Last Sunday, the Lakers came away with their biggest win of the season — a 10-point win over the Miami Heat. While the Lakers have struggled in their last two against lottery bound teams in Detroit and Washington, we have seen improvements in the Lakers offense over the course of the last 15 games. According to ESPN’s Ramona Shellbourne, players have complained about the offense and said Mike Brown has allowed the team to read and react a bit more while calling set plays a little less.
The Lakers had gone 8-2 coming into this three-game road trip, including a win over the Miami Heat on Sunday. During that stretch, it was obvious Brown had made an effort to scale back on some of his micromanaging tendencies that have grated on players this season. He’s noticeably canceled several practices and shootarounds after Bynum spoke out publicly about how the increased practice schedule, combined with an already condensed season, was affecting his play. He’s settled into more consistent offensive rotations after experimenting for much of the season, and he’s let the team read and react on offense instead of calling so many plays.
The last time I wrote a play breakdown, it was a brilliantly drawn up play by Brown and his staff that led to Andrew Bynum feeding a cutting Troy Murphy. This time, we get to see how the collective basketball IQ of the Lakers can take what a defense gives them — even against the Miami Heat who feature one of the league’s premier defenses. The following comes from last Sunday’s game early in the third quarter.
The play starts off with Fish bringing the ball up on the left side with Kobe staring in the right corner, Pau in the pinch post, Bynum heading to the low block opposite of the ball and Ron on the right wing.
The action begins with Kobe cutting baseline to post up on the left block and Fish getting the ball to Pau in the pinch post, which is important for a few reasons. First, Kobe got off to a hot start in the first half, setting the tone, and getting him an early look in the post could get him going again to start off the third. Second, it’s Kobe playing off the ball instead of initiating the offense. Bryant has been much more effective catching in the post, coming off screens and catching on the curls rather than trying to create on his own this season. Also, Pau can knock down that 17-footer, so it keeps LeBron from sagging to help on whatever action is going on behind him. Getting the ball to Kobe is the first option, but Shane Battier does a great job of denying the entry pass and Pau is forced to look elsewhere.
After getting the ball back to Fish, Pau sets a screen for him and cuts back door and slips unnoticed behind the defense. While Pau is cutting, Kobe pops out looking for the 15-foot catch-and-shoot opportunity and Bynum starts coming up the line creating the kind of spacing Pau and ‘Drew hadn’t really figured out on the floor together.
Now we have Bynum up near the elbow receiving a pass and Pau underneath the rim wide open due to LeBron hedging hard on Fish coming off the screen that he set. Instead of taking a dribble, which could have turned into a turnover with Wade starting to dig down, he turns and faces the basket away from the direction the double team was coming and sees a wide open Pau underneath the basket.
By the time Pau catches the ball, LeBron is out of position and can do nothing to prevent the layup. Wade doesn’t have enough time to get from where ‘Drew was to where Pau is and there’s no help from a center because Joel Anthony stepped out to defend Bynum.
The result is two easy points on the Lakers first possession of the second half without Kobe touching the ball once. Beautiful execution by just taking what the defense offered. This is where the Lakers offense has been at its best, ball movement, player movement, and touches for the bigs. As this season has progressed, I’ve become more impressed with Andrew Bynum’s improved ability to pass the ball from multiple spots not he floor. Having two 7-footers is great, but having two deft passers at 7-feet is a luxury that shouldn’t be taken for granted. Check out the play in real time.