NBA Playoffs 2011: What the Los Angeles Lakers Must Do to Complete Three-Peat
By now, everyone knows that teams coached by Phil Jackson have never lost a playoff series after winning Game 1.
But before the Dallas Mavericks and their fans start getting giddy, that doesn't mean that a loss in Game 1 will yield Big D a Big W.
The Lakers have been here before, and after their Big 3 of Phil Jackson, Pau Gasol, and Kobe Bryant each made costly errors that enabled the Mavericks to steal Game 1 on Monday night, the questions continue to abound.
At this point, we don't know whether or not the Lakers will emerge victorious in their joust with Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks, but what we do know, is that if they are to beat Big D en route to winning their 18th NBA Championship, a few things will have to go right.
7 things, to be exact.
Number 7: Ron Arest Must Lockdown Opposing Stars
The Lakers won the NBA Championship over the Orlando Magic in 2009 and they did it with Trevor Ariza playing Small Forward. After swapping out Ariza for Artest during the ensuing Summer, they managed to repeat in 2010 by eventually besting the Boston Celtics in a 7 game NBA Finals.
Although Artest played one of the best games of his career back on that June 18th, 2010 night (20 points, 5 rebounds, 5 steals), he was brought to La La Land to lock people up on the defensive end.
Let's make it clear: that's what the Lakers need from him.
Although Trevor Ariza was a superior perimeter defender - he shot gaps and played passing lanes better - Artest is much stronger, defends the post better, and excels at fighting for position and rebounding.
Whether it be cutting off forays into the paint by Dirk Nowitzki or battling the ever present Shawn Marion underneath for rebounds, Artest needs to be a magician on the defensive end for the Lakers to excel. That applies to this round, as well as any future matchups against the Thunder or the Miami Heat - you know, if the Lakers should be so lucky.
The Lakers title hopes depend more on Ron Artest than most realize.
Number 6: Force Turnovers and Turn Them into Transition Opportunities
In Game 1 of their playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks on Monday night, the Mavericks only turned the ball over 11 times.
While it may be easier said than done, the Lakers need to force turnovers and turn them into transition opportunities. Shannon Brown and Lamar Odom are both nearly unstoppable in the open court. Matt Barnes, Steve Blake, and Kobe Bryant all love drilling open 3 pointers as the trailers on fast breaks.
Being even in the turnover column isn't going to get it done for these Lakers, especially not when their turnovers come at costly times in the game.
In their first round matchup against the Hornets, the Lakers were a combined -9 in the turnover department in their two losses. In their 4 wins, they were a combined +8.
That's no coincidence.
The Lakers need to force turnovers, get out and run, and get some easy buckets.
Number 5: Phil Jackson Must Outcoach His Opponent
After coaching his teams to an NBA Record 11 Championships, Phil Jackson is almost never criticized for coaching lapses and mistakes.
In some circles, it is believed that "mistake" and "Phil Jackson" is an oxymoron.
But when Phil Jackson assigns Pau Gasol, his best man-to-man post defender, to guard Dirk Nowitzki on the perimeter during the game's decisive play, he deserves to be criticized.
Phil Jackson is one of the best minds this game has ever seen. He find mismatches and the best ways to exploit them. Traditionally, he has not been a liability to his teams, and Lakers fans can only hope that doesn't become a new trend.
For the Lakers to reach the promise land once again, the Zen Master must continue to be the brightest coach on the floor and help his team outsmart the opposition.
Number 4: The Real Pau Gasol Must Stand Up
Player A: 13.7ppg, 7.4rpg, 4.1apg, 43% FG
Player B: 15.0ppg, 12.4rpg, 2.4apg, 58% FG
Who would you rather have on your team?
Those are the 2011 NBA Playoff averages for Pau (Player A) and Marc Gasol (Player B). And thus far, Marc is outplaying his older brother.
For some reason, Pau Gasol hasn't been playing well through these playoffs. His shooting is off, he continues to play tentatively, and we don't quite know why.
What we do know, however, is that there is zero chance of the Big Brother Pau getting his 3rd ring if his play does not improve. Pau is one of the most versatile post players in the league. He is a deadly midrange shooter out to about 15 feet and a bruising post player. He makes good decisions with the ball, and he is a great passer.
The only problem is… So far, he hasn't been.
Any hope of a 3 point depends on the real Pau standing up.
Number 3: Stay True to the Triangle
Most fans don't fully understand the concepts behind the Triangle Offense. If you're one of them, don't feel badly, because many players have the same problem.
In short, the triangle offense is about spacing, feeding the pinch post, and baseline cuts. An effective zone defense can take away some of the passing angles that the triangle creates, but the Lakers perimeter shooters usually succeed in shooting opposing zone defenses back into a man-to-man scheme.
Unfortunately for the Lakers, when things are not going well, Kobe Bryant has a propensity to abandon the essential principles of ball movement and looking for cutters. And while he has certainly emerged as a much more capable play maker off the dribble; it's not his strength and it's not the strength of their offense.
Kobe wants to win so badly, he's often willing to "screw the game up," as Phil Jackson once eloquently put it. But for the Lakers to succeed, they need to stay true to their offensive philosophy and they need good ball and shot distribution.
Staying loyal to the triangle and getting easy buckets on the interior for Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol, and Lamar Odom are the keys to the Lakers success in these playoffs.
I know it, you know it, and Phil knows it.
Lakers fans need to hope Kobe does, as well.
Number 2: Andrew Bynum Continues to Get Healthy
Let's not get it confused. Andrew Bynum needs to be healthy for the Lakers to win. The only reason his health is the second reason is because the Lakers have already proven that they can win even if he is a bit gimpy.
If he's not on the court, though?
Andrew Bynum doesn't get nearly enough credit for being the best defensive center in the league not named Dwight Howard. But the bigger advantage he provides the Lakers is the ability to change their offensive scheme with members of the 2nd unit on the floor. The Killer Bees play more of an inside-outside game with Bynum getting plays calls to take his man one on one, and it's been surprisingly effective.
Bynum's long wingspan, huge steps, and ability to seal his defender on spin moves in the post (for that, he should thank Kareem Abdul-Jabaar's coaching) are exactly what the Lakers need.
He's too big for his opponents to deal with (evidenced by his 3.2 offensive rebounds per game and 2.0 block per game this season). Oddly enough, he's probably too big for his own good (that's probably why he's always hurt). Maybe that's why my brother refers to him as "Too Big Bynum."
This season, if the Lakers are to beat Dallas, win the western conference, and beat whoever comes out of the East (right now, it's looking like Miami), they're going to need Andrew Bynum to continue his recently excellent play.
If all goes well for the Lakers, the Eastern Conference Champion will be referring to him as "Too Big Bynum" when all is said and done - only because he was too big for them to overcome.
Number 1: Lamar Odom Plays at His Highest Level
You probably saw this coming, considering there were 7 factors required for the Lakers Threepeat, no?
Lamar Odom is a Hall of Fame talent. Whether he gets in is something that I don't have the power to determine, but what is a fact is that he is a winner, and - with all due respect to Dirk Nowitzki and Lebron James - he is the most versatile player in the NBA.
Lamar Odom is a 6'11" freak of an athlete. He can block shots, he rebounds well, and he can play point guard. Yet, he has the bulk and strength to grab rebounds over Dwight Howard. He has three point range and can defend any of the five positions on the court.
Finally, he got some personal recognition in the form of winning the NBA's 2011 Sixth Man of the Year Award.
But awards aside, for the Lakers to overcome the Mavericks, Lamar Odom will need to provide the team with a starter's production in his role as their Sixth Man. He will have to take the task of stopping Nowitzki in the post while his fellow Queens, NY native, Ron Artest, takes the challenge of shutting him down on the perimeter.
On the offensive end, he's going to have to use his speed to render Shawn Marion useless, and use his agility to make Dirk work on both sides of the court.
Odom has inexplicably failed to show up in some big games. Thus far, in the 2011 NBA Playoffs, in the Lakers 3 losses, he is averaging a very pedestrian 10.3ppg, 5.7rpg, and 1.3apg.
Clearly, that's not going to get it done.
If Odom wants to join the likes of Robert Horry and Rick Fox as integral cogs in a Lakers three-peat, those numbers aren't going to cut it. He will need to be the Lakers human jackknife by hitting threes, blocking shots, starting fast breaks, and otherwise doing all of the things that no single player in the league can do as consistently as him.
He needs to show up and he needs to play his best ball now.
Many predict that the Thunder, Blazers, Heat, and Bulls are knocking on the door and are ready to commence the changing of the guard that occurs twice a decade in the NBA. We have already seen the Spurs pushed aside by the younger Grizzlies. The Celtics - currently down 2-0 in their series to the Miami Heat - are now desperate to avoid the same fate.
For the Lakers to advance past the Mavericks and win the Western Conference, they'll need the Lamar Odom that they've gotten the past 2 years.
They'll just need to hope that he'll do his best impression of red wine and continue to get better with age.
They'll need to hope that he's saved his best for what could be their last and that he can do the improbable: Outplay Dirk Nowitzki.
And most of all, they'll need to hope that the #7 on his jersey becomes each of their players' favorite number from here on out, because the Lakers will surely need all 7 of these factors to fall in their favor if Kobe Bryant is to be able to have dinner with Michael Jordan.
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