Archives For May 2010

On The Defensive

Darius Soriano —  May 26, 2010

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Defending the Suns is a difficult task.  Before this series started we talked about the nuances of the Suns offensive sets and how the variations of their P&R give teams fits.  There’s a reason this team was the top ranked offense in the league all season (both in points per game and efficiency) – they’re damn good on that side of the ball.  And while the Lakers had mild success slowing the Suns’ attack in the first two games of this series, whatever hurdles the Lakers were presenting are now gone.  In games 3 & 4 the Suns blitzed the Lakers defense and we’re now at the point where the Lakers need to get back to their defensive principles to recapture their ability to be more than just a minor speed bump on the Suns’ path to 115+ points a game.

Below are 5 defensive techniques that the Lakers need to get back to on the defensive side of the ball:

1). Create the proper angles when defending the P&R.  In the first two games the Lakers did a good job at simultaneously fighting over screens and hedging and recovering to the roll man.  Understand that when Nash is the ball handler in the P&R, his top priority is to set up one of his teammates.  So, the Lakers guards need to get back to getting over the top of the screen while the big men show on the ball handler in a way that discourages penetration while also limiting the passing angle to the big men.  This is easier said than done, but if the Lakers can’t at least slow down the decision making process of the ball handler, they’ll continue to get beat on this action.  In order to accomplish this, every Laker defender must have active feet and hands; they must have fluidity of movement to rotate and recover while getting their hands into passing lanes forcing the ball handler to hold the ball or getting deflections when the pass is made.  The Lakers accomplished this reasonably well in the first two games and they need to get back to doing it in game 5 and beyond.

2). Containing dribble penetration.  Again, this is easier said than done.  Plus, this is one facet of the Lakers defense that has been an issue for multiple seasons running.  However, besides the P&R, the entirety of the Suns offense is predicated off of dribble penetration into the paint.  Whether it’s Amar’e, Dragic, Barbosa, or Nash the Suns want to drive the ball and either get all the way to the hoop for a layup/dunk or they want to collapse the defense to kick the ball out to open shooters.  If the Lakers are going to slow down the dribble penetration, they need to do one of the two things.  First is to be much better defensively while closely guarding ball handlers on the perimeter – which if you’ve followed the Lakers for the past several seasons isn’t that realistic.  Second, and a better strategy, is to lay off the ball handler and turn them into jump shooters.  This may sound counter intuitive because the Suns boast one of the better jump shooting teams in the league.  However, besides Nash and Hill (and to a lesser extent Barbosa and Dragic) the Suns aren’t a team that is comfortable pulling up for jump shots off the dribble.  So, by giving the ball handler space, you invite them to shoot pull up jumpers while at the same time limiting their driving lanes.  How many times did Farmar or Brown give up drives to Dragic and Barbosa?  How many baskets did those drives create?  How many times did Amar’e bull his way to the hoop and make shots right at the rim?  These are the plays the Lakers need to limit and it starts with either playing much better defense on the ball handler, or inviting them to take the pull up jumper instead of penetrating.

3). Remember transition defense principles.  This is pretty straight forward as the Lakers need to understand that when in transition, the Suns players run to the three point line.  In game 4, the Lakers often got caught out of position in transition defense by recovering to the paint when the ball was getting pushed at them.  This led to shooters being left wide open behind the three point arc.  In that 9 point burst that gave the Suns their lead (that they would not relinquish) in the 4th quarter, the Suns got two 3 point baskets just because the Lakers lost their men in transition and recovered to the paint.  Needless to say, those baskets changed the tenor of the game and created a hole the Lakers never dug themselves out of.  If the Lakers are going to defend the Suns effectively, they need to limit their transition points and that means marking shooters that run to the wing and wait for Nash, Dragic, and Barbosa to set them up after pushing the ball up court.  The Lakers showed that discipline in games 1 & 2.  They need to regain it in game 5.

4).  Rebound at the defensive end.  Whether or not the 18 offensive rebounds the Lakers surrendered in game 4 were an anomaly, that number is entirely too high and can’t be repeated.  The Suns are too elite of an offensive team to give extra possessions and nothing good can come from the Lakers giving the Suns second chances to score the ball.  In order to slow down the Suns on the offensive glass it’s going to take a team effort.  Not only do the Lakers bigs need to rebound better than they did in game 4, but the Lakers guards/wings need to close down the FT line and not allow the long rebounds from the Suns’ missed jumpers to be grabbed by the opposition.  This simply comes down to boxing out and hustling to the ball.  If the Lakers want the ball, they have to go and get it.  They can’t just stand around and hope it bounces to them.  All of the previous points require focus and effort, but none more so than rebounding.  The Lakers just need to put in the work.

5). Practice good shot selection.  I know I said that these are defensive principles that need to be improved upon, but the Lakers shot selection is too intertwined with their struggles on defense to be ignored.  In the past two games the Lakers have shot 60 three pointers and only made 18 (30%).  That’s entirely too many attempts and too many misses that fuel the Suns transition offense.  I understand that the high number of 3’s attempted are tied into the Suns’ zone defense, and that any talk about shot selection needs to also discuss how the Lakers can crack the Suns’ zone.  But, ultimately, it’s not so much what the Lakers need to do to beat the Suns zone but ultimately the types of shots that the Lakers take that matter.  The Lakers are scoring the ball well enough, but the fact that they’re taking and missing so many long jump shots is impacting their ability to effectively transition from offense to defense and thus doesn’t allow them to set up their defensive formations.  That loss of defensive integrity is allowing the Suns to get into the paint too easily which then leads to over helping, which results in too many wide open shots by the Suns.  So, the Lakers need to show more patience on offense and execute better if they hope to help their defensive efforts.

In the end, as Kobe said after game 4, “We lost the game because our defense sucked.”  So if the Lakers are going to get back to their winning ways, they need to tighten up the D.  It’s an old cliché, but defense wins championships and the Lakers haven’t been playing enough of it lately to advance for the chance to play for that trophy.  Here’s hoping that when the Lakers return back home they rediscover some of the defense that they didn’t bring with them to Phoenix.

Orange County News - May 25, 2010

THE BLOGS

From C.A. Clark, Silver Screen and Roll: I’ve seen this game too many times, and I’m sick of it already.  You might as well keep it in your DVR for a while, and next year, when the Lakers go into a series up 2-1, just play this one back on repeat.  If you didn’t recognize tonight’s performance, I don’t think you qualify as a Lakers fan, because this was vintage.  Once again, the Lakers were put up against a dangerous and desperate team in a Game 4, and once again they were out-worked, out-muscled, and out-smarted by a team that had no business doing any of those things.  Once again, they decided that 80% would be good enough, and the Houston Rockets er, Denver Nuggets um, Oklahoma City Thunder oh, Phoenix Suns made them pay for it.

From Phillip Barnett, Talkhoops: Kobe Bryant finished the game with 38 points and 10 assists. He shot 15 for 22 and the Lakers still lost. This is his second straight 30 and 10 game and the Lakers second straight loss. The Lakers cut their turnover total down from 17 to six and cut the Suns fast break points from 18 to six and they still lost. How is this possible? The answer is two fold. The Lakers failed to attack the zone with any kind of tenacity and they failed to grab defensive rebounds. On Suns misses, the Lakers only grabbed five more rebounds than the Suns did. If you’re going to win playoff games, that disparity has to be much, much larger. By comparison, the Suns had a +20 point difference on Lakers misses. If the Lakers cut the Suns offensive rebounds in half, they win this game and all of the zone talks go away.

From Matt Moore, Hardwood Paroxysm: The only point that anyone outside of the Phoenix locker room will believe the Suns can win this series is when the clock hits zero of a fourth Suns win. It’s not just the enormous disadvantages the Suns face that they’ve overcome in Games 3 & 4 or the remarkable number of things they need to go their way, but like SSR points out, we’ve seen it. The Suns need for something very unlikely to occur in order to win this series. In a game in LA, they need for things to go their way. The shots to fall for them but not for LA. The calls to go for them (and boy did they go for them in Phoenix) in Staples. And the zone to keep working. Dwyer mentioned that this series had a familiar feel to it, like the predictable horror movie that still scares you. But even with the win, there’s still that familiar feeling with it. The Lakers simply proved they still are who they always have been. The amazingly talented, brilliantly effective, world-class team that only chooses to execute when it absolutely has to, believes in its own hype, and lacks any sort of true killer instinct against good teams. And they can and will still win in spite of that.

From Marcel Mutoni, SLAM: Despite the troubles they’ve had handling the Phoenix Suns’ “girly” zone defense in Games 3 and 4 of the Western Conference Finals, the Los Lakers have done just fine on the offensive end. By every metric, the offense has done enough to win games, but that has obviously not been sufficient. The reason L.A. now must play a pivotal Game 5 back at Staples Center on Thursday night, against a surging Phoenix team that’s slowly beginning to believe it can win the series, is because their defense has been so atrocious lately. Or as Kobe might say, it has “sucked.” Bryant — who once again performed brilliantly in a losing effort — was livid following the game last night, tersely addressing the assembled media about his team’s lack of urgency, and porous attention to detail on the defensive end of the ball.

From Kelly Dwyer, Ball Don’t Lie: I’ve never seen anything like it. Have you?

If it weren’t for fatigue, the Phoenix Suns would have rolled the entire fourth quarter with five bench players on the floor: Goran Dragic, Leandro Barbosa, Jared Dudley, Channing Frye, and Louis Amundson. That’s significant in and of itself, as that crew essentially turned the game on its ear in the second, and then the fourth quarter. The Lakers had an eight point advantage in the first and third quarters, mind you, with the Suns starters milling about. But what got me the most, beyond the bench dominance or the fact that only tired legs led to Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire (those bums) coming back into the contest with around four minutes left in Phoenix’s Game 4 win, was the way Gentry uses this bench. It’s been growing all year, but we’re now at a point where Gentry is just alternating teams. I’ve never seen anything like it at this level.

From the K-Bros, Land O’ Lakers: With 6:47 to go in the fourth quarter, both teams took the court after a full timeout by the Lakers. Jared Dudley had drained a three-pointer before the stoppage, pushing a lead to 98-89 as part of a 9-2 run. This burst represented just one chunk of a frame owned entirely by Phoenix, who began the proceedings with a slim 85-84 advantage. Even more striking, the Suns did this damage rolling with five subs: Lou Amundson, Leandro Barbosa, Goran Dragic, Jared Dudley and Channing Frye. The Lakers, however, paired their three main subs with Andrew Bynum and Kobe Bryant, the latter a one-man wrecking crew to this point.

From Dave Gold, Momma There Goes That Man: Let me just come out and say it. The Phoenix Suns are just not that good of a team. Their Western Conference Finals appearance is a fluke and really, the Lakers should have started their rest for the NBA Finals last night after Game 4. Right after Game 2 was over with, it pretty much seemed like L.A. was gonna steam roll over the Suns and and get some much needed rest before they go up against the Doomsday squad known as the Boston Celtics.

THE PAPERS

From Kevin Ding, OC Register: When you get this close to the NBA championship, love for the game should be like Robin Lopez’s hair … here, there, everywhere. It should be spilling all over the floor, past those Western Conference finals logos and right to the bench area that should look as united and animated as Phoenix’s crew was Tuesday night. Even after getting the theoretical jolt of a Game 3 loss, the Lakers just stood around in Game 4. They stood around and assumed they would stand taller. They didn’t, because the Suns used their passion for the opportunity at hand and actually jumped. “We’ve got to fight,” Phoenix’s Steve Nash said. “They’re bigger than us. Most people can make an argument that they’re better than us. But we’ve got to have a lot of heart and a lot of determination and find ways to win the little battles.”

From Mike Bresnahan, Los Angeles Times: Phil Jackson had an animated day, and it had nothing to do with the breathless pregame rumors that had him coaching in Chicago or New Jersey next season. The Lakers’ coach was in the faces of his players and popping up off the bench more often than usual in an emotional game the Lakers eventually lost to the Phoenix Suns, 115-106. His activity was a prime indicator of how much Game 4 meant to the Lakers, the Suns evening the Western Conference finals Tuesday with their runaway offense. Jackson didn’t like the Lakers’ defense, to say the least.

From Bill Plaschke, Los Angeles Times: It was playoff basketball reduced to maddening math. The Phoenix Suns stormed through Tuesday’s Game 4 of the Western Conference finals with 10 players. The Lakers staggered around with six. The Suns were like a joyful college team, everyone playing, everyone scoring, the sidelines dancing. The Lakers were like a somber high school team with one star and five kids from shop class. “They had 10 guys involved out there, we had about half that,” said the Lakers’ Lamar Odom, shaking his head. “They had help from all over the place, and we didn’t.”

From Vincent Bonsingore, The LA Daily News:
You knew it was going to happen sooner or later. It was bound to, had to happen. The Phoenix Suns shoot too well, are too deadly from 3-point range to go an entire series without getting hot from behind the arc. It was only a matter of time before Channing Frye eventually made a long-range shot – or multiple ones – and Leandro Barbosa got untracked. It was inevitable a Suns team that played the regular season as one of the best 3-point shooting clubs in league history, then used those hot hands to storm through the first two rounds of the playoff, would unleash that firepower on the Lakers in the Western Conference finals.

THE MAJORS

From Kevin Arnovitz, TrueHoop: The Suns are unusual in that Alvin Gentry doesn’t install a traditional rotation. At the 12:00 mark of the second and fourth quarters, these five guys take the floor as a single unit. On Tuesday night, they dazzled. Dragic probed the Lakers’ defense. Barbosa was decisive with his trigger. Dudley was his usual bundle of energy and heady intuition on both ends of the floor. Amudnson did yeoman’s work up top screening for his guards (and snuck behind the Lakers’ bigs for a couple buckets of his own). And Channing Frye? After enduring one of the most brutal stretches we’ve seen in recent years from a sharpshooter, Frye broke out of his slump with a vengeance.

From Dave McMenamin, ESPN Los Angeles: The number on the white board in the Los Angeles Lakers’ locker room, representing the countdown to the wins necessary to complete their road to a repeat, remained at six after Tuesday’s 115-106 Game 4 loss to the Phoenix Suns — but the only thing on the team’s mind seemed to be Game 5 on Thursday. “Critical game,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. “We say they’re all critical, but this is what playoffs are about. If you can support yourself on the home court, you have a chance of going back and pulling an upset or winning the game, No. 5, and creating the momentum change. So, we’ll see what comes out on Thursday. Should be interesting.” For the second time this postseason, the Lakers jumped out to a 2-0 lead to start a series, only to lose Games 3 and 4 on the road. Against Oklahoma City in the first round, Los Angeles was able to take Game 5 at home and Game 6 on the road to close out the series before it went the distance.

From Ramona Shelburne, ESPN Los Angeles: There are no time limits anymore, no command to shoot 3-pointers like there’s a never-ending ball rack off to the side. And yes, there are such things as bad shots in Phoenix these days. Mike D’Antoni took the “seven seconds or less” era with him when he left for New York two seasons ago. But that’s not to say that this calmer, gentler version, this “11 or 12 seconds or less” offense, doesn’t look like the old days every so often. When the 2010 Suns offense is flowing, as it did Tuesday night in Phoenix’ 115-106 win over the Lakers in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals, it can still burn hotter than any offense in the NBA.

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Disappointment.  Frustration.  Anger.

Surely, these are just a few of the emotions that the Lakers and their fans are feeling after losing game 4 to the Suns 115-106.  The Western Conference Finals are now a best of three series and the team that was once down 0-2 is now tied and carrying a craters worth of momentum with them back to Los Angeles.

And all credit for this win must go to the Suns.  They continued to play their zone defense with good results as the Lakers weren’t able to figure out how to consistently infiltrate the gaps of the Suns’ scheme nor make the necessary shots to make them abandon it.  Especially bothered by the Suns defensive alignment was Pau Gasol who never found a rhythm and was not able to crack the code of how the Suns were attacking him when he had the ball.  I’ll let Snoopy2006 explain:

I thought the Suns’ defense on Gasol was brilliant. They’re the first team in a long time that’s been able to double Pau effectively and not get killed by his passing skills. The way I saw it, they did it with angles and energy. They swarmed Pau on the catch with 2 or 3 guys. Normally, it’s a recipe for Lakers success. But the activity and angles of the guys swarming him really cut off his vision and bothered him in a way I haven’t seen before. Pau would eventually find the open guy, but because of the intensity of the defenders, his crosscourt pass would be slow and off-target enough to give the Suns time to recover. And they really did an excellent job of doubling and then covering the open man. There was a play in the 2nd half (I believe it was the 4th quarter, not sure) where Fish was open in the corner after Pau caught the ball and drew the attention. The pass was slow enough that Nash – who was doubling Pau on the other side of the paint – had plenty of time to run back and close out on Fish. There’s a reason we’re having difficulty against the zone beyond just Lakers ineptitude. We’re not that horrible. Let’s give the Suns some credit. Whether or not you believe it’s a gimmick defense, they’re executing it well, and their activity and movement across the court is incredible.  That defense really took Pau completely out of his game. When he got semi-open jumpers he normally makes, he missed badly. No rhythm at all, and credit the Suns D for that.

Pau finished the evening with one of his lesser games in the past several months, scoring only 15 points and grabbing only 5 rebounds (3 defensive) in 36 minutes of court time.  When you consider that Andrew Bynum was able to muster 12 points and 8 rebounds in 11 less minutes, you can see that Pau wasn’t nearly as effective as he’s been recently.

But, this game was more than what the Lakers could and could not do against the Suns zone.  What mattered most to the Sun’s success in this game was the performance of their reserves.  Before this series started we talked about the advantage the Suns possessed with their second unit and specifically focussed on Channing Frye as an X-factor for Phoenix’s success.  And while neither the Suns’ bench nor Frye have had much of an impact in this series up to this point, they made up it tonight.  The Suns bench totaled 54 points on the evening and every single reserve that saw time scored at least 7 points and had a double digit plus/minus number.  Dragic, Barbosa, Dudley, Amundson, and Frye were the difference in this game as they extended leads, made huge shots, and made multiple hustle plays all evening.  I mean when you consider that the Suns bench played more than half the 4th quarter (when the game was close), faced off against the Lakers starters for large stretches and held their own, and essentially broke the game open with a 9-0 run with three consecutive three pointers, this group deserved to be group interviewed after the game by Craig Sager.

But besides the loss, and the fact that the Suns’ bench destroyed the entire Laker team, what leaves me most disappointed about this contest is how a fantastic game from Kobe was essentially all for naught.  When the Lakers couldn’t find any offensive rhythm, Kobe stepped up and hit shots.  When the Lakers needed a rebound, Kobe went in with the trees and pulled down the carom.  After Kobe started drawing double (and sometimes triple) teams, he hit open teammates for easy baskets.  Kobe simply did it all and on nights where you get to see one of the best players demonstrate his all around skill and flash his will to win, you’d hope that he has the type of support that can bring home a victory.  Instead, Kobe has a stat line of 38 points, 10 assists, 7 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 block, 2 turnovers in 45 minutes and it still isn’t enough.

On a final note, this wouldn’t be a fair recap if I didn’t bring up the elephant in the room – the refereeing.  For the second straight game, the Lakers shot less than half the number of free throws that the Suns shot (32 FTA for Phoenix, compared to 13 for the Lakers).  And as someone that never likes to complain about the referees, I am a bit conflicted.  On the one hand, the Suns zone was very effective at swarming Kobe and Gasol and forcing other Lakers to take shots – shots that were mostly taken from the perimeter.  It’s hard to draw fouls when you’re taking jumpers.  Plus, Phoenix continued their attacking ways from game 3 and went to the basket frequently with the results being a lot of fouls at the rim – not to mention the fact that the Lakers were reaching a lot on ball handlers, committing fouls that got the Suns into the penalty early in the 2nd and 4th quarters.  These factors did conspire to limit the Lakers FT attempts while boosting those of the Suns.  That said, I also thought that the Lakers did not get some whistles that I thought they’d earned when they tried to attack the basket or went into to the post.  The Suns did get away with some reaching and grabbing that seemed to be a foul at the other end at different times throughout the game.  That said, I DO NOT THINK THE REFS COST THE LAKERS THE GAME (sorry, my caps lock broke).  In all seriousness, I do see both sides of this, but in the end I think that the Lakers just need to play better and find ways to get more consistent, good looks against one of the most active zone defenses that this team has ever seen.

So here we are.  This is pretty familiar territory.  The Lakers are tied 2-2 in a playoff series.  Just like against OKC from earlier these playoffs.  And Houston/Denver from last years playoffs.  And if anything should give the Lakers fans and the team it roots for confidence, it’s that fact.  The Lakers are very much used to this scenario and have succeeded in it several times over the past two seasons.  That said, experience will not be enough.  The Lakers need to play better.  They need to find a way to attack the Suns’ zone and, even more importantly, they need to find a way to slow a reinvigorated and explosive Suns’ offense.  In two consecutive games now the Lakers have given up 115 points or more and that will not get it done.  It starts with playing fundamental defense and then securing the defensive rebound (side note – stat of the night: the Lakers gave up 18 offensive rebounds; when a team is shooting well, you can’t give them the extra possessions). Once the defensive board is gathered, the Lakers can go back at the Suns and attack their defense (which will be harder to set up when their transitioning after a missed shot).  But, getting stops will be the key.  We’ll have more on what adjustments can be made over the next couple of days, but for now just understand that we do have a series on our hands.  Both sides are now at two wins and the Lakers have just taken a shot to the gut.  But, if there’s any team that can bounce back from this, it’s the one we root for.

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The difference between being up 3-1 and tied 2-2 is monumental in a 7 game series.  For the Lakers, it’s the difference between a sure trip back to Phoenix for game 6 and the prospect of closing out the series on your home court.  It’s the difference between a series becoming a best of 3 where anything can happen and the chance to have three contests to earn a single, elimination inducing, victory.  It’s the difference between being in control and facing a very uncertain path to advancement.  After the Lakers were up 2-0, this series looked well in hand but if the Lakers don’t win tonight they’ll be back to square one and tied up with a team that will have a boatload of confidence for the remainder of this series.  For the Lakers, winning this game is tantamount to winning this series.  Sure, getting that final, closeout win will be difficult, but the Suns’ hopes would be reduced to a sliver if they fall tonight and that should be the only thing that’s on the minds of the Lakers.

And in order to get the win tonight, the Lakers need to get back to playing smart and focused basketball.  We’ve already discussed how settling for the easy play will not work against this Phoenix team, so the Lakers must be willing to outthink and outwork their counterparts to secure the victory.  If they do those things, they’ll be fine.  If they don’t…you get the point.  So, what are the keys to outthinking and outworking the Suns?  I’m glad I asked…

First and foremost, the Lakers need to understand that the Suns approach has changed from the first two games of this series.  In game 3, Phoenix was much more active and decisive in their offensive sets and the Lakers spent nearly the entire game reacting to what the Suns were doing and not nearly enough dictating.  So, the Lakers must get back to setting the terms of how this game is played and that starts on defense. 

Against the Suns’ P&R, the Lakers must make Nash hold the ball for that extra second to allow the help defense behind the primary defenders to get into position on a diving Amar’e (and Lopez).  The Lakers can accomplish this by fighting harder over the top of screens and having more active hands in the passing lanes when Nash attempts to turn the corner.  In the last game, both Fisher and Farmar got caught on the Suns’ screens much more frequently and that gave Nash the “pocket” that he needed to execute the bounce passes that fueled the success of Amar’e and Lopez when they rolled to the hoop.  By fighting harder on screens the Lakers will 1). be forced to switch screens far less often 2). make the screen man hold his position, which ultimately disrupts the timing of the P&R action and 3). make Nash go to his 2nd and 3rd options on this play rather than allow him to make the simple (for him, at least) bounce pass to a player on a direct line to hoop. 

But, it’s not just in the team defensive schemes where the Lakers need to perform better.  Individually, the Lakers must also be less giving in their approach and not allow the easy driving lanes that broke down their interior defense and caused all of the Lakers bigs to get into foul trouble.  Both Amar’e and Lopez drove hard into the paint and took it to the bodies of the Lakers bigs, but they were only able to get that far because their defenders didn’t play defense in a way that showed an understanding of what these players like to do.  I mean, both Amar’e and Lopez are strong hand dominant players off the dribble.  Both almost exclusively to go to their right hand and then make their offensive move based off getting an advantage with that first step.  They must also understand what each player likes to do when he drives – Amar’e likes to stay to his right and then use his elite athleticism to elevate and finish while Lopez is much more comfortable going to a counter move where he ends up with his back to the basket so he can execute a little jump hook over either shoulder.  The Lakers bigs need to understand these tendencies and respond accordingly.  But, they’d be better off if they just denied penetration to these players’ strong hands entirely.  So, Pau/’Drew/Odom all need to force these guys to go to their left hand and then contest without fouling.  In the last game, the Lakers not only let these guys get to their strong hands, they often reached in when they were beat and committed fouls.  More discipline and smarts will be required this evening.

And this concept of playing smarter also applies to the offensive side of the ball.  When the 4th quarter of game three started, the Lakers were only down two points.  And in that final frame, Pau Gasol shot the ball one time while the Lakers wings unsuccessfully bombed away from behind the three point arc to the tune of two makes in ten tries.  And this poor play was only compounded by the Lakers trying to force passes and playing an overall sloppy period where turnovers gave the Suns the extra possessions they would need to create the cushion that could not be overcome.  Tonight, the Lakers need to recognize that settling for the easy play is not the answer and work the ball around the court and into the paint to get the types of shots that will break down the Suns defense.  For examples of how to do this, they need only watch the game film from the 3rd quarter where the Lakers used the high post flash to great success and were able to create easy baskets by hitting baseline cutters or wide open shooters after the defense collapsed. 

The Lakers must also take a page from the Suns game 3 notebook and get aggressive themselves.  Besides always looking to penetrate the zone via the pass, the Lakers must also get into the creases of the Suns’ defense off the dribble.  Much like the Lakers did in the last two games of the OKC series, using the dribble with the purpose of getting into the gaps and forcing help will go a long way in breaking down the Suns defensive sets.  Whether they’re in a man or zone scheme, the Suns can be beaten off the bounce and are susceptible to giving up points in the paint off of dribble penetration just as easily as they are from standard post ups.  And when their big men rotate to help, it will leave the Lakers bigs alleys for offensive rebounds or open up the passing lanes for easy dishes that lead to dunks and lay ups.  And speaking of the Lakers big men, it’d be nice if the ones not named “Pau Gasol” showed up in this game.  Andrew Bynum has already said what he plans to do tonight (hint: it involves attacking), but I’d also like to see Odom come out and be the difference maker he’s capable of being.  No one can argue what his effectiveness meant to games 1 & 2, tonight, that level of play (or close to it) would be a welcomed sight.

In the end, tonight is a game of attacking.  Whichever team can force the action the most will come out on top.  From the Lakers perspective, that means playing with patience and poise, but also with passion and determination.  The first two games of this series were not a fluke, but neither was game three.  If the Lakers don’t play smart and allow the Suns to dictate the tempo on both ends of the court, the Lakers will have a lot to think about on their flight home tonight.  But if they play the way that they showed capable, I think we’ll all be able to live with the results.

Los Angeles Lakers at Phoenix Suns Western Conference finals

From C. A. Clark, Silver Screen and Roll: The Los Angeles Lakers have completed 13 contests in the 2010 postseason, with a fine record of 10-3.  They are undefeated at home and sport an even record of 3-3 on the road.  Those three losses happened in vastly different ways.  The Oklahoma City Thunder out-lasted the Lakers in a defensive struggle to take Game 3 of the 1st round many weeks ago, before tearing the Lakers apart limb by limb in Game 4.  Then, the Lakers rattled off 8 wins in succession (including 3 road wins) before that win streak finally came to a halt last night in Phoenix, where the Lakers couldn’t keep up with a strong offensive performance from Los Suns.  Beaten with offense, beaten with defense, beaten with a stick; 3 losses, 3 very different formulas for how those defeats were delivered.  Except for one glaring similarity. Huge free throw disparity.

From the K-Bros, Land O’ Lakers: By all rights, this 2004 Western Conference Semi-Finals game should have ended in the San Antonio Spurs’ favor and given them a 3-2 series advantage. Having chipped away at a 16-point Laker lead, the Spurs were down by a point with 11 seconds remaining and a big Kobe Bryant bucket still etched in their memories. Cue the improbable, as Tim Duncan received an inbound pass from Manu Ginobli at the elbow, with Shaquille O’Neal all over him and time ticking away. Forward motion blocked, Duncan drifted left across the lane, then flung an off-balance fadeaway just as Karl Malone closed in to double him.

From Michael Schwartz, Valley of the Suns: Last night when I wrote my piece on Robin Lopez, I joked about how the Suns thought they’d be in trouble if they relied on Robin Lopez to be their savior. Well, after taking a look at Wayne Winston’s numbers, that isn’t so far from the truth. Amare had his 42 points, sure, but Lopez was the MVP of Game 3 by the numbers. He put up an astounding +32 adjusted +/- rating, a shocking figure that factors in Lopez playing many of his minutes against the Lakers’ elite starters.

From Kevin Ding, Orange County Register: Before anyone could tell Andrew Bynum late Sunday night that Phil Jackson said he’s giving consideration to sitting Bynum out, Bynum explained his own plan. “The next game on Tuesday, I expect to come out and be ultra aggressive,” Bynum said. “Run and just really be aggressive. I’m being too passive and getting fouls and just not playing the way I can.” Bynum produced such a lame start to Game 3 of the Western Conference finals that if a higher-profile player such as Kobe Bryant or Steve Nash were to play that way after being quoted the day before obviously looking ahead to the NBA Finals and the Boston Celtics (“It’s going to be great playing against those guys again”), it would be an all-time teaching point for coaches in the NBA playoffs.

From Kevin Ding, Orange Country Register: You aren’t going to get Kobe Bryant to talk about Lakers-Celtics yet. On Monday, he even chided his home fans for having chanted, “We want Boston!” in the early games of the Western Conference finals at Staples Center, saying: “Disrespectful to the team you’re playing. It makes no sense.” So with the Lakers (and presumably even Andrew Bynum) rightly occupied with preventing the Suns from tying this series, 2-2, on Tuesday night, Bryant isn’t immersed in the coming 2010 NBA Finals or the lost 2008 NBA Finals against Boston. But Bryant did share a bit of analysis regarding the current Celtics, and to hear it in his voice after his longtime struggles to climb out of sidekick status was illuminating:

From Broderick Turner, Los Angeles Times: The chief topic at the Phoenix Suns’ practice Monday was the zone defense they used to stymie the Lakers in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals Sunday. The Suns also found out that All-Star guard Steve Nash has a broken nose, though Nash still plans on playing in Game 4 Tuesday at US Airways Center. He practiced Monday morning before he had a procedure to repair his broken nose and displaced cartilage that he suffered in Game 3. Still, there was so much talk about the Suns’ 2-3 zone defense that Coach Alvin Gentry couldn’t help but laugh when he relayed a story about how someone in the media described it.

From Mike Bresnahan, Los Angeles Times: It was the gimmick heard ’round the NBA, and it turned a potential wipeout into a series. The Lakers had just ripped through the Phoenix Suns again, passing 30 points in a quarter for the sixth time in nine tries, taking a 32-29 lead in Game 3 Sunday of the Western Conference finals. Then the game was changed, as were the Suns’ diminishing chances. Phoenix employed a zone defense with its reserves early in the second quarter, holding the Lakers to 15 points in 12 minutes and creating a crawl space of hope for the undersized Suns.

Practice report from Mike Trudell, NBA.com (with video): After nearly a month of solid basketball from L.A., which produced eight consecutive playoff victories and a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference Finals, the Lakers’ coaches were disappointed with the team’s play in Sunday evening’s 118-109 loss in Phoenix. L.A. struggled at times with a zone defense employed only because Phoenix couldn’t get stops playing straight up man-to-man, got only seven minutes and change from foul-plagued Andrew Bynum, and took a franchise-playoff-high 32 three-pointers while going away from their bread and butter low post game. “We played poorly, and I think their aggression at the start of the game helped us do that,” said Phil Jackson, referring to Phoenix setting the tone of the game by attacking the hoop and getting to the foul line.

From Dave McMenamin, ESPN Los Angeles: The Lakers’ length is the one dominant advantage they are supposed to have no matter which opponent they play. Kind of how Usain Bolt’s stride should allow him to beat anybody on the planet in a sprint. But in Sunday’s 118-109 loss to the Phoenix Suns in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals, which lessened the Lakers’ series lead to 2-1, there was significant shrinkage going on. The big letdown ended up being an accumulation of a myriad of miscues. “It was a bunch,” Ron Artest said. “We had foul trouble, we had some turnovers, some missed shots, some missed layups, a bunch of little things.”

From Johnny Ludden, Yahoo! Sports: Andrew Bynum didn’t want to hear about the Phoenix Suns’ zone defense or any adjustments his Los Angeles Lakers didn’t or did make. No, Bynum said as he stood in front of his locker Sunday evening. This was on him. The Lakers had gone eight games and a month without losing, and now they’d suddenly found themselves in a fight in the Western Conference finals. For that, Bynum saw only one person to blame: himself.

Lastly, I did an interview with Sam Holako of Raptors Republic about Chris Bosh wanting to be a Laker, the playoffs and Phil Jackson:

The next team on Bosh’s wish-list is the Los Angeles Lakers, who have the curse of needing to always field a contending team. Their current crop looks to be on path to get to the finals for the third straight year, having won the championship last season. With their core aging, they need to bring in players who can help compete for championships now, while building a solid core for the future. I checked in with Phillip Barnett of the ESPN TrueHoop Lakers blog Forum Blue and Gold to get his thoughts on the Lakers championship aspirations, Bosh rumours and Phil Jackson. Heeerreeeeeee we gooooooo! (sorry Steve, couldn’t resist):