With a dismal record of 3-9 away from the friendly hullabaloo at the Staples Center, the Lakers are certainly not road warriors. And since it’s highly unlikely that they’ll have the home court advantage throughout the playoffs, for their own confidence and world-peace of mind they desperately need to beat the Celtics where the leprechauns dwell.
On the opposite side of the equation, the Celtics are beginning to get their collective mojo working. And Boston’s corps of senior citizens — Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen — will certainly be rejuvenated with the return to action of Rajon Rondo.
HOW THE LAKERS CAN WIN: The Andrew Bynum-Jermaine O’Neal matchup is a lopsided one, requiring Boston to routinely two-time LAL’s newest All-Star. Although Bynum doesn’t move his feet well in a crowd, his passing out of the double-team has shown dramatic improvement — especially in finding Pau Gasol.
- Operating against Boston’s sub par frontline, Bynum and Gasol should tally a stat sheet full of put-backs and offensive rebounds.
- While Bynum is an excellent shot-blocker, he must also avoid turning his head when playing weak-side defense.
- Kobe Bryant has lost a half-step but is still a high-volume scorer. He’s gotten used to being doubled and is willingly (and mostly accurately) making slick attack-passes.
- Too infrequently, Kobe will pass when under double-pressure, cut through the middle, then use a weak-side screen to come back to the middle to receive the ball. This kind of movement confuses the defense, creates disadvantageous defensive switches, and/or fatally delays any possible re-doubles. More of this tactic is needed.
- When Kobe isos along the baseline, he can usually find an open shot by spinning away from any attempts to double him from the top — particularly early in the shot clock. The risk, though, is that if he can’t find a good look, his passing options are seriously compromised.
- For much of the game, Kobe will be defended by Ray Allen, certainly a worthy opponent, yet too old and too slow to do an adequate job.
- In the second half of LA’s most recent game — a loss in Philadelphia — Gasol had zero touches in the low-post. Even though KG is a scrappy defender, Gasol must get more opportunities to exercise his considerable pivotal skills.
- Although Rondo can run rings around Derek Fisher, the Lakers wizened veteran will take advantage of the youngster’s sometimes wild enthusiasm to be in position to receive judicious passes and knock down clutch treys.
- Because Rondo seems more reluctant than ever to shoot jumpers, he can be defended from a distance to discourage his penetrations into the paint.
- Metta World Peace has to play exceptional bump-and-slide defense against Pierce.
- It’s imperative that the Lakers get substantial contributions from their bench players. Of these, only Andrew Goudelock has a well-developed offensive game. Too bad the rookie is another example of a shooting guard in a point guard’s body, making the second-unit effectively headless.
- With Rondo’s swift ambushing of passing lanes, the Lakers have to take better care of the ball than is their wont.
- To slow down Rondo’s one-man fastbreaks, hustling defensive transitions are a must.
HOW THE CELTICS CAN WIN: Since Kobe is nearly the entire focus of LAL’s offense, special measures must be taken to control him. Doubling him whenever possible is the primary anti-Kobe strategy. And Allen’s slow but pesky defense can be complimented by the more quick-footed and aggressive efforts of Mickael Pietrus.
- Moreover, since Kobe has passed his 33rd birthday, he’s driving less and relying more on pull-ups. Accordingly, defenders should play him chest-to-chest, thereby forcing him to take his dribble into rush-hour traffic — where his shots have become increasingly blockable.
- PP must abuse MWP with from-the-top isos.
- Because Gasol is taller and even longer than KG, scoring in the low-post will be difficult. That’s why the Big Ticket’s mid- and long-range jumpers must be on-target.
- Rondo’s warp-speed advantage must blister both Fisher and the inexperienced Goudelock. By repeatedly zipping into the paint, Rondo will draw the undivided attention of LA’s bigs making kick-out and drop-passes extremely successful.
- Whereas Allen cannot mount as many serious attacks with his dribble as he used to, and his long-distance dialing is much more erratic, he remains a dangerous if streaky shooter. His perpetual off-the-ball scampering will undoubtedly create open shots, and he must warm up when the game gets hot.
- Pietrus and Brandon Bass (if he’s healthy) have to overwhelm the shaky defense of LA’s subs.
- Since the Celts lack any menacing shot-blockers, their defensive rotations have to be swift and precise. Unfortunately, both Allen and Garnett tend to be head-turners when playing off the ball. Plus, their rotations often leave the middle open for dive cuts.
- Too many miles on too many legs often leave corner shooters unguarded when the Celtics defenders have to collapse on ball-penetration. Fortunately, with only a .294 success rate, the Lakers are the worst 3-point shooting team in the NBA.
- And with MWP being an honorary member of the bricklayers’ union, he simply does not have to be guarded on the perimeter.
- Bynum scores most of his point on dunk-backs and drop passes from his teammates—so whoever’s defending him must maintain body contact at all times.
- Bynum’s effectiveness with the ball in the low-post can be nullified by doubling him in anticipation of his habitual reverse-moves.
- On offense, Boston’s trademark is terrific ball- and player-movement as well as admirable unselfishness.
FIVIE THINGS TO WATCH FOR
- Halftime is crucial because that’s when coaching staffs make necessary adjustments. These adjustments (or lack thereof) will be clearly manifest during the initial five minutes of the third quarter. Which team, then, will dominate that stretch?
- Part of Boston’s halfcourt offense is the effectiveness of their dive cutters. Will LA’s defenders be able to clog the weak-side to prevent easy receptions and easy scores?
- The Celtics have often struggled when operating against zone defenses. Will the Lakers take advantage of this shortcoming?
- Because Boston is the best beyond-the-pale shooting team in the league (.422), their perimeter players will be routinely tagged. Can the Celtics take advantage of this stretched defense with in-the-post scoring by PP, KG, Bass, or whomever?
- The Lakers score only 93.16 points per game (19th in the ranking), with Boston ranking 25th at 90.65 ppg. This means that defense-generated runouts and early offense will spell the difference. Who will win the battle of points-off-turnovers?