Archives For April 2010

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In old school basketball circles, the saying goes that “a playoff series doesn’t really start until the home team loses”. Well tonight the Lakers get their first chance at snaring a road win and truly “starting” this series.  And if they’re successful they’ll essentially start and end this series in the same night.  After the Lakers took a 2-0 series lead, winning 4 of the next 5 games was going to be next to impossible for OKC.  But if the home team loses tonight, winning 4 in a row will not happen.  And even though some of the quotes coming out of the Thunder locker room are more focussed on winning one game (rather than winning the series), the Lakers would be best served not resting on the laurels of their series lead and letting a winnable game slip away.  And, despite what others will tell you, tonight is a winnable game.  Yes, the Thunder crowd will be excited beyond belief and the Thunder’s players will surely feed off this energy and bring an effort level consistent with a wounded animal fighting for survival.  But, the Lakers are the better team (even if the disparity is not as large as in a typical #1 vs. #8 match up) and there are steps they can take to win this game.

As, Andy K. over at Land O’ Lakers pointed out, if the visiting team hopes to win they’ll need to control the tempo.  That doesn’t mean that the Lakers can’t get out and run, but it does mean that they’ll need to be selective with their choices and not just indiscriminately take the first good shot that is available.  It’s been made abundantly clear that the Lakers offense works best when starting on the inside, so slowing the game down and looking to the post first should be the first option.  That said, the Lakers can’t just try to force feed our big men.  I’ve said this many times before, but the Lakers run a read and react system and should not have predetermined options for possessions drawn up in their heads.  Sure, they can run specific options or call out a certain action to initiate their sets.  But if that option is taken away, they can not force it – they must move on in their progression/reads and go from there.  This is what will lead to offensive success tonight and will hopefully create more opportunities for our post game.  As Phil Jackson said himself,

“Well, the idea is not to over-focus on (passing to the post) so it takes the rhythm out of your offense.  Take the opportunities when they come, and if the ball is moved and the players move right, we’ll find those passes.”

Carrying that same thought to its next progression, I would not mind seeing aggressive Kobe again tonight.  There were many that bemoaned the volume of shots that Kobe took in game 2, but I was not one of them.  After reviewing every one of Kobe’s FGA’s through Synergy Sports amazing video scouting service that they’ve made available to fans, I saw that Kobe took mostly good shots within the flow of the offense.  I also saw that some of the shots that he did miss were of the wide open variety that I’d have no issue him taking 100 times a game if he was given them.  I understand that it can be frustrating looking at a boxscore where Kobe’s FGA’s are more than Gasol and Bynum’s combined.  However, that will sometimes be the case in an offense where the defense dictates what shots are available to be taken.  I do hope that we move the ball enough where our advantage inside can be exploited more frequently, but the other side of that coin is what I mentioned above – forcing the ball into teammates that aren’t open isn’t the answer.  So, as always, I hope that patience prevails and that the Lakers move the ball and take the shots that are open to be taken.  If that means that Kobe is shooting a lot, so be it.  Kobe is also one of the players that can single handedly turn a raucous home crowd into a public library, so if he’s on his game I think it can go a long way towards limiting what will certainly serve as a source of inspiration for the home team.

And speaking of the home team, if there is one thing the Lakers need to be aware of it’s that role players often play better at home.  In the first two games the Lakers have treated Jeff Green, Thabo Sefolosha, and James Harden as complete non-threats.  Tonight, these players will need to be given a bit more respect when they are on offense.  I not only expect these players to be more aggressive, but I expect them to be a bit more successful in those efforts to score the ball.  I’d especially be concerned with Green and Harden as they are good offensive players that just haven’t found their groove on offense to this point in the series; they are better than what they’ve shown.  So, if the Lakers are to win this game they will need to pay closer attention to the other Thunder and not just rely on slowing down Westbrook and Durant.

In the end, the keys to winning this game will be no different than the ones used to win the first two.  As always, it will come down to execution and for the road team to sustain its energy and focus through what will be an amped up crowd and home team.  If the Lakers can take one possession at a time and exploit the match ups that are in their favor, this game will be there for the taking in the closing minutes.  Will they have the discipline?  Will they treat this game the way they’ve treated the first two?  In a way, this game – more than the games at Staples – will show me where the mental sharpness is for this Lakers team.  Last season, against every playoff opponent, the Lakers won a road game.  They’ll have that chance tonight, lets hope they take advantage of it.

For those of you who have been reading this site for a while, you’ve see the frequent post titled “Fast Break Thoughts,” a segment that Darius usually utilizes to get some random thoughts about the Lakers and other NBA related topics out for you guys to read. Today, however, I’m going to take a more literal sense out of the title, and demonstrate how the Lakers are losing points by not successfully completing fast breaks.

This is something that has bothered me all season and something that has continued into the post season. Below I have four examples of four terribly run fastbreaks with mistakes made by four different guards: Kobe, Fish, Brown and Farmar.

1. Kobe Bryant
This first fast break will begin a trend that you will see throughout all four examples. It begins with a Derek Fisher steal, who immediately advances the ball to Kobe with only Kevin Durant between Kobe/Fisher and the basket. This first picture shows how far away from the basket is when Derek Fisher makes the first pass. Ideally, you’d like to see the ball go right back to Fish to keep the single defender guessing, but as I already stated, this is the beginning of a trend that we’ll see throughout the post. Kobe is going to hold the ball too long, letting Durant only guard one instead of two.

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This second picture shows the very last second you want to hold the ball in this situation, but as you can see, Kobe isn’t even in a position to make the pass. He has his eyes on Fish, so you know that he’s going to make that pass, making the recovery for Westbook easier. Kobe’s pass ends up off mark, because he waited long enough for Durant’s long arms to have an affect on his passing lane. Westbrook recovers with his speed, forcing Fish to pump fake, allowing the rest of the Thunder to get back, alter the shot and get the defensive rebound (video of this fast break immediately follows the picture).
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2. Jordan Farmar
On this play, Lamar Odom comes up with a steal and makes a sloppy outlet pass to Jordan Farmar who catches the ball at the free throw line. The picture below shows Kobe ahead of him but neglects to show a Thabo Sefolosha who is already back on defense. Jordan Farmar needs to give this ball up early and fly down the wing on the opposite side and let someone else fill middle. This, of course, does not happen.

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This picture shows that Sefolosha has committed to not letting Kobe get the ball, forcing Farmar to score or make a decision — pretty much a brilliant play by Sefolosha.
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Here we see that Farmar has picked up his dribble at the free throw line at full speed. He needs to shoot or pass the ball at that point (this would have been a perfect time to throw a lob as Kobe has a great angle on the basket and can catch passes easier than coming from other angles). Instead, he continues his drive, gets caught in the air with Sefolosha all over him and is forced to give the ball up to Kobe (finally), but only now all of the Thunder defenders are back on defense.
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Here we see Kobe with the ball, with four Thunder defenders within three feet of him and his shot ends up getting blocked (again, video following the picture).
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3. Derek Fisher
This break begins with Artest knocking the ball out of Durant’s hands and making a brilliant save on the side line. Fish picks up the ball and immediately takes off on the break. I love this camera angle for this play only. We see Fish look at Kobe at the very last moment moment he should have passed it, but the picture below shows how early he should have passed. This time Westbrook hasn’t committed to any one yet, his back is turned to Kobe, so a pass here would have kept him guessing  — but continuing with our theme, Fish holds the ball too long.

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Here we see Fish throwing a lob to a Kobe who had began to slow down. Kobe makes an adjustment just to go up and get the pass, but has to come down with it, giving the rest of the Thunder defender time to recover. Their length bothers him and he misses another close one (video after the picture).
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4. Shannon Brown
On this final break, we see it begin by Artest poking another ball away from Durant. This time Brown picks  up the ball and streaks down the right sideline. This first picture shows that Gasol and Kobe had filled the lanes beautifully and were not even being looked at by Westbrook or Collison. Albeit difficult, a pass here to either the trailing Gasol or a pass near the rim to Kobe would have worked beautifully, but…

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Brown holds the ball all the way and gets fouled. I have less of a problem with this one because he got the two points, but if you watch Brown’s eyes from the second angle, you see that he’s not even looking to make the right play. His head is forward the whole way, sometimes looking down, completely unaware of what his options are — this is what I have a problem with. Not knowing your surroundings is what creates turnovers, and we saw far too many of those in Game 2 (video following picture).
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Hopefully, these guys can put together some decent enough fast breaks during Game 3 to get some easy points, which they’re definitely going to need on the road. I have some links that I want to share, and will a little later if work allows it. If not, share them amongst yourselves if you have any in the comment box.

-Phillip

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Over the course of this season, one of things that all Lakers fans wanted to see was improved chemistry between Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. We hoped that our twin seven footers could develop into an improved version of Duncan/Robinson or Hakeem/Sampson to make our front court even more dominant than it already has been over the past two seasons (where, anchored by Gasol the Lakers’ big man rotation helped this team reach two straight Finals). However, what we’ve witnessed instead has been our two bigs not quite clicking when paired on the court together.  Whether it’s the overlapping skill set, the lack of shared court time – in games and practices – due to injuries, or the fact that they just haven’t been reading from the same script ‘Drew and Pau just haven’t been as good together as we would have hoped.  I mean, the regular season numbers don’t lie on this one.  It’s no coincidence that the Lakers’ best lineups this year have featured one of Bynum or Gasol at center with Odom playing power forward.

However, are we starting to see a shift in the chemistry between our twin towers?  Could it be that Bynum and Gasol are finally starting to click?  Commenter Chownoir wants to know if you’re seeing the same things that he is:

Anyone notice that in the two games so far Pau and Bynum seem to work well together? I’m not talking about them playing well against a undersized OKC frontline. But how their games seem to be meshing well together. It was a huge concern earlier in the year about their inability to mesh and how a big game from one would detract from the other. Their respective injuries also took time away from learning how to play with each other.  Last two games, they seem to know where the other guy was and how to make the play for each other. Last night Bynum’s shot wasn’t falling but his D and rebounding was still there. While Pau continued to put up his points.

It turns out that Chownoir is not alone because our own Phillip was seeing the same things, with a couple of examples from the first two games against OKC:

I was recognizing the same thing with Bynum and Pau working together. In game 1, Pau caught a couple of passes in the right corner and was able to make the entry pass over the raised hands (of his defender) to Bynum that Fish, Farmar and Brown weren’t able to make. In Game 2, early in the third quarter, Pau made a gorgeous pass to Bynum from the top of the key. Bynum missed, but everyone collapsed on him, freeing up Gasol for the putback. A possession or two later, Bynum made a fantastic pass to Gasol which led to the dunk. Both passes were inside of the paint. I’ve wondered if Bynum would have the interior passing ability of a Shaq or Gasol, and he’s shown glimpses of it this series.

We’ve always known that having both Bynum and Gasol on the court helped our defense and rebounding.  But if these two can find that togetherness on offense too, this team can reach another level of success altogether.

Granted, two playoff games isn’t the biggest sample size.  And even though this duo had some good games together before Andrew’s achilles injury, we can’t necessarily say that this team has turned the corner quite yet.  But, the signs are encouraging.  Every high-low hook up, every post feed from Pau to ‘Drew, every time they properly space the floor for each other is another positive step in the evolution of this tandem’s togetherness.  They are truly starting to show that their early struggles to have success together were just growing pains that finally seem to be subsiding.  We may be finally be at the point where the learning curve is almost complete.  And frankly, this improved play couldn’t be coming at a better time.  With the Lakers’ outside shooters still not finding any consistency, the play of the Lakers’ big men will only be more heavily relied upon if this team hopes to have a long playoff run.

And while there are still reasons to be skeptical (even though they’ve shown improved chemistry, they still don’t always play well in the same game), I’m optimistic that they will only get better together.  I think that because they’ll continue to be given the reps, these two will feel each other out and find the ways that they can work together to take both of their games to a higher level.  They’ll explore more options within this offense and discover more ways that they can cover for each other on defense.  And personally, I can’t wait to see it.

LAKERS

We’re witnessing the ostensible growth of a young team that is going to be VERY good in a few years. The seeds have been planted through draft picks, they’ve been fertilized with a 50-win regular season and are being watered with their inaugural playoff series as a unit and franchise. All we have to do is wait and watch it grow. For the Oklahoma City fans out there, you just have to be patient – patient like we were with Kobe and Shaq in their first two seasons together. No, I’m not saying that Oklahoma City will be home to the next three-peat, but it will be the home of something special.

Special like Kobe Bryant giving his fans in Los Angeles (and across the world) another great playoff performance. He scored 39 points, 15 of which came in the fourth quarter, on a night where his father watched him play live for the first time in five years. Bryant’s 15 in the fourth was the difference in this one, as the Lakers were able to pull out a three point victory in Game 2.

Pau Gasol also had a big night, scoring 25 points with 12 points, his second double-double in as many playoff games. Outside of Kobe and Gasol, no other Laker scored more than six points. Much of this can be attributed to the Thunder raising their collective defensive intensity, recording 17 blocks as a team and turning the Lakers over 16 times.

What this game boiled down to the execution down the stretch – something that Darius (with the help of Kurt) touched on a few days ago:

Second is the fact that the Thunder aren’t the best executing team in crunch time and have had trouble this season closing out the tightly contested games.  The Thunder are 7-11 in games that are decided by three points or less and are 1-4 in overtime games.  As Kurt told me:

When games tighten up and defenses get tougher at the end of games, the Thunder tend to tighten up as well. Durant is still Durant, but he gets less help and their offense becomes more about isolation, and with that they often become stagnant and they go through dry spells. It’s a learning thing, they won’t do that in a couple of years.

Last night we saw the same lack of execution and tightness that Darius and Kurt talked about. With about 4:30 left in the game, Ron Artest was called for a foul which put the Lakers over the limit. At that point, you would expect it to be Kevin Durant time and for him to attack the basket relentlessly knowing that he’s getting free throws every time he’s fouled, but the opposite happened. He took a contested 18-footer, and after being called for a charge, didn’t take another shot until that three he took with 15 seconds left. In the same amount of time, we saw Kobe do what he does best: close out the game. He scored seven points and shot six free throws after the Artest foul.

The difference between the Lakers and the Thunder last night was definitely the experience. With time, Durant is going to learn how to take advantage of the situation, but for now, he should spend this series learning from the guy who’s been doing it for over a decade.

With the win, the Lakers go up 2-0 in their first round series and are now just 14 games away from the ultimate goal. Here are some of the best links on last night’s game:

From Silver Screen and Roll: I’m not sure what to write regarding Game 2 of the 1st round series between the Los Angeles Lakers and the OKC Thunder.  The Lakers won the game in a tight contest 95-92, and the game will be remembered one of two ways, depending on how this series (and any subsequent Lakers playoff series) goes.  Winston Churchill once said “History is written by the victors”, and I can’t help but think the way this game will be remembered is based entirely on how the Lakers perform in the rest of this postseason.  The reason for that is because there are two significant, and completely opposite, truths one can take from this game.  The 1st is that Kobe Bryant is absolutely still capable of willing his team to a victory if the situation calls for it.  The 2nd is that the Lakers, as a team, Kobe included, look old and tired right now.

From Yahoo! Sports: The locker-room doors swung open, and Kobe Bryant marched down the Staples Center corridor wearing big shades and bigger defiance. He ingested the relentless proclamations that his battered body had cut too deeply into his greatness, that his fragile state demanded that for the good of the Los Angeles Lakers’ championship chase he turn them over to Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. Everything balled up inside Bryant and ultimately uncoiled in Game 2 against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday night. “After 13 years,” Bryant would tell Yahoo! Sports on his walk to the interview room, “you’d think [bleepers] would know better by now.”’

From Hardwood Paroxysm: You could say the Oklahoma City Thunder made progress with the three-point loss to the Lakers on Tuesday night. They took what was for the most part a frustratingly mediocre game in the first part of this series and turned it into a two-point game with a Kevin Durant three-point attempt for a series tie heading back to Oklahoma. He didn’t make it. He clanged off the iron and eventually the Thunder had to settle for a missed Jeff Green three-pointer to try and send this game into overtime.

From NBA Fan House: No one was talking. Not even the talking heads. Jeff Green slowly put his bright blue tie in place on top of his matching shirt at his locker. Thabo Sefolosha softly slapped cologne on his neck nearby. In the corner of the dispirited Oklahoma City locker room late Tuesday night at the Staples Center — where the Lakers outlasted the Thunder 95-92 — veteran Kevin Ollie consoled James Harden in hushed tones.

From SLAMOnline: Someday, the Oklahoma City Thunder will look back on this series with newfound appreciation on what it takes to win a Playoff game. If you had told them before the game that Kevin Durant would score 32, the defense would block 17 shots, and they would have the lead with two-and-a-half minutes left, they would’ve felt pretty good about themselves. And they should feel pretty good about themselves, because they played their hearts out last night. But it wasn’t enough. That’s the thing about beating the champs; you have to go above and beyond what, on most other nights, would’ve been good enough for a victory. In the end, the Lakers made the plays they had to make, the Thunder didn’t. Advantage L.A., a 2-0 series lead after a 95-92 win.

From The Daily Dime: It always seems personal for Kobe Bryant, a continuous quest to test himself against the sport like a golfer taking on the course. A year after he realized his vision of winning a championship without Shaquille O’Neal, he suddenly had to prove himself all over again, to demonstrate that he can still steer the Lakers to a single playoff victory even with more than 37,000 NBA minutes on his odometer.

This is a fantastic look at how the Lakers defended the Thunder final three point attempt from NBA Playbook (With pictures and video): After a Kobe jumper, the Thunder were down two points with two minutes left in the 4th quarter.  Now Scott Brooks’ late game playcalling has been a source of much discussion around these parts, so I was real interested to see what Brooks would do in the playoffs needing a bucket. This is what Brooks came up with:

-Phillip

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Holding on by a thread is still holding on.  And after being able to hold on just long enough, the Lakers now find themselves up 2-0 after beating the Thunder 95-92 on Tuesday night.  Just like game 1, this second contest of the series wasn’t always pretty (in fact, the majority of this one was quite the opposite), but the job got done.  But even in the ugliest of games, there is still beauty.

And now because I can’t coherently wrap my mind around all the facets of this game, here’s a break down bullet style:

*Early the game, I thought Kobe was truly seeking out and looking to have one of those games.  He was very aggressive with his shot and it seemed like he was really trying to find the rhythm that has eluded him for some time.  And while he started out well – making 4 of his first 8 shots – that success would not last.  However, as Kobe is known to do, he found ways to score the ball.  He went to the line 15 times and made 13.  He shot the three ball fairly well making 2 of his 5 attempts.  In the end, his 28 shots were likely too many but he scored 39 points on the night and the Lakers needed every single one of them to win.  The argument could be made that if Kobe spreads the ball around more and other players (namely Gasol) gets more looks that the Lakers like have more of a cushion throughout the game – and I really don’t disagree with that.  But, this is the player that Kobe is.  He’s willful in his approach and there will be games where his mindset is to put his stamp on the game.  And in those contests you need him to be at least as effective as he was tonight if the Lakers are going to win.  Personally, I’m glad he had a game like this in him.

*Pau Gasol continues to amaze me.  8-14 from the filed 9-13 from the FT line for 25 points.  12 rebounds (5 offensive) and two assists.  And while he missed a crunch time FT and wasn’t as active on defense as he’s been in past games, he really played a great game.  It’s not that he did anything spectacularly, but just that he did so many things right.  The way he moves around the paint on the offensive glass to get a tip in; how he positions himself after making the catch on the right block so he’s a threat to drive both baseline or middle and leaves himself options; the way he dives at the right time or finds open space to make a catch on the interior.  He’s not the most physical presence, but the man is a basketball player and he’s consistently doing more things correctly than not.  I appreciate that.

*The Thunder are an athletic and scrappy team.  They just fight for every inch and play hard for every second.  You see it in how they front the post, how the rotate on defense, and how they protect their basket.  They had 17 blocks in this game.  17!  Through sheer will and determination, they hustled back on defense, clogged the paint, and contested every shot taken.  After the game when Scott Brooks spoke of being proud of his guys and praised them even in defeat, I understood exactly what he was saying – his guys battled, but they came up short.  After games like this you don’t hold your head or get down on yourself.  You use it as inspiration for the next game.  The Lakers better be prepared for that when game 3 rolls around.  Because the Thunder will play this same style, but they’ll have an amazing crowd pushing them to play even harder.

*The Lakers bench players (well, most of them) were solid for the second game in a row.  Shannon and Farmar shot the ball well and played under control, they just didn’t see too many minutes (only 25 combined).  I was especially impressed with Shannon as he showed a patience and maturity in his game that was lacking for long stretches during the regular season.  He didn’t force shots, was decisive with the ball, and usually made the smart and fundamental play.  For the second straight season he’s really raised his level of play when the post season arrived and that is the type of player you want on your side.  The flip side of that coin is what the Lakers have been getting from Odom in the last couple of contests.  You’ll be hard pressed to find a bigger supporter of LO than me.  But my main lefty was 2-9 tonight and didn’t seem into the game but for only a few stretches.  His other stats were serviceable (8 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals) but overall he can play better.  On the road, I have a feeling that he’ll need to.

*Speaking of not playing as well, Bynum couldn’t replicate his strong play from game one – at least not on offense.  Maybe Kobe’s shot seeking took ‘Drew out of his rhythm, but he only made 3 of his 9 FGA’s and had some turnovers when trying to operate in traffic.  I was impressed by his defense and rebounding, though.  I also liked a couple of the hard fouls that he gave.  I’ve always said that if Bynum could rebound well and defend the paint consistently his offense would be a plus and we saw some of that tonight.  But I do think we’ll need more than 6 points from ‘Drew if we’re going to have long term success.

*Kevin Durant deserves a lot of credit.  Ron Artest’s defensive game plan didn’t change at all and by what I saw he was just as committed and focussed on D tonight as he was on Sunday.  But Durant was worlds better.  KD still may not have shot in a way that he’s capable of, but he looked much more relaxed and it showed in his success rate.  32 points on 26 shots for Durant and several smooth jumpers that were made to look way easier than they actually were.  On one possession he posted up Ron on the right block from about 17 feet and then just turned and shot a fade away that was nothing but nylon as Ron was as close to him as humanly possible without fouling.  I never got to see the Iceman do his thing live (only on old tapes and replays), but KD looked just like George Gervin in how effortless he makes it look at times.

The Lakers will need to play better than they did tonight if they expect to make a deep playoff run.  That said, these are the playoffs and the Thunder are a very good team that is well put together and a worth opponent.  And in understanding that these are the playoffs, the Lakers are not fighting towards a goal of the best record in the league or to win a #1 seed.  They’re not battling 29 other teams across the association or 14 others in their conference.  The only opponent is the one in front of them and the only goal is to win four games against this one team before they lose four.  And since that is the case, I’ll take this win just like I’d take a 40 point blowout.  The Lakers are now up 2-0 and the Thunder have to win 4 of the next 5 to dethrone the champs.  Those are odds that, as a Lakers fan, I’ll happily accept.

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One of my favorite things about the playoffs are the adjustments that teams make.  The playoffs are like a drawn out chess match where coaches study the film, look at what both sides did to be successful, and then try to replicate that for their own team and put schemes into place to slow down the opposition.  Every game, every detail is looked at meticulously in order to try and gain an advantage.  This series will be no different and tonight we get to see which coaching staffs make the appropriate adjustments to give their players the edge.  As someone that loves the X’s and O’s of the game, this punch/counterpunch exchange that is drawn up by the coaches and acted out by the players is one of the best parts of the second season.

For the Thunder they need to try and find a way to continue the success that Russell Westbrook had in game one while also having some of their other players join the party.  First and foremost, that means getting Kevin Durant on track.  In the last game, KD struggled mightily when trying to shake free from Ron Artest’s smothering defense.  Over at Pro Basketball Talk, Kurt explained what the Thunder did to try and free Durant and how Artest combatted it:

To help Durant out, the Thunder ran some simple plays right out of every NBA playbook — some cross screens, some pindowns — trying to free Durant up on the strong side. Artest just blew those up and was in Durant’s grill the whole time. Two reasons for that. First, Artest has been seeing those since he entered the league. Artest is a smart player, a savvy one. If he knows it’s coming, you’re not going to succeed with it very often. You have to do better than the basics to catch him off guard.

Second, there isn’t a player strong enough on the Thunder to set a pick Artest can’t run through, especially on the screen-and-roll. Much like Durant himself, this is a young and lanky team. That serves them well in transition, not as well in a game of physical half-court sets.

The Lakers bigs also defended the picks well, they showed out on Durant enough until Artest arrived, which was not long. The Lakers were well prepared for this part of the Thunder playbook.

Brooks and his staff have to figure out ways to get Durant free. That may be better putting Durant on the weakside then using quick ball rotation to get him the ball in isolation. They can’t keep running basic sets and keep Durant on the strong side.

The Thunder will need to find a way to combat the way that the Lakers played these screen actions.  As Kurt suggests isolating Durant on the weakside and then reversing the ball to get him some touches may be a good place to start.  I also think that rather than starting Durant on the low block and then running pin down actions for him, they may want to run more actions where KD is at the extended wing and then move him across the court or towards the basket so he can catch the ball on the move more.  Artest is a demon when he can get you in his crosshairs and focus on a stationary target – something he proved again in Game 1.  Needless to say, the Thunder need to try and avoid those situations tonight if they hope to get KD going.

Conversely, the Lakers must continue to find a way to keep Durant under wraps (while also anticipating some of the Thunder’s adjustments and scheming for them), but their bigger task is figuring out a way to control Westbrook.  In game one, Russ was able to spring free in the open court and find creases in the Lakers half court D.  Russ got almost all of his baskets in the lane off pull up jupmers and hard drives to the rim.  So, the Lakers need to devise a plan to build that wall and keep Westbrook out of the paint and at a distance where he is less dangerous.

The first way they can accomplish this by being more selective on offense and not taking so many long jumpers with an unbalanced floor.  Too many times in Game 1, the Lakers took jumpers from the baseline with players in motion moving towards the basket.  When those rebounds went long, the Thunder were able to race up the court and create 3 on 2 or even 3 on 3 scenarios where Westbrook could play in space in one on one situations.  If the Lakers can limit these opportunities, it will go a long way in containing Westbrook.  This is obviously a major point of emphasis with the Lakers coaches, so we’ll see how successful they’ll be in executing their plans to hold Russ down better than in the last game.

Offensively, adjustments are also in order for the Lakers.  As we discussed in the posts proceeding game 1, the Lakers struggled with the fronting of their post players.  If the Lakers are to exploit their biggest advantage (their size inside), they need to find a way to consistently get the ball to Pau and Bynum on the block and let them work against the undersized Thunder.  My first suggestion would be to start the offense on the extended wing in the standard formation for a sideline initiation (ball handler at the hash mark, another player in the corner, post man at the low block).  At this point, if the post man is open, pass it to him.  However, if the post man is being fronted, the Lakers should pass the ball to the corner to flatten out the passing angle to the post man.  This pass to the corner not only initiates some of our offensive movement, but it should also help the  post player create a natural seal to the baseline side so that receiving the pass is much easier.  After the catch is made, the post player can go to work as normal.  My second suggestion would be to play more high low where the weakside big man flashes to the FT line in order to recieve a pass and then allow an easier angle to make a  lob pass over the top of the fronting defender.  If the Lakers can find ways to use either of these tactics, I believe they’ll have success against the Thunder’s fronting schemes.

Understand, that while Game 1 set the tone for the series, Game 2 can be the first real nail in the Thunder’s coffin.  OKC does not want to go home down 0-2 to the Lakers and facing the prospect of winning 4 of the next 5 games.  Like any other team that starts a series on the road, the Thunder had to come into these first two games thinking that all they needed was a split in LA to then have the advantage going back to their home arena.  Phoenix and Denver have already dropped games at home and lost their home court advantage.  The Lakers need to take note of those games and come out today to seize complete control in this series.  A win tonight can be the difference between a potential sweep (though I think 5 games is more likely) and a 6 or 7 game slugfest.  Focus, defense, and offensive execution will be the usual keys to produce a win.  Tonight we see if the Lakers can build on game one’s success and do what’s necessary to earn another victory.

Oklahoma City Thunder at Los Angeles Lakers

From Silver Screen and Roll: I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the biggest question facing the Los Angeles Lakers this postseason is whether or not they are capable of “flipping the switch”.  It matters a great deal, because over the past month or so, the Lakers have looked more like a lottery team than a champion.  If the Lakers are capable of willing themselves to dramatic improvement, through focus, effort, and execution, they remain at least a contender for the title, if not the favorite.  If their struggles were indicative of the team’s true “self”, the season will probably end sooner than we’re all comfortable with.

From the Los Angeles Times’ Lakers Blog (with Video): Lakers guard Kobe Bryant stood surrounded by a pack of reporters with cameras, tape recorders and questions. He stared back offering a subdued demeanor, quiet and clipped answers and barely let out a smile. The only time he let one out was when he was asked about D.J. Mbenga’s orange-tinted glasses after the reserve center’s recent eye surgery, before offering a simple “They’re nice” response.

From the Los Angeles Times: The emotions used to express the mood of the Lakers would be as varied as their two most recognizable faces Monday. Kobe Bryant would be the frowning icon, continuing to act unhappy around teammates and the media. “I’m just moody today, I guess,” he said between terse, monosyllabic answers to reporters’ questions. A bit later, the smiley face of the group, Coach Phil Jackson, grabbed a remote control to turn down a too-loud TV in an interview room before sitting down with the media.

From Land O’ Lakers (with video): Not Kobe Bryant, center of the Laker universe. Nor Andrew Bynum, whose return played a key role in Sunday’s victory. It wasn’t even D.J. Mbenga, whose future is so bright, he’s gotta wear shades. (Yes, technically speaking, the orange-tinted shades are more about protecting D.J.’s eye than a bright future, but if you think I’d turn down an easy Timbuk3 reference, frankly, you don’t know me. While he’s not officially cleared yet for action on Tuesday, Mbenga said he’s feeling better and seemed in good spirits. When I mentioned how he and Jack Nicholson are now the coolest guys in Staples with their indoor sunglasses, D.J. busted out a big laugh.)

From Land O’ Lakers: When you see a photo of a Lakers player dressed in his purple and gold on the court in a newspaper, magazine or on a Web site, odds are it came from the lens of the camera of one man: Andy Bernstein. Bernstein is the Lakers official team photographer and has been with the franchise for nearly three decades. He is also a senior photographer for the NBA and has chronicled everything from a regular season game between the Los Angeles Clippers and Minnesota Timberwolves in March, to all six of Michael Jordan’s championships with the Bulls. Bernstein chatted with ESPN.com/LosAngeles looking back at the pictures that have illustrated his career. 10 Questions with Andy Bernstein …

From the OC Register: The NBA isn’t all glamour and bright lights. Day in and day out for nearly six months, Lakers players and coaches go over strategies, scouting reports and watch film. Then they run the court, practicing offensive moves and defensive schemes. After all the running, they engage in several minutes of free throw shooting and full-court drills. Then in comes the media, who want to know all the minute details of how the Lakers plan to stop their opponents. Monday was no different, except for the number of reporters and TV cameramen.

From NBA Fan House: If Kobe Bryant is still standing in mid-June, his fifth trophy held in his hurting hand and his march to match Michael Jordan’s six titles still on track, this is one championship that won’t have been won on his Atlas-like back. It’s his middle finger that will have carried the weight of his world. And that, make no mistake, would be perfectly poetic.

This is a great post on the Artest-Durant battle from The Daily Thunder (with video): I think we can all agree that Ron Artest did a terrific job on Kevin Durant yesterday. KD went just 7-24 from the floor and took eight 3-pointers, hitting only one. He took almost all jumpers, and never looked comfortable. A lot of it had to do with some visible nerves early in the game, but most of it was because of Artest just being a pest. He was disruptive in every way, pushing, pulling and grabbing Durant around every corner. Here are five plays Durant was stopped and on the end, one successful trip down the floor.

-Phillip

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Some random thoughts while you wait the day and a half until Game 2 tips off…

*The other day, I mentioned that I love the playoffs.  The intesity, the focus, the stakes…everything just makes me want to sit back and watch as much basketball as possible.  But, the other reason I love the playoffs is because of the quality of writing that can be found everywhere you look.  If you’re not already, go to the sites and blogs of the other teams.  Read up on the Mavs and the Magic (for example).  Go check out the analysis that some really smart people are putting out there on the teams that they follow on a daily basis.  You’re likely to learn some things – I know I do.

*Another reason that I love the playoffs is the new faces that make their mark.  Not sure how many of you caught the Bucks/Hawks game on Saturday, but how about that Brandon Jennings?  Talk about a young player that does not retreat from the big moments on the grand stage.  For a large chunk of that game, he looked like the only Buck that was truly ready for the playoffs.  Plus he’s left handed (always a positive in my book).

*Even the obvious needs to be stated again:  welcome back Andrew Bynum.  I think we were all impressed with his return to action yesterday and the ways that he impacted the game.  He truly was a real force.  And I couldn’t agree with Roland Lazenby more – after being out for as long as he was you almost forget how big young ‘Drew is.

*Speaking of our big men, Phillip mentioned it this morning, but the Lakers need to do a better job of beating the Thunder’s fronting defense.  There are two ways that I think the Lakers can accomplish this.  First is to have the big man that’s being fronted make the effort to walk his defender up the lane more.  This will enable him to 1). create more space between himself and the weakside help defender and 2). recieve a nice bounce pass entry if the ball goes into the corner in our standard Triangle set on the strong side.  Second is for the Lakers to play more high low by reversing the ball to either the top side guard or the flashing big man from the weakside.  Once the ball is swung back to the middle of the court, the fronting big is now more easily exposed by lob passes over the top. 

*So far this playoffs, the home teams have been putting their stamp on their respective series.  In the 8 games played over the weekend 7 of the home teams won.  The one home team that lost?  Phoenix, in their match up with Portland.  I know people will be quick to point out the SSOL offense doesn’t work in the playoffs and use this loss as another way to knock down that style of play.  But really, I saw this game as another example of why interior defense and rebounding is so important.  The Suns are missing Robin Lopez (not a world beater by any means, but he’s their best defensive big) while the Blazers have an active and effective Marcus Camby patrolling their paint.  Camby (14 defensive rebounds, 3 blocks) was able to control the lane defensively and help slow down Amare while Blazers Andre Miller and Jerryd Bayless were able to attack the paint against Phoenix.  And while a lot of people wanted to call him a homer, Henry over at TrueHoop kinda called it.

*I agree with the suspension handed down to KG.  It doesn’t matter if you don’t recall doing it, you can’t elbow a guy in the face and not miss time.  Sorry, KG.  Well, actually, not really.  And not because of the jersey he wears or his team affiliation.  But because I used to be a fan.  Besides Kobe, Duncan, and Shaq, KG was probably my favorite player of this era.  Not so much now.  I’d say more, but Kelly Dwyer just said it better.

*Have you seen that strange Carmelo Anthony commercial?  What’s your take on it?  I have no clue if it was supposed to be funny or just weird, but it kind of accomplished both for me.