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Monday, June 14, 2010
L.A.'s Game 6 to-do list

By Brian Kamenetzky

My recommendation to Lakers fans between now and Tuesday night: Lay off the caffeine. You don't need it, and it will only make the hours between now and Tuesday's tip more jitterytastic than is healthy. For that matter, the Lakers themselves may want to go with herbal teas and fruit juices as well, because they too need to settle down.


Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images
Kobe Bryant elevated in Game 5. Can the Lakers as a team elevate in Game 6?



In the meantime, I have prepared a Lakers list of things to do in order to win Game 6.

Word of caution: It's not a short list; a series that seemed so promising after Game 3 has gone south. Fast.

1. RESTORE MOTION TO THE OFFENSE

I know the Celtics are a high-quality defensive team, but too often the Lakers are helping them out, giving up on possessions and working one-on-one in an effort to get a shot.

At moments during Game 4, and throughout Game 5, even when the Lakers have scored it has come with a high degree of difficulty. And the reason is simple: There has been a total lack of meaningful, pressuring ball movement and player movement.

Even in Sunday night's 26-point, Kobe Bryant-fueled third quarter (easily L.A.'s most productive on the night) nothing fundamentally changed.

Consider the third quarter, and the number and destination of the Lakers' passes on each possession:

Trip 1: Two passes before the ball goes out of bounds with :12 left on the shot clock. Inbound to Pau Gasol, no pass. Drives, and is blocked by Kendrick Perkins.


Trip 2: Three passes, all on the perimeter, Kobe getting set to iso before a defensive three seconds is called on Boston. The inbound goes to Kobe, and he makes the baseline jumper away from the double-team. Tough shot.

Trip 3: Three passes, all on the perimeter. Kobe comes over the high screen, makes the long jumper.


Trip 4: Two passes, both on the perimeter. Kobe pulls up over Ray Allen for three, gets the kind roll. Another fairly tough look.


Trip 5: Zero. Kobe turnover as Boston traps him on the wing.


Trip 6: Four passes, all on the perimeter. Kobe sets up on Allen and hits another three. One dribble left, then pulls up.


Trip 7: Zero. Kobe offensive foul pushing on Allen over the Pau Gasol screen.


Trip 8: Two passes. Kobe hits a catch-and-shoot jumper at the elbow over Allen. The first mildly penetrating pass of the quarter. Good rhythm shot for Kobe.


Trip 9: Three passes. Alley-oop from Derek Fisher to Bryant as Boston overplays him. Kobe rescues a poor lob.


Trip 10: Three passes. Gasol catches his first pass in any kind of threatening position (just above the free throw line with space to view the floor) since the first trip of the quarter. Artest kills any flow with another installment of DribbleFest!, but Kobe bails them out with a triple from a sports bar across the street.


Trip 11: Three passes, all very high on the floor. Kobe misses brutally tough pull up from the right  corner.


Trip 12: One pass. Walton comes over a screen, hits Gasol in the paint. Pau attacks, but Garnett rises to block the shot. Bryant gathers the rejection, and is fouled as he quickly gets the ball back up. Goes to the line.


Trip 13: Two passes. Kobe gives to Bynum at the top of the arc, who literally hands it right back. Kobe forces a jumper.


Trip 14: Four passes. The ball rotates along the perimeter to the right corner, where Derek Fisher makes the clean entry pass to Gasol in the post. Garnett fouls him. One pass off the restart, then Luke Walton turns it over trying to feed inside to Gasol.


Trip 14: Two passes. Kobe to Walton, who penetrates and kicks to Fisher on the other side of the floor. Missed three.


Trip 15: Four passes. Still nothing in the paint, but Gasol gets it near the arc, then drives for the and-one.


Trip 16: Two passes, but in semi-transition. The Lakers push the ball up quickly off a Boston miss. Farmar tosses a skip pass from the right wing to Lamar Odom on the left wing, who drives and gets fouled.


Trip 17: Two passes. Walton sees Gasol fronted by Boston and makes a nice lob over the top. Gasol gathers and rises for the dunk, but is blocked from behind on a stellar play from Tony Allen.


Trip 18: One pass. Walton tries to lob to Farmar, but it's a bad pass Farmar can't handle. Gasol gathers the rebound. Gives to Odom in the paint, who drops to Walton, who makes the cross-court pass to Sasha Vujacic for the open jumper.


Trip 19: Odom isolates, goes left and misses. It's a one-pass possession with the clock running down. Gasol is there to clean up the mess.

Which brings us to the end of the third quarter.


Joe Murphy/NBAE/Getty Images
A flattering photo for Pau Gasol? No, but it's nothing compared to the abuse he'll get from fans if he doesn't step up in Game 6.



As you can see, there was virtually nothing going on inside. Pau barely touched the ball, and Bynum didn't see it anywhere near the basket. There were very few penetrating passes, no dribble penetration, and rarely did the ball switch sides of the floor in any meaningful way. (When it did, the Lakers got open looks.)

Boston is too good a team play like them like this. They will load up on Bryant and bring help off the weakside against Gasol. The Celtics will be more than willing to let Game 6 become a referendum on whether Bryant can hit enough low-percentage jumpers.

It's a question of touches and motion, and the Lakers didn't have enough of either in Game 5.

The Lakers need balance, even if the end result is a high volume of shots for Bryant. If he shoots off good action, the ball circulating through his teammates before reaching him, the Lakers will score and can win. Kobe's looks will get easier, he'll get to the line, and everyone will benefit as the game goes along. But they can't win two games with Bryant taking 25 contested jumpers, even at home.

As it was against the Suns, better offense will also help the Lakers on the other end of the floor, because their transition sets will be far better established, and they will make the Celtics move defensively.

2. GET BRYANT TOUCHES WITHOUT HIM BEING PRIMARY BALLHANDLER

The Lakers didn't sit in traditional triangle sets for 48 minutes. In the first half, they ran a lot of pick-and-roll with Kobe up top, working to draw the defense and relying on Kobe to make the right play. When there was space, Kobe made the right passes, but Boston didn't give him much space. Each trip into the lane was like running an obstacle course, so it was no surprise to see the Lakers struggle to score.

Whether it's utilizing Gasol's ball moving abilities in the high post, allowing Odom to handle the ball more to initiate possessions, the Lakers have to find ways to get Bryant the ball on the move, in positions where the Celtics can't load up on him so easily. He'll draw their attention no matter where he is on the floor, but it's much harder for Boston to account for him when all five guys on the floor can't stare at him dribbling the ball.

The Lakers and Phil Jackson couldn't make this happen in 2008, and it's becoming an increasingly large problem again this time around.

3. PREPARE AS IF BYNUM WILL BE A NON-FACTOR

Bynum put on a brave face Sunday night, playing 32 minutes in obvious and significant pain. But after scoring six early points he was kept off the boards the rest of the way, and only grabbed one rebound for the game. After throwing down a lob from Bryant in the first quarter, Bynum could be seen grimacing as he hit the ground and went back up the floor. He lacked elevation on both ends, and Bynum's mobility was obviously limited defensively, helping explain (in part), why the Celtics were 15-of-16 inside five feet while he was on the floor.

At this point, it's unreasonable to expect he'll have another effort like he did in a 21-point Game 2. He may be present, but any presence should be seen as a gift. The Lakers obviously struggled without him in 2008, and have struggled when he's been ineffective in this series.

But they need to get over it.

Assume he is not going to contribute and develop the aggression and focus required to play without him.

4. GET AGGRESSIVE ON DEFENSE

Important as Bynum is to the Lakers, particularly in the context of this matchup, they're still perfectly capable of playing excellent defense without him on the floor. But they'll need to pull a page from Boston's book, using the mobility gained when Odom replaces Bynum, to press the Celtics more aggressively.

Make them work harder to come off screens, whether it's Paul Pierce or Rajon Rondo handling the ball, and when the opportunity presents itself, bust out more decisive sideline traps. The Celtics are turnover prone and beyond the obvious benefits (Boston won't score),  if the Lakers can get some easy baskets in transition off good defense, it'll help replace the easy points typically provided by an effective Bynum.

5. FIND THEIR SWAGGER

The Lakers have been a top-shelf defensive team most of the season. They're capable of putting up a good number offensively as well. In the second half of Game 4 and most of Game 5, though, the Lakers didn't look like a team trusting its ability to do either. They were on the defensive, reacting and responding to what Boston did instead of forcing the issue.

It would be hard to picture the Lakers playing (or being made to look) worse than they did Sunday. They shot under 40 percent for the game from the floor, while the Celtics spent most of the game near 60 percent. They lost the rebounding battle, had 12 assists on 31 field goals, and only two players (Bryant and Gasol) finished in double figures. Yet for all that, if Ron Artest had made two free throws it would have been a one-possession game with 43 seconds to play.

They were in it. Didn't deserve to be, but they were.

They were in Game 4, too, and they can win Games 6 and 7 . . . if they believe it.

Kobe does. Do the rest of them?