It’s better if this is no longer thought of as a 7 game series. In the big picture, I know that a series comeback is on all of our minds but this series is now a one game affair. A Laker loss tonight puts them down 3-0 and unless you want to cite hockey or baseball statistics, puts the Lakers in a position where no team has come back from. Tonight, more than any other night (outside of an elimination game) is a must win.
And while playing hard and with poise will be a big part in winning this game, there were too many tactical errors in game 2 to think that adjustments can’t be made to put the Lakers in a better position to win. That starts with who will start for the suspended Ron Artest at SF. While early reports pointed to the Lakers throwing Shannon Brown into a small lineup, the word is actually that the Lakers will go big and start Lamar Odom at SF. In an email exchange, Reed gave his endorsement of this decision:
I would play try Odom at SF for stretches. Although that specific 5-man lineup hasn’t been on the court together, they are all very familiar playing together. Odom is certainly best utilized as a PF — we’ve confirmed that through prior failed experiments — but I still feel he’s our best option at SF given the other options. Dusting Walton off would reek of desperation. Barnes is simply not playing well. Odom is better at every aspect of the game, even 3PT shooting (despite the common perception). Odom is also smart enough to adapt his role to the needs of the lineup. Basically, I think there’s such a massive talent drop off from Odom to Barnes (or Walton) that I’d much prefer to put him on the court and trust him to make it work.
I think the plan should be to put your best players on the court together to the degree you avoid really bad matchups or skill deficiencies. Odom can defend any Dallas SF, and his help defense with Dirk would be helpful. If we had a traditional SF that could stretch the court on offense, I’d be worried about losing that, but we don’t.
Meanwhile, over at Pro Basketball Talk, Kurt gives some insight into how this might play out on the court:
It gives the Lakers options in dealing with Dirk Nowitzki, who has been the best player in this series. Odom has had more success as a defender on him than Gasol. On offense, this moves Kobe to more of a wing attack position, where bringing help defenders could be harder. Kobe has gotten just one shot at the rim in two games, this could give him more room to attack (if his ankle can support it). It also pretty much forces Dallas to guard Kobe with Kidd.
Not everything comes up roses should this be carried out, however. As Phillip notes, moving towards this line up definitely disrupts Phil’s normal rotations:
Who stays on the floor for the extra minutes when others get that 1st breather? This could cause some serious rotation problems and lead to fatigue during the waning minutes of the game — minutes that the Lakers haven’t played particularly well in the last month. I do believe that the Lakers have to be in that “nothing held back” mentality, but I fear this could backfire if bigs don’t get normal rest times. Pau has looked dreadful at the end of games, not just his play, but he looks downright gassed and he seems like the most likely candidate to get those extra minutes. Hopefully I’m completely wrong about all of this, but I do think this is one of the main reasons Phil hasn’t gone to this lineup more often.
Personally, I see both positives and negatives to this approach. As Phillip states, this does throw off the rotations and it leaves the Lakers thin in back up big men. Also, this is a line up that Phil’s mostlyavoided for as long as it’s been an option and I feel like there’s some desperation/no where else to turn feel to this type of move.
That said, there are benefits to the move that the Lakers can exploit. As Kurt mentioned, this would allow Odom to guard Dirk for longer stretches. This behind Odom there would be two big men protecting the paint and that lends itself to better help on penetration as well as the ability to throw strong side zone looks at the Mavs should Dirk isolate on the wing. Offensively, Kobe not only moves to the wing but Odom plays up high with multiple post options to play off of with dive cuts and slashes into the gaps of the defense. Odom offers the best finishing option in these situations and his ability to get into the creases of the defense when Pau or Bynum post up offer potential benefits in big to big passing and better offensive rebounding.
Beyond the line up changes though, there are other tactical changes that need to be made tonight. Defensively, the Lakers need to do a better job of containing the Mavs pick and roll attack. In the last game J.J. Barrea carved up the Laker D, getting baskets for himself and his teammates. As you see in the video below, the Lakers coverage the P&R when Barrea handled the ball was dreadful:
In order to better contain this action I hope to see the Lakers go under the screen more often. Whether it’s Barrea or Kidd running this action, the Lakers want them shooting long jumpers, not getting into the pait to finish at the rim or collapse the D and hit open cutters/shooters. Even when defending Terry, I believe going under the screen is an option, if only to show him a different look than he’s been shown so far this series. Going under the screen also limits the hedge/recover action of the man defending Dirk. If the Laker bigs can better stick to Dirk while having guards recover to the ball handler, this will allow the ball to stay in front of the defense while also limiting Dirks ability to get wide open looks.
Offensively, the Lakers need to go continue to go into the paint even if the results aren’t pretty early on. Standard post ups for Gasol and Bynum (and Odom, if he’s starting) will put pressure on the interior of the Mavs defense to control the paint without fouling. Chandler is known for reaching in when beat but the Lakers did little to force his reactions beyond a handful of plays in the first half. Let Bynum go to work on Chandler early to see if he can get him into foul trouble and then when Haywood comes into the game, do the same thing. Dallas’ big men have held up well so far this series, but make them continue to prove that this is the norm and not the exception.
The Lakers also need to move the ball from side to side in order to get better post up chances. Too often the ball is getting stuck on one side of the floor and it’s allowing the Mavs D to set up shop ball side and make finishing difficult. What the Lakers need more of is quick post ups off ball reversals where the big men duck in to seal their man and get the ball in prime position to score. The clip below shows a perfect example of how the Lakers were able to accomplish this the last game:
As you can see, Pau started on the wing and then ran the standard cuts to the weak side. Once the ball was kicked back out and swung to the other side of the floor, he ducked in against Dirk, sealed him, and got the short jumper to fall. This should be a staple of the Lakers’ sets tonight to get Gasol and Bynum going.
Most of these things are simple to accomplish, but with the weight of a must win on their shoulders the Lakers will need everyone to be focused and prepared to perform tonight. That’s the beauty of a game like tonight’s, it really will be a team effort and if everyone brings their best effort and execution, there’s no reason to think the Lakers won’t win this game. The only thing left to do is to go on the court and accomplish it.