If There's Something Strange In the Lakers' Neighborhood...
Similar to Ray Parker Jr. and your garden variety ghost, the Lakers ain't afraid of no zone defense. But a lack of fear doesn't mean they necessarily react particularly well to them, as evidenced by last night's fiasco when Dallas busted out the look. A 107-100 win was the end result, but as we noted last night, it didn't come without nails bitten down to the nub. Said Phil Jackson, "When the zone got sprung on them, they had that hesitation and you end up shooting nine three-pointers that didn't go in. That was a loss of focus, because they lost that first function of basketball, and that's penetration."
NBA ain't heavy on zones, so when teams go there, it's often viewed as one rung above a white flag. "After playing man to man so many games, so many years in the league, so many seasons, that's what you get used to," noted Lamar Odom. "Usually when a team plays zone, that means they can't match up against you. We take that as a compliment." But receiving props is pointless if it's a potential loss omen. As Kobe Bryant noted, the Philadelphia 76ers, who just happen to be the Lakers' guest tomorrow night, play a little zone as it is, much less "as it will be." If they saw any of the game last night, they'll say why not try it," shrugged Pau Gasol. Thus, folks expect to see more tomorrow, and the Lakers spent much of today's practice working their system against it. Time was accordingly practicing attacks on the seams, how to best move the ball and end up in the right place, etc.
"Zone offense," LO quipped.
So how to go about crushin' the ol' Z? Depends on who you ask. Even though the zone is meant to goad outside shots, avoiding the trap doesn't necessarily equal a complete failure to launch. "I always love to play against the zone," smiled Sasha Vujacic. "The Zone coming out, my eyes start to shine a little bit, because that's a gift for every shooter." And there's always a need to move the ball inside (especially with Gasol fresh off a 10-10 first half), Kobe also felt it was important not to overcompensate. "You don't want to force it, so if the defense takes it away, we have enough weapons that we'll make them pay. That's the same thing I do (in games). Three guys (defending me), I just move it. You make them pay. Eventually, you get single coverage and that's when you bust them up."
Then again, you still want to avoid losing sight of a seven-foot focal point, especially with very little falling from outside. "We definitely lost the three point contest," Pau Gasol dryly noted, before offering further detail of the problems. "We just settled too much, way too much, with the jumpers, and we didn't penetrate the zone. We didn't attack the zone. We did not move the ball well enough to be able to break that zone down and take advantage of it."
(I found Pau's use of "advantage" interesting, the inference being that even as an unfamiliar look, the zone is there to get exploited. As PJ also noted, "it's one thing to say (zone). It's harder to play it.")
I asked Pau if it was particularly tough for him to watch that struggle as a big man not being fed and more or less powerless to change it. (Dude can't make a post entry to himself.) Yeah, pretty much. "I've been very familiar with zones and I know that one way very effective to break down a zone is to go inside out and move the ball. Put it inside in the hands of the big man and then kicking it back out. The shooters will have much better looks. But it didn't happen that much on that stretch of the game. That's why it was a little frustrating. We weren't converting. We weren't making shots. We missed a lot of threes and they were taking advantage on the other end, attacking and being effective when they made that big run. It could have cost us the game. That's why I was a little bit upset."
On a completely unrelated note, the most interesting play of today's scrimmage came when Sasha and Josh Powell were running down a loose ball heading out of bounds. Sasha got there first, then tried bouncing it off Powell to retain possession. Instead, JP turned the tables, stuffing it back into Sasha, who couldn't hang onto it. You don't see a sequence like that very often.
And by the way, I forgot Ray Parker also wrote this song. I used it love it back in the day.