Archives For May 2012

Friday Forum

Dave Murphy —  May 11, 2012

Some members of the Los Angeles Lakers were in Denver last night and found themselves on the wrong end of a blowout. It was yet another example of Kobe Bryant accepting the challenge, willing himself to do things that most wouldn’t be able to do while healthy, even though he himself wasn’t. There were no-shows as well, the most stunning and disheartening example being Pau Gasol. One thing about doing links posts is that you speed read a lot of material in order to assemble what you feel is representative and worthwhile.  And sometimes it’s informative, but not particularly fun – something akin to waiting for punishment, knowing that it’s coming. Pau seemed to be resigned to it before the fact last night, and it’s hard to understand why. For whatever reason, the fight wasn’t there. He looked like a man who had grown old overnight.

Andy Kamenetzky at the Land O’Lakers has the rapid reaction to last night’s game.

Kevin Ding at the OC Register says it’s time for the Lakers’ defense to start with hustle.

Dexter Fishmore at Silver Screen and Roll asks if Mike Brown’s job will be on the line in game seven.

Mike Bresnahan at the L.A. Times writes that Metta’s help on defense is seen as a priority. It’s so true. To say he has been missed is overstating the obvious.

Bill Plaschke at the L.A. Times says it’s a sick joke but the Lakers are forced into a game seven.

Beckley Mason at HoopSpeak writes about the Lakers and responsibility.

Yesterday, Zack Harper at HoopSpeak attributed Pau Gasol’s lack of involvement to Mike Brown. After the game he tweeted that perhaps it was simply Pau himself, and he had a point.

Aaron McGuire at Gothic Ginobili questions the Lakers big three’s lack of passion for the game.

Adrian Wojnarowski at Yahoo Sports writes about Kobe after the game, and the conversations that he had, and will have, with his missing bigs.

Scott Howard-Cooper at Hang Time Blog also reports on the situation – Kobe and Coach Brown, calling out Andrew and Pau.

Emile Avanessian at Hardwood Hype takes a look at hero ball, and how it’s vilified by the new school observers.

Daniel Buerge at Lakers Nation takes a look at a new era in Lakers broadcasting, as the Time Warner deal kicks in.

And finally, Kelly Dwyer at Ball Don’t Lie takes a look at Kobe’s flagrant foul on Kenneth Faried.


There’s a lot more articles, more opinions and blame and anger. The 24-hour news cycle will die down just a little before being stroked right back up tomorrow – the possibility of the Lakers losing three in a row to the Nuggets in the first round isn’t a big story, it’s a huge story. Buckle up as they say, we’re in for a bumpy ride.

– Dave Murphy

Box Score: Lakers 96, Nuggets 113
Offensive Efficiency: Lakers 101.1, Nuggets 118.9
True Shooting %: Lakers 53.0%, Nuggets 59.6%

Well, before the game, Kobe Bryant was said to have a stomach ailment. Everyone and their mothers and pets immediately compared this to the Jordan Flu Game of 1997. Never mind that this is a first round contest while Michael did this in the Finals.

The game was sick. And Kobe was sick.

Both literally.

The box score really doesn’t indicate on how bad the Lakers played. The Nuggets KILT the Lakers tonight. Not even KILLED. KILT. The final score doesn’t indicate how bad it was, either. Granted, the Lakers had a chance to do something after halftime as they were only down nine. But nope. Ty Lawson was running circles all over them. And he was making pretty much everything (well, nearly… 13/18 from the field and 5/6 beyond the arc for 32 points). But even still, the Nuggets could’ve started Vicki Lawson from Small Wonder and the Lakers would probably get smashed.

The effort of the Lakers? Pretty much pitiful. I feel like I bring more effort to toasting bread than what the Lakers brought in Pepsi Center *sips Pepsi* earlier. Only Kobe seemed to bring it… and HE’S THE SICK GUY that was pretty much ready to throw up all over the bench or maybe Andrew Bynum’s fro. Speaking of Bynum, he was bullied by the Nuggets bigs. Even if JaVale McGee didn’t have a big game due to foul trouble, the others picked up the slack. Once again, don’t be fooled by Bynum’s 11-point, 16-rebound, 4-block… “effort.” He seemed to be loafing a lot of the time and I’m quite surprised he was able to get those numbers (seriously, you can’t defend his performance tonight). Imagine if he was actually following his note to himself after Game 1.

This is the worst game I’ve ever seen Pau Gasol play. He, too, was getting bullied by the Nuggets. His line DEFINITELY tells the whole story. 1 for 10. Three points. Three rebounds. People tweeted me that last year was worse… but Gasol never scored less than eight points in a playoff game last year. THREE POINTS. THREE REBOUNDS. Those stats alone tell the story.

Ramon Sessions played scared. He’s had so many open looks as the Nuggets treat him like he’s Rajon Rondo. When he penetrates, he’s fine. But the Nuggets are daring him to shoot the perimeter jumper and he’s like a teenager who has never touched a girl ready to go on his first date. Ramon has stage fright and he HAS to get over that VERY SOON.

Matt Barnes still can’t make a shot (2/8). Devin Ebanks is, well, Devin Ebanks. Steve Blake is just about what you expected (but, hey, he didn’t turn the ball over?). At least, it looked like Jordan Hill tried (8 points, 6 rebounds) but he’s not enough help for Kobe. Kobe should be commended for even going out there and playing his ass off (31 points, 13/23) but it’s obvious that he needs more help. And the bigs failed him.

The Nuggets, meanwhile, have confidence that is absolutely sky high right now. Kenneth Faried outhustled everybody the entire game (16 points and 11 boards). Danilo Gallinari is getting a little more dangerous with his outside shot and passed the ball well (12 points, 7 assists). Andre Miller continues to school everyone with his rec league game (12 points). And this was Corey Brewer’s flu game except without the flu (18 points). I wouldn’t be surprised if Brewer gained all of his hair back after this game; he was that awesome tonight.

The Denver Nuggets seem to be clones of Mortal Kombat’s Kano tonight; they absolutely ripped the Lakers’ hearts out. I don’t know if the Laker fan would be more disgusted of watching this game, last year’s Game 4 against Dallas, or 2 Girls 1 Cup. The margin should’ve been 75 at the end of this contest. It was bad. Putrid. Disgusting. Filthy. I wish Kobe did really throw up all over Pepsi Center. And at this point, I’m just doing word vomit so I should end this write-up soon.

The good news? There’s STILL Game 7. It’s at Staples Center. But I don’t blame you for not being so confident about it. After all, the Nuggets beat the Lakers in their house in Game 5. If the Lakers match Denver’s intensity on Saturday night, then the Lakers should be okay. But in this up and down season, we’ve nearly seen everything and I’m sure you guys aren’t going to be surprised if the Lakers do something wacky in their most important game of the season.

Another tidbit? Ron Artest/Metta World Peace returns. He’ll provide some much-needed D and he’ll be unfairly asked to save the Lakers’ season. I honestly don’t know what to expect. Will he give a boost or will he be so rusty that it’ll throw off the Lakers’ chemistry? Oh, hey, joke’s on me! THEY HAVE NO CHEMISTRY RIGHT NOW.

But in a way, this Game 7 is all bad news. The Oklahoma City Thunder (Derek Fisher is giggling like a schoolgirl) are waiting in the wings, licking their lips on what they’re going to do to either the Lakers or the Nuggets. And if the Lakers do advance, how the hell are the Laker guards going to handle Russell Westbrook? Well, we probably shouldn’t even think about that. Remember when I said not to talk about OKC in my Game 4 recap? And then Bynum mouthed off that closeout games are easy? Yeah.

Oh, well. That’s that. I’ve said enough. Go ahead and complain on the comments below. I’m going to go listen to Boyz II Men now.

It had to end this way.

After 35 years, Thursday night will bring to a close the 35-year relationship between KCAL-9, the Lakers and legions of Laker fans. Three and a half glorious decades that grounded us all in at least one shared experience. Regardless of age, income or ethnicity, if you’re a sports fan that has resided amid the urban sprawl of Los Angeles at any point in the last three and a half decades, KCAL (or KHJ when I discovered it) has touched your life. For anyone whose introduction came at least 10 years ago, it’s where you met Chick.

Forever the voice of basketball in Los Angeles, Chick Hearn, the Lakers’ play-by-play man (this title, while accurate, seems insultingly simple) for 37 years until his passing in 2002, anchored the simulcast on channel 9 for the last quarter century of his legendary career. Initially flanked on the mic by Pat Riley, later Keith Erickson andfinally the great Stu Lantz, Chick invited us along on everyLaker road trip, never failing to mention the huge dinners Magic’s mother would prepare when the team visited Detroit or that despite growing up in the shadow of the Forum in Inglewood, every trip to Phoenix carried added meaning for Arizona State alum Byron Scott. Not once did he fail to thank producer Susan Stratton or statistician Jimmy Pells.

It’s where I was introduced to Chick’s most famous appliance and learned the game of basketball from as great a professor as one would dare hope for. My family moved to the United States when I was four years of age –the “Lakers on 9” are due as much credit as any teacher for my rapid grasp of the English language. And, in the seven years since my departure from Southern California, Chick’ssuccessors (though never replacements) Paul Sunderland, Joel Meyers and Bill MacDonald kept me in touch with hometown I’d left behind.

Win or lose, tonight is the last-ever Laker telecast on KCAL-9. It was a hell of a run.

Whew! A bit dusty in here, no? Let’s get to the game at hand.

Despite Kobe Bryant’s best efforts, a lackluster Game 5 effort from the Lakers Tuesday night in Los Angeles has this returned this series to Denver for a vital Game 6. Despite committing just 9 turnovers and holding a decided edge on the offensive glass (15, v. 8 for Denver) and from beyond the 3-point line (9-of-24, v. 3-of-19 for Denver), the Lakers simply lacked the energy and quality (just 38.9% from the field; 21-of-58, or 36.2% excluding Kobe Bryant) to slam the door on George Karl’s crew.

Tonight the Lakers will take the floor before one of the NBA’s best home crowds –one sure to be frothing at the thought of sending them home for a do-or-die Game 7 in what could be their Nuggets’ final home game of the season. Now more than ever, it is critical that the Lakers – especially, but by no means only, Andrew Bynum – maximize their effort from the opening tip, as they will likely have to weather an early Nuggets barrage. Once the opening onslaught has passed and the teams are simply playing a basketball game, it will be vital for the Lakers to dictate the tempo. On the offensive end they must look to establish the league’s best post-up tandem early and often. As they have all season, Bynum (whose 16 and 11 deflects attention from a listless effort which resulted in his domination by JaVale McGee) and Pau Gasol (who had an awful 9 points on 4-of-11 shooting, with 10 rebounds) represent this team’s greatest mismatch and must be utilized as so. The Nuggets have used a sagging defense to neutralize them too often, but that must change tonight.

Especially with Kobe Bryant under the weather. Yes, Kobe will have the opportunity to put forth his own “flu game” – though of the stomach variety – and while we’d all appreciate an addition to the legend of Kobe Bryant, this may be a game where it’s his teammates that must lift him up rather than he putting them on his back. On offense, must feed the post. Sessions MUST raise his game & facilitate & Drew/Pau must get in the paint, fight for position and attack aggressively.

We say this all the time, but is particularly vital tonight, as it will allow Kobe to pace himself and have something in the tank down the stretch. On a side note, executed properly, this could result in the Lakers not even needing Kobe down the stretch, as the potential for dominance and Nugs’ foul trouble could lay the foundation for a comfortable win. This is the hope, but of course far from assured. But, the point remains, Kobe will not be 100% physically but his mates will be. The Lakers big men can carry them to a win should they do the work that’s needed of them. Ramon Sessions can add to this equation by attacking more off the bounce and forcing himself into the creases of the D. The Nuggets will be there to challenge him – especially JaVale McGee – but those forays into the teeth of the defense will only help to create opportunities for the Lakers bigs to mimic what their counterparts have done so well this series; to be garbage men that clean up and impact the game on the way.

The environment will be hostile. An insane crowd will only serve to energize the home team and inspire them (as if they needed any more in an elimination game) to bring their best effort. But the Lakers cannot wilt in the face of this. They must put a body on JaVale and Faried. They CANNOT allow Andre Miller to dominate/dictate tempo. They must match effort and energy with their own while also bringing precision and discipline. Game 5 is the exact opposite of what the Lakers need. Instead, they should look to the last time they were in this building; they must look to game 4 where they won by playing smart, (mostly) focused basketball. The blueprint is there for them to follow, they just have to do it.

The Lakers will play on Saturday. They’ll either do so at Staples Center in a game 7 where anything can happen or do so in Oklahoma City for game 1 of the second round. I don’t know about you, but the latter sounds much better to me.

– Emile Avanessian (with some help from Darius)


The Nuggets have a defensive game plan that’s taken full shape now. They want to sag in the paint to disrupt post up chances and dare outside shooters to beat them. Be it Bynum or Gasol, the tactics are the same – barely guard perimeter players not named Kobe and make them bury the shots that they’ve struggled all year to hit.

For example, below is a still from the 2nd quarter. The Lakers have gone to their bench unit with Pau Gasol operating as the main offensive weapon. He’s surrounded by Jordan Hill, Matt Barnes, Steve Blake, and Ramon Sessions. The offensive set starts well enough with Blake bringing the ball up and Matt Barnes setting a back screen on Al Harrington to try and free Gasol in the post:

But while the Lakers are trying to free Pau, look at where JaVale McGee has positioned himself. Jordan Hill is trying to clear to the weak side, but there’s McGee standing right in the passing lane of where Pau will be in a split second.

With that option gone, Blake has no choice but to swing the ball to Barnes (who pops to the top of the key after setting his screen) and then in an effort to move the ball on, Barnes swings the ball to Sessions. After the catch, Sessions initiates a P&R with Hill to try and get something going to the basket:

Look how the D is playing this action, however. McGee isn’t hedging at all and is inviting Sessions to shoot a jumper. But, for good measure, Afflalo is sagging off of Barnes and denying lane penetration just in case Sessions still tries to attack McGee. At this point, Sessions does the prudent thing and moves the ball onto Barnes who is wide open. When Barnes makes the catch, he sees that Gasol is open in the post and delivers a quick hitting pass into the Spaniard so he can try to get a shot up against the smaller Al Harrington:

But immediately after Barnes makes his entry, Afflalo digs down to the post to take away the middle. Also, look at Andre Miller cheating off of Blake in the corner to dig down should Pau try to go baseline. At this point, the best play is for Gasol to kick the ball back out to Barnes. And, with the shot clock ticking down, Barnes shoots a three pointer that misses.

Of course, Gasol isn’t even the main Lakers’ post threat these days. That label belongs to Andrew Bynum. Below is a sequence from late in the 1st quarter. This action starts with Barnes bringing the ball up and dribbling to the right wing. Once there, he dribble exchanges with Kobe and looks for the post:

Look where Andre Miller is, though. He’s already backed off of Barnes to try and discourage the post entry. Barnes then makes the pass to Kobe who passes the ball right back to him. This is a direct signal that the ball needs to go into the post and Barnes again looks to feed Bynum:

But look where Miller is now. Understand, Barnes has a live dribble here. He can do anything with the ball that he pleases. But, looking to execute the plan, Barnes does enter the ball to Bynum who promptly gives the ball right back to Barnes (who slid more towards the corner to create a better passing angle). But, with no where to go with the ball, Barnes passes the ball back out to Kobe:

After Gallo got his hand on the pass, Kobe recovered the ball and had to attack with the shot clock winding down. He drove hard to his right hand but this is what he saw:

At this point, Gallo is shading him right, McGee is in front of Bynum, and Miller has again left Barnes to cut off Kobe’s driving angle. The result is Kobe kicking to a wide open Barnes:

Barnes takes the open shot afforded to him and misses.


This is what the Lakers are facing on every single offensive possession. They want to get their big men post touches and the Nuggets want to take them away. When the ball does get entered, dig-downs are coming from the ball side wing and on other possessions coming from the weak side. The players getting cheated off the most are Barnes and Ebanks (when he’s in the game) as they’re the Lakers that shoot the worst from range.

At this point, counters are in order. After the game Pau spoke of using “different actions” to try and get the ball into the post and not just walking the ball up the court and trying to make a post entry right away. He called that “predictable” and he’s 100% right.

The Lakers need to move the ball more, cut and screen more, and then look for quick duck ins from their big men where they can catch the ball on the move or sliding into position where they’re more of a threat to score. By incorporating more ball and player movement before post entries are made, it should also afford the Lakers that extra beat of time they need to make a quick move to try and get a basket. Cross screens can also be utilized both in “horns” actions and in more simple sets that don’t involve the double high post look to begin a possession.

The bigs can also change ends faster while the Laker PG’s look to advance the ball more quickly. Rim-runs can be a good way to get the bigs more touches and shots close to the rim, especially against a D that isn’t yet set up fully. Remember, during the regular season the Nuggets surrendered the most points per play in transition situations, according to My Synergy Sports. The Lakers can run effectively against this team while not getting fully sucked into the type of up and down game that the Nuggets want.

In the end, though, the Lakers shooters must make the Nuggets pay. Barnes, Blake, Ebanks, and Sessions will continue to get open shots around the perimeter and they must knock some of them down to at least make the Nuggets think twice about ignoring them on D. I fully expect the Nuggets to continue to shade towards the Lakers big three but made shots will turn that strategy into a losing one, rather than what the Lakers saw last night.

Wednesday Storylines

Dave Murphy —  May 9, 2012

Last night wasn’t the kind of night that’s fun to write about, at least not from a Laker-centric point of view. I’m sure Denver fans are as pleased as punch. The other team brought it, and Kobe’s last ditch alchemy aside, this one’s best buried where no one will ever find it. For those who like to prolong the pain, here’s some links.

Ken Berger at CBS Sports reports that Kobe needs others to step up and play with a sense of urgency.

Matt Moore at Eye on Basketball writes about last night’s game – the JaVale McGee show.

Best video I’ve seen all day, from J.A. Adande, on Around the Horn.

Last night’s rapid reaction by Brian Kamenetzky at the Land O’Lakers.

Andy Kamenetzky at the LOL, interviews Mike Brown about back court choices.

Kevin Ding at the OC Register, Kobe’s 43 isn’t enough.

Dexter Fishmore at Silver Screen and Roll, on last night’s loss.

Bynum being Bynum by the Great Mambino at Silver Screen and Roll.

Marc Spears at Yahoo Sports, more about Bynum’s unwise remarks.

Suki Thind at Lakers Nation, the Lakers coming up short, along with video stuff.


By my count, MWP has one game left in the league’s time out corner. He’s been coming to practice and generally keeping himself involved and motivated and for that I applaud him. I’m not saying we would have won last night with his defensive intensity and occasional outside shot… actually strike that, I am saying we would have won. Next up, the mile-high city redux, once more without Peace.

– Dave Murphy

“Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

That line was tweeted to me by longtime Laker observer Gary Collard. And, to be honest, he’s completely right.

The Lakers fought furiously down the stretch. Kobe Bryant went nova from behind the arc and set the internet ablaze with shotmaking that only adds to a legend. But, the fact is, the Lakers still lost as his clip ran out of ammo when the game was close enough to grasp. It was a sight to behold watching him sink three after three but in the end all his barrage did was give a frustrating night about 10 minutes of fun.

And really, it’s the frustration that will sit with me now as the adrenaline wears down.

The Lakers did not come ready to play this game. Their offensive execution was substandard almost all evening. The ball didn’t move and neither did the players. Facing a sagging defense that doubled Andrew Bynum every time he touched the ball, kickout passes were sent to open shooters that couldn’t make the defense pay, only emboldening the Nuggets to stick to their plan of clogging the lane. And with the paint contested and shooters missing, the Lakers’ offense went where it usually does in those instances, to Kobe bail outs with the shot clock winding down far too often.

Their defense wasn’t ready either, though. The Nuggets successfully ran isolations with Gallinari to great success early in the game, with Devin Ebanks unable to contain him. Gallo rained in jumpers and used crafty moves off the bounce to get into the lane and score at the rim. When it wasn’t Gallo doing damage, it was Arron Afflalo finally finding his offensive game, coming off curls to hit mid range jumpers, hitting a three in transition, and making smart cuts to free himself around the rim. Sprinkle in some fine play making from Ty Lawson and the Nuggets had an early formula that gave them the burst they’d need to build and hold onto an early lead.

But the real stars for the Nuggets were Andre Miller and JaVale McGee. Miller simply outclassed every Laker that tried to guard him. Steve Blake literally had no chance against Miller’s bruising style, consistently getting backed down and shot over the top of once the lane was gotten. On several crucial possessions late, Miller was able to work over Blake and find his way to within 10 feet where he’s simply a terror against a defender of any size. The Lakers should have been helping off of non-offensive threats to aid Blake (who fought as hard as he could) but it never came and Blake was forced to operate on an island most of the night. Again, though, Miller abused nearly everyone he faced, even taking Matt Barnes to school on a couple of drives that ended with finishes at the rim.

And then there was McGee. The Nugget big man brought his A+++ game tonight and completely took over the game at one point. He grabbed offensive rebounds and finger rolled in follow baskets. He caught lobs in transition and in the half court. He even worked the post on a couple of possessions, masterfully finding creases in the defense to get up good shots that fell. When you add his offensive exploits to his impact on D where he blocked (and goaltended) several shots to make his presence in the paint known, he was – just like in game 3 – the difference maker in this game.

Add it all up and this is what made this night so excruciating.

Before the game Andrew Bynum commented that closeout games are “easy” in that if the team doing the closing brings the needed effort they can bury the other team and make them quit. The thing is, the Lakers didn’t bring the needed effort. And they surely didn’t bring the needed focus. Instead, they attacked with little regard to strategy and when it came time to knock down their open shots and defend with purpose, they didn’t do it. Denver, on the other hand, played like a team with their backs against the wall and never gave up. They were able to build up a big enough lead so that a classic Kobe push became, essentially, irrelevant as the hole was simply too deep to climb out of.

And now, the Lakers must go on the road and try to clinch the series. Sure, they’ve proven they can win on the road but the opportunity that they really needed to take advantage of just slipped through their fingers. Give the Nuggets a load of credit in this game as they stuck to their script and got the W. But also blame the Lakers here. They knew what needed to be done; knew what type of game they needed to play and refused to do so. Kobe’s late heroics were the equivalent of putting lipstick on a pig; it only served to cover up the ugliness of what had transpired for the previous 40 minutes. The fact he almost pulled it off is a testament to him. The fact that he even needed to try is a testament to how his team played on a night where they needed to give more than they did.

The playoffs are moving quickly this year. After 4 games in every series, not a single one is tied 2-2 and two of them are already over with the Thunder and Spurs waiting for their 2nd round opponents as I type this. The Lakers have a chance to close out the Nuggets tonight and advance to face those Thunder but doing so will not be easy. The game that sends an opponent fishing is typically the most difficult one to win and while the Lakers have the luxury of trying to do so at home, completing the task will still take a strong performance.

And by “strong”, I really mean one full of effort and focus. At this point in the series, there are no more secrets. X-factors have made their collective appearances, tweaks to rotations and lineups have occurred, and the subtle shifts in game plan to try and counter the X’s and O’s of each side have been put into place. Getting any win – in any game – from here on out will not be about pulling a rabbit from a hat but rather grinding out the game-plan that has been refined in the previous contests.

So, with that said, here are a few things to watch for tonight in this pivotal game 5…

*Will efficient Kobe return? In the first two games of this series Kobe totaled 79 points on nearly 50% shooting. Over the next two games he totaled 44 points on 35% shooting. As I pointed out yesterday, there are factors that contribute to Kobe shooting a low percentage but the fact remains he must find a way to be a bit more efficient with his opportunities. In game 4 he showed more resolve in going to the basket and had much of his success working earlier in the shot clock with power dribbles where he could either pull up for his mid range jumper or get deeper into the paint for lay ins. I’d like to see more of that approach tonight as it’s clear that when he’s assertive with his dribble rather than simply jab-stepping and taking jumpers, he can do damage against Affllalo.

*The Lakers bigs must work through contact and establish the deep post. Game 4 showed that the Nuggets would fight the Lakers’ bigs for every inch of real estate on the low block. Faried pushed and shoved Gasol off the ball all night while McGee and Mozgov did the same to Andrew Bynum. Both Lakers’ big men still fared well on offense but they didn’t get nearly the number of post touches they could have if they’d fought through that contact more and established deeper position. The Lakers’ advantage still lives inside and though McGee has done well to block some shots and the Nuggets wings are digging down more often, the fact remains that Pau and ‘Drew must do damage in the paint for the Lakers to win this game. Gasol especially needs to battle with Faried for position and secure the post so he can go to work. His height advantage is simply too much for the Nuggets to overcome and his superior passing makes double teaming him very difficult. A successful post-centric attack from Gasol can turn a close game into a one sided affair and I hope to see him work to make that happen.

*Can Matt Barnes get on track? He’s only made 6 field goals all series and is shooting 23% over the 4 games. He’s only made 1 of his 14 three point attempts. His activity on the glass and general hustle remain strong but there’s a reason he’s on the bench down the stretch of these games – he can’t be depended on to make the defense pay when the Lakers’ big three draw extra defensive attention. His normal slashing opportunities aren’t as prevalent because of the collapsing D so the areas in which he thrives offensively are more limited. However, that doesn’t change the fact that he needs to find a way to produce some baskets. Maybe he can run out for a lay up or two. Maybe he can get some in-between shots to fall where he slashes but not all the way to the rim. And, of course, maybe he can break through and get a couple of jumpers to fall. But, he needs to make it happen. And soon.

*Controlling the glass is very, very important. In the Lakers’ lone loss they were out-rebounded by 10 and allowed 19 offensive rebounds. That was cleaned up in game 4 but keeping it that way is a major priority. The Lakers must do better at containing dribble penetration and must slow the ball in transition and not allow guys to get all the way to the rim in the open court as both allow the Nuggets bigs to sneak to the front of the rim and clean up misses when the extra help arrives. Make Lawson and Miller shoot jumpers to earn their points and when they do get into the paint the guards that got beat must hustle to the paint and help rebound the ball. Kobe had 8 rebounds in the last game mostly because he was sinking down and clearing the boards when his bigs helped on dribble penetration. Tonight, if the Lakers can’t slow Denver off the dribble, Kobe, Sessions, Ebanks, Barnes, and Blake will need to repeat that effort.

*Commenter RR made a salient point about three point shooting:

In the two close games in the series, Denver went 4/19 and 3/19 from the arc. The Lakers, including the daggers from Blake and Sessions, were 5/17 in Game 4. So, one key reason that the Lakers are up 3-1 is that they are facing one of the few teams in the playoffs that is worse on the 3, overall, than they are. While no one stat tells the whole story of course, this is something to watch, in that if Denver can hit a few 3s, that gives them a much better chance to extend the series.

The Lakers must continue to invite the three point shot (as Denver isn’t particularly good at it) while also contesting them to avoid giving them clean looks. Afflalo is dangerous from the corners while Gallo and Lawson can do damage from the top of the key. Al Harrington can knock that shot down from anywhere and must be rotated too when Denver runs pick and pop actions. Denver isn’t the most disciplined offensive team – part of their strategy is push pace and get up shots quickly, after all – and they will take the shots given to them. That said, the Lakers can’t lose sight of their defensive principles and give up open shots that go uncontested. Denver is a team that can get hot and if the Lakers want to end this series tonight, they’d be wise to not let them do so this evening.

Yesterday’s game 4 win gave the Lakers the road win they sought and put them only a single win away from advancing to round two. The game was hard fought, but like the Lakers have done all season, they made several key plays down the stretch to helped seal a game that could have gone either way. Both star and role players had their hand in the win and as Steve Blake said in a rare trip to the podium post game, game 4 was a total team win.

And since today is a day off and we’ll be right back at it tomorrow for what could be the clinching game, here are some leftover thoughts from yesterday’s thriller:

*In order to win a game there are individual factors and team factors that must go a team’s way. A list of the former include things like Bynum’s intensity and effort on defense or Kobe’s ability to score efficiently. These things matter a great deal and I think it’s fair to say that should several of those variables go the Lakers’ way, they have an excellent chance of winning. However, it’s the team factors that often mean the most over the course of an entire series.

Against the Nuggets, the pace/tempo/flow of the game has been the #1 variable the Lakers need to mark on their side of the ledger. In game 4 there were only 85 possessions (averaged) for both teams and that’s about 11 possessions fewer than the Nuggets averaged during the regular season. That number is skewed somewhat by the Lakers grabbing so many offensive rebounds (more on that later) but the fact remains, the Nuggets didn’t get as many possessions as they’d like and that’s a big win for the Lakers.

However, what I also noticed is that one of the key ways the Lakers attempt to slow down the game is by dragging out their own offensive possessions. They walk the ball up. They make multiple passes into the post, back to the wing, and around the perimeter. They’re not stalling, but they are searching for good shots all while using up the shot clock. The problem is, by using the shot clock, the Lakers put themselves behind the proverbial 8 ball on countless possessions because they find themselves searching for a good look against the ticking time bomb of the 24 second clock staring at them. Kobe took 25 FG’s yesterday and 7 of them were with 5 seconds are less on the shot clock. He made only 2 of them.

My point in all this is that the Lakers must find a way to not only slow the game down, but also work their offense to produce quality looks at the same time. Striking this balance can be a difficult one and it’s why I don’t always put a lot of stock into pure shooting percentages. Sometimes executing the game plan means lower quality looks are the ones that will be available.

*Jordan Hill’s emergence as the 3rd big has been fantastic for the Lakers in a variety of ways. He has the ability to play good defense (especially in the P&R) and his work on the offensive glass has been stellar. I went back and watched all 7 of his offensive rebounds from yesterday’s game and a common them came up: he simply knows how to position himself in the paint and is not scared to go out of area to grab a loose ball. On one rebound in particular he positioned himself on the left side of the basket waiting for the ball to come off the rim to that side. However, when ball came off the rim it bounce to the right side. At that point Hill took his two steps towards the ball, batted it against the hands of the Nugget trying to secure it, then vacuumed the ball up into his own mitts to secure the ball.

It was a relatively minor play in the scheme of things but at the end of the night it counted as one of his team high 11 rebounds. And that’s the thing with Hill when you watch him on tape. He’s consistently doing the little things and at the end of the day they all add up to a strong contribution. For the playoffs his offensive  rebound percentage (the % of Oreb’s he’s grabbing while on the floor) is 20.7%. Said another way, one out of every five Laker misses ends up in his hands when he’s on the floor. The Lakers don’t win yesterday’s game without him.

*Fans (myself included) have bemoaned the Sessions/Blake back court duo for as long as Brown has gone to it. Advanced metrics tell us this pairing isn’t that effective – especially on the defensive end as one of the PG’s is often forced to guard a bigger, stronger player. However, yesterday this pairing held their own. In the 20 minutes they shared the court the Lakers had a plus/minus of +1 and their efficiency differential was a +3.9. These aren’t world beater numbers by any means but they’re the type of numbers the team needs to put up when Brown goes to this pairing.

Of note here is that the main reason Brown has (seemingly) gone to this lineup as often has he has is because the Lakers aren’t getting much production from wing players not named Kobe. Matt Barnes has had a bad shooting series and Devin Ebanks, while having some good moments, has had minimal impact adding little to the table while also taking little off it. Not having a clearly better option means that Blake will be in the mix for those spare minutes at shooting guard. Some nights it won’t pay off, but last night it did. Until Ron gets back, however, this is the roller coaster we ride.

*Speaking of Blake, there’s probably not a player I feel better for when he plays well. He’s probably the Laker that fans like to point to first as the guy that doesn’t play up to standard and is often labeled as the weak link on the team. And while on many nights that’s true, it’s never due to lack of effort. He works hard on D and consistently tries to make the right play on O. He’s scrappy and isn’t scared of the big moments. That doesn’t always translate to good play, but when it does I’m happy for him because he’s one player that can never be chided for lack of trying. For me, those types of players have always been easiest to root for.

*I’m not big on commenting about the refereeing but yesterday’s was…interesting, to say the least. I thought the refs called a fairly uneven game that made it difficult for players from both teams to adjust. In the first half contact in the paint was allowed to the point where shoves in the back went largely unpunished only for weaker contact on the perimeter to be whistled. In the 2nd half, the whistles got tighter on paint contact but almost served to overcompensate as several touch calls were made early in the 3rd period. I’m usually of the mind that it’s on the players to adjust to the way that a game is being called but yesterday was one example where I wasn’t (too) mad with either side complaining about the calls made/not made because it wasn’t nearly as consistent as you’d hope it would be in a playoff game.