Losing On The Inside

Kurt —  January 21, 2010

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The Lakers are among the favorites to win a NBA title this season in large part because of their great front line (plus that Kobe guy). But as Darius pointed out in the comments, Cleveland beat the Lakers because they beat them inside.

The difference tonight was that the Cavs size was more effective than ours. Shaq, Varejao, and Z complimented each other perfectly and Hickson took advantage of our over helping on Lebron early in the game. It’s really that plain and simple. We can criticize Pau (for the missed FT’s and for that layup where LeBron had a nice contest from the weakside), but Bynum allowed Shaq to bully him and LO was absent from the paint (on offense) for most of evening. Last year our biggest strength was the advantage that our bigs gave us but tonight the Cavs had that advantage and it was the difference in the game. Yes Lebron was huge, but that is to be expected (he is a tremendous talent). But if Cleveland’s bigs are not only going nullify our bigs, but also play better than them, than we’re not going to be successful against the Cavs.

The Lakers got lazy on their defense on the re-post tonight. The Cavs showed excellent patience in passing to Shaq, Shaq then passing back to the perimeter, and then re-posting to get better position. He used his strength to his advantage and the Laker’s bigs were concerned with foul trouble. The plays where we attacked Shaq and/or contested shots he did poorly (only hitting that lucky bank on Pau in the 2nd quarter). But, for most of the night, and especially in the 2nd half, Bynum and Pau both allowed Shaq to set up in his sweet spot on the right block and shoot his little hook against the glass. Shaq would still get 20+ a game if he’s shooting all his shots from 5 feet and in the way he did for most of tonight….

Look, I’m not blaming anyone for this. Drew’s not to blame and neither is Pau. Neither is Kobe. But, when I watch the games, I see less of what made us successful last season and more of what we were in 2004 when we lost to the Pistons. Now, that 2004 team was pretty damned good – they got to the Finals. But that team was also more of an isolation team in the guise of a Triangle team. Almost all of our sets ended with an iso for Kobe or Shaq or Malone or Payton. When you have talent you can play like that and still be successful (and this current team does have talent). But to be transcendent, you have to have talent + teamwork. And so far this season, one where we’re ranked 12th in offensive efficiency, the teamwork has been too infrequent.

There are other factors, like LeBron made the shots when it counted. ESPN Stats and Information noted that he was 3 of 13 on jump shots through three quarters. He sat out nearly the first six minutes of the fourth quarter but when he came in hot and made 4 of 6 jumpers in the fourth. Meanwhile, Kobe tore up Anthony Parker — ESPN tracked it and Kobe was 9 of 16 for 21 points against him — but when Cleveland switched up Kobe was 3 of 15 the rest of the way.

Games in January do not determine the outcome of games in June. But Cleveland and its front line have now outplayed the Lakers both outings, and that has to catch your attention. The Lakers have been to the mountaintop, this loss should not impact them going forward (that is something to watch, how they play the rest of this road trip), but this was a confidence boost for Cleveland. Especially if there is a June series between these teams.