Saturday, April 18, 2009

We’ve seen the enemy, and he is…

…those silly Utarr Jizz. And I can’t say that I’m really pleased. And not just because it was looking like I had a great chance to see Laker playoff games in person for the first time in a while.

Make no mistake, Utah is the second best team in the West when healthy. And they are a particularly tough matchup for the Lakers.

But there’s the rub.

They are healthy on the surface, with everybody expected to be available when they tip off in Game 1 Sunday. But Boozer has been back for 20-something games and still does not look like himself completely. He’s taking mostly jumpers (which Pau’s length bothers) and has not the inside force that we expect.

And they limped to the finish line, losing 7 of their last 9 games (including inexplicable back to back home losses to Minnesota and Golden State) to drop from the fifth seed to the eight that everybody was trying to avoid.

Utah is very much like Portland, in that they are great at home and do not beat many good teams on the road. But you have to go play games 3 and 4 in their rowdy gym. And if you don’t win at least one of those, or slip up at home, you have to do it again in game 6.

And they are just uncomfortable to play. Because they make you so damned, uh, uncomfortable.

They play basketball like it’s hockey. They hit, they check, they bump, they bruise, they hit you hard when your get close to their goal. You will come out of a series with them with some bruises, maybe a chipped tooth. Hopefully nothing worse, because we’re still a month and a half from Cleveland.

Our length gives them trouble, but they mitigate that somewhat by dragging one of our bigs out on the perimeter to guard Okur, who loves to nail that 3 from the left wing extended.

Coppell’s own Deron Williams is a great player, second only to Chris Paul among the league’s point guards, and probably the most physical in the league. Fisher is strong enough to compete with him, but had trouble with foul trouble in last year’s series, leading to DWill heaping a lot of abuse on backup Farmar. Keeping Fish out of foul trouble, and how well Shannon Brown is able to serve as his backup and avoid more Farmar beatings will be key.

You also need to get out on their shooters, they have a lot of guys who can hit the 3. Weakside rotations will be big.

Their cutting, backscreening offense is beautiful to watch (as a fan, not an opponent). They will get some layups and free throw attempts, but you must be disciplined enough to keep them down a bit.

When we have the ball, they have some serious matchup problems. We should pound the ball inside early and often, as (while strong) none of their front line guys have the length to bother Bynum and Gasol. Beat them down the court, get good post position, and you can just turn and shoot over them.

And they really do not have anybody to guard Kobe. AK47’s length is an asset, but he is not quick enough to stay up for extended stretches. They have fouled him a lot in the past, and that gets lots of free throws for not just Kobe but other guys as they get into the bonus early in quarters.

So run the offense and you will score, be disciplined and don’t overfoul and they will not be able to keep up. Their crowd and thus their home court advantage is the best in the game, get an early lead and you can take them out of the game and plant the seeds of doubt in the players.

Bottom line, I will be very happy if we finish this up a week from Monday in Game 5, and everybody stays healthy. And I will not be very happy if we face a Game 6 in Utah a week from Thursday, or enter the next round with injuries.

As Skip would say, let ‘em play.

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