Biggest Adjustments Los Angeles Lakers Must Make to Pull Off First-Round Upset
Granted, their 91-79 ousting in the Alamo City, along with being anything but pretty, was cause for concern, if not outright alarm in some corners of Laker Land. Too many turnovers, too little viable perimeter play and too much of the Spurs' Big Three (Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili) all contributed to what turned out to be a rather slow burn, as far as defeats are concerned.
Not that LA's issues are beyond repair (or concealment) or that there aren't others ways in which the Lakers might achieve their ends. The loss of Kobe Bryant—from the court...not from Twitter—is and will always be a difficult one to overcome, but they still have Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and (a hobbled) Steve Nash on their side.
Mike D'Antoni may not care for thoughts proffered from the Internet, but he'd do well to at least consider making these five adjustments in time for Game 2 on April 24.
1. Take Care of the Ball!
Turnovers have killed the Lakers all year, and the story was no different in Game 1. LA gave the ball away 18 times—10 between Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard alone—off which San Antonio scored 14 points.
The Lakers' slippery fingers also fueled the Spurs' fastbreak. San Antonio took advantage of the Lakers' inability (unwillingness?) to balance the floor properly and retreat in transition with 18 points on the run.
Of course, the Purple and Gold aren't about to sprout young legs overnight. What they can do, though, is squeeze the orange a bit tighter, especially against the swiping hands of Tim Duncan down low and Kawhi Leonard on the perimeter.
2. Hope for the Best from Steve Nash
Keeping the ball in Steve Nash's hands should help to alleviate some of those turnover concerns. According to NBA.com, the Lakers turned the ball over slightly less and assisted slightly more with Nash on the floor.
Though, as far as Nash is concerned, that's hardly a newsflash.
Of greater headline worthiness are Nash's ongoing hip and hamstring problems. He managed to play in Game 1 after missing the last eight of the regular season, but only with the assistance of two epidural shots.
Nash showed flashes of movement around the floor, but appeared hobbled more often than not during his 29 minutes of play. As nice as his 16 points seem on their own, the fact that he needed 15 shots to get those—and that he wound up with just three assists—is part due to his failing fitness.
The Lakers should hope he feels better by Game 2, or at least well enough to resemble himself on the floor. With Kobe down, Nash is their only perimeter player of any repute. As such, they need him to create shots for others and knock down his own, now more than ever.
Otherwise, Metta World Peace, Steve Blake and Jodie Meeks will have to shoulder the burden. That's hardly a recipe for success under any circumstances, much less against a squad as good as San Antonio.
3. Get Back and Get Out
Even if Steve Nash were 100 percent healthy, he'd be hard-pressed to strengthen the Lakers' all-too-porous defense.
To be sure, LA handled San Antonio's smooth, pass-happy offense surprisingly well in Game 1. The Lakers held the Spurs to 37.6 percent shooting from the field, including a subpar 7-of-22 from three-point range.
Unfortunately, the Lakers' defensive efforts were often undone by untimely lapses in effort and concentration, leading to too many open looks for San Antonio's shooters in crucial situations. Manu Ginobili's eight-point spurt to close out the third quarter killed what little momentum the Lakers might've otherwise committed toward a wholehearted rally. So, too, did anything and everything attributed to Matt Bonner.
It's imperative, then, that the Lakers do a far better job of getting out to open shooters on top of upping their hustle quotient in transition. At some point, the Spurs are going to start hitting their shots with more characteristic frequency. The more open those looks are, the sooner San Antonio will get its collective groove back and the sooner the Lakers will be watching the playoffs from the comfort of their own homes.
4. Pound the Ball into Pau Gasol
As far as LA's offense is concerned, so long as Steve Nash is limping around, the Lakers would do well to run everything through Pau Gasol.
And not just because Kobe said so, either. Pau's healthier now than he's been all season. He's back to playing some excellent ball, as his 16 points, 16 rebounds and six assists in Game 1 would suggest.
Gasol's long been a supremely skilled offensive hub and can be just that for these Lakers. When Dwight Howard's on the floor, Gasol can settle into the high post and/or at the elbow, from whence he can hit cutters with pinpoint passes, toss lobs up to Dwight and knock down mid-range jumpers. When Howard sits, Pau's well-equipped to take over in the low post with his slick back-to-the-basket game and ability to kick the ball out to open shooters.
To be sure, Pau's far from perfect as the centerpiece of LA's attack. He missed nine of his 16 shots (some of them wide-open looks) and turned the ball over a game-high six times against the Spurs.
But considering what the shorthanded Lakers are working with, they'd do well to get the ball into Gasol's hands during most (if not all) offensive possessions for which he's present.
5. Dominance from Dwight Howard
As important as Pau is and can be to these Lakers, their efforts—now and in the years to come—will be for naught unless Dwight Howard dominates both ends of the court.
Howard's efforts in Game 1 certainly sparkled on the stat sheet. He scored 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting from the field, ripped down 15 rebounds, blocked a pair of shots and dished an assist for good measure.
In reality, though, Howard was hardly at his finest. He struggled at times against the 36-year-old Tim Duncan, who pestered Dwight into four turnovers and discouraged his efforts on countless other catches.
And of course, there was the usual bit of foul trouble for Howard. The Lakers can ill-afford their free-agent-to-be to spend significant time on the bench, or for him to be anything other than sure-handed when he's not. They need him to be efficient on offense and engaged on defense, where his presence is the Lakers' lone deterrent to the incessant drives and pick-and-rolls purveyed by Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.