The 2010 NBA Playoffs Round 1 series between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Los Angeles Lakers is tied at two games apiece. After getting destroyed in Game 4 the Lakers must make the following adjustments to win and maintain home court advantage.
Lamar Odom in the starting lineup for Ron Artest
Lamar Odom needs to replace Ron Artest in the starting lineup. Artest’s 13% 3-point field goal percentage (3 of 23) is killing LA on many levels. The obvious, is the missed points. More problematic is that long-range shots missed, lead to long rebounds, which lead to fast break points for the Thunder. (24 fast break points for the Thunder in game 4 compared to just 2 points for the Lakers.) LA has not been able to stop the transition game of the Thunder. The youthful legs and high-octane energy of the young Thunder ran the Lakers off the court by the end of the first quarter of game 4. Every coach knows that if you want to slow a team down, score the basketball on the offensive end first. Lamar Odom isn’t exactly lighting it up offensively. Averaging 6.3 points in the first three games, he emerging from his scoring slump in the last game to score 12 points while shooting 50% from the field, gaining his first double-digit performance of the series. I realize Artest is in the starting line up to defend Kevin Durant more than for his scoring. While doing an admirable job of pestering Durant, he hasn’t exactly stopped him from getting his 22+ points per game. (26.2 average for first three games, 22 points in game 4)
Points in the paint
LA’s big men Pau Gasol (27 of 50) and Andrew Bynum (20 of 38) are shooting 50% from the floor in the series. They need more touches at the low post, low block. Though Pau Gasol can hit the mid range jumper, we need him taking the ball to the hole. Getting the Thunder in foul trouble early is key. Lakers took only 94 free throws in the first four playoff games compared to 139 taken by Oklahoma.
Hustle: Loose Balls and Rebounds
It was a pathetic sight watching the Lakers standing as spectators as they were out hustled for nearly every loose ball in game four. As every basketball coach from peewee to the pros knows, there is no excuse for a lack of hustle. What’s worse, the Lakers purposive size advantage has garnished little return. The Thunder have out-rebounded (176 to 172 total rebounds in the series) and served up more blocks (30 to 20 blocks in series) than the Lakers. Win this category and you diminish second shot opportunities and fast break points of the opponent, two things that have killed the Lakers so far this series.
Kobe needs to attack the rim
The world knows by now that Kobe Bryant’s hand is not 100%. Bryant didn’t take a shot until 9:06 mark in the second quarter finishing with a meager 12 points in the game. Bryant shot just two free throws after getting none in Game 3, obviously not attacking the basket. He needs to be aggressive and drive the ball to the basket. His dribble penetration will also set up dunks for the big men, and set up open three’s for Derek Fisher and Lamar Odom. The Thunder would love to keep Kobe on the perimeter all night. He must not settle. He needs to attack.
Derek Fisher is the maturity and calm of the Lakers squad. His leadership is needed on the court. But he can’t play the kind of minutes of his youthful days. Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown are going to be given substantial playing time throughout these playoffs on both ends of the floor. 3-point shooting from the Lakers bench has been atrocious 5 of 30 for 16%. Jordan Farmar is 2 of 11, and Shannon Brown is 1 of 7 from 3-point range.
During the 2009-2010 Regular Season the Lakers are a 76% free throw shooting team. But during the first four games of the playoffs they are only 69% from the line. The jinx at the charity stripe has resulted in a decline in free throw percentage for every Laker regular except for Shannon Brown. Everyone else has struggled compared to the regular season. And only Shannon Brown is shooting better than 73% from the line in this series. Through four games the Thunder are 117 of 139 and the Lakers are just 65 of 94.
Home Court Advantage
Luckily for LA home court advantage is a given for game 5. It’s what they worked so hard for in the regular season. Home court advantage may be the decisive ingredient to the Lakers advancing to the next round of the playoffs. The phantom and-one foul call on Derek Fisher in the final minutes of Game 3, and the intensity of the Oklahoma City crowd in games three and four are just a few indicators of Oklahoma’s edge in the past two home games. The Zen Master likes to talk about momentum within the game. Well it certainly got away from LA in the last game by the end of the first quarter. There is no doubt Thunder fans encouraged that. Phil likes his teams to play through the challenges, rather than call time-outs. It’s hard to argue with a coach who has ten championship rings, but I think a quicker trigger on the time-outs might be needed for his aging dynasty. Let’s hope LA’s star-studded crowd will be on time for Game 5 Tuesday night and ready to evoke some momentum for their Lakers. They are going to need it.
No crystal ball here. But my prediction is LA wins Game 5 in overtime by 3 points with Fish or the Black Mamba hitting the game winner.