Thursday, June 4, 2009

How The Lakers Can Win It All

Zee knows how much I hate the Lakers so he asked me to write an article on why I think they are going to win the Finals. Hah. I'll try to be as objective as possible here. On the flip side, Zee will take the Eastern Conference and talk about why he thinks Orlando will win the finals. The Lakers are hungry to win this season and eager to redeem their lose from last year. Everything this season has built up to this moment. They will only be content with winning a ring, anything less will be a failure. Kobe is eager to cement his legacy as one of the best players in history and he knows that he won't get many more chances to win a title. I'm sure he wants to add a Finals MVP to his resume and prove to the doubters that he can win a title with Shaq. And for some historical context. If the Lakers win, this will be Phil Jackson's 10th ring as a coach (he also won one as a player). That will put him alone at the top of the most winningest coaches list. This will be the Lakers 15th NBA championship, second to only Boston. I checked out the ESPN web site, and 9 out of the 10 experts have picked the Lakers to win. I even read an article that said the Lakers are President Obama's pick. Let's drill deeper into why they are everyone's favorites.

First and foremost, they have homecourt advantage. I expect this series to go 6 or 7 games. And both of those games are played in Los Angeles. They have a great shot of closing out the series there. Phil Jackson has a record of 43-0 when he wins the first game of the series. So it will be huge for the Lakers to pick up that win. Phil Jackson in general is a better coach than Stan Van Gundy. He'll make the right adjustments, exploit the mismatches and win the psychological war. He knows how to work the refs and motivate his players to win. Coming off of a hard loss that year in the Finals, this team will be hungry for a win and a chance to redeem themselves. This inexperienced Orlando team may just be happy to be there and will wilt under the spotlight. The Lakers need to be careful not to underestimate Orlando. I have all playoffs long, and they have proved me wrong in 2 of the series. The Lakers had 2 hard-fought series against Houston and Denver. Hopefully some of that toughness will rub off on them. And they will continue to play hard and play smart each game. Compared to last year's squad, this is a better team. Ariza and Bynum were DNP's last year, and they have played big for them so far this year. Kobe is the best player in the series and maybe the league; and he'll need to prove it once again.

The main key for them will be slowing down Dwight Howard. If they are able to successfully single-cover Dwight with either Bynum or Gasol, that will give them a huge advantage. As the Orlando shooters won't have as many open shots. Cleveland got in trouble because none of their bigs could effectively guard Dwight Howard, and that opened up the floor for the rest of their players. Also of note, Dwight has gotten into foul trouble in the past and already has 5 technical fouls. If they can get him suspended for a game or get him into foul trouble consistently, they could dominate this series. Both Gortat and Battie are a huge step down from Superman. Second, the Lakers have length and athletic forwards to match up with Lewis and Turkoglu, who have been huge all playoffs long. They should be able to contest each shot and limit the number of easy baskets that they get. Ariza and Odom will have the main defensive assignments. Ariza has been great at stealing the ball and applying pressure in the backcourt. Once again, the X-factors will be Odom and Bynum. They will need to play up to their potential for the Lakers to win. I like Odom better at the PF spot over Gasol because he has the quickness and athleticism to match-up with Lewis. I think Bynum and Gasol will take turns defending Howard at Center. Bynum is better suited for defending Howard, but he will need to stay out of foul trouble and prove that he can put up consistent effort on both ends of the floor. Gasol has been a beast so far in the playoffs, averaging a double-double in the postseason so far with 2 blocks per game.

Of course, I have to mention Kobe in this article. He needs to be the best player in this series. He'll be the closer for the Lakers. Also he will need to facilitate the offense and get his teammates involved; and set the defensive tone early. They will rotate Lee and Pietrus to defend Bryant; neither of whom I think is capable of slowing him down. He should have a huge series as he makes a run for the Finals MVP award. Differing from Cleveland, the Lakers have a well-balanced offense. They can go inside and outside, and get buckets from a variety of players. With Cleveland, Orlando just had to focus on one player. That same strategy won't work against the Lakers. Also the Lakers will run the floor and try to get easy buckets in transition, which will put a lot of pressure on the Orlando defense. The Lakers role players will need to step up and hit big shots for them. Does Fisher have anything left? Can Vujajic break out of his slump? Brown and Farmar have had some great moments so far in the postseason. And if it's true that Jameer Nelson will play limited minutes for Orlando, they will be key in slowing him down. Quick PG like Nelson have always given the Lakers a lot of trouble. See Aaron Brooks in the Houston series. Nelson was the main reason why the Magic were able to sweep the Lakers 2-0 in the regular season. Fisher has lost a step on the defensive end, and is not quick enough to defend Nelson. Neither Alston or AJ will be a difference maker in this series.

Walton has been effective sporadically off of the bench. But he gives them size and another play-maker. This is a deep Lakers team that can hurt Orlando in many different ways. If they double Gasol or Kobe, that will open up their shooters. This Lakers team have great ball movement and is very efficient on the offensive end. But you can't always expect to outscore the other team. And I have some concerns about their defensive effort. Will they be able to close out shooters and stay focused for the entire series. They have to contest every shot and make Orlando work for every point that they get. This Orlando team has been red hot from the field. And have proven in both the Celtics and Cavaliers series to be resilient and tough to beat. They can come back from big deficits because of their outside shooting. How effective will Gasol be at defending Howard? Will the Lakers elect to double team Howard or will they force him to beat them by himself. I know that Jackson is against the Hack-A-Howard technique, but it might be a smart strategic move. His FT shooting as been streaky so far in the playoffs. Hopefully they will do a better job of defending the pick-n-roll than the Cavaliers did. Turkoglu and Howard were allowed to get any shot that they wanted. Slowing down Turkoglu will be huge. As he's the primary play-maker for this team. With all of that said, I expect the Lakers to knock out Orlando in 6 games. They match up well, and are a more balanced and deep team. And Kobe finally wins one by himself.


Ryne Nelson said...

I think the best way to slow Howard is to take the ball to the hole early and often. No. 12 has not shown an ability to stay out of foul trouble. The rest of the Magic are very streaky, so if they're on from long-range, I don't think the Lakers can stop them... even if Howard's on the bench. That said, they're too inconsistent to bank on that strategy. Howard needs to dominate in all aspects for the Magic to have a chance.

Kay said...

Good point. The Lakers need to stay aggressive on the offensive end and attack the basket relentlessly. They can't settle for contested jump shots. LA need to keep the pressure on the Orlando defense, and try to get some easy points from the charity line. Sometimes a good offense can be a good defense.

For the past couple of series, I've written that Orlando lives and dies by the 3pt shot. And that I didn't think a team that is so dependent on their jump shot can win an NBA title. But the Magic could prove me wrong. They've been lights out from downtown, and they've proven to be a very resilient team. If they can win Game 1 on the road, they will have a good shot at winning the championship.