Saturday, June 6, 2009

Cautious Confidence for the Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers have played three of their best 5 games of the playoffs in succession, which should give them confidence heading into game 2 (the other two IMO are Houston Game 5 win, Denver Game 6 win). However, members of Laker Nation, especially the ones outside Staples after Game 1, need to take a step back and consult the statistics and game trends before calling for the brooms.

The Lakers had over a 16% FG% differential over the Magic. The only other times in this postseason that kind of a differential has existed have been in games where one team shoots extremely well, like LA did in Game 6 against Denver shooting 57%. One team will shoot above 50% and another team will shoot near 40%. Shooting 30% is unheard of and the Magic will never come close to that again. The Lakers should take some confidence away from their defensive performance, because part of that 30% can be attributed to the Lakers defense. But, they amassed only 7 blocks, 1 less than the Magic did, so the numbers indicate that the Magic missed more than the Lakers made them miss.

Their offensive performance seemed stellar but they only shot a respectable 46%, and when you take away the garbage time from the 4th quarter the Lakers shot a hair over 50%, a far cry from the 57% they shot a game earlier. These statistics are skewed from the 4th quarter where the scrubs didn't play well at all and Kobe heaved up a bunch of shots just to get to 40 (for the first time in Finals), but they do tell a part of the story. Phil Jackson was asked in the postgame whether the Lakers can play better and he wavered around the question, but the truth is the Lakers can and will have to play better to beat a Magic team that even has an average shooting game.

If you up the Magic FG% to 40%, which is still low for an NBA team especially with a guy like Dwight who shoots over 60% usually, that equals 8 more made shots out of the 77 they took. If you assume 2 of those are 3's, that is 18 more points to add to their total. That makes this game look a lot closer than it really was. The media after the game would have you believe that the Lakers crushed the Magic in every way possible, but it might just come down to the Magic making shots post game 1 NBA Finals stage-fright.

A few individual points to note:

Pau Gasol had 8 rebounds in 37 minutes, and needs to do a better job rebounding. Lamar had 14 rebounds in 32, which accounts exactly for the 14 rebound difference in team totals. Early on in the 1st half the Magic seemed to be getting 2 or more looks on many occassions on offense, and when Gasol is out on the floor for 37 minutes he needs to make sure that happens less. Anything less than 10 rebounds means he isn't putting in the effort at 7 feet.

For as much as Bynum is getting lauded for a good defensive game, he only guarded Howard less than half the game (Lamar took a shot at him and Pau got the rest of the assignment). He collected four fouls and seemed to get discouraged when his offensive game was frustrating him (which is usually the case for players like him and Sasha in particular). The problem is, he was frustrated on offense, missing an easy layup and seeming to fumble the ball on multiple occasions. He finished 3-8 which is sub-par for a guy that is capable and has had games of 7-9 and 8-10 shooting.

Also, Howard struggled, but still went to the line 16 times, above his average for the regular season and the playoffs. Much is being made about him only making 1 field goal, but he still finished with 12 points and 15 rebounds. Most of the plays where he would have gotten layups or dunks we fouled him, so the 1-6 field goal line is a bit misleading. Without foul trouble Dwight would have had a 20/20 game.

While the Lakers did win by 25 points, cautious confidence, which Kobe emitted in full (if not in excess) during his postgame conference, should be the word around Staples before Game 2. Kobe Bryant was sensational in the 3rd quarter, and ended up having an average shooting night a little under 50%, but added 8 rebounds and assists a piece. After the game in a response to a philosophical question from a purple-and-gold clad wizard reporter, Kobe said "it's one game. It's no big deal. It's one game." Fans should adopt his face after the game, and share that focus.

Let's wait a few more games before we start calling for the brooms.

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