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.