There’s only so many ways you can deal with an injury. As the player that’s actually injured, Andrew Bynum is doing them all. He’s skipping practices to rest, he’s getting treatment, and he’s playing in obvious discomfort to try and help the team. Really, there’s nothing else the Lakers or us fans can ask from from Bynum that he’s not already doing.
But, Bynum isn’t the only one that has to find a way to deal with this injury. The other Lakers players and coaches must also figure out a way for this team to still be effective when one of it’s key players is limited in the way that Bynum is. So, here are a few things that I think the Lakers can do to if Bynum is going to be as limited as he was on game 4:
1). Get Lamar Odom going. Really this is a need regardless if Bynum is playing well or not, whether he’s full strength or hobbled. Odom is an essential part of this team’s success so finding ways to get him going is important. In game 3 and in the 4th quarter of game 4, Odom found some ways to be successful on offense which is a good start. However, Odom must still find ways to play effective defense and rebound against the C’s big men. One player that has given Odom real problems is Big Baby Davis. Davis has used the combination of girth and quick feet to knock Odom off his spot when attacking the basket off the dribble and when going after rebounds. I think Zephid made a great point in the comments about how Odom can start to neutralize what Davis has been doing best – attacking the basket and finishing inside:
Odom is paying too much respect to Big Baby’s jump shot. Big Baby was able to score so easily because he has a surprisingly quick first step. Once he got his shoulder past Odom, he was able to muscle his way to the basket and use his girth to get space for the finish. If Odom lays off Big Baby and tells him, “Hey, take that 15 footer; I’d rather you make a jumpshot than get a lay-up and/or get a foul.” Laying off Big Baby will solve all of Odom’s problems…Big Baby is a catch-and-shooter; he’s not a catch-and-hold-and-shooter. If Odom just backs off 2-3 feet, he can cut off Big Baby’s drives and still semi-contest his jump shot because Big Baby just cannot rise as high as a guy like KG. The one jumper Big Baby took yesterday he clanked, so we’ve gotta make him start hitting that shot. If he starts burning us from 10-15 feet, only then should we make a change.
Offensively, I think Odom has to rely less on isolation drives. And I say this for two reasons – first, because Davis is a nimble footed defender that does a good job of staying with him on his drives and second, because Boston is a team that thrives on cutting down penetration angles and LO is not finding the openings that he has in past series. This isn’t to say that LO should abandon this tactic, but I think he needs to mix in more off the ball movement where he’s cutting and flashing from the weak side when Pau and Kobe have the ball and are demanding the attention that have so far in the series.
2). Phil must go deeper into his bench. Many will point to bringing in Mbenga and Powell and giving them more burn with the starting group so that Odom and Pau won’t have to play as many minutes while also keeping Odom in his role as the primary reserve. I’m half way on board with this. I do think that Phil needs to ensure that Pau and Odom get the rest they need so they can be effective in the closing stages of the game. Last night, both players were gassed after playing the entire second half. So, some spot minutes for these guys in the middle portion of the quarters (near the mandatory time outs) or at the end of the quarters (to take advantage of the longer breaks) would be a good idea, if only to get these guys those extra few minutes of rest.
But, if Phil is really going to go deeper into his bench, I’d actually prefer that he play Luke and Sasha a bit more – especially Luke. In game 3, Walton was a +13 on the night in his 13 minutes of action. I think Luke’s smarts and savvy on offense would help the Lakers execution a great deal. He’s a guy that can get good looks for other players and is always one that’s thinking one step ahead on offense – something the Lakers need against a great defense like Boston’s. As for Sasha, I just think he’s earned a few extra minutes in this series. Even if it’s only 4-5 minutes a half, I think those minutes would allow Kobe to get a few extra minutes rest so he can be fresher down the stretch.
3). Play Ron more at PF against Davis. If Bynum really is going to be limited, those extra front court minutes have to go somewhere. And with all apologies to Mbenga and Powell, I’d rather it be Ron matching up with Big Baby than those two. Ron has the foot speed and the strength to battle Davis on his drives and the length to contest his jumper and still rebound effectively. Before the series started, Phil said that Davis is the type of player that Ron can play some PF against and I think he should see if his first instinct was right about that. I know we just got done talking about what Odom can do to effectively play Davis, but the C’s have four player rotation and there will be plenty of minutes to go around to match up with all of these players. If the Lakers hope to not wear out Odom and Gasol, they’ll need another player that they can trust in this PF rotation. And if Walton does see more minutes (as mentioned above), then Ron can be moved around a bit more and used in places where he’s most useful – which may just be matched up on Baby.
4). Push the pace more. I’ve been looking for this for a couple of games, but it has not yet materialized. The Lakers can push the pace against this team and get into their offense quicker. Odom, Fisher, and Kobe all need to get the ball up court faster to either get easy buckets early in the clock (which won’t be too often, but needs to be explored) or to get into their sets faster and create a flow to their game that’s been absent in this series. Boston’s slow down tactics aren’t just making the Lakers work deeper into the clock, it’s making the Lakers stagnant on offense. Too often, players are just standing around as if the slow pace has made them lazy in their half court movement. If the Lakers are to break out of their malaise, they need to kick start their sets and get things going earlier and with more punch in their step. Push the ball, look for early offense, pass early and cut often and see where it all gets you. I don’t think it could be worse than having Kobe end up taking a 20 foot contested jumper with less than 5 seconds on the shot clock.
I’m hoping that Bynum can play on Sunday and that he’ll be effective in his minutes. I hope we can see some of the guy from game 2; they guy that did all that damage to the C’s interior while scoring and contesting shots in the paint. But, if that guys not available or if he’s in uniform by severely limited, the Lakers will need to make adjustments. There are some of the things that I’m hoping to see. What about you guys?