlando are thinking after game one, so I reached out to Zach from Orlando Magic Daily and he kindly answered a few questions. (Follow the link and read my answers to his questions as well, too.)

1) What is the mood of Magic fans after that win? Is this a case where it is seen as an off shooting night, or are there concerns that there are more serious problems in this matchup?

The last few days in Orlando have been unreal. There are Magic banners on buildings, flags waving from cars, “Go Magic” on restaurant signs… The city has never cared this much about its basketball team. There are heaps of new fans that gradually came on board as the Magic beat the Celtics and Cavs. And after last night’s blowout loss, Magic fans were put in their place. I think a lot of new fans received a wake-up call that the NBA isn’t a big party.

The long-time fans are disheartened for sure — but we understand that it’s a seven-game series. Even though there are several factors going against the Magic (such as Phil Jackson being 43-0 when winning game 1, or no team ever winning the championship after losing Game 1 by 25 points, or the Lakers getting the best of virtually every matchup in Game 1), the series is anything but over. And I still feel like if the Magic can take a couple of games, the Lakers might start feeling the pressure of expectations and turn against each other. At least that’s what I’m telling myself.

One thing’s for sure — the Magic aren’t going to shoot that badly or play such an uninspired brand of defense again. The question is, can the Magic find a way to stop Kobe and the Lakers? When the Lakers went big, Rashard Lewis was seriously exposed by Pau Gasol. I don’t know if there’s any one way to fix that problem. And Dwight has been in foul trouble for seven consecutive games now, and as long as the Lakers keep attacking him I don’t see how that trend will change. The fouls are definitely on his mind, and his unwillingness to pressure Kobe allowed No. 24 to shoot uncontested jumpers all night long.

2) Jameer Nelson. You mentioned before the series you had concerns about playing him, but now the Magic are pretty much committed to it. So how do you handle it? What do you do to get the most out of him?

I don’t want to be that guy, but it turned out exactly how I feared. If you remember, I was worried that once he stepped onto the floor, it’d be hard to sit him down because he’s the unquestioned leader of this team and a Kobe-like competitor. That’s exactly what happened. After he played great for five minutes in the second quarter, Stan Van Gundy left him out there until halftime and Nelson fell victim of rust, conditioning and an overall lack of chemistry. You can’t take your all-star point guard and expect him to be a backup. It looks good on paper, but it just doesn’t work out in real life.

That said, the Magic are committed to him. I expect one of two things. Either he starts getting more minutes than Rafer Alston and takes control of the team, or the Magic shut him down. There is no in between. There’s no 15 minutes off the bench to provide energy — especially not after he played 23 minutes in Game 1. If I was a betting man, I’d say he continues to come off the bench and will split time with Alston in the next game. As the series goes on, Nelson will go up above 30 minutes and become “the man.” If that’s a good thing, I don’t know. Nelson lives on the outside shot, and he didn’t have it last night. I don’t know if something will suddenly click and he’ll start stroking outside jumpers.

SVG historically doesn’t change starting lineups in the middle of a series, so Nelson definitely won’t be in the starting lineup anytime soon.

3) What other adjustments do the Magic need to make for game two? What needs to be done defensively (on Kobe in particular)? What about getting Dwight going in the paint?

Clearly, the Magic were befuddled by the Lakers’ pick and roll. The Lakers continually picked Bryant’s defender with Dwight Howard’s man (usually Gasol), and Howard was unwilling to stray far enough from the hoop to crowd Bryant and take away the open mid-range jumper.

If Stan Van Gundy is good at one thing, it’s making adjustments from game to game. We saw it against Philly, Boston and Cleveland, as he outcoached Tony DiLeo, Doc Rivers and Mike Brown (even if outthinking those three is like making a dog think you have a treat) to series victories. The Magic will surely work on defending the schemes executed by L.A. for the next couple days, and they’ll have an answer. Of course, the Lakers will have some adjustments of their own.

On Dwight, I thought he did OK offensively. The Lakers were sagging down on him and he usually made the smart pass to an open shooter. The shots just weren’t falling.

Thanks to Zach for the insight.


Just a few links to check out as well.

• Jordan Farmar is hosting an online raffle to win tickets, airfare and hotel accommodations in Orlando to Game #4 of the NBA Finals (June 11th). Proceeds will benefit The Jordan Farmar Foundation. The online raffle will take place at Tickets cost $2.00 each with a minimum purchase of five tickets. That’s $10 for the chance to go to Orlando, and the money goes to a good cause. Doesn’t get more win-win than that.

• Great stuff from Andrew & Brian at the LA Times Lakers Blog talking with assistant coach Jim Cleamons about all the pick and roll the Lakers ran. And keep checking those guys out, they are killing it these playoffs.

• Over at his blog, regular commenter here Design Edge has a great tribute to Magic Johnson.

• Great post comparing Kobe Bryant and Larry Bird.

Game 2: The Pivotal Game

Gatinho —  June 6, 2009

Los Angeles Lakers

“It is the second game and not the first that dictates the tempo and the mood of the series.”

-Brent Musburger before Game 2 after the “Memorial Day Massacre”.

A brief history of the Lakers, The Finals, and Game 2.

1984: Gerald Henderson steals the ball. Celtics win in 7.

1985: Kareem has 30 points, 17 rebounds, eight assists, and three blocks after being called out in the media by Pat Riley. Lakers win in 6.

1987: Celtics switch Ainge onto to Magic. Cooper makes 6 of 7 threes. Lakers in 6.

1991: Jordan goes 15-18 from the floor and has 13 assists. Bulls win the series in 5.

2000: Shaq scores 40 points with 24 rebounds. Kobe sprains an ankle, but Ron Harper has 21 points. Lakers win in 6.

2001: Shaq has 28 points, 20 rebounds, 9 assists, and 8 blocks. Lakers in 5.

2002: Shaq has 40 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists. Lakers win 106-83. Sweep.

2008: Lakers come back from being down by 24 with 8 minutes left to play…but lose. If they win that game, you’re at least looking at a shot at a 7th game.

Well, That Went Well

Kurt —  June 4, 2009

I think after the game Pau Gasol and Phil Jackson seemed to almost express surprise at the outcome of the game — not the win but the ease of it. How much they were able to dominate the second and third quarters. Frankly, I sort of was too.

But even in the early going of this game, when things were tight, I just liked the fundamentals of how things were shaking out. I liked the things the Lakers were doing.

First, there was the defense on Dwight Howard. The Lakers defensive strategy on Howard was largely to force him out as far as they could, then when he caught the ball take a step back and let him make a faceup move. It worked well because Bynum and Gasol moved their feet and stayed in front of him, contesting shots. That was at first anyway, but the Lakers threw a lot of different looks at Howard (some doubles, some fronting by Pau Gasol). The end result of all this was that he never got comfortable.

They also did a very good job limiting the transition opportunities, and particularly the transition threes, that Orlando loves. Darius noticed that the Lakers laid off the three and those two strategies may have been tied:

I think we’ve made a conscious decision to not shoot too many threes. Kobe has missed Ariza on a couple of open plays, but it was too try to get a look in the paint. I understand if Trevor is frustrated, but this may be something that the coaches have drilled into the team as misses off of threes fuel the Magic’s break going the other way. Also, in the last thread I talked about Orlando running very similar sets to Phoenix – and Phil used this same exact “pound it inside” strategy against the Suns when we played them in the playoffs. Remember, Orlando is at its best when they get out and run in order to get Howard running post sprints and their shooters running to the three point line for transition threes. I like how we’re executing this (potential) game plan so far.

Then there was Kobe. Again Darius nailed it – he said in the comments that Orlando was used to seeing LeBron come off that pick, lower his head and linebacker to the hole. But Kobe’s game is more diverse, and he loves the midrange. Starting in the second quarter he came off that pick from Gasol and was consistently able to get to the spot he loves on the elbow, where they gave him the jumper. Next game Orlando is going to show out on that, they are going to body up Kobe, and he has to be ready for his counter to that (pass back to cutting Gasol, kickouts, there are options.

Phil said after the game he was not comfortable with how much the Lakers ran the pick and roll, but you run things until they can stop it.

One well the Lakers will go back to is posting up people, particularly anyone Courtney Lee is covering. One more for Darius, since he is on a roll:

Our ability to post up with five different players completely disrupted the Magic’s ability to get the ball upcourt as they were consistently either taking the ball out of the hoop or made them stay around the paint to secure rebounds or help on the interior. Kobe, Gasol, Bynum, Odom, Walton – all these guys had good games on the block and the Magic didn’t have an answer.

Game one has little bearing on game two — the Lakers do not get to start with a 25 point lead.

But that one sure felt good.