We have a special treat for you guys today. Kurt from Forum Blue & Gold and I are swapping places for a day. Kurt is here to discuss Lakers and I'll be over on FB&G to talk to Laker fans. Good times! Be sure to give Kurt a warm greeting. - Jeff
I’ve missed you guys. Seriously. It has been far too long. Having my Lakers in the Finals a few times since 1987, I want to tell you: It’s more fun to be here against you. Last time the Celtics and Lakers played for that little gold trophy gas cost 89¢ a gallon and the Simpsons were about to debut on television. I missed those days. The Lakers/Celtics rivalry is ingrained in me. Growing up in Los Angeles, I respected Larry Bird but wanted to punch Danny Ainge in the mouth. I despised the Celtics, the way I’m sure you despised the Lakers,
That said, I want to help you understand the Lakers and Los Angeles a little. Jeff has generously allowed me some room to tell you a few things you should know, how fans three time zones away are viewing this thing. I’ll start with this tidbit about LA: It’s a myth that every woman in Los Angeles has breast implants, a small little dog she keeps in her purse and drinks Chai Lattes. Most women only meet two out of the three.
Next thing virtually every preview and in-game commenter is required to say (and you are going to get sick of it, if you aren’t already) is that "Kobe is really trusting his teammates now." And it’s true, although it’s not that simple. Last year, when Kobe drove into the lane and the help defender (or two) came over, he had the choice of shooting over their outstretched arms or making a nifty interior pass to Kwame "Manos de Piedra" Brown and watching him fumble it out of bounds. What would you choose? Or, maybe when the double came Kobe could kick the ball out to Smush "I can’t even stick with the Heat" Parker. Radmanovic was injured and never got the feel of the offense, something that changed this season. Bottom line, it’s easier to trust your teammates when you have teammates worth trusting.
Talking about Kobe’s passing brings me to maybe the biggest thing you should know — the Lakers are the best passing team in the NBA. In that way this Laker team is different than the one you last saw in December, and it starts with Pau Gasol being a great passer out of the post. Maybe it’s having so many guys who grew up playing soccer on the team, but it is a squad that believes in quick touches, spreading the
pitch court and moving without the ball. Kobe, Fisher, Gasol, Odom and even Radmanovic are all very good to excellent passers. And things don’t change when the bench mob comes in. That is the main reason the Lakers fans think the two Boston wins during the regular season don’t foreshadow anything.
If you want a vision for what Lakers fans picture happening in the Finals, remember that March meeting where you hosted Utah. Jazz players moving off the ball and deft passing gave your defense fits, and that is much more like what the Lakers do now. The Lakers bigs (Gasol and Odom) can pull KG and Perkins away from the basket, and if they go to help and double the Lakers movement and passing will get guys open looks.
Odom will be a key guy to watch, he has thrived in a role of "the third guy." He’s sort of playing he Shawn Marion role in Phoenix, one where he gets his offense by crashing the boards and getting to open spaces when the defense focuses on other players. (Odom loves this role, unlike Marion who chaffed in it.) If Odom is having big nights, it’s a sign what the Lakers want to do is working.
As Henry at TrueHoop pointed out yesterday, in the first couple of meetings this year, the Celtics worked to turn Kobe into a volume jump shooter, to go under picks and use the threat of a Garnett or Perkins block to keep him out of the lane. To be honest, that’s the best strategy going.
The problem is, it doesn’t work anymore. Kobe has elevated his game (He Trusts His Teammates!) and is taking what the defense gives him. It’s sort of like the Patriots offense in the Charlie Weiss era — take away the pass and they’d kill you with the run. Last series the Spurs put Bruce Bowen on Kobe and tried to make him a volume jump shooter — the result was Kobe set up his teammates and still shot 53.3% for the series, his highest percentage of any playoff series he’s been in.
The Lakers defense is not as good as the Celtics, but it is a solid team defense. The Lakers are better than people think about pushing opponents to their weaknesses. Meaning between Kobe and Sasha hounding him, Ray Allen is going to have to put the ball on the floor and shoot on the move. Rondo is not going to get that 15-foot baseline jumper he likes. Odom will be under orders not to bite on KG’s fakes (easier said than done) and turn him into a volume jump shooter. Pierce scares me, but Kobe will get key time on him to at least slow his effectiveness (and Radmanovic is actually a better defender than you think). Again, the key here is, the Lakers play solid team defense.
Just a couple other quick notes:
• We love Jack Nicholson.
• We love the point guard matchup. No insult intended to a fast-improving Rondo, but we have seen Iverson, Deron Williams and Tony Parker through three rounds. And Derek Fisher has held his own. He will put some ball pressure on Rondo and try to force rookie turnovers. It may be the most unsung change the Lakers had this season – the improvement at the one with Fisher instead of Smush is like night and day.
• We love Randy Newman’s "I Love LA" even if he was being sarcastic.
• Don’t expect the physicality of Perkins to take out that "soft" Pau Gasol. Utah first then San Antonio with Duncan were very physical with him the last two rounds, but he has the offensive diversity to get points and rebounds no matter what. He’s tougher than you think, and his game was made for the triangle.
• We know Phil Jackson will make smart adjustments as the series goes on, something that has LA brimming with confidence.
Guys (and Gals), it’s great to see you back in the finals. Congratulations! I just hope you don’t enjoy the next couple of weeks.