We touched on the familiarity between these two teams when we first previewed this series. And we revisited that topic when examining how the Lakers claimed victory in game 1. So, if familiarity is going to be the running theme of the match up versus the Jazz, what comes next might also be familiar, but I’d very much like for it not to be the case.
The word that’s in my mind is complacency. Can the Lakers avoid it? Since the start of the 2008 season – including the playoffs, the Lakers have beaten the Jazz 16 of the 21 times they’ve faced off. In other words, the Lakers have the Jazz’s number. Fans know it, the media knows it, and even though they’re saying the right things, the players know it. And while I like this team to be confident, knowing that upper hand is in their possession normally leads to uninspired play from this particular group of Lakers. And I’m hoping that we see different in game 2 and throughout the course of the series.
As was proven by the Cavs against the Celtics last night, playing with no urgency will lose you a game in the playoffs. And in case reminders are needed, this is not the regular season where dropping some random game may not cost you much. Losing a game in the playoffs – especially at home – can be the difference in a series. To quote Kelly Dwyer – “There are eight teams left. None of them can take plays off, on either end, and survive.”
I bring all this up because despite the comfy feeling brought on by Sundays win, that game just as easily could have been a loss. And while it’s easy to discount the Jazz -with their aforementioned lack of success against the Lakers, their injury situation, and the disadvantages they face in this match up – and give a little giggle at their expense because they “felt good” about their game 1 loss, understand that they’re a confident group. And that confidence did grow based off their ability to weather the storm and come back in game 1. Sure, it’s sunny on our side of the block as the Lakers have the series lead and have history on their side. But, I’m hoping that the Lakers are ready to pay attention to the game plan and execute, not just pay lip service by speaking nicely about the Jazz.
As for winning the game tonight, the biggest key will not lie solely in the X’s and O’s, but in the effort given and the attention to detail in executing what’s already known to work. The intensity and focus will need to be there on both sides of the ball for the Lakers to win this game. That means a continued effort to mark Deron Williams in the open court and keying on him when the Jazz run their half-court sets. In game 1, the Lakers did a good job of walling of Williams and not allowing him easy access to the lane. They switched screen on him when he played off the ball and funneled him to the areas on the court where he is least successful. He still had 24 points, 8 assists, and only 1 turnover. If the Lakers don’t execute as well as they did in game one, there’s a good chance Williams will do more – he is quite capable.
It also means a continued effort to play physically tough in the paint on defense. The Lakers length advantage is not going away, but the want and desire to contest and challenge shots must also stick around. In the last game, Carlos Boozer got his points, but mostly on fade away jumpers over the outstretched arms of Gasol and Odom. Millsap also did well to score 16 points, but he too had to shoot over and around the long arms of the Lakers front line. Understand too that despite all of those contested shots, neither Boozer nor Millsap attempted a free throw in game one. Can the Lakers do it again? They’ll need to.
Offensively, the Lakers must be better prepared for the aggressive double teams that the Jazz showed in the second half of game 1. Utah dug down from the ball side, collapsed from the middle, and even showed some big on big double teams. In the first half the Lakers moved the ball against this defense and had success, but abandoned those efforts in the second half and gave up their lead in the process. I hope to see the same game plan in effect of Kobe and Gasol operating on the weak side pinch post, but with more cutters and flashing than what was displayed at the end of the third and start of the fourth quarters on Sunday. If the Lakers focus on ball and player movement, they will be fine. If they are in any way hesitant or lazy against the double teaming Jazz, turnovers will result.
The Lakers must also continue to push the pace. When Odom first came into the game, he instantly generated a fast break opportunity and got an ‘and one’ lay up. LO will continue to be a key in this series and his impact can be most felt in these types of plays. In game one, the Lakers and Jazz both had 14 fast break points. Considering the speed and quickness advantages the Lakers have with their big men, that total should be tilted more in the Lakers favor.
At some point this series the Lakers will have a chance to put this Jazz team away. There will be a moment where Utah will lose hope and cede the ground that is blocking the Lakers path to the conference finals. That point has not yet come. If the Lakers play like they understand this, they’ll be one step closer to making that situation a reality. If they don’t, the Jazz will have the second life they seek and this series will go longer than anyone that has rooting interests in the Lakers would want. And considering the health of Bynum and the fact that it was less than a week ago that Kobe wasn’t looking that healthy, I think any rest would be helpful. Step two is tonight, here’s hoping the Lakers walk firm.