Archives For April 2010

Los Angeles Lakers vs Oklahoma Thunder Game 1 NBA Western Conference playoffs in Los Angeles

From Hardwood Paroxysm: We knew they had it in them. It’s been pretty obvious the last couple of months that if the Lakers wanted to play basketball the intelligent way then they would have a lot more games like this. Instead, the Lakers have been all over the place. They’ve been blaming their struggles on injuries and a lack of rhythm instead of showing some heart and fortitude on defense to go along with smarter shot selection on offense. We’ve been waiting to see them take advantage of the length that nobody else can match, rather than chucking up 20-footers because it’s the easy way out.

From Silver Screen and Roll: Watching the Los Angeles Lakers for the past two months has been an unpleasant experience.  Their performance has left much to be desired, but the symptoms have been even more troubling than the results.  For a champion to fall to pieces down the stretch, through injuries, a lack of energy, and due to finally being punished for not correcting flaws and mistakes that have been around all season, the whole situation has smacked of the slow decline of an empire, like the fall of Rome.

From Yahoo! Sports: No matter what Kobe Bryant does, he can’t seem to win even when he does win. If he produces a high-scoring game, then he’s shooting too much. If he scores modestly, then it’s evidence his body is failing him and he’s past his prime. Bryant fell into the latter category on Tuesday, which has been a constant theme of late. He scored just 13 points and had four turnovers. More evidence he’s too old?

From NBA Fanhouse: This wasn’t supposed to be a mental challenge, a Naismith version of Rubik’s cube that could be solved with the proper amount of intellect and focus. These Oklahoma City Thunder were all about the physical gifts — the deer-like speed, the leaps and the airborne bounds. The only Lakers solution, it had seemed at this 2-2 juncture, was exploiting the deer in the headlights look that such a young team would surely succumb to.

From Talkhoops: 58 points in the paint. You can talk about all of the other little things that the Lakers did on Tuesday night (i.e. Kobe Bryant guarding Russell Westbrook, Ron Artest hitting shots etc.) but nothing means more to this series than those five words: 58 points in the paint. In the previous four meetings, the Lakers averaged only 37 points in the paint per game, and they went 2-2 against the Oklahoma City Thunder. On the night that they scored 58 in the painted area, they won handedly by 24 points – a game that was never in question from the opening tip to the final seconds.

From BasketBlog: Heading into Tuesday evening’s pivotal Game 5 between the L.A. and Oklahoma City, the Lakers boasted an all-time record of 17-0 in Game 5’s at home. Make that 18-0. The Lakers looked every part the defending champions in a dominating performance that started with a 10-0 Purple and Gold burst out of the gates and finished with a 111-87 victory, the lead reaching as many as 32 late in the third quarter. “We just got beat up,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “Every phase of the game.”

From Land O’ Lakers: It was a game the Lakers had to have after the Thunder buried the purple and gold Saturday night… and man alive, did they ever have it.  111-87 was the final in Tuesday’s pivotal Game 5 at Staples, and as we noted in last night’s postgame wrap, it was a positive experience on nearly every level. Start with Kobe Bryant’s management of the offense to his work on Russell Westbrook. Then there was the hyperactivity of L.A.’s big men, a rebirth of Ron Artest’s offensive production, great ball and player movement, and more.

From the Los Angeles Times: Take a big sigh of relief Los Angeles, it looks like the Lakers are back. At least for one game. In game that was never in doubt the Lakers beat the Oklahoma City Thunder, 111-87, in Game 5 of a first-round Western Conference series. Game 6 is Friday night in Oklahoma City. The Lakers got a lot of help from areas that have been lacking. Pau Gasol had 25 points in about 30 minutes, including five for five from the free-throw line. And Andrew Bynum came out strong in the first quarter and turned in a 21-point game. Kobe Bryant, who also played only 30 minutes, finished with 13 points but no one seemed to mind. The Lakers had good spacing on offense and aggressive defense.

From the Los Angeles Times: A season full of alibis and a week full of accusations were forcefully squeezed into one night of two words. No way. No way were the Lakers going to give up their championship like this. “Good energy, good effort,” Pau Gasol said through beads of sweat. No way were they going to lose Game 5 of a tied first-round playoff series at Staples Center to a team of toddlers. “We played extra hard,” Gasol said through 25 points and 11 rebounds.

From the Los Angeles Times: So, it wasn’t the end of Lakerdom as we know it, after all? In the good news for the Lakers, there will be a tomorrow, or at least a Sunday, that won’t be in Oklahoma City. Loath to even think about going back there for Friday’s Game 6 trailing 3-2, without their old assurance that Kobe Bryant could save the day, the Lakers made a ferocious defensive stand, turning the poised young Thunder players into toddlers up past their bedtime in a 111-87 rout.

From the OC Register: Kobe Bryant had scoffed at the idea the Lakers’ backs were to the wall. Click here to view video of post-game comments. If he’s right, then the idea that the Lakers summoned the will to put forth such a ferocious effort Tuesday night all on their own — with no help pushing off that wall — gives rise to hope that they might be championship material again this season. The Lakers steamrolled the Oklahoma City Thunder, 111-87, to take a 3-2 lead in this first-round series.

From ESPN Los Angeles: A leopard can never change its spots and the Lakers can’t reinvent themselves either, it seems. It turns out, that’s OK. A year after the Lakers ebbed and flowed through the playoffs, being dubbed a “Jekyll and Hyde” team by coach Phil Jackson and “bipolar” by their star, Kobe Bryant, the purple and gold are back on the seesaw. As the Lakers chase their repeat championship, the only way to enjoy the sequel is to embrace the highs when they come — and they will come — and stomach the lows that are sure to be interspersed along the way.

From ESPN.com: Kevin Durant couldn’t believe what he was hearing every time he turned on the TV or radio or what he was reading every time he picked up the paper or went on the Internet. Kobe Bryant was getting old, he was past his prime; he was finally breaking down. “I don’t understand why people say he’s lost a step,” Durant said outside the Thunder locker room before Game 5 on Tuesday night. “He’s the greatest player in the game. There are only a couple guys who can turn it on and off like him and get 15 in a row and also get 10 assists and get their guys involved. He’s probably the best ever. You can’t say that he’s lost a step. He’s the same Kobe from a while back, maybe he’s not dunking on a lot of guys like he was back in ’01, ’02 but he’s still the same Kobe.”

From the Daily Dime: At the moment, after a thorough domination of the Oklahoma City Thunder that followed two days of Senate hearing-level grilling for the Lakers, the main question to ask them is … what took so long?  Why did coach Phil Jackson wait until Game 5 to defend Russell Westbrook with Kobe Bryant and slow down the point guard who was torching the Lakers? Why did Ron Artest choose now to show he still can make shots and even dunk on people? (More importantly, why did it take him a week to shave off that Easter egg hairdo?) Why did the Lakers stick with the go-inside game plan for more than just a quarter, and finally adopt the defensive principles their coaches have been preaching all series?

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In the recap to game 4, I said that the loss by the Lakers could only be described as a first class butt kicking.  Well in game 5, the Lakers returned the favor as they dominated the Thunder in every aspect of the game and won the rubber match of this series 111-87 to take a 3-2 lead in this first round match up.  For the first time in what seemed like weeks (if not months) the Lakers played a complete game from start to finish and controlled this contest from the get go.  And since the recap to game 4 is fresh on my mind, I figure that this time I should pass along some numbers that were critical to a really strong Lakers performance (rather than the woeful numbers from the stinker performance on Saturday):

90.6/46%.  This was the Thunder’s offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) and their true shooting percentage for this game (compare these numbers to OKC’s 105.8/54.7 in the regular season).  Essentially, this was a dominant defensive performance from the Lakers.  LA did a much better job of getting back in transition and walling off the Thunder’s penetration in the open court.  As Andrew Bynum said after yesterday’s practice, the Lakers were willing to relinquish some offensive rebounding opportunities if it meant better transition D and tonight that’s exactly what we saw as the Lakers only had 10 offensive rebounds, but held the Thunder to only 7 fastbreak points (in comparison to allowing 24 in game 4).

4-13.  These were Russell Westbrook’s shooting numbers on the evening.  After being the most effective player for the Thunder over the first four games of this series, the Lakers did a great job of slowing down Russ and making his life difficult.  And really, most of the credit needs to go to Kobe Bryant.  Apparently after game 4, Kobe asked to take over the defensive assignment against the young Thunder PG and Phil obliged.  What followed was Kobe giving Westbrook the full on Rondo treatment – backing off him to make him shoot jumpers and then using his length to contest the shots that he did take from the outside.  And while Russell was still willful in his drives to the hoop and was able to break free on a few occasions, Kobe ultimately took away what had been the Thunder’s greatest advantage on offense up to this point.  Before this series started I thought that Phil would only deploy Kobe on Russell if/when the young PG made it clear that he was the driver of the OKC offense; when he showed that he deserved to be treated the way that Phil treated Magic, Stockton, Mark Jackson, Kidd, Billups, Nash, and Rondo (with Pippen and then later, Kobe).  Well, after Russ’ tremendous game 4 it looks like that time had come and Phil responded in kind.  And Kobe responded to the challenge, yet again.  On one play in particular, the Thunder had secured the ball, Westbrook had leaked out, and was racing the ball upcourt.  However, Kobe pursued him full speed, chased him down, made him stop just a few feet outside the paint, and then turn around to regroup the offense.  Only when Westbrook turned back and reversed his dribble, Shannon Brown came from behind and tipped the ball away to force a steal.  That was one of Westbrooks eight turnovers on the night and reemphasized the notion that nothing was going to come easy in the open court for OKC’s dynamic point guard.

46/22/6/3.  These were the combined points, rebounds, assists, and blocks of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.  Just a tremendous game from the Lakers starting big men tonight.  And while these were some great numbers – especially on offense – they deserve most of their credit in doing the little things that don’t really show up in the box score.  They only had three blocks, but they contested countless other looks from the Thunder and really controlled the paint on defense (at one point late in the game the Thunder only had 10 points in the paint on 5-21 shooting).  They did a much better job of boxing out the Thunder big men (surrendering only 14 offensive rebounds on 53 misses shots).  After the Lakers secured defensive rebounds, they ran the floor hard to establish the deep post position that fueled the Lakers offense all evening.  I’d give one more credit than the other, but both were just too good to single out.  Because while Bynum was super efficient – going 8 for 10 from the field for his 21 points, Pau was as steady as could be and was a great initiator of offense by not only hitting shots (25 points), but by passing exceptionally on the interior (5 assists).  On one specific play, Pau ran the floor hard and got a nice pass while diving to the hoop.  But rather than force up an out of control shot while going full speed, he executed a beautiful drop pass to a camped on the opposite block Bynum for the easy dunk.  It was that type of teamwork that spearheaded the Lakers attack tonight and it was just fantastic to watch the Lakers finally exploit their size advantage inside.  And after a 58-26 points in the paint advantage for the Lakers on the backs of our two big men, I hope to see more of the same in the upcoming games.

27.  This is the number of assists that the Lakers had on their 42 made baskets.  And of those 27, Kobe led the team with 7 dimes.  I already mentioned his defense, but Kobe really does deserve credit for his offense this evening.  Sure he only had 13 points, but those 7 assists set the tone for his offensive game and created an atmosphere for teamwork and togetherness that was the theme for the Lakers attack.  Everyone shared the ball, everyone moved, everyone was in the right place and it was Kobe that set the tone.  He was the master tactician tonight; the conductor for the Lakers symphony on offense.  The man was in complete control of the game and he barely even shot the ball.  After the teams’ awful performance in game 4 and Kobe’s lack of shooting I told you there would be stories that spoke about Kobe’s efforts to control the game and try to turn them into controversy.  But tonight, Kobe went right back to the same game plan and it worked to perfection.  Everyone got involved and it was successful to the tune of a 115.6 offensive rating on 60.6% true shooting.

+24.  This was Ron Artest’s plus/minus number on the evening.  So, let me just say this is kind of cheating.  Every Laker starter had a positive plus/minus and Ron didn’t even lead the team.  I don’t care.  I’ve been on Ron too much this series to not give him some love when he really has a good game.  14 points on 11 shots (including 2-4 from three), 5 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks for Ron to go along with his stellar defense on Kevin Durant.  Artest was active on both ends of the floor and truly was a difference maker for the Lakers.  He led the fast break, showed a very good post up game, and even had a monster dunk.  He really did do it all.  If Artest can have just a few more games like this on offense while still playing his trademarked bulldog defense, the Lakers will be too tough a team for most opponents to beat.

In the end, this was just a fantastic game.  As I said in the preview, this was as close to a must win that the Lakers have had in a long time and they responded with one of their best performances of the year.  The other day I asked if it was a reach to think that one day soon the Lakers would have more than one player play well in a game; if it was too much to ask to have both our bigs play well, Kobe shoot well, and have at least one of our shooters have a good night from deep.  In game 5, my wishes and hopes were answered by a Lakers team that erased fans’ frustration and replaced it with pure joy.  This was the Lakers team that we all have been wanting to see and they delivered.  They now lead the series 3-2 and have put themselves in prime position to advance to the 2nd round.  Here’s to them taking care of business on Friday.

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We’re finally here.  Game 5 is tonight and the chance to take back control of this series is now upon the Lakers.  And for what it’s worth, the Lakers players and coaches seem confident about the game.  Plus, as Kobe so graciously told us, he’s not sure “what the hell is going on around here” because the Lakers’ backs are not against the wall.  And since the series is tied, that’s kind of true.  But if this were baseball and the Lakers were an outfielder their feet would definitely be on the dirt of the warning track right now.  And with one more loss by LA (especially if it’s tonight), they’d be leaping up against the fence trying to snare a sure home run from out of the hands of the crowd.  I think at this point, the Lakers and it’s fans would rather it not get to that point.  So this game may not be “win or go home”, but it’s as close to a must win as can be. 

So, how to pull it out is the question on the mind of all involved.  Phillip had an excellent break down of the Lakers’ defensive woes this morning, so starting with shoring up some of their defensive principles will go a long way towards earning a win tonight.  It’s not that the entire structure of the Lakers defense has been bad – their half court defense remains strong as evidenced by OKC’s low shooting percentage – but there are issues that need to be resolved.  Like now.  Chief among them is transition defense and ensuring that the run outs OKC is feasting on are reduced (only something we’ve been talking about all series).  Second, (and related to point #1) is what Phillip touched on directly with his post – the Lakers need to make the Thunder sink outside shots.  Over at PBT, Kurt is making a similar argument, stating that if the Lakers are to win the game it will be because they made the Thunder play agaisnt their strenths:

For the series, the Lakers are shooting an unimpressive 35 percent from beyond 10 feet from the basket.

But the Thunder are worse — 33.3 percent. They also are not a good jump shooting team, you just haven’t noticed it because in the two games in Oklahoma City they got 61 shots at the rim. They are running, they are driving, they were getting the easy buckets that fuel their offense. In their game two loss, the Thunder had 16 shots at the rim, in the game three win it was 31.

All that leads us to the pivotal game five tonight at Staples Center — the team that makes the other team a bunch of jump shooters from the outside is going to win this game.

But, there’s obviously more to a win than just stopping the Thunder run outs and turning them into a jumpshooting team.  The Lakers also need to find a way to consistently score the ball.  Whether by making some outside shots, attacking the rim more (and either converting or earning FT’s), or executing the finer points of the Triangle better (all of the above?), this team must find a way to put the ball in the basket because shooting in the low 40% range for a series won’t get it done.

But, it won’t come easy.  We’re now at the point of the series where there aren’t any secrets.  The game plans are established.  It will come down to execution and which team follows through on their plan better than the guys wearing the other jerseys.  It will also come down to who plays harder – especially when Thunder coach Scott Brooks is preaching hard work before every game and during every time out.  All those loose balls and plays that require extra effort can’t go to the other team.  Many of the Lakers players say that this is the game where the series turns in our favor.  Here’s hoping they’re right.

A few other points to this game:

*In the interviews that Phil did after Monday’s practice, he spoke about trying to exploit the Thunder’s willingness to crash both backboards as hard as they are.  Phil noted that the Thunder are gang rebounding on defense and are extra aggressive going to offensive glass, thereby compromising their floor balance when transitioning to defense.  In games 3 & 4, the Lakers were not able to take advantage of this but will try in game 5.  If this indeed is a point of emphasis for the Lakers tonight, look for them to try and push the ball even more on offense and for the guards (especially Kobe and Artest) to attack the defensive glass harder so that our bigs can get out and run the floor to establish early post position via post lane sprints.

*In those same post practice interviews, Bynum mentioned that his goal is to be better in his transition defense.  He noted that he’s been pinned underneath the OKC backboard too easily and it’s made it difficult for him to get back to help build the wall they want to show Westbrook and co. in transition.  So, look for Drew (and Pau) to be active on the O-glass, but only to a point.  If they don’t have an angle to get to the ball, I expect them to be running hard back in the other direction.  So, don’t be surprised if the Lakers offensive rebounding numbers are down this game as it could be by design.

*I mentioned this in the recap of game 4, but I’m truly interested in seeing if Odom can carry over his success from the second half of that game into tonight.  Last season, Odom was a catalyst for our championship run (just as he was for the Lakers finals berth in ’08).  I know people are down on LO lately, but he’s a guy that can make a difference and turns this team from good to great or kind of beatable to not beatable at all depending on his performance (and if the other guys play to their averages).

Los Angeles Lakers at Oklahoma City Thunder Western Conference first round playoff game 4

In situations like the one describing this Lakers/Thunder series, conventional wisdom would normally tell us that this should be a learning experience for the Oklahoma City Thunder. They’re a team with a collection of young talent making their first playoff appearance against the defending World Champions, a team that has gone to the NBA Finals two consecutive years. However, for right now, it’s the Lakers who can learn a thing or two from the Thunder, especially on the defensive end of the floor.

Yes, the series is tied 2-2, but for the most part, the Thunder have outplayed the Lakers up to this point. The Lakers have won THREE quarters, that’s it, and the Thunder are outplaying the Lakers with the very defensive scheme that the Lakers should be using on them. I believe that we’ve all finally accepted that the Lakers are a horrendous three-point shooting team, but what the Lakers need to realize is that the Thunder (barely) had a worse shooting percentage from behind the arch than the Lakers did this season (Lakers shot 34.1%, the Thunder shot 34%). During this series, the Thunder are shooting only 30 percent from behind the three point line. So shouldn’t the Lakers adapt to the Thunder “crowd the paint and make them beat us from outside” philosophy? I certainly think so. Let’s take a look at how both teams are defending and see where the Lakers need to make an adjustment.

On this first sequence, we’ll see how OKC got their first basket in Game 3 after the Lakers got out to that 10-0 start. This first picture shows Kevin Durant holding the ball at the top of the key. Jeff Green had just cut through the middle of the key to run to the left corner. What I want to point out is the number of Lakers defenders in the painted area: zero. They’re too concerned with what might happen if the ball is caught behind the three-point line.

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In this second picture, the ball has been moved from Thabo Sefolosha to Jeff Green in the left corner. We see Pau Gasol guarding him way out at the three point line (against a guy who had been struggling and a team that had yet to score) giving him baseline. Andrew Bynum is too high out guarding Nenad Krstic considering where the ball is and where a pass would have to be made – and still, not one Laker is completely in the paint (‘Drew is partially in the paint, but only because Krstic is there).

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In this third picture, we see why not crowding the paint is hurting the Lakers. Jeff Green drove baseline and beat the slow-footed Andrew Bynum to the spot, got the bucket and the foul. Gasol is not quick enough to guard Green being so close to the three-point line, especially if he’s going to give him a definite lane. If Bynum wasn’t so high out on Krstic, he’s already at the spot, and Jeff Green is forced to take a short jumper or the same shot without the benefit of getting the call.

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However, one of the main reasons I thought this clip in particular was so important was how it illustrate how the Lakers aren’t ending their defensive possessions when they can. Yeah, Green made the shot and got the foul, but if he didn’t, the Thunder were in excellent position to get the offensive rebound. Since Gasol was beat, Drew and Kobe had to rotate over, leaving Krstic and Westbrook free to rebound without a body on them. Bynum wouldn’t have been in the best rebounding position and Gasol wasn’t in position at all. Kobe would have had to work around the bigger Krstic to get that rebound.

This second sequence shows how the Thunder have played the Lakers and why they’ve been able to outplay the Lakers more often than they’ve been outplayed. This first picture is here just to give you a glimpse on how this possession started. Notice how the Thunder are playing. They’re focused on making it tough on Kobe (Durant playing on the weak side to help Sefolosha if it’s needed) and over crowding the strong side making help easier to give when the ball rotates to that side, because it can’t go anywhere else at this point save a Kobe dribble drive.

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On this second picture, the ball has moved to Derek Fisher. Again, notice where the Thunder defenders are. Everyone is shaded over to defending the strong side. As of right now, Derek Fisher has no where to go but to give the ball back to Kobe. There are no driving lanes, there are no interior passing lanes. Yes, the Lakers have awful spacing, but they’re disciplined in what they want to do no less. The defensive scheme is focused on preventing those things because they understand that the Lakers have struggled shooting the ball all season.

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In this picture, the ball has gone from Kobe and back to Fish in the corner. Look at the Thunder defenders now. As Fish looks to get the ball inside, everyone’s eyes are on where Fish wants to make the pass. Sefolosha has fallen off of Kobe, Green is inching closer to help on the backside to help a fronting Krstic, Durant has taken his focus off of a Artest who likely isn’t getting the ball from there and Russell Westbrook is applying great ball pressure. There are three guys with at least one foot in the paint at this point.

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On this last picture, we see that the Thunder have gotten what they wanted – a three point attempt. If they can’t turn the ball over, they want the Lakers to be shooting from as far away from the basket as possible, because if it’s a miss, it’s essentially creating a turnover for them. Long rebounds are gold for this team as they’re fast break starters. Most importantly, the Thunder have rebounding position for all five guys. Not one Laker has inside position over a Thunder defender, and for a young team, not giving up second chance opportunities is definitely key to winning basketball games. Yeah, Kobe made that shot, but they can live with that because it’s a team that shoots less than 35 percent from that range.

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With this knowledge, I would hope that the Lakers can make the necessary adjustments, especially later in games when Russell Westbrook likes to get going. It’s no longer about stopping Kevin Durant, it’s about stopping a basketball team. They absolutely need to clog the lane and make the Thunder a collection of jump shooters instead of drivers. The Lakers are going to give up some fast break points, that’s a given, but they can’t continue to give up points in the paint in half court sets. They have too much size for it to be so easy for the Thunder.

-Phillip

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Many fans don’t want to hear about last year when referencing this year’s Lakers team.

Last year was different.

Last year the Lakers had big, signature wins in the regular season.

Last year Kobe was healthy and Pau was stepping up.

Last year the bench was better and Ariza was around.

And to a certain extent, I agree with these sentiments – every season is a new test.   And even though this team played well enough to earn the #1 seed in the West and win the first two games of this series, the Lakers have not been the team that many hoped they would be.  What, with inconsistency and flat play being all to frequent themes of this 2010 campaign.  That said, it’s easy to forget that despite every year being different, history tends to repeat itself; history shows us trends over time.  So, whether we’re talking the Lakers or talking about some other team the lessons of the past can be helpful in understanding where this team stands right now.

And with that in mind, I scoured the FB&G’s archives.  What I found was something that was written almost one year ago after the Lakers got blasted on the road in game 4 of their second round series against Houston:

1) In the first game of the 1985 NBA Finals (the first time it was called that, by the way), the Lakers got absolutely routed by Boston Celtics. Devastatingly crushed. Dominated in every aspect of the game. They lost 148-114, and the media dubbed it the Memorial Day Massacre. The Lakers won the series in six games.

2) 1972 NBA Finals, Lakers vs. Knicks game one. From The Show: “Lucas scored 26 pts. an, Bradley hit 11-12 shots from the field as New York shot 53% from the floor. They used a nearly perfect first half to jump to a good lead and won much too easily, 114-92…. At he beginning of the first half the Forum crowd began filing out dejectedly. It looked like another LA fold in the Finals.” The Lakers beat the Knicks in five.

3) Game two of the 2000 Western Conference Finals, the Trailblazer ripped the Lakers, 106-77. The Lakers came back to win that series in a dramatic seventh game and go on the three-peat.

4) Last season the Boston Celtics were taken seven games by a more athletic but far less talented Atlanta Hawks team, then were taken seven games again by LeBron James and what there was of a surrounding cast last season. We all remember how that turned out. But after four games against the Cavs last year, Celtics message boards and fan reactions looked a lot like the Lakers this year.

There are simple lessons here. Don’t say this Lakers team cannot turn it around and win the NBA title. Don’t tell me Magic and the great Showtime teams never had letdowns, because they had them (regular season and playoffs). Don’t tell me game four against the Rockets is proof of ultimate doom. It is not. (Thanks to Gatinho for helping me compile this list.)

The title of that post was “It’s not the end of the world, but it’s not good” and I can’t think of a better way to describe what is going on with the Lakers right now.  For many fans, the sky may not have fallen but it’s awfully close to our heads right now.

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So now that the Lakers are at this point, the next question is what is there for them to lean on?  Despite things looking down right now, there are some positives:

1). This series is now a best of three, but two of those games are in Los Angeles at the Staples Center.  The Lakers fought as hard as they could for home court advantage in the western playoffs and it’s times like these that exemplify why they wanted it so badly.  It’s not so much that the Thunder are a worse team on the road (their road/home splits show great consistency – though their role players played much worse in games 1 & 2), but it’s that the Lakers role players are better at home.  For example, Shannon Brown scores more points, shoots better from the field (including 36% from three vs 29% on the road), doubles his assists per game, and fouls less.  Farmar also plays a bit better at home than on the road (all his stats are slightly up, except his shooting %’s which actually dip some at home).  These are two players that we rely upon to help this team win games.  Yes they’ve been inconsistent this season and that (along with injuries) has led to a decrease in our overall bench productivity.  But if the Lakers are to sustain solid play over the course of an entire game, these two players will need to do more.  And if I was to bet where they’d be able to do it, I’d put my money on the Staples Center.

2). Speaking of our bench, another positive was Lamar Odom’s play in the second half.  I’ve been on LO a lot in this series as he’s had little impact in the first 14 quarters of this series.  But in the second half of game 4 he woke up.  He rebounded better on defense, pushed the ball on offense, and then attacked the rim when in the half court.  This is the player that the Lakers need as an X-factor and impact player.  I know, I know – depending on Lamar isn’t quite like relying on the tax man or the grim reaper, but Lamar has been a player that has typically played better in the playoffs than the regular season over the course of his career.  Whether in Miami or in LA, Odom has usually found a way to put together consistent performances in the second season.  His reappearance on Saturday, I think, bodes well for the Lakers in these remaining games.

3).  Some of the little things are getting better.  Though the Lakers shot poorly from deep in game 4, Derek Fisher did not.  In fact, in Fisher’s last two games he’s 9-15 from the field including 7-11 from three point country.  And when looking at game 4, the Lakers were able to get the ball into the post much more consistently.  Kobe also shot better in game 4, though with not as many attempts (5-10 from the field).  My point in all of this?  We’re starting to see some of offensive factors that contribute to winning show up in these games, they just haven’t all clicked on the same night.  Aren’t the Lakers due for one of those nights where Kobe plays well, the ball is still able to go inside, Odom steps up, and at least one shooter makes some shots?  Am I reaching here?  The Lakers are a better team than what they’ve shown in the last two games (especially in game 4) and I see a game coming where it comes together for them.  Sure, there’s a lot of hope here, but based off history (and the quality of players we’re talking about) I don’t think I’m off base.

4).  The Lakers’ defense, though fouling too often, is still playing well.  The Thunder connect rate on field goals is still hovering around 40% and even though Durant is getting his points, he’s working extremely hard for them.  If the Lakers can start and finish defensive possessions better (through executing their transition defense and protecting their defensive glass more effectively), there’s a good chance the Lakers will be able to take and sustain a lead.  Obviously it’s easier than just saying it (not to mention it sounds funny reading that they need to start and end possessions better – what’s left?) but I mention it because these are small things that are having a major impact on the results of the games.   These are things that can be improved upon as the Lakers did them relatively well early in the series.  I think they’ll get back to them in the games that are left.

Winning Tuesday’s game will not be easy.  The Lakers can’t expect the Thunder to come out, roll over, and hand them the win.  The Lakers will need to execute the little things and can’t rely on the Thunder to not play well.   However, if there is a team that knows what needs to be done to still win this series wouldn’t it be the one led by Phil Jackson and captained by Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher?  Guys with 20 championships between them as players and coach?  History has proven that these guys know how to get it done.  But with every new season, new challenges appear, and the need to prove it again arises.  I think the Lakers have it in them.  Tuesday is when we all get to see if I’m right.