Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Do Lakers Have "Heart Of A Champion"?

Wow, how quickly people jump off the bandwagon. Since Boston beat LA in Game 5, I've heard some pretty bold statements:

"This series is over."
"Kobe doesn't care about his team."
"Phil Jackson is a frontrunner who can't adapt or adjust."
"I'd rather have Glen Rice or Gary Payton than Ron Artest."

Yes, I know. And the Rice/Payton comment was from a Laker fan!

But I'd like to remind everyone that 16 years ago, the Houston Rockets came home trailing the rough and tumble New York Knicks 3-2. Hakeem Olajuwon/Kenny Smith/Sam Cassell and company had just been mauled in Games 4 and 5 by Pat Riley's band of roughnecks led by Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley and John Starks. I don't need to point out that Houston then won two hard-fought battles to bring home the title. As coach Rudy T said, "Never underestimate the heart of a champion."

In that series, coincidentally, Houston also won G1 at home, lost G2, won G3 on the road, then lost G4 and G5- the exact pattern of this series. Check it out.

Those plucky Rockets prevailed by playing good D, riding their superstar (Dream) and making open shots when NY double-teamed.

So here's how the Lakers can turn this thing around:

Kobe as QB
To use a football analogy, the Cs are bringing blitzes and Kobe keeps running into the line of scrimmage. He needs to audible more. Given that the entire Boston scheme is built around making him take tough, long shots, Kobe needs to resist the urge to hold the ball. Remember how the 49ers always used to win Super Bowls by passing on first down? Same thing here. Kobe can still get his shots, but he needs to look for them in transition and on the catch. When he dribbles and pump fakes, he plays right into their hands by allowing their D to get set.

Keep Pau moving
Boston's got three of the best low-post defenders in the league (KG, Perk, Sheed). LA needs to stop setting Gasol up on the low block and assuming he can operate there. Too often he gets pushed out of position or hurried into a lousy pass. Give him the ball in motion near the FT line or elbow. He can make that jumper or kick out to shooters.

Make outside shots
With so much attention being paid to Kobe and Pau, Derek Fisher should get lots of open 3s. He and Sasha Vujacic are the only consistent outside threats. They both need to be aggressive in looking for their perimeter game. It's the only way to get Boston out of the paint and free up room for the bigs.

Pound the offensive glass
With so much help rotating to Kobe, there's lots of room for everyone else to look for second chance opportunities. Gasol's already doing this pretty effectively but Odom and Artest need to follow his lead.

Jam the outlet
When Celtic bigs get a defensive board, they're looking for a long outlet to Rajon Rondo. Laker bigs need to contest this pass before getting back in transition.

Stay with Rondo at all times
As stated above, the Cs are getting lots of early offense by finding Rondo in space. Phil needs to have Kobe/Fisher/Farmar/Brown do what Tyronn Lue did to Iverson in 2001- stay close to him and try to keep him from catching the ball. In the halfcourt, Kobe needs to stop leaving RR to help the post. This will eliminate his backdoor cuts and keep him off the boards. When Rondo does get into the paint, hammer him. Dude's shooting 4-15 from the stripe- make him think about it.

Put Odom in attack mode
Lamar needs to push the ball and get into the painted area. Good things happen when he's aggressive on both ends. In the 4th quarter, when Boston traps Kobe like they always do, Odom needs to be the one who creates offense, for himself and for others.

Play over the Paul Pierce P/R
Instead of just switching on the high screen-roll, use that second defender to attack and make PP pick up the dribble. They might even get some turnovers and easy buckets this way. So far, they're letting Pierce size up the defense before making his move. As a result, he's shooting in rhythm, and as we saw in Game 5, that's a scary proposition for any defender.

Play together
Too often in Game 5, I saw Laker players sulking and pointing fingers at each other. Boston loves that, they feed on it. It's like giving spinach to Popeye. In order to beat this formidable opponent, LA needs to play together and believe in themselves.

Boston played as well as they could possibly play last game. The Lakers have taken their best shot. Now it's their time to answer back.

Pictured: Dream and team

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