UPDATE: Over at Basketball Prospectus, coach Anthony Macri (part of the IMG team in Florida, so you know he knows his stuff) broke down the Laker offense from game four and looked ahead to game five. Below is just part of it, but if you read just one preview of tonight read his, it’s the best thing on the Laker offense in a while:
Before Game Five, the Lakers will look back at the tape of this game and conclude that the more ball and player movement they can get out of the Triangle offense, the better off their attack will be. In the press conference after Game Four, Jackson and Bryant indicated a desire to run their offense with more efficiency and go to Bryant as an option late in the shot clock. This would seem a much better tactic for the Lakers, for Bryant’s supporting cast seems content to watch him too much early in the shot clock. Gasol is able to score seemingly at will against this Jazz team, as they simply do not have the height or athleticism to deal with a player of his ability. The Lakers managed to score on seven of the 12 possessions they were in the Triangle and hit the post player, cutting off of his shoulders to either side. In what is known as their “solo-cut” series, in which they isolate a post player and a wing player on one side of the floor and the wing cuts through opposite after entering the ball into the post, the Lakers managed to score on six of 10 possessions. While the Lakers are consistently labeled a softer, finesse team, they really do make a living going to the post. They should look to increase their post-touch possessions to somewhere between 25 and 30 in Game Five.
In addition, expect a stronger emphasis on scoring in early offense, as the Lakers attacked in transition just under 20% of the time, converting 52.4% of those possessions. By standing around in isolations and relying on other sets that lack ball and player movement, the Jazz’ slow-footed defenders had an easier time defending the Lakers. With their long, athletic, multi-skilled players, the Lakers have a decided advantage in full-court offense despite their lack of a star point guard.
Finding the right mix to showcase and take advantage of the versatility of the Lakers’ attack has occupied the coaching staff over the last two days. With the extra day in between these two games, and provided Bryant’s back is strong enough to allow him to play at a high level, expect the Lakers to get back to their high level of play on the offensive side of the floor on Wednesday evening.
Now on with our regularly-scheduled preview:
I think Mark Heisler is right. (Hey, it was bound to happen.) At times we fans can be a little harsh on players — on Kobe for not running the offense in overtime, despite playing through enough pain to bench every other player in the league. On Jordan Farmar for having the temerity to slump in his second year in the league. On Pau for not playing in the paint like Bynum.
Tonight, I expect to see a lot of support from the fans, and I expect to see a lot of positives.
That list of positives starts with the fact the Lakers were just a made corner three from Odom or a couple of made free-throws away from stealing a game in Utah (with that comeback it would have been a steal). This is a series the Lakers should still win.
To do that they need to get back to some things from the first two games — and as it has all season for the Lakers the key is on the defensive end. Last game Utah continued its trend of improving its offensive efficiency with each game (up to 119 points per 100 possessions last game). Some of the reason for that efficiency is the Lakers missed shots (and turnovers) have sped up the Utah transition game. Darius has a few thoughts on how to slow that:
One thing I think we can do is find Deron early after Utah secures defensive rebounds. In the first half of Game 4, Deron went crazy in the open court and found ways to get easy outlet passes and push the pace (think Jason Kidd on team USA). This led to us cross matching in Utah’s *early offense* where no one was stopping the ball and ultimately leading to defensive breakdowns where Utah was able to burn us with lay ups and wide open jumpers because no one was finding their man. I think what hurt us, and Farmar, the most was that his lack of confidence led to concentration lapses. He was a little sulky (is that a word?) and was not transitioning from offense to defense effectively. Farmar (or Fisher or Sasha) need to be able to find Deron when he’s running out for the outlet pass and slow him down. Make him change direction. Funnel him to a side and keep him there. Basically, just try to ruin their early offense and make them work more for their buckets. When Deron gets an outlet pass running full speed, he’s a freight train…he just gets to the rim or occupies defenders and frees up other guys to get good looks. We have to slow this guy down a little; we can’t let him run around in the open court, we don’t have a guy that can stop him in that scenario.
On offense, the Lakers did one thing last game I liked — they got the ball more to Odom out in isolation when Boozer was on him. That is part of why Odom had a big game, the Lakers used his versatility to create mismatches on whoever guarded him. Pound AK-47 inside. Sloan puts Boozer on him to muscle Odom out of the paint and the Lakers counter with more wing isolation (same if Harpring was on him). The Lakers need to continue this as it not only is good for Odom but helps create matchup issues that help Kobe and Gasol.
I have about as good a chance plunking my money down on the right number at a roulette table as I do accurately predicting Vladimir Radmanovic’s play on any given night. That said, often when Phil calls him out in the press (as he did yesterday talking about the return of Ariza to practice) Vlad responds with some of his best play. I just have a feeling this is his breakout game.
I know we are a little tired of this topic, but I put these numbers out there (with three caveats): As the primary defender on D-Will in game four, Fisher was 0, Farmar was -9 and Sasha was +6. Now, the three caveats (meaning don’t read too much into those numbers): 1) Fisher still had the most time on him and Sasha the least, that would impact things; 2). This breakdown is statistically crude and going off of popcornmachine.net’s numbers not tracking the game film; 3) We are done with the Farmar bashing on this site. I think the numbers back up what we all saw with our eyes — Sasha is having more success as the second defender on Williams and needs to get more minutes in this series and in that matchup. But Farmar is not chopped liver and the days of unreasonable bashing him here are done. Unless you’d like Smush back.
Really, the big point guard issue for the Lakers is keeping Derek Fisher on the floor for more than the first four minutes of the first quarter — keeping him out of foul trouble. If you look at the raw playoff numbers so far, Fisher has the biggest impact on this team: he is +31.5 (meaning the Lakers outscore their opponents by that much per 48 minutes when he is on the floor) and Kobe is +15.2. Now (and stat-a-phobes and newbies) this in no way means Fisher is better than Kobe, but I think it says a lot about his impact at the point, both in this series and the last one, on defense and settling down the offense. The Lakers need him on the floor.
If you are going to the game tonight — be LOUD. This may not technically be a must win, but it’s about as close to that as it gets.