HANG TIME PLAYOFF HEADQUARTERS – The theory makes perfect sense for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Slow the game down, make the Oklahoma City dial it back a few notches and play the half court game that favors the Lakers’ and big men Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum in Game 2 tonight (9:30 ET, TNT) at Chesapeake Energy Arena and all will be right in the basketball world.
The only problem with that theory is that it requires the cooperation of a Thunder team that has been anything but accommodating this postseason. And it also requires an opponent that can exploit the Thunder’s perceived deficiencies in a slow-down game.
The Dallas Mavericks had similar ideas in the first round after dropping Games 1 and 2 by a combined four points. All they had to do was lock in on Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden and force the Thunder into the uncomfortable position of a grind-it-out, half court, possession-for-possession series. The Mavericks headed back to Dallas for Games 3 and 4 with the blueprint in hand. They never saw Game 5.
The Thunder’s energy and effort overwhelmed any plans the Lakers had for Game 1 to the tune of a 35-point lead and a 119-90 blowout win. It served as a wicked opening statement, too, that the Western Conference semifinals are going to be played on the Thunder’s terms.
The Lakers cannot match the Thunder’s youth, fleet feet or resilience — a day of rest at 23 or 24 is much different from that same day of rest when you are 32 or 33. And according to Kobe Bryant, the Lakers have no intention of trying to do any such thing.
“It’s not a big deal. We don’t worry about matching their energy,” Bryant said. “We just think about slowing them down and playing our style.”
If that “style” includes playing inside-out through Bynum and Gasol, then the Lakers might actually be on to something. Thunder center Kendrick Perkins is a game-time decision with that strained hip.
If the Thunder are vulnerable anywhere, it’s inside. And the Lakers have the frontcourt personnel in that 14-plus feet of All-Star big men to apply the proper pressure offensively.
But their biggest problems in Game 1 were on defense. They couldn’t stop the Thunder — particularly Durant, Westbrook and Harden — from getting whatever they wanted against L.A. The Thunder committed just four turnovers, a franchise playoff record, and have shown all season they are capable of playing at whatever pace and style the game dictates.
There was a time (last year at this time, actually,) when foes could basically dare Westbrook to shoot it from outside and hope to knock the Thunder off their game. But that’s not an option now, not with Westbrook shooting the way he has this postseason and creating for others as he did in Game 1.
“We tried a lot of different things on Westbrook and we could never solve him,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said on ESPN Radio this morning. “He has that ability to rise up on his jump shot and he’s shooting it so pure right now … Oklahoma City has a lot of answers. The thing that concerns me about them is Perkins and his health. As the series goes on and they have to deal with Bynum and Gasol inside … they need Perkins. Nazr Mohammed is a good player, but they need Perkins.”
But if you’re the Lakers, you cannot plot a strategy around whether or not Perkins plays when the crux of your problem is an inability to deal with Durant, Westbrook and Harden.
The Lakers will no doubt tweak some things to try and limit that trio. A wholesale change in plans, however, is not something Lakers coach Mike Brown sounds comfortable with.
“They don’t turn it over a lot because they keep the ball in one guys’ hands quite a bit and then they set a screen and they’ll set a rescreen and another screen,” Brown said. “We’re not a deny team anyway, we don’t get up and pressure the passing lanes and all that, because that’s not our strength with our personnel. So we just have to play solid team defense. If we play solid team defense and are in the right help positions, turnovers will happen during the course of the game. But we have to play with some juice, too.”
That “juice” was sorely lacking in Game 1.
Some of the Lakers’ Game 1 struggles can be attributed to their lack of preparation time for that first encounter. They won Game 7 of their first-round series against the Nuggets Saturday night and had roughly 36 hours to recover, rest and ready themselves for an emotional opening punch from a Thunder team that rested for nine days.
But you can’t put it all on their lack of preparation time. And they haven’t had any more time to get ready for Game 2.
Lakers forward Metta World Peace has his own theories about how to shake off those Game 1 struggles and prepare for a Game 2 that looms as a defining moment for these Lakers — a team that has experienced the extremes in their past two playoff series. (They were swept in the semis by eventual champion Dallas last season and needed that Game 7 at home to pass Denver.)
“It’s the same thing like a man has five wives. He’s been divorced once and he got married again,” World Peace said, using a rather peculiar metaphor to illustrate how the Lakers recover from Game 1 in time for Game 2. “You’ve got to move on. He didn’t want to get divorced, she didn’t want to get divorced. But hey, she said, ‘OK honey, I want half.’ She said that. You know she said that.”
“She got married again, he got married again. Moved on and it’s a new life. That’s how the game is. It is a fun game. At the same time, still a lot of passion involved. She will love her husband. We will love the game, too. Have fun, play with passion and it’s a whole new day.”
Strange as it seems, it sounds like a plan … in theory.