Archives For June 2009

Faith Rewarded

Kurt —  June 11, 2009

LAKERS
In the end, it’s about faith. Faith in yourself. Faith in your teammates. Faith to persevere. Faith that you will bounce back after adversity. Faith that when the game is on the line and in overtime you will execute.

It’s about faith rewarded.

The Lakers did execute when it mattered, and Orlando was 1 of 7 in the OT. The Lakers played through the fouls on them, the fact they got zero free throws in the fourth quarter and overtime. Orlando complains about the calls they didn’t get. The Lakers had faith in what they could do. They had faith in their experience. Faith that the hard lessons learned last Finals and beyond would carry them through.

Their faith was rewarded.

There is the faith in Fisher that, frankly, many of us Laker fans are guilty of having lost. But not Phil Jackson. From that first game before Halloween, we fans begged Derek Fisher to stop taking so many pull up jumpers in transition (PUJITs), but he had faith and hit a huge one with a Finals game on the line. We called for someone else to get his minutes. Zephid said it better than I could:

This game is proof as to why we keep the faith in our players. This game is proof as to why we don’t bury our own guys; we don’t throw our own guys under the bus. Because our faith is rewarded. Everyone under the sun was calling for Phil to bench Fisher and play more Shannon Brown (myself included). Tell me, does anyone honestly believe that anyone outside of Bryant could have made those two shots other than Fisher? Through all his struggles, all the 1-8, 1-7 shooting games, our coaching staff kept the faith in Fisher. Even when he was getting crushed by Deron Williams, Aaron Brooks, Chauncey Billups, and Rafer Alston, the coaching still kept calling his number, sending him in during crunch time, sending him to battle when the games were on the line. And for their faith, they were rewarded with the most crucial victory of the season, delivered to us by one and only Derek FIsher. This is the stuff of legends; the stuff that only becomes more endearing when you’ve lived through his struggles as we all have.

Now our faith, and the tribulations it has gone through, is on the doorstep of being rewarded with a championship.

Lakers/Magic Game 4 Chat

Kurt —  June 11, 2009

Game 3: Magic vs. Lakers
I think I should come clean for the many new people here about why I am so confident the Lakers will beat the Magic in this series.

Simply put, my wife isn’t pregnant.

I have three amazing daughters, who I would not trade for anything on the planet. Not for 15 more Lakers championships I get to watch sitting next to Jack Nicholson. But the birth of my children has come at the expense of the Lakers. Let me break it down:

• Daughter #1, born during the 2004 NBA Finals, when Detroit beat the Lakers.

• Daughter #2, we went into the hospital in 2006 with the Lakers looking good, they would take a 3-1 series lead against Phoenix in the first round. They lost the series in 7.

• Daughter #3 born during last year’s Finals loss to the Celtics.

This year, no baby coming (not going to be any more, either). Ergo, the bad luck karma of me watching games on those little hospital televisions is gone. Nothing now stands between the Lakers and another banner.

Well, save for the Magic.

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Great post over at the LA Times Lakers Blog today with assistant coach Brian Shaw talking about playing with Kobe that is a must read:

He’s getting better at sensing when the team needs for him to come out and be aggressive right away, and I think that end-game situations we sometimes become predictable. The ball is going to be in his hands, and he’s going to call Pau (Gasol) or somebody out to set a screen and roll, and we just kind of stand around and wait to see what he’s going to do. I think we need to mix it up a little bit more, but then again, that’s kind of the blessing and the curse of having him.

What I mean by that is, because he is so good, he can a lot of times beat two and three defenders that you put on him. And then at the same time that can be a curse, because then it takes the other guys out of rhythm when they’re open. If it’s five guys on the court you want them to do the right thing. If two people are on one player, it means that somebody else is open and the ball is supposed to find him. So we feel like it will all hash itself out. And we point it out to him when we watch film, “Hey, this guy was open,” and “Hey, that guy was open.” and then there’s times when they were open and he hits a miraculous shot. So it’s kind of one of those Catch-22 things.

Tonight, I think we see some good decisions when the pressure is on. And I just have a good feeling about this one.

Lakers/Magic Game 4 Preview

Kurt —  June 11, 2009

NBA: MAY 25 Western Conference Finals - Lakers at Nuggets - Game 4
While I still have an almost unshakable confidence that the Lakers are going to win this series (and I know they are 6-0 after a playoff loss this year), at no point do I think this is going to be easy. Orlando is not here because nobody else wanted it, they earned it.

And unlike bouncing back some of the losses earlier this season and in the playoffs, the answer to getting a win tonight is not simply “they need to be more focused” because the Lakers actually played with good energy and effort.

But there are things they can execute better. The most obvious step is to keep exploiting Gasol on the offensive end, no matter who is covering him. He has shown he can score on Howard or whomever is guarding him. But as Kwame a. has been saying since before the series started, it should especially happen when Lewis is on him — make Rashard work at both ends. Make the jumpshooter use his legs a lot of defense.

And the Lakers need to establish points in the paint — the Magic have made a point of not allowing Kobe to score on drives after game one, and he is 4 of 13 in the paint the last two games. Gasol on the other hand is 17 of 26 in the paint this series.

Darius adds some other points.

*On defense, recognize where the Magic initiate the P&R. On several occasions Hedo started the P&R more than two feet outside the 3pt. line – this created better spacing around the perimeter and forced the Lakers defense into help situations further away from the hoop than they’d like. In those instances, Ariza must give space and go under the screen. This will disrupt what Orlando wants to get out of the play – Hedo getting that open space with room to drive and shoot and Howard getting a dive to the hole with Odom/Pau helping off Lewis – as now Ariza is there to meet Hedo coming around the pick, Bynum/Pau can just stick with Howard on the dive, and Pau/LO can stick closer to Lewis as he floats to the top for the return pass. Plus this will force the Magic to reset and run more clock.

*A more controlled offensive game from Trevor. As the defensive player that gets attacked most often, it’s easy to fall into the trap of wanting to go back at the player that’s attacking him. In the last couple of games, Ariza has done just that and tried too often to make Hedo respect his offense. Trevor needs to move the ball and cut away from the action more often and play to his most valuable asset to the team – his defense. I understand that Trevor is going to have to shoot the ball. But do so judiciously. Get the ball to the post, swing the ball to the corner, reverse the ball to the wing player replacing to the top from our weakside screen action. I want some controlled aggression from Ariza. I don’t mind if he’s taking 8-10 shots, but I’d prefer 6-8 with one or two of those being dunks in the open court. (On a sidenote, I don’t want this point to be misconstrued as me throwing Trevor under the bus for his poor offensive showing in Game 3. However, just as we want Pau to make Lewis work on defense to disrupt ‘Shard’s offense, Hedo is making Ariza work and it’s disrupting Trevor’s flow on offense.)

*I want smarter defense on Orlando’s role players. We allowed Alston, Pietrus, Lee, and Battie get the shots that they want to take (save for a couple of forced looks that still went in) and really find their confidence. We must do a better job of limiting these looks. For example, we went under screens on Rafer when he was receiving screens at 18 feet and allowed him to take 16 footers with no pressure. We also let Rafer drive to his right hand and finish right at the basket. We let Pietrus take shots in rhythm, find his groove, and then he rode the wave to an outstanding performance. We let Battie take uncontested jumpers from the top of the key – which he made and ultimately opened up their high/low game with Howard. No more of any of this type of lax defense on these guys. I know part of our scheme is to allow certain players to shoot and most of the time we’ll want Orlando’s role players to be those guys. However, those looks don’t have to be the ones that they’re most comfortable taking. Force Alston to his left hand on drives. Force Pietrus to take multiple dribbles and pull up for the mid-range jumper. Make Battie put the ball on the floor before he shoots or passes. Make them uncomfortable and put even more pressure on Howard, Lewis, and Hedo to perform at their peak (especially late in the clock). Also, please stop fouling anyone but Howard. Even though Dwight has been pretty good at the line, I don’t want to see 80%+ FT shooters at the line – that’s like a guaranteed two points.

*More post sprints from our bigs. Make Dwight defend his own game. We’ve got two seven footers and Dwight is taking turns on both. Make him run on both ends and try to bury him under the basket the same way he does our guys. This will lead to easy buckets from our guys and fouls on Howard. We’ve been successful all season playing this way, why not keep it up?

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Andrew Bynum has taken some heat for his playoff performance, even though he is basically doing it on one leg. There has been a lot of “how much is he making?” type comments. But I thought commenter Travis makes a good point:

But think about (the Lakers’) needs for a true center, and look around the league. You could argue that Bynum is a top 5 center in the league, even with his playoff performance thus far. Name a starting C in the playoffs you’d rather have besides Dwight, Nene, or Yao. Perkins? Maybe. Chandler? No. Noah? Dalembert? Atlanta doesn’t even have a C. Jermaine Oneal? No. (Thank god we didn’t make that trade.) Rasheed/McDyess? Played awful. Ilgauskus? No.

If you don’t pay Bynum, Your other options for a true center are: 1) trade for someone like Kaman, Shaq, Camby, or Dampier. Those guys are old and have equally terrible contracts. 2) Draft someone: Oden wasn’t available (and that’s a good thing). The next best thing to come through the draft was Marc Gasol who we gave away for Pau (another good thing). 3) We could try the free agent market, where the options there are Darko, or resigning Kwame Brown.

Giving Bynum his money was a no-brainer.

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

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!