Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Free Throw Disparity, Lamar Odom and Vladimar Radmanovic the Difference for the Lakers in Boston

Sunday night, the Los Angeles Lakers dropped game two in Boston by six points. The Lakers now head back home without stealing a game at TD Banknorth Garden. If they lose tonight on their home floor, the series will essentially be over. So what do the Lakers need to do to in order to change the outcome of the game? Fixing the free throw disparity, getting Lamar Odom involved in the offense and changing the role of Vladimar Radmanovic should be the focus of the Lakers and their coaching staff.

The difference in free throw attempts between the teams in the first two games was staggering. After game two, all the Lakers - from the coaching staff to the players - complained about the officiating. In a few isolated incidents, the Lakers had something to gripe about. However, the real difference was the aggressiveness between the teams on the offensive end. The Celtics were forcing the action, while the Lakers offense was simply stagnant.

Game 1 FT
Lakers 21-28, 75%
Celtics 28-35, 80%

Game 2 FT
Lakers 10-10, 100%
Celtics 27-38, 71%

Total FT
Lakers 31-38, 81.6%
Celtics 55-73, 75.3%

To me, the problem starts with Kobe Bryant. In the first two games combined, Bryant shot 13 of 13 from the free throw line. In comparison, Bryant attempted nine free throws a game during the regular season and 9.3 free throws per game so far in the playoffs.

A share of the praise needs to go to Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and James Posey for their outstanding defense in Boston on Bryant. The other share should go to Celtics coaches Doc Rivers and Tom Thibodeau for stressing to the team the importance of crowding Bryant and then coming with an extra defender as he readies to square-up and shoot.

If the Lakers are going to comeback in this series, Kobe Bryant needs to become more aggressive, draw contact and get to the free throw line at a greater rate. Settling for fifteen to eighteen foot jump shots will not help to get the Celtics into the bonus and the Lakers onto the free throw line.

Lamar Odom has really flourished as the third scoring option since the trade for Pau Gasol. Odom is a versatile, left handed scorer who is a tough matchup for the opposition. The only true matchup for the Celtics on Odom is Kevin Garnett. However, Garnett is busy defending Gasol. Therefore, Odom should be free to dominate his matchup. Unfortunately, Odom has had minimal impact in the series thus far.

Game 1:
FTA 11
Reb 6
Assists 1
Plus/Minus -8
Points 14

Game 2:
FTA 11
Reb 8
Assists 2
Plus/Minus -13
Points 10

Odom’s strength is his ability to put pressure on the opposing defense and get the big men in foul trouble. Instead, he has mainly settled for mid-range jump shots in the two games against the Celtics. When Odom has gotten into the paint so far in the series, he has botched layups and even missed a dunk in the third quarter of game two.

When defended by anyone besides Kevin Garnett, Odom needs to be put in a position where he can face-up at the high post and drive the ball to the basket. Odom is also effective in this spot when he forces the opposition to double-team or help on him, then passes out on the perimeter to one of the many effective shooters on the Lakers.

Lastly, by my estimation, the Lakers need to change their defensive matchups. Pierce has been the motor behind the Celtics offense in the first two games of the series. He has been defended mainly by Vladimir Radmanovic, who struggles mightily to keep Pierce in front of him. I would move Bryant over to defend Pierce and limit Radmanovic’s minutes altogether. From the start of the game, Radmanovic should be assigned to shadowing Ray Allen. In other situations where Radmanovic is in the game, he should be defending Kevin Garnett, who has spent most of the series shooting jump shots from around the key. Sasha Vujicic should receive more playing time and be assigned the task of chasing Allen around the perimeter. Although Radmanovic has produced from the perimeter on the offensive end, the Lakers can afford to play him less.

If the Lakers plan to turn around this series, they need to reverse the free throw disparity, get Lamar Odom more involved on offense and change their defensive assignments around in order to slow down the Celtics offense. If the Lakers fail to make these key adjustments during the day layoff, then I expect this series to be over by the end of the weekend.

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