Tuesday, May 1, 2012

State of Laker Nation Playoffs Recap: Too Big, Too Strong, Too Good

"If I play good D, we'll win games. I think I'm just going to be as aggressively as I can defensively to contest their shots. ... You've got to win Game 1. Statistics are against the teams that lose Game 1, especially on the home court."

Andrew Bynum's quote after game 1 of the Western Conference first round matchup of the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets summed it up pretty tidily. With a monstrous 10/13/10 block performance, number 17 made his presence felt on every part of the floor, helping limit the highest scoring team in the league this year to only 88 points on 35% shooting. The Lakers won the first game of a potential 16 on the way to their 17th NBA title, and handily at that. With a wire-to-wire 103-88 W, LA thoroughly dominated the game, allowing only 1 Nugget over 12 points (Danilo Gallinari, with 19), and perhaps more importantly, limiting any Denver player to 8 or less rebounds.

As you might suspect, the key to victory here was size, plain and simple. Not just that the Lakers physically tower over the much smaller and less intimidating Denver squad, but the metaphorical weight of their strategy in defeating their first-round opponents. It was HOW the Lakers controlled the game with their size that led to their victory, rather than the easy headline of a Bynum triple-double or Kobe dropping 31 points on 24 shots.

From start to finish, the Lakers completely controlled the game in the paint with their size and the strategy that it's predicated on. LA crushed them on the defensive boards, limiting the Nuggets to only 30 rebounds on their end, compared to the Lakers 41 on theirs. Looking at the statistics, Denver was able to reach or exceed it's season average in fast-break points, shot attempts, turnovers and fouls, and yet, the game looked as slow as the Lakers wanted it to be. The reason? The Lakers scored 64 points in the paint, blocked an astonishing 15 of the Nuggets shot attempts and outrebounded their opponents by 6.

"Too big, too strong, too good"? Right on the money, Stu, but not quite the entire story. The team's mid-range game was on point, with Kobe moving all around the floor for his 31 points (but scoring the majority of his chances at the rim) and Devin Ebanks knocking down 10 footers early in the contest.

Moving to Game 2 tonight, I'm going for look for Denver to...

1) Give a lot more minutes to Ty Lawson: Denver has got to let him penetrate and probe (ye dog) a bit more often. The Lakers were able to limit Lawson's effectiveness by some stunningly good defense by Ramon Sessions, but the Lakers' PG doing this for two games isn't something I'd count on. I'd look for a much more explosive Lawson in game 2, not to mention being much more involved with the offense.

2) Throw up the rock from distance: The Nuggs only shot 14 3's on Sunday, making 4. During the regular season, they threw up nearly 20 treys a game, making almost 7. The Nuggets biggest weakness in this series is being completely dominated inside, on both ends of the floor. They need to space out the Lakers and try to sink a few shots from long to break up the defense. This might not be easy with the type of perimeter defense the Lakers are using, but the Nuggets are quicker and craftier, and need to find ways to get open and hit difficult shots from long.  

3) Which starts with Danilo Gallinari: Oddly enough, Gallinari fancied himself a post player in game 1, moving around pretty impressively in the lane for a guy who I thought had an allergy to paint. Seriously, Danilo was incredibly impressive on a few plays Sunday, nimbly moving around in the post and at one point in the first half, abusing the Lakers defense inside. However, this was at the expense of floor spacing. Gallo ended up not shooting ANY three pointers (which, to give you some perspective, happened twice in 43 games this year), which is definitely not what you want from one of the team's best shooters.

On the flip side, if I'm the Lakers, I'm looking for them to...

1) Hope Bynum sees the blood in the "Best Center in the NBA" water and continues being a beast on the defensive end. As we've said so many times here on MAMBINO, Andrew's perception of the world is completely different than everyone else's around him. He wants to get better, but does so in his own way, on his own time. Thankfully, our alien center has finally attuned his brainwaves to that of humanity and perceived that yes, a team with Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant probably has enough scoring, and really needs a defensive center to win a title. BTW, "Andrew Bynum is an alien" post from The CDP is coming soon.

2) Keep locking down the Nuggets perimeter guys and limiting them to 30% or less from distance. Generally, you know what you're getting from Matt Barnes and Kobe when it comes to outside defense, but it's been Steve Blake, Ramon Sessions and Devin Ebanks that have been so impressive on the outside. The Lakers need to keep that up and protest themselves against help defense having to come out from inside and disrupting the block party Andrew Bynum is throwing inside. Al Harrington and Arron Afflalo never really got around to hurting the Lakers, which is the only way the Nuggets can win.

3) Keep down...Kenneth Faried? The only semblance of life I saw all afternoon from the Nuggs was from the Manimal himself, Kenneth Faried. His activity really bothered the Lakers, and while he gave up a LOT of size to Gasol and Bynum, changed the game with his quickness, motor and strength. The Lakers really ratcheted down on him in the second half, with Jordan Hill getting the lion's share of minutes defensively. A sound strategy going forward. Unless Jordan's got other obligations. Shit.

4) Defend. If you haven't gotten that already: If the message wasn't clear, the Lakers have just got to keep defending. As I said, a team with Kobe and Pau will score. That's inevitable, unless you have a bar fight out there like Lakers/Celtics game 7. If the Lakers can control the pace, set up in the half-court, the game will be theirs for the taking. And that all starts with defense.

Nothing has changed since my original forecast. Lakers in 5.

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