State of Laker Nation Playoff Recap: What?

(Seeking solace from one pathetic Lakers apologist to another, The CDP and I exchanged a series of e-mails regarding Denver’s laugher over a listless Lakers squad last night. Here’s our e-mail exchange, in the form of a game recap)

This kid’s Xmas ornament was as useful as Payton in purple and gold.

KOBEsh: There were so many parts of last night’s Game 6 that made want to hurl myself out a window and alternately throw my Gary Payton #20 Christmas ornament at the television. What do you think was the most egregious offense made by the Lakers last night?

The CDP: I’m gonna go with Mike Brown and his rotations, which have been a problem all year. Kobe may have been the only guy who showed up, but he was also sick and Brown played him 37 of a possible 42 minutes before sitting the last 6 minutes when the game was out of hand. More than that though, if your team doesn’t show up, you have to spice it up. In the third quarter, Pau was absolutely killing us as the Nuggets built a big lead.

Despite Jordan Hill being our most effective big for the series, Brown waited nearly 9 minutes before throwing the Spaniard on the bench. Even the bottomless reserve of energy and hustle that is Josh McRoberts could have mixed things up. To me, it’s unclear that Mike Brown has been able to hold his bigs accountable, either through rotation choices or off-court film sessions. I was angry that Pau was bricking jump shots, but the problem with our bigs last night was the story of the series: lackluster or non-existent help defense and marginal effort on the boards.  Considering the context, it’s a fair question. Was this 3 point, 3 rebound “performance” Pau’s worst game as a Laker?

Not to pile it on Coach Brown here, but I just looked at the NBA leaders in minutes played to see where Pau and Kobe ended up. Pau was number 2 (behind only Durantula) and Kobe number was 11 for the season despite missing 7 games to injury. When I look at the top 20 in minutes played, I see one thing in common: youth. Kobe and Pau are the only players north of 30 to make the list. I understand why Brown felt he had to ride his workhorses to a respectable regular season record, but this kind of minutes management is unbelievable. I have a word for it: anti-Popovichian. A 33 year old Kobe’s average jumped nearly 5 minutes a game this year, the exact opposite of where he should be trending.

KOBEsh: Going back to an earlier point you made, doing a quick scan of Pau’s Lakers career game logs, only two of his games come even remotely close to last night’s meltdown:

3/26/10 vs. the Thunder (75-91 Loss):  9 points, 5 rebounds, no assists, 1 block on 3-10 shooting in 27 minutes
4/20/11 vs. the Hornets (87-78 Win in Game 2 of the Western Conference opening round): 8 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 3 blocks on 2 for 10 shooting in 36 minutes.

Since it was a loss and the overall stat line was worse, Pau’s game against the Thunder over two years ago was remarkably atrocious. However, seeing as the game against the Hornets last year was in the playoffs, even with a slightly better night, could you count that as his 2nd-worst game as a Laker seeing as it was a playoff game? Regardless of which was worse, we can all agree that Gasol’s essential no-show against the Nuggets last night was far and away the most terrible contest he’s had in purple and gold.

I agree with your assessment of Brown’s rotations; Pau and Andrew just weren’t bringing the energy last night, but I think it was mostly on defense. Denver has found a way to effectively double team both guys, and in Bynum’s case, throw a comparable big in Timofey Mozgov on him. I understand if they can’t get it going offensively in that regard, especially in that when two defenders are thrown their way, the the bricks the Lakers are putting up from the perimeter aren’t alleviating any defensive pressure. McRoberts and Hill are limited scoring-wise, but then again, wasn’t everyone (except Kobe) last night?

What I thought was the biggest problem had to be the energy, plain and simple. The Lakers got outscrapped by the Nuggets on both ends of the floor especially by Ty Lawson and defensively, by Corey Brewer and Kenneth Faried. LA just didn’t come out hard out of the gate and which made it all the more easy for the Nuggs to catalyze a rhythm and a 11-0 scoring run. It’s not that the Lakers couldn’t come back from this deficit: they almost did. It’s that the Nuggets are a “feel and energy” team. Most of their performers aren’t particularly talented, but once they get going, it’s hard to extinguish them – see Corey Brewer’s and Ty Lawson’s nights.

But….how about Kobe Bryant, huh? That kid is going to be something someday.

The CDP: You bring up the future of Kobe Bryant, but it looks like this team is still only going to go as far as he can carry them on his aging shoulders. Bynum is not ready to carry the franchise, period. Kobe has to lead by example with his effort as well as his leadership off the court with Derek Fisher no longer around. I’ll admit I sometimes chastise Kobe for his overshooting, but he’ll ALWAYS bring 100% effort. Think about Game 7 in the Revenge Title against Boston, where Simmons likes to remind us that Kobe went 6-24. Dude also got 15 rebounds and got to the line 15 times. Think about what would happen to this team if Kobe had taken the precipitous drop many expected after knee surgery. I shudder to think.

There’s no doubt that energy was a huge factor in the game yesterday and the series thus far, but I think you also have to consider two other factors: the coaching and the missing presence of MWP. There’s no doubt that George Karl is a great coach, but Phil Jackson never got rocked like this. The Lakers have not figured out a way to counter the double-team Kobe, Andrew, and Pau to force our mediocre outside shooters chuck bricks instead. And it’s largely worked, with reserves like Barnes, Ebanks, and Sessions shooting below their averages. I think we need to start running Kobe off of UCLA double screens and get him the ball at the elbow with a step on his defender. That way he can either set a post up and do a much shorter fadeaway or take an 5-8 foot jumper on the move just outside the paint that’s usually money. He can also continue to penetrate and dump the ball to a big in the paint when he draws attention. I don’t mind giving him the ball in the post either at times, but I think they’re doubling too fast for that to work as often.

You rang, CDP?

Another problem is that these long jumpers create long rebounds, perfect for Denver’s transition game. The energy that you spoke of is a huge problem here, as the Lakers are simply getting beat and opening up Denver’s way to play. Also, Corey Brewer outscoring our starting frontcourt last night speaks for itself. Corey Freaking Brewer. On defense, we’re giving up too many big performances to role players and haven’t figured out a way to stop Lawson’s penetration or sufficiently contest Denver’s 3’s. We talked about how Denver hitting it’s outside shots would really stretch the limits of our defense and that’s exactly what has happened in Games 5 and 6.

Also, let’s put some serious blame on Ron Artest here. There’s no doubt this series would be over with him here. Think about how well he was playing and how he might impact some of the Lakers deficiencies. On defense, he’d have a huge impact and could have shut down some of the standout performances from Gallinari, Afflalo, and even Lawson part time. You know he would have set the tone for effort and be one of the guys back in transition, where he’s a great playmaker and shows off his surprising athleticism considering his age. Offensively, Crazy Pills would have been a difference maker as well. He’s shooting much better from 3 lately and I’d love to have his mini-Kobe impression and mid-range game in the space opened up on this Denver defense by double teams. From a lineup perspective, you could play him at the 4 with Gasol at the 5 if Denver was too fast for the Lakers in the open court. That knucklehead better come back with a vengeance in Game 7.

(One more note: Think about our crunch-time lineup of: Bynum, Gasol, MWP, Kobe, Sessions or Blake. So much better than this horrifying Bynum/Gasol/Kobe/Blake/Sessions lineup that can’t guard anybody)

KOBEsh: As a fellow pathetic Lakers apologist, completely agree with you on all of these points. I’ve reserved judgment on Mike Brown largely because of the lockout shortened season and zero training camp, but most importantly because the only thing that really mattered was how the team performed in the playoffs. The fact that he hasn’t been able to adjust past our shortcomings (no one can shoot the damn ball and how badly Andrew and Pau have been getting outplayed down low) is a real area of concern.

You talking about MWP perfectly leads into my next point: how worried are you for Game 7?

The CDP: I’m worried but not freaking out. I think you have to be worried anytime you lose two closeout opportunities and take a series to 7 games unnecessarily. The Lakers have done everything wrong here: they’ve given them bulletin board material, failed to take their opponent seriously, and have been outhustled throughout the series. As a result, this dangerous Denver team believes in itself and has a chip on its shoulder. Anything can happen in a Game 7. Being at home in LA and having the kind of talent that the Lakers do, the odds are still in our favor. If nothing else, most of this team has been there before. I’m hoping that the presence of Ron Artest helps reinvigorate the Lakers and they show the championship form they flashed briefly at the start of this series.



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