Will history repeat itself and doom the Los Angeles Lakers? Or, will the team use the valuable lessons learned from the Oklahoma Thunder series to their advantage in the Western Conference Finals versus the Phoenix Suns?
Against the Jazz, LA pounded the ball inside, scoring in the paint as they used their length and height advantages to the fullest. Only in Game Three, when Jerry Sloan resorted to packing the paint and double-teaming the Lakers big-men (including Andrew Bynum!!), did LA then settle for jumpers. But, wow, in that game, we’re talking massively open shots.
Utah’s defensive strategy in Game Three opened up everything, everywhere outside the paint, and on that night, the Lakers hit their shots. It seemed like a smart strategy for the undersized Jazz but the Lakers made them pay, with Ron Artest coming out of a long, long, long shooting slump as well as Derek Fisher draining his own rainbow jumpers for twenty points. The Lakers squeaked out a tight road win, despite Utah giving everything they had and more. The Jazz couldn’t have played a better game and still lost.
Game Four brought the best of the Lakers, in a closeout game, exhibiting a balanced attack rarely seen in the regular season. They used their superior talent and experience in an overpowering performance that sent the Jazz packing.
The Utah series displayed that the Lakers’ dominance is really their inside play (and, Kobe Bryant doing what he does, closing out tight games.)
So, the question beckons: Will LA keep up the good habits and pound the Suns, or will settling for outside jumpers rear its ugly head again like it did in the Thunder’s first round games?
If the Thunder series proved anything, it truly was the old “Formula” that quicker, athletic, and smaller teams can employ against taller ones.
So, try this math: Long jumpers + long rebounds= Run outs and fastbreaks. This is the only equation that spells failure for the Lakers.
The Thunder series exposed that the Lakers’ transition game was flawed. The young and running Thunder tore up the Lakers on every opportunity and made LA look old and slow.
The Suns aren’t quite the old “7 seconds or less” Mike D'Antoni Suns, but they are close. The big difference now is that their defense has improved dramatically under Alvin Gentry.
On offense, the Suns still run and gun and spread the floor. They love 3’s like a favorite TV show you can’t help watching, even if it’s a repeat in syndication.
The Lakers will have to defend the three point line, keep Steve Nash and Goran Dragic from penetrating the lane, and somehow get even better at their pick-n-roll D.
But, these are all focal points that the Lakers can handle. Pau Gasol, and even Andrew Bynum, have proven rather mobile all year in handling the pick and roll, whether showing to stop penetration, or even contesting shots.
We’re not talking about the “achilles heel weakness” of the Shaq days anymore when it comes to the Lakers’ bigs and pick and roll D. So,it’s safe to say the Suns will be defended in their bread and butter offensive sets.
Sure, the Suns will run Amar'e Stoudemire and Steve Nash over and over and over again until the Lakers prove they can stop the annoying 2 man game, but I know they can. And, the Lakers have the speed and height to defend the 3 point line.
The big difference with the Suns from year’s past, and what they showed in the impressive win over the San Antonio Spurs, is the ability to defend and actually, dare I say, grind a game out?
That used to be an oxymoron: the Suns and defense. But, under Gentry, this team is a handful and will meet the Lakers head to head. But, it shouldn’t matter if the Lakers play their game, execute the triangle, and defend as they have all year.
No, the only “Formula for Failure” against the Suns is the return to settling. If the Lakers continue to pound the ball inside, they will overpower the Suns. But, the second the Lakers either get lazy or fall into any Gentry defensive schemes to pack the paint, the Lakers can’t settle for long jumpers.
This will immediately trigger the deadly formula and watch out, it will be deja vu all over again like the Thunder series. The Suns will burn the Lakers transition D and make this series a very scary one for Lakers fans.
So, the only question remains for the Lakers and a trip to the NBA Finals: Which team shows up? The team that pulverized the Utah Jazz or the worn out one that nearly got blown out in a track meet against the Oklahoma Thunder?
We’ll all stay tuned and see because Game One will tell us everything.
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