Game One Thursday in some ways reminded me of Game One a year ago — one team, the more experienced veteran team, came out with a much higher level of energy and execution on the biggest stage, while the other team looked overwhelmed by the moment. It’s just that this year the roles were reversed — it was a veteran Lakers team that played a far more intense brand of basketball.
That is maybe the main thing that will not carry over to game two. Orlando will come back with a game more reminiscent of what they did against Cleveland, one with plenty of energy. And quicker decisions by the guy handling the ball, less hesitation. That alone is going to make this a closer game.
Other things I think you can look for:
• Orlando is going to try harder to establish Howard at the start of the game. He didn’t whine after this game he didn’t get enough touches, but he shouldn’t have to. The Magic offense runs inside out.
• To add to that, the Magic ballhandlers will attack the paint and rim as well. Darius explains:
Too often, the Magic found themselves on the wing trying to attack our defense. Every scouting report out there says that trying to come at us from the wing is the wrong move because our length and quickness will force you into areas where you’ll struggle to be effective. How many times did Hedo run the P&R towards the wing? How many times did he find himself with little to no real estate along the baseline? On the flip side of that, when Nelson first came into the game, he did a much better job of getting to the middle and creating looks for his mates. If you look at the Denver series, that’s what worked against us as well (with Billups in the P&R and in isolations). Because Orlando is primarily a P&R team, they should continue to run it, but be smarter with where they try to initiate from. Too many times Hedo was catching the ball too close to the hash mark and Ariza did a brilliant job of shading him in a manner that dictated where the play would go and how it would develop. Hedo’s got to catch the ball almost straight away and force us to defend this play in the middle of the floor. This will give Hedo the best opportunity to get into open areas and allow the Magic to space the floor much better.
• The Magic learned a hard lesson about letting Kobe get to the spots he wants off the floor on the pick and roll. Overall, Orlando played a fairly relaxed defense and they will not in game 2. Again some Darius:
Kobe was way too comfortable. After Houston and Denver, he must have felt like he was on vacation. I know they contested his shots, but where was the holding and grabbing and pushing and elbowing off the ball? Where was the physical play that the East is known for? Where were the hard fouls? If they happened, I must have missed them. Also, Howard needs to decide to make an impact. He’s the DPOY, but he was relatively invisible on that end. He came late on his rotations on the P&R and on dribble penetration. He needs to intimidate and contest every shot that is within 5 ft of him. Make the Lakers second guess anytime they see him in their peripheral vision. Essentially, make your presence felt. He didn’t do it and the Lakers dominated their defense.
• Notice the last two posts were really about what the Magic need to do — in a series it is the losing team that almost always is the one that has to make the adjustments. What matters for the Lakers is how they counter those adjustments. My suggestion — run the triangle’s traditional sets. Yes, technically the P&R the Lakers ran last game is within the offense, but now they need to get back to more traditional sets, like getting the ball to Gasol in the high post and having cutters flying around him. Quick ball movement.
• Game two is going to be a lot more physical. If the Lakers of the end of the Denver series show up and match that, they will be fine. If they do not, things will not be as confident in Lakerland on Monday.