Archives For May 2010

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With a few days off in between games, we’re taking a look around the league and passing along some links to.  Happy Friday.

*As we all know the Lakers are on an 8 game winning streak.  That led me to start thinking about streaks and many have also started to compare this Lakers team to the 2001 team that battled injuries throughout the season and then dominated the playoffs on the way to their 2nd consecutive title.  For me, it’s a bit early for those comparisons, but if the Lakers win the title this year and do so in a convincing manner, I think those comparisons will be apt.  But we’re a ways off from that point and there is still much work to be done.  So, let’s hold off on looking at all time comparisons and focus on the moment, shall we?

*Speaking of the task at hand (Phoenix), the focus in this series has been the Suns defense (or lack there of) and how the Lakers offense has been abusing their schemes.  However, the Lakers offense has actually been on a roll for longer than the last two games and their performance on O has been a major factor of the current 8 game winning streak.  During this recent run of wins, only once have the Lakers scored below 100 points (game 6 vs. OKC) and they have only shot below 50% from the field three times.  During the streak the Lakers have had an offensive efficiency of 119.5 on 60.2% true shooting, compared to a 105.9 mark on 53.8% true shooting during the regular season (per hoopdata).  Those are major steps up in efficiency of late and it’s not all related to facing the Suns.

*I try not to concern myself too much with the things that are said about Phil Jackson’s future with the Lakers.  There are just too many angles to sort out and Phil’s comments to the media on the subject are cryptic at best.  Deciphering what is said and why rarely leads to anything concrete, so I choose not to get caught up in it.  That said, with the recent reports that Phil will be asked to take a pay cut next season, J.A. Adande is wondering if history is going to repeat itself with Jackson and Buss.  Again, this is just more speculation, but I do think this is something to keep in the back of the mind.

*Speaking of coaches, it looks like Philly has a new one.  Welcome back to the sidelines Doug Collins.  I’m going to miss Collins on the TNT broadcasts, but I think he’ll do a good job with the Sixers (getting Evan Turner with the #2 pick won’t hurt either).

*A lot of fans from both teams are starting to look forward to a Lakers/Celtics Finals match up and with both teams having a 2-0 lead in the conference finals, I understand that.  However, understand that both series are far from over despite the stinging nature of both teams first two wins (Lakers blowouts and Celtic road wins).  From the Celtics standpoint, they still have to win their home games – something that is not a given.  Boston went 24-17 at home this regular season (they actually had a better road record) and will need to continue their strong play now that they’re back in their own arena. (hat tip to TrueHoop.)

*When the Lakers acquired Ron Artest there were a variety of thoughts on everyone’s mind.  Some folks are still waiting for what they believe is the inevitable “blow up” from Ron-Ron.  However, Ron’s been mild-mannered and distraction free for nearly the entire season.  I bring this up because there’s an interesting piece on Ron Artest that deserves a read over at ‘Pop Matters’.  An excerpt: “For, much in the same way that Flavor Flav (who also went on to tabloid infamy) projected the persona of a jester to undercut the stern and booming condemnation of Chuck D. in order to make Public Enemy a more palatable, consumable music act, it seems that Artest has mixed enough zaniness into his persona to escape, for the time being, the more menacing image of his past. Such manipulation, whether it indicates a true “con” of the public or not, is not a fine science. It represents instead a sort of alchemy, combining stereotypes, personal background, the randomness of circumstance, and the all-powerful gaze of the sports media.”

*I love classic videos of old school players.  I can’t get enough old highlights or interviews with legends past just to get more insight from other eras.  So, on that note, go check out this classic sit down of Bill Russell interviewing Kareem, Magic, and Silk from 1980 (hat tip to Shoals at FreeDarko).

*And speaking of video’s LD2K is at it again.  After giving us some viewing pleasure in the lead up to the WCF, his latest concoction is an answer to the critics of Kobe Bryant.  Enjoy.

*Lastly, a lot has been made of the “lucky” comments that Amar’e made about Lamar Odom.  Kevin Ding has a great piece up on Odom that deserves your time. (hat tip to commenter Bynumite.)


In case you forgot, the Lakers have now won 8 games in a row. But when I started to think about this streak – something I’ll touch on in a future post – I started to think about how 8 games pales in comparison to what some other teams have done. Especially the great 33 game streak of the 1971-72 team led by Jerry West and Wilt. So, take a trip with me down memory lane and enjoy an old school clip of how the Logo and Big Dipper got it done. Remember too that they accomplished the ultimate goal – a championship. So remember, let’s keep our eyes on the prize.

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The Good:

As Phillip detailed in the recap, this truly was a team win.  Every player that saw court time played well and there were some stand out performances from Pau (29 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal, 2 blocks), Kobe (21 points, 13 assists, 5 rebounds, 1 block), and Odom – who was lucky for the second straight game (17 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, 1 block).

But one player that deserves some further recognition is Ron Artest.  Game 2 was one where Ron really looked comfortable on offense scoring 18 points on only 9 shots and making 3 of his 6 three pointers.  His first bucket of the game came on a strong drive to his right hand where jumped, switched hands, and finished with a lefty scoop/finger roll that wasn’t the smoothest looking shot but was impressive nonetheless.  Ron added 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals to a very good line in his 40 minutes of game action.

Plus, he gives a great interview (if someone has the video of Ron’s halftime interview with Craig Sager, please pass it along; Ask and you shall receive! – thanks to commenters everclear and Kaifa).  All kidding aside, one thing that Ron did say at the half (after recording 15 points and hitting 3 threes) was that he’s now getting used to defenses playing off of him and leaving him to double Kobe and Pau; that he’s now more comfortable in the offense and isn’t as concerned about taking the shots that are there for him.  To me, this is the biggest step that Ron could have taken in this season.  Throughout the year, I’ve thought that Ron was almost too deferential to Kobe and that he second guessed way too often considering his talent on offense.  By no means was I clamoring for Ron to go into “hero” mode, but I wanted him to trust his game and to shoot the ball without hesitation when he was open.  He’s now doing that and the results are much better than what they were for the last part of the season.  Also, having that wrap off of his left hand has seemed to help too.

The Bad:

I don’t want to harp too much on any negatives about this game because, honestly, there weren’t many.  However, if there was one thing that I noticed it was that the Lakers got a bit too comfortable playing to the Suns’ style and it resulted in this game being closer than it probably needed to be.  In the 2nd and 3rd quarters (full disclosure – I missed several minutes of both of these quarters) the Lakers seemed content to play at a faster pace and their offensive and defensive execution suffered because of it.  The Lakers went to a P&R heavy offense – which, while effective isn’t necessarily the best way to attack the Suns – and then were lazy with their rotations and close outs on defense (especially our favorite #24).  On defense we also didn’t battle as hard in P&R situations and Nash was able to turn the corner more easily and create shots for his mates much better than during any other portion of the game. 

Again, I don’t want to harp too much on this as the Suns are a fantastic offensive team and in the rest of the game the Lakers pretty much held them in check (especially in the 4th quarter).  But during that middle portion of the game, I sensed that the Lakers relaxed on D and may have gotten into the mindset that they can just out score the Suns.  And while this may be true, I’d like for the Lakers to not rely on their offense to win games, but rather their stingy D mixed with their improving-by-the-day offense.

The Reactions:

Andy Kamenetzky at Land O’ Lakers: “The fourth quarter defense was often spectacular before and after the game-clinching run as well. The Suns were held to 41.2 percent from the field and connected on just one of seven from downtown after hitting a red hot 52.7 percent during the opening three quarters. There were also six turnovers, which the Lakers converted into nine points.

Throw in the heavy dosage of Gasol and Odom down low during the game’s closing moments and this final quarter was a painful reminder to Phoenix as to why they’re considered the underdog with decreasing odds for an upset.”

Kurt Helin at ProBasketballTalk: “Yes, Steve Nash was still on the floor. And he is still Steve Nash. But Kobe was taking pages right out of the Nash playbook all night long — including one third-quarter play where he was dribbling near the top of the key, nobody rotated on to Pau Gasol after he set the screen then rolled to the hoop (Amare Stoudemire was losing him a lot in the second half) and Kobe did a one-handed, right-out-of-the-dribble pass to Gasol for the layup. It was the kind of pass Nash does better than anyone in the league. But not Wednesday night.

Nash’s gift is his court sense, his vision. When he probes into the paint — especially off the pick-and-roll — he draws help defenders coming to shut him off. Nash’s ability to recognize where the help came from then make the defense pay by hitting that helper’s man with a pass borders on the supernatural.

Kobe was supernatural himself in this one.”

Dexter Fishmore at Silver Screen & Roll: “Yet again Pau Gasol was brilliant. Yet again he’s making a soon-to-be free agent power forward look decidedly powerless. Carlos Boozer was his victim in the second round. Now the honor belongs to Amare Stoudemire, who could not possibly be looking any worse on defense. Pau juked and head-faked his way around Amare for 29 points and five assists. His comrades-in-bigness, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom, had similarly trouble-free nights. Together those three combined for 59 points on 43 shots, many or most of those coming within close proximity of the cylinder. Unless the Suns sign Dikembe Mutombo and Alton Lister  before Game Three, I’m not sure they have an available solution for this.”

Kevin Ding at The OC Register: “With LeBron James in offseason mode already, courtesy of the Boston Celtics, Kobe Bryant has the stage to make his case that he still has a case in the best-player-in-the-game discussion.

One game after Bryant joined Michael Jordan as the only players to have games of at least 40 points in five consecutive postseasons, Bryant had a career-playoff-high 13 assists. Breaking a tie to start the fourth quarter, the Lakers won by a 124-112 count and moved to a 2-0 Western Conference finals lead over the Phoenix Suns.”

 Kelly Dwyer at Ball Don’t Lie: “I don’t have any answers for Phoenix, outside of better defense for Amar’e, more shots for Nash, and home cooking. I don’t see any real matchup or rotation changes that could swing things in their favor, going bigger or smaller, but am willing to concede that there might be something that could surprise a coasting Laker squad for a half or two.

Los Angeles is just too good. Too great. This is the team that could have won 70, had the injuries gone away, and the heads stayed in the right places. Instead, the Lakers played pound-foolish basketball for most of the season that, with the team finishing with just 57 wins, didn’t really result in a whole lot of wised-up pennies, either.

Those days are over, though. The Lakers are on it, focused, trusting, patient, and potent. God help us all.”

Kevin Arnovitz at TrueHoop (with video): “When Kobe Bryant fully integrates himself into his team’s offense, the Los Angeles Lakers are the most elegant outfit in the NBA. Bryant can perform both as scorer and facilitator, contrary to the false distinction that’s sometimes drawn between these two functions. Bryant’s best formula for success is applying one role in service of the other, something he did brilliantly in Game 2 against Phoenix on Wednesday night. ”

Zach Harper at Hardwood Paroxysm: “Now that Phil Jackson and Kobe have been able to integrate Gasol into the system all while winning a championship and letting him earn some true playoff chops, we’re all starting to see the fallout of this trade. Pau Gasol has simply become the best big man in the game today.

Yes, there are plenty of cases to be had for Dwight Howard, Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan, and of course Johan Petro (insert Matt Moore joke about Greg Oden here too while you’re at it). And all of those guys are really good. Dirk is a wiz on the offensive end of the floor. KG and Duncan still have a lot left in the tank as they adapt to injuries and old age. Dwight Howard is getting better all the time while filling the role as best defensive big man in the league. But Pau Gasol has the ability to truly dominate in the playoffs game after game after game.”

Justin DeFeo at Sir Charles in Charge (with video): “Many have said Pau Gasol is the “most skilled big man in the NBA” so I decided to take a closer look. As you watch the video, keep in mind that as you’re watching Gasol get up and down the court, hit cutters on a dime, shoot fall aways and generally move about the court effortlessly, that Gasol does all this inside a 7-0, 250 lbs body. An amazing thing to consider when you see him do some of the things he does. Take a look.”

Dave McMenamin at ESPN Los Angeles: “Now it’s time to compare him to Ariza after his 18 points on 6-of-9 shooting in Wednesday’s 124-112 Game 3 victory. After his three made 3-pointers. After his five rebounds, three assists and two steals, including one in the fourth quarter when the Suns were threatening and cut the Lakers’ lead back down to single digits.

It’s time not only to compare the two but also to admit that Artest just might be the better fit…

Artest put Kevin Durant in a straightjacket in the first round versus the Thunder and guarded everybody from Deron Williams to Carlos Boozer in the second round versus the Jazz. Now that he’s playing supremely both ways against the Suns, how can you not consider him to at least be Ariza’s equal?”

Phoenix Suns at Los Angeles Lakers

Resolve.

It’s just not something a coach can teach his players. Resolve is gained through experience. A team that has the resolve to grind out games in the Conference Finals is a team that has gone through all of the highs and lows that the NBA Postseason has to offer. During the course of the previous three post seasons, this Lakers team suffered an NBA Finals defeat, fought through a grueling, seven game series against the scrappy Houston Rockets and had to regain their championship swagger against a young, upstart Oklahoma City basketball team. When the Suns came roaring back to tie the game at 90 at the end of the third quarter the Lakers were put in a position where they would have to show a title defense resolve that they hadn’t shown yet this postseason.

To open up the fourth quarter, the Lakers went on a 16-5 run to open up the fourth on the strength of Jordan Farmar’s jump shot and the Lakers athletic forwards. Farmar hit two threes, Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol got to the rim off of Kobe Bryant passes and even the passive Bryant hit a nice 10 footer a the end of the run, forcing Alvin Gentry to call a timeout. From that point, the game was never in question; the only thing unanswered was the final score.

It was the Lakers resolve that allowed Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown to combine four for four from behind the three-point arch. It was the Lakers resolve that allowed Lamar Odom to record his second straight double-double. It was the Lakers resolve that allowed Pau Gasol to take over the game in the fourth quarter and Kobe Bryant to become a playmaker when double teams were thrown at him. Right now, the Lakers are playing like they have a championship on the back of their collective minds.

The Phoenix Suns went into Game 2 with the mindset that they weren’t going to let Kobe beat them with his shot. So, on the night were his streak of six straight games with at least 30 points came to an end, he recorded more assist in a playoff game than he had in his illustrious career. The majority of his 13 assist came off of making the right pass when double teams came to prevent him from scoring. Kobe patiently accepted each double team and made passes to cutting big men or passes to wide open shooters on the parameter.

Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom were able to pick up the scoring that Kobe literally passed up. Gasol finished with 29 and nine while Odom finished with 17 and 11 with a brilliant display of interior passing between themselves. The Lakers adjusted to the Suns double team with running high S&Rs with Kobe and either Gasol or Odom. Kobe hit the cutter, who was either able to finish at the rim, or found the other big when the defense rotated to the cutter. When the Lakers are running on all cylinders like that, they’re tough to beat.

The Suns made their third quarter run on the strength of Jason Richardson and Grant Hill, who combined for every point scored in the first six minutes of the quarter and 26 of their 34 points in the quarter. Richardson and Hill scored 27 and 23 points, respectively. Steve Nash finished with 11 points and 15 assists while Amare Stoudemire finished with 18 points and six rebounds. Jarred Dudley came off of the bench and gave them much more offensive firepower than he did in Game 1, shooting a perfect five for five from behind the arch.

Darius wrote about how well the bench has played as of late, and the trend continued in Game 2, out scoring the Suns bench 36-26. Both Brown and Farmar had those frustrating moments that we’ve grown accustomed to, but for the most part, I thought they played within themselves. Derek Fisher has done a great job against the Suns S&R offense. His propensity to fight through screens has really disrupted the things that Nash likes to do.

Last but not least, we have to be impressed with Kobe’s fourth quarter performance. In earlier years, a less mature Bryant would have been itching to play hero and take over the game on his own terms. What he didn’t know before is that him accepting the double team and finding the open man is taking over the game on his own terms. He was still able to dictate the outcome of the game with his play while allowing Gasol and Odom to get their numbers, too. It was a great team performance, and something they’re definitely going to bring with them to Phoenix as the Suns are a much better team at home than they are on the road. The Lakers will have a few days off before their Sunday night game in Arizona.

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Despite what many pundits may think, this series is not over. Yes, Phoenix was overmatched on Monday but unless that first win actually counted as four (here’s a hint – it didn’t) there are still games left to be played. That means there will be new strategies employed and different tactics used by both teams in order to try bring home the win in game two.

As we mentioned in this morning’s links, the Lakers are preparing themselves for different defensive looks from the Suns.  Phoenix did little right in trying to contain the Lakers offense so a different approach is surely in order.  So, what can we expect from the Suns?  As Doug Collins repeated several times in the national telecast of game 1, the Suns are going to try some zone defense.  The Suns must understand that the Lakers destroyed the interior of their man to man schemes with determined dribble penetration to the middle and far too easy post entries to Pau Gasol.  So, playing a zone is a natural remedy to try and slow down what worked so well in game one.  Understand too, that Phoenix isn’t just going to trot out its zone for the first time tonight.  They’ve been a very good zone defense team over the course of the season and gave the Lakers fits playing this D in patches in the March match up and also detroying Denver (among others) with their active 2-3 zone earlier this season.

In order to attack this defense I hope that the Lakers don’t vary too much from their game one approach, but I do hope that they add a few wrinkles to their sets.  Understand the the Triangle is a natural foil to any zone defense because of the ball and player movement that is built in to the offense.  So, if the Lakers are to attack the Suns’ zone, they’ll need to rely on crisp execution of their sets and not fall back on just swinging the ball around the perimeter and settling for the first available open jumpshot. 

So, what I hope to see is two fold.  First, I’d like for the Lakers to again try to get the ball into the corner so as to initiate their sideline initiation.  However, a wrinkle I’d like to see is to have the topside guard (after passing to the corner) not clear through the lane right away and instead hold his position on the strong side in order to keep the Triangle in tact.  If the man in the corner makes the post entry, then I’d like to see the topside guard cut hard to the basket with the post passer staying home on the sideline as a release man in case the big man doesn’t have a good shot.  This action forces the Suns defense to guard all three strong side Lakers with their three zone defenders and essentially creates one on one matchups with every offensive player.  This will enable the Lakers to attack the Suns zone as if they were playing man to man, which as proven in game 1 was not successful.  Without the ability to diagram this, visualize this formation: when the ball is in the post he’ll have a defender on his back and the other two Suns defenders on that side will be guarding the two Lakers wings. Those two defenders will either have to stay with the Lakers wings or help down.  If the Suns topside guard helps down, the cutting Laker will be open with his dive to the hoop.  If the strong side forward digs down off of the player who made the post entry, that player will then be open for a kick out pass.  This simple zone offense, but the Lakers will need to show patience to execute it.

The second thing I’d like to see from the Lakers is a continuation of their strong committment to dribble penetration.  The key to breaking down a zone is to get the ball into the middle of the floor.  Once the ball is the middle, the entire zone collapses and there are going to open offensive players all over the court.  Getting the ball into the middle can be done via the pass or off the dribble and I’d like to see the Lakers not be overly dependent on trying to just pass the ball into the paint to either the post up man or a flashing big coming from the weak side.  If the Suns allign their defense to take away the corner pass (as they did in game 1), the middle drive will be open.  When the ball is penetrated you can expect the weak side defenders to then show help.  And this is where I want to see a bit of a wrinkle from the Lakers offense.  When the help defender comes the easy pass is going to be to the weakside wing.  When that player catches teh ball, rather than settling for the open jumpshot I’d like to see him penetrate the ball as well.  This second act of penetration will throw the Suns defense into full scramble mode and their zone principles will be broken down almost entirely.  This will open up passes to the big men when interior defenders are forced to help and also open up offensive rebounding lanes from both our bigs and our the player that is in the opposite corner.  This form of attack is what the Lakers used to much success in game 5 against OKC.  Even though the Thunder weren’t playing a zone, their sagging defense simulated one.  So when the Lakers penetrated, kicked, then penetrated again the result was a slew of open layups and offensive rebounds by the Lakers bigs.  I hope to see the same results tonight.

The other defensive tactic that we can expect the Suns to employ are hard double teams on Kobe and Pau any time they get the ball 15 feet and in.  In game 1 both Kobe and Pau were left free to operate on an island too frequently against players that struggled to guard them and they were way able to create good shots much too easily.  By double teaming Kobe and Pau the hope will be to make other Lakers score the ball and thus carry the offensive load.  This tactic is nothing new to the Lakers as Utah double teamed Kobe for nearly the entire second round and Pau has seen double teams off and on since the OKC series.  In order to beat these schemes the Lakers must be active cutting to the ball and diving to the rim from both the top of the key and from the weakside.  When the double team comes the Lakers need to cut behind that doubling defender and occupy the space that the defender is ceding when he comes to attack.  This will force an over compensation of the Suns defense where help on the dive man either comes early (which creates easy cross court passes) or comes late (and the flash man is open).  Either way, the Lakers have proven in the past double teaming their best passers (Pau and Kobe) will ultimately be ineffective if everyone off the ball is doing their jobs.  Tonight, I hope to see those other players focus and make the correct reads.

Offensively, the Suns aren’t likely to make too many adjustments but they do need to find a way to get into the paint more frequently.  Stoudemire especially was forced to shoot a lot of jumpshots to get his points and unless Phoenix can get him catches on the move to the basket their offense (while still excellent) will not perform to its peak efficiency.  So, expect Amar’e to slip more screens or feint like he’s going to screen only to release early so he can receive passes on the move and ahead of the Lakers rotating defense.  This action will allow Amar’e to either make easier catches going to the basket or force rotating Lakers to move off of perimeter players which will then open up passing lanes to shooters behind the arc.  In order to counteract this, the Laker must continue to have active hands in the passing lanes and show extreme discipline in their help and recovery so they can both disrupt Amar’e on his cuts and still get back to shooters and contest shots.

As it is with every series, the adjustments begin now.  In game 1, the Lakers proved that if nothing changes they’ll win this series handily.  So Phoenix must now try to make the necessary changes that turn the tide of the game in their favor.  That said, the Lakers have been running the same systems and have seen what Phoenix does for many seasons now.  None of these adjustments should be surprises.  In order for the Lakers to prevail tonight, it will take an even greater commitment to sniffing out these adjustments and then responding to them with a focussed execution that matches the Suns.  If the Lakers are able to accomplish this, they’ll do enough to win the game.  However, if they rest on their game 1 win and don’t act out what they’ve covered in practice, Phoenix will be right back in this series and steal the home court advantage from under the Lakers’ noses.  As I mentioned earlier, many have already handed this series to the Lakers.  With only a 1-0 lead that’s premature.  Talk to me about control if the Lakers do what’s needed tonight.