Lakers/Suns: With The Tempo Turned Up, Lakers Roll

Darius Soriano —  November 16, 2012

Well, that was fun.

In the first game of the Mike D’Antoni era (even though he didn’t actually coach the game) and what looks to be the last game that Bernie Bickerstaff will man the lead chair, the Lakers used a dramatically faster pace and a more free flowing offense to take out the Suns 114-102.

The game began with Pau Gasol raining jumpers. With the Lakers using a more pick and roll heavy attack, Pau positioned himself around the opposite elbow of the action and consistently found himself wide open as the help left him in order to cover the paint. Time after time Dwight Howard drew extra defensive attention and there was Pau, happily taking the shots the offense afforded him, hitting them again and again. In the first quarter alone, Pau hit five consecutive shots from (essentially) the same spot on the floor.

As the game went on, and the Suns’ defense tightened their rotations to the Spaniard, the ball swung to Ron who camped behind the three point line with no defender close to him. He hit one three pointer. Then he hit another. Then he’d shot fake and take his man off the dribble to get to the rim and score.

Soon after that, Kobe got into the mix. He found open space on the wing and would hit a jumper. Later he’d work his way to the post and either back his man down for a shot close to the rim or spin off him for a lay in. After that he’d work the wing again, only this time he’d use a shot fake to either earn FT’s or drive by his man and threaten the paint again.

Next it was Dwight’s turn as he’d dive to the rim and get a nice pass that he’d convert after taking contact. Then Jodie Meeks would come off a screen and hit a pull up jumper. Then Jamison would hit a wing three pointer which was soon followed by a Morris drive to the rim in transition. When shots didn’t fall, the team would crash the offensive glass and clean up misses with put backs. Jordan Hill thrived in this area (again) as did Howard. Every player simply kept attacking.

If you’re sensing a theme, you’re not alone. One of the key parts of Mike D’Antoni’s press conference was when he said the Lakers would push the ball and make the pass to the open man; when he said that the ball would find energy and end up in the hands of their best players. Tonight, that was as true as it could have been as the entire team took it upon themselves to play with freedom yet with purpose. The result was a stellar offensive performance for most of the night that had everyone — from players to coaches to fans — smiling as the scoreboard lit up on what seemed like every possession.

Where the Lakers weren’t as good was on defense. The team didn’t hustle back after made or missed baskets and the Suns showed that two could play the uptempo game to create good looks. Goran Dragic raced the ball up court or threw the ball ahead to a streaking wing for clean looks at the rim. Luis Scola and Marcin Gortat got into the act as well, trailing plays to set high screens that left them open on their rolls to the rim as the Lakers’ D didn’t rotate well on the back end.

Shots went up that weren’t contested and hit the bottom of the net the way you’d expect them too when NBA players get open looks. Even in the half court, and when completely set, the Lakers didn’t adhere to simple things that would have surely been in their scouting report. Scola consistently got to his right hand and Dragic found room on screens to either shoot pull up jumpers or turn the corner to get into the paint for floaters. Michael Beasley was able to beat his man off the dribble and create shots for himself and then was able to pick out teammates for open shots when help finally arrived.

But, on this night, it was the Lakers superior talent that was just better at scoring the ball than the Suns. In the second half the track meet slowed down some and both defenses tightened but this only favored the Lakers more, as their players were simply better. A fourth quarter run finally put the Suns away and created a lead too big for them to overcome. At least on this night.

There’s still room for the Lakers to improve, obviously. As mentioned their defense suffered against a speedy guard that knew how to navigate screens and get to his favored spots on the floor. When the help came, other shooters were left open and they hit their shots. There was a bit too much relaxing on the defensive glass, especially from guards who didn’t close down the foul line to grab long rebounds that then turned into extended Suns possessions.

But there was also a lot of good in this game. Forget the increased pace and forget the good shooting night from Ron (who can’t be expected to hit five three pointers every night) and instead focus on the ball movement, the way that a rotating defense left offensive rebounding lanes open, and how the Lakers played a lot of half court possessions with the ball on the “weak” side of the formation. This allowed ball handlers to attack into space rather than into camped out post players calling for the ball.

These are things that will be refined even further as the players get more comfortable in this scheme and even more wrinkles are added. It was obvious the team was still running a lot of sets that Bickerstaff installed after the Brown firing but it was also clear that some of D’Antoni’s principles were already taking shape.

This was not a perfect game by any means but it was a start. The offense looked fantastic for long stretches but would still get bogged down at times. The defense looked bad for long stretches but still came up with some big plays when they were needed. If both of those things improve over time, this team will be very dangerous. This is only the starting point, but it’s a nice place to start. With a win.

Darius Soriano

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22 responses to Lakers/Suns: With The Tempo Turned Up, Lakers Roll

  1. As a European Lakers fan I must commend you for your work writing these recaps Darius, whenever I can’t catch a game. I’m at least able to keep track of how the Lakers are developing from game to game thanks to these. Keep up the good work man. Glad to see the Lakers are starting to pick up the wins!

  2. Lakers played great, I cannot wait to see them in a month from now

  3. wow that was a nice game men… a preview of d’antoni’s brillant game play…go lakers!!!

  4. It was a very entertaining game, with serious runs on both sides. One thing I noticed about the Lakers tonight is that the players and the game play had a unity that never existed during the Brown era.

  5. A good entertaining game for sure. I like that when Kobe has the ball, the rest of the team is not just standing around watching him make the play, which was usually as the shot clock was winding down. It just seems they are having fun, and certainly crashing the boards.

  6. I agree, they played with more energy then in the Brown era

  7. Nice to see the great floor spacing from Pau, and a he had a pair of great inside dimes too!

    This offense will not be the problem that is for sure. Imagine Steve is not even playing, and Dwight is still not 100%.

    But I am very curious about the defense. I did not see the whole game this time, so maybe you guys can fill me in:

    * How was pick n roll coverage? Hard hedge, switches or brief shows from the bigs? Was there a change to be noticed from the MB schemes?

    * Did people box out? This was a trend through out all the opening games, that we didn’t bother to box out, and just stood around watching Pau and Howard go to work.

  8. Big thing that jumps out – 11 turnovers. 4 by Dwight which agains shows he’s still not quite right but those will drop.

  9. @Jerke:

    Dwight’s TOs wont drop that much, he averages 3.1 for his career. It is part of the packege, bad FT% en high TOs.

  10. The story of two halves, the first half was all purely offense and the second was a mix-ups of offense and defense contributed by Hill, Metta and Howard, they protected the posts, clean up all missed shots and controlled the rebound. Suns could just watch in awe and could only share from the rebounds by waiting for Howard to bring down the ball and steal it. Indeed, part of Showtime is manifesting from the movement of the ball where everyone get their touches, sometimes nobody wants to shoot and consumed the 24 second limit. If Lakers have applied this activity from the beginning instead of that lazy dozy Princeton off-track, then maybe the only legitimate loss would be that of SA. Lakers could have amassed in the standing at 8-1 instead of 4-5. Can you imagine if they waited for 20 more games before dealing with Mbrown because fans were panicky, then it would be a long road to the playoffs. Therefore, don’t call fans stupid or idiots if they voice their concern.

  11. Yes! Great start to the MD´A era – and Kareem is finally honored as well, love you Cap! (if anyone hasn´t checked it out, there´s a nice pic of Kareem and Dwight on K´s website). Now let´s go get one against the Rockets! UUUUWEEEE this is gonna be some ride!

  12. Fewer turnovers and better free throw percentage — hope this trend continues. Interesting comparison the past two games.

  13. As teams start approaching the ten game mark this is what catches my eye. The Grizz & Clips are playing very well, both look legit. Spurs & Thunder are as expected. Add in the Lakers and one of these teams will start the post-season on the road, and two will face each other in the 1st round.

    The plot thickens.

  14. Pre season camp has started…. in the middle of the season – and that’s fine by me. Once Mike D is on the bench full time, I’m guessing it will be about 10 games before we see some well developed and executed sets.

    In hindsight, now it makes perfect sense why the FO made the change to Mike B at this junction in the season. With so many home games in November and early December, the players get more practices than if we were close to the ASG or the Grammy trip in Feb.

  15. Edwin great post. I personally get a great deal of enjoyment (and pain) from being a 40 year Laker fan. My business is even involved with the NBA. As such I knew Brown was the wrong guy and did everything I
    as a devoted fan could do to express my feelings. Not only blogs but frequent call to ESPN, calls to Laker offices and conversations to former Laker players. Does it matter? If enough people complain about the bad manager at you local retail store, eventually good owners will make a change.

    Jimmy, Gerry and Mitch do care about us fans. They are the architects of this franchise but we are backbone. Without our caring there is no TW deal, no move from the forum to Staples etc. Platforms like this, Laker Talk and talk redio have meaning and we therefore can be responsible for changes made like at the corner grocer.

  16. The silver lining in the Nash/Blake injuries is that Morris gets a shot. He’s shown some good defensive chops and some improvement on offense. I think he has some value and that he will get a lot better. He just needs confidence.

    Today, Knicks broadcaster Walt Frazier is a NYC legend and HOFer. But, many years ago, as a struggling rookie, Walt received some simple advice that turned his career around. He was told to stop dribbling around the perimeter and instead to try to advance the ball towards the basket.

    I’m not saying Morris will ever be a Frazier, but he can benefit from similar advice. If you are going to dribble, go towards the basket. Opportunities to make plays or to score will present themselves, especially with the teammates that the kid is surrounded with.

  17. Pau is just a nice guy. That’s great in general, but it’s not always the greatest asset on the court. Last night, for example, after leveling Shannon Brown with a perfectly legal screen, he helped his former teammate up. That’s who Pau is. A little more toughness and a bit of an attitude wouldn’t hurt.

    Glad to see the Lakers starting to play better. Removing Brown has freed them up. Hope that they keep trending upwards.

  18. 1/2 D&R,

    Pau is like an ice cream, loved by all because of his innate basketball skills but you have to put it back to the freezer to harden its core. By freezer I meant, you always need someone to babysit Pau on defense. lol!

  19. Pau has become the new Lamar now, a whipping boy thanks to his ‘potential’ but weak mentality.

    Such is the price you pay for being teamed up with Kobe, whose mental fortitude is rarely questioned.

  20. We Laker fans always need a whipping post – always, ALWAYS.

    For now it is Pau. It is not that there are holes in his game – there are holes in everyone’s game – but he is still a key contributor to this team.

    Pau has a particular personality. He is not going to change that personality. Get used to it, because no amount of carping by fans will have any impact.

    Take a hint from Mike D’Antoni — look at a player’s strengths and have them work to those strengths, don’t constantly try to work with a player’s weaknesses. Weaknesses may be physical or psychological and you can only do so much to impact them – they are not likely to become that player’s strengths. By the time players reach/stay in the NBA, they have some pretty specific strengths and they have to be very good to even get a tryout. Use those strengths to best advantage for your team and ease up complaining about what they don’t do well. If that is not possible then trade/cut the player. So call for Mitch to trade Pau, but stop complaining about fixing some other part of his game.

  21. D’Antoni has the right idea about Pau. Pau is incredibly skilled and has not been utilized correctly recently. I expect that to change in the D’Antoni era. I wasn’t super excited about this hire at first, but I can see the excitement and fire in D’Antoni’s eyes and I really can’t wait to see what he does with this team