If there’s one thing I love about the playoffs, it’s the adjustments. I’d prefer to talk about what the Lakers’ opponent needs to do to rectify a loss, but after the first game that’s not the case. Instead, we need to look long and hard at what the Lakers need to do to bounce back and claim a win to even up the series on Wednesday. Luckily (or unluckily, I suppose) the Lakers’ game one performance gave plenty of things to work on heading into game two.
And while there are plenty of things to fix on defense (more on that tomorrow), today we focus on how the Lakers can be more effective on offense. And that means getting Pau Gasol going.
In his post game presser, Phil Jackson said a variety of things about the Lakers’ performance, but what stood out to me was his statement about not being able to recall Pau getting a lot of touches in the post (his overall lack of touches is something else to look at, and we will a bit later). Phil briefly explained that Gasol is one of their primary guys and that getting him the ball in places where he can be most effective is a priority.
So simple, yet so true. And yet the Lakers, as a team, did a poor job of getting Gasol the ball in areas where he could take advantage of his match up with Carl Landry. Before game one, I mentioned that I’d like to see Gasol get a lot of his touches in the strong side post, working in the hub of the Triangle. Yesterday, however, we saw very little of that. Instead we witnessed Gasol primarily operating at the elbow or on the strong side wing, essentially making him a distributor in the Lakers’ hand off sequences and sideline initiations. Needless to say, this isn’t where Gasol – the Lakers’ 2nd best offensive player and primary post up threat – should be spending the majority of his time.
Granted, Gasol is a gifted offensive player who can flourish in these spots. His mid-range game is a strong part of his arsenal and he successfully did damage against the Hornets from the mid post and elbow in the regular season. But in the playoffs, he’ll need to get back to the block to be more effective as well as vary his offense attack. Below are two simple adjusmtents I think will help Gasol get going:
*The first adjustment is for the Lakers to run more “center opposite” actions for Pau. As detailed in this fine post, this action is designed to get a big man coming across the lane to make the catch. This benefits Gasol greatly as he’s not a traditional banger on the low block while also utilizing his quickness and ability to catch the ball on the move. By setting Pau up on the weak side and screening for him to come to the strong side, the Lakers can (hopefully) shake Pau free from his defender and allow him to settle into the low post more easily. An added benefit to this action is that it also allows the Lakers to set up their strong side Triangle initiation with Pau in the hub. The Lakers can then utilize all of their cut and screen actions on both the strong and weak side to take advantage of Pau’s ability to pick out teammates when they break open. With Pau in better position to score on his own or force the type of help that he can take advantage of by making passes to open teammates, there are no downfalls here; only upside.
*Another way to get Pau going is for the Lakers to run more 4/5 P&R actions between Gasol and Odom. Too often in game one, when the Lakers went to the P&R, they relied on the high P&R with Kobe as the ball handler and either Gasol or Bynum setting the screen. This action had mixed results (as it has all season) as Kobe often found himself bottled up coming off the pick with no one to pass to. What we didn’t see as much of was the weak side action of Gasol and Odom working hand off and P&R sequences where Odom could either attack the basket coming off a Gasol screen or pull the ball back and make an easy entry to Gasol. Often times this action causes a switch on D and puts the PF that was guarding Odom onto Gasol in a position where Pau has already established good post position. Plus, with this action occurring on the weak side, Gasol has more space to work with where he can either turn and face or go to a standard back down move to work his jump hook
Outside of these two specific sets designed to get Gasol into the flow of the game, the Lakers need to generally look to the post more (whether for Gasol, Bynum, or Odom) to get their offense operating at peak effiency. During the regular season, Gasol took a combined 19 FG/FTA’s against the Hornets, Odom took a combined 13, and Bynum took a combined 13. Yesterday those numbers were 13, 14, and 10 respectively. In game one, the Lakers were too quick in reversing the ball back to the top of the key rather than holding the ball for an extra tick and letting the post man work his way open to make a catch. I understand the want to keep the ball moving (it is one of the first principles of the offense) but the Laker bigs do need their touches for the offense to flow smoothly – not to mention stay balanced – and yesterday provided another example of the wing players moving away from them too early. I expect film study to make this obvious if it wasn’t already clear after the game. (As an aside, if Steve Blake is able to play on Wednesday I think his general focus on running the offense with an emphasis on making post entries will help the team in addition to all the other ways he was missed.)
In the end, getting the offense settled will be key not only for game two but for the rest of the series. Besides a better emphasis on post play (and better production from the post players) the Lakers also need to work on their spacing, their off ball screens to free up cutters, and in their general crispness of getting into their sets. Besides Kobe’s ability to make shots and Ron’s well rounded offensive game, there wasn’t much positive from the Lakers’ performance on that side of the ball Sunday. Hopefully on Wednesday we’ll see them get back to basics by featuring their big men and working more as a team to get each other going.