Crucifido's Corner

Postby LAL818 on Tue Mar 25, 2008 12:06 pm

Again, excellent breakdown crucifido. I missed the game last night, so this was a pleasure to read. Kinda remindes me of when Chick described the game on the radio. Thanks for taking to time to do these write ups man. :bow:
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Postby crucifido on Wed Mar 26, 2008 9:58 pm

WOW! I don't know if i can ever be compared that way, but thanks for the compliment G32A! I mean wow, that blows me away. I really appreciate it!! I'm glad to write these rants, and am ecstatic that anyone even reads (let alone) enjoys them.

Unfortunately, there's games like this that are no fun to write about. Man, what a deflating loss.

Lakers vs. Bobcats (Game 72 3/26/08)

There Are No Gimmes

The Warrior games are over, the Lakes are back home, they had a day off and in roll the Bobcats. It’s not time to relax, but it’s a good game to have off of those scorching competitive games with Golden State, or so you’d think.

With the tough back to back with Golden State and having the day off yesterday, the Lakers definitely looked sluggish at the outset. On the other end, that curious lack of inside game again versus a team that has no presence in the paint was there. I know they’re injured in the middle, but the softness inside is coming more from no pop in their step, rather than the obvious short-handed roster.

The story of the game, an all too familiar one – lazy Laker play, giving the Bobcats the lead, the rhythm and the confidence they needed to get over the hump. So the Lakers had to overcome both the lead and a team that had their game kicking on all cylinders thanks to a pitifully played game by the Lakers from the very beginning. Its one thing to play like this on the road during a rough run or in the second of back to back, but there’s no reason the Lakers should be coming out with this kind of non-effort on their home floor after a day off no less.

The Lakers were again letting every Bobcat get far too deep into the teeth of the D before any contest came. By the time any kind of help or obstruction came, the Bobcats were already where they had to be for a high percentage shot.

It wasn’t just the slow to nowhere defensive movement; it was the overall lack of any kind of enthusiasm. The Lakers just waltzed into this game with a slow-witted style that became a good-sized lead for too long.

Between Kobe’s lightning quick rebound between 2 Bobcats and his strong block of Okafor from behind in the 4th Kobe was active. The problem was, the Bobcats were absolutely stifling Kobe as soon as he got the ball anywhere on the floor. As he got buried, the Lakers got more stagnant, making the Lakers easily readable offensively. There wasn’t anyone else stepping up as aggressively as they needed. As that went on you could see Kobe trying to take the brunt of the offensive load, which never benefits the Lakers.

Gotta love Ronny making defense pay for slacking off of him. His defensive tenacity was just as usual – constant and determined. It was another game where Ronny didn’t let any shots around him go without a fight. The telling one was early in the 1st when Dudley went in for a 3-point play. He got the hoop but even with that Ronny was rotating over to help even after the whistle.

His shooting is getting much more solid. In this one he showed no hesitation, as he did against the Warriors when he was on an over-passing binge. In the 2nd half though Ronny’s energy wore down and his fighting for inside position was being thwarted.

Sasha came into the game with that same brand of manic hustle he always has. The diving save of the ball in the 1st was good to see. He kept his feet active even after the shot went up. A lot of times Sasha will stand still once the shot goes up, releasing too early. Tonight though he was running down low as the ball went up.

His energy coming into the game in the 1st quarter (along with Farmar and Luke) really changed the mood of the game. Its good to see that quick footed aggravating brand of defense Sasha got himself known for coming back since the Warriors mini-series. His addiction to the 3 has become telegraphed right now. Again, he has to put the ball into the paint so his shot will ease up.

Spells of late help coming from weak side to middle plagued the Lakers tonight. That slow to react defense has moments where it’s a chronic problem. You expect a little lag in the middle with the majority of Laker big men hurt, but that’s no excuse for why most Lakers simply don’t look to help as much as they should. You’d think with less size in the idle, there would be a concerted effort to move in front of drives, but it’s been the opposite.

Luke was fading off of his man on the arc a bit too early and too much. When the ball would come inside of the 3-point line, Luke (from the weak side) would take about 3 steps into the paint away form his man. Those 3 steps are what have been getting him in trouble. Its good to see him try to help on the inside drives, but he’s putting himself in bad position for the drive and kick. He didn’t get burned on it too badly tonight, but he’s teetering on a dangerous situation.

When he steps away, it obviously lets his assignment much more available, but it also makes recovery to that player too hard. When he rushes out to recover, he rushes so fast trying to make up ground that his man merely has to put the ball on the floor for one dribble to free himself.

But offensively, Luke played tough tonight. He was relentless on the post when he drove into it. His stand up post game is still trying to find its way, but as of right now he’s found a better, more fluid game moving in from the mid-post to get his shot instead of planting himself on the block. It’s just the careless passing that showed up yet again. Luke has great basketball sense on that front and it’s been odd to see him melt down within the passing game like he has.

Jordan had excellent balance in his game. It wasn’t the 3 point-fest he’s been leaning towards lately. He made good decision with the ball on the half break (when a couple of defenders are almost on defense with him) aside from the awful light pass through 3 Bobcats in the 3rd.. Case in point, when he pushed the ball right into the Bobcats in the 2nd quarter. He had a chance to pull up for a jumper and he had pass options on the wing. But he turned down the bad angle passes and pushed the ball into the paint. More drives like that (as Farmar was doing more often earlier this year and the Laker point guard won’t have such trouble finding room for their shot.

The same goes for Derek. He actually had a drive along the baseline tonight to dish to Turiaf. Derek has turned himself into a perimeter player almost exclusively. This game had him shooting a lot of distance jumpers again, but the real success came from Derek putting taking the ball to the rack. Still it wasn’t anything to write home about for Fisher.

Lamar just looked like he had some trouble getting himself going tonight. He had some slow footwork in the paint, letting a lot of drives get by him. There may be some fatigue from the incredible run he’s on right now. In the 3rd quarter his energy picked up a bit but not without a good amount of labored breathing showing.

In that 3rd quarter though as Odom’s game began to rise a bit, the rip of the ball out of Mohammed’s hands and the sweeping steal from behind were outstanding plays from a guy who looked like this game was a big chore to get through. His moves on the inside (though questionable traveling-wise) were surprisingly spry.

Terribly lazy passes from Radmanovic. You cannot just float a ball into the post or expect a light flat pass to get through on a team that has quick hands. In fact, you can’t expect this brand of lethargic passing to really be successful against anyone.

DJ played well tonight. Call me crazy, but I like the guy and what he can bring to a game. He had 2 good defensive plays causing the turnover by simply holding ground strongly.

The bench play was fantastic though. They made a good run in the first half and likewise in the 4th quarter coming in and infusing the game with an energy that was absent with the starters.

And what happened at the end of the 2nd quarter - yet another buzzer beater (from my count #9) going into the half. Closing out quarters is vastly important. The 2nd 12 minutes was another set that finished with a sloppy turnover morphing itself into an uncontested shot from the arc. It has to stop at some point – right?

Well that was a big opportunity blown - a home game against a team under 500 (teams the Lakers have righted the ship against this season) with Phoenix losing in Boston. That along with the win by New Orleans in Cleveland is putting some pressure on the Lakers to keep up with the race for the #1 spot in the West. The injuries are quickly becoming a bigger and bigger chink in the armor as the season winds down. But the strength of character the Lakers have shown in keeping up with the West’s best can’t stop now.

The missing Lakers will come back from injury, but the opportunity to have the best record in the West may not.
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Postby crucifido on Sat Mar 29, 2008 12:06 am


Lakers vs. Grizzlies (Game 73 3/28/08)

Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Go In The Water

This team is tired.

Not like tired as in boring, but I mean this team is exhausted, pooped, worn out and just plain beat ( no pun intended) right now.

Before I get into anything else, it’s readily apparent that this team is in dire need of an infusion of energy. The multiple games playing woefully short-handed is officially catching up with the Lakers. They held the ship above water for an admirably long time, but right now that ship needs to fix some leaks. That shot of adrenaline that is desperately needed right now can only come from one thing – getting the Laker big men back in the lineup a.s.a.p..

This is not a plea to rush anyone back, or some freak-out article about how everything is falling apart. The Lakers will make the playoffs no matter what. Rather, I need to state the obvious here - the Lakers need to get healthy if they expect to keep up with intensifying West (as if it could get tighter).
Mbenga did an admirable job tonight in the paint. He had a couple spells of keeping Milicic out f the low block with some really strong foot and leg work. However, the mobility of the Grizzlies inside (particularly Milicic and Gay) was putting Mbenga and Ronny into bad situation after bad. There was nothing either of them could do in trying to hold down the paint and keep an eye on the active high post game of the Grizzlies.

As Ronny got more fouls, his mood began to sink. To his credit the guy has done a respectable job playing this long out of position. You could see it while he was on the bench and you could see it in his tentative defense. Mbenga was a different story. For all the talent that he lacks he makes up for it in hustle. He was outmatched at almost every turn in the post, but he kept plugging away, playing fearless defense in an effort to back up the sluggish defense everywhere else. Between the two of them, you could plainly see that they were getting exhausted trying to play under control yet with the energy to match the Grizzlies increasingly confident post game.

Lamar was obviously not feeling well (as his lack of playing time in the second half and his early dismissal from practice today will attest to). So without the rebounding of Odom in the middle, Ronny and DJ truly had a big task at hand. If you look at the point differential in the average of the Grizzlies to what they had tonight, it was plain to see that the majority of it came from Milicic’s 22. If Bynum or Gasol is in there the Lakers could’ve easily held him to his typical game of 5 to 10 points. But without either in there and with Lamar not feeling 100%, the Lakers could do little to keep Darko from doing almost anything he wanted in the block.

As the middle was getting worn out by Gay and Milicic, the perimeter wasn’t much better. That is where the game was seriously lost. The Grizzlies were merely running a set of 2 screens out up top to free up guys, almost in the same succession with the same players, but the Lakers couldn’t figure out how to get around it. Sasha, Jordan, Derek and once in a while Kobe were all getting stuck behind the same series of screens repeatedly. Farmar had the Fisher disease of going under the screen and frequently letting his man or the quick pass off to the shooting guard on either side get easy access to the paint without contest.

One of the guys who was playing defense, and the one guy who looked like one of the few who wanted to play at all was Kobe. (Granted Radmanovic played some decent defense in the first half, having a great recovery play to jump back down towards the baseline for a steal in the 1st) I’ll get to the point thing in a second, but the big thing from Kobe tonight was keeping Miller out of rhythm. There was never a time with Kobe on him that Miller got a free look. In fact, I could only count 3 times that Miller even got mildly free to get a shot off. To that end the perimeter defense was working well. The problem was that it was only coming from one guy.

I don’t think this team is naturally deficient at the perimeter defense, but again, the tired factor looked like it played heavily in the lackluster effort that was put out there tonight.

Scoring-wise it was a great performance from Kobe. The only hitch there – nobody else wanted to play along. Before any critic gets into some irrelevant ball hog rant, there were countless times this game that Kobe used himself as a decoy, passing the ball off to various people for good looks at the hoop. That one pass through 3 Grizzlies in the paint to Radmanovic was incredible to see live. The passes were there, he was trying to get the others fired up, but the all too familiar smell to Laker fans of a team that looked like they were almost scared to step up reared its nasty little head.

So the Lakers went back to the Kobe doing everything style of play that got them a nice little exit in the first round the past couple of years. Of all teams hat know about how that style of ball doesn’t win, you’d hope these guys did. It made the Laker offense incredibly easy to read. The Grizzlies just began to swarm Kobe in the 3rd quarter, forcing someone else to get it going. Alas, nobody else really ever did.

Kobe being Kobe took it upon himself to try and get the game in hand, but it was just too easy for the Grizzlies to defend and by that time, they had worn out the Laker interior defense to a shell of what it could be. So Kobe goes down, hits a shot, the Grizzlies come back and hit theirs. They exchange basket back and forth and to not so big of a surprise the Lakers fall with Kobe posting 53.

The 53 is great, but Kobe, the Lakers, the coaching staff and us fans know that won’t win games – even versus teams like the lowly 18 (now 19) win Grizzlies.

When you looked at the scoreboard at the half and saw Kobe with 34 and nobody else was above 6, the trouble wasn’t too tough to see coming.

I still thought that the Lakers were under using Lamar on the offensive end. The guy still had a presence in the middle and could’ve been at least given the ball to initiate the offense from the post more than never. I don’t understand why Lamar doesn’t get plays called for him in the mid-post. Even being sick, the guy has moves over the likes of the Grizzlies. But, Lamar was hampered by illness and held back by a sheer lack of drive that he obviously has plenty of to give. It’s hard to blame Lamar for anything tonight really.

As far as Sasha goes, I appreciate persistent shooter trying to shoot themselves out of a slump, but seriously, if the shot isn’t falling then get an easy bucket or two, to get yourself going. The one pass offense ending up in a predictable 3 wasn’t working. Why the Lakers insisted on continuing with it I won’t know. They had no inside presence established on offense and for some reason thought that shooting an absurd amount of threes when they weren’t falling would ease up the inside. The problem was that when the inside did get eased up there were no cutters or dives to take advantage of it.

All Sasha had to was put the ball on the floor once or twice. He’s gotten away from the jab dribbles he was doing earlier in the year and that’s done nothing but brought more pressure to his shooting.

It took until the 4th quarter but it was good to see Luke fighting to get inside. The elusive zone defense stumped the Lakers yet again. It put them in this endless loop of perimeter passing that got nowhere, but Luke did real well in pushing the ball into the middle to collapse the weakest defensive scheme in the world. He was taking the ball to the hoop with authority and got to the line every time he did so. Why that lead wasn’t followed, why the Lakers then went back to the long distance jumper I don’t know.

Luke had a bit of a breakout game on offense because of his work though. He got back ot starting his offense in the high post and kept an eye out for passes that are always there (ala the pass to Ronny for the jam in the 4th).

Just a couple quick points and I’m done:

The Lakers were running away from offensive boards in a feeble effort to get back on D. They needed to improve the transition for sure, but they also might want to not send everyone back as the shot is still in mid-air.
2 keys to the Lakers downfall late in the game:

Missing in 3 attempts to get a bucket when they were back 109-106. The rebounding was tough but every shot was rushed and came from – again – the outside when there was an inside player in good position every time.

No 2-for1 with 37.7 seconds on the clock back by 2. The Lakers instead ran the clock down to 16.6 getting, what else, a 3 out of it. The whole game they were shooting too early in the clock and out of rhythm, but the one time they needed to shoot quickly, they didn’t. Because of that, they went down by 4 and were taken out of the game.

Fouling at the 3 point line is a new craze lately. The Lakers are late in rotating or seeing the move to the open shot, they rush in swiping and get called for the foul. That’s completely unnecessary.

No screen communication on defense. It looked like everyone was surprised b y the screens they ran into. There wasn’t a word said as to where it coming from. The communication in general was poor at best.

Alright, that’s enough of that. The Lakers lost their 3rd home game in a row at a time of the year when every game versus easy opponents is a godsend. They’ve successfully broken down the cushy little home stand they had. Again, I know it’s not on purpose, but injuries or no, these are teams they should beat – no excuses.

The brightest spot to the game - the return of Mihm. Hopefully this will begin the parade of Lakers back to action and the Lakers back to the team we and they know they can and will be.
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Postby crucifido on Sun Mar 30, 2008 9:24 pm

The Lakers almost gave it away but it was great to see a return to a little tenacity at home.

Lakers vs. Wizards (Game 74 3/30/08)

Getting Back On Track At Home

It’s been 3 straight home losses, something you don’t want to see any time, but at this time of the year it’s particularly tough to watch. Nonetheless, the Lakers got out on the court tonight against the Wizards looking to change things back to the wining way.

There was a much better start, simply for the fact that the Lakers set up the offense from the inside out in the 1st quarter. The first 3 possessions saw the Lakers pass it into the post, drive into the paint or work it from the outside to the high post for much more stable shot chances. The 3-point shot is fine (in moderation) when it comes off of working the ball in and out instead of solely around the perimeter.

To that end, Jordan played much better. He was getting the ball into the paint on jab dribbles and downright drives. Taking himself off of the 3-point line exclusively, Farmar made the Wizards run with him instead of being able to stand with him. When Farmar uses his speed like he did in this one, it makes the Lakers ability to move off the ball (and yea they can do this pretty dang well when they want to) get used to its full advantage.

That good start off the inside out game though dwindled into a long jumper game in the 3rd quarter, allowing the Wizards to eliminate what should’ve been a game winning lead (17) going into the 4th. Why the Lakers go away from what’s working sometimes is a mystery.

Quicker contribution from sources other than Kobe didn’t hurt either. Everyone was looking much more solid in their footing and their form on shots. It looked like after the absurdly unbalanced scoring of the Grizzlies game that maybe this team got a talking to about stepping up sooner rather than later.

The sequence of ball movement at the 7.30 mark of the 2nd (Kobe to Ronny to Luke to Sasha for 3) was beautiful. That kind of moving the ball around is what was sorely lacking in the last two games. The one-pass-then-shoot offense took a backseat for the majority of the game, which is always a good thing.

That was some periodic sloppy ball handling the low block tonight. Lamar was mostly guilty of it. When he got into the low post he was head down dribbling or taking his dribble way too high, both losing control easy and allowing for easy swipes at the ball. When Lamar stayed low with the ball and rose up with that towering left hand, he had great success against Haywood (as he should any day of the week). Lamar did a good job making a concerted effort to get himself established inside much earlier and much more than he has the last 2 games.

Lamar has mastered the solid hands-up defense. Its great to see him stand his ground, keeping on the balls of his feet and being able to pivot with his man or jump out on him for the distraction / block. He did real well against Jamison in the post tonight. Lamar gave no room for Jamison to get to his comfort zone.

Derek did O.K. tonight. It was nothing special but he did get the ball in the paint here and there along with hitting some pretty smooth shots throughout the game. The foot has got to be bothering him, but even having Derek and his composure on the floor hurt is a bonus.

Luke has done much better since pulling his offense out of the traffic-laden posts. Tonight he had some real good runs from the perimeter into the high post with a teardrop shot (as in the 2nd quarter) or with a pass to the outside. That kind of motion game with Luke will get him right back where he should be much quicker than the forced post game he was trying to throw down in spots this year. Defensively he did alright diving down after his man to help with the board or the pass off. He let his man get around him often, as Luke’s lateral speed is usually a bit slow, but he made up for it by coming down to the level of the ball to help out. His hustle on defense more than made up for his lack of agility.

The best element to Luke’s game was the return of some his strength coming from his legs. You could see from his shooting that his lift came back to him somewhat.

Before the rebound in overtime and far, far before this was by a long shot Luke’s best game of the season.

Porous defense by the Wizards tonight, but Kobe did great in recognizing it early and pushing it into them. There was no hesitancy in Kobe’s game. After the one-man show he had to put on last night, you could see Kobe stepping back both from a better contribution from the team and just in general.

Kobe had some serious trouble getting his floaters to fall tonight. Everything was coming off short-armed on his drives. The balance was better in his game tonight, but that was mostly from the rest of the team stepping up. Not much else to say besides Kobe showed great control in a game where he was getting murdered on the inside. I’m never one to blame refs, but some of the no-calls on Kobe were simply unbelievable.

Radmanovic’s shot as falling, mostly from the inside out work of everyone else. He got to his spots well, which is why he gets so many shots. However, again, he has got to get to the inside or at least take a step or two in off of a fake when he’s contested if nothing else to just mix up his game. It’s too easy to defend a player that is only doing one thing an entire game. Yes, I know he shot more consistently than he did in the last couple, but him, Fisher and Sasha have all got to be very aware of getting the ball away from the 3-point line too.

After Stephenson was hot in the 1st quarter, you could see that he could become a problem sitting at home. I know the players can tell he’s on fire, so you would think the Lakers would come out focused on him defensively. But, going into the 3rd, Stephenson was still on fire and getting increasingly less defense thrown his way. The Lakers have got to get out on shooters regardless of being hot or cold. They can’t continue to let streaky shooters stay in rhythm without trying to force a change in their game.

The Lakers shouldn’t have to put Kobe on him (or get burned for 20+) when all that was needed was a simple hand in his face more than once every other shot. The eternal lesson for the Lakers this year: make shooters slashers and vice versa.

Surprise, surprise, Mbenga was stupendous tonight. He bailed the Lakers out 3 times with some real nice soft shots off the glass and off of a gorgeous cut. He was responsible for getting the Lakers back up to speed in the 4th when they looked like they were lagging again. Whether he has the most talent in the world isn’t important really. The thing with DJ is that he gives 100% on the floor whenever he’s out there and you can’t dislike that.

Despite the refs holding Ronny back a bit by calling some curiously close fouls on blocks, he played with a bit more energy tonight. Like I said last time, the team still shows some signs of being a bit worn out, but in spurts the energy they had a while ago came out. Ronny was the catalyst for that energy yet again. His active defense was much needed on drives. The offense was in gear due to Ronny’s activity on cuts and dives. The big dunk in the 3rd quarter is a testament to the activity off the ball that Ronny had in this one.

Ronny’s persistency on the defensive end was impressive, as there was no shot around Ronny that didn’t get his full attention.

About this tipping the ball on boards. If you can’t get to it and you have to tip to gain control of the ball, that’s fine. However, there were a couple times in this game (and in others) that the ball can be gotten with 2 hands, yet the Lakers choose to tip it. If you can get it with 2 hands and get firm control of the ball, the tip shouldn’t happen.

So the 3 game home skid is over, the Lakers are ½ game up on the Suns for the Pacific title, Mihm is back, Bynum is to be on the road trip and Pau is coming along quickly. Things are looking up for the Lakers and it couldn’t come any sooner.
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Postby crucifido on Wed Apr 02, 2008 10:01 pm

Am I going nuts or are the Lakers finally getting healthy again? Alright so 2 more back and 2 more to go.

Lakers vs. Blazers (Game 75 4/2/08)

The Return Of Gasol… And None Too Soon

Finally, the Lakers are coming back into form with Gasol being the second to come back from the injury bug. With that comes the beginning of the adjustment period back to full strength.

One adjustment showed early. Everyone began to take the ball inside even without involving Pau in plays heavily. Kobe, Derek, Lamar and others were getting the ball into the paint early in the clock, testing the Blazers defense and getting them back on their heels far more than they had against anyone else recently. A result of that was the Lakers being in the bonus with 5 minutes left in the 1st. The key following that is how much they took advantage of that by continuing to pound the ball inside.

They took real good advantage of it, getting to the line 3 times and taking it inside a total of 6 times in that 5 minutes. The coaching staff (and a good most fans) have been begging for that kind of inside push once you’ve gotten the other team in foul trouble for a while now.

It wasn’t just the 1st half or quarter either. Once the Lakers got their rhythm back with the inside outside game, they didn’t stop. In fact, they got more aggressive with it as the second half got going. The crazy amount of 3’s they were shooting gleefully gave way to a much more in pace, triangle style of ball movement that got the Lakers looking like the Lakers again.

His presence alone was good to see, but Gasol still gave the Lakers that smooth style of offense he’s known for. He set up a real nice soft left handed shot from the low block in the first and kept going, hitting the soft jumper from the free throw line the second. You can’t expect a blow-up kind of game from him right now, but seeing him run the transition from defense to offense like he did tonight had to put a smile on your face.

Pau’s activity in the 2nd half was much improved. It looked like the ankle was gaining strength rather quickly as the game wore on. There was much more aggressiveness on defensive (and a couple offensive) rebounds and his flash defense to the top of the key was really mobile.

The defensive end saw him getting beat a bit by Aldridge. But that kind of activity that Aldridge has in games will be rough for Gasol to keep up with until his feet and legs get back under him.

Loved seeing Derek taking the ball off the curl to a shorter-range floater in the 1st. He didn’t settle for the 3 like he had been for a while now. Just simple plays like that running inside the arc even a couple steps will ease the pressure off the outside game. Defensively though he was anticipating drives by Blake, often leaving him ridiculously open at the top of the perimeter. He was trying to second guess Blake’s moves off of a screen and got caught way far out of range too many times.

Kobe had great effort on the boards tonight. The Blazers are a tall long team and give the Lakers fits on the boards. Seeing Kobe get after those boards like he did early on was a good pace-setting kind of move. He was relentless on the defensive rebounds, getting fantastic position early and holding it down with great leg strength.

Offensively Kobe was on the attack and it helped out big time. It set up easier outside shots and really got the Blazers into scramble mode early on in the game instead of letting them settle into a man-to-man easy perimeter D.

Kobe also played quality defense on Outlaw and Aldridge. The couple of shots Outlaw and Aldridge did get off were quickly shut down by Kobe staying chest to chest with him everywhere he went on the court. He gave no room for either to move along the baseline from weak to strong or otherwise. The roving style of defense he played the entire game that was amazing to watch. Kobe was pretty much everywhere the ball was going while keeping within reaching distance of his assignment or the play at all times. Not having to run from inside to outside to help on both fronts added a ton of energy to Kobe’s defensive presence.

It was tough for Lamar to get inside like he can against the trees of the Blazers. There wasn’t as much fight in Odom’s footwork on the inside, but that may be because of the lack of room there is with Aldridge and Pryzbilla in the middle with him. You could also see a little confusion in Lamar on the offensive end. With Pau in the game, it certainly takes up more space in the middle. That looked like it pushed Lamar out of the deep positions he was getting. What Lamar did do with that size in the middle though is use it real well as a decoy for his drive, having one real strong drive in the 2nd quarter with the Blazers frozen watching Pau. Once Pau stepped out, things opened up for Lamar and you saw him get back to the hard play on the inside he had in that amazing 10 game run of his.

It’s a balance of space that’s going to need a couple games to work out. Add Bynum into the mix and they have to work that out again. Having 3 talented big men that like to play second fiddle off of Kobe – that’s a good problem to have.

Odom (and to some degree Ronny) is the one with the biggest adjustment to make with the Laker big men getting back on the court. The great run he had is bound to slow down with more traffic in the middle, but its up to Lamar to really make a concerted effort to find his space on the floor as the Lakers get healthy again.

Much, much better play from Farmar tonight. He had a couple real good runs, leaving Blake in the dust to take the ball to the rack instead of constantly spotting up for 3. Because of that, voila, his game got back to what it should be all the time. The put-back off of his own missed floater in the 4th was a beautiful example of the space his quick inside drive gives him room to do.

The help and recovery defense took a serious turn for the better in the 2nd half. Kobe was at the forefront of it, but Lamar had some real nice sweeps from weak to strong on defense to block or contest the shots that were going up easy for the Blazers in the 1st half. That improvement also ran the Blazers off of the 3-point shot, pushing them into the teeth of the defense.

There were still a few help and fade plays. At its best, those plays are good to see someone coming out to help on the perimeter, but you can’t flash at them and leave. You either have to stick with them until your teammate can recover or don’t run out to them at all. Its been done a lot this year, making the Laker perimeter defense more confused than they are otherwise at times.

The assists were good tonight, but the passes were there in other games too. What the difference was tonight was the ability to play inside and outside. There was no way for the Blazer defense to settle in on the arc and just dare the Lakers to make 3’s all night. They had to go deep in the paint, come out and recover and with the ball movement the Lakers threw out there in this one, there was no keeping up for the Blazers.

WTF Of The Game: Kobe’s left-handed baseline fall away in the 1st – what was that?! Right when you think you’ve seen every shot in his arsenal. That shot and the tap rebound / pass to Farmar for the jumper and the wrap-around pass to Gasol both in the 4th were astounding plays to see from this re-energized version of Kobe.

Well like I mentioned the balance of space on the court is going to take some work to figure out. The Lakers will have to get their shooters room on the outside while finding room to breathe for the frontcourt in the game together. Its not an immediate thing to iron out, but I can’t imagine that it will be anything but positive once it is worked out and the Lakers get rolling at the right time of year once again.
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Postby revgen on Wed Apr 02, 2008 11:01 pm

Great Writeup Cruc.

Just getting Pau back got us back into an inside-out game again. Jordan was driving, and Kobe was driving to the bucket to. His presence on the court is hard to describe in words or with stats, but you can see it just watching the games.
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Postby crucifido on Sun Apr 06, 2008 8:38 pm

Thanks revgen, yeah having Pau back had an immediate impact on everyone. i can only imagine what it'll be like when Bynum and Ariza come back too. This team could be really tough to handle.

Another day, another win and the Lakers keep pace in the wacky West.

Lakers vs. Kings (Game 77 4/6/08)

Revenge in Sacramento

The Kings took the last one in painful fashion in L.A.. Now the Lakers go up to Sacramento after their impressive team victory against the Mavericks to even the score and gain a game on the Suns.

And they did just that with some strong team play - - again.

Picking up right where he left off, Lamar was instantly aggressive getting to the middle. His dives into the paint with and without the ball were assertive and well timed. His timing on his interior passes in particular was right on the mark. It started in the Dallas game with some real nice wrap around dishes and inside passes to Pau for easy passes and on the first break of the game the same strong passing was there yet again. Lamar’s offense has become very strong since the addition of Pau. A couple real strong drives into the lane tonight show just how much Odom’s game and mindset have changed.

He’s made himself become the force that he should be.

Odom’s defense on Artest was strong and physical. From the beginning of the game, Lamar did well in not letting Artest get any kind of easy position on the block.

The real player of the game though was Vladi. It was a much livelier game from Radmanovic (understatement of the night). Starting on the defensive end, he was dug in more. His body was crouched down and his eyes were focused on his assignment instead of being too far off his man as with Dallas. Even more important Vladi hit his first shot from 3. Being the rhythm shooter he is, hitting that first shot can have a big impact on the rest of his game. Vladi works from offense first as a spark to his game. A testament to that was the tough 3-point shot he drained at the end of the 1st quarter.

That shooting rhythm definitely fired up the rest of his game. His hands on defense were unusually quick. His spacing on defense is what got him as involved as he was. He used the space between his man and the ball to his advantage. He wasn’t leaning one way or the other; rather he kept on the balls of his feet ready to move with his man on a cut or to a slow pass.

He was active underneath the boards too. On both the offensive and defensive ends, he was moving well from the outside of the key into the deep paint for the tap or to create space for others underneath. It was just a stellar game from Vladi. He truly looked like he wanted to perform better than he did in Dallas and that determination showed.

Soft finishes by Pau were getting swiped or too easily challenged tonight. When he had the ball underneath he would’ve been far better served finishing with strength instead of laying it in. What Gasol did real well tonight though was not getting caught up in what wasn’t working offensively. His shots were soft inside so he stepped out to the mid-range. Once that shot went away you saw Pau start diving into the middle to act as a passing pivot and then running the floor when he had the chance with the speed of the guard. Having a player that has the versatility and mental capability to change his game according to what will work is a rare commodity.

Like Stu said in this game though, Gasol has got to start getting the re-post pass with better position. The reason he has to kick it back out is because of his over-high position. When that ball goes out, he has to take a couple steps deeper to get a better look.

For the time Newble was in the game he played some really physical defense. When he had Artest to guard he was particularly strong in his footing. That’s where his strength comes from, his lower body. He does a good job of holding position without fouling. The problem with Newble is that offensively, he isn’t accustomed to where he needs to be at all.

Quietly, Kobe put up the numbers yet again. The big factor in Kobe’s game tonight was the control he played with. His creativity with the ball was at a high tonight, often getting out of double teams only to find a clear shot or making a drive and kick pass to Vladi, Derek or anyone that got to their spot. Defensively he was in the same scramble mode he has been in the last 2 games. He was pretty much everywhere, on his man, covering guys losing their man and getting underneath to make space for Radmanovic or Lamar to grab the board.

There was one instance of great transition defense from Radmanovic and Farmar in the 2nd quarter. They both hustled back and stopped the ball first instead of anticipating a pass. That kind of aware transition defense is going to be needed against more than just the Kings.

Things like having Artest with 3 fouls in the 2nd period are key to games. At that point with 4 minutes left, you’d like to see the Lakers take the ball right into him, forcing him to either play soft defense or pick up his 4th foul before the half.

I also would like to see the Lakers exploit the hot hand a bit more than they did tonight. They had Radmanovic getting on a roll, but in the midst of that they stopped running plays for the drive and kick for a good 6 minutes of the 1st half. They have to make sure to drain guys that are in rhythm like Vladi was. That can’t go to waste in playoff situations.

That scorching start to the 3rd quarter was fantastic to see. The fluidity within the offense was suddenly in gear. Even better there was a team effort to get to guys on the perimeter. Only a couple shots even got off from the perimeter at all. The shots were being chased in from the 3-point line and right into the teeth of the Laker D. Second half starts like that go a long way to establishing the game to your pace.

The 4th quarter though had the bench giving up a sizeable lead. The bench has got to know, and they do, that the offense runs from working the ball around, using the inside out game and moving off the ball. Early shots in the clock and shooting those off of one pass into the offense won’t do anything but give up the lead like they did. That focus they have in the meat of a tight game has to transfer to a comfortable lead kind of game too. It’s vital in the playoffs that the bench stays with the offense and doesn’t use a lead as an excuse to start a freewheeling style. Control and concentration is the name of the game at all times.

Organized hustle defense was the order of the day. Last time they played the Kings they allowed 72 points in the 1st half. At 2.39 left in the game the Kings were sitting on 88. That should tell you that the defensive focus (after the 1st quarter) came back. The ragtag defense of the 1st quarter gave way to a team that was far more communicative on the perimeter. The recovery on drives was right where it had to be too.

When it was over, the Lakers cleaned up the tiny mess in the 4th and took advantage of the loss by Phoenix. With a 2 game lead in the Pacific, the Lakers can’t relax. They have to go into Portland where they haven’t been too` successful and pull out another win to gain ground on the Spurs, Hornets and Suns, but more than that to get the team running on all cylinders come playoff time.
Last edited by crucifido on Mon Apr 07, 2008 12:07 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Kobe Bryant 8 on Sun Apr 06, 2008 9:24 pm

"For the time Newble was in the game he played some really physical defense. When he had Artest to guard he was particularly strong in his footing. That’s where his strength comes from, his lower body. He does a good job of holding position without fouling. The problem with Newble is that offensively, he isn’t accustomed to where he needs to be at all. "

I agree fully. He's not here for offense at all; he can guard combo forwards and he does it fine. I love that signing after watching tonight.

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Postby crucifido on Mon Apr 07, 2008 12:06 am

Its a quality signing from the get go.

The guy plays some seriously tough defense and is the kind of back-up small forward the Lakers can use to stem the tide while Luke and Trevor recover.
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Postby mapabu1 on Mon Apr 07, 2008 8:26 am

Nice read

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Postby crucifido on Tue Apr 08, 2008 9:43 pm


Lakers vs. Blazers (Game 78 4/8/08)

The Journey To The Dreaded Rose Garden

It hasn’t been a kind or fun place for the Lakers for the last 3 years, but maybe things would change this time. Maybe the Lakers could finally dredge a win out of the Rose Garden and close in on the Hornets for that #1 spot.

Or maybe not.

Pau’s mobility is an asset that gets overlooked too much. Starting early in the 1st half, Gasol was looking to fill the lane on every break that he had room to do so. The mobility he showed (again) tonight is just a small piece of the overall awareness that Gasol plays and played with. Offensively Pau did a bit of everything. Most notably his work on the offensive boards was real good.

Pau’s face-up shot slowly improved tonight, but he’s got to be able to consistently knock down that little 8 to 10 footer from the sides off of the pass from the post. Overall, he played far too hesitantly against a team that had no answer for him whatsoever.

Not only is Lamar’s recognition of scoring opportunities getting / gotten better, its his intelligence around the rim that’s really paying dividends. He isn’t making the foolish turnovers he was earlier this year. Between the up and under move he pulled on Aldridge in the 1st quarter and the various passes out of bad situations on the high post, Odom’s court awareness looked as sharp tonight as it has since the arrival of Gasol.

Radmanovic, though a step slow on defense picked up his offense where he left off. It’s his footwork that’s really getting him the shots. He looks like he finally knows the offense and where he has to be off the ball. Once he dishes the ball if he gets it up high he’s diving to the corners off screens. When he dove to the side or the corners in this one, the Blazers lost him in the shuffle and make it or not, Vladi got some quality looks.

Don’t get me wrong, his help defense (especially along the baseline was good), it’s just the speed of this Blazer team (and other speedy teams) that give Vladi fits.

Sasha did alright, but he had a tendency to play like a caffeinated puppy on offense. He’s moving off the ball well, but the control factor just isn’t there. There’s a noticeable difference in the team from that too. In this one, during Sasha’s 2nd quarter stint, he shot well and was where he had to be, but his semi-floundering movement in the paint tended to get the Lakers into an unnecessary scramble mode. Its no major deal, the enthusiasm was great, it’s just a matter of Sasha learning to temper energy with control.

Defensively Sasha played with some nice hustle. A little over-zealous at times but he kept his stance wide and his spacing on Blake at a good distance. The turnover he caused in the 4th and the steal in the 3rd were good to see.

Kobe was trying to work the drive and kick but got very little help in the way of movement to pass option spots or dives. Lamar was there for the dive more than anyone, but the problem was that once Kobe got it into the post the stand and watch game took over a bit. It’s a pass and move off the ball offense. Against an active team like these Blazers, the Lakers can’t hope to get the open pass from Kobe’s work on the drive by standing pat.

Kobe was giving full effort, though settling for the 3 a bit too much like everyone else. He seemed to be the only one looking to get inside on a consistent basis. The problem was that once he got there, there was little movement on the outside. When there was movement Kobe looked like he shut the pass option off, forcing the ball amongst too many Blazers too many times.

Radmanovic proved this point more than anyone tonight, as mentioned above, in his movement to option spots immediately after the initial drive/jab/pass.

When Ronny was in, the Blazers had trouble getting position inside or getting dives to turn into points. His contesting of Frye and Aldridge in the paint made the Blazers think twice about waltzing down the lane for a lay-up or kick to the perimeter. He had a place in this one once the Blazers started pushing (literally) their way into the deep post. Unfortunately with Ronny not feeling well, his effectiveness was cut all too short in a game where the Lakers desperately needed his energy.

I don’t know why the Lakers abandoned the pick and roll for the long periods of time they did. It was working every time with Portland having little to no help in the paint. They’ve got to stick with what’s working, milking it until the other team catches on. The Blazers weren’t catching onto the pick and roll at all, so abuse it.

Along with that, they got a decent shot when they went inside

Point guard defense is still struggling. They’re crowding the drivers and stepping off of the shooters. At this point in the season, you’d hope that wouldn’t be happening as much as it is, but unfortunately its still going on.

One thing I need to see happening is the Lakers looking to hold teams further under 30 points in the 1st quarter. They’re doing themselves no favor by letting teams get into early rhythm. Yes they closed out defense on Sacramento, but you’re playing a dangerous game when you let teams get into their groove as easily and soon as they do. This game is case in point number 300 to that fact. Every team plays their best versus the Lakers, whether they admit it or not, so the Lakers have got to know that any space you spot teams is doubly hard to overcome.

In this game they were collectively biting on the first head fake of every player. The Blazers look to circulate the ball for the open shot or jab dribble enough to open the posts for Outlaw or Aldridge. The drives they pull are from mid-range, but only when given the room. You have to make the Blazers force the issue on drives. If they use that knowledge they can stay at home and on their feet more often against the Blazers sharp shooters.

Chronically late help on all penetration didn’t help much either.

WTF Of The Game: By now, I hope its known that I’m not one to blame the refs for game outcomes. In this terrible game the Lakers made the ugly bed they slept (being the operative word here) in, but… this thing was poorly called (both ways) from the get go. The big one came in the 3rd with the flagrant on Lamar. This, along with countless other flagrant fouls was absolutely preposterous! I’m sick to death of the refs calling flagrants based on how people fall, rather than whether there was a play on the ball or the body. If they insist on calling flagrants this way, they had better even the playing field and call every single fall as a flagrant. To me, it reeks of refs getting caught up in the crowd noise level rather than making a call according to what the actual rules state. A flagrant foul is a foul played on the body with no intention of playing the ball – Lamar’s foul was not that in the slightest.

This habit of calling flagrant fouls around the wrong basis has to either be terminated or the rulebook should be amended to support this ridiculous manufactured facet to the already deteriorating state of NBA officials.

This kind of performance is inexcusable at this point of the season for the Lakers to play this unstable, weak and easy to read. They ran away from things that worked (pick and roll), got caught up in a pace that wasn’t theirs (the 3 point frenzy in the 2nd half) and worst of all they played without any kind of intensity. This kind of lackluster effort has no place from a team that is competing for the top spot in the West. This was the kind of game you expect from a mid-level team that is looking at a lottery berth. They played like a team without a goal or clue.

There’s no damn reason for this loss to happen.
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Postby Ed Guru on Wed Apr 09, 2008 4:05 pm

There's no good reason for this to happen.

We spend too much time looking at how the team's around us are doing - I think if NOH had won their match we'd have had a different focus - instead we come out with the mentality they'll hand us the 1 or 2 seed in the West - that simply isn't going to happen.

When you're the Lakers everyone want to beat you.
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Postby KareemTheGreat33 on Thu Apr 10, 2008 8:53 am

Ed Guru wrote:When you're the Lakers everyone want to beat you.

Everybody laughs when this is mentioned and considers it a myth but its true, most teams do bring their A-game against us...
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Postby crucifido on Thu Apr 10, 2008 10:22 pm

Everyone wants to beat the Lakers, no matter what the state or position of the team is.

Nothing exciting, but it was a win and that's what matters most.

Lakers vs. Clippers (Game 79 4/10/08)

The Playoffs Get Another Game Closer

Now that the embarrassment in Portland thankfully flitters into memory, the Lakers got back to the business of taking care of a team they should beat. The Lakers have a good little 4 game home stand going into the first round of the playoffs. That alone should get them getting into the rhythm of their game. The Clippers came into this one hobbled without Maggette and Kaman and the Lakers will take the win into the big match-up with New Orleans tomorrow.

Well it wasn’t so much of a pounce in the beginning but the Lakers got the win and more importantly, got to rest 4 out of 5 starters for a good part of the 4th.

Before everything else (and this is just a note in general), the Lakers have got to know that they have a target on their back. Not only because of the uniform and the history, but because they’re rising into one of the elite teams again. However, it looks like the Lakers are still mentally in the mid-level mindset. In order to grow and become the championship caliber team they can be, they have got to start realizing that they’re a coveted win for every team.

They’ve got to begin playing with a sense of purpose while knowing that every game against them is one of the biggest games of the year for the other team.

Meanwhile, the Lakers started this game not taking care of the ball at all. It was shortsighted passes, run outs without looking the ball into hands and a general look of sloppiness. The good thing was the containment of that sloppy play immediately in the 2nd quarter. But they best be careful coming into games like they did tonight.

Along with the ball handling sloughing off, the defensive rotation to the inside was again absent early on. They allowed the Clippers (without Maggette or Kaman), injured as well, to get 25 points in the 1st. Just another poor 1st quarter letting a team get confidence and rhythm against them. They’ve got to look to keep teams at 20 or under in the 1st every game. To play with the big dogs of the league the Lakers have to get back to those blazing 1st quarters they had during their 10 game win streak. Its not that they can’t do it either, the ability is there, it’s just a matter of the Lakers digging deep as soon as the ball is tipped, not waiting for the deficit to grow before they get motivated.

It may Pau’s feet or ankles, but every shot is coming off a touch short. The lift he gets to hit that baby 6-foot jumper or the tiny hook underneath isn’t getting there. If it is his feet he’s got to look to get deeper position in his initial post-up or on the reset. That deeper position will shorten his shot and give him more room for the kick out pass he does so well.

Defensively when the ball goes Pau has got to look to close space. A lot of times the shot inside was going up and Pau would keep where he was. Once that ball gets into the air Pau has to look to use his length to close out the rebounder on the strong or weak side. That’s a big part of why Lamar’s rebounding has improved so much, on the close-out. Pau has to do the same and keep his feet ready to move in post traffic. With Pau’s height, there were too many second shot grabs by the guys like Mobley. When Gasol did do just that in the second half, rebounds were falling into his hands with little work.

Sasha had some confidence tonight (though that’s nothing unusual). One sequence in the 2nd quarter around the 9 minute mark had him getting the ball up the court, jabbing inside then bringing it out for the 2 shot was good to see. The patience is getting there with him. Defensively he did a good job keeping in front of anyone that got switched his way. His focus was there as soon as he stepped onto the floor tonight.

You can see the difference Luke makes in the game, right? His hustle to his spots (with his now healthier feet) is a big help. He did a real good job getting the ball in, through and out of the high post, making the Clippers move their defense off kilter in rotations. His presence on the court is more than a mere box score; he keeps (and tonight kept) the Lakers in motion. Pass and move sets were on the money for Luke. He was getting the ball in any spot really, got it to the next available pass on swings, and then got to his next spot without hesitation. The four 3-pointers Luke tossed in were a real good sign that Luke’s game / health may be coming back into form.

You have to love seeing Radmanovic get into the groove at this time of year. He has truly gotten the hang of the Laker offense (finally). He was particularly good on the breaks tonight, pulling up on the 3-point line for the pass. If that wasn’t there he did real well moving along the baseline to pop out on the other side of the drive.

He had a great rebound for the pass to Gasol for the jam in the 2nd. That’s the thing about Vladi, he works from offense to defense - when his shot is going, everything else falls into place. Some of that everything was his good physical defensive play. He’s overmatched by guys like Thornton, but he did well in keeping right up against him wherever he went. There weren’t many wide-open runs or shots for Thornton while Vladi had him in his sights.

That was one heck of a block by Kobe in the 2nd. Kobe’s legs were under him tonight, but his energy seemed a little sapped at some points. The vintage hard cut to the hoop wasn’t there and when drives were open he turned them down in favor of range shots. He looked tired in this one, like he just couldn’t get himself going. I don’t think it’s a major worry, just a flat game.

There were just too many dang 3’s and long distance shots from Derek tonight. I know the foot kind of relegates him to that, but he was doing that to himself before the tear too. All I ask is that he takes a couple jabs into the high post every once in a while to push the defense back that little bit.

Lamar had some slick passes through the legs and behind the back, but overall was quiet this game. He played alright while Brand was in, but his aggressive rebounding wasn’t necessarily needed as the Clippers kept maybe one guy under the offensive boards for most of the game. Though it wasn’t needed, Odom did well in keeping active underneath, making his presence more than known as he grabbed his fair share of strong defensive boards.

Defensively the point guards of the Lakers are shading too drastically on the perimeter. Without the Laker big men being as mobile as they should be, the guards are giving up way too much space before penetration. They have to square up just a hair more to give that little bit of recovery time back to themselves and the inside defenders.

If you read any of these rants, you knew I was going to say something about it - the Lakers gave up another buzzer beater. They let Thornton waltz into the lane for a floater (#10 this year) at the end of the 1st half. There’s nothing else to say but the Lakers at some point have to play defense the entire quarter – hopefully. It seems like no big deal when it happens in games like this, but in the longer view, that lazy defense at the end of quarters could play a huge role in the playoffs – huge.

It wasn’t one to file under the year’s most intriguing games, but hey, it was a win. Right now, that’s all that matters. Now the Lakers run head on into this giant game tomorrow (or tonight depending on when/if you read this) looking to hopefully come out stronger at the start and get within a ½ game of the #1 spot.
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Postby crucifido on Sat Apr 12, 2008 12:52 am

That was an intense and great win! Now that the division is secure, the Lakers set their sights on Sunday and a possible 1 or 2 seed.

Man - what a game!!!

Lakers vs. Hornets (Game 80 4/11/08)

The Los Angeles Lakers: 2007-08 Pacific Division Champs

It was a big game, one of the more exciting atmospheres in Staples Center since the 3-peat days and the Lakers came out with a sense of purpose. It was great to see the Lakers come into this game with that sense. There wasn’t one player that came onto the court that wasn’t looking to take this game to heart and show the league exactly why the Lakers are a force to reckon with.

There were so many incredible elements to the Lakers game (and in that 1st quarter) that its hard to isolate just one or two of them and fit them in. I’ll just run through some stuff, but this game was so big for the Lakers, one article couldn’t contain it.

The primary difference in this game was experience. The Lakers showed why teams that know the kind of intensity it takes to win big games often do just that.

Another key difference was not only getting Chandler in foul trouble, but moving plays through Gasol. While Chandler was out from the 7.26 mark in the 1st quarter to the 9.37 mark in the 2nd, the Lakers had 9 drives and posted the ball up 3 times. That right there had the Hornets on their heels defensively. That run gave the Lakers the big lead simply by reaping the benefits of what they sowed with using Gasol in the post like he should be used.

If that wasn’t an MVP caliber performance from Kobe then I don’t know what would be. Not only did Kobe fill up the scoring column, he did a fantastic job of helping out defensively everywhere again. About 5 games ago Kobe kicked in this all over the place kind of hustle defense and it hasn’t let down one bit. Tonight saw Kobe helping out on the boards in both boxing out and in just grabbing some towering rebounds from all spots. You had to love the strong handed strips and attempts Kobe had tonight too. He was rotating perfectly on drives (at least in the first half) to help out with quick guards along the side and baseline.

Offensively Kobe was brilliant on the drive and kick. It started immediately with some real good breakdowns and looks to Derek for good looks. The best way I can put it is that Kobe was deadly precise tonight.

The key thing to Kobe’s game – when he was walking the sideline in the game, calling players over to give them hints, going over to guys when a play went awry to get them pumped up and showing why his leadership is a huge component to the Lakers’ success this year.

The surprise of the game for me was the decent defense that Fisher threw down on Paul in the first half. He was really keeping perfect space between him and Paul, allowing that extra step of room for him to drop down with Paul on his drives. It was a pleasant surprise to seethe focus of Derek primarily on the defensive end, especially when he is over matched like he was.

The defense on Paul was also helped out by some surprisingly quick swarming of him every time he got the ball in the mid-range or deeper.

Pau showed one of his real good qualities tonight – composure. In the meat of the game or in any intense situation, there was never a moment of panic from Pau. When he missed a couple rotations on defense down low, there wasn’t a manic attempt to recover the next time. It was a very deliberate adjustment. The key defensive play for Pau was that nicely controlled block he had in the 4th when the Hornets were uncomfortably close late in the game. Pau also ran the floor really well tonight. He made himself more than merely available on breaks. Methodical, calm play like what Gasol did tonight shows just why he is such a valuable acquisition.

Aside from that Pau did real well getting back to helping on the defensive boards. He was playing a coy position alongside the post, ducking in to grab soft rebounds that were rolling away from Odom’s spot. Offensively, Pau patience was the difference. When he got the ball in the post you could see that he both knew what to do with it within the context of the play and what he could do if the play changed.

I loved the retaliation foul from Radmanovic after getting pushed to the ground. That kind of fire was great to see from him. Though he had a terrible shooting night and that play may have taken his focus away, it added an element of passion to the Lakers immediately afterwards that catapulted them to that massive 30 point spread.

Lost in the shuffle of a great game from Kobe and Pau is Lamar. The guy played with amazing intensity on both ends every minute he was in. His positioning on rebounds was stupendous and his work getting after every missed shot was amazing to watch. He had some beautiful rotations on defense, helping out on drives to get the block or force a pass out of the paint. The telling point in Odom’s game for me was in the 4th quarter when he was standing in front of the bench staring at Phil, hoping to get back in the game when the Lakers were slipping. That kind of drive to play is something we’ve been begging for since day one of Odom in a Laker uniform.

That drive is now a permanent part of Lamar’s game.

Luke really used mismatches well tonight too. Though he wasn’t big in the scoring column, he did well in breaking down the defensive posts of the Hornets and using his size to create room for stronger passing angles out of the post.

Some things that reared their ugly little heads in the 3rd / 4th quarters (and during the season at other times as well):

The Lakers can’t relax – ever. A 10 point lead should go to 20, 20 to 30 and so on. No lead is safe, no lead is ever too much and no team can be taken lightly.

The one to two pass offense took the place of some really fine ball movement in the first half (mostly in the 1st quarter). The Lakers tend to anticipate a change in their opponent’s defense, instead of using something that’s working until the defense adjusts to it. The Lakers have so many strengths on offense that they have got to realize that those strengths should dictate pace, not

There was a fantastic run of the Lakers pounding the ball inside while Chandler was on the bench riddled with fouls. That same advantage opened up again, but for some reason or another the Lakers decided that this time they weren’t going to use it. Cue point number 3…

Settling for the 3 when the inside was free to exploit on a ton of levels. Lamar, Pau, Kobe, practically anyone could get inside while Chandler was in serious foul trouble. Although the Lakers have decent shooters like Sasha, Radmanovic and Fisher and Farmar to some extent, there is no way in any game that this should be their first option. The Lakers are so strong on the posts at times that its beyond frustrating to watch them mysteriously look to be a shooting team.

The Lakers were also caught playing in a straight line. At their best the Lakers were establishing the ball on one side, then swinging it through off ball movement to the other side, making New Orleans fall one to two steps behind at all times. Then came the 3rd when for some reason, the Lakers decided that they have had enough of moving the ball to perfection and decided to play flat-footed.

And again, the Lakers let Stojakovic get too many looks. Lamar and Radmanovic were falling for jab fakes when they knew that Peja wouldn’t drive the ball into the Laker paint. All he needs is that tiny step to create space for his shot and the Lakers should know that by now. So it comes down to a mantra heard all year – stay at home on shooters!

It feels so ridiculous to have so many complaints on such an important win. You knew the Hornets wouldn’t be down that big all game. What you saw though was that the Hornets’ runs came when the Lakers played outside of what they do best. That right there is the huge positive to take out of this game. When the Lakers are beat by some of the better teams in the league, they wind up beating themselves more than the other team beats them. There have been a fair amount of outright losses this year, but most of the losses are avoidable.

I think Byron Scott put it bets in his comments after the game. The Lakers came out with a sense of purpose and got the Hornets playing scared. Now the key is for the Lakers have got to use that kind of intimidation through intensity every night against every team.

It’s incredible that the Lakers won the Pacific, but they can’t hang their season on a division banner. The only banner that the Lakers can rest on is a championship one.
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Postby crucifido on Sun Apr 13, 2008 2:55 pm

That was a perfect team game. Ginobli or not, that was the laker team everyone knows is just lying in wait to pounce on the rest of the NBA!

Lakers vs. Spurs (Game 81 4/13/08)

One Closer To The Best in The West

So the battle for #1, 2 or 3 comes down to this, the last 2 games of the year. And this one for the Spurs was a big one. With the Spurs coming in hurt, you had to be wary of the wounded animal effect the Lakers have such a tough time dealing with. After the emotional win against the Hornets two nights ago, the Lakers had to dig deep to find the energy to match their performance versus New Orleans. There was a lot to be concerned about, but there was/is a lot to be confident about too.

That confidence took a bit to show itself, but come the 2nd half, the Lakers got their feet under them and showed why they have to be mentioned amongst the powers elite in the NBA.

Gasol played well in the high post, pulling Duncan out of the paint to open up room for dives and cuts. A couple times Gasol used that space for himself even, running off the ball to get a pass for an easy score. Pau’s defense on Duncan, often playing one on one was really good. Not being the strongest post guy, its great to see Gasol old his own against the NBA’s best power forward. He kept his feet set, using side steps to keep up with Duncan’s turn to the middle or drop step to the baseline. Great footwork and smart use of his length in the post let Pau play some exceptional defense on Duncan.

His steal in the 1st quarter on the inbounds for the breakaway dunk was great to see. He was seriously active on defense today, which is always a huge help to have your big man be so aware. Pau’s rebounding position was also strong. He got under the basket in front of the big man the Spurs sent down, almost every time. The thing was that when he did get in front of them, he secured the board with two hands and made good pass decision to start the offensive run.

For all the worry of Odom being consistent, it turns out that the real sting of inconsistency is coming from Radmanovic. He’s got to start hitting his shot. There’s good passes to him, he’s moving well off the ball to get open, but he just needs to knock them down.

Kobe looked out of the double teams well for the cut. Taking advantage of those early double teams in defensive sets was key in getting the rest of the team going offensively and forcing them to stay foot active off the ball. With that said, Kobe would’ve been well served to wait to start his drives. If he holds up on the post with the ball for 2 more seconds, the Spurs would’ve sent the extra defender; opening up the passing angle Kobe was so good at exploiting.

But really, it wasn’t a giant hindrance to his game. The team was moving so well off the ball that Kobe made perfect use of his ability to make an entire team collapse on him.

Nothing much more to say but Kobe’s leadership and game today was just another piece of evidence as to why the guy is the NBA’s MVP this season.

Not enough can be said of Odom’s all around game since Gasol’s arrival. Offensively he was everywhere everyone else wasn’t or failed to get to. He filled in every open spot underneath the boards for rebounds or cuts and looked to get into the mix every time in the paint too. His aggressiveness on the drive was a little suspect, but he did well in making up for it by activity off the ball. The guy was working hard on every possession. Defensively, Lamar was running at Finley and shooters too much, when he could be running up to them and simply outing his arms up. When he ran at players, they were simply taking one dribble and getting themselves open for the mid-range jumper.

I loved seeing Lamar take it into Thomas’s chest. When he saw Thomas on him he forced him to use his feet to defend rather than play into his strength, lower body position and height. Pushing Thomas out in favor of a offensively deficient Oberto was key to the Lakers’ offensive success.

Lamar played that watchdog role to a T today. He was the utility guy all over the court, creating space from his constant movement.

There was a ton of work from Derek today, from playing strong offense to hustling for loose balls; Fisher looked 5 years younger today with his footwork on the court. Most impressive was Derek playing back to a point guard role today. There were some nice passes (including the laser to Gasol in the paint in the 3rd) coming form him today. His balance between shooting and passing was much better than it has been since January.

You had to love seeing Derek take it right into Parker on a lot of possessions. There was no settling for distance shots every time. He had plenty of plays finally using the jab dribble to get him that little bit of space he needs to get a better shot.

The bench:
Ronny – Fantastic on help rotations and rebounding in traffic with elbows out making space for himself and others to break out for the pass. Good, hard, work / typical game from the Lakers’ workhorse. When he continues to hit that 12 / 13 foot jumper from the elbows, Ronny can suddenly become a tough player to match up against.

Luke – Not much in the way of the box score, but really good strong post work on loose balls and rebounds. If it was within 5 feet of his reach, Luke wasn’t giving up on anything. The guy was Rambis 2K8 today.

Sasha - Real good hustle all over the offensive end today. His work getting the ball underneath on passes or on tips, passing it off, then running to his spot is getting better with every subsequent game.

Jordan – He turned corners real well today. Once he got the step around his man, he used a good burst of speed to get up and under. Backing off the 3’s is a big part of Farmar’s eventual success in any game.

The Lakers had some sets of quality patience. They get the board, but don’t take contested shots. They would cycle it back out and reset the offense when there was traffic underneath. That kind of composure will be huge come the playoffs.

That was a really good defensive adjustment from the 1st to 2nd half. I mean these guys showed that the potential to play focused defense is there, its just a matter of digging deep to get after it.

In case the Lakers see the Spurs in the playoffs, it may help for them to remember a couple points:

Leaving the corners open on the Spurs is a dangerous game to play. The Lakers were looking like they were hoping that someone could run out to the corner or rotate close enough to push the shot in from the 3. The problem was you can’t operate on the corners like that. The spacing has got to be better from the paint to make help on the corners quicker and to close out the easy pass to that spot. (It got better in the 2nd half, but the Lakers can’t let the Spurs get rhythm from their peripheral scorers – Bowen, Bonner, etc.)

Defending Parker halfway, as in running with him then fading off when he pulls up for the shot won’t work. You have to play physical with Parker. The Lakers were allowing him way too much room early. We all know that giving pace to the other team early on is a recipe for disaster for the Lakers (and for most other teams as well). If the Lakers would back off the quick double on Duncan and use the same extra defender to help on the drive they’d be much stronger against Parker’s speed. (This point was illustrated perfectly in the 3rd quarter with Gasol on Duncan actually)

Still with Parker, you can’t allow him to get the rebound at all, let alone off of his won shot. He’s the smallest guy on the court (and granted the quickest), but there’s no reason someone can’t take one step towards him to shut him out of grabbing the board. Offensive boards and Tony parker should never mix with the kind of hops and height the Lakers have.

Points off turnovers was plaguing the Lakers today. They had some real good sets on defense, leading to breaks but they couldn’t seem to get it into the hoop. A lot of it came from poor ball handling or not looking the ball into their hands before they made a move to pass or shoot.

The win’s in the books and there’s only one more win to grab to claim the top spot in the extremely competitive West. As of right now, the Lakers get some space and creep one game closer to the #1 spot. The best part is that today’s game was won via some quality team play on both ends behind the Lakers veteran leaders. That’s how championship teams tick.
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Postby revgen on Sun Apr 13, 2008 9:51 pm

Great Writeup Cruc! :jam2:

Now we have to make sure that the Kings don't play spoilers to us the way they did to the Hornets.
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Postby Ed Guru on Sun Apr 13, 2008 10:21 pm

revgen wrote:Great Writeup Cruc! :jam2:

Now we have to make sure that the Kings don't play spoilers to us the way they did to the Hornets.

Sac are a dangerous team, plenty of talent and ability to cause upset - if we remain focussed we win and lock up the number 1.
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Postby crucifido on Tue Apr 15, 2008 7:28 pm

Thanks revgen! Yeah, that's the big worry coming into this one - a Laker letdown in a game they still needed to get that #1 spot. Somehow I didn't feel too bad that the Lakers would take care of business. They have the look of a team that knows what has to be done and is ready to get out there and execute that.
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Postby crucifido on Tue Apr 15, 2008 10:21 pm

Pacific Division Champs, Western Conference's best record for #1 in the West - two more titles to go...

Lakers vs. Kings (Game 82 4/15/08)

The Los Angeles Lakers: To Be Continued…

If you predicted this in the beginning of the season after the crazy summer the Lakers went through, you would’ve been laughed at. There isn’t anyone in the basketball world, fan, analyst, player, coach or otherwise that would’ve believed that the Lakers could finish as the #1 seed in one of the tightest Western Conference races ever. The injuries, the duress, the unexpected teams coming up and performing huge – all of them would normally be a big deterrent to a team coming onto the court ready to take the home court throughout the Western playoffs.

This year’s edition of the Lakers took it as a challenge.

They took the tumultuous summer / season starting with Kobe’s issues and then finishing with Bynum’s terrible injury midway through the year as a chance to step up and show the fans, the league and most importantly themselves that they should be counted amongst the best teams in the league right now. Not in a couple years, not after this or that player gets healthy – but right this minute.

As a fan of the Lakers, whether you were a believer or a “doom-and-gloomer”, you have got to be impressed with what certainly is one of the more personally enjoyable Laker teams to watch in a long, long time.

All that being said this is but one step in the long road to the success that the Lakers set out to achieve. This remarkable #1 seed isn’t something to be swept aside, but it also isn’t the be all end all of the Lakers goals. The ultimate goal is still a long way away.

As you watch the Lakers this season, you have to know deep down (or on the surface) that overall this team looks to be mentally ready for the test.

So, another regular season comes to a close, with a game that was rickety and jagged from end to end.

The Lakers ran into this one looking more than ready to play. The first 2 plays being an inside jab from Lamar getting back to him after a great cut by Kobe and the other, a post for Gasol. There was no messing around. Their steps were assured and they had the look of the determined team we all wanted to see in this game.

What was disappointing to see early in the game was the Lakers running a bit too manic with the Kings. The Kings have nothing to lose and played accordingly, having a ton of sets where they looked out of control. The Lakers played into that a bit, as their loss of their 8-point lead off the bat will attest to. The 2 fouls on Lamar and Kobe in the 1st quarter also show that the Lakers were a bit too crazed in their drive to get after the loose ball.

All in all the beginning of this game was just annoying to watch. The Kings, looking more like a summer league team drew the Lakers into a chaotic game, when the Lakers could have easily paced the game. It comes down to that pacing thing again. Its so important to every team to come out looking to control the flow of the game, but for the triangle to run to its max efficiency, it has to be done methodically. Control is the name of the game for the Lakers, no matter how the other team wants to play.

The Lakers eventually gained that control, but they have to come into every game with it, not look to develop it over the course of a game.

You get the feeling that the defensive results they got in the Spurs game, even though they were Ginboli-less, had a profound effect on this team’s mentality. The might have just learned that they can not only talk about the kind of defense they need to play for a long playoff run, they can actually walk the walk as well. They have to get it in their heads to hold teams further away from 30 than they did tonight. Allowing 27 to teams in the 1st`quarter can’t happen against the stronger teams.

Another 4-point play was allowed in the 1st from Lamar running out to Garcia on the side 3 shot. The Lakers have got to be very careful on their approach to close out those shots. They gave 2 of the same fouls up versus the Spurs and they have a habit of over-running out to range shooters.

Defensively though Lamar did great filling the lane on breaks and swings to the middle. He had his hands up at the perfect time in plays and didn’t give up ground in the entire paint. He made the Kings look to where he was before they went up for shots around his area. Has anyone noticed that the whole consistency issue with Lamar has completely disappeared? The guy is bringing the hustle every night.

Pau works out of the post so well at times. His offense leading into his shot was on the money as usual, but his passing to mismatches behind him or off the run was perfect too. The drop pass to Luke behind him in the 1st quarter was just one example of how much proficiency Pau played with on the block. Pau does have to learn that when he has a mismatch in the post to completely abuse it. It is good to see your center run the floor as willingly and as strongly as Pau runs. There is rarely a break that Pau doesn’t make a concerted effort to fill the lane or at least get past ¾ court to be there for a high post pass option.

It’s not the worst habit in the world, but Ronny needs to not pass the ball off out of good scoring position. He’s been getting real good deep position on breaks and off cuts in the half court. He needs to use the same strength he shows on the weak side shot blocks to take the ball up in traffic to draw the foul. The Horace Grant style jumper he's developed is going to come in real handy in the playoffs. Lastly, to nobody’s surprise, Ronny’s hustle was exemplary tonight. He was running back to defense in transition beautifully.

Luke’s movement off the ball was good tonight. His off ball game has come back into form and it helps the Lakers more than most notice. There was a bit too much offense coming from the low post from Luke. He can operate in the low block, but setting it up for passes works better than forcing contested shots up. When Luke uses the post as a jump off point for hustle or play initiation, he seriously makes an impact in the game. He looked like a new-fangled Rambis again tonight on a couple plays in the 2nd quarter. He’s developing some relentless hustle from the free throw line down to the baseline in the middle.

The missed 3 by Radmanovic wasn’t good but it was great to see what Vladi did after the shot. He didn’t plant himself on the 3-point line, he saw Lamar get the strong board, and then ran into the empty space to get the pass for the jam. That kind of foot movement from Vladi is essential; to him getting defense to back off of his shot. Radmanovic has a tendency to stand still off of misses or release back to defense too early. Tonight, he was active off the ball on both ends, and that is beyond important for him, especially if his 3’s aren’t going to fall.

That steal and dunk at the end of the 3rd was the kind of fire you need from him to get the entire starting 5 playing with the passion they need to win 16 more.

Kobe was subdued, but that’s alright. It was a good game to tune up the bench and let the starters get a big rest in the 4th quarter. Kobe did what he does, but it was in rhythm and with an eye to the playoffs.

The best moment from Kobe (and arguably the game) was the quiet little fist he gave Fisher on the bench after being taken out to a standing ovation. It was recognition that one small part of this crazy trip is done - and it’s a good familiar feeling.

Now we all move onto the playoffs, the real season, the beginning of the true test of this hard to dislike, tough to dismiss Laker team.

Let’s go Lakers!!
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Postby revgen on Tue Apr 15, 2008 10:54 pm

Thanks a lot for all of your game reviews for the entire regular season. I've enjoyed it, and I'm sure many others have too.

I'm eagerly awaiting your reviews for the playoffs! :jam2:
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Postby crucifido on Sun Apr 20, 2008 7:13 pm

THANKS revgen!! That means a ton to me and I truly appreciate it. I'm flattered that even one person reads my blabbering.

Hopefully I'll "have to" write a lot of playoff articles. If they're like this one, we may be in for one fun ride!

Game # 1 / Win #1

I have a love/hate relationship with the playoffs. I love that it’s the pathway to the Finals, that the best teams in the league are competing and that every game means something. But I hate the tension, the nervousness, and the worry over little problems maybe becoming big ones and leading to a key loss. When all is said and done though, when the Lakers play with the poise, professionalism and control they played with today, the playoffs can be a joy to watch.

Starting from the tip the Lakers were playing some incredibly fluid team ball. There’s nothing like seeing the Lakes go up by double digits without the offensive services of Kobe. The rate this team was moving the ball (with that touch pass drill from Luke to Lamar back to Gasol for the jam in the 1st) was so gratifying to see. This team operates best when they pass 3 times or more in a set. When they settle into a one or no pass offense, like they did in the vacant 2nd quarter today, they struggle.

Of course what helped the offense to flow early on in the game (and later too) was the hustle and mostly strong-footed defense they played. In that 1st quarter there was a total of 3 inside shot attempts, with 2 of those being off of ill-advised 3-pointers. The Lakers held the Nuggets to a mid-range game by playing well-spaced defense. There were no gaps left in the lane by overplaying one side. There was no weak spot along the baseline because the Lakers were balanced between leaning towards help in the paint and watching the cuts along the bottom.

The weak spot in this game came in the 2nd quarter when for some odd reason (again) the Lakers fell in love with the 3 when the inside game was destroying the Nuggets. To survive in these playoffs, the Lakers can’t be tempted to play a game that doesn’t lend itself to their strengths. The Lakers are a strong passing team with great ability to cut and move off of those (as the triangle lets you do). To run away from that is senseless really. There’s no reason for the Lakers to devolve into a range shooting team against a team that forces you to make no adjustments all game.

This is no news flash, but when you’re playing a fast team like the Nuggets who want to run it, you’re playing right into their hands by shooting the long ball. They know the percentage isn’t huge for the Lakers from range, they position themselves for rebounds accordingly and then the Nuggets got way too many uncontested run-out scores to take the lead.

Some of the reluctance to do what worked came from the bench. This is the first year the bench is begin leaned on to play significant minutes / roles in the playoffs. When they come in to spell the starters, they have to keep up the cuts / dives and movement to the open spot that the starters have perfected. There was a lot of undue packing in the middle on defense. They were apparently looking to prevent the second chance rebounds, but at the price of leaving wide open shots for known Laker killers like Smith and Kleiza.

Sticking with the bench though Luke was in (hopefully not) rare form. His work from the post was admirable. He wasn’t forcing the shot form it, but rather he was using it to bring down the Nuggets mid-range defense. A couple times Luke recognized mismatches against him on the block in great time. My favorite part was seeing Luke get his blocked once in the 1st quarter, but instantly making an adjustment to use his body to protect the ball on the very next possession of his.

Luke showed why he is perfectly matched with the triangle today. His movement off the ball was on the money. He had Carmelo jumping from perimeter to mid-range without ever giving up access to good post position in the process.

The help defense coming from the paint to the mid-range on jab drives has got to be a touch quicker. There was a too much lag time (in the 2nd quarter in particular) to take those 2 or 3 extra steps ion to cut-off defense collapsing dribbles.

One guy who was helping and practically doing everything any player could on the court was Lamar. The guy, from the first tip, was hustling for any ball within his long reach. Most impressive was Lamar’s ability to neutralize Camby on the defensive end. He had Camby (and Martin at times) completely shut out of rebound position. The back door lobs the nuggets made their living on against the Lakers was non-existent. Lamar held space so well defensively too. Once where hje had to be, the position wasn’t given up without a fight.

Offensively the guy was stunning to watch work in the paint. His passing (the pass to Gasol in the 1st for the jam and the gorgeous touch pass to Gasol in the 2nd quarter at the 40 second mark) was beautiful. Best of it all was seeing Lamar finish with aplomb every time he had the chance to. The cute lay-ups and soft finishes in traffic have disappeared in favor of some seriously strong cuts with the ball for the dunk. Odom was working hard all game and that work paid off a lot in great looks for Gasol. With Odom playing watchdog all along the mid-range and inside, it left Gasol as the odd man out of the Nuggets “defensive” scheme. Having that hustle guy off the ball and getting passes on the fly to a perfectly positioned Gasol was a mammoth key in the Lakers offensive flow today.

It was truly a flawless game from Gasol today. The guy was exactly where he should’ve or needed to be every single time. There wasn’t one time when he got caught even a step from where he needed to be. When the ball was driven on the side he stepped out of the paint giving room for the inside cut, the put-back dunk, the pass or a simple rebound. His spacing was textbook today. It tough to not go adjective crazy with the way Gasol played today, but its unbelievable that the Lakers have a guy like Gasol to flank Kobe.

It wasn’t the amount of scoring he had today (although that was great in a pretty inefficient game from Kobe), but more the manner in which he got his points.

Defensively Gasol played off of Lamar well. I think if Lamar hadn’t played as strong as he did all game in the paint things may have been tougher for Pau, but the fact is that Pau gave the space necessary to Lamar for him to do what he has to while also keeping live in every play underneath.

Radmanovic, though not on fire from the perimeter, did what he usually does pretty well, contributing in other manners. He was really active offensively and looking to feed everyone off of the unexpected post position he was pushing. Its key for Radmanovic in this series to make sure he’s a part of what’s going on even when he isn’t drilling shots.

One guy who I thought played real well for his lack of playoff experience was Farmar. When the crowd was pumped and the Lakers were looking to blow up, Jordan kept the ball, himself and the team in check by slowing the ball down when he had to and running plays. He did well in not letting the bench guys or anyone on the court get carried away into moving off of what was working.

Oh yeah Kobe was decent today too. It wasn’t the Kobe that can dominate a game, but wasn’t it fantastic to not have to have that Kobe on the floor to get a playoff win? Kobe’s leadership and support for his teammates was his highlight to me today. The trust and excitement he shows when his teammates are dong well is better than any stat.

Just a couple more things…

The Lakers have got to be careful in every game now to not let the possibility of 3-pointers sway them from the triangle offense, their plays or their calm. The nuggets want the Lakers to shoot long, to lower their percentage and move away from their inherent advantage on the inside. Shooting 3’s is fine if the play calls for it, or if it’s designed that way, but just because you’re open on the arc doesn’t always mean you have to chuck it.

It’s a zone defense; don’t pass around it or wait until 7 seconds in the shot clock to get the ball inside. Attack it soon and often.

I did love seeing the closeout of Kleiza after his mini-run in the beginning of the 2nd quarter. The team did a fantastic job of not letting Kleiza get into an unbreakable rhythm as he has before. They saw the problem and quickly corrected it without giving up another element to Denver to swoop in on.

The giant bright spot today was that 3rd quarter, obviously. Kobe played minimal minutes but the Lakers were looking like a championship caliber team with the way they played under control and strong at once.

I can keep going, but that’s long enough. Keep in mind its only one game, but it was so great to see a Laker team play like they’re ready for the challenge that the West will be.
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Postby crucifido on Wed Apr 23, 2008 10:48 pm

Bring on Game 3!!

2 Down – 2 To Go

Game 1 is history and what was imperative tonight was that the Leers held home court advantage. Denver threw their fair share of changes the Lakers’ way, but it was really up to the stronger Lakers to dictate how this game went and moreover how the series will play out.

The big difference quickly from the first game to this one was the glut of outside shots the Lakers pushed the Nuggets into in Game 1 went AWOL. The Lakers were soft on the outside letting the ball get too deep into the defense before a slower than before help rotated over. In fact it was quite the opposite, with the Nuggets getting plenty of easy runs inside while the Lakers settled for distance jumpers.

Luckily Kobe and Derek were fairly solid from the field, but there was really no reason for the Lakers to be looking to shoot jumpers after barely testing Denver’s supposedly tougher inside D.

Once they settled down and found out how to run around the Nuggets altered big rotation, they began to break down the middle well with some strong post work by Odom and Walton. They have to be careful though in giving up early momentum to the Nuggets who can score in big bunches in a hurry.

Derek started out running with some vigor tonight. Early on he was giving great defensive help, rotating along baseline drives. What was real gratifying to see was Derek’s active defense on Iverson. I swear I might have seen him pop out above a screen even. But all kidding aside, he was doing well staying in front of Iverson better than he usually does. He wasn’t stopping him per say but he was contesting him with that lower body strength that gives him solid position holding ability over a lot of small guards. I just wish he’d use it as well as he did tonight more often.

The hitch in Derek’s defense came with his shading of Iverson. It was a bad combo of Derek not talking to his teammates and everyone ignoring where Fish was shading him.

Luke was back at his now usual work tonight. Any mix of around a loose ball he could get to, Luke was there. Diving on the floor, moving real well through the paint and playing with good solid hustle all over the defensive end of the court. What Luke lacks in speed he has been making up for in toughness. As Kobe was taking big bites out of the Nuggets at times, Luke was the workhorse, chiseling at the feet of the Nuggets at every turn with his hustle. Multiple successful cuts, dives and drive and kick sets all initiated from Luke’s play. His recognition of mismatches on the high post, using it to get a couple nice strong drives off tonight, was great to see come back into Luke’s game.

Defensively, he did far better than he has in a long while moving laterally with any assignment that came his way. Aside from Kobe’s superhuman performance, there’s no doubt that Luke was the co-player of the game.

Via some real good space clogging by Mbenga (DJ did great in making the Nuggets body up on him and in turn having to pull a big off the mid range game on defense), the Laker bench rolled real well without Kobe in the 2nd quarter. They were rushing plays a bit too much, but when they would jab dribble and reset the play by kicking it around the arc or one pass back to the perimeter for a post reset by Odom or Luke, they were hitting it.

Sasha had some decent hustle tonight, but the highlight for me was the addition of JR Smith to the list of players absolutely annoyed by Sasha’s D.

Kobe got off like crazy in the 1st, which was needed due to the lack of movement through the paint. However, the Lakers cannot operate on a high level with a big imbalance of scoring like that. That aside though, seeing Kobe light up the Nuggets like that in the 1st made the Nuggets retreat from the defensive scheme they came out with tonight. Also, as the rest of the Lakers struggled a bit to find their space on offense, Kobe was amazing as he absolutely took over every facet of the Laker offense.

The best dividend of Kobe’s burst in the 1st was that the Nuggets, for the rest of the game, had to now run out to him or collapse on him early in plays. That left the entire floor open for anyone to move into pass option spots, cut anywhere they had to, or get a spot for a clear long jumper. The Lakers just needed to exploit that more than they did in this one.

Though the zone trouble is absolutely not Kobe’s fault entirely, I do feel the onus of breaking it down falls on him. With the way he was shooting / playing tonight, Denver had to pay double team attention to him. So with that in mind, all Kobe has to do is take on jab dribble or poke to the middle (ala the pass to a cutting Radmanovic in the 3rd) and Denver has top collapse on him. So though you can’t place the hesitant play against the zone on Kobe, he has to be the catalyst to bust this easiest of all defenses to bust.

Come the end of the 3rd into the 4th and Kobe did just that. This is why Kobe is so impossible to deal with. His in-game adjustments tonight form single to double coverage, from zone to man-to-man defense, from scorer, to passer right on time. There was no hesitation in Kobe tonight, no matter what the Nuggets threw at him. The guy was simply incredible from wire to wire.

What will get buried in this game is the great defensive job Pau did on Camby – again. Camby wasn’t getting through to the backdoor lob. Pau limited Camby’s every move in the paint. Whether Pau faced up on him, making him push the ball out of his hands in good post position or if he kept a body on him at all points, Gasol played real strong defense. Pau proved that scoring numbers don’t always tell the tale.

Early trouble with the Lakers offense against led to some defensive problems as well.

Letting Anthony move to the inside far too easy. There seemed to be a lapse in attention paid to Anthony rolling off of his defender off the ball. Radmanovic was the guilty party on this one. He was getting lost in traffic really early in transition letting Anthony get to his comfortable starting spots way sooner than he was in Game 1.

In the 1st quarter there was a lack of movement off the ball and particularly a big lack of cuts through the middle with the ball on the high post. Because of that the Lakers got into an early outside shooting contest with the Nuggets which is what the Lakers don’t want and what the Nuggets are hoping for.

And again, you have got to keep teams like Nuggets who look to start scoring early and heavy closer to the 20 point mark in the 1st. Giving a good scoring team that kind of confidence early on can be incredibly dangerous.

Later on in the game, the 3rd quarter in particular, the Lakers were forcing the post pass too much. When they did get the ball moving towards the post, it was while Pau or Lamar had 2 men on them or the pass was too long. A little more patience in the offense would go along way. Denver defense will not force the Lakers to do anything in a hurry.

Speaking of the 3rd (and early 4th) quarter, I thought the Lakers learned their lesson in the 2nd quarter of Game 1 when they got 3 point crazy. It was the same thing that happened last game, and against the same lame zone defense. So, in other words, stop shooting so many damn 3’s.

Going back in the game before that point, the Lakers saw just how easy it is to beat the zone with a tiny little pass to Derek for a floater in the 2nd quarter. All it takes is a bit of movement of the ball into the middle and everything breaks down. They have got to watch that play over and over so they can remember that the zone is the absolute weakest defense in basketball.

WTF Of The Game: That hook pass from Pau to Kobe for the dunk at the end of the 3rd was ridiculous. How in the world do you pull off a perfectly timed and thrown hook pass to a blitzing Kobe?

Now the Lakers go into enemy territory, where the boos for Kobe will be everywhere and the atmosphere grows as thin as the Nuggets’ defensive intelligence.

The Lakers have got to take it to the Nuggets early, get them frustrated and breaking down mentally like they did in the 4th tonight. Early strikes, penetrating the zone, cutting down on 3’s and moving the ball like they did in Game 1 are all key.

2-0 doesn’t win a series, but it’s a good start to what should be a chance for this Laker team to show that killer instinct they’ve shown us they have.
"A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty." - Winston Churchill
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Postby crucifido on Sat Apr 26, 2008 5:30 pm

Great game!!!

Let's get this thing over with in 4 now!!!

A Sharp Team-First Game Pushes The Lakers to A 3-0 Lead

In came Game 3 and the Lakers looked more than ready for the challenge. The intensity the Lakers showed from the very first tip was exactly what they needed to show. Having a team down 2-0 is no big deal, but the way the Lakers played this entire Game 3 was a big deal. This was one of the best all around team oriented playoff games since the 3-peat days.

This was a game that should show everyone (despite it being “just the Nuggets”) that the Lakers are ready, poised and dialed in for a good long playoff run.

As the 1st quarter started I was kind of looking for the Lakers to attack the middle quickly via cuts and dives. The first couple of possessions though were a little soft in both play and motion. With a quick attack especially against a team as good at home as the Nuggets are, you want to get them on their heels immediately. You have to make them think even harder (if possible) about every defensive motion they make.

But as the game hit about the 10 minute mark in the 1st, you could see the Lakers shaking themselves loose of the soft play and attacking the way they have in the last 2 to 3 months. This is why this Laker team gets people excited. They are showing the signs of a team that not only can win in a big way, but a team that knows how to win in a big way.

Here’s a shocker - Kobe played real well - again. You could see the Nuggets in almost a panic mode when Kobe jabbed into the paint. As the Nuggets collapsed in or around Kobe, Pau did great in simply holding position. The way that Kobe came into the game looking to set people up without ignoring opportunities for himself was awesome – again. As the season keeps on, Kobe’s ability to see his teammates and read opposing defenses seems to grow exponentially.

The best part, Kobe had to do very little in the way of the scoring column for the Lakers to dominate from end to end.

Because of Kobe, Pau was open virtually every possession early in the game. For that reason alone, the Lakers need to keep their eyes aware of where the Nuggets are sagging on defense. Due to their generally inept play on the defensive, the Nuggets play a big scrambling game and with Kobe and Gasol on the floor at once, it sends them into a headless chicken kind of defensive mode, where they can’t cover the ground as fast as the ball can.

So when the Lakers continue to pass and move, Denver falls apart easily. Then due to exhaustion and not having enough defensive fuel to tap into to, they get exhausted quickly.

Sasha came in and had a great impact right away, getting the turnover on JR Smith and hitting a really nicely spaced 3 in the opening minutes of the 2nd quarter. As Najera (who should’ve been kicked out of the game) got added to Sasha’s list, it was good to see Sasha get right back up, knock down the 2 free throws and continue to hustle off the ball to option spots without losing a step.

I love that Mbenga was ready for that great behind the back pass from Farmar in traffic. He had some decent hustle on defense, but most of all DJ played a good footwork game while he was in. The post-whistle block he had on Smith in the 4th was great. You have to like seeing him hustle even after the whistle to clean up the inside.

This game felt like a ramping up kind of game for Lamar. He wasn’t outstanding but elements of what has made him so valuable started to peek out again. He had a couple real good rips on the defensive end and made great decision when driving the ball to the rack. His defense alongside of Pau in the middle was on target though. He didn’t allow any room for Martin or Camby to operate inside.

This is so key in this series – keeping Camby out of rhythm. Between the activity of Lamar in positioning and the good spacing of Gasol, the Denver big men were kept under tight control.

While I’m on this, you probably won’t read or hear much about Pau’s defense on Camby. For that matter Pau’s overall inside defense was amazing to watch. The blocked shots on anyone getting near him or trying to get cute under the hoop was an unexpected plus. He has effectively shut out Camby for 3 games in a row now. He’s given absolutely zero room for him to move to, around or under the rim. All of those lobs to the back door, all of that weak defense on the second rebounder has completely disappeared. A big, giant, massive chunk of that credit goes to Pau.

Luke was absolutely stupendous today. Again, all hustle, with very little wasted motion. Luke moved with purpose on every play, getting himself into the post, using it to absolute perfection and just playing with serious playoff energy. When he did get an inside shot he did well in keeping the ball protected with his body and not forcing heavily contested shots.

Defensively he was playing with sharp lateral movement, which for Luke is something he’s struggled with for a while. But when he was stepping out on Anthony his spacing on him was real good. He wasn’t allowing easy outside shots or any clear drives around him. That right there is good value for your buck. Throw the quick-minded offense he played all game and you have a heck of an unexpected and strong role player. His crisp motion off the ball (especially after giving the ball up and diving back down into the paint for the pass) in the 4th quarter when the game all but over was astounding. He didn’t let up the entire game.

Just another fine performance from Luke in what has become the best playoff series he’s played by far.

Farmar was just flat-out on his game today. He did a fantastic job of getting the ball into the Denver defense without settling for distance jumpers too soon in sets. His decision-making in traffic is what was really impressive. The pass to Mbenga in the 2nd quarter, the protected lay-up and his general awareness on all spots of the court had Farmar looking sharper than he had in the series. He was beginning to wake up in Game 2, but he truly came into the series today.

What was real good to see was crisp motion coming from the side into the paint either along the baseline or straight through the middle. Radmanovic had a couple nice hard cuts (one for the bucket and one for a decent range shot).

The help defense on the baseline runs was right on the money. If Iverson or Anthony tried to post up and turn to the baseline for an easy lay-in there was always someone rotating down. More often than not that someone was Radmanovic. Valid played real good help defense in an often crowded lane.

Speaking of help defense, everyone did a lot better with Derek’s shading of Iverson to the baseline. There wasn’t a giant gap between the help and open space behind Fisher. There was one defensive set in the beginning of the 3rd quarter where Derek spaced himself perfectly between a trapped Anthony on the outside and a running Iverson along the baseline. Suddenly in this series Derek has seriously stepped up his defensive awareness. More importantly, his defensive chops in general just seem to be smarter and more in tune with where his help is coming from.

WTF Of The Game: Playing the Nuggets is like playing a team of Shawn Bradley’s with the amount of elbows being thrown out there.

The thing with Denver is playing through everything. At some point the Nuggets will let you back into the game or let you blow the lead up. They don’t have the wherewithal to hold a positive pace in a game against a quality team. So as the Lakers move through this hopefully short series, they have got to play with consistency. They have to have an eye towards sticking to what works for them and let that break Denver down naturally.

In fact, they need to be playing with that in mind every game in every series.

So they’re up 3-0 but everyone has to expect a knock-down drag out overly physical game in Game 4. The Nuggets won’t go quietly, but its up to the Lakers to make sure that they do go in 4.
"A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty." - Winston Churchill
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Postby crucifido on Mon Apr 28, 2008 11:45 pm

Calm under pressure wins the day - and the series.

Lakers vs. Nuggets (Round 1 / Game 4 4/28/08)


The first round is over. The Lakers have swept the Nuggets, and above all - they beat them the right way – as a team.

This series showed to a lot of people just why the Lakers walked away with the West’s #1 seed – team play. They of course played through Kobe, their anchor (as they should), but when all was on the line, they played together to eliminate a 50-win team in a sweep for the first time in NBA history.

This isn’t to say there weren’t rickety moments.

All in all though that 1st quarter was exactly what you want to see from your team. Aggressive ball movement and a whole lot of inside play to spark the rest of the offense had the Nuggets running around in a panic from perimeter to paint. Defensively, the Lakers were helping out so well off of screens and picks. It was the rotations down the middle of the paint that were most impressive. Odom was working real well moving with Nene or along side of him to help out on drives. Creating traffic in the middle is all you need to do with Denver’s drives.

The Lakers used their experience to their advantage – yet another sign of team that has learned from their mistakes and is growing stronger – mentally.

We’ve all been looking for that kind of jump-start with focused aggression all year. The times the Lakers have done what they did tonight, they’ve fared real dang well.

Derek started out real well looking more for the drive and kick rather than setting up a 3-point shot early in the game. The thing with Derek was that he just ran out of gas against Iverson’s constant motion everywhere, as many point guards do, have and still will as long as Iverson plays.

But in that 1st quarter the entire Laker team looking to set Gasol up first. If it wasn’t Gasol it was getting the inside game established first, then running off of that success. And key to that success was Gasol’s off ball movement.

Pau was in such a great groove in that 1st quarter – and quietly. His scoring column wasn’t so quiet, but the way he was worming his way from 4 feet out into deep position, as Odom held the ball on the block was real good. When Pau came out of the game for the start of the 2nd quarter, the Lakers stuttered a bit on their communication in the post. The unforced turnovers coming from those miscued passes looked to stem from the Lakers not having that sliding movement from Pau from side to middle.

The surprise with Pau’s game was the strong defense in the paint. The blocks that he had were not only unusual but often came at times when the Laker defense was having trouble finding its rhythm. It got to the point of the Nuggets actually changing shots because of pau’s presence in the middle.

It was the 2nd quarter that saw some reversion from the Lakers back to the unforced turnover team that gives up way too many easy transition buckets. Between those turnovers and the weak rotation along the baseline that cropped up from nowhere, the Lakers ran into a wall that mostly built by their own lack of sharp play.

Speaking of that 2nd quarter, Mbenga was fantastic. After the monster block, he just caught fire. It wasn’t so much of a scoring frenzy, but Mbenga’s activity off the ball was both unexpected and great. His running of the floor from defense to offense especially was all hustle. To see him fill the gap in the paint when Kobe or Lamar brought the ball to the side of the key was so gratifying. He looked to be getting the hang of the off-ball motion of the triangle.

The enthusiasm he showed the entire time he was on the floor, culminating in that spectacular put-back dunk off the missed free throw that really got Mbenga and the team moving with some big hop in their step.

What a great cap to Luke‘s series. That 3 he hit was just a microcosm of the concentrated play Luke gave on the court at all times. Having him come into this game again with that Rambis-esque intensity did wonders to spell the uneven play of Radmanovic.

Lamar played with some serious poise. The lay-up he hit for the basket and the foul against Kleiza in the 4th was yet another microcosm for his season. In that tiny play it showed that the aggression everyone has been hoping would come to Lamar is alive and well. Lamar did great tonight in making himself an obstacle in the paint on defense. The out and out stops weren’t there, but by getting into the mix, he took up the couple of steps the nuggets needed to get their driving game moving. The more he pushed his will in the paint, the more the Nuggets were forced to pass out of the paint or take long range shots.

The same thing was true on offense. Few pays passed by without Lamar getting himself planted in the teeth of the Denver “defense”. By getting that deep position Lamar had several instances of rebounds in traffic, great interior passes or creating a lane of room for a closer shot by the perimeter players.

Kobe was simply unfair tonight. There were countless “How did he do that!” moments. The drive of Kobe came out very obviously tonight too. Every time the Lakers lost the double-digit lead or looked to be struggling he began to take over with scoring, but more importantly he got the rest of the team to wake back up.

Kobe’s problem tonight was what he’s done at times this season, trying to force action to get a whistle. In a game full of real strong / unbelievable play at times by Kobe, this was the only thing that got Denver a hope that they could play some kind of defense.

There is no denying that Kobe displayed, yet again, why he’s the best player in the game. The leadership he showed walking Lamar off the court after a tough miss, consoling him, getting him pumped back up. All the while maintaining mental control of his game and keeping the rest of the Lakers completely in the loop. The dish to Lamar and the swing to Luke for what was basically the game-winning 3 by Luke was something that would’ve never happened before this year. Then the trust in giving it up to Lamar then it finding its way to Gasol on a nice pass from Odom for a dunk in crunch time. It was another moment that showed just how far Kobe’s game has progressed.

The majority of the shots that came in that ugly flat 3rd quarter were because of rushed plays. The ball movement fell victim to the one-pass and shoot style that does the Lakers in. The defense was a bit unsure of positioning, but when the defense did get the stop or got the loose ball, it was the jagged offense that had the Nuggets getting back into the fast up and down game they thrive in.

The 3rd quarter was the Achilles heel tonight, but despite playing completely out of their rhythm and basically playing into Denver’s desperate hustle in the 3rd, they walked out of the quarter with a lead. That was beyond huge.

Then came the tightly played 4th, where the Nuggets finally dug deep and showed they wouldn’t fade without a fight. But the big thing was that no matter what the Nuggets did, the Lakers were always under control. There was no panic in the Lakers play when the Nuggets took their first lead; there was only a deeper focus that led to the Lakers shaking themselves loose of the absent-minded play that reared its head in the 3rd.

The trust of the team is there, the leadership is there, the composure is there, and now the wins are there.

There were 2 key moments for me in this game: 1) When Kenyon Martin was flailing before an inbounds in the 3rd quarter. He was freaking out and when the camera went to Kobe, he just looked at him with a wry smile. That right there magnified the difference in composure, professionalism and overall control between not just the two teams, but just how far the Lakers have come. 2) There was one point in the 1st quarter where Lamar, Kobe and Pau were all rebounding with some serious determination. The desire to win has now found its way into every facet of the game, and into every player on this admirable Laker team that we should all be proud of.

All the praise aside, the Lakers have done nothing yet. The sweep is exactly what they needed to do, but the focus cannot dissipate. There are 3 more rounds to go and it doesn’t get any easier.

For now though, let those flags fly high, sport all the gear you can and keep the positive feeling we all have right now fresh in your mind. That attitude will be needed as the Lakers attempt to march back to where we all know they can be.
"A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty." - Winston Churchill
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