Circling The Wagons

Darius Soriano —  May 5, 2011

The Lakers are in a hole.

Few envisioned this series unfolding the way that it has and it’s a credit to the Mavericks for turning the perceptions of their team – and thus their match up with the Lakers – upside down. Not that people didn’t recognize how great a player Dirk is nor the effectiveness of Tyson Chandler as an interior presence, but if you were to ask most observers who had the better “closer” or the “advantage inside” most would have said the Lakers. So far, that’s been wrong. Very wrong.

That said, those conceptions coming into this series existed for a reason. The Lakers do possess those aforementioned ingredients but have not been able to put them on display effectively in this series. Credit the Mavericks for playing as well as they have. At the same time, discredit the Lakers for playing as poorly as they have. There’s certainly a connection between these events but for the Lakers to fight their way back into this series, they need to start with what they can control; they need to start with themselves.

After last night’s game, Andrew Bynum mentioned that this team has trust issues. Stepping away from the psychiatrist’s couch and towards the grease board, it’s easy to see what he means. The Lakers aren’t helping each other on either end of the floor. Defensive rotations are late or non-existent. Players are often scrambling to find a man to guard only to find that another teammate has already moved into that position, or worse yet that the original man that should have gone somewhere else is still there.

Offensively, the ball goes into the post only for no one to cut or screen. The ball gets kicked out to the perimeter only to have that player either not shoot on time (thus eliminating the effectiveness of a good kick out) or shoot too quickly rather than looking back the big man for a re-post. On the wing, the ball is entered but with little urgency to follow the plan and hit the next option. The lack of execution is obvious, especially when compared to what the other team is providing and the fact we’ve seen better for so long this season from the team we root for.

Everything described falls into that category of lack of trust; that lack of chemistry that, for a championship contender with a long together nucleus, is kind of jarring to observe.

But, here they are. Forget dissention in the locker room and move your focus to dysfunction on the court. The Lakers need to play better (obvious statement alert), and I truthfully believe that they can. You see, when observing the Lakers play what’s frustrating isn’t the lack of effort, it’s the misapplied effort into doing things incorrectly.

When Lamar Odom doesn’t hedge correctly, that’s a tactical mistake. When the secondary help doesn’t come on penetration, that’s a tactical mistake. When Derek Fisher fights over a screen at 30 feet, that’s a tactical mistake. I could go on and on, but you likely get the picture by now. Dallas is beating the Lakers by playing excellent basketball. The Lakers, too, are beating themselves by not doing the things they know to work and instead getting frazzled in witnessing that what the Mavs are doing is.

Understand that there is no easy solution. There is no magic formula to make Dirk’s jumper less accurate or to make the Mavs frontline less imposing.

There is only what the Lakers can control: their effort, their execution, their adherence to the details that are put before them by the coaches. I’m a big believer that this series is not over. The Lakers are not any less talented, smart, or dedicated a team than they were when they terrorized the league after the All-Star break. What they need to do is get back to the basics of running their sets and start to impose their will on the Mavs rather than constantly reacting to the premise that they set on each possession.

A win is all that’s needed to take that step forward towards regaining a footing in this series. As everyone begins to count them out, there’s no better time to rally together and take that step forward together. Personally, I think the Lakers have it in them.

Tomorrow: Some X’s and O’s that the Lakers can implement to get that win.

Darius Soriano

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50 responses to Circling The Wagons

  1. One possession in game 2 stood out to me, and I state beforehand that I’m not trying to bash Kobe here.

    If I remember it correctly, it was with something like 6 or 7 minutes left in the game. Kobe finally found a lane to the basket, leaving his man behind. Chandler rotated not to draw a charge but to challenge the shot. Kobe picked up his dribble maybe one bounce to early but he still had two steps to create contact, shoot a floater, or try to finish around Chandler. Kobe went into his steps and decided mid-air to throw the ball back to some teammate he couldn’t see in mid-air and turned it over.

    For me, this was the game in a nutshell. Not to put the loss on Kobe, but at least in this game the Mavs definitely got to the Lakers and made them doubt themselves.

    That’s why it will be interesting to see how they react in game 3. Maybe Fisher can gather the troops with one of his patented speeches. But if Artest really will be suspended, we need a great Odom plus at least two of Blake/Barnes/Brown to play well and can’t have any of the regulars get in foul trouble. That’s a lot of things that have to go right, but I still have hope they can turn this around.

  2. nba suspended artest for game 3.

  3. We’d better do something about pesky little J.J. Barea as well.

    http://tinyurl.com/66bya8g

  4. Darius,

    I see this as perhaps the biggest challenge for Phil Jackson. He has an amazing array of talent on his team and has just a couple of days to help them rediscover their ability and their belief in themselves, as individuals, but especially as a cohesive unit.

    If anyone can do it, he’s the one. As a basketball fan, I can’t wait to see what he can do here. As a Lakers’ fan, I just hope he, and they, can find themselves in time.

  5. Why were the guards fighting over those screens so far from the hoo? Fish-15 years in and that was very ignorant approach

  6. Crunch time lineup should be Fish-Kobe-Odom-Gasol-Bynum. If we’re talking about 6 minutes left in the game, there’s no reason that Phil needs to worry about minutes played at this point. Change it up PLEASE! Why do we have one of our 3 really good bigs always sitting at the end of the game? Odom is a 3 at heart. He can play on the perimeter and our rebounding will be improved.

    Still haven’t given up on this team. I’m clinging to the idea that we can win any single game. The psychological impact of knowing you have to win 2 straight road games is daunting for the players though.

    Is it strange that I’m more excited now than at any point so far in the playoffs? I kind of like the pressure on us now.

  7. I don’t understand why fans can’t criticize Phil Jackson. Yes, he’s won a lot of rings. But he also had a ton of talents. Has he always succeeded? What about the 2004 Lakers? How about the 2007 Lakers squandering 3-1 lead to Phoenix?

    Game 1 was clearly Phil Jackson’s fault for playing the scrubs too many minutes in the fourth and that whole mess of Gasol on Dirk on the second to last possession.

  8. Mike Penberthy May 5, 2011 at 2:33 pm

    Easy. 2004 team Kobe, Shaq at his fattest point ever and a bunch of old junk. As for the 2007 team, well, the fact that a team with Smush Parker and Luke Walton in its starting lineup was able to be 3-1 up in the first place shows what a great coach Phil is.

  9. #7 I agree with you on your last point. I’m sick of sticking with the bench too long. Yes, we have old players. But if you don’t play those guys enough minutes and lose, what’s the point of resting them so much. They’ll get enough rest during the lockout, because that will, at best case scenario, give all players half a season off.

    #6 agree wholeheartedly

  10. Even with Ron Artest out for a game, our Lakers are more talented, bigger and stronger at 4 of the 5 positions.

    We’re losing this series because of huge difference in teamwork between the teams.

    Also, going 0/20 for 3-pointers for the majority of the game when we have THREE 7-footers isn’t helping a damn thing.

    I would fine anyone who misses a 3 pointer $10k. That’ll make them think twice about hoisting one up from the arc with 14 seconds left on the clock and all of our big men down low.

    Well, maybe not Steve Blake.

  11. Season. Is. Over. Time for Dodgers’ baseball. Oh $%#@#@… their season might as well be over too. So…. what now?

  12. I’m not an X’s-and-O’s guy, but I do know this.

    Down 0-2 going into enemy territory in a playoff series, there is no other team I’d rather have than the Lakers.

    I still believe.

  13. @6.

    Nobody has been good defending Dirk, but I think Odom has done the best job and should get that assignment during crunch time. If you have all three laker bigs on the floor, Gasol has to defend Dirk or you have an even bigger mismatch at the 3.

  14. What’s this rumor about gasols girlfriend breaking up with him? Is that why he’s been struggling all playoffs?

  15. something is definitely up with Gasol. He went from having an argument for Finals MVP last year to quite simply our worst performing starter this post season. Regardless, I hated hearing the crowd boo Pau, even though I was booing him at home. It certainly wasn’t helping anything.

    I think Phil had a good quote before the game saying that the team isn’t approaching the game “in a lighthearted manner”. You can see the squad get more and more tense as they see the season and the dynasty slipping away.

  16. Lakers will win this series in 7. Believe me.

  17. So much ignorance coming from Laker fans. Dismissing this as the Lakers’ own undoing is half the story – the other team is actually very good too. This is a legitimate Dallas squad that is playing with cohesion and a purpose.

    Having said that, this is the best time to be a Laker fan this season imo. I haven’t been this excited about games since games 6 and 7 of last year’s Finals. We are the underdogs for the first time all season. The territory is unfamiliar, but I think this makes being a fan that much more exciting.

  18. All we have is FAITH! And as a fan I do believe in this team and I hope they themselves start believing in themselves too. In our lineup we have KOBE,PAU,LAMAR,RON,&ANDREW this guys have career averages of double figure in points but it seems they are doubting themselves that they can score against this Mavs team. If they can channel in to their inner self and rediscover that hunger and flame we have an excellent chance to march to the finals.

  19. Scores of Phil Jackson’s teams’ elimination game losses:

    1990 DET 93, CHI 74
    2003 SA 110, LAKERS 82
    2004 DET 100, LAKERS 87
    2006 PHX 121, LAKERS 90
    2007 PHX 119, LAKERS 110
    2008 BOS 131, LAKERS 92

    Not counting the non-Jordan or Bulls’ teams.

    So, I think if the Lakers lose Game 3, history tells us that they will get swept out with an ugly loss on Sunday. Phil’s style may not be right for this situation; we will see.

    I think we will know about 8 minutes in tomorrow night whether the Lakers are going to mount a challenge or if it all ends on Sunday.

  20. I’m not counting them out, but I think that perhaps they’re just old and tired. 4 of their starters are over the age of 30, and Lamar Odom is 31. And I think they’ve lost some of their edge, and perhaps they’re not as hungry as they were the last 2 and a half seasons since Pau came. And speaking of Pau, I do believe there is a strong correlation between his sub-standard play and are difficulty in these playoffs. 13.6 ppg, 7.8 rebs, .427 FG%. These are all well below his season avg’s. This is crap. He knows it, the Lakers know it, and we all know it. He’s our 1st mate to Kobe’s captain in the statistical production category, and he aint cutting it. I don’t know what’s going on in his mind,and I’ve enjoyed every minute of his play and passion since he joined our squad. But I truly he hope he snaps out of it. I think he needs a big game on Friday for his confidence and we need a big game for him to win.

  21. I’m amazed the Lakers just KEEP getting burnt by pick & roll. It’s like they’ve never seen a P&R?? What are the Lakers coaching staff doing? Do they never practice defense on P&R?

  22. Well, now we will see what this team is made of.

  23. Great news? No Artest tomorrow! No more ball stopping on offensive. No more air-balls! No more fumbling, bumbling drives that end up with a blocked shot or Turn over.! Yea! Lakers Win!

    Bad new! Phil can’t make adjustments. That means Ron Ron back in starting lineup for game 4 loss.

    Artest is the missing spoke in this wheel all year and his low class thug move at the end ofvthe game is more reason to dump this guy.

  24. Funky Chicken May 5, 2011 at 9:42 pm

    It’s a bit ironic that the greatest coach in NBA history is facing the prospect of an embarrassing 2nd round exit because of how poorly coached his team is….

  25. Q,

    I was saying that last year when Phoenix was burning us in the pick and roll. It’s like…sometimes this team gets it, and other times this team defends the pick and roll like it’s some mastermind offense that has never been seen before. With the way they defend it in games, there’s no way that they practice how to defend it in practice. They look completely and utterly lost.

  26. In a LA Times article, Fish implies the Lakers will look quite different next year if they keep sliding this year. That seems like a fair assessment.

  27. I thought one of the best stretches last night was the 3-guard set with Kobe at the wing (w/Blake, Fish, Pau & Bynum). It’ll be interesting to see if they run it more with Artest out.

  28. From the immediately prior thread:

    “One possession in game 2 stood out to me, and I state beforehand that I’m not trying to bash Kobe here.”

    I already mentioned in one of my own posts, Pau’s “re-post” two steps farther out than we he took the first pass. Consider as well the play on defense where he literally walked over to “defend” Dirk. To borrow from Phil: There were some things that obviously didn’t look good for Pau tonight. Re the walk over to Dirk, if not for the moderation scheme, my comment would have been, Get Pau the F off the court, as he’s surrendered. Had actually typed that, then remembered the five minute delay for moderation and so decided not to hit submit comment. I lost a lot of respect for Pau in that one singular moment. You can suck. You can never ever quit. And someone needs to tell the child among men that he also has no right to quit just because he perceives that some others have done so. That isn’t “trust issue”, it’s him being a child in a man’s body. So man the F up Andrew.

    The relevant numbers otherwise are:

    Pau
    09-10
    MPG – 39:42
    FG% – 53.9 (was 58% in 08-09)
    RPG – 11.08

    10-11
    MPG – 35:30
    FG% – 42.70
    RPG – 7.75

    By the way, despite the claim that he had to play more early on owing to Bynum being MIA, he ended up with the same 37 mpg that he averaged the prior 2 seasons. Next:

    Kobe
    09-10
    MPG – 40:06
    FG% – 45.8 (was 45.7% in 08-09)
    RPG – 6
    APG – 5.478

    10-11
    MPG – 34:53
    FG% – 44.7
    RPG – 3.375
    APG – 3.25

    Kobe’s RPG/APG wouldn’t match or parallel even if Phil gave him the extra 5 minutes of burn that he isn’t getting this playoffs, but he’s a whole lot closer to last year than Pau. Pau has simply fallen off the cliff.

    And he wasn’t being booed for suckitude, but owing to perceived lack of effort. If I were there and had been close enough, I might have hurled my drink cup at him after he walked over to “defend” Dirk. I certainly would have given him an earful.

    And those here, to borrow from the one soul, can spare me notion of Pau’s “tricky hamstring”. Kobe’s playing with a not well ankle, fingers of a person 40 years older than he is, and knees with the bones almost rubbing together. So he can make a bad pass, at least he’s trying (and sometimes he doesn’t remember that his ankle, his fingers, and his knees aren’t what they used to be). And, again, he’s a whole lot closer to his last year’s self than Mr. I’m Going To “Re-Post” Two Steps Farther Out Than When I Received The Initial Entry Pass And I’m Going To Walk On Over And “Defend” Dirk.

    Lastly, and by the way, how do I know that it’s all in his head? You’ve seen him throw up that running hook shot, yes? Where in the F is that? Grab the damn ball and immediately move towards the middle of the lane and throw up that hook. That’s his answer to their physicality (just ask Kareem, who was more tall than he was bulky). But he’s not thinking of how to beat contact, but how to avoid it by taking two steps away from the basket, and then he can face up, without the contact. Except that isn’t working so well, as Dirk, Marion, Chandler and Haywood aren’t quite so slow and plodding as some other bigs in the league.

    For an almost forgot, since I agree, I will echo the same:

    Well, now we will see what this team is made of.

    Or in my terms, Pau, the hour of redemption is at hand. Carpe diem.

    Sorry, yet one more:

    “I’m amazed the Lakers just KEEP getting burnt by pick & roll. It’s like they’ve never seen a P&R?? What are the Lakers coaching staff doing? Do they never practice defense on P&R?”

    You don’t really want to know the answer to that one. Phil not so long ago said that since the Triangle doesn’t rely on the pick and roll, some really don’t get to see it in practice since it isn’t run in practice. Phil went on to explain that such explains why the team’s defense of the pick and roll usually gets better over the series (as the initial games serve as a form of practice). When I heard that, my thought was, can’t you folks hire some of those uncoachable studs that are the stuff of legend off the streets of LA and see if they can run the pick and roll for you? Since they’re uncoachable studs, they too might not be able to defend the pick and roll, but I’m fairly certain that they could run the thing.

  29. Via Dean Oliver at ESPN:

    When the Lakers have had a net height advantage of one player, they’re outscoring Dallas, 92-80. If the Lakers have no net height advantage, they’ve getting outscored 109-83. The Lakers cannot stop the Mavericks or score on them with no net height advantage.

    ___

    Maybe this IS the time to try Odom/Gasol/Bynum all playing together.

  30. Who needs advanced statistics when you have net height advantage

  31. “Maybe this IS the time to try Odom/Gasol/Bynum all playing together.”

    I don’t know whether I buy into the purported implications of Mr. Oliver’s math, but there is this report from the LAT [Bresnahan]:

    “The Lakers practiced Thursday with Lamar Odom in Artest’s place on the starting unit.”

    Though another piece [Medina] said that while Lamar was “preparing for a possibility that he’ll start”, Phil said wait until Friday to see.

  32. @Darius: Here is exactly what I’ve been saying:

    http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2011/writers/sam_amick/05/05/lakers.mavericks/index.html?sct=nba_t11_a0

    Sam Amick from SI.com noticed the exact same thing I mentioned to you in a previous comment. Let me know what you think.

  33. Everclear
    After reading that article, it does make me think there is something weird going on. Normally Phil stubbornly makes his routine 4th quarter substitution near the 9 min mark, but he did not do that in game 1. Kobe normally has his poker face during playoffs and short answers for the media, but this year it’s different.

  34. Interesting article, in that you said that its obvious that the Lakers don’t trust each other on either end of the floor.

    Has this not been a problem this entire season? Yes, exemplified by the up and down play of the team.

    PJ will have to prove that he still has that fire in his belly to win. Thus far, it is non-existant.

    PJ and the Lakers need to reincarnate whatever they did or said to each other after the all-star break when they went on that awesome run.

    PJ must summon all of his years of playing and coaching to win the next two games. Or, they will embody the NBA’s playoff mantra, “Win or go home!”

    PJ needs to abandon his normal substitution pattern and game schema to make ‘real time’ changes based upon the dynamics of the game.

    Here’s to the Lakers channeling the best out of each other in order to make history!

    Lakers in 7! We thought that the start of playoffs would wake the Lakers up; we thought that NO would wake the Lakers up, neither did.

    When the Lakers look back at this series through champagne filled eyes, they will view this series as the one that propelled them to the championship!

  35. Does anybody else think that Bynum’s talk about trust issues was referring to Phil and Kobe? Old school frat boy hazing doesn’t work on the new generation. It may have worked in Jordan’s time, but it doesn’t work now.

  36. DirtySanchez May 6, 2011 at 5:29 am

    Even keeled Kobe is a change of pace from the norm, but I must say he is living in the moment for whats at hand. Does the clench jaw, gunslinger eyes have an impact on his teammates performance on the court, I think not. Can LA win two games on the road against a team that has just done the little things a tad bit better, yes. For some reason this series does not feel over to me, its as if LA is making us fans suffer on purpose so that we can live in the moment as well.

  37. Dirk is gonna get his no matter what. Even if he scores 45 thats okay. Its everything else this blog talks about. The Mavs are punching us in the mouth. They are getting wherever they want on the floor. The Lakers are reacting to everything. Dallas is damn good, but they are not dominating us, we are just giving in and putting effort in the wrong places and simply not playing smart and doing the things that make the Lakers great. We will see a different Laker team, it will be one of their finest moments.

  38. Well, the biggest game so far of this season is tonight. Kobe and Phil say they made adjustments. I say let Dirk do his thing, if he takes 25 shots, so be it. But do not let anyone else get the ball.

    I hope the team lets Bynum back up his “trust issue” comments tonight. Like Bosh when he complained about not receiving the rock in the post, let’s see if Bynum can deliver (I think he can).

  39. I want Dwight Howard in a Lakers’ uniform, continuing the legacy of great big men coming to the Lake Show in their prime.

  40. @25 It makes sense that Fish would say there will be big changes if the Lakers do indeed flame out in the 2nd round. But I just don’t see it. I know that PJ will in all likelihood be gone but the Lakers have ZERO flexibility due to their cap situation.
    Their cap situation will only get worse under the new CBA.
    The only tradeable assets that the Lakers possess are Bynum (obviously not happening unless a Carmelo type deal surfaces and even then maybe not) and maybe Pau (but after this season I do not think anyone will want to pay him $19 mil for 3 more years).
    If the Lakers are going to be contenders anytime in the near future it is going to have to be due to a change in offensive/defensive philosophy.

  41. How about we lay off wondering who the next Laker will be and concern ourselves with the guys that will be in uniform tonight? There will be plenty of time to contemplate off-season moves *in the off-season*.

  42. To me “Trust Issue-gate” doesn’t explain what is going on with Pau Gasol. But that is another story. Really I don’t think Bynum was trying to be all “deep” like they were talking about in the article. It’s pretty simple. Pass dude the ball on the block. He needs a lot more than eight shots. Pau Gasol seems to have checked out. By default Bynum becomes the new second option. Kobe needs to stop thinking this is 2006 and that his shooting alone can get it done. Phil needs to have Bynum finishing every game. The other part is to talk on defense.

    But I don’t buy those lines from Kobe and Phil. At least Bynum is honest enough to comment on what we all see. Something is truly wrong. At this point Kobe and Phil are reading from a script and none of us fans believe their happy, zen-like language. In that article Kobe acted like taking two games from Dallas (in Dallas) was nothing. Well, they couldn’t do these last two games. Maybe they can do it these next two. We’ll see starting tonight.

  43. Darius,

    how much are the lakers kicking themselves over the game one meltdown… I mean in retrospect that is just horrrribleee. all the breakdowns at the end as well. I don’t get it. something is definately going on in Laker Land and its not healthy. With that being said how epic would it be if they won the next four games. I think if any team can do it it is this team. I also can’t stand how everyone is riding the Dirk train right now….We lost game one we gave that away it was nothing that Dirk Nowitzki did himself. We should have blatantly won that first game and no one would be talking about any of this. I really cannot say dallas played such good defense they forced our turn overs and dirk made such a good move Pau had to foul him, or Phil didn’t put the first unit back in as our 16 pt lead dwindled because the Mavs were playing out of their minds. It’s all just been a painful slow, brutal meltdown. BUT it certainly has nothing to do with the Mavs the Lakers could have easily won both games. It was a 6 pt game with 8 mins or something to go at one point and we missed like 4 straigth 3s. 2 wide open by Blake. We just aren’t competing and its disappointing to watch with everything riding on it the legacies…everything. It’s sad to see.

  44. The Lakers can’t fool their fans, this has been coming on for a long time – Houston two years ago, OKC last year, etc.,

  45. I heard on Colin Cowherd’s show this morning that Gasol was dumped by his fiance two weeks ago and blames a teammate for the breakup.

    Could this be the “trust issue” Bynum was referring to, or at very least the reason Gasol has been slumping?

  46. @45,
    I’m pretty sure any guy would be a bit unfocused after being dumped by his fiancee… who really could have timed this better. What was she thinking!?!?

  47. Mimsy – Mark Cuban probably planted her years ago. The man is crafty.

  48. @Snoopy
    Of course! That makes perfect sense. :)

  49. I have a Mavs fan over for beers tonight so I can’t wait to see the purple and gold kick some ass.

  50. Come on, guys. Let’s not turn FB&G into gossip central. My focus is not on what is happening behind the scenes. I don’t care about the players’ personal relationships. I am looking at what is happening on the floor. Even if Gasol is having relationship issues that doesn’t explain Kobe refusing to drive to the rim. It doesn’t explain the guards not being able to buy a three pointer in the last game. It doesn’t explain the refusal to pound the ball into the post.

    These guys are big time athletes. I am sure there is plenty of female related drama that we fans never hear about. I have to believe they can put aside off court distractions and play good basketball. I hope I’m not wrong.