Crucifido’s Corner: Lakers vs. Spurs (Game 40 1/23/2008)

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Crucifido’s Corner: Lakers vs. Spurs (Game 40 1/23/2008)

The All-Too Familiar Battle Of San Antonio

Say what you will about the Spurs, their troubles at the moment (which are fairly overblown), the age of the team, the sparse young talent coming in behind the big 3, but any way you slice it, they’re still the champs and still a huge mountain that must be climbed if the Lakers are to step back into the shoes of the best team in the NBA.

It’s a pick your poison kind of game with the Spurs, between Ginobli, Parker or Duncan. The Lakers looked as if they chose to let Duncan get what he had to get and to concentrate on Parker primarily. A good choice as Parker is the guy that typically destroys the Lakers.

But with the absence of Bynum being felt particularly hard this game, the gamble wound up backfiring. The outright size of Duncan, let alone the experience, in the low post was too much for kwame’s planted defense. Duncan’s reach on his shot was too high for Ronny to use his low center of gravity to keep him out of easy scoring position.

The 1st quarter was a well-fought quarter and really it’s a good way for the Lakers to get a feel of the Spurs without Bynum. As you watched, you got the feeling that the Lakers were looking for the Spurs game plan and trying to see the seams in their defense. Their point total showed the prodding Laker offense was working well early in the game.

I loved seeing the Lakers take advantage of Duncan’s absence in the game at the beginning of the 2nd quarter. Making little runs like that when a team is running their bench is key to beating any team.

Just like playing the Celtics and letting Perkins or Allen get going though, the Lakers have got to keep an eye on the outside of the core players like Udoka. Sure its better to let them try and carry a team rather than let the better players get going, but you have to be careful of not letting them get into such a rhythm that you can’t get them out of it.

Again, Ronny comes into the 1st quarter and has an immediate impact. His energy and most of all his nose for the offensive boards recently has been unbelievable. He played a fantastic game coming into the 2nd quarter. His help off the ball when the Spurs were swinging the ball around the court was just perfect. There is still a lack of boxing out the off man on rebounds (ala the put back by Udoka in the 2nd), but overall Ronny’s awareness of his defensive position and spacing has seriously improved this year. That room he’s giving himself is allowing him to recover, help and seal off lanes on defense with speed. Its putting that signature Turiaf never say die energy to awesome use. If he continues to knock down those 12-foot jumpers like he has here and there, Ronny becomes a very dangerous player very quickly.

Keeping on the Ronny love fest, its no wonder he’s been getting a ton of dunk attempts recently. He is almost always exactly where he should be on every play. It’s not just the cutting but it’s the positioning early in sets, the motion off of screens and the screen and rolls. His activity everywhere opened up the game for the entire Laker offense in the first half.

You have to love Sasha finally showing his dead eye shooting skill in a game rather than chronically in practice only this season. A lot of it has to do with Kobe’s brilliant table setting, but the second third of it is Sasha assertively spotting up where he should. Where Sasha’s undoing comes is when he gets on a hot streak. He tends to pull himself out of that comfort zone and begins trying to do too much on the court. Mainly getting the ball into bad situations inside. If he keeps spotting up and contributing with what he can do best, the rhythm he gets into rather easily nowadays won’t be disrupted so often.

Kobe’s methodical play this game was interesting to watch. I mean the way he picked apart the Sours mid post defense was something to see. The pass to a cutting Ronny for the dunk in the 2nd quarter was fantastic. I must have replayed that thing 10 times.

There’s more to Kobe’s run too. His communication with the team on the bus, the plane and most of all on the bench during games is outstanding. The leadership role that a lot of people have longed to see Kobe step into with full force has been filled. Not enough can be said about Kobe talking with Crittenton, Karl and the younger players on the bench.

You have the skill set, the leadership and the trust in his teammates all running at full tilt right now.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but Lamar did dunk the ball on a drive in the 2nd quarter, right? Lamar was playing unusually aggressive inside tonight. One can only wish that it stays that way, but at the least it’s good to know that Lamar saw the importance of the game and came out looking to fill the middle more. Odom’s rebounding has been stellar recently. His positioning off of every shot has been deep and in good anticipation of shot distance. The long rebounds aren’t running away from him being too deeply rooted in the paint. The small boards are falling right to him, and watching him put them back up once in a while rather than dishing it out for a lower percentage shot was gratifying.

Defensively it was definitely a tale of two totally different halves for Lamar. The first he was hustling, moving well on all sides, helping quick and playing sharp. Come the 3rd quarter and Lamar let Ginobli send him into defensive confusion. The solid play Lamar had in the first half shouldn’t have been disrupted so easily by one player.

Good early work getting inside from. Luke’s effort on the boards was impressive as well. However, his foot is looking like it’s having a big effect on his lift for his shot. It may be why Luke has taken to forcing shots from the post rather than jumping to shoot from outside. To counter it Luke should be looking to facilitate from the mid range until his foot gets strong enough to work from the post with more certainty.

Kwame has a bit of a jump on Duncan as far as strength in the posts. He used it decently, though pushing Duncan a step or two further in for a pass outside or to make room for a cut underneath would be good to see. Kwame played real well knowing when to stand ground on Duncan defensively and when to give enough room for Duncan to show the ball. Of course Duncan will hit a good portion of his shots, but Kwame did a good job in the beginning of the game making Duncan work for it.

What Kwame tends to do with more mobile big men is take that one extra step to either side after his man has committed to his shot. That extra step usually pulls his stance wider and that pull causes the foul.

Derek was taking Parker to the rack very well in the first quarter. What was good to see Derek do was keep a strict eye on Parker wherever he went. By simply keeping track of Parker off of screens and through traffic, Fisher was able to slow down Parker in the first half. Opposite of dealing with shooters, making Parker an outside shooter helped the Lakers dictate the pace of the 1st quarter in particular. However Parker’s speed eventually wore Derek down and his offense was showing it. IT was a battle of legs at the point, and in the end Parker’s activity wore Derek down enough to send him to the bench for most of the second half.

Come the 3rd quarter and the Lakers looked like they were trying a couple different things out offensively. Unfortunately it got San Antonio that small window they needed to get back into the game. It’s a dangerous game to play, messing with what was working against a good defensive team like the Spurs. It’s a gamble that sometimes puts teams on their heels. You vary your offense; your approach to the game and it takes away adjustment coming out of the half. But at its heart it is a gamble. This time, it didn’t pay off and it let the Spurs back into it.

Obviously you also can’t go 6.5 minutes without scoring against any professional team, but especially when you’re playing a veteran team at home coming off of a weak half.

The Lakers flat out fell asleep from the beginning of the 3rd to the end of it. Letting steals off the inbounds passes or one step from them cannot be allowed. The Lakers must keep their heads in the game whether up or down by anything. They’ve let a total of 5 games slip out from under them due to partly this and having this one join that dubious group was just a crime.

It was really odd to see the post passes from everyone become suddenly very labored, telegraphed and lazy too. Crisp passes into the post should never be taken for granted. In the second half almost every one looked like it was just that.

When it comes down to it, playing high-powered teams is tough to be sure. What makes it easier is making those teams work for everything they get, rather than letting them get into an easygoing rhythm. What also helps is the incredible hustle the Lakers showed as soon as the ball was tipped. That kind of hustle can easily make up for a lack of personnel. For a predominantly stand still type of team like the Spurs, it makes them have to play out of their game in order to keep up. The big thing is that hustle can’t be sporadic, it can’t be only when you’re up on the scoreboard, hustle has to be a 48 minute mindset.

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