If we’re being honest with ourselves, game 4 is pretty scary. The Lakers are looking at being swept out of the playoffs in a series that they were unanimously predicted to advance past. Entering the playoffs they were one of a handful of teams that were thought to be legitimate contenders and were the betting favorites to win the championship. And now they’re 48 minutes from their season ending in the 2nd round.
However, forget all that for a minute and focus on what it actually takes to win this single game. We know that the Lakers have a gameplan that is capable of being successful. 4th quarter leads down the stretch of games 1 & 3 are evidence of that.
Offensively, the ball must go inside. Andrew Bynum has been tremendous in the last two games and his ability to get deep post position has led to easy baskets and offensive rebounds. The Lakers must utilize him when he’s open and actively seek him out when the play is developing for him to be featured.
But simply dumping the ball to Big ‘Drew won’t be enough. The offense must be run and it must executed with precision. Much of this will fall on the perimeter players with Kobe playing a central role in getting his mates lined up to be effective. Number 24 will need to strike that balance between facilitator, encourager, and finisher. Game three offered a beautiful template for Kobe to work off of and if he gives a repeat performance, I’ll be happy.
Derek Fisher and Ron Artest will be wildcards of sorts, with shot making and overall decision making being key. Fisher made two errors down the stretch of game 3 – one on each side of the ball – that he’ll surely be looking to rectify with a strong performance this game. Some made three pointers, sound post passes, and hard screens will go a long way in this one. As for Ron, he’s been stewing for a few days champing at the bit waiting to contribute. His game 2 performance was substandard and in game three his defense was surely missed – especially down the stretch. A made corner three or two, a couple of steals, and steady rebounding are acts that he’s more than capable of providing. They’d be welcomed additions to this game.
And then there’s Gasol. At this point, the less said about how he’s performed the better. We know his play can improve. He knows it too. Game 4 may be the last time he gets to perform for this team this year. The Lakers should not abandon him but should embrace him. For all his faulty play so far, there have been glimpses of what he can provide. A strong post up here. A blocked shot there. A nice jumper followed by a strong drive. He’s capable; I’d love to see it coaxed out of him in this one. Go to him early and give him his chances to score. Involve him in P&R’s where he can either dive or pop out to his preference. If the Lakers are to win, he’ll be a key component, we should find out early if he’s up to the task.
Defensively, the Lakers must simply solve the riddle of hot shooters. That’s a tough code to crack but it’s still possible. The key to the Mavs attack has been great P&R play and deceptive off ball screen actions that loosen up their shooters. The Lakers must trust (yes, trust) the fact that a mate will be there to cover for them should they rotate or not rotate based off their scheme. Strategically, going under screens on Kidd and Barrea is a must. Make them shoot the ball from range behind screens or move the ball on against a defense that is set, not one that’s scrambling. Staying attached to Dirk as he floats around the perimeter and craftily uses screens to try and free himself is also very important. The Mavs are his team and they go as he goes. Somewhat containing him would go a long way in achieving the goal of getting a win.
The other key to this game is clearly that of the reserves. With Ron back in the fold, Odom will resume his role as floor general for the second string. His leadership will be key in helping ensure that those guys stay on task and are into the flow of the game. Quietly, Shannon Brown has had two solid shooting games in a row and getting a third would be helpful. As would a couple of Blake three pointers and Matt Barnes running the lane and grabbing a couple of offensive rebounds. But where they’ll really be needed is on the defensive end, matching up with Terry, Barrea, and Peja. All three of those Mavs have made their imprint on separate games this series and slowing them down by contesting their jumpers and keeping them out of their comfort zones is key.
Most importantly though, is to go hard and do it intelligently the entire game. The Mavs have been as opportunistic as possible in these first three contests, stealing two games late. Anytime the Lakers have given them an inch, they took it and added another for good measure. Mind you, the key isn’t for the Lakers to play perfect, but for them to limit the errors and especially limit them in the key moments of the game. In the closing minutes, the Lakers must be ready to consistently execute and do the things that have gotten them to the top of the mountain the past two seasons. I’d love to see Kobe work off the ball a bit more in order to run defenders off screens while others create for him. I’d also like to see some semblance of the Triangle with screens and ball movement being incorporated into the action.
Game 4 is a cross roads for this Laker team. One direction leads to game 5 with a bit of momentum on their side and a home crowd ready to help them get to game 6. The other direction leads to an early off-season marred with speculation, celebrating naysayers, the potential that game 4 would have been the last game that this group got to play together. I don’t know about you, but the former sounds a lot better to me. Let’s get this win.