1. Lakers Win, But Bench Play Falters
LOS ANGELES -- Lamar Odom was in a foul mood, something that wouldn't make sense if you saw only the final score of the Lakers' 104-99 victory over the Jazz, but seemed perfectly logical if you saw the manner in which they got it.
This game shouldn't have required a fourth-quarter comeback, shouldn't have needed Kobe Bryant to be in closer mode, shouldn't have had Odom feeling so grumpy despite making the most important play of the day.
Especially when so many other things are going the Lakers' way. Bryant is looking more like the MVP runner-up of a year ago and less like this season's third-place finisher. He says his knee feels better and called it "encouraging" that he could move so well only 40 hours after finishing the Oklahoma City series. Bryant scored 31 points on 12-of-19 shooting and has made 33 of his past 63 shots (52 percent). The cartilage tear in Andrew Bynum's knee didn't keep him from starting and scoring eight points to go with 10 rebounds. Pau Gasol had a huge game with 25 points, 12 rebounds and five blocked shots, living up to the "Gladiator"-themed "Spaniard" video of him that played on the Staples Center scoreboard.
But just when the Lakers looked ready to accelerate into the fast lane and not exit until the NBA Finals, they went into a skid. That's because their second unit scored only one point in more than four minutes at the beginning of the fourth quarter and the Jazz cut an eight-point lead down to one.
"The second unit has got to play better," Bryant said. "Simple as that."
Odom was a co-conspirator, sharing the court with Shannon Brown, Luke Walton, Jordan Farmar and starter Bynum in a stretch that included five missed shots and two turnovers. Not even the return of the starters could stem the Jazz momentum initially, as Utah took a four-point lead before Bryant scored 11 points in the final four minutes to boost the Lakers to the W in the opener of the second-round series.
The Jazz have trouble scoring inside over the taller Lakers frontline. Until Andrei Kirilenko feels healthy enough to play, they have no one to keep Bryant from doing whatever he wants on the court. But Jerry Sloan can send Paul Millsap down to the scorer's table to check in, and Millsap could very well produce a double-double. It's happened three times already this postseason and he almost did it again Sunday with 16 points and nine rebounds.
The Lakers are still waiting for the first double-double of the 2010 playoffs from Odom, who averaged 18 points and 11 rebounds in the Lakers' five-game elimination of the Jazz in the first round last year. Last season Odom got to start because of Bynum's ineffectiveness coming back from a different injury, and Jackson said Odom would have to adjust to playing as a reserve this season. But Odom seems reluctant to let the starting days go. He still plays better when he's with Gasol, as evidenced by a nice interior pass he threw to Gasol for a layup Sunday.
Odom gave the impressions that he didn't like the second-unit vibe Sunday. They sure didn't bring out his best, as Odom scored three of his four field goals when he was the only Lakers bench player in the game.
"We play hard, we play together, it's tough to beat us," Odom said. "When we separate and kind of do our own thing mentally, then we can be beat. We'll be all right, as long as we do everything together."
So were they separate Sunday afternoon?
"We've been closer," he said. "Mostly I'm talking about our second unit, giving up leads, letting teams get back into it, letting their bench outplay us."
Sometimes it's Brown rushing things or Farmar trying to take matters into his own hands. And sometimes it's Odom not taking enough control, not becoming the offensive leader the coaches want him to be when the starters are resting.
Odom was supposed to be the solution to the Lakers' bench problems when the return of Bynum from an Achilles tendon injury at the start of the playoffs shifted Odom back into his sixth-man role. But the reserves had a collective plus/minus of minus-24 in the two losses to Oklahoma City and were minus-8 against Utah on Sunday.
Odom could be absolved of some of the blame in Game 1. He finished in positive plus/minus territory after being allowed to stay on the court with the starters (minus Bynum) in the fourth. He did grab 12 rebounds, including a missed jumper by Bryant that Odom converted into a layup for a three-point Lakers lead with 49 seconds remaining -- "the key rebound of the game," Bynum called it.
But his scoring average of 10.8 points this season was the lowest of his career, and his 46.3 percent shooting was the lowest in his six years with the Lakers.
Odom has this endearing quality that makes it hard to stay mad at him. Once, early in Phil Jackson's time coaching him, Jackson even offered to give Odom a hug when he seemed down.
On Sunday, Odom was 3-for-9 from the field, then he delivered the big putback. He also had a critical blocked shot and rebound in the final minute of the Lakers' escape from the noise cauldron in Oklahoma City in Game 6 of the first round.
It's a reminder that even though the Lakers' bench problems aren't all of his doing, he can do something about it.
2. Jazz Battling A Sizable Problem
By Kevin Arnovitz
LOS ANGELES -- If you saw Utah dismantle Denver during the first round of the postseason then you have a good idea of how efficient the Jazz's offensive system is when it's running on all cylinders. Against the Nuggets, the ball breezed around the court. Every pass, screen and cut seemed to produce a high-percentage shot for the Jazz against a Nuggets defense that spent two weeks with its head on a swivel.
Utah's execution-oriented offense should be able to withstand just about any defense it confronts, at least theoretically. But in each of the past two postseasons, the Los Angeles Lakers have quickly dispatched the Jazz. In both instances, the Lakers' "length" was cited as a key factor. Needless to say, the Lakers' roster isn't any longer when playing the Jazz versus any other team, so what is it about the Lakers' length that specifically gives the Jazz fits?
To start, Jerry Sloan's system is predicated on continuity. For many NBA teams, scoring is a matter of finding the best one-and-one mismatch on the floor, then exploiting it, but that's not the case for the Jazz. They flow into their offense by moving the ball in a pattern. The system relies on crisp passes to players who dart off screens away from the ball, and often on entry passes into Carlos Boozer or Paul Millsap from the wings. Against an undisciplined, average-sized team like Denver, swinging the ball around the court is child's play. But the Lakers make that task extremely difficult.
"Those passes you usually see Wes [Matthews], Kyle [Korver] and I make from the wings? It's hard to zip those passes because you have three 7-footers with their arms out," Jazz forward C.J. Miles said.
The success of Utah's scheme depends on fluid motion, which means the Jazz can't afford any hesitation or else the offense stalls. Since the Jazz don't have many shot creators who can burn the defense in isolation, the ball must keep moving, something that doesn't come without risk against the Lakers' battalion of big men.
"Even if you could've gotten [the pass] to the post, you're timid just because they have their hands up," Miles said. "You don't want to turn it over and they make it tough."
To read the entire TrueHoop blog entry, click here
3. History Not On Boston's Side
Now here's another thread Boston hopes remains common between the two teams: The 1969 Celtics were one of only two Boston squads ever to lose Game 1 of a best-of-seven series on the road, then rally to win the series.
Boston is a mere 2-6 in that situation, and 8-14 overall when losing Game 1 of a best-of-seven series regardless of home-court advantage.
What's more, teams with home-court advantage that win Game 1 of a best-of-seven series are 256-40 overall in the history of the NBA playoffs, a sterling 86.5 winning percentage.
To read the rest of Forsberg's story, click here
4. Daily Dime Live Recap
ESPN.com writers and TrueHoop Network bloggers chatted with fans and gave their in-game opinions throughout Sunday's games -- all in Daily Dime Live.
5. Extreme Behavior
Pau Gasol, Lakers
Gasol's 25 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks were indicative of the size challenge that Utah finds itself facing in the Western Conference semifinals. Bring back Mark Eaton.
Carlos Delfino, Bucks
The deer would've been more feared if Carlos broke out his Game 4 heroics (22 points, six 3s). Instead, he made only one shot and had zero boards in 21 minutes of a Game 7 loss in Atlanta.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
"Oh, I will."
-- Bucks center Kurt Thomas, responding to a persistent Atlanta heckler's call to "Keep shooting, Kurt!" Thomas made 17 of 35 shots (48.6 percent) in the series.
6. NBA Video Channel
7. Deron To Jam
8. Fear The Hawks?
ATLANTA -- On to the next round, and on to the most pertinent question regarding the Atlanta Hawks: How relevant will their postseason flameouts from 2008 (blown out in Game 7 in Boston) and 2009 (swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers) be in 2010?
Josh Smith, why don't you tackle that one:
"Irrelevant. We've got Jamal [Crawford]. We're healthy, the depth is there, and we don't have to rely solely on the starters to get the job done."
That is the state of the Hawks in a nutshell, and Exhibit A to back up Smith's point was Sunday's box score from Atlanta's 95-74 dismantling of the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 7, showing a team-high 22 points from the player Smith referenced: Crawford, the newly minted Sixth Man of the Year.
But there's more to the Hawks that makes them a different team from the one we've grown accustomed to seeing on the wrong end of a pulverization in the past two postseasons.
Exhibit B also comes from the box score, the 16 points and 15 rebounds posted by the guy a lot of people may have forgotten was chosen to the Eastern Conference All-Star team.
A question: Would you rather have a center averaging 15.6 points and 9.9 rebounds, shooting 56 percent from the field and 74 percent from the line? Or would you take his counterpart, a guy with a flashier nickname but with averages of just 9.8 points, 9.3 rebounds and 5.5 fouls, not to mention his 48 percent field goal percentage and his 38 percent success rate from the line?
If you chose the former over the latter, you just selected Al Horford over Dwight Howard.
Granted, Horford got his numbers against a team missing its starting center, while Howard was pretty much double-teamed by the Charlotte Bobcats (remember them? they were eliminated about a month ago, it seems) for all four games of Orlando's first-round series.
To read the entire column, click here
9. No Further Need? ...
Celtics coach Doc Rivers didn't sound ready to pull the plug on the Rasheed Wallace experiment quite yet, but admitted that if Wallace's defensive play doesn't improve moving forward, he's willing to consider utilizing Shelden Williams more off the bench instead.
"[Wallace] has to play better, bottom line," said Rivers, who has given Wallace plenty of rope this season. "He has to play better defense -- the offense will come -- but he has to be a better defender. And we can't wait for him. He has to be a better defender for us."
Wallace, underwhelming for much of the 2009-10 season, continues to provide little in the way of production in the postseason despite all the playoff experience he brought with him to Boston. After logging a mere two points and two rebounds over 13 minutes in Saturday's Game 1 loss, Wallace is now at minus-20 in the plus/minus for the postseason, the lowest number on a team that's won four of the six games it has played.
Rivers seemed unwilling to completely yank Wallace from the rotation, but noted that Williams won't be overlooked.
"[Williams] enters the discussion every day," said Rivers. "He's definitely in the discussion, there's no doubt about that."
The 35-year-old Wallace is averaging 3.5 points on a mere 35 percent shooting and 2 rebounds per game this postseason. This from a player who has averaged 14.2 points on 44.5 percent shooting and 6.5 rebounds over 159 career playoff games. What's more, he's slow to react on defense, often getting raced past by ball handlers and struggling to corral 50/50 balls against more athletic big men.
For more, go to ESPN Boston.com
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