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Game 5 Preview: Lakers vs. Blazers

A Look at the Lakers

On most days the Lakers remind me of the first season of Gilligan's Island, with Kobe Bryant playing the part of Gilligan, the Skipper too, the Millionaire, his wife, and the movie star while the other Lakers fit firmly into the category of "and the rest".  But due to Kobe's battle with injury early in the season we're starting to see that, yes, the Professor can indeed make a radio out of coconuts.  And that Mary Ann is pretty cute.

Leading the Laker charge has been Lamar Odom, who (at least for four games) has morphed into the kind of player folks from the Clippers and Heat always said he could be.  He's tallying 24 points a game on 53.5% shooting, 67% three-point shooting, 83% foul shooting (on 7.5 attempts a game), adding 8.3 rebounds, 6.3 assists and a steal, all in less than 40 minutes a game.  I watched him play the other night and yes, he is all that and more.  I don't know if it was the loss of his son over the summer (sincere condolences, by the way...I can't even imagine), maturity, or just the chance to shine without the Human Shot Machine by his side, but something or someone has lit a fire under him and then poured gasoline on it.  A second culprit in the Lakers' success that you might find more surprising is Luke Walton.  He's always been a good complementary player and now he's blossomed into potentially a very good one.  Like Odom, his game is terribly multi-faceted, with 15 points, 5 boards, 3.5 assists, 61% shooting, and 83% from beyond the three-point line.  A lot has been made of last year's 7-foot draft pick Andrew Bynum.  He's big and raw but he's producing numbers this year too (notably 6 boards in less than 20 minutes a game and 68% shooting).  Forwards Ronnie Turiaf and Vladamir Radmanovic, and point guard Jordan Farmar are other names to watch for.

No matter what the new-look Lakers have done so far, though, their main battle cry still consists of two words:  "He's back!"  He's moving a little slower (for now) but even an 80% Kobe is still good for 19 points, 8 assists, and 4 boards.  And he ain't missing shots either.

One of the more interesting stories of this game may be how L.A. manages to re-integrate The Great Gunner back into the team.  I'm not sure which would be better to see, this year's style or last year's.  Either will probably kill you.  It's scary to think they can win games even with Kobe cold.  Rumor has it that they're finally beginning to look smooth with the Jackson/Winter triangle offense too, and that is also frightening.  That offense puts as much pressure on defenders to make decisions as it does the guys with the ball.  Throwing our defense into a state of confusion may not be difficult given our youth and patchwork lineup.  Any way you look at it the Lakers are a dangerous, multivalent offensive team, one not likely to have a completely cold night on all fronts.  They are becoming more formidable now than they have been at any time since The Big Fat Forearm left for Miami.

Things I'd like to see:

  1.  You are not going to be able to outshoot or out-finesse this team.  You have to be tough and brutal on defense and on the boards.  Nobody should cut through the middle without getting a subtle forearm chuck or two for their trouble.  Similarly we need to be ripping rebounds out of their hands.  (No mean feat, because they're dominating opponents on the boards so far.) This is not a strength of our team but they've got to learn sometime.  A little nasty goes a long way.  
  2.  One of our better chances will be to get them in foul trouble.  That means motion in the offense and deep penetration, not just jumpers and not just tossing it to Zach and watching him work.  One of the Laker weaknesses is that they're not particularly good defensively as a team.  Kobe can stick anybody but after that it's pretty thin. They will let you move. They will let you drive. I'm looking pretty hard at young Mr. Bynum here.  Getting his bulk to the bench might be a good first step.  If we're ahead in foul shots that's a really good sign.  (The Lakers have had 10 more attempts per game than their opponents so far though.)
  3.  If this game is going to be won, it's going to be won on emotion.  The Lakers will turn the ball over and they will let you run it back on them.  We can't get into a total track meet with anybody in the league and expect to win, but we need a high number of points off turnovers to feed us (and the crowd).  They will not force a lot of turnovers either.  This team lets you have more possessions than they get.  This is an area we could gain a real advantage.
  4.  They shoot well anywhere, anytime.  It's doubtful the zone defense will work tonight.  Kobe is a walking, talking matchup problem, more so with Roy out.  (I was really looking forward to seeing them go at it.)  But if you double Kobe he's going to find the open man and the open man is going to hit.  What does this mean?  We had better be really quick in our rotations.  Basically if you see anybody more than 2 feet from a player, let alone lost in no-man's land, we're in trouble.  I am curious to see how Magloire will handle this.  We might be better served with quicker centers as long as Bynum isn't being a pest.  It would be an ideal game for Travis Outlaw to bust out with 15 rebounds again.
  5.  If there's one advantage position, it's Zach.  He has a tall order.  First he's got to score like he did against the Clippers...not from low post isolations but from dribble-drives, spin moves, and garbage points.  Second he's got to keep us within shouting distance in the rebounding department.  Third he's got to help stop Lamar Odom (who already lights us up on a regular basis even without this streak he's on).  If it's not Odom it'll be another big guy with deep shooting capability.  I hope Zach's in condition and light on his feet tonight.  If we're going to do well it's on his shoulders.
  6.  Two other guys who will be really prominent are Jarrett Jack and Martell Webster.  They both need to shoot a brutally high percentage.  Martell needs to stretch the defense.  Jarrett needs to drive through it.  As much as we hope to score off turnovers and limit their scoring with a little nastiness, we still need to put points up to stay close.  These two will probably make the difference.
  7.  No lead is ever, ever safe with (now) #24 on the floor.  If we do manage to take a lead into the 4th we have to remember to play 48 minutes.  Warning:  do not be up by 2 with 13 seconds left and the Lakers in possession.
It's hard not to lament all the injuries.  The outlook would be so much brighter with Przybilla and Roy, and maybe a LaFrentz to throw a curve at them.  It'll be difficult to beat them.  It's a real shame this is their only trip to Portland this year.  Sometimes, though, teams step up in the face of injuries.  We've seen 9-10 man teams pull games out against us before, even when we were good.

One age-old question is whether you try to shut down Kobe and let everybody else hurt you if they can or if you let Kobe uncork 30 and try to limit all of his sidekicks.  Actually I would be happy with either one.  The thing we don't want to see (and we very well could) is neither one happening and the flood gates opening.

If we do win, odds are it will be an emotional, heart, guts kind of deal.  That often means an overtime or last second kind of thing.  I'd take that, wouldn't you?

--Dave (