Archives For May 2011

From Andy Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: Not much in the way of nuance, gray area or degrees. Plain and simple, this was an inexcusable performance by the two-time defending champions. An actual game breakdown strikes me as an exercise in pointlessness. The game was far too lopsided in Dallas’ favor. A critical mind isn’t needed to explain why the continuation of terrible accuracy from behind the arc (this time, 5-for-24) handcuffed the Lakers. Or the damage created by allowing Dallas enough uncontested looks to connect at a mind-boggling rate of 62.5 percent (20 3’s in all, nine of which belonged to Jason Terry in a record-tying playoff performance).

From Sebastian Pruiti, NBA Playbook: In game four against the Los Angeles Lakers, the Dallas Mavericks were able to tie a NBA playoff record by hitting 20 three point shots (20-32/62.5% shooting), using these threes to complete their sweep of the Lakers.  When looking at Dallas’ three point shots, the common thread is Dirk Nowitzki.  Nowitzki was on the court for 15 of the Mavericks 20 three point shots, and in my opinion, Nowitzki was responsible for 12 of the makes.  In addition to making the three or getting the assist, the attention that Nowitzki drew forced the defense into tough rotations, resulting in wide open looks behind the three point line:

From Dexter Fishmore, Silver Screen and Roll: Today will be remembered as a low point in Lakers history. It’s not that they failed to win another championship this year. Three-peating is a brutally challenging feat, and the back-to-back titles the Lakers captured in 2009 and 2010 were an experience fans of most teams will never get to enjoy. It really has been an amazing run, and it had to end sometime. But it didn’t have to end like this: with a second-round sweep capped off by a 36-point hammering in the final game coached by Phil Jackson. We were worried about this possibility from the moment the Lakers lost Game Two. We’ve talked about how when the Lakers fall apart in the playoffs, they fall apart with a vengeance. Just as they did in Game Six in Boston three years ago, today they got down early, decided they just didn’t have the answers and let their opponents name the score.

From Scott Howard-Cooper, Phil Jackson lowered himself into the cushioned metal folding chair on the slightly raised stage at the front of the room. “OK,” he said with a slight exhale. OK, indeed. The hellish game was over, the crushing series was over, the underachieving season was over and, likely, the Hall of Fame coaching career was over. Assessment time. “It feels really good to be ending the season, to be honest with you,” Jackson said. Whoa. The greatest coaching winner in NBA postseason history showing no sadness at the Lakers being trounced by the Mavericks in a 4-0 sweep completed Sunday at American Airlines Center?

From Kurt Helin, Pro Basketball Talk: I grew up in Los Angeles idolizing Magic Johnson. My admiration for the man has grown since he left the game — what he has done as a businessman, and as a spokesman about HIV, has been as impressive as what he did on the court. He’s always seemed both flawed and genuine. He is a genuine hero of mine. So it pains me to say this — Magic Johnson is totally wrong. This is not the time to blow up the Lakers. Here is what he said after the game on ESPN (via the Los Angeles Times).

From Sam Amick, Sports Illustrated: At least the book on Phil Jackson’s final season finally has a title now: The Unflattering Farewell. One of the greatest coaches the NBA has ever seen deserved better than this, and that was the case long before his two-time defending champion Lakers made a mockery of the family name in their embarrassing, enigmatic and era-ending 122-86 loss to the Mavericks in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals on Sunday. Jackson — he of the 11 championships and once-in-a-lifetime partnerships with Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and even Shaquille O’Neal — had gone in and out of 28 arenas this season without a formal goodbye from the counterparts he so routinely beat. Chicago was the only exception, of course, and those closest to Jackson were left wondering whether this was just an oversight or perhaps a product of the jealousy his personality and success so often seemed to create.

From Jack McCallum, Sports Illustrated: Phil Jackson walked away on Sunday with an ironic smile on his face, seemingly placid and content, reminiscent of his comportment in 2004, when he hung it up for the first time, after his Lakers had collapsed like a cheap umbrella and lost the championship series in five games to the Detroit Pistons. If there’s one thing we know about Jackson, he can read … and in both instances he was able to decipher the handwriting on the wall. We have to assume that this exit is permanent (he swears it is), and so does the 65-year-old Jackson exit having fallen short of his fourth three-peat. Of course, using falling short in conjunction with Jackson’s career is just wrong, and not just because he stands 6-foot-8 and seemed taller than that when he was walking with two good hips and two good knees. Jackson won 70 percent of his regular-season games and 69 percent of his playoff games, and there is the small matter of his 11 championship rings. That makes him perforce the most successful coach in NBA history (no objective argument to the contrary is possible), and I would argue that he is also the best. (More on that later.)

From Ramneet Singh, Lakers Nation: The Lakers’ offense ran through Kobe Bryant in the opening minutes of the game, and it was obvious Kobe wanted to make sure the team got off to a strong start. The team played great defense in the early goings, but no other player besides Kobe was able to find a groove on offense. Pau Gasol continued his slump and Ron Artest could not connect on his long-distance shot attempts. Although the Lakers started off playing great defense, the Mavericks soon began hitting their shots. At the 4:51 mark of the first the Mavs held a 16-11 lead. Bryant was carrying the Lakers on one end of the court with his offensive prowess, but the team failed to contest the Mavericks’ three-point attempts. At the conclusion of the first period, the Lakers found themselves trailing by four points, 27-23.

From Kelly Dwyer, Ball Don’t Lie: In an embarrassing display that will have Lakers coach Phil Jackson happily saying “good riddance” to both his team and the NBA in general, Los Angeles frittered away its chance at extending its second-round series with Dallas on Sunday. Terrible defense, middling effort, lazy offense and a thuggish finish all marked Jackson’s last game as an NBA coach. Lakers big men Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom were both ejected after needless flagrant fouls, Dallas won 122-86, and even a deficit like that doesn’t really showcase how one-sided this game was. Ignoring years of evidence that points to the fact that the Lakers’ offense is always at its best when it encompasses ball movement and the usual hallmarks of the team’s triangle offense, Kobe Bryant came out gunning to start the contest. Bryant was hitting to start, but he finished with 17 points on 18 shots in the loss.

From Mark Travis, But The Game Is On: Sadly, Bryant, Jackson and the Lakers were unable to put a fitting end to their storybook run. But there is a silver lining: For the first time in a few years, I have the chance to truly enjoy the NBA playoffs. To watch basketball be played at it’s highest level, with it’s best players in decades going at it, with compelling storylines following every team around, without having a deep emotional attachment with any of the players left. For once, I won’t have to be nervous when a team is down 13 in the fourth quarter of game seven of the NBA Finals or be angry when somebody hits an NBA Finals record eight three-pointer or miss out on greatness. I have confidence that Bryant will have his crack at his sixth title sometime in the future, whether or not it he’s the leader of the team or not. But for now, I’m all about the uncertainty of these playoffs. Will the Grizzlies be able to hold on to their 2-1 lead over the Thunder and advance to the Western Conference Finals as an eighth seed? Will the Heat get started on fulfilling their promise of multiple NBA Championships? Will Dirk transcend into the greatest non-American born player to ever play in the NBA? Who knows. And that’s what makes the Lakers’ early exit a blessing in disguise.

From Broderick Turner, LA Times: In a quiet moment inside the Lakers coaches’ office, some 30 minutes after all the chaos on the American Airlines Center court had subsided, Coach Phil Jackson ambled in with his tote bag on his shoulder, wearing a look of finality. Jackson then said that even before the Dallas Mavericks trounced the Lakers on Sunday, even before his Lakers coaching career came to a close, he and Kobe Bryant sensed the hunt for a third consecutive NBA championship could be headed for a premature end.

From Jonathan Abrams, NY Times: Phil Jackson took the final stroll alone. His players rushed in front of him and into an off-season of scrutiny and uncertainty. His faithful assistants — Frank Hamblen, Brian Shaw and Jim Cleamons — paced behind him. Away from the court and in the concrete maze in the depths of the American Airlines Center, Jackson cracked a smile, the calm in the storm, during his walk toward retirement Sunday. Once Jackson disappeared to address the Lakers, four of his grown children hugged one another amid bleary eyes outside the locker room. They wore hats with the Roman numeral XI — 11, or the number of championships Jackson won as a coach in his wide-reaching, far-touching career.

Well, it’s all over now.

The Lakers season. Phil Jackson pacing the Laker sidelines. The hope of another three-peat. All of it.

The Mavs completed what seemed improbable a week ago, sweeping the Lakers out of the playoffs with a dominant performance. 122-86 was the final count and that 36 point margin actually does sum up the game. The Lakers had their hats handed to them by the better team; the team that wanted it more. As I’ve said before, Dirk, Kidd, and Terry are three veteran players that have all been on the losing ends of countless high stakes battles and they weren’t going to fold this time. All congratulations go to them and the rest of the Mavs players and coaches for pulling out this series win.

This game truly was a microcosm of the entire series. Dallas’ ability to spread the floor with shooters and using the resulting spacing to beat the Lakers off the dribble was again the difference. Seemingly every Maverick was able to get by his man consistently and it collapsed the Lakers D, ultimately opening up shooters all over the court. The Mavs made 20 three pointers on the day with Terry (9-10!) and Peja (6-6!!) consistently reaping the benefits of a defense that had to be in too many places at once. The fact that no Laker could effectively contain his man off the bounce completely ruined any semblance of cohesiveness on the defensive end. The fact that the Mavs put on a shooting performance for the ages was just the rancid cherry on the Lakers’ poisonous sundae. They could have made only have their three pointers and the result in this game would have been the same.

To make matters worse however, is the fact that certain Lakers decided their frustration was too much to handle and sought out vigilante justice rather focusing that energy into playing hard down the stretch. Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum both got ejected on needlessly hard fouls, with Bynum’s being especially egregious as he threw a forearm shiver into the ribs of an airborne JJ Barrea that leveled him instantly.  Losing is never easy, but losing while committing the type of dangerous foul that Bynum did is even tougher to swallow as it paints him and his team in a terrible light. No one likes sore losers and that’s exactly what Bynum looked like.

In the end, this wasn’t the Lakers day, series, or ultimately, their season. They lost to a better team and while it was unfathomable to think that would be the case just a couple of weeks ago, it is the truth. Dallas had the ingredients to beat this Laker group and with players underperforming (Gasol, Odom, the bench in general) this team didn’t have enough to win this year.

For now, though, my disappointment turns to reflection. The core of this Laker team has brought us so many highs that I feel the need to take some time and let this loss settle before I think about the future. Despite performing poorly, the core of this team brought us fans back to back championships and three straight trips to the Finals. They were at the top of the league and spoiled us all with great success that we’ll all be able to look back on and appreciate one day. I must also give a special thanks to Phil Jackson. Despite this awful sendoff, his 5 championships and 7 Finals appearances in 11 seasons will live with me forever. His calm demeanor soothed me in the hard moments of games and his quips at post game pressers and interview sessions were the best. He’s truly been a special coach and the best I’ve ever seen. I’m truly sad to see him go.

I know that it’s hard right now – the shadows of a terrible loss are dark and cold. But I think back on what this team has given and I simply can’t throw them under the bus right now. Not with Phil on his way out and with big changes potentially looming. There will be time to discuss all that. But for now, I give a round of applause to the Mavs, but an even bigger one to our Lakers. At least this one last time.

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.

Yesterday, in recapping the Lakers’ most recent gut wrenching loss our closing thoughts were on supporting this team until the very end. The thinking goes that while this series certainly has the look and feel (and historical precedence) of one that’s all but over, fans turn their focus to “all but” portion of that phrase rather than that all encompassing “over” part. This is the nature of being a fan.

Over at Land O’ Lakers, there is a sobering post (that’s well worth your time) that speaks to this fact; a post that I think sums up exactly what many of us think and feel at this very moment. The fact that the Lakers are in this bind now but really have been in this bind all season. That Dallas is more than a worthy foe, that they have shown to be the better team. In exploring this, Brian Kamenetzky does an excellent job of summarizing how the mind and heart can be on two different pages:

The image of greatness is hard to erase, especially when obscured by near-greatness and familiarity.

For this season’s Lakers, the alchemy of timing and performance appears to have eluded them, despite the lofty expectations. Gasol’s postseason collapse has robbed them of critical production, the outside shooting has gone almost comically cold, even relative to the team’s own middling track record on that front. Meanwhile, Dallas has raised their game to a level the Lakers can’t match.

All that remains now is the chance for a miracle, the idea the Lakers might do what nearly 100 teams before them couldn’t, and recover from a 3-0 hole. I know it won’t happen, but even then it’s hard to completely kill the memory of how good this group has been. Some team will some day be the first to pull it off, right?

But while we who root for the players to win find a balance between what we think will happen and what is likely to happen, the players themselves have no such luxury. They have no other recourse to believe that they will in fact be that team that defies the odds.

Earlier today, Andrew Bynum’s twitter account lit up with the simple phrase “MAKE HISTORY!”. And at Lakers’ practice, Kobe Bryant still speaks like a man possessed to win and one who sees no other option but to do so.

Which brings me back to the nature of being a fan. As I stated yesterday this series is not, technically, over. Dallas is in firm control, make no mistake, but the Lakers are still alive. And while I’m not saying they’ll win the series, my focus isn’t on that ultimate goal but only on one game and what they can do in this single contest.

With the way the players are talking, I turn not to logic (as I so often do when breaking down the X’s and O’s of the game) but to hope. Hope that they can pull out the victory that’s eluded them in the first three contests. Hope that one of the game turning plays goes in the Lakers direction. Hope that in this dark corner of the Lakers season they’ll rally one more time to show us that they can pull it out. For some reason, I still have confidence that they can do this tomorrow and take the series back to Staples for one more crack at it.

Maybe I’m as crazy as Kobe Bryant for believing such things. After all, the plays that have needed to be made have all been made by the Mavericks. And is often the case in the playoffs, those plays go to the team that’s better (think back to Gasol and Artest’s tip-ins from last year’s playoffs). But in a make or break game, I still have faith in this Laker group. The odds say I’m wrong and maybe I will be. But tomorrow I’ll be watching to cheer this team on, hoping that we’ll all see Tuesday together.

Here at FB&G we’ve always talked about the peaks and valleys of a season. How you have to enjoy the ride and appreciate the wins rather than expect them.

Right now, I think it’s fair to say that no one is enjoying this part of the ride as we’ve entered the deepest and darkest valley of our long journey as fans of this team.

After losing 98-92 to fall behind 3-0 in this series, the Lakers are now in a position that no NBA team has ever come back from; a place where past championship experience and pedigree mean little. It’s a tough place to be in as a fan of a team we’ve expected so much from, but here we are anyway.

As for the game itself, I thought commenter JM did a good job of summarizing the general good and bad that we saw from the Lakers:

What I did not like:
– Gasol. I can’t explain what happened to him along the way, but I am disappointed and frustrated with him, as I’m sure many also are.

– Instances of weak defensive rotations gave Dallas ample opportunities for wide open spot-up 3’s. Nowitzki had plenty of open looks, and he made us pay, as expected. The Mavericks shot 41.4% as a team. Although most of the makes (6) were in the first quarter before the Lakers made adjustments, the defense was still not good enough.

– Rebounding: Oftentimes, the players who were not in the paint simply stood and watched the trajectory of the ball, as opposed to putting themselves on a body or extending their arms to block out. This might have gone unnoticed due to the fact that the interior rebounders often ran and got to the ball before the unchecked Dallas players.

– The Lakers stopped going to Drew in the second half. Bynum scored seven points (of his 21) in the second half on three buckets and a free throw. He was 3 of 5 in the second half. The last miss by Drew? 11:42 left in the fourth quarter.

– Peja scored the same amount of points as our entire bench. That is unacceptable. Conversely, Odom did not continuously attack Stojakovic in the post, often dribbling out the clock and settling with a jump shot. At one point, Kobe clearly yelled at LO, “Get in the effin’ post! Post his ass up!” Lamar should have exclusively operated in the post on Marion and Peja. They can’t stop him.

What I did like:
– Phil Jackson finally showing some fire that I had never seen before.

– Bynum. The single positive I took from this game. Drew showed determination, perseverance, patience, and effort. You can’t ask for more than that. I thought he played great, it’s just unfortunate that the Lakers decided to stray from the first half game plan.

– The bench. I thought they played reasonably well. Blake showed his patented patience and discipline to run the Triangle. Shannon cut down on his bonehead plays and helped contribute offensively. Barnes led the Lakers with a +4; the only Laker not in the negative.

– The Black Mamba played within the offense, all the while setting up his teammates. Offensively, the Mamba scored with great efficiency, making 8 of 12 at one point.

In adding to that, I thought Lamar Odom’s play was also a key to this game in both positive and negative ways. In the first half his size was a great bonus as a help defender in the paint and as a rebounder. Whenever the Mavericks ran a P&R, it was Odom that was leaving Marion to clog up the middle of the floor to limit the penetration that often opens up shooters. Offensively, Odom got involved in a lot of P&R’s as a screener and used his agility to make catches on the move and either finish in the paint or move the ball on to an open teammate. I also thought his patience as both a post entry passer and a post up player helped the Lakers control the tempo and helped them take the lead. These were the benefits of having a power forward play small forward. He was simply great.

However, in the 2nd half and especially in the 4th quarter, the Mavs started to take advantage of Odom being a PF playing SF. Rather than leave the ineffective Shawn Marion on the floor, the Mavs went to Peja to space the floor. The Mavs then did a great job of isolating Dirk and Terry so that they could attack the Laker defense. This attacking preyed on Odom’s penchant for helping off his man and it left Peja open for shots that he knocked down to close the gap. After the Mavs were able to get the game close, they then continued their masterful run of top notch execution to stave off the Lakers.

What was also damaging, of course, was the Lakers inability to run their own offense down the stretch. I thought a key sequence was when Gasol hit a basket and drew a charge on back to back plays and then the Lakers tried to milk that momentum by going back to him on multiple possessions. Meanwhile, Bynum (who had been playing great the entire game) was ignored on offense and the ball got stuck on one side of the floor against a stacked up defense. This led to the shot clock winding down and the Lakers unable to generate good shots. It’s trend that we’ve seen countless times this year but that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with (or comprehend) when such an important game is lost because of it.

All that said, this series isn’t technically over. In Kobe’s post game presser he basically invited reporters to call him crazy and said that he’s still of the mindset that the Lakers can win this series. While I think we’d all agree that’s a far fetched idea, I’m looking forward to Sunday’s game in the hopes that the Lakers can get a win and bring the series back to Los Angeles. Not because I see some miraculous comeback on the horizon, but because I’d love for just a few more days of Laker basketball. You see, I love this team (especially the core guys) and I’ll support them until the series is actually over. Again, I’ll let JM take it from here:

You know what?

I’m sticking it out with the Lakers until the bloody end.

I don’t care that a comeback is a statistical improbability. I don’t care that we would have to win four in a row, including two in Dallas, to avoid defeat. I don’t care that the bandwagoners have begun their exit, that the “analysts” have already written us off, or the fact that the Lakers played as well as they could, within their odd limitations, and still lost.

I know it hurts like s***. Trust me, I’m feeling it. But I’m not going to take the easy way out, accepting resignation in hopes of preventing further disappointment and heartache. I’m going to gut it out.

Until. The. Bloody. End.

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.

From Andy Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: In news that didn’t require Nostradmus’ services to predict, Ron Artest has officially been suspended for Friday’s Game 3 in Dallas. The offending sequence, which took place with 24.4 seconds remaining in the game, featured Artest swinging his arm to basically clothesline Jose Barea. The unprompted, absolutely intentional act was so WWE, Ron might as well have borrowed Jack Nicholson’s courtside chair for the purposes of bashing the diminutive guard. So inevitable was this outcome, Phil Jackson didn’t even attempt to spin the possibility of Artest going unpunished in his postgame presser.  So what does this mean for the Lakers in Game 3? Well, in a nutshell, it ain’t good.

From Beckley Mason, Hoop Speak: If the Lakers can’t miraculously pull out this series, many will hail their failure as the end of an era–they got too old, too reliant on Kobe, or too thin beyond their top four players. But the truth is that, all mitigating circumstances aside, they’ve just played bad basketball. It’s systemic only in that they’ve performed this drunken dance all season long, but the flaws are not so inherent as arthritic knees or a dearth of talent off the bench. The Lakers players may not have had their collective fastball last night, but Phil Jackson stubbornly shook off signs to change things up and Rick Carlisle and the Mavericks are hammering him for it. When lambasting the players’ failings, keep in mind they were operating in a flawed gameplan.

From Sam Amick, Sports Illustrated: It was all so funny at the time. Before the Lakers’ incredible era reached this unforeseen point of peril Wednesday night, their coach was being pestered about his latest book. This was the one that hadn’t been written yet, the chapters of Phil Jackson’s final season unfolding with every passing day but the actual idea of publication a ways off in his mind. “The book is way, way, way down the road,” he said with his trademark wryness. “It has no function, no form, no structure yet, no outline. Nothing.” What it might have, as it turns out, is a surprise ending. Dallas delivered a devastating blow to the Lakers’ quest for a three-peat at Staples Center, taking a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference semifinals with a 93-81 victory. The outcome left the locals incensed about the plot twist and the notion of a 12th championship looking unlikely for the man who swears this stand will be his last.

From Nadya Avakian, Lakers Nation: If you’re a Lakers fan, it’s hard to see the beauty in what the Dallas Mavericks did to completely dismantle the Lakers  to take a commanding 2-0 series lead without ever playing a single game on their home floor. It’s difficult to set aside your own biases and just watch a player like Jose Juan Barea weave his way in-and-out of the Lakers defense and come up bigger for his team than his physical stature would suggest. How much time has to pass for Lakers fans to appreciate the excellence in what Dirk Nowitzki has been able to do offensively against their team? He at times takes the most difficult shots and makes them look so effortless.

From Kevin Ding, OC Register: For a Lakers team that truly needs everyone to come together now, here was the start. Kobe Bryant strapped it up and actually practiced with the team Thursday. There was no heavy scrimmaging, but there was a lot of work to do – a lot of teamwork – in defending Dallas’ spread offense, especially. It was Bryant’s first practice since his April 15 cameo two days before the playoffs even started, and every Laker reported afterward Thursday what a productive session this was. Then again, if you were out there sweating through practice every day for the past seven months and the league’s glamour boy and game-ball dominator wasn’t, you’d probably think this is more like it should be, too. In any case, there was a noticeable good vibration about the team as it came off the practice court Thursday, far different from the stink that emanated from them on the Staples Center court just hours before Wednesday night.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: I didn’t exactly have to consult a psychic or run an NBA 2K11 simulation to predict Lakers forward Ron Artest would serve a one-game suspension for his clothesline on Dallas guard Jose Barea in the final seconds of the Lakers’ 93-81 Game 2 loss Wednesday to the Mavericks. But I may have to regarding what the Lakers’ lineup change to offset Artest’s absence ???will entail. After all, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson wasn’t entirely forthcoming about his plans, simply saying with a smile, “You’ll know that [Friday].” Here are a few possibilities.

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.