Tag: Los Angeles Oklahoma City

Serge Ibaka, Russell Westbrook, Metta World Peace, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol

Lakers look to find their old selves, avoid Game 5 elimination by Thunder


Two years ago, when they won the title in 2010, the Lakers were the team that came back and won games like the one they lost Saturday. Back then it was the Lakers closing on a 25-7 run and getting the defensive stops. It was Kobe Bryant hitting the big shots. It was their opponents buckling under pressure and making bad passes or taking bad shots. Meanwhile Lakers role players stepped up and made plays.

Now, the script is flipped. The Thunder are the better team and in this series they have been the more poised at the end of games. The Thunder athletes are “gambling” according to the Lakers, but when it works we call that “making plays.” The Lakers were not. In Game 4 Kobe was 2-10 in the fourth quarter and took the offense out of rhythm too much, Pau Gasol made a horrific pass and the Lakers never adjusted to Andrew Bynum being fronted in the post.

The Lakers seem to be eroding, much as we saw against Dallas last year when the Lakers were swept out of the second round of the playoffs. Chemistry issues between Kobe and Pau Gasol are flaring up. Based on history, you expect that if the Thunder can get up by about 10 at some point in Game 5 they can run away with it.

Still, the Lakers could win Game 5. This series has been close. They know the formula — slow down the game and don’t let the Thunder get easy transition points. Los Angeles needs to not let Westbrook penetrate off the pick-and-roll and force the Thunder to their second options. Help on Kevin Durant but be smart about it.

And the Lakers need to use Gasol wisely on offense. Mike Brown has not really handled him well all season. As Andrew Bynum emerged and thanks to the Lakers lack of outside shooting Gasol became a floor-spacing facilitator not a guy who got his numbered called. Bynum got the rock on the block, Kobe just took touches wherever he wanted, and Gasol was left to fend for himself. Which never really works as he is passive in that situation by nature.

The Lakers need to run sets for him, get him going early, force the Thunder to adjust then take advantage of the mismatches. Gasol and Bynum need to own the glass. They need to be big forces on defense.

But after the last two series, do you really see the Lakers doing that for 48 minutes on the road? Exactly.

Is Game 3 must-win for the Lakers? Yes, yes it is.

Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant

One last time we can thank the lockout for the joys of a condensed schedule — the Lakers and Thunder are going to play the rare playoff back-to-back the next two nights.

Which clearly favors the younger legs and better athletes of the Thunder. It’s going to be a lot harder for the Lakers to control the tempo and limit the Thunders transition points in Game 4.

With the Lakers already down 0-2, that makes Game 3 basically a must win.

Los Angeles feels it should have won Game 2, up 7 with two minutes left, but a Kobe Bryant turnover that led to a Kevin Durant dunk, a Steve Blake turnover, a Durant three and… it snowballed.

Thing is, the Lakers need to basically have the same game again and this time just close it out.

The Lakers did a great job dictating the tempo of Game 2. Big men Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol did a great job being aggressive on the pick-and-roll cutting off Russell Westbrook’s path to the basket. The result was an isolation heavy, disjointed Thunder offense. The second best offense in the NBA regular season (by points per possession) was held to 77 points.

Look for OKC to counter by just trying to get out and run, and to have better counters on their pick-and-roll. And I just have a feeling the answer will be more James Harden, their best playmaker.

Oklahoma City is the better team. History says that teams that start a series winning the first two win nearly 95 percent of the time. But expect a desperate Lakers team on Friday night. This is still a team with rings, a team with pride that believes they still can win it. Win it all. They are not going to roll over.

And they know this is must win.

Bynum thinks Lakers will win title if they focus on defense

Denver Nuggets v Los Angeles Lakers - Game Seven

There is very little Lakers fans can take away from Los Angeles’ seven-game series win over Denver that should make them think they have much of a shot against Oklahoma City.

Everything Denver did to the Lakers in transition OKC can do as well and with better athletes.

But Andrew Bynum thinks there is a chance. Here is what he told Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register.

Bynum vowed to stay focused on defense first, seeing at least four blocks each game from him as a key to advancing now and later….

“We’ll win this championship,” Bynum said, “if we commit to defense.”

First off, instead of “we” Bynum needed to say “I.” While the Lakers as a whole had some off defensive games against Denver that started with Bynum, particularly in transition defense where Denver big men — we’re looking at you, Kenneth Faried — just ran down the court faster than Bynum and got good looks because of it. We’ll get into the games where Bynum didn’t bother with defensive rotations in the half court another time (he was hit and miss in the series and Ty Lawson was the beneficiary).

The Lakers problem is that while OKC is right there with Denver in transition (the Nuggets shot 63 percent in transition last season, the Thunder 60.7 percent, according to MySynergySports.com) the Thunder are far better in the half court if the Lakers do slow it down. Oh, and the Thunder are a better defensive team, also. Los Angeles cannot take a game off and still win this series.

But Bynum is right in the sense that if the Lakers don’t focus and play better defense they don’t stand any chance in this series. He can worry about winning a ring after that.

NBA Playoffs, Lakers Thunder game 6: The Thunder learn some hard lessons, are eliminated by Lakers


Gasol_celebrate.jpgChin up, Oklahoma City. Sure, losing sucks, we get that. But you have to learn how to win in the NBA playoffs — people remember Michael Jordan the champion, not the guy who lost to the Detroit Pistons three straight years on the playoffs.

Enjoy the ride, you have a fun team, a special team. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are captivating to watch. The Thunder have become what the Phoenix Suns were five years ago — everybody’s second favorite team. They took a big first step.

But for the Lakers this was just another step, albeit one they had to fight for. LA won the game 95-94, and the series 4-2. Next up for the Lakers is the Utah Jazz, starting Sunday at Staples Center.

The Lakers taught the Thunder some hard lessons.  LA’s star Kobe Bryant saved his best game for an elimination game, Kevin Durant did not. Pau Gasol knew how to time a sneak inside for a game-winning putback, Serge Ibaka did not box him out, he lost track of fundamentals in the clutch. Derek Fisher knew how to step up and hit big threes, Russell Westbrook did not.

It will not be that way in a couple years. It was tonight.

The Lakers largely did what they had done in game four — they controlled the tempo and took away a lot of the Thunders’ easy baskets. The Thunder had just 13 fast break points, and forced into the halfcourt they shot just 36.5 percent, 26.3 percent from three.

The Lakers, however, were lighting it up from three. The last two games the Lakers did much better about setting up angles for entry passes to the post, or getting the ball inside off penetration, and that led to kick-outs and good look threes for LA. They hit 12 of 24 from three in this one, and shot 46.8 percent overall.
But the Thunder never went away. That is not who they are, they fight.  A few turnovers and fast breaks off misses — flashes of the transition game they thrive on — and Lakers leads would disappear in an instant.

The difference was the Lakers big names know how to step it up in the clutch.  Kobe in 16 in the third when the Lakers looked like they might pull away, hitting some just pull up threes that were the kind he missed in game three.

Late in the game the Lakers got good shots from Artest (and up and under move on the perimeter and it works?), but their offense became a lot of isolation. So did the Thunder, as has been their pattern. And it worked for a while, they went a 10-0 run late to take the lead.

However, the Kobe Bryant underbite came out – so did a stupid running shot over two defenders that barely moved the net going through with less than a minute left. Sick. Kobe was making plays all night.

The Thunder were up one with 15 seconds when Westbrook had a clean look at the jumper from 10 feet baseline. Oh, the midrange game continues to be his challenge. On the season from the right side baseline there Westbrook was shooting just 25.7% (thank you NBA Hot Spots). He missed.

On the final play I loved the Thunder choosing not to double Kobe, showing confidence in Thabo Sefolosha to shut him down. The rest of his team got caught ball watching. When Kobe made his move and started to go up Nenade Kristic and Durant were under the basket wrestling with Artest, while Serge Ibaka was watching the ball, not bodying his man. Gasol stepped inside Ibaka, got the tip in and that was that.

Thunder fans get it – they stayed late to applaud their young team. They know to savor it in a way that jaded Lakers fans often cannot. Fans from both teams should soak up this series, it was a fun one and about as good as one could ever hope for in the first round.

NBA Playoffs, Lakers Thunder game 6: Russell Westbrook must attack Kobe Bryant

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Thumbnail image for Westbrook_Dunk.jpgSitting by their lockers after game five, Thunder players admitted it caught them off guard — Kobe Bryant locking down on Russell Westbrook. It threw the young Thunder out of sync, it made Westbrook hesitant.

It cost them the game, and now they trail the Lakers 3-2. If they are to pull off one of the greatest upsets in NBA playoff history, Westbrook cannot be hesitant in the final two games, starting Friday night back in the Ford Center.

After reviewing all of Westbrook’s possessions, it became clear that Kobe was a part of the problem, but that the Lakers better overall play in slowing the game down played a big role as well. Westbrook is nearly unstoppable in transition, but in the half court he is more manageable. The Lakers took away a lot of those transition opportunities, and Westbrook did not convert the ones he did get at his normal rate. The Lakers length, and being back in transition, added to his off night.

For example, with 6:28 left in the third quarter Westbrook made a steal and was off in transition, but Kobe was with him. Kobe’s length and strength running down the floor took away easy layup that Westbrook feeds on, so Westbrook tried to go under the basket then pass out to a trailer, but that pass was picked off for his own turnover. Westbrook just has to attack in that spot and try to draw the foul.

In the half court, it is sort of the same. Early on Westbrook passed, then his first shot came off a pick and roll, when Kobe went under the pick and he pulled up and took a jumper. Kobe is long enough to play off him some and still challenge those jumpers, and Westbrook was not hitting them.

And he settled for them too much — four of his last five shots of the game were threes. The Lakers will take that. While he hit two of four late in the game, Westbrook on the season is a 22 percent shooter from three. That is what the Lakers want him to do.

But even with Kobe on him, Westbrook can attack.

There were a couple of instances where, even with Kobe face up on him where Westbrook went strong to his left and got a decent shot — what bothered him was less Kobe and more the help from Bynum and Gasol (something the Lakers did much better in game five). Westbrook needs to go at him, needs to attack and create (if Bynum helps, make the pass to the man he vacated).

Getting a couple fouls on Kobe would also be huge.

Also, Kobe loves to play free safety and leave his man, even when he knows he shouldn’t. Westbrook got a couple of good looks because Durant had the ball at the elbow, Kobe drifted to him and Westbrook slashed behind him to the rim. Those chances will be there again.

Kobe on Westbrook makes things harder on the young point guard, but not impossible. What he can’t do is change his game, he can’t settle for jumpers. There needs to be points in transition. He needs to attack.

If he does, he’ll get a chance to do it again on Sunday in game seven.