I think I've cooled off enough. Well I relaxed enough to be able to write this article without crushing the keyboard, so that's a step forward...
Lakers vs. Rockets (Game 66 3/16/08)
Disappointment On More Than One Level
Before I get into this game, let me let everyone know that there is a positive side to this injury plague. Once Bynum, Gasol and Mihm come back fully healthy from their bumps and bruises, the Lakers will have a team of guys that up to 13 deep know how to play in the meat of a game. That is to say that once the team is all on their feet again, the Lakers will be a team that has experience in meaningful game time down to the last guy off the bench. That will come in huge handy once the playoffs arrive.
Now onto my tirade that I had to step away from before in order to formulate it rationally.
First off, it was a waste of a real good defensive performance on McGrady. Team-wise Tracy was held to far below what his average and/or what he can normally get in a big game. The Lakers did so well in pressuring every single move he made and keeping right up on him on every outside shot. There were a couple instances of McGrady working around the Lakers in the mid-range, but overall they kept him out of rhythm the whole way. But that wasn’t enough…
While they played decently on McGrady, they (for some reason) let the 3 point shooting go practically unabated. While the Lakers packed it in on the inside because of the lack of a big man, they chose to ignore the fact that Houston drains 3’s with the best of ‘em. Every Laker was splitting space on the outside, keeping a step to the inside for no good reason. Meanwhile that step or often 2 steps allowed every Rocket with any kind of shot to slide to any spot they wanted without obstruction. Essentially the Lakers were defending open, possibly used space in favor of defending the actual threat.
It’s the umpteenth time the Lakers have done this. For some unknown reason, the Lakers enjoy letting shooters do what they do best. There was no effort to make anyone play outside of their comfort zone. Once McGrady was taken care of, it’s almost as if they figured nobody else would dare to contribute. So again, the Lakers get burned from outside, not because the other team was running efficient plays to get the shots, but because they simply let the Rockets go wherever they wanted. Once that 1st quarter 4 3’s from Alston thing was done, you’d hope the Lakers would get together and clamp down on it happening again. However, they not only let the Rockets continue to hit 3’s, they let Alston keep getting open for any shot he wanted. That’s maddening.
The Lakers also let 6 minutes of Rocket ineptitude on offense got to waste. Yes, they climbed back into the game, but they were making it as tough on themselves as they possibly could. There was little to no use of Odom on the inside. The entire game Lamar was playing aggressive and looking to cause havoc in the paint. Yet while Lamar played on like that, the Lakers were running mid-post plays for Mbenga. Now I like Mbenga, but running plays for him (even without the big man core intact) is something that just shouldn’t happen. At best he should be a passing pivot point, not an offensive option.
Without the exploitation of Odom in the middle, the Lakers relied solely on a shooting contest. Once again, they got caught up in a game that is both out of their realm and a style of game that utterly destroys the methodical passing offense the triangle is. The Toronto game saw a little preview of the Lakers doing the same thing. Today you saw the fully fleshed out version of that same thing.
The Rockets, surprisingly, weren’t using the middle offensively whatsoever. Even with Mutombo in the game (and Scola as well) they weren’t using the post for anything but a rebound jumping off point. So when the Lakers saw that they should have been going right into the paint immediately to push the apparently soft Rocket inside game on its heels. Alas, that didn’t happen.
Meanwhile, the Lakers have got a big hill to climb without Gasol on the road. That hill led to Houston today as the Lakers limped into the Rockets crazy winning streak looking to do what no other team could do in the last 21 games versus the Rockets.
Without any legit center (outside of Mbenga) rebounds are obviously the story coming into this game. The Lakers had to look to have a team rebounding kind of mentality on both ends. But there’s no reason to send everyone into the paint on a drive to help, leaving the outside ridiculously open for Alston to drain 3’s. You cannot let the outside suffer the consequences of the lack of size in the middle.
Also again, there was no rotation to help on drives. Even Kobe, the team’s best defender had 2 times in particular (one on a drive by Battier in the 4th) where he stood within help distance watching Battier waltz to the hoop without contest. It can’t be that tough to send one help guy (not off of a shooter) to seal up at least a little space in the middle. It doesn’t have to be a shot blocker, but it has to be somebody. You can’t stand and hope they miss a lay-up.
The real problem today came with the point guard core of the Lakers again. They’ve had a recent bad run on the defensive end in particular and today was no different. With Derek letting Alston run free on the outside, it got Alston off to that quick start that usually proves deadly with him. The foot speed just isn’t there with Derek and in game like this against big outside screen sets like Houston sets that can really hurt the Lakers perimeter D. Farmar did slightly better, but got caught on screens over and over due to an all to familiar lack of communication.
The Lakers played horrible defense on the high pick and roll. Once the roll came off of the pick, the Lakers got stuck where the pick was set., There was no movement to drop down with the roll and like mentioned above, if the roll was contested but still open, help was nowhere to be found.
The Lakers had a deplorable habit of obstructive flash defense on 3-point shooters today. The flashing is fine but you can’t flash by getting in the way of your teammate defending the shot, ultimately screening him out, then running off of the flash leaving the shooter wide open. That happened way too many times today against Alston.
Lastly, a little point about the way the Laker injuries are happening. They’re coming off of guys stepping on each other’s feet. To me this smacks of a communication problem. Even when the Lakers were rolling there was little talking going on. If the Lakers would open up their communication more and let each other know what’s going, call each other off of rebounds and also move to open space, maybe all of this slipping off of each other’s feet thing will take a step aside. I’m not saying it solves all injury problems, but maybe it plays a small role – who knows.
O.K., enough of that rant. Let me bookend my whining with some positives from today.
Like I said before, Odom played a real strong game. Aggressive from the start and looking to be a factor in this one, Lamar had an impact from end to end. He played real well in the post with ball. He was showing the full range of his arsenal today, often freezing the Rocket interior D without problem. His rebounding was outstanding. Even without the pad of Gasol in the low block, Lamar has developed a real knack for grabbing boards. His rebounds in heavy traffic were beautiful. He was reaching above 2 and sometimes 3 defenders to get boards and even better was kicking back out to reset the offense instead of jacking up low percentage contested shots.
Defensively he was a little slow on the help, but when shots were coming off the glass, Lamar was in perfect position more times than not to either get the board or clear space for a teammate to grab it. Particularly, Odom was getting the long rebounds off of long shots with great accuracy.
Radmanovic did an admirable job on McGrady early on. In particular he did real well no biting on the multiple head fakes that McGrady threw at him. He played with solid footing and didn’t really let McGrady get any breathing room around or in front of him. Of all people to set a defensive pace it was Vladi in the 1st quarter that showed that McGrady can be contained.
Ronny played really, really well active off the ball. Hat activity from mid-range into the paint was invaluable in making the Lakers a bit more threatening inside than they would’ve been without Ronny playing so alertly. He cleared space on the defensive end good too. If he wasn’t moving people around to create space for himself in the paint, he was constantly in the mix, not letting easy offensive or defensive boards go off without him having a say in it.
I loved the blocks today. Usually Ronny goes in with way too much swipe in his motion but today he was a bit more under control. The blocks were timed well and he was going up when the at the height of their jump rather than crashing down his swing on them when they were almost back down.
Luke did some quality work in the high post. He’s still slowly moving away from his low post forcing offense, but today he was vital in the mid to high post, delivering some tough passes and keeping his shot under control well.
Kobe did alright, but without any movement off the ball, it was real rough for Kobe to find any room to move. The Rockets were free to send double teams at him because the rest of the Lakers weren’t getting to their pass option spots whatsoever. It’s hard to gauge Kobe’s game today, he never really got a chance to get going. The Lakers allowed the Rockets to pay heavy attention to him, without making them pay for overplaying Kobe.
Like I said, to me, this was one of the more disappointing losses of the year. It’s not because 1st place has been surrendered (although yeah, that does suck) but moreover because this game was easily winnable.
The Lakers failed to cash in on the Rockets almost handing to them by playing intolerable defense on the arc. I don’t like losing, but I don’t mind it as much when the Lakers give their full focus and effort. Today, they just looked disinterested, almost glum. They looked like a team that was giving up the ship before it even left the harbor. That’s what angered me the most about this game.
First place is a hot potato in the West right now. As of this moment the Rockets have it, but with more focus, common sense on the defensive end and a continued aggression on the boards (along with other things, but you get the point), it can once again be the Lakers’ place to have.