By Craig Kwasniewski
How do I spin this? It seems like eons since the Lakers beat a quality team not from Utah. Really, how do I look at yet another Sunday loss against a potential first round opponent? Okay yeah, they're bored. They clinched the #1 seed in the west and have been in coast mode for weeks. Fine, but would it kill anyone to get some momentum heading into the playoffs? They're injured. Kobe's dinged, Bynum's having an extended injury break for the third season in a row, Luke Walton's out (yeah but when was he NOT hurt?), Odom's shoulder probably needs surgery, Artest continues to tear up his feet wearing Starbury-esque kicks and Vujacic's psyche is so damaged that a prescription of Maria Sharapova isn't even the cure. But EVERY team is banged up at this time of the year. Next excuse: they're losing but working out the kinks along the way in preparation for the playoffs... FREEZE IT!
I do see small improvements despite the losses over the last 7 days. They're definitely attacking more from the inside and the team defense is improving. But the overall execution down the stretch is alarming. Poor shot selection and terrible defensive rotations cost several very winnable games. Oh and did I mention they can't hit freethrows when it counts?!? Maybe they're piecing things together for a long postseason run, but it would be nice for them to mix in some basketball IQ late in the 4th.
The Lakers point of attack early on is more post-oriented. Well the Triangle offense after all is the TRIPLE POST OFFENSE. The Lakers advantage is having FIVE legit low post scorers (Bynum, Gasol, Odom, Artest & Kobe) so naturally you'd expect a 60-40 mix of inside vs. perimeter shots... right??? Except that the since All-Star break the guards are caught running screen and rolls and jacking up terrible threes (that's YOU Farmar!!!!). Just because the defense is giving you a wide open three doesn't mean you take it (that's you Artest!!!)
Anyway, they last few games the Lakers are working the ball inside more. The result? A typical Phil Jackson run. The defense holds their own and over the course of 6 or 7 possessions and the Lakers suddenly find themselves taking control of the game. Everyone who has played in the Triangle Offense always refers to "offensive rhythm" which initiates by attacking from the inside out. Suddenly there's a few easy buckets and the defense drops down low, creating spaces and instead of contested 20-foot jumpers you see 15-17 foot wide open jumpers... offensive rhythm.
Jordan Farmar... pass the damn ball inside! Is this a case of NBA Napoleon's complex? Did the bigs steal your lunch money? What gives? Seriously, I'm trying to remember the last time you actually made a low post entry pass. Late 2009 is all I can think of. Instead you get the ball and look to shoot first, then look to shoot as a second option, you look to drive as a third option, look to pass around the perimeter and finally when all else fails, you look to shoot. I'm getting tired of the contested 21-foot jumpers. Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom are willing passers out of the post, they actually will find you for a spot up jumper. And if you have the ball with 8 seconds left in the quarter you actually have time to work the ball around instead of dribbling out the clock for a fade-away three. I get terrible flashbacks to the Ty Lue era with that crap. STOP IT!
LaMarcus Aldridge Lakers killer. I want to say Aldrige averages 38.4 points against the Lakers, right? All I'm sayin' is that if he ever played this well a full 82, we're talking first team All NBA. The guy has a hell of a mid-range jumper and is waaaay too quick on the offensive block for Gasol. The Lakers need to respect his offensive game and put the quicker Odom on him. Make it so if the Lakers face Portland in the playoffs! All Marcus Camby does is stand around the free throw line and crash the boards, Gasol SHOULD be able to stick with that!
Ron Artest, stop with the corner threes! Enough already! There's a reason defenses are giving you five second wide open looks from the corner... you're not hitting them. There are other spaces on the floor to spot up in the Triangle Offense besides standing in the corner with your hand up for 24 seconds. Early in the season Artest displayed an acceptable three point range but they were from freethrow line extended. Yet as the season passed, Ron-Ron felt he was more dangerous (to Lakers fans) from the corner.
Still no need to panic. Yes, the missed freethrows by Kobe and Fisher with the game on the line was disturbing. Yes, Fisher's on-the-ball defense is scary-bad. Yes, the poor execution on both ends of the floor late in games is troubling. And yes, another loss to a potential first round opponent is worrisome. But it's not like we haven't seen this before (Houston round 2 anyone?). Obviously the Lakers still feel that have the switch come playoff time. They still have the most overall talent with the greatest coach in NBA history... so you just gotta believe. And I still do.... barely.