Archives For April 2011

From Andy Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: In Game 1, Bynum never gave himself an opportunity to make an impact, because he was saddled with foul trouble. Wednesday night, he solved that problem, and was arguably the best player on the floor for the Lakers. Offensively, Bynum was extremely aggressive, whether facing up on Aaron Gray with short jumpers, or working on the block. In one outstanding second quarter sequence, Bynum used a nice baby hook to score on one end, hustled back in time to gain position on Emeka Okafor for a rock solid defensive rebound, then worked his way back through the lane at the other end, fielding a terrible lob from Shannon Brown, gathering and finishing for the and-one.

From J.A. Adande, Daily Dime: Lamar Odom made things easier on the media than the Lakers have made things for themselves lately. You know, the old “Player receives award, then proves why he got it” angle. The Sixth Man of the Year giving the Lakers the boost off the bench they needed was one of the only things that worked for them offensively Wednesday night. That and Andrew Bynum. They combined for 33 of the Lakers’ points in their 87-78 Game 2 victory over the Hornets on a night Kobe Bryant scored 11 points and Pau Gasol once again couldn’t establish himself inside. So the Lakers are tied 1-1 in this first-round series even though they haven’t regained their stride, haven’t dictated how these games will be played, haven’t even given their coach a clue about what to expect from them. “Who knows?” Jackson said. “Who knows how we’re going to react to the next game?”

From Michael McNamara, Hornets 247: For three days, the focus has been on whether or not the Lakers could get Pau Gasol more involved, while few mentioned the subpar showings Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum had in the first game of this series. Pau struggled yet again in game two, but the Lakers evened the series with the Hornets due to the immensely efficient performances by Bynum and the newly crowned 6th man of the year Lamar Odom. The two combined for 33 points on 16 of 23 shooting in LA’s 87-78 victory over the Hornets. The focus for LA was clear from the start, as they made every effort to get the ball into the post on the opening possessions. Bynum got the ball early and often, as he was successful in both scoring on the low block and in getting Emeka Okafor into foul trouble. Much like the first game, Okafor picked up two fouls early on and spent almost all of the first half on the bench. While Bynum was a beast on the block, Odom provided the spark that the Lakers so desperately needed. Down by as many as eight late in the first quarter, Odom came in and scored 6 points during a 9-1 Lakers run that tied the score at 23 after one quarter.

From Dexter Fishmore, Silver Screen and Roll: When the Lakers were tearing through the league after the All-Star break, piling up signature wins one after the next, their identity was grounded in defense. The rise of Andrew Bynum transformed the champs’ halfcourt D into an instrument of cruelty and suffocation. But they fell into some bad habits as the regular season drew to a close, and in Game One of their playoff series against the Hornets, their defensive performance could scarcely have been worse. Disorganized, a step slow both mentally and physically, they were embarrassed by Chris Paul and his usually unremarkable supporting crew. To even the series at one victory apiece, Phil Jackson had to spend the past few days reinstalling discipline, aggression and sound technique at the defensive end of the floor. His efforts, we saw tonight, were a success.

From Kelly Dwyer, Ball Don’t Lie: It may not have looked like it, not with Pau Gasol being called “soft” every time he tried to force a shot through Aaron Gray and Trevor Ariza, or Kobe Bryant airballing shots late on his way to a 3-10 shooting night, but the Lakers have righted this ship. We don’t know how long this will last, it could be shot to pieces by Game 3, but this is a step in the right direction. For one, they forced Chris Paul to the baseline. This has been Phil Jackson’s modus operandi with point guards for years, and not only did the quick help and push force Paul out of his initial wants and needs with the ball, it effectively forced him out of the play. Because the Hornets take so long to get into their sets, two passes following the trap the ball would be in Trevor Ariza’s hands with the shot clock winding down, and Paul would be stuck on the baseline like some sort of Eddie House-type. Not the MVP-type that owned Game 1.

From John Krolik, Pro Basketball Talk: It wasn’t pretty, but the Los Angeles Lakers were able to even up their series against the New Orleans Hornets with relative ease. The Hornets were able to shock the Lakers in Game 1 because Los Angeles failed in two fundamental areas: they didn’t establish their big men on offense, and they didn’t contain Chris Paul on pick-and-rolls. On Wednesday, Phil Jackson showed why he has more rings as a head coach than he has fingers; he knows how to make adjustments. Before the game, Jackson said that the Lakers defended “more than half” of the 70 screen-rolls the Hornets ran on Sunday incorrectly, which allowed Chris Paul to run amok. In Game 2, the Lakers were able to keep Paul in check by putting bigger defenders on him (Kobe Bryant started the game on Paul, and Ron Artest even guarded him for a few possessions), putting the quicker Steve Blake on him for a stretch, and trapping him effectively to make him give up the ball:

From Ramneet Singh, Lakers NationUnlike Game 1 where the Lakers did not often pass the ball to their big men down low, the team was making a more of an effort to feed the ball in the paint. The Lakers’ front-court got a break when Hornets’ center Emeka Okafor had to leave the game due to two foul, and this allowed Bynum and Gasol to dominate the paint. Five of the Lakers’ first six shots were attempted in the paint, and the team’s two seven footers were demanding the ball. Nevertheless, the Lakers were not playing their best on the defensive end and most of the energy was being used trying to find shots. At the 7:00 mark of the second quarter, the Lakers held a mere one point lead, 11-10. The team was trying to get its big men more involved, but in the process players like Kobe Bryant and Ron Artest were ostracized from the offense. In addition, the Lakers had yet to find an answer for Chris Paul, who was able to break down the defense and find open shots for himself and his teammates. And as the quarter progressed, the Lakers’ offense became stagnant and the players were unable to knock down open shots. Derek Fisher had five good, open looks from the field but he only hit one shot. With the Lakers’ deep shot attempts, the Hornets were able to run in transition and catch the Lakers’ off-guard.

From Janis Carr, OC Register: For much of the Lakers’ first two playoff games, Pau Gasol has looked lost on offense, his usual dominating inside play having gone astray. The situation isn’t lost on the Lakers forward, though. He sees what everyone else sees on the court,  sees what everyone else sees on the box score. He has made just four of 19 shots in two games against a much smaller New Orleans Hornets team and can’t quite figure out why. But he certainly is not feeling sorry for himself. “No, it’s not great, it’s not usual for me. But I think it’s hopeful. I can’t shoot worse than I’m shooting now,” Gasol said, finding a small bright spot. “So, if I get myself aggressive out there, watch some tape and get batter looks. it will improve. “And I can continue to contribute.”
From Mike Bresnahan, LA Times: The Lakers showed up later than their fans Wednesday, a stunner on its own. But they avoided another indignity despite a mountain of ominous signs, managing to hold off the New Orleans Hornets, 87-78, in Game 2 of the first round of the playoffs. Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant had unbelievably bad nights, but the Lakers still evened the best-of seven series at Staples Center. If not for Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom, they’d be morosely pondering a two-game deficit on their Thursday afternoon flight to New Orleans, where Games 3 and 4 take place this weekend. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson might want to bring along some more sage to burn. The inconsistency that plagued the Lakers throughout the regular season continued to linger. Another spiritual cleansing might be in order.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: With the Staples Center crowd cheering during each swing of momentum as if it were an elimination game, Lakers forward Lamar Odom stepped onto center court. He had just accepted the award as the NBA’s sixth man of the year, but it’s conceivable that the enthusiasm also represented a boost of support to a team that played Game 1 of its first-round playoffs match-up against New Orleans with the intensity of a regular-season game in mid-January. The scene provided a good illustration of Phil Jackson’s motivational tactic Wednesday during morning shootaround that the announcement of Odom’s award a day before Game 2 served one specific purpose. “The reason that they made sure Lamar had this award was this could be the last time he plays today in front of his whole team,” Jackson said with a smile. “They want to make sure that award gets to them at the right time and to go out and prove them wrong.”

This was a game that the Lakers needed to have and they got it. If you’re looking for a single positive from another hard fought, ugly game there you go. In the playoffs it’s quite rare for things to come easy and this game was further proof of that. But the Lakers – as a team – came through tonight, evening the series at one game a piece by defeating the Hornets 87-78.

And it really was a team effort. Because on this night it wasn’t only Pau Gasol that couldn’t find his groove on offense, but Kobe Bryant as well. Neither of the Lakers’ best players could effectively crack the code of the Hornet defense, making only 5 of the 20 shots they combined to take for a grand total of 19 points. Gasol continued to get pushed off his spots by the physical Hornets’ big men, consistently getting stood up on back down attempts and cut off when he tried to drive to the hoop. The result was several forced jumpers and open complaints to the referees that went unheard with his frustration only rising as the game progressed. His only saving grace on offense was his ability to tally 5 offensive rebounds – including several big volleyball taps out in the final period – but those 5 rebounds also represented his total for the game (meaning he didn’t grab a single defensive rebound). Needless to say, Pau is still looking for anything resembling a solid game in these young playoffs.

As for Kobe, he wasn’t much better as a scorer than Gasol, though #24 did work the game in other ways. He mostly played the distributor role early and looked to get everyone involved. He quickly moved the ball within the flow of the offense, often making the simple pass on to an open teammate rather than trying to force the action. His two assists really don’t do his night justice as he easily had a handful more hockey assists in the game. And even though Kobe’s shot wasn’t falling, I was quite happy that he continued to attack the basket and looked to get shots right at the rim. The Hornets did a good job contesting his shots at the rim and Kobe had a few shots just fall off the cylinder (as well as some plays where he could have earned a whistle) and his lack of success was as much about bad luck as anything else.

Where Kobe and Pau fell short, other Lakers stepped up. Andrew Bynum had a team high 17 points on 8 of 11 shooting. He used his monstrous frame to camp at the low block, call for the ball, and do damage against Okafor and Aaron Gray. When he wasn’t banging in the post, he faced up well and shot a sweet 15 foot jumper to keep the defense honest. Lamar Odom also had a very good offensive game, pouring in 16 points of his own on 8-12 from the floor. The aggressive Odom that was missing in game 1 was back for all to see tonight, as the Lakers’ lanky lefty got back to slashing and driving his way to the rim for finishes at the cup. Several times Odom went coast to coast after securing a rebound and effectively maneuvered around whatever Hornet stood in his path to get to the bucket and finish with skill and grace. Just a splendid all around offensive game from Lamar on the night that the NBA honored him with his 6th MOY trophy. LO’s Queensbridge brother also had another very good outing. Artest simply did a bit of everything as his line of 15 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 each of assists/steals/blocks can attest. He played under control, attacked the offensive glass, moved well within the flow of the offense, and did so many little things that help a team win games.

Beyond those big names, the Lakers bench also played very well. Steve Blake’s return clearly helped the group as his steadiness and desire to organize the 2nd unit helped settle down a group that was erratic on Sunday. With Blake doing the majority of the ball handling, Shannon Brown was able to play more within himself (at least for the most part) and not force too many looks the way he did in game 1. Matt Barnes also benefited from the return of Blake, as his slashing off the ball was better rewarded with the ball movement that’s been missing of late. On one possession Blake had an open 15 footer but turned it down to instead hit a cutting Barnes in stride, setting him up for a short floater.

Beyond the stronger play on offense though, where the Lakers really won this game was on defense. As a team the Hornets only shot 39% while also turning the ball over 16 times. The Lakers pressured ball handlers, got into passing lanes, deflected passes, and used active hands to consistently disrupt the Hornets’ sets. The difference between the Lakers’ effort on D tonight vs. what was provided on Sunday was like night and day.

As was the Lakers defense on Chris Paul. While CP3 still had a 20 point, 9 assist outing (great numbers, really) tonight he was successfully bottled up, save for a couple of buzzer beating three pointers. The Lakers threw multiple defenders at Paul, hedged and recovered on P&R’s, and contested his every move on the court much better than in game one. This is where Kobe gets some extra credit as well, as he was great in picking up Paul early in the half court and then denying him the ball after he passed to a teammate. Sure Kobe committed some silly fouls and gave up some easy drives by pressuring a bit too much but overall #24 deserves a lot of credit for taking the challenge of guarding Paul and helping to limit him the way that he did. As does Steve Blake. Though he only saw limited minutes on Paul, I thought Blake defended him best in one on one and P&R situations. Blake successfully fought over screens, stayed connected to his body, and didn’t get blown by once when matched up with Paul. On Blake’s 1st defensive possession vs. Paul he chased him around a screen, created an isolation situation with the clock running down, and then forced a long jumper (that he contested expertly) that missed badly. Overall, Blake showed why Phil was so high on him coming back tonight.

Overall though, it was the big men that truly get the round of applause when it comes to the defensive effort. Bynum was great at controlling the paint, contesting shots at every turn and fouling when he needed to prevent an easy basket. Gasol was also much better on D tonight, sliding his feet and sticking with ball handlers for longer stretches to allow the Laker guards to recover back without getting beat or giving up uncontested jumpers. When both bigs were in the game together they not only helped slow the Hornets P&R attack but also limited the Hornets’ bigs to 21 points on 22 shots, creating a big hole in their offense that was sorely needed. Just a great overall showing by LA’s trio of bigs tonight.

In the end, this game wasn’t pretty but it was a win. The physicality and low scoring nature of the game made it very difficult to watch in stretches but by coming out on top I can’t complain at all. And while there are still several things to improve going into Friday’s contest, I must say I’m encouraged that things will get better. I have faith that Gasol will start to turn his game around and I’m hopeful that the Lakers can continue to build on their success against Paul and the P&R. One win down, three more to go.

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.

From Andy Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: As frustrating as it was to watch Paul carve up the Lakers’ D, it’s expected to some degree. CP3 is a master at keeping games on a string and his dribble alive, then picking teams apart. The Lakers have proved capable of better work against Paul during the regular season — and despite popular belief, against the pick-and-roll all season — but over (now) 5-7 games, Paul will periodically own them. Having said that, if Paul doesn’t have the ball, his ability to wreak havoc drops considerably. Upon a rewind, it was evident how easily Paul typically got the ball back upon passing off. That must stop, and two possessions illustrated how much less effective the Hornets are with somebody else running the show. Up 14-12 in the first quarter, New Orleans took the ball out after Andrew Bynum’s made free throw and Derek Fisher picked up Paul with full-court pressure. Unable to inbound to the All-Star, Emeka Okafor was forced to go in Marco Belinelli’s direction. From there, Fisher did an outstanding job denying passes back to CP3, which left Belinelli and Trevor Ariza touching the ball. Ariza ended up at the line after a fouled missed dunk. I’ll take Ariza forced to slash and create — even with the two freebies — all day over Paul controlling the action.

From Dexter Fishmore, SB Nation: For an NBA fan, there’s little that’s more irksome than seeing your team drop Game One of a playoff series at home. Not only do you find yourself immediately behind the eight ball, but the gap between games means you have to spend multiple days digesting what went wrong before the Game Two palate cleanser is served. In the case of Laker fans, they’ve spent the 48-plus hours since the end of the champs’ 100 to 108 loss to the New Orleans Hornets pondering endless variations on the following themes:

From Joon Kim, Triangle Offense: Here the Hornets show some full court pressure.  The Lakers run a center opposite to counter.  Usually, the center stays opposite to set a rub screen for the weakside wing.  In this case the center, Andrew Bynum, has to be mindful that his weakside wing is new teammate Trey Johnson and it would be better for Bynum to go over instead of Johnson.  As Bynum’s teammates start yelling at him to go Kobe’s impatience gets the better of him and he launches a three.  Luckily the Lakers get an offensive rebound and end the possession with a score.

From Michael McNamara, Hornets 24/7: Yes, the Hornets played fantastic basketball for several stretches of the game, but there is much that they can improve on going into Game 2. As Chuck would say, they could “make their, make their, make their, make their free throws.” Forget free throws, maybe in this game Trevor Ariza could set a lofty goal of hitting 40% of his shots- and reach it! Does anybody really think that the Hornets best defensive player, Emeka Okafor, will only get 22 minutes again and/or grab just 2 rebounds? And how about we flip that around. Anybody expecting another 60 foot Artest heave to drop? The truth of the matter is that both teams are capable of playing better, and quite frankly, both teams are also capable of playing worse. The key to this game will come down to the adjustments that each coach makes going into this game and how well they are able to adjust as the game progresses.

From Scott Howard-Cooper, Hang Time: In both accurate assessment and understatement, Lamar Odom said the individual recognition, any individual recognition, has been long in coming. Correct. It has been a long time. As in forever. Until Tuesday, when the Lakers forward was announced as the landslide winner of Sixth Man of the Year, one of the league’s most versatile, unique unusual and most skilled players had never been singled out for official praise. Through all the important roles on very successful teams, Odom had never won an award or made an All-Star team. So the honor had special significance even for someone who has reached the ultimate heights of championships, the last two seasons with the Lakers and in summer 2010 with Team USA at the world championships. Odom did not take being named the top reserve for granted. If anything, he was deeply touched by the moment, choking up with emotion in his acceptance speech at a hotel ballroom in Los Angeles as he appeared to reference family members he has lost through the years, including an infant son.

From Janis Carr, OC Register: Lamar Odom choked back tears Tuesday as he stood at the podium in front of family members, several Lakers teammates and media. As he stared at the NBA Kia Sixth Man of the Year trophy, Odom suddenly was flooded with childhood memories, days of bringing home trophies that he would proudly show his late grandmother, Mildred Mercer. Odom’s mother, Cathy, died of colon cancer when he was 12 years old and Mercer took him in. His grandmother died in 2003. “Coming home on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon and bringing that trophy home to my grandmother … she would look forward to it. So this is one more trophy that I get to bring home,” said Odom, who received 515 of a possible 585 points, including 96 of a possible 117 first-place votes from media members. Odom became the first Lakers player to receive the Sixth Man of the Year award, beating out Dallas’ Jason Terry, who was a distant second with 244 points and 13 first-pace votes.

From Mike Bresnahan and Broderick Turner, LA Times: How now, Pau? These have been grueling days for Pau Gasol, sautéed in almost every possible media format, second-guessed for his surprisingly ineffective playoff opener against New Orleans and blamed for everything but the destruction of the Roman Empire. So what did he offer after several minutes of probing questions from reporters Tuesday? A pleasantry. “See you guys,” he said, smiling. “Have a nice day.” It was a typical reaction from one of the NBA’s kindest players, and it came after he publicly reassured many factions (himself, his teammates, Lakers fans) that he wouldn’t be a pushover Wednesday in Game 2 of the best-of-seven series.

Lastly, I joined ESPN.com’s 5-on-5 series with the likes of Royce Young, Andrew McNeill, Joe Gerrity, and Maurice Brooks. We talk Lakers/Hornets, plus the two other Western Conference playoff series that are being played tonight. You can check that out here.

In yesterday’s post, Darius touched on a few things that might help get Pau Gasol going on the offensive end of the floor. Today, we’re going to concern ourselves with the defensive end of the floor, and more specifically, the pick and roll. We knew coming into this series that Chris Paul was going to give the Lakers some issues, but no one expected his 33-point, 14 assist outburst. The Lakers aren’t going to be able to completely stop Chris Paul, but a few minor adjustments will definitely help slow him and the Hornets down.

First and foremost, the Lakers need to pay attention to detail. I mentioned this in our series preview “When the Hornets Have the Ball”. On the second video of that post, Pau Gasol started hedging on a screen before Chris Paul ever made a decision on which way he was going to go. Naturally, Paul went opposite of Pau and got in the lane for a layup. We can see the same things happening here. Check this photo.

001

What we see here is Carl Landry setting a screen on Derek Fisher’s left side, yet Pau Gasol is hedging on his right side. Not only did Pau make his decision to hedge too early, but he hedged on the least logical side. P&R offense 101 teaches us that, if possible, the ball handler takes the screen on the side that the screen is being set on. So even if Pau wants to show earlier than he should, he should at least be showing on the side with the greatest chance in disrupting the play. Furthermore, even if that is too hard to decide, the Lakers want to keep Chris Paul out of the middle of the lane, so he should have hedged on Fisher’s left regardless. Instead, he hedged on the right side and Paul was able to get all the way in the lane for a layup.

The following is a prime example of how the Lakers should defend Paul in the P&R. On this play I noticed a few things. First, as the screen is being set, Andrew Bynum doesn’t get sucked out of the lane and leave the middle open for Chris Paul to drive. I think just this minor detail alone will help the Lakers tremendously. Chris Paul is most dangerous when he drives to the middle of the lane, so of the big takes that away initially and moves his feet enough to contest a jumper on the wing or long enough for the guard to recover, it will take away a lot of the good looks Paul ether got himself or created for others. The second thing I noticed was that once Bynum realized that he was going to have to defend Paul, he committed to moving his feet instead of defending with his arms. Pau didn’t do this very well in game one and was not only beat off the dribble by Paul, but Carl Landry a few times as well. Your size or athletic ability has nothing to do with your ability to move your feet. Sure, Bynum isn’t anywhere near as fast as Paul (CP3 just blows right by him), but Paul isn’t nearly as tall or as long as any of the Lakers bigs. Bynum used his distinct advantage against Paul’s and was rewarded with a block. If he didn’t move his feet, it would have been a Paul layup, a Bynum foul, or both. Lastly, he contested without fouling. The Hornets made 17 free throws in the fourth quarter, with too many of them coming after And-1’s. If they’re going to make shots over the Lakers length, good for them, but no need to make the problem bigger by fouling.

Of everyone who suited up for the Lakers on Sunday, I was most impressed with Bynum on the defensive end. However, I had one issue with him. There were several occasions where ‘Drew would allow himself to get sealed down low as a guard drove the lane, preventing him from contesting layups. It began early with Omeka Okafor sealing off Bynum early in the game, and it continued with Aaron Gray once and even with DJ Mbenga on this play. Take a look at the picture below, Andrew Bynum is in great position to help if Chris Paul somehow gets into the lane. He’s sitting right in the middle of the paint, preventing any dribble penetration, and is in a great position to slide over and protect anyone coming from either of the wings.

002

However, look what happens after Mbenga rolls. He doesn’t go to the basket, but instead goes to Bynum and starts backing him down. Chris Paul comes in right behind Mbenga and tosses in a little floater for the easy deuce. At this point, ‘Drew needs to immediately recognize that Mbenga probably has the least threat to score on the floor for the Hornets, and fight for that position. The Lakers clear size advantage puts them in a position to where they can front in the post whenever they want without worrying about getting beat over the top. Instead, the Lakers, and Bynum specifically, repeatedly allowed the Hornets bigs to get in front of them and free up the rim for floaters and layups.

Another adjustment the Lakers absolutely need to make is getting into help side when two or more passes away. On this play, we see a rare P&R where one of the Hornets perimeter players comes over to set the screen for Kobe, meaning that there should be at least one big in the middle. However, there is no one in the middle and Paul is able to get all the way to the rim uncontested. Check out the photo below. Chris Paul has just made his move off of the screen toward the rim and look where everyone is located. Fish and Kobe were the ones guarding the ball and the screener on this play, meaning that Kobe was one pass away and did not necessarily need to be in help side. However, everyone else was supposed to have slid away from the guy they were guarding to help in case of penetration.

003

If there were a line drawn right down the middle of the key, that’s where Pau should have been standing, at the very least, before Paul even mad his move toward the basket. Instead Pau recognizes that Chris Paul is driving late and doesn’t start rotating until Paul is only one stride away from the basket. If Pau was in help side (or anyone else for that matter), the distance he would have had to travel to contest that layup would have been cut significantly, and he might have prevented Paul from driving all together.

One last thing that I noticed was that the Lakers guards didn’t always do the greatest job in fighting through screens. I’ve talked a lot about what the bigs need to do better to help guard Paul, but the guards need to essentially “help the bigs help them.” Here’s Darius with a few words on the matter:

So I went into Synergy and saw one trend that really stood out to me. Well two, actually.

First, nearly every successful P&R that the Hornets ran targeted Gasol as the hedge man. Sadly, Gasol’s feet looked like they were stuck in concrete. He had an awful time in the lay back and contest the mid range strategy and was even worse in his attempts to hedge and recover. He often got caught flatfooted and served as nothing more than one of those cut outs that guys dribble around in the “skills challenge”. What made things worse was how often the Laker guards got hung up on screens – either because they got completely picked off or decided to lay on the screener (4:29 in the 4th is a good example w/ Kobe on him) forcing switches because the guard could never recover.

I looked into the play that Darius was talking about and saw that, not only was Kobe picked off by that screen, but he did little to get through the screen. Chris Paul recognized that Kobe wasn’t coming and immediately took the step back over Gasol (who actually defended that play exactly the way you’d want him to, CP3 just made a fantastic shot). If guards aren’t going to fight through screens, than it will continually put the Lakers bigs in situations that aren’t favorable for the team.

Finally, Darius had two suggestions on how to defend the Hornets P&R sets:

First is giving Paul the Steve Nash treatment. Make him a scorer by going under screens and having the big man lay off to tempt the jumper. Have the big lay off at an angle where he can hopefully cut off the driving lane while also taking away the dive pass to the rolling big man. If Paul is scoring the hope is that he’s not handing out double digit assists. While this strategy has its limitations (Paul is so good with the ball, he’s very likely to just keep a live dribble to either force the switch or back the ball back out to run the P&R again to force the Lakers to defend for even longer), I think it could be worth a try.

The second tactic is to play the normal scheme of a soft hedge with the guard fighting over the top, but for the big man to take a shallower angle in order to take away the middle drive and force Paul to string out his dribble (or even better hesitate with a stationary dribble). With this strategy however, the Laker guards need to fight over the screen hard and not get knocked off their trail position as easily. This will allow them to recover back to Paul without hanging their big man out to dry. Obviously, any success with this tactic will depend on Gasol (and Bynum) proving capable of sliding with and at least momentarily containing Paul off the bounce to give everyone a chance to recover into their proper positioning.

The Lakers can take a little solace in knowing that, when they defended the Hornets the right way, they did a great job in Game 1. Brian Kamenetzky of Land O’ Lakers noted, “despite Sunday’s P’n’R carnage, the Lakers still found reason to be encouraged by their system itself, assuming it can be executed properly. By [Chuck] Person’s unofficial count (he didn’t have his numbers in front of him), the Lakers held the Hornets around 30 percent shooting on pick-and-roll sets defended properly.” Meaning, the Lakers know how to get it done, they just didn’t do a great job in executing their game plan. I expect a more sharp defensive effort tomorrow night, if not, Chris Paul could end up with another huge game.