The Lakers have had ample time to stew over their game 1 effort. They got a healthy heaping of film study to go over what went wrong and have had time to reset their focus on what needs to be done. In that same vain, we’ve talked adjustments on both sides of the ball on some of the things that we’d like to see.
Beyond adjustments though, the central theme for this game isn’t so much doing radical things that are different, but rather doing the things that they were supposed to do the last game better; doing them with an effort level and precise focus that actually makes achieving them realistic.
That means going harder and smarter every minute of the game. No more blown assignments on the P&R. No more half assed cuts and screens to get players open. No more forced jumpers as players run around disorganized on the back side of the formation. The Lakers must clean up the little things tonight to get back on track.
Besides getting back to basics however, there are larger trends that the team also needs to be aware of. A couple things I’m looking for:
*The Lakers need to better control the pace of the game. If you went strictly by the numbers, you’d think this point is a non-issue. There were 90.4 possessions in game one and on the season the Lakers’ average was 90.7 (both numbers from basketball-reference). But, if you re-watch the game, you’ll notice that the Hornets actually pushed the ball extremely well and got into their offensive sets quickly. With Paul and Jack rushing the ball up court, they were able to get the Laker bigs on their heels and out of position for the initial P&R action that proved the difference in the game. The Laker bigs must do a better job of not retreating all the way to the rim when transitioning back and instead stay closer to the foul line in order to bump big men that run post lane sprints to the front of the rim. Setting up higher put the bigs in better position to defend the high P&R while simultaneously building a wall should the Hornets’ guards try to attack the rim in isoloation.
The flip side of this point on pace is that the Lakers also need to get into their offensive sets quicker. Too often the Hornets were able to pressure the ball full court with no release valves in place to take advantage of their extended defense. This forced the Lakers’ ball handler to go the length of the floor against tight defense, using too much of the shot clock to advance the ball and leaving precious little time to run the actions of their sets. If you want to know why there were so many shots that seemed to come off the 1st or 2nd pass in the half court, some of that was due to the fact that the shot clock was already winding down to the 10 second mark on so many possessions. An offense is much easier to defend when working against the clock (especially true for a multi-read offense like the Triangle) and the Lakers must do better in avoiding these situations tonight.
*The Lakers must also get back to hitting the offensive glass. Ron Artest was a beast on the O-glass tallying 5 in game 1. The rest of the Laker team only grabbed 4, with the Bynum/Gasol/Odom triumvirate combining for a single offensive rebound. This needs to change tonight. The activity level when attackng the glass needs to be higher and the Lakers need to put themselves in position to go get those rebounds by running cleaner offensive sets. Better work off the ball will free up lanes to the rim and the Laker bigs need to understand that fighting for post position has the dual benefit of getting them closer to the rim to grab errant shots. (As an aside, hitting the offensive glass effectively will also help in containing the Hornets’ early offensive work that I raised in the first bullet point. By forcing the Hornets bigs and guards stay home contesting rebounds, run outs and the ability to push pace reduce greatly.)
*Better bench production is a must. Having Steve Blake back will hopefully help as he’s a player that consistently runs the offense, looking for his teammates both on the wing and in the post to get them going. His pesky defense and penchant for pressuring the ball should also slow down the Hornets’ offense. Lamar Odom was just crowned 6th man of the year and tonight’s a great time to remind everyone of why he won in a landslide. Odom’s ability to rebound and push the ball are needed ingredients against a Hornets team that doesn’t have a counter to the things that he does well. Getting LO going to the rim in the open court and slashing off the ball when Kobe and Gasol are isolated in the post and elbow will be very much needed tonight.
I don’t need to explain the importance of this game. A loss puts the Lakers in a nearly untenable position where the combination of road games and reduced margin for error not only decrease their likelihood of andvancing, it also cuts into their ability to win future rounds. The term “must win” was coined for games like this just because of what the opposite result would mean to the team. It’s time to even up this series and get back on the right track.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on Fox Sports West and TNT.