Another Nuggets/Lakers Preview - How to Beat or Lose to the Lakers

I am going all out for you guys to bring you the best possible coverage of this playoff series.  Not only did I exchange thoughts on the series with Kurt from the great Lakers blog Forum Blue and Gold, but I have also teamed up with Brian Kamenetzky from Sports Hub LA and the Los Angeles Times Lakers blog for more insight into the upcoming Nuggets/Lakers series.  
 
You can read my submission on how to beat or lose to the Nuggets by clicking here.

Three Ways to Beat the Lakers

1) Turn them into a perimeter jumpshooting team.

It’s not that the Lakers can’t shoot from distance (they’re sixth in the NBA in 3 point percentage), or aren’t willing to take them (again, sixth in the league in three point attempts).  And occasionally, they’ll shoot themselves to big wins.  But while the strategy might pay off from time to time, LA is never better when they’re chucking from outside like the Warriors on a bender.  Lakers fans are still bitter over a 114-111 home loss to the Grizzlies in which the team obliterated the franchise record with 45 three attempts.  45!  In regulation!  When the Lakers get content taking open looks from the perimeter, it plays against their real strength (penetration and post play) and to one of their greatest weaknesses, namely transition D.

There’s a reason so many teams (including, if memory serves, Denver) have zoned up the Lakers this year.  More often than not, they’ll be content trying to shoot over it rather than working the ball into the high post and creating lanes to the basket.

2) Get Physical.

Beat them up, pound guys when they come in the lane, give a little somethin’ somethin’ when scraping off a pick, don’t be afraid to grab some jersey when going up for a rebound.  Then, once that’s done, hope the refs swallow their whistles.  Over the course of the season, when that’s happened the Lakers have shown a nasty tendency to lose focus when they don’t get calls.  Or, if you can prefer, you can call it a tendency to whine.  Some of it comes from Kobe, who spent most of the second half riding refs like Jorge Velazquez on Alydar until he ended up one T short of a suspension.  Now, unshackled from that threat, if Kobe starts whining, the rest of the team could follow.  

Moreover, the knock on Pau Gasol has always been his toughness, and while he’s shown some grit as a Laker, teams have been effective when they knock him around a little.  He’s got much more polish offensively than Andrew Bynum, but is also more susceptible to physical play.  Take K-Mart, Najera, Nene, and Najera and throw body after body to Gasol.  

3) Move.

Everyone knows the Nuggets can get up and down the floor, and that does indeed work against the Lakers, who struggle with athletic, fast break teams.  But the Lakers are also very well suited to slow AI, Anthony, and Co. down by taking care of the ball and pounding it inside.  But even if the Lakers can limit fast break opportunities, the Nuggets can still hurt them in the half court.  Teams like Utah, Portland, and Sacramento  found success using any number of off-ball screens and back door cuts.  Like most teams in the NBA, LA struggles with the pick and roll, though they’ve improved that aspect of their defense over the last couple weeks.  

Even in half court play, if the Nuggets stay active they can hurt the Lakers.  Of course, this would require them to actually run some plays and show a little discipline, so it might not be an option.  If set plays basically amount to isos with AI and Melo, Denver will score, but they won’t win.  

Three Ways to Lose to the Lakers

1) Double Kobe all the time.

Yeah, I know this means 24 will be able to roam free and pick apart the soft spots of an already soft defense, but as other teams in the post-Pau era have learned, it doesn’t pay to throw bodies at Bryant.  He’s outstanding at recognizing the exact moment when the double hasn’t reached him yet, but is still too far away from his man to recover, and then delivering the ball to an open teammate.  Between Bryant, Gasol, and Lamar Odom, the Lakers are too good a passing team to leave players open on the floor with a double that is almost certain not to work.  Since Gasol has returned to the lineup from his ankle injury, the Lakers have routinely slaughtered teams that have tried to keep Kobe from beating them.  So along those lines...

2) Don’t ignore the supporting cast.

Not just Gasol or even Lamar Odom.  The more players the Lakers can get into double figures, the more likely they are to win.  Kobe is going to get his points, and in the triangle, Pau has become a force.  Those are givens.  It’s when Sasha Vujacic gets nine, Vlad Radmanovic hits for 12, Luke Walton gets eight, Derek Fisher gets 13, and so on that the Lakers become almost impossible to beat.  Recognizing how much better the Lakers are when there’s balance is part of the reason Kobe has become such a strong MVP candidate (he gets my non-existent vote, for what it’s worth).  

He’ll still take shots that aren’t quality, but the number of CIFSPG (Cringe Inducing Forced Shots Per Game) Bryant hoists has gone down considerably.  If the defense gives him 18 looks, that’s what he’ll take.  But if that’s the case, he’s likely to have set up his teammates for a lot of great shots, and LA is likely to have piled up points.  

3) Cede the paint.

Everything the Lakers do well is predicated on getting the ball inside.  Their offense is built around it, as is their defensive stability.  When they don’t get the ball near the basket, things tend to get wonky. Of course, keeping the Lakers out of the paint is easier said than done.  Kobe can penetrate against virtually any defender, and between LO and Gasol, there’s a lot of length to exploit.  Among the reserves, Jordan Farmar has become less three happy over the last ten games or so, and is now back to attacking the rim.  Luke Walton, in part because he’s had trouble shooting the ball, loves to post up.  

Odom in particular has become almost impossible to defend since the arrival of Gasol.  The worry was that the move, which pushed Odom back to small forward, would leave him shooting more jumpers.  Instead, it’s been just the opposite.  His entire game is now at the rack, whether in transition, posting up, or attacking from the perimeter.  After posting shooting percentages of 49%, 49%, and 41% over the first three months, Odom has gone crazy in the second half.  62.3% in February, 55% in March (when Gasol missed some games) and 63.4% in April.  

All in all, I think it’ll be tough for Denver to do what needs to be done to pull off the upset, but hey, you never know.  If Deke can do it, why not AI?  Okay, I know why.  Lakers in five.  

Thank you Brian for the insights.  Tomorrow is game day and that means only one more preview for you guys to read.  You are almost there!

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