Lakers offer solutions on fixing up transition defense against Oklahoma City
After spending most of my Monday morning rewatching the Lakers' 87-79 Game 1 victory over Oklahoma City, I had already known going into that day's practice what the Lakers could've done to prevent the Thunder from scoring 14 points in transition, mostly led by speedy guard Russell Westbrook (23 points). After detailing each sequence that led to a transition basket, I concluded in an earlier post that most of those baskets could've been prevented had the Lakers made a better effort on the glass and had better shot selection.
What's most interesting in the following videos is that everyone on the Lakers provided a similar take, stressing more on taking a preventative approach rather than thinking the team can suddenly match the Thunder's speed. Don't misinterpret this as the Lakers caving in and giving up. They're speaking more to the fact that it's better to play to their own strengths.
And what are the Lakers' strengths exactly? Well, let's start with the obvious. It's certainly not a coincidence the team has a 39-12 record when Lakers center Andrew Bynum and forward Pau Gasol play together on the floor. That hasn't been as frequent as the Lakers would have liked, with Gasol missing 17 games because of hamstring injuries and Bynum missing the last 13 games of the regular season because of a strained left Achilles' tendon. But Bynum appeared not to miss a beat upon his reutnr. Their presence inside produced a combined 32 points in Game 1 against the Thunder, including Bynum having a playoff career-high in total rebounds (12) defensive rebounds (nine) and blocks (four). Even if Oklahoma City makes adjustments to counter their front line in Game 2, history has shown the Lakers will still hold the edge inside.
So how do you improve something that has already been effective? Well, the Lakers need to alter their approach a tad on how their front court gets points. As indicated by Derek Fisher, Ron Artest and Kobe Bryant combining for a a 15 of 40 clip (37.5%), it's clear that the Lakers have accepted taking open outside shots, a strategy defenses will yield because of the Lakers' poor outside shooting and the fact they know how dangerous Gasol and Bynum are in the post.
If the Lakers work more from the inside-out, Gasol and Bynum will enjoy the same production, while also pressuring Oklahoma City's defense to keep them honest. That may also improve the Lakers' chances in hitting outside shots once the bigs start drawing double teams.
The Thunder's transition baskets in Game 1 isn't the only area that left the Lakers concerned. The team also brought up Oklahoma City's 42 points in the paint, its 19 of 24 clip from the free-throw line and the fact the Thunder stayed even with the Lakers for the final three quarters. Lakers forward Lamar Odom partly chalked that up Oklahoma City finally overcoming its early-game jitters because of playoff inexperience. He also argued that postseason basketball typically features peaks and valleys. But Lakers Coach Phil Jackson also saw the inconsistency as a sign of the team's season-wide trend in not securing a full-game effort.
Surely, the Lakers won Game 1 with relative ease despite these problems. But Lakers guard Derek Fisher, who often had trouble guarding Westbrook, strongly shot down the suggestion that the Lakers can afford to absorb transition baskets. After all, it's unpredictable whether the Lakers will hold Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant to another poor shooting performance. It's also unpredictable the Thunder will start off as flat as it did in Game 1. In a playoff series that often entails adjustments through each game, the Lakers have a clear checklist on what to do to stop these transition baskets. The next challenge involves being able to mark each item off as an accomplishment.
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