Phil Jackson stresses ability to react to Phoenix's tendencies
The Lakers huddled up at the end of practice Sunday with Coach Phil Jackson detailing the final game plan for the team's upcoming Western Conference finals series against the Phoenix Suns. Lakers forward Lamar Odom described the contents of Jackson's discussion as "nothing different than he usually says," with forward Pau Gasol adding the conversation entailed a "little bit of both" stragegy as well as how to mentally prepare for the Game 1 showdown on Monday.
"We have a report and we talk about making sure you understand that," Jackson said. "But the reality is reaction. It's about getting yourself ready to react and play. You can do all the strategizing you want to do. If you can't make the appropriate reactions, then you're going to have trouble. We hope they feel that impulse tomorrow."
Even if Jackson's message didn't deviate from what he might have already emphasized, as Odom said, the speech on adjusting to unpredictable events comes at an appropriate time when the Lakers feel a lot of uncertainty.
The Lakers have enjoyed a week-long stretch without games after sweeping Utah, giving them plenty of time to rest Kobe Bryant (arthritic right finger) and Andrew Bynum (torn cartilage in right knee). The two sat out of Sunday's practice, with exception to Bryant participating in some drills, to give them more rest. Bynum was getting extra treatment for the swelling in his right knee. So even if the extra rest helped them, it's still unclear how that will translate into the game, particularly with Bynum. Could he play 30 minutes tomorrow?
"I think so," Jackson said. "If the times and the minutes are parsed out in a way that doesn't put heavy time on him, like 12 or 14 minutes in a row, he can play that many."
Nonetheless, it's still hard to assess which Bynum we'll see. Could he replicate the 17-point, 14-rebound and four blocked shot performance in Game 2 against Utah? Or will the series against Phoenix bode similar to Games 3 and 4 where he went scoreless in one and finished with only six points in the other? As far as Bryant goes, his improved health has correlated with his five-game stretch where he's scored at least 30 points. All accounts say Bryant's health has always gotten better, but the Lakers will find out for sure tomorrow.
Even though neither practiced much during this past week, Odom, among others, are placing health in higher importance above continuing team chemistry.
"At this point of the year, we need those guys during the game," said Odom, who also described his injured left shoulder as "OK" and "fine." "It's a good thing. Of course, we don't want them to be hurt. If they got something that's ailing or something that's aching and bothering them, we'd much rather have them be ready for game time."
The uncertainty extends beyond whether the long rest will ensure the health the Lakers need. It also involves the performance itself. The Lakers have won six consecutive playoff games, but so have the Suns. The Lakers have played at their peak this postseason, averaging 101 points a game while allowing only 97.1. But Phoenix has posted similar numbers, scoring an average of 105.8 points while giving up only 95.9 points in each contest. With both the Lakers and Suns enjoying week-long breaks thanks to their series sweeps against Utah and San Antonio, respectively, Jackson and his players anticipate the momentum each team created won't be instantly replicated.
"There's shouldn't be a lot of surprises tomorrow," Gasol said. "Maybe a little bit of rustiness for not playing a long time. But other than that, energy, aggressiveness and determination should be there."
But as far as how the aggressiveness and determination will play out? It's hard to say. The Lakers spent plenty of their time this week addressing how to limit Phoenix's three-point shooting, Steve Nash's play-making abilities and Amare Stoudemire's inside presence. They stressed the need to play at their own pace, get Bynum and Gasol going inside and manage quality shot selection. But even if Jackson says, "we feel like we're ready," the Lakers won't be able to fully until tipoff.
"It's practice. You can't duplicate anything that happens in the game, really," said Derek Fisher, whose teammate DJ Mbenga actually simulated Channing Frye's play during Sunday's practice. "You can try. You can go over plays. You can cover a lot of things. but there isn't anything that mirrors exactly what you go through in an NBA playoff game.
"It's time to go out and play now," Fisher added. "It'll be fun."
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