Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Quick Thoughts in Advance of Game 1

There are all sorts of previews of this series and stories about each team out there that are worth reading. I won't recap all of them, but here are links to a handful that I personally found to be illuminating:
  • Kevin Arnovitz is a good of a basketball writer as there is out there, and luckily for us he's done quite a bit of work looking at the Magic recently. Three of the resulting articles which I found incredibly enlightening: Seven Reasons to Fear the Orlando Magic, When Orlando Has it Going, and It's not Magic, it's Execution. One point that really comes through in all of them: the Magic are really well-coached, as they are always executing flawlessly. There is more here than a superficial look would lead you to believe, which is why you should really check those pieces out, if you haven't already. Since we're already talking about Arnovitz, here's a nice little musing on why this is such an exciting series for basketball fans
  • A two-parter at Forum Blue and Gold, focusing on when the Magic have the ball and when the Lakers have the ball. The former includes a pretty detailed breakdown of the dangerous Magic high pick and roll, and the Lakers' options in defending it. Also, I also would like to see Kobe Bryant posting up Courtney Lee at every opportunity.
  • Kevin Pelton takes a look at the series, and sees advantages and disadvantages at both ends (though there seem to be more matchup advantages for the Lakers). One specific matchup to watch is the Rashard Lewis - Pau Gasol one, though how much we see of it depends on Odom's minutes and Bynum's fouls. Pelton, like many expect Gasol and Lewis respectively to light each other up on offense, assuming neither can defend the other. I'm a bit of a Laker homer, so take this with a grain of salt, but I think Gasol might do a serviceable job defending Lewis.
  • Tom Ziller brings up one of the more curious stories of the series: all season, the Lakers have played a style of defense that actually allows for a lot of weakside 3-point attempts. It has worked for them, as they had the 6th best defense in the league during the year, but Orlando's whole gameplan is trying to create open 3's. Will the Lakers continue to play a style of defense that seems to play right into Orlando's hands? My guess is probably not, but it is important to emphasize that the Lakers don't give up 3's willy-nilly, that they're smart about what they concede, which is part of why the Lakers were the third best team in the league at holding opponents to a low FG% from 3. Then again, the Cavs were first, and Orlando torched them from beyond the arc. The Lakers' perimeter defenders are longer and better suited to close out the tall Orlando shooters, but Orlando is still going to have stretches where they score in bunches from the 3-point line.
  • This interview with Lakers Advance Scout Rasheed Hazzard was pretty ineresting.
I would like to once again point out that the Magic defense was the best in the league all season. That seems to get lost sometimes in all the chatter about three-pointers and whatnot. The Lakers have an offense that is, at its best, completely unstoppable, but please don't call them soft or underachieving or anything if they have stretches of struggling to score. Orlando is as good of a defense as there is out there.

We'll have more time in the upcoming days, weeks, months, years, here at fruithoopz to dwell on Kobe Bryant's game. But it's worth reminding yourself that he's smart, and that's a big part of his success. That article is a little bleh and over the top idolizing, but pay attention to him on the court during this series, whether or not he has the ball. There are plenty of guys in the league who are bigger, taller, faster, stronger, quicker, and higher leapers than he is, but he's the "superstar" we're left with because he knows so much and because he prepares so well. He doesn't just put himself in the best positions to score (though he does that), but positions himself at both ends of the court in just the right positions to be most helpful to his team, just by being there. Trouble getting the ball into Gasol in the post? He'll cut and set up on the weak side, knowing he's taking defenders and attention with him, to clear a lane for the entry pass. Double team? He'll get as far back as possible to give his teammates room to operate 4-on-3. And if the Lakers send help, he'll be in just the right place to defend two guys on the weakside. These are all really basic examples, but he does a lot more. The assist is an incredibly cheap way to measure "making teammates better." Kobe Bryant changes the geography of the basketball court.

So does Dwight Howard, by the way, in his own way.

If, throughout the finals, you are limited in terms of the time you can spend reading up on what's going on, just limit yourself to pieces by Kelly Dwyer and you should be fine. (If you have more time, though, then come here and click on the links to the right).

I am really curious about Dwight Howard in this series. Are we supposed to believe after the Cleveland series that he's now arrived as a post scorer? Even though he's never shown it before? The pick and roll is one thing, but I'm guessing that in other situations the Lakers choose to single cover Dwight in the post and see what he's capable of. Make him prove it.

On a completely unrelated note: fruithoopz contributor Ambrose has an art exhibit opening at the mauve? gallery on Monday. Support!

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