First off, congratulations to the Clippers, who won their first playoff series since Rick Monday saved an American flag. I really have been rooting for this, a Laker/Clipper match up in the next round will be the biggest basketball happening in this city in a long time. Hell, Bill Simmons is excited and heâ€™s not even from here. And, whichever team wins and gets to face Dallas in the Western Conference Finals will do so rested, having not traveled for a couple of weeks.
But first, the Lakers still have to get there. And, as we had noticed and the always-contrarian Charlie Rosen points out, the Suns have started to do some things right (thanks to Henry at True Hoop for finding this).
While the Lakers have kept the tempo down (there were 96 possessions in the last game, including overtime), the Suns started to do a better job executing the half-court offense. Specifically, they are running their standard wing pick-and-roll, which the Lakers have mostly switched on all series, but now rather than have Steve Nash try to beat Odom (or Kwame or whomever), they are posting up Diaw or Thomas on Smush or Sasha. The smaller Laker guards acquitted themselves well, but the Lakers may need to switch up how they deal with picks just to keep the Suns a little more off balance.
At times in the last game, the Laker defensive rotations were late and Suns players got easy lay-ups. If they want to win another game they need to cut down on those.
The Suns worked harder in the last game to not let the Lakers have position, particularly on the wing and at the elbow â€” Odom, Kobe and others were fronted and bodied in an effort to disrupt the triangle in the same way you screw up a football timing pattern by bumping the receiver at the line of scrimmage. The Suns defensive doubling on Kobe and Odom also improved, with the three players not involved on the ball doing a better job of reading and anticipating passing lanes.
The triangle, with its read-and-react properties, has plenty of adjustments for all this, weâ€™ll have to see what Phil Jackson and staff try. Personally, I like getting the ball to Walton and posting up Smush on Nash.
John Hollinger points out today that the Lakers offense in the playoffs actually has been less efficient than it was during the regular season â€” down 3.2 points per 100 possessions to 102.3. Part of that is taking the ball out of Kobeâ€™s hands. But that pound-it-inside offense, which Hollinger thinks doesnâ€™t work too well, is the key reason the Lakers are winning because they have taken the fast break away from the Suns. Itâ€™s part of the reason the Suns offense is off 7.9 per 100 possessions, down to 101.5. (By the way, Hollinger then goes on to say the key is what Josh pointed out here days ago â€” offensive boards).
So long as the Lakers continue to do execute their plan and play defense (Nash, the Suns best player, is shooting 53.7% eFG% in the series, well below the 58.4% he had in the regular season, and most of the Suns are in the same boat), I think they will win the series, either tonight or in game six.
Now, if you want to see the Kobe show, watch if the Clippers decide to put Mobley on him in the next series….
(By the way, Iâ€™ll be â€œwatchingâ€ the first half tonight via ESPNâ€™s gamecast, since Iâ€™ll still be at work. Iâ€™ll need you all to be my eyes and ears, but Iâ€™ll still try to post some comments. On the bright side, thatâ€™s 15 less times I have to see that Vince Carter commercial.)
Update: Well, not so much an update as an ommission: Last game, the two Lakers leading the way in +/- were Devean George and Sasha Vujacic (+12 and +11, respectively). Another game like that from them tonight, outplaying the Suns bench, and we’ll be playing the Clippers this weekend.