Before I get going, let me just say that I picked the Lakers to end the series against the Rockets in five games.
After watching last night's performance and the other five games so far, I have come up with a few reasons as to why the Lakers (who went 65-17 on the season) are playing so damn terrible, even without Yao on the other side of the court.
Defense Wins Games
We all know that, but obviously the Houston Rockets know about it more than the Lakers.
The Rockets are composed of a tremendous amount of defensive athletes. These players are more defensive minded than they are offensive.
They are the kind of players that dive for the ball regardless of where it is on the court. They pressure their defender like there is no tomorrow and they never hesitate to draw a hard foul.
Shane Battier is one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA. If I had to start my own NBA team and needed a player to guard a super star such as Kobe Bryant or LeBron James, I would choose Battier.
Why, might you ask? Because the man can play straight up defense. He literally does not leave Kobe Bryant alone. Battier is stuck on Bryant like white on rice. He forces the Black Mamba to take shots (that usually still go in, just because he is Kobe Bryant) that are contested with a hand, and sometimes two hands, in his face.
Moving onto Ron Ron. Man oh man. Ron Artest is the best defender in the NBA. There, I said it!
Artest is one gifted basketball player. Listed at 6'7" on NBA.com (which I think is wrong, I believe he is at least 6'8", possibly 6'9") and weighing 260 lbs.-plus, Artest has the body and the talent to bully around anybody on the court.
The man has won the Defensive Player of the Year Award, he has been placed in the All-Defensive first team numerous times, and he plays the game harder than practically anyone in the league (the main reason he get's ejected and starts beef so much).
With Artest and Battier on the same team, the two just become an extremely deadly combination. Add in a player like Chuck Hayes (who is put into the game for his excellent defense), or Carl Landry (who can grab rebound after rebound), or Luis Scola (who is averaging 13.2 PPG and 10.5 RPG in the series), and you have got yourself one of the best, if not the best defensive team in the league.
So even though Kobe Bryant is still averaging just under 30 PPG during this series, the Rockets are eliminating him from grabbing as many rebounds, dishing out as many assists, and stealing the ball as much.
As for the other Lakers players, you can clearly see a drop in averages from the first round of the playoffs to the conference semi-finals.
Lamar Odom is posting up just 8.7 PPG, with 9.2 RPG, and 1.8 APG, compared to his 17.8 PPG, 11.0 RPG, and 2.4 APG during the series with the Jazz.
Obviously Bynum has taken a stab at Odom's production, but he is not exactly putting up terrific numbers either, averaging just 4.7 PPG and 4.0 RPG in 14.5 MPG.
The Guard Matchups
To win games, besides just playing spectacular defense, you need your guards to bring up the ball, set up the offense, and produce. Point guards are like quarterbacks in a sense that they control the offense.
While Derek Fisher is a great veteran, it is clear that he is not quick enough to guard the Rockets players like Aaron Brooks and Kyle Lowry.
Brooks is a little guard, listed at 6'0". He weighs just 160 lbs., but makes up for it with his outstanding quickness. If you have ever watched the Rockets play, it would be hard not to see the little fella running around the court in the matter of seconds.
Brooks is averaging a phenomenal 18.8 PPG on 48.1 percent shooting during this series. He has been absolutely dynamite for the Rockets and is crushing the Lakers guards, offensively.
Since Fisher cannot handle the task of guarding Brooks, coach Phil Jackson has played players like Jordan Farmar (who still is not mentally and physically prepared to play in the playoffs) and Shannon Brown to defend the speedy Rockets guard.
Kyle Lowry is the Rockets other guard that is listed at 6'0" and weighing around 200 lbs. Lowry is a lot bigger than Brooks and is certainly a banger on both ends of the court. He is averaging 6.5 PPG and dishing out just around three assists per game for the Rockets in this series.
Comparing The Stats
Brooks and Lowry—Combine for a total of 25.3 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 5.3 APG.
Fisher and Farmar—Combine for a total of 13.9 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 3.7 APG.
The numbers do not lie. The Lakers are in some serious trouble heading into Game Seven. They are going to need extreme production from not only their captain Kobe Bryant, but from their point guards and forwards as well.
I thought the Rockets were chopped liver without Yao Ming, but it has come to my attention that they do not even need him, just like they never needed T-Mac.
Defense wins games. Who will bring it on Sunday? We will have to wait and find out!