Archives For April 2012

Following The Blueprint

Darius Soriano —  April 30, 2012

Before yesterday’s win over the Nuggets, the last game the Lakers played and won was a week before against the Thunder. That game was interesting for a variety of reasons – the elbow, the double overtime, and the fact that Blake, Ebanks, and Jordan Hill all played down the stretch over more celebrated options. After that game, I was engaged in a conversation via twitter about the model the Lakers used to beat the Thunder; about whether or not the approach the Lakers used was sustainable.

I replied that the Lakers model to get wins is normally independent of opponent.

What I meant by that was that the Lakers have real weaknesses and they’re the same against every team. Just as the Lakers have real strengths that are (mostly) the same over every team. In order to win any game versus any opponent, the Lakers must try to maximize those strengths while limiting those weaknesses. It’s pretty simple in concept while also, sometimes, being difficult in practice.

Fast forward to yesterday and we saw the Lakers execute their game plan to perfection on both sides of the ball.

On offense that meant pounding the ball inside and forcing the Nuggets to show how they’d defend the Lakers’ superior post players. Bynum, Gasol, and Kobe all got chances to operate below the free throw line to test the D. Early on, the Nuggets double teamed these players and, true to the plan the Lakers passed out to open teammates who then took (and hit) open shots. As the game evolved and the Nuggets couldn’t force the turnovers or missed shots off those double teams, they played more single coverage and the Lakers stars made them pay. Kobe and Pau went off and Bynum was able to sneak into the creases of the D where he received good passes or carved out position on the glass for put backs and offensive rebound chances.

Defensively, the Lakers forced the Nuggets to be a halfcourt team. With the game’s tempo slowed, the Lakers set up  their D in a way that funneled ball handlers to Bynum with the results being a historic night of rejections and the Nuggets’ O then becoming more perimeter oriented. Jumpers were taken but missed their marks. Inside shots that weren’t sent away, were either taken over the outstretched arms of challenging bigs or hurried in an attempt to avoid them entirely.

This formula may sound Nuggets’ specific, but it’s not. Mike Brown was hired as a coach that would inspire the Lakers to play better defense. In his first press conference, he spoke of making crisp rotations and challenging every shot. He spoke of getting back on D, and making the opponent grind out points. Early in the year, the Lakers did just that, riding their defense to some of the wins that helped position them as the 3rd seed in the West.

In the 2nd half of the season, though, that defense faltered. Rotations were late if made at all. Shots went unchallenged as ball handlers turned the corner without impunity, stepping into makable shots. Fingers were pointed, heads hung low, and frustration mounted. Post game comments were filled with phrases like “we just didn’t get it done” and “we simply saw the same old, same old” when talking about the defense.

Yesterday, that changed though. Andrew Bynum reclaimed the paint. The wings pressured the ball. Rotations were back to early season form with shots getting challenged all over the floor by every Laker playing.

This is the blueprint the Lakers need to follow. It’s what their coach teaches and it’s what their players know to work. After all, in 2009 and 2010, the Lakers won rings playing this same exact way. The coaches have changed. As has some of the personnel. But those that remain, remember it clearly.

During a break in yesterday’s action the production director cued up some tape. It was a mic’d up segment from a Nuggets’ huddle. George Karl was imploring his guys to go harder; to execute the plan he’d installed to beat the Lakers. He told them that with the way they were playing, he couldn’t tell if the game-plan needed tweaking as they weren’t executing it.

The Lakers don’t have such issues. At least not really. They know their path to winning is mostly independent of opponent. They know that they need effort and attention to detail on defense. They know that they need focus and precision on offense. These things have been true all year. What hasn’t been, is them doing it on a night to night basis.

With the playoffs here, that’s what needs to change; that’s the adjustment Mike Brown’s team needs to make. If they can simply bring it nightly, they’ll have more success than failure. No guarantees, just the best chance to win. Game one was a good place to start. A chance to duplicate comes tomorrow.

 

If the Lakers are going to go as far as their defense takes them, today they offered a statement that they hope to go very far in this post-season. In beating the Nuggets 103-88, the Lakers held the Nuggs to 35.6% shooting from the floor and an offensive efficiency of 95.7 (or nearly 14 points per 100 possessions lower than their yearly average). The Lakers got back in transition, turned the Nuggets into a perimeter team, and contested all shots both at the rim and on the wing. Simply put, they were dominant on that side of the floor.

And it started with Andrew Bynum:

Yes, Andrew Bynum recorded 10 blocks, tying an NBA playoff record in the process. And when added to his 10 points and 13 rebounds, he put up the first triple double in Lakers’ playoff history since Magic Johnson in the 1991 NBA Finals. The big fella was simply a terror today and his effort to contest, block, and alter shots were the difference for this team on the defensive side of the floor. To put some statistics to the dominance, the Nuggets shot 21-54 in the restricted area in game one (38.9%) and only scored 44 points in the paint. For a team that relies so heavily on getting points in the paint to win games, this was a problem. A big, big problem.

But it wasn’t their only one.

In the first half, the Nuggets tried to double team both Bynum and Gasol in order to force the Lakers’ hand on offense. Recognizing that they wouldn’t be able to guard both LA big men one on one, they resorted to sending the extra defender at them on the catch. When Kobe caught the ball below the FT line and put himself in a threatening position, the Nuggets sent an extra defender at him too. However, this strategy backfired somewhat as the Lakers’ trio made the simple passes out of the double to their role players. And, those role players hit shots.

In the first half, Devin Ebanks hit 5 of his 6 shots for 12 points. Working mostly on the weak side, Ebanks was the recipient of good passes and, seemingly prepared to take them, he knocked them down. But Ebanks wasn’t alone as Steve Blake also benefitted in that first half. When Blake subbed in for Sessions, he too found himself wide open as defenders rotated off him to shift towards the Lakers’ main threats. The result was Blake making 3 of his 6 shots (all from behind the arc) for 9 points. Those 21 points represented nearly have the Lakers halftime total and ensured that the Nuggets would have to re-examine their approach in the 2nd half.

And when they did start to single cover the Lakers’ big three more, they went to work in their match ups. In those final 24 minutes, Pau hit 5 of his 10 shots for 11 points. Working mostly from the elbow area, Gasol flashed great skill and finished in a variety of ways. A pull up jumper after his man gambled for a steal; a right handed dunk after getting a step on his man after a power dribble; a left handed sweeping hook over two defenders that he banked in – all shots initiated from the elbow. He’d even hit a three pointer to show off his range.

Not to be outdone, Kobe also went to work in the final two quarters scoring 23 points on 14 shots after going only 2-10 in the first half. Post game, Kobe acknowledged that he’d taken some bad shots in that first half (he noted that he’d hunted contact and fouls rather than looking for good looks) but in the 2nd half he’d simply gone back to basics to find his rhythm. And, really, that meant working his low post game. Seven of Kobe’s nine second half makes came in the the restricted area, mostly on deft moves involving fantastic footwork that allowed him to shake his defender and get right to the front of the rim. On one possession he’d face up and drive for the finish. On the next two he’d back his man down, spin or step through, and then get a lay in or a short jumper. On another he’d curl off a pick, make the catch, then ball fake before going up for the uncontested shot.

But, in the face of Kobe and Pau’s brilliance of mixing play making for others early with strong scoring later in the game, the key to this game really was the defense. Bynum’s presence emboldened the rest of his teammates to also be more aggressive. The ball was pressured on the wings. Guys played great position D but also used active hands to deflect and disrupt, forcing 6 steals (4 by Barnes). And, as a team, they stuck to the game plan of slowing down the tempo and turning Denver into a half-court team that would have to rely on outside jumpers to win. The result was one of the more disciplined games the Lakers have played on that side of the ball all season with the statistics bearing the fruit of their efforts.

Of course, the adjustments will now begin but thankfully they’re mostly needed from Denver’s side. After the Lakers claimed game one, it will be on George Karl to find a way to solve the tempo issues his team faced while producing shots inside that aren’t challenged by Bynum. And, from the Lakers side, we’ll see if they can keep up this effort and focus. I’ll say one thing though, I’d much rather be up after one game than behind and the team looking to build on success rather than searching for it. Today, that team – the one in the driver’s seat – is the Lakers.

*Statistical support for this post from NBA.com

We’ve talked offense. And, we’ve talked defense. But game one is now here and there’s really no more talking to be done.

Most of the Lakers key players are rested. Kobe, Andrew, Pau, and Matt Barnes haven’t played in a week. Nicks and bruises are completely (or nearly completely, in Barnes’ case) healed. Mentally, the team should be refreshed as well.

And really, this is what matters. The Lakers played a particularly grueling season (as did every other team, I know) for the chance to be right where they are – back in the playoffs and ready to make another run. The fact that last year’s run was cut brutally short should be fresh on their minds. Denver is not Dallas (who the revenge seekers most want), but they’re the team that stands in the way right now and is the team that must be beaten.

Of course, it won’t be easy. The Lakers, over the course of the year, have had one of the smallest margins of victory of any playoff team. The Nuggets are better in that regard, but not by a great deal. Both teams are very good at home and winning the games on that familiar turf will be very important in this series. I expect close, hard fought games with the winner having to earn those W’s down the stretch with tough defense and timely shot making.

Will the Lakers be ready? Will the Nuggets?

The playoffs are a time where match ups rule. Can you guard my big man? Can we guard their point guard? Whose head coach will make the adjustments in game; over the course of the series?

The answers to these questions – and countless others – begin today. To be completely honest, I’ve been anxious and excited since yesterday. Watching those other teams do battle rekindled that feeling that only comes with this time of the year. The playoffs are here. And whether you’re Kobe Bryant making his 15th appearance or Ramon Sessions making his 1st, the feeling is the same. It’s time for the games of the players to be collectively raised.

On one final note, the journey to get to this point was tumultuous. Injuries, trades made and not made, a new coach, and a schedule as wild as all those events combined. But now that we’re here, the real journey begins. The ride promises to be bumpy; every run is. But, I remind you all to enjoy it as much as you can. Nothing is guaranteed but that’s what makes it exciting. I know I’m ready. Who’s with me?

Over the years, one of the mantras of this site has been that the Lakers will go as far as their defense takes them. If they work hard and focus on getting stops by playing together they can harness their talents and perform at a high level. If they point fingers, slack on rotations, and fail to work as a unit they’ll be shredded. This year, we’ve seen performances that sit on both poles of this spectrum so neither would surprise these playoffs. That said, they’ll need to be more like their early season defensive selves if they hope to make a deep run.

The Overview
The Nuggets are a team built around speed and tempo. They want to play fast and they want their opponent to join them. They played at the 2nd fastest pace in the league this year and that led to them leading the league in points per game. That said, their ability to score points isn’t just based off playing fast. They were 3rd in offensive efficiency on the season, were 2nd in field goal percentage, and first in free throws attempted. They also led the league in shots taken at the rim, taking a shade over 34 shots a game at point blank range. Plus, they’re a good ball movement team, leading the league in assists.

Beyond these numbers though, there are areas in which the Nuggets aren’t as strong. They’re only 24th in 3 point field goal percentage and 22nd in FG% on shots from 16-23 feet. They do try to do a good job of laying off these shots, ranking 13th and 30th in shots attempted from these distances respectively, but the fact remains that they’re not a good deep shooting team and any game plan should focus on trying to persuade them into taking these shots more frequently (especially long two pointers).

What are the other keys to slowing them down? Glad you asked…

Transition Defense
Denver is the most efficient transition team in the league scoring 1.2 points per play every time they attempt a shot on the break. Ty Lawson is a coast to coast threat and he’s more than comfortable working rim to rim on the break and finishing. Off this ability he’s also able to pick out teammates filling the lanes or running to the three point line. Andre Miller offers the same threat. And while he’s not the road runner that Lawson is, Miller is savvy in the open court and extremely smart in choosing his spots on when to attack the rim in the open court. Plus, with his bigger frame, he’s more of a threat to knock off his man with a strong move while advancing the ball and use that step gained to get deep into the paint and compromise the D.

With this being the case, the Lakers getting back on D, building a wall, and then marking shooters is the single most important defensive principle in the series. The guards must be ready to sprint back once a shot goes up and the SF and two bigs will need to balance chasing offensive boards with getting back to the paint to offer that second line of defense against the advancing ball. This really will be a team effort and a lot of it will depend on floor balance and awareness. With Kobe likely doing most of his damage below the foul line and Sessions having a chance to be assertive by getting into the lane, others will need to make sure they’re in position to transition back. This means a heavy burden will be on Ebanks, Barnes, and one of the bigs to be the first men back. If the Lakers find themselves on the wrong end of 3 on 2’s consistently, the Nuggets will have made this series into the one they want to play.

Pick and Rolls, Pick and Pops
The Nuggets though, aren’t one of the best offensive teams simply by playing a full court game. When they’re operating in the half court, they’re also quite dangerous running their sets. They’re mostly a pick and roll team and use several options off this action to get good shots.

First and foremost is Ty Lawson using the pick to free himself up to get the shots he wants. He’s adept at turning the corner to finish in the paint or stepping back and knocking down the jumper. So, special attention will need to be paid to him to make sure he doesn’t find his rhythm. My preference is that the Lakers go under picks and make him shoot long jumpers rather than fighting over picks and giving him the opportunity to turn the corner or split the hedge to get into the lane.

But Lawson isn’t the only threat. Denver loves to space the floor with shooters so that Lawson (and Miller) can use the threat of his own offense as a way to set up shooters. Gallinari and/or Afflalo will often camp in the strong side corner to make helping more difficult. So, when the PG threatens the paint either shooter offers a release valve to put up an open jumper. Meanwhile, whoever isn’t in the corner is rotating up the opposite sideline looking for a skip pass as the defense rotates to help in the paint. Help that is necessary because Faried, Mozgov, and Koufus are all threats diving down the lane after setting screens. Faried and Mozgov are two that will need attention because they can finish in the paint, even in traffic.

The play that has hurt the Lakers most, however, is the pick and pop in Denver’s small lineups. Al Harrington, particularly, has been a thorn in the Lakers’ side averaging over 18 points a game in their match ups. When Al comes in, he instantly starts to run pick and pops with the PG where he’ll set the screen and then float to the wing where he can get off a three pointer before the help comes. When the Lakers start to adjust by running at him or playing him closer, he’ll then use his solid first step to either drive at his man or threaten the drive and then turn the play into a mid-post set where he’ll attack an off-balance defender. Gallinari can also do many of these same things, so he too can be a problem in the P&P. The Lakers rotations will need to be crisp and on time to deal with these two when they stretch the floor after setting picks. Whether that means Pau and Jordan Hill recovering or one of their teammates rushing to wing isn’t as important as they working to get the job done.

Slowing the Wings
Denver’s offense is free flowing and that means their wings have a lot of freedom to attack whenever they see an opening. This puts a fair amount of pressure the Lakers’ perimeter D – especially with them weakened with Ron suspended and Barnes banged up.

Kobe will have his hands full dealing with Arron Afflalo who has really turned up his game lately. In his last 20 games, Afflalo is putting up 19 points a game while shooting the ball extremely well (52.5% from the floor, including 45.6% from three). He’s become more than a corner three point shooter, working some in the post and using a refined mid-range game to score efficiently from all three levels of the court. This is one series where Kobe can’t play “free safety”, roaming off his man to help his teammates. He’ll be guarding a primary offensive threat and his attention must be on his man.

The same will be true of Ebanks who will be facing Gallinari. While Gallo hasn’t had a good year (and has been even worse against the Lakers) facing a less experienced defender at the start of games may give him some confidence. Devin will need to keep him deep on the perimeter and not give up the types of easy baskets that can get him going. That means contesting shots but not getting blown by after ball fakes and using his good length to make the shots Gallo takes a bit more difficult.

The other main threat is Andre Miller. The savvy vet is part PG part SG for the Nuggs who often use him as a hammer against second units that don’t have the personnel to deal with his unique game. Against smaller PG’s, Miller is quite capable of going into the post and either getting good looks or forcing help and then picking out a teammate for a good shot. Against bigger guards, Miller will use his deceptively good first step to get his shoulder by his man and then use his strength to keep him at bay and finish in the paint. Meanwhile, the Lakers don’t really have a good option to play him. If the Lakers go to a small back court either Blake or Sessions will have to deal with Miller. If the Lakers go big, Barnes, Ebanks, or Kobe offer better defenders but that then removes  them from chasing one of Denver’s other wing threats.

In Conclusion
This is a series where the Lakers ability to defend in transition will be the biggest key. If they can get back and effectively protect the paint while not surrendering open three pointers, Denver will be forced into half court offense. And while they can be effective there, if the Lakers sag off and force the Nuggets into long two pointers and contested three pointers, their offense can be sufficiently stalled. This is also a series where the Lakers bigs will need to be at their best in help situations. Denver’s pick and pop actions will spread them thin but they’ll need to overcome that by rotating well to stretch PF’s while also still protecting the paint against Denver’s penetrating PG’s.

Understand too that Denver doesn’t have true post up threats so this should free Bynum to be more assertive on D and impose his will on the Nuggets by contesting shots and controlling the glass. If Drew brings his hard hat on that side of the floor, the Lakers should be in very good shape. Then, if he’s supported by Pau and Hill while Kobe, Ebanks, and Barnes do their jobs on the wing the Lakers should be able to keep Denver below their averages. Which, in this series, should be enough as the Lakers offense should be able to score on the other end.

The playoff match ups are set and the the Lakers will face the Denver Nuggets for the chance to advance to round 2. The Nuggets are one of the hotter teams going right now, winning 8 of their last 10 games – including their final 4 to close the season. The Nuggs offer depth, athleticism, youth, shooting, speed, and strong coaching. They are a strong team that have the ingredients to give the Lakers a tough match up. This may not be evidenced by the 3-1 regular season series win by the Lakers, but by digging down you’ll see that their three losses were all by 6 points or less while their lone win had the largest margin (9 points) of any team in any of the games. As I’ve said before, the Western Conference playoff bracket is a minefield and the Nuggets are as dangerous as any team out there.

With that said, we start our series preview with what the Lakers will need to do on offense to score the points they’ll need to keep pace with one of the more explosive teams in the league…

The Overview:
The Nuggets are not a strong defensive team. They rank 20th in defensive efficiency for the season allowing 106.2 points per 100 possessions. They have a few wing defenders in Danilo Gallinari, Corey Brewer, and Arron Afflalo who all offer good to excellent perimeter D, but their PG’s aren’t strong on that end and their bigs, as a group, are only average. Furthermore, in their last 20 games they’re 22nd in defensive rebounding rate and are vulnerable on the glass due to their penchant for playing an undersized PF (Harrington) a lot of minutes, the lack of quickness of some of their bigs (Mozgov, Koufus), and the propensity of McGee to challenge shots at the rim with his man then slipping in behind him to clean up misses.

What Denver does do is force turnovers. Opponents commit 15.6 turnovers against them nightly (6th in the NBA).  They’ll pressure passing lanes and challenge shots at the rim, blocking shots and going the other way. And because the Nuggets have quickness at nearly every spot on the floor, they’re very good at turning those miscues into points. That said, Denver also allows the 4th most assists per game, so good ball movement, teamwork, and a commitment to hitting the open man can break down their D and lead to makable shots.

This defensive profile means the Lakers can develop a specific plan of attack against this team that can lead to success, should they play with discipline and stick to said plan.

It Starts with the Bigs:
As we’ve said for nearly most of the year, the Lakers advantage lies inside. With Bynum and Gasol, the Lakers have to two most skilled big men in this series and it’d serve them well to work the ball through them on most possessions to try and establish the tempo to the game at hand and the series on the whole. Phillip was reviewing the first match up between these teams and explains what he saw and how it worked:

In their first match up of the season Kobe began a game versus the Nuggets distributing the ball which led to Pau knocking down a series of mid-range jumpers. With Pau pulled away from the basket (mainly at the pinch post) and hitting shots, the Nuggets really didn’t have an answer for Bynum who went off for 29 and 13. With Pau and Bynum working well within the high and the low post, the Lakers were able to create a lot of high percentage shots.

This high-low action should serve the Lakers well this series, especially working out of their “horns” sets where Pau is the offensive initiator from the elbow area and Bynum ducking in for post ups after setting screens on the weak side. This base set should give Pau open looks from 16-18 feet (a shot he’s more than capable of hitting) as well as give Bynum the space he needs to work down low against any of the Nuggets’ big man trio.

Having Bynum low and Pau high also sets up situations where double teaming Bynum produces the easiest outlets for him to pass to open teammates as this set up is basically a 4 out, 1 in set. This will make it so the Nuggets either have to double from the same side wing or the opposite block (with Pau’s man) and both of those doubles set up easy reads for Drew. Of course, Bynum will need to be patient and recognize when and where the double is coming from but if he does read it correctly, it will lead to open shots.

We mustn’t forget Pau on the block either, though. At the start of games, Pau will likely match up with Kenneth Faried who will be surrendering several inches to the big Spaniard. Pau too should also be featured on the low block (preferably the left side) where he can use that size to his advantage by shooting his turnaround jumper or spinning quickly off his man where he can get easier shots at the rim. Pau’s craft and skill on the block should be utilized a great amount against the rookie as he is both a scoring and a passing threat once down there.

Kobe’s Role:
In the three games that Kobe played against the Nuggets he was mostly dreadful on offense. He shot 19 for 69 (27.5%) including only 2-17 from three point land. Facing off against the Afflalo and Gallinari duo meant that Kobe was always shooting against size and length and due to their ball denials, he was usually working from 20 feet and out on most possessions.

To counter this, Kobe must use screens better by looking to work tightly off the picks to give himself the separation he needs to make clean catches. He can also do himself (and the Lakers’ O) some good by using his man’s aggression against him by cutting more back door and moving towards the basket when working off the ball. Kobe’s best served looking to work 18 feet and in after making the catch rather than making the catch further out and trying to drive to spots on the floor that are closer to the rim. If he can successfully work to make his catches easier and receive the ball below the FT line, he can compromise the D and put the Nuggets in situations where they’ll need to choose between single covering him in spots where he’s most dangerous or shifting their defense his way (which will then open up his teammates to be more dangerous).

Building on that last point, Kobe may not have shot well against the Nuggs but he did do a very good job of involving his teammates. In two of the three games he played vs. Denver, he tallied 9 assists (both Lakers’ wins) working in the P&R and in the low post where George Karl deemed him too much of a threat without committing extra defenders. That ability to compromise the D simply by getting to key spots on the floor can be just as damaging as a 30 point night and it’d serve the Lakers well if they worked to get Kobe into those positions.

Ramon Sessions and Tempo:
Sessions only played in one of the four match ups during the regular season but his presence in this series will be very important. First off, he’ll need to set the right tempo for the Lakers’ offense. As mentioned before, the Lakers are best served playing inside-out and that means allowing the bigs to get up court and set themselves up. Sessions will need to recognize where he can push the ball and when he’ll need to pull back in order to initiate the Lakers sets. As mentioned earlier, the Lakers must try to pound the Nuggets inside and a lot of their ability to do so will be dependent on how Sessions runs the show; how he organizes the offense and his decision making at the start of a possession.

However, even though this is the case, I don’t want Sessions to simply be a conservative PG that is only looking to run half court offense. Sessions’ speed is an asset that can disrupt the Nuggets’ D (much like Lawson’s can the Lakers’) and his ability to advance the ball quickly and get quality shots for himself or his teammates can be key to scoring the types of easy baskets that can be the difference between a win and a loss. Understand that the Nuggets are last in transition defense allowing 1.2 points per play. Their Centers don’t change ends well and their PG’s lack the size (Lawson) and quickness (Miller) to be deterrents to a quickly advancing ball, so Sessions can do damage if choose his spots wisely it can really boost his team’s chances.

In the half-court, Sessions also needs to be smart but aggressive. He can take advantage of the Nuggets in P&R situations by using his quickness to turn the corner and then get into the lane to get shots off or pick out teammates. In the April 13th game, Sessions did a good job of probing coming off the screen, collapsing the D, and then kicking the ball back out to shooters who spaced around the arc. If he can duplicate this effort and also do a better job than he has lately of converting on his own shots in the lane, he can be an X-factor on offense that the Nuggets don’t have an ideal defensive answer for (save for putting one of their wings on him, which only weakens them in other ways).

In Conclusion:
The Lakers have the tools to beat this team on the offensive side of the ball. If they play to their strengths by featuring their bigs, tweak some of the ways they get Kobe involved, and have Sessions using his speed and decision making to burrow holes into the belly of Denver’s defense, they can exploit this team on this side of the ball. However, and this can’t be stressed enough, it will take a disciplined attack that the the Lakers haven’t always shown this season.

There’s not a team in the league that sucks you into playing their style of play more than the Nuggets and the Lakers must keep that fact constantly on the front burner of their minds and fight the urge to get into a shootout with this team. They’ll pressure the ball, take quick shots, and then not struggle to get back. And while some of those things will invite the Lakers to respond in kind, they simply must stick to their plan. Whether they can do so or not will play a major role in who wins this series.