Los Angeles Lakers: Ninth Time The Charm

Clublakers.comAnalyst IFebruary 26, 2008

I’m never one to play the blame game, son, or say that a referee alone has completely changed a game.

However, when you start into a Laker game and you see Steve Javie is one of the refs, you have to know that this could be a problematic.

The clunky calls in the first half were reminiscent of the way of his crews have called Laker games (and a fair share of other games to boot). The real story of this game for me was that the Lakers fought through the unusual reffing, the sloppy play on the offensive end, the soft interior defense of the first three quarters and the generally disjointed play by some of the team, and came out with another win.

There would’ve been no way that the Laker teams of the last three seasons could’ve pulled out a win like they did out of this game tonight. The first big shots of resiliency they showed in Phoenix were astounding to say the least, and now to watch them grind out a victory from the 15 point deficit they put themselves in, was at the very least gratifying. The fact that this Laker team (even with Pau coming on board) has absorbed the injuries they have with really ever suffering a major setback to their intentions this season is something Laker fans should be proud to be a part of right now.

There hasn’t been any self-pitying or wallowing in circumstance. The Lakers showed again tonight (yes even against a Roy-less Blazer team, which remember had them down by 15 with relative ease in the 1st quarter) why they could very well be the team to contend with in the West. The bench came through in a big way tonight.

Led by Farmar who had a banner game on the offensive end, hitting shots when nobody else on the Lakers seemed to be able to hit anything, the Laker reserves were beyond key. Farmar lit the fire offensively, with Ronny bringing the effort in the paint and Sasha bringing tenacity on both ends of the court.

Starting with Jordan – the key for his game tonight was him developing a downright dangerous aggressive jabbing kind of “half-drive” on half court sets. Where Derek faltered against Blake (as he is apt to do versus quicker guards) Farmar, took Blake to task on his footwork. There were probably 3 or 4 times I counted Farmar having Blake completely on his heels without any momentum to get back up to Farmar. Jordan took the ball into him and made quick decisive passes to the high post, getting to his spot without a moment of hesitation at any time. When that fast run of the offense came down, Kobe (who mostly got his passes in the high post) was quick to see him and hit him with the pass.

Shooting can go in and out to be sure, but when those passes hit Jordan the shots were falling in tonight. Farmar’s shot has of course gotten a ton better than it was just last year, but you could see Farmar using the half court set plays to his advantage tonight. When he got Blake back on his heels, there was little time for him to recover to catch back up with Jordan at his shooting positions. When Jordan didn’t bring the ball up he had great lateral movement along the arc, using the Portland big men against themselves to give him the extra foot of room he needed to get his shot off. That was just a real solid performance from Jordan tonight offensively.

Defensively, though he did get beat by multiple screens set through the middle, he did well in staying on pace with Blake and his side to side runs.

The next guy off the bench, Ronny played with his usual passion that tends to get the entire arena awake and alive. Whether you find his game appealing or not, the one thing about Ronny that is indisputable is that he has a positive impact on the game whenever he gets into it. The very first offensive play he stepped foot on the court for tonight, at the end of the first half was the great setup by Kobe he put in for a three-point play. Defensively, when Lamar was hampered by fouls, Ronny came right in and gave everything he had to at least causing havoc in the middle where the Lakers were falling deathly flat for a while.

Sasha had a rickety night offensively, but what struck me tonight was his tenacity on the defensive end. The frustration he had with himself offensively didn’t just get balled up; it came out as impassioned focus on the defensive end. The height of that being the one literal rip Sasha came away with from the Blazers. There was no light swiping at the ball or apprehensive off screen defense. Sasha came with purpose on steals and with a physicality that he usually doesn’t show as often as he did te4onight. He’s never been shy with the defensive buzz saw routine, but tonight there was purpose behind it and it showed.

I loved seeing him shoot his way out of his little mini-slump he had in the first half. Though it would be great to see him follow his shot much more than he does. Once he got himself into rhythm, the defensive hustle stuck as well. They both served great roles in taking some focus off the Lakers’ usual offensive / defensive key players.

The third player of the game to me, behind Jordan’s inspiration off the bench and Kobe’s sweetly familiar all-around play, was Lamar. There was a little concern I the first half, as Aldridge took Lamar into the block too often and made Lamar pay for some slow footwork in the paint on and off the ball. When the fouls starting rolling in I was hoping Lamar wouldn’t let them take him out of his game. It looked to be that way for a while, and then the 4th quarter came. I don’t know if it was Phil’s faith in Lamar in leaving him on the floor with fouls racking up, or if Lamar just kicked himself in the butt, but it was something to watch for sure.

Doing his best Dennis Rodman impression (point total included) Lamar came into the 4th quarter with a defensive tenacity on the boards that was simply amazing to watch. The entire Staples crowd got to a point where they were on their feet to see Lamar do his dirty work in the paint on defense. That incredible ferocity he showed on the backboards (on both ends eventually, but mostly defensively) was another in a long line of encouraging signs from Odom and his ever growing capacity for focused play.

Onto this Kobe guy, turns out he’s not too bad after all huh? The frustration for Kobe with the refs was apparent to even the unbiased viewer tonight. I don’t know if it was seen at home but Kobe was being held onto on the defensive end pretty consistently. There was a concerted effort to bring the ball to Kobe’s man, cycle it back out to the outside, and then as Kobe moved to keep up with his man, there was a screen and hold behind that screen, keeping him about two steps behind Webster, or whoever he got thrown onto. The push in the back on the alley-oop, was easy to see, but during timeouts Kobe was going over to the refs to tell then what the Blazer defense was doing the whole game.

In the first half Kobe did a good job of denying Webster the ball. Early on in the game there was a concerted effort to keep the ball from getting to Webster, letting him get hot. Kobe split space very well between Webster’s multiple spots on the arc and inside of it. They were running every half court set they could for Webster, but Kobe was usually between the pass and Martell, keeping any kind of shooting rhythm away from the Blazers. That denial of rhythm ultimately kept the Blazers from getting hot from the outside.

Pau had a bit of a down game, but luckily for Laker fans, Pau’s down game still resulted in a 16 point performance. There was a noticeable downgrade in the energy for Gasol. Offensively he was a touch slow getting to post spots. When he got a shot off from places he’d usually drain everything, he was short-arming them. That kind of play just spoke a bit of a player that looked tired. Which honestly, is both acceptable and alright. One tired game out of 10 for a guy who has so seamlessly integrated himself onto the Lakers is perfectly fine.
Overall, the Lakers would do well to not let fast break opportunities tempt them into making ill-advised passes. There were a couple tonight, the most noticeable being Sasha’s pass off the fingertips of the Blazers to a not so open Kobe on the break. The Lakers have to not let break opportunities become opportunities to turn the ball over unnecessarily. Sometimes foregoing the tightly threaded break pass for a sure fire half court set would be the best advice.

Again, coming into every game with passion and desire is always key. No matter the team, they’re all professionals and anything can happen at any time.

Team rebounding is so vital. There may be games where not everyone is playing with the spark of life they need to get over the edge. But what must always be there is the knowledge that limiting second chance shots for your enemy and opening second chance shots for yourself, is going to play huge in who gets the trophy this year. The weapons for getting most every board (especially your own defensive ones) are there en masse’ with this squad. The Lakers had one run tonight where they let the Blazers get four chances to score, that can’t happen—again—at all.

Nne in a row at this time of the season, with the West being so ridiculously close as it is, is invaluable to both the Lakers’ confidence and to their playoff seeding. There’s certainly a long way to go and everyone knows that a two-game losing streak can take you from first to fifth to almost out of the playoffs. What can’t be overlooked is that the Lakers are focused on taking care of their own business and letting their wins dictate the pace of the West. Worrying about what other teams are doing is wasted energy.

The Lakers are taking the wins they want, and right now its damn close to every one of them—don’t let that stop.