When the Lakers and Hawks met at Staples following the All-Star break, both squads were surrounded by questions. Atlanta was slumping, while the Lakers had marinated in a loss to Cleveland for five days or so.
That night, the Hawks became L.A.'s first victim in their current seven-game winning streak, as the Lakers overwhelmed Atlanta on both sides of the ball. Tuesday evening at Phillips Arena, they meet again. Obviously the Lakers are red hot, but the Hawks continue to scuffle, winning about as much as they lose (though they are 3-2 with Kirk Hinrich- acquired from Washington for Mike Bibby at the deadline- in the lineup). Save the PG change for Atlanta, in the two weeks or so since the initial matchup not a whole bunch has changed, and with people still buzzing about Sunday's beatdown of San Antonio, it makes sense to look back to see what went so well.
Consecutive plays early in the first quarter- one on offense, the other defense- showed why the Lakers rolled over the Spurs, and should they execute in a similar fashion tonight will likely lead to similar results against Atlanta (and any team on any night, for that matter).
Here's how they broke down...
1. Ball Movement. In a game filled with some very good offensive plays, this may have been my favorite.
Derek Fisher takes the ball to the right wing, initiating the offense with a pass into the post for Andrew Bynum. With Tim Duncan on his back, Bynum patiently surveys the floor, dribbling left into the lane and drawing Manu Ginobili down in a double team. He kicks to Kobe Bryant at the top of the key, who immediately swings to Ron Artest on the left wing, who immediately swings to Fisher, now in the left corner (having cleared the strong side along the baseline after making the initial pass).
Fisher fakes the shot, but instead passes to Pau Gasol in the left post area, where he's picked up by Ginobili. Seeing the mismatch, Richard Jefferson rotates down to help. Gasol kicks to Kobe, again at the top of the arc. With the Spurs now scrambling, Bryant puts the ball on the floor, bringing a late-rotating Tony Parker with him and drawing attention in the lane. He throws over the top to Fish, who takes and makes a three from the left corner.
Every Laker on the floor touched the ball at least once, and all five passed up opportunities for a decent shot in order to create a great one.
The Spurs bring the ball up the court...
...2. Defending the Pick and Roll... Parker sets up a DuJuan Blair screen against Fisher on the left wing. Gasol, happy to let Parker take the long jumper, makes a strong show without overplaying Parker and giving up a clean driving lane in the process. Not surprisingly, Parker puts the ball on the floor. Gasol moves his feet well, keeps him out of the paint and funnels him right to Bynum near the baseline, just as the team's defensive scheme intends. Shut off by two seven-footers, Parker can't shoot and instead dribbles the baseline, coming out along the right wing with the ball (in part because Bryant did a great job denying Jefferson the kick). Gasol is still on him, leading to...
...3. Communication. With Parker on the wing, Gasol stays in communication with Bynum, patrolling the mid-post beneath him. Knowing Gasol needs help off any Parker penetration, and that it's likely coming, Bynum allows Duncan to rise to the weakside elbow. Meanwhile, Kobe is at the free throw line (guarding Jefferson, who is high above the arc), his eyes on Parker because he knows the drive is likely coming. The talk is audible on the television broadcast.
Again, Parker drives, this time without the help of a screen. Again, Pau moves his feet well. and as Parker penetrates Bryant drops low enough to cut off any possibility of reaching the paint should Parker veer left, while Bynum steps out above the circle. Gasol again moves his feet, pushing Parker towards Bynum, leaving Parker with no good path to the basket, particularly since Bryant has cut off the lane. Sandwiched between both bigs, Parker nearly nearly gets caught in the air and turns it over, but is able to make the pass to Jefferson at the right wing. Leading to...
...4. Encouraging the Shot They Want. While it's nice to believe every shot on the floor will be contested and the opposition will never get a clean look, in reality that's not how the world works. Defense in the NBA is quite often a series of trade offs. Giving up one type of shot because it's preferable to another. Often, the Lakers are satisfied to allow opponents to bomb away from distance, realizing (correctly, for the most part) for most teams it constitutes a low percentage approach.
Except the Spurs aren't most teams. They hit 17 threes Friday night in their blowout win over Miami, and lead the league in three-point percentage. They aren't a team that should be allowed to heave from behind the arc with impunity, and it was clear the Lakers were determined from the jump to run them off the line. So as Jefferson makes the catch and sets to shoot, Kobe runs right at him. Jefferson puts the ball on the floor to escape Kobe, but knowing what's inside pulls up from about 18 feet. Iron.
There was no hand in Jefferson's face when he shot, but the location was far more preferable for L.A.. San Antonio may be great from downtown, but are 21st in the NBA from 16-23 feet, according to Hoopdata.com. Jefferson is 7th in the league at 43.7 percent from three, but his figure on long two's this year drops to 34 percent.
Atlanta isn't San Antonio. As a team, the Hawks are near the bottom third in three-point percentage, but for whatever reason are gangbusters with long two-pointers. Obviously it will matter who has the ball for the home team, but as a group don't be surprised to see the Lakers allow space for Atlanta to hoist from three (when the teams met at Staples, the Hawks were 1-15), but work to cut off the mid-range game and keep the Hawks out of the paint (another area L.A. was extremely effective in the first meeting) and off the offensive boards (only eight ORB's off 52 misses the first time around).