I exchanged emails with the head Lakers blogger for SBN who leads the very well run Silver Screen & Roll. Chris Clark (again, no relation, though as he points out, that would be fun at family reunions) already posted my responses to his questions here. Below are his responses to my questions. Enjoy. (also see my note on cross-blog relations here)
1. Ron Artest kind of personifies the term "X factor." I'd ask you what we can expect out of him, but really, who knows with that guy? So I'll ask you this: After a year of watching him up close, what are your impressions of the man on and off the court?
Having spent a solid decade hearing about Ron Artest as both player and miscreant, I've been amazed to watch him interact as a member of the Lakers. There's no question that the dude has more this his fair share of crazy, but the most surprising thing about him is that there is a certain innocence to Ron Artest. I would say he essentially has the maturity of a young teenager. He doesn't fully know the difference between right and wrong, either on or off the court, but he is nowhere near inherently evil. And on this team, playing next to a guy he respects probably more than anyone else in the world in Kobe Bryant, Artest has tried so hard to fit in that its actually been to his detriment. There have been, and could very well be, moments in which Ron-Ron will do something that makes me die inside, but watching him overall has been a joy.
2. I'll admit, Andrew Bynum is still a bit of a mystery to me. I've never gotten a good grasp of his game and he's been hurt quite a bit. What's the scouting report (and injury report) on him and what are you hoping to get from him in this series?
Bynum has certainly been limited in what he can do since hyperextending his knee in the 1st round, but to be honest, Boston will have a tougher time taking advantage of it than Phoenix did. Where Bynum is limited most is in his inability to move quickly, but Boston's front line (especially at the pivot) works more on size than speed, and Bynum's size ain't going nowhere.
The question mark is how AB will respond to getting his knee drained, which he did on Monday. After Kobe drained his knee earlier in the playoffs, he was worlds better, but Bynum does not have the same level of will, confidence, and pain threshold as the Mamba, so it remains to be seen how he responds.
3. You mentioned on your blog that the Lakers offense sputtered a bit in the regular season but the triangle has been at full tilt in the postseason. For those of us that haven't had a grease board demonstration of the offense, how will we know when it is clicking on all cylinders (other than looking at the scoreboard)? The Phoenix zone seemed to frustrate them at times, was that just a matter of jumpers not falling? What worked in 08 against the triangle?
There are three major differences between the regular season versions of the Lakers offense, and the postseason version. First off, the Lakers are working much harder at finding a good shot within the offense. Across the board, the Laker guards did a poor job of feeding the ball inside and working the triangle properly, too often settling for inefficient jump shots. Now, they do a much better job of at least running the ball through the post.
2nd, the ball movement is miles ahead of where it was two months ago. During the regular season, the ball would always seem to stick in people's hands, allowing defenses time to recover. Ron Artest was a big part of the problem, but he's not the only one. In any case, even he has done a lot better at moving the ball instantly.
3rd, the Lakers pulled out of their shooting slump in a big way. Towards the end of the regular season, the Lakers were shooting atrociously from 3 pt range. In the month of April, they shot 31% from distance. That carried through most of the 1st round, but the Lakers closed out OKC in OKC with a 12 of 24 performance that signaled the start of their new found shooting stroke. The Lakers are at 35% for the playoffs, and while the stroke comes and goes, they have hit for some large numbers in very important games. You can beat the Lakers by daring them to take lots of 3s, but the success rate is in no way a guarantee.
4. One of our key positional advantages is Rondo on Fisher. However, the Lakers got to the Finals by dispatching of Russell Westbrook, Derron Williams, and Steve Nash. How are you doing it? What's the gameplan for Rondo?
It's true the Lakers have seen some tremendous point guards during their playoff run, but the only one that caused a great deal of trouble was Russell Westbrook. Deron Williams is amazing, but he generally dominates because of his tremendous strength. Same for Nash, except replace strength with general knowledge of pasing angles and veteran caginess. So, both Deron and Steve Nash fit right into Derek Fisher's wheelhouse in terms of what he's capable of handling. That's not to say that Fisher handled them on his own, but the Lakers defense is so good at the other positions that they have usually done alright compensating for Fisher's defensive issues.
Unfortunately for L.A., Rondo fits more into the Westbrook model (or more appropriately, vice versa). If Fisher is the one checking Rondo, that's going to be a struggle for L.A. However, as we've seen since the latter half of the 2008 Finals, I expect Fisher to matchup with Ray Allen (where his tirelessness in attempting to run through screens will save Kobe from getting too fatigued) and Kobe Bryant to matchup with Rondo. Kobe actually has more lateral quickness than Fisher does, and his length should help to bother Rondo some. Kobe also loves to cheat off his man and help others on defense. He is an all-world defender (when he wants/tries to be), so he can recover to his man quickly, but the Lakers are usually punished for it if Kobe's man can stroke the 3. With Rondo, that's not the case, so switching Kobe and DFish on defense is actually a win win for the Lakers.
5. Switching gears here a little bit. Talk about the legacy aspect of this series. Phil Jackson wants another title but the Celtics would like nothing better than to hand him a loss for the late Red's sake. Kobe and company want revenge and to defend their title. The Pierce, Ray, and KG finally got their rings last time but they want more so they can stand up there with the other Celtics repeat-winner greats. Typically the best team wins, regardless of the significance, but in a series this even, it could be a game changer. What do you expect to be the major motivating factor for each team?
There's no doubt that each of these teams has some intrinsic motivation that goes beyond the normal "We want to be champions" stuff. I have no idea to who's benefit that is, though if pressed, I'd say that is advantage Lakers, only because (in the playoffs at least) Boston hasn't needed much reason to play full throttle. That said, this matchup is defnitely between the shark who smells blood (the Lakers, who want revenge and probably think the Celtics are on the way down) and the wounded, desperate animal (Boston, who knows this might be their last chance). If that sounds like an analogy that heavily favors the Lakers, it's not intended to. I have no idea which force (revenge vs. desperation) is more powerful, but it seems clear to me that we're going to see both teams' best shot. All the more reason to expect an epic match-up on par with what this series usually produces. Game on!