“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics” – Twain
As we have four days to ponder, evaluate, fret, puff, antagonize, argue, morally lecture – and generally do the types of things fans do when they’ve been walking an emotional tightrope for six months and the end goal is within sight – let’s take the time to analyze the tale of the tape.
1. Big Picture Season Stats
Record: LA (65-17); Orlando (59-23)
Point differential: LA (+7.7); Orlando (+6.7)
Home/Road: LA (36/29 wins); Orlando (32/27 wins)
Offensive efficiency: LA (109.8 – third); Orlando (107.2 – eighth)
Defensive efficiency: LA (101.9 – fifth); Orlando (98.9 – first)
Pace: LA (96.9); Orlando (94.6)
Rebound rate: LA (51.5 – fifth); Orlando (50.7 – ninth)
I don’t think there’s much to take away from these big picture numbers. Based on past years, both teams have legitimate title level credentials. Orlando won more games and has a similar point differential to LA’s 2008 team. Both teams are strong on the road. There isn’t a significant difference in pace to suggest one style would help/hurt either team. The big difference is that Orlando is the elite defensive team in the league and we are an elite offensive team. Sound familiar? Hopefully we see a different conclusion this time around.
2. Nitty Gritty Season Stats
Points from 3s: LA (20.0, 36.1% – 17th); Orlando (29.9, 38.1% – 2nd)
Points from 3s given up: LA (21.4, 34.5% – 24th); Orlando (16.2, 34.2% – 2nd)
Interior points: LA (37.8 – 5th); Orlando (31.7 – 21st)
Interior points given up: LA (35.4 – 23rd); Orlando (28.8 – 2nd)
“Clutch” player (production per 48 in last 5 minutes of a close game):
• LA: Kobe (56.7 points, 8.5 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 45.7% fg, 40% 3s, 92% ft)
• Orlando: Lewis (28.0, 7.0, 2.7, 51.1, 43.5, 84.0); Turkoglu (26.6, 9.3, 3.6, 35.7, 20.0, 88.0)
Bench (production per game):
• LA (29.5 points, 14.1 rebounds, 7.7 assists, +449 on the year)
• Orlando (23.3 points, 12.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists, +199)
PER differential ranks by position:
• LA: PG (26th, -3.2), SG (2nd, +9.6), SF (12th, +0.9), PF (10th, +1.3), C (2nd, +6.6)
• Orlando: PG (7th, +2.5), SG (26th, -3.7), SF (11th, +1.6), PF (7th, +2.7), C (1st, +8.9)
• Orlando’s use of the three as a weapon cannot be overstated. They not only use it offensively, but they defend it as well as anyone, ending the season second in both points scored and allowed from behind the arc. They force teams to shoot poorly from three, but also force them to shoot infrequently (which is as important). This results in a monstrous 13.7 point per game advantage from deep for Orlando. In possessions where Orlando attempts a three, their offensive rating is 114.5 (which would lead the league); in possessions where they attempt a two point field goal, their offensive rating is 98.8 (which would be last in the league).
• Orlando also does not give up points in the paint, finishing 2nd in interior points allowed. That means that they understand fundamental defensive principles – make teams shoot long 2s and limit threes and points in the paint. As a consequence, they give up the fourth most points in the league on two point jump shots, but that’s obviously a category you want to lead the league in (LA is actually third in the league in two point jump shooting percentage, so perhaps they are positioned well to counter Orlando’s defense). Think Boston all over again, but maybe better.
• On offense, Orlando applies the reverse of their defensive philosophy – its either a three or points in the paint every time. They finished last in the league in points from perimeter two’s. This is a well designed and coached team. No fool’s gold here.
• The PER differential stats tell us that these teams feature the two best center rotations (Howard/Gortat and Pau/Bynum), but that LA enjoys a massive advantage at SG. We’ll see if Pietrus can mitigate that to some degree. Orlando has a big edge at PG. While their stats may be inflated by Nelson’s early season performance, ours may not fully reflect how badly Fisher has slipped.
• LA has a huge advantage with Kobe at the end of games compared to Lewis and Turkoglu. Call me master of the obvious. That said, Lewis proved repeatedly through the playoffs that he has ice in his veins.
3. Playoff Stats
Laker individual playoff stats:
• Kobe is making a living at the line, averaging 8.5 attempts and making almost 90%. Everybody else is really struggling from the line.
• Gasol: 18.2 points, 11.3 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 2.0 blocks, 57% shooting. Solid. But he needs to step up his game against Howard (21.7 points, 15.4 rebounds, and 62% shooting).
• Ariza is shooting 50% from three; Odom 52%; Brown 48%; Fisher 23%. None of those look right.
Orlando individual playoff stats:
• 5 players make 1.3 or more threes per game; all shoot over 35%.
• Turkoglu is the engine of their offense, but he’s only shooting 41% and commits 2.7 TO’s per game.
• As expected, it’s Howard or nothing on the boards. He’s averaging an insane 15.4 and the next closest (Lewis) averages 6.1.
Lakers in wins:
• Kobe: 30.8 points, 50.8 FG%, 20.8 FGA, 3.9 3FGA, 8.9 FTA
• Rebounds: +1.6
• Gasol: 17.6 points, 11.3 FGA
• Ariza + Odom: 26.0 points
• FTA: 30
Lakers in losses:
• Kobe: 27.2 points, 39.3 FG%, 24.2 FGA, 5.7 3FGA, 7.7 FTA
• Rebounds: -1.0
• Gasol: 19.3 points, 13.3 FGA
• Ariza+Odom: 18.2 points
• FTA: 25.5 points
Orlando in wins:
• 3s made/attempted: 9.4/24.0 (39.2%)
• Rebounds: +1.4
• Howard: 22.0 points and 16.0 rebounds
• Alston+Pietrus: 26.0 points
Orlando in losses:
• 3s made/attempted: 7.1/22.3 (32.1%)
• Rebounds: -3.1
• Howard: 21.1 points and 14.4 rebounds
• Alston+Pietrus: 18.5 points
• LA: 106/99 points, 43.2/41.5 rebounds, 22.6/17.3 assists, 48.6/44.4 FG%
• Orlando: 99.7/97.4 points, 40.6/36.5 rebounds, 16.8/21.0 assists, 45.3/47.7 FG%
• While we often (and rightly) maintain that a principal key to victory is getting Gasol the ball, the story is more complicated than that. He scores and shoots more often in losses than victories. Instead, if we are looking for simple trends, then three big things stand out in Laker wins vs. losses: (1) Kobe plays and shoots much better when they win; he also shoots less frequently; an efficient Kobe means victory; (2) Odom and Ariza are our wild cards; when they are firing on offense we have too much talent; and (3) we get 5.3 more assists when we win. All three things are related, obviously.
• The following things happen when Orlando wins: (1) they rebound; (2) they shoot and make more 3s; and (3) Alston and Pietrus play well. Howard’s production stays roughly the same either way.
• LA plays much, much better at home than the road, as the numbers show a wild swing in points, shooting, rebounds, and assists. We’ve seen this all spring. Orlando is much more steady, actually shooting and passing better on the road. This makes winning the first two all the more critical for LA.
4. Playoff Lineup Stats
• +/-: Odom (+15.8), Kobe (+13.2), Pau (+5.6), Brown (+3.0), Walton (+2.6), Farmar (+2.5), Fisher (-5.1), Ariza (-5.3), Bynum (-6.1), Sasha (-7.6)
• Best 5 man lineups: (1) Farmar, Kobe, Ariza, Odom, Gasol (+28 per 48); (2) Brown, Kobe, Walton, Odom, Gasol (+26); (3) Brown, Sasha, Kobe, Odom, Gasol (+22)
• Worst 5 man: (1) Fisher, Kobe, Ariza, Pau, Bynum (-12); (2, 3) Farmar, Sasha, Walton, Odom, Pau/Bynum (both +1)
• +/-: Lewis (+10.4), Gortat (+7.7), Pietrus (+2.2), Alston (+1.4), Turkoglu (-.1), Lee (-1.2), Johnson (-2.7), Howard (-8.3)
• Best 5 man: (1) Alston, Lee, Pietrus, Lewis, Howard (+33); (2) Johnson, Pietrus, Turkoglu, Lewis, Gortat (+32), (3) Alston, Pietrus, Turkoglu, Lewis, Howard (+16)
• Worst 5 man: (1) Johnson, Pietrus, Turkoglu, Lewis, Howard (-11); (2) Alston, Lee, Turkoglu, Lewis, Howard (-7); (3) Johnson, Lee, Pieturs, Lewis, Howard (+6)
• Both teams start with one of their worst lineups; LA’s starting 5 is their single worst and Orlando’s is their 2nd worst. This encourages blogging fans to think they could run the rotations better…
• Fisher is a huge weak link; playing either Farmar or Brown makes LA much more productive (but it doesn’t seem to matter which one).
• Walton is sneaky good; Odom deserves the minutes over Bynum, both in terms of +/- and 5 man lineups.
• Puzzling numbers for Gortat, Howard, and Ariza. Not sure what to make of it, other than the inherent limitations of stats.
These are two very evenly matched teams. Based on what we see in the stats, I think LA’s keys to the series are:
1. Chase Orlando off the three point line. Again, master of the obvious. I think everything they do offensively, including Howard to a large degree, operates to set up the 3. See if Howard and their drives can beat you before you overhelp off the shooters. This is counterintuitive, but they are a strange brew.
2. Ariza and Odom vs. Alston and Pietrus. The production of each pair is strongly tied to each team’s success. This is probably because you know what you will get from the principals on each team, and these are the role players capable of making more than modest contributions.
3. Rebounding. Orlando rebounds much more poorly when they lose than when they win; we rebound a little better when we win; on net, this points to controlling the boards as a key factor.
4. Kobe. If we get four more Teen Wolf Kobe games, we cannot be beat, notwithstanding what Orlando does (and that does not mean chucking Kobe, it means unrivaled master of his craft Kobe — see Denver games 5 and 6). Gasol is what he is – efficient, but he his production falls within a fairly narrow range. When Kobe shoots well from the perimeter, takes the ball to the basket, and gets to the line, he simply breaks down a defense and opens up opportunities for everyone. Thus, the better he plays, the more his teammates produce, and vice versa. We often overlook him because he’s always great, but there are degrees of greatness and we need Game 6 against Denver Kobe, and not 2008 Boston Kobe.
Prediction: LA in 7, but either team could win in 6 or 7. Orlando is better than Denver and LA could have easily been down 3-1 to them at one point. Ultimately, I see Kobe having four more “I refuse to lose” games in him, and he and Pau will get enough periodic help from Odom, Ariza, and others to secure victory. Pau plays Howard to a near draw, Ariza is the unsung hero, and LA wins a close, hard-fought, but not panic-less series.