Hi my name is ____.
For the Lakers that name tag changes nightly.
Against Phoenix their name was defense. Against Utah it was teamwork. Home against New Orleans a deeper truth was revealed, my name is inconsistency.
This is a young team and therefore carries little memory from one game to the next, execution cannot be maintained. “Just play like you did against Phoenix.” draws a blank stare. A team this dependent on youth with roles and player rotation in embryo can’t expect consistency. That only comes from veteran clubs that have played together as a unit for years.
The frustrating aspect is the Lakers play smart vs. the Suns then against the Bugs it’s as if Phoenix never happened. I have a feeling that Phoenix game is going to be used as a barometer all year with a sad tinge of regret that they are no longer at that level. Is it possible to peak in game 2? Let’s hope not.
The season can be a game in macrocosm, ~20 game periods. In the first quarter, energy can turn the game, young teams can surprise and the emotion and effort is contagious. In the second quarter the emotion fades as execution and consistency determine if you can hang on to the lead. In the third teams adjust and take away what you did well, up to you to innovate and respond. In the fourth, the smart teams and the hot ones know how to close out games and expect to win.
With the first quarter of the season rewarding energy, the young Lakers need to ride that wave, but the schedule makes it very difficult. The hot start of a year ago was due in part to a home heavy first 20 games. This year’s schedule opens with a number of playoff teams where it will be difficult to get consistently above .500 until January.
To optimize the first wave of the season the Lakers need solid bench production to get past the playoff clubs. A stat trick for that is to look at the first six minutes of the 4th, which typically has several bench players on the floor. Houston 9-9, loss. Phoenix 14-9 LA, win. Utah 17-9 LA, win. New Orleans 9-9, loss. When the bench delivers, energy is controlling the game and that favors a young Laker squad.
Tonight Lamar Odom returns. If the Lakers are in the high energy make the extra pass mode of the wins Odom fits right in. The superb off-ball cutting and open court play of the Phoenix and Utah games plays to Odom’s strengths. His ability to board and take it up himself in transition will also allow Kobe Bryant to be a finisher at last. If the game slows down Odom is a caged bird in the triangle, hanging at the arc taking bad shots. Odom needs space and aggressive cuts to the hoop to succeed.
Odom’s return sends Luke Walton to the bench and back to a facilitator role in the second unit. Walton’s post entry passing has been a key to the offensive flow and a solution against zones, if the ball movement stalls with Odom, Phil Jackson will need to apply a quick hook.
On defense the key to the New Orleans loss was dribble penetration. The Lakers are among the worst in the league at assists against, reflecting slow man D at 1 with Derek Fisher, no anchor and inconsistent rotation. The D scheme didn’t help, playing tight on CP3 and loose on Peja to overplay passing lanes should have been reversed.
Free throws…Kobe trade talk has died down since his reported veto of an otherwise agreed upon deal that would have sent Luol Deng, Ben Gordon and change to LA. If Bryant thinks he can force his way to Chicago while Deng remains a Bull then Kobe is in for a long wait in my view. Only way a Kobe deal can happen is if a trade brings back what the Lakers value and Bryant doesn’t – which points to draft day.